Back to Basics #1: Why Timmy And Brian Kibler Shouldn’t Play Type I

I envisioned the Control Player’s Bible as a detailed reference that beginners could look at without the sometimes-haughty intimidation they sometimes get in Type I websites. The problem is that as I covered the basic discussions and had to move on to more complicated details, I got feedback saying that some beginners who caught the Bible in the middle couldn’t keep up. Somewhere there, I got the idea of starting another sub-column strictly focused on beginners again.

Stefan Iwasienko, a.k.a. Womprax from Germany, pointed me to the winners of the last Dülmen. Stephen Menendian, a.k.a. Smmenen, opined on TheManaDrain.com that the tournament would be the acid test for Psychatog-based decks. Surprise, surprise, German mad genius Roland Bode rolled out a novel permanent-based deck that threw a monkeywrench into the expected metagame. This was what he came up with, something inspired by a pet deck of longtime Beyond Dominia regular and Star City writer Paul Shriar a.k.a. Bebe, from Canada:

Sebastian Kaul, Champion, March 16, 2003 Dülmen

Artifacts (16)

4 Sphere of Resistance

4 Tangle Wire

4 Smokestack

2 Karn, Silver Golem

1 Memory Jar

1 Triskelion

Blue (8)

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Tinker

3 Meditate

Red (5)

4 Goblin Welder

1 Wheel of Fortune

Black (1)

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

White (1)

1 Balance

Mana (30)

2 Metalworker

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Emerald

1 Sol Ring

1 Mana Crypt

1 Grim Monolith

1 Strip Mine

2 Wasteland

4 Mishra’s Workshop

1 Tolarian Academy

3 Volcanic Island

1 Badlands

1 Plateau

1 Underground Sea

1 Tundra

2 Flooded Strand

2 Polluted Delta

Sideboard (15)

3 Blood Moon

3 Bottle Gnomes

3 Fire / Ice

3 Rack and Ruin

3 Red Elemental Blast

The artifact-based deck vaguely reminiscent of ancient Prison strategies pulled surprise wins in a field of German Tools ‘n’ Tubbies, German”The Deck” builds and a handful of ‘Tog decks. I haven’t seen a lot of it in action yet (exams eat up a lot of potential playtime, you know), but it has a lot of interesting interactions like Tangle Wire/Goblin Welder, Tangle Wire/Smokestack, Meditate/Tangle Wire, and Meditate/Smokestack. Sebastian is one of Roland’s”Mindener Crew,” along with Benjamin Ribbeck who took an identical maindeck to second place. Swen Weinhold-Markus rounds out their little group, names the German players are quite familiar with.

I hope the deck develops into something interesting. I am definitely not encouraged by Paul’s present builds on TheManaDrain.com with four maindeck Blood Moons, for example.

In other news, Michael Pustilnik won the Type I event in Pro Tour: Venice. I received some e-mail from critics saying that he did it with a deck that only Yoda and his force assists could win with, but no one mises like Mikey P. (As an aside, Eric Wilkinson pointed out Mikey P’s new experiment of replacing a mana slot or two with Brainstorm, arguing land count should go down if cantrip count goes up. It’s a subtle detail you may want to focus on if you try his builds.)

Michael Pustilnik, Champion, Pro Tour: Venice side event, March 22, 2003

Blue (26)

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Merchant Scroll

2 Cunning Wish

4 Brainstorm

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Braingeyser

1 Stroke of Genius

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

2 Misdirection

1 Teferi’s Response

1 Morphling

Black (4)

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Mind Twist

1 The Abyss

White (2)

1 Balance

1 Swords to Plowshares

Red (1)

1 Gorilla Shaman

Artifact (1)

1 Zuran Orb

Mana (26)

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

1 Strip Mine

3 Wasteland

2 Mishra’s Factory

1 Library of Alexandria

1 City of Brass

4 Flooded Strand

2 Underground Sea

2 Tundra

2 Volcanic Island

2 Island

Sideboard (15)

1 Burnout

1 Circle of Protection: Black

1 Circle of Protection: Red

1 Diabolic Edict

1 Ensnaring Bridge

2 Hydroblast

1 Misdirection

1 Mountain

1 Pyroblast

1 Pyroclasm

2 Red Elemental Blast

1 Swords to Plowshares

Back to Basics

I envisioned the Control Player’s Bible as a detailed reference that beginners could look at without the sometimes-haughty intimidation they sometimes get in Type I websites. (Of course, I also packaged it as a series of columns so Star City could sponsor it.) The problem is that as I covered the basic discussions and had to move on to more complicated details, I got feedback saying that some beginners who caught the Bible in the middle couldn’t keep up.

Somewhere there, I got the idea of starting another sub-column strictly focused on beginners again. Shorter, more focused pieces, albeit those the”adept” players will claim are useless because they’re supposed to be obvious. These columns would, however, cover the topics I can only gloss over in my regular columns, precisely because they’re supposed to be”obvious.”

Last week’s Pro Tour Venice gave me the encouragement to give the idea a try.

So here’s our topic for today: Why fat stinks.

Who is Brian Kibler?

“Dragon” in Type I is associated with Darren Di Battista, who took his alias”Azhrei” from Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince series. Outside Type I, however, that race of beasties is associated with pro player Brian Kibler, after taking third place in Pro Tour Chicago 2000 on the back of Rith the Awakener:

Brian slowly amassed his lands. He played a Blastoderm, which got in a hit. Zvi played out another Chimeric Idol and chose to chump block the Blastoderm, rather than take the second hit. On his next turn, Kibler cast Rith, the Awakener, and held back the Blastoderm. At first, this play looked very questionable – and it would be very likely that if Brian attacked with the Blastoderm, the game would end in one or two turns. However, this served two purposes. If he attacked with Blastoderm, Zvi would block with the Assault / Battery token, lowering the number of tokens Rith would generate. The only card in Zvi’s deck that could turn this game around was Saproling Burst. The extra blocker would keep this card from killing him. Zvi looked for an opening, but couldn’t really do anything. Kibler untapped, then very slowly, while announcing it, tapped”a white, a green and a colorless,” to which Zvi said”oh, no!” The Armadillo Cloak hit Rith and Rith went into the red zone for a crushing blow. It was a huge smashing. Just a hop, skip and jump later, this match was over.

(taken from coverage by Omeed Dariani)

G/R/W Armageddon, Brian Kibler, Semifinalist, Pro Tour Chicago 2000 (Standard)

Creatures (21)

4 River Boa

4 Chimeric Idol

4 Blastoderm

3 Jade Leech

4 Ancient Hydra

2 Rith, the Awakener

Spells (7)

4 Armageddon

3 Wax / Wane

Mana (32)

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Rishadan Port

4 City of Brass

4 Karplusan Forest

4 Brushland

8 Forest

Sideboard (15)

4 Armadillo Cloak

3 Tsabo’s Decree

3 Kavu Chameleon

2 Flashfires

2 Simoon

1 Obliterate

Brian, however, became the object of good-natured teasing in a Dragon- and Beast-filled Pro Tour: Venice:

In Game 2 it was Kastle’s turn to burst of the gates with Wirewood Elf and”veggies,” but unlike Kibler in game 1, Kastle actually had some gas to follow up with: turn 4 Rorix . Kibler did have a Pacifism for Rorix, but Kastle had a Naturalize for the Pacifism and he had another 14/14 Kilnmouth Dragon . Meanwhile Kibler couldn’t find the fourth land he needed for Explosive Vegetation… With 20-power worth of dragons versus a mana-screwed opponent, Kastle was somehow able to pull it out.

After the game, the two players were arguing about who would have won if Kibler had actually been able to ramp up to six mana. Kibler revealed a hand with Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Akroma’s Vengeance, and Silvos; but Kastle showed off three dragons (including a back-up Kilnmouth) and a pair of Silklash Spiders.

(taken from coverage by Randy Buehler)

Brian lost 2-0 there, against an Onslaught Block Constructed deck Darwin Kastle called”The Claw” over Brian’s preferred”Spawn of Kibler.”

Of course, we’re not aiming to force Block concepts onto Type I here – but in the 2000-2001 period, I remember so many beginners asking about the viability of”Type I Fires.” In other words, can you just load a deck with twenty or so relatively big creatures? Why exactly is Kilnmouth Dragon unplayable?

In other words, why do people keep insisting that fat sucks?

(To clarify, Brian Kibler is a wonderful, entertaining fellow and I have nothing against him. I have no idea whether or not he plays Dragons in Type I. The title is just an exaggerated spin-off of the Pro Tour: Venice news, nothing personal.)

Oh and so we’re clear, let’s define”fat” as something costing four mana or more, and 4/4 or larger, usually something beyond Lightning Bolt range.

Reason #1: Fat = Slow

Would you rather have a Kird Ape or a Shivan Dragon? Anyone in his right mind would rather have the venerable Dragon on his side of the table. Naturally. The Ape hits for two a turn, while the Dragon can clean up in two turns, whether the board or the player.

Of course, when you’re asked which you’d rather have if you had to pay for it, that’s when you start shoving the big boy back into the trade binder. While Shivan might clean up in two turns, you have a big problem if you’re cleaned up before you find the six mana to cast it with. The Ape, on the other hand, comes down Turn 1 and immediately calls friends.

It’s important to note, further, exactly what kind of friends. Remember that in Type I, you have every card ever printed available, and the handful of cards that are frequently used are the best of the best. That is,”best” card drawer is Ancestral Recall at one mana.”Best” burn is Lightning Bolt for one mana.

The same holds for creatures, and your Ape can find equally fast friends that make a six-mana Dragon seem even slower.

Of course, this isn’t a completely satisfactory explanation. See, you also have the best of the best mana acceleration ever printed, and it’s very possible to cast your Shivan Dragon on Turn 1, with the help of a Black Lotus and a couple of Moxen. Llanowar Elves, in fact, are too slow in the face of everything from Mana Crypt and Mana Vault to the unrestricted Mishra’s Workshop.

Reason #2: Removal = Tempo Kill

Let’s suppose, anyway, that Kird Ape’s friends dilly-dally a little and the opposing mage drops Shivan Dragon with a bit of life to spare. Wouldn’t you say that he’s good at this point?

No. He still isn’t.

Let’s rewind the tape a bit. The Dragon boy untaps impatiently, topdecks Shivan Dragon, and howls maniacally as he taps out for exactly six mana.

Ape boy yawns, hits it with Swords to Plowshares, untaps, slaps Rancor onto Kird Ape, plays a River Boa to go with it, and casts Chain Lightning on the tapped out Kibler-wannabe for good measure.

Look at the numbers.

Dragon boy spent six mana – an entire turn’s worth at this point – and one card to make his play, but Ape boy just neutralized it with one mana and one card. Then, with his leftover resources, he develops his end of the board, and says”done” staring at Dragon boy’s empty end.

If this keeps up, you can see that Dragon boy loses out on tempo, and Ape boy builds an overwhelming momentum. This is because Ape boy can neutralize fatties with a fraction of the mana it takes to play them, and this lets him press the attack without skipping a beat.

This shows you why Swords to Plowshares – and, to a lesser extent, Diabolic Edict and Chainer’s Edict – are so important. The ability to kill anything for just one or two mana discourages people from sinking too much into a single creature. (Compare this to how Akroma’s Vengeance and Cruel Revival are the best bargains in Block right now, at a minimum of five mana to play.)

Of course, you may argue that when both of you are topdecking, the player with the smaller creatures can’t use his spare mana to play larger creatures. Yes, at that point, fatties are stronger and there’s no point complaining about a six-mana casting cost when you have six mana on the board and nothing else to cast. However, the availability of so many cheap and potent spells makes Type I so fast, and you worry about the early game more than midgame topdeck stalemates.

You might also argue that only”The Deck,” mainly, plays Swords and Edicts, making the argument incomplete.

Reason #3: Counters = Tempo Swing

Adding removal cards to a Type I deck is always a problem, since they may end up dead. For example, Swords to Plowshares is a wasted draw against a creatureless combo. The above reasoning, however, applies to other, broader categories such as counters.

People hate blue mages, but most beginners probably can’t articulate why. They might cite the frustration having”everything countered,” but if you look at the typical blue deck, you’ll find that twelve or sixteen counters is an absolute maximum.

Again, we just go back to tempo.

The Type I standard for counters is two mana: Counterspell itself, Mana Drain, and Mana Leak. Given this, you can imagine why it’d be annoying for a blue player to have a bunch of one-mana Kird Apes and Jackal Pups thrown at him. He may have a hand with a lot of counters, but the weenie player may get two or three of them on the board before you even hit your fourth blue mana. It’s just tough trying to counter spells at twice the amount the opponent invested. (Of course, blue players will cast Powder Keg to neuter the tempo of such an assault, but that’s another concept.)

Imagine, however, if you have nothing but Shivan Dragons to throw. The opponent spends two mana and one card to neutralize your six mana and one card play. So while you tap out for one card at a time, the opponent can counter at a fraction of the cost, then use the difference to cast nasty things like Fact or Fiction and keep ahead of you. (Again, compare Type I’s selection to the current possibilities in Block.)

Imagine, further, that the blue player can play a Morphling, then use Force of Will on your next Dragon without skipping a beat. Then, all he has to do is sit back and counter the next two or three expensive plays. By the time you can bring those big creatures to bear fast enough, you’d have lost.

Note that by the time he’s just sitting back, his remaining counters have effectively turned into Time Walks or Mana Shorts, which is great when all he needs is a couple more turns before Superman (the Morphling’s most common nickname) finishes up.

Finally, not only are you punished each time you come up behind in these trades with counters, Type I has a unique counter that causes massive tempo swings all by itself: Mana Drain. Not only does it neutralize a turn’s worth of mana sunk into a single play, it gives its caster that mana the next turn, letting its caster act as though it had twice the mana development on the board.

In plain English, you get this old anecdote:

Game 2 salvaged a little pride. His first spell was a turn 4 Skizzik, and I responded with Mana Drain. His eyebrows went up at the uncommon sight, but his jaw dropped when I tutored and showed him my ancient, and recently-unbanned, Mind Twist. (Remember, baiting counters is done differently in Type I and in Type II.) We had a good laugh when he dropped his hand and revealed the other three Skizziks, though he declined to swap decks and play from the other side.

This is Type I. Broken things happen.

Of course, Mana Drain doesn’t need to be restricted. As discussed, a lot of other factors punish players for using too-expensive spells already.

Reason #4: High Mana Costs = Less Spell Slots

If you play with a lot of high-casting cost spells in your Limited Deck, don’t you cut one or two spell slots for extra land? This is because you actually want to increase the probability of you drawing land and thus your expected number of land each turn. Drawing land when you have enough is a waste, sure, but not having enough land soon enough to play those bombs is even worse.

The same simple concept translates directly into Constructed.

The higher your mana costs, the more mana cards you need, and the less spell slots you can have. Conversely, this is why that can run on one- and two-mana cards have a built-in advantage of having more spells. Something like”The Deck” is forced to compensate by using explosive draw effects, to make up for the lower spell ratio by simply drawing more cards overall.

Now go back to your Shivan Dragon deck. Let’s say you survive and get to play your first Dragon. Plowed. Second Dragon. Counterspelled. Third Dragon…

“Wait, where’s the third Dragon?

“Oops, haven’t topdecked it yet. Land, land, land… Damn! Just one card too deep!”

When you run fat creatures, you’re forced to run more mana sources and less spells, and end up being forced to run less creatures anyway. If your first wave is dealt with, it’ll take a while to assemble the next, unless you have some kind of card advantage engine – which isn’t a common feature of aggressive decks.

The funny thing is that fat creatures in Type I tend to be smaller than the cheap but gigantic aggro-control creatures, anyway: Phyrexian Dreadnought (via Illusionary Mask), Quirion Dryad, and most recently, Psychatog.

Practical test: A Fat Deck That Works

Here’s the most popular fat-based deck in current Type I:

Benjamin Rott a.k.a. Teletubby, German Tools ‘n’ Tubbies, November 2002

Tubbies (20)

4 Juggernaut

4 Su-Chi

1 Masticore

1 Karn, Silver Golem

2 Triskelion

4 Goblin Welder

1 Squee, Goblin Nabob

1 Anger

1 Elvish Lyrist

1 Quirion Ranger

Tools (8)

4 Survival of the Fittest

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Tinker

1 Memory Jar

Mana (32)

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Sol Ring

1 Grim Monolith

1 Strip Mine

3 Wasteland

4 Mishra’s Workshop

4 Taiga

3 Tropical Island

2 Forest

4 Wooded Foothills

3 Windswept Heath

TnT shows you how all the weaknesses of fat, but more importantly, how to get around them.

First, the creatures are expensive, but this is offset by an overload of mana acceleration. Mishra’s Workshop is key, letting a four-mana play come out on two land, something that gets downright nasty with an active Survival of the Fittest and Anger (or a later Genesis).

Second, there are a lot of slots for mana, but this is offset by the Survival/Squee, Goblin Nabob draw engine, and to a lesser degree by Goblin Welder (which converts artifact mana into artifact attackers) and fetch lands (which thin land from the deck).

Third, while cheap removal and counters are things you don’t want to see and a Memory Jar caught by an early Mana Drain can have devastating consequences, you also offset them somewhat. First, again, Mishra’s Workshop makes your tempo trades less painful. Second, you have a deck that tries to present more targets than the opponent has ammunition. If the first Juggernaut gets Force of Willed and the first Welder gets Sworded, he’ll be in trouble anyway if he has nothing for the Survival that follows. You have a variety of threats that come out fast, and if something stays, it’s usually good enough to make up for the lower spell ratio.

You have to note, however, that it takes quite a combination of broken cards to make this work. TnT nonetheless highlights the general rule that high-mana cards are bad for you.

Well, that’s it for this week. Feel free to send in feedback regarding this experimental article which may start a new subseries if enough people find the approach helpful.

Oscar Tan

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

University of the Philippines, College of Law

Forum Administrator, Star City Games

Featured Writer, Star City Games

Author of the Control Player’s Bible

Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (R.I.P.)

Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance