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Attention to Detail #11 – A Personal Favorite
by Jordan Kronick
February 3, 2006
over at the official Magic site, voting began for
the 10th annual Magic Invitational. For those of you
who aren't familiar with the institution, I highly
recommend that you check out the assorted linked
articles that you'll find in the announcement.
Here's a short synopsis though;
The Magic Invitational brings 16 of the best
professional players from around the world together
to compete in 15 rounds of Magic using five
different formats. It's a free trip for the players
and a great chance to play cards and have fun.
What's the prize for this most elite of tournaments?
Why, your own card of course. Unless you've been
living under a rock or are simply very new to the
game, you probably know about the past invitational
winners' cards. Here they are in chronological order
Avalanche Riders (Darwin Kastle)
Rootwater Thief (Mike Long)
Meddling Mage (Chris Pikula)
Shadowmage Infiltrator (John Finkel)
Sylvan Safekeeper (Olle Rade)
Voidmage Prodigy (Kai Budde)
Solemn Simulacrum (Jens Thoren)
Dark Confidant (Bob Maher, Jr.)
“Unluckyman's Paradise” (Terry Soh) (this one will
be coming in Dissension, this May)
Most of the cards in that list have seen significant
tournament play. Some didn't quite hit the mark. And
with the exception of Soh's card, each of them is a
creature. I guess when you get to have a card with
your likeness, it's easiest to imagine yourself as a
creature than anything else. Although it should be
pointed out that Mike Long is pictured as the victim
of the Rootwater Thief, rather than the creature
itself. Perhaps this was an omen of some sort.
That's another column in itself.
So the first thing that everyone says when they hear
about the invitational prize for the first time is
“you know what I would make if I won?” It's
perfectly natural. Every Magic player would love the
chance to design their own card. And while I'd love
to explore lots of people's choices for Invitational
prizes, I'm not going to do that. This is my column
and I'm going to use this space to talk about the
card I would make. And once you read it, I'm going
to have to defend it by showing you my favorite deck
of all time. Without further ado – the Chainbreaker.
Chainbreaker – B
Whenever an opponent would discard a card due to an
effect you control, that player draws a card.
What is that you're saying? That's the worst card
you've ever seen? All it does is completely negate
one of black's most longstanding and efficient
methods of winning? Well, sure. But it does one more
thing than that – as the name implies, it breaks
something wide open. In this case, that something is
my favorite card – Chains of Mephistopheles. I'm
sure all of the younger players out there didn't
even know that Chains existed. Heck, even someone
who's been playing Magic for a decade might not know
about this obscure card. Here's the Oracle text. You
can pretty much disregard most of the printed text
on the card, as it's received more errata than you
could shake a chain at.
Chains of Mephistopheles – 1B
If a player would draw a card except the first one
he or she draws in a draw step, that player discards
a card instead. If the player discards a card, he or
she draws a card. If the player doesn’t discard a
card, he or she puts the top card of his or her
library into his or her graveyard.
Maybe that didn't clear things up. Some cards are
pretty hard to understand unless you see them
functioning. Chains of Mephistopheles basically
alters the game so that anyone who draws more than
the usual one card a turn is going to have to
discard a card in order to get access to another
one. Originally envisioned (I would assume) as a way
of stopping the powerful card drawing effects of the
day like Ancestral Recall, Timetwister and Wheel of
Fortune, Chains eventually became adopted as more
than just sideboard material. The trick to the card
is that if you have two in play, the effect is
cummulative. So, for ever card beyond the first one
that your opponent wants to draw, they'll have to
discard two cards. And if they can't? Well, then
they don't get to draw that card. At this point,
it's still just a way of punishing card draw that
your opponent might use. The key comes in forcing
your opponent to draw. Originally, I used Howling
Mine to accomplish this. This was back right around
the time after Legends came out. There wasn't much
to choose from when it came to forcing your opponent
to draw cards. That used to be considered a bad
thing! Imagine that. With a Howling Mine in play,
your opponent's turn looks something like this:
Draw a card.
Discard 2 cards.
Draw a card, if two cards were discarded. Otherwise,
just mill the card off the top.
I think you can see where this is going. If your
opponent doesn't have any cards in their hand at the
beginning of the turn, they're going to end up
losing both of the cards they could potentially have
drawn that turn. Now there's three flaws with this
plan that prevented Chains from being truly
First of all, the opponent gets a chance to cast the
first card drawn in response to the trigger of the
Howling Mine. So if the first card off the top of
the deck in a turn is a Disenchant, you could be in
Secondly, the combo affects you as well. So if
you're going to put it into play, you don't want to
have zero cards in your hand or you'll be locked out
of your deck as well (except for Instants off the
top, of course).
Thirdly, this combo requires three cards – two of
which are duplicates. It's hard enough to assemble a
combo like that these days. Back before Enlightened
Tutor, Vampiric Tutor or any of those, it was
So, Chains remained my pet deck for a couple years.
I would bring it out to play against weird creations
of my friends, but I never had competitive luck with
it. It was far too fragile and complex to stand up
to the quick weenie decks and powerful Armageddon
decks and burgeoning Control decks of the day. And
then, like a beacon of light, a new set fell into
our laps. That set was called Mirage. You may have
heard of it? Well, Mirage gave the deck two
incredible weapons. The first of these was the
above-mentioned Enlightened Tutor. Chains was always
a black/white deck. It used the black for the combo
and also for the incredibly powerful discard effects
of the day (like Mind Twist and Hymn to Tourach),
and white for the amazingly good removal provided by
the trio of Swords to Plowshares, Wrath of God and
Balance. Balance was often the last card to be cast
in a game, as the use of it would simultaneously set
up the combo by removing all of my opponent's cards
and kill all of their creatures. Oh, and of course
it wiped out all of their land too, assuming I had a
Zuran Orb. It's pretty hard to imagine a way out of
that situation even using today's cards.
The second important piece of the deck that fell
into place with Mirage was Anvil of Bogardan. The
Anvil quickly became a popular card, but probably
for the wrong reason. Here it as as it was originall
Anvil of Bogardan – 2
Each player skips his or her discard phase.
During each player's draw phase, that player draws
and additional card, then discards a card.
How did a weird little card like this become
incredibly popular? Not because of the card draw,
that's for sure. You see, there used to be a little
card called Necropotence. You may have heard about
it dominating every single tournament format for
years. Anyway, Necropotence was printed to say that
you only got the cards from it – you guessed it – at
the beginning of your discard phase. So with an
Anvil in play, the Necro player couldn't get any
more cards. And let me tell you – it was no easy
thing back then (or now) for a solid black deck to
get rid of an artifact. Nevinyrral's Disk was their
only way out, and that was slow and vulnerable to
removal. Anvil allowed a lot of decks to survive
when they really shouldn't have. And mine was one of
Let's take another look at the lock, this time with
Anvil. Suppose you've got a Chains and an Anvil in
play. Your opponent's draw step now looks like this:
Draw a card.
Discard a card.
Draw a card.
Discard a card.
So now we've cut what was a pretty complex combo
down to two cards, without losing much efficiency.
The flaw here is that it still allows for instants
to be cast. However, that's just one of the little
problems that would have to be solved through luck
or wild new ideas.
You may be looking at the above combo and marvelling
at it's simplicity and – dare I say it – elegance.
Or you might be looking at it and saying “how the
heck did you kill them”? Well, you've got a point
there. One thing that the Chains combo doesn't do is
finish the job. It can set the opponent up for a
very long wait as they hope to dig for a Disenchant
at the right moment, hopefully to eventually kill
them by decking them. Or you can be proactive about
it. All thanks to one of the most vicious cards ever
to come out of the Brothers War – The Rack. This one
has been a friend to black players for ages. It has
been replicated many times, but none have ever been
as successful as the original one-mana Rack. With
one of these in play, you can finish your opponent
off in seven turns with the Chains lock in play.
With two in play? Well, it's much faster. And let's
not forget that part of the Chains deck is discard.
So it's entirely concievable that you could rip your
opponent's hand apart with Hymns and finish them
with The Rack before you even lock them down. In a
situation like that, getting a Chains into play even
without an Anvil means that its very hard for them
to recover their hand to a level where they stop
taking Rack damage.
So I hear you asking another question - how tall is
Brannon Braga? No, that wasn't your question? Maybe
you were wondering something else - what does all
this have to do with the invitational cards? What
about Chainbreaker? Well, you could probably have
figured this out for yourself, but I'll lay it down
for you. Chainbreaker negates the need for The Rack.
It negates the need for Anvil of Bogardan. It
negates the need for White. In fact, it negates the
need for any turn after the first if you do things
Here's the perfect turn in a world where
Sacrifice Lotus for three Black mana, cast Chains of
Mephistopheles and Chainbreaker.
Cast Ancestral Recall targetting your opponent.
They are forced to discard three cards due to the
chains. Then they draw the three. But the discarding
forces them to draw three more. In order to get
those three, they discard three. Then they draw
three. Then they discard three. Then they draw
three. Eventually, they run out of cards in their
deck and lose. All on the first turn.
I'm hard pressed to find a single card besides
Chains which takes advantage of Chainbreaker. It
would doubtlessly be the least popular Invitational
card of all time, and would simultaneously drive the
price of Chains of Mephistopheles through the roof.
It would turn my favorite card ever into a real
tournament competitor. That's the kind of legacy I'd
like to leave the world of Magic.
So there's really only one more thing to give you,
this week. And that's a deck list for my favorite
deck of all time. Unfortunately, there isn't one.
You see, I haven't played a Chains deck in more than
two years. I sold all of my powerful Type 1 (that's
Vintage to some of you) cards years ago to pay the
rent. These days, the most expensive thing I own is
a Watery Grave – not my beaten up old Black Lotus.
This being the case, I haven't had to come up with a
list to adapt Chains to the new cards which have
come out or the new decks that have come to dominate
the world of Type 1. So, while I don't have a deck
list, I'm going to run down some of the most
important cards in the deck. While it might be tough
to get this stuff together to build your own copy of
the deck, I hope it will give you a bit of insight
into the world of combo decks – and into the way my
Library of Alexandria was always an inclusion in
Chains. In a way, this was ridiculous. It doesn't
combo at all with Chains. However, the potential to
get a few cards out of it before the combo hits was
always too good to ignore.
Karakas and Urborg. I always replaced one Swamp and
one Plains with these two lands from Legends. Urborg
is pretty much useless. Karakas actually has a few
uses, as you never know when a big ugly legend is
going to show up. The real use was to dodge hosers
for swamps and plains. Most type 1 decks would
eschew something as old school as color hosers,
these day. However, back in the mid-90s, the chance
of running into a Karma was always a possibility. Or
Demonic Consultation – I wasn't kidding when I said
that times were tight in the world of tutoring back
then. Before Mirage, this was one of the most
important cards you could have. Of course, it's
incredibly powerful. However it could also kill you.
I can't remember how many times I used it naming
'Balance' in an attempt to win the game, only to
have Balance flip right off the top of the deck –
followed quickly after by all the other cards.
Sometimes the chance for greatness is just too good
to pass up.
Black Vise – some people who weren't around for the
early days of Magic may not understand why a card
like this was warranted in a discard-based deck. You
see, back in the day, Black Vise was in every deck.
Unless your deck intended to not only cause discard
but also to win by a means other than damage (all in
all a pretty rare combination), Black Vise was
pretty much an automatic inclusion. Never has a card
rewarded playing first more than this one. I've
played many games where my combo never materialized,
and it didn't matter. Black Vise finished the job
that it started at the beginning of the game.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about the Orzhov.
The slow bleeding strategy that the guild uses
reminded me of Chains of Mephistopheles. Although
there may not be a vicious lock in Guildpact or any
hope of Chainbreaker for the future, I hope you
enjoyed a walkthrough on one of my personal