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

  13. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    As far as Necro-Donate in Extended, this is the point where I get kinda stuck. The question that comes to mind is, "How good was it?" and really, I'm not sure. I haven't seen enough data to paint a clear picture, and testimonial accounts on this strike me as unreliable...

    Most post-mortem discussion of Necro-Donate or "Trix" decks includes some mention of brokenness, of how the deck was over-the-top, one of the most powerful and dominant decks ever. In contast, a lot of contemporary accounts (i.e. articles and tournament reports I read from the days when Necro-Donate was legal in Extended and I was looking for insight in my own exploration of the archetype in casual play) portray the deck as dangerously unforgiving, emphasizing how vital it was to make the right decisions, how important it was to comprehend the metagame and to know how to attack each matchup. I saw multiple analysts independently stress the use of sideboard slots to shore up bad matchups. So the people talking about the deck back when it was active in competition painted a very different picture from the people who discussed it in hindsight. But I'm not saying that either group is full of crap! Rather, I think this situation gets a little weird.

    Trix decks rose to power in Extended on the heels of a series of card bans in the format. Land Tax, Tolarian Academy, Windfall, Memory Jar, and Time Spiral had all relatively recently been banned before Donate came out. Then Yawgmoth's Bargain was banned. And then, in September of 1999, the format was hit with a big wave of bans: Dream Halls, Earthcraft, Lotus Petal, Mind Over Matter, and Yawgmoth's Will. WotC took a scorched-earth approach to purging possibilities of fast combo dominance in competitive Magic, a reaction to "Combo Winter" and the perception that the game itself was in danger if combo wasn't reined in. Necro-Donate emerged around the beginning of 2000. Other strong decks in the format at that time included Oath (with Morphling as the kill condition, because that was a thing back then), Suicide Black (Hatred), Countersliver (aggro-control using Crystalline Sliver to make your whole team untargetable), Survival, Tinker stuff (it went by different names, but Tinker was the broken card), Sligh, Secret Force (green deck using Natural order to fetch Verdant Force), Forbidian (monoblue control) and even Necro. While, by all accounts, Trix put up impressive results, it was not without its pitfalls. The toughest matchup seemed to be "Three-Deuce" a Zoo-like aggressive deck that ran both Elvish Lyrist and Disenchant to slow Necro-Donate down before beating them to death with Rancor-boosted attackers. In February of 2000, the Extended format was sometimes described as having three main tier 1 decks: Trix, Three-Deuce, and Sligh. Three-Deuce was strong against Trix but weak against Sligh. By March, with Firestorm and sideboard cards, Trix decks could navigate their way to victory in almost any matchup at the time.

    Then three things happened that were, to my view in hindsight, surreal:
    1. Dark Ritual and Mana Vault were both banned in Extended to curb Necro-Donate decks. The data I've seen is sparse and it's possible that Necro-Donate really was dominant in the format—for mere weeks. Yes that's right. Weeks. These days, I see both player commentary and official WotC statements alike saying things about giving formats time to adjust before making hasty ban list decisions. It's a consensus applied across multiple formats. Even in Standard, with its fast rotation, there have been official statements espousing the concept of waiting before taking action. A sensible "look before you leap" outlook that I have grown so used to I thought of it as universal. Necro-Donate didn't crop up in Extended until late January of 2000 and didn't start outperforming most of the competition until February. They didn't start adjusting maindeck and sideboard to beat Slight and to beat Three-Deuce and Survival decks dropping early Elvish Lyrist until later that month. Dark Ritual and Mana Vault were banned before the end of March. If Necro-Donate did dominate Extended, one could argue for as many as five weeks or as few as three weeks of domination. Perhaps, when viewed as part of the prior aggressive anti-combo bannings of that era, this shouldn't be surprising, but it's a stark contrast to how most of us, I imagine, view formats and ban lists. What's even more bizarre, though, is that instead of killing the card that had a track record of high-level performance (Necropotence) or the card that was completely useless outside of the combo (Illusions of Grandeur), they chose to target mana acceleration. I guess we could interpret this both as being consistent with previous bans on fast combo mana-production stuff (Tolarian Academy and Lotus Petal) and as being a calculated attempt to slow the deck down without completely killing it.
    2. Even with Dark Ritual and Mana Vault banned, Necro-Donate continued to perform at a very high level in Extended. This point is why my thesis isn't "Necro-Donate was totally safe in Extended and the DCI action was overzealous." That might be true, but if it is, this circumstance seems to fly in the face of it and I don't know how to square that circle. On the one hand, Mana Vault wasn't even used in the "DDDI" version of the deck. It couldn't be used to rush out Necropotence and it pushed the deck in the direction of glass cannon combo, where I felt the superior version was control-combo with more countermagic. But Dark Ritual was, I thought, vital to the deck. In my own version of the deck, I almost always either used Dark Ritual to cast Necropotence or to accelerate the Donate + Illusions combo. It was such a common feature of the deck that I'd feel completely hobbled playing without it. Granted, I'm not really a tournament player (and I was like 14 years old at the time), but trying to imagine myself playing Necro-Donate in Extended back then, I feel like I'd have given up on the deck if Dark Ritual was taken away. Trix players apparently replaced their missing mana acceleration with Mox Diamond and more lands, and kept on trucking. It's weird to me that they did this and even weirder that it worked. I mean, clearly it did work. Mox Diamond, while the card sees relatively little play these days, was a kind of saving grace for the archetype, allowing second-turn Necropotence to still be a thing. Necro-Donate could still get a fifth-turn combo and could still back it up with Force of Will. Paradoxically, the act of banning the mana acceleration might have had a self-canceling effect in this case. It slowed Necro-Donate down, but that made room for other decks to become top dog, which meant the weakened version of Necro-Donate was nagivating a field that wasn't tuned to beat it. Most contemporary descriptions I've read of the nerfed Trix portray it as a strong deck with some good and bad matchups, which is a more stable place to live than being the boogeyman of the format, with the competition packing extra sideboard slots and even maindeck hate cards to shut you down.
    3. In March of 2001, WotC again got aggressive with bannings in Extended, hitting Necropotence and Demonic Consultation, along with Replenish (PandeBurst) and Survival of the Fittest (Tradewind Survival). This was a deliberate execution of three completely different decks. PandeBurst used Frantic Search and Intuition to get Pandemonium and Saproling Burst in the graveyard, then cast Replenish to bring both enchantments back for big damage. Tradewind Survival mostly built on existing Survival of the Fittest concepts, but had Squee, Goblin Nabob for recursion to beat control decks through attrition. None of these three decks dominated the format. And there wasn't some sort of triangle of format domination between them either. It seems to be the case that WotC, seeing that even after multiple other rounds of bannings and the new Masques Block cards introducing new tools, potent combos using Urza's Block and Rath Block cards were still running rampant, got serious about policing the format. So again, perhaps this action was consistent with the general attitude they displayed back then. Anyway, I'd have thought that this was the end for "Trix." Rightly or wrongly, Necropotence was gone. The deck could hobble along without its mana acceleration, but not without its engine! Nope. Wrong again...
    Here's Kai Budde's infamous blue/red Trix.

    4 Donate
    4 Merchant Scroll
    3 Fire // Ice
    4 Accumulated Knowledge
    2 Brainstorm
    1 Capsize
    4 Counterspell
    4 Force of Will
    1 Impulse
    3 Intuition
    4 Sapphire Medallion
    4 Illusions of Grandeur
    14 Island
    4 Shivan Reef
    4 Volcanic Island

    1 Hibernation
    2 Hydroblast
    3 Morphling
    4 Pyroblast
    3 Pyroclasm
    2 Stroke of Genius
  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    In my own experience (which is actually considerable because I played my casual Necro-Donate deck for far longer than its lifetime sanctioned tournament formats), the heart of the archetype, whatever name you give it, was the strangely subtle chaining of synergies kickstarted by Necropotence. Necropotence + Illusions of Grandeur is a huge hand-sculpting synergy that enables the "drawing" of Necropotence with unparalleled protection from aggro thanks to the life boost from Illusions. Then Necropotence + Force of Will is a superior combo protection that virtually guarantees opponents will need multiple forms of disruption to stop the player. Finally, Illusions of Grandeur + Donate saddles the opponent with a 20-point time bomb. The transitions are smooth, but they are there and they do matter. Without Force of Will, the combo is too fragile, too risky. Without Donate, there's no way to get rid of the hot potato. Without Illusions, there's no kill and no way to boost Necropotence. And Necropotence is what makes it all possible. In my discussion with Psarketos earlier in this thread, I was almost tempted to cite Necropotence as broken here, to say that Illusions + Donate finally broke Necropotence and made a control engine into something that was too dangerous in a combo deck. After all, there's nothing like Necro-Donate in Modern, but the deck's operation really was smooth and it really was a potent force in tournaments. To add credibility to this, Donate + Illusions isn't really a scary combo by today's standards. So my conclusion would be that Necropotence was the part that broke it. No one in the Modern format would be scared of Illusions + Donate. Even if both cards were legal, they probably wouldn't make it into competitive decks. But "Trix" also had Necropotence, and that made all the difference. Even after the mana acceleration was banned, second-turn Necropotence was still good enough to set up the combo kill. It was all Necropotence. Case closed. Except that's obviously wrong! Historically, what happened was that Necropotence was banned and the "Trix" deck dropped black altogether, soldiering on with Sapphire Medallion and card-drawing spells. There were monoblue and blue/red versions. They had more countermagic. And they had Intuition to either dig up a missing combo piece or to use with Accumulated Knowledge for hand-sculpting. "Blue Trix" became the new incarnation of the deck up until Illusions of Grandeur rotated out of the format in 2002.


    What the hell was going on? I've studied the issue from multiple angles and I'm still really not sure. I do conclude that Illusions + Donate pales in comparison to some of the two-card combos available today. But the Extended format in 2001 and 2002 actually had some pretty broken stuff available. Without Necropotence, it's odd that "Trix" managed to continue existing. The monoblue and blue/red versions look so weak compared to the Necropotence-packing blue/black versions. Notably, there was some major controversy in some of the ban decisions from that time. Banning Dark Ritual killed Suicide Black, even though the target was Necro-Donate. Banning Necropotence killed traditional black Necro control decks, even though the target was Necro-Donate. Although they weren't played extensively in tournaments, there were Donate-based decks with other cards (mostly casual, not competitive) that weren't a problem. Many players at the time thought it was perfectly logical to ban the one card that would completely eliminate the "Trix" problem and that wouldn't affect any other deck one bit: Illusions of Grandeur. That "Trix" continued to perform at a high level and even win tournaments after four cards were banned to weaken it does seem to vindicate those critics. On the other hand, Illusions of Grandeur is crap today and would never appear in competitive Magic, while Necropotence, Dark Ritual, Mana Vault, and Demonic Consultation are all recognized as powerful and dangerous.

    In conclusion, this issue is complex and weird?
  15. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I played Necro in Type 1.5, but I can assure you that my lists were suboptimal. I lacked experience and I lacked a strong collection of cards for deckbuilding. So my own scrubtastic Necro endeavors didn't really represent Necropotence in Type 1.5. Also, unfortunately, Type 1.5 was one of the most poorly documented formats, due to a dearth of large organized tournament play. I won't hunt down a Type 1.5 Trix decklist, assuming anyone ever saved one. But really, it's basically the same as the Extended version. At the time, the main difference between Type 1.5 and Extended was that Type 1.5 got access to the old pre-Ice Age stuff (but Extended still had access to dual lands because they were grandfathered in), but not to anything that was restricted in Type 1.5. For Necro-Donate, that difference was a pittance (I believe that most Type 1.5 Necro-Donate decks were nearly exact ports of Extended lists with modified sideboards), but it meant that the competition was stronger. In other words, I guess, not much to see here. Move along, move along.

    Necropotence seems to have been banned in Type 1.5 not for its role in the format but because the ban list was tied to Type 1. I'm not aware of an official statement confirming that, and I do know that WotC were a bit weird with list management when it came to the lists being tied together (leaving Earthcraft restricted in Vintage well after the format had evolved far beyond the applicability of the card, justifying that because it would be ostensibly too powerful in Type 1.5, except evidence suggests that Earthcraft would never have have been dominant in Type 1.5 anyway).
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Necropotence in Type 1 was not, historically, my specialty. My general impression was that the Type 1 players were playing Necro in similar decks to what we had in Type 1.5, but better. And as a rule of thumb, that did seem to hold true. The rise of "Trix" was no exception. Behold, Type 1 Trix...

    4 Necropotence
    4 Donate
    4 Illusions of Grandeur
    4 Demonic Consultation
    4 Duress
    4 Dark Ritual
    4 Force of Will
    1 Hoodwink
    1 Kaervek's Torch
    1 Vampiric Tutor
    1 Lim-Dul's Vault
    1 Yawgmoth's Will
    1 Demonic Tutor
    1 Ancestral Recall
    1 Time Walk
    1 Lotus Petal
    1 Black Lotus
    1 Sol Ring
    1 Mox Jet
    1 Mox Sapphire
    3 Swamp
    4 Badlands
    4 Underground Sea
    4 Underground River
    4 Gemstone Mine

    2 Pyroblast
    2 Hydroblast
    3 Contagion
    4 Hypnotic Specter
    4 Phyrexian Negator

    So, the Negator bait-and-switch sideboard showed up here as well. And I can see that some of my old favorites, including cards in "Magic Memories" threads make appearances here. How good was Type 1 Trix? Beats me. The format back then was weird. Well, not weird. Type 1 didn't have a lot of major tournaments in 2000 and there wasn't a well-established metagame with competitive tiers and such. In fact, from what I've seen of tournament discussion in that era, most people who could afford "Power" were playing "The Deck" and most of the competition were more capable of operating as "budget" decks like Sligh and Necro.

    The threat of this deck in tournament was, as best I can tell, the reason Necropotence was restricted. I wasn't aware of any record of its dominance. I assumed it had been dominant in Type 1 at the time and later was told by some Type 1 players that it, like Earthcraft, had been restricted so that it would be banned in Type 1.5. That seemed unlikely to me, but I had no reason to believe that those guys were completely wrong. Perhaps they were. Here's what the official announcement said, anyway...

    I dunno. That makes it sound like the problem was the card in general, but it's incredibly vague. Player commentary from 2000 is consistent with this being about all about "Trix" though. And WotC were aggressive about policing combo in the wake of Tolarian Academy, etc.

    Compared to the other things available in Type 1, Trix doesn't seem that egregious to me. That deck is certainly very tame by today's standards. If it did dominate the format, I have not found a record of it, but that doesn't mean much. What I did find, archived right here at the CPA (again) is an interesting article by Oscar Tan reacting to the decision. His understanding at the time seems to have been that the performance of Type 1 Trix specifically at the Magic Invitational (which was not a typical tournament and I would think should not relied upon to shape policy) in March of 2000 rankled WotC and they wanted to get rid of the deck so that there wouldn't be matches revolving around it in the next Invitational later that year. He doesn't explicitly say whether the archetype was dominant, though.
  17. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Reviewing Oscar Tan's opinion piece immediately following the restriction of Necropotence, I'm seeing some points of interest. I'm glad we have these old archives, as I think they provide key insights. It's a kind of time capsule. So while I don't usually do that, this card is important to me, was important to Rakso, and I'm going to go over all of the point in his piece, looking at them from my perspective, over 17 years later. Yes, it really has been that long. Feel old?

    But first, some context, as not everyone would be clear on this. Oscar Tan was probably the foremost popularizer of Type 1 in the late 1990's and early 2000's. He wrote extensively about the format and his primers and analyses gave players who hadn't touched competitive Type 1 and didn't own Power cards (myself included) some grasp on what the format was like and on how to play in an environment many of us hadn't really experienced, one with Moxen, Ancestral Recall, etc. Before he left the Vintage scene, he became somewhat polarizing because he was vocal about Vintage restricted list policy and his views diverged sharply from some of the format's other luminaries.

    Oscar Tan also posted content right here at the CPA under his preferred online nickname, "rakso." And in the CPA articles section, he archived some of the content from the now-defunct Type 1 site "Beyond Dominia." Sadly, those are some of the only records leftover from that long-dead site.

    This was called "A Requiem for the Casual's Skull."

    The mention of Mirror Universe is interesting to think about. When it comes to cards like Mirror Universe and Infernal Contract, we don't often note that when those cards were new, you didn't lose the game for having 0 life until the end of the current phase. And there were competitive tournament decks that were built to be able to deliberately go to 0 life and then win, or to recover and get back to a positive life total before the game rules would make one lose. The relevance to Necropotence specifically is relegated to corner cases, but it probably does mean that Sixth Edition rules changes made Necropotence a bit weaker in this one respect. I mean, if the rules hadn't changed, I could have cast Blessed Wind and, while it was on the stack, paid all of my life to Necropotence, then let Blessed Wind reset my life to 20. But that doesn't really matter.

    I've got to do one of these threads for Tolarian Academy at some point. Looking back at Magic's history, especially with regard to combo decks, the impact of the card was amazing. If I'm right about the cascade of indirect effects that happened in the fallout of what Tolarian Academy did to Magic, the card probably made a bigger impact than any card in the entire history of the game since Force of Will. That gets overlooked these days because the card isn't used in most formats, but I could all-but-guarantee that there are cards being designed right now, over 19 years later, that are being designed the way they are and not the way they aren't all because Tolarian Academy existed.

    Although it's uncommon, there are still instances of Vintage players advocating for outright bans on cards. Most of the community seem to be of the mindset that restriction vs. banning for power level are what separate Vintage and Legacy, that this line is absolute. And while it seems sensible on the surface, the fact is that there are already cards banned explicitly for non-power reasons. Sensei's Divining Top is allegedly banned in Legacy for the combined effect of its power in Miracles decks and time-related logistical tournament concerns. Second Sunrise is banned in Modern entirely for logistical reasons. Shahrazad is ostensibly banned for logistical reasons. Mind Twist remains banned in Legacy despite not being overpowered there just because it is not fun to play against (this wasn't in an official DCI announcement, but either Aaron Forsythe or Mark Rosewater stated as much when directly asked about why the card was still banned). Mental Misstep is banned in Legacy because it makes gameplay crap.

    And I'd be remiss if I didn't note that Yawgmoth's Bargain is now unrestricted in Vintage and is not a problem. This is no criticism of Rakso's position in 2000. In 2000, I also believed that Yawgmoth's Bargain was one of the most overpowered cards in Type 1. And I was in good company: so did everyone else at the time, as far as I knew. We might have been right. Bargain might really have been too much for the format back then. Times have changed.

    This is an example of where the article shows its age rather painfully. No one today seems to hold the stance that commons should be safe from restriction by virtue of their commonality. Restricted list policy and player commentary on ideal or perceived restricted list policy do not include any consideration for whether a card is common, uncommon, or rare. Some players do make the argument, however, that Mishra's Workshop should not be restricted on the basis that players have sigificant financial investments in the card. This, as far as I know, is an argument being made in 2018 that was unheard of in 2000. So yeah, without commenting on whether either argument is or was legitimate, there's a contrast between then and now.

    Like virtually everyone in 2000, Rakso probably underestimated the potential of Mana Vault in a fast combo deck. While the unrestriction of the card would give Storm decks (which didn't exist in 2000, just to be clear) a boost and might make me happy, it's not really a course of action I advocate. Grim Monolith turned out to be safe. Mana Vault is a borderline case but more dangerous. The other cards he bemoans losing, though, have all been unrestricted over the years. Frantic Search was unrestricted in 2010, Crop Rotation was unrestricted in 2009, and Mox Diamond was unrestricted in 2008. So yeah, I'd say his stance on some of this was vindicated.

    Oops, got ahead of myself there. He also mentioned Tinker! OK, obviously Tinker is still restricted. But I've talked about this one in other threads. Back then, The most broken thing to be doing with Tinker was usually fetching Memory Jar. These days it can do far more. Memory Jar was (wrongly) perceived to be the broken card in the the Tinker + Jar interaction, and it was restricted in Vintage and banned everywhere else. But this was largely due to the Standard "Broken Jar" deck that terrorized the format for a couple of weeks before WotC took action with their "emergency ban." With the benefit of hindsight, I don't really see how anyone could think that Memory Jar, rather than Tinker, was the right target there. Rakso's mention of Tinker/Jar is very much in line with the rhetoric of that time, but that position hasn't aged well. It took new set releases to really highlight this point. Tinker for Phyrexian Colossus wasn't bad, but it also wasn't really enough to show players how stupidly strong Tinker can be.

    This line of argument is uncommon these days, but not extinct. I used to hold this position, but at some point I guess I stopped. By the time Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were banned in Vintage but legal in Standard, I was completely comfortable with it.
  18. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I need to emphasize this point. Sure, the specific example is dated, but the concept is important and is one of the most frustrating topics for me when it comes to discussions of casual play. A list of cards banned or restricted for a tournament environment doesn't necessarily provide the best guideline for casual players, but we don't really get anything else to work with. Some cards are banned in tournaments but not really a problem for a casual setting (Sensei's Divining Top is eminently safe in virtually any casual environment) and some cards that are not banned in tournaments are prone to brokenness in casual play (Primeval Titan, which is pretty good in Modern and even sees some Legacy play but is totally not in need of a ban, is banned in the unsanctioned casual Commander format for this reason). I don't have a solution, of course. But it's a real problem.

    What he didn't know at the time was that WotC was already planning on phasing Dark Ritual out of the game entirely, shifting the color pie so that the type of spell was in red instead of black. Well, I have my thoughts on that, but it's a topic for another day.

    Oh, he called that one right. Dark Ritual was the wrong target for sure.

    As I noted earlier in this thread, the official justification for the restriction of Necropotence was that it had dominated the format for the past three years. I'm inclined to believe Rakso on this one. DCI list change announcements often paint a hazy, misleading picture. My own recollection and all available evidence points to pre-Trix Necro decks in Vintage not being a problem.

    As my own aside to his aside, I'll note that Channel would go on to get much better tools in later years (as Tinker did), Mind Twist would go on to be unrestricted, and Demonic Consultation is one of the murkiest restricted cards in Vintage today. I think the consensus in the format is that it's part of a kind of untouchable trinity of hyperefficient black tutors: Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, and Demonic Consultation. Those restrictions do weaken combo decks, probably necessarily. But of the three, Demonic Consultation is the most nuanced.

    The line of argument is, I think, similar to what a lot of players today want to say, but are afraid to. If that makes any sense? I can't prove it, but I suspect that many tournament players want to apply the "But my card has such a rich history behind it" argument in making a case not to ban something, but they think it'd come across as too subjective or too personal. And that's too bad: I find it to be a potentially compelling point, myself. Why not give some credence to the prolific use of cards in diverse contexts over a period of years?

    Rakso's article got an accidental truncation on this line. From context, I'm sure that "why not just" was followed by taking some action that targeted a different card.

    Notably, this was an era in which WotC frequently issued card errata to negate the existence of combos they didn't like or didn't plan for, even combos that were not tournament-viable, as in the case of my beloved Iridescent Drake. They've almost completely moved away from this, thankfully. But an erratum on Illusions of Grandeur was seen as a very real possibility at the time.

    He's got a point there, regardless of how good Donate + Illusions was/is. I touched on that before. The designers of Necropotence rather cleverly built in some limitations that prevented it from breaking interactions that didn't even exist yet. I'm not saying that they foresaw Replenish or anything, but I absolutely contend that they noticed allowing the discarded cards to go to the graveyard under Necropotence was too easily abusable and they thwarted that as part of the card's design. I'd say it's at least a little bit prescient.
  19. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    A subtle point, perhaps the crux of this issue, is that WotC inconsistently apply two irreconcilable standards when it comes to targeting cards for bans/restrictions. This is not mere speculation on my part: they have explicitly laid out justifications using both standards at different times, and it is inevitable that the two standards do not always lead to the same conclusion...
    1. One DCI policy is to target the enabler, rather than the enabled cards. Although it might not always be 100% clear 100% of the time which card is an enabler, it's usually not too hard to figure out. In Legacy Survival of the Fittest was banned on this basis. Some players wanted Vengevine to be banned, making arguments similar to what Rakso said here about Necropotence. Survival had a lot of history behind it, had been used in other decks, etc.
    2. One DCI policy is to skirt action on a known, powerful enabler by targeting a different card in an attempt to influence the overall metagame. They don't really have a name for this. It's a kind of predictive action, a "this card isn't the enabler, but it enables the enabler, so if we ban it then the enabler won't be so dominant." In Legacy, this happened with Mystical Tutor. There were not "Mystical Tutor decks." It didn't really enable anything except other cards that were, themselves, enablers.
    Those two examples come with their own baggage, of course, but rather than comprehensively covering that, I want to note that they're not really compatible. If WotC had wanted to nerf the enabler but leave it in the format, banning a card that they predicted would allow the enabler to exist but without being a problem, they could have banned Vengevine instead of Survival of the Fittest. And if they were takin the position of "ban the enabler" then instead of Mystical Tutor, they'd have banned Show and Tell.

    The restriction of Necropotence in Type 1 was a clear case of "ban the enabler." Rakso had a track record of preferring a more predictive "ban something else to leave the enabler in the format, but weakened" approach. Anyway, I'll close (this part) by letting him have the last word, as I find his conclusion to be poignant...

  20. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Necropotence was restricted in Type 1 and banned in every other active tournament format. I would go on to play casual decks with four copies of the card for several years afterward, to mixed reactions. I just didn't want to give up on the card. But the story of Necropotence in sanctioned play wasn't over. Necropotence persisted in Type 1, later renamed Vintage, as a restricted card in Rector Donate decks. Using Cabal Therapy and Academy Rector, these decks could fetch Yawgmoth's Bargain, draw a bunch of cards, and win with the Donate + Illusions of Grandeur combo. But sometimes they'd just draw Necropotence early on and use that to find the kill combo, just like the earlier version of the deck when Necropotence was unrestricted.

    As I've talked about in other threads, Scourge introduced Tendrils of Agony in 2003 and Dark Ritual in Vintage became forever associated with Tendrils decks. It was a match made in heaven; or perhaps, depending on your outlook, it was a match made somewhere else. Storm decks needed to get cards to make mana and cards to get more cards. Necropotence appeared in "Burning Desire" decks as part of a hand-refilling suited that included Ancestral Recall, Yawgmoth's Bargain, and a quartet of restricted draw-7 cards (Windfall, Timetwister, Memory Jar, Wheel of Fortune). Necropotence remains a staple of Ritual-fueled Storm in Vintage to this day. It also tends to be one of the most awkward cards in the deck.

    The exact details have changed somewhat since 2003, but the awkward power of Necropotence in Storm decks remains remarkably similar. The card is so cheap and gives you access to so many cards that it is extremely effective at sculpting game-winning hands. First-turn Dark Ritual into Necropotence is a great way to set up a win. But when you're playing Storm, you want to win now. Necropotence makes you wait at least a turn. Compared to Necropotence Yawgmoth's Bargain is smooth, putting the Storm pilot in control and building to a win on the spot. Necropotence is a shot in the dark with a turn delay. And yet, in a deck focused on speed and often using Dark Ritual, the difference between three mana and six mana is daunting. In my own usage of Vintage Storm decks, I generally disliked trying to win with Necropotence, but it's simply too good an option to pass up.

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