On Trial: Pale Mage versus the Odyssey Block

Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt this broadcast to inform you that Pale Mage will be leaving a Constructed tournament without a losing record on the day! Remain calm.

"Dude, are you in there?"


"Dude! Let me in!"

"Who is it?"

"It’s Jack, dude!"


"Turn the music down and let me in, dude!"

"Hey. Sorry."

"No problem, dude. What the hell is that crap, anyway?"

"Zappa. Joe’s Garage. It’s a classic." (And #2 on The Ferrett all-time great list – The Ferrett, beaming)

"Yeah? A classic what?"

"Jack, if it’s too loud you’re too old."

"Man, if it’s too old you’re out of touch."

"The wife and son are out with friends. I’ve got the house to myself for a couple of hours. You have to take opportunities like this, Jack."

"Whatever. We missed you at the homemade fireworks party, dude. I thought I’d come by and check in on you."

"Yeah, I’ve been busy with the Odyssey Block."

"The what?"

"Odyssey block."

"Odyssey? Isn’t that a poem by Homer Simpson?"

"No. Odyssey Block as in Magic: the Gathering."

"These cards again."

"Yes, these cards again."

"You know, some people I know have been talking about having an intervention…"

"I can quit anytime I want."

"Uh-huh. Whatever, man. So you missed my black powder masterpieces for…What, exactly?"

"I was building a deck."

"I thought you had a deck. You told me all about it. In gory detail, without offering me a beverage while I listened to you prattle on."


"It’s a word."

"I know it’s a word, Jack. It’s just a little out of character, don’t you think? Shouldn’t you have said ‘ramble’ or ‘drone’?"

"Hey, I have a wide vocabulary, dude."

"I’m just saying ‘prattle’ is kind of effeminate sounding."

"I’m just saying what does a brother have to do to get a cup of coffee around here?"

"Sorry. Kitchen."

Sometime later.

"Magic cards are released in blocks, Jack. Every four months a set comes out. There is a large expansion set followed by two smaller ones. That makes up a block."

"Is this Folgers?"


"Good. I hate Folgers."

"Anyway, a block is named after the large expansion in the series. Hence, Odyssey Block."

"Are you sure this isn’t Folgers?"

"It’s not Folgers. So the next set will get released in the fall, starting a new block. Before that happens, there will be a Pro Tour Event in Houston. Prior to that, there will be a Grand Prix in Cleveland. Both of these events are Odyssey Block Constructed."

"If this isn’t Folgers, what is it, man?"

"It’s my own private stock carefully planted, tended, and harvested by my grossly underpaid workers on my farm in Columbia. What the hell does it matter? You wanted coffee – drink!"

"Folgers creeps me out. I don’t know what a ‘flavor crystal’ is, do you? What part of the bean is that, huh?"

"Jack, if I tell you you’re drinking Starbucks, would you let me finish?"


"You’re drinking Starbucks."

"Good call. It’s not decaf, is it?"

"You insult me."

"Just kidding. How ’bout a hug?"

"Get out of here."

"All right, all right. So; this block thing. Why has it kept you out of circulation this week?"

"Well, the third set in the block has become legal for sanctioned play now. Today, there was a trial for Grand Prix: Cleveland at my local shop. First place is three byes in Cleveland."

"Whoah. Are you telling me you are actually trying to go to Ohio?"

"Hey, it’s where the event is, Jack. I’d go if I had the byes."

"Every rose has its thorn, I guess."

"Nice Poison reference."

"Thanks. Wasted youth."

"Different band. Anyway, with Judgment being legal, there was a lot to think about. The last Block Constructed event worthy of mention was Pro Tour: Osaka."

"Why should I care?"

"The common wisdom dictates that in trying to determine what the best decks to play in a given format will be, we should look for what the best decks were the last time that format was played. That way, we can take a largely unknown format and establish what we do know."

"Sounds logical, dude. I see a flaw with that, though."

"What’s that, Jack?"

"Well, it sounds a lot like the mistake that nations make when preparing for war. They build a military capable of winning the last war – not the next one."

"That’s a good point, but we can avoid that by thinking ahead."

"How so?"

"By making educated guesses as to what the strongest decks will be. In other words, we want to know what the strongest decks were, but we also want to know if there is something new in the environment that demands a new deck be created."

"I’m not following you, dude. I think I need more coffee."

"Here you go. The deck that was the talk of Osaka was a mono-black control. The other deck with a strong showing was blue/green madness, which actually won the event. Now, Judgment is the green/white set. That means we have an easy place to begin looking for a new deck that can stand toe-to-toe with the former best decks. In other words, is green/white good enough to beat mono-black control or blue/green madness?"

"That makes sense."

"Yup. Also, we need to look at Judgment and determine if there is anything that makes the old decks stronger or more flexible."

"That also makes sense. That sounds like a lot of work, dude."

"That’s nothing. We haven’t even touched on the metagame analysis yet."


"Yup. Let’s come back to that in few minutes and talk about the other stuff."

"Suit yourself, dude."

"Remember this card? Solitary Confinement?"

"Oh, yeah. The hot babe in a bubble."

"Right. Now take a look at this card."

"Um… This doesn’t have a hot babe on it."

"No, it doesn’t. That is Genesis."

"No kidding. Why do I care?"

"Because, you can discard Genesis to Solitary Confinement, and then keep pitching the same creature card each turn. You return the card to your hand with Genesis. After that, you only need some card drawing, and you can either deck your opponent or kill him easily before he kills you. Invulnerability is a nice thing."

"That does sound good."

"Yup. If you can get the lock down quickly enough, mono-black control is finished. About the only thing that could be a problem would be a Mind Sludge followed by a Haunting Echoes, but even that isn’t necessarily devastating."

"If you say so, dude."

"The blue/green matchup is actually more difficult, depending on the particular build. There are a lot of variants, but most of them are capable of winning before the lock is down. Even after the lock is in place, some variants of blue/green carry Upheaval in the sideboard, so each game after the first becomes tricky."

"Okay, does that mean the Babe in the Bubble is the best or not?"

"It means she’s good… But probably not the best. She’s also kind of expensive to build, but we’ll get to that later. To be the best, a deck needs to have a very good match up against the former best decks and other expected decks, including the mirror match."

"Okay, man."

"All right, let’s try and answer the question about what Judgment brings to the table for the former best decks."

"Dude, please tell me what Judgment brings to the table for that black thing you keep mentioning. And speaking of black, I’m out of coffee."

"You’re going to burn a hole in your spleen if you keep drinking that fast. Okay, Judgment brings nothing to mono-black control – absolutely nothing, which is good as far as I’m concerned. That deck is scary enough as is."

"What about that aquamarine deck?"


"Blue/green, dude. Aquamarine."

"Almost funny, Jack. Almost. Well, Judgment brings quite a bit to blue/green. In fact, two cards in particular scream ‘please abuse us’."

"Sounds like some people I know."

"Let’s not get personal, Jack. The two cards are Quiet Speculation and Wonder. Both of them are blue cards, which is not much of a surprise."

"Why’s that?"

"Generally speaking, blue is the most flexible color. Quiet Speculation allows you to search a target player’s library for three cards with Flashback and dump them in the graveyard. This is pretty flexible. For blue/green, this means ‘put three copies of Roar of the Wurm in your graveyard’. The Flashback cost on ROTW is a good deal cheaper than its true casting cost. Quiet Speculation could also be used to put Deep Analysis in the ‘yard, which could prove useful, as well."

"Why is that?"

"Because Deep Analysis is a card drawing spell. Card drawing is like caffeine for your deck: The deeper into your deck you draw, the more options you have at any given point during a game. Having a good start in a game and then fizzling out because you can’t draw any more answers sucks."

"That makes sense. All of this seems simple, dude. Are you sure this game is hard?"

"The game isn’t hard. It is tough to be the best at it, though. Not that I would know."

"True. You suck."

"Yes, yes I do. Anyway, remember that Wonder card I mentioned? Imagine this, Quiet Speculation to put three Roar of the Wurm in the ‘yard, followed by pitching Wonder to Wild Mongrel or Aquamoeba or any effect that allows you to discard a card of your choice. Flying Wurms equal bad times for the opposition."

"Seems like a no-brainer."

"Yup. Remember, blue/green has a chance against mono-black. Quiet Speculation improves those odds, in my opinion. And there a couple of other cards that help that match up in particular, such as Envelop. Mono-black relies heavily on sorcery cards; ‘counter target counter sorcery for one blue’ is a bargain."

"So blue/green is the best deck?"

"Well, maybe. One of the nice things about an unknown format is that every pundit and his brother has an opinion and a decklist. I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet checking out what folks have to say about OBC."

"Looking for tech on the ‘net. Haven’t we had this conversation?"

"Maybe, I don’t remember. Anyway, nothing beats your own playtesting."

"Um, dude…. you don’t playtest much."

"Yes, but I’m stupid that way. Anyone serious about winning should playtest. I don’t care who said what about which deck: If Budde, Finkel, Zvi, and everyone else all agreed that one deck is the absolute best and nothing can beat it, I would playtest the deck before I believed them. That is the best way to separate the noise from the tech."

"And all the really good tech is going to be kept secret, anyway."

"Maybe. Getting back to my point, the Quiet Roar deck was the most talked about thing I’ve seen since Braids before Regionals. That set off some alarm bells for me, because Braids wasn’t the deck to beat at Regionals in spite of all the hype. So I had to ask myself, ‘Self, is Quiet Roar the Braids of OBC?’."

"Was it?"

"I didn’t think it would be. I felt Quiet Roar was for real."

"Man, I think I’m missing something. Let me make sure I’m following you here. You’ve got this deck called Braids that everyone is talking about before this Regionals thing. Turns out, it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be."


"Okay. So now you’ve got this deck called Quiet Roar everyone is talking about before the final OBC tourneys. You think this thing is for real."

"Yup. That’s what I thought."

"Why, dude? What am I missing? I don’t see how you’re making that decision."

"You don’t have all the information yet."


"Jack, my favorite thing about the internet is that it is global. That is also the easiest thing to forget about the ‘net sometimes. As far as Magic goes, most of the articles and speculation in regards to the best decks is all about the pro level. The most respected writers are pro players or semi-pro. Even the few non-pro player writers with any following are trying to predict the professional metagame. Remember, Osaka was a Pro Tour event. Osaka’s results are the beginning of our data."


"So…am I playing in any pro tourneys, Jack?"

"Well, no dude. You suck."

"Exactly. My OBC tournament is a freakin’ trial for a Grand Prix. It’s a small tournament by comparison to anything the pros are playing in. My opponent isn’t going to be Chris Benefel; it’s going to be some guy named Ron. Are you following me?"

"I think so. You’re saying the decks you’re playing against may not be the best decks."

"Exactly. I must be aware of the higher-level metagame, at least as much as I can, but my metagame is the local metagame."

"Think globally, act locally, dude."

"That was eloquent, Jack."

"Thanks. I got it off a bumper sticker."

"So here’s where I decide Quiet Roar is for real. Blue/green has already proven to be an effective deck in OBC. Judgment has some good additions to the blue/green archetype. The most talked about deck on the internet is Quiet Roar, which is blue/green, and marketing never hurt anybody. Here’s the kicker. Quiet Roar is pretty cheap to build."

"Why does that matter?"

"Remember, I’m not playing against pros, here. A lot of my competition has real bills to pay, and those that don’t are working with an allowance. That’s a high percentage of folks who may not want to shell out eight bucks per rare to finish off that killer deck when something cheaper is available."

"Sounds logical. More coffee."

"I’ll put another pot on. Here’s another thing. I’ve been going to these trials and PTQs and FNM for about five months now. I’ve got a much better picture of who is who and what they are likely to pull out of their deck box on any given day."

"So you’re starting to get a picture of your metagame."

"Yup. The picture is still blurry, but I’ve got the unformed hunch. I’m almost ready to build a deck. The major complication to my plans is the rogue factor."

"Rogue factor?"

"Right. Guys like me who just throw crap together and show up."

"Oh. Don’t all of you guys suck?"

"No; I suck, but I can’t accuse anyone else of sucking. Keep in mind Sligh was a rogue deck when it was first built."

"I have no idea what that means."

"That’s because you don’t play the game. It means rogue isn’t necessarily bad. I’m using rogue in a very broad sense here, though. I think Judgment has allowed for a large number of tier two archetypes in OBC."

"Tier two?"

"Yeah. Stuff that’s good, but not good enough to beat the uber-decks on a consistent basis. To me, stuff like White Weenie, green/white, white/blue, and green/red can all be tier two archetypes. But none of them are going to consider mono-black an autowin – I don’t care what the green/red guys say."

"Dude, so when you say rogue, you’re not just saying any bunch of random crap."

"No. I’m saying any bunch of random crap and the tier two decks."

"So you decided…What?"

"Okay, so I’ve seen between twenty-five and forty-something people at a Grand Prix trial. That’s five or six rounds of swiss before the cut to top eight. If I can survive the first two rounds unscathed, I think I’m looking at nothing but blue/green unless I hit one of the two guys playing mono-black. As far as the first two rounds go, I could be looking at almost anything. I happen to know at least one guy I’ve seen on Friday nights who has been testing a mono-red deck that abuses the punisher mechanic, so I want to be prepared just in case I see him or anyone who thinks like him. And I’m sure some folks will play green/red, just because green/red can win games due to sheer aggression – even in this format. I feel confident that at least a couple of people will show up with White Weenie, and there will be other white decks, probably green/white, just because the Anurid Brushhopper gets around Mutilate."

"Hey; that sounds like tech to me."

"That’s not tech. Anurid Brushhopper gets around Mutilate long enough to face Chainer’s Edict the following turn, at which time he can hop off the table or be sacrificed. Until then, the Nantuko Shade will be standing between the brushhopper and the black mages’ life total. That’s tech."

"Wow. You must be smart."

"Someone else must have said before me. Probably a lot of people. Start with Blisterguy and go from there. Anyway, armed with my assumptions and exactly zero playtesting, I started scribbling down decklists."

"Oh, please recite them all right now. Nothing would thrill me more, dude."

"I agree. Decklists are boring. Suffice it to say I looked at a lot of options, and my two finalists were mono-green speed and green/white with a blue splash."

"Why those, dude?"

"Well, mono-green because I was thinking total aggression and consistency. That wins games, I hear. My personal choice would have been to build a green/red deck with Anger to give all my beatsticks haste, but after by LD and green/red beats fiascos in Type Two tourneys, my red cards formed a union and refuse to work with me again."

"Harsh, dude."

"Yeah. Anyway, I liked the mono-green idea, but I kept being drawn back into the green/white/blue idea. You see, I figured if I was really going to see as much blue/green as I predicted, I could build a deck that was designed to mess up its plan. The thing is, it had to have a chance to win other matchups, as well."


"In the end, I went with the janky green/white/blue. It looks like this."

No Flying Wurms.dec


4 Morningtide

4 Sphere of Duty

2 Glory

4 Dogged Hunter

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Basking Rootwalla

3 Roar of the Wurm

4 Arrogant Wurm

3 Elephant Guide

4 Deep Analysis

10 Forest

9 Plains

5 Island


3 Aegis of Honor

2 Sphere of Law

2 Sphere of Truth

3 Stern Judge

2 Moment’s Peace

3 Frantic Purification

"The main deck config is all about playing against forests. The Morningtides are to get rid of Wonder in the ‘yard, or threshold, whichever is causing me problems. Glory allows my team to punch through the creature stall. Dogged Hunter kills big, flying tokens, or small tokens in a pinch. My favorite piece of jank is the Spheres of Duty. Pump your Rootwalla before damage goes on the stack? Okay, I’ll take one damage. The Deep Analysis is the caffeine."

"Sideboard, dude. What’s it do?"

"Well, I tried to put too much into the sideboard. The toughest thing I could say back to ‘swamp, go’ was the eventual ‘Stern Judge, please let it survive until my next turn’. Hey, a guy has to try. Frantic Purification was just in case anyone tried the Babe in a Bubble deck, but I figured it might see a lot of action against Elephant Guides or maybe Soulcatcher’s Aerie. Moment’s Peace would probably be main if I wasn’t running the Spheres. White Weenie gets to meet Sphere of Truth if the game stalls out. Anything that’s tossing burn merits Aegis of Honor and Sphere of Law. Keep in mind my plan was to almost never have to sideboard, because I’m playing against Quiet Roar all day."

"Why do I smell disaster in the air?"

"It’s not as bad as all that, Jack."

"Well, how did it go?"

July 6, 2002. Trial for Grand Prix: Cleveland.

Fifty-two mages. Six rounds of Swiss. One hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

Round One. Patrick R. with Mono-Black Control

Hey, good luck. Okay, so I thought my odds of seeing this deck today were pretty low. Kind of funny, getting this enema in the first round, huh? I’ll play first. Forest, rootwalla, go. Innocent Blood? Okay. Rancid Earth? Okay. I’m not drawing any real gas here, so I’ll just go ahead and drop that Morningtide to take out the Chainer’s Edict from two creatures ago. Skeletal Scrying for five in response? Let me write that down. I wouldn’t want to make a mistake later and write that I actually had something live long enough to take a swing at you. Aren’t you supposed to drop a Nantuko Shade at some point?

Oh, there it is.

Game two. Paris to six. Wait until you see my super Stern Judge tech, you little…hey, you didn’t edict my mongrel right away. Excellent…my plan is coming together… Oh, wait…I forgot, Chainer’s Edict, Innocent Blood, yada, yada, ya. Ah, my old friend, the shade. Thanks for playing. I like to get my first match loss out of the way as quickly as possible.

Round Two. Marsh U. with Blue/Green

Hey, good luck. I’ll play first. Game one. So, you’ve made a Living Wish for Wonder, dumped it in the graveyard with a bunch of other stuff from a Breakthrough? This looks like a job for Morningtide!

I’ll tell you what, this turn, I’ll drop the Sphere of Duty, but I will resist the temptation to say "Do your duty, sphere" in a commanding voice – which would make me laugh, but you probably wouldn’t find it as funny as I do…

What? Yes, I run that enchantment maindeck. I’m trying to become a metagame guru.

Man, if it wasn’t for your Wild Mongrel changing colors, this game wouldn’t be close.

Okay, I’ll pitch Glory to my own mutt. I’ll activate Glory (pro-green, gentlemen), and swing with the team. Game two.

Well, the first game was a lot closer. Wild Mongrel, Elephant Guide, and Glory make for quite the heartache. Swing for five, swing for five, pitch my hand and swing for ten. Thanks for playing. Time for lunch.

Small battle with nausea due to heat after lunch. Increase water intake dramatically.

A couple of fun games to pass the time. Performing well against green/red.

Round Three. Joe P. with White/Red

Hey, good luck. You’ll play first. Game one. Paris to six. This sucks – but then again so do I. I’ll stick with this hand and get religious in a hurry. Mountain, eh? Land, go. Book Burning…. Hmm… I’ll take the five. This should be over very quickly. I’ve never had a slower start in my life.

You keep dropping mountains, and I’m not seeing any burn spells. S’up with that? Well, you haven’t finished me, so I’ll recover and get back in this game. Come to think of it, I’ll go ahead and win this game.

Now I get it! This is an Aven deck with Book Burning and for card drawing slash big chunk of damage support. Hey, look at that – you dropped Soulcatcher’s Aerie on your last turn, when you were ready to scoop anyway! Game two.

I’ll trade my Spheres of Duty for Spheres of Law and Truth. Aegis of Honor also gets the call, replacing Deep Analysis, because card drawing is for sissies, anyway. Some random stuff will come out to make room for Frantic Purification. All right, I’m gonna take five from your Book Burning again, but I’m gonna drop that Sphere of Truth.

Soulcatcher’s Aerie is gonna die to Frantic Purification every single time, so please stop casting it. All righty, I’ll keep swinging, and you chump block as much as a person can for as long as you can, and then we’ll sign the result slip together, okay? Thanks for playing.

For those of you keeping score at home, that was "bring in ten cards from sideboard" vs. White Weenie, as opposed to "bring in three cards from sideboard" vs. Mono-Black.

I’m a metagame genius.

Back to reality.

Round Four. Eric D. with Blue/Green

Hey, good luck. You’ll play first. Game one. Paris to six. Hmm…I’m stuck on two land and not drawing any creatures… Must be a fluke. That’s okay, blue/green is my dream matchup. Game two.

Paris to six. Paris to five. I’ll stick, because I’m too proud to go to four. Deck…not…drawing….creatures. Must…have…creatures….to win.

Thanks for playing. Double thanks for playing a couple of games for fun after the results slip was signed.

Blue/Green is my dream matchup. Really.

Round Five. Steven B. with Red/Green

Hey, where are you? Did you know they assign game losses for using the restroom when you should be playing? Game two.

Hey, my deck woke up after "round four nap time!” Wild Mongrel, Elephant Guide. It hurts to watch. It makes me smile. Thanks for playing. Mythical game three. Yeah, let’s pretend the game loss didn’t happen for a minute. I’ll side in the Speheres of Law and Aegis of Honor. Lot’s of creature trades and you burning my guys, but in the end, two elephant tokens don’t stand a chance against Glory in the graveyard while a Wild Mongrel swings with a Sphere of Duty at his back. Good times.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt this broadcast to inform you that Pale Mage will be leaving a constructed tournament without a losing record on the day! Remain calm.

Round Six. The Ubiquitous Ron C. with Blue/Green

Hey, good luck. Yeah, I know, it’s me again. Yeah, I know, if we’re both in a tournament, sooner or later we have to play each other. I’m pretty sure it’s a law. Probably a local statute. You’ll go first. Game one. Paris to six. There’s the gas. Man, I’m so glad my deck is awake.

You know, I had this match two rounds ago against blue/green, and I couldn’t get started; boy, did that suck. I’m so glad that’s behind me now.

I am now one game away from a winning record at a GP trial. Game two. Paris to six. I’m starting slow. Things are picking up… No they aren’t. Game three. Paris to six. Paris to five. Paris to four. Let’s play cards. That was fun. Thanks for playing. I hope the tiebreakers work out for you.

For those of you keeping score at home, Ron and I were both hoping four and two would be good enough for the bottom slot of the top eight. It wasn’t.

"So you went three and three, man?"

"Yup. That’s pretty good for me. Heck, I was in the running for top eight for one brief shining moment."

"Careful – you might get good at this game."

"Maybe. Here’s what bugs me; my deck falls asleep in two matches, both of which are blue/green matchups."

"So? Everybody takes it the hard way from Lady Luck sometimes, dude."

"I don’t think that’s the case here. I think I was trying to be a little too cute by splashing blue. Either the islands should go and a green critter takes the Deep Analysis slot, or the Elephant Guides go and get replaced with a green critter. Or something. It wasn’t a terrible deck to walk in the door with. I don’t think I’ll play it again, though."

"Why not, dude?"

"Jack, I think if I played my mono-green deck with all the nifty ‘get as much land as you can’ tricks, I would have gone six and oh in the swiss. Five and one at worst."


"Scout’s honor."

"You weren’t a scout, dude."

"You get the idea. As far as my assumptions are concerned, I missed a few. I never got a completely accurate count, but at least three guys were playing mono-black, but I think it was more. That’s more than I was expecting, even allowing for about ten more players than I thought would be present. And I wasn’t expecting mono-black to stratify in the standings as much as it did. One guy went three and three, and at least one made the cut for top eight. Half my matches were blue/green – but only one was Quiet Roar. Interesting. I stayed to watch the top eight matches. I did not expect to see a White Weenie deck in the top eight, but there it was. A Quiet Roar deck won the whole thing. My favorite part was watching that deck play against mono-black control. Tough match that went to three games due to a play error on the blue/green mage’s part in the second game."

"What error?"

"Okay, the black mage has a Shambling Swarm and a Faceless Butcher in play. The butcher is holding onto a Werebear. The blue/green mage has a Wild Mongrel. The Wild Mongrel is swinging. The Shambling Swarm blocks. Our hero forgets to pump the mutt before stacking damage and moving his critter into the graveyard. Oops. The swarm lives, no minus one minus one counters get placed on the butcher, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But mono-black lost the match, and thus I was happy."

"That’s cool. More coffee?"

"I’m out."

"Then so am I, dude."

Pale Mage.