Overheard on #mtgwacky:
<Kibler> I don't really care if some people think I'm a moron
<Kibler> cause I'm not, and I made more than them at that tournament. :-)
* KaiB thinks that Kibler is a moron.
<KaiB> beat you or no?
Well, you surely wouldn't want to get flamed by Kai Budde now, would you? (It was a joke; Brian and Kai are the best of friends.)
Friendly jokes aside, e-mail, mIRC and AIM have helped improve my writing. The only way, for example, to find out what really goes on in the Type I portion of the Invitational is to ask them.
Kai's Trix deck (like his Extended Trick deck, just more broken) went undefeated in Sydney last year, so I asked him about their metagame. He told me that he didn't play"The Deck" because it wasn't his style. He it was just defined by power cards like Moat and Jayemdae Tome, and didn't like it.
How would you like to learn about a deck even Kai Budde might take a while to master?
After all, any deck with that name must either be extremely good or extremely overrated.
Trust me, it's good.
Back in 1995, it was one of the - if not the - most powerful decks around, back before Type II was created. Five years later, Jon Finkel won that Invitational Kai and I discussed, piloting the very same deck against fifteen of the world's best.
The most complex and most powerful archetype in the history of this game.
Author's note: Take me back to 1995 and Frank Kusumoto
Many years ago, before I even knew Beyond Dominia existed and before sites like StarCity came into being, there was The Dojo (now frozen in time at www.archive.org and www.mtgword.com).
And there was a kind name behind it: Frank Kusumoto.
I had just received Internet access, and must have been just fourteen or fifteen. Not having access to newsgroups, The Dojo's original sensei was one of the first and kindest people I corresponded with. I learned a few subtleties, such as why Vampiric Tutor robs you of three cards in a Necropotence deck.
I was as disappointed as anyone to see The Dojo go, but I still remember the"tech is free" spirit every time I write something for the Net. I try to fill every article I create with the same warm feeling I got many years ago from receiving help from Frank and so many strangers from the old Dojo.
Perhaps as a kind of legacy - a grand toast in honor of that spirit - I'd like to begin a series of articles describing the Type I deck most difficult to master: the 5-color control deck known as"The Deck" - or, more recently, Keeper.
Back then, for those who remember, Frank Kusumoto already compiled a history and strategy write-up for this venerable archetype - one that laid the foundation for every Magic control deck known today from Draw-Go to Oath - but it ended in 1998. Now, in 2001, I hope I can do justice to the original.
What is"The Deck"?
The name"Keeper" used today is actually the name of Michael Long's control deck from the very first Duelist Invitational in 1997, where he lost to Olle Rade in the finals. The strategies used were originally referred to as the"Weissman school," after Brian Weissman, and date back to 1995.
The original deck was simply referred to as THE Deck.
Only the best and most experienced players try to use"The Deck," and even fewer master all its subtleties and infinite possibilities.
Without claiming to be such a master, here is the deck I am using now:
Rakso's"The Deck," as posted on Beyond Dominia
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Merchant Scroll
4 Mana Drain
4 Force of Will
3 Fact or Fiction
1 Stroke of Genius
1 Gorilla Shaman
1 Zuran Orb
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Sol Ring
1 Library of Alexandria
4 City of Brass
1 Undiscovered Paradise
4 Volcanic Island
3 Underground Sea
1 Strip Mine
(Players today often ask me what the difference between 'The Deck' and Keeper is. After reading the draft of this article, Brian Weissman himself emphasized it:"You might want to mention that the Keeper deck was originally called that because its kill mechanism was a combo involving Millstone and Elemental Augury. The idea was that every turn you'd use Elemental Augury to Sylvan yourself, while at the same time manipulating your opponent's draw and basically denying them the chance to ever draw anything useful. You would get them in this soft lock, and 'keep' them there through a combination of counterspells and deck manipulation. This combo was awesomely effective once it was up and running, but I'd imagine the players of 'The Keeper' eventually realized that Augury (and especially Millstone) only really helped when they were ahead, so they dropped those elements in favor of more 'come from behind' type spells."
(Incidentally, Brian claims a very good record against Mike back in those days.)
The Secret Of"The Deck"
At first glance, this deck seems to defy every deckbuilding rule there is. Why run so many one-ofs? Why run five colors, with just a handful from some of them?
To answer the first question: The"one-ofs" are mostly restricted cards, the most powerful cards ever printed.
To answer the second question: Because five colors is just better. You play most of the most broken cards of all the colors since Beta, all in the same deck.
These cards are so powerful that just one of them is enough to shut down an entire deck.
For example, are you playing a creature deck? Let"The Deck" introduce you to its friends:
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, destroy target nonartifact creature that player controls of his or her choice. It can't be regenerated.
Creatures without flying can't attack.
Are you playing discard? Meet:
Urza's Destiny uncommon
Whenever a black card is put into an opponent's graveyard, you may draw a card.
Are you playing burn? Meet:
Circle of Protection: Red
1: The next time a red source of your choice would deal damage to you this turn, prevent that damage.
And so on. Especially after sideboarding,"The Deck" can bring in anything from an infinite selection of silver bullets, and its powerful tutor and drawing cards will find them. Even opposing counter-based decks were hosed back in 1995 by:
3, Tap: Target player chooses and discards a card from his or her hand. Play this ability only during your turn.
4, Tap: Draw a card.
These silver bullets make up the foundation of the Weissman school of thought: Just focus on staying alive.
Most decks have to devote their resources to dealing with an opponent's threats and creating their own. A red player, for example, has to think whether to use a Lightning Bolt on an opponent's attacking creature, or save enough to win with direct damage."The Deck" has sixty cards just like anything else, but only has to worry about staying alive and keeping the opponent from dealing that twentieth point of damage.
And when some of these sixty cards each shut down entire decks, you have a lot left over for winning when you get around to it.
The Real Secret Of"The Deck"
When Kai described the Sydney Invitational, notice that his initial description was based on"silver bullets.""The Deck?""Moat.""Jayemdae Tome."
This"silver bullet" idea of card advantage (having one of your cards deal with two or more of the opponent's) is the impression many players get when they see"The Deck." Everyone from Kai to you.
It looks so simple.
Game plan: Identify opponent's deck, fish for X card, sell soul to Weissman.
This makes"The Deck" look like a brainless Hollywood ninja, though. You know, that guy who climbs over a wall and jumps to the top of the roof, sees the enemy, then decides whether to pull out a dagger, a katana, a grappling hook, a shuriken, a blowgun, a tank, a nuclear bomb, or a banana peel from deep within the folds of that black uniform, then jumps in to kill a hundred guys and grab the girl?
No, that's not quite how it works - and like a real ninja,"The Deck" has a lot more finesse (and real ninjas never carried an armory in their pockets; just a simple grappling hook or farm scythe). First of all, what about decks that can't be taken out by a silver bullet? Type I Sligh decks, for example, use both cheap creatures and burn. Type I Suicide Black decks use both discard and creatures.
The problem with looking at"The Deck" as a deck full of silver bullets is that beginners dismiss it when the silver bullets don't kill the werewolf. The foundation of control is card advantage. It's more than having one card shut down an entire deck; it's just getting more cards in hand and on the board than the opponent has, plain and simple.
In addition to the"silver bullets," Ancestral Recall, Fact or Fiction, Stroke of Genius, Sylvan Library, and Library of Alexandria build card advantage by drawing more than one card in a turn. Yawgmoth's Will does the same thing. Mind Twist does it in reverse, by removing cards from an opponent's hand.
Think about it. Every turn, you're only supposed to draw one card. Drawing more breaks that fundamental rule. It's like cheating and taking extra turns.
If you take a close look, this is really how"The Deck" stays alive: By getting more cards. Almost every card, in fact, either kills more than one opposing card or draws. Dismantling Blow is a Disenchant, but doubles as a card drawer. Stroke of Genius is a card drawer that doubles as a win condition. Even Morphling untaps, blocks, and kills things and just happens to be able to attack on your turn. Cards that trade one-for-one, like counters, Wastelands, and Diabolic Edict stall the opponent while their friends get more cards.
Looking at"The Deck" as one synergistic pile of card advantage makes things clearer. How, for example, does it stand a chance against a deck that is nothing but counters? You can go fetch a silver bullet like Disrupting Scepter, but what if it gets countered (and he has more counters than you do)?
The answer is that you don't win with just one card; you go get more than the other guy, and if you do it right, he won't counter them all.
"The Deck" isn't the awkward Hollywood ninja; I prefer to compare it to someone with more style - like the hero in The Mask of Zorro. Remember that stable scene where Zorro dueled Catherine Zeta-Jones? She could parry any stroke he made, but eventually, he got more strokes in. That's exactly what card advantage does, and it should rip off Catherine Zeta-Jones' dress (while she's smiling... like I said, finesse).
If you can move beyond the silver bullets idea, figuring out how to play"The Deck" is easier.
Playing"The Deck" 101
In the early game, build up your mana and use your counters against an opponent's card drawers or things you absolutely can't deal with by using The Abyss and other bullets. You only have eight to ten, normally, and won't ever have to counter everything... But that's not the plan. Just stay alive and draw more cards, remember?
Destroy or counter early threats and disruption, and use the various tutors to get what you need to stay alive - usually Ancestral Recall, unless you need something in particular. Don't be afraid of taking damage; as long as he can't deal the twentieth point of damage, you still win. Be wary of using a tutor to fetch a one-for-one card like Swords to Plowshares, because instead of getting an advantage, you just go back to square one and wait for his next threat. Faced with a weenie horde, go fetch Balance instead, which clears away every creature he has.
Except the player who controls the fewest lands, each player sacrifices lands until all players control the same number of lands as the player who controls the fewest. Players do the same for creatures and discard cards from their hands the same way.
Once you survive the first few turns, you will have enough mana to play the more powerful cards. Mana Draining an expensive spell usually reverses the tempo of the game and gives you an opening.
If your opponent is vulnerable to a specific card you have, such as the Abyss, go fetch it. If he isn't, build card advantage and outdraw him. Try to set up Mind Twist or Yawgmoth's Will to create an insurmountable lead. After this, you should have a full hand and a lot of mana on the board, while the other guy is playing"Topdeck, Land, Go."
Somewhere in all this, you might get around to playing Morphling, then waiting for four turns to win. Gaining"total control" by being able to counter or destroy every future threat is usually impossible in 2001, but Morphling allows you to ignore most threats after it hits the board.
It sounds simple, but there are an infinite number of possible decisions between laying that first land and staying alive to play that Morphling for the kill.
Say, you play Mox Sapphire and Underground Sea, then your opponent plays a Mountain and a Jackal Pup. Do you counter it, or Tutor for Balance? Or fetch The Abyss? What if it was a Cursed Scroll? What if you have just one counter in your opening hand? Do you just fetch Ancestral Recall?
Suppose you topdeck Fire/Ice. Do you cast Fire during his turn? Do you wait for another creature? Do you cycle Ice? Do you hold it in hand because you have Force of Will?
And suppose by the following turn, he has two creatures out and two Mountains while you have four dual lands. Do you look for Balance and destroy your own land? Do you fetch Ancestral Recall? Do you cast a Demonic Tutor and fetch The Abyss, knowing you can only play it next turn?
Suppose you do get Morphling out, but two topdecked Wastelands leave you with only three land. Do you pump Morphling as it attacks and keep less mana open to counter, or do you keep mana open, but give him more time to draw more burn?
As you can see,"The Deck" demands a lot from the player, and doesn't play itself - Eric"Danger" Taylor once joked that it was about solving Rosewater puzzles in a real game. If you have room for so many mistakes against Sligh, then imagine playing against another control deck.
Even small mistakes add up. And, just one subtle mistake can lose a game, given the fast pace of Type I.
A good player can take this deck farther than an average player.
A lousy player can lose and look much worse than an average one doing it.
Especially know-it-alls on other Type I forums, or your self-proclaimed local gurus. Beware of deckbuilding advice from such pretentious gurus who claim that"The Deck" is simple, and requires no more skill than casting Vampiric Tutor for The Abyss on your first turn.
This is THE Deck, the most complex set of sixty cards in the game to date.
In the next installment, we'll check out the individual cards as they were printed (since taking them all at once is kinda... tough), and how the deck evolved as it (and its opponents) gained more cards to choose from. Keep this overview in mind as we trace how the"The Deck" strategy evolved. And, since you might overwhelmed or confused, I'll also show how the very same Type I game plan from 1995 to 2001 was transplanted into Block, Standard and Extended.
rakso on #BDChat on Newnet
Type I, Extended and Casual Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (http://www.bdominia.com/discus/messages/9/9.shtml)
Featured writer, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/archive.php?Article=Oscar Tan)
Proud member of the Casual Player's Alliance (http://www.casualplayers.org)
P.S. - Thanks to Brian Weissman, Darren diBattista a.k.a. Azhrei, JP"The Polluted" Meyer, Matt D'Avanzo, Adam Duke a.k.a. Meridian, and John Ormerod for being tough critics of the drafts of this series.
Thanks to Giles Reid from the Star City list and Nate Heiss of The Magic Word (www.mtgword.com) for sending me the original Dojo files, and to Amy English for being my"guinea pig" reader.
And, thanks to Alex Shvartsman, Kai Budde, Zvi Mowshowitz, Gary Wise, Chris Pikula, Noah Boeken and Ben Rubin for invaluable insights into the Magic Invitational and Invitational playtesting.
P.P.S. - In my Odyssey review, I mentioned how Daniel McDonald a.k.a. ElGato, global moderator of MTGNews and head of the MTGNews Gurus, always asked me for an Apprentice game while I was writing my articles. He finally caught me - no mean feat given our twelve-hour time difference - and we joked that we'd post the logs of our long-postponed friendly games.
The score was four games for Beyond Dominia and zero for MTGNews. (Our next games will ban the Power Ten.)
Summary of game 1: I play"The Deck" and get a slow mana start against ElGato's Null Rod WW, and even have to Force a Null Rod because I can't afford to lose a Mox just yet. This actually works to my advantage when I bounce an Undiscovered Paradise end-of-turn, leave only a Tundra and a Mox Pearl on the board, then cast Balance. With no Land Tax on the other end of the table, and with The Abyss out, control is sealed from there.
Summary of game 2: ElGato switches to NetherVoid, but seeing a Negator but no Port, I think it's the more aggressive Suicide build. I lose my hand but get a lot of mana out. ElGato's first Negator is met by a timely Vampiric Tutor for The Abyss, which in turn eats a Demonic Tutor for Nether Void. ElGato had exactly four lands when he played the Void, though, and was stalled by land destruction. I had a lot more mana. He got me down to two life with his Port eyeing my City of Brass, but I am in the better position with a Gorilla Shaman and Zuran Orb. I get to seven mana, then take a Mind Twist and Sol Ring from a Fact or Fiction. ElGato concedes two turns later when, during his end-of-turn, he is shown a Dismantling Blow with seven mana on the table, Sol Ring, Mind Twist, FoF, and a Stroke of Genius.
ElGato also played NetherVoid in the other games, and almost got me in the last with a Necropotence that came just a couple of turns too late.
All in friendly inter-website fun, but ElGato swears vengeance on the guy he now calls a lucky bastard.