The day after Mark Rosewater wrote his Type I column and a couple of hours before Star City posted my critique, MagictheGathering.com editor Aaron Forsythe dropped me a line, asking for feedback with regard to the e-mail he’d been getting about MaRo’s controversial piece.
One of Aaron’s specific questions greatly surprised me.
Accessibility was a key issue in last week’s raging online Type I debate, and my own column listed four key budget Type I decks: Mono red Sligh, mono green Stompy, mono black Suicide Black and mono blue Forbiddian.
The funny thing is that these aren’t mere budget decks, but – if built correctly – truly competitive Type I archetypes. Mono decks are among the strongest in Type I – budget aside, you still have archetypes from mono red Stacker 2 to mono black Illusionary Mask.
"The Deck" is the archetypical Type I deck, but ironically, it’s only the most prominent of a small minority of multicolored decks in the last format where dual lands are legal (let’s lump 1.5 with Type I for simplicity).
He told me that a lot of people had e-mailed complaints about one Type I card in particular, and asked if I thought it should be banned or restricted:
Back to Basics
Urza’s Saga rare
Nonbasic lands don’t untap during their controllers’ untap steps.
Now that you think about it, the idea has merit.
Introducing the aggro feature matches of the Control Player’s Bible, I explained that card for card, mono color decks can’t compare to the brokenness of multicolored ones like "The Deck." They make up, however, with brutal consistency.
A big chunk of consistency is redundancy. Mono forces you to rely mainly on one slice of the Magic pie – burn, discard, counter, weenie, etc. – but you get a natural selection of every card ever printed in that slice. Type II players who insist on resurrecting Sligh years after Deadguy showed up in a Worlds Top 4 can only drool at the selection of Type I Sligh: All the three-damage Bolts (Lightning Bolt, Incinerate, Chain Lightning) backed by Fireblast and even Price of Progress, plus 2/1s for just one red mana.
But I keep harping about fundamentals, mana bases.
All this consistency and efficiency is supported by invulnerable mana bases. "The Deck" can stumble after an early Wasteland then Sinkhole… But no Sligh player ever got color screwed. In fact, a "The Deck" player can win the mirror by destroying all his opponent’s permanents – but it’s far, far more difficult to attack a mana base of Mountains.
So the moment you go beyond one color, you start screwing your mana base and expose yourself to everything from extraordinarily color-screwed topdecks to your opponent’s nonbasic hate. Have you ever taken a mono deck like Forbiddian and tried to splash just one other color by replacing eight lands with dual and painlands? Those eight slots and that one color are enough to expose at least half your mana base to Wastelands, a detail you have to experience to appreciate. The moment you hit three colors, you compound the problems with City of Brass damage and other multiland drawbacks that subtly add up.
Again, it takes a three-City opening hand to appreciate all this.
Splashing colors doesn’t come free. When you do, you’re forced to give up the consistency of mono, and you have to make up with the power and flexibility of a multicolored deck.
Every non-mono player has to ask himself: Is it worth it?
I’m not sure if it was in MTGNews, the old Beyond Dominia or both, but I actually saw an old forum thread that asked people to name the most annoying card in Type I; half the replies named Back to Basics.
Not Yawgmoth’s Will.
Back to Basics by a mile.
So again: Is it worth it?
Back to Basics and deckbuilding
The brutal consistency of mono is no joke, to emphasize. In the power-filled, combo-dominated Kuala Lumpur Invitational, for example, Mike Long took a mono black Type I Necrodeck with a discard complement up to Unmask. You could make the case that Necropotence was better than Ancestral Recall anyway, so screw Underground Sea.
The most infamous culprit, though, was Britney Spears’ Boobs, a mono blue deck fueled by the card drawing of unrestricted Fact or Fiction. It was basically nothing but counters and Morphlings. The main non-counter card was the token Powder Keg, against early weenies that slipped through.
Plus Back to Basics, of course.
2001 mono blue had the card advantage and counter ability to go head-to-head with multicolored control like "The Deck," but it also had a card that knocked out all of the multi’s land. In fact, it hit every non-mono deck out there up to Zoo, such that the mono blue player didn’t have to do anything different for all of them (obviously, we’re not even talking about combo, not against mono blue). All that’s left, mainly, were the mono strategies I listed.
So you can imagine why mono blue players still maindeck even four Back to Basics, even though these are useless in some matchups, like the tough Suicide Black pairing.
I could argue that it was Back to Basics that established the "stupid mono blue player" stereotype. BD’s beloved Deranged Parrot, for example, kept proudly proclaiming that he wasn’t that good, but could beat the best thanks to mono blue – the battle cry of less-practiced players of 2001.
Even now, in 2002 and with Fact or Fiction restricted, mono blue players still desperately cling to, "I can play Back to Basics and just win." Not knowing the fundamentals of control in the first place, some would, for example, insist on just replacing the three Fact or Fiction slots with Stroke of Genius, Braingeyser and Merchant Scroll, and play the deck in the same way… The games when they don’t get a Mox-Mox-Island–Back to Basics–Force of Will opening.
No other card in recent Type I history has stimulated such a wave of atrocious deckbuilding proposals online.
Will Mistretta a.k.a. Yamo, for example, proposed the removal of Impulse in mono blue because it’s too weak – based on his experience as the only player in his area with Power.
Heck, the last fiasco on ManaDrain.com involved a Beyond Dominia reject now named "A Beautiful Mind," which claimed a 70% win rate against "The Deck."
Atrocious mana base (22)
2 Undiscovered Paradise
2 City of Brass
2 Gemstone Mine
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Diamond
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
Tentative Sideboard (15)
2 Force of Will
2 Back to Basics
1 Seal of Cleansing
2 Meddling Mage
1 Ivory Tower
1 Aura Fracture
2 Blood Moon
3 Swords to Plowshares
Many are fixated and try to beat "The Deck." Not all use actual deckbuilding intelligence, but they happen to hit so many other archetypes when they get fixated on B2B and Blood Moon.
The Dark uncommon
Nonbasic lands are mountains.
When I e-mailed some friends while drafting this article, Matt D’Avanzo gave me the most interesting reply:
"I’ve been thoroughly dissatisfied with most deckbuilding I’ve seen at Neutral Ground and online in the last year or two. It seems that no one can attempt to build a solid deck – instead, they just try to figure out how to lump together as many hate cards as possible."
Naturally, many "rogue" and "budget" deckbuilders deny the fixation.
Back to Basics: Case studies in brainlessness
A number of readers pointed me to a recent Origins Type I report brimming with hot air:
Papa Don’t Preach, Matt Smith, 2nd place, an Origins 2002 36-man side tourney
Card Drawing (11)
1 Ancestral Recall
4 Accumulated Knowledge
3 Cunning Wish
1 Strip Mine
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Cephalid Coliseum
1 Sol Ring
1 Black Lotus
4 Blue Elemental Blast
2 Back to Basics
1 Fact or Fiction
3 Control Magic
1 Psionic Blast
1 Spelljack (On the advice of a Mr. Mike Long)
While I’m pleased that Mark Rosewater acknowledged the dearth of online Type I literature, I also sympathized with one particular point (and just that point) of Nicholas Vacek on Brainburst. He said that misconceptions in bad online Type I articles are very dangerous, especially when read by the casually curious.
Smith decklist critique-and I don’t mean Bennie!
The decklist alone is extremely strange, even if it shares a lot of cards with the one I built for my mono blue article.
The only time I saw Accumulated Knowledge in a Type I discussion was when Fact or Fiction was about to be restricted, and people posted "initial guess" mono blue decklists as half-hearted jokes. Heck, old BDers remember the time Kai Budde told me that a random who wanted to do mono blue AK-based Trick in Type I probably lived as far from the real world as Antarctica.
(And so you can’t say anything, I made sure to test AK-based mono blue last December. It was as effective as replacing Lightning Bolt with Flare – unless you topdeck like a stage magician. I think others did, too, only it was so bad most never bothered to report back.)
Sure, it’s one card, but what do you call a mono blue deck with poor card drawing?
(And what control player considers Impulse card drawing?
Smith strategy critique
Smith claimed he outplayed various opponents, and lost first place because of a one-slot error in his sideboard. I live on the opposite end of the Pacific Ocean, so I’ll have to take his word for it. Here are some of the strategy comments from his own tourney report:
"The first realization you have to make is that Gro was introduced in a Trix-laden field. It was the ultimate answer to a control type situation."
"The incredibly janky Spelljack is in the sideboard on the word of Mike Long who qualified the inclusion with, "Spelljack is awesome! ‘I’ll counter your Amnesia and then play it on you’, or Morphling, or whatever, you get the point." I should have realized that I’d never put this thing in, or ever Cunning Wish for it, when I heard him mention Amnesia."
"He chose to pilot a Gro deck, similar to the one touted by Pat Chapin and Mark Rosewater. For anyone who hasn’t tested in Type One, taking the advice of either of these two public figures would just make good sense."
"I like the idea of the combo; it’s seems easy enough to get off against aggressive decks, but the main reason why I didn’t play the deck is because I thought it lacked the power to beat control."
Since I see someone wonder why combo has trouble against control, and categorize Trix (Illusions of Grandeur-Donate) as a control deck, I have my doubts.
I did get a few other anecdotes about Origins 2002. I heard, for example, that this same Smith lost 2-0 to an unpowered Turboland in another Origins Type I event – and Smith dropped a first-turn Morphling in Game 1 against a deck with zero removal. Yes, unpowered combo against fully-powered control.
In fairness, I do remember playing Smith once online, and I lost 1-3 to a rogue Zombie-Go complete with Zombie Infestation, Squee/Krovikan Horror and Bazaar of Baghdad… But based on memory and the anecdotal evidence I got, I think he’s a solid but not necessarily spectacular player.
So I am objectively concluding that Smith’s deck was atrocious, and he probably isn’t Yoda or Mikey Pustilnik.
So how the heck did Smith…
Yes, all this begs a single obvious question, doesn’t it?
Let’s go back to some of his other comments:
"Round Two I play against a four color deck which I really don’t know how it works. I slapped an early Back to Basics down both games and he had no way to deal with it either game. This gave me a chance to walk around and see what new decks were out there."
"In Round five I face off against another control deck – but this deck, like most decks of many colors, dies to my Back to Basics. You want to ban something? Ban this card. It has simply won me more games than any other card in Magic. Morphling does the dirty work, but Back to Basics is a HOUSE."
Hell, let’s go through the tournament round by round:
- Round 1: BYE
- Round 2: 4-color deck, Win (Back to Basics without even seeing the opponent’s deck.)
- Round 3: "The Deck," Win (Back to Basics Game 1 against old BD’s Carl Winter; opponent gets mana flooded in Game 2 even after countering all four of Smith’s creatures, getting Sylvan Library into play, etc.)
- Round 4: Suicide with white, Lose (Looked like a slow Suicide build with few weenies, by the way)
- Round 5: 5-Color deck, Win (Back to Basics)
- Round 6: Mono Blue Forbiddian, Win (Beats old BD’s Steve Menendian a.k.a. Smmenen, who got too excited and wrote he decked himself with his own Phids… oh, well, mad props to Steve for running a more tuned mono blue.)
- Finals: Black/blue Illusionary Mask, Lose
If you read Smith’s tourney report, every other paragraph is an echo of the Mono Blue 2001 battle anthem:
"I lay Back to Basics and win!"
"I topdeck Back to Basics and win!"
"I pull Back to Basics right out of my anus and win!"
When a single card can get topdecked to win against practically all but half a dozen archetypes – never mind if it’s in a good or bad mono blue build – something has to be wrong.
Again, Smith just laid Back to Basics twice in his first match, and walked off without even learning what his opponent was playing – something you don’t expect short of a savage Neo-Academy second-turn kill!
The bigger picture
That was Matt Smith. Now, I’d like to quote Steve Menendian, a.k.a. Smmenen, on the rest of the environment:
"This year GAMA sponsored Origins and produced, numerically, very healthy type one tournaments. The July 4th 4 p.m. classic had 33 players. The July 5th 1 p.m. consisted of 57 people. The July 6th 11 a.m. consisted of 37 players. Elsewhere on the internet I’ve seen figures for the previous year and this is, at the minimum, a jump of 25% more vintage interest. Mike Guptil, the Professional Event Services level four judge, and prime mover of the Columbus magic community reviewed the situation and was impressed by the numbers and the strength of the format.
"Unfortunately, Origins demonstrated the weakness of the format too. At each the of three tournaments I attended and mentioned above, only a very small handful of players came to the tournaments fully prepared in terms of knowledge of the Beyond Dominia/Neutral Ground metagame, continuous playtesting of the format, and a desire to innovate or push the limits of the format. This isn’t intended as disrespect for the players – many of whom are capable. The problem is the format. Many of the players simply pulled out a deck without truly understanding the format – many hadn’t played type one in some time, in some cases years…
"Ultimately the lesson of origins is that Type One’s future cannot lie on the tournaments – these tournaments must support a larger presence on the web…"
Those were well-attended Type I tournaments – ouch, thirty to sixty people, I know – but Steve’s assessment is very believable.
One thing people love about Type I is that you don’t have to playtest for hours and hours and memorize the monthly metagame shifts. The bulk of players will have that "casual-level commitment" and wouldn’t care to invest in a Pro Tour. That’s a given.
In fact, it’s all these "casually committed" players who make the game fun. For example, an old friend named Elaine Chase (formerly Ferrao) from Wizards of the Coast just e-mailed, asking for a Type I heads-up for GenCon. I could almost picture the smile that accompanied the note, "I haven’t gotten rid of my collection yet!"
And you’ve probably heard that story many times over, though with different names.
The point is that Back to Basics cheeses away precisely those players more than any other.
Back to Basics players consciously or unconsciously gun for "The Deck" players, but they’re the least vulnerable to the cheese. Admittedly, any mono blue deck with maindeck Back to Basics plus Force of Will can bust out a random win in Game 1 against "The Deck"… But that can happen to every multicolored deck, so there’s just nothing you can do unless you want to start maindecking Red Elemental Blasts.
(Hello to Dan Rosenheck, a.k.a. CooberP, who discovered Aura Fracture on the old BD. I heard he got cheesed by a Masked Phyrexian Dreadnought at Origins when he played Ensnaring Bridge, and his opponent flipped the 0/1 after he declared it as an attacker, and got killed by the 12/12 anyway. Cheese and rules cheese, bah…)
I’ve lost several times to Back to Basics, every "The Deck" player who’s been around has. However, what many mono blue players don’t know is that I’ve lost a number of games where my opponent had to resolve a third or fourth Back to Basics before I rolled over.
"The Deck" of 2002 boards more cards against aggro than it does against Forbiddian which will go up to four Back to Basics. I don’t think there’s a better indicator of precisely how dangerous Back to Basics is.
I’m not disbelieving the threat, though. If you take a closer look, the anti-Back to Basics cards are in the off-colors (white and red), so it’s hardly an easy threat to deal with. But if the uber-adaptive "The Deck" has problems… Well, have you ever pictured yourself asking a girl out – after the same girl just publicly brushed off the guy who’s the class valedictorian and the captain of the football team?
Stagnation and rogue players
If "The Deck" players don’t tear their decks apart because of Back to Basics, then why might it be unfair, even by Type I terms?
"The Deck" is just one possible Type I deck, that’s why.
The beautiful thing about Type I – and probably the thing most "casually committed" players enjoy – is that you expect an infinite number of viable decks. Type I should be a bit like Limited, in the sense that you have to keep a broad perspective and prepare for a hundred effects that might be played against you in a single tournament. Yet, if you go back to my list at the start of the article, it seems like you now get "The Deck," some combo decks that need the Power 9 and other goodies like Mana Crypt, and a lot of mono colored decks.
The Type I card pool means you never play the same game twice?
15:40:38 – It is now turn 1.
15:40:40 – TotalStranger plays Mountain.
"If he plays a Pup, that’s Sligh. If he plays a Welder, that’s Stacker 2." (Recites decklists from memory.)
15:40:38 – It is now turn 1.
15:40:40 – TotalStranger plays Island.
"If he plays a creature, that’s Fish. Otherwise, it’s either Forbidian or some dumbass with creatureless mono blue in 2002." (Recites decklists from memory.)
15:40:38 – It is now turn 1.
15:40:40 – TotalStranger plays Forest.
"That’s Stompy, unless he plays a Llanowar Elf, which means he’s an eight-year old. The only other possibility I care about is if he’s goofing off with SquirrelCraft." (Recites decklists from memory.)
15:40:38 – It is now turn 1.
15:40:40 – TotalStranger plays Plains.
"That’s Deck Parfait, unless he has the balls to play White Weenie." (Recites decklist from memory.)
15:40:38 – It is now turn 1.
15:40:40 – TotalStranger plays Swamp.
15:40:38 – It is now turn 1.
15:40:40 – TotalStranger plays Underground Sea.
"That’s probably ‘The Deck’ or a close relative like Oath, though an Entomb means prepare for Worldgorger Dragon combo. It could be a roguish Zoo build or some kind of aggro-control, but who’d play that?" (Recites decklists from memory.)
15:40:38 – It is now turn 1.
15:40:40 – TotalStranger plays Taiga.
"Damnit, did I forget to check if he’s running a 100-card deck again? It could be Zoo, but who’d play that? Maybe it’s one of them Tools and Tubbies thingies, but only Germans play that. Maybe…" (Slaps Oscar Tan for exaggerating.)
Can you imagine this extreme a "Dojo effect" in 2002 Type I? It’d sound ridiculous if it didn’t hit too close to home.
Zoo players or mono blue players?
I mentioned in the Zoo feature with Eric Rouge, a.k.a. Redman, that it’s about time Zoo was reconstructed, after it was obliterated off the face of the metagame by the combo mania that followed Urza’s Saga. That little piece did spur discussion on Beyond Dominia and Star City, but I guess it just died a natural death.
How the mighty have fallen… From a metagame-defining deck – one that stood with no less than "The Deck" and the Necrodeck – to an unplayable archetype.
Guess what the dissenting voices said about Zoo?
You guessed it.
"Why not just play Sligh or Stompy, which don’t get shut down by Back to Basics?"
The multicolored aggro decks are probably the least equipped to handle Back to Basics.
The sad thing is that a balanced Type I environment should make many multicolored aggro and aggro-control decks feasible – for crying out loud, where else are dual lands legal? Making a multicolored aggro deck takes a lot of skill, offers far more possibilities, and is a lot of fun, to boot.
Forcing mono blue players to get brains is a small price to pay for letting the Zoo fans breathe new life to Type I – you resurrect a broad and fun archtype, yet Forbiddian is still fully capable of sideboarding (hopefully, the players as well).
If you need proof, just go back to the aggro features of the Control Player’s Bible. If I publicly admit to losing a game to Eric Stormbind after wresting control, then I don’t need to tell you which sample games were the most fun.
Taking a page from Invasion
It’s all about Odyssey now, but I fondly recall Invasion Limited and the chaotic joy of all those crossed colors. It’s just more fun to play with more colors, and there are only so many ways to design a mono deck.
Judging from recent expansions, you can see that Wizards toned down the color screw cards and let people play. I do think that should apply all the way to Type I, a dumping ground for all the overpowered cards – hosers included – ever printed.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I have a problem with all nonbasic hosers. There are a lot more where Back to Basics came from:
2R, Tap: Destroy target nonbasic land.
Thing is, while these other hosers are also powerful, none of them choke the opponent’s ability to counterattack as completely as Back to Basics and Blood Moon. A guy can’t just play any of the other hosers against Zoo, then just sit back and wait to counter Disenchant effects. Dwarven Miner can be killed, Price of Progress can be played around… Hey, even if you lose, at least the game let you try.
So to recap, I think a hoser that hits practically all but half a dozen archtypes is too reminiscent of old Black Vise–Strip Mine–Strip Mine openings, and even if you can establish that it’s not that powerful or can be dealt with, it sure as hell is too cheesy and random.
Looking at the bigger picture, that hoser can be a strong disincentive for trying new ideas, since most of them will be multicolored. Besides, it takes far less brains to build a deck around the hoser. (I think even Inquest once wrote that even a monkey can make a Vise deck, so they featured a Rack deck.) Further, the hoser can erase a player’s lack of skill in so many matchups, to the point that even bad decks have great chances of winning in environments where few people pack the monotonous mono decks.
As a guy who loves "The Deck," I don’t care that much – since my favorite deck is equipped to deal with the hoser. But as a Type I player, I’d prefer as broad a field as possible. We thought it’d happen with the restriction of Fact or Fiction, but it didn’t, and I’m seeing less and less of those three-color Zoo and aggro-control builds.
I’m not fanatic about either side, but I think I’ll make it an issue. I don’t have Aaron Forsythe polling software, so I’ll just ask you to send your opinions to Star City where we can all read them.
Question: What should we do with Back to Basics (and Blood Moon) in Type I?
Let the mono blue players have their brainless fun?
Hell with it, let’s all just play Magic Online?
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
Forum Administrator, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/cgi-bin/dcforum/dcboard.cgi)
Featured writer, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/archive.php?Article=Oscar Tan)
Author of the Control Player’s Bible (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bdominia/files/ControlBible.zip)
Type I, Extended and Casual Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (http://www.starcitygames.com/cgi-bin/dcforum/dcboard.cgi?az=list&forum=DCForumID89&conf=DCConfID19)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance (http://www.casualplayers.org)