With the end of the year approaching, I’ve been doing more retrospection than usual. That, and the fact that my brain has this recent (and annoying) habit of coming up with really cool ideas for my 100th column about two months too late, has led me to bring together a bit of Casual Fridays history for you all. For this week and next, we will be looking back at the decks that have marked this column, and by association my multiplayer career.
There’s no way I can cover all of the decks. Instead, I’ll be focusing on those that the players in our group feel have most influenced our play, and/or generated the most exciting and fun moments. This will be in rough chronological order, so be kind and don’t laugh at the first couple of decks, okay? Thanks.
To do this in a readable way, I’ll be using the following format:
(DECK NAME:) PALE, SORROWFUL CARNIVAL OF SECURITY MAGES’ WITS
OWNER: My dog Turquoise
LIFESPAN: About week ago, when I sought my pet’s advice on what to do with some of the worst rares known to science. I played it in my imagination, and then never again.
KEY CARDS: Pale Moon, Sorrow’s Path, Carnival of Souls, Security Detail, Oath of Mages, Battle of Wits.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: Use Pale Moon to turn all of your own lands colorless so that you don’t get caught dead playing the other cards.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: I’m playing a five-way chaos with Gary, Toim, Pete, and Dave. I’ve got all my enchantments out and the player right before me, Gary, is almost done with his turn. Right as he announces end of turn, as I begin to mentally celebrate my amazing skill in having (and keeping!) over two hundred cards in my library and not dying to my own Carnival’s activation upon Security Detail’s activation over several turns, Toim speaks up:
“Activate my Tranquil Grove.”
Damn. Why didn’t I see that coming?
MORAL OF THE DECK: I guess Pale Moon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Okay, we all in the swing of this thing, now? Here we go, starting with the decks from our group’s initial baby steps.
RATTLESNAKE (Yes, really! The seeds of the Alongi School of Multiplayer. I was that smart, even back then.)
LIFESPAN: For about a year starting in 1998, when our group consisted of Pete, Darren, and me. I resurrected it in red-green flavor when Might of Oaks and Rhox were available; that lasted for a few months before I got tired of the trick.
KEY CARDS: Mogg Maniac, en-Kor creatures, Furnace of Rath, and my favorite rare at that time, Soltari Guerillas.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: In its initial form, it was an infinite damage loop (under Fifth Edition rules) where you could redirect damage over and over to an en-Kor creature, doubling it each time, until you were ready to smash a Mogg Maniac with it. The”infinite” damage would then go to kill the player of your choice (doubled again, of course).
I read about this in an Inquest magazine. How pathetic. (My lack of imagination, not the magazine…Though I do write for Scrye now, so I suppose an unintended insult here and there is forgivable.) It is one of the few pure combo decks, and the only infinite loop, I have ever intentionally created.
The green-red build was more my style, partly because there was no infinite loop, but also because I could attack with the Maniac. Darn bugger kept poking and poking at increasingly irritated opponents. The”does he have it or not?” uncertainty on Might of Oaks was wonderful.
Eventually, I set aside the deck because it did not have enough staying power (Molten Hydrae, instant-speed red damage) to back up its considerable threats.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: I’ll never forget Darren’s expression the first time he blocked my Maniac with his Paladin-en-Vec, and I played Righteousness on the Paladin.
“You can’t do that,” he said, confused.”The Paladin has protection from red.”
“The spell is white,” I reminded him.”I’m helping your Paladin out, buddy. That’s a 9/9, first striking, bad-ass Paladin you’ve got there. My goodness, that Maniac will never make it through. What was I thinking? I believe it takes eighteen first strike damage, when filtered through the Furnace of Rath. You take thirty-six.”
He sat there, figuring that one out, for a while or two. We were still both new to the game – and if I hadn’t read about it in a damn magazine, I’d have been freaked out, too.
MORAL OF THE DECK: Infinite combos just annoy people. As the group matured and valued the thrill of maintained play over the thrill of showing off combos, I saw no place for the white-red version. It’s a young-male-growing-up thing; I’ll explain the psychology of it later.
LIFESPAN: Built in 1998, this was Darren’s signature deck until he left Magic the following year to pursue law school.
KEY CARDS: Ensnaring Bridge, Null Brooch, and a lot of red/black burn.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: With no creatures, and no hope of artifact or enchantment removal (beyond the Brooch), this was a gutsy deck with a forgivable”combo”: Ensnaring Bridge and a path to victory beyond creature combat. It was the first deck in our group that didn’t depend on creatures at all to win.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Pete had a deck using Vexing Arcanix. (This is the artifact where an opponent has to guess his next card, which lets him put it in his hand, or lose it to the graveyard and take two damage.) Pete activates it on Darren, who has Ensnaring Bridge out, no cards in hand, and about a hundred 1/1 squirrels across the board. There’s no way Darren wants to risk keeping whatever card is on top of the library.
Darren considers his red-black deck for a moment, then puts his face down by the library and screams,”DISENCHANT!”
I really, really wanted to sneak the Disenchant I had in my hand onto the top of his deck just to see his expression, but I didn’t have enough time. Still good for a chuckle, though.
MORAL OF THE DECK: While I don’t think a deck as blunt as this would win in our group any more, it did prove that creatureless decks are viable in group.
LIFESPAN: I built it around 1999…I think that’s when Saga came out, right? The Gilded Drake just looked so sweet to me, I remember that much. I kept the deck for a little over six months, until two things made me rip it apart: First, I was beginning to annoy even myself; and second, Theo’s arrival in our group gave us a true blue mage, and I never felt the part, anyway.
KEY CARDS: Gilded Drake, Tradewind Rider, Soul Warden, lots of countermagic and walls. I added Congregate when that came out, to drive home the point of how ridiculous I found the card. That’s really when the deck began to die…
HOW THE DECK WORKS: It’s so embarrassing, because I’d never build a deck like this again. (Two years later, I finally built my first true blue-white multiplayer deck since then; but that’s only because I think Blessed Chaplain is really funny with a Zephid’s Embrace on it.) You put Fog Banks up, gain life off the Soul Warden, counter stuff, blah blah…Are you even paying much attention to this? No? I don’t blame you.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Denny, an occasional member of our group (and old Magic veteran at the time), pretty reliably beat me in any duel situation. We didn’t get much chance to do it… Only when we were out of a group game, and waiting for them, that sort of thing. One night, six people showed up, which was more than the restaurant table could handle. (Six people, we thought. How huge!) Denny and I just took another table down the aisle, and dueled all night. That night, he lost literally six duels in a row to me…When I was playing three other, different decks. Then I pulled this one out, and beat him four more times. I remember this deck and that night because it’s when I started to feel like maybe I ought to go down to the local shop and play a game or two, maybe I wouldn’t totally suck.
Other than that, I don’t want to think about this deck any more.
MORAL OF THE DECK: I said, I don’t want to think about it any more.
BRIARS AND BULLWHIPS
LIFESPAN: The deck was built in late 1999, as we got used to the Destiny cards. It lasted through early 2000, long enough to benefit from Briar Patch.
KEY CARDS: Bullwhip, Caltrops, Yavimaya Scion, Watchdog, Sandstorm, Tower of the Magistrate.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: A freakish”green control” deck, the deck slows down combat considerably and then removes smaller creatures (and eventually larger ones) at will through use of the Bullwhip. A splash of lifegain (Spike Feeder, if memory serves) rendered many burn strategies useless, since few red multiplayer decks pack excess burn at the expense of a decent (and mortal) creature base.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: I had never seen Tower of the Magistrate… Until Pete played it. (I wasn’t big on spoilers back then.) I remember shaking my head for a long, long time as I read it for the first time. He used it, of course, to protect other players’ fatties when they attacked other opponents. Whadda freak.
MORAL OF THE DECK: I did a whole Casual Fridays early on decks that went”outside of color,” because of this deck. I got some great reader response on blue land destruction after that.
LIFESPAN: This style of deck came out independently from many players as soon as Equilibrium did, of course. Theo built his version shortly after joining the group in late 1999. (Actually, shortly after joining the group, Theo annoyed all of us with his adapted High Tide/Palinchron/Capsize deck; after doing that once, he accepted that some ideas are best left to Extended tournaments.) Equaluren still exists in Theo’s Big Box of Freak-Boy Decks; he pulls it out from time to time to play in Emperor format, where it is brutally effective.
KEY CARDS: Aluren, Equilibrium, and the usual cast of comes-into-play creatures (Bone Shredder, Ghitu Slinger, Wall of Blossoms, etc.). When Rishadan Cutpurse came out, I thought Theo was going to run off and marry the whole Wizards R&D team, because now he could have a near-infinite combo without all the ugly accusations that come with an actual infinite combo.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: Free creatures with one mana to bounce and a variety of utility effects are, we hear, good.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Once, Dave played Scour in his deck just so he could blow apart this monstrosity. It was no less satisfying to the rest of us when Dave blew the Alurens clean out of the game. (There was no Equilibrium available at the time.)
I’m sure Theo would point to a different memorable moment or two with this deck; but that’s the really cool thing about being this column’s author: no one ever hears that this kind of deck works, way too often.
MORAL OF THE DECK: Oh, all right, fine. To maintain the truth and integrity of Casual Fridays…This kind of deck works, way too often. There; happy?
LIFESPAN: I built it even before I built the blue-white”Trading Places” I mentioned above…But because it took a while before it really took off, and since it has been reborn since then (and still lives), I’m putting it later in our little chronology here. Since it is the first multiplayer deck I created that I am truly proud of, I imagine I’ll always have some version of it around. (Grave Pact will never suck in multiplayer, no matter how good they make threshold.)
KEY CARDS: Grave Pact, Claws of Gix, Hornet Cannon, and Bottle Gnomes have always been the core. Early versions used Contamination to lock the board (which left me too vulnerable to the Drain Life decks that were a problem to begin with); later versions feature and Delraich and Diabolic Intent. Braids, Cabal Minion may soon make an appearance.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: I have yet to find the creature deck – even with squirrels or saprolings – that can consistently keep up with this thing. After locking out creatures (which are not only annoying in combat, but also for those abilities on jerks like Devout Witness and Atalya, Samite Master), you pelt with hornets, and sweep with Corrupt.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: This deck does have an awful time with other black recursion decks. Gary stitched one together using Phyrexian Plaguelord, Disturbed Burial, a bunch of decent black creatures… And Breeding Pit. Wow, is Breeding Pit bad news for my deck.
Since that game, I’ve let two Nevinyrral’s Disks slip into my deck. I hate that I need a sweeper like that when it’s not great synergy with what I’m trying to do. But resets are resets, and at least the Claws of Gix work okay with it all.
MORAL OF THE DECK: Rebuilding this deck and bringing it back to the group after a prolonged absence really helped make Magic fun for me again a few months ago, at a time when I was starting to lose a little faith. It helped me recall what it was like early on in my Magic career. (It’s really not that long ago; you’d think I could remember that sort of thing. And yet I can’t without rebuilding decks, or hand puppets.)
LIFESPAN: This was a defining deck for Pete for at least a year and a half, from late 1999 through the beginning of 2001. The only reason Pete stopped using it was because he”just got bored.” God bless ‘im.
KEY CARDS: Altar of Dementia, Reins of Power. The rest is incidental; I don’t think I’ve seen a niftier combination, ever. (Please – I love hearing from you all, and write away; but alter your emails to reflect the fact that I’m not saying”more powerful” or”more threatening”; I’m saying”niftier.” I suspect nifty is in the eye of the, um, niftee, but there it is.)
HOW THE DECK WORKS: It had enough creatures of its own, especially Thunder Wall, so that it even had a sporting chance against creatureless decks. Most of the rest of the deck, though, was based in countering and supplemental milling.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: When Theo was still new to our group, he had a near-infinite (or maybe it was truly infinite, who cares) squirrel deck that he used, I think, to demonstrate that he could be intolerable even when playing colors other than blue. He had blasted everyone else in a seven-player game; only Pete was left with an Altar of Dementia on the table, four open mana, a couple of cards in hand, and an inscrutable look on his face.
“It’s over, right?” said Theo, reaching to scoop up his lands.
“Mmmm. Keep playing,” said Pete, slightly irritated at the presumption.
“Sure, whatever,” said Theo.”Upkeep, draw a card, attack with two thousand squirrels…”
“Hang on,” said Pete.”Are you announcing your attack phase?”
You know, I’m fully aware that my most satisfying memories in multiplayer Magic involve Theo getting the stuffing knocked out of him. No doubt there’s some deep-seated psychological issues at work, involving the brother who used to beat me up or the regiments of young women who”just wanted to be friends” or the (perhaps unrelated) bodies buried in my backyard or some such nonsense. What these turning points in my life, whether true or imagined, might have to do with those moments when Theo loses at Magic is anyone’s guess. But here’s the point to remember: The fact that I’m a neurotic wreck doesn’t make those moments any less fulfilling.
MORAL OF THE DECK: I think I just covered it.
PAINFUL RED AND CALIFORNIA SUMMER
OWNERS: Dave and Bill, respectively
LIFESPAN: Both of these mono-red decks had roots in early versions about a year ago (Dave’s started with a black-splash, Ball Lightning – Unearth combination), both established for their owners a sort of comfort level with red. That’s why, even though the two decks work very differently, I’ve grouped them together here.
KEY CARDS: Painful Red was an aggressive deck featuring Lightning Ball, Scoria Cats, Chimeric Idol, Ghitu War Cry, and Citadel of Pain. California Summer was a control deck featuring Repercussion, Wildfire, and Furnace of Rath.
HOW THE DECKS WORK: Both apply red damage in rather unexpectedly massive amounts; it’s just a matter of style. Dave preferred a direct approach that ensured at least one other player would die before him; his deck worked really well in smaller groups or team games. Bill took a less team-friendly approach, reserving his deck for large chaos games where he could deal one or two single strokes of universal damage that would, hopefully, be lethal to all players. (His deck was creatureless, and therefore took no damage from the Repercussion mechanism.)
MEMORABLE MOMENT: There was, I believe, a game when both of these decks were on the table. I don’t think it ended well for either one of them. Dave and Bill have something of a friendly competition with each other as it is; with red at both players’ disposal, all the rest of us had to do was keep our heads down and wait until the bodies were scorched and still.
MORAL OF THE DECKS: Dave, Bill, Pete, and I have all at one time or another toyed with mono-red in multiplayer. While many players are fond of the term”stupid red burn,” red may be the most difficult color to pull off without help, in multiplayer. This color combines all of green’s risk in rushing without long-term fuel, black’s inability to deal with enchantments, blue’s lack of recursion, and white’s… Well, let’s face it, nobody likes white, and nobody likes you when you play mono-red, either. So that’s the same.
SECOND TURN FOR THE WORST
LIFESPAN: Carl always seemed to have a deck like this; black-green recursion with regenerators is something of a signature for him. He had it when he joined the group, he has it now. You don’t ask when the universe started (at least not if you want an answer you can understand), and you don’t ask when Carl started this trip.
I sported a”net version” of this deck some time ago (from Survival of the Fittest and Recurring Nightmare right down to the Spirit of the Night and Verdant Force); but gave it up when I decided Carl was being more creative than I was.
KEY CARDS: Exhume, Multani, Avatar of Woe, Unearth, etc. Utility cards like Bone Shredder and Yavimaya Elder have edged their way into the deck, as have a couple of copies of Survival of the Fittest. (It’s just too good to ignore.) Carl also employs regenerators like Fog of Gnats and Horned Trolls to stop the bleeding once everyone sees what he’s up to.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: We’ve all seen some version of this deck and that groaner of a first turn, right?”Gee, I don’t seem to have any land drop this turn. I’ll just discard… Multani.” Yeah, sure, okay. Two turns later (or less, with Dark Ritual), that sucker is staring everyone in the face.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Folks, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Repopulate is a great card against decks like this.
MORAL OF THE DECK: Decks like this only get stronger as Odyssey rolls out. Graveyards are a viable resource, way more so than in Weatherlight days. Any color that can’t fill and/or use the graveyard suffers. That means red and white have to start using global killers more often, if they want to keep up, in my book.
MANIPULATIVE ANT FREAKS
LIFESPAN: You can actually read a bit about the life of Manipulative Ant Freaks in past Casual Fridays – go on back there in the archives and look around, you’ve got the extra time, I know it. The deck went for about six to eight months before I prematurely took it apart (I needed the Tranquil Groves for my Birds and Bees deck, and the Masticores for another deck, and after those got pulled out there didn’t seem to be much point).
KEY CARDS: Saber Ants, Prodigal Sorcerer, Masticore, Palinchron, Tranquil Grove, Treetop Village. Putting the cards into this deck was rather scattershot, if you can’t tell from the articles –”Enh, I don’t know what I’ll do if a big flyer hits the board, better put in a Palinchron…” – and after that silly Masticore/Saber Ants thing, it was pretty much all up for grabs.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: What makes this deck stand out in my mind is that because it was so scattershot, I didn’t have a huge attachment to any cards beyond the Ants and Masticore. (I did become rather fond of the Palinchron.) I let it flow based on what the group played, so I would have something to write about. Spike Feeder, Vision Charms, Emerald Charms, Hurricane, Repopulate, Bribery, Man o’War, and a bunch of other cards all came into and out of the deck. Tranquil Grove was a late add, and Treetop Villages got boosted to four when I saw how well they worked with the rest of the deck, timing-wise. As a result, this deck played differently every time.
At the time I didn’t think about how I was changing it so much, but as I mention below, this was actually a turning point for my deck construction technique, since I stopped building so rigidly afterward.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: That would have to be the first time I shot my own Saber Ants with the Masticore, twice, and then realized that this deck was just destined to be a silly endeavor. A couple of guys in the group still tease me about it (and one reader, in an email a few weeks ago, still remembered it!). I don’t mind that it’s a bit of a trademark for me, since it was a great deal of fun and played totally differently every game.
MORAL OF THE DECK: This deck was a bit of a turning point for me. Up to this point, I tended to build decks that were either aggressive (in red, green, and/or black) or controlling (in blue, white, and/or black), without much nuance. This was the first aggro-control deck that really got a groove going for me.
At the same time, the group may have changed a bit after this deck as well. (Or perhaps only my perception of the group. But I talk incessantly while we play, so I probably irritated them into change, consciously or subconsciously, and we’ll go with that theory.) I think the decks we built toward the end of 2000, and this past year – that is, as Invasion block came out – were qualitatively different. Part of that was the way Invasion block was, part of that was naturally evolving group skill, and part of that was a simple increased interest in what the other players’ decks were trying to do.
More on those decks next week.