What Not To Do: Fish

If time has shown me one thing, it’s that I can identify a crap deck with relative ease, because I’m often stupid enough to put them together to see if they play. I’ve tried the Ratcatcher Deck, I’ve tried the Bombshell deck, and I even tried the Brooding Swallow. They’re not that good, but they are cheap.

I’ve been writing, as of this month, for StarCityGames.com for something in the district of nine months. Given that my New Years Resolution was to get published and win the competition on SCG, doing so twice by the beginning of March left me ghast a little flabbered. Then there came teething troubles – I wasn’t really sure what I was angling to do, whether I was fish or foul. After I found my feet, I ploughed into it, producing your typical writer fare – set reviews, decklists, and so on. Of course, a lot of these were largely rubbish, held together with a tenuous bit of humor and a lot of reader patience.

These past few weeks, I’ve had to deal with finding that at least one of my friend writers – Rivien Swanson – is apparently actually someone important, what with all the neat people who are talking to him and talking back in turn. Me? Well, I do casual stuff, and complain a lot.

This is not to say that these aren’t appreciated – the prevalence of Rush Limbaugh indicates that, if you can do it well enough, endlessly complaining can be a career. Doing nothing but being a noisome mouthpiece for whatever issue of the month was bothering me feels unworthy, though. This is an article, not an extended forum post. Much as how I wouldn’t feel right using this method to speak of my own cards and my own design, I wouldn’t feel right using this to fill the air with my endless stream of vituperation.

Ultimately, however, it seems I’m one of the more prolific free-side writers. I have no aspirations about writing Premium, since I don’t feel I have anything to offer in raw writing ability or actual deck tech that’s able to rub shoulders with the offerings from those people who earned the gold plate. What I can do however, is show you dead ends. If time has shown me one thing, it’s that I can identify a crap deck with relative ease, because I’m often stupid enough to put them together to see if they play. I’ve tried the Ratcatcher Deck, I’ve tried the Bombshell deck, and I even tried the Brooding Swallow. They’re not that good, but they are cheap.

In the spirit of What Not To Wear (a show I’ve never watched, nor has anyone I know, but yet it seems somehow everyone knows), I’m going to try and be the Catcher in the Rye – standing on the precipice of Stupid Deck Decisions, shying you away so you can see the flaws and foibles and hopefully, strike out in new directions that solve the problem.

Card Groups
Often when you look at a new set you can see cards that intuitively group themselves together. This is the beginning of the deckbuilding process – drawing these groups together, or excising groups that don’t need it. Many groups are non-obvious, but others aren’t so. In the case of, for example, Onslaught Block Goblins, the trick wasn’t so much finding enough goblins and goblin-related cards to run, it was finding which goblins to excise. Even Wolfgang Eder, at Worlds itself, had a lone Goblin Grappler in his Goblin Bidding Deck – and I still don’t know why he had it in place of any of the alternatives. He wasn’t able to run Goblin Matron, after all, so it wasn’t like he could tutor for a one-of.

Over time, evolutions happen to decks – the best build of a deck in its initial appearance might not actually be the best build of it at the end. In fact, the idea of a “best deck” and a “best build” are really just linguistic shortcuts for “good enough right now.”

It might not hold true for relationships, but it does for decks: There is no Mr Right, there’s just a Mr Right Now.

I’m surprised to realise that someone out there in the forums knows I like Fish, the Vintage deck. I’m surprised because, honest to god, I’m always surprised when I find someone reads my articles. Not that I doubt you’re out there, but there’s the intellectual understanding and then there’s the visceral reaction. Regardless – Fish.

Fish as a deck appeals to me on a conceptual level. It’s a deck full of cheap little dudes who take on far bigger opposition, decks designed to do really unfair things. It actually ran a creature aura for a while there (until the Secret of Steel ousted it), which is even more remarkable.

The central premise of Fish was to start an early clock and to try pressuring your opponent into dealing with it while you stopped him. It didn’t give you time enough to do whatever you wanted, and wanted to steal tempo from you, bit by bit, as it mounted its offensive. Coupling mana denial (with null rod and wasteland recursion) with cheap threats, the Fish that I loved predated the new, Jotun Grunt-fuelled lists. Honestly, I’m really interested to see more on those lists too, but since it seems SCG’s Vintage community is made up of the kind of guys who Don’t Like Attacking For Two (Or Even Four), such an article isn’t going too be written.

I don’t play Vintage, but I read the articles. There’s probably some kind of pornography metaphor lurking in that.

Right now, Blue has a solid supply of evasive, cheap men. Because Shadow’s part of the Brand! New! Set!, R&D opted to make the creatures who had it good, gave them good abilities, and put them in Blue, the color of cheap, efficient, evasive threats, burn spells, countermagic, and card drawing.

In Standard, the mana denial element isn’t doable in Blue. Playing with Boomerangs on Karoo isn’t actually all that snappy when you really want to be deploying threats instead. There is no Null Rod, no Wasteland; no fire-and-forget, meddle-with-their-mana permanent or effect that can be relied on in Blue or artifacts. Thank god, really, because it’s bad enough that blue has burn.

So, a list, a list.

No Fish
Talen Lee
Test deck on 11-19-2006

Drifter il-Dal is your best first-turn play, and he opens the way for a turn 2 Spell Snare. Spell Snare is a kind of mana denial; it stops Into the North (though I expect that particular spell to fade), Signets, and some trouble permanents like Rakdos Guildmage and Dark Confidant. Even might pants a Scab-Clan Mauler when you’re on the draw, right?

By the looks of things it has a lot of what you want in a deck. Sideboarding could be good, too – since the deck’s mono-Blue, it can dip into the most flexible color for various sideboard strategies, able to bring answers to the table. You can bring in Wipe Away or Boomerang, which serve as good, general-purpose answers, and Blue’s long history of just being Very Good has given you other, even better options. You could bring in Teferis to fight control, and so on. But the deck, unfortunately, sucks. And it sucks because of one card:

Dark Confidant.

For a start, that’s a very rude phrase, and quite racially insensitive unless you happen to actually be a ninja. If you are a ninja, please leave me your business shuriken and I’ll call you back later. I may need your help if (NEW YORK STATE CHAMPION) Flores does, in fact, turn out to be a robot. Second, I can understand your consternation; after all, Dark Confidant isn’t in your deck, can’t block any of your creatures and live to tell about it, and only gives your opponent cards, which they can’t rightly use to beat your onslaught of threats protected by counterspells. He even shortens the race for you by giving you extra free hits on your opponent! What’s bad about Bob?

Bob’s bad for your deck because while he’s not all that impressive against your deck, he’s the eel’s ankle against everything else. In Rakdos Aggro, Bob represents the gold sterling for a two-drop. He gives you long-term gas, he doesn’t cost you much, and he hits for two. Not a lot more you can ask of the little Invitational winner that could. Hell, for once, he’s an Invitational card that wasn’t completely outshined by better cards in his period in Standard, an honor that could not be said for any of the other Invitational winners.

So because Bob’s good against a lot of people, and because he’s proactively making decks do stuff, people are packing their removal to zot one-toughness men. Which you might notice, noble theoretical Fish player… is all but two creatures in your deck.

Pyroclasm, Electrolyze, Sulfurous Blast, Shock, Seal of Fire, even Riot Spikes of all things* are all pointing squarely at little dudes. They’re gunning for Kird Apes and Watchwolves, and your creatures are just so much worse. Basically, if there’s a deck that beats aggro, it will kick the crap out of you, because the other aggro decks are better. And let’s not talk about the decks that run Bob along with Shadow Guildmage, because that dude munches down on your force.

Fighting Peace of Mind with this deck can be rather miserable.

So what can you do differently? First and foremost you can fork out the thirty tickets to get Psionic Blasts. Ugh, that hurts. Second, you could try adding Good Lands and playing with White in the deck to give yourself access to better creatures. Third, you can try adding Green.

Green would give you Moldervine Cloak, a serious boon for a deck whose dudes are tiny and crappy. It doesn’t pull anyone out of Wildfire range, though, and your “best” creature to wear the Cloak – the Looter or Drifter – won’t be suiting up early, and you’re not going to be able to play silly buggers to keep them safe once you do it. No, this deck is just plain-out miserable

There’s a seed of a good deck here – Rivien Swanson, Chris Romeo, and myself took a lot of effort to winnow through our options – but with a format defined by Ways To Kill Bob, this deck doesn’t have the ways to cut the mustard.

Keep an eye on this, though – as new sets are added, there’s a chance we just might see an Alternate-Cost version of Confound, or some other such cleverness, that might give this deck a better chance in a format defined by targeted, size-based removal.

Also note that the addition of Psionic Blast helps this deck a lot; suddenly, you’re shooting to hit a life total of sixteen, rather than a life total of twenty, which can help a lot. But you don’t have any anti-Fetters or anti-Hierarch tech like the old Gruul Decks did.

If I Had A Million Dollars
There’s only one thing better than being rich, and that’s being rich and having poor-ass friends who can envy you. Rivien Swanson is one of these people. The lucky bastard.

Now, there’s no point my claiming I came up with this deck in its current incarnation totally on my own. I spoke about it with Riv. This section is only turning up so I can fulfil my Daily Barning Quotient. Since Aaron Forsythe himself thinks it’s worth mentioning the guy in an article, I myself can’t help but follow suit.

Double-barn action. Bad. Ass.

Anyway, Rivien is more financially adept than I am, and also more prone to pushing his luck. Bear in mind that this man was able to get mana-flooded in two back-to-back games with this deck, so I’m not really going to question his judgement. So here as a mini-article within an article, is Rivien’s finding with the same archetype, illustrated in glorious Talen Humor.

Also, bear in mind, the following list features Sage of Epityr. I mean what.

This is the default list for those of you with money. Myself, I’d replace the Sages of Epityr with Psionic Blasts, but the Swanson wants it to be known that the Sage is not actually quite poop. He even hazards that it’s the poop.

In the end, the Sage is an Index effect, and a cheap dude. So far so bad – Index was never all that good. But in a deck that runs sixteen lands, the Sage’s ability to reach four cards deep into your library to help you find Land #2 on turn 1 is worth it. He combines with Sleight of Hand as well. Consider the following play. Turn 1, you keep a hand with two-drops, a Sage, and an island.

You look with the Sage and find Island, Sleight of Hand, a Fathom Seer, and a Spell Snare. You return the cards in the sequence Snare, Seer, Island, Sleight. Then your second turn can be Sleight, putting the Seer on the bottom, Island. You’re not drawing a 3rd land, but you are clearing through your deck – and the more cards you rip through the better.

And worst-case scenario, he pitches to Snapback.

Now, Rivien recommends you hold your Drifters until Turn 3, so as to use your opening turns to represent Spell Snare. Not a strategy I’ll laud, but I’ve won a few games on the back of a first-turn Martyr living with two mana open and a grip of seven, leaving opponents afraid to trade their spell for the little one-drop man. This is, at least, the case against Red and Black; if your opponent’s first-turn land isn’t a Mountain, Swamp, or some combination thereof, you can quite happily slap down the Drifter and expect to get in for six or eight damage before he’s offed.

Also, for the true Rockefellers out there, there should be Psionic Blasts instead of the Unstable Mutations, and one of your Sages could turn into a Blast as well. Just don’t tell Rivien I said that, because he just loves his Epityr sage.

(As an entirely random aside, Epityr is an anagram of Pyrite – Fool’s Gold. I find this wonderfully ironic given the fascination for the card that Rivien has. However, he’s the one who’s been testing it, not me, so I don’t have room to bitch about it.)

So What?
So here I have spent six pages telling you this deck’s not all that good. History has taught me that a large part of the people who read my articles only read half of it, and never the first half or second half. No, it’s always some kind of scattershot half-read, choosing paragraphs and words at near-random and construing some meaning from that.

This deck has at least two big draw to me – it’s different, and it’s cheap. Spell Snare and Remand are the only uncommons in the whole thing, which means it’s a decent enough deck for a grand investment of maybe two or three dollars.

To me, this is one in a long line of FNM decks that will never go anywhere. Give it a spin if you’re a fan of the oldschool Fish – and remember what you’re looking for in the deck. You want to add some kind of mana denial element to the deck, some means to rein in an opponent’s Better Plays.

Oh yeah, and Desert is big frowns.

Finally, just to give the half-readers something more fun to follow, all Scotsmen have the clap, Spider Jerusalem is conspiring to kill the Pope, and Alan Moore’s beard has rickets.

Hugs and Kisses
Talen Lee
Talen at dodo dot com dot au

* Not likely to be seeing play any more, since we’re living in times sans-Tallowisp, but it was just such a cute idea that I couldn’t help but be enamored with it. Zac Hill and Richard Feldman people. Genius stuff.