I have always liked deck designers more than players pure. Even my dogged promotion of Jon Finkel over the past many years stems from my first meeting him, back in Chris Pikula hotel room in Dallas, at my first Pro Tour and Jon’s [first “Masters” anyway (that’s what they called the grownup division back before there was a JSS)]. Jon was working on a new U/R deck when Worth whispered to me that this young prodigy was really more of an idea man than a player.
After last week’s article, not to mention my season-long devotion to writing about the Japanese Red Deck Wins, and co-plugging of him for the Resident Genius vote at PT Atlanta, it should come as no surprise to longtime readers that, at present, I hold Tsuyoshi Fujita in the highest regard. Fujita is not only the first Japanese player to have made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour, he remains (has ascended to?) the status of Magic’s finest working deck designer.
For about a year about six years back, before I moved to New York, I was a regular at Mike Guptil’s PES PTQs, conventions, events various. Mike used to chide me about my sloppy play in the Top 8, telling me that he didn’t want to see me in another one of his PTQ Top 8s, and not to make those kinds of errors on The Boat or wherever, before handing me my Blue Envelope. The PES events were always crowded but I never seemed to have difficulty placing back then. Maybe it was because all I played for a stretch of Constructed was Suicide Black. I remember winning the last PTQ for PT New York 1999 with Brian Schneider’s Flesh Reaver deck and then making the Top 8 of an unending Regionals the next weekend, again with a Schneider-influenced Suicide deck; Mike asked if I ever tried playing different cards.
If you want to read my Regionals report from that year, you can check it out here. I can’t post the ancient PTQ link because… well… I never wrote a report. To sum it up, the said would have been “I called the judge and got him a game loss” about least fifty percent of the rounds (sorry Paskins), with the balance being wins stolen from incorrect priority passes, caution-warning-game loss escalations over a single Urza’s Bauble during a single game, or my opponent (a multiple Grand Prix winner) Fireblasting himself in the finals with a Nevinyrral’s Disk under Sphere of Resistance at four in the morning after I had declined any sort of prize split; at the time I considered it too embarrassing a win to immortalize.
Zvi would go on to say that he didn’t like Suicide Black as a rule. I can sort of see where he was coming from. It’s a deck that just races, kind of a Deadguy Sligh without the Incinerates. Suicide decks weren’t as quick or robust as “real” combo decks and didn’t have the flexibility or raw power of proper Red Decks. Nevertheless, Black aggro became my favorite in constructed, with even my control decks sporting Phyrexian Negators and tons of creatures with power greater than their toughness. I talked often to the Apprentices about the “fourteen sacred Swamp” and could no longer remember how many matches those Cursed Scrolls had won me. But in recent years, the loss of Hymn to Tourach, Dark Ritual, and Demonic Consultation rotation after banning after desperation fix crippled my favorite deck, even in the wider field of Extended play. It was not the bad guy. It wasn’t the deck that was gaining twenty life before taking the same away from someone else. It was an innocent bystander, a drive-by victim.
So I love deck design, meaning Fujita. And I love Suicide Black. Any guesses?
This is the deck the current best designer in the world took to the recent Grand Prix:
My friend (and birthday boy) Brian David-Marshall, site reporter for Grand Prix: Singapore, actually pointed the deck out to me. I always kind of half-ass Black Beatdown decks every format, trying to make them work; even Black Thumb is this kind of a deck. Oddly, I dismissed Fujita’s deck when I first looked at it.
“Is Suicide Black a good idea when every other deck is a Red Deck?” I asked.
“He has four Engineered Plagues main! Fujita thought he annihilated Goblins and would have gladly played it every round,” retorted Brian.
Well that was a profound statement given the past couple of weeks of PTQs… Just look at Mike Clair’s win with a plodding Psychatog deck (with four main-deck Engineered Plague) just this last weekend. So I decided to test the Fujita deck myself.
I elected to ignore Red Deck Wins for the first time all season. Despite the fact that three of my last four opponents opened up with Mogg Fanatic, Genju of the Spires, or Jackal Pup, it genuinely looks like Goblins is the Red Deck of the day, even when there are other decks present. Moreover, every deck has some bad matchup, and I didn’t really feel like wasting an hour or two to find out that, yes, I was right, this deck with its many Carnophages and Sarcomancies really does lose to a deck full of Firebolts and Grim Lavamancers.
So Goblins was up first. I chose Bas Postema’s mono-Red Goblin deck from GP: Eindhoven. To be honest it was the first Goblins list I saw in my Apprentice deck file… But I actually like Postema’s deck best because it is very focused and I like beatdown decks with interactive elements (as you have probably figured out by now); unlike Postema’s, most lists don’t have many.
2 Gempalm Incinerator
4 Goblin Matron
4 Goblin Piledriver
1 Goblin Pyromancer
4 Goblin Ringleader
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Mogg Flunkies
1 Siege-Gang Commander
4 Skirk Prospector
Fujita 7-3 over Postema
The first six games actually went down the middle 3-3 and I had my doubts about BDM’s advocacy. But Fujita went on a late run that left no doubts about deck advantage in the Goblins-Suicide game one. Suicide might have been getting better draws, but I think that part of it was that I had learned to just play deck better. I slowed down to set up Sword of Fire and Ice and tried to position my guys for a longer game.
It seemed like every game that Suicide lost it drew two Phyrexian Negators. This isn’t as bad as drawing the Negator against Red Deck Wins, but games that looked winnable, or even favorable, kept going down thanks to Gempalm Incinerator. After winning the first time with a topdecked Incinerator, Modus Operendi became just going for it with Matron in order to break a stalemate or seize the initiative against a Negator locked Red Zone.
Something that can’t be over emphasized is just how terrible Duress is in this matchup. There is literally only one card it can hit, and that card always comes down on turn one. If Suicide is on the play and has the Duress, it isn’t even worthwhile to lead with Duress because the deck is so aggressive and has a worse long game than Goblins. Therefore, Suicide almost never hits with Duress, and doesn’t win games that it does.
We tend to characterize environments in terms of beatdown, control, and combination decks. I had hammered out arguably the most important beatdown matchup. Psychatog seemed like the most important control matchup, especially considering multiple Blue Envelopes in the past week, two big Grand Prix wins this season, including the most recent.
Again, because I had it ready in my Apprentice file, I just loaded Sebastien Roux’s list from Eindhoven.
Roux’s deck is pretty different from some of the recent trends in ‘Tog, despite having a mid-season pedigree. I didn’t really think about it that much before playing out the matchup, but Roux’s deck is so much better against an agnostic threat deck than any other Psychatog deck in the format, it’s scary. He can play his Engineered Explosives on 0, 1, or 2. He can Boomerang the last Sarcomancy token to set up a three-points-a-turn clock (which happened more than once). He can raw dog the Wonder, which while not the sexiest play in the world, is just dandy against a deck with a 2/2 in play and no hand. And more than the decks with Meloku, Sapphire Medallion, or a bunch of Gushes, he can play Masticore.
Was Masticore always this ridiculous against aggro decks? I remember having Masticore available in constructed formats in the past and deciding it wasn’t good enough. I played it in a Draw-Go deck I made with Brian Kowal and Brian Schneider, and won a lot with my Ponza deck that had only the ‘Core for its kill… but never actually won a tournament with either deck. Masticore didn’t make the cut in Napster, and I remember beating it over and over again with my beatdown and even mid-range decks in the bygone days of 1999 and 2000. It just kept rolling over to cards like Funeral Charm (though I did have that embarrassing loss to Donnie Gallitz after Eradicating one).
Man oh man did the meanest metal lion in the pride maul Fujita’s deck. At the end of a 10 game set, it was 5-5 even, with every single one of Roux’s wins on the back of the lone Masticore. Let me explain what Masticore does. It blocks things. It is 4/4, which is much bigger than most creatures, and it doesn’t die even when it gets clocked by a 5/5. In addition, the Masticore can “shoot” creatures, even those in the Shadow realm. I know! Who thought of this guy? Unlike Psychatog, Masticore isn’t made a bitch by Smother, and as an artifact creature, can’t be made sick via Engineered Plague. It’s like someone once said. Masticore is Charles Barkley, He’s expensive. He isn’t always pretty. Sometimes he spits in people’s face. But he gets the job done.
Just to keep things honest, I loaded up the Ink-Eye Ishida deck, which doesn’t have Masticore.
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
3 Engineered Plague
1 Corpse Dance
1 Coffin Purge
1 Ghastly Demise
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Hideous Laughter
1 Echoing Truth
2 Deep Analysis
This deck I decided would be in the middle, worse than the the Eindhoven deck with actual board control elements, but better than the Seattle deck with no Force Spikes. As it was, the matchup ended up 7-3 in favor of Fujita.
Force Spike was relevant, but the Suicide deck had inevitability. It could play the old Fires-against-Eye-Go match. Years ago Becker and I figured out how to win the Eye-Go matchup with Fires of Yavimaya. Eye-Go would always mash Fires because Evil Eye of Orms-By-Gore could block Blastoderm, Vendetta was much less awful than it looked, and Dominate was the ugliest, and most effective [non-White] Saproling Burst containment system known to man. Basically, Fires had to have a legitimate threat in play quickly… and then follow up every turn with a “must counter” threat. This technique ate up Eye-Go’s mana, preventing it from ever getting card advantage; the same route is available to Suicide in the Psychatog matchup, but Suicide plays faster threats. Without a Fact or Fiction or Intuition/Accumulated Knowledge, the ‘Tog deck will lose the “Why Dave Price Goes Second” war, and by the time it gets its precious card advantage, ‘Tog will be too low to win, as a Sword-carrying Zombie dances past their paltry Atog.
The Suicide deck has a lot of relevant stuff here. Withered Wretch is good in any given matchup because he turns off Sarcomancy, but against Psychatog, it also turns off Intuition. It keeps Wonder mundane and turns Accumulated Knowledge into… well… something not as good. Smother and Engineered Plague are both awesome. The dream is of course resolving double Plague on Atog, but every time that came up, all Suicide had was a Carnophage or something and Plague needed to say “Incarnation” to avoid trading with a stupid Wonder. As it ended up, 7-3 was a great result.
Anyway, the reason it’s impossible to test every deck in the current Extended is because most of the remaining decks are combo decks. I figured with eight Duress and four Plague starting, Fujita Suicide would murder Aluren, the onetime combo deck leader, and elected to go with my favorite combo deck instead… the mono-Red “other” Fujita deck.
We talked about this last week. Before playing the matchup out, I thought that Suicide Fujita would have the advantage. Unlike a lot of decks with disruptive elements, Black has cards like Phyrexian Negator that can end the game before the opponent has a chance to recover. When talking about interaction and mulligans in last week’s article, we showed how a single Duress could transform a turn two kill into mush. Imagine my surprise at this result:
Sneaky Fujita 7-3 over Suicide Fujita.
Some of the games were fair fights, at least as far as these things go, or happened along the lines that you’d expect. The Sneak Attack deck couldn’t really recover as well as, say, Mind’s Desire, but its Plan B was plenty fast. In testing Game Ones, I usually try to pretend I don’t know what I’m playing against for purposes of Cabal Therapy, but opening on Sandstone Needle is always a signal. Most of the time, Duress or Cabal Therapy would nail the fundamental card, but that wouldn’t necessarily be enough, as even after losing Sneak Attack itself, Sneaky Fujita can Gamble into a turn 2-3 Rorix Bladewing with scary regularity. Because Suicide Fujita deck always seems to have Carnophage as its clock, the Legendary Dragon ends it in three turns or less (which actually speaks to one of the main problems I have with Fujita’s list).
That said, a lot of the games were deceptively exciting.
In one of the early games, Sneak Attack led on Sandstone Needle and lost two Sneak Attacks to a Cabal Therapy turn 1, but was left Rorix Bladewing and a Seething Song. The plan became turn 3 Rorix… until City of Traitors came off the top, that is; Sneaky won on turn 4. This game plan was echoed a couple of times, including at least one “pop the Ruins, ditto on the Vein, Seething Song” game. You gotta love knowing the other guy can’t kill your 6/5 (unless you’re the other guy).
One game, Sneaky was setting up to untap into a big Crater Hellion turn against Phyrexian Negator and a couple of friends… But then it drew Dragon Tyrant with the Shoal in hand. All of a sudden, Crater Hellion had something better to do than clear the board of land and men.
In Game Eight, the decks exchanged a savage flurry of spells for an edge-of-your seat game (or as edge-of-your-seat as playtest games go). Sneak Attack, on low life, went for Rorix Bladewing plus a relatively small Blazing Shoal and Symbiotic Wurm in an ugly turn that was nevertheless the right play. The play expended Sandstone Needle, Sneaky’s only source of Red mana, so dropping both threats and the Shoal for the biggest turn possible seemed like the right play. Not surprisingly, the Symbiotic Wurm was blocked, but left a lethal army of Insects that stuck around after the dust cleared. On two life, Suicide Black played Engineered Plague on Insects and swung for two, putting Sneaky-Go on six. Dragon Tyrant off the top… Threat, but no Red. Four. Bam! Dwarven Ruins off the top. Must draw Wasteland or lose. Bam! Wasteland! Yus! Two. Rip Mountain, kill you. Stupid combo deck! 🙁
The last game, a dejected Suicide Fujita victimized Sneaky Fujita, exploiting and exacerbating a mulligan. Sneaky drew a lot of land, and even though it had Sneak Attack in play, elected to bash Suicide’s Negator-double Zombie board with a hard-cast Crater Hellion the following turn rather than running it cheap haste style. Starting a comeback by paying the echo on a 6/6 that has robbed the other guy of every permanent but two lands seems like a fine way to go. Sadly, Suicide had BB left after the Hellion, and a topdecked Dauthi finished the game a turn or two later.
One duel was actually won by an Engineered Plague. With nothing better to do than play a Plague on “Dragons” (good against both the absent Rorix Bladewing and absent Dragon Tyrant), Suicide saved itself from what would have otherwise been a lethal Tyrant a turn down the line!
As much as I like Fujita’s deck designs in general, I identified some problems with Suicide-Go that really bugged me. Though I tested against all Blue or Red Decks, I never really loved Sword of Fire and Ice. I guess it’s awesome and Fujita never has Hatred mana. Against Psychatog it just sort of sat there a lot of games. I can see it doing the same against RDW or any deck with black creature removal.
Smother seemed really unexciting to me. Smother lets you finesse a Goblin deck and is of course great against Psychatog itself… but Diabolic Edict would have been better against the version of Psychatog that could actually beat Suicide. That said, Diabolic Edict rather than Smother would have made the Sneak Attack matchup a ton better. Just like Suicide Black lost to Masticore with Smother in hand, it stared that that Wild Mongrel killer while Rorix Bladewing with no hand or land backup chomped on its life total.
I can see Smother being better in other matchups, of course, but the one choice I didn’t get was Dauthi Horror. In what matchup is Dauthi Horror better than Dauthi Slayer? The White Weenie decks don’t have Soltaris for the most part, and Dauthis are no good for blocking IRL creatures, so the Slayer’s drawback isn’t that relevant. This actually mattered against Mogg Fanatic and Masticore in games that could have otherwise been won by a two-toughness attacker, and would have been enough to turn the Roux matchup into 6-4 instead of 5-5.
In sum, I enjoyed testing this deck, which could destroy its opponent’s hand, slash comes-into-play tapped lands before they produced two mana or something, and remove threats as well as win quickly via creature beatdown. If the final PTQs are as Goblins heavy as the last couple of weeks have been, I think this deck is a great choice, and, as Pat Sullivan might say, one that will leave you “satisfied” when you pass the turn with a tapped Carnophage in play.