Sunday, December 20, 2009

Two Decks for Johnnies under the sky...

Hey all! First of all, notice the super cool banner that goes over my articles. Lee made it, at my expert direction. The name is of course a pun, as all good names should be, and it’s just pretentious enough to be used for Magic. The picture is from the artwork for Sorrow's Path, my personal favorite for Worst Card in All of Magic. It’s a card so bad that I can’t even build a combo around it (unlike One with Nothing, for example), but that doesn’t stop me for looking at it every once in a while and sighing in the hope that maybe it will have a use someday [note: after writing this I again looked at the card and finally found a possible combo for it, more on that some other time]

Anyways, deck building!

I’ve always, as a Johnny, been partial to two kinds of decks. The first is the lesser kind in Johnny’s opinion, because it just feels to Spikey since it tends to win more often, but it has a definite distinction from being a Spike deck. This is the synergy deck, built around a theme. For example, my first deck built in draft was during Shadowmoor, so I made a GR Elemental deck. Most every card benefited from having more Elementals than less, for example Door of Destinies or Roar of the Crowd. But this was the whole point of that set, so it’s not exactly unique.

What makes it a Johnny deck over just a synergistic Spike deck is the unwillingness to put in cards that would not be “on theme”. For example, the most recent deck I’ve piloted at FNM was a self-designed UW Mesa Enchantress control deck. Almost every card in it was an enchantment, the better to go with Enchantress and Sigil of the Empty Throne. People would look at this deck and say “Day of Judgment/Baneslayer Angel/whatever is a good card, why aren’t you running that?” A Spike would, because it makes the deck more likely to win, but for a Johnny this makes the deck seem unclean, since you can’t really call it your “Enchantment deck” when you do that.

The combo deck is the other kind, and it is notably less “good”, but also much more coveted by the Johnny. Most every card The combo deck is built around getting a certain set of cards out and then making them “go off”, like for example the infamous Time Sieve/Open the Vaults combo.

Often the combo itself is not a win condition, but merely a means to an end: it may give you infinite mana, or set up a very efficient card draw engine, or give you other some such benefit, after which you throw in a couple cards to make it actually win. A good example of this is the Polymorph deck, in which you build a deck in which you generate creatures with various effects, then use Polymorph to throw out some huge beastie early on. The favorite card for this right now is Progenitus, but it’s irrelevant which card you use as long as it’s worth the investment and will win you the game (for example, I usually sideboard in a Darksteel Colossus because it survives Day of Judgment where Progenitus would not).

One reason combo decks are less likely to win is that, unlike the synergy deck, they can’t survive an interruption and so are very easy to sideboard against. Say for example I have no counterspell in my hand while playing PolyGenitus, and my opponent plays Thought Hemorrhage. I have no choice but to scoop at this point, since I can hardly win off the back of Dragon Fodders.

But the other reason was once said by a friend of mine named Eric. Eric is a Timmy, and I was once explaining a fun combo I found, and he asked, “But that needs two cards to work. You know that the odds of drawing that in the first 15 cards is like less than 15%, right?”. Thus detailing the reason other people don’t play combo decks, because they’re just not consistent enough. A combo deck is about 10% combo and 90% getting ready for the combo, and all too often that 90% of the deck looks the same as every other combo deck (I was going to talk about what that 90% usually looks like this article, but this is running long so I’ll explain next time).

Anyways, most of my time is spent building these types of decks, so I can offer tips for anyone designing new and weird kinds of decks. That’s a lot of what I’ll do here, though I’ll talk about other stuff too, and I’ll probably talk about a bunch of combos for casual and T2 formats whenever I see them.