Explaining Rogue Decks:
Jack Benny is dead. And I MISS him. But I’m not going to demand that you listen to him.
For those of you who don’t know Jack, at one point he was bigger than Jerry Seinfeld. Bigger than "Friends." But technology crept into his veins like a slow-acting poison, leeched all of his fame away… and the great star faded.
Because you see, Jack was a radio star in the 1940s – one of the funniest comedians ever. His show was top-rated, lasted for twenty years, had two spin-offs and a host of popular (and colorful) characters.
But when television came along, beckoning with bright pictures, he never quite adjusted.
Bear with me, here. It all ties in. It always does.
Sure, Jack had a TV show, just like every other radio star did in those days – but his show was best when it was just a radio track. Because a large part of Jack Benny’s humor dealt with describing ridiculous, bizarre people… and it worked, because the mental images you got were FAR more amusing than anything anyone could actually SHOW you.
It was the strength of the medium. For example, Jack was a notorious tightwad and kept his money locked in a vault, deep underground. Every week he’d go down to get his money, and there would be something bizarre guarding it – a set of tripwires, perhaps, or a guard who’d been down there since the Civil War, or a chained alligator. The weird images made you laugh.
Jack couldn’t get away with running gags like that on television. On TV you simply saw the vault, and that was it. And they couldn’t afford to build a new set every week.
The secret was, JACK BENNY’S COMEDY ONLY WORKED ON RADIO.
Not television, not books, not movies… but on that one slim frequency, he ruled supreme. He was a top-rated radio show for twenty years. And video killed the radio star.
It wasn’t that he didn’t try. As I said, Jack had a show – but The Jack Benny Show, born and raised on radio, did not translate well. The TV show was carried by the strength of the radio show and eventually died, even though nothing had changed about ol’Benny himself. He was still the funniest man on radio – a medium that had become obsolete.
He became quaint.
"Quaint" doesn’t get you remembered half a century later.
And so Jack is now buried, a historical footnote in the entertainment books. Which is a terrible, terrible shame… but it couldn’t have happened any other way.
Sometimes technology hits you in the face, and it doesn’t matter how talented you are, how good it is, or how much you love it… you just can’t compete. And you slowly fade away.
I listen to Jack Benny tapes daily. And Burns and Allen, and the Great Gildersleeve, and, God help me, sometimes even Amos ‘n’ Andy.* I love them all. I think they’re critical to the evolution of television, AND movies, AND books as we know them today.
But I’m not going to force you to listen.
It’s over. Go home. The great days of radio are gone, and it’s sad, but you either learn to deal with it or die.
So are the great days of rogues.
Say goodnight, gentle rogue player.
Settle DOWN, dammit! I’m on your side. I wish it wasn’t that way. But the fact is that rogue deckbuilders are rapidly becoming as irrelevant as Charlie McCarthy. And there are a number of factors contributing to that:
1) THE LOWER POWER LEVEL. Mercadian Masques and Invasion are both sets that are a lot slower – and as a result, cards that DO something powerful stick out like a sore thumb. In the days of Urza’s and Tempest, there were so many potent cards that they all sort of cancelled each other out – there were literally great and wonderful cards just lying around unused for the rogue player to snatch up and build a deck out of. You could take a power rare that nobody had even LOOKED at, like, say, Smokestack or Opposition, and really come up with something surprising.
But now? Come on. You can’t make a good deck out of Pack Hunt or Aether Barrier – at least, not one that compares to the power of five 3/3 Saproling tokens smashing you in the face simultaneously, courtesy of Fires of Yavimaya. The field has been segregated into Strong Cards and Dreck. If you build a deck out of the Strong Cards, you are creating – as Michael Granaas says – a vague copy of a Net Deck. If use the Dreck, you’re creating a deck out of cards that can’t stand up to the (comparatively) hyper-fueled cards in the environment. It’s a no-win situation.
I feel your pain. Fiery though it is.
2) INCREASED SPECIALIZATION. Magic is becoming increasingly specialized, and it really is becoming apparent that there are two types of deck design specialists: Rogues and Tweakers.
The Rogues delight in taking absolutely new designs and creating them from scratch. They are the source of much innovation in the community. They are the life’s blood of the Magic world… but they’re not the ones who win.
Because, if anyone hasn’t noticed, the time it takes to build a good deck is time taken away from intensive playtesting. Checking every match. Repeatedly. In dull, drudge-like playing where you wish you could fall asleep, because it’d be more exciting. Then replacing that one Forest with one Mountain and doing it all over again. And then, on top of that, scoping the metagame constantly to make sure that you’re playtesting against the RIGHT decks.
Rogues get a deck, a functional and exciting one, that’s maybe seven or eight cards away from winning… but those seven or eight cards are what keeps a deck from the top levels of the tournament. Look at Pro Tour: Chicago if you don’t believe me; all the decks were SO similar, but there were a couple that were specifically tweaked to win… and they did. Because of play skills, relentless playtesting, and those five to eight cards.**
Read my lips, folks: Creating a deck from scratch requires an entirely different thought process than fine-tuning a deck. And fine-tuning is boring. I don’t know of anyone who really likes playtesting. AND YET IT IS CRITICAL FOR THAT TOP 8 FINISH.
Chances are, if you’re intrigued enough by newness and excitement to be a Rogue, then you probably get really, really bored by the detail work. And even if you aren’t, you’re still splitting your time between creating and massaging – and in an environment where a new environment comes flooding in through your windows every four months, that’s PRECIOUS time.
And chances are that, if you’re playing to win, you really don’t want to waste time tweaking any rogue deck that doesn’t immediately look like it beats at least two major archetypes. And most don’t – thanks to the lower power level, as mentioned above.
There will always be rogues – but they are the programmers, while the pros are the bug testers. Sure, you won’t have ANY software without the programmers, who have a lot more independence and probably a lot more fun… but unless the bug testers plug up all the holes and question the interface design, your product is gonna bomb. Big time.***
Let’s face it: The only real unique deck designer who is having a good season is Zvi. And he’s doing a lot more fine-tuning than he used to.
3) THE INTERNET.
You knew I was getting to this, right?
It’s true. The internet is a gigantic brain trust, where you can not only share designs, but you can have hundreds of people check your work. For every man-hour you put in by yourself designing your weirdo deck, there are two hundred people out there putting the polish on that hated, generic, icky, horrible, carbon-copy Rebel deck. It’s like a huge cauldron, and the forces of evolution are dictating whether certain elements survive: Whether you should have two, three, or four Lin Sivvis in your Counter-Rebel deck. Whether Fires should use Urzas, or Scorching Lavas, or both.
Thousands of hours are being devoted versus your one. Is it any surprise that you have difficulty keeping up?
Yes, it sucks. I really love old-time radio. I have a fondness for rogue decks as well – but if I’m playing at a tournament, I want guaranteed results, not fondness. And chances are, the collective power of the Internet is going to create a better deck than your single mind. A more FOCUSED deck. A more DANGEROUS deck.
Rogue is not strong enough to withstand that. I wish it was. But the reason people don’t take more rogue decks to, say, Chicago, is that they DON’T WIN. Not consistently enough. And you need that consistency for the pro circuit.
Which is not to say that you’re helpless. If you create a deck that’s strong enough, someone will put it on the ‘net and then you’ll get the advantage… but then it’s not really your deck any more, is it?
I wish rogue decks won more often. I really do. But I have to be realistic, and I shall give you one of my most famous quotes:
"Net decks are like the gun replacing the sword in ancient Japan. The Samurai thought the gun was dishonorable, dangerous, and impersonal – and they were right. Unfortunately, guns were also darned effective, and anyone who tried fighting a .44 Smith & Wesson with their katana wound up dead, fast."
I’m sure the Samurai all hung around and called themselves "Honorable" as people peppered their chests with smoking bullets. They felt better, I’m sure. I suspect they even wrote copious, emotion-filled articles about how it was better to use noble swords than to take the easy way with guns. And they were probably right; the world would be a much, much better place without guns.
But they still died.
(And for God’s sake, now that I’ve written this, PLEASE don’t annoy me by calling Star City "anti-rogue" or something. For one thing, I’m LAMENTING what I perceive as your demise; I call ’em as I see ’em. For another thing, I welcome all articles, and if you wanna rogue it up here and rally people to your cause, I dareya to. Mister Nagelman, I await your response with interest.
(And finally, when I edit, I’m the editor; WHEN I WRITE, I’M A WRITER, DAMMIT. Get. It. Straight.)
It’s too strong. It needs to be gutted. There is only one viable monocolor deck out there, and it is white -does this not tell you something? White needs to be pulled back.
Because every OTHER color has a weakness. You play black, you can’t deal with enchantments or artifacts. Fine. You play red, you can’t deal with enchantments either, and your creatures tend to be a little sub-par.. but you get the burn. Great. Blue doesn’t deal well with artifacts or enchantments or large creatures well, but that’s balanced by the incredible counterspells and bounce combos; very balanced. And green can deal with pretty much anything, using slow and overcosted sorceries, but its main power is in creatures: The most fragile cards in Magic.
Say what you will, but if it wasn’t for the eternal threat of Perish, green would be a lot scarier. It’s a dumb spell, but Wizards isn’t dumb for printing it.
But White? White is strong enough that it can handle ANYTHING. Lots of creatures? Wrath or Blinding Angel. Single big creatures? Last Breath, Afterlife, Story Circle, Kor Haven. Flames to the dome? Ivory Mask, Story Circle. Card discard? Ivory Mask. Lots of targeted destruction? Rebels. Artifacts and enchantments? Come on.
Every color should have a weakness. WHITE DOESN’T HAVE ONE.
No wonder it’s dominating.
And what annoys me is that its two strongest spells are out of color! Wrath of God is a spell which white never should have had, simply because white isn’t about creature destruction — and here we have the most powerful creature destruction spell in Type II, one of five creature destruction spells that can handle Blastoderm, and white has it. (White has one of the other ones, too, but Wave of Reckoning is fine.) And say, isn’t red supposed to be the color of land destruction? So why does white have Armageddon?
White, as multiplayers have known for years, is far too powerful in a slow environment. It is the perfect color because it HAS no drawbacks.
What does white have trouble dealing with? Not a thing. Wizards needs to give white an Achilles’ heel, and I say it should be a creature rush. Take Wrath of God and Armageddon away from white, and suddenly it’s a lot less powerful. (Give Wrath of God to black under a different name, and suddenly black might become playable. Maybe.) Now White can protect itself with Story Circle, but has to tie up more mana to do so; you can risk putting everything on the table to overwhelm it. It can target one or two creatures a turn, but can it handle the eventual swarm?
White shouldn’t be able to handle swarms.
Or maybe it shouldn’t be able to handle discard and land disruption. Whatever. But White’s power has been slowly amped by Wizards for the past six expansions, and it really needs to be taken down a peg. Now.
Explaining Force of Will and Silver Bullets:
There has been much talk of banning Force – which I agree with, but that’s really beside the point – but some na?ve people have suggested that Wizards, in lieu of banning, should create a "silver bullet" card for Force of Will – a card which basically acts as an "anti-Force," so to speak.
Won’t work. I’ll tell you why:
Players hate dead cards.
Wizards have only created a guaranteed silver bullet once in recorded history – and that’s Tsabo’s Web, the answer to Rishadan Port. And the Web is not, as you’ll note, getting played.
Why? Rishadan Ports were, and continue to be, everywhere. The Web is attractively costed, it can be cast before the Port becomes active, it replaces itself nicely by giving you a card once you cast it, and it is basically a well-designed silver bullet.
But nobody’s playing it, a fact which surprised people at States. Not me. Because as nice as the Web is, it shares the same problem as every other silver bullet:
It’s useless if you aren’t playing against a Port.
As such, people have been VERY reluctant to put it in. When you’re facing down a Rebel deck in full swarm capacity, do you really want to draw a card that stops them from recruiting that third Rebel every turn? When some Nether-Go player is countering all of your threats and is beating you silly with a 2/2 critter, do you want something that stops ONE card in their mana supply? When it’s raining Blastoderms on turn 4, would you rather draw a blocker… or a Web?
Put another way, how happy you gonna be with that anti-Force card when Stompy’s slapping that third Rancor on their Elephant and is charging in? When Sligh taps that Cursed Scroll again?
That silver bullet only works against werewolves. Sometimes you face Dracula.
Silver bullets don’t work because they’re only useful in certain circumstances. And if not, they suck up a card slot that might save you at other times. As a result, even with the hype, people are REALLY loathe to use a silver bullet UNLESS THERE’S A NEAR-CERTAINTY OF IT BEING PLAYED.
And when you’re betting the farm at the Pro Tour, or even a PTQ, there is no such thing as near-certainty.
Ever look at the Star Wars card game? It’s rife with broken cards, and they fixed them all with silver bullets. Ever notice nobody plays Star Wars anymore? That’s the reason. So there. Either ban it or live with it, but down with silver bullets.
(Incidentally, astute players might cite Quirion Rangers and Teferi’s Response as silver bullets… but you’d be wrong, socko. The Rangers, despite being made to hose Stasis, are still a 1/1 critter which can do damage and serve as a chump blocker, and the Response is also useful against land destruction – which, if it actually showed up this season, might be interesting.)
Explaining The Nature Of Tech
Quick. Go back. Read all of the pre-States reports, all of the people discussing Nether-Go and Rebels and Machine Head (well, it was called Void back then) and whatnot.
Note the number of mentions of Fires of Yavimaya decks.
There aren’t any. (Well… hardly any.)
Aaron Forsythe himself admits that he was surprised by them. Other people have admitted that the nationwide success of this Tier 1 deck took them by surprise. And it’s not like it’s an inobvious deck, either; red/green was already an archetype in Masques Block, so you knew SOME combination of this would show up.
Which is to say that everyone who knew how good Fires were was sandbagging the information.
Heck, *I* would have.
The lesson to be learned here is that StarCity and Mindripper and The Dojo and yes, even the Sideboard, will provide you with information to bring you up to date. They will tell you what decks are currently hot, they will tell you how to combat them, they will give you their prognostications.
But they will NOT put you on the front edge of that curve. Only playtesting and networking will do that. All of the articles on all of the Magic sites are like the newspaper: They frequently report much of what is going on. They are also very useful for those who don’t need to know immediately. But it’s often been said that by the time a newspaper gets around to breaking a story, it’s over – and that may well be true with Magic articles.
Because the people who have an edge want to keep it. Badly.
So is it worth it to read our stuff? Of course it is. It gives you a feel for the metagame. It gives you some ideas and refresher courses of what to build on the decks, and a lot of info on how to play the matchups. Plus, it’s a great way to kill a lunch break. Just don’t confuse it with playtesting and chatting….
Explaining Intentional Draws:
Stop complaining. Either start the damn petition and go to Wizards, or go away – because as long as the incentive is there, it’s staying.
I agree with you. It’s icky. It shouldn’t happen. But if there’s no incentive NOT to ID, then decrying it is kind of stupid. You’re kind of like all of my mother, who kept telling me that I had to be more responsible, that I had to learn to stand on my own two feet, that I had to pay all my bills on time – which all sounds good until you realize that she was letting me live, rent-free, WITH all the sleepover guests that I wanted, at her house until I was 22.
Heck, ma, why SHOULDN’T I be irresponsible? Ain’t no reason to go….
So I will support you folks once you get your stuff together, but until then you’re making brave, bold, tourney-losing stands – all to no avail. Either band together and take action, but racking up scattered acts of defeat is just plain silly. Rizzo, you up to this challenge?
Go for it.
Explaining My Surprise Contests:
I am pleased to see that so many of you participated in the unannounced "Edit Your Own Article" contest, which involved going through my last article ("A Convergence of Ideas") and finding the glaring errors. So far, the winners have found that:
* Frantic Search is restricted in Type One;
* Kangee, Aerial Keeper is NOT a crap rare; since it has flying, it is usable in Limited play;
* Library of Alexandria and Juzam Djinn were from Arabian Nights, not Legends;
* Invasion has 110 rares, not 127;
* Humility may or may not stop "comes into play" effects from happening; the jury’s still out on this one, as I keep forgetting to email Sheldon, but two separate people emailed me on this;
* Gravel driveways are not a primitive torture device;
* Happy Fun Ball should not be taunted;
* And, lastly, kittens do NOT fly if you hurl them off of tall buildings.
One trick that seemed to catch people was calling Rakalite a "crap rare." "Ah HA!" said the retentive people. "Rakalite was not a rare in Antiquities! It was an UNCOMMON!"
Ah, says I, but it was a rare in Chronicles. Of which I bought a box. Go fish.
In any case, there also seemed to be some confusion as to the NATURE of the contest. Some people (who I have emailed already) gave me EXISTING crap rares, which is no good. You must create a crap rare of your own. Some people have surprised me by providing me with potentially GOOD rares – apparently, hidden potential is everywhere.
And so, to win three crap rares of your choice, MAKE UP a crap rare and email it to me by Friday. This Friday. December 15th. There, that oughtta do it.
Incidentally, just as a hint, not all crap rares are costly. Some are really cheap, manawise, and yet STILL nobody plays with ’em. Take the advice. Of course, there is still Coalition Victory. Ick ick ick.
* – Compared to, say, Lum and Abner, it’s not nearly as racist as you might think.
** – And some lucky matchups. But you can’t count on that, now can you?
*** — Although ironically, in the real world it’s the programmers who get paid the big bucks and bug-testers get paid jack. Weird, huh?