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SCG Daily: Public Enemy Number One
by Peter Jahn

It’s time to unveil the worst, most evil, most vicious and most unfair deck in Magic history. This time out, however, it is not a deck that dominated tournament Magic for season after season. This deck only survived for a few weeks before the DCI banned it.

Urza’s Legacy was released in the middle of February, 1999. It became legal for Constructed play in mid-March, 1999. Memory Jar was banned in all formats (okay, restricted in TI) effective April first, 1999.

The deck, which abused Memory Jar and Megrim, was called “Grim Memories” or “JarGrim” or “Ivy Tech Deck.” It wasn’t just that the deck could pop a Memory Jar with Megrim out, and when the opponent discarded the cards they drew, they took damage – it was that the fast mana meant that the JarGrim player could often play a Memory Jar, pop it for seven new cards, play more mana acceleration, then play and pop a second Memory Jar and play a Megrim all during the same turn.

Even in Standard, the deck had Mana Vault, Mox Diamond, Grim Monolith, Voltaic Key, Dark Ritual and Lotus Petal, plus Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. In Extended, it added Lion’s Eye Diamond, plus Vampiric Tutor, Intuition, and Demonic Consultation. In both formats, it added Yawgmoth’s Will to allow it to replay the Lotus Petals and Lion’s Eye Diamonds, not to mention used Rituals and Memory Jars.

The deck, in both formats, was both brutally effective and highly resilient. But don’t just take my word — look at these clips from the period:

Ted J. Vessenes:
This weekend, I went to the two-slot qualifier in Indianapolis just on a whim.... a friend of mine (Aaron Estrin) showed me this abusive Jar deck the night before, and I told him I'd come if I could construct it in time. I ended up going 7-1 and he went 6-2.

Highlights of the tournament included:

  • First turn win in my very first game.
  • Back-to-back first turn wins by Aaron in round 6.
  • In a two hundred-man tournament, there were five Jar decks and three of them made the top 8.
  • Defeated a Jank deck that got second turn maindeck Aura of Silence.
  • Defeated a second- and third-turn Gloom from a Jack deck, and then a first-turn Gloom in the next game.
  • Killed a Pox deck by Hurkyl's Recalling five artifacts back to their hand after a Jar was used, and then cast one megrim.
  • Got a total of eighteen mana from two Lion's Eye Diamonds with Ill-Gotten Gains (sack in response), Intuition (sack in response), Yawgmoth's Will (sack, remove from game).
  • Realizing that if my opponent had green in their deck, I got a bye — and I was paired against two elf decks and two G/b Rec/Sur decks...

Here's the Jar deck we played, constructed at 10:30 the night before the tournament, with the sideboard constructed in the car on the drive there. Kids, don't try this at home. You'll end up with a lot of useless crap in the deck. We were lucky enough to only have five wasted maindeck slots, with seven in the sideboard. But this deck is so broken it doesn't matter...

Or this one:

P. Kozlowski
I only played the deck in Standard, but I believe I can answer your questions. The draw from the Jar is the key to the deck going off. The high casting cost of the Jar (five mana) makes mana management very important. It is very risky to use your last mana to cast a Jar. If you have no way of getting more mana like (Petal or Diamond), you fizzle. However, if you draw an accelerator you are usually able to continue. With the Wills you are able to fizzle and then reuse the cards you were forced to discard.

As far as a first-turn kill, here is one I managed to achieve in testing:

Opening Hand:
Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Mana Vault, Mana Vault, Memory Jar, other stuff but no land

Play:

  • Lotus Petal, sacrifice (B)
  • Ritual (BBB)
  • Mana Vault, tap (3BB)
  • Mana Vault, tap (5BB)
  • Jar, sacrifice (BB)

In my new hand, I drew: Underground River, Ritual, Tinker, Megrim, Voltaic Key, and some other stuff

Play:

  • River, tap for U (BBU)
  • Ritual (BBBBU)
  • Key, untap Vault (BBU)
  • Tap Vault (3BBU)
  • Tinker, sacrifice Vault, get Jar (1BB)
  • Megrim (0)
  • Sacrifice the Jar
  • End turn, do twenty-eight points of damage

It is a pretty complicated win that depends on the draw from the first Jar. However, if it fails a Yawgmoth's Will will usually let you win on the turn you cast it.

I testing, I achieved turn 1, 2, 3, 4 kills about 80% of the time…..

Randy Buehler posted an Extended version on New Wave that he claimed got turn 1 kills one-third of the time. Turns 1-3 in Extended and turns 1-4 in Standard would be good today — and today’s formats are faster than those of March, 1999.

Choosing the worst deck ever was difficult. There are a lot of serious contenders. I chose JarGrim for number one because it combined several aspects of the other candidates.

Like Academy, High Tide, and Bargain decks, JarGrim decks had one a long, explosive turn where the combo player fiddled with their deck, drew and cast lots of cards and maybe yanked cards out of their graveyard. With all of these decks, that explosive turn could take many, many minutes. Usually, playing against any of these decks consisted mainly of sitting and watching the other player while she puzzled out how to win. Interactive Magic it was not.

Like the Tinker decks that dominated Pro Tour: New Orleans in 2004, the JarGrim decks featured lots of mana acceleration and artifact mana to power out critical spells and permanents. Some JarGrim decklists even included Tinker.

Like Worldgorger Dragon combo decks, JarGrim decks abused a mistake in the way the card was written – a mistake that could have easily been avoided. (Worldgorger Dragon removed all a player’s permanents, other than the Dragon, from the game. This created a loop with Animate Dead – a problem which could have been avoided if the remove effect only applied to creatures, lands and artifacts, like Jokulhaups and Obliterate.) Similarly, if Memory Jar had removed unused cards from the game or put them into the graveyard instead of having them discarded, Megrim would not have triggered and the combo would not have worked.

Finally, the reason that JarGrim wins the top slot is that it resulted in emergency bannings. It wasn’t just really good and really abusive – that could be said, in their day at least, of Necropotence, Replenish, Rebels, ZevaTog, U/G Madness, MBC, Mirari's Wake, Goblins, Astral Slide, Affinity, Food Chain Goblins, Iron Giant, Life, Full English Breakfast, Tooth and Nail, and many, many more. What made JarGrim worst was that it was a blisteringly fast and totally non-interactive deck that abused the rules – and did so at a time that Magic was already reeling from combo winter. It was the worst possible deck at the worst possible time.

That’s my vote – but I’ll be glad to listen to opposing arguments in the forums.

PRJ
jahnp@itis.com