for publishing some of the most fundamental principles of Magic. Almost all strategical theory can be
traced back to the Dojo’s loyal writers, and any serious Magic player owes these old vets a debt of
business in 2000. In a last-ditch effort to save the four years of wisdom that had been collected there at
the time, the editor asked the community to archive the articles for future reference. The best of the
Dojo articles are reprinted here because they’re still vital to Magic today… StarCityGames.com merely
reprints them, adding links to clarify older cards that new players probably won’t have seen so that they
can understand some of the strategy. Many of the Dojo’s writers are still active in Magic and write for
other sites; give them a shout-out for helping the community grow.
Building Broken Decks Volume I: The Wakefield Error and”The Decks to Ignore”
Over the course of this article series, I am going to talk about the process of”building broken decks.” There are multiple processes, but the most important depends on the point in any constructed environment from which one is observing. We have seen glimpses of this maxim from Zvi Mowshowitz (“I don’t envy qualifier players – established formats are horrendous,”) and others.
Being an excellent PTQ player and being an excellent PT player are not just differences in skill level for constructed events; preparation for these kinds of events generally requires different skill sets. While Pro Tours and most new environments reward certain kinds of innovation (I will later talk about two theories from my Texan friends Lan D. Ho and Bill Macey), mid-season PTQ success requires a whole different approach. It is an approach, I imagine, that would benefit the majority of readers of this article (series).
The Wakefield Error
The most important aspect of tournament preparation for most players is playtesting. For years, the hallowed center of playtest information was found at www.thedojo.com. Though there are many other strategy sites on the Internet today, The Dojo’s”Decks to Beat” may still be the most important resource for tournament players.
Naysayers of”The Dojo Effect” have for years misunderstood the purpose of the Decks to Beat, citing rampant copying and lacks of innovation. The Decks to Beat are not the decks to play… they are the decks to play against, the decks to beat, just as they are named. Successful players should sit across from the most generic, widely-known, decks possible and hope to see if their versions can win against these Dojo decks. No one, from Frank Kusumoto to the current editor Chris Senhouse ever told a Dojo member to pick up a generic Necropotence or High Tide deck, but to prepare for them, study them, grow strong.
In any case, most of my success as a PTQ-level player and deck designer has had to do with not playing Dojo decks. I have tried to template existing designs (more on this, as well, in subsequent sections of this series) and tweak numbers for consistency. Even with this attitude, I found myself with my foot in my mouth one night when playtesting with Cabal Rogue teammates and PT roommates Adrian Sullivan and Bill Macey at PT LA 1998. Though all three of us were qualified for the main event, we enjoyed working on Extended and playtested that format.
Decks that were up for testing included an early, yet evolved, High Tide deck (this deck was one half of the most influential strain which eventually brought Brainstorm and Thawing Glaciers to everyone else’s decks; it was worked on by Michigan theorists Patrick Chapin and edt, as well as the Cabal; that weekend featured an epic battle between myself and edt, with edt eventually winning both the match and the PTQ; more details can be found at http://www.thedojo.com/column/col.990302mfl.html, my report from two years ago), Bill Macey’s version of Jerry (a B/R Yawgmoth’s Will deck that served as a precursor to Adrian’s Corrupter Black and my own Squeaky Wheel and Napster decks), and Adrian’s hyper-influential Dred Panda Roberts (a B/R Necropotence deck that served as the predecessor to the British Cocoa Pebbles deck that stormed through last year’s PT Chicago, as well as Michelle Bush’s Trix deck that plagued Extended in late 1999 and 2000… send hate mail to [email protected]). In any case, I had tested High Tide hundreds of times and was more interested in the other decks.
So I suggested that we test Jerrry v. Dred Panda Roberts.
I got eerie glances from Bill and Adrian. How could I suggest that? It would be a horrendous waste of time!
What are the chances, they asked, that either of these decks would ever face the other? Only if one of us were paired against one of the others! Therefore, the testing, though potentially interesting, would give us no useful information.
It is from this that we can extrapolate”The Wakefield Error.” Our then-Cabal teammate, the dearly departed Jamie Wakefield, was notorious for testing not against boring old Deadguy Red, but Rod’s Red Deck or Alan’s Red Deck. He was preparing for (potentially more powerful, certainly more interesting) Ponza-esque decks long before their times when he should have been testing against tiny animals and lucky burn-out draws. (Incidentally, I chided Jamie for years for his eccentric decks, and am only now beginning to understand how well he understood theories on consistency and mana balance).
The principle of The Wakefield Error is that you do not test against the best versions of a deck, necessarily, but of the versions that you will be likely to face in a tournament. For example, if you wanted to test a post-sideboard white weenie v. G/W Armageddon match in 1996, testing against the ‘Pile of Bitches would be terrible! Though the ‘Pile was a”much better” deck in 1996 than the average white weenie design, as the G/W deck, you would learn to bring in Divine Offerings for phantom Nevinyrral’s Disks and Serrated Arrows, costing yourself precious virtual card advantage, when you had to actually defeat Savannah Lions and scores of other tiny animals!
In the tradition of The Wakefield Error, I am going to list some of my MBC decks from the season. With the exception of the post-Skye white decks that I developed with the help of Finkel, Ho, Johnson, McCord, Pikula, and other friends – which eventually entered the metagame — testing against these decks would be just silly. Though all the decks tend to be better in most matchups than the common versions, they have totally different sets of strengths and disadvantages. Testing against my version of B/G, for instance, would teach you to fear wicked turn-two three-drop speed instead of Saproling Burst, which could cost you precious games.
Anyway, in the tradition of not testing, here are some decks I worked on and played during this MBC season. Here come…
“The Decks to Ignore”
Turn-five Kill Deck (built for Rockville, MD PTQ)
“Because I would rather kill my opponents than make my creatures fatter.”
Flores.dec (built for various PTQs; New York, NY version)
“I don’t remember passing priority. Do you remember my passing priority?”
Horrible Kibler and Flores Deck (unfortunately built for Milford, MA and Philadelphia, PA PTQs)
“Even though I went 0-2, I had the best deck in the tournament.” -BK
… and I believed him. Damn it! ;(
1 Cateran Slaver
3 Cateran Summons
4 Chilling Apparition
4 Dark Ritual
1 Primeval Shambler
1 Rathi Assassin
1 Rathi Intimidator
1 Rebel Informer
1 Silent Assassin
4 Snuff Out
4 Thrashing Wumpus
2 Vicious Hunger
Wicked Tight Woodlot (built for Harrisburg, PA PTQ)
“Yes, main deck.”
Rishadan Pawnshop White (built for New York, NY PTQ)
“Just think how unstoppable a deck with two Rishadan Pawnshops would be! Tee hee!” -ZM
1 Predator, Flagship
4 Blinding Angel
3 Cho-Manno’s Blessing
4 Mageta, the Lion
4 Parallax Wave
4 Seal of Cleansing
4 Story Circle
4 Wave of Reckoning
[Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this article one week prior to the last week of MBC qualifiers, considerably before I finalized my arrangement with The Dojo, which is why the thematic punch”don’t test against these decks” may seem a bit out of place. Nonetheless, I think that the MBC constructed format is the freshest in our collective minds; you should be able to go over these decks and see where the main differences between these versions and the standards ones lie. In any case, I still think Volume I is a good introduction to the series. If you have any questions or comments that you think would be useful to understanding the decks that I’ve posted here, send them to [email protected]; I may not get around to answering all personal e-mails, but will footnote good questions and comments in subsequent volumes.]
Up next week: Templating, etc.