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Chapter 2 | Old School Magic – The History of “The Deck”

Series Index

Chapter 1: Back to the Future – An Introduction to Old School Magic

Chapter 2: Old School Magic – The History of “The Deck”

Chapter 3: Old School Magic – A Visit to the Zoo

Chapter 4: Build Your Own Old School Format

Chapter 5: New Strategies for the Old School: The Transmute Control Deck

Chapter 6: Banning and Restriction in Old School

Chapter 7: New Strategies for the Old School: Blue-Red Aggro Control

Chapter 8: 2nd Place at Eternal Weekend, 2016 with Blue-Red Aggro-Control

Chapter 9: Reanimator Rises to the Top!

Chapter 10: Rules of the Road

Chapter 11: The Untold History of Combo in Old School

Introduction

There is no more famous strategy in Magic than Brian Weissman’s “The Deck.” The Deck was neither the first control strategy in Magic nor was it the first to emphasize card advantage, but its designer was the first to articulate that concept and vividly embody it in a particular decklist. As I wrote in Chapter Three: 1995 of my History of Vintage, “Weissman introduced to the game so many fundamental principles and ideas at once that it has become historically difficult to untangle them.” While the theoretical concepts, design innovations, in-game play principles, and nomenclature that Weissman brought into existence or popularized ensure him an eternal place in the history of the game; it is this famous weapon that is of interest to us. And not merely as a historical artifact, but as an evolving weapon.

We begin our journey through Old School Magic with “The Deck.”  Although countless articles have been written about The Deck, no one has ever compiled a complete history of The Deck, until now.  Most references to The Deck look only at 1995-6, when Weissman rose to prominence and his famous creation appeared in its most familiar form.  However, this version of The Deck was neither the first nor the last.

I will take us to the pre-history of The Deck and then far beyond the halcyon days of Type I.  This article will survey every published version of The Deck from 1994 to 2006, as offered by its creator.  This journey will illustrate the evolution of this famous strategy, explain the particular changes made by its designer, and set them in a historical context so that we may better appreciate them. What follows is more than the trajectory of an archetype, but the evolution of a format.

At the end of this journey, we will look at The Deck in the more popular variants of Old School Magic. Not only will the actual historical lists serve as a useful reference for any era of Old School you might wish to try out, but the tactics embodied in The Deck are elements common to any Old School Magic format, and this historical context will shed light on their role and strategic significance. In fact, you may be surprised to discover that The Deck remains a preeminent, if not dominant force, within Old School Magic.

In the Beginning…

Brian Weissman at 22 (2)

Brian Weissman at age 22

Introduced to the game at a birthday party in January, 1994, like many of us, Brian was drawn into the game of Magic with friends. Less commonly, however, Brian had the good fortune of sharing a large card pool with his close friend and college classmate at UC Santa Cruz, and to reside in an area where their local card store, “Gamescape” in Palo Alto, seemed to have a rich vein of Unlimited packs when other stores were dry.

Together, they managed to acquire many of the harder to find rares from Unlimited. As a measure of the size and quality of their collection, Brian estimated that it included  six Mox Jets and eleven Demonic Tutors. From this pool, the only limitation was imagination. Brian and his friend were able to brew to their hearts content, which meant honing large unwieldy piles of cards into sharp and reliable weapons.

 

Beta Mind Twist 2

Beta Mind Twist

When the Duelist Convocation (aka the “DC” – the “I” for “International” came a year later) announced a Banned and Restricted list for sanctioned tournament play, Brian recognized gaps he might exploit. The first announcement, which came in January, 1994, restricted 18 cards. Brian designed decks around two unrestricted cards he identified as obvious omissions: Mind Twist and Library of Alexandria. Both cards illustrate his attention to the principles that he would later describe as “card advantage.”

Published for the first time ever, here is the very first fully realized version of The Deck that saw tournament play:

Old School

The Deck, April, 1994

By Brian Weissman


 

Creatures and Spells:

4 Juggernaut

2 Mahamoti Djinn

1 Argivian Archeologist

4 Counterspell

4 Disenchant

4 Swords to Plowshares

4 Mind Twist

2 Control Magic

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Regrowth

1 Chaos Orb

Mana Sources:

4 City of Brass

4 Tundra

4 Underground Sea

2 Scrubland

4 Library of Alexandria

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Emerald

1 Sol Ring

1 Black Lotus

4 Mana Vault

 

Brian and his roommate only had enough of a card pool to field one fully powered version of The Deck at Manafest in San Francisco, and his roommate won the honor after a lucky roll of the die. As they expected, their deck crushed the 256 person field, defeating Andrew Finch, the eventual head of organized play for Wizards of the Coast, in the finals.

When Library of Alexandria was eventually restricted at the beginning of May 1994, Brian spent the next three months exclusively playing Mind Twist decks (a situation he regarded as “intolerable” because, “every game came down to who got off their Mind Twist first”) until the DC finally made the decision to restrict Mind Twist following Bo Bell’s victory at US Nationals in June 1994. With that decision, Brian began an exhaustive search for alternative strategies in the card pool, an investigation that led him to blue and white. In particular, Brain was interested in alternative and less direct methods to gain card advantage.

The printing of Legends gave Brian more tools than ever for generating card advantage, and greatly expanded his arsenal. As he put it, the “culmination” of his search was a “Protection” deck comprised of cards that nullified many of his opponent’s cards at once, cards like Moat, The Abyss, Disrupting Scepter, and, believe it or not, Greater Realm of Preservation/Sleight of Mind.

 

legends greater realm perservation 1 beta sleight of mind 1430

Quite the Combo – Greater Realm of Preservation and Sleight of Mind

 

Although the “Protection Deck” would prove unsuccessful, it was a failure in the best sense of the word, since The Deck emerged out of its husk. In fact, The Deck could have been called “The Protection Deck” since it would eventually define a defensive control strategy. This was Brian’s first attempt to develop that theme:

Old School

The Deck, Fall, 1994

By Brian Weissman


 

2 City of Brass

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Mishra’s Workshop

3 Savannah

1 Scrubland

4 Tundra

3 Underground Sea

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

4 Juggernaut

3 Disrupting Scepter

1 Ivory Tower

1 Demonic Tutor

4 Counterspell

4 Mana Drain

4 Mahamoti Djinn

3 Control Magic

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Regrowth

3 Disenchant

3 Swords to Plowshares

1 Balance

Sideboard:

1 Savannah

1 Scrubland

1 Tropical Island

1 Underground Sea

1 Disrupting Scepter

1 Jayomdae Tome

2 Balance

2 Circle of Protection: Artifacts

1 Disenchant

3 Greater Realm of Preservation

1 Swords to Plowshares

 

“The Deck” circa Fall 1994 has many elements we associate today with this famous archetype. This includes a deep suite of blue countermagic, the versatile white removal duo of Swords to Plowshares and Disenchants, a swath of restricted cards, and a five color mana base.  Yet it also features elements not typically associated with a control strategy. Like many other players Brian was attracted to Juggernaut (a popular creature), and Mahamoti Djinn, a large finisher. Despite these unfamiliar elements, there is an evident recognition of ways to generate card advantage, especially with a trio of Disrupting Scepters, one of The Deck’s signature cards.

 

alphadisruptingspecter1

Alpha Disrupting Scepter

Brian was one of the first players to popularize the seemingly innocuous Disrupting Scepter. As players who remember Type I and Constructed Magic circa 1994-95 appreciate, or as fans of Old School Magic discover, Disrupting Scepter is deceptively powerful. Its capacity to grind out card advantage in a format with few efficient forms of recursive card advantage makes it a deadly weapon. At three mana, Disrupting Scepter can be slipped into play and quickly put into action. If you can resolve an early Scepter, you can use it to force your opponent to discard their counterspells before attempting to resolve further threats.  But it is just as useful stripping out unplayed threats or latent removal. Just as Brian and Bo Bell demonstrated how Mind Twist could be just as deadly as Braingeyser, Disrupting Scepter can be viewed as a more efficient and reverse Jayemdae Tome. Taking cards away from your opponent is card advantage just as much as drawing cards of your own.

Brian’s plan was to use Mana Drain aggressively to power out a big creature, but his deck was equally capable of waiting the opponent out with Scepter and delivering a gradual kill. This duality might have been embraced by some players as a desirable source of role flexibility, but for someone with the hyper-focused mind of Brian Weissman it was a tension that could not hold. Brian quickly recognized that his deck needed more mana to support the relatively mana-intensive spells he had included and that despite the power of Juggernaut, it was inconsistent with his basic theme of slow advantage accumulation. As he put it, “most of the time, I was summoning them after dozens of turns of Scepter work, and their usually cheap casting cost was irrelevant.” With these observations in mind, Brian arrived at a second rough draft of “The Deck.”

Old School

The Deck, Winter, 1994-95

By Brian Weissman


 

2 City of Brass

1 Library of Alexandria

3 Savannah

2 Scrubland

2 Tropical Island

4 Tundra

3 Underground Sea

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

3 Disrupting Scepter

1 Ivory Tower

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mind Twist

4 Counterspell

4 Mana Drain

1 Control Magic

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Regrowth

4 Disenchant

4 Serra Angel

4 Swords to Plowshares

2 Moat

1 Balance

Sideboard:

1 Savannah

1 Scrubland

1 Tropical Island

1 Underground Sea

1 Disrupting Scepter

1 Jayemdae Tome

2 Control Magic

1 Balance

3 Circle of Protection: Red

2 Dust to Dust

1 Moat

 

With this list, The Deck, as we know it, is coming more clearly into view.

The changes between versions are as follows:

+ 4 Serra Angel
+ 2 Moat
+ 1 Disenchant
+ 1 Swords to Plowshares
+ 1 Scrubland
+ 2 Tropical Island

– 1 Mishra’s Workshop
– 4 Juggernaut
– 4 Mahamoti Djinn
– 2 Control Magic

With Juggernaut out of the picture, Brian could add one of his old favorites, Moat, to the deck. Brian recognized a high level synergy between Moat and Disrupting Scepter that may not have been apparent to most observers. With both Moat and Scepter in play, he could ignore any non-flying creature the opponent could play, and only needed to counter their Disenchants to maintain complete control of the ground. Moat epitomized the search for cards that generated card advantage in other ways. Moat could hold off an entire opposing army, even the ones not yet brought onto the battlefield.

legends moat 1361

Legends Moat

Moat precluded the need for Control Magic, and his defensive posture was strengthened by adding more Swords to Plowshares. This shift in emphasis to white meant that Serra Angel became a more attractive finisher than “fat Moti,” since Serra Angel could play both offensive and defense at the same time, and she would never be felled by a single Red Elemental Blast. With these changes, Brian arrived at a tremendously powerful and consistent control deck.

Most players would have been content to stop there. Through concentrated effort, Brian had solved the metagame puzzle and developed a reliable, consistent, and brutal weapon. Brian, however, saw flaws, and sought additional refinements. First and foremost, Brian was concerned about Blood Moon, a card that he accurately predicted would define Constructed Magic.  Secondly, Brian felt that his deck was vulnerable to Library of Alexandria, and that he needed more consistent answers.  Finally, he decided that he did not need four win conditions to win the game, and whittled down their number.

To help address the first two problems, he added a Chaos Orb. He also centralized his mana supply around City of Brass in order to justify adding basic lands for Blood Moon’s resilience without diluting mana consistency for a five-color deck. His deck would become so effective at playing around Blood Moon that he would weaponize Blood Moon for himself, as a powerful and surprising sideboard tactic. The reorganized mana base also allowed him to play more Strip Mine effects, which served as additional answers to Library of Alexandria and provided a touch of situational disruption.

One of the Serra Angels became the Jayemdae Tome in his sideboard, and in perhaps the most stunning move of all, two Counterspells were replaced with maindeck Red Elemental Blasts, a bold calculation of his strategy’s superior position in the game. With these developments we arrive at perhaps the most famous version of The Deck.

Old School

The Deck, May, 1995

By Brian Weissman


 

2 Serra Angel

4 Mana Drain

2 Counterspell

2 Red Elemental Blast

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

4 Disenchant

4 Swords to Plowshares

2 Moat

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mind Twist

1 Regrowth

1 Chaos Orb

2 Disrupting Scepter

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Ivory Tower

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

2 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

4 City of Brass

2 Volcanic Island

4 Tundra

3 Plains

4 Island

Sideboard:

1 Plains

1 Disrupting Scepter

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Tormod’s Crypt

2 Control Magic

1 Counterspell

2 Blood Moon

3 Circle of Protection: Red

2 Divine Offering

1 Moat

 

In summary, the changes between lists are:

+ 2 Red Elemental Blast
+ 1 Chaos Orb
+ 1 Jayemdae Tome
+ 2 Strip Mine
+ 2 City of Brass
+ 3 Plains
+ 4 Islands

– 2 Serra Angel
– 1 Disrupting Scepter
– 1 Control Magic
– 1 Balance
– 3 Savannah
– 2 Scrubland
– 2 Tropical Island
– 3 Underground Sea

Brian’s refined killing machine was unleashed at Dundracon, a massive San Francisco Bay Area tournament in which he lost only one game over two days of tournament play. Titus Chalk describes this tournament as a “watershed moment for Magic” as onlookers stood aghast, including Wizard staff, who had never seen a deck like that and couldn’t believe it was so successful.

Belying the general perception that Magic decks needed many win conditions, Brian Weissman’s creation defied conventional wisdom in more ways than one (such as playing Red Elemental Blasts in the main deck). Brian had “solved” Magic’s “first metagame.” Brian explained that the Tormod’s Crypt in the sideboard was added for the increasingly likely mirror match which, according to his description, involved a large amount of “positional Timetwisting.”

1995 may have been the most intense year in the history of what was by that point called “Type I” with Brian riding a wave of incredible tournament success with only modest tweaks to his now famous strategy. Brian reported winning multiple larger sanctioned tournaments and “dozens of smaller ones.” But it wasn’t his tournament success that captured the imagination or prompted so many copycats; it was his capacity to eloquently describe the novel ideas that underpin his deck. A prolific internet writer long before there were websites with regular columnists, Brian’s ideas and design precepts washed over Magicdom with greater force and reach than his tournament achievements.

In one post, he explains that “what began originally as a standard blue/white permission- big creature deck, gradually evolved into an entirely defensive/reactive card efficiency/advantage machine.” As noted in the introduction to this article, Brian is responsible for either introducing or popularizing a raft of theoretical principles, and it was during this period that he reached a broad audience.

In a short essay in May, 1995, Brian evangelized the merits of “card advantage,” perhaps even coining the term. Bringing his argument to a crescendo, he explained that “speed is not what wins the game of magic; that is pure time-tested fact. What wins the game is simply more options and more cards.” It was not simply his ability to articulate a concept that won him so many followers, but the precision with which he was able to so concisely describe and illustrate it.  To wit:

“If you can Swords to Plowshare a creature when your opponent has invested an enchantment or a Giant Growth or a Blood Lust in it, you have gained a two for one… When you cast a Moat and nullify the attacking power of three creatures already in play as well as innumerable creatures still to be drawn, you have taken potentially dozens of extra turns.”

The enduring legacy of Brian’s ideas are evident everywhere in the universal acceptance of the role and importance of card advantage in the game of Magic. But perhaps his most underappreciated legacy is the emphasis Brian placed on technical play skill. As Brian explained, “Since playing the deck is much about decision making, it is something that you can always get better at doing.” Other commentators warned new players against playing The Deck, and Brian reinforced this warning in November, when he wrote that “it is PLAY SKILL that allows one to win consistently with this deck. In the course of its play, one has to make many game-determining decisions, and if enough of these situations are made correctly, it is almost impossible to lose.” As I noted in my History of Vintage chapters, Brian’s emphasis on play skill may have created an indelible association between control decks and play skill, no matter how merited such an association may in fact be.

In November, Chaos Orb was banned along with all other so-called “dexterity cards.” Brian’s modest change was to add a third Strip Mine as insurance against Library. More controversially, Brian initiated an internet campaign to advocate for the DCI to ban Mind Twist (perhaps first establishing yet another time-honored precedent of internet advocacy). When the DCI banned Channel (along with dexterity cards, cards that required physical action use, namely Chaos Orb and Falling Star), Brian felt that Mind Twist would have been a better target. Once the DCI opened the door to banning cards for power level reasons, Brian felt it was an injustice to permit Mind Twist to exist, a feeling exacerbated when Brian lost in the semi-finals of a tournament that November to a Hymn/Mind Twist deck. Reportedly, Brian even threatened to strike over the card. Brian’s friendly helpfulness earned him many friends and admirers, and his campaign achieved success when, in late January, the DCI announced Mind Twist would be banned effective February 1996.

beta chaos orb365

Beta Chaos Orb

 

The next published version of The Deck is dated circa February 1996.

Old School

The Deck, February, 1996

By Brian Weissman


 

Creatures and Spells:

4 Mana Drain

1 Counterspell

2 Red Elemental Blast

4 Disenchant

4 Swords to Plowshares

2 Moat

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

1 Amnesia

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Regrowth

2 Disrupting Scepter

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Mirror Universe

2 Serra Angel

Mana Sources:

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

3 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

4 City of Brass

2 Volcanic Island

4 Tundra

3 Plains

4 Island

Sideboard:

2 Fireball

1 Disrupting Scepter

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Feldon’s Cane

2 Red Elemental Blast

1 Ivory Tower

2 Blood Moon

2 Circle of Protection: Red

2 Divine Offering

1 Moat

 

The maindeck changes were:

+ 1 Amnesia
+ 1 Mirror Universe
+ 1 Strip Mine

– 1 Chaos Orb
– 1 Mind Twist
– 1 Ivory Tower

Replacing Mind Twist with Amnesia was the most obvious change, but there are a few more subtle changes as well. Ice Age, released in the summer of 1995, had introduced Jester’s Cap as a potent tactic against decks like Brian’s. As a response, Brian built in a few contingencies. From his maindeck he turned Ivory Tower into a potential win condition: Mirror Universe. Like Ivory Tower, Mirror Universe was a defensive weapon, but it had a tremendous offensive upside. Mirror Universe could be used to win the game by tapping City of Brass, sending yourself to 0 life and activating Mirror Universe in your upkeep to exchange life totals. Since players at that time lost the game only for being at zero life at the end of the phase, this was a legal and lethal combo.

The changes to the sideboard were more substantial:

+ 2 Fireball
+ 1 Feldon’s Cane
+ 2 Red Elemental Blast
+ 1 Ivory Tower

– 1 Tormod’s Crypt
– 1 Plains
– 1 Circle of Protection: Red
– 1 Counterspell
– 2 Control Magic

Brian inserted a pair of Fireballs into his sideboard along with a Feldon’s Cane, as additional hedges for being “capped.” Fireball likewise would have additional value as the Necro-era slowly took hold, and Necro decks began to emerge in 1996.

The Ivory Tower was moved to the sideboard as an anti-Burn and Vise deck tactic. In a long overdue move, another pair of Red Elemental Blasts were added to the sideboard over Control Magic and a Counterspell. The Fireballs helped compensate for lighter creature removal.

Summer of 1996 was known as Necro Summer, but Necro decks could do little more than play weenie hordes and attempt to Disk away Moat or force a discard before it could be played. Brian competed in the Origins, 96 Team Tournaments, to victory with this weapon:

 

Old School

  The Deck, Summer, 1996

 


 

4 Mana Drain

2 Counterspell

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

1 Amnesia

3 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

4 City of Brass

2 Volcanic Island

4 Tundra

3 Plains

4 Island

4 Disenchant

4 Swords to Plowshares

2 Moat

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Regrowth

2 Red Elemental Blast

2 Disrupting Scepter

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Mirror Universe

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Black Lotus

1 Sol Ring

Sideboard:

1 Fireball

1 Disrupting Scepter

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Tormod’s Crypt

1 Feldon’s Cane

2 Red Elemental Blast

1 Ivory Tower

2 Mana Short

2 COP:Red

2 Divine Offering

1 Moat

 

There were no changes to the maindeck between February and June of 1996, but the sideboard saw some tinkering. Brian departed from his usual Blood Moon technology to play a pair of Mana Shorts. He felt that the field was now sufficiently Blood Moon invulnerable, but Mana Short helped shore up mirror matches. Mana Short would become a favorite of Weissman’s going forward.

Big changes were in store. Necro Summer brought Necrodecks in a surge to the top of the Type I metagame, and Alliances introduced a potential answer in Force of Will. How would Weissman, the progenitor of the concept of card advantage, view a counterspell that is inherently card disadvantageous?

When a $40K Type I tournament was announced as one of the events at Pro Tour Dallas in November,1996, the world would have its answer. Here’s what Brian played at one of the most important Type I tournaments of all time:

 

Old School

The Deck, Nov, 1996

By Brian Weissman


 

Creatures and Spells:

4 Mana Drain

2 Counterspell

1 Force of Will

4 Mystical Tutor

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

1 Amnesia

3 Disenchant

3 Swords to Plowshares

1 Balance

1 The Abyss

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Regrowth

2 Fireball

2 Jayemdae Tome

1 Mirror Universe

Mana Sources:

4 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

4 City of Brass

3 Volcanic Island

4 Tundra

1 Plains

4 Island

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Black Lotus

1 Sol Ring

Sideboard:

2 Gorilla Shaman

3 Pyroblast

1 Moat

3 Sand Golem

1 Zuran Orb

1 Ivory Tower

1 Disenchant

2 COP:Red

1 Mana Short

 

This is the most radical revision to The Deck since the removal of Juggernauts in 1994, with the following changes:

+ 1 Force of Will
+ 4 Mystical Tutor
+ 2 Fireball
+ 1 Balance
+ 1 The Abyss
+ 1 Jayomdae Tome

– 1 Disenchant
– 1 Swords to Plowshares
– 2 Red Elemental Blast
– 2 Serra Angel
– 2 Moat
– 2 Disrupting Scepter

What explains these changes? Brian completely re-envisioned his strategy for a Necro-environment and the single Force of Will is the least of those differences. First and foremost, Serra Angels replaced the pair of Fireballs reserved in the sideboard. Fireball is a far more potent tactic against Necro decks as well as a lethal finisher in the late game.

Secondly, his trademark Disrupting Scepters are removed entirely. Scepter is simply far too slow to stop or disrupt the gross card draw of Necropotence; it is too overwhelming. Instead, Brian relied solely on Amnesia to empty his opponent’s hands.  Most importantly, Brian implements a completely new element, a full suite of Mystical Tutors, introduced in the recent set Mirage. Not only can Mystical Tutor find most any card in his deck, but Demonic Tutor can find literally anything.

To make room for Mystical Tutor, Brian cut a Disenchant and a Swords to Plowshares, among other cards.   The Moats were cut entirely from the maindeck and replaced by a single copy of The Abyss which proved a seminal move that would usher Abyss into a preeminence it would enjoy for half a decade from this point. For additional creature removal, Balance was also added to the maindeck, a Mystical Tutor target and an excellent answer to Necro deck’s enormous draw engine and full hands. In other words, Mystical Tutor gave him reliable access to Balance to answer and help slow Necro’s card advantage.

Brian prepared in other ways as well by adding the soft technology of Sand Golem to his sideboard for discard-based tactics that virtually all Necro decks employed. Red Elemental Blasts were weak in a Necro field and so are removed entirely. Pyroblasts replace the Red Elemental Blasts in the sideboard, and a pair of Gorilla Shamans are also put into the sideboard, a move with tremendous consequences as well. Gorilla Shaman would signal a shift in strategy for The Deck. Where once it was a hand and board denial deck, it subtly shifts emphasis to a mana denial strategy. Brian’s use of Blood Moon offered a potent mana denial route, but now Brian ups the ante to a full complement of Strip Mines and a pair of Gorilla Shamans to close the noose. Another way to facilitate a mana wipe out is to pair Balance with Zuran Orb, a combo that motivated Brian to add a restricted Zuran Orb to his sideboard. Zuran Orb has the distinction of being the only card from Ice Age restricted at the time.

Brian prepared well for the Necro decks in attendance, but he placed a disappointing 39th place falling to the dominant deck, Zoo, which would place the entire Top 4 (Chapter 3 in this series will focus on the Zoo archetype).  Although felled by a classic metagaming error (preparing for his most feared matchup rather than the most played), Brian succeeded in devising a version of The Deck that could compete with ascendant Necro decks.

The Type I event at Pro Tour Dallas was regarded by many as the “last hurrah” of Type I as it was by that point clear to everyone that Wizards was putting its money, and its support, behind Type II. This led to the slow decline and disinterest in the Type I format despite outposts of persistent support. The “Pro players” who ended up performing best at the Type I event at PT Dallas were not even, at that point, regular Type I players. The winner, Scott Johns, admitted that he played his deck in part because of his lack of familiarity with the format.

Although most well known for his Type I wisdom, Brian was no slouch in other formats. In fact, Brian regularly competed in the first few years of the Pro Tour, racking up a Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Columbus (1996) and Pro Tour Los Angeles/Long Beach (1997), and an 11th place finish at Pro Tour Paris (1997).  In addition, Brian got 27th place at Pro Tour New York (1997), 32nd at Pro Tour Mainz (1997), 53rd place in Pro Tour Long Beach (1996), 49th at Pro Tour New York (1998),  54th place at Pro Tour Dallas (1997), and in the top 50 at 1998 Worlds, all money finishes.

Brian’s popularity and respect earned him a berth in the first two Magic Invitationals (then called “Duelist Invitational”). The first Duelist Invitational (in Hong Kong in 1997) featured a modified Type I format in which players were compelled to play with five cards from each expansion, which made for some strange modifications and inclusions. Although Brian’s deck from that tournament seems to have been lost to time and dead web links, Brian was kind enough to recreate it (within a few cards) for me for this article:

Old School

The Deck, February, 1997

By Brian Weissman


 

Creatures and Spells:

2 Dwarven Miner

2 Gorilla Shaman

2 Jayemdae Tome

1 Amnesia

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Regrowth

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

4 Mana Drain

2 Force of Will

2 Counterspell

4 Swords to Plowshares

3 Disenchant

1 Fireball

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

Mana Sources:

4 Tundra

4 City of Brass

4 Volcanic Island

3 Underground Sea

4 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Island

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Sol Ring

1 Black Lotus

Sideboard:

3 Hydroblast

4 Pyroblast

1 Disenchant

1 Zuran Orb

2 Gorilla Shaman

2 COP: Red

1 Mirror Universe

1 Mana Short

 

 

This version of The Deck is handicapped by the Invitational’s deck construction rules, but nonetheless reveals some new directions for The Deck.  This version of The Deck emphasizes land and artifact destruction to a degree not yet seen.  Since the tournament was held not long after the release of Mirage and Visions, Brian decided to exploit the power of Dwarven Miner.

The second Duelist Invitational was held a year later, in Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil January 29-February 1, 1998.  Unfortunately Type I, even modified, was not on the menu this time.  As a result, Brian had no chance to show off his latest version of The Deck. In a Dojo post in 1998 Brian confirmed the lack of a published list, “It bothers me so much that the only published modern version of my control deck out there is the one that I played way back, more than a year ago, at PT Dallas.”  At the urging of Frank Kusumoto, curator of the Dojo, he unveiled his latest list a few months later:

Old School

The Deck, April, 1998

By Brian Weissman


 

2 Force of Will

4 Mana Drain

2 Counterspell

1 Amnesia

1 Pyroblast

2 Disenchant

2 Swords to Plowshares

1 Balance

1 The Abyss

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Fireball

1 Demonic Tutor

3 Mystical Tutor

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

1 Regrowth

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Mirror Universe

1 Zuran Orb

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

1 Library of Alexandria

4 City of Brass

4 Volcanic Island

4 Tundra

4 Island

1 Strip Mine

3 Wasteland

Sideboard:

2 Gorilla Shaman

2 Pyroblast

3 Hydroblast

1 Zuran Orb

1 Moat

2 Disenchant

2 Circle of Protection: Red

1 Mana Short

1 Fireball

 

This deck is remarkably similar to his PT Dallas list, underscoring Brian’s reluctance to make radical tweaks despite the passage of time. Here are the differences between his April 1998 version of “The Deck” and his PT Dallas list:

+ 1 Pyroblast

+ 1 Force of Will
+ 2 Gorilla Shaman
+ 1 Zuran Orb
+ 1 Volcanic Island
+ 3 Wasteland

– 1 Fireball
– 1 Mystical Tutor
– 1 Disenchant
– 1 Swords to Plowshares
– 1 Jayomdae Tome
– 1 Plains
– 3 Strip Mine

Brian offered only a brief explanation of the more salient changes, mostly reiterating the changes or elements already present in his PT Dallas list, but the remainder of the changes are comprehensible from a view of the format at the time. First and foremost, the printing of Wasteland in 1997 led to the restriction of Strip Mine in January 1, 1998 (the only restriction in Type I that year) leading Brian to fill the gap by adding three Wastelands to complement the one Strip Mine.

Second it was clear that Brian had abandoned any pretense of a Blood Moon strategy, which explained the removal of a basic Plains. The dominance of Zoo (which ended with the restriction of Black Vise) and the Necro decks precluded this kind of strategy.

Third, the mana denial strategy had become more prominent in his thinking: not only was he moving two Gorilla Shaman to the maindeck, he also put Zuran Orb there as well, to reinforce his combo plan with Balance.

Brian’s commentary mostly focused on a question that he had addressed in 1996, but apparently lingered:

“The most common question that I am invariably asked by fans of control when they see my deck these days is ‘why no Disrupting Scepters?’. While I am aware that it was this notorious artifact that originally distinguished The Deck, I have grown unhappy with the Scepter in an environment increasingly dominated by Necropotence and recursion.”

Brian emphasized that his deck’s discard strategy focused even more on Amnesia and then Regrowing Amnesia all abetted by Mystical Tutors.

The sideboard was radically altered. The differences are as follows:

+ 3 Hydroblast
+ 1 Disenchant
+ 1 Fireball

– 3 Sand Golem
– 1 Pyroblast
– 1 Ivory Tower

The restriction of Black Vise in July 1997 no longer required him to play an Ivory Tower in the sideboard as an efficient solution. The Pyroblast move to the maindeck essentially transposes positions with Fireball. The Disenchant he cut from the maindeck was also moved to the sideboard. Hydroblasts are there obviously to shore up the red and Zoo matchups. Hydroblast is also an efficient answer to Blood Moon, should it arise.

It would be nearly another year and half before Brian would reveal an updated version of The Deck as Brian quietly stepped out of the limelight. Speculating that, given his evident passion for the format, the decline of Type I was a contributing if not a motivating factor (as it was for my disengagement with Magic during the late 1990s), Brian both confirmed and controverted this hypothesis.

In a post on the Dojo, Brian lamented the decline of Type I: “As much as I have hoped against it, the inevitable downhill slide of the Classic format has continued in the United States. I currently reside in Northern California, which, despite once being a Mecca for Classic play, has seen the format become all but extinct these last couple of years. Still, my bi-monthly appearances on the pro tour are reason enough for me to hang on to my old power cards, and to blow the dust off them from time to time.”

Indeed, it seems that Brian’s disengagement with professional Magic was the final straw.  In mid-1999, Brian gave up the Pro Tour, and resumed his collegiate education after moving to Davis, California shortly thereafter.  As he put it to me recently, “Certainly the decline of Type 1 contributed to my overall malaise, though really it was just a general departure from competitive Magic.”

1999 was a year of great tumult in the Type I format. Urza’s Saga triggered three restrictions in January 1999, more than any set had in five years (since Legends, to be precise).   Yet that was only the beginning. There was an emergency restriction in April following Urza’s Legacy, and another restriction for a card from Urza’s Saga, followed by a massive, format wrenching restriction of 18 cards that fall from Urza’s Block and everything before it.

No one knew what would emerge from the wreckage but Brian was at the ready, and shared his latest version of The Deck that would not only surprise and impress, but would actually shape the Type I format once again.

Old School

The Deck, October 1999

By Brian Weissman


 

Creatures  and Spells:

4 Force of Will

4 Mana Drain

2 Counterspell

3 Swords to Plowshares

1 Fireball

2 Disenchant

1 Balance

1 Amnesia

1 The Abyss

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Morphling

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Regrowth

1 Recall

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Braingeyser

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Jayemdae Tome

Mana Sources:

4 Volcanic Island

2 Underground Sea

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

4 City of Brass

4 Tundra

Sideboard:

2 Gorilla Shaman

2 Disenchant

1 Mana Short

2 Circle of Protection: Red

3 Pyroblast

1 Fireball

1 Compost

1 Swords to Plowshares

1 Zuran Orb

1 Mirror Universe

Brian’s latest version of The Deck reflected structural improvements with strategic continuity based upon new printings. Here are the changes he made from his 1998 list:

+ 2 Force of Will
+ 1 Stroke of Genius
+ 1 Morphling
+ 1 Vampiric Tutor
+ 1 Swords to Plowshares
+ 2 Underground sea
+ 1 Wasteland

– 2 Mystical Tutor
– 1 Pyroblast
– 1 Zuran Orb
– 1 Mirror Universe
– 4 Island

After the Combo summer of 1999, Brian had abandoned any pretense of either employing or preparing for a Blood Moon strategy. The basic land package is jettisoned entirely in favor of improved mana consistency, especially Underground Seas, now necessary to support Vampiric Tutor, which is added to The Deck with the restriction of Mystical Tutor (also explaining why 2 Mystical Tutors are removed).

Stroke of Genius, a printing from Urza’s Saga is introduced as a new Braingeyser, a staple for The Deck since its inception. A Plow is added back to The Deck, and a fourth Wasteland boosts the mana denial strategy.

Mirror Universe is removed from the deck because of a rules change in 1998 with the introduction of 6th Edition. Recall that Mirror Universe serves as a win condition, not just a defensive tactic, in combination with City of Brass.   A fundamental change to the rules neutralizes this combo, and Mirror Universe is relegated to the sideboard.

The most salient change is the introduction of Morphling. Morphling is the ideal win condition for The Deck. Like Serra Angel, it can block and attack, but it also has built-in protection and can change its power and toughness as desired. Morphling would become one of the most popular and feared creatures in Type I. Morphling can survive his own Abyss.

The final change of note is that Brian was finally “all in” on Force of Wills, now three years after its printing. As Brian said, “Four Force of Will in the main deck may be necessary today. This is very unfortunate as The Deck operates best with draw advantage.” Brian was referring to the presence of combo decks, and even more brutal and aggressive Necro-based strategies. Stopping Necropotence in the first place is now a priority, as Necro decks shifts gradually from being creature decks to lethal combo decks.

The changes to the Sideboard were as follows:

+ 1 Compost
+ 1 Swords to Plowshares
+ 1 Mirror Universe

– 3 Hydroblast

The Mirror Universe is moved to the sideboard from the maindeck, even though it was unrestricted. A fourth Swords and a Compost is added to the sideboard. Compost had been discovered as a useful anti-Necro tactic.

Brian’s next update would come much sooner thanks to an uptick in interest in the format once again.

In late 1999, a law student named Oscar Tan from the Philippines displayed a strong interest in Type I, and began a long-running column that also served as a partial temple to Brian Weissman. Oscar’s column was often little more than a long-form primer on how to play The Deck.   Tan kept in regular contact with Brian, and used his column to publish updated versions of The Deck. Tan also used his forum as an administrator of Beyond Dominia, the format’s premiere community website, as a way to publish updates to The Deck.

In May 2000, Tan posted correspondence with Brian via the Magic email group, Meridian Magic that included not only an updated version of The Deck but additional explanation and analysis.

Old School

The Deck, May 2000

 


 

Non-Mana producers:

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

2 Counterspell

3 Swords to Plowshares

2 Disenchant

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Fireball

1 Amnesia

1 Morphling

1 The Abyss

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Regrowth

1 Balance

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Time Walk

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Recall

1 Braingeyser

1 Timetwister

——————

Total Non-Mana Producers: 33

Mana Producers:

4 Tundra

4 Volcanic Island

4 City of Brass

2 Underground Sea

4 Wasteland

1 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

5 Moxes

1 Sol Ring

1 Black Lotus

————–
Total Mana Producers: 27

Sideboard:

3 Pyroblast

2 Disenchant

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Moat

1 Swords to Plowshares

1 Mana Short

2 COP: Red

1 Zuran Orb

1 Mirror Universe

1 Compost

 

As you can see, his May 2000 version of The Deck is identical to the last published 1999 list. What was new was Brian’s commentary. Responding to the claim from EDT (Eric “Danger” Taylor) that The Deck would be defeated by Zoo, even without an unrestricted Black Vise, Brian acknowledged that The Deck as constituted above might struggle to defeat underpowered or unpowered aggro or weenie decks pre-board, but that his sideboard plans greatly improve those matchups. Brian emphasized that The Deck of the 2000’s focus was combo and Necro strategies, and that aggro decks were only of secondary concern.

Perhaps most importantly, Brian explicitly acknowledged a structural shift that had gradually been emerging across iterations of The Deck. The Deck was originally conceived as a resource denial “lock” deck with the focus being on hand disruption via Disrupting Scepter and countermagic to protect that threat. The Blood Moon stratagem opened a new vista of attack which gradually replaced the hand disruption elements as the central focus. Brian put it best,

“The general theme of The Deck has changed and mut[ated] with the times, and these days it is honestly as much about land destruction as it is about card advantage. You beat most decks by attacking their mana base with Wastelands, Disenchants and Shamans, and you can often win games effortlessly without ever having cast Ancestral Recall, Braingeyser, or Stroke of Genius.”

The Deck’s capacity to interface countermagic with heavy mana denial elements is almost as potent in 2000 as the discard elements were in 1995. This would influence the trajectory of the archetype into its many incarnations, including Tan’s so-called “Keeper” deck as this strategy was best known by at this time.

That Fall, the Type I metagame would undergo a succession of surprising changes. Not only would Invasion introduce an important Type I draw engine, Fact or Fiction, but the DCI made some dramatic changes to the Banned and Restricted list that directly impacted The Deck. The most important change in the metagame was the restriction of Necropotence, the card and strategy that had been The Deck’s greatest enemy for half a decade.

In response to an inquiry from Tan about whether Fact or Fiction deserves a home in The Deck, Brian Weissman proposed cutting a Fireball, Braingeyser, Swords to Plowshares, and Counterspell to make room for four Fact or Fiction.

By March 2001, Oscar Tan published Brian Weissman’s latest version of The Deck:

Old School

The Deck, March, 2001

 


 

Non-Mana Producers:

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

1 Counterspell

2 Swords to Plowshares

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Disenchant

4 Fact or Fiction

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 The Abyss

1 Morphling

1 Zuran Orb

1 Balance

1 Regrowth

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mind Twist

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

——————
Total Non-Mana Producers: 32

Mana Producers:

4 Tundra

4 Volcanic Island

3 Underground Sea

4 City of Brass

1 Library of Alexandria

4 Wasteland

1 Strip Mine

5 Moxes

1 Sol Ring

1 Black Lotus

—————
Total Mana Producers: 28

Sideboard:

2 Disenchant

2 Swords to Plowshares

3 Pyroblast

2 Gorilla Shaman

2 COP: Red

1 Mana Short

2 Dwarven Miner

1 Mirror Universe

 

Here are the total changes:
+ 4 Fact or Fiction
+ 1 Mind Twist
+ 1 Yawgmoth’s Will
+ 1 Zuran Orb
+ 1 Underground Sea

– 1 Counterspell
– 1 Disenchant
– 1 Swords to Plowshares
– 1 Fireball
– 1 Amnesia
– 1 Braingeyser
– 1 Timetwister
– 1 Recall

As noted, Brian cut four cards to make room for four Fact or Fictions, but made some additional changes as well.   Fact or Fiction’s digging and graveyard filling power persuaded Brian to include Yawgmoth’s Will, and Recall was cut to make room for it (since they were both recursive spells). With Yawgmoth’s Will finally included, the boundless loop potential of Timetwister had to be abandoned, and it was finally removed as well. The restriction of Necropotence and the disappearance of discard based strategies rendered Timetwister less relevant anyway.

Similarly, the unbanning of Mind Twist meant that Amnesia becomes outdated, and is replaced. An Underground Sea is added to support this deeper expansion into black as well as to raise the total mana count to reliably cast Fact or Fiction.

The sideboard saw some remodeling as well:

+ 1 Swords to Plowshares
+ 2 Dwarven Miner

– 1 Zuran Orb
– 1 Compost
– 1 Moat

Brian had predicted that Fact or Fiction would ultimately be restricted, but it eluded restriction for a year, and in that time accelerated blue decks built around multiple Morphlings began to dominate the format.   On the cusp of the restriction of Fact or Fiction, Brian revealed his final version of The Deck for 2001:

Old School

The Deck, November, 2001

By Brian Weissman


 

Blue (18):

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Mystical Tutor

4 Fact or Fiction

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

1 Counterspell

1 Morphling

Black (4):

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Mind Twist

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

White (3):

1 Balance

2 Swords to Plowshares

Green (1):

1 Regrowth

Red (4):

1 Pyroblast

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Fireball

Artifact (2):

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Zuran Orb

Mana (28):

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Sol Ring

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland

1 Library of Alexandria

4 City of Brass

4 Volcanic Island

4 Tundra

3 Underground Sea

Sideboard (15):

2 Pyroblast

2 Gorilla Shaman

2 Dwarven Miner

1 Mana Short

2 Circle of Protection: Red

2 Swords to Plowshares

1 Moat

2 Disenchant

1 Mirror Universe

 

The changes here were modest, but reflect the new threat of Mono-Blue (Accelerated Blue):

+ 1 Pyroblast
+ 1 Fireball

– 1 Disenchant
– 1 The Abyss

And in the sideboard:

+ 1 Moat

– 1 Pyroblast

To be candid, I find some of these changes odd. Pyroblast in the maindeck is a return to Brian’s early 1995 brilliance with tactical metagaming, but the cutting of Disenchant seems unwise in an environment with many Back to Basics stemming from Accelerated Blue. The Abyss is removed for its inefficacy against Morphling.

Brian was correct to predict the eventual restriction of Fact or Fiction, he was just premature about it. On January 1, 2002, Fact of Fiction joined the Type I Restricted List. In February, Tan published Brian’s updated list in his column on Starcitygames.

Old School

The Deck (NOT The Keeper), February, 2002

By Brian Weissman


 

Creatures and Spells:

1 Force of Will

1 Misdirection

4 Mana Drain

1 Red Elemental Blast

1 Mind Twist

1 Balance

2 Swords to Plowshares

1 Disenchant

1 Fireball

1 Zuran Orb

1 Morphling

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Jayemdae Tome

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Braingeyser

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Merchant Scroll

1 Regrowth

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

Mana Sources:

 1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

1 Library of Alexandria

4 City of Brass

4 Tundra

4 Volcanic Island

3 Underground Sea

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland

Sideboard:

2 Circle of Protection: Red

2 Swords to Plowshares

1 Moat

1 Mana Short

3 Red Elemental Blast

1 Disenchant

2 Dwarven Miner

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Mirror Universe

 

What did Brian add for the cut Fact or Fictions? Here are the changes from his November list:

+ 1 Misdirection
+ 1 Merchant Scroll
+ 1 Braingeyser
+ 1 Red Elemental Blast

– 3 Fact or Fiction
– 1 Pyroblast

And in the sideboard:

+ 3 Red Elemental Blast

-2 Pyroblast
-1 Disenchant

Brian’s trademark explanations were longer than they had been in many years. No doubt this was informed by the rump testing session Brian enjoyed at Pro Tour San Diego with Patrick Chapin and Mike Pustilnik as he recounted their many games, and the impression they made on him. In particular, he was impressed with Misdirection and Merchant Scroll. As he said: Both Pat and Mike used Misdirection against me in our games – and needless to say, I was amazed by the power of the card in so many situations. The best example I can think of was the “turn 1 kill” that Chapin got against me playing his Type 1 MiracleGro design.  I started first and played a Tundra, he followed with an island, and on my second turn I played a Volcanic Island. On his upkeep, I cast Ancestral Recall on myself, to which he responded with Misdirection to him. I smiled and tapped the Volcanic to Red Blast, and he tapped his lone Island to Disrupt my Red Blast 😛  I scooped on the spot!  Anyway, the card is so flexible and dangerous that it’s superior to Force of Will in most cases, and it definitely deserves a place in my deck. I may even include a second one in the future, though my quantity of blue spells is dangerously low.

Braingeyser was a natural addition since it was cut for Fact or Fiction in the first place, but what explains Merchant Scroll? Here’s what Brain had to say:

I’ve finally put Merchant Scroll into my deck, after toying with the idea of including it for a long time. Chapin and I played a series of about fourteen games with an exact mirror, and we kept track of how closely a successful casting of Ancestral Recall was related to winning. In our fourteen games, we were amused to find that there was a 100% positive correlation between resolving Ancestral and winning in the mirror matchup, and that fact alone justifies another Ancestral-related Tutor.  One is a good number, though, since multiple Scrolls are pretty slack.

Brian didn’t explain the switch from Pyroblast to Red Elemental Blast, but he need not have given his emphasis on Misdirection. Pyroblast can be Misdirected to any target while Red Elemental Blast cannot, making it better removal.

The printing of Onslaught Fetchlands in Fall 2002 would radically restructure not only The Deck’s mana base, but the viability of its mana denial strategy as well. Control pilots began to experiment with different tactics, but Brain was slow to adopt, and ever-unconventional, he decided to flip these innovations to his advantage.

In early 2004, Brian reported some extensive testing against a friend running a new Rector-Trix combo deck built around Cabal Therapy and Academy Rector. Brian proposed what he viewed as a radical redesign of The Deck for 2004 that incorporated not only the Onslaught Fetchlands, but a new tactic from Mirrodin:

Old School

“The Deck” January, 2004

 


 

Non-Mana Producers:

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

2 Gorilla Shaman

2 Chalice of the Void

1 Red Elemental Blast

1 Misdirection

1 Swords to Plowshares

1 Balance

1 Fire/Ice

1 Cunning Wish

1 Morphling

1 Regrowth

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Mind Twist

1 The Abyss

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Time Walk

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Braingeyser

0 Brainstorm

Mana Producers:

4 Volcanic Island

3 City of Brass

3 Underground Sea

3 Polluted Delta

2 Tundra

4 Wasteland

1 Strip Mine

1 Library of Alexandria

5 Moxes

1 Sol Ring

1 Black Lotus

Sideboard:

1 Mana Short

1 Skeletal Scrying

1 Dismantling Blow

1 Blue Elemental Blast

1 Red Elemental Blast

2 Pyroblast

1 Zuran Orb

1 COP: Red

1 Moat

1 Diabolic Edict

1 Swords to Plowshares

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Dwarven Miner

 

Changes:

+ 1 Cunning Wish
+ 1 Fire/Ice
+ 1 The Abyss
+ 2 Chalice of the Void
+ 3 Polluted Delta

– 1 City of Brass
– 2 Tundra
– 1 Jayomedae Tome
– 1 Disenchant
– 1 Swords to Plowshares
– 1 Fireball
– 1 Merchant Scroll

Here’s what Brian had to say:

The interaction between Academy Rector and Cabal Therapy is just disgusting, with a successful resolution of that creature immediately ending the game against most decks.  It’s simply too easy to get a Therapy into the graveyard, and once it’s there you cannot win if they ever resolve the Rector.  And actually keeping that creature out of play against eight one black mana discard spells is nearly impossible, especially since the deck has plenty of other”must counter” cards and four Forces of Will.  The only solution I see to this deck is Chalice of the Void, and testing showed that a Chalice set to one in the early game would generally beat it.  It has 20 one mana spells, and without them the deck can neither search nor disrupt.   I have been thinking about Chalice of the Void more and more lately, and I think it also serves as a way for me to punish people who use Brainstorm.  I think that running Chalice would make the use of at least one Fire/Ice mandatory, as I can’t rely on swords with the artifact in play.   I haven’t tested this build yet, but I think this is what I may be using from now on.

Even without the Chalices, this build illustrates fundamental changes wrought by Fetchlands mana base and Cunning Wish and a sideboard toolbox.   Here were the changes:

+ 1 Skeletal Scrying
+ 1 Blue Elemental Blast
+ 1 Dismantling Blow
+ 2 Pyroblast
+ 1 Diabolic Edict

– 1 Dwarven Miner
– 1 COP: Red
– 2 Red Elemental Blasts
– 1 Mirror Universe

In retrospect, it’s incredible how active Brian remained in thinking about Type I even ten years later, but that would not be the final update!

An unknown correspondent published a final list from Brian in 2006 as follows, without explanation:

Old School

The Deck, circa 2006

By Brian Weissman


 

Creatures and Spells:

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Morphling

1 Crucible of Worlds

4 Brainstorm

1 Cunning Wish

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Skeletal Scrying

1 Stroke of Genius

1 Ancestral Recall

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

1 Red Elemental Blast

2 Swords to Plowshares

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mind Twist

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Balance

1 Time Walk

1 Regrowth

Mana Sources:

3 City of Brass

1 Island

2 Polluted Delta

1 Flooded Strand

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland

1 Tundra

4 Volcanic Island

3 Underground Sea

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

Sideboard:

1 Blue Elemental Blast

1 Circle of Protection: Red

1 Darksteel Colossus

1 Tinker

1 Fire/Ice

1 Disenchant

2 Pyroblast

1 Red Elemental Blast

1 Skeletal Scrying

1 Shattering Pulse

2 Gorilla Shaman

1 Diabolic Edict

1 Zuran Orb

 

 

Confirming to me the authenticity of this list, Brian responded that this list was what he would play whenever the occasion arose.

Consider the changes:
+ 4 Brainstorm

+ 1 Skeletal Scrying

+ 1 Crucible of Worlds

+ 1 Swords to Plowshares

+ 1 Flooded Strand

+ 1 Island-

– 2 Chalice of the Void

-1 Braingeyser

-1 Fire/Ice

-1 Misdirection

-1 The Abyss

-1 Polluted Delta

-1 Tundra

Skeletal Scrying is a Weissman-style card, being a more efficient Stroke of Genius that uses life as a resource. Crucible similarly is a valuable source of card advantage. These changes comport with The Deck’s fundamental principles more than the Chalice experiment of 2004.  Brian resisted the revamped mana base adopted by many control pilots with the advent of fetchlands, fearing that over-reliance would weaken the control match against multiple Wastelands.

And in the sideboard:

+ 1 Tinker

+ 1 Darksteel Colossus

+ 1 Fire/Ice

+ 1 Shattering Pulse

+ 1 Disenchant

-1 Mana Short

-1 Dismantling Blow

-1 Dwarven Miner

-1 Moat

-1 Swords to Plowshares

These changes suggest meaningful testing as Brian recognizes the mana challenges associated with combating a the new Workshop foe and the power of the Tinker finisher.  Unfortunately, that is where our story ends. Brian acknowledged to me playing in a few events in the mid-2000s, including a victory in the $1000 Vintage tournament series held at the famed Neutral Ground in Mountain View, California, but there were no further published versions of The Deck.

How would you build The Deck today? What would it look like? Patrick Chapin tried to answer that question in 2009, but I’ll let you judge his effort.

No doubt, Brian may well have kept iterating The Deck with new cards and new tactics.  But, upon reflection, such iteration has proven unnecessary.  In many respects, principles, if not direct elements, from The Deck, can be detected in contemporary Vintage decks.  After all, what is Jace, the Mind Sculptor, if not the ultimate Weissman weapon and the heir of Jayemdae Tome with elements of Scepter as well?  Marc Lanigra and Brian Kelly’s Vintage Championship winning decklists from the last 5 years have echos of The Deck, if not appear direct descendants.  Brian Kelly’s deck, in particular, draws deeply upon the Weissman School of Magic.

But more broadly, Weissman principles are omnipresent in the Vintage format, if not the wider world of Magic.  We are all disciples of the Weissman School, whether we know it or not.

The Deck in Contemporary Old School

Although The Deck is a source of endless fascination and a topic of bottomless insights, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this story is the continuity of concepts and design principles from 1994 to 2006, likely the longest period for any single deck by any single player in the history of the game.

For fans of Old School Magic like myself, this is more than history, but a adult sandbox of playing fun from era to era. Playing The Deck or variants of it is one of the great joys of Old School Magic (or frustrations, depending on your point of view).

In fact, The Deck has proven so powerful in the more popular variants of Old School Magic that virtually every major community of interest has currently restricted Mana Drain. The Swedish 93/94 group restricted Mana Drain in 2013, after Mana Drain decks posted 7 of the Top 8 decklists in their annual championship tournament.

A wise move, the restriction of Mana Drain by all of the major organized Old School communities has done little to dampen interest or diminish enthusiasm in The Deck as a top flight Old School strategy.  Indeed, The Deck has won the two largest Old School events in the last year, the “noobcon” championship in Sweden and the Eternal Weekend Old School event hosted by Eternal Central.  Both lists reveal something about The Deck in contemporary Old School.

Old School

The Deck, August, 2015

By Randy Buehler


 

Creatures and Spells:

1 Mana Drain

4 Counterspell

1 Red Elemental Blast

4 Swords to Plowshares

4 Disenchant

1 Balance

1 Chaos Orb

3 The Abyss

1 Mind Twist

2 Disrupting Scepter

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

2 Jayemdae Tome

1 Braingeyser

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Regrowth

1 Recall

1 Ivory Tower

Mana Sources:

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

1 Library of Alexandria

3 Mishra’s Factory

4 City of Brass

3 Underground Sea

3 Tundra

2 Volcanic Island

2 Island

1 Plains

3 Strip Mine

Sideboard:

2 Amnesia

2 Divine Offering

4 Blue Elemental Blast

3 Red Elemental Blast

1 Circle of Protection Red

1 The Abyss

1 Island

1 Strip

 

Randy Buehler’s version of The Deck is a thoughtful and subtle metagame choice, which earned him a first place finish in a field of 54 players.  Randy, an Old School player himself, took Weissman principles to heart and built in resilience to Blood Moon that allowed him to survive my deck in the semi-finals, while the other versions of The Deck were successfully felled.

Randy fully embraced The Abyss, a somewhat less popular choice even in Old School circles, but that allowed him to have an anti-creature enchantment while playing Mishra’s Factory, a card regarded as almost obnoxiously omnipresent in some metagames.

In the end, Randy has iterated a faithful adaption of The Deck to a very successful conclusion, and suggests an approach that I believe should work for any sufficiently skillful pilot.

The most successful variants of The Deck in the Old School Magic communities, however, more closely resemble those like Martin Berlin played to a 1st place finish at noobcon:

 

Old School

The Deck, March, 2016

By Martin Berlin


 

Creatures and Spells:

2 Serra Angel

1 Mana Drain

4 Counterspell

4 Disenchant

4 Swords to Plowshares

2 Lightning Bolt

1 Fireball

1 Stone Rain

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister

1 Braingeyser

1 Recall

1 Mind Twist

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Regrowth

3 Jayemdae Tome

Mana Sources:

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

3 Fellwar Stone

1 Strip Mine

3 Mishra’s Factory

1 Library of Alexandria

3 City of Brass

3 Volcanic Island

2 Underground Sea

4 Tundra

1 Plains

Sideboard:

2 Blue Elemental Blast

3 Red Elemental Blast

3 Ivory Tower

1 Serra Angel

1 Moat

1 The Abyss

2 Dust To Dust

1 Goblin Digging Team

 

Martin’s deck captures the trends of the archetype most common in competitive Old School Magic circles.  In particular, I’d point toward:

1) 3-4 Jayemdae Tome and 0-1 Disrupting Scepter.  It’s not uncommon to see versions of The Deck with 4 Tomes and zero Scepters.

2) Fellwar Stone.  Fellwar Stone is fairly common in The Deck variants.  With Mana Drain restricted, it is more difficult to generate significant quantities of mana to fuel these expensive artifacts.  Fellwar Stone helps bridge that gap while providing additional mana acceleration. The cost of Fellwar Stone, however, is greater vulnerability to threats like Energy Flux.  On the other hand, Fellwar Stone does provide some stability against Blood Moon.

3) Mishra’s Factory.  Mishra’s Factory can be found in virtually every well performing version of The Deck in contemporary Old School.  It’s ubiquity and success makes Weissman versions of The Deck appear superficially outdated by comparison.  In fact, Factory is so successful (with the Noobcon finals being a Factory race-off) that some people have even called for Factory’s restriction.  I have little doubt that Factory is one of the reasons for a singleton Stone Rain in Martin’s decklist.

If you are looking for tournament winning decks in Old School, either Randy or Martin’s version of The Deck are proven commodities.  But, what would Brian Weissman play?

I asked the man himself.  In the spirit of the Swedish group, presented as a deckselfie, here is Brian’s The Deck.  That is to say, it is both Brian’s recommended version of The Deck under the Swedish rules, but, just as importantly, those are Brian’s actual cards.  Brian was kind enough to send me a photo for inclusion in this article.

 

Brian Weissman Deck Picture (2)

“THE DECK, 2016 OLD SCHOOL”

 

Although immediately recognizable, there are many obvious and subtle differences between this Old School version of The Deck, and authentic historical versions of The Deck.  The most obvious difference is the single Mana Drain, a consequence of its widespread restriction.  The other obvious inclusion is the presence of a pair of Fellwar Stones, which are included for the reasons I sketched out above.  The mana base is also notably different, including more Underground Seas than were typically used in any of the versions of The Deck from the mid-1990s surveyed above.

Brian did carefully note that one of the basic Islands should be a basic Plains (which he didn’t include because he couldn’t surface a beta version on the spot). He also added that the sideboard would roughly look like: 1-2 Ivory Tower, 1 Disenchant, 2 COP: Red, 3 Red Elemental Blast, 1-2 Mana Short, 2 Blue Elemental Blast,and 2-3 Divine Offerings.

Eagle-eyed readers might notice that the cards pictured here include a Collector’s Edition Shivan Dragon and Braingeyser.  Brian explained that he’s never owned a Beta Shivan Dragon, and traded away his old Beta Braingeyser before the Old School format became popular. Replacements are on the way.

When pressed about Mishra’s Factory or other “modern” innovations, Brian prefaced his analysis with a careful qualifier:

“Perhaps it’s entirely wrong to even use any creatures with only a single Mana Drain, people seem to be winning just fine going creatureless. Ironically, I just lack experience with the format. A format with only a single Mana Drain and a single Strip Mine is so different from the one I invested thousands and thousands of hours in. Those two cards are just so format warping, it’s hard to evaluate what it’s like to play without full sets of them.”

Then, he offered insightful and compelling commentary on Mishra’s Factory:

“I honestly think that the Factories only make sense because the restriction of Mana Drain has forced control decks to take a more proactive stance. Without the ability to just wait and depend on the card, you need a way to push the action. In the old days, the entire game was about waiting around and putting as many blue sources into play as possible. If you fell behind in blue mana producers, it often meant your ass. Additionally, we also played upwards of four Strip Mines, so Factories were even less reliable as a way to pressure an opponent or close up the game. In a format with only a single Strip Mine and only a single Mana Drain, they’re a hell of a lot more powerful. I think I would test a Factory-less, Moat-based version of my control deck before abandoning that pure defensive posture. Moat does have tremendous raw utility against a lot of other strategies, though it seems that all aggro decks are running white now for Disenchant. It’s interesting to see how 1993/1994 deck construction constraints stack up against 2016 Magic understanding. It’s really a different world, there are a lot fewer people who don’t know what they’re doing.”

For Americans thinking about competing in Eternal Central’s annual Old School event, note that they permit 4 Strip Mines, so that is an added incentive to play something closer to Brian’s version of The Deck. In any case, you now have three “modern” versions of The Deck to consider for Old School Magic events or casual play, each with their own strengths and advantages.

 

mishra factory

Mishra’s Factory – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter {Starting Top Left}

 

Conclusion

Although Brian Weissman has largely retired to 2-player EDH (a format he likens to the halcyon days of Type I in several respects (you can view his Youtube channel here)), The Deck is alive and well, both in contemporary Vintage and the myriad Old School formats that permit Type I cards (I hold hope that Brian will someday be competing with us in Old School tournaments).  In fact, it is considered by many as the best deck in Old School, a not unjustifiable claim given its tournament performance.

That said, there are strategies that can compete with the Deck, as has been suggested by the history reviewed thus far, and as will be developed in future chapters of this series. In some sense, it may be misleading to refer to The Deck as a single strategy, given the numerous expressions and offshoots that we will be exploring in later months.

Whether The Deck can be beaten may well be a function of card pool restrictions as much as strategic innovation.  For example, permitting Ice Age introduces The Deck’s great nemesis, Necropotence.  As always, Old School offers an infinite variety of options and choices, and The Deck is first among many.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian

With Special Thanks to Brian Weissman for his assistance and feedback in the development of this article. 

 

 

References & Further Reading on The Deck

  1. Schools of Magic: The History of Vintage, by Stephen Menendian, available http://www.eternalcentral.com/tag/history-of-vintage/
  2. Schools of Magic (version 5.4) by Robert Hahn, available at http://classicdojo.org/school/SoM54.html (The “Weissman School” is Hahn’s first defined “School.”)
  3. The Dojo: History of The Deck, available at http://www.classicdojo.org/history/thedeck1.html
    Part 2: http://www.classicdojo.org/history/thedeck2.html
    Part 3: http://www.classicdojo.org/history/thedeck3.html
    Part 4: http://www.classicdojo.org/history/thedeck4.html
  4. The Duelist Magazine # 10 “Spotlight on Brian Weissman” p. 62
  5. BradyGames “Totally Unauthorized Magic: The Gathering p 83-126 (1996)
  6. The Deck, by Mike Flores at http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/lo/287

 

25 comments
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Old School Magic: Chapter 12 – Building a Stronger Prison – Vintage Magic says:

Aug 16,2017

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Spotlight on Mirror Universe – timewalking says:

Jul 19,2017

[…] deck, without any restriction ! 1 Tome + 1 Mirror Universe is what Brian Weissman ran in The Deck, first half of 1996, in an environment where Strip Mines were unrestricted and tapped blockers didn’t deal combat […]

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peta dunia says:

May 25,2017

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Old School Magic: Chapter 9 – Reanimator Rises to the Top! – Vintage Magic says:

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Old School Magic: Chapter 8 — 2nd Place at Eternal Weekend, 2016 with Blue-Red Aggro-Control – Vintage Magic says:

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The Deck 1995/2015 – The Magician's Blog says:

Nov 12,2016

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Old School Magic: Chapter 6 – Banning and Restricting in Old School – Vintage Magic says:

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Chapter 4 | Old School Magic – Build Your Own Old School Format | Vintage Magic says:

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Sean says:

Jun 30,2016

Really great article, especially for those of us who played back in the 90's but were not "plugged-in" to the high level game.

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ladyX says:

Jun 27,2016

The highlight of my MTG life was being able to Mind Twist Brian W on MTGO. Sadly I had to sell my entire collection to pay rent!

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Chapter 3 | Old School Magic – A Visit to the Zoo – Vintage Magic says:

May 16,2016

[…] Chapter 2: Old School Magic – The History of “The Deck” […]

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ron swangstu says:

May 15,2016

Loved the article and as a addicted Path of Exile player I was floored when i realized the builder of the greatest mtg deck of all time also help found my present game of choice as well. Great article!!

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Eluent says:

Apr 28,2016

Awesome ! Thx a lot 🙂
I understand Weissmann's being a bit at a loss as to why Mishra's Factories are so big in the current format (hopefully not for many more days as I hope it will be restricted in the next days), but was a bit disapointed you went so fast about what may be the most important fact about it in this format when discussing Berlin's deck : we use current rules, therefore as in legacy, our Mishra F can be a 3/3 defender which is busted in this format. Although they aren't incredibly hard to kill, they cost almost nothing to include in your deck, can serve as wincon and if not destroyed they act as a mini-moat (almost no cheap playable creatures can go through or trade with a 3/3 defender in this format, so they won't attack, and the format is warped towards defense, anti-aggro by nature etc).

Brian Weissman says:

Apr 29,2016

Ah, this makes perfect sense, and it's something I hadn't considered. Back in 1994 and 1995, tapped creatures couldn't deal damage. This meant you could hold off an enemy Kird Ape or Black Knight, but you couldn't destroy it. With modern functionality the Factories become much stronger defensive weapons, at a modest cost to your mana base. Their ubiquitous presence in the format definitely sounds like they should be restricted.

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Eric Smevold says:

Apr 28,2016

Fantastic article!! Absolutely loved the early history of The Deck. It seemed that you (Stephen) were a bit dismissive of the commander format, making it sound like a convalescent home. I think you would find very interesting to see how the principles behind The Deck shape what Brian Weissman and his friend Nate Prawdzik are doing in commander.

Also, I think that perhaps as a follow-up, it might be very interesting to talk to David Mills and Mike Long about the history and development of The Keeper. Perhaps not so relevant to format 93/94 but definitely relevant if Ice Age is included in the format.

Ben says:

Jun 24,2016

Hello I wanted to know what cards included Brian Weissman deck, (Block Ice Age / Alliance) with full sideboard used in the Pro Tour – Columbus 1996. I found the main deck, but not his sideboard. It would be good to know, because I want to build that deck completed. Thanks!!

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Scott says:

Apr 27,2016

Stephen, sorry to be clear not the photo decklist, but rather the typed out decklist of Martin Berlin has 4 Mana Drain.

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Scott says:

Apr 27,2016

Great article Stephen.

However, the final decklist shows 4 Mana Drain even though it's restricted – is that right?

Stephen Menendian says:

Apr 27,2016

Hi Scott, the final decklist only has 1 Mana Drain. It is a photo of Brian’s The Deck.

reply

David Firth Bard says:

Apr 27,2016

Wow, thank you so much for taking the time to research and compile all of this — this is a huge service to the contemporary Old School community, and really, to any student of the game.

reply

Jake says:

Apr 27,2016

great writeup!

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