The Very Thin Line

First off, I’d like to congratulate John Sorrentino for graduating from Virginia Tech. According to him, his future plans include moving to Atlantic City and becoming a Yes Man. And yes, ladies, he’s single and he takes good care of his cat. You know what that means! That’s right! Time for the article. How many…

First off, I’d like to congratulate John Sorrentino for graduating from Virginia Tech. According to him, his future plans include moving to Atlantic City and becoming a Yes Man.

And yes, ladies, he’s single and he takes good care of his cat. You know what that means!

That’s right! Time for the article.

How many times have you heard someone say this:

“It’s turn four. I’m dead. Good, cough, game.”

Yeah, that’s rough. Some decks are too fast. Before one player has a chance to play, the game is over. Blame Channel. Blame Mind Twist. Blame Black Vise. Blame Fireblast. Blame Squandered Resources. Blame Hatred. Blame Overrrun. Blame Tolarian Academy. Blame Phyrexian Negator. Blame Dark Ritual. Whatever. You’re dead, no matter which card was guilty.

How many times have you heard this one:

“It’s turn, God, I don’t know… and I’m NOT DEAD!”

That’s, arguably, a lot worse. At least with quick kill decks, you’ve got a few minutes to kick back, sulk or, at the very least, go order a fast food meat-related product (incidentally, I don’t understand why vegetarians don’t eat at McDonald’s… like there’s any meat in those hamburgers. Really). With the slow decks, it’s all sitting and staring. If you’ve ever played one successfully, you know what I mean. No matter what you do or how nice you are, once you start winning, your opponent loses all chipper-ish-ness.

Did you ever get someone in a Capsize lock? Oh, man, the look on their face. When you get the double-lock, they start to feel like the characters in Timequake (Vonnegut’s last book – worth the read). It’s pathetic.

Which reminds me. If you were formerly the owner of a very pretty cat, which was found dead on RT 29 South, Saturday…


Let’s just say that my wheel was acting in self defense.

Additionally, the nine inch nails show was amazing. If you like music and are anywhere near a show, go see them. It’s worth the cash. If you can’t see them, you should at least pick up the Fragile, which is easily the best CD to show up in the last couple of years.

Too slow. Cards. Magic. I remember…

Slow decks are bad, too.

In fact, they’re worse. The second your opponent goes “Whisper with buyback,” if you don’t Boil, you should concede. Because the game is o-ver.

But how fast is too fast? How slow is too slow?

When the environment gets too fast, all the skill is drained out by Ritual/Negator and its ilk. Suddenly, you aren’t really playing anymore; it’s more like observing as your deck wins or loses.

When it gets too slow, there isn’t really anything wrong. It’s just BORING.

A long time ago, I was sitting on my floor, staring at several cards.

Gaea’s Blessing, City of Brass, Gemstone Mine, Undiscovered Paradise and Reflecting Pool.

“If sixteen of my lands produce any color mana, I can play five colors, which means I’ll have access to any cards I want to play.”

I built a very bad deck, using lands and utility spells, with the idea of recycling a single Fireball as the kill mechanism. Thankfully, around the same time, Mike Donais posted an early version of Five Color Blue to some back page of the Dojo. It got no attention at the time… but I used his design to (massively) improve my own, primitive version of the same deck. All of a sudden, I had the biggest control powerhouse since The Deck.

And no one, for miles, knew anything about it.

So, I started taking it to local tournaments… and doing very well. The deck was amazing – it was like playing against an opponent who lacked threat cards. I won several weeks in a row.

Meanwhile, my competition had something cooking in the back room… Five Color Blue.

Before too long, several of the better players were playing the deck. Then, it was everyone who could afford the pricey mana base. Then, ugh! Magic became SO SLOW, because no one was playing aggressively, and the field was so slanted towards the Five Color Blue decks (both in quantity and quality) that nothing but Five Color Blue was competitive.

I would usually win the matchup, just based on my familiarity with the deck but, the thing was, I didn’t want to.

Seriously, who wants to play round after round of nothing but threat neutralization, with an eventual kill, often taking the entire time limit?


So, where is the balance? Obviously, recent expansions have focused on speed decks, since they seem to be the lesser of the two evils, but ultra-speedy environments are not optimal for showcasing set design, or player skill. Where should the aggro limit be placed? Are there rules that can define a good “speed limit?” Here are my suggestions:

No deck should be able to attack efficiently for five points of repeating damage by the second turn. Period. That means no Ritual/Negator. No Double Rancored Wild Dogs. Modern control cards cannot stop these sorts of threats, with any sort of consistency. Maybe, just maybe, black should have the ability to get a totally degenerate draw and place this level of threat on the board, every once in awhile – but it should not be easy.

One or two decks good decks should be able to attack for four on the second turn. I think turn one Ritual/Skittering Horror is a totally fair play. It’s a lot of pressure – but not an impossible amount. A good control deck should be able to deal with this play.

Land destruction should be viable and affordable. One of the best weapons against Five Color Blue and its predecessor, Counterpost, was land destruction. Though they both ran high land counts, a couple of Wastelands could stunt them long enough for a good Sligh draw to burn them out. Though modern control decks don’t hesitate to run obnoxious amounts of land, LD can still keep them from playing their game. Additionally, LD tends to be weaker against aggressive decks, since it has little room for removal.

There should never be more than two five color lands. There probably shouldn’t be more than one –multicolor control decks are able to utilize the best cards from several colors, which can make it hard to beat them, as they’ll have access to a free-reign sideboard.

There needs to be one good lifegain spell. Remember Gerrard’s Wisdom? Man! That was a spell! You couldn’t think of it as lifegain, it was more like a counterspell – for your opponent’s next four Lightning Bolts. In Five Color Blue, I’ve gained upwards of twenty life with it. This sort of spell needs to exist, to give control a way to stay alive that does not guarantee a win. Lots of times, Wisdom was a two turn Fog, while I prayed for a Wrath of God. Still, it has to be powerful enough to be playable – and very few lifegain spells are.

Control should be able to draw cards. This, typically, is where control wins the game. However, this card draw should not be like Whispers of the Muse! Non-control decks should have reasonable access to destruction cards. There is nothing unreasonable about Jayemdaye Tome – it’s one of the most balanced cards ever printed. It should be the keystone of control.

Tutor search should be eliminated – or severely regulated. Every tutor may as well read “You were willing to take a virtual mulligan for me, so that I could ensure you’d get the one card you need. So tap your mana and play me already!” If you’re willing to Paris for one card, it’s probably a little too strong. I don’t mind powerful cards so much, but at least make them hard to get out! Look at the decks that play tutors, and you’ll see what I mean. Highly homogenous decks skip them – it’s just the decks that need one card to run, like Replenish, or Yawgmoth’s Something or Other…

And everyone hates that.

take care.

Omeed Dariani.
[email protected]
Eic – www.starcitygames.com
Contributing Editor, Scrye Magazine

“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson”

-Should have been the flavor text on Ancestral Knowledge.