Sullivan Library: Oops! I Win!

He’s back! One-time Dojo columnist and original rogue deckmaster Adrian Sullivan makes his triumphant return to StarCityGames.com and the Magic writing community. For those of you who’ve never read Adrian before, you can always count on him to provide honest opinions that often cut against the grain of conventional wisdom. In his inaugural column, Adrian tells you how he ended up with a rogue Red deck for Wisconsin States, discusses his play mistakes, and gives advice to those of you looking to take his deck for a spin.

When it comes to a whole slew of things, one of the only things that we can be certain of is change.

First of all, I’d like to thank Pete Hoefling and the Ferrett for bringing me back on board with StarCityGames.com. I’ve written for StarCityGames in the past, and it’s nice to be writing about Magic again after a break of almost half a year. One of the things I’m looking forward to is once again adding my voice to the large community of Magic writers out there. While writing and editing for Brainburst had its own rewards, I won’t miss having my articles only appear in a Premium format. As a writer, there’s something a bit disheartening about having a smaller audience reading work that you’re incredibly proud of.

So change it is.

As many of you might know, I went into preparations for the Wisconsin State Championships with some high hopes for a repeat victory. Wisconsin States is kind of a strange event. Bennie Smith recently mentioned how States appeal to the less rabidly competitive crowd is a good thing, as it exposes a completely different group to tournament play. This may be true for other States; Wisconsin, however, has a few other factors.

One of the first factors is the prize. Winning Wisconsin means that you receive a year of free entrance to all of the events of two large tournament organizers. I know that I must have cashed in something near $1,000 in tournament fees over this past year. Another factor is pride – in this case, Madison pride. Madison, Wisconsin has something of an ego. There was a period in time a few years ago when you could call Madison one of the top two or three cities in the world in Limited. That probably hasn’t been the case in a while, but you wouldn’t know that from the attitude of its top players. The Madison players definitely want to show up anyone from the rest of the state.

Finally, Wisconsin has a pretty big tournament scene, with a ton of players with solid Pro Tour experience (though Maher is certainly the only bona fide”star” around these parts). So Wisconsin States would seem to be a bit more competitive than the average.

Everyone reading this is likely to remember their own early exposure to Mirrodin. Like everyone else, me and my friends and cohorts spent hours going over the new cards and trying to get the edge over everyone else. We tried everything. Sol Malka sent us a good Black/Green list, and we worked on that. Nate Heiss showed me his early version of Millikin.dec, and that helped form our early version of Affinity. The new Mirrodin cards brought some interesting ideas for Mono Black. And Chrome Mox jumped into all kinds of decks, especially Goblins.

As I started out with Goblins, I just tossed some Chrome Moxes into the Onslaught Block deck and let ‘er rip. This worked okay, but in playtesting against another Madisonian (Ben Dempsey), I found myself constantly surprised by his Burning Bridge-style Red Deck. Blistering Firecat and Shrapnel Blast seemed just insane in that deck, and both cards quickly wound up being tried in that Goblin deck.

Here is that early version:

4 Raging Goblin

4 Goblin Sledder

4 Goblin Piledriver

4 Goblin Warchief

3 Siege-Gang Commander

3 Clickslither

4 Blistering Firecat

4 Shrapnel Blast

4 Pyrite Spellbomb

3 Shock

3 Goblin Burrows

4 Great Furnace

4 Chrome Mox

12 Mountains

This deck was performing pretty well, but it really wasn’t overwhelming. Sometimes it would get a crazy goblin draw; sometimes it would get a crazy burn draw. But, I could tell something was wrong, so I continued my quest for a better deck.

There were some exciting things that could happen with the deck. The deck could still get a fast Piledriver/Warchief draw. The deck could get a Clickslither/Siege-Gang Commander draw. Blistering Firecat/Shrapnel Blast could happen… But there were problems.

The mirror was incredibly unexciting. Certain (and, I think, worse) versions of Mono Black were just damning, with the ability to drop an Extraplanar Lens and follow it up with Consume Spirits. Ben sat at the helm of our Goblin deck and would lose games that seemed like they shouldn’t be losses, and all of our decks that had any amount of tech seemed to ride all over our Goblin deck.

It was another Madison guy who changed everything for us.

Adam Kugler put together a different Affinity build from the Future Sight-based version of the deck that we had been running, instead opting for a beatdown-based version that used a minimal countermagic and no permanent-based card drawing. While the debate on whether or not his build was the best wouldn’t be resolved (even during the actual States tournament), his changes to the deck did succeed in making the deck much faster.

We weren’t sure what other people would be running for their versions of Affinity, but suddenly cards like Siege-Gang Commander seemed a little romantic. Too often the game would be over by the time that they came into play, and unlike other formats, they weren’t so game-swinging as before. Independently, he came across another solution. For similar reasons that Dan Cato added Slith Firewalker to Red Deck Wins from New Orleans, we put them in. Everything expensive had to go.

With that change and a few minor tweaks, the matchups became better nearly across the board. I wasn’t sure what factors were making it happen until I listened to Adam playtesting with the deck.”Chrome Mox! Mountain! Slith Firewalker! Ooooops! I win!”

That was when it crystallized for me. The matchup against Goblins was going at slightly under 50/50, but everything else seemed to be doing much better. It had all kinds of simply crazy ways to win. It could get a crazy Piledriver draw to win. It could get a first-turn Slith. It could get a heavy burn draw of Firecats and Shrapnel Blasts. I just needed to maximize this.

Affinity could still steal wins with its own crazy draws. Without a Siege-Gang Commander, the deck became more vulnerable to Story Circle. Other Goblin decks could dominate the deck with their own good mirror cards like Gempalm Incinerators, Goblin Sharpshooters, Sparksmiths, or their own Siege-Gangs, but it didn’t seem like they had a huge advantage.

After a lot of cheeky responses from playtest partners, a pair of maindeck Detonates managed to get into the deck. They had play against almost every deck, but most importantly, it meant that the full brunt of an Affinity’s crazy draw could be sucked up into a single Detonate. Against the rest of the field, they were rarely dead. It was a pure metagame call: With an environment so jam-packed with artifacts, it seemed a worthwhile gamble to include these in the main.

The final touch to the deck came from a combination of comments by Atlanta’s Andy Wolf and an AIM conversation with Englishman (and gentleman) Scott Wills. In complaining about the Goblin matchup degenerating into a top-deck war that they would win, Andy suggested that I would have my concerns answered by Hammer of Bogardan. I considered his suggestion, but ultimately didn’t like running Hammer as a one-of in the deck.

Scott took care of my concerns pretty quickly. I had a pretty tight sideboard, and I was just looking for a way to have a good board card against both Goblins and Control. Ultimately, he said, he had a solution, but he didn’t think it would work with my mana base. I simply didn’t have enough room to fit in the mana to make it work and the cards to do the job.

“Well, what would you do?” I asked.

“I’d add some mana to the board, and take the Hammers from the board into your main-deck. Then, with those slots open, I’d put in Avarax as an answer to both Goblins and Control.”

It sounded like a really good idea, but I still wasn’t sold on the Avaraxes. That is, until I playtested.

With the heavy burn of the new deck, it was hard for opponent Goblin decks to keep anything on the board. They were successful in hitting my creatures, but as soon as an Avarax hit the table it was usually game over. They might kill all four in one game, but they’d be so depleted in doing so that I would still win the game. Usually, the only time that the game didn’t go heavily in my favor was when I failed to keep their board stable.

I had my deck.

Oops! Red – Sullivan/Kugler/Dempsey

4 Raging Goblin

4 Goblin Sledder

4 Goblin Piledriver

4 Goblin Warchief

4 Slith Firewalker

4 Blistering Firecat

4 Pyrite Spellbomb

4 Shrapnel Blast

2 Volcanic Hammer

2 Hammer of Bogardan

2 Detonate

3 Goblin Burrows

4 Great Furnace

4 Chrome Mox

11 Mountains


3 Dwarven Blastminer

2 Flashfires

4 Avarax

2 Stalking Stones

2 Detonate

2 Shatter (maybe -1 Detonate, +1 Shatter?)

The deck was exactly what I wanted it to be. It could get so many kinds of draws that were abusive in the early game. Blistering Firecat and Shrapnel Blast gave the deck the kind of crazy reach that would suddenly bring wins from out of nowhere, and sometimes, Detonate and Hammer would just steal games.

The tournament itself went less well than I might have hoped.


For all of you who’ve spent time preparing, only to have it disappoint, you understand that 5-3. What went wrong?

My five wins were against, basically, the field. I beat some of this, some of that. My losses were on the outskirts of the field, but they weren’t entirely unexpected. I ate two losses in the first two rounds of the event. Both of my opponents ran with White Weenie. They both ran Bonesplitter. They both ran Silver Knight. They both ran Dawn Elemental.

And they both sided in Worship.

I did my best to make a run at it. In the Feature Match coverage, you can see one attempt. My opponent put up a pretty intense defense, and finally went aggressive when he thought he had it locked up, and while my deck dropped him down to an untap phase away from death, Worship did me in.

It went the same way in another match. I dropped the guy down to an untap phase from death, and Worship did me in.

You could say I was unlucky. The games went awhile, and I didn’t get anything too exciting. Or you could say that I didn’t sideboard a third Flashfires.

The thing that people often forget as they are swept up in the frustrating passion of loss is that much like the Merovingian says in Matrix Reloaded, quite a bit of it is Cause and Effect.

I had a somewhat poor draw (Cause). I lost (Effect).

I could look at it that way, but it isn’t that simple – or convenient). In truth, I would have been quite likely to steal another game somewhere in there if I had been able to cripple my opponent’s mana. That Feature Match game went long, and it was my own fault that I hadn’t included it. My somewhat poor draw caused the game to go long, but I didn’t include enough cards to break the game open if it did come to that.

And just so everyone knows, I only include this Merovingian reference to harass Ferrett, a published hater of nearly all things Merovingian.

(Adrian is referring to Ferrett’s rants about, well, basically everything. Unfortunately, this is a family site, so we can’t link to that sort of thing here, but with a little work, it’s not too hard to find. – Knut, recognizing the obvious irony of him not being able to link to Ferrett)

(Hee! – The Ferrett)

My other loss was to my friend Eric Black/White control deck. I dropped a turn 1 Slith (Oops!) and proceeded to win game 1 before our neighbors had finished shuffling (literally). Game 2 went long, and I managed to drop him to one life before a combination of Circle of Protection: Red and Story Circle held me off. In the last game, it was a lone Story Circle that held me off for a million turns, while I struggled to try to overwhelm it.

I made two mistakes that match. The first one might have cost me the match. I failed to return a Hammer of Bogardan for too long, and wasn’t able to kill an Exalted Angel on defense when I could have. The second one definitely cost me the match. The match went incredibly long; I cast a single Flashfires. I should have had a chance to draw another. An extra Flashfires would have sealed the deal in either the second or third games.

What would I play in the current Type 2?

I wouldn’t hesitate to play this deck. At least, as long as I remember to add in that 3rd Flashfires (probably for that pesky little miner). And it’s not just because I like Red decks (I’m not sure exactly where that rumor got started). It’s because I enjoy feeling like the deck I’m playing is unfair. There are exactly two decks that make me feel that way: This deck and Affinity. If I were forced to make one, Affinity would probably be my second choice. I’d play this deck at States all over again with the above change in a heartbeat.

One of the problems with examining the matchups for this deck is some of the wild variations in results. In playing against the second-place deck from Wisconsin States, I was absolutely smashing that player’s version of Affinity. This deck was simply faster and could steal wins far too often. One playtest partner stopped after losing all eight of the games we played. Many of those losses were absolute robberies (“I better draw a Piledriver number three, and then number four from sacking this Pyrite Spellbomb, or I lose. Oh, my God! Oops! I did!”), but they just kept happening. Versus Adam Kugler’s version of the deck, I was hitting something like 50/50.

Mono Black control is another good example. Versions that were stronger choices for the field at large would typically get mauled by this deck, whereas versions that simply wanted to beat Red decks could plop in their multiple maindecked Extraplanar Lens and Vicious Hungers and make their wish a reality.

So, what I’ll offer in place of matchup numbers is a quick laundry list of the decks you don’t want to see (other than what I’ve already mentioned):

There aren’t very many Type Two tournaments that will be coming up in the time before we get another set, but I’ll heartily recommend trying this one on for size if you need a deck. It’s fun. It’s fast. And it’s great to steal wins from your dazed opponents.