Testing the Weird Decks

So I was all set to exhaustively test one of the Weird decks on Tuesday. BDM and I were going to meet at Neutral Ground and have at it, but as usual, that didn’t work out. For one thing, whenever we meet at Neutral Ground, no matter the reason, people just end up drafting. To make matters worse, out of nowhere, Jonathan Magic, Brian Kibler, and EFro showed up to test for the GP this weekend. It was awesome, as I haven’t seen Jon in forever and was shocked to see him testing at all again. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t get some Weird deck testing in myself!

So I was all set to exhaustively test one of the Weird decks on Tuesday. BDM and I were going to meet at Neutral Ground and have at it, but as usual, that didn’t work out. For one thing, whenever we meet at Neutral Ground, no matter the reason, people just end up drafting. To make matters worse, out of nowhere, Jonathan Magic, Brian Kibler, and EFro showed up to test for the GP this weekend. It was awesome, as I haven’t seen Jon in forever and was shocked to see him testing at all again.

Kibler told me that if Jon was going to be barning his PT points to qualify this year, he was going to make the onetime Machine actually test rather, than ruin his own chances. The last time he came out from behind the unbroken cobwebs to shuffle up at NG in the middle of the night, Jon ended up consecutive National and World Champions, so I fear for all the other pro teams out there. Jon ended up smashing me 4-1 at 1AM, despite not knowing what the cards do (though he only beat my deck 3-2). Did I say wow yet?

So anyway, I spent most of the night before that point testing one of our rogue decks on Magic Online against random people using Rich Fein’s account borrowing Becker’s cards. Since this particular Rogue deck is a Red deck, I might talk about it in next week’s The Philosophy of Fire, but then again I might not… Kibler has already expressed interest in talking about the same topic, after watching some of my games (where I messed up and got beaten up by the always ready-to-fight Joshua Ravitz).

Aside on Rich Fein…

Rich Fein is a good man. Despite his general disdain for Constructed Magic, in testing he is always ready to be the punching bag who plays the accepted deck, while the rest of us try to flex the muscles of the Weird decks. I am actually overjoyed that Rich has expressed an interest in the design process of one of the Weird decks this year, and he has really helped to improve our build (though Rich is currently threatening to not attend the Regional Championships). That being said, that’s not the reason to love Rich. Rich built a copy of The Dojo during its waning days

Now Rich’s Dojo doesn’t work very well. [Which is why the link was removed at Rich’s request. – Knut] There are a lot of broken links. Part of the reason is that there is no 100% intact Dojo anywhere. Frank doesn’t have one. Cathy doesn’t have one. altran’s version doesn’t include the additions and changes made by Chris, and Chris’s version (which Rich attempted to copy) doesn’t include a lot of Frank’s stuff. Archive.org would ostensibly have one, but every time I seem to really want a link, it doesn’t work.

But Rich still tried. And his front page is actually quite amazing. It includes”The Rogue Strategy,” which is one of my favorite articles I’ve ever written, and”What Kibler and Mowshowitz Got Right,” which in my opinion is probably the single best article Adrian has ever written. There are tons of other amusing articles on Rich’s front page, near misses from names as big as Ped Bun to deck submissions from some barn, scrub, jobber, or other. Most or all of the front page links work, so go crazy.

End aside

But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t get some Weird deck testing in myself. I was actually inspired after reading the debut of [author name="Dan Paskins"]Dan Paskins[/author], and due to some reader requests in my forum tried my hand with Jarrod Bright’s Rock deck after the comments I made about Cemetery Cloud last week.

Let’s start with the Cemetery Cloud. This is Jarrod Bright’s list, which is the one I used:

4 Bane of the Living

4 Birds of Paradise

2 Nekrataal

4 Ravenous Baloth

4 Rotlung Reanimator

2 Viridian Shaman

3 Viridian Zealot

2 Withered Wretch

4 Chrome Mox

3 Death Cloud

4 Oversold Cemetery

4 Skullclamp

2 City of Brass

10 Forest

8 Swamp


1 Death Cloud

3 Krosan Tusker

1 Nekrataal

4 Silent Specter

4 Smother

2 Viridian Shaman

For those of you keeping score at home, this deck differs from what you might consider a standard Cemetery Cloud in its lack of Wirewood Heralds, lack of Scourge cyclers, and addition of Chrome Mox and Rotlung Reanimator. It also has Nekrataal, which is a non-unique but also non-mainline element.

The first matchup I tested was against Dan’s Red deck (more on that deck specifically, later… for now I am talking about Jarrod’s). The matchup opened with a 2-2 split. I was actually pretty surprised by this, especially in the first game, where Jarrod’s deck was horribly color screwed. It had no access to Black for several turns, but drew a ton of Ravenous Baloths and was eventually able to imprint a crappy Nekrataal to set up a very good Oversold Cemetery. Dan’s deck eventually scooped them up because it was clear that its draw was not good enough to beat a Baloth and more every turn, and Jarrod’s deck was eventually going to set up Bane of the Living recursion on like forty-two life.

That being said, after the initial four game split, Dan’s deck started mopping Jarrod’s up and the matchup ended 7-3. To my intuition, this seems about right. Dan has forty-four different ways to win and Jarrod will typically win based only on Oversold Cemetery feeding developmental advantage.

I also tried Jarrod’s deck against Affinity (which was supposed to be its good matchup among the archetype decks). I only played like four games and it didn’t look good for Jarrod’s deck. The matchup ended either 3-1 or 4-0 with the unknown result being a game whose outcome I can’t remember (it was late, sue me). The game was Affinity manascrewed with triple one-drop and The Rock getting a quick Bane for one. Either it was”obviously Jarrod wins this one” or”I can’t believe his horrible deck can’t win this game,” but for someone’s good matchup a 3-1 and a 4-0 the wrong way are both less than promising. By the way, the version of Affinity I used was Zvi Mowshowitz with Aether Vial and no Shrapnel Blasts main. I really like Shrapnel Blast in the main; more than one writer has pointed out the necessity to break up Leonin Abunas (a.k.a. edt) and Platinum Angel, and it’s obviously very good against a deck with Death Cloud and Ravenous Baloth, and Zvi chooses not to have it, which doesn’t say very much about this version of The Rock.

Aside on Aether Vial

I hate Aether Vial in Affinity. It seems like a mulligan. In all of the many games I have played on both sides of many versions of Affinity, I think the most productive thing it has ever done has been to help the deployment of a Frogmite on the second turn.

If I were Affinity, I would so much rather have Welding Jar every time. I told this to Kibler, who responded that Welding Jar is less than exciting against decks with Oxidize. To illustrate the relative effectiveness of Aether Vial (ostensibly replacing Welding Jar in concert with Myr Retriever) against Oxidize, I present this game:

Playtest partner Seth Burn is on Affinity and has an Aether Vial and Arcbound Ravager. I have open mana and a 2/2. Seth Brings. I block. Seth runs the ho ho and Vials out a second Arcbound Ravager. Let me tell you that if he deployed an Arcbound Worker, it would have been roughly one thousand times better for him in every way but we won’t get into that. Obviously he set up the original Ravager as a 3/3 to overwhelm my little beater. Obviously I had the Oxidize anyway and ran the two-for-one on double Ravager. I smashed him. Largely, I think, it was because Seth mulliganed by drawing Aether Vial.

That being said, Aether Vial was nuts in this crappy Elf deck I played against that played a total of three lands in two games. One game, with literally no lands in play and the victim of a huge Starstorm from me (where he ostensibly erred by not returning any Elves with Wirewood Symbiote), he even tapped a three-counter Aether Vial to deploy a Caller of the Claw. Go Aether Vial!

End aside

So anyway, the biggest problem that Jarrod’s deck had was the fact that it literally always got out Oversold Cemetery (good), but many times could not run it well (bad). I blame the lack of Wirewood Heralds and Scourge cyclers. Wirewood Herald is helpful in filling the graveyard and prevents beatdown in the first few turns. Twisted Abomination is even more helpful in its way, smoothing mana draws even as it promotes the important Cemetery strategy. Many times, even with Oversold Cemetery online, the best card I could go for in Jarrod’s Herald- and cycler-free build would be some dork with little or no relevant effectiveness on the board.

Contrast some of the cards that Jarrod runs in place of the relatively accepted Heralds and Scourge cyclers. Rotlung Reanimator is just bad. Sometimes if it had a Skullclamp attached, the opposing deck would wait on a swing or let in three damage. But the additional 2/2 doesn’t matter very often. The Nekrataals were awful. The most impressive thing Nekrataal did other than being imprinted on a Mox was to kill a 1/1 Goblin after a huge Death Cloud had already resolved and the Paskins deck was stuck on like one or two land and no creatures or cards with its back to the wall. The Rock lost that one anyway, as the Red deck used Skullclamp to close with Shrapnel Blast.

These are problems totally exclusive of the fact that the mana in this deck is some of the worst I have ever seen. In his own most recent article, Dan made a comment along the lines of”… and they won’t play Black-Green Cemetery because they’re scared that they’ll get mana screwed and…” alongside the rational objections of hate and bad matchups for Affinity or Goblins. I don’t think that you don’t choose The Rock because of this reason. Any deck can get manascrewed. In the literally hundreds of games I have played in testing with and against various White decks with twenty-six to twenty-eight lands and tons of Eternal Dragons and other cycling cards, I will tell you that these decks with much lighter color requirements and more mana are more likely to lose to missing crucial land drops than any other reason. Every deck gets manascrewed, after all.

The mana problem with The Rock is its color requirements. It’s one thing to be really mana screwed (missing key drops), it’s another entirely to have sufficient mana but be unable to function anyway. Jarrod’s list, specifically, has both Viridian Zealot and Withered Wretch starting at the two drop. The only reason you even consider running more than one Viridian Zealot is its ability to get its beat on before it has to bin to kill something scarier than itself. The consistency of playing either of these bears on turn 2 is just not there in my experience, not just in this deck, but in tuning polychromatic decks for many years. This is not even to address the fact that the B/G archetype’s second color is the one that requires BBB in the midgame. Forget about that. By the time that Death Cloud comes online, you will in most games have the requisite BBB and more common lists like Brian Kibler solve this problem by cycling Twisted Abominations into their Black mana. What life you are on when you need to cast the Cloud is another question entirely and has little to do with late game mana development and more to do with early game lands and spells.

The other issue is that Jarrod’s list is severely Bound by Mana. Being Bound by Mana is a concept about a deck that many players understand via game play but have never probably thought about in an abstract sense. This idea comes, originally, from a theory that Eric Taylor had about Type I control decks. I would typically paste here the old Usenet link where he wrote about it, but there are limits to even my encyclopedic knowledge of every relevant article ever written. Maybe Lan will know.

Anyway, about seven years ago there was actually a competitor tournament series to the Pro Tour that paid people (albeit comparatively low sums) to play Type I and other archaic formats, so it wasn’t then a completely irrelevant one… People actually played dinosaurs like I and 1.5 in competitive settings and at reasonable clips. Eric said that people were making their control decks incorrectly by playing too much permission. Because players could use Mystical Tutor to draw so many cards, they often had too much permission in hand and would not be able to cast all their counters. Eric thought they should be playing more active cards (like more Mystical Tutor) instead, and today we have the idea of being Bound by Mana.

Look at this match (which was covered by Star City’s own Tim Aten older and grumpier brother, Mike).

At the first Masters event, Jon Finkel was considered the consensus best player on the planet. The then-Champ even had the Ophidian/Forbid lock in play in game one of match one against his inaugural Masters opponent, the ascending U.S. National Champion, Trevor Blackwell. However, Jon didn’t have enough mana to keep all of Trevor’s threats off the table because of a certain Llanowar Emissary. Jon’s loss had nothing to do with running out of counters… with an Ophidian fueled Forbid, he effectively couldn’t. He had counters, but not enough land to use a three mana Forbid enough times per turn to run with Quirion Ranger.

Jarrod’s deck seems to run into the same problem. I think the chief suspect is Viridian Zealot. Because Jarrod doesn’t have any Wirewood Heralds, he runs a mix of good Shamans and under-performing Zealots. The problem I found in fighting Affinity -even when I had Skullclamp, Viridian Zealot, and Oversold Cemetery going – was that I didn’t have enough mana to defend myself. A Viridian Zealot requires a ton of mana to kill an artifact – GGG1 to be specific. That is a lot of mana. This card does not actually curve under Viridian Shaman for that reason. The Rock deck in one game had all the tools, but not enough mana to go up against the Affinity draw of double Skullclamp, double Myr Enforcer. What exactly was the Viridian Zealot supposed to do? This being Bound by Mana was even worse in situations where The Rock didn’t have GGG even if it had more than four lands. Affinity could just send a Pyrite Spellbomb into the Zealot and waltz on in for ten damage or so unopposed.

The other card that is specifically Bound by Mana is Bane of the Living. First of all, this card was not even good enough in block to beat Goblins. The Standard Goblin decks with Chrome Mox, Shrapnel Blast, Skullclamp, and Patriarch’s Bidding are roughly a hundred times better. So assume you’ve got the Bane in your hand, you’ve got enough mana to play it, and you’ve got it in time so that you aren’t going to die before you can do anything… The problem is that in order for Bane to actually stave off a Goblin rush, The Rock needs essentially 4BB if not 5BB… and that is assuming the Goblin deck doesn’t have even one Goblin Sledder. The Rock just doesn’t have time to get to six or seven mana for this defense. If the Bane is played face-down with no immediate sweep ready, the Goblin deck just kills it with a Sparksmith or Goblin Sharpshooter or Siege-Gang Commander and hits in. The only other reasonable defense card is Nekrataal, which ends up being four mana to kill a 1/1 in most situations.

To be fair, the one thing that I really liked in Jarrod’s deck was the addition of Chrome Mox. This card was great in the early game over and over again. There are a lot of fairly irrelevant cards in particular matchups, so you can often imprint them without worrying too much. I’m sure Death Cloud is crippling against some people, but the card is a suicide play against the aggressive decks, so I think Jarrod might have been right to cut one. There is probably an article about Symmetry and Remainder that needs to be written later to explain how this card should be carefully measured and played.

I built a version of The Rock with Chrome Mox that was based more on Brian Kibler list and my own thoughts that I think addresses specifically the problems that Jarrod’s deck was having in testing. For the record, the Rabbit tells me that without Nekrataal the deck will bend over to Avarax. Like anyone cares if they lose to Avarax main deck.

4 Chrome Mox

4 Skullclamp

3 Bane of the Living

4 Death Cloud

4 Oversold Cemetery

4 Twisted Abomination

1 Elvish Aberration

4 Ravenous Baloth

4 Wirewood Herald

4 Viridian Shaman

1 Viridian Zealot

2 City of Brass

12 Forest

9 Swamp

I mostly replaced Birds of Paradise, which was worse than Chrome Mox almost every time, and worse in any situation without Skullclamp. There were games against Goblins where The Rock would be relying on Birds and Goblins would have a Sparksmith or Goblin Sharpshooter and the board would be totally impossible to develop. On the other hand, turn 1 cycling and Oversold Cemetery seemed pretty reasonable and turn 1 Wirewood Herald into a potentially turn 2 Viridian Shaman seems like an awfully nice start against Affinity. I hate Viridian Zealot, but I didn’t cut them all simply because with Wirewood Herald, you have a potential long game lock against Slide with Death Cloud. But good luck with that, especially if they play Decree of Justice (which they probably won’t). Again, with Symmetry and Remainder, this will have to be addressed in the future at some point. I kept all four Death Clouds because that seems to be the whole point to playing this archetype, despite the card’s relative weakness in some matchups. However, another possibility is to ignore Death Cloud entirely and play a standard B/G good stuff deck with Oxidizes and Smothers and hope for the best. That would probably make for more consistent mana development but also for a deck that would have no game whatsoever against Tooth and Nail and any kind of White control.

Now on the subject of being Bound by Mana, one deck that is not Bound by Mana whatsoever is the Dan Paskins Sitting Dead Red (remember when DP and Mountains was Dave Price?). This deck is absurdly consistent. In the ten games it played against The Rock, the Paskins deck declared at least six mulligans and won seven games anyway. The thing I really love about this deck is the fact that it gets potentially the most ridiculous draw in the current Standard. Turn 1 Goblin Piledriver followed by turn 2 Goblin Warchief is almost unbeatable going first, and in the case of a third turn Siege-Gang Commander, is completely and utterly disgusting in the most dumbfoundingly sick manner. Really. You’ll have to wipe up the table after the game and get your opponent a paper bag. Even Silver Knight into Wrath of God won’t beat this draw if Dan’s deck has anything back at all.

The deck exploits Skullclamp well for the purpose of finding a single Shrapnel Blast, and is at least a turn faster on the goldfish than Bidding. It is very good at beating up random decks, but without a doubt inherits the long game vulnerabilities that Bidding was designed to overcome for a Goblin deck. Against a White opponent who goes to 40+ life with Pulse of the Fields (relatively speaking), but who has not already won, Goblin Bidding will still eventually generate a lethal Critical Mass turn given enough time, but Dan’s deck is going to have a hard time closing the deal.

I totally accept Dan’s contention that the Furnace Dragons aren’t that good in his build (especially with all his Sparksmith and Electrostatic Bolt action), but I wouldn’t replace them with Flashfires. The reason is that a sideboarded White deck essentially flips the problem of threat theory / answer theory (that is, the Red deck now has to answer the White deck’s answers in order to win, whereas in the first game the White deck has to answer the Red deck’s threats in order to buy enough time to establish its game) and Flashfires doesn’t address any of the problems that Sitting Dead Red has with White.

If the opponent gets Silver Knight/Worship, it isn’t going to break that up, and with only two copies, the chances are not great that Flashfires will show up in time against a dedicated Worship plan. Decks with Circle of Protection: Red will still be able to lean on the Urzatron or Secluded Steppe, and that doesn’t even factor in the people who choose to run Sacred Ground. Four Sacred Grounds against four Molten Rains is a stupid fight for White to get into, and laughable when you remember that the Red deck is playing with Chrome Mox. Flashfires just makes White’s potentially terrible cards not dead and slows down the beatdown. Better instead to go with a streamlined offense and hope to win or de facto win prior to White’s establishment of a solid board defense… You might be surprised how devastating a single Molten Rain can be to a White deck’s board development when played by a deck of Sitting Dead Red’s speed.

In any case, I think that filling in the last Electrostatic Bolt is probably more consistent given the projected matchups, and that if Clickslither is so essential to the mirror, adding the fourth to the board might not be a bad idea. Both matchups are essentially the High Tide mirror, atypically interactive, decided on board development and card advantage with the possibility of an immediate win threatened by both decks, but largely contingent on sideboard efficiency and individual choices made.

Aside on manascrew, threats and answers, and Red decks

Hey Dude! It’s Geordie Tait favorite article [by me?]!

End aside

The last non-proprietary Weird deck I played with and against over the last week was Tooth and Nail. If you will believe any random Standard tournament on Magic Online or any random player in a casual room, every opponent every round at Regionals is going to be Tooth and Nail. Literally every one. Just play Kuroda’s deck from Kobe and you too can be a PT Champion or at least make Top 8 at your Regionals. In all seriousness, I was floored by how many people were playing some combination of Forest and (relatively) huge animals. I’m not sure if they have actually good versions, if they are mesmerized by the ability to Entwine out multiple creatures with double digit mana costs, or just don’t care if they play against Goblins.

I have to say that I love the concept of Tooth and Nail and that I was rooting for Nassif in the Kobe finals. The first thing I did when I saw the list was try to make a Type II version (and the second thing I did was slump at my Bidding matchup). However, I think that the Standard decks that I have seen have poor creature selection and aren’t exploiting the maximum chaos that they can create with their Tinker-like sorceries. Your creatures should be utterly devastating. De. Va. Sta. Ting! Not Good Men of the Week. Good men aren’t good enough.

The other night, I played against some sort of Tooth and Nail Beasts deck and he Tinkered out double Molder Slug, Ravenous Baloth, and two Troll Ascetics against my Red deck. I just Starstormed his board for seven, actually got one of the Trolls, let him go to 30+ life, and raced his remaining Troll easily with Jens Thoren and some smoke. If you actually resolve Tooth and Nail, your opponent should be terrified. If he is Goblin Bidding or some eccentric deck like mono-U Archmage or something, I can understand his winning, but if he is any other archetype, he should be almost in the act of reaching for his sideboard when he says”Yup.” Why would you play a card that cost that much mana that did not win the game immediately? When you are up against Affinity, edt and Platinum Angel should be in play and you should have double Viridian Shaman in hand.

For that matter, why do players not run all four Viridian Shamans? Nassif already did it for you! You don’t even have to”think for yourself” on this one! Don’t forget that if you have one of your game winners in hand, you can just Tooth to get Viridian Shamans and Nail out something uncastable that you’ve already drawn so that you can Shaman the face next turn. For that matter why are people playing with Talismans? They are bad. Sure, in Block you can only choose between Talismans and Myr, but what about Splash Damage on Affinity decks or the fact that they effectively limit your own creature selection possibilities? Vine Trellis is a much better choice because of the inherent problems with Goblins and Rampant Growth has surprisingly great redundancy on Solemn Simulacrum, especially since you probably want to be running Temple of the False God in a Cloudpost-based list. I don’t know if you have room for both, but either card is better than a Talisman in my opinion.

I don’t know if a lot of other people have had the same idea, but I also think that Symbiotic Wurm might not be too bad, at least as a sideboard card. Think of it like this: You’ve resolved Tooth and Nail. Your opponent is terrified of whatever it is that is now in play. Consider some of the few decks that can actually fight a resolved Tooth and Nail… As long as you don’t lag behind Oversold Cemetery too badly, you should have overall better board development than The Rock because of Jens, Reap and Sow, and the rest. How is he going to dig himself out of this? Bane of the Living with fourteen mana? Death Cloud is about it. Death Cloud can break up edt and the Angel, and will even kill Darksteel Colossus. But Symbiotic Wurm? Go for Akroma and the Wurm and Death Cloud becomes a death sentence. It’s not the best card in every matchup (though is one of the few fellows that beats Akroma in a fight), and you shouldn’t be digging for it all that often, but Symbiotic Wurm plugs a niche hole in a deck good at going for singletons. Just a thought. There is also one colossal additional mistake almost all ‘Net versions are making. It is… you know what? Never mind. That’s it. Nothing else to see here. Move along.


So anyway…

With all this nostalgia floating around, I decided to feature my old feature, Editor’s Choice. Editor’s Choice was exactly what it sounds like. I would pick some article or set of related articles, recent, old, or ancient, and dredge them up for re-reading by the interested (not unlike what I am doing in this Bonus Section).

Originally I was only going to feature the original installment of Editor’s Choice, which was the debut of Red Deck Wins in the hands of Paskins and Wraith at the 1999 UK National Championships. I’m going to go ahead and spoil this one for you and tell you that Dan finished a paltry second to Mark Wraith, who won the mirror match for all the pounds in Hampton Court Palace (or at least the UK crown… I mean… Never mind. Enough with the bad jokes).

As I said, I decided against that. I was going to stretch out all the old Editor’s Choice stuff over infinite articles, but I loved so many of the old entries that I couldn’t resist giving you all of them. You will find in the Robert Hahn section the exact same (excellent) article that (former Star City columnist) Scott Johns site resurrected this week (great choice Scott!), and in the edt section possibly the greatest tournament report of all time, blindingly presented with horrible club music in the background and featuring some good friends, including Tim Aten as the then-nameless”medium talented player.” For my money, though, the Aaron Muranaka (non-?) tournament report from Rath Cycle is the most enjoyable. To heap more glory on Lord Paskins, Aaron’s tournament (non-?) report features little Red men walking all over much better and more powerful decks, much to, and loudly to, their chagrin… all the way to the only thing that matters in these things, the coveted Blue Envelope.

For Sol Malka fans out there… I’ll let you aggressive and violent people figure that one out yourselves.

I’m going to shut up now and let you enjoy all these old gems. Thanks all for the opportunity to re-visit them myself.


This page version actually has some broken links and misses some stuff (like good man Chad Ellis), but it’s still a representative chunk of the Editor’s Choice good stuff. Sorry Chad. Sorry Trish… Whom I’ve never met.

Next Time: The Philosophy of Fire