A Day in the Life of a Deck Designer – Pitch Necro ’06

Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin takes us through a sample day in his life, a day packed with conflict and deck testing. He shares his latest Standard decks – Quiet Jushi, B/U Haakon, and Pitch Necro ’06 – and thrashes them against a number of the top contenders in the modern metagame. With Coldsnap finally in the Standard mix, everyone is looking for the Next Big Thing… has Patrick found it?

Yay! A new set, which opens the door to new possibilities for Constructed. One of my absolute favorite parts of Magic is designing decks with a new set. Coldsnap is interesting for a variety of reasons. Aside from all the “lost-set” mumbo-jumbo, it is special in a number of ways:

  • It is reminiscent of a very different era. Which old concepts will re-ignite?
  • It is jam-packed with new mechanics for a small set. Plus, they are all explored fully now, instead of over a three set Block.
  • It will be Standard legal for longer than any other set, ever. It will be played with Kamigawa Block, Ravnica Block, Time Spiral Block, and whatever Block comes after that.
  • There will only be a brief window where it is legal with Kamigawa Block. When Wizards play-tests cards, they take into consideration where in a Standard format the cards will appear. For instance, Wishes from Odyssey Block made them nervous, but since they were in a third set, the window for abuse was narrow. Coldsnap will be legal with Kamigawa for only a couple of months. Wizards may have found something abusive (Sensei’s Divining Top plus Scrying Sheets?), but was willing to let it slide, since Standard would correct itself quickly.

So let me tell you about my day. I woke up around 8:30am. I ate a granola bar for breakfast. To this day I still dream about when I will be able to start the day with three or four pieces of fried chicken (again).

Typically, I like to go back to sleep after checking in at 8:30, but today I was well rested and up for the day. I happened to be reading the Coldsnap spoiler, when inspiration struck.

Krovikan Whispers plus Repeal.

I had already tried a similar combo with Phyrexian Etchings plus Repeal, but it will take a greater designer than I to break the Etch. It just does not compare well to Phyrexian Arena or Bottled Cloister.

I actually wasted three days trying to break that card. It was miserable. It may be good, but I have not yet unlocked its potential. Side note: you don’t need Repeal to avoid Etch’s drawback. Once you start Etching, why would you ever want to stop?

If anyone decides to do another article about Investment, I sure hope they mention the Etch-a-Sketch(y as hell). It requires it all; a card, triple Black, a cumulative upkeep, potential loss of life…

As far as the Etch goes, I’d suggest if you are a glutton for punishment and want to make it work, build an ultra fast deck that burn all resources quickly. Etch is super slow, so you’ll need the speed. However, if you live five turns with it in play (at a cost of BBBBBBBBBBBBB) you’ll probably win – unless they have a Mortify.

Right. So today I was definitely not playing the Etch. I was sick of losing so much (admittedly to myself, but you know what I mean). Where to start?

When in doubt, update a Michael J. Flores deck and put your name on it.

While I was not sure what direction this would lead me, at least I would know the starting point had merit and my “updates” were likely behind any new developments.

Obviously this is just a “Flores Blue” update. Spell Snare and Repeal are obvious. Ghost Quarter and Commandeer are logical possibilities. Krovikan Whispers is the real question mark.

Seeing as I am just brainstorming and not presenting a tuned product, I decided to try running it rapid-fire through the gauntlet. I planned to play two unsideboarded games against each deck, learning what I could and getting a feel for the concepts.

First at bat was Husk with, Eight-and-a-half-Tails and Umezawa’s Jitte. As in all odd games, the challenger (Jushi) played first.

Game 1
QJ has turn 2 Jushi, but must use permission instead of drawing cards to slow the assault. A Jitte wins it. Krovikan Whispers is apparently bad versus Plagued Rusalka. QJ loses.

Game 2
Husk has turn 2 Dark Confidant. QJ manages to steal it turn 4, but then what is he supposed to do? How can he counter anything? Bob is killing him and if he quits Whispering, he’ll die. Krovikan Whispers is an aggro card and not right for this deck, or at least not exciting. I want to be excited. I still believe in the Whispers, I just need a new sideboard to compliment it. By the way, QJ loses.

Final: 0-2 (and that is enough of that, though admittedly Husk is naturally strong against Whispers).

So I know I want to play aggro.

The obvious candidates are mono-Blue and U/B. I toyed with the idea of making the Blue Guildmage beatdown deck I always wanted (Simic Guildmage plus Krovikan Whispers?), but cooler heads prevailed (though I still fantasize about Halcyon Glaze plus Vexing Sphinx).

U/B aggro, huh? Well, as it turned out, I had a U/B concept I had been wanting to try: Haakon, Stromgald Scourge plus Vexing Sphinx.

I added Stromgald Crusader and Compulsive Research for redundancy, Dark Confidant and Remand because I want to win, Jitte because I have men, and Garza’s Assassin because he is the Dimir version of Putrefy, Mortify, or Wrecking Ball.

U/B Haakon Prototype

4 Dark Confidant
4 Stromgald Crusader
4 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
2 Garza’s Assassin
4 Remand
4 Compulsive Research
4 Vexing Sphinx
4 Krovikan Whispers
3 Repeal
4 Umezawa’s Jitte

4 Watery Grave
4 Dimir Aqueduct
4 Underground River
2 Frost Marsh
1 Waterveil Caverns
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Swamp

I decided to rotate Husk to the back, and challenged Solar Flare to a duel.

Game 1
Haakon has turn 2 Bob, turn 3 Vexing Sphinx, turn 4 Haakon, turn 5 Whispers (Kokusho). Solar Flare needs to cast Cranial Extraction targeting Haakon, or just play bigger men. Whispers is amazing versus Dragons. Win.

Game 2
Wrath, followed by Persecute for Blue clears the way for Kokusho. Haakon plus Bob plus Crusader (from the grave) all drop. Angel of Despair wins the race for Solar Flare. Loss.

Okay, but what about Sea Stompy? I played against Ken Nowell’s Nationals deck.

Game 3
After a Sea Stompy mulligan, Sphinx plus Haakon attack, while two Garza’s Assassins Abyss Sea Stompy. Win

Game 4
A double Kird draw with Mana Leaks and Chars punish Haakon. A lot. Loss.

Jittes are sucking, and I want more Garza’s Assassins! Also, I think the deck needs a 24th land.

On to Urza. Yeah, yeah, people threaten to cast Simic Sky Swallower, but doesn’t he make your mana worse? I kind of like Tim Aten idea of Simic Signets without the SSS. I wonder if anyone ever Cranial’d him? [Without a report from the reclusive Mr Aten, we may never know… – Craig.]

Game 5
Jump Knight plus Bob wreck Tron, while Repeal for his mana and Remand for his Keiga secure it. Win.

Game 6
A quick Keiga with Tron, backed by Spell Snare and Remand seem to create a huge amount of tempo. However, Garza’s Assassin stabilized board at two life, and Sphinx plus Haakon complete the comeback. A surprising win.

I drew Ghost Quarter against Tron and actually wished it were a Swamp or an Island. Hmmm… The mana must be adjusted.

Next in the gauntlet, Ian Nuben’s Firemane. This one should be academic. Haakon is some good versus Zur’s Weirding. Jump Knight is some good versus the entire deck.

Game 7
The standard turn 3 Sphinx, turn 4 Haakon combo is momentarily slowed by a Remand (anti-Haakon tech!) but Haakon just comes back. Win. That Sphinx is a mighty fine beater, by the way.

If you pay the upkeep once, then let it go, it is a 1UU cantrip Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], but with excellent selection. Pay twice and you are trading one card and 1UU for three cycles and eight damage. Usually this is the extent of things, but sometimes you trade two cards for another two Shocks. Remember, you get the age counter before you pay, so you can always get one “extra” out of the Sphinx. He is one of the best Blue beatdown cards of all time (for what that’s worth).

Try the Sphinx in your aggro decks, regardless of color. He is insane. I can’t even imagine how nuts he’ll be in Extended Madness. He is easily one of the five best cards in Coldsnap.

Do the math for him in a R/U burn deck or U/W weenie – maybe Skies – deck. 1UU for eight damage, plus you trade your three worst cards (land from a Karoo?) for three new cards. That is efficiency. Heaven forbid you are taking advantage of the discard (turn 3 Sphinx, turn 4 Zombify).

Anyway, back to Firemane.

Game 8
Despite a Haakon mulligan, Karoo plus Vexing Sphinx plus Haakon is game. Win.

Up next, Vore (with one Meloku)

Game 9
Eye of Karoo and the usual land destruction wins it easily for Vore. Loss.

Game 10
Vore mulligans and is staring down a Dark Confidant with Jitte. However, Demolish into Tidings into Wildfire paves the way for a comeback. Two Izzet Boilerworks won this one. Loss.

I have a feeling Vore will be a bad spot for Haakon all the way around. LD is very effective versus Haakon’s plan, and Haakon has many bad cards. However, sideboarding should help (Cranial).

Haakon’s next competitor was David Sharfman’s B/W Hand deck, with 8.5 and Shining Shoal.

Game 11
B/W mulligans but has an aggressive Hound into Hand of Honor draw. A turn 3 Sphinx, turn 4 Jitte devastates B/W. When the Sphinx dies, B/W tries a Paladin, but a Whispers completes the blowout. Win.

Game 12
Both sides have a turn 2 Bob, but Haakon’s turn 3 Sphinx backed up by triple Remand leads to a total blowout (Sphinx plus Bob, nice). Win.

Game 13
Heartbeat. Oh. Well, I guess you get a sideboard. Loss.

Game 14
See Game 13.

Finally, Husk gets a turn.

Game 15
3/3s and 4/4s are bigger than 1/1s and 2/2s. Win.

Game 16
Husk mulligans and gets his Maher stolen, but a Ghost with a Jitte demolishes Haakon. Loss.

Final: 9-7

At this point, I decided the deck was interesting and worth a further look, but I had another idea I wanted to try. Here is the updated Haakon list, based on what I had learned. It has a way to go, but I think there is value here, particularly when Kamigawa rotates out.

I took a break in play testing to go eat lunch. The “chow hall” may not be the “O” (of CMU days…) but at least they served chicken. Yes, it has been a fine day so far.

I spent the afternoon running, up at the yard, putting in four and a half miles. Then I decided to walk for a bit.

As chaotic as this place can be, it can be very tranquil doing laps at the yard. I actually particularly enjoy walking in the rain because I have the entire track to myself. That kind of solitude is rare. However, today it was sunny and warm.

After excercise, I sketched a pitch Necro deck inspired by the old Contagion/Spinning Darkness/Unmask Necrodecks. The idea is to use “pitch spells” to maximize the value from massive card drawing.

Free spells plus free card drawing = a good time.
Tempo plus card advantage = victory.

When I originally conceived this deck, it was a Phyrexian Etchings deck, but Etchings was so much worse than anything, I decided to try it with Phyrexian Arena and Bottled Cloister.

Pitch Necro ‘06 (Prototype)

4 Stromgald Crusader
4 Hand of Cruelty
4 Phyrexian Arena
4 Soul Spike
4 Sickening Shoal
1 Garza’s Assassin
4 Bottled Cloister
4 Rise / Fall
4 Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
4 Wrecking Ball

4 Blood Crypt
4 Rakdos Carnarium
4 Sulfurous Springs
2 Watery Grave
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Tendo Ice Bridge
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
4 Swamp

Talk about porting a deck from another era!

Jump Knight = Pump Knight
Hand = Black Knight
Lyzolda = Hypnotic Specter (though maybe it should have been kept Hypno)
Sickening Shoal = Contagion
Soul Spike = Drain Life
Rise / Fall = Hymn to Tourach
Wrecking Ball = Icequake
Arena and Cloister are eight Necros (Consult? …)

After I ate what is allegedly considered dinner, I returned to the gauntlet.

The first round opponent was Solar Flare.

Game 1
Early two- and three-drop men swarm the Japanimator, while a Persecute is undone by a topdecked Arena. Yosei cannot stop a Jump Knight and Blood Witch. Win.

Game 2
Turn 3 Arena, turn 4 Bottle… Hmmm… A win. Soul Spike seemed sketchy, but wins are wins. On to Sea Stompy…

Game 3
Arena plus Removal allow Pitch Necro to win a war of attrition. Win.

Game 4
Necro mulligans and suffers Plaxmanta to Ninja beats. A loss. Onto Urza.

Game 5
Urza mulliganed and is punished by Hymns and Sinkholes, while Necro is drawing two per turn. Easy win.

Game 6
Urza Remands and Repeals everything. A turn 5 Wildfire is game. Loss.

Firemane was next, but I think Firemane will seriously have to reconsider its game plan after Coldsnap.

Game 7
Protection from White men run over Firemane. Win.

Game 8
Protection from White men give Firemane hell. Eventually a Wrath clears the board, but Fall plus Arena is game. Win.

Game 9
Arena resolves. This is very bad for Vore. Win.

Game 10
The degenerate LD hand defeats Necro, but he still would have had game if he had gone first. Loss.

Ahh… What about Husk?

Game 13
Arena plus Cloister out-Bob Bob. Win.

Game 14
Two Hands beat on Husk until eventually a Promise plus Ghost Quarter stabilize. The Lyzolda plus Rise combo wins it (that, and the turn 2 Shoal on Bob). Win.

So far, so good, though the mana is a little suspect. I can’t tell if Necro is winning thanks to Coldsnap cards, or in spite of them. It feels like Arena, Bottled Cloister, and Rise / Fall are winning the games.

Heartbeat’s next.

Game 15
A timely Savage Twister wins a nail biter for Heartbeat. Loss.

Game 16
An early Fall demolishes Heartbeat. A quick clock combined with two Wrecking Balls win it.

Final: 10-6

[Games 11 and 12 were absent from Pat’s original article submission. I’m doing all I can to track them down. Watch this space! – Craig.]

An excellent showing so far. It seems this deck should be good without the Coldsnap cards. Why hasn’t it been good already? Perhaps it is the natural evolution of decks like Flores’s Rakdos-Dimir and Mister Orange’s Rakdos. The question I am very unsure of is whether or not to add Kokusho, the Evening Star. He seems like he’d be good, but he would not have won a single game that I lost. Not one. Hmmm. Still, 16 games is a small sample size. He is something to consider. Here is my current list for Pitch Necro:

I decided that was enough gaming for the night and prepared my last meal of the day, a packet of chicken ramen noodles. After eating, I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt (thanks Katherine!) until ten, when It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia came on FX. That show is broken in most formats, as Danny De Vito is clearly overpowered.

That pretty much brings you up to date on my day. How was yours?


While clearly 16 games apiece is not a large sample size, it did give us a chance to get a feel for the decks and see if the core concepts are reasonable. I think both Haakon.dec and Pitch Necro ‘06 are worth exploring.

Pitch Necro ‘06 is straightforward Necro style. You draw extra cards, disrupt the opponent, kill his men, and attack with efficient threats. Haakon.dec however, is more innovative. There are some clever synergies and there may be room for more. Is there something more tempo-oriented than Compulsive Research to secure a secondary way to dump Haakon?

Maybe Delirium Skeins is an option, though it is non-synergistic with Vex. That would certainly give you an interesting angle versus Heartbeat.

I don’t think Drowned Rusalka does enough to warrant a spot, though he curves reasonably and is a mondo-combo if you get Haakon in play with him.

Thought Courier would make Jitte even more appealing.

Thanks for spending the day with me. Also, thank you to everyone for your support, kind words, and constructive criticism. For instance, I am working on a system of acquiring timely updated versions of decks, but it can be hard because so many people play such as variety. I also have to write my articles much further ahead of time than anyone else, as many hoops must be leapt through before they see print.

Also, thank you for keeping me informed of stuff like Invoke is not a Stroke and Promise tokens are not White. I have never actually seen these cards, so once in a while when I go to memorize the card file, I am not in the loop.

I’ll talk to you next week.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”