Hello, Nation! Normally, I write articles where I tell you what cards are great. “Play these in multiplayer, try those in Commander, and give some others a spin for your kitchen table!” I have a passion for the great unwashed mass of Magic cards that slip into obscurity. I’ve turned that into a ton of articles. I thought it would be fun to do the opposite today. Recently, I went through Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy and pulled out the largest number of cards I’ve ever removed from it. What cards have been underperforming so much that they got the axe?
What is Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy? It’s a Highlander deck that abides by the rules of the Five Color format. It has exactly 2,527 cards in it right now. It has everything from eight of the Power Nine (I don’t have a Mox Ruby) to cards from Portal Three Kingdoms, old stuff, new stuff, and everything in between. I’ve been working on it over the years, and many of the cards are promos, foils, foreign, beta, and/or signed by the artist. The beautiful thing about this deck is that every set that comes out gives me a bunch of new cards for the deck.
Recently, my deck received a refresh. I ran out of sleeves and I couldn’t find my old purple metallics anywhere online. It was a very sad day. So I had to do something I’ve been dreading for years. I had to buy all new sleeves for the deck. Do you know how expensive sleeves are? Someone should write an article about sleeves—which ones work, which cheap ones are good enough to buy and which aren’t, and more. I also needed enough sleeves to last me a while—replace broken ones and add more cards to the deck. The result comes with a very high price tag. I decided to pick up the cheapest ones I could find, because I’d rather pay $120 on eBay for 3,750 sleeves including shipping than $350 from some store. I got purple backs, and resleeved my whole deck. I did it while watching Season 1 of Felicity on DVD. It took a whole weekend.
While I was doing this project, I also bought a bigger deck box, because mine was running out of space for the cards. I upgraded to the massive 5,000-card box. Since I was refreshing my deck with a new box and sleeves, I decided to use this opportunity to fine-tune it. I looked through the deck and tried to find inconsistencies. I added cards to the deck that were good enough to be playing. But I also pulled out a large number of cards.
Every few months, I may end the life of eight or ten cards from the deck. It’s nothing major. This time, I went full-hog and really pulled out a lot of cards. I tried to make my deck more consistent in what went in and what came out. In the end, out came thirty-three cards that were underwhelming.
Examples of changes I made include looters and counters. I realized that I was playing only half of the creatures out there that tap to draw and discard. After consideration, I thought this was too good in my deck to pass up, so I bought a copy of all of the other ones, and in they went. I added consistency.
Counterspells were the biggest area of change. I had a lot of counters in my deck that weren’t cutting it, and many that had never been tossed in that could. I decided to pull out most of the counters that were not hard counters. Of the thirty-one cards that came out, seven were designed to counter stuff.
Mana Leak and Evasive Action were purely to counter based on what mana was left. They could not scale up, and they had no other abilities. Both are great cards, and I will miss them, but they were easy to cut.
Offering to Asha was included originally because I could always gain life, even if the spell didn’t work. Well, it’s just adding a bad card I wouldn’t play (4 mana for a Force Spike) to a spell I wouldn’t play (4 mana to gain 4 life). The result was a spell that was still not at the power level I expect from my deck.
Miscalculation was played with the idea that it could just be cycled when it was no good. It was always cycled. I don’t think I’ve countered anything with it in years. That means it was time to go. Complicate was played for cycling, too, and it was a worse counter to boot. It was a similar pull.
Delay and Ertai's Meddling don’t permanently answer the card. They are essentially hard counters for something situational, such as a Counterspell or Giant Growth. I generally don’t want countermagic for those; I want it for removal of my stuff or big beats or a Wrath of God. While delaying those for a couple of turns might work normally, I was finding these just didn’t pack the punch I wanted. They came out, too.
Some of these cards did not come out. Any Power Sink–like card with an has scalability. I can scale Syncopate to how much mana you have left. I also kept Circular Logic because it scaled as the game went on. The Multikicker on Spell Contortion allows me to draw so many cards that I usually don’t even care if it counters. It stayed in.
I did include some new hard counters—cards like Mystic Denial, Preemptive Strike, Foil, and Thwart. I also haven’t added some counters I’m still considering, like Logic Knot. But my counters are much more consistent at ending a threat. That’s what I wanted.
I Don’t Play X, So Why Am I Playing Y?
I found a few cards in my deck that made me wonder. Why am I playing this card, if I’m not playing another similar card? For looters, I added a bunch, but for these cards, I deleted them. Four cards are in these categories.
I don’t play Serra Angel, so why am I playing Serra Sphinx? No clue! I recently decided to pull out some creatures that I once included. They just don’t meet my threshold of awesomeness. I could see playing both Serra Angel and Sphinx. I could see playing an iconic copy of Serra Angel, like a Beta one or something—without a Serra Sphinx. (I have a rule that cool old cards make the cut when they wouldn’t otherwise—which allows cards like a Beta Wall of Air and Alpha Air Elemental, for example). But I just don’t see how I can justify the Sphinx but not the Angel, so out came the Sphinx.
I don’t play vanilla 4/4’s for 4 mana, so why am I playing Nagao, Bound by Honor?No clue! It pumps all of my Samurais when it attacks. For the record, I have one other natural Samurai (Konda, of course). I also have some Changelings. That’s it. So I have a 4/4 on the attack and a 3/3 on defense. With Bushido: 1. That’s it. Nagao, you are pulled.
I don’t play Pestermite, so why am I playing Deceiver Exarch?No clue! I’m sure it had something to do with the Exarch being essentially a 1/4 Flash Wall that tapped or untapped something. I just found it not doing much of anything. I don’t care if you are ruling the roost with your BFF Splinter Twin. See ya!
I don’t play other card-disadvantage bounce spells, so why am I playing Wipe Away?No clue! I don’t even play Capsize. Why am I playing this jank? So I can bounce something without it being countered or responded to? Why is that good enough to make the cut in my deck? Of all of the cards that I pull out today, most made sense. I can see why I wanted Nagao or Miscalculation. But this? Was I delusional? Bye-bye, Wipe Away!
Dumb Flyers with Drawbacks – I can understand playing a big, dumb flyer, like Serra Sphinx. It makes sense, right? 4/4 Flying and Vigilance is useful. It’s not enough, so I cut it, but I was never embarrassed to draw it. What throws me is why I played these next two flyers that have drawbacks. They would be better as just French-vanilla flyers, but even then I would likely cut them. For some reason, the fact that they cost 1 fewer mana and have an awkward disadvantage made them appealing. Here they are—Moroii and Covetous Dragon. I don’t even play Serendib Efreet, so why does Moroii make the cut? No clue. The same is true of the Dragon. I’m sure I tossed these in when I was in need of more creatures or something, but man, they stink. It’s time to go, folks!
Creatures with ETB Bounce Effects – Here are the ones that made the cut previously—Man-o'-War, Riftwing Cloudskate, AEthersnipe, Sun Ce, Young Conqueror, and Riftwing Cloudskate. I don’t play Hoverguard Sweepers or AEther Adept and such. Clearly, we have an inconsistency here. I decided to keep those that were pertinent to the red zone. A 3/3 Horsemanship guy definitely counts. The 4/4 AEthersnipe does too. Everything else goes. I used to have a lot of ETB creatures and some cards to abuse them, so I’m sure these crappy 2/2 bouncers are remnants of that era. Time to hit the bench, German Portal Man-o'-War.
Cards That Aren’t as Good as I Thought They’d Be
I have some cards that haven’t played up to snuff. I included them for their awesome potential, but they just never reached it. They looked like they were worth the stretch, but they never proved it. Here we go:
Brightflame – It always looks amazing, but the heavy mana requirements and lack of predicting when it becomes amazing prevent it from being even good. It also sometimes ends up killing your own creature. You think that you can fire this for 50 life and kill 10 creatures, but it doesn’t happen. The only times when this works is against a token deck. Just play AEther Snap or Echoing Truth. Brightflame, your days are over.
Survival Cache – The problem with this card is that when you are winning, it’s 4 life and 2 cards for 3 mana—that’s great. When you are not, it’s just 4 life for 3 mana, which sucks. It’s too inconsistent. It’s basically an Armageddon, and I don’t want a life-gaining/card-drawing Armageddon. (An Armageddon is a card that takes a game state when you are winning and pushes it even further toward you). Your time is up, Survival Cache!
Quest for Renewal – Vigilance is great in multiplayer. The potential in this card to swing and keep your creatures back means they basically have Vigilance. You can also reuse a tapping ability, from Birds of Paradise to Arcanis the Omnipotent. The fact that it gains counters from creatures tapping means it already fits into the deck that abuses it. It’s a great card! What is not great is the fact that in a deck with 2,500+ cards, it’s just too random. I’ll draw it in a game with Looter il-Kor and some Walls, and then next game, when I manage to play it with an Avatar of Woe out, it finds itself instantly in the graveyard for some strange reason. It just never works, and when it’s about to, it still doesn’t. It looks fair, but plays foul. You’ve fouled out, Quest for Renewal.
Intimidation Bolt – I like to have a small number of Fog effects in order to tutor for one in an emergency. I probably have two or three in my whole deck. I thought this would be a good addition, because it also kills. What I found out is that I’m forced to use it when I want to Fog, but I can’t always kill something. The remaining 95% of the time, I have a 3-mana Lightning Bolt. I don’t play Lightning Bolt. I’m certainly not finding a 3-mana version useful. (I do play Lightning Helix, though, in case you were wondering). Bye-bye, Mr. Bolt.
Hellhole Rats – The next two cards are long acquaintances of this list. Every time I delete some cards from this deck, I look at the low-hanging cards. Hellhole Rats always seems to be under consideration for cutting. Like real rats, they just seem to desperately cling on to life. It’s time to cut our ways. I don’t play most ETB discard creatures. The damage dealt is just okay, and the Haste on a 2/2 for 4 mana is hardly noticeable. The package appears more than it is, and I’m happy to say “so long” to Hellhole Rats.
Necroplasm – Mass removal is very important in any environment as sensitive to card advantage as multiplayer. Necroplasm does that! You look at it and you think that you can kill multiple dudes out the board again and again, netting massive card advantage. Plus, it promises to return in a dredge of cards and happy thoughts. It promises so much and delivers on none of it. First, you only kill until it has 3 counters and stupidly kills itself. Second, it takes so long to matter that the board state has already changed. You never want to dredge it because drawing a random card is always better. Look, it could have been great. Just make two minor changes: “At the end of your turn, destroy each other creature with converted mana cost equal to or less than the number of +1/+1 counters on Necroplasm.” That would have been something. That would have been worth the rare. Instead, you see a card that does virtually nothing consistently. Go ooze your way into somebody else’s deck, Necroplasm!
Reincarnation – What you need to understand up front is that Reincarnation and I have a . . . sort of . . . history. It was one of the first cards I ever bought for Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy. I picked it up for the deck when I went to a Highlander deck at 100 cards way back when (1999). It worked enough to make the cut as the deck got bigger. However, since then, we’ve developed a love/hate relationship. On two previous occasions Reincarnation has been cut from my deck. It just sits there, wanting a slot again. When it works, it is great. Green instant recursion! Kill my Wall of Blossoms and I recur a Baneslayer Angel. Rawr! It works to keep something out post–mass removal, post–chump blocking, post–pinpoint removal, and more. It works just enough to be considered in my decks, but often just sits in my hand, sucking. I don’t have a deck designed to use it proactively, so I am forced to do so reactively, and nothing happens. We’re pulling you out, Reincarnation, for the third time. Will this be the last?
Why Did I Ever Play X?
There are a few cards that I just look at and wonder what was in my head. We don’t have many, but sometimes, I just wonder if I got hit on the head or something. Let’s take a look.
Reality Spasm – Exactly. It’s card disadvantage, takes a lot of mana, and is highly situational. I can tap someone’s blockers and then that person can be attacked over multiple turns. I can untap my attackers when attacked and block and kill several creatures. I’m sure I thought about all of this, but this card sucks. It sits in my hand, sucking, waiting to suck more when I play it. This is not a good card by any stretch of the imagination. See ya, Reality Spasm.
Reality Ripple, Turn to Mist – These are very similar cards. Both protect my guys from target removal, keep a chump-blocker alive, or take care of an attacker for a turn, and all at card advantage (save the first which is just equilibrium). (The Turn to Mist can also reset an ETB trigger.) None of this is worth playing. They just don’t have enough power—and they never did. I have to remind myself that versatility is not always worth playing a so-so card.
Deadhead – Is a 3/3 chump Hill Giant dude ever worth this? Not really. You usually will get one trigger off this proto-gotcha card. Then you are not getting another. Sometimes, you can use this to play politics—I’m attacked by Mr. 7/7 On-the-Ground McNoTrample, and an opponent will drop his hand intentionally so I can recur this as a chump-blocker. The same thing happens with the “gotcha” cards like Spell Counter and Kill! Destroy! It’s just not enough. Fear my Hill Giant! Bye-bye, Deadhead.
Times Have Changed
I have a few cards that represent changing times. They may have once been good or useful, but things have changed. Let’s take a look.
Blood Frenzy – It doesn’t work the way it used to, and I never pulled it out. Due to one valuable multiplayer use (Bob’s creature is enraged and hurts Steve more, but dies), it held on for years. It’s still limited removal. If the rules ever change back, you’ll be given another spot in the shade, but until then, it’s time to hit the locker room.
Look at Me, I'm the DCI – This was once great. When playing against sixty-card decks, you could shut out a critical card, permanently. Today, everyone is playing Commander now, and this is banned there. It’s very underwhelming in similar formats. When playing a casual deck against a Commander deck, where it’s illegal, what happens if you play it and declare your opponent’s Commander banned? It just doesn’t have the same power it used to, so its time has passed. This may not be forever—but so long for now.
Wormfang Drake, Dust Elemental, (Turn to Dust) – There was a time when my deck was rife with ETB creatures and these guys saw play. We are no longer in that era, and these cards look a lot worse. The mechanic for Wormfang Drake still exists on two creatures of size—Changeling Titan and Changeling Berserker. I just need something bigger than a very small and outclassed 3/4 flyer. The Dust Elemental is too unpredictable. These guys are just not powerful enough to keep their spots in my deck, so it’s time to take a break, kick up their heels, and sip a sweet tea by candlelight.
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant – It’s just too much, you know? I feel slimy just drawing it. I’m not in an Erayo place anymore. I’m sure I was, once. That time has come and gone. Now I’m Mr. Nice Guy. Mr. Nice Guy does not play Erayo.
Rhystic Tutor – I used to be able to fire this reliably. That was a long time ago—years in the past. Now I have to wait for the perfect moment, and even then, I might not want to tutor, but I have to, because it’s the only time I can play it. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. I hate pulling out any tutor, ever, but this one needs a break.
Mask of the Mimic – My issue with this card is not that it’s underpowered. In a deck with more than 2,500 cards, you can imagine that I can almost always find a creature in my deck to match the best one on the board. However, unlike other tutors, this one only grabs one specific card. Normally I simply tutor for any card that will suffice—any removal spell or big beater or Disenchant effect or what have you. In this case, you have to grab one specific card—and that takes too long. This is pulled for mechanical reasons.
Cards That Came Close
Well, you saw the thirty-three cards that were pulled out. What came close? What cards clawed their way back into the deck?
- Parallax Wave – No Wrath, just a temporarily removal, but still has uses
- Nikko-Onna – I need more enchantment-removal, so it stayed
- War Priest of Thune – As Nikko-Onna
- Loyal Sentry – I like it, but I’m never sure it is enough of a deterrent to an attacker to warrant play
- Masako the Humorless – A nice surprise but often fails to live up to its potential
- Sengir Vampire – A classic card, staying in for that reason (I have a Collector’s Edition one—technically not even legal)
- Spectral Lynx – A great 2-drop, but people play fewer Green decks these days
- [card]Spell Contortion – I like drawing cards, but I also like counters
- Cauldron Haze – Feels a bit underplayed, but its potential requires me to keep trying it out
- Voidstone Gargoyle – A 3/3 flyer that almost shuts down one card entirely, but again, it is enough?
- Organ Grinder – I like the tap and loss of 3 life when you can’t get an attack through, but with so many foes having 40 life these days, is it still worth it?
- Possessed Aven – A 4/4 flyer that taps to destroy a Blue creature is limited, but still loaded with potential
- Blunt the Assault – Perhaps another card that is too versatile and needs to be better at one or the other
- Citanul Centaurs – 6/3 Shroud with Echo? I’ve played them a long time, but their value drops as more and more good creatures come out every set
- Lignify – I like tutoring for it with Treefolk Harbinger to pull it out this time
- Recoil – Bounce is not that useful, but this is at least card equilibrium
- Phantom Centaur – Sometimes great, but recently, it’s been a lot more . . . meh
- Silver Wyvern – I probably should have pulled this out, but it’s been given one more try
And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed today’s look at thirty-three cards that just didn’t have the gas to keep being played in my deck.
See you next week,
P.S. I was asked to provide my full deck list for Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy in the posts a few weeks ago. Since I am specifically talking about it in this article, I thought I this would be a good place to show you the deck in all of its glory. This list is one hundred percent up to date.
Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy
[Editor note: originally we published the deck as we received from Abe, however it was an incomplete list. We've since removed this list and are instead linking to the file as you see above.]