1800 or Bust!: Suicide Isn’t Painless!

What does it take for a new Suicide deck to work in Type II – or can it work at all? A little playtesting provides some answers.

With the advent of every new set you can be sure that a whole bunch of Magic players will be scouring the lists for pieces of a possible new combo, creatures for their favourite decks, or new hosers to add to their sideboards against whichever is their hated foe that month. When the standard set changes it’s a little like this, but many more players will be looking to see which of their old favourites have come back and which – if any – of their old decks may be viable again.

When I looked at the 7th spoilers for the first time, I dismissed them as rubbish. The first few had trampling creatures and creatures with protection from colours as well as cards with complicated mechanics – all things we know that Wizards are trying to remove from the base set. Over time the spoilers began to look a little more reasonable and I began to pay a little more attention. Three particular cards that caught my eye were Duress, Foul Imp, and Unholy Strength.

These cards used to be played in one particular deck known as Suicide Black. Sure, the cards were played in other decks – but they were played together to their most devastating effect in Suicide Black. Here’s a successful deck listing from the pages of the past:

"Suicide Black" played by Matt Kirkland, January 1999.

4x Carnophage
4x Sarcomancy
4x Foul Imp
4x Dauthi Slayer
4x Dauthi Horror
2x Dauthi Warlord

4x Dark Ritual
4x Duress
3x Bad Moon
3x Unholy Strength
4x Cursed Scroll

3x Wasteland
17x Swamp

This deck is very focussed. They’re going to play creatures and hit you with them until you die or they run out of cards. It has 23 1cc spells, 17 2cc spells, and 20 land. Of these, we have eight 1cc creatures and fourteen 2cc creatures. With the four Dark Rituals in the deck, you’d often see a 2cc creature cast on turn one, followed by Unholy Strength. Many decks would just die to this alone if they didn’t see an answer in five turns.

Many of the creatures have evasion abilities (four fliers and ten with Shadow) whilst the rest add to the deck’s ability to overcome an opponent by attrition. The Wastelands slowed an opponent’s mana development down whilst the Cursed Scroll gave the Suicide Black player a way of dealing the last four or five points of damage needed after the creature rush had abated.

Decks around at the time included Recurring Survival, Deadguy Red, Spiral Blue, Hatred (we’ll come onto in a second), White Weenie, Counter-Phoenix, Cursed Fish. All of these get going quite quickly and use very powerful cards, but the deck above could kill them on turn 3 if it got a ‘God Draw.’

Suicide Black also morphed into another deck type called Hatred that was even more focused. Here’s a decklist from its heyday:

"Hatred" by Jay Schneider, January 1999.

3x Blood Pet
4x Carnophage
4x Sarcomancy
4x Dauthi Slayer
4x Dauthi Horror
3x Priest of Gix
3x Skittering Skirge

4x Dark Ritual
4x Hatred
4x Duress
2x Persecute

4x City of Traitors
17x Swamp

This deck takes the idea of overwhelming a person with lots of creatures and modifies it slightly. They’re going to cast enough creatures so that one cannot be blocked. Hatred is then cast on one of the creatures that isn’t blocked, sometimes for sixteen or eighteen life. This deck can kill on turn 2.

Both of these decks used Duress to get the one card an opponent had that could stop them and put it in the bin. The decks were so fast that if that one answer were lost, the opponent would frequently be all but dead.

So. With Unholy Strength, Duress, and Foul Imp back, along with Dark Ritual from Mercadian Masques, is it possible to build a Suicide Black deck today? If so, is the deck actually viable or is it too unstable to really work?

I started my research by looking at all the 1cc and 2cc black creatures that are available. There are not that many left with evasion abilities that you’d really want to play. Sure, Molting Harpy is a 2/1 creature, but you haven’t got the spare mana to pay for its ability every turn. Bog Imp is a 1/1 flier for 1B, Phyrexian Battleflies can at least be cast on turn one and it can be a 2/1 flier the next turn – hell, with Unholy Strength on it, it can be a 4/2 flier next turn.

There are also plenty of 2cc creatures with 2 power too: Spineless Thug, Hate Weaver, Cateran Persuader to name a few. On top of these we have removal spells that can be cast for free in Snuff Out and more creature enhancers in the form of Sinister Strength if we really want.

I started by putting a deck together. Here it is:

4x Foul Imp
4x Phyrexian Battleflies
4x Ravenous Rats
2x Agent of Shaku
2x Phyrexian Scuta
4x Hate Weaver

4x Dark Ritual
4x Unholy Strength
4x Duress
4x Tangle Wire
3x Snuff Out

4x Rishadan Port
17x Swamp

Dark Ritual, Unholy Strength, Duress, and Foul Imp are obvious choices. With no Wastelands in the environment, I chose to add four Rishadan Ports to allow me to slow my opponent down and seventeen swamps – there are only two 4cc creatures in this deck and they’re the top of the mana curve, so twenty-one land should be plenty.

I added Tangle Wire in the belief that the deck is too slow to win against most modern decks without slowing the opponent. A combination of Tangle Wires and Ports should do just that, I also added Ravenous Rats as another cheap way of forcing my opponent to get rid of things they might want to keep.

The last choice is one that’s not played in Type II a lot at the moment: Agent of Shauku. Although only a 1/1 creature, he can make good use of extra land by sacrificing it to give a creature +2/+0 until end of turn. In a deck that’s all about hurting the opponent as fast as possible, I thought this would be a good thing. I also avoided playing Chimeric Idol, although it fits into a nice spell curve you can’t put Unholy Strength on it and reducing the number of creature you can play the Strength on didn’t seem like a good idea.

In such a deck I always find it tempting to add just one big creature like Ascendant Evincar or Fallen Angel, just in case the deck doesn’t kill the opponent fast enough. The Evincar boosts your creatures just that little bit more, whilst the Angel could fly over your opponent’s defences and deliver a potentially fatal blow. In reality if you get to the late game with this deck, unlike the first deck in this article, you’re probably dead – there is no modern equivalent of Cursed Scroll we can use to finish our opponent off.

It’s also tempting to add cards to fill your hand up like Necrologia or Greed, again for after the first few turns of rush when your hand is emptying. Although this initially seems like a good idea, ensuring that the deck won’t burn out as early as it otherwise might, in fact it dilutes the focus of the deck. There’s a reason that the original versions of this deck were so focused, and that’s because if they weren’t focused enough they didn’t work.

Testing began in earnest, and I chose to start off against our old friend Fires. With its burn and big creatures, it offers a big challenge to our new deck – plus, given the fact that people will always play Fires, you should be ready for it.

Early results were encouraging. If I could get down a pair of two power creatures, Snuff Out their mana producers, and drop a Tangle Wire, I won. After five games I did start to notice that Ravenous Rats just weren’t working. As a 2cc creature they only have one power when there are two-power creatures available, and if the deck is working, your opponent is stuck with lots of cards in their hand that they can’t cast – the rats might as well be a two-power creature. I also saw the sheer power of Phyrexian Scuta. A turn two 5/5 creature followed by a Tangle Wire was pretty much game as long as I had some creature removal in hand.

The Agent of Shaukus were great, sometimes adding sox points to an attack to finish an opponent off on turn 5 – but I wasn’t seeing enough of them, really. I also saw that the Duress was working very well, removing an annoying Assault/Battery or Ghitu Fire from my opponent’s hand just before they could kill a creature I intended to cast Unholy Strength on. Lastly, I had mixed feelings about the Battleflies; Sometimes you’d cast them, cast Strength on them and come in for three, then four, then four and with a few other creatures they’d be great. Other times you’d find that you’d be using your mana every turn and so they’d either be 0/1 creatures of a lowly 2/2 creature and enchantment, waiting for Shock or Assault/Battery to give your opponent a little card advantage.

Taking these results back to the drawing board, I dropped the Rats for a third and fourth Scuta, a third Agent of Shauku, and a single Spineless Thug. I also dropped a Swamp for a fourth Snuff Out. I left in the Battleflies to give them more of a try out and started testing again.

This time the deck was a little more aggressive and seemed to be more consistent. With a fourth Snuff Out they appeared just that little more often, and with more Scutas I found the deck could survive a bit better to deal the remaining few points of damage if my opponent had nearly recovered and was attacking me back.

I then tried a few more ideas. I dropped the Snuff Outs for Sinister Strength and tried the deck like that; after all, there’s only Cursed Scrolls in the original Suicide Black we’re working from and they can’t be used in the first few turns. I found that with eight creature boosters I often drew them and no creatures, so I dropped it to six and played with twenty-two creatures instead. Although the initial attack seemed to work well, the Battleflies still seemed to be too small a lot of the time, whilst I often found a pair of chump blockers could give my opponent the breathing space he needed to survive until I ran out of threats.

After that I put the Snuffs back in and dropped the Tangle Wires. Without the Wires I found that the deck was just a touch too slow. Fires can Ghitu Fire a three-toughness creature on turn 3, and then use Fires of Yavimaya and Birds of Paradise to chump block my creature enchantment-free fliers until their ground assault devastates me.

So. Tangle Wires are necessary, creature removal is necessary, creature boosters are necessary, and you need lots of creatures. Here’s the final version of the deck:

4x Foul Imp
4x Phyrexian Battleflies
3x Agent of Shaku
4x Phyrexian Scuta
3x Hate Weaver
2x Spineless Thug

4x Dark Ritual
4x Unholy Strength
4x Duress
4x Tangle Wire
4x Snuff Out

3x Rishadan Port
17x Swamp

I found that four Ports meant that I didn’t have enough black mana when I needed it. As twenty lands seemed enough, I dropped one to give me the extra slots in the main deck. Sometimes the deck just wins, sometimes it dies a horrible death – but can it be made to work?

I think the biggest problem is the lack of two-power, 1cc black creatures and the lack of 2cc, two-power evasion creatures. Compared to the Suicide Black of old, these creatures are largely substandard. This means that the deck is a little slower, forcing us to add Tangle Wire and Ports to slow the opponent down – and you need the four slots for the Tangle Wires for other things.

If you play the deck, you’ll probably find, like me, that it needs two more creature boosters, one or two more creatures, and a little more creature removal (probably Vendetta). The only things that can really come out are the Duresses, and then you find your opponent doing bad things to you, like burning your creatures. The Battleflies will probably be dropped eventually for more 2cc creatures – possibly Bog Imp just to get the evasion the deck so badly needs.

So, with a month to go until the Nationals, I have a hard choice ahead of me: Do I continue working on this deck? Do I spend my time looking at card choices, playing endless games against various archetypes and decks I see on the net?

This is a question that every deck designer faces at some point: You may have just started working on a deck, or you may have put months of work into a deck before you ask yourself this question. Many will continue working on a deck long after it is obvious to everyone else that the deck just isn’t good enough. Some people give up too early and suddenly find that someone else has taken the final leap to make the deck work.

If this deck didn’t win at all, it’d be easy to stop working on it. The thing is, it does win. It wins a LOT of games. Against bad opponents, it’ll probably win and against good opponents it’ll probably win a few matches, too. It has problems though: One COP: Black will ruin your day, and if red becomes popular you can forget playing this altogether – and finally, the deck mulligans terribly. Once you’re down to five cards, you’re going to be very lucky to have enough threats in your hand to worry your opponent because – as I said – you need a threat, an enchantment, a Tangle Wire, and a Snuff Out to really win. With Vampiric Tutor the deck might just have worked, adding a cheap consistency that the deck needs. Now that Tutor has left Type II, it’ll be very hard to make it work.

All in all, I think the deck will win about half of its games, purely because you can’t do much against a 4/3 flier attacking you on turn 2, especially if someone casts a Tangle Wire shortly afterwards. If I win half of the matches I play, I won’t do very well and that’s just not good enough for me – and so I’m afraid that I’m probably going to stop development on this very soon. If anyone wants to take it up and keep me in on the loop I’ll gladly try out a few changes here and there, but for right now I have bigger fish to fry.

Next weekend is, once again, the Bath monthly Type II tourney, and at the moment it looks like I’ll be taking something very similar to this:

Nether-Go with Four Duresses squeezed into it:

3x Nether Spirit

4x Counterspell
4x Accumulated Knowledge
4x Duress
3x Undermine
1x Vendetta
2x Foil
2x Spite/Malice
2x Dominate
2x Tsabo’s Web
3x Recoil
3x Repulse
3x Fact or Fiction
1x Tsabo’s Decree

4x Underground River
4x Salt Marsh
4x Swamps
12x Islands

I’ve tried to make sure that there are plenty of cantrips (nine of them) along with plenty of counterspells (eleven of them) and ways of killing or stealing creatures that actually make it into play (five of them). The bounce should allow me to slow down most decks, and Duress (I’m hoping) will give me cheap threat removal. Turn one I can get a look at seven of my opponent’s cards and get rid of one that maybe I couldn’t counter or really don’t want to see – try to remember that Chimeric Idol isn’t a creature.

The sideboard will have to be changed a lot from the current versions of Nether-Go because Perish and Dread of Night are leaving Type II. Luckily, Hibernation and Engineered Plague are back in, and I think they will see some play instead.

Next week I’ll let you know how I did at the tourney. While I’m there I’ll try to keep track of the changes that 7th edition brings to the current Type II decks, as well as any new deck types I see.

Cheers, Jim.
Team Phatbeats.