It’s hard to evaluate what really defined a best deck. It almost certainly can’t just be a head-to-head comparison. Thus, my criteria was: over my Magic career, which decks did I think gave me the biggest advantage over the field in the tournaments in which I played them?
5) Oath of Druids, Extended – Grand Prix Houston 2002
I played this deck at a time when Extended was overrun with “Miracle Grow” decks. That deck was super powerful, but I thought the Oath deck had a great matchup against it. Even though it was a good matchup, it was certainly possible to lose, as I proved in the Top 4 against Brian Kibler.
The four maindeck copies of Disrupt were easily my favorite part of the deck. Disrupt is great against any deck with blue in it, and was especially good against the Miracle Grow deck, because the deck was very light on lands. It used Land Grant to effectively have extra copies of Tropical Island. At least once in the tournament I was able to cast Disrupt on a turn-one Land Grant which effectively ended the game on the spot. Another thing I loved about the deck was Intuition and Accumulated Knowledge. If you draw one of each, the Intuition could search for three more copies of Accumulated Knowledge, turning the first one into a two-mana Ancestral Recall and the second into a two-mana Opportunity.
4) Battle of Wits, Standard – Grand Prix Milwaukee 2002
The Battle of Wits deck is probably the deck I played that people ask me about the most. I always say the same thing: Battle of Wits seemed like a gimmicky deck, or a deck that relied on casting Battle of Wits to win the game. The truth is that I probably won half the games without ever casting Battle of Wits. The deck played like a Limited deck, even though it was Constructed. And beyond that, it played like a control deck. There were a ton of cantrips, and once the deck was able to gain control, it was usually able to keep control with powerful card draw.
Wild Research was the best card in the deck, and not only because it found Battle of Wits. It could find the perfect card in most situations, and often that card would draw another card, like Repulse, Exclude, or Hobble. Wild Research was usually the card that I eventually found that enabled me to win the game by searching up multiple copies of Urza’s Rage with kicker. In case I got unlucky, I could search up Yawgmoth’s Agenda to cast them from the graveyard. I never had to discard too many Urza’s Rages and too many Yawgmoth’s Agendas.
3) Mono-Blue Devotion, Standard – Pro Tour Theros 2013
Mono-Blue Devotion was certainly the breakout deck of Pro Tour Theros. Mono-Blue and Mono-Black Devotion would go on to be the best decks in Standard for basically a full year until the release of Khans of Tarkir. Although Mono-Black Devotion showed up at the Pro Tour, it didn’t really reach its full potential for a while. Instead, the field had a lot of green decks, and a lot of red decks, which the Mono-Blue deck was truly great against because of Master of Waves and Tidebinder Mage.
Ultimately, both of the major teams that chose Mono-Blue Devotion—The Pantheon and Team Revolution—had very good results, including Revolution taking both 1st and 2nd place in the tournament.
The next two decks are actually so old that I was unable to find my exact deck list. For #2, I used Kai’s deck list since it was posted online, but removed the red lands, since I didn’t play red. For #1, I tried to remember it to the best of my ability. It might be a couple cards off, but the list is pretty close. I didn’t recreate the sideboards, since I really just can’t remember, thought I do remember that they weren’t integral to my love of the decks.
2) Yawg Will/High Tide, Extended – 1999 World Championships in Yokohama, Japan
Time Spiral had been banned somewhat recently in Extended, but it turned out that it’s possible this banning actually made the deck stronger. Yawgmoth’s Will is one of the most powerful cards in the history of Magic. Sometimes it reads: “2B – Draw 10 cards.” Frantic Search is another broken card that, in combination with High Tide, created absurd card filtering and mana generation. It is also worth noting that this deck was popular during a time when Thawing Glaciers was broken. The rules at the time worked such that if Thawing Glaciers were activated in the end step, it would allow you to search for a land, untap, use it again, getting another land, and then it would return to hand at the beginning of the following end step. Thawing Glaciers is a very powerful card when you get to search for a land every other turn. It’s absurd when you get to search for two lands every third turn. Also, if you ever started “going off” with a Thawing Glaciers in play, you could search for a land every time you cast Turnabout, and often you could pull this off even when you cast Frantic Search.
1) Necro Donate (a.k.a. Trix), Extended – Grand Prix Philadelpia 2000
I remember sitting down and playing matches in Philadelphia after which I was just completely stunned at how good this deck was. With all the one-black-mana tutors, it was SO easy to put Necropotence into play on turn 2. At that point, you could often draw 14 or so cards, ensuring a near-perfect hand on turn 3, I mean just look at this one:
Even if you couldn’t get that monster, simply playing an Illusions of Grandeur gives you access to 20 more life—effectively 20 more cards. Paying the upkeep once and casting a Donate was never particularly difficult. Hoodwink could also be used to bounce the Illusions after Donating it, to end the game immediately.
A lot of people played Necro Donate at Grand Prix Philly, if I remember correctly, but anyone who didn’t I felt massively advantaged against. In the Top 8 I made a horrible mistake against a mono-red Sligh deck, Duressing the wrong card, and costing myself the match and the tournament. Normally in a situation like that, I feel like I let myself down, but this deck was so good, I almost felt like I let the deck down. That’s a mistake that I’ve always wished I could have back. You only get to play a deck like this once.