Oscar Tan Sordid Love Life… Revealed!
…but first, the educational part of the article. I was really going to title this article”This is Type 1. Playing Fair Sucks,” but I thought that this one was catchier. Anyway, this week, I’ll be going over one of everyone’s favorite buzzwords in Type 1,”collateral damage.”
For anyone that doesn’t know,”collateral damage” is used to describe how, when cards are restricted or banned to stop one deck, it often causes the death or severe weakening of other decks that didn’t need to be toned down. As everyone knows, when Banned and Restricted list announcements are made, the goal is to minimize collateral damage. It’s obvious when a new overpowered deck arises, that the DCI only bans key components instead of taking huge chunks out of the decks. That’s the most blatant way of minimizing collateral damage. The part that rubs people the wrong way though, is the fact that while collateral damage is always minimized as much as possible, it’s almost impossible to eliminate it without drastic steps that Wizards simply will not take, such as changing the rules or errata’ing cards (and while I know that there are exceptions to this rule, they really aren’t precedents). I won’t rehash the reasons behind this, since it’s been done enough times by Wizards.
If we take a look at the restricted list, there are a few tutors, a few cards that are simply overpowered in multiples, and then a ton of mana producers and card drawers. Once we take out the cards like Black Vise that are too powerful in multiples, and the cards like Mind’s Desire that are obviously only usable in combo, all of the rest of the cards can be used to benefit some combination of aggro, combo, and control. The issue here is how to best utilize the cards. The complaint that comes up a lot with collateral damage is that it”hurts fair decks.” Oscar Tan likes to say”This is Type 1. Broken things happen.” In a similar vein, I like to say”This is Type 1. Playing fair sucks.” The thing is, the”fair” decks aren’t the ones that best utilize the cards.
(I should point out now that when I say”balanced,” I don’t mean it to mean the same thing as”fair.””Balanced,” for the sake of this article and any other ones I write, refers more to whether the deck, card, or effect itself is fair, rather than the utilization.)
Study #1: Lion’s Eye Diamond
Lion’s Eye Diamond was used in two decks at the time of its restriction: Long.dec and Madness. Both of these decks benefited from LED’s mana production, and were often able to turn its drawback into either a non-issue, or even a benefit. Madness’ best use of a LED would be to put some flashback cards and maybe an Incarnation into the graveyard, and to Madness out a spell or two. That’s a pretty strong play. But if we look at Long.dec, LED would usually let the deck”cast” a spell such as Timetwister or Yawgmoth’s Will, which would almost certainly win the game right there.
The lesson here is that mana acceleration of any kind benefits the decks with the better spells. Arrogant Wurm costs as much mana as Windfall, but is much less likely to win you the game right there. If you look at Extended for another example, Chrome Mox could let you cast a turn 1 Isochron Scepter. That’s a strong play. But, that’s not as strong a play as using Chrome Mox to cast a turn 1 Goblin Recruiter or a turn 1 Hermit Druid.
There really weren’t any cards in Long.dec that could have been restricted other than Burning Wish and Lion’s Eye Diamond, that would have stopped the deck. The only real way to have eliminated Long.dec without harming Madness and the combo Keeper decks that used Burning Wish, would have been to ban Tendrils of Agony or to errata the Storm spells so that they make their copies on resolution rather than through a triggered ability. As we know, that simply wasn’t going to happen because of the fact that every card is legal in Type 1 and because errata with the purpose of nerfing cards is simply not done, because of the confusion that it creates (and for a great reminder of this, read some of SCG’s match coverage of the Vintage World Championships from last Summer.)
Study #2: Necropotence
Three years ago, the restriction of Necropotence caused the original outrage against collateral damage in Type 1. This was because Necro was the only tier 1 budget deck (granted, it could be better with a Mox Jet and a Black Lotus, of course) that has ever existed in Type 1. The problem was that Necro also fueled one of the best decks ever in Type 1, Trix. Both decks used Necro to draw a huge number of cards. The difference here, is in how it drew the cards.
The Necrodeck usually just drew about three or four cards per turn with Necro, replenishing its grip with a fresh hand of discard, land destruction, and a creature or two. Trix, however, would usually use Necro to draw two or three times as many cards at a time, and its cards would serve to end the game within a turn, rather than either prolonging the game, or by producing a clock that would kill in four or five turns.
The easiest way to have stopped Trix without harming classic Necro (excluding errata’ing Illusions of Grandeur) would have been to restrict Illusions of Grandeur and/or Donate. This would have certainly stopped Trix. It would not, however stop whatever new two or three card combo deck that would arise to abuse Necropotence. A Necro-based Mask deck probably would have been developed very shortly after the new wording on Illusionary Mask. In order to keep classic Necro still intact, either Mask or Phyrexian Dreadnought would need restriction (or errata’ing, since we’re in Bizarro world.) That would take that deck out, except that then we’d also have to deal with Necro-based Dragon soon as well. And that deck would need to be taken out.
Did you see what happened here? In order to keep one”fair” deck around, we would have had to kill multiple other decks that history has shown are quite balanced in non-Necro versions.
The Other Problem
There’s also a very insidious side to trying to minimize collateral damage in this way. It really drives decks toward R&D’s”intent.” The euphemistic term for this that sometimes gets bandied about is”spirit of the card.” While I’ll be the first person on line to say that I think that R&D does a great job, you can really see at times when themes that get developed in sets go a little bit too far, and suddenly they’ve built our decks for us (Madness anyone?) [Affinity, anyone? Le sigh. – Knut]
With collateral damage, there becomes an issue of explicitly stating in what ways you are permitted to use cards. While majoring in lit and film, I’ve learned that intent really shouldn’t matter, because people don’t necessarily do everything they set out to do, and can’t necessarily comprehend everything that they’re doing. Much like how I’m pretty sure that Top Gun wasn’t supposed to be about a man’s struggle with his sexual identity (seriously, look around for all the times when people cheer in the presence of phallic symbols. By the way, no one will care that you’re searching for boners; I personally do it all the time), I’m pretty sure that Worldgorger Dragon wasn’t supposed to make infinite mana. [I have nothing to say. – Knut]
Even though Dark Ritual is most commonly associated with Black aggro decks, it doesn’t say anywhere on the card that you have to spend that mana only on discard spells and creatures. You’re free to use it for tutors or artifacts or draw spells or whatever you like, and in Type 1 you should be going for the most powerful spells and effects that you can. This is also why Mishra’s Workshop probably won’t be restricted any time soon. It might produce three mana, but the use of that mana is restricted to non-restricted cards. Tangle Wire is a good card and all, but it’s no Yawgmoth’s Bargain or Fact or Fiction.
You Asked For It!
And by you, I mean everyone’s favorite number cruncher, Philip Stanton asked for me to add a section where we go behind the scenes with Team Paragons. I thought it’d be a great idea and a nice sendoff for the team, since like 90% of it is retired now. Anyway, Team Paragons was founded about three years ago, sometime between when my mom made Darren”Azhrei” Di Battista breakfast and when Matt D’Avanzo IM’d me to ask what he should do, since he just spilled boiling water on his unclothed genitals. The original membership consisted of the three of us along with lovable scamp, Oscar Tan. Our ranks swelled as we added the other members of our playing circles, like Eric“The Luke Skywalker to Dr. Ruth’s Yoda,” Rian”The Original Nut-Low All-Star” Litchard, Shane”MILF Hunter” Stoots, and Carl”I’m the Black One” Winter.
We originally started the team as a bulwark against the hell that is internet forums and as a good way to disseminate testing data. We also spread other useful information, of course. Carl Devos explained the difference between hardcore punk and Rock Francais, Eric Spinelli taught us that if you’ve gotta be a wingman at a party, that you can’t go wrong with telling stories that your partner was the stuntman that got set on fire at the beginning of Lethal Weapon 4, and your hero gave a very special lesson on the evils of unknowingly reinforcing negative gender stereotypes. Nowadays, since pretty much everyone has retired, the discussion has shifted more to discussing good gifts to buy the missus, or exciting new techniques for telling those damn kids to get off the lawn.
But the biggest event for Team Paragons wasn’t our strong showing at Worlds, and has been a secret… until now! That, my loyal readers, is”As The Cinnamon Bun Turns.” Here it is, presented to you, my legion of fans:
From: Oscar Tan
Sent: Wednesday, September 04, 2002 3:32 PM
Subject: Re: Green Sinkhole
And before that, we thought we had a spat and I thought I had to apologize/bribe her back into smiling.
I picked up one of these giant-sized gourmet cinnamon rolls that her seatmate claimed she loved.
Turns out at the same time, she went to the grocery to pick up a selection of chocolate bars.
The following day, we had a painstaking, comprehensive revelation on how we both hate sweets.
So she ends up smiling, I end up receiving something she hand painted to put on my desk, and our seatmates ate the sweets.
Everyone is happy and peace reigns in the world.
I just had no idea why, but it sounded good to me.
(Hint, hint… imagine what my articles must look like now.)
From: Matt D’Avanzo
Sent: Thursday, September 05, 2002 11:45 PM
Subject: Green Sinkhole (a.k.a. Oscar’s twisted love life)
> Awww you both hate the same things…how cute.
> Girl: I hate sweets.
> Oscar: Mi’lady, I can attest to the truth of my own
> displeasure towards their perfidious sugary.
> Girl: Really?! Take me now!
> Now I have faith in you and am willing to assume this
> is a desk in your office or your home and NOT your
> desk in a school classroom (in which case I change all
> my above advice into this: act really mean to her for
> a few months even though you like her and then write
> her a little note saying,”Will you be my Valentine?”
> and have her friend pass it to her during class).
From: Oscar Tan
Sent: Thursday, September 05, 2002 2:47 PM
Subject: Re: Green Sinkhole (a.k.a. Oscar’s twisted love life)
I made sure to wear a sweet enough smile and make it very clear that I was
sleeping soundly because it was the last thing I saw before I turned the
And she followed with even more smiles sweeter than the f***ing cinnamon
But now she suddenly thinks I’m a pervert.
From: JP Meyer
Sent: Friday, September 06, 2002 11:53 AM
Subject: Re: Green Sinkhole
1) i’m so confused. what does this have to do with chain of acid?
2) was this supposed to be some sort of f***ed up”gift of the magi” parody or something?
That’s all for this week. Stayed tuned for next week, where I’ll discuss the problems currently with Type 1 aggro decks, and dip back into the Paragon history to tell you why Carl Winter is like Dazzler from X-Men. As usual, I’m open for column ideas (next week’s will be courtesy of Doug Linn), so post them in the forum thread for this article or email me.
jpmeyer at cwru dot edu