The Theory Of Rogue Revisited

Darwin will tell you how to design rogue decks — but Rizzo will tell you what principles drive the TRUE rogue.

About a year ago, I submitted a two-part article to The Dojo entitled "The Theory of Rogue." Those articles were to serve as a rough outline for the way I thought about and played Magic. However, after one seriously interesting year, I realize that I am, hopefully, much wiser and able to renegotiate the rules that I had written in blood. I learned a few things here and there, some of which altered my thinking (a little) on what it means to be Rogue. I remember believing that I had all the answers when I wrote those articles; it seems funny to look back now and appreciate that I really didn’t know Jack. Well, I knew Jack in passing, but I have since gotten to know him a little better.

After a year of "iffy" tournament results, many learned lessons, and epiphanies coming out the wazoo, I feel that a reevaluation and/or reaffirmation of what I think it means to be Rogue is in order. I doubt that many of you would argue that I at least THINK I am Rogue, as I wear that badge as a pretense of sorts. Also, a few months of playing at CMU lends a few new irons, or bathtub wrinkly fingers if you will, to my so-called theory – for even though those guys are pros, they are assuredly as Rogue As You Wanna Be.

The original theory (that’s such a heady word for a bunch of random gibberish, isn’t it?) had six tenets which, at the time, seemed etched in marble; they were the basics by which I figured most aspects of Roguedom could be measured. Ergo:

1) A Rogue looks at a card and attempts to divine the hidden meaning.

This tenet entails looking beyond the direction that the card text seems to push you and seeking to break, or at the very lest, bend that text until it is more to your liking. For example:

Carnival of Souls. Sporogenesis. Bedlam. Goblin Spy. Rhystic Cave.

These are not many who will debate the fact that these cards are simply awful at first glance. And second through fourteenth glance, too. Finding the hidden meaning is an exercise in thinking outside of the box a little-lot (lottle?). I have never heard anyone say anything even remotely positive about Carnival of Souls, ever. There has to be a reason that that card is such utter dreck; finding what makes it so terrible and then trying to overcome and abuse the piss out of it is oftentimes going to be an exercise in futility. Sometimes, if one looks hard enough, one can find the hidden meaning: Wizards would never print a totally worthless card, would they? Especially one that seems to have "break the hell out of me" as its flavor text.

Attempting to find the hidden meaning can be a seemingly spiritual pursuit with the eventual goal of shouting "Eureka, I’ve got it!" when the light bulb goes off. There can be many hours of digging through boxes and boxes of other forgotten chaff cards, searching in vain for the one broken epiphany wedged between a mint-condition Shyft and a never-seen-the-light-of-day Primordial Ooze. But. Every once in a while, that light bulb does go off.

Anyone can take the good cards and break the living snot out of them; that was the reason they were printed in the first place. It didn’t take a team of researchers to figure out that Masticore just got all unfair if you had a Squee in your hand. No government grants were needed to realize that Opalescence was pretty damned good if you Replenished up a few Parallax Waves and Tides. I doubt if a blue-ribbon fact-finding panel was necessary to find that Fires of Yavimaya seemed to work very well with immense fatties that came out on turn three.

However, you’d better hook up that team of researchers if you have a hankering to break Goblin Spy. To my knowledge, no one has even given that dude a slight dog ear, let alone broken it… But someone might. It might not happen for another four sets, but if it CAN be broken, rest assured that someone will. And that’s part of the fun of Rogue; asking all the wrong questions in an attempt to open up a Pandora’s Box that is superglued, padlocked, and guarded by barbed wire in Mark Rosewater basement.

I now realize that trying to break crappy cards does not a Rogue make; who hasn’t spent a few minutes toying with a big ole pile o’ crap cards?

2) A Rogue does not accept conventional wisdom, well, not often, anyway.

Full English Breakfast would not have seen the light of day if Paul Barclay accepted conventional wisdom. Volrath’s Shapeshifter is ass and everyone knows it. Phyrexian Dreadnought was good until they errata’d it. Reya Friggin’ Dawnbringer? What the? The odds seem pretty good that the first time Paul showed his deck to someone who placed too much faith in conventional wisdom, they felt bad for him – or at least questioned the hell out of his intelligence. Why? Because no one uses those cards! Just play Trix, Barclay! What the hell is the matter with you and your idea of using "kiddie cards?"

Conventional wisdom would’ve told Paul to ignore that surge of inspiration that sparked when he picked up that dusty Shapeshifter. Conventional wisdom would have told Paul to tear up that Flowstone Hellion and Pygmy Hippo before he hurt himself.

But Paul packed himself extra Band-Aids and went to town.

Ooh! Parallax Tide! I’ll bet that would work great with Ankh of Mishra! A few people felt that same jolt when they saw the Nemesis spoiler. A few even built the deck (guilty) and toyed around with it and had a few successes here and there. Then, conventional wisdom reared its ugly head and told everyone to give it up, baby, it’ll never be anything more than a chaff combo that will be way too hard to get rolling and even if you do pull it off, you’d have to run through it a couple of times…

Say "Nay," Willie Mays.

Bob Maher, Jr. heard the conventional wisdom and, while he agreed with it a little, he didn’t cave in to it wholeheartedly. He figured the combo was good enough to win with, but not as a lone victory condition. Bob realized that a few quick beats here and there would help to strengthen the deck while keeping the combo intact.

By the way, Bob did okay (if 11th place is any good) at PT: Chicago with the deck that ignored conventional wisdom.

Sometimes it pays to listen to what everyone has decided is par for the course. Then ignore it.

"I will let all of you rogue players in on a secret: If you think you are rogue, you’re not. A truly rogue player is like an insane person; really crazy people don’t know they are crazy."
-David Phifer, Why You Aren’t Rogue

(Why, when I think of David, does the quote "The Maiden is a jealous lover" come to mind?)


With all due respect (but no more soul kisses, you bastard!) to David, I think he is missing the boat. Rogue is not a disease or affliction, even if many people think that it is. Rogue is an attitude; a way of looking at things in a different perspective. Rogues know that they are Rogue; it’s as much of them as their chromosomes. It’s who they are; realizing that you like to approach situations in a manner that deviates from the norm is part of what make a Rogue tick. In Magic and in life, Rogues ask questions that may have already been answered. Rogues ask "why?" ad infinitum, and are rarely satisfied with the explanation.

A Rogue will hear "card advantage is king" and dive deep into that statement, searching for their own answer by asking their own questions; perhaps phrasing them differently. The end result may be that the Rogue also believes that card advantage is king, but sometimes coming to an acknowledged conclusion yields different results if the manner of interrogation dares to differ enough.

We are Rogue, David. Really.

I now realize that questioning authority does not a Rogue make; who hasn’t flipped off The Man when his back was turned?

3) A Rogue can look in the mirror.

This is where the Rogue vs. Net Decker battle heats up. The Rogue feels that using a Net Deck, or even too much of said Net Deck, in a tournament is somehow degrading. The Net Decker (let’s just say "anti-Rogue player" for the sake of civility) figures that results are more important than building your own deck, and why would anyone ignore all the information that others have conveniently compiled into bite-sized fun packs on The Net?

A Rogue takes pride in building their own deck from scratch, as opposed to letting others guide their path. However, a Rogue also realizes that, while Net Decks leave a bad taste in their mouth, there is a benefit to playing against decks that are paint-by-number.

While many of you feel that Rogues have to be at odds with anti-Rogues, let me assure you that is not the case. There can be a peaceful coexistence. It basically comes down to a matter of personal taste; you like to use Net Decks or you don’t. Rogues feel that anti-Rogues are cheating themselves, and the anti-Rogues feel the same way about the Rogues. Although a Rogue has a tendency to hold his/her/Oraxid beliefs in originality in reverence.

"The reason many people never try to design their own decks for a tournament is the fear of failure and being ridiculed FOR that failure. Some of the most original decks come from nonpros who don’t spend as much time worrying about their image."
-Darwin Kastle, Designing a Killer Deck


When I say that a Rogue can look in the mirror, I also mean that they have accepted failure as a realistic possibility. However, many Rogues would rather fail on their own sword in the pursuit of Rogue than fall on someone else’s sword; using an anti-Rogue deck would constitute immediate failure in and of itself.

This is not to say that a Rogue must ignore all conclusions they have reached simultaneously with the anti-Rogues; quite the contrary. If a Rogue finds "Technology X" as the anti-Rogue does, there is no reason to abandon said technology simply because the masses have also stumbled upon it.

The basic ideal is this: A Rogue wants his/her/unisexual spore ideas to come to fruition. That is much of the lure of being Rogue in the first place. Building your own deck is one of the reasons that the Rogue enjoys Magic so much; creating something out of nothing is as much reward for the Rogue as is winning a PTQ. Some players like to start with a lump of clay, while others prefer to add a few fingerprints to the already finished product. It’s all clay, though. The Rogue etches their name into their own clay, while the anti-Rogue adds their name to an already established, fine-tuned and prepackaged finished product.

At the end of the day, win or lose, the Rogue looks in the mirror with satisfaction knowing that they have created something. If you wish to understand the Rogue mindset, here it is a nutshell: Harnessed creativity.

I now realize that building your own decks does not a Rogue make; who hasn’t tinkered with random builds?

4) A Rogue seeks to determine, then overcome, obstacles.

There were no good combo decks in Masques Block. Invasion Block seems to be heading in that direction as well. You can bet that the Rogue will determine the lack-of-combo obstacle and try like mad to overcome it. Putting a sign in a Rogue’s face that says "you cannot do this" is akin to using a red towel to snap a bull on its horns.

The new Type II will be much slower than Urza Block; the Rogue, determining this to be an obstacle, will seek to exploit the lazed pace and overcome it. Using non-allied colors also appears to be an obstacle to the Rogue. How will one go about building a deck that utilizes Red and White to the fullest? Or Blue and Green? When everyone else is using allied colors or even going mono-color, you can be assured that the Rogue has noticed this anomaly and is burning the midnight oil in an effort to exploit this situation.

Three-Deuce was a Rogue deck that was created by identifying an obstacle and seeking to overcome it: Trix. Trix was, and still is, a monster; something needed to be done about, and with the quickness. The Rogue figured out how to beat Trix by realizing what the actual obstacles were; Trix responded by figuring out that this new deck was going to be a thorn in its side and needed to be dealt with, also with the quickness. Enter Firestorm. Obstacle: hurdled. Actually, many obstacles hurdled in one fell swoop.

To the Rogue, knowledge is power. And knowing the obstacles will give a generic blueprint to which road the overcoming of those obstacles will lead. Know thine enemy.

"Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer."
-Al Pacino, The Godfather, Part II

I now realize that seeking out, or even putting up, barriers in an attempt to hurdle them does not a Rogue make; who hasn’t challenged themselves at one time or another?

5) A Rogue looks for unusual synergy in the weirdest places.

Were you ever just playing funsies when you played a card that had a delicious little synergistic reaction with another card in play?
You probably said "whoa," sounding very much like Joey Lawrence, didn’t you? These are the situations that the Rogue seeks out instead of Waiting for Godot. Think about the first time you ACC’d Thwart into a Foil on the same turn. While that isn’t the most unusual situation of synergy, it did seem to take a while for many players to pick up on that very unfair trick.

Mini-combos that just jump up on ya are things that make the Rogue go "hmmm." Taking a well-established crap card and seeking to find synergies with (probably) other crap cards are one of the loftiest goals of the Rogue. However, even anti-Rogues tread this path now and again, helping to demonstrate that everyone seems to like serendipity (and she was bad as hell in "Dogma," wasn’t she?).

The Rogue gets the jolt of "heeeeeeeeeyyyyy" in the middle of the night when inspiration hits. The Rogue has hundreds of ideas, and some of them might even work. Ergo:

"Distorting Lens is helpful with Dromar on the table (it is particularly satisfying to make Dromar immune to its own ability), but also works well in conjunction with Vodalian Zombies, Wash Out, and against Story Circle."
-Jay Modenhauer-Salazar, Here There Be Dragons


That is unusual synergy. Granted, not all Rogues are as eccentric or insanely devoted to Rogue as the man who brought you 30 decks in 10 days, but many will take the time to flesh out oddball ideas and run with them, wherever they may lead.

I now realize that discovering serendipity does not a Rogue make; who hasn’t slapped their forehead and muttered a random "whoa"?

6) A Rogue has more failures than successes.

While being innovators at heart, Rogues often fall flat on their faces resulting in hours upon hours of wasted time – by, perhaps, devoting a little too much blood, sweat, and tears into an idea only to realize that said idea sucked from day one.

Does the Rogue cry him/her/elf self to sleep? Probably not. For even the ideas that never come to fruition can be reopened under new management, with a new name, and in a new location. Some ideas die, while others take one in the chops for the betterment of yet another idea.

Everyone falls on their faces now and again, but when a person is face down on the asphalt? THAT is when that person will know exactly what is important: getting up. If at first you don’t succeed and all…

Daniel Crane has been trying to break Carnival of Souls since birth. Last I heard, he hasn’t yet. He may never, and he may simply give up out of sheer boredom/stress/being incarcerated, but he keeps getting back up, which is, almost to a man, the biggest "fault" of Rogues. (I gave up trying to break the Carny after realizing that a bunch of 0 cc artifact dudes, and a bunch of Hermits and Soul Feasts with Overruns kind of sucked except for the "once in a while" time that any of the synergy came together. Then it was all groovy.)

I now realize that demanding individual success and failure does not a Rogue make; who hasn’t held themselves accountable for their decisions? (Clinton? Nixon? Any president elected since World War II? — The Ferrett)

After a year of trying to live up to my ideals of Rogue, I realized that there is one more tenet that needs to be added:

7) A Rogue is willing to bend, but not break.

Most Rogues are not traditionally successful when it comes to positive outcomes tournament-wise. Taking your Rogue deck to a tourney and getting beaten bloody time after time is not conducive to any sort of growth. Thus, the Rogue must realize when, and how much, to bend or give in a little. This is not to say that a Rogue should run to the next tourney with a Net Deck, but should realize that taking beating after beating may mean something is missing in their own personal Rogue Manifesto.

Identifying weaknesses and acting to fix them, especially by using more traditional methods of repair, is the next level of Rogue. Standing firm in your beliefs is honorable, but sometimes even a Rogue needs to Digivolve. Seeking help from sources that a Rogue would consider unacceptable outlets is not akin to selling out. Taking established success and using it as an addendum to your ideas is not anti-Rogue in any way, shape, or form – but more of an act of bravery (or maybe humility). Knowing when you are outmanned is one of the final steps that many Rogues will take to become complete players and not just out-there-nut-job deckbuilders.

Your deck has a problem. You find a solution in someone else’s Net Deck. Is it treason to use someone else’s answer to your own question?


There is a very fine line between the pillaging of another’s ideas and the incorporation of those ideas into something that is yours. Many Rogues will walk that line like they were a friggin’ Wallenda; they will grow stronger and more devoted to what they believe because of that, not despite it. If you think that statement is contradictory, then that probably means that you are not really willing to bend. Yet. But. All Rogues must bend at one time or another. Standing true to your beliefs is an admirable trait; opening your beliefs, even if only enough to let a little light in, is both admirable and smart.

I now realize that remaining staunch in your beliefs does not a Rogue make; who hasn’t stood firm in the face of adversity?

When that pot started boiling, all that was left was this:

We are all Rogue in our own way.

Yes, David, we are Rogue.

And so are you.

John Friggin’ Rizzo

Before I forget (too late), the movie quote contest was won by none other than Aargyle the Insane SnowcaTT. The missing quotes were from The Cincinnati Kid and The Grifters. My bad for not keeping you up to date. Also, "Hit So Many Def Lines You Have To Rewind" was correctly answered by many, many, many, many, many, many, many people. The day after I sent the article in, The Ferrett shot back with the correct answer:

"Artist: Cash Money and Marvelous
Album: Where’s the Party At?
Song: Ugly People Be Quiet"

I was impressed, to say the least. And yes, he was sort of out of the running for the prize, unless no one else got it. The idea was that you either knew the song or you didn’t, and wouldn’t it be cool to engage in a little nostalgia? Then, after the article gets posted…

I receive a seventh correct answer in the exact same formatting as Ye Olde Ferrettish One. The EXACT same formatting. At this point, I realized that something was rotten in Denmark, and at least one or two other Scandinavian countries. One reader was brave enough to admit that, indeed, he used a search engine entitled "Metacrawler."

How appropriate is it that my readers would use The Net to answer a question to win fifty common friggin’ cards? Not very. Here I am thinking all of these readers were down with Cash and Marv in the Eighties, when, in reality, they are down with Metacrawler in the Millennies. Alas.

If I was giving away a full set of the Power Ten, I might understand it. Maybe. But friggin’ Simian Grunts? I stayed up half the night thinking about what happened, and I must say that much of the time was spent being highly pissed. However, I awoke with the phrase "que sera sera" stenciled on my face.

It seems I underestimated your zeal to win.

I won’t do that again.