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Mono-Black Control: It’s Spreading Like Wildfire

Before we plunge into today’s piece, I’d like to share two things with you:

First, please help us out by checking out the Magic Effectiveness Project questionnaire. Take it yourself, pass it on to your friends. Thanks!

Second, I will be at the San Diego Comic Con this weekend. I’m planning on going to the Magic panel on Thursday night at 6:30pm in Room 26AB. If you’re going to be at the Con, come by and say hello. If you’re not going to be there and you have a question you’ve been dying to ask Mark Rosewater or Aaron Forsythe, let me know and I’ll see what they have to say.

New Core

One of the clear goals of the recent revisiting of “what it means to be a Core set” has been to ping on the nostalgia for the very first Magic Core set. In trying to elicit this sensation of “old school awesome” in M10 and M11, a big part of the heavy lifting is down to just plain old making good cards. In M11 in particular, however, Wizards has gone directly for our nostalgia jugular by printing cards that are nigh-explicit callbacks to earlier cards. This time around, we have cards like Roc Egg, Time Reversal, Dark Tutelage, Destructive Force, Cultivate, Fauna Shaman, and Mystifying Maze to fire off those nostalgia receptors.

And, naturally, to trick us into playing poor remakes of favorite decks.

One recurring comment in the last two weeks or so prior to the release of M11 was, “This will be good in Mono-Black Control, if that comes back.” This same hopeful refrain has appeared ahead of many other set releases since I got back into the game, which lead me to track down exactly when MBC was ever good.

That, in turn, leads into today’s topic – evaluating our nostalgia in context.

Nostalgia tends to live out of context

We often have favorite decks from days gone by. We may just recall them fondly, or we may try to get them to work again when the new Standard (or whichever) environment makes it seems like they might – might – be viable again. Of course, nostalgia is all about remembering the great parts of things. Like, say, how I had nearly ancient memories of Raise the Titanic being an awesome movie, and then watched it again in college and realized it is not simply bad but also commits the far greater sin of being incredibly boring.

So, when I hear people hopefully talking about the return of MBC, or any other deck, my prima facie suspicion is that it’s nostalgia talking, and if we had to bet money, it would be best to bet on the archetype not being a good fit for the current environment.

Of course, if you’re a newer player, or, like me, returned after a significant hiatus, you may not have a lot of nostalgia. But you may still do what I do and look to the past for guidance on how to build your decks right now. As a consequence, I think the setup I’m going to provide next is probably helpful for everyone, regardless of how long you’ve been playing or how many decks you have tagged in your mental “favorites” file.

Comparing the old and next contexts – can Mono-Black Control work today?

Decks exist in specific contexts.

This is a truism, but we forget it a lot.

Even when we see new cards roll into the format that look like elements of a deck that used to work well, we can’t assume that this means the deck will work well now. For example, consider Osamu Fujita’s MBC build that took him to second place in 2003 Japanese Nationals .

Mono-Black Control (Osamu Fujita, Japanese Nationals 2003)

 

This is a reasonably representative MBC build from the Odyssey – Onslaught Standard era, which is about the only time when MBC was a notable player (in Standard). Taken in isolation, it really does look like we could construct a reasonable facsimile of this deck in the current Standard. Heck, slightly more than half the non-land cards are in Standard right now.

If one wanted to do as much of a 1-to-1 replacement of missing cards with modern-day analogs as possible, the resulting take on MBC might look like this:

Nominal Modern MBC (not recommended)

So, should you play this deck?

Let me reiterate how much this is not a suggested deck. It’s just an off-the-cuff translation of Fujita’s MBC into modern cards to give newer players a point of reference.

So, there are two ways we can try to figure out if an archetype such as MBC is “back” and can work in our current format. I think they’re most effective when used together, so I’ll go through them both, using MBC as an example.

First, we want to evaluate the environment the deck was actually successful in. To do this, I’m going to partially rely on a tool I introduced last month – abstraction.

MBC of the Odyssey-Onslaught era began as MBC from Odyssey Block Constructed, where it was a very successful archetype, putting three players into the top eight of Pro Tour Osaka. Afterward it continued with some success in Odyssey-Onslaught Standard, which I think has permanently embedded a bunch of warm fuzzies in many players’ minds about the power of the archetype generally.

But what defined the Standard environment in the period where MBC was viable?

If you were to turn up to a Standard tournament roughly through the midst of 2003, you might have expected to play against:

Wake
Psychatog
UG Madness
RG Beatdown or Beasts
Astral Slide

How do we evaluate MBC from the Odyssey-Onslaught era in light of this environment?

First, we want to figure out each archetype’s high concept. Briefly, this is the idea of coming up with a one-sentence summary of how the deck wants to win the game, much in the way a screenwriter develops a one-sentence summary of their screenplay. We might write the high concepts for Odyssey-Onslaught MBC’s Standard companions like so:

[Graphs all lost]

Wake – Stall the opponent’s early game with countermagic, fogs, and mass removal and then drop Mirari’s Wake and win with a single, broken play.

 

Psychatog – Use massive card advantage and moderate countermagic to limit the opponent’s early game, then drop [card]Psychatog[/card] and Upheaval and kill the opponent in one turn.

 

UG Madness – Leverage the Madness mechanic to drop giant threats far ahead of the curve of other decks, then ride them to victory with a backing of mild disruption.

 

RG Beatdown / Beasts – Attack with a steady stream of giant dudes (and then, for RG, optionally finish with burn).

 

Astral Slide – Use cycling-fueled effects to control the board and then finish the game with a giant beater.

 

So what are those bar graphs following each archetype?

Last month, I wrote about using abstractions in deck design. I know that article ended up being a little confusing, so here’s the brief recap. In “abstracting” a deck design, I look at each card and give it an abstract role. For example, Doom Blade is “removal.” I then note where that card appears on the curve by adding its role there – so one Doom Blade in a deck puts one “Removal” in the two-mana position.

In an effort to make this idea as clear as possible, I’m presenting this same type of abstraction today in this bar graph visualization. Let’s take a look at the Wake graph again:

 

This time around, I chose to use a very simple set of abstractions. We have Acceleration (A), Card Advantage (CA), Threats (T), Removal (R), and Disruption (D). On the chart, the mana curve is the bottom axis, increasing as we go to the right. The number of cards is indicated on the vertical axis, with colors as shown in the legend. This way, we can quickly visualize the “layout” of an archetype across the mana curve.

For example, our representative Wake deck has no actual threats before the 5-mana mark, and spends all of its early cards on disruption, removal, and card advantage.

My hope is that this visualization converts the abstraction idea into an easy visual “snapshot” of the deck’s flow.

So, how does MBC plug into all this?

 

Check out that (appropriately) black dominance at all stages of the game – this mono-black is about removal, removal, removal, garnished with an early dose of disruption and a handful of finishers. Although that alone is interesting, consider how it interacts with all those other snapshots and high concepts we ran through above.

Although Wake seems like an especially poor matchup, given its emphasis on disruption and card advantage, the Beatdown and Madness archetypes skew heavily toward threats with little backup, and Psychatog is utterly threat light with perhaps too much emphasis on card advantage and disruption. Hitting any one of those decks with a solid wave of removal and disruption seems like a pretty good setup.

Now imagine transplanting that MBC approach into our nascent post-M11 Standard, where you have decks like this:

 

That’s Jund. Don’t be fooled by how compressed it is – that vertical axis goes to some very large numbers! Specifically, this is the mild M11 Jund update I suggested last week.

Check out how very, very different the Jund snapshot is from basically every archetype from the Odyssey-Onslaught era. Pretty much nothing proactive happens until turn three, and from then on the deck is a powerhouse of combined card advantage, threats, and removal.

Now ask yourself this”¦how useful is it to have very early disruption and a massive emphasis on removal when you’re facing that?

Okay, so maybe Jund is pretty different from the major players in the Odyssey-Onslaught era. What about another current contender from Standard, maybe something like Mythic?

 

There’s a lot to appreciate in the clarity of purpose intrinsic in this snapshot. Acceleration and threats, with a mild decoration of disruption with the inclusion of planeswalkers at the four-mana mark, and no main deck removal. The emphasis on threats, which we know to be largely creature-based from our understanding of the archetype, suggests that the removal theme of MBC would be pretty good here. That said, the threats just keep coming in Mythic, and with the abundance of acceleration, they’re likely to come sooner, meaning that a large portion of MBC’s removal will be terminally late to the party.

Finally, we might want to check in with contemporary UW control:

 

The first thing we notice here is just how powerful planeswalkers are. We also notice, however, that traditional MBC has the same problems here as it did against Wake – a dire scarcity of targets for its removal, and not enough disruption to make a difference.

So what does this tell us?

When MBC was good in the Odyssey-Onslaught era, it succeeded by using a full curve of removal backed by disruption to take down decks that relied on unsupported threats or a just a few threats backed by disruption.

Jund trades speed for a rich mixture of removal, disruption, threats, and card advantage. This partially nullifies the value of MBC having removal along the entire curve, and means that by the mid-game, traditional MBC is likely to be overwhelmed by Jund. After all, it doesn’t matter if you have lots of early removal if the opponent has no early targets. UW is iffy for the same reasons Wake was iffy, and Mythic might be a good match up, unless it can pack in more threats than MBC can draw and cast removal (in time).

Or, quite briefly:

Old school MBC won’t work in our current Standard, so shed those nostalgic ideas.

This doesn’t mean MBC won’t work at all, but it does mean that if you do have fond MBC memories, you’re going to want to think very critically and honestly about any new take on MBC you come up with, as your tendency will be to stick to the old ideas you knew before, and that simply won’t fly right now.

Wow, that was long. Is there a faster version?

Okay, so I have a sort of holistic love for context and prior experiences that means that I think it’s just plain old awesome to do the heavy-duty analysis described above.

On the other hand, you may not care about the prior context, and just want to know if a concept can plug into the modern day. Conveniently, we can do it this way, too.

Let’s consider Destructive Force.

It’s quite obviously Wildfire +1. One more mana, one more damage, one more land sacrificed by each player. These differences must naturally inform how we use it, but first, let’s take a quick, context-free glance at a fairly typical Wildfire deck of days past:

Tron Carter (by Tim Aten as PT Honolulu 2006)

That gives us the following snapshot:

 

Now, that is a single-minded deck. Hit six mana, win. In fact, the high concept is pretty much that – disrupt the opponent’s early game via countermagic, accelerate to six mana, win.

It’s important to keep in mind that this deck, like most Wildfire decks, was a Tron deck. As a consequence, one way that it capitalized on the power of Wildfire was in the potentially to maintain the Tron after a resolved Wildfire, especially inasmuch as it was going to have one or more Signets out as well. I don’t think we have an equivalent play in Standard, so we have to look to the other win condition of having a giant, scary threat on the battlefield that can and will survive our Wildfire.

Let’s turn around and plug this back into our contemporary Standard. To do so, I’d like to break that high concept down into a few parts.

“Accelerate to six mana” – This becomes “accelerate to seven mana,” which remains doable, even if we won’t be doing it via artifacts and Tron lands. We’re far more likely to do so with green-based acceleration, perhaps using the Lotus Cobra and Oracle of Mul Daya shell that powers Turboland.

“Disrupt the opponent’s early game via countermagic” – Despite the reappearance of Mana Leak in Standard, I just don’t think this is happening. Aten’s deck, like many Tron decks, relied on generally effective tempo disruption courtesy of Mana Leak and Remand. We have the Leaks, but no [card]Remand[/card]s”¦and Jund decks still have cascading Bloodbraid Elves. I think this component has to go.

“Win” – Well, if we do hit that seven-mana mark for Destructive Force, can we win? Although Cruel Ultimatum has fallen out of favor because you may well end up forcing the opponent to sacrifice a Noble Hierarch shortly before an Eldrazi-Conscripted Birds of Paradise kills you, Force has the advantage of killing almost every relevant creature in the format and dealing a crippling blow to decks that have nothing but creature-based acceleration to work with.

We can reach these conclusions by talking through them, or by looking at that graph above. Win by swinging with a crippling, high-mana spell? Sure. Get there with a lot of disruption clustered around low mana costs? Probably not so much, both by dint of a dearth of good cards to do so with and because the Mythic and Jund snapshots suggest you will be outpaced and overwhelmed, respectively.

That suggests the following punch line:

If we can find a good frame in which to place “hit seven mana, win,” then our modern-day Wildfire deck can work.

As I said above, I suspect you could manage the acceleration with a Turboland-like package of Lotus Cobra and Oracle of Mul Daya, and we can easily imagine using Knight of the Reliquary as a Magnivore-style finisher (even better, since it’s powered by the Destructive Force’s land destruction effect). Of course, the similarity between that shell, and well, Turboland, leads directly into the next question.

So we can make a Destructive Force deck. Should we?

Consider the snapshot for Turboland:

 

That’s the snapshot of a deck that is superlatively effective at the “make it to seven mana” part of the equation. In fact, the UG frame of Turboland is so good at this job, it suggests that we don’t want to try and dilute it Turboland to accommodate Destructive Force, because we’ll just end up with a worse deck that stumbles more often and that has a less effective end game.

Am I saying that Destructive Force is just out as a deck? No, I’m not that guy. Instead, this suggests that we should return to the punch line above and the lesson from our review of MBC, and try to shed our specific notions about how this deck has to work, instead focusing on the fundamental goal and how it has to interact with the current environment. If we weren’t going to try to accelerate to Destructive Force, is there a way to get there naturally?

 

This snapshot is from the Grixis deck that supakitchar used to take down a recent MTGO PTQ. That’s the snapshot of a deck that can successfully make it to seven mana naturally, and that can then cast a seven-mana spell to win from time to time – at least in M10 Standard. Here’s the list:

Grixis (by supakitchar)

How would we update this deck into a Destructive Force deck? Here’s one possibility:

Destructive Force Grixis (tentative build)

 

This is obviously a fairly modest adaptation of supakitchar’s build, and the jury is still out on whether maindecking Blightning is now suicidal in post-Baloth Standard. Nonetheless, I think a frame like this one could well use Destructive Force effectively. You have Jace to shuffle that sucker away in the early game and to be your post-Force win condition (as you fateseal away all of their lands and refuse to let them recover). Grave Titan replaces Siege-Gang Commander as another “many creatures in one card” option that also survives Force. This is a notional, untested build, but I think it’s an avenue worth pursuing.

Of course, accelerating to the Force isn’t out, either – you just need to be willing to shed the specific card choices of any given deck, as I said above. Here’s Kamiya Shogo’s take on “hit seven mana, win” from a post-M11 PTQ in Kanazawa.

Titan Force (by Kamiya Shogo)

 

 

 

I’m definitely curious about whether this specific build will work once people are on the lookout for it, but I think it’s a nice example of shedding preconceived notions (e.g. that you’d want Lotus Cobra and Oracle for a deck that’s trying to run up to seven mana) in making an effective deck.

Bringing the work flow together

Although I think it’s important (and really fun!) to evaluate our nostalgia both by understanding where it came from and how it relates to the current idea, I think the fundamental point is that before we burn a lot of time trying to make an idea work in Standard now, we want to take a moment to use whatever tools work for us to figure out how the concept used to work, and whether that approach can work now.

I like things like high concepts and abstractions, but you may have a completely different method of thinking about these things, as suits your strengths.

While we may learn that an old archetype just won’t fly, we may also find that it fits perfectly into a well-developed frame that’s sitting right there in front of us. As a consequence, we get to shortcut a whole bunch of playtesting scut work and go toward enjoying and optimizing our shiny new idea.

And that’s really the point, right?

So how is M11 pinging your nostalgia? Have you tried any old school ideas in the new Standard? If so, how did that go?

59 thoughts on “Mono-Black Control: It’s Spreading Like Wildfire”

  1. that MBC list makes me want to vomit. You are not running Tendrils of Corruption at all and are putting Sign in Blood in the board? Also for the love of god cut some of the Consume the Meek. And how do you handle Gideon, Jace, or any planeswalker for that matter. You might want to look into Hexmage.

    Now bear with me, Crystal Ball…if you are legit trying to run that discard package, it is going to blow late game it you may want to scry it away…just an idea

  2. Lotus cobra // oracle only works in turboland. A shell like that would be completely pointess in Destrucive Force.

    As far as how my decks have gone, so far both builds of Destructive Force have placed in events and my teamates are ready to take down the last PTQ with the newest version.

    @MBSegal49: Did you read the part where he said that that was nothing more than standard cards that do the same thing as the odyssey/onslaught card? i.e. Chainer’s edict becomes Gatekeeper and Mutiliate becomes Consume the meek (should have been all is dust).

  3. Are you dumb MBSegal? He very clearly said it was as direct a translation from that older deck to the new Standard and even more clearly said that no one should ever play with that list. Read the article before you make asinine comments.

  4. If MBC ever did get off the ground, it seems like Mitotic slime would give it a hard time.
    Heck, the MBC player might even need Leyline of the void in their sideboard just to deal with the slime and vengevine.

  5. Wow, this is really some very brilliant stuff.

    I was trying to think of a way to describe the environment as a whole in modern standard. I’ve recently come back to constructed Magic after playing essentially nothing but limited since just after Onslaught and while I noticed things had certainly changed, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. You’re graphs break down the sheer “over-parity” most of the decks in this format create at CC4, 5, 6 and 7. This crystalizes exactly *WHY* I’m having trouble making weenie aggro, cantrip control and classic card advantage strategies work. Everything is “set up for 3 turns and start dropping 2 for 1 or even 3 for 1 bombs”.

    Thanks, I think you just saved me a lot of time.

    -nina

  6. @ MBSegal

    Did you miss the part where he explained it was a direct translation of a previous deck into current standard and then explained that it should definately not be played…

  7. I really like this way of looking at decks. I’ve thought of the ratio of threats/removal/etc., and thought of the curve, but never of both together like this.

    Very nice, thanks for the article.

  8. Thank you for having your brain and not being hesitant to show us how it works for whatever reason. I love to see intelligent, well thought out articles.

  9. I think mono-black can work, the biggest problem it has is thrinax and planeswalkers, leyline solves thrinax at the price of not being able to run echoes and needle, hexmage and dust solve the PW problem. The last problem it has is that it relies really heavily on life gain, which means that mono red could stop it with leyline.

    Overall it seems very fragile, but i think it will at least be playable.

  10. pile on mbsegal!!!! yay!!!! that was good for a laugh. rtfa dude. rtfa.

    anyway, nice article Alex. i’m enjoying the “abstraction theory” thing quite a bit and this article was a good application of it. those visual snapshots are pretty useful. definitely a highly efficient information format that makes it pretty clear what a deck is up to and at what pace. i like it alot.

  11. In the future, could you please re-scale your graphs so that the scale numbers are integers?

  12. You, sir, have the best, most well thought out, and informative articles on this site. Week after week it’s insightful, new information on the state of the metagame, improving yourself as a player, and better ways to analyze decks. Anybody can come up with a semi-competitive list, but you explain exactly why that list can be competitive or not. This deep understanding of the metagame is something every competive player or deck builder should have. Thank you for putting in the time and effort to write these articles. And keep up the good work.

  13. I think the point is that making a direct, card-for-card translation, then saying MBC can’t work in Standard because the list is horrible, is a bad conclusion. A direct translation obviously won’t work, but you can still build MBC without trying to replace it card-for-card. That’s why people are annoyed.

  14. I am totally against negativity and non constructive criticism…

    This article is poop. I scrolled past most of it once I saw your rebuild of the MBC deck…

    I love reading.

    Great stuff, good stuff, bad stuff… This didnt even classify under bad. I had to ignore it.

    I’m not even going to waste my time writing anything more.

    Heres some constructive criticism.

    Less tables, more meaning and wtf happend to cabal coffers?

    Why are you using so many complex words and more complicated sentences? Does it make you feel intelligent?

    Simplify. Keep it basic. I know its boring to hear these drab words over and over again. Its not the words dude, its the passion behind them.

    I feel nothing from this article.

    Make me feel! Show me why you wrote it..

    anyone can say bla bla bla…

    There I just did!

  15. I was having a discussion about a mono black deck in standard the other day. Everyone keeps mentioning ‘MBC’, but we both agreed that not only is the meta different, but until you have cabal coffers or something similarly powerful in the fast mana department (dark ritual would work!), that you can’t copy the idea behind MBC.

    If you were to make a mono black deck, and you don’t want to make vampires (and I don’t blame you), you are looking at playing some kind of aggro-control deck really. Dedicated control won’t work, as it has no card advantage engines to combat the other big deck’s card advantage engines (Jund’s cascade spells or every other deck’s planeswalkers)

    The one thing mono black has going for it, is that it has some amazing threats starting at 3cc and up to 6cc.
    Vampire nighthawk, abyssal persecutor, grave titan, malakir bloodwitch, phylactery lich, etc..

    If you just trade 1 for 1s, maybe add in some hypnotic specters for disruption, then plop down one of those threats and hope to win the game before they can recover, you might have something. Something that is likely only a tier 2 deck, though. There isn’t anything that lets mono black reliably power out those threats quickly, and their discard/disruption isn’t as strong as other decks until you get to 5 mana for a mind sludge. But, let’s be honest, if you are playing mind sludge, you might as well play vampires, and that’s only a tier 2 deck itself.

    Possibly Scars of Mirrodin will bring the tools needed to make a MBC deck work, but right now it’s still missing something. Heck, even a 2drop artifact that makes black mana might make it good enough to run liches as a main threat, while allowing you to accelerate towards your other big spells. Reprinting the talisman cycle might be enough, for example. Reliably casting a turn 3 Lich and then a turn 4 mind sludge would be a pretty potent sequence of plays against almost any deck.

  16. Remand does sort of exist in Standard, in the form of Lapse of Certainty, and I wouldn’t overlook Lapse if mana denial is part of your game plan.

    If Destructive Force fits in any shell right now, I’d wager it’s RUW. You get Jace, AJ V, Oust, Mana Leak, Lapse, Spread, etc. For ramp, there’s Chalice and Red Ritual. Casting Jace may be difficult though…

  17. True, true. I remember back in Mirrodin people looked at Ebony Drake and said “Hey, maybe suicide black will return?”

  18. Whole time i was waiting for the “Oh, and here’s the deck i would play if i was gonna test mono black for the current standard”.

  19. I’ve been playing a monoblack list on magic online (so no m11 cards yet) and been having a lot of fun with it.

    The deck is basically built around killing every threat they play in the early turns, then winning through the 1-2 punch of mindsludge into Sorin Markov it has a pretty bad Jund and mono red matchup but kills, Turboland, Mythic and the UW planeswalker decks far from a teir 1 deck but very fun.

  20. I’m having a hard time understanding your graphs. What are the numbers on the left axis? I thought at first that they might be the number of cards ran at each CMC, but then I look at the Jund list and realize that Jund doesn’t run 21 5-drops, 18 4-drops, and 16 3-drops.

    So then I thought, okay, they must be the percentage of each deck at that CMC. But then I looked back at Astral Slide and Wake. Were those decks really running more than half land? No, it looks like Wake’s numbers add up to about 36, so that must be the number of nonland cards played….

    I think I’ve figured it out. Some are percents and some are not. But some consistency (and labeling the axes) would make the graphs much more legible.

  21. No, I think Destructive Force can work in UR. We need to remember that while Shards remains in Standard, the lure of 3 colour decks is really strong. To be fair, we will still have most of the tools for 3 colour decks post-Shards (with the fetches + dual lands) but there will be less upside than at the moment. As bad as Cancel is, it was pretty solid in early Chapin style UW control decks after San Diego.

    Mana Leak, Jace, Mystifying Maze and Jace’s Ingenuity are all cards that could be very strong in the UR shell. While Mind Spring is more powerful, Jace’s Ingenuity is ideal for traditional counter based control. We can’t know what will be printed in Scars, but I will expect we will get another solid counterspell to pair with Mana Leak.

    Lastly, the deck could utilize Crystal Ball kind of in the way Sensei’s Divining Top was used in Death Cloud back in the day in order to rebuild faster.

    It was an intriguing article nonetheless.

  22. @ GRF
    I think that the numbers on the left axis indicate the number of cards the deck ran at each CMC. The fact that sometimes the number is higher than the actual cards run at that number may be due to some cards being classified as belonging to more than one class, e.g. Bituminous Blast as both Removal and Card Advantage.

    I still agree that having whole numbers on such left axis would improve readability, though.

    Other than that, I really appreciated the article and the proposed way to combine a drop-curve graph with a breakdown of the supposed roles the cards are playing in a given deck.

  23. @GRF: The numbers on the Y (vertical) axis are the number of cards played at each mana cost that fulfill a specific role. Cards that are dual-purpose are counted twice. For example Broodmate Dragon in Jund counts as both Threat and Card Advantage. If you take a look that the graph for Mythic, you see that 1 CMC has values of 8 Acceleration and 4 Threat for a total of 12. Mythic of course only plays 8 one drop creatures: 4 Birds of Paradise and 4 Noble Hierarch. However Noble is a threat, while Birds is not; thus 8+4=12. This also explains phenomena such like Cryptic Command or Jace TMS: his 4 modes provide disruption, CA, removal and an ultimate threat, making 4 in your deck equivalent to 16 cards. Check Alex’s article archives for a more detailed explanation, without the pretty graphs. http://strategy.channelfireball.com/featured-articles/in-development-using-abstractions-in-deck-design/

  24. To start with, no, I’m not going to download a pdf/doc and fill it out. That’s just lazy surveying. If you’re not going to bother to make a proper electronic survey and expect to actually read out some thousand answers (well, less) and gather them up in a sensible frame, you must be out of your mind.

  25. I really like the approach of your deck analysis.

    Did you ever try to rate every card in standard and compose out of that pool of information the “highest-scoring” deck?

  26. This idea of bar graph abstraction is a great one. Great deck designers always talk about the “texture” of a deck and the texture of a format, and these graphs really do a good job of making that concept into something more concrete. It seems a little rough right now, since so many cards fit multiple categories,, but I hope you keep working with it. I like looking at decks in this way.

  27. While I did gather a few tidbits from the article it did seem to be a bit overcomplicated and not particulary focused. Quality over quantity…

  28. I do like the idea of trying to quantify why a particular deck is good or bad in a certain matchup based on more general (timeless) principles. Other people have tried this (Mike Flores and his famous sligh vs suicide black matchup; a fella called M. Devine has also said some useful things about this problem).

    As for your classification, I think it is overly complicated; classifying according to threats, answers and resources according to Devine will do. Of course this will mean that certain cards get multiple labels (Lightning Bolt will be a threat or answer, depending on the situation or even the particular matchup), but that is not necessarily a problem.

    With respect to MBC, I think it is only ever good against creature heavy decks because it plays so much creature removal, i.e. its answers are not answers but blanks in 2/3rds of the matchups (vs combo and vs other control decks). I don’t mind the thought experiment of carrying the list over to a modern list so much as some of the other critics; it can help understand the game better although it does get a little bit tedious toward the end.

  29. Sweet article, Alex! It really helped me understand formats a lot better. Unfortunately I’ve only been playing competitive Magic since Alara, so I don’t have this knowledge that you go on, but it’s nice to see how players better than me look at things.

    Minor nitpick: In future, when you use graphs that aren’t clearly spelled out, please write a description of the graph before you start using the acronyms. It’s generally policy in documents to write the definition of an acronym on the first use of the acronym, and having to look at those first few tables with no idea of what anything meant was awkward.

  30. Two of the problems with MBC at the moment are the lack of a coffers type accelerant and weak wrath effects. Consume the Meek and Marsh Casualties (amazing vs mythic as it may be) are not Mutilate.

    I think simply reprinting the Mirage Diamonds or equivalent in Scars could help alot. Gives you colored turn 2 accelerants and provides artifacts for the Lich.

  31. Extremely high quality and well thought out article. Very interesting! Would love to see more articles like this one- thanks!

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  33. Question, how do you count multi-faceted cards in your analysis? Any Planeswalker/Charm seems like it’s going to be difficult to place into a single catagory.

    Also, “Disruption” could be defined more clearly – you definitely could make an article about how to take any decklist and graph it in format.

  34. Nicol Bolas said it best. Keep up the brilliant work Mr. Shearer. Your articles read like math oriented Chapin articles, and are a fabulous angle to view the game from.

  35. I don’t understand why people disliked this article so much.

    I think that creating graphs that visually represent what a deck does is very interesting, at least for standard. Just by looking at those graphs, you can sort of figure out what each deck is trying to do, and Alexander did a good job of explaining things.

    In any case, I usually don’t read many of Alexander’s articles, but after this one, I’ll be sure to try to read a few more.

  36. Just as an addendum to my last comment, I would suggest including a key that explains each category on the graph right off the bat, instead of having to scroll down. For example, I didn’t quite know what “D” was just by looking at the graphs.

    Also, maybe a cursory explaination for how you quantify each category, so you can eliminate some of the confusion i.e. how 1 card can be counted in multiple categories.

  37. I like the theoretical approach you take, and it definitely has some value. However, actually testing decks might be useful 😉

    Aristotle reasoned that an object weighing twice as much as another object will fall twice as fast. That logic was taken for fact for hundreds of years until somebody actually tested it.

    Just something to think about.

    P.S. I’m still a fan of theory, though. So keep it up.
    P.P.S. I’m still going to test MBC in the current standard 😉

  38. @Smitty. He answered it in his original column. He counts multi-category cards both times. So, for example, Blightning would be counted twice in the curve at 3 mana- both as a non-creature threat and disruption.

    So the entire idea is that you can look at the curve and see that the deck has disruption and threats at 3 on the curve and get a sense of the deck. At least, that’s the idea.

  39. Unfortunatly Mono-Black is dead and as long as Black doesn’t recieve a consistant way to deal with Planeswalkers it will remain dead.

    One Jace, TMS, on the board is almost game over for Mono-B.

  40. Lots of comments this time around. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts. I’m glad so many of you found it thought-provoking and helpful.

    As a general note, I will provide a clear and concise explanation (instead of, say, linking back!) anytime I use some kind of abstraction in the future. For reference, multi-faceted cards, for example a planeswalker, can be marked in multiple categories. This is why the mid-section of the Jund graph is so rich, as many cards provide card advantage (CA) on top of their other job.

    @MBSegal49 – I think the next few commenters covered that one, but yeah, that wasn’t any kind of ideal list, which is the point.

    @Nina – Super glad that it helped you out.

    @Rebekkah – Glad you appreciated it. I worry on occasion that this kind of thing is accidentally obfuscatory, but these are the kinds of tools I like to use to understand things (like, say, how decks have shifted over time).

    @Bucky – Sure thing. On that note, what does everyone think of putting the graphs on the same scale as well? This time around, I kind of went with the autoscaling so that they all come out to the same height, but I’m somewhat concerned that this may be misleading when the graphs are taken “at a glance.”

    @OneEyedKing – That’s exactly my point, though. Nostalgia drives us to try and recreate old decks in the new Standard, and it’s good to have the tools to try and evaluate why they may or may not work.

    @Nolan – I think you’re dead-on that a mono-black anything right now will necessarily be aggro-control (aka midrange?), which is sort of where Vampires goes right now. Note that during Od-On Standard, we also saw mono-black midrange decks running side-by-side by mono-black control, and they really do remind me of a contemporary Vampires deck.

    @GRF – Hopefully this was explained in the comments later on. In the future, I will include a concise explanation of how these graphs work anytime I use them, so that you don’t have to click back to the prior article to figure them out.

    @SeVi – Interesting. Sounds like something to test, certainly.

    @MH – It’s too bad you won’t contribute, as a lot of our fellow players have already. It can’t realistically be a “proper electronic survey” because it’s so open-ended and narrative in nature. It would basically be a big form that said, “Please email me your thoughts after reading these prompts,” which is pretty much what the PDF already is.

    @mictom – I’m not sure how I’d rate every card in Standard without using the current pool of decks as a sort of gold-standard dataset…and if I did that, I think I’d pretty much come up with a “most frequently played cards” metric, which is neat, but not something that usefully rates decks. What kind of card-rating mechanism did you have in mind?

    @Chris – I’m glad you appreciated it. I think the graphs make the “texture” aspect much more clear than the way I used to do it with letters.

    @WLV – Cards are already getting multiple labels the way I’m doing things right now, so I have no problem with that at all. I’m not familiar with Devine’s work, so I’ll have to read up and review. As a first-blush response, “threats,” “answers,” and “resources” feels too rough to me, but I’m flexible. 🙂

    @Lyle – Will do.

    @chaos_noise – Heck yes, sir. The lack of Mutilate, especially, is a bad one for the deck.

    @Nick – I’m a combined computational and experimental biologist, so I agree with you 100%. Think of this as the “informatics” half of the work, serving as a precursor to the “experimental” playtesting half.

  41. @Alex

    Brilliant! Seriously, best bit of theory since “card advantage”! I love it, if I weren’t so busy I’d make a little app to generate those graphs from .dec files. Hmm I wonder if we took a couple of decks and look how they sidedout against a certain deck, I wonder if they generally exaggerate their own curves *or* they all morph in a general direction. Perhaps this could lead to algorithmic SB suggestions! Any thoughts?

    Two requests:
    1) Please include a legend in every article since I kept flipping back and forth
    2) Labelled axis please, integer lines too if possible.

    ~ArtB

  42. I agree that right now MBC is going to need some work when it comes to standard.

    I guess All is Dust acts as a decent sweeper – Consume doesn’t cut it.

    You def need hexmage and pithing needle in the board to deal with PWs. Then tons of removal, maybe some Bloodghast, Gatekeeper, and Grave Titan as your creatures.

    The lack of a good accelerator (cabal coffers) really hurts the deck too.

    All and all, I’d rather play a Destructive Force deck =P

  43. Count me among the ones that really liked the graphs. They have been the most objective way to measure how deckbuilding has evolved from the old times to the modern times, and provide some really solid insight to decks that many times are just merely speculated by words.

    Great work indeed.

  44. @Alex–Good to hear you’re in to both halves. Testing and theory definitely inform each other. (In biology, magic, and every other discipline)

    @Oz– aren’t hexmages pretty much not only a good answer for planeswalkers in black, but one of the best ways to get rid of planewalkers in general? Heck, it even gets around negate (unlike every other PW answer). When’s the last time essence scatter was seriously considered main deck or sideboard?

  45. Great article. I love the deck abstraction concept and hope to see more of it. Definitely a good way to look at a list and a metagame as a whole. I feel bad for the people who saw the MBC list and ragequit reading because of it, as they missed out on an enlightening read.

  46. @Nick

    While it is very necessary to test theories, the Aristotle example is a common misconception. When Galileo disproved the commonly held notion of a heavier object falling faster than a lighter object, he actually used a thought experiment to do so (source: Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, by Galileo Galilei).

    The argument went as follows: Let us assume that Aristotle is correct. Now, suppose we take to rocks, one twice as heavy as the other. Then, we would expect the larger one to accelerate twice as quickly as the smaller one. Now, suppose we tied a rope between them. Then, the smaller one, falling slower than the larger one, would slow the system down, and they would fall slower than the big one by itself. However, if we tie them together, we now have one larger object that weighs more than the bigger rock alone, hence it should fall quicker than the bigger rock. Thus, we have an object that should fall both slower and quicker than the larger rock, which is a contradiction. Thus our original assumption is false.

    As you can see, theory can be very useful in proving things about actual processes, or decks.

  47. Definitely one of the best articles I’ve read on this site. Extremely helpful and insightful.

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