Deviations from the Norm with John B. Turpish  


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11.19.01 Suicidal Control

Itís been a while since I began an article sidetracked, so I donít feel so guilty about this.  I want to apologize to anyone who reads my articles for having missed last week.  Iíve found myself rather busy with school and the new job.  As much hassle as working for a living is, Iím glad to be doing something for a living.  The stress of extended unemployment isnít something Iíd wish on hardly anyone (perhaps those people in Palestine that celebrated the news on September 11 deserve it).

On an even less relevant note, Gary Wise recently responded to John Rizzoís listing Mr. Wise as the person in history who heíd most like to fight with a challenge.  I find this quite humorous, and considered whom Iíd expect to win.  I donít remember having met either in person, so I considered the statures typically associated with their respective occupations.  Mr. Wise is a professional Magic player, a writer, and (if Iím not mistaken) a judge.  Rizzo, didnít you say in one of your articles that, previous to your move, you worked in a factory for some years?  HmmmÖ I wonder who has the edge there?  Ah, but itís not the size of the dog in the fightĖitís the size of fight in the dog.  Well, I highly doubt either of these guys actually want to fight each otherĖRizzo wrote what he did to be silly and Wise wrote what he did in an attempt to inspire another of his idolís rants.  So the size of the fight in both of these dogs is pretty small.  Consider, then, attitude.  John ďFrigginĒ Rizzo has quoted System of a Down and Disturbed in his articles.  Gary Wise has, in his articles, quoted a Magic player of whom Iíve never heard.  All available information considered, Iíd put my money on Wise if the bookie was giving 300 to 1 odds in Rizzoís favor.  Itís like playing the lottery!

But letís discuss something you might care about, shall we?  Suicide Black, for the uninitiated, is an aggressive black deck using spells, mainly of the summon variety, that have various drawbacks, though loss of its controllerís life is most common (hence the name).  Like any aggressive deck, the goal the deck attempts to accomplish is to reduce its opponentís life total to 0 as quickly as possible.  Aggressive decks get to forsake card advantage, tempo advantage, and anything else that any normal deck cares about if it yields a quicker kill (see Fireblast).  Ah, the annoying simplicity of aggression.  But thereís something about Suicide Black.  Thereís something more to it, and Iíve always admired the sophistication with which it goes about dealing 20 damage.

The concept that Suicide Black employs, which is almost unique to the deck, is efficient use of ALL resources available.  Iíve noticed many good decks are good at asserting a superiority of resources.  Whether by creating additional resources through cards like Birds of Paradise and Ophidian, denying the opponent of her resources through cards like Stone Rain and Duress, or using the resources it has with exceptional efficiency as Sligh does with itís famous mana curve.  Suicide Black does this a bit differently.  It uses its life as a resource through cards like Carnophage and Foul Imp.  It uses its creatures themselves as a resource, usually near the end of the game, through cards like Fallen Angel.  It uses its graveyard as a resource through cards like Spinning Darkness.  Iíve even seen Zuran Orb used in Suicide Black, thereby using lands themselves, not just the mana they produce, as a resource.  The lesson to be learned here is that at the end of the game, if your life total is greater than 1, or you have cards in any zone (other than Removed from Game), then you havenít taken full advantage of your resources.  Perhaps you couldíve been playing more powerfully.  Now I realize you shouldnít expect to end too many games with nothing left, but you should try to minimize unused resources.

I started wondering how this principle might apply to control.  One wouldnít expect to put blatant life loss, like Foul Imp, into a control deck, because a lower life total tends to cede control of the game.  Suicide Black had the luxury of paying life out the nose because by the time it ended its average game it wouldnít have taken much damage.  By nature, control plays elongated games, which means even small threats can have a large impact if they are lasting (like creatures) and therefore control doesnít get this luxury of rarely used life.

Control can, however, use its life total in a much more subtle fashion.  If a control deck has exorbitant amounts of disruption, it will shut its opponent down before its life remaining above 0 comes into question.  If the control deck uses too little disruption, it will lose because it took 20 damage or more.  If the control deck uses the perfect level of disruption, it will shut down the typical opponent while at 1 life, unless that player is playing with Urzaís Rage, in which case it will shut them down with enough life left to suck up one of those pesky expensive rares.  If it does this, then there has been no wasted resource.  How did it spend this resource?  It did so passively.  Consider this situation.  Player A plays three 2-mana-costing creatures, and attacks a couple of times dealing 12 damage. Player B then plays Wrath of God.  Player B traded 4 mana, the value of one card in hand minus the value of one card in graveyard, and 12 life for 6 mana and the same value loss of moving those cards to a less-helpful zone, with the latter multiplied by three.  So in a sense Player B, the control player, is using his life.  Heís using it to nullify his opponentís attacks.  Wow, that sounds silly, but itís true.

Of course, the previous paragraph has an inherent fallacy, and that is that a deck cannot have the perfect amount of disruption in it.  The reason is that the perfect amount of disruption changes from one game to another, let alone one opponent to another.  One could, then, go a little heavier on the disruption than what would be expected to be needed in the average game and include a small amount of direct life loss to be used in the games when it is not an issue.  This is commonly seen in the use of painlands.

But Suicideís Blackís lesson does not end with using oneís life to its fullest extent.  We want to use the graveyard too.  There are many ways to use the graveyard.  There is the specific use of a card in a graveyard seen in cards like Scrivener and Necromancy.  There is also the possibility of using cardsí mere being in the graveyard with the threshold mechanic or cards like Blossoming Wreath or Songs of the Damned.  But the one I find most promising is the use of them as fat, that is removing cards in the graveyard from the game to pay for something.  I think this is most promising because itís the most likely to make efficient use of those cards.  If itís specific, then only that card is of any use, and if itís not the right sort of card then itís worthless.  Using the numbers could be nice, but I have yet to see a card that makes efficient use of any and all cards in the graveyard, regardless of the number there in this way.

What about cards in the library?  This is a very rarely-used resource, mostly because Wizards realizes that this resource is plentiful and most decks donít mind spending it like mad so the cards that use it are either bad or donít make very good use of it.  However, this possibility should be kept in mind.

Permanents in play are an idea that intrigues me greatly.  Typically moving a permanent to some other zone decreases ones level of control of the game.  Control decks donít like losing control (surprise, surprise) and therefore rarely do this intentionally.  For control to use permanents as a resource the payoff will have to be great, and Abjure doesnít quite cut it.

The hand is easy.  Play the cards.  There are other ways to use the hand as a resource (typically through discarding cards), and the possibility of discarding spare lands later in the game is certainly one to keep in mind.

What about entire turns?  Time is a resource, after all.  Unfortunately, I have yet to see a card that uses this resource in anything close to efficiency, as turns are very valuable, except perhaps in a very specialized deck that doesnít do too well anyway.

Information could be considered a resource, one that is more valuable to a control player than too most.  Mystery is good.  In type 2 we have Guided Passage, which is one of the most efficient uses of information since Land Grant.  This one is much trickier than the previous ones Iíve mentioned, particularly because it isnít truly expendable.  This means that complete use of the resource is not really possible to judge, and I feel that the information handed to the opponent should be considered when considering a particular card, but not as part of the basis of a deckís strategy.  Maybe in Trouser Snakeís strategy, but thatís another article for another time.

I canít think of any other resource a deck might concern itself with, so I shall now brainstorm a decklist that might conform to these concepts.  Keep in mind that I have never played a game with the following deck, much less given it rigorous testing.  Letís make it type 2 legal.

Smokey, the Pathological Token

4 Bearscape
4 Milikin
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Counterspell
1 Skeletal Scrying
2 Braids, Cabal Minion
4 Mystic Snake
2 Elvish Lyrist
2 Druid Lyrist
3 Creeping Mold
4 Spite/Malice
2 Pernicious Deed
1 Divert
1 Disrupt
2 Force Spike
4 Aether Burst
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Salt Marsh
4 Underground River
5 Forest
7 Island

Aether Burst?  What?  This has nothing to do with maximizing any resource, and it doesnít even get card advantage!  Not true.  I include it mainly due to the current field that is overwhelmed by potential targets for this spell, many of which are tokens.  The third Aether Burst can target tokens from Call of the Herds and generate card advantage.  It does often result in you using your mana better than your opponent does, as it nullifies the casting of cards that cost more than two mana.  All in all, itís disruption that may not use any special resource, but it does help establish control.  The same basic idea goes for Counterspell, Divert, Disrupt, Force Spike, Spite/Malice, and Creeping Mold.  Pernicious Deed falls into this category, though it does seem somewhat self-defeating.  Again, this is a metagame call, as I feel it will often hurt your opponent much more than it will hurt you.

So what makes this deck special?  Bearscape and Skeletal Scrying use the graveyard.  It could be said that Milikin is using the library, but in fact itís translating that resource into one thatís more useful, while providing mana.  Nonetheless, this translation does expend the library resource, which is a pretty cheap resource that a player should want to trade for almost anything of value in 90% of situations.  Skeletal Scrying and the painlands (Yavimaya Coast and Underground River) use the life total, though not excessively as per the discussion near the beginning of the article.  Merfolk Looter uses the hand.  Braids, Cabal Minion makes use of permanents by trading them for your opponentís, and can help you gain control of the game, even though you are sacrificing permanents.  Elvish Lyrist and Druid Lyrist also can make extra use of their inĖplay status.

As a side note on the Lyrists, why did I include two of each instead of four of one?  Because it would require two Meddling Mages to stop both, and Engineered Plague can only choose ďElfĒ or ďDruidĒ, not both.  It probably wonít come up much, but why would you knowingly put yourself at a disadvantage, even if only slight, without good reason?

So a card in your library either trades for a mana via Milikin, or it gets drawn.  If it gets drawn, it either gets played or gets discarded to Merfolk Looter.  If it gets played it either helps you survive by disrupting your opponent (even if thatís just a block) or it provides a permanent to be sacrificed either to its own ability or to Braidsí.  Then, in the graveyard it either trades for a card via Skeletal Scrying or for half a bear, via Bearscape.  It seems to me that youíre making pretty good use of your cards!  And youíre definitely making full use of your life total, as I fear I may have added too much life loss.  No extra information is given away, and no time is literally spent.  The former doesnít occur in type 2 in these colors, and the latter doesnít occur in type 2 at all, so those will have to be left up to another deck.

How would this deck win?  Most likely with bear tokens, though it has a number of other threats in it.  In my ďA Little Disruption Goes a Long WayĒ article I warned against extremes, and it appears I have heeded my own warning by including a number of potential clocks in a control deck.  It should be noticed, though, that the creatures in this deck, given the current field, will be spending most of their time blocking (and usually dying in the process).

 

Rotisserie Draft

This is Rochester draft, except that instead of booster packs, one after the other, youíre drafting from a complete set of an expansion.  One copy of each card from Odyssey was used at the Invitational.

Many of the same strategies of Rochester draft occur here as well.  Preconceived ideas of decks are more viable, though.  My recommendation would be to come with an idea for a deck that you would make for a highlander format in that set onlyĖone that could be done effectively with a few card choices altered.  Then decide what cards are most important to your deck and cannot be replaced by other cards available and draft those first.  Pay special attention to what other players are drafting, as you may need to switch your strategy partway through if you think your drafting and theirs are going to come into conflict.  Picking the cards that are integral to your deck before any other card should be a strong enough signal, but you may want to make a point of drafting cards rather limited in scope early on to let the other players know that you are determined.  As youíre drafting, if one of the cards you want does get taken, ask yourself this question, ďCan I still make my deck and make it well from the cards remaining?Ē  If not, ďWhat other good deck can I make from the cards I have and some of the cards remaining?Ē

If youíre going to provide the cards, INVITE ME!  This is a very expensive format to set up, but if youíve got the money and the time to collect a whole set, it should be a lot of fun.  Time consuming, but fun.

May you find what you seek.

John B. Turpish

 

 

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