Card drawing has always been one of my favorite aspects of Magic. Many of my favorite decks have the same basic core strategy: I trade cards one-for-one with the other guy as efficiently as possible while I build up mana and then in the mid-game I use that mana to draw extra cards. This is card advantage implemented in its most basic and elegant form and when I was first getting good at Magic, that's how everyone around me played.
Back before I ever made it onto the Pro Tour, I played at Carnegie Mellon University against great players like Andrew Cuneo and Erik Lauer. Each of them thoroughly understood the power of drawing extra cards and each of them beat me with deck after deck that would trade resources early and then drown me under a flood of extra cards. I've never seen anyone point Arcane Denial at his own Urza's Bauble as often as Lauer. Browse was another favorite at CMU back in the day and these are the same guys that taught me to use Impulse to dig for Brainstorm when playing any deck which had Thawing Glaciers running. Putting two land back on top and then shuffling them away (and thawing them out eventually) is as close to Ancestral Recall as has been legal outside of Type 1 in eight years.
I already wrote an article about the Necropotence deck that changed my life by helping me win Pro Tour - Chicago. If you look closely, you can see lots of evidence of its Team CMU heritage: it's chock full of efficient removal spells and the basic route to victory is to trade cards early and then win by drawing a bunch more. The second most famous deck I ever played on the Pro Tour shows off these lessons even more clearly:
Creature (1)1 Rainbow Efreet
Instant (29)4 Counterspell 4 Dismiss 2 Dissipate 3 Forbid 4 Force Spike 4 Impulse 3 Mana Leak 1 Memory Lapse 4 Whispers of the Muse
Artifact (4)4 Nevinyrral's Disk
Blue (40)1 Rainbow Efreet 4 Counterspell 4 Dismiss 2 Dissipate 3 Forbid 4 Force Spike 4 Impulse 3 Mana Leak 1 Memory Lapse 4 Whispers of the Muse 2 Capsize 4 Hydroblast 4 Sea Sprite
Common (44)18 Island 4 Counterspell 4 Force Spike 4 Impulse 3 Mana Leak 1 Memory Lapse 2 Capsize 4 Hydroblast 4 Sea Sprite
Uncommon (25)4 Quicksand 4 Stalking Stones 4 Dismiss 2 Dissipate 3 Forbid 4 Whispers of the Muse 4 Wasteland
Twenty-one counterspells allow the deck to stop almost everything the opponent tries to do. At a minimum, they allow for a lot of one-for-one trades (as do the Quicksands). The four Disks also trade with the opponent's stuff, though they often nabbed more than one permanent at a time. The four Impulses are just a super-efficient way to set things up and that leaves just five nonland cards left in the deck: a single creature and four copies of the key spell in the deck: Whispers of the Muse.
The way to win with this deck is to counter everything you possibly can and build up to six lands in play. From that point on you use your mana to stop your opponent's threats if necessary or to draw an extra card if possible. All those extra cards make victory inevitable, even with just one creature and four creature lands available to deliver the actual kill. Once you Whisper up a bunch of extra cards, you have so many lands out that it's easy to clear the board with a Disk and then counter every single spell for the rest of the game.
I went 6-1 in Standard with this deck and wound up 12th overall in the 21-round event. My deck was eventually printed as one of the four commemorative decks for Worlds that year. One year later, at Worlds '99 in Yokohama, I played mono-blue control again during the Standard portion of the event. This time I had Urza's Block to work with instead of Mirage Block (and Sixth Edition instead of Fifth), but the basic skeleton of the deck was still the same:
Creature (3)3 Masticore
Artifact (4)4 Powder Keg
Enchantment (4)4 Treachery
Sideboard (15)1 Masticore 4 Annul 1 Capsize 3 Chill 3 Legacy's Allure 2 Maze of Shadows 1 Stroke of Genius
Blue (37)4 Counterspell 4 Dismiss 4 Forbid 4 Mana Leak 1 Miscalculation 4 Treachery 4 Whispers of the Muse 4 Annul 1 Capsize 3 Chill 3 Legacy's Allure 1 Stroke of Genius
Colorless (38)4 Faerie Conclave 16 Island 4 Stalking Stones 4 Wasteland 4 Masticore 4 Powder Keg 2 Maze of Shadows
5 (4)4 Treachery
Uncommon (32)4 Faerie Conclave 4 Stalking Stones 4 Wasteland 4 Dismiss 4 Forbid 4 Whispers of the Muse 3 Chill 3 Legacy's Allure 2 Maze of Shadows
Seventeen counters and four Powder Kegs were designed to trade resources with the opponent and then Whispers of the Muse once again kicked in when the deck built up six lands in play. If you couldn't beat this deck early, you just weren't beating it and at Worlds that year, no one did. I went 6-0 in Standard (though I only managed 4-8 on the other two days and wound up a disappointing 57th overall).
Andrew Cuneo deserves the credit for perfecting this strategy, by the way. While others have called it CMU Blue or even Buehler Blue, I still refer to it as Cuneo Blue because he's the guy who first put the deck together correctly and first mastered the fine art of playing it. Cuneo named it “Draw, Go” mostly out of frustration while trying to teach Donnie Gallitz how to play it. “You just draw and say go, Donnie – stop thinking about doing anything else on your turn.”
In between these two mono-blue decks, I had a fair amount of success running a red-blue Counter-Phoenix deck during the Tempest Block Constructed Grand Prix season. That deck used Shard Phoenix as the card drawing engine instead of Whispers of the Muse, but it was still a control deck that just wanted to stay alive long enough to get its card drawing game going.
"THE FORBIDDEN PHOENIX", 1998
Artifact (1)1 Scroll Rack
Sideboard (15)3 Mogg Fanatic 1 Dismiss 3 Portcullis 3 Thalakos Drifters 3 Shattering Pulse 2 Stalking Stones
Colorless (35)14 Island 10 Mountain 4 Reflecting Pool 1 Caldera Lake 1 Scroll Rack 3 Portcullis 2 Stalking Stones
5 (4)4 Shard Phoenix
For yet another example of this strategy, check out the deck I used to win the 1998 North American Extended Championship. Note that this deck (along with the Necro deck) show that card drawing doesn't have to go hand-in-hand with permission. All those counterspells can just as easily be Lightning Bolts and the same overall strategy still works.
Tax/Rack Qhite Weenie
Enchantment (4)4 Land Tax
White (27)4 Savannah Lions 4 Soltari Priest 4 White Knight 3 Disenchant 4 Land Tax 4 Swords to Plowshares 4 Tithe
Colorless (25)1 Kjeldoran Outpost 8 Plains 4 Plateau 1 Savannah 4 Wasteland 4 Mox Diamond 3 Scroll Rack
1 (24)2 Gorilla Shaman 4 Savannah Lions 2 Firestorm 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Land Tax 4 Swords to Plowshares 4 Tithe
Not one card in the deck costs more than 2 mana because the deck wants to be able to trade cards as quickly and efficiently as possible.
In particular, since the card-drawing engine being abused here is Land Tax, this deck wants to play as few lands as possible (ideally zero, with a Mox Diamond in play). Scroll Rack allowed me to turn all the extra lands I got from Land Tax into spells and thus convert that raw card advantage into actual business. They were cheap business spells, but I drew so many of them that it just didn't matter and this deck directly led to the banning of Land Tax in Extended.
So there you have a quick tour through card-drawing decks I had great success with during my Pro Tour career. Drawing a slow but steady supply of extra cards remains one of my favorite ways to win in Magic and I hope this tour helped you understand (or remember) why that strategy can be so powerful.
Last Week's Poll Question:
|Are you interested in hearing more about the Vapor Ops test?|
Fair enough – I will work up some more material on the Vapor Ops test.
Randy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.