The Philosophy of Fire

So why, you may ask, in an article called The Philosophy of Fire, are we talking about archaic deck archetypes and focusing on a card that is restricted in every conceivable format? The reason is that Necropotece gives the average player the most concrete understanding of the interaction between cards and life of any archetype or mechanism. The Philosophy of Fire will do the exact same thing, but instead of trading life for cards from your own deck, it speaks about the relationship of trading cards for your opponent’s life. Specifically, the goal will be to translate a hand into a dead man.

The Philosophy of Fire

A Gold Star if you can tell me what I want to hear about these decks in concert:

1 Ivory Tower

1 Jalum Tome

2 Nevinyrral’s Disk

2 Serrated Arrows

1 Zuran Orb

1 Dance of the Dead

1 Dark Banishing

4 Dark Ritual

4 Drain Life

4 Hymn to Tourach

4 Hypnotic Specter

3 Knights of Stromgald

4 Order of the Ebon Hand

4 Necropotence

1 Soul Burn

4 Strip Mine

2 Ebon Stronghold

17 Swamp

2 Serrated Arrows

2 Nevinyrral’s Disk

1 Brainstorm

2 Control Magic

4 Counterspell

2 Disrupt

4 Force of Will

2 Impulse

1 Interdict

1 Mahamoti Djinn

2 Whispers of the Muse

3 Gaea’s Blessing

2 Hailstorm

3 Natural Spring

1 Splintering Wind

2 Sylvan Library

4 Wall of Roots

5 Forest

7 Island

3 Thawing Glaciers

4 Tropical Island

4 Wasteland

4 Lotus Petal

4 Mana Vault

4 Phyrexian Dreadnought

4 Dark Ritual

4 Demonic Consultation

3 Duress

4 Necropotence

4 Reanimate

2 Vampiric Tutor

3 Final Fortune

4 Pandemonium

4 Badland

4 Sulfurous Springs

4 Gemstone Mine

3 City of Brass

5 Swamp

If you said Adrian Sullivan made all of them, you have obviously never heard of PT1 forefather and standout Leon Lindback.

If you said that they were innovative decks, then you have merely been paying attention.

If you know who designed these decks, where they were played, and how they did in those events, then, knowledgeable as you are, you didn’t answer the question.

If you said that when they debuted, they represented new ideas and archetypes, then you can pat yourself on the back. Now tell me how they did what they did so interestingly.

I am not edt, so I don’t count Baron Harkonnen quite so highly on the innovation in archetype ladder, but I will concede that it did one thing differently, and that one thing happened to be the same thing that Lindback’s deck from PT1 and Adrian’s subsequent deck Dred Panda Roberts did at interesting and innovative angles. The Baron used its life, notoriously, as an instrument for card advantage. The other two decks are Necropotence decks, so this is obviously also the case. Lindback’s from New York was the first and most influential if not the greatest, and has the pedigree of the premiere PT Top 8. The third, from PT: Rome, was to my knowledge the first combination deck to specifically use the card Necropotence in order to assemble its combination kill. So all of you who have ever been cheesed out by Skull Catapult, Trix, or ID19 can thank the Corrupter, though all of you who netdecked your ways to big wins can thank the British, Dr. Bush, and Zvi.

Ready to trade your life for cards? Here’s the warmup question:

It is the Top 4 of the 1999 Ohio Valley Regional Championships. You are playing a standard Necropotence deck.

You are up a game, and in commanding position. Your opponent got the beatdown draw with Skittering Skirge, Dauthi Horror, and Dauthi Slayer, but you came back hard with Stronghold Taskmaster and a well placed Drain Life. You then went bashy bashy and put your helpless opponent on twelve with you on twenty life (commanding, as I said). You have no cards in hand, but put the nail in the coffin by tapping three of your four lands to plop down Necropotence.

“Pay four,” you say.

Your opponent slumps in his chair.”Four? Are you kidding? You are at twenty, and your clock is twice as big as mine. You could at least play right.”

“Fine,” you say.”Necro for seven.”

As you adjust your die when you realize your error. You make a move to go back, but before you even ask, head judge Mike Donais shakes his head.

“These aren’t the droids you are looking for,” says an onlooker with a reversed fitted baseball cap.

What do you do now?

Randy actually wrote an article about this board, but I can’t find it using Archive.org. As I recall, he emphasized the beauty of the Mind Trick, rather than what the Necropotence player could have done to get out of the situation.

Personally, I’d like to think of it as a real beauty… amusing, not dirty at all, but ultimately deadly effective. Young master Sammons went down to thirteen. I had a Skittering Skirge that he couldn’t block (thanks flying) and twelve life, eleven of which could tag team with my Skirge’s reduced two power to finish him off exactly with the Hatred I was holding. Mike wouldn’t let him go back after he announced paying the life, but all was not lost. Bad Guy Necro had an out… but he didn’t use it.

Again I ask, What should he have done?

I think that there is only one defensible play here. Sammons had already made a mistake, but it didn’t have to cost him the game. He has to Necropotence for eleven, putting him on two life. That would give him eighteen cards in total to use during his end step. In those eighteen cards, he would have the maximum, if not certain, chance of finding Dark Ritual and Diabolic Edict. He would have to use Dark Ritual to play Diabolic Edict, and then likely mana burn, which is why it is correct to go two life rather than one. In the vastly unlikely scenario that his remaining sixteen cards didn’t give him a Drain or Corrupt, Sammons would probably still be able to win with just the Taskmaster.

Instead, he passed and got Hated out (and then beat me in the third, and then beat onetime US National Champion Dennis Bently in the finals to win the Ohio Valley crown himself).

A neat bit of trivia for you: Mike Donais, Aaron Forsythe, Randy Buehler, Worth Wollpert, and I believe Pat Chapin, were watching this match where the Hatred deck was designed by Brian Schneider… The people involved, but not actually playing, in that match were like a foreshadow of the future face of R&D.

So why, you may ask, in an article called The Philosophy of Fire, are we talking about archaic deck archetypes and focusing on a card that is restricted (if not banned) in every conceivable format? The reason is that Necropotence gives the average player the most concrete understanding of the interaction between cards and life of any archetype or mechanism. The Philosophy of Fire will do the exact same thing, but instead of trading life for cards from your own deck, it speaks about the relationship of trading cards for your opponent’s life. Specifically, the goal will be to translate a hand into a dead man.

Though this is now bordering on Adrian Sullivan appreciation day, what we will call The Philosophy of Fire is a way of looking at cards and measuring them that Adrian”invented” during Urza’s Block Constructed PTQs. The deck he designed never actually did anything during those PTQs, because he built it after ConTroll at GP: Memphis and no longer had any need to test, tune, or play Urza’s Block Constructed. Basically, Adrian’s Flame Rifts, Landslides, and non-Echo paying Ghitu Slingers just beat up on MikeyP, Zvi, and Rob Hahn at the airport. However the deck concept was, in my opinion, very interesting and different from any conventional way of looking at cards. You probably have never heard of The Philosophy of Fire, but then again, one can’t be adding Necropotence to a combination deck every week, can one?

It goes like this:

Typically we look at the economy of a card as relational to other cards. Consider the simple relationships of a one-for-one Shatter or two-for-one Unburden.

Second, we have the idea of trading one’s own life points for one’s own cards. Clearly the Necropotence decks and example (above) illustrate simple one-to-one exchanges (Lindback) and x-for-(x-y) exchanges where a limited number of cards are relevant (Dred Panda Roberts). The interesting thing about Baron Harkonnen is how it uses the card Natural Spring. Natural Spring is a card advantage card in a relational exchange not unlike Hymn to Tourach. Line up all of a Red beatdown deck’s cards and all of Baron Harkonnen’s cards. That one Natural Spring will trade for four Shocks, two Incinerates and a Shock, a Ball Lightning and a Shock, or two Fireblasts and four Mountains. That’s a boatload of card advantage from a silly card like Natural Spring that most people would never consider playing. The more subtle exchange is that recurring Natural Spring with Gaea’s Blessing will allow you to draw three cards a turn with Sylvan Library – not unlike the interaction between Drain Life and Necropotence.

Now some of you are probably scratching your heads at the relationship between Natural Spring and Red burn spells. Let’s break it down backwards. We know about trading cards for cards (Hymn to Tourach, Wrath of God), our own life for cards (Necropotence and Sylvan Library), but how does Natural Spring properly trade with Shock? The relationship is only valid if there are two exchanges we can perceive. We contrast cards for life (Shock), and again cards for life in the other direction (Natural Spring), to see the card advantage generated by Natural Spring when compared to Shock.

What the Philosophy of Fire does is focus on the first part of that exchange. Rather than looking at a cards-for-cards or life-for-cards relationship, it focuses on cards for life and associates a value based on the default damage spell being Shock. Simple and obvious, right?

Step back a second. You know that Necropotence says x life = x-1 cards. You know that Sylvan Library says 4 life = 1 card. Now imagine you had a deck of all Shocks. That says that 1 card = 2 life. You start with seven cards. With mana development being your only limiting factor, that means that you should be able to draw a lethal hand with ten cards. Now of course some of those cards are going to be land – and if they aren’t, you won’t be able to play your spells anyway – so this counting method does not say that you win or even assemble twenty in the first three turns of the game. If in fact you structure damage in two point increments, your kill is probably going to show up in about seven or eight turns. Clearly that isn’t fast enough. So what happens when you up the amount of damage your average card does to three life? How do you count the relationships now? How many of your opponent’s cards matter? Ultimately, how fast can you kill?

At some point, you can structure your deck in such a way that you will poke in for a few damage before your average opponent has blockers or other developmental resources and then end him with a burn flurry before he can kill you. Most of the time, you will want your cards to do more than two damage each in order to quicken the clock, but I think that two is a good starting point for conceptual measuring purposes.

Though I had built and played a number of decks using Adrian’s principle over the years, the first serious time, effort, and trials came with the unveiling of a Red deck in 2001 by a Mr. D.P. Get your mind out of the gutter, and it’s not Dan Paskins. There was a time, believe it or not, when D.P. stood for a different Red deck designer, specifically David Price:

4 Chimeric Idol

3 Firebrand Ranger

4 Flametongue Kavu

3 Ghitu Fire

4 Kris Mage

3 Rage Weaver

4 Seal of Fire

4 Shock

4 Skizzik

4 Urza’s Rage

19 Mountain

4 Rishadan Port

Dave made the Top 8 of a Grudge Match Qualifier with this deck prior to U.S. Nationals, where it somehow fell into my hands. And though I was about to Grind into Nationals with literally the finest sealed deck I’ve ever had, I actually missed the announcement of the next round and didn’t show up (and was obviously disqualified). For some reason, Thomas Pannell didn’t use the loudspeaker to announce the round as he had for all previous rounds; when Jeff Donais asked if something didn’t seem amiss with the huge amount of time between rounds, I just laughed. The grinders were slow as molasses.

Anyway, with nothing else to do during the first day of US Nationals, I was conscripted by Jeff to gunsling against the JSS kids preparing their Standard decks for their own championship. Thus, this version of Dave Price Red actually got several hours of hard trials in against a variety of tournament level decks and dozens of opponents as it attempted to guard a box of booster packs.

The matchups against decks like Big Blue were not a problem, with the early game beatdown easily flowing into Urza’s Rage, or with the rising Opposition decks, whose creatures were easily managed by Kris Mage as other monsters chomped away at their precarious twenties. The problem matchup was Fires of Yavimaya. Consider the fact that a Fires deck is essentially a mirror match where the opponent has more (and faster) mana, haste, and creatures that are two, if not three times the size of the Dave Price Red deck’s. The initial games were awful against Fires and the deck gave up a string of packs into the greedy hands of eager children.

But why did Dave play Rage Weaver and Firebrand Ranger instead of Goblin Raider? Randy had specifically put Goblin Raider into the main set so that Dave would have a two-drop for his decks. The reason? Dave said, quite surprisingly, Goblin Raider Can’t Block.

In re-approaching the matchup against Fires, I operated not as the beatdown deck, but utilizing the Philosophy of Fire. A Red beatdown deck’s plan is to deploy, burn a path, and hit. Failing that, it’s plan is to deploy, attempt to overwhelm, and finish. But these plans don’t work against Fires. Fires is not only faster than Dave Price Red, its creatures are in many cases too big to burn, and difficult or impossible to race on the ground. But what happens when you look at the deck purely as a burn deck? What happens when you manage your cards against time rather than their cards? The confident opponent in my experience would not generally block an un-kicked Skizzik on turn 4 with his fresh and precious Blastoderm. The cocky opponent doesn’t realize that that decision will in many games cost him the duel.

Because you don’t care about board development (at least as long as you still have life points), because you are playing with essentially a different paradigm, the way you value cards may not be obvious to the opponent, which will force him to make passive errors that do not correctly address your proactive strategy. Your un-kicked Skizzik is not a loss of a card, it’s a quarter of his life total. It’s two and a half units of burn, or one and two-thirds, depending on how you are evaluating your hand. Though it looks like you are falling behind when the Skizzik hits the bin, in fact that one card over-performed according to your units of measurement.

It is difficult to tell you how painful it is to look across the board and desperately throw your second to last card – probably a very good Flametongue Kavu or Chimeric Idol – at the opponent’s head as you chump block with Kris Mage… but when that is your only play, you’ve got to make it. It is impossible to tell you how painful it is for the opponent when you rip that last land, lay it, and direct the Ghitu Fire for exactly his life total the next turn.

The really great thing about the Philosophy of Fire is that it forces you to play much tighter Magic than you may be accustomed to. In many cases, your cards are”objectively” inferior to your opponent’s. You are forced to make tough decisions and think each action through before making a play. As an example with Dave’s deck, the proper play when setting up a burn kill against Fires will many times involve allowing the opponent to enter the attack, then adding some amount of mana to your pool, then activating your Chimeric Idol, then blocking with your creatures, then pitching a card to Kris Mage and possibly playing Ghitu Fire or Urza’s Rage still during the attack. Now this is not a difficult play to make if you walk through it step by step, but a lazy attack/block step or careless pass of priority (like the one Ken Krouner discussed earlier this week) will cost you a close game each and every time.

My Dave Price Fan Club teammate Tim McKenna and I have similar games. Tim is definitely the better player and has a Grand Prix Top 8 to my pathetic Nationals ninth, but we have similar tastes and attitudes, and also fail the same way. In Sealed Deck, Tim and I are both willing to take the worst deck on the team, at least as long as it has a little removal and a couple of outs. We know that with our backs to the wall, we will think through our plays and try to formulate a strategy that will let us exploit those outs when they finally come up. At the same time, when we are ahead, we both tend to get sloppy. Give us an advantage, and we will find every way in the world to let it slip away. When you play focused on the Philosophy of Fire, your deck won’t let you fall into those patterns. You have limited resources and have to manage them precisely in the face of your opponent’s qualitative and developmental advantages. You can’t make lazy plays. Just look at the board and you will see the impending loss if you don’t think your taps, casts, and declarations through. Conversely, when you are ahead, you just tap all your mana and X-spell the face, denying your opponent the opportunity to out-play your careless ass.

In the end, Dave didn’t play his Red deck on Day Two of Nationals, no matter how good anyone told him it was. He loved the deck, but had at that point had a string of bad finishes with sub-optimal Red beatdown decks, and was worried that his deck had fallen into the”pet” category. Dave’s decision served him well, and he made Top 8 with Fires, partly thanks to Casey McCarrell. A month later, though, players like Brian Kibler ran with Dave’s ideas and brought similar decks to worlds. Star City’s own mighty Potato made the 2001 Worlds Top 8 playing essentially Dave’s list, this time with the Goblin Raiders in.

Remember that clause about”non-proprietary” decks from last week? Following is the story of this year’s efforts towards a burn deck… and a cautionary tale about a pet deck. As I said before, though I almost always try to build at least one deck using The Philosophy of Fire as a design element in every format (usually without success, mind you) I thought that for Regionals 2004 we really had it.

Look back on Onslaught Block constructed. Goblins was the best deck, but the good Goblins deck played more land and got bigger after sideboarding to beat itself in the mirror. Andy Wolf qualified by bringing in Temple of the False God and Menacing Ogre, and my old friend Bill Macey sold a slot after tearing people to shreds with Thoughtbound Primoc, Searing Flesh, and Rorix Bladewing.

Now look back at the Mirrodin Block PT. Everyone knew that Skullclamp Affinity was the most powerful potential choice, but it was again an expensive mono-Red deck that went Big after boarding (if it wasn’t already a big old Dragon deck) that ended up on top.

The two blocks that made up the Regionals format, and indeed the projected Decks to Beat of Goblins and Affinity, both lost to Big Red decks. The Standard choice became obvious. The Philosophy of Fire would be in full effect, with Kuroda’s deck from Kobe just getting better with the addition of Rorix Bladewing and Starstorm, the Onslaught block version gifted with the best offensive burn spells since Fireblast.

Before we go on, I should probably clue you in on something if you don’t already know. Against a beatdown deck, Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Rorix Bladewing is a lock. It’s twenty points of damage rolled into two cards, a guaranteed kill on turn 7, and in many games, a closer in five. Because of the interaction between these two cards, you can spend all the rest of your cards sticking around long enough to get your two spells online. Rorix is the biggest, baddest, burn spell in your arsenal. He is worth twelve life due to his combination of haste and a second attack. All you have to do is live long enough to cast Rorix and get in there a second time, and you will always win if you draw Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author].

The way it works is Rorix gets in for six, putting them on fourteen. Now you’ve still gotta be around. You come in for a second six. With damage on the stack, you send Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] at their nug. What kind of beatdown deck can’t deal seven measly damages in five to seven turns? You buy back the Pulse. Now Rorix’s hit resolves. Lo and behold, you re-play the Pulse. 6 + 4 + 6 + 4 is 20. Six for Rorix implies six for double Pulse the next turn so it’s all good. Go out there and win Regionals.

In the nascent stages of development, under the assumption of grandfathered deck advantage over beatdown opponents, we identified White as a potential problem. We figured it would make up a little under a third of the decks and needed an out. I couldn’t believe it, but Seth Burn, True Believer of mono-Red, said to touch Green to Naturalize their Circles out of the board. With this in mind, here is the initial version I built based on The Philosophy of Fire.

4 Talisman of Impulse

4 Fireball

4 Flamebreak

2 Hammer of Bogardan

4 Menacing Ogre

4 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

4 Rorix Bladewing

4 Shrapnel Blast

4 Starstorm

1 Forest

4 Great Furnace

13 Mountain

4 Tree of Tales

4 Wooded Foothills

The theory on Menacing Ogre is that it gives you redundancy on Rorix Bladewing. You can over-bid to ensure that you got a Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] buyback, and try to mise two points in somehow or another. Sometimes the opponent bids the same number that you do and all’s right with the beatdown.

The theory on Flamebreak is that you get redundancy on Starstorm. It is also a burn spell that keeps you behind for Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] while protecting you on the ground. The beauty of this somewhat janktacular card is that it is also splash damage on Troll Ascetic, and breaks up the annoying possibility of main-deck Worship.

Initial test results from the Rabbit:

“Lost to Affinity. Can’t win if your Tree of Tales gets killed. Splash damage on Oxidize.”

So we went in entirely the other direction in an attempt to dodge artifact splash damage.

4 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Fireball

4 Flamebreak

2 Hammer of Bogardan

4 Menacing Ogre

4 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

4 Rorix Bladewing

4 Seething Song

4 Starstorm

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

1 Forest

13 Mountain

4 Wooded Foothills

4 Temple of the False God

This version lost the ability to win with Shrapnel Blast as well as the ability to side in Furnace Dragon. We operated under the assumption that we could make up for those shortcomings with the Pulse/Rorix combo, and make up for the lack of Tree of Tales and Talisman of Impulse with Solemn Simulacrum.

Report from the trenches from Rich:

“People are asking why, if I’m playing with Seething Song, I’m in the serious room. Also Temple of the False God sucks. I never cast my spells. And I’m losing to Bidding.”

But we didn’t give up, and Rich refined the list using elements from Seth’s version, going back to a Shrapnel Blast based deck with twenty-two lands and eight Talismans, testing Furnace Dragons main. The hybrid deck seemed better than either of the two previous versions, though I didn’t like the numbers overmuch. It seemed to lose because it didn’t have enough mana. The other problem was beating Goblin Bidding. You could get within shooting distance, but would always lose to a lethal Patriarch’s Bidding.

So I went totally out there and cut a ton of the threats for main-deck Molten Rain. Under the theory that you only really needed two cards to win, we figured that cutting threats wouldn’t be that bad if we could stifle the opponent’s development long enough to get Rorix and Pulse online.

Wow (I thought).

This was the version that Brian Kibler saw me test the other night at Neutral Ground (making that mistake with Naturalize):

4 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Talisman of Impulse

3 Talisman of Indulgence

4 Naturalize

2 Fireball

4 Molten Rain

4 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

4 Rorix Bladewing

3 Shrapnel Blast

4 Starstorm

4 Darksteel Citadel

1 Forest

15 Mountain

4 Wooded Foothills

(The tournament version would have had Blinkmoth Nexus over Darksteel Citadel but sadly, they weren’t on hand on Magic Online at the time.)

So what did Molten Rain do? It kind of fixed everything. The Goblin Bidding matchup went from close-but-extremely-unfavorable, to close-but-definitely-favorable. We only ever needed a turn to close, and Molten Rain bought that turn. If you hit a Swamp, you would usually keep them off ever hitting Bidding mana and forced them to tap City of Brass every turn just to keep going, which would push them into double burn range in many games, even when you didn’t have Rorix. If you hit a Mountain, you usually still stole enough time to win with Rorix before they hit their vital five. Additionally, it seemed we stopped losing to random decks. Between Molten Rain, Pulse, and Naturalize, we were beating Slide main without much effort. We were also preventing a vital turn of development from Tooth and Nail and getting our fatties online faster than they could. In one game against a Tooth and Nail / Beasts deck, I easily beat a player who played two entwined Tooth and Nails with a huge Starstorm and some work from Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author].

But then I couldn’t beat Rabbit.

Josh beat on me for about five matches with and without sideboards until he refused to play any longer. Brian pointed out that I Naturalized the wrong land, but that was hardly the only problem. I couldn’t understand why if the Standard Big Red got so many tools by hybridizing the two blocks, it could fail to beat Affinity like it did at the Pro Tour, which got next to nothing in the merge.

Inspired by Dan Paskins last week, I took the Green out of my deck list and went for focus Focus FOCUS. I worked and worked. I filled the open slot with Electrostatic Bolt (in the bonus section you will learn why), and was pretty sure that I had optimized the deck. After an additional several days of tuning, I hit the Sunday playtest session with the final version:

4 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Talisman of Impulse

3 Talisman of Indulgence

4 Electrostatic Bolt

2 Fireball

4 Molten Rain

4 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

4 Rorix Bladewing

3 Shrapnel Blast

4 Starstorm

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Darksteel Citadel

16 Mountain

There I learned I had committed the cardinal sin. Somewhere along the tuning I had put blinders on. I had created a pet deck.

A few weeks ago, BDM said to me,”Every deck you have ever made that was any good has been a bunch of mana, a bunch of utility spells, and like eight or nine creatures.” I thought back to MBC White, Pawnshop White, Napster, and many other low-threat board-control decks with a couple of guys and a lot of powerful spells. I thought I had re-made those long ago successes for this format. I put in the work. I longed for PTQ glory. I fell in love. But all I did was make a pet deck. There’s nothing wrong with following an idea – especially a good one like The Philosophy of Fire – to its logical conclusion, but in this case, I did everything wrong.

A pet deck is kind of like the hot girl that lives around the corner on your floor your freshman year of college. You are sure she will get with you. You are sure that if you spend hours being friends with her, she will grow into your girlfriend. You are sure that if you help her with her homework and study with her you will walk back to your own dorm room with a smile on your face and a souvenir in your pocket like Rich Frangiosa at PTDC. But you are kidding yourself, man! Wake up!

Even if she starts going out with you, your friends will tell you she is cheating. You don’t believe them, even though she made out with two of your buddies and four others were in the room at the time. How can this be possible? You’ve spent so many hours with the hot girl from around the corner of your dorm room floor. She is not just beautiful, but has got to be faithful. She Has Stringy Hair! says your friend. She’s Putting On The Freshman Fifteen! says another. You don’t hear them. You just carry her books back to her room, listen to music sitting apart on different beds, and go back to study yourself, convinced you are the luckiest guy in the class. When other hot girls come a knockin’ you ignore them. For you are entranced with your pet deck… I mean that hot girl. Boy, have you got a lot to learn.

And before you know it, Seth Burn is accusing you of cheating in playtesting. You didn’t have enough mana to play Rorix and attack with Blinkmoth Nexus that turn, michaelj! What are you doing? You don’t have enough mana to buy back the Pulse and play Shrapnel Blast this turn! You play and play and play and you know you are beating Goblin Bidding. But six or seven games go by in sideboarded testing when you have four Detonates and four Electrostatic Bolts and four Furnace Dragons in… and you still haven’t won a game against Affinity. How quaint, says Seth. I have Disciple of the Vault and Arcbound Ravager in my hand again.

You are shaking your head when you leave to watch Backlash. What good is Molten Rain? You aren’t even beating Tooth and Nail any more.

The problem with the Affinity matchup is that while Rorix and Starstorm are objectively better cards than what the block build plays, relationally, they aren’t better against affinity. Sure, Rorix is really bad for a White deck with sorcery speed removal, and Forge with seven Talismans laughs at their silly Fields, but against Affinity, those main-deck Detonates and Damping Matrices really do line up better than the Starstorms and Bladewings that let you race the Goblins. The really embarrassing games – which are painfully common if you play enough – are when you have the kill with Shrapnel Blast, but will die first with the Blast on the stack because the other guy has Disciple(s) out.

The tragic thing is, this deck always wins. Always. It just happens to win exactly one turn too late. If Only I Can Get An Untap, you think. But you can’t get that untap. This isn’t the casual room on Magic Online. Your real opponent has the second Disciple… and he played it. What a lucksack! He topped the Temple and now has Abunas/Angel out. edt and Platy are going to dance on your face and the only way you can break it up involves throwing away the spells you were planning to use to win the game. Okay, still in it. No You’re Not! He just entwined number two. What does your legend plan to do about 6/6 protection from red?

I’m done with this girl. I mean this deck. This doesn’t mean that The Philosophy of Fire makes any less sense – because I think that this non-traditional way of looking at the relationships between cards really is one of Adrian’s better ideas – just that for my own sake, I have to step away from this particular implementation of the theory.

If you are up for the challenge and don’t care about the heartache that this deck has caused me, all you need to do to make this deck a winner is speed it up by exactly one turn (or, as in the Bidding matchup, slow the opponent down by one). Considering the fact that it has a turn 5 goldfish with Talisman into Jens into Rorix into Pulse, this is harder than it might sound. I’m thinking that adding Chrome Mox might be the way to go – and will make Shrapnel Blast all the better – but my friends say stay away, so I’m never going to be able to test that theory myself.

The main upside of this deck is that it can ignore Skullclamp card advantage by focusing directly on the face. The main downside is that unlike 2/3 of the acknowledged Tier One decks, it doesn’t get to break Skullclamp card advantage. White decks are seriously not a problem in the main. You lose if they draw a third Exalted Angel, but the first two aren’t going to mean very much if you know how to use your Talismans to manipulate the Pulse math. I really do think that there is a good deck buried somewhere in the Big Red card pool, but with only two weeks left before Regionals, I have got to scoop this particular version up. For my own good. And probably play some Goblin deck. Dan’s deck isn’t the best against White, but it’s really Really good and mulligans like you wouldn’t believe.


Bonus Section: These Things I Know

I don’t typically like to pollute my bonus sections with actual Magic strategy, but seeing as I’ve fruitlessly played so many games of this format, I figure I will share the two things that I’ve actually learned:

1. Don’t Do It. I know you want to. You are looking at that artifact land on turn 1 and you are looking at the Detonate or Oxidize in your opening hand. Don’t do it man! Every single time I tell myself not to do it… but most of the time, I do it anyway. It’s always wrong. They always play a Skullclamp the second turn. Or they back their Worker bee up with a Ravager. Out of the dozens of games I’ve played against Affinity, I think I’ve gotten exactly one scoop out of Seth after killing his first land. One. Not that I’ve always lost, just that I’ve usually had to overcome this horrible, incorrect, play on turn 1 with better subsequent play. Now certainly it isn’t hard to execute better than the first turn”definitely wrong” play, but it’s awfully tough to beat the best deck when you’re down one of your fastest, most relevant, and strategically important answer cards. First turn land destruction is not faster than Sinkhole, it’s a trip to Paris.

Yes, I know it isn’t fair that Affinity’s eighteen land deck makes drops more consistently than your twenty-eight mana deck. But that’s how it is. Play it, learn to beat it, or shut up. But don’t make it worse by playing badly.

2. Decree Of Justice Is Bad. Sadly, I once saw a player I respected with a number of premiere event Top 16 finishes and I believe even a PT Top 8 make seven tokens to wreck/block a Goblin player I also respected who has a JSS Top 8 and himself a very strong GP and local PTQ record. Not surprisingly, all the tokens disappeared before blocks were declared much to one the surprise of one player, with no loss of card advantage by the other. Yes, this was in a tournament. Why didn’t he just make Angels? I don’t know.

Some of you are saying,”Sure, Decree of Justice is a mulligan against Goblins, but at least it cycles up to my Wrath of God against Affinity.” The other night I went second. Seth played a turn 1 Disciple. I didn’t have the Electrostatic Bolt. He made a turn 2 Ravager, Frogmite, and random artifact. I had a very good draw this game and formulated my plan of Jens, Starstorm, Pulse, and Bladewing as I played my turn 2 Talisman. His hand included a second Disciple and a Shrapnel Blast.

For those of you planning to cycle Decree of Justice on three… Friends, you don’t always get a third turn. Even though there are some control decks out there, this is a beatdown format. Even the slow decks can set up single turn attacks for the kill. If you don’t treat it like a beatdown format, you yourself will be doomed to be beaten down.