Last year, coming into the summer doldrums, I started thinking about a tournament pitting the best Standard decks of all time against each other. Magic has changed over the years — but are the best decks better, or worse, or just different? How would Next Level Bant fare against a deck from a decade ago, like Replenish or Sabre Bargain?
I tried this last year, and found I didn’t have the time. It’s time to try again. The Extended version was a ton of fun. The Ultimate Extended Tournament was covered in a half dozen articles, specifically Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #167 through #177. (Wow — that was a couple of years, and 150 articles, ago.)
Here are some links:
Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #169 – Playing in the NE Bracket
Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #170 – The Ultimate Extended Tourney: Round 1 Results
Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #172 – The Ultimate Extended Tournament: Round 1 Results!
Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #173 – The Ultimate Extended Tourney Round 2
Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #174 – Surviving the Ultimate Extended Tourney
Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #175 – The Ultimate Extended Tourney Elite Eight Play
Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #176 – The Ultimate Extended Tourney Final Four
Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #177 – The Ultimate Extended Tourney: Finding the Meaning Behind the Results
How This Works
The Ultimate Extended Tournament took 32 of the best Extended decks off all time, and randomly paired them in a single elimination tournament. Each round was a best of five match. The first two games were played without sideboarding, with each deck going first once. The third through fifth games were played with sideboard, with whichever deck lost the second game having choice in the third game, and so on.
The tournament is single elimination. I toyed with double elimination, or Swiss, but the number of games involved in a single elimination event is huge. Double Elim or Swiss multiplies the number of games played. For any given match, I usually play a few practice games, just to make sure the players are comfortable and practiced with the decks. The number of practice games can drop a bit later in the event, but not a lot. Some of the practice is getting used to your own deck, but some of the practice is getting used to the matchup. The players that piloted these decks to money finishes generally knew both their decks and the Metagame, so we try to replicate that.
Quick math — a single elimination tournament is going to involve over 300 games. Double elimination would double that, and Swiss — well, eight games per match (including practice) times five rounds times 16 matches a round is way more that I can play and write up.
The decklists to be used in the event are those played originally. This does cause some problems, especially with sideboards. Some metagames had certain types of common threats, while those threats were absent in others. Planeswalkers are one example — older formats had nothing to combat Planeswalkers, obviously, because they did not exist. However, some metagames used other types of cards. In Standard featuring Mirrodin, artifact kill was necessary. The current Tier One decks have almost none (except for O-Ring.) Other formats had, or lacked, counters, enchantments, graveyard removal, etc.
It is tempting to change sideboards to provide answers to everything, but if you start doing that, where do you stop? Do you modify the decks as well? My rule is to play everything as it was played back in the day. It’s not perfect, but it is the best I can do.
The next issue is deciding what rules to play the event under. Many of these decks were played under markedly different rules. Most were played back in the days when damage used the stack — although a few were from the time before damage worked that way. Some decks rely on cards that don’t function as they now do; or maybe I should say that they no longer function in the way that they did when the decks were played. For example, in the days of Combo Winter, duplicate legends did not die instantly, meaning you could play a second Tolarian Academy and tap it before it died to the legend rule.
I have thought a lot about trying to bend the rules to let decks work the way they should. In some cases, the bends would be minor. I could modify the legend rule for Academy decks, or allow Wishes to fetch cards that were RFGed, but this starts me down another slippery slope. If I allow that, how far do I go? Do I allow the old Mirror Universe trick, where you reduce your life total to zero, then swap it with an opponent using Mirror Universe? That once worked, because the game only checked life totals at the end of each phase. Worse yet, when a modern deck plays an old deck, does damage stack? For both decks, or just one? And if it is just one, how does blocking work?
Too complex. I’m not going there.
I have another reason for playing the games using the current rules — I may play some of these games online. Last time, I tried Apprentice and Magic Workstation, and was not happy with the results. I would have used Magic Online, but the program did not have many of the cards. Now, however, I may play some of these games online. We will see. If I do play on MTGO, though, the rules enforced will be current, so I might as well play all the matches under current rules, even if that does kill some favorite decks.
Another reason for that decision — that kills Cunning Wake. Cunning Wake was a very powerful control deck that used Mirari’s Wake and Mirari (the artifact) to copy Cunning Wish, to pull instants out of the sideboard. The deck could cast Momentary Peace a couple dozen times. It was a very, very good deck, but it was slow. Really slow. I am quite happy not to have that deck in the tournament. In the Extended event, I remember mentally cheering every time a control deck was eliminated, simply because the number of turns being played was so insane already. Short, simple turns are so much easier to play and write up. If I have to write the play by play, give me RDW over Wake any time.
The next question is whether to allow banned decks to be played in the event. I’m talking about decks which were legal, and were played in major events, but were later banned. For example, Skullclamp Affinity was legal for many months, then Skullclamp was banned. I’ll come back to that question.
Finally, I expect to play these matches over the upcoming weeks. In the Ultimate Extended Tourney, I tried to farm out some matches to others, etc., but that process did not work out too well. Instead, I will be playing one side of every match. I expect to play some of those matches while I’m running casual events at Pegasus on Thursdays, and may play some online, if I can get the cards. If I’m online, and not already in an event, I may be looking for an opponent. My only request is that you play the deck as listed. (I’ll have the decklists here next week. I hope.)
Choosing the Decks:
For reference, I listed the decks that were notable from each year. Note that the years are somewhat arbitrary, since constructed season are generally defined by set releases. Early 2010, with Lorwyn/Shadowmoor/Shards/10th Edition, was a bit different than late 2010, with Alara block / Rise / M10.
Some of my comments follow the decks.
BR Necropotence (Mark Justice, Worlds) – As Ronfar mentioned in the forums, this deck is pretty strong. Back then you could play Necro plus four Strip Mines, plus Dark Ritual, Hymn to Tourach and Hypnotic Specter.
Ernie Geddon – I don’t think this is quite powerful enough, but I expect lots of debate in the forums.
LauerPotence (Randy Buehler, Winner, PT Chicago) – Another, and possibly better, aggro Necro deck.
Prosbloom – Although this deck, which used Cadaverous Bloom and Squandered Resources to Drain Life, was the first Tier One combo deck, I don’t think it is as good as later combo decks. Finding talented Prosbloom players could also be a problem — I have never been very good with this deck. I have played many other combo decks quite well, but not Prosbloom, for some reason.
Forbidden Phoenix (Randy Buehler) – This was one of the first very powerful Draw, Go decks, but later ones fill the archetype better.
Rec/Sur (Selden, Worlds) – Some form of Rec/Sur deck may well belong. The main question is whether to use one built around Living Death, or a combo version like Free Whaley.
White Weenie – I have a copy of the old World Champion decks with Soltari Priests and Monks, but it just does not feel strong enough. Kithkin is probably a better option.
Hatred – I haven’t found a decklist, but I seem to remember this deck being Standard legal, and played, towards the end of the Mirage / Tempest Standard. Is Hatred, or another Suicide Black deck worth including?
Deadguy Red (Rubin, Worlds 1999) – I have this deck in my collection of World Champs decks, if I recall correctly. That is a plus — I have the deck together already. On the downside, I’m not sure this Red deck is good enough. Goblins or a later RDW might be better.
Wildfire (Kai Budde, Worlds 1999) – Kai used Covetous Dragon, artifact mana and Wildfire to build a controlling LD deck, back in the day. It is not exactly a land destruction deck, but it has similar roots.
Academy (Chris Warren, IL States) – Academy was legal in Standard, for States. It was banned shortly thereafter — but it was legal. Adrian recommends this list as a decent representative.
Jar/Grim – Yes, JarGrim was legal — for a month — before the emergency bannings killed it. The Extended version was played at a GP. The Standard versions won a bunch of store tournaments and so forth.
Napster (Jon Finkel, U.S. Nats) – At one time, it was legal to play four copies of Dark Ritual, four copies of Vampiric Tutor and four copies of Yawgmoth’s Will in standard. Mike Flores has described this as one of the best Metagame decks ever.
Tinker (Jon Finkel, Worlds 2000) – I’m writing this, and I have suddenly realized I don’t remember the decklist here. I think this was an Iron Giant build, with Phyrexian Processer, Phyrexian Colossus and the like, but I’m not sure, and I don’t want to waste time looking it up again. I’ll remember the list later — probably about midnight.
Angry Hermit (Aaron Forsythe, U.S. Nats) – After my first article about an Ultimate Standard Tournament, I got an email from Aaron Forsythe, reminding me about this deck. It placed two people into the Top 8 of U.S. Nats that year — and how can you not love a deck with Plow Under and Deranged Hermit?
Replenish (Tom Van de Logt, Worlds) – Replenish was a complete beating. I played it, in the day. I won some local store events — but that was about all you could do with Standard. PTQs were all block, Extended or limited.
Stompy (Murray Evans, Worlds) – Green beats! I love me some Green beats, but the question is whether this is the best base-Green aggro deck, or whether something like RG Madness or Gruul Beats is a better choice.
Trinity Green (John Larkin, Euros) – I can’t remember this decklist ATM. Awkward,
Accelerated Blue (Patrick J.) – A Mike Flores build, I believe.
Sabre Bargain (Mike Pustilnik, U.S. Nats 2000) – This was the best combo deck, outside of Trix, that was based on Urza’s Block cards and was legal to play for more than a couple months. Sabre Bargain had gave you all the fun of playing the broken version of Necro, and the joys of doing the math that made Trix a pleasure to play. Sabre Bargain probably wins a slot in the event since it is, arguably, the best non-banned Standard combo deck.
Brawler Ponza (SM, others, Grudge Match) – I wanted a Ponza deck in the tournament, because I loved the idea of pitting Five Color Blood or Cruel Ultimatum against Stone Rain. Sean McKeown suggested this build.
Fires (Eugene Harvey, U.S. Nats 2001, or maybe Zvi’s My Fires) – Fires of Yavimaya decks were the break-out decks of States the year Invasion was introduced, and they stayed powerful for a long time.
Bridge Wildfire (David Bachman, U.S. Nats) – This was another Wildfire / Land Destruction build that used Ensnaring Bridge to lock down aggro decks. I hated Ensnaring Bridge decks, but they were potent.
UBR Nether-Go (Antoine Ruel, Worlds) – After a bit, players discovered the advantages of Nether Spirit in control decks. If Nether Spirit was the only creature card in your graveyard, it returned to play during your upkeep. That let you build a strong control deck, knowing that your one creature could eventually win the game, provided you kept the board clear — something control did fairly well. Nether-Go decks were the control answer to Fires, and most of the rest of the metagame.
Merfolk Opposition (U.S. Nats / Alex Borteh Worlds) – The breakout deck of U.S. Nationals, and then Worlds, was Merfolk Opposition. Merfolk of the Pearl Trident saw Constructed play, and that confused people no end.
Tog (Carlos Romao, Worlds 2002) – Odyssey was the graveyard set, and nothing used the graveyard as well as Psychatog. Carlos Romao’s build is, arguably, the ultimate Standard Tog deck.
RG Beats (Itaru Ishida, GP: Bangkok)- This is taking forever, so I am not going to write about every deck. This is RG Madness.
RWU Trenches (Eric Taylor, GP: Milwaukee) – I was at GP: Milwaukee. I was establishing my pattern of going 3-4 or 4-3 Day 1, then doing better at a Vintage event on Day 2. I did watch EDT play Trenches. He played it a lot better than I did.
UG Opposition (Frank Canu, 2003 Masters) – Saprolings instead of Merfolk. Later on, it was Squirrels from Squirrel Nest. Some Opposition control deck should probably make the list, but I’m not sure which. Please tell me in the forums.
Goblin Bidding (Wolfgang Eder, Worlds 2003) – Stupid Goblin Bidding. Just when you have finally massacred all the little Red guys, Patriarch’s Bidding brings them all back again.
UG Madness (David Humphries, Worlds 2003) – Discard Wonder to Wild Mongrel, discard three Basking Rootwallas, play them via Madness, beat for six through the air, leaving U up for a Madness counterspell. Stupid deck. Good, but stupid — sort of like Jund.
Cunning Wake (Daniel Zink, Worlds 2003) – Great deck, but Wizards made the Wishes garbage, right about the time they printed them as judge foils.
RG Madness (Mike Turian, U.S. Nats)
Astral Slide (Gabe Walls, U.S. Nats) – Slide was a very powerful deck. Was it powerful enough to deserve a slot? I don’t know — I started judging around this time, and played less Constructed.
Kooky Jooky (Top 8, various States) – Adrian Sullivan, Ben Dempsey, and Brian Kowal brewed this special. It was a powerhouse, putting nearly everyone who played it at States in the Top 8. It was, at heart, the first Kiki Jiki combo deck.
UW Control (Nassif, Worlds) – Hmmm.
Tooth and Nail – The Tooth and Nail deck was, at heart, a combo deck that killed with either fatties or a strange vampire / Triskelion combo. I loved Tooth and Nail (a.k.a. Stompy Stomp), but I don’t think this is the best combo deck to include, nor the best fattie beats deck. For one thing, the following deck is just better.
Big Red – The Arc-Slogger based deck that preyed on Affinity.
Goblins – The fast deck that could race Affinity — after siding in a dozen artifact-kill cards, that is.
Eminent Domain (Adrian Sullivan, Wisconsin States, others) – This was a very interesting control deck. Shock, Remand, Annex, Kokusho, Keiga, Wildfire — it had a lot of strange synergies. On the down side, I watched Adrian kill at least one person with Spectral Searchlight, but you can’t mana burn people anymore.
Blue Tron (Antonino de Rosa, U.S. Nats)
Ghazi Glare (Katsuhiro Mori, Worlds) – Fascinating deck. I’d say more, but this is stupid long already.
Gifts Ungiven (Frank Karsten, Worlds)
Owling Mine (Taigo Chan, PT: Honolulu) – Really? I think this is way to metagame dependent.
Heartbeat (Maximillian Bracht, PT: Honolulu)
Gruul Beats (Mark Herberholz, PT: Honolulu) — Red/Green did win the event.
Pickles Control (LSV, U.S. Nats, 2007, or Paul Cheon, GP: Krakow winner) – The Pickles combo, which locked down the opponent’s untaps, was a strong archetype. The question is which version? LSV’s deck was a control build with the combo tacked on. Cheon’s deck had far more copies of the critical pieces, but fewer counters.
Smallpox (various, Japanese Nationals)
Faeries (Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Hollywood 2008) – The best Fairies build, by one of the Masters with the deck. (Sam Black is another. I wonder if I could get Sam to play Fairies against me in the event? That would improve the odds of Fairies winning.)
Kithkin (Cedric Philips)
Skred Red (Tomoharu Saito, GP: Copenhagen)
Reveillark (Nicolas Bevacqua, GP: Buenos Aires) – People played both combo and non-combo versions of Reveillark. This was the non-combo version. If Reveillark wins a slot, which version should I play? Sound off in the forums.
Pyromancers Swath (Takakuwa Akihiro, Japanese Nats) – A Storm deck.
Doran (Yann Massicard, GP: Seattle) – An aggro control deck that has Maelstrom Pulse. That gives it a way to deal with Planeswalkers. This deck won the GP.
Jund (various builds) – Jund belongs — but which exact build?
Cruel Control (Shuhei Nakamura, Japanese Nats 2009)
TurboFog – TurboFog, on the other hand, does not.
Boros Bushwhacker (Bram Snepvangers, Worlds) – A modern Red aggro deck — but I’m not fond of Red aggro decks. Someone is going to have to argue hard to get this in.
Vampires – Not even if they sparkle….
Jund – As above — yes, but which version?
Mythic Conscription – Seems pretty solid. I expect this to have a slot in the event.
Tap Out UW – This, or the next deck — or both? Tell me in the forums.
Super Friends – Mythic, Mythic Conscription, Tap Out UW — we can’t fit all of them. Choose.
Next Level Bant (Brian Kibler, GP: Sendai) – Seems like this has a strong case for being an auto-include.
A Potential Line-Up
I don’t want to set anything in stone at this point. I may have missed something. I may be overrating something. However, I need to make a start. I want to have slots for 24 to 26 old decks, and 6 to 8 decks from 2008 or later. With 79 decks listed above, we need to cut a bit.
Here is my first cut of the 25 old decks.
1. BR Necropotence *or* LauerPotence
2. Rec / Sur? (Not sure which one.)
3. Cuneo Blue (Randy Buehler, Worlds 1999)
4. Covetous Wildfire (Kai Budde, Worlds 1999)
5. Deadguy Red (Rubin, Worlds 1999)
6. Sabre Bargain (Mike Pustilnik, US Nats 2000)
7. Napster (Jon Finkel, U.S. Nats 2000)
8. Replenish (Tom Van de Logt, Worlds 2000)
9. Angry Hermit (Aaron Forsythe, US Nats 2000)
10. Brawler Ponza (Sean McKeown, Grinders, 2001)
11. Fires (Eugene Harvey, U.S. Nats 2001)
12. Opposition (Merfolk? Saprolings? Squirrels? Tell me in the forums)
13. Tog (Carlos Romao, Worlds 2002)
14. Goblin Bidding (Wolfgang Eder, Worlds 2003)
15. UG Madness (David Humphries, Worlds 2003)
16. Astral Slide (Gabe Walls, U.S. Nats, 2003)
17. Death Cloud (Chris Manning, U.S. Nats, 2005)
18. Ghazi Glare (Katsuhiro Mori, Worlds 2005)
19. Dragonstorm (Patrick Chapin, Worlds 2007)
20. Faeries (Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Hollywood 2008)
21. Seismic Swans (Kurihara Shingou, Japanese Nats 2008)
I am also holding slots for the banned decks. That may change. I’m going to devote the next article to discussing the banned decks. (Food for thought — Extended JarGrim was included in the Ultimate Extended Tournament, and it was beaten.) For now, though:
23. Skullclamp Affinity
24. Elf and Nail
Plus seven modern decks.
1. Doran (Yann Massicard, GP: Seattle)
2. Plumeveil Control (Charles Gindy, U.S. Nats 2009)
3. Jund (version to be chosen later)
4. Naya Lightsaber (Andre Coimbra, Worlds, 2009)
5. Mythic Conscription
6. Tap Out UW Control (Brad Nelson, GP: DC?)
7. Next Level Bant (Brian Kibler, GP: Sendai)
I may exert my privilege as author/creator and insert a deck I love into the ranks. If I do, it will be the original, standard Rock and his Millions. I love that deck, and still have a version sleeved up. Note that I did the same thing in Extended — added GB Survival — and it won the whole thing. I don’t think that Rock is anywhere close in power to GB Survival, but it would be fun to try it.
For now, please head to the forums and tell me what I’ve missed.
“one million words” on MTGO