Magic Memories: Necropotence

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Mar 26, 2018.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I didn't own anything close to the cards needed at the time to pull that off! And my methods for getting that many tokens also generally enabled me to cut out the middleman and not use Firestorm as a kill spell. But my card collection in 2000 was diminutive. I did go on to experiment with Saproling Cluster combos, but Firestorm wasn't involved in that. There's potential there, though.

    So this came up in one of my long arguments with Spiderman several years ago as a bit of a weird tangent...

    I'd been using Illusions of Grandeur + Donate as a kill condition with Necropotence for a few years and didn't start actively making my whole deck based around it, which I named "HHT" (Here, Hold This) until well after Dark Ritual had been banned in Extended to weaken it. But I wasn't playing Extended and didn't care about that ban. As I refined my deck, it started to look a lot like a deck I had never seen before, but which had been used in Extended tournaments, a Necro Donate variant piloted by Blake Manders and Josh Bennett, described in articles on Star City Games. They called it "Dance Dance Donate Illusions." Anyway, when I was actively working on HHT (it became my go-to deck for casual games against unknown opponents), I went back and read pretty much all of Josh Bennett's articles. And in one of them, he said this...

    I think I confused Spiderman when I brought that one up because I didn't give enough context (it was a very long discussion and we were getting bogged down in details). Josh Bennett was talking about piloting a specific deck in the specific environment of Extended in 2000. At that time, there two two common types of opponents who would be likely to cast first-turn Dark Ritual. One type would be likely to follow Dark Ritual up with Necropotence. Hold the Force Spike and use it on Necropotence, and you'd not only get a 2-for-1, but you'd get rid of a card you really wanted not to hit the board. But the other type was more likely to split the Dark Ritual mana across two different spells. A Suicide Black deck might Duress you, see your hand devoid of anything else threatening, take Force Spike, and follow it up with a Dauthi Horror. And even if your opponent was using Necropotence, that first-turn Dark Ritual might still be split across two spells, although it was less likely.

    I won't exoll players to always take the 1-for-1. But if you're going to get greedy and hope for a 2-for-1 by holding your counter for the payload of the mana acceleration, I'd at least advocate for understanding the risks. You decide not to counter Channel, your opponent tries to pay a bunch of life to Fireball and you counter it, then you kill your weakened opponent and you feel cool. You decide not to counter Channel and your opponent uses it to hardcast Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn and you don't have answer to that, you don't feel quite so cool.

    All that being said, Spell Pierce is generally a good card to have against fast combo decks.
    The one time that Dark Ritual was actually banned, I'd argue that the ban was a mistake. But that was a tricky situation anyway.

    I mean, Walking Ballista is much more relevant in tournament decks and stuff. But the cards have almost nothing in common and I don't see the point for comparison? :confused:
    Psarketos likes this.
  2. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Its a running gag in which I tease you about Modern being better than Legacy. The non sequitur is part of my sophisticated humor ;)

    Edit hint: The joke is their respective CMC :)
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Like every other card in Modern, Walking Ballista is perfectly legal in Legacy. :p
    Psarketos likes this.
  4. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    If I ever disappear from the site, you should ask Spiderman to give you editing permissions on my posts and then strike-through all the instances of Modern Legacy legal.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Never! They shall stand forever as a testament to the glory that is the Modern format.

    Uh, where was I? Vintage? No? Oh wait, it wasn't Vintage yet because until 2004, the format was officially "Type 1" and was sometimes denoted in official media as "Classic." Same format, though. Ye olde format. Ancient format. Format what has the fancy jewelry and the special flower. You know...

    4 Necropotence
    4 Hymn to Tourach
    4 Duress
    4 Powder Keg
    2 Contagion
    4 Hypnotic Specter
    4 Phyrexian Negator
    1 Zuran Orb
    2 Drain Life
    1 Demonic Tutor
    1 Yawgmoth's Will
    1 Balance
    1 Time Walk
    1 Ancestral Recall
    4 Dark Ritual
    1 Strip Mine
    4 Wasteland
    1 Black Lotus
    1 Mox Jet
    1 Library of Alexandria
    4 Scrubland
    4 Underground Sea
    4 Swamp
    2 Rocky Tar Pit

    As with some of the other lists I've posted in this thread, that one comes conveniently from Oscar Tan's archived article (actually a combination of two older documents, one written by him and one written by JP Meyer) here at the CPA. Type 1 Necro decks were a real thing, as the history in the article elucidates. One complication with this is that after Necro decks began turning up in Type 1, it wasn't long before combo decks started to hit the format, making things rather chaotic. Necro decks like the list above were able to overpower control and control-combo decks, but were not really built to sustain themselves against aggro decks.

    Phyrexian Negator might be a bit of a quizzical bit of a history for many players...

    The card is virtually unplayable by today's standards. That drawback is such a huge risk that it seems insane. But back then, Phyrexian Negator was a tournament powerhouse. It was so far above the curve in terms of attacking power for its mana cost that nothing else came close, and many opponents didn't have very many cards that could deal with it.
  6. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Not sure if you have seen this Dominaria card, which may be an homage to your Lich like ways of history:


    I may well build this with Phyrexian Unlife in an Orzhov control shell. As long as you can keep Unlife on the table (Priviledged Position?), this gives you all the time you want to take while displaying some of the stranger side of life as a mechanic.

    Oversoul likes this.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    You've got me: Lich's Mastery is one of the cards I'm most excited for in Dominaria. As with most of the rest of the set, I wish it had 2 mana clipped from its cost (it would not be broken at 1BBB and would stand a better chance at seeing popular gameplay than the original Lich), but that's how it goes.

    I've got to rebuild my silly old Legacy Enduring Ideal deck one of these days. Some of the new stuff could give a suite of enchantments to fetch that would be better than ever before. I'm thinking Overwhelming Splendor + Sandwurm Convergence + Moat + Dovescape + Solemnity + Decree of Silence + Form of the Dragon + Privileged Position + Phyrexian Unlife + Lich's Mastery + Solitary Confinement + Parallax Tide + Limited Resources + Paradox Haze + Copy Enchantment...OK, that's too many cards already. I'd need to trim it down. Whatever. This has got to happen at some point.
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    OK, I've probably put off talking about "Trix" for long enough. I've been mulling this over, and while I can cover the important details historically, I am really not sure how to interpret this or state what it means for Necropotence. I guess I'll just have to start at the beginning and go forward from there...

    The beginning? Well, Urza's Destiny came out in 1999, and brought with it a new two-card combo.

    Somewhere online, I assume at the now-defunct Crystal Keep site, I know I saw the pre-Donate ruling on Illusions of Grandeur that if another player took control of the enchantment, that player would be subject to the life loss. Gatherer still has a copy of that (might even be the exact same wording), but Urza's Destiny predates Gatherer. I'm guessing it was just copied over back when Gatherer was set up in the early 00's.

    I haven't seen anyone use this combo for any purpose, casual or competitive, since the last time I dismantled my own deck that included it. And that was many years ago. Being that it's ancient history, I'll try to break down how good it was in its day...

    -Seven mana is a lot. Four mana on one turn and then five mana on the next turn is also a lot.
    -Donate usually doesn't have much use outside of the combo.
    -An opponent can survive the combo by gaining even a single point of life.
    -An opponent can respond to the EtB trigger on Illusions by casting an instant that kills the enchantment, triggering the LtB ability and essentially fizzling the EtB trigger. This is usually fatal.
    -An opponent can counter Donate and effectively cause the combo to do nothing except tie up the combo-player's mana.
    -Illusions of Grandeur is, by its nature, temporary. It usually needs Donate in order to actually do anything.
    -Opponents with mana-production engines can pay the upkeep for several turns in a row while attempting to kill the combo-player.

    That's all not counting the potential for the opponent to counter the LtB trigger on Illusions. Back then, cards that could counter triggered abilities didn't exist. So, we've got a two-card combo that's seven mana within one turn or nine mana over the course of two consecutive turns. It has multiple weaknesses, one of them severe, only causes the opponent to lose exactly 20 life and doesn't provide a guaranteed kill, and to top it off, both cards are generally bad outside of their use in this specific combo. That's looking pretty damning. On the other hand...

    -Both cards are blue, the best color in Magic. Also, the color that can be pitched to Force of Will.
    -Lifegain was not usually viable in the formats where this combo was played at the time. There weren't very many good lifegain cards.
    -The combo was used alongside Necropotence, Dark Ritual, and Mana Vault. The first of those made it easy to dig for the combo. The other two made it easy to get mana to cast the combo.
    -Under Necropotence, Illusions of Grandeur is a big four-mana mortgage. Gain 20 life? I'll be turning most of that into Necropotence activations, thank you very much.
    -Donate had some utility with a tapped Mana Vault or a Necropotence, especially against decks hoping to use lifegain to survive the Illusions combo. Gaining 1 life and thwarting the "Trix" player by dropping from 21 to 1 after the combo didn't feel so great after it was followed up with Donate on Necropotence.
    -Blue/black was well-positioned against control, having access to Duress alongside countermagic.
    -Aggro was slower back then, so even though the combo seems clunky by today's standards, it reasonable racing potential for the time. Aggro was also poorly positioned against a combo deck when the first step of the combo was "gain 20 life."
    -Decks using this combo could and did include a playset of Phyrexian Negator in the sideboard. Opponents who went all-in on enchantment hate to stop the combo were powerless against a 5/5 non-enchantment that could hit the board as early as turn 1.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Mark Rosewater has an anecdote about how one of the ProsBloom pioneers (maybe Mike Long, but I forget) directly insisted that R&D must have deliberately built the combo deck when they were designing Mirage/Visions. The way that completely different cards seemed to provide all of the right synergies, such that nearly the entire deck functioned as an engine built around one final conclusion, made it seem uncanny that the whole thing could have come about by accident. The timely arrival of Donate in the Extended format had some of that same uncanny aspect. Illusions of Grandeur, as an explosive life-gain 4-drop, would have been an obvious synergy with Necropotence, released in the same set as Necropotence, but for its ephemerality on the board. You had Dark Ritual. You had Force of Will in Alliances. The tools were there. Illusions of Grandeur could provide an unprecedented source of fuel for Necropotence. You gain 20 life. Except it obviously couldn't work because the same card also made you lose 20 life. It was a nonbo. Until it wasn't.

    I started down this road with my old favorite, another blue Ice Age enchantment, Zur's Weirding. Most of my games were multiplayer, and playing blue/black control in larger games was tricky. I had to find creatures that acted as deterrents, minimizing the chance that I'd be a target. But I didn't have a lot of deck slots for creatures with so much of my deck focused around the Necropotence + Zur's Weirding combo. I'd been curious the first time I saw the card, and when I'd asked what it would be used on, a more experienced player mentioned Illusions of Grandeur, a card I owned. My interest was piqued and I guess I must have traded for some copies of Donate shortly thereafter. I don't remember when exactly I first worked it into my Necropotence deck, but when I did, it was seen as a step in my eventual quest toward a Necropotence + Zur's Weirding lockdown. Part of this was my emphasis on Nevinyrral's Disk, and I was usually relying on other players to overextend into a board wipe, then I'd set up Necropotence + Zur's Weirding to keep threats from cropping up. I also pulled a couple copies of Avatar of Woe from booster packs, and those were also helpful in multiplayer games. My notion, which did pay off, was that I could use Donate + Illusions to take out my most threatening opponent at the table, then use the life boost from Illusions of Grandeur to maintain board control for the Necropotence + Zur's Weirding lock. I noticed that with the extra life from Illusions, I could activate Necro more and dig deeper, sculpting hands with Force of Will and Arcane Denial, so I had answers if my opponents attempted to thwart me.

    In Extended tournament play, the evolution of "Trix" came about in an entirely different way. Cocoa Pebbles showed that Necropotence could be used as a combo enabler. It had already been a card advantage engine in Necro control decks and a hand-refilling tool in Suicide Black aggro, with decks like Lauerpotence covering some of the ground between those two extremes. But in 1999, it was used to dig for combo components in aggregate combo setups, much like the examples Psarketos gave us with things like the "Bloodbond" infinite combo and Myr Retriever loops. Cocoa Pebbles required a three-card combo using white and red mana. Switching to Donate + Illusions and blue card was a logical next step.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    With the use of Necropotence to set up combos fresh in deckbuilders' minds on account of Cocoa Pebble and with the obvious interaction between Donate and Illusions of Grandeur, the notion of combining them probably arose in lots of places independently, but the establishment of "Trix" as a competitive Extended archetype is generally attributed to Michelle Bush. The version piloted in 2000 by Scott McCord is the one Mike Flores cited as the the "most devastating deck in the history of tournament Magic."

    4 Gemstone Mine
    3 Island
    6 Swamp
    4 Underground River
    4 Underground Sea
    4 Illusions of Grandeur
    4 Donate
    4 Mana Vault
    4 Necropotence
    2 Brainstorm
    1 Contagion
    4 Dark Ritual
    4 Demonic Consultation
    4 Force of Will
    1 Hoodwink
    3 Vampiric Tutor
    4 Duress

    3 Annul
    2 Contagion
    1 Hoodwink
    3 Hydroblast
    4 Phyrexian Negator
    2 Unmask
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Like I said, I was using the core of Necropotence + Illusions of Grandeur + Donate, but it was in multiplayer and it was part of what was generally a control deck. I was using two copies each of Illusions and Donate, as they weren't the main focus of the deck. I did have some games where the combo racked up some kills though, in part because I also eventually added my Energy Field + Yawgmoth's Agenda combo and reused Illusions and Donate from my graveyard while denying all of my opponents' relevant card-draws thanks to Zur's Weirding.

    As I played the deck, it gradually evolved to lean more on the Illusions + Donate combo. And at some point I decided to go with four copies of each and revise my deck to focus on duels, retiring it from multiplayer games. Early testing on my new "Here, Hold This" concept had it generally working, but not consistently enough for my tastes. While looking for ideas, I stumbled across Josh Bennett's articles on Star City Games (a year or two after he'd written them) regarding a deck his team had played in Extended, which they called "Dance, Dance Donate Illusions." It was remarkably similar to my own "HHT."

    4 Necropotence
    4 Illusions of Grandeur
    4 Donate
    4 Demonic Consultation
    4 Force of Will
    4 Force Spike
    2 Mana Leak
    2 Firestorm
    3 Duress
    4 Dark Ritual
    2 Mox Diamond
    2 Lim-Dul's Vault
    4 City of Brass
    4 Underground Sea
    4 Underground River
    3 Gemstone Mine
    4 Badlands
    2 Volcanic Island

    4 Chill
    1 Duress
    4 Pyroblast
    3 Perish
    3 Annul

    Even before I ever found those articles, the main differences between our decks were due to theirs being built for Extended tournament play and mine being a casual deck. They ran lots of nonbasics for splashing red (Firestorm and sideboard Pyroblast). In their earliest versions, they were running green cards in the sideboard. I didn't have a sideboard and didn't own many dual lands at the time, so my version ended up mostly just running basic swamps and islands, although I did eventually add Underground Sea. They used Mana Leak, but I used Arcane Denial. I had traded my copies of Mox Diamond to Al0ysiusHWWW so I didn't have that either. Um, I guess Daze probably hadn't been printed yet when they were running this deck, but I used a couple of copies in my version to protect my combo. The main point, though, was that prior to discovering these articles on Star City Games, I hadn't been running Demonic Consultation. That was a bit of an epiphany for me and I scrambled to pick up my third and fourth copies of the card through trading or finding them at a game store (I forget which).

    These days, "DDDI" would probably just be viewed as "Trix" but these people were taking a different approach and Josh Bennett was rather amusing in his wry faux-mockery of the Trix players...

  12. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

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