Learning from History: Decks of Yesteryear (and Their Current Counterparts)

I was browsing some decks from the past. Although quite a few of them don’t have strong counterparts in the current game (in any current format), some were interesting reminders of what we can expect to see time and time again.

Note: I used historical versions from Patrick Chapin’s Next Level Deckbuilding, as I’m sure Chapin did much more research on the subject, so he probably picked the “right” versions of the decks. If you are interested in decks from the past, its a book for you. I has plenty more decks to share, from throughout the games history. The newer decks are from wherever.

Sligh and Deadguy Red

Slight was named after some guy who did well with it. It wasn’t designed by him, but the name stuck. Sligh was important because it took a different approach to resources. It tried its best to use mana as efficiently as possible. As you generally can’t save mana over turns, you are better off using it.

As far as I know, this was the first deck to put serious thought into its curve. Although that’s now a big part of deck construction, it wasn’t in those days (as we’ll see later on).

[cardlist title=The Original Sligh]
[creatures]
4 Brass Man
2 Dwarven Trader
2 Goblins of the Flarg
4 Ironclaw Orcs
3 Dwarven Lieutenant
2 Orcish Librarian
2 Orcish Artillery
2 Orcish Cannoneers
2 Brothers of Fire
2 Dragon Whelp
[/creatures]
[spells]
1 Black Vise
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Incinerate
1 Shatter
1 Detonate
1 Fireball
[/spells]
[lands]
2 Dwarven Ruins
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 Strip Mine
13 Mountain
[/lands]
[sideboard]
3 Active Volcano
1 An-Zerrin Ruins
1 Detonate
1 Fireball
4 Manabarbs
1 Meekstone
2 Serrated Arrows
1 Shatter
1 Zuran Orb
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

Deadguy Red was an early metagame deck. The basic idea was that if everyone is playing slow control decks and just staring at each other across the table waiting for the other player to flinch, you can actually beat those decks by just playing as aggressively as you can.

It wasn’t only that though. One part of the deal was that if you play mindfully and don’t just slam your creatures on the table, you are actually on the same level as the control players, and they won’t have an intrinsic edge over you.

[cardlist title=Deadguy Red]
[creatures]
4 Jackal Pup
4 Mogg Conscripts
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Mogg Raider
4 Fireslinger
4 Canyon Wildcat
2 Rathi Dragon
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Cursed Scroll
2 Scalding Tongs
4 Giant Strength
4 Kindle
[/spells]
[lands]
4 Wasteland
16 Mountain
[/lands]
[sideboard]
4 Shatter
4 Stone Rain
2 Jinxed Idol
2 Scalding Tongs
1 Torture Chamber
1 Rathi Dragon
1 Apocalypse
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

Pretty recently, Tom Ross (known as the Boss, often a name used by himself as well) won a Star City Games Invitational by following just these ideas. As Adam Prosak noted in his DailyMtG column, the land counts of the decks in the top 8 were as follows: 26. 25. 24. 24. 24. 26. 26. 17. Guess which one is Ross’s?

[cardlist]
[creatures]
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Akroan Crusader
2 Rubblebelt Maaka
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Ash Zealot
[/creatures]
[spells]
1 Blinding Flare
2 Lightning Strike
4 Titan’s Strength
2 Shock
4 Dragon Mantle
4 Madcap Skills
[/spells]
[lands]
17 Mountain
[/lands]
[sideboard]
1 Lightning Strike
1 Harness by Force
2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Searing Blood
4 Sylvan Caryatid
1 Peak Eruption
1 Seismic Stomp
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Magma Spray
1 Mutavault
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

I watched the top 8. Ross won his quarterfinal and semifinal matches in quite a devastating manner. Brad Nelson seemed genuinely shocked when Ross ran over him 3-0. Nelson even had pretty good hands, but that just wasn’t enough. The speed of the deck was a perfect call for the metagame which was very slow, emphasizing sculpting your draws with scrying and getting card advantage.

Ross doesn’t care about that. He only cares about getting 20 damage through. And did that very well. The secret is that although red creatures are often weaker than their white counterparts, they are very good at being fast. It doesn’t really matter whether you take some damage from your [card]Jackal Pup[/card] or your [card]Ironclaw Orcs[/card] are not going to be blocking, or that your orcs and dwarves don’t really play well together, as long as you can convert each land into mana and each card into enough damage.

White Weenie

If White Weenie isn’t a tier one deck, you know there is always going to be some people trying to make it work. It just has those prominent fans, such as Craig Wescoe and Pat Cox. Here’s what one early World Championship (1996) winning deck looked like:

[cardlist title=White Weenie]
[creatures]
4 Savannah Lions
4 White Knight
4 Order of Leitbur
4 Order of the White Shield
2 Phyrexian War Beast
2 Serra Angel
[/creatures]
[spells]
1 Zuran Orb
1 Lodestone Bauble
1 Land Tax
1 Sleight of Mind
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Disenchant
1 Balance
1 Reinforcements
1 Reprisal
1 Armageddon
[/spells]
[lands]
1 Kjeldoran Outpost
4 Strip Mine
4 Mishra’s Factory
15 Plains
[/lands]
[sideboard]
4 Divine Offering
2 Serrated Arrows
2 Arenson’s Aura
1 Black Vise
1 Energy Storm
1 Exile
1 Kjeldoran Outpost
1 Reprisal
1 Sleight of Mind
1 Spirit Link
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

There was actually an error in the deck list, which left Changpeng without sources to cast his blue spell. According to legend, he leveraged this by making sure he would show the [card]Sleight of Mind[/card] “accidentally” to his black opponents, so they wouldn’t dare to side in [card]Gloom[/card].

The curve is attrocious. Four one drop creatures and full twelve two drops. Then a couple of three drops, no four drops and a nod to the very strong [card]Serra Angel[/card] by putting it in the deck despite not really fitting. It was very strong in those days, so in a way its understandable. There’s also plenty more lands than you would see in a white weenie these days.

In comparison, a Pro Tour winning deck from 2010 by Paul Rietzl:

[cardlist title=White Weenie]
[creatures]
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Student of Warfare
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Ethersworn Canonist
4 Knight of the White Orchid
2 Ranger of Eos
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Brave the Elements
2 Mana Tithe
1 Path to Exile
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Spectral Procession
[/spells]
[lands]
4 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
4 Flagstones of Trokair
1 Horizon Canopy
10 Plains
[/lands]
[sideboard]
4 Relic of Progenitus
3 Burrenton Forge-Tender
3 Path to Exile
2 Rule of Law
1 Angel’s Grace
1 Celestial Purge
1 Lapse of Certainty
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

The curve isn’t quite as low as in the red decks above, but twelve one drop creatures and eight two drops seems a lot better and faster. There isn’t any real three drop creatures, but [card]Spectral Procession[/card] takes that spot. [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] is finally responsible for the late game (meaning anything beyond the fourth turn).

Unlike its predecessor, Rietzl wasn’t very interested in interacting with the opponent. [card]Brave the Elements[/card] is there to make sure he doesn’t have to. Not as much removal either. Changpeng’s deck was much more geared towards the metagame by having four [card]Disenchant[/card]s for all the [card]Necropotence[/card] deck that were crushing in those days.

White weenie is currently on a bit of a downswing, but that won’t last forever. They’ll definitely be back.

Stompy

Again, a deck from World Championships. This one fell in the semifinals of 1997. Stompy (or Senor Stompy, if you want to be polite) was just a green weenie deck, which took quite a risks by throwing it all in. These days you don’t have to do it quite the same way, but you can’t get 3/3s for one anymore either.

I don’t really know how this deck even functioned, with its low land count and necessity to sac lands, but apparently it did. On the other hand, if you play four [card]Winter Orb[/card]s, you might as well let a few lands go, because you can’t untap them anyway. Actually, [card]Rogue Elephant[/card] plus [card]Harvest Wurm[/card] can actually gain you some mana.

[cardlist title=Senor Stompy]
[creatures]
4 Fyndhorn Elves
4 Ghazban Ogre
4 Quirion Ranger
4 Rogue Elephant
4 Spectral Bears
3 Harvest Wurm
2 Whirling Dervish
2 Jolrael’s Centaur
2 Uktabi Orangutan
3 Lhurgoyf
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Giant Growth
4 Winter Orb
2 Bounty of the Hunt
[/spells]
[lands]
2 Heart of Yavimaya
16 Forests
[/lands]
[sideboard]
2 River Boa
2 Whirling Dervish
1 Uktabi Orangutan
2 Crumble
4 Emerald Charm
3 City of Solitude
1 Bounty of the Hunt
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

Here’s a green Stompy deck from the recent past Raphael Levy has been advocating:

[cardlist]
[creatures]
3 Boon Satyr
3 Brushstrider
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Experiment One
4 Kalonian Tusker
3 Reverent Hunter
3 Scavenging Ooze
3 Spire Tracer
3 Swordwise Centaur
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Aspect of Hydra
3 Giant Growth
1 Ranger’s Guile
[/spells]
[lands]
16 Forest
2 Mutavault
[/lands]
[sideboard]
1 Gyre Sage
2 Hunt the Hunter
2 Mutant’s Prey
2 Plummet
2 Ranger’s Guile
1 Reverent Hunter
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Skylasher
1 Tower Defense
2 Unravel the AEther
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

Funny how such a seemingly innocuous card as [card]Giant Growth[/card] has survived all these years…

Also, the land count is the same, although the modern version does not need to sack anything and has a lower curve. The modern version is lacking in disruption in the form of [card]Winter Orb[/card].

The approach to green small creatures has definitely changed over the years. Green is about growth, so generally its creatures are bigger and thus more expensive than say white’s, but green does get creatures with huge potential, such as [card]Experiment One[/card], or cards with raw power cheaply, such as [card]Kalonian Tusker[/card].

Suicide Kind

How can I not bring this up? My love for the deck has been already thoroughly documented and I’m going to do it again here:

[cardlist title=Suicide King]
[creatures]
4 Carnophage
4 Skittering Skirge
2 Flesh Reaver
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Sarcomancy
4 Dark Ritual
4 Demonic Consultation
4 Duress
4 Cursed Scroll
4 Sphere of Resistance
4 Hymn to Tourach
[/spells]
[lands]
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 Wasteland
14 Swamp
[/lands]
[sideboard]
4 Dystopia
4 Engineered Plague
4 Funeral Charm
3 Spinning Darkness
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

Not many creatures, but the deck doesn’t need more than that. After all, your opponent isn’t going to be doing much. These days, with the much better creature quality, your emphasis is going to be much different. Also, you are now sculpting your opponents hand with [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and its kin, while back in the day you were actually hoping to hit the important cards with [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card].

Again, [card]Duress[/card] has survived all these years… and for a reason.

[cardlist title=Mono-Black Aggro]
[creatures]
1 Deathrite Shaman
4 Mogis’s Marauder
4 Rakdos Cackler
3 Thrill-Kill Assassin
3 Tormented Hero
4 Gnarled Scarhide
3 Herald of Torment
4 Spiteful Returned
[/creatures]
[lands]
18 Swamp
4 Mutavault
[/lands]
[spells]
3 Bile Blight
3 Hero’s Downfall
2 Ultimate Price
4 Thoughtseize
[/spells]
[sideboard]
3 Lifebane Zombie
2 Nighthowler
3 Dark Betrayal
3 Doom Blade
4 Duress
[/sideboard]
[/cardlist]

Basic idea remains the same: Get a small creature on the battlefield, and then stop your opponent from playing blockers or killing it by using discard. If your opponent happens to play a blocker, kill it or just run into it. You are not going to win by sitting back.

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