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Best Decks through History

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Memory Jar
Hey! At the end of this week, I will be playing in a very special Invitational-type event, as part of our local Poro Tour 3K series. There have been four Poro Tour events with various formats throughout the year, and now the sixteen players with most points will be duking it out in slightly more bizarre formats. As the event is being livestreamed at www.hitbox.tv/poromagia during the weekend, I will try to cover the formats that will be played. This way, if you feel like tuning in, you know roughly what is going on.

There are three Constructed formats for the event: Bring Your Own Block Highlander, Modern Manacost Highlander, and “Best Decks Auction.” I’ll talk about the first two on a general level and then cover the “Best Decks Auction” in more detail. That format is very interesting, as it features sixteen of Magic’s best decks from the past. I have played a lot of different formats during the years, but for many of the players at the Poro Tour Invitational, this will be the first time they are able to experience such great decks as Pros Bloom, Necropotence, Miracle Gro, and 4x Memory Jar.

Even though these decks are not exactly relevant for current formats, having to evaluate them next to each other still helps you develop your critical thinking in regard to Magic formats. Plus, playing these decks will just be insanely fun!

BYOB & Modern Highlander

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
The first Constructed format is Bring Your Own Block (BYOB) Highlander with some additional restrictions. Just as in regular BYOB, you need to pick one large set, one second set, and one third set. In regular BYOB, some popular decks are Ice Age/Worldwake/New Phyrexia W/U control and Lorwyn/Morningtide/Future Sight U/B Faeries. All cards banned in Legacy or their corresponding Block Constructed formats are banned in traditional BYOB.

For this BYOB Highlander, the rules are slightly different. To start with, it is Highlander, so you can only have one copy of each card in your deck (excluding basic lands). Furthermore, in this particular format, no cards are banned, but you need to have exactly one set from each decade of Magic (the 90s, the ’00s, and the ’10s). This means Ice Age/Worldwake/New Phyrexia works, but Lorwyn/Morningtide/Future Sight does not. To help clarify this, you can have a look at this table. You basically need to pick one set each from the red, green and blue sections.

Deck construction is difficult for many reasons, mainly due to the lack of mana-fixers as you will need to play more than one color to scrape together enough playables. Assuming you want around thirty-six spells in your deck, that means finding something along the lines of twenty spells from your large set and then thirteen each from the smaller sets. Especially the older sets (the ’90s section) are tough since there are some very powerful individual cards such as Recurring Nightmare, Survival of the Fittest, Memory Jar, and Vampiric Tutor, but after the premium spells, it quickly dries out.

Wall of Roots
The second format is Modern Manacost Highlander. In this format, we are using the normal Modern card pool, but with a forty-card deck plus ten-card sideboard. Additionally, it is also a Highlander format, so cards are restricted to one copy per deck (again, excluding basic lands). There is one catch, however, and that is you may not have more than one card with identical mana costs. That means you have to decide between Wall of Roots, Tarmogoyf, and Scavenging Ooze for your green deck, as all of them have the identical mana cost of 1g. Cards with hybrid or Phyrexian mana in their mana costs are considered unique, so you can play Rakdos Cackler, Goblin Guide, Figure of Destiny, and Gut Shot in the same deck. Building a mono-colored deck is practically impossible, and due to the fact that the mana will be very good, I predict most decks will be three colors. If you are playing seventeen lands, having access to three duals and nine fetches within your three colors makes it fairly easy to build a robust mana base.

I Have the Best Deals Anywhere

Ancestral Recall
So now that we have covered those two formats, let’s delve a bit deeper into the third format, which is the actual focus of this article. In the third format, we will be bidding on decks to play with.

Bidding works as follows: A player chooses which deck to bid on and automatically starts the bidding at 8 cards and 25 starting life. After this, we proceed clockwise around the table, and each player may bid with increments of 1 life. Once nobody wishes to bid, the winner claims that deck, and he or she may choose to overbid him or herself. So, for example, if you took a deck for 6 cards and 9 life, you can choose to go to 5 cards and 25 life if that feels better.

The theme for the decks is “Best Decks of Their Time,” and it includes decks that might not be tier one right now but that, at some point in time, were considered the best decks in their respective formats. I’ll present you with the decklist, some thoughts on the deck, and also what I feel will be a reasonable bid price for them. Auction events are always a bit strange—some decks will go for way too cheap, while others will be overbid on. I have yet to play a sixteen-person auction event, so that will probably also impact the bidding process quite a lot.

So let’s get started, analyzing the decks in the order they are presented on the Poro Tour page, which is some sort of chronological order. You can find all the decklists in the same place here.

 


The original archetype from the early nineties is represented here, and I can say it does not look very promising. While it does have some fairly insane cards, having to win with Serra Angel is anemic. It looks to have some good matchups due to the countermagic and four main-decked Disenchants, such as Trix, Pros Bloom, and Affinity, but overall, I think the deck is a bit too weak. However, I think this is the deck that has the potential to surprise me the most since it does have a good amount of individually powerful cards. It does feel like a deck that people will overbid on since they see all the Power Nine cards it is packing.

Bid estimate: Tier 4, 7 cards, 20 life

 


I have to admit I was a bit skeptic regarding the deck at first since it feels extremely clunky. However, after I played a few games against it, I noticed it performed surprisingly well. For those unfamiliar with the deck, the aim is to generate 20 or more mana for Drain Life. This is most often done by sacrificing all your lands to Squandered Resources and then playing Natural Balance, basically netting 5 mana for each Natural Balance (and 10 for the last one). Cadaverous Bloom combines with Prosperity to generate a lot of mana, and then eventually, you Drain Life the opponent to death. The mana base is absolutely horrific since it needs so many basic lands for Natural Balance. I would be okay with playing this deck, but it is definitely not among the ones I am looking to pick up.

Bid estimate: Tier 4, 7 cards, 18 life

 


While this deck has fairly lackluster creatures compared to more recent red decks, it does pack a fair punch. Aggressive decks like this are typically well suited for auction formats since many decks start at life totals significantly below 20. Being the player casting Fireblast sure feels good if your opponent starts on 13 life. There are, of course, decks that go the opposite way, and having 25 life is naturally good against red decks. One factor that lowers the potential of this deck is that four decks are packing Chill in their sideboards, and beating that card can be miserable, even though you have access to Pyroblast.

Bid estimate: Tier 3, 7 cards, 10 life

 


The first really powerful deck on our list, this is among the better decks available. The idea here is to resolve multiple Memory Jar triggers during one turn, so that when you go to resolve the discards, your opponent will take 20 or more damage through Megrim. This usually requires you to resolve two Memory Jar triggers, which should not be difficult to accomplish. Against some decks, just one might be enough if the opponent starts at a low enough life total. The lack of disruption before sideboard might be troublesome against the other combo decks and some of the control decks, but the sideboard provides a lot of help in that department. Overall, this is a very strong deck, and it’s one with which going down in cards is not the worst since one resolution of Memory Jar puts you back up to seven cards in hand.

Bid estimate: Tier 2, 6 cards, 13 life

 


Here is another potent combo deck, although it’s not as good as the previous deck. For those unfamiliar with it, the idea is to play an Illusions of Grandeur and then hand it to your opponent with Donate. Once he or she is unable to pay the cumulative upkeep, the player will lose 20 life and, we hope, die. I like that this deck has a good amount of disruption, helping it in many matchups. A large liability is that beating decks that start with high life totals will be very difficult. Getting one Illusions of Grandeur and Donate together should be fairly easy, but putting together combos becomes a whole lot more difficult. Again, this is a deck with which going down cards is not a big deal since Dark Ritual plus Necropotence puts you right back in the game.

Bid estimate: Tier 3, 6 cards, 17 life

 


This version of Affinity is also a strong deck, as it combines the aggressive strengths of the Deadguy Red deck with some powerful disruption. This deck is slightly slower than Modern Affinity due to the lack of Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum, but it should still be fast enough to put some good pressure on your opponent.

Bid estimate: Tier 3, 6 cards, 15 life

 


This time, we have a slightly less powerful combo deck, but it’s also one that is a lot more recent. I am slightly concerned that this deck will be too slow to beat some of the other decks, and hence, it belong to the weaker half of decks. That said, Gigadrowse is a good disruptive spell against the decks relying on countermagic to interact, so some of the matchups might in fact be very favorable.

Bid estimate: Tier 4, 7 cards, 18 life

 


Faeries has traditionally been strong against combo decks since it can play so many of its spells on the opponents turn, always making your combo opponent guess what you have. However, the fact that the deck was built for quite a different environment shows, and some of the disruption, such as Broken Ambitions, might be just dead against the faster combo decks. It’s not a great deck, but it’s still solid, and it also has potential in many of the fair matchups. This is not a deck with which you can afford to pay a lot of life since so many spells in the deck use your life total as a resource.

Bid estimate: Tier 3, 6 cards, 20 life

 


This is one of the original aggro–control decks, forefather to the Delver of Secrets decks we see running around Legacy. The creatures might look a bit silly by today’s standards, but the disruption is still very relevant. I think this deck has a lot of potential against the combo decks thanks to all the free counterspells. The fair decks would otherwise not be great matchups, but Winter Orb should offer some serious help there. I have a hard time seeing a deck like Caw-Blade beat a resolved Winter Orb.

Bid estimate: Tier 3, 6 cards, 18 life

 


Going back to Pro Tour Berlin in 2008, this is the version of Elves played by LSV. This is a deck that has a lot of potential in this event since it can kill opponents with the combo fairly quickly—or just use the Elves to beat down. If your opponent stumbles, being able to just attack with a pair of Nettle Sentinels is nothing to sneeze at. Against the previous deck, Miracle Gro, this is a very valid strategy. This deck might stumble a bit against other, fast combo decks, but the Thoughtseizes out of the ’board should help with that. I will try to avoid this deck even though I think it is very good just because I don’t think I will play it well enough. But if I manage to snap it up at a good price, I will.

Bid estimate: Tier 2, 6 cards, 14 life

 


The parade of combo decks continues, this time with a Tolarian Academy deck that aims to kill your opponent with a large Stroke of Genius. This is done by untapping your Tolarian Academy with Time Spiral and Mind Over Matter, generating large quantities of mana. This is a strong deck that can assemble the combo quickly. Getting Tolarian Academy to generate enough mana does require you to have a decent number of artifacts, so going down in cards can mean having to wait longer to go off. This is not the end of the world, but it’s something to be cautious of.

Bid estimate: Tier 2, 6 cards, 14 life

 


This deck might have Necropotence, but I still think it is among the weaker decks in the whole event. Having to kill your opponent with a motley crew of 2/1 Knights is not my idea of a powerful clock, and combining that with the minimal amount of disruption, I think combo decks will be a huge problem. This is not a deck I am looking to pick up, and I would not be surprised to see this deck go last.

Bid estimate: Tier 5, 8 cards, 25 life

 


Compared to the previous deck, this deck is from another planet. Possibly the most impressive deck at this event, I would predict this deck to go for a very expensive price. The idea of this deck is similar to Storm decks you see in Legacy and Modern, trying to cast enough spells to power up a lethal Tendrils of Agony. When this deck goes off properly, it very easily deals 30 or more damage, so we are not in the same situation as with Trix, with which it was difficult to deal more than 20 damage. I played this deck for a bit back when it was legal in Vintage, so I am familiar with how powerful it is, regularly killing on the first or second turn.

Bid estimate: Tier 1, 5 cards, 13 life

 


The only deck on our list that is actually from the Legacy format, this is one of the tier-one decks along with Long. This is basically a two-card combo deck, where one piece costs 2 mana and the other piece 0 mana. The idea here is to play Flash, putting Protean Hulk in play. Then, when you can’t pay the extra cost, the Hulk is sacrificed, fetching us Karmic Guide and Carrion Feeder. Karmic Guide brings the Hulk back, the Hulk is sacrificed and fetches Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

From this point, you can target Karmic Guide with Kiki-Jiki and then sacrifice Kiki-Jiki to Carrion Feeder. When the copy trigger resolves, you make a Karmic Guide token that brings back Kiki-Jiki. Now just rinse and repeat, creating an arbitrarily large number of 2/2 flying Karmic Guide tokens that then attack your opponent to death. Along with the combo, this deck also features a lot of disruption and the combo of Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top. I would bid very aggressively for this deck since the combo is so easy to assemble that I see no problem going down to five cards. I would not really recommend ever going to four cards, as you could then lose so easily if you ever have to take a mulligan.

Bid estimate: Tier 1, 5 cards, 15 life

 


We are fast approaching modern times, this time with one of the most defining decks of recent Standard. While I fondly remember how good this deck was in its time, I think it might secretly be among the worst decks of this event. Mana Leak and Spell Pierce are not really the best pieces of disruption, and Caw-Blade cannot put a very fast clock on the opponent either. This means your opponent will have plenty of time to play around your disruption and kill you. This deck might be okay against some of the other fair decks, but considering how many combo decks are present in this event, I would feel fairly uncomfortable being the one casting Squadron Hawks. That said, I still think this is better than LauerPotence against the field.

Bid estimate: Tier 5, 8 cards, 20 life.

 


Finally, we have a deck that anyone who has played Modern in recent years should be familiar with: Jund. While many of the other fair decks are fairly underwhelming, I think Jund is well-positioned against many of the decks in this event. Having access to seven cheap discard spells in the main deck, along with solid threats and strong sideboard cards, makes the combo matchups at least even.

Considering many opponents will be starting a card or two down, the disruptive force of the discard spells grows even better. This is definitely a deck that I would not mind picking up, as long as the price is right. This is the type of deck that you can’t really bid very highly on since it makes so many one-for-one trades that generating card advantage can be tough. I’ve estimated this to go for 6 cards, but that might even be a bit too low due to the reason I just stated.

Bid estimate: Tier 3, 6 cards, 25 life

Tying It All Together

Whew, those were a lot of decks to pour through. As you may have noticed, many of the decks fall in the tier-three category, with only a few decks being significantly worse or better. This means that the majority of decks are operating on an even playing field. Naturally, these bid estimates are quite rough and may swing both ways when the actual auction takes place. Half of the decks are pure combo decks, really showing off what Magic was about a number of years ago. We don’t really have that many powerful combo decks these days outside of Legacy, and more recently Jeskai Ascendancy in Modern.

Necropotence
I hope this article piqued your interest in weird formats like this. I know the guys over at SvMTV have done something similar recently, pitting top Standard decks of the past against each other.

If you are interested in checking out “Best Decks Auction,” BYOB Highlander, Modern Manacost Highlander, Pauper Cube Rochester, and Cube Sealed, be sure to tune in to our stream during the weekend. The event will be streamed on www.hitbox.tv/poromagia on Saturday and Sunday this week, starting after 9:00 A.M. GMT. I believe the coverage from the World Magic Cup and the World Championships will start at roughly the same time, so while you are watching your own country compete, you can check out our wacky formats at the same time. The stream will feature casting in Finnish, but I’m sure if you ask nicely in the chat you can get the low down in English as well.

Playing these wacky formats to the extent we are doing might be difficult, but perhaps you could bring a group of friends together and try something similar. It’s a nice change from the regular formats we play, and having this totally new and fresh deck-building challenge is something I enjoy a lot. Don’t hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions or comments regarding these decks or the event in general.

Next week, I’ll write about the decks our testing team built for the BYOB Highlander and Modern Manacost Highlander formats I discussed earlier in this article.

Thanks for reading,

Max

@thebloom_ on Twitter

Maxx on Magic Online

You can find my music here: http://soundcloud.com/bloomlive


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