SCG Daily: Public Enemy Number Four
This is StarCityGames Daily, and I'm counting down the five most evil Magic decks ever. These are the really sick decks - the decks that people should be ashamed to even think of having played. I'm not talking Tooth and Nail: playing T&N is the moral equivalent of speeding. You should feel guilty about it, but the decks on this list are worse. If Affinity is burglary, these are the moral equivalent of cannibalism, genocide and voting Republican.
Here's a fact for the history buffs - the phrase "You lucky son of a b*tch!" only dates back to late June, 1998. That's it - it was never heard before that date. The phrase was coined in that month, apparently in many places simultaneously. In all cases, though, the phrase was first uttered by a Magic player. A losing Magic player.
The conversation always went something like this:
"Swamp, Mox Diamond, Dauthi dude, go"
"Swamp, attack, Ritual, Hatred for 18."
"Again?!? No Way!"
"You lucky son of a b*tch!"
Black decks have always had a strong luck factor. Black mages lived to use Dark Rituals to power out turn 1 Hypnotic Specters. Hippies were brutal - unless you could rip a cheap removal spell right away, you were going to lose good cards - and probably the game. Swamp, Ritual, Hippie was a part of the game, even when the game was only played at Richard Garfield's kitchen table. Fast starts are - or at least were - a Black thing.
Hatred took that one step further. Hatred meant that any unblocked creature won the game right there. It was like Ninjas, but a Ninja that read "Whenever ~this~ deals combat damage to a player, that player loses the game."
Hatred was so frustrating because it was an instant speed win, and could come down very, very early. Black was the color of fast creatures with disadvantages. Sarcomancy provided a 2/2 zombie for B. Carnophage was a 2/2 for B that pinged you. Skittering Skirge had evasion and power. Finally, Black had its share of shadow guys, who were pretty close to unblockable. Black also had cheap removal and the best non-artifact mana acceleration ever in Dark Ritual. That added up to turn 2 Hatred.
A fast start for Hatred decks might be to play a pair of 2/2s on turn 1, and Duress your best card to boot. That was scary, since creatures and mana acceleration wasn't that good back then. In those days, Morphling was a monster at 3/3 (adjustable), and not too long after that Flametongue Kavu dominated the format because it killed nearly every playable creature. Back in those days, the 11/11 tramplers were unplayable jokes (e.g. Polar Kraken.) The creatures Suicide Black decks could drop were - for the time - quite powerful, and combined with Black's removal and discard effects made the archetype good on it's own. Hatred added an "oops - I win" quality that pushed the deck into tier one.
The Suicide Black concept wasn't the problem. That has often worked - usually when a fast creature rush is combined with some form of disruption that can interfere with the opponent. Goblins had burn to remove blockers and flame opponents. Suicide Black had discard and some minor removal. Nine-land Green had speed and just enough utility to deal with problems. White Weenie had - back in the days when it was good - Armageddon.
To win in Magic, you need to get out a threat, then interfere with the opponent's plans just long enough. It's called tempo. What made Hatred decks so annoying was that Hatred provided a second way of winning, regardless of tempo. It was a "just win" card. Hatred snatched games away from opponents with superior board positions, or stole games on turn two. Winning with Hatred was rarely a case of superior play or a superior decks - all to often Hatred won the game from an inferior position or despite inferior play.
Most Magic players like playing a strategic, or at least semi-strategic, game, where threats are answered, people develop their positions and counter their opponents' strategies. Most players dislike sudden losses and games that revolve around stupid "I win" cards. In MTGO, in Eighth Edition sealed, Blaze is like that. No matter how much control you have, if they topdeck Blaze, you can just lose. In former Constructed games, people had similar reactions to cards like Stroke of Genius.
Wizards understands this. Just look at the other cards that say "you win the game": Door to Nothingness, Coalition Victory, Testament of Faith, Epic Struggle, Phage, Battle of Wits, etc. These cards are all different, but all the same in one respect: none of these cards can win on turn two. That was Hatred's problem, not only could it win on turn two, it frequently did.
When Wizards banned Dark Ritual and Mana Vault in Extended, it mainly did that to kill some combo decks, but it also hurt Hatred decks. That was not an unintended consequence, or even an afterthought. Hatred was also a target, because it was hated!
I can still remember a couple PTQ games where an opponent played a Carnophage on turn 1, and I was reduced to praying I would draw a Swords to Plowshares. At least twice, I missed T8 because an opponent played Hatred on turn 2, and my only response was:
"You lucky son of a b*tch!"