Decks of Jay Schneider
It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a true “Decks of…” column. Until recently I’d been writing the Clinic column and between life, job hunting and keeping up to date with my research I just don’t seem to be able to produce more than 1 article/month. Or at least, I’m only able to produce 1/month that I’m happy with. The deck presented in this article is an OLS rogue deck derived from Chris Benafel’s 3 color Veggie deck, played at GP Detroit. This isn’t merely a Future Sight deck – it’s a Future Sight deck that leverages the card power of Blue to play the silver bullets found in Green and Red.
In magic as in most things, no one develops in a vacuum. I'm lucky enough to have steady testing, feedback and suggestion from friends across the US:
: Gerald Linn, Chris Chang, Matt Ruhlen, Sameer Merchant, Ken Nichols, Bryan Petersen, Tom Shear and the Microsoft Cafeteria Magic Players. Thanks to Coyote Games in Redmond and Cardhaus games in Seattle for providing Seattle players places to play.
: Dave Meddish, Mons Johnson.
In CA & Elsewhere
: Chris Cade, Jeremy "J.V." Virden, Sean Frackowiak, Rick Saunooke
: Andy Wolf, David Leader and the ever reclusive Paul Sligh.
"Deck building is in the details."
In mid-July Chris Benafel visited the local (Seattle) PTQ. I was judging the event as I was pretty disenchanted with the OLS block format. I was feeling unenthused as there was very little room to improve on the metagame defining decks. MWC, R/W, Goblins and Zombies were all decks that were clearly built by Wizards R&D in testing and pretty obvious designs. The designs didn’t even have a great deal of variation. Deck design is much more to my taste than playing mirror matches and so I decided that I’d sit out the rest of OLS and work on my judging skills. At the PTQ, Chris asked me if I’d looked at his GP Detroit deck and if so what did I think about it.
I honestly hadn’t taken a serious look at his deck, kind of assuming he’d played R/W or MWC. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Chris’s play style, he is a master at identifying the correct deck to play for a given metagame. This combined with his excellent play skills in both Constructed and Limited, put him and keeps him on the PT gravy train. So when he told me he’d played a rogue deck, which he’d picked up from casual observation, I was very surprised. I immediately went to take a look at it.
My first thought after looking at it, and possibly yours is: “What a pile.” The manabase looks insanely bad. The deck is playing with 8 of the worst counters Wizards has ever printed. Not to mention it looks like this deck would just die to a Lightning Rift or a Silver Knight. Chris made day 2 with it, so there might be something there. I’d asked Chris about his initial thoughts after playing it and any definite changes. He recommended a minor mana adjustment (+1 Island, -1 Mountain) and adding the 3rd Future Sight to replace the Blatant Thievery (Apparently the Thievery was there mostly for surprise value and at the GP it wasn’t that good even with full surprise.)
So I tested it. The deck isn’t half bad. The sideboard is pretty terrible (with the exceptions of Rorix and Stabilizers throw the rest away) which was also Chris’s feeling. The deck itself has a reasonable game (40-60%) against the complete metagame and it pretty much owns Zombies. I will say that this deck is really tough to play – this isn’t a deck you can pick up and go. Every turn, including the first, involves difficult decisions. Which land to play on turn 1 is often a crucial play. The decision is based on thinking ahead 4 or 5 turns ahead. You need to consider both your and your opponents expected draws along with what spells/cycling you’ll want to play. It's equally important on which turn these spells are cast. Similar deliberations go into the decision on when/if to break the Wooded Foothills. These land plays during the first 2-3 turns are very often game deciding factors. When practicing this deck I highly recommend looking back in time at around turn 5 or 6 to consider alternate actions and thus reinforce proper plays.
After a good bit of testing under my belt I felt comfortable evolving the deck. The big change was instigated by the realization of what made the deck work – it played overpowered spells and backed them up with counterspells. It seems simple and obvious in hindsight but what was difficult was stripping away all the non-bombs in the deck. That means spells like Shock and Chain had to go. Sure, they’re nice but they don’t dominate a game match the way a Starstorm or a Silklash Spider will they needed to be cut. This left a deck with a bunch of overpowered cards each targeted at specific metagame targets. These bombs are your silver bullets.
The other interesting part of the revised build is it loves to play “2ofs”. There was a recent article discussing 2ofs, while I disagree with some of the details in the article, I agree with the main concept of the article. Specifically having exactly 2 copies of a card is unusual and often inappropriate in deck design. In this case there is a special and unusual purpose for this deck playing with numerous copies of “the terrible 2s”.
Traditionally in deck design when using the silver bullet design template you put 1 copy of each bullet in the deck, then use Tutors to fetch them as needed. However, OLS is lacking in acceptable tutors. So this deck uses massive draw power from Future Sight, Read the Runes, Discombobulate and cycling, as a substitute for tutoring. With this much card power testing showed that playing bullets in quantity of 2 was sufficient to have an opportunity to draw one every game. And the opportunity is sufficiently early to be available before the Akroma, cycled Decree of Justice, or being Rifted out occurs.
So here’s the build. A discussion of the manabase and the specific matchups follow the listing.
The manabase listed is the adjusted build from Chris’s original. As previously mentioned this mana build seems destined for failure. I had to be convinced and you likely do as well. My first evidence that the manabase was sound derived from experience. After playing about 100 games with the manabase it was clear that almost every time the deck failed from color issues, it also failed due to mana quantity issues. After further observations I did the calculations – it worked out that 90% of the times that this manabase is color shy, it will also be mana shy. The remaining 10% of the time, when the decks color fails but the deck has a sufficient number of lands, equates to an overall mana failure rate increase of about 2% compared to a similar 26 land build. This is certainly more than acceptable and is similar to playing a 25 land deck.
Silver bullet’s easiest fight is against. Zombies. You have all the global removal that Bad Form has and you only need to counter the Biddings. Play towards a Form with Counter backup and the game is yours. Sideboarding is minimal, replacing Spiders with Rorix. Leave in the 2 Stabilizers to lock out their Gempalm s
The next easiest is fight MWC. MWC hates Spider – Silklash Spider is a better Moat vs. MWC than Form of the Dragon is a Moat vs. Zombies. MWC will regularly get you low on life if they have a quick Knight start and you don’t have Baloths. However, they don’t have a late game and with no way to burn you out, their win strategy is limited to Vengeance. Counter the Vengeances and you win. Sideboard in the last Spider, the Rorix’s and Arks. Board out the Starstorms and Slice & Dice. Spider is the only removal you need (besides being to only removal that handles MWCs creatures.) Leave in the 2 Stabilizers, to disrupt their Mana development and keep them from scoring a cheap win by way of a surprise Decree of Justice.
R/W is much trickier than MWC. This is a pretty even fight if you’re skilled but is always hard. What you fear is their double 2-drop hand. R/W is the aggressor in this fight and you can get under run by any combination of Knights and Rifts (barring am early Stabilizer draw). If they give you time to set up you’ll win by card power if nothing else but to lock them out requires a Stabilizer. You board this fight in a similar fashion to boarding vs. Bad Form. Board in the Arks, the extra creatures and the extra Stabilizers. The Arks are in the board as opposed to Misguided Rage as they provide an alternate permanent to sacrifice if and when the Bad Form or R/W deck boards in its LD suite against you (which seems to be their optimal plan.)
The fight against Goblins is your worst fight. You lose if you don’t go first. Going first you have an advantage in game 1, but not to the same level that they have when they play first. Winning the sideboarded game in which you go first is pretty easy. In summary, you can expect to lose the matches where you lose the coin flip and only win about 2/3rds of those where you start. You’re competitive but not good enough. Board in the Gempalms, the Rorixes and the Baloth. Remove the Stabilizers and Spiders as needed.
The most common question I’m asked about Silver Bullet is: What do you do about dead card xxx vs. deck yyy (ex. Stabilizer vs. Goblin deck)? The answer is twofold. The first answer is: Why aren’t you asking what to do with the dead Shocks that occur in quantity 4 vs. MWC? The second answer is you simply pitch them to a Read the Runes. The dead cards aren’t the issue. A lack of ability to control overly aggressive starts is.
In summary I’d evaluate this deck by quoting and agree with Dr. Brooks (software engineering) and state. “There are no Silver Bullets”. Or at least that they’re insufficient to dominate the monsters from the current metagame. It’s a solid deck but considering it’s no better than even vs. R/W and disadvantaged vs. Goblins, Silver Bullet has to be considered less than Tier 1.
That doesn’t mean this deck isn’t without merits. I was pleased to learn a great deal about an unusual manabase and it’s extremely skill intensive and thus a great deck to improve your skills with. It also provides variety that isn’t “out of the box” something this metagame was badly lacking.
I’d like to give special thanks Chris Benafel (quick plug – note he’s on the 2003 Magic Invitational players choice ballot) for introducing me to this deck along with his feedback as I worked with it. It was a blast to develop and it’s equally fun to play.
Thank you for your time,
Questions? Comments? Feedback? Please check the FAQ [link to http://photobooks.com/~j/FAQ/] to contact me.