From Right Field: Classic – The Deck that Wrecks Fires: Ants in the Pants

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Every once in a while, I get an e-mail or StarCityGames.com in-box message asking about this deck that I mention which inspired my very first Magic column. The deck was called Ants in the Pants, and I wrote about it for a defunct web site called 7Towers.net. Given that people still seem interested and that I couldn’t finish any of the sixteen article ideas I had this week, I decided to reprint the piece here…

Every once in a while, I get an e-mail or StarCityGames.com in-box message asking about this deck that I mention which inspired my very first Magic column. The deck was called Ants in the Pants, and I wrote about it for a defunct web site called 7Towers.net. Given that people still seem interested and that I couldn’t finish any of the sixteen article ideas I had this week, I decided to reprint the piece here.

I don’t think that a lot of setup is needed because I feel I did a great job of doing that in the article. Here’s what you might need to know, though. The piece was published right after Regionals 2001, in late Spring. Back then, Regionals was still happening before the third set of the block was released. Therefore, what we had for Standard was Masques Block, Invasion, Planeshift, and the Core Set. Finally, thanks to the fact that the second set of Invasion Block had come out a few weeks before, we pretty much knew that the most popular decks would be the aggressive (a.k.a. aggro) decks like Fires of Yavimaya. (This is a nice piece that Ken Russell did showing what decks he expected to see at Regionals 2001.) In fact, due to the popularity and efficiency of a li’l ol’ 4/2 uncommon guy named Flametongue Kavu, we knew that we had to be able to beat that deck handily or forget doing well at all.

Hopefully, the article won’t look too rough to you. While it was the first Magic: The Gathering-related piece I’d published, it was not the first thing I’d ever had published. Anything else that I feel needs to be explained, I’ll pop in and explain in the article itself. I hope Craig doesn’t mind my usurpation of his square brackets. [Craig, you don’t mind, do you? – Chris] {Not at all. – Craig, improvising.}

So, here it is, the piece that, for better or worse, launched my Magic-writing “career” six and a half years ago. Enjoy!


Karl Allen, 7Towers columnist (“Kangaroo Corner”) and current Tennessee State champion, and his wife Stacey, PT: Chicago player, asked little ol’ me, rogue player and developer of the Deplenish deck, to join them for Regionals. I figured it was just so that, no matter what happened, they could say “Well, at least we didn’t scrub out like Chris did.” Together with their friend Dan Marcel, we formed Team He Hate Me. Actually, we just formed a team; I named us Team He Hate Me because no one else seemed to care about picking a name. [Back then, there was this professional football league called The XFL, for X-treme Football League, that tried to compete with the NFL. Thanks to the fact that it was bankrolled by NBC and Donald Trump, it was fairly well-known, even if it did fold in only a couple of years. As one of the “x-treme” things that the league did, players were allowed to have nicknames instead of their real names on their jerseys. One player, Rod Smart, was called He Hate Me. – Chris]

As we looked for a deck for me to play, we realized how hard it would be. I am rogue by nature. I cannot stand playing established decks. It leaves me feeling hollow. This game appeals to me on so many levels. The greatest of these is the creativity that it inspires in me. Copying a deck does not make me feel good, even when I win.

So, I would not be playing:

Et al,
Et Tu, Brute

Unless they were fairly original designs. (DIGRESSION: Not every deck that features the card Fires of Yavimaya is necessarily a Fires deck as we have come to know it, in much the same vein that not everyone who straps on shoulder pads and a helmet in the NFL is a football player. Just look at Ryan Leaf or KiJana Carter.)

Turn on the Way-Back Machine

A few months ago, I had mentioned to Karl one of the cards that I liked from Mercadian Masques. It was Wave of Reckoning. I mean, look at the card. “Each creature deals to itself damage equal to its power.” If I could make my creatures have toughness great than their power, I had a one-sided Wrath of God. Look at what dies to Wave of Reckoning in some of the most popular decks:

Fires – Everything except Birds of Paradise
Blue Skies – Everything except Drake Hatchling and Troublesome Spirit
Rebels w/o Ramosian Lt. – Everything except Lin Sivvi and Jhovall Queen

As for the ones that don’t die to WoR, their controllers usually don’t block with them after a Wave goes off. So, I tried to work up a design that featured Spidersilk Armor. Now all of my 3/3s, 4/4s, and 5/5s would be 3/4s, 4/5s, and 5/6s. As a bonus, they could block fliers. That’s A Good Thing in this environment.

Unfortunately, it was a bit hinky. Okay, way hinky. Often, when I had to Wave, I didn’t have the Spidersilk Armor out. Sure, I could regenerate my Charging and Horned Trolls, but all my other stuff would die.

I mentioned it to Karl. I then moved on to developing a Blue/Black discard deck, and forgot about the Wave.

Cranking the DeLorean to Six Weeks Before Regionals

We started testing. I had a little weenie Rebel thing that worked very well and beat anything with Red and/or Black in it. It just didn’t inspire me. Then, Karl dropped this bomb that he calls Ant in the Pants:

Ants in the Pants

9 Forest
7 Plains
4 Brushland
3 Elfhame Palace
1 Rath’s Edge

3 Birds of Paradise
1 Vine Trellis
4 Pincer Spider
4 Ancient Spider
4 Saber Ants
4 Blinding Angel
4 Benalish Trapper

4 Wave of Reckoning
3 Wax / Wane
2 Disenchant
3 Armadillo Cloak

2 Disenchant
3 Hurricane
3 Spiritual Focus
3 Elfhame Sanctuary
4 Armageddon

Looks funny, don’t it? But it’s ingenious. The first thing Karl did was getting rid of Spidersilk Armor and use nothing but creatures whose toughness was already greater than their power. Luckily, this is the modus operandi for Spiders who, not coincidentally, block fliers. [Yes, I know that it’s only “almost all” Spiders that block fliers. The percentage is high enough, though, that we should agree that Spiders typically block fliers… and then there are exceptions. – Chris] And with the introduction of Planeshift, we got us a huge, first-striking Spider [Ancient Spider – Chris]. Take that, all you Blue Skies decks.

The Saber Ants is another inspired choice. Most people just say “A 2/3 for four mana?!? Go away, you silly little man.” But, an acquaintance of ours named Brian was telling us how the Ants were his ultra-secret anti-Blastoderm tech. (ANOTHER DIGRESSION: I deplore using phrases like “secret tech.” What? No one else saw the spoiler? Or did you invent a card? But I absolutely light up when I see someone use a forgotten card in a great new way.)

You see, the Ants block the Blastoderm and leave 5 tokens behind. These token can block until the ‘Derm fades away. Even with Fires on the board, you are left with tokens after the Blastoderm is gone.

“But how do you handle the Tramplers like, oh, I dunno, Shivan Wurm?” Well, the Benalish Trapper served me quite well. “Now who’s the lower life form?” [That’s the quote on the Benalish Trapper, possibly the only creature card in Magic that doesn’t show the creature it’s named for on the card. The perspective of the art makes it clear that the person in the art is below the Trapper, i.e. the “higher” life form. In other words, the art show the trapped creature, not the Trapper. – Chris]

And look at the synergy. Put an Armadillo Cloak on one of your critters. Cast Wave of Reckoning. Gain life because the critter with the Cloak on it has just done damage (to itself). Oh, the other side of the board is empty. Let’s attack, and gain even more life.

Now put the Cloak on a Saber Ants. Repeat above. Rinse. Add Ant tokens. Ow.

Onto Playtesting and Then the Southeast Regionals

Guess what? This deck just wrecks Fires. And, of course, Blue Skies. Even though it wouldn’t look like it could beat Fires, it does so with alarming regularity. (Go ahead. Try it.) In fact, at the Southeast Regionals in Atlanta, I went 4 and 0 against Fires, losing only one game. Of the eight games I won, I only finished one game below twenty life (12). My high was thirty-nine. I was able to come back from deficits of 17 – 2 and 11 – 3.

Against Blue Skies, I went one-and-one. I should have won the second match. However, with only a Brushland and a Rath’s Edge in game 3, my opponent was able to Submerge for free four times in five turns and stifle me while getting out several fliers.

“Wait,” you say. “You had no Forests in play. He couldn’t Submerge for free.” Yeah, I figured that out after the match. I don’t think he was intentionally cheating. You just play against Green, and you’re used to making that play. [On the other hand, I was used to having it happen to me and letting it just happen. How do you have Green creatures out without any Forests? Um, Brushland, maybe? I learn from my mistakes. No one ever Submerged for free against me again unless I had an actual Forest in play. Always be aware of what’s on the board. – Chris] I may not have won that game, but he would not have beat me so quickly, giving me time to recover.

That’s what this deck does. Defend, defend, defend. Wave. Attack. Win.

Final Results

I ended up at 6 and 5, which makes this deck look a lot worse than it is. I explained one of the losses already (to Blue Skies). I lost twice to TakashiHaups. [That was the Obliterate-Jokulhaups deck that popped up just two weeks before Regionals. I’ll explain my name for it later. – Chris] We had the sideboard for that matchup: Armageddon plus Elfhame Sanctuary. The Armageddon said “I will choose when the lands get blown up,” and the Elfhame Sanctuary says “I can get land whenever I need it.” (As an extra, added bonus available only through this special television offer, Elfhame Sanctuary also says “Decks like U/W Millstone and TurboChant that win by decking me can’t unless they deal with the Sanctuary first. If not, they deck themselves.”)

This sideboard combination worked very well in testing. Unfortunately, during actual Regionals games, the deck refused to cooperate. In the two second games I played against TakashiHaups, I saw one Armageddon and one Elfhame Sanctuary. Oh well. [This tragedy of sideboard cards not showing up for me continues to this day. I know I’m not the only person to whom this happens. However, it happens so regularly to me that I often feel like I’m doing something wrong in terms of getting to my sideboard cards. While I’m going over my second game after the match is over, trying to figure out why none of my eight sideboard cards showed up, I’m listening to other players talk about how the only two cards they brought in just magically showed up and won them the game. The classic sideboard problem for me was something like bringing in Compost against Black discard decks, getting Compost, a two-mana spell, in my opening hand, having them grab it with some one-mana discard spell, and then me not seeing any of the other three the rest of the game. To this day, I still feel like my deck has to win every game 1 because I just can’t count on my sideboard. – Chris]

(YET ANOTHER DIGRESSION: Most people call the deck NetherHaups or TurboHaups. I call it TakashiHaups for a very good reason. The name of the person who showed this deck to us at the Knoxville Gaming Bureau is named Takashi. I was there, as was William Langford, on the day that he unleashed it. It was not pretty.) [This was at the time when the Internet as a tool for sharing Magic information was just exploding. Takashi was a Japanese exchange student at The University of Tennessee. He had asked us for help testing this TurboHaups deck he had developed with some of his friends on a mailing list for Japanese players. The only thing he asked of us – the only thing – was that we not tell anyone else about it. We all agreed. He blew us away with the deck. Then, a couple of weeks before Regionals, Bill Langford, normally a really great guy, wrote an article on the deck, exposing the work Takashi and his friends had done. The deck caught on like, well, wildfire, and showed up a lot at Regionals and Nationals all that Spring and Summer. We never saw Takashi again. – Chris]

I also lost to CounterRebels played by Craig Wescoe. [Wescoe was still in high school at the time, and was one of the highest-rated players in the State if not the country. – Chris] Testing showed that this deck beat Rebels. As stated above, only Lin Sivvi and the Queen survive a Wave. (And no one blocks an Ancient Spider with Lin Sivvi when she has a point of damage on her already.) CounterRebels was a different beast, however, and Craig was never in any fear.

Finally, I also lost to a Green/White deck that I now know as PT Junk. This was due to several bad plays on my part at, oh my gosh, 1:30am. These included me not taking out the Waves for Hurricanes when I knew darn well he was going to call “White” for his Voice of Alls. Again. Also, I should never have let him take so long to search through his library. He won game 1. I was way ahead on life in game 2 when time was called. I would have won with enough time for game 3 had I sided in Hurricanes. Oh, well. Live and learn. Mostly, learn to drink caffeinated beverages.

Now, I saved the report on the sixth match that I won because it was possibly the most fun I have had in a competitive Magic setting ever. My opponent, whose name escapes me, was playing a five-color deck featuring all four Invasion Dragon Legends, Battlemages with multiple Kickers (Does he really get to call my mother names when he casts a Thornscape Battlemage with three kickers?), and Global Ruin.

Game 1: His deck works like it was designed to: Harrow; Harrow; Huge, Ugly, Flying Legend Monster; Global Ruin. I hold him off an extra turn with the Benalish Trapper, but it’s short work when you keep looking up at the underbelly of a 6/6 flying lizard. “Hey, there goes Rith! Hey, there goes Dromar! Hey, there goes game 1.”

Game 2: My deck works like it was supposed to. Hold off the Shivan Wurm with the Trapper. Let him get a Dragon out. Wave. Attack with a Cloaked critter. Repeat.

Game 3: Things are looking bad for the home team. The Dragons are out early, and Global Ruin went off. But I had a Plains and a Forest and two Birds as well as a Trapper at that point. He gets the Dragon beats going quickly. I can only tap down one of them. He hits me three times. It is 17 to 2. Boy, do I need Wave of Reckoning. I draw a Wave. Whew. And thanks to the Cloaks, I am up to five now. I attack with a Cloaked Trapper. Yeah, that’s gonna win a lot of games. It is a six-point life swing, though. Ha ha ha ha! He gets another Dragon out. I can’t remember which one. It was Jed or Ellie Mae. It was late and raining, officer. I really didn’t see it too well, and it just came out of nowhere, officer, I swear. Anyway, I can’t attack because the Trapper is going to have to hold off the Dragon some more. I get another Trapper, which is great because he gets another Dragon. Man, I need another Wave. I get Hurricane instead and hold it. More shenanigans ensue. Time is called. We get to our fourth turn out of five. He drops two (2), yes, two Shivan Wurm. I again tap both of his Dragons. It’s lookin’ like a draw, folks. Fifth and final turn. He’s at nine still, and I draw a Cloak. There’s gotta be a way to win this. Tap both of his Wurms. Cloak a Spider. Swing for four. He’s at five. Hurricane for five. **WHEW**

[Dan, who had been playing Fires and had been winning or losing very quickly all day long, had watched the first few turns of this third game. He apparently reported back to Karl and Stacey on my dire straits facing down multiple Dragon Legends. He came back in time to see the last few turns of regulation as well as overtime. When it was over, while I was de-sideboarding, he reported back to Karl and Stacey, this time on my success. When they all came over to me, I was exhausted from the time of night and from playing such a tough match. Dan retold the story of my third-game win and then uttered what is now one of my favorite phrases when I see a great Magic play: “You’re my hero.” – Chris]

Epilogue: Is Dairy Queen Open Until 3am?

Use this deck if your field is Fires and Skies heavy. In a few days, you lose Armageddon. [This was between the release of Seventh Edition and when it became Constructed legal. – Chris] But you get Sacred Ground for the LD decks. The only change I would make is to put Honor the Fallen in the SB instead of the two other Disenchants. Honor the Fallen hurts Rebels and Nether-X decks worse than Last Breath without helping them at all. In fact, the benefit is all yours.

And, by the way, the deck is a blast to play. So, fun that I stayed for all eleven rounds just so I could watch yet another opponent scrunch his face up and say, “What’s that do?”

Christopher B. Romeo, J.D.
Team He Hate Me