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Building Broken Decks Volume III: The Mail Bag and More On Deck Selection

Editor’s Note: A long time ago, the first Magic website was The Dojo – a site that is still legendary 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…



Editor’s Note: A long time ago, the first Magic website was The Dojo – a site that is still legendary

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

gratitude.


Unfortunately, thanks to financial troubles, The Dojo went out 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 III: The Mail Bag and More On Deck Selection


Hi There!


Previous installments of this series can be found on The Dojo at the following addresses:


Volume II: http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/expandnews.php?Article=7867


Volume I: http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/expandnews.php?Article=7866


If you are just joining us, you may want to look over these files and give them low ratings, like my sometime drinking buddy, Tim McKenna. If you want to jump past the mail bag and to the deck analysis, click here… but you are going to miss some bashing (and also anecdotes).


In any case, I said in Volume I,”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 madmanpoet@yahoo.com; I may not get around to answering all personal e-mails, but will footnote good questions and comments in subsequent volumes.” As I promised last week, we will be devoting some of the time for this chapter going into my email.


First off, let me reiterate the fact that I am not going to be able to answer all the email I get personally. I do read it all, and will reference some of it here, but I just don’t have time to personally answer all of it. Usually I will try to advise on deck types that I either recognize or on which I have worked in the past.


One player asked for my help with post-Invasion Ponza Rotta Red. I will give you all the same advice that I gave him: don’t play it. Everyone at States (or whatever tournaments you will attend as the format shifts) is going to be trying out the new cantrip cards, including Tsabo’s Web and Teferi’s Response. These cards generate a ton of card advantage against mana control decks… everything from Rishadan Port to Stone Rain is going to be weak initially, just because of these exciting new cards. If mana control becomes feasible, I think it is going to be a bit after the environment has matured, when we can see distinct archetypes emerging. The less these archetypes seem to rely on cantrips, the more reasonable Dust Bowl and Rishadan Port will be as card choices. The less blue in the environment, the less likely it will be for you to run into Teferi’s Response.


Another player asked me to comment on his Napster/Maher Oath/Flores Black control deck. The nature of that deck is to constantly evolve against whatever is being played in the local Standard environment. When I first started testing for Regionals 2000, it wasn’t a very reasonable choice at all because Accelerated Blue was one of the most popular decks at Neutral Ground New York. As Replenish forced Accelerated Blue out of the metagame, the deck seemed to go about 50/50 against Don Lim’s deck, and beat everything else handily (especially white weenie, which I thought would be popular after the Rebel-dominated PT). The environment was still pretty open, though, so I had to play with cards like Powder Keg, and Bargain was still reasonably popular, so I had main-deck Rapid Decay.


By Nationals, Bargain was not being played and Trinity Green had just been discovered; at the same time, almost every American Pro Tour champion with the exception of Mike Long (who had played a black me-designed deck to no good end at GP Philadelphia) had adopted the black Vampiric Tutor/Yawgmoth’s Will archetype. Dan OMS gave the deck Persecute, which was good against all the mono-colored decks (especially the somewhat-present Red Deck Wins 2000 and Ponza Rotta Red), and gave our version an edge in the mirror. We found that Stromgald Cabal crushed Replenish, and allowed us to take out Rapid Decay main-deck against Bargain (the good Replenish players were forced to sideboard Ring of Gix against us; Bargain couldn’t cast Renounce). Napster/Maher Oath/Flores Black just had a natural advantage against Trinity Green due to Perish and Engineered Plague.


So to make a long story short, the main changes I would make would be to main-deck a Kill Switch and Phyrexian Processor for artifacts (Kill Switch is against the World Champion Tinker deck, again piloted by Finkel; Processor is for the mirror and to fight other Processors), and to go from 4 Vicious Hungers to 3 Vicious Hungers and a Snuff Out (if you have Vampiric Tutors it makes for in-a-pinch versatility against large creatures). With the Processor in the main you can afford to cut a creature or two for more hate (similar to the sideboarding strategy).


Conversely, I am going to have less to say about decks that I do not recognize, or decks based on new combinations and cards. For the most part I try not to give bad advice, and until I have something to say (negative or positive), I will refrain from these. Ask again in a month.


Many players asked for deck lists for upcoming formats. I have done some preliminary testing for Chicago (the post-Invasion Standard format)… any deck ideas that I am ready to share will find their way into this article series during appropriate chapters.


I would also like to thank everyone who dropped notes saying”This is the best article on Magic I have ever read,” or the equivalent; you all flatter me. I was especially surprised to hear from Rick Saunooke.


On the other hand, sometime drinking buddy Tim McKenna can go to… um… you know.


“it is really surprising, but giving your article a bad rating is one of the most satisfying things to do with my time on the web.”


You would be surprised… University of Chicago undergraduate, University of Pennsylvania doctoral program, drinks more than Frangiosa and myself combined, preferred money draft partner of Player of the Year Bob Maher… can’t capitalize the first letter of a sentence.


A couple of people asked if Jamie Wakefield is actually dead. I called him”dearly departed,” I think, in Volume I. Jamie is departed from spellcasting if not life, and I can only assume my old friend is adventuring online with The Lovely Mare (I haven’t heard from him in a while, either).


The funniest response was from Mike Hanfield of Canada, asking about stuff to do in New York; I tried to answer that in an offbeat post to my friend BDM’s site. I don’t do a lot of clubbing, but I know some pretty fine places to eat and drink in the city.


The most strategically useful email came from John Sorrentino, a friend from Virginia and Star City columnist. He wanted to mention that while metagaming against a field is a strong play… you had best metagame against the correct field. I’ll let John explain:


“‘You should build your deck to win the next qualifier, not the previous one.’ I always make this mistake. I base my metagame decisions on the previous week and don’t consider the ‘If they know that I know that they know’ potential metagame shifts from one weekend to the next.


“For example, I went to New York and I played Keldon Firebombers.dec because I expected to see mono-white control all day. White Control was everywhere at the DC Dream Wizards PTQ the previous week even though it didn’t win. But what did I play against? 2 Blue Skies, Control Black, and Ramosian Rally Rebels. I went 2-2.


“So I built Red/Green which should house those decks. But at the Edison PTQ I played against 2 Snuff-O-Derm and 2 Control White, going 2-2 again. I’m always one step behind…”


John makes an excellent point here. You should always stay flexible, not only when templating individual card choices, but in overall archetype selection. This brings us to the next section in Building Broken Decks…


More On Deck Selection


Read that header out loud. Any information I give you in this section will go counter to what you just said, which would be”moron deck selection.”


I am going to go out on a limb to say something unpopular again. Now the last time I did that, someone wrote a nonsensical article on another site that didn’t really address the points that I made or the philosophy with which I approach this series (and Building Broken Decks in particular), but I am going to go counter-popular yet again.


You may have heard a rather hackneyed philosophy on deck selection that coalesces to”play a deck that is your style.” Forget you ever heard that, please. People who choose decks by some mythical”style” criteria are robbing themselves. Those who win are either lucky or are misattributing their success. Those who don’t win, on the other hand, will usually concede that they”chose the wrong deck” (unless they are the sort that only lose to manascrew). If you want a recipe for moron deck selection,”play a deck that is your style.”


A lot of people will point out the successes of former Pro Tour champions and say”See, when Dave Price won PT Los Angeles in 1998, it was because he was playing Sligh, and he is the King of Red, and he played a deck that is his style, so he was rewarded,” or”Jon Finkel always does best when he plays Forbidian, his signature deck.”


Dave Price is the King of Red, the Fire God, whatever you want to call him. However, people seem to think that because Dave is superhumanly good with mountains, he has some sort of performance edge at high-profile tournaments when tapping them; those people don’t seem to understand that, in fact, it is Dave’s performances over time with red beatdown decks that earned him the title, not the opposite. I would say that Dave won in LA ’98 because he put in the most work with the deck, testing day in and day out with his Deadguy teammates (and roommates), and because red had the most powerful card pool (Cursed Scroll, Jackal Pup, Mogg Fanatic). There was nothing mysterious about Dave’s win… he had the best version of the best deck. On the other hand, this selfsame Fire God has repeatedly shown us that playing his”style” of deck was not the right choice in some Mountain-unfriendly environments.


By the same token, Jon Finkel is by far the best player on the planet. He will usually do well with whatever deck he chooses. People tend to associate Forbidian with Jon because it is a reasonably common deck choice for him, and because he put the archetype on the map at US Nationals 1998. The people who attribute success to some sort of Finkel-Forbidian symbiosis conveniently forget the fact that Jon hasn’t had a Finkel-worthy finish with the archetype at a premiere event since his US Nationals Top 4 in 1998 (missing Top 8 in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle in just the last year), and losing in the first round of the New York Masters just last week. On the other hand, he won a career’s worth of Magic money in just two months this past summer running a combination of decks that you wouldn’t normally associate with Jon: Napster/Maher Oath/Flores Black, Priest B/G, and mono-u Tinker. All of these are board control decks with large creatures; there are some Miscalculations in the sideboard of one of them.


It might occur to you at this point that the winning decks, and the players piloting the winning decks, are succeeding not by some sort of link between deck selection and player style, but because, in any given field, certain combinations of cards are better against more other combinations, and that the players choosing the right ones are the ones who succeed. One way to analyze this road is to use deck templating as potential explanation.


In honor of his bang-up Top 8 at Ohio Valley Regionals 2000, Top 4 at US Nationals 2000, World Team Championship 2000, and Top 2 at PT New York 2000, I will go over the Angry Hermit by Aaron Forsythe as our templating case study.


The true history of Angry Hermit can be found elsewhere in Aaron Forsythe US Nationals tournament report. Aaron talks about developing the deck for his casual player brother, for a relatively casual tournament (Pennsylvania State Championships 2000), testing the deck through Regionals and Nationals, succeeding at all those tournaments, and eventually playing the deck to a less (for Forsythe) record at Worlds 2000.


Now because the chances are several billion-to-one that you are not Aaron Forsythe, the primary developer of Angry Hermit, were you to test and choose the deck, your route would likely be much different. Assuming you were an informed tournament player, your might run a series of comparisons against the field, tweaking and templating to suit the metagame across the 2000 Championship season.


Let us begin with US Regionals 2000, the beginning of the season. At this point, the environment had been defined largely by Donald Lim’s Replenish deck. Broken Bargain was still viable, but probably”the second best” combo deck. Other popular decks included inconsistent beatdown decks (Stompy and Suicide Black), Accelerated Blue (PatrickJ.dec), and the PT- and Invitational-influenced Rebel White Weenie decks. The Mag-Pile decks were at this stage the”tech” (or, alternately,”scoffed at” and”disdained”) blue decks; Maher Oath/Napster had gotten almost no hype beyond its blowhard designer.


At this point, either Trinity Green or the Regionals-era Angry Hermit deck would be both a rogue and a successful choice. Both decks were strong against the projected field, with standard Trinity Green slightly better against white, and Angry Hermit less vulnerable to black.


For reference:


Trinity Green (early May era) – John Ormerod

2 Masticore

4 Tangle Wire

4 Birds of Paradise

3 Blastoderm

4 Deranged Hermit

2 Elvish Lyrist

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Plow Under

4 Priest of Titania

3 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary

4 Skyshroud Poacher


14 Forest

4 Gaea’s Cradle

4 Rishadan Port


Angry Hermit (Regionals 2000 era) – Aaron Forsythe

3 Masticore

4 Birds of Paradise

2 Creeping Mold

4 Deranged Hermit

3 Llanowar Elves

3 Plow Under

2 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary

3 Uktabi Orangutan

3 Yavimaya Elder

4 Arc Lightning

4 Avalanche Riders


4 Karplusan Forest

11 Forest

2 Gaea’s Cradle

2 Mountain

3 Rishadan Port

3 Treetop Village


By US Nationals, the same card pool had yielded a very different metagame. Because of its superior resistance to Replenish, Mag-Pile had for the most part become the dominant blue deck, played over PatrickJ.dec by almost everyone not named Mike (Bregoli, Long); Tom Guevin had even tuned his version to win against beatdown decks. Most of the other Regionals-era archetypes had remained viable as well… the biggest changes were that the Trinity deck had gone from a rogue choice a month before to one of the most populous decks of the tournament (winning across Europe to do so), and that Maher Oath/Napster had literally overnight become an expected opponent as well. The archetype was played by even more players than Trinity at Nationals 2000, including Pro Tour Champions Finkel, Maher, McCarrell, and OMS, with Kastle and Dougherty also sporting black control designs.


Because I think that given enough information, players will develop the best decks over time regardless of who is credited with doing so, the evolution of either above green control deck to the Nationals era Angry Hermit seems reasonable to me. From the traditional Trinity perspective, the influx of creature kill, be it red, white, or especially black , demanded a threat base beyond tiny green creatures. Secondly, the existence of other Trinity Green decks begged the question”What do I do about the mirror?”


In my opinion, an evolution from Trinity Green to adding red is helpful on both fronts. For one thing, the Arc Lightnings were excellent against low-threat decks like Maher Oath. They could be drawn straight off the top of the deck and kill almost any creature, or add the finishing touch to a Vampiric Tutor-powered game, stabilized at low life. Furthermore, Ancient Hydra was a bomb against these decks, a Perish-proof, Vicious Hunger-dodging, Pyrotechnics that swung for five.


Moreover, the Angry Hermit’s red cards made the deck vastly superior in the Trinity-Angry Hermit”mirror” match. Arc Lightning would almost always kill more than one card, and would allow Angry Hermit to break Rofellos Legend parity. With more land, more asymmetrical permanent control, and fewer Masticore targets, even the Regionals era Angry Hermit was a vast improvement for this matchup.


That is not to say that Angry Hermit did not learn a lot from Trinity Green. Just as Trinity would properly have evolved towards Forsythe’s Nationals deck, so did Angry Hermit move closer to the traditional Trinity deck to get there. It became even more proactive, aping the Tangle Wires even if it didn’t play them, and added Trinity’s Skyshroud Poachers to further break Deranged Hermit. These additions made Forsythe’s eventual deck better against the deck that beat him at Regionals, White Weenie Rebels (he could out search them), as well as in the head-to-head matchup, where Trinity could potentially out-Hermit the Angry Hermit.


At the same time, the Creeping Mold-less Angry Hermit was made worse against Replenish and Bargain, the Orangutan-free deck much worse against PatrickJ.dec. These choices, though, are the core of deck templating. As we said, these decks were less popular than before… Angry Hermit was still more than capable of beating Replenish, but it now had to contend with a field dominated by other green mana control decks and black Perish-packing decks. Bargain was almost gone, and Accelerated Blue was also far less played. The decisions made in the step from a Regionals-era green or G/r mana control deck to the double Top 8 finish for Forsythe and Turian speak for themselves.


For reference:


Angry Hermit (Nationals 2000 era) – Aaron Forsythe

3 Masticore

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Deranged Hermit

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Plow Under

2 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary

3 Skyshroud Poacher

3 Yavimaya Elder

4 Arc Lightning

4 Avalanche Riders


11 Forest

2 Gaea’s Cradle

4 Karplusan Forest

2 Mountain

4 Rishadan Port

2 Treetop Village


By Worlds 2000, many top players, including celebrated deck designer Zvi Mowshowitz, had moved to an even more templated version of Angry Hermit (“Son of Hermit”), with no Hermits at all. The Mogg Squad version has been credited to PT New York co-Champion Gary Wise, inspired by a deck from the Origins Amateur Championships.


Son of Hermit alters many cards but retains the essential strategy of Angry Hermit; it is a G/r board control deck with creature-based mana acceleration and multiple anti-mana elements. The primary difference between the decks is the removal of the Skyshroud Poacher/Deranged Hermit Engine for Earthquake and Blastoderm.


Though we said that the addition of Skyshroud Poacher to Deranged Hermit in the Nationals version was an improvement on multiple fronts, the removal of both creatures in their entirety went the next logical step. After Nationals, Angry Hermit had acquired quite a pedigree, being called”the second best deck” (after Replenish) by Mike Turian,”broken enough” (along with Replenish) by Scott McCord, and the only duplicate design in the Top 8. It was clearly a deck to watch for purposes of the World Championships.


Black control, the other influential deck from US Nationals, had done terribly outside the hands of Neutral Ground players. Beyond Jon Finkel win in Orlando, one of the only other impressive finishes was Beau Bradley’s win over Tom Guevin for the Grudge Match title. Trinity Green had passed its prime, and the Europeans who had brought that deck its glory had begun elf-killing contests, tossing goblins and burn spells across the table like it was 1998 and they were English majors from Cornell University. Replenish was still a very well respected archetype.


The task of templating Angry Hermit for Worlds 2000 was then to react to a post-Maher Oath/Napster, post-Trinity Green, Angry Hermit-influenced, Red Deck 2000-hyped new metagame. In retrospect, the movement from the ponderous Poacher to the immediate gratification of Earthquake/Blastoderm seems almost obvious.


For one thing, in the mirror match, Blastoderm + Earthquake make the opponent Angry Hermit deck a joke. Cast Blastoderm. Quake for two. It doesn’t even matter what the opponent has… he is losing all of it and then take 15. This would be a very important innovation, considering the fact that Angry Hermit had gained so much respect from Championship to Championship.


Though winning search wars with Skyshroud Poacher was the Forsythe plan to beat Rebels, it should be obvious that Masticore + Earthquake generates a very similar advantage.


Earthquake and Blastoderm were even better against Replenish! Though removing Creeping Mold for Skyshroud Poacher had weakened Angry Hermit somewhat against Replenish, the addition of these two cards was quite good in that matchup. Blastoderm would come down a turn more quickly than Deranged Hermit, and didn’t need any echo payments to stay dangerous, freeing up mana for a fourth- or fifth-turn Plow Under; nor could it could not be the target of Parallax Wave. Most interestingly, the ostensibly anti-creature card Earthquake accidentally doubled the Angry Hermit/Son of Hermit burn count… dozens of games in this matchup ended with one player Replenishing up a ton of efficient defense, and the other player untapping and”randomly” killing him with an X-spell.


As you might assume, Son of Hermit was a brilliant templating job applied to a brilliant initial deck idea. Making gains in most of the predicted matchups, the main losses from the green control card pool had already been discarded by the Build 2 stage a month earlier. While Creeping Mold and Uktabi Orangutan would likely have made an appearance given enough information, the out-of-nowhere Tinker bomb at Worlds caught the Hermit archetype somewhat unawares, but speaks not at all to the process of templating against a predicted field.


For reference:


Son of Hermit (Worlds 2000 era) – Zvi Mowshowitz

3 Masticore

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Blastoderm

1 Crop Rotation

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Plow Under

1 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary

3 Yavimaya Elder

4 Arc Lightning

4 Avalanche Riders

3 Earthquake


1 Dust Bowl

10 Forest

1 Gaea’s Cradle

4 Karplusan Forest

3 Mountain

4 Rishadan Port

2 Treetop Village


The final reason I chose Trinity Green-Angry Hermit-Son of Hermit for our templating case study is because Zvi Mowshowitz played it at Worlds, and it therefore represents a perfect example of environmental deck templating v. moron deck selection. As much as we associate Dave Price with suboptimal red creatures and Jon Finkel with blue control, we associate Zvi with artifact-based mana acceleration. This is the player who scored his first PT Top 8 with The Zero Effect, made his first Nationals Team with ID19, invented Necro-Tinker, gave the Mogg Squad Suicide Brown, and brought PatrickJ.dec from a good Urza’s Block deck to the dominant Standard deck. If you let this kid play with Grim Monolith, he is going to… if you believe the”play your own deck style” philosophy, that is.


But Zvi didn’t. In fact, he can explain every single card choice, by class, and by number, that he made for his version of Son of Hermit. If there is nothing else that you gather from this very long article, let it be this: Have legitimate reasons for your deck selection. Be able to illustrate matchups where your card selection deviations promote positive matchups. Back up your choices with arguments. Don’t let”because it is my kind of deck” contribute to their number.


Next Week: Lessons from Texas

Mike Flores

madmanpoet@yahoo.com