The Magic Jerk – The Joys of the Net Deck

In this ironically titled article, Clair looks at the perils even good players often have when picking up a deck for the first time and expecting to win with it at a tournament. None of us can expect to replicate the success of Olivier Ruel when we first pick up the Frenchman’s deck, even if you’ve got the illustrious michaelj around to help you try and “make the deck better.”

We become what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit!


I have a confession to make. My mind is fully mired in that other game (no, not Poker!) and with the Grand Prix or whatever they’re calling it this weekend, I’m testing all week with purple robots and Magneto’s barns.

The last two weeks have been filled with Extended Magic however.

The deck that I have been playing lately is one of the most engaging, fun and difficult decks that I’ve played in a while. I have always had something of an affection for the French culture as a whole, so it’s my pleasure to present to you the deck a Frenchmen by the name of Olivier Ruel piloted to the Top 8 of PT: Columbus:

4 Mountain

2 Swamp

4 Sulfurous Springs

4 Rishadan Port

4 Shadowblood Ridge

4 Bloodstained Mire

3 Mogg Fanatic

4 Skirk Prospector

4 Goblin Piledriver

1 Sparksmith

1 Goblin Sharpshooter

4 Goblin Matron

4 Goblin Warchief

4 Goblin Ringleader

1 Siege-Gang Commander

4 Cabal Therapy

2 Chrome Mox

4 Burning Wish

2 Living Death


1 Chainer’s Edict

1 Patriarch’s Bidding

1 Perish

3 Duress

3 Cranial Extraction

1 Decompose

1 Tendrils of Agony

1 Meltdown

1 Reanimate

1 Pyroclasm

1 Cave-In

Let me be the first to say (since I know Flores and Osyp are writing about Goblins next week), this deck is really damn hard to play. This deck is so difficult to play correctly that I embarrassed myself really badly in the first tournament I played it in. We’ll talk about that later though.

Luckily my awful Magic game can hopefully be a boon to you (anyone else noticing a trend here?) as we discuss something most of us go through from time to time. What am I talking about? Simply, playing a Net Deck at a tournament with little to no preparation.

*Gasp*! He didn’t say Net Deck did he? OMG.

Alright, back yet? Great. I’ll be the first one to admit to it: we all play Net Decks. Though there are times that playing a rogue deck or some sort of homebrew can be advantageous (multiple articles have been written on this fact, including one by SCG’s own [author name="Chad Ellis"]Chad Ellis[/author]), most of the time some series of events or Events will turn up the best deck (or one of the best decks) of the format. At this point you can either choose to go the route of the Rebellion, or be the Imperial guys with their Death Star and Imperial Star Destroyers (you know, Ravager and his Enforcers).

So you figure out you want to play one deck or another, and it’s the day before the tournament. Perhaps you’ve decided on Ravager Affinity (as I did last year a week before Regionals) or you got it in your head (with the help of the evil Michael J) that Ruel’s Goblin deck is as good as Red Deck Wins and better at RDW’s bad matchups. Whatever the cause, it’s the night before the tournament and you’re set on playing a Net Deck that you’ve never played before. First, do something for me.


Nine times out of ten, it’s the wrong decision to pick up a new deck the day before the tournament that you have no experience playing. This is the first of a few common mistakes we’re going to go over today, so understand it early. This is a bad idea – like so bad it’s probably not worth waking up for the tournament, since you’re only going to embarrass yourself. I’m not saying this because I think you’re terrible, I’m saying it because you’re not Jon Finkel. Neither am I obviously, which is why after I picked this deck up the night before the tournament (or actually, the morning of) I went a roaring 2-2 DnD (Drop and Draft, not Dungeons and Dragons you dork).

Once you’ve ignored the above advice, or for whatever reason are forced into this decision, there are a few things you are not allowed to do (don’t worry, I did them all two weeks ago). First, and arguably most importantly, for the love of God, don’t change a single card. I don’t care if you think you’ve solved the deck or can improve it in any number of ways, just don’t do it. I’m saving you from yourself here guys, you’re not as good as the Pro Tour player who spent countless hours perfecting this 75 card list.

Let me give you an example. Here’s a list of the following cards I changed, and how bad each decision was.

Main Deck

-2 Living Death

+2 Vampiric Tutor

I can safely blame MJFlores for this one. Tutor seems like a great idea, it’s the 5th and 6th Burning Wish or Goblin Matron at the same time, it’s synergistic with the whole deck, and it can mise you a land when you really need it.

The reality? This change creates a deck that actually can’t win about 50% of its matchups. Turn 5 Living Death is required to beat certain decks (U/G and Affinity for instance), and you just don’t have the time (or life) to spare in order to Vamp up a Wish for a Living Death out of the board. Also, the loss of two life just can’t be afforded, especially in a field with RDW and Ravager Affinity.


-1 Tendrils of Agony

-1 Cranial Extraction

-1 Patriarch’s Bidding

+1 Living Death

+1 Pulverize

+1 Duress

Flores, correctly, took out an Extraction because now we could board one in to the maindeck and Vamp for it, and leave the other in the board as a Wish target. Unfortunately Tendrils of Agony was a most awful decision to remove. In later testing, and in my own recent tournament experience, Tendrils was the only way to win many a game, and provided an enormous life swing against RDW. Though Pulverize was a fine addition, the loss of Patriarch’s Bidding also gave the deck less ways to steal a match with a timely top deck and ends up lowering the overall power level of the deck significantly.

In the end, I went 2-2. After going 2-0 against some negligible decks, I lost badly to a Life deck with Aether Vial main (which was really good) and then to a Mono-Black Type 2 deck with Death Cloud and Kokusho, the Evening Star. Though my losses can be attributed to poor deck manipulation prior to the registration, there was also another huge problem: I had never played the deck before.

This may seem pretty obvious when it’s in black and white, but it’s amazing how logical “Hey, it’s just a Goblin deck with Cabal Therapy and some cool Wish targets,” sounds when people are nodding around you. Actually, it looks pretty logical even now. Let me just tell you now: hat is an evil, evil statement right there, and its siren call to your gamer’s ego must be ignored at all costs!

Sure the deck is a Goblin deck with Cabal Therapy but that doesn’t have a thing to do with how you play the deck, and how the deck plays out. Look at this statement by the illustrious Joe Black himself, “However, the interesting thing about that match when I was watching it was that it didn’t seem like Olivier was really putting that much pressure on Oiso [Desire and Goblins, respectively]. I do think that Oiso should’ve probably lost that match, however I think that particular loss had more to do with the quality of his draws rather than his opponent.”

In the two weeks since I picked up this deck, I’ve played well over 200 games with this deck, against the entire field including Desire. This deck almost never comes roaring out of the gates, it’s a control deck plain and simple. It’s just that it’s a control deck with an aggro win condition instead of a combo or big, flying, White creature. The early game is all about disruption and a few dorks combined with the toolbox that Burning Wish gives you access to. Only in the midgame do you setup the Goblin Matron -> Goblin Ringleader-> Goblin Warchief-> Goblin Piledriver chain that wins you the game against an empty board and your opponent’s empty hand.

So how would you know this when you complete the deck at 9:07 on the day of the tournament? You can’t. So with that in mind, here’s a new maxim: don’t choose anything but an Aggro deck if you choose to netdeck with little preparation. (Random aside, man don’t you enjoy verbing words? As Calvin would say (the cartoon not the philosopher) the goal is to eventually make language itself an impediment to our understanding of each other). This might be counter-intuitive to some when they read that Mike Flores and others consider RDW to be one of the most difficult to play perfectly.

This is actually a good point to bring up, so I’m glad I did. You see, each deck has a certain amount of forgiveness for bad plays and bad decisions (like when to mulligan) built into it. For instance, Osyp has now famously called Arcbound Ravager a Fairy Godmother that says, “no matter how often you screw up, it’ll be there to save you.” I’ve actually experienced this myself when a series of misplays in the Quarterfinals of NY States led me to a board with no outs on the board and my opponent with Kiki-Jiki and Darksteel Colossus staring me down. I rip Arcbound Ravager and my Blinkmoth Nexus decides to become a 7/7 flyer all of a sudden, and I steal the game. (Ironically, I also picked up Ravager after not playing Magic for months that weekend. Though I won, it was obviously because Ravager has a lot of forgiveness, not because I’m good).

Ravager is a good example of a deck that is extremely forgiving. Mind’s Desire or Ruel’s Goblins, on the other hand, are two decks that very unforgiving when it comes to play errors. Usually control decks are very unforgiving, as you must use your permission correctly, while aggro decks just need to remember to not click through the Declare Attacker’s Step to smash their opponent to little bits.

For our purposes this gives us another set of criteria to judge our netdecking decision on. Is this deck going to forgive the many mistakes I make at the tournament, or will I have to play really tight? For my own purposes, I should’ve known that Ruel’s Goblins would involve a lot of difficult decisions, as it combined the beatdown of Goblins with the control/disruption aspects of Wish and Therapy. That, and I’d have to know other deckslists so I could actually name something with Therapy, difficult considering my lack of testing. All in all I think 2-2 was rather lucky given the field, and I’m glad I didn’t stay in longer to compound my embarrassment.

There a few more things I’d like to touch on, including the final decklist I ended up with, some interesting sideboard decisions, and how to play the deck out in general from a birds-eye view, but that topic is more than dense enough to devote next week’s article to. However one thing about netdecking remains: the art of the Mulligan.

When you’re forced to netdeck there is one thing that will help immensely, and it’s really easy and conducive to last-minute testing. Goldfishing! For the few of you who don’t know what that is, basically it’s playing the deck without an opponent. You just shuffle, draw your hand play all your spells out and see how fast you can win. It’s main use is to just get a feel for how the different hands you can get play out, which is perfect for our situation. There are many hands in this deck that look terrible, with a lack of beatdown Goblins or what have you and you feel you have to mulligan. There were many, many hands I kept in testing that featured Port, Port, Wish, Mogg Fanatic, Mountain and random cards and I was ecstatic. That doesn’t exactly seem like a great hand, but after you’ve played a few hundred games with this deck you’ll realize what a mise that hand actually is, just like I did. In short, knowing which hands to mulligan and which hands are keepable comes down to experience with the deck. Goldfishing can give you some of the tools necessary to make that decision.

To wrap this up, netdecking is a tool that many use from time to time. It’s great for random tournaments, GP: Trials where you don’t care what happens, or other low-level tournaments. It’s usually terrible to do for a high-level tournament like Regionals or above, as you’ll play too many matches against too many good decks to win without the most forgiving of decks (thanks Ravager!), but for the rest it can be useful if you do it the right way and give yourself the maximum chance of winning.

Remember, as in life, there is no shortcut to success in Magic. Hard work, solid testing and just some old fashioned elbow grease will always yield better results than checking out the results of the last GP for the newest deck. Hopefully reading this article has taught you the rudiments of maximizing your winning percentage with a Net Deck.

Next week I’ll cover Ruel’s Goblins in depth, including how it plays, the key cards, and the ultra tricky sideboard. I’ll also give you a rundown of how my second tournament helped end my sanctioned record with this deck at 7-2.

‘Til then.

Michael Clair

[email protected]