The Biggest Deck

Posted in Event Coverage

By Toby Wachter

battle of wits

One man's trash is often another man's treasure, but where Magic is concerned, piloting a piece of trash can often result in being labeled a scrub. Every circle of Magic players has one or two guys always looking to play cards that others consider to be awful, and more often than not, these efforts are not successful. Of course, this is usually not done for competitive reasons. Some of these players are looking to have fun with an unexplored card, and winning is secondary.

But what happens when "horrible" cards become good? What does it take for a decktype to go from "just for fun" to "tournament viable"? I've personally gained a bit of notoriety over the past few weeks for piloting a Battle of Wits deck to a Grudge Match Qualifier victory, but I never really intended to win. I showed up to the tournament that day intending to have a good time, and scrub out. For that reason, I was a bit surprised to win, but not entirely shocked. Believe it or not, the deck's strategy makes sense. The concept is fairly simple: a watered down, somewhat inconsistent permission deck with four cards that say "I win", and a lot of cantrips and search to get it. Winning a tournament that had Michael Pustilnik and Alex Shvartsman in the Top 8 legitimized the deck, but I was still very skeptical that it would ever be a serious tournament deck.

As I waited for the Masters Gateway to start this morning, Ben Bleiweiss told me that William "Baby Huey" Jensen and Matt Linde were playing a Battle of Wits deck. Naturally, I was hesitant to believe this, but there were Huey and Linde, massive decks and decklists in hand. Well, sort of. Huey filled out a full decklist, while Linde's simply says "Same as William Jensen". I didn't quite know what to make of this. Were they looking to have fun, or was the decktype better than I thought? Interestingly, they actually built their deck independent from mine. For comparison, here's their version and mine:

William Jensen and Matt Linde

Download Arena Decklist

Toby Wachter

Download Arena Decklist
Sideboard (15)
4 Lobotomy 4 Gainsay 4 Obliterate 3 Mana Short

Note: The current version of Gigantor has +2 Agenda, +1 Swamp, +4 Nightscape Familiar, and -4 Dismantling Blow. The sideboard has +4 Mana Maze, +1 Mana Short, -1 Obliterate, -4 Lobotomy.

To clear up any confusion, when Brian David-Marshall posted my deck on the Top 8 Grudge Match announcements on the Neutral Ground website, he named the deck "...With an Unarmed Opponent". In case you don't get it, the joke is that it can be phrased "I'm playing with an unarmed opponent". I named my deck Gigantor and Jensen wrote "...With an Unarmed Opponent" on his deck registration sheet, so I'll use those two names for reference.

I sat down with both of these players to get their thoughts on the deck, and gain some insight into why they decided to pay it today. Huey and Linde told me they had considered an Extended version of the deck, but noticed it wasn't a good idea. Huey explained, "The Extended version just couldn't beat Donate" and Linde chimed in, "You just can't beat Force of Will and cards like that in Extended, but there's nothing too powerful in Standard right now". They got the original decklist from Ben Rubin, and thought the idea was good enough to consider seriously. The deck may look like a "just for fun" idea, but Linde defends its viability. "I think it's a good deck. You don't have to win with Battle of Wits. You have Wild Research and Urza's Rage, Prophetic Bolt. You can just go to their nugget." Huey added, "It's good enough that we could justify playing it and having fun ".

Their version was built independently from mine, weeks before my Grudge Match win. This may seem a bit odd, but these decklists reveal that multiple, viable Battle of Wits archetypes are possible. The major difference is that their version runs very little white, while my version has Wrath of God, Rout, and maindeck Teferi's Moat. This doesn't mean that their version is at a loss for creature removal. It runs Void, Terminate, Jilt, and even Hobble. The other big difference is that their version has only four creatures in Flametongue Kavu, while mine has twenty. This has the obvious benefit of making opposing creature removal spells dead weight draws.

Matt Linde and his deck

Another difference is that they are running twelve Diamonds total, which is helpful for mana acceleration and color balance, with the added benefit of allowing the deck to win with Battle a turn faster. This may seem irrelevant, but it makes a big difference against aggressive decks. Also, my deck has eight Lairs, while theirs does not contain any, but more filter lands. Their deck has plenty of spot removal, while mine has more mass removal. This means that their answers such as Jilt and Terminate are cheaper, while my deck answers creature threats with more expensive, but more efficient Wrath effects.

As far as matchups go, Huey noted, "Red/Green is pretty tough. They just come out of the gate fast, and if you don't get a good draw you'll just lose." I mentioned that Sligh was an easy matchup since Linde had just beat Jeff Cunningham's mono-Red deck in the first round. Linde agreed, "Sligh is a very good matchup, but that Balancing Act deck might give us some trouble. Obliterate is really bad, and Balancing Act isn't good either." Huey added, "I think that matchup depends on how much discard we draw." What are the good matchups? "The control matchup is really easy. You have Void and Lobotomy...every card is a threat or a cantrip."

Most opponents find it hard to take a Battle of Wits deck seriously, but Huey and Linde are confident in their deck choice. Huey commented, "We showed up with the deck and everyone's laughing and stuff, but I think it's pretty good." Regardless of either player's performance today, the fact that Battle of Wits is being used at a high level tournament legitimizes the deck even more. It's one thing to win a Grudge Match Qualifier, but it's another thing to play it in a Masters Gateway, where a win provides $2,000, and the opportunity to earn even more. There are rumors that a Battle of Wits deck may be played in the main Masters tournament, which should prove to be very interesting.

The rest of this story has yet to be written, as Huey and Linde are still playing for a Masters spot. By the end of the weekend, the Magic community will know if Battle of Wits is the real deal. Either way the deck is still a welcome, fun change to the usual sixty card deck, but with a major win in the Masters, the decktype may become a common occurrence at tournaments.

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