The Long.Dec And Winding Road, Part 1a – Type One Triumphant

While we need to turn the corner to see what’s up ahead, a look back will keep things in perspective and help crystallize the lessons we’ve learned along the way, and tie up some loose ends. Type One has gone, in one year, from being a dead format to being a playtested and supported format. Starting with Aaron Forsythe’s article at the beginning of the year in which he asked the Type One community what should be unrestricted, the DCI has been listening.

Type One Triumphant! 2003 Was A Banner Year For Type One.

While we need to turn the corner to see what’s up ahead, a look back will keep things in perspective and help crystallize the lessons we’ve learned along the way, and tie up some loose ends.

Type One has gone, in one year, from being a dead format to being a playtested and supported format. Starting with Aaron Forsythe article at the beginning of the year in which he asked the Type One community what should be unrestricted, the DCI has been listening. A large majority voted that Fork, Berserk, and Recall should be unrestricted in a series of polls I ran on the Mana Drain the month before. I reported the results and Aaron ran most of my letter. You can read it here.

A week later Recall and Berserk were unrestricted.

That was just a sign of things to come. It needs to be said: Wizards, R&D, and whoever else is involved in recent Type One policy making has been doing a great job. Wizards has not only started the Type One championship, they are also printing Type One cards! Almost every set adds at least two to three Type One playables into the format, I say shake things up. More Type One cards! We don’t want the comfortable stable format, where you can take your old handy deck and succeed.

Type One seems to shift in two circumstances. First, when a new set rotates in – Mirrodin and Scourge come to mind. Storm is ridiculously broken in Type One and we have to thank Wizards for preemptively restricting Mind’s Desire. The fallout from Scourge should not be forgotten. Mind’s Desire provided the incentive to break Lion’s Eye Diamond that finally made Lion’s Eye Diamond and Burning Wish a real problem. Even though the original”long.dec” had four Mind’s Desires, and Bode’s build had Hunting Pack because he felt it was better against Control, I took the deck and carefully tuned it using the original Tendrils.

Mirrodin has also had a huge impact on Type One. Mark Rosewater wants to know what people think about it. “If you care about Type I design, I strongly urge you to respond. I can only learn that which is taught to me.”

I’ll re-iterate that: if you enjoy Type One, make your voice known.

Overall, I’d say the power level of Mirrodin may be a bit high. However, the set is an absolute blast and has created a lot of attention.

1. Did Mirrodin change the Type I metagame? If so, how?

Like most big sets, Mirrodin has changed Type One – mostly through modifications in existing archetypes. Has there been anything as drastic as a metagame shift on the level of what Scourge did? First, Chalice affected the combo deck of choice. Long was just gaining momentum when the spoiler for Chalice was released. Most people, including myself, felt that Long could not survive the omnipresence of Chalice.

On the other hand, the Worldgorger Dragon Combo was one of the few Combo decks that had no key spells at zero or one, meaning that Dragon had inherent resistance to the card, making Dragon, an already strong deck, one of the top contenders in the format. The result was a shift from Long to Dragon – even if Long remained the best deck for the most skilled player.

Only Workshop decks had the capacity to play a Chalice for two, and then three quickly – thereby making it nearly impossible for Dragon to win. However, Dragon generally has a great game against Workshop decks, unlike Long. It is possible that Chalice has sealed the death of budget burn decks at the same time it has made budget Fish decks and other rogue budget decks relatively stronger.

The ways in which Mirrodin will play out are still unfolding and will be fully revealed in a Long-less metagame. This question may be better understood six months from now, because less hyped Mirrodin cards will find more use now that Long.dec has left the format.

2. What cards in particular are being played and which ones instigated change?

Here are the cards from Mirrodin that I’ve seen either tested or played in tournament decklists, excluding, of course, reprints: Bosh, Iron Golem Chalice of the Void, Chrome Mox, Damping Matrix, Duplicant, Gilded Lotus, Glimmervoid, Goblin Charbelcher, Great Furnace, Isochron Scepter, Lightning Greaves, Mindslaver, Mindstorm Crown, Platinum Angel, Raise the Alarm, Sculpting Steel, Seat of the Synod, Shrapnel Blast, Slith Firewalker, Solemn Simulacrum, Spoils of the Vault, Sylvan Scrying, Thirst for Knowledge.

Rather than dwell on each card and explain the decks it’s been tested or played in, I’ll make a few brief comments.

Damping Matrix has such a powerful effect, it cannot but be abused.

Goblin Charbelcher quickly found a home in its own combo deck with Spoils of the Vault – a deck which is quite vicious, but has yet to show any tournament success. That may change with Long leaving the format. Belcher and Mindstorm Crown were briefly tested in a few Workshop prison decks.

If cards like Deep Analysis saw play in Carl Winter winning Tog build because it was a key draw spell in the mirror, you have to expect that new draw spells, especially instant speed ones, are going to be closely scrutinized – and that makes Thirst for Knowledge a solid card.

Gilded Lotus should not be written off for Type One. It is a surprisingly strong card in Workshop decks – just as it has been used in Extended. Almost all the restricted Draw 7s cost three colored mana. The Lotus is also nice to activate Mindslaver or use in conjunction with Blood Moon.

One card I really love is Glimmervoid. I think this is the perfect example of how to design a card for Type One. It has a drawback that at least forces serious consideration and testing for how strong it’s going to be – but it is also generally useful, much like the Fetchland cycle. Instead of making or creating powerful Type One decks (like Mind’s Desire and Tendrils of Agony), it enables them. I replaced the two Underground Seas in my Long.dec list with them and they are excellent. This card is also going to be used in almost any three or more color Workshop deck.

Spoils of the Vault replaced Tainted Pact in MaskNought and necessarily so. Mask has been too slow to really compete, and Spoils will give it the boost it needs. I haven’t even mentioned Chrome Mox yet. Lightning Greaves has also found some use in Type One in the MaskNought Sideboard.

3. Are the Mirrodin cards being played in Type I fun?

I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but I will tell you that Mirrodin has made things interesting.

4. Are the Mirrodin cards being played in Type I interesting to play?

Most definitely. Last week’s article by JP Meyer profiled the Type One community, and cards like Mindslaver and Platinum Angel fit the Spike/Timmy dichotomy, and yet are extremely effective.

5. Would you like to see more sets designed with an eye towards Type I?

Absolutely. In the end, the most preferable sort of designs are the generally useful cards like Glimmervoid, which simply become stronger in Type One because of card pool synergy. I don’t want to foreclose cards designed for Type One either. In the end, even if”designing” cards for Type One may be less preferable to creating generally useful cards like Fetchlands, the touch of chaos it adds and the change it instigates is well worth the cost of any potential design flaws.

I claimed that two things shake up the format. The first was new sets and innovations springing from an expanded card pool. The second thing that really causes earthquakes in this format is restrictions (but generally not unrestrictions). The restriction of Fact or Fiction, Gush, and now Burning Wish and Lion’s Eye Diamond, will have this effect. The environment never actually had a chance to adapt to Desire, but judging by how strong Long was – that is a good thing. At the end of most of these massive changes, I generally start with the assumption that, once again, Control is going to be really good.

Brian David Marshall’s article instigated some debate among my teammates. He reported three differing opinions about the top 20 cards in Type One. I think these lists are generally meaningless and almost pointless because they are so difficult to measure. Even the term”best” means different things to different people. Are we talking about generally useful, or most powerful? Or a combination of the two?

I think the straight up, most broken legal card in Type One is probably Yawgmoth’s Bargain. There is practically no card in Type One that wins as much as Bargain does when it comes into play. Bargain is not the best card. For a while I thought Ancestral Recall was the best card. Obviously, Ancestral is not the most generally useful, as not all decks use Blue, but for it is the most powerful card for its cost. Over the last year, I have begun to consider Yawgmoth’s Will the most powerful card.

As for general utility, it is probably used in fewer decks than Ancestral. Randy Buehler calls it the most powerful”effect” in Type One, and I am not sure exactly what he means by that. Like Yawgmoth’s Bargain, it is difficult to lose when you resolve a juicy Yawgmoth’s Will, but it tends to be a more conditional card than Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Nonetheless, Yawgmoth’s Will sees more play than Bargain – practically in every deck that runs Black.

Black Lotus goes in every deck in Type One and is the most generally useful card. It is also powerful, increasing your chances of winning, but nowhere approaching the power level of a card like Yawgmoth’s Bargain, in which you are almost certain to win if you have a sizable amount of life. Nonetheless, despite railing against such lists – I’ll throw my hat in the ring anyway: weighing all the factors together: efficiency, general usefulness, and power here is my top five:

1) Black Lotus

2) Yawgmoth’s Will

3) Ancestral Recall

4) Necropotence

5) Force of Will

The Restricted List And Type One Policymaking

And now I’m turning to Randy Buehler article and his discussion about what they considered for restriction.

I would prefer that the DCI adhere the policy guidelines I laid down before:

My Criteria for Restriction

Type One has important symbolic value to the game of Magic. It represents the strength of Magic over time, and is a symbol of its history. As the game grows older, Wizards must come to appreciate that a strong following for Type One bolsters its integrity among the secondary markets, and enhances the image of Magic as a game which will be here for some time to come.

The aim of any restricted list is to do what is best for the format it affects – and by extension, the game. That can mean a lot of things. But what is best for the format? Is the goal of Magic to have fun, or is it to have a competitive, dynamic environment? The driving force behind the consumption of packs and tournament participation – the primary revenue stream for Wizards – probably encompasses both goals. However, the very reason that Wizards has (correctly) paid less attention to Type One than it has to other formats suggests that the goals of Type One policy making could be different from other formats. In other words, since tournament play and not pack consumption is basically the primary source of revenue from players when they play Type One, then the goals that drive the policy making of the format are allowed to be different. The importance of this point is that the reasons which support policy decisions in other formats often fall away when it comes to Type One… And so the format should not have the same, or possibly even similar, policy-making criteria.

However, one thing is clear: Type One policy making is, in part, driven by the management of 1.5 – an alien criteria. As long as Wizards plans on supporting 1.5, I think most Type One players can muscle up the strength to keep their traps shut and accept the reasons which underlie its coupling to Type One as long as it doesn’t seriously harm Type One. No one was up in arms about Entomb or Earthcraft.

I propose a weighted multi-factor test that I believe should be adopted by Wizards:

To begin, the first criteria for whether a card should be restricted is whether it is the key element of a deck that is excessively tournament dominant in diverse geographical areas for a period of at least one month. This is the most important criteria. Usually, this card will be a mana accelerant or a card advantage generator. Common sense application of the rule should be the norm. The card should be chosen so that it affects as few decks as possible. Sometimes, more than one card might need to be restricted because the restriction of one key element may not stop the deck from being dominant.

The second criteria is whether a card is the key element of a deck that is excessively metagame distorting in diverse geographical areas for a period of at least one month.

The phrasing of the second criteria is broad enough to encompass cards like Strip Mine and Black Vise, whose unrestriction may not lead to a single degenerate deck, but would be sufficiently metagame-distorting to warrant restriction. Generally, you won’t need multiple restrictions for cards for decks that have cards that meet this criterion.

In the final months of Gush’s existence there was an issue of whether Gro-A-Tog was truly dominant. In the Netherlands, there were decks that were running rampant which claimed that they never lost to Gro-A-Tog. A glance at the June Eindhoven is a great example of this. In America, similar claims were made as well… And they might have been true. But this simple situation raises two issues: Those issues are whether a deck need be unbeatable, and whether the card/deck need prove its dominance everywhere (or mostly everywhere).

Addressing the first issue, it should be obvious that deck need not be unbeatable in order for an element of it to be restricted. Most decks always have a flaw. To say that deck must be unbeatable ignores the point that it can still be distorting. In the case of mono blue, the answer was Suicide Black. Those who played against Mono Blue had to run Suicide Black in order to have a good shot against it. If they were unlucky enough to have to face another deck first, say some Neo-Academy build, then they were out of luck, and Mono Blue would go all the way to the top. That is a distorted environment.

The third criterion asks whether the card is sufficiently objectively over-powered without reference to specific card interaction. This criterion should be given much less weight than the first two, and there is a heavy burden on the part of the card to show that it is sufficiently objectively broken. This criterion excludes the question of whether a card is objectively over powered in combination with some other card, but asks if it is objectively overpowered in light of known principles and general knowledge. The perfect example of this type of card is Mind’s Desire. The storm mechanic is particularly abusive in a format with zero-casting-cost mana accelerants. This criterion is generally in place so that a card may be restricted before it enters the environment and makes things unpleasant for the next three months.

The fourth criteria asks whether there is a card that either distorts or dominants the Type 1.5 environment, and whose restriction would not significantly affecting Type One. Presumably, this follows the pattern of Entomb and Earthcraft.

Some people might propose other criteria such as that the card is too powerful in multiples. I would argue that the four criteria are sufficiently broad that any other criteria that may be imagined fit within this framework.

The bottom line is that adhering to those guidelines in a strict way means that prong number three is going to have to be invoked in certain scenarios such as Chrome Mox and Mind’s Desire, where you have enough evidence that cards of that power level are too susceptible to abuse to let through. Prong three should be invoked sparingly – especially with new cards.

One other idea that keeps resurfacing is whether cards which provide an unrecoverable early game swing should be another criterion. I do not agree. I believe that such a criterion, if relevant, would overlap with the first three for the simple reason, that if an unrecoverable early game swing is consistent, resilient, and capable enough to do so, then it is going to be, at the least, metagame distorting – otherwise it won’t truly be effective. Cards that merely potentially allow early game swings without meeting one of the first three prongs are not proper restriction targets.

I don’t necessarily agree with Oscar or Tony Sculimbrene, who want more clarity and openness in the policy making process. The pros have the most at stake in that process for Type 2 and 1.x, and they don’t seem to put up as much of a fight as Type One players do. They trust the DCI, and so do I. In fact, I would go so far as to say that more openness can sometimes be a bad thing. Sometimes we don’t want to see the man behind Oz. Secrecy maintains respect for the decision-maker, and too much openness would show the strings behind the puppet and open the whole process up to much more review than I think is unnecessary and is possibly harmful. Nonetheless, I can’t think of a single person who wasn’t happy with Buehler’s article.

Randy discussed Bazaar of Baghdad. Here’s what he said:

Bazaar of Baghdad is another old-time land that we put up for debate. It adds a lot of power to the Worldgorger Dragon combo decks that are running around Type 1, but those decks don’t currently seem to be any more degenerate than any of the other decks in the format, so we left well enough alone. Just as we’ll consider restricting the Workshop if artifact decks begin to dominate the format, we’ll consider restricting the Bazaar if the Dragon decks take things over.

I couldn’t agree more. If it means my first prong and”dominates” – restrict it. I believe that the WGD combo deck should be the baseline for what a fair combo deck looks like. It is almost impossible for it to win on turn 1. It requires having two permanent mana sources and a combo outlet such as Bazaar and have the specific mana requirements. The chance of the happening is really small. It’s happened to me once or twice, but mostly because of Time Walk. Even then, the deck has an average win of turn 3 approximately, with a mode of turn 3. That’s only because it wins on turn 3 more than any other turn, but it wins mostly turn three and later.

More than that, it is easily hateable. One Gaea’s Blessing in your deck and the Dragon player has to go to great pains against any decent deck to get around it – it needs to get Compulsion into play and use Ancestral Recall to finish off the opponent with the Blessing trigger on the stack. Tormod’s Crypt is also widespread and Tog will need to have Coffin Purges to keep this deck at bay – as it will for Rector decks. Many decks in the upcoming metagame are going to be using Wasteland, which makes this deck’s plan more difficult to execute.

This deck has jumped the shark. It has won its share of tournaments and that streak, I think, is over. People have are now packing sufficient hate in their sideboards that they should always have had. It was just fortunate that I heavily argued for multiple Coffin Purges in Carl’s Tog sideboard for GenCon for Rector, but they are just as effective against Dragon. That isn’t to say that Dragon is dead – far from it. I just don’t anticipate seeing the numbers we’ve seen the last few months.

Here’s what he said about Chalice of the Void:

We also considered restricting Chalice of the Void. We had heard some complaints that it’s too powerful if one player gets to drop a bunch of Moxes and then drop a Chalice for 0, preventing the other person from using any Moxes at all. We’ve also heard some players claim that the Chalice is actually better in decks with Moxes against the”cheap” decks in the format. Players who don’t own the true power cards often play weenie beatdown decks (like Sligh or Stompy) and those decks can be really hurt by a quick Chalice for 1. Toward the end of our discussion, we concluded that Chalice is clearly relevant to what’s going on in Type 1 right now, but it doesn’t sound like anyone has really worked out exactly what that impact is. It’s possible that we’ll need to restrict the Chalice someday, but there’s no good reason to restrict it right now.

Again, he’s right on. I certainly wrote an eyebrow-raising article nearly a month before Mirrodin was released with”Chalice of the Void: The New Black Vice.” I wasn’t entirely surprised to read that Chalice has been used in Extended. At the time it was necessary to raise the point that Chalice is a tool in decks like Keeper to hose cheap aggro decks. The responding outcry was far beyond what I had intended to talk about. I wasn’t trying to say that Chalice was good or bad, my point was that it was going to be omnipresent. I thought that most of its positive uses were obvious, so I felt that bringing out some of the negative aspects were important, but I hardly think Chalice is a restrictable card, as a practical matter if anything. The only reason I would consider restricting Chalice is if it is simply too powerful in the Workshop decks, as a way to save those decks without restricting Workshop.

This is what Randy had to say about Spoils of the Vault:

The Burning Wish conversation led us to consider restricting Spoils of the Vault as well. However, we think Spoils of the Vault only looks good when you’re going for a card that you have four copies of in your deck. Even with four copies there’s a big enough chance that you’ll take a suicidal amount of damage that the card doesn’t see a lot of play in Standard or Extended. If you’re going for a restricted card, that chance goes up dramatically so we think that by restricting Burning Wish, Spoils is no longer going to be a problem. It is still a”tutor,” though, so we will of course continue to watch it.

You have no idea how pleased I am with this decision. Restricting Spoils of the Vault would have been a terrible blow to SpoilsMask, an important deck in the arsenal to fight control. I think the analysis is dead on. The fact that Spoils must only fetch a four-of suggests that if Spoils is overly good, it is not Spoils itself, but some other card that it is used in combination with. Of course, their may be exceptions to this general presumption – and if the situation arises in which Spoils helps a broken combo too much such as, say, Goblin Charbelcher, then it may need to be restricted. Until that time, it belongs where it is.

Here’s what he said about Mishra’s Workshop:

We considered re-restricting Mishra’s Workshop now that Mirrodin has introduced so many more powerful artifacts into the environment, but eventually decided there just wasn’t enough evidence yet to support putting the Workshop back on the Restricted List. We will definitely be keeping our eyes on Workshop decks in the future.

I know I’ve railed against acceleration, but not all acceleration is equal. Workshop and Dark Ritual are the two accelerants that need to stay unrestricted as long as they are not format dominant or distorting. Both cards play key roles in keeping control in balance with the format.

And now we begin the Winding Road that ends with Long.dec. For that reason I’ll save my discussion of Lion’s Eye Diamond and Burning Wish for the end.

A Look Back – Way Back

Sometimes, the most persuasive argument shows rather than tells. Some lessons of Type One are better understood and are remembered longer if told as a narrative, rather than explained. For those of you who are relatively new to Type One, this is a chance to peer into the distance past. At the end of this narrative there are two more Long.dec tournament reports and a look at Long and the Restricted List.

Permit me a very brief look back. Rough guestimates have me playing Magic in a solid playgroup by the Spring of 1994, because that would be the tail end of 8th grade and I’m twenty-three now. The earliest deck I remember building had four Mahamoti Djinns and four Serra Angels, as well as Swords to Plowshares, Counterspells, Mana Drains, and two Moats. Before I saw Weissman’s list, my deck had already gone down to two Serra Angels and one Mahamoti.

Jess Means, a name that should ring bells for Ohio people, and I were learning the classic control match before our time. The games with Jess basically came down to one huge counter war defined by the player who missed no key land drops, and drew the most countermagic. The games were often, Tundra, Go, Island, Go, Island, Go. If someone missed land drops, that meant they would have less countering power. Feldon’s Cane became a Win Condition – a one-mana win condition is easy to cast and back up. Being able to shuffle the graveyard back meant not decking first, but you get to recycle all your counters, and cards like Ancestral. It’s amazing that we didn’t consider Red Elemental Blast to help win the counterwars – that was a lesson taught by Brian Weissman. Our lack of consideration probably had something to do with the rest of our field.

Current and two-time Ohio State champion Randy Wright played a mean Mono-Black Weenie deck sporting Dark Rituals, Juzam Djinns, Hypnotic Specters, and when they were printed, Pump Knights and Hymns to Tourach. I was so scared of that deck because a turn 1 Specter could mean game if it went unanswered for a few turns. I even added Cleanse to my sideboard – that way even if I resolved a Moti or an Angel, I could still wipe his board without killing my own threats.

Another well-built competitor was piloted by Paul Montesanti. Recall that at the time you could play with four Black Vise (on top of four Strip Mine). Paul’s deck was, essentially, land destruction which took advantage of multiple colors. He used Sinkholes, Stone Rains, and Strip Mines for mana denial. He had Lightning Bolts, Fireball, and Black Vises for damage, and four Disenchant and a Balance for utility. He was, of course, fully powered – as we all were (except he wasn’t playing Blue). One of my favorite plays against that deck was turn 1 Tundra, Consecrate Land. That way I had permanent access to each of my primary colors.

We had a group of dedicated Type One players. The Means boys had pretty much unlimited resources even at that time, because Mr. Means was moving cards on a pretty large scale. Mr. Means also drove us to some tournaments around the state and nearby states. For me, at that time, Type One was essentially some aggro decks with burn or disruption of some sort, mana denial strategies, and control strategies. Its amazing in retrospect that so many Type One players seems to think that the fictionalized Combo, Aggro, Control triangle has been the standard forever.

Fast Forward to 2000. As soon as I was accidentally reintroduced to the game again, I was compelled to proxy up my old deck. And, once again, I was hooked. However, I was lacking some important skills.

In the intervening years, evidently Magic became a more explored game with many theoretical concepts having now been described and applied. I decided I needed to play other formats. My first”real” format since I started up again was Regionals 2001. I settled on Fires and tuned the board and the maindeck for Regionals. I went 6-3 at my first real tournament in years. The problem was that I was just bad at Magic generally, even if I had certain competencies with the Fires deck or a few other decks in the format.

Lesson #1:

The lesson, and point of all of this, is that I think it takes thorough experience with all of the formats, Type Two, Block, Extended, and especially Limited, before you can be good at Type One. Type Two will teach you a lot about playing decks in tight situations in which timing is absolutely critical, and play skill really can shine. Limited is so important mostly for the reason that it is so radically different from Type One. It will stretch your magic skills and force you into uncharted territory. At the very least, Type One players should have a general knowledge of what is going on in other formats. This will keep them connected with the mainstream flow of Magic information on the web. Just keep in mind that the best Type One players I know play many other formats – including Carl Winter.

I was a little surprised to discover that BDominia, the only real Type One forum on the web at the time, was essentially dominated by”Keeper fanatics.” Ed Paltzik shook up things with this”Legend Blue” deck. Soon the deck acquired the moniker BBS:

4 Morphling

4 Force of Will

4 Mana Drain

4 Mana Leak

4 Misdirection

4 Back to Basics

4 Fact or Fiction

4 Impulse

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Sol Ring

1 Black Lotus

5 Moxes

19 Island

Rather than being a true control deck, I would call it aggro-Morphling. It would draw Morphling, drop it, and back it up with pitch countermagic (Force of Will and Misdirection), Drains, Leaks and use Fact or Fictions to refill their hand. The deck uses Fact or Fiction like Necropotence: Facting into more Facts and continuing to draw cards, and if Fact or Fiction wasn’t in sight, Impulse would usually find it pretty quickly.

The high Misdirection count meant that it was difficult not to resolve whatever you wanted to do. Any problems against control were solved with the four Back to Basics. And any problems against Sligh or cheap aggro were solved either through the Aggro Morphling plan (racing them) or by playing Masticore. Darren’s impassioned letter to Mark Rosewater evidently was persuasive enough to convince them to restrict Fact or Fiction. The Type One metagame was not advanced enough at the time to deal with it.

I continued working on Mono-Blue control and eventually ended up with this: http://www.themanadrain.com/monoblue.htm

That is probably my finest primer, because I spent so much time with that deck. The first sign that things weren’t right was in March of 2002 at a Columbus PTQ where I played Pat Chapin piloting Miracle Gro. I recorded his deck on a small PES paper sheet.

4 Island

4 Tropical Island

1 Library of Alexandria

4 Land Grant

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Emerald

1 Black Lotus

4 Quirion Dryad

4 Ophidian

4 Gush

4 Force of Will

4 Misdirection

4 Foil

3 Daze

1 Divert

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Regrowth

4 Brainstorm

4 Sleight of Hand

2 Merchant Scroll

2 Opt

Mono-Blue cannot reliably beat Gro. The central problem is that Gro will always be able to outcounter Mono Blue – at least once, and probably twice. Why? Because Gro plays its key spell – the Dryad or a Phid immediately, and expends its entire hand doing so. Mono Blue is not built to deal with that sort of threat.

Assume both players have two land in play and seven cards in hand. If Gro taps an Island and a Tropical Island and drops Quirion Dryad, mono-Blue goes: Mana Leak. Both players now have six cards in hand. Then Gro answers with Misdirection pitching a cantrip. Mono-Blue likely has an answer in the form of Force of Will or a Misdirection. Both players now have four cards in hand. Gro, however, plays Gush. Both lands go to hand and it draws two cards. Now it has seven cards, two of which are land.

Then Gro plays Foil pitching probably both Islands leaving it with five cards. Even if the Mono-Blue deck is lucky enough to have another Misdirection or Force of Will, the two fresh cards from that hand of five means that the Gro deck probably does as well. It really shows you how important Tempo is in Type One, and heavily contrasts with the scenario I described from 1995. Since I’m going to sound off on everything in this article, I might as well sound off on what I think about the importance of card advantage.

Lesson #2

As a concept, it is theoretically useful for understanding what makes some decks successful. As a practical analytical tool, I believe the concept is irrelevant. I think conceptually, its rather straightforward, and I’m a little surprised why so many people seem so confused.

My problem with card advantage is that it is simply too obvious and omnipresent to be a useful concept – it doesn’t reveal anything, it doesn’t enlighten, it simply exists. Evaluating cards, scenarios, or decks under the lens of card advantage seems to me to be a huge waste of time for anything other than a mental exercise. The Gro examples reveal a chink in the validity of card advantage as an analytical tool – two players can be perfectly even in card advantage, yet it will not reflect the status of the game board. Instead, it is a great example of a game that is won by using card disadvantage Tempo-abusers to create board advantage on a light mana base.

Second, I think that analysis of cards through the rubric of card advantage can be actually harmful, because it will not allow you to see a way in which a seemingly card disadvantageous card or combination might yield a huge net card advantage in the end. Specifically, Lion’s Eye Diamond springs to mind. Analyzing the card in isolation through the lens of card advantage will blind oneself to the uses for the card. But even if it doesn’t, my other criticisms remain.

Most card evaluations implicitly discuss card advantage anyway. Tempo is far more important in actual game interactions that are dictated by turns. After all, what do we make of cards like Force of Will, Gush, and Lion’s Eye Diamond? Sure, Gush is card advantage – but if you have read Oscar’s articles on Gush – he sure hated that card because under his reasoning, the loss of two lands sets you back two turns, justifying the two card draw.

Eventually, it got to the point where playing Mono-Blue was just no longer a good idea. There was a deeper problem – it wasn’t just that Mono-Blue was a bad deck, which it increasingly was. The problem was that it was underpowered. This came to a head for me in the morning of a Saturday in early February in Kentucky.

I couldn’t decide what to play between Mono-Blue or GroAtog. I had thought it over, debated, and all signs came up pointing inconclusive. Instead, I waited until the last minute – having all decks ready to go. When I got to the tournament, the pressure was on. The night before I had built GroAtog for Paul Mastriano. Because this was early February, we were among the first to play GroAtog in the US at the time to my knowledge. I had played Mono-Blue for a year, so at least I knew my chances. But I opted, under the pressure of the last minute, to play the more powerful deck. I started writing GroAtog on my deck reg form and won the tournament taking home a Black Lotus. The experience became the basis for my primer on the deck.

Lesson #3:

This is a lesson repeated throughout this narrative: play the most powerful deck and you will be rewarded. I could have played Mono-Blue and done well, but by playing the new powerful deck, I had a better shot.

This is perhaps one of the most important lessons, and the real flaw in the Weissman school of magic. As a theoretical idea, I was intrigued with the possibility that Type One was fundamentally flawed, not in its power level, but in that a critical mass of counterspells were printed such that a purely reactive strategy of just trying to counterspell everything could literally be the perfect deck, if it only needed the most minimal amounts of card advantage to seal the deal.

The Weissman school will continue to play a deck until they start losing. Some people will always be able to play a very well metagamed control deck and do better than 50%. This is sets the bar too low. People should play the best deck available to them, not the deck they haven’t been losing with. The critical flaw in my approach with Mono-Blue is that you don’t just want to win, but you want to maximize your chances at winning. If you play a deck that wins 51% of the time against everything, that is simply not good enough. Magic has too many random elements to be satisfied with such a deck.

Your deck is a weapon. Like most weapons, using it to kill efficiently requires skill as well as practice. A well trained Samurai can defeat an inexperienced enemy with a gun. By the same token, a well experienced player can win with an inferior deck against an inferior opponent with a superior deck. However, I’d rather be the person with the gun and the experience.

I hope some players take this lesson to heart – it certainly took me long enough to realize it. Sometimes a player can take a seriously underpowered deck and win, even though they are fighting swords against guns. A well-designed deck piloted by a more experienced, tested, and skilled player is a real threat in Type One.

My experience with Yawgmoth’s Will prior to GroAtog was using it as a bomb in Keeper. For Keeper it became a way to refill your hand, untap your lands, and protect Morphling. In GroAtog, it was a way to Combo out in conjunction with Fastbond and multiple Gushes in your sideboard. You literally Gushed up your entire deck and attacked with lethal Tog/Dryad. It was absolutely grotesque. I couldn’t imagine that seven months later I’d be playing an even more broken Yawgmoth’s Will deck.

Long was the best deck I have ever played in Magic. Never before have I played a deck that was so incredibly resilient to control – being able to win on turn 1 and 2 so often with such power and resistance to hate. Long never fully caught fire like Stax, Mask, and GroAtog did in the Type One community. In the first place, my claims that Chalice hoses this deck tended to dampen enthusiasm. In the second place, by the time the articles came out, the Mirrodin Spoiler was already released (hence Chalice) and people were looking beyond September and the first nineteen days of October to when Mirrodin was legal. As a result, people’s attention shifted to Dragon. Perhaps one of the biggest factors weighing against Long was basically the difficulty of play.

Sorting the deck out requires some thought and isn’t entirely satisfying. I think I did a good job with my list as posted at MagictheGathering.com

Revised List: 8/28/03

By Stephen Menendian

The Mana, a.k.a. 5 Lotuses, 8 Moxes(n), and 5 Rituals, and some land.

3 Chromatic Sphere

4 Lion’s Eye Diamond

5 Moxen

1 Lotus Petal

1 Black Lotus

1 Mana Crypt

1 Mana Vault

1 Sol Ring

1 Mox Diamond

4 Dark Ritual

4 Gemstone Mine

4 City of Brass

1 Tolarian Academy

2 Underground Sea

Setting up and protecting the Combo

4 Duress

4 Brainstorm

Cards that Fetch cards that win:

4 Burning Wish

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Demonic Consultation

Cards that Win:

1 Timetwister

1 Wheel of Fortune

1 Windfall

1 Tinker

1 Mind’s Desire

1 Necropotence

1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain

1 Memory Jar


1 Tendrils of Agony



1 Tendrils of Agony


1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Diminishing Returns

Control Hoser:

4 Xantid Swarm

All Purpose Hoser:

1 Balance

1 Primitive Justice

1 Simplify

1 Hull Breach

1 Regrowth

1 Vindicate

2 Seal of Cleansing

One of the things I noticed was that the first attempts with the deck were good plays, but ultimately incorrect. For example, in some of my early games I would go for a turn 1 Bargain, not realizing that I could just go for Burning Wish -> Yawgmoth’s Will and win immediately, not having to risk the infinitesimally small chance that turn 1 Bargain wouldn’t be a turn 1 win. Another example of misplaying this deck is approaching the deck like a turn 2-3 Academy deck, than a turn 1 combo deck that simply has Academy in it.

One final factor that caused people not to play Long, was the availability of alternative broken combo decks. You’ll recall in part two of my preview of the metagame for the Vintage Championship, which was published on July 23, I provided an overview of the major combo decks starting with Rector, the Shining, Long, and I even mentioned Dragon:

WorldGorger Combo

There are several variations floating around still. One involves Intuition, and another involves Bazaar of Baghdad. They will be facing a lot of graveyard hate that will be aimed at Rector decks, but will also have to contend with Stifle.

Conclusion: Too Rogue to Tell

In the end I concluded:

Never in a long-term metagame have so many combo decks competed. I suspect that only one or two will survive the culling that will inevitably ensue as combo players discover which deck is truly”best.”

Or is it possible that there could be a balanced metagame with multiple combo decks vying for power and glory – thus bucking the trend of metagames of all times?

Could it also be that we are going to see a massively fractured metagame, with different combo decks winning in different metagames, all with no consensus? I think that is going to be the least likely end result. I suspect that by the end of GenCon – and definitely by the end of August – we’ll all know what the best combo deck is. Can you say which one that will be? The criteria seems clear to me: The one that performs best against the control decks and against the other combo decks. I suspect that one or two will prove more successful at it than others.

This has come to pass. By the end of Gencon, we didn’t see the best combo deck because the best combo decks weren’t revealed or fully tuned yet. I would say that the last three months were Dragon months. Dragon has been the most successful deck. While it requires amazingly complex rules interactions, invoking the annoying, and arbitrary infinite loops rules, it is probably the best combo deck for most players. You can pick it up the night before and win quite well. It is intuitive and obvious. Moreover, it is incredibly redundant. Take a look

Dragon by Richard Mattiuzzo and Peter Olszewski

The Outlet:

4 Bazaar of Baghdad

3 Compulsion


4 Intuition

2 Lim-Dul’s Vault/1 Demonic Tutor + 1 Vampiric Tutor

Protecting the Combo:

3 Duress

4 Force of Will

1 Time Walk

Eight Red Creatures

4 Squee

4 Worldgorger Dragon

Eight Animate Effects:

3 Necromancy

3 Animate Dead

2 Dance of the Dead

The Win Condition:

1 Ambassador Laquatus

1 Ancestral Recall

The Mana:

5 Moxen

1 Black Lotus

1 Sol Ring

1 Mana Crypt

4 Underground Sea

4 Polluted Delta

1 Island

1 Swamp

2 Bayou

1 Underground River


3 Xantid Swarm

3 Pernicious Deed

3 Stifle

3 Tormod’s Crypt

3 Verdant Force

As you can see, the deck is redundant. Every key part of the combo has about eight parts. There are eight animate effects, eight red creatures, seven combo outlets, seven disruption spells, six tutors (four Intuition and two Tutors), and a hefty amount of acceleration. The disruption spells are four Force of Will and three Duress. The only real bottleneck, and the thing that makes this deck have to mulligan, is the lack of”outlets.” If your opening hand doesn’t have a Compulsion or a Bazaar, or access to one, it might not be keepable.

There are four reasons that Dragon is such a good deck. First, it is inherently powerful. It requires only one spell to have been cast to actually win any game. Turn 1 Bazaar dropping Dragon into the yard, and two turns of lands followed by an Animate is the win. Just in case you don’t know – the Worldgorger combo generates infinite mana and keeps the Bazaar phasing in and out of play while you tap it to mill your deck. After you have sufficient mana and Ambassador Laquatus in your graveyard, you switch the Animate to the Ambassador and use it to mill your opponent. The only way this deck can”fizzle” is if Ambassador is the last card in your deck and you have an odd number of cards in your deck. In that case, you can’t use the Bazaar to deposit it into your grave. If someone counters your Animate, you just go off the next turn. That means, unlike other combo decks, stalling out is not death. Combine that with the fact that it has great disruption with Force of Wills and Duress, most decks can’t really stop you. This makes it easy to play.

Third, Dragon is not vulnerable to Chalice of the Void at one or two. Even Chalice for two isn’t really that bad – its not too difficult to find one of the three Necromancies. The Necromancies are key. You can play them on your opponent’s turn, or even on your upkeep while Stax has Smokestack and Tangle Wire on the stack. The final reason is that this deck is really strong in heavy control fields as well. Unlike most combo decks, this deck gets more powerful as the game proceeds. This is because once the Squee engine goes online, you can outdraw your opponents and take control of the game with Bazaars and Compulsion. That makes it even more rewarding if you want a relatively risk-free combo deck that can play control.

[Editor’s Note: Part B of this article will be posted tomorrow.]