You CAN Play Type I #52: Type I’s Nantuko Conspiracy, Part I

Nantuko Shade – an autodrop into any Suicide Black deck, right? Certainly you’re seeing it in most builds as a given. But that one card changes the whole nature of the deck… And Oscar tells you why.

This column is dedicated to my puppy. I was drinking a can of juice as I wrote the first draft, and it put its paws on the table and licked the rim. So I had to pour the contents and dog drool into a dish, and it didn’t lick it up because it was too sweet. And it was the last can in the house.

Sometimes, you wish all you had to do was sit around all day with a goofy grin, and bark when you want to eat.

Interlude: News from Germany…

As I was supposed to have linked a couple of weeks ago, the latest Judgment-powered version of the German Tools ‘n’ Tubbies or TNT deck caught the fancy of a lot of players this month. The refinements are attributed to Benjamin Ribbeck, veteran Type I player and winner of the last Dülmen tournament.

Tools ‘n’ Tubbies, Benjamin Ribbeck, Champion, July 21, 2002 Dülmen

Creatures (22)

4 Goblin Welder

4 Su-Chi

4 Juggernaut

2 Triskelion

1 Masticore

1 Druid Lyrist

1 Uktabi Orangutan

1 Gorilla Shaman

1 Squee, Goblin Nabob

1 Genesis

1 Wonder

1 Anger

Other spells (8)

4 Survival of the Fittest

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Tinker

1 Memory Jar

Mana (30)

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Sol Ring

1 Grim Monolith

4 Mishra’s Workshop

1 Tolarian Academy

1 Library of Alexandria

3 Wasteland

1 Strip Mine

4 Taiga

4 Tropical Island

4 Land Grant

Sideboard (15)

4 Tormod’s Crypt

2 Pyroblast

1 Red Elemental Blast

2 Druid Lyrist

1 Flametongue Kavu

2 Emerald Charm

3 Artifact Mutation





Judgment rare

At the beginning of your upkeep, if Genesis is in your graveyard, you may pay 2G. If you do, return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand

I’m afraid I don’t have firsthand experience with the above build, but I got a very good story out of another German player: Kai Budde. He was supposed to accompany a friend to Dülmen, but the guy fell asleep. Staring at the power cards and Trix components he brought, he decided to go anyway and have fun.

That’s a good attitude to have when you decide to build an atrocious combo deck ten minutes before registration ends – he even confessed that he only had three usable sideboard cards out of the random cards he threw in since his mana base and sideboard cards clashed.

He had fun, indeed, though. He said his deck is good against any deck without Force of Will, and proceeded to sweep five blue-based opponents (plus a sixth who had two Dark Rituals in the opening hand, but Icequakes and Scutas over Sinkholes and Negators… He lost without even dealing more than ten damage).

The funny part came when he met Benjamin in the semis. Seeing an aggro deck, he boarded out his Abeyance. He ended the story by asking me,”How am I supposed to know people play Lyrists in Type I???”

Illusions of Grandeur



Ice Age rare

Cumulative Upkeep: 2. When Illusions of Grandeur comes into play, you gain 20 life. When Illusions of Grandeur leaves play, you lose 20 life.

Druid Broken Lyrist



Odyssey common

G, Tap, Sacrifice Druid Lyrist: Destroy target enchantment.

Sixth place isn’t too bad for your first Type I tourney in a long time. Everyone laughed at the Trix deck, including the inadvertent creator, but some things he explained to me got me curious, such as his preference for Brainstorm and aversion to Gemstone Mine. The deck he ended up with had some common features with Chapin Power Artifact, and I wondered if I could pick up a few things, considering I have little experience with Extended.

Anyway, move over Noble Panther

(If you’re not familiar with the Extended archetype, Trix wins by Donating Illusions of Grandeur, causing the opponent to eventually lose twenty life. But when Illusions enters play, Druid Lyrist can respond before the stacked”gain twenty life” resolves, making the opponent lose twenty life first.)

The Nantuko Conspiracy

I mentioned in past columns that it’s almost as important to debunk misleading Type I strategies as it is to write about good strategies. The most misleading ideas can be very hard to spot, especially in a format where some players might be restricted to playing in the corner store with a very limited playgroup.

What is the”Nantuko Conspiracy?”

I got my first hint when MagictheGathering.com Editor Aaron Forsythe e-mailed:”Do you think Type 1 is expensive? Most people say, ‘No, I play Suicide Black, etc.’ It looks to me like the format is Power Cards vs. Suicide Black based on the email I get. Having only one reasonable entry-level deck does not make the format look ‘accessible’ to me.”

(I listed the four main mono”budget” colors, and told him that competitive as they are, you still don’t get the”full” Type I experience without cards like Ancestral Recall. So yes, you can play”budget” decks and do well, but it can be unrealistic to dismiss an initial expense associated with Type I.)

What is now called Suicide Black has been part of the metagame since Hymn to Tourach was printed. Discard inquiries are a standard feature of every Type I forum, and Suicide discussions were always present on the old Beyond Dominia. I lost track of the ongoing discussion when BD went offline, but apparently, something happened to it.

Hymn to Tourach



Fallen Empires common

Target player discards two cards at random from his or her hand.

In the past weeks, I’ve been playing against more and more similarly built Suicide decks on #bdchat on EFNet.

Elaine Chase, another friend I mentioned, e-mailed me again,”Thanks for the info; it is super useful. The one thing my hubby concerned about running into is mono-black, just because he seems to always play against it in Type 1.” This is from someone who enjoys the format, but doesn’t play regularly.

(And this R&D lady added,”For the record, I have never played twister or arm wrestled with [author name="Mark Rosewater"]Mark Rosewater[/author], but I do beat him often (but not always) when we play Magic.”)

And so on.

When I saw Laura Mills praising it as the budget deck that let her beat all her powered friends, I realized that something had undoubtedly boosted Suicide Black’s popularity.

(Laura Mills was the Viking lady who got our attention the first time. This column will refer to her article, with her knowledge and permission.)

FleshReaver.dec: The root of modern Suicide Black

Beyond Dominia credited the refinement of the modern Suicide deck to JP”Polluted” Meyer, the old community’s master of rogue aggro. The original list hasn’t changed much, and this is my rough reconstruction:

Suicide Black, a rough 2002 recreation

Creatures (17)

4 Sarcomancy

2 Carnophage

3 Flesh Reaver

4 Hypnotic Specter

4 Phyrexian Negator

Disruption (12)

4 Duress

4 Hymn to Tourach

4 Sinkhole

Others (5)

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Demonic Consultation

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

2 Null Rod

Mana (26)

4 Dark Ritual

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Jet

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland

15 Swamp

(This is my rough recreation of what people generally played. Not everyone used them, but a lot of people wanted two or three Null Rods and reduced the full complement of eight Zombies to fit them in.)

By the time Judgment rolled in, the above build seemed to be all but extinct.

What players almost universally added was Torment’s powerful Nantuko Shade, trading the one-mana Zombies for Shades and a little more mana to help them along. Without Zombies, many also took a page from Nether Void decks and swapped Null Rod or removal slots for Powder Kegs. These still hit artifact mana, but also wipe out the one-mana weenies of Sligh and Stompy.

Nantuko Shade


Creature-Insect Shade


Torment rare

Nantuko Shade gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

Flavor text:”If the Nantuko only knew what awaits them beyond death, they would abandon all they hold dear.”-Cabal Patriarch

Powder Keg



Urza’s Destiny rare

At the beginning of your upkeep, you may put a fuse counter on Powder Keg. Tap, Sacrifice Powder Keg: Destroy each artifact and creature with converted mana cost equal to the number of fuse counters on Powder Keg.

The rough resulting deck doesn’t look too different:

Limp Black, a rough July 2002 recreation

Creatures (16)

4 Nantuko Shade

3 Flesh Reaver

4 Hypnotic Specter

4 Phyrexian Negator

Disruption (15)

4 Duress

4 Hymn to Tourach

4 Sinkhole

3 Powder Keg

Others (3)

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Demonic Consultation

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

Mana (27)

4 Dark Ritual

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Jet

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland

16 Swamp

(The name is something I use in my personal notes, and will be explained later.)

The dilemma of the uninitiated: Juzam Djinn or Phyrexian Negator?

Now let’s take a step back and assume you’re a complete newbie.

The key to understanding Suicide Black lies behind the eternal question of confused beginners on any Magic forum: Which is better?

Juzam Djinn




Arabian Nights uncommon

At the beginning of your upkeep, Juzam Djinn deals 1 damage to you.

Phyrexian Negator




Urza’s Destiny rare

Whenever Phyrexian Negator is dealt damage, sacrifice a permanent for each 1 damage dealt to it.

It looks like a no-brainer in favor of Richard Garfield’s classic Magic beatdown. Four mana for a 5/5 is an excellent cost-power ratio, and the upkeep is manageable. Going down one mana but having the 5/5 single-handedly lose a number of matchups sounds absurd.

Taking the two fatties independent of every other card printed, you may well justify that Juzam (still) rules.

This sounds like a sensible trail of thought, but you can’t conveniently compartmentalize card slots like this when dealing with black. The moment you realize that, you unlock the underlying philosophy of Suicide Black.

When you get down to trying to build a deck, you’ll find that Juzam Djinn is extremely hard to fit into a 2002 deck. It’s very difficult to end up with a good black deck where Negator’s drawback matters as much as you think.

The not-too-obvious secret to understanding Suicide Black

See, Suicide Black is inherently metagamed.




Urza’s Saga common

Target opponent reveals his or her hand. Choose a noncreature, nonland card from it. That player discards that card.

Hymn to Tourach



Fallen Empires common

Target player discards two cards at random from his or her hand.

Hymn badly disrupts a control or combo deck, but becomes useless fast against an aggro deck without a hand. Duress can single-handedly screw a control or combo deck by trading for a restricted card, but is less than spectacular against a redundant aggro hand.




Beta common

Destroy target land.

Sinkhole can color screw a control or combo deck, or slow the appearance of a key card like The Abyss for one or two crucial turns. It’s not as good against an aggro deck with modest mana needs. (Hell, it’s downright pathetic against Stompy’s Quirion Rangers.) Its friend Wasteland, further, is worse than a Swamp against mono aggro decks.

Hypnotic Specter




Beta uncommon

Flying. Whenever Hypnotic Specter deals damage to an opponent, that player discards a card at random from his or her hand.

A first-turn Ritualed-Specter is a nightmare that dates back to Beta. A 2/2 for three mana is pathetic in combat and at racing beatdown, however, and the ability isn’t much against an opponent with no hand.

Obviously, Phyrexian Negator is incredible against decks that don’t deal damage – control and combo – and is troublesome against decks that do – aggro with burn, blockers, and the like.

Looking at the core Suicide cards, we discover that all of them have parallel (if less extreme) strengths and weaknesses.

In fact, FleshReaver.dec’s namesake and a creature arguably as lethal as its more prominent Phyrexian cousin fits the bill perfectly:

Flesh Reaver




Urza’s Saga uncommon

Whenever Flesh Reaver deals damage to a creature or opponent, Flesh Reaver deals that much damage to you.

The nature of all these black abilities show why”Suicide” is the perfect nickname.

Nantuko Shade: The black messiah?

The recent addition, however, seems to erase Suicide’s inherently pre-metagamed nature from the minds of its recent fans:

Nantuko Shade


Creature-Insect Shade


Torment rare

B: Nantuko Shade gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

Flavor text:”If the Nantuko only knew what awaits them beyond death, they would abandon all they hold dear.”-Cabal Patriarch

My Torment review said that it was one of the best black weenies ever printed – better than even the classic pump knights. However, testing showed me that it seemed better in slower, more controllish Nether Void than in extremely fast Suicide Black. You can’t pump it early, anyway, because you needed to cast your spells.

[author name="Laura Mills"]Laura Mills[/author], however, introduced her well-read recent Suicide Black article:

“I happened to place in the top 8 twice and top 4 most recently in the only three Type I tournaments I have ever played. These aren’t small tournaments, either, as they usually draw between forty-five and sixty players for a total of six rounds. Not a single card in my deck costs more than $20, if that.

“…I present this deck for your consideration, as I have felt that it can perform quite well in the Type I environment that I have come across… Modify it to fit your play style or your environment. Feel free to pass any insightful results along to me.”

Laura discusses creature choices such as the Reaver and Negator, but glosses over Nantuko Shade. After all, it’s a no-brainer, right?

We saw that Suicide Black is a collection of fast cards that are excellent against control and also good against combo. By simply slipping in Nantuko Shade, beginning Suicide Black players seem to think that they can now beat aggro as well.

A deck with good chances against control, combo, and aggro?

Now you understand where the”Nantuko Conspiracy” came from.

Suicide Black against”The Deck”

Like I said, just about every time I logged on in recent weeks, a Suicide player ended up finding me. Suicide’s inherent metagamed nature never made it popular in the Beyond Dominia community, and I suppose I was a bit rusty when Dana Heitner, a.k.a. Acolytec, hit me up for several games. We laughed as Apprentice shuffler worked overtime and gave me an extraordinary number of mana screw and flood draws, and I got treated to one memorable game where a Morphling was in fact run over by a Nantuko Shade.

The following week, a couple of typhoons hit Manila, and we lost several class days to floods. In the off time, I logged an extraordinary forty-plus games against various Suicide players. Most hadn’t built sideboards yet, so they were almost all unsideboarded.

I’ll spell out what [author name="Laura Mills"]Laura Mills[/author] implied:

A”The Deck” player knows no worse nightmare than Game 1 against Suicide Black.

But what the hell, right? I enjoy playing the control match against Suicide because it’s very good practice, and lots of fun. The nature of the spells flying across the table is so stacked against you that every mistake you make is magnified and every card drawn may be your last. But you’re going up against a well-built killing machine – not mere mindless hate – so the challenge is invigorating.

Apprentice shuffler screw and degenerate draws aside, you feel responsible for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – when you pull it off.

Now here’s something even more surprising:

I estimate that I won about 60-65% of my games that week.

My nightmare matchup, unsideboarded.

This is nothing short of impossible, and had someone else given me the same story, I would’ve asked him if the other guy was playing Pit Imps and Faceless Butchers.

And get this:

A couple of my opponents even began the games by saying,”Rakso, hi! I read all your articles and downloaded the Bible! (I have your exact decklist and sideboard loaded in a separate window!)”

The”generic” listing I use in the Control Player’s Bible doesn’t have a single anti-Suicide card maindecked. No Teferi’s Response, no extra Misdirection as a tenth counter, no extra Swords to Plowshares as a fourth removal spell, no Timetwister. The closest I have is Sylvan Library, which may not even get cast early.

The old Beyond Dominia community was wary of matchup percentages, because they can be skewed by less tuned builds, less experienced players or an inbred playgroup. I don’t think that applied here because my opponents had similar builds taken from a small pool of cards, and it isn’t very hard to decide which dual land to Sinkhole or which creature to cast first. The toughest decisions a Suicide player has to make are what to take with a first-turn Duress or how to split a Fact or Fiction. In any case, I do coach my opponents if they’re new to their decks.

My only possible explanation for that week is that maybe Suicide Black – an archetype tailor-made to kill control – is no longer my nightmare Game 1 matchup.

Unmetagaming the metagame deck

I noticed a few things after all those games.

The main thing: The Shade variant seemed slower than what I was familiar with.

Nantuko Shade (new card)


Creature-Insect Shade


Torment rare

Nantuko Shade gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

Sarcomancy (old card)



Tempest rare

When Sarcomancy comes into play, put a 2/2 black Zombie creature token into play. At the beginning of your upkeep, if there are no Zombies in play, Sarcomancy deals 1 damage to you.

It’s pretty obvious why.

Suicide plays Dark Ritual or Duress on the first turn. If it doesn’t have either card, it plays a one-mana Zombie.

What happens without the Zombies?

It plays a two-mana spell like Hymn or Sinkhole on Turn 2. On Turn 3, you’ll probably play another two-mana spell and maybe use a Wasteland. If you do play a creature, it won’t be Shade; it gets played late, by its nature.

Thus, barring Dark Ritual, you no longer have the Zombies to soften up the opponent before the big beatdown drops. You have to compensate by using higher-powered creatures that you drop later.

That’s exactly what Shade does – and the argument is that the early damage is meaningless because Shade will make up for it with interest when it makes its appearance.

It didn’t seem to happen as planned in my practice games, however – in many games I won, I was surprised to have lost more life to Sylvan Library than to creature attacks.

Sylvan Library



Legends uncommon

At the beginning of your draw step, you may draw two cards. If you do, choose two cards in your hand drawn this turn. For each of those cards, pay 4 life or put the card on top of your library.

It goes back to the nature of Suicide’s structure. It’s an aggro-control deck, an archetype that gets early beatdown in under cover of disruption, in this case discard and land destruction.

A Sinkhole negates a land drop – almost like a Time Walk. A Hymn takes away two cards – almost like taking two Time Walks. In that”extra time,” you’re bashing the opponent’s life, exploiting the”Time Walk” and further shortening the opponent’s clock.

Shifting the Zombie slots to the later-game Shades means you’re exploiting the”Time Walk” less effectively, since you’re not using the”extra” attack phases. Your deck becomes less Suicidal and more controlling – in other words, slower.

As the game drags on, the control deck gains more and more of an advantage. If your initial disruption barrage leaves the control player with a useless Library of Alexandria, a Wasteland and an off-color Mox, then you’ll likely win even if you’re packing Pit Imps and Faceless Butchers.

But if your initial barrage has been sufficiently weathered, then the control deck is in a better position to refill its hand and stop the later creatures. At that point, the timely Ancestral Recall or Swords to Plowshares can take the tempo right back. And if he gets The Abyss the turn after you play that Shade, you won’t make up for the missing early damage.

The Abyss


Enchant World

Legends rare

At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, destroy target nonartifact creature that player controls of his or her choice. It can’t be regenerated.

Moreover, the Shade versions run slightly fewer creatures than the established builds. You’re thus less likely to have a Zombie sitting beside that Phyrexian Negator, taking one for the team while the big guy capitalizes on the early damage and finishes. (If he’s at ten life or lower, you can play another creature the following turn and win.) During my practice, one equally-confused opponent did try sticking Sarcomancies back in. He looked me up again, and I found myself at lower life totals in the games I won.

While The Abyss can stabilize against Suicide’s exclusively creature-based damage, it’s hard to keep a black source against Wastelands and Sinkholes. If its appearance is delayed to the point where the opponent has two creatures and you’re at five life, it may as well be Collective Restraint for all the good it’ll do. (Corollary: Thus, never underestimate the importance of Swords to Plowshares and overestimate The Abyss.)

All this points to only one thing: If you want to play a slower deck that goes for the midgame, then why aren’t you playing one specifically designed to do so, namely more controllish Nether Void-based ones?

Nether Void


Enchant World

Legends rare

Whenever a player plays a spell, counter it unless its controller pays 3.

As the name implies, Suicide Black is pre-metagamed and aims to capitalize on cheap disruption to end things in the early game.

For want of a better name to distinguish it from Suicide, Shane Stoots and I dubbed the Shade variant”Limp Black.”

It just seems slower – a limp build of controllish Nether Void masquerading as Suicide Black.

In fact, you’ll notice that these Shade Suicide versions are hitting twenty-eight mana sources – a characteristic of control decks from”The Deck” to Nether Void that seems completely out of place in aggro or aggro-control.

But Shade owns Morphling!

Morphling, a.k.a. Superman



Urza’s Saga rare

U: Untap Morphling.

U: Morphling gains flying until end of turn.

U: Morphling can’t be the target of spells or abilities until end of turn.

1: Morphling gets +1/-1 until end of turn.

1: Morphling gets -1/+1 until end of turn.

Oh, yes, Nantuko Shade owns Morphling – and the best the latter can do is pump its toughness to stall. Unless Morphling can fly over the Shade to kill in one or two turns, the Suicide player turns it into an embarrassing chump blocker.

If Nantuko Shade owns Morphling, then it must own every blue-based control deck out there, right?

The issue is just how important the Morphling wall is against Suicide.

In the forty plus games I played that week, no more than two or three involved a Morphling going on blocking duty.

More often, I just pitched the first Morphling to Misdirection or Force of Will.

Again, Morphling is just a kill card; it’s meant to come down last – when control is established.

Thus, killing Morphling in combat has deceptive value.

Against”The Deck,” if your opponent gets two blue sources and a total of five mana, you might want to worry about a more immediate problem such as The Abyss or Yawgmoth’s Will.

Against Oath-based variants, your Shade does run over the Oathed Morphling that fills in The Abyss’s role, but note that Oath is a lot easier to get out than Abyss, and he still has spot removal for Shades. Further, even assuming you own Game 1, Oath is the archetype with the green to board in Compost – the black player’s ultimate nightmare.

Against mono blue, your Shade’s value is probably highest… But Forbiddian is better able to weather the disruption with more Misdirections and Wasteland-proof blue sources. Moreover, removing the Zombies makes setting Kegs easier, since you leave them at two counters (Shades, Reavers) to go to three in a pinch (Specters, Negators). Kegs are Forbiddian’s only removal, but they can be slipped past discard.

In other words, getting fixated on Morphling is a bad habit.

The mana curve issue

The most colorful comment on Limp Black: Without the Zombies, too often, it goes Turn 1 Swamp, nothing.

That hardly sounds aggressive, does it?

It’s just part of a more subtle transformation induced by the Shades. Take the following chart based on the sample builds presented:

Suicide Black

Limp Black




Dark Ritual, Duress, Zombies, Consult




Hymn, Sinkhole, Reaver, Shade, Null Rod, Tutor




Negator, Specter, Yawgmoth’s Will







Contrary to what many players believe, the concept of a mana curve is as crucial in Type I as it is in other Constructed and Limited formats. It’s just less visible because so many good cards cost one, and the”curve” of Type I Sligh and Stompy is practically a straight line that ends at one.

Limp Black practically throws the mana curve out the window. In a number of games I played, I noticed that Limp Black could inefficiently leave a Swamp untapped in crucial Turns 1 and 3.

The reason is obvious.

Limp Black shifts one-mana slots to two-mana slots, clogging the deck with two-drops. This practically forces the two-drops up with the three-drops, and so on – making what’s left of the curve steeper than it looks on paper.

This is the scientific-sounding way of saying what we already said: The deck is now slower and less Suicidal.

Cliffhanger ending

I understand that all of the above contradict present”popular” deckbuilding logic, and I’ve just explained why. It took me a month to write up my notes, though, and only after several dozen unsideboarded games. I could be wrong and”popular” logic could be right, but I haven’t been able to refute my own arguments yet.

Think about everything I just said, because we’ll pick up from this theoretical discussion next week. It’s still abstract now, so we’ll move on to practical details using my notes and Laura Mills‘ article. Also, I’ll try to explain why no one has said a thing before this column, despite these Limp builds flooding the Net in the past two months.

I’ll leave you with a reemphasis of the inherent metagamed nature of Suicide Black, however: This detail implies that people who spend a lot of time talking about Suicide Black and playing against aggro are pulling your leg.

Keep this detail in mind as you skim through Suicide posts on Type I forums this week.

Oscar Tan

[email protected]

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

Manila, Philippines

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)