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Upgrading an Old Deck - Part 1

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Sometimes the best place to look for new ideas is in the past. After all if something was good before it can likely be good again. In fact take a look at the current Standard environment (or at least the pre-banning environment minus affinity). What are the top decks, and where did they come from? This is going to be a two part article with the first part covering the current standard environment and what each deck owes its heritage to and the second part will look for an old tournament deck and try to reinvent it in a casual standard environment.

B/G Control:
This deck uses green to ramp up its mana in order to cast powerfully spells in both green and black like Death Cloud, Kokusho, and Rude Awakening. It has a nice mix of discard and other control cards like Plow Under and Cranial Extraction. It also has targeted removal and some nice beatsticks like the mighty Kokusho. To what does this control deck owe its roots? The oldest roots probably come from Sol Malka’s Urza/Masques type 2 deck, The Rock and his Millions. This aggro control deck features the same discard, fatties, and small pieces of card advantage as the current type 2 version. This is one of the most popular decks of all time and people try and make it work in every format possible. The most famous versions were the Invasion block versions with Pernicious Deed and Spiritmonger but there are countless other builds as well in multiple formats including the current extended environment.

The next deck I want to look at is Tooth and Nail. Based around its namesake card it ramps up mana as quickly as possible by using cards like Sylvan Scrying and Reap and Sow to search out Cloudpost or Urza lands in order to cast an entwined Tooth and Nail for 9 mana to tutor for and drop into play something very nasty. This is generally something like Darksteel Colossus or Sundering Titan plus a Kiki-Jiki or something equally nasty. It is a very rare occasion that the Tooth deck can lose after resolving its namesake card. Where do we look in the past for the roots of the deck? If you look at the card Tooth and Nail it essentially does two things. The first part is that it is a creature tutor. It can find whatever you need most at the time. The second part is that of mana acceleration. It lets you dump the creatures directly into play without paying the mana cost. While it takes 9 mana itself, if you look at the things generally being dumped into play and the fact that you get two you would usually have to spend a great deal more than 9 mana to cast the creatures fairly. So what deck was based on a card that was both a tutor and a mana accelerator? There are actually two very easy examples. The first is the most obvious and a personal favorite of mine. That deck is Secret Force. This deck would get most of its wins by accelerating mana in order to cast Natural Order to put the best fatty ever printed, Verdant Force into play. The parallels to Tooth is obvious just by looking at Natural Order. Tooth and Nail is essentially a really big Natural Order. The other deck is a little less obvious because it does try to find creatures. I’m talking about Tinker. This is possibly one of the most broken tutors ever printed. It saw play in every format it was ever legal in and eventually ended up completely breaking Extended. At Pro Tour New Orleans 2003 where 7 of the top 8 decks were running four copies of Tinker. These decks were insanely fast and on average won on turn 3. In fact during the tournament the joke of the day was that the die roll to determine who goes first was the early game, the first turn was the mid-game, and turn two was the late game. This is as broken as it gets in magic and many bannings soon followed to slow the format down. At the top of the list was Tinker itself. This card is broken enough that if we still played type 3 it probably should have been added to the banned list to hang out with Strip Mine. As seen in vintage, it still does broken things even when only allowed one copy.

Up next, White Weenie. This deck is a simple one. Play as many little white dudes and possible, a Glorious Anthem or two, and go for the beats. This is another one of those decks that people try to make in every format even if it is hopeless. While I’d argue that this is possibly the case in standard right now this is likely as close as the deck will ever again be to viable. This deck has been around practically forever. Early versions beat with Savannah Lions, White Knights, and pump knights with Crusade as mass pump. It sealed the deal with an Armageddon. Later versions used tempest block shadow dudes and Paladin En-Vec made larger with Empyrial Armor with Cataclysm to seal the deal. During Masques block rebels were the creatures of choice. The weenies in Standard now are possibly better than they have ever been in the history of magic with multiple 2-power, 1-mana creatures as well as some very excellent two-drops. Unfortunately it has nothing to fill the Armageddon slot which brings the deck down a notch.

The next deck I want to look at is Mono Blue Control. The deck is basically just countermagic, card drawing, and a few finishers. This deck type has also been around forever but its peak was likely Buehler Blue. The deck basically just counters everything, casting card drawing spells at end of opponent’s turn so it doesn’t run out of countermagic, and eventually drop the win condition. While the quality of both the countermagic and card drawing spells is downright terrible compared to past decks, Vedalken Shackles is amazing and wins many games on its own.

There are plenty of other decks in the format that are just new forms of old ideas but this is all I want to go over in detail for time and space concerns. Ponza looks to be a contender after the bannings, especially since it has a good matchup with Tooth, which is likely the new “best deck.” It is no new archetype and has likely been around as long as there have been multiple playable red land destruction spells. Mono Black control may also be a good post banning deck and owes its existence to the deck born of the many powerful black cards in Torment or to go back farther the original Necro decks. I’m not sure how Blue/Green control fits into the past but I’m sure someone with more knowledge of past tournament decks could find something. Old decks also continually resurface in Extended as well. Old favorites like Sneak Attack and the Rofellos/Gaea’s Cradle based Trinity Green decks have recently popped up in Extended. Sure every once in a while new card(s) unlike anything else will pop up and inspire completely new decks (like the Storm mechanic) but more often than not a new deck is less new than it may seem. Next week in part 2 I’ll look at an old tournament deck, yet to be determined (as of writing this, not posting it) and make a new version.