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Keeper Primer
By Oscar Tan aka Rakso
By Darren Di Battista
Azhrei on www.bdominia.com
Writer of “Dragon Gold” on Star City
June 21, 2000

Evolution of Type One Five Color Control: The Deck, The Keeper, and The Franchise.

The Deck - Brian Weissman
1x Black Lotus
1x Mox Emerald
1x Mox Jet
1x Mox Pearl
1x Mox Ruby
1x Mox Saphire
1x Sol Ring
2x Disrupting Scepter
1x Jayemdae Tome
1x Mirror Universe
1x Demonic Tutor
4x Mana Drain
2x Counter Spell
1x Amnesia
1x Ancestral Recall
1x Braingeyser
1x Recall
1x Time Walk
1x Timetwister
1x Regrowth
2x Red Elemental Blast
4x Disenchant
4x Swords to Plowshares
2x Moat
2x Serra Angel
4x City of Brass
4x Island
1x Library of Alexandria
3x Plains
3x Strip Mine
4x Tundra
2x Volcanic Island

Sideboard:
1x Disrupting Scepter
1x Feldon's Cane
1x Ivory Tower
1x Jayemdae Tome
2x Blood Moon
2x Fireball
2x Red Elemental Blast
2x CoP: Red
2x Divine Offering
1x Moat

"What I believe really sets "The Deck" apart from its competitors is its overall objective: survival. "The Deck" virtually forgets about its opponent, and concentrates only on establishing itself and building card advantage. Since it is only trying to survive; a goal that every deck has to achieve, it only has to do half the work and is not vulnerable to the billions of cards that hose offensive strategies. I am not going to lose to Moat or Abyss or Blood Moon like Handelman's deck. I am not going to lose to Blood Moon, Moat, and COP Red like Kim's Deck. I am not going to lose to Ivory tower and COP Red like Chang's deck. All these decks suffer the same problem that if a threat arrives that is beyond their measure to deal with, they are finished. To me, it seems that Magic is very inclined in the direction of defensive/card advantage, and that is why I chose that path when building a competitive deck. You simply concentrate on survival and drawing cards, and winning, through two angels or a Braingeyser, takes care of itself. "

- Brian Weissman (at the time of this incarnation in 1996)


Weissman’s “The Deck” was the progenitor of all controlling decks that have come into existence. The principles of very few victory conditions, threat removal/nullification, and card advantage have been implemented time and again as control players everywhere worked to emulate the success of The Deck. A revolutionary concept in its time, players everywhere were either playing a version of The Deck or anti-Deck.

Important things to note about The Deck:

1. Seven counter total between the main deck and the sideboard, not counting the anti-Big Blue Red Elemental Blasts. There is so much removal, whether in the form of one-to-one cards such as Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant or many-to-one cards such as Moat, that it was really only necessary to counter a threat that could not be stopped by any of those cards. With the massive amount of card drawing, it was very likely that nothing that could hurt The Deck would get into play or stay there if it did.

2. Disrupting Scepters are used for card denial. In the days before Necropotence, this was an excellent way to keep the opponent with no cards in hand and therefore no options other than using permanents in play, most of which would do no good.

3. Blood Moon in the sideboard. By replacing a Tundra with a Plains, this brings the basic land count up to eight. Since all the critical white except Moat requires only one colored mana, Blood Moon has almost no effect on "The Deck." As Weissman himself put it, "The Deck's sideboard generates a lock I call the "Triple Threat" This lock consisting of blood moon/COP Red/Moat will reduce probably 80% of type I decks to nothing but moxes."

4. A mere three main deck victory conditions. The two Serra Angels are the primary damage source in this deck, with the Braingeyser serving as a backup incase of emergency. The goal of "The Deck" is to survive and establish itself, and later reduce the opponent to land on the table, no cards in hand, and a bunch of creatures that can do little more than sit and watch as the Serra Angels fly over for victory. The Deck is built to almost ignore what the opponent does completely—unless it might cause the Deck to lose.

The Deck is perhaps one of the most famous archetypes in Magic, and its influence can be felt in any deck that relies on card and mana advantage.

With the shift in Classic towards combo and Necropotence based decks, Weissman altered The Deck, taking advantage of newer cards that had been printed to improve the deck and make it more viable in the modern tournament scene.

The Deck '99 - Brian Weissman

1x Black Lotus
1x Mox Emerald
1x Mox Jet
1x Mox Pearl
1x Mox Ruby
1x Mox Saphire
1x Sol Ring
1x Jayemdae Tome
4x Mana Drain
4x Force of Will
2x Counterspell
3x Swords to Plowshares
2x Disenchant
2x Gorilla Shaman
1x Fireball
1x Amnesia
1x The Abyss
1x Morphling
1x Mystical Tutor
1x Vampiric Tutor
1x Regrowth
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Balance
1x Ancestral Recall
1x Time Walk
1x Timetwister
1x Braingeyser
1x Recall
1x Stroke of Genius
4x Tundra
4x Volcanic Island
4x City of Brass
2x Underground Sea
4x Wasteland
1x Strip Mine
1x Library of Alexandria

Sideboard:
2x Gorilla Shaman
2x Disenchant
1x Mana Short
2x CoP: Red
3x Pyroblast
1x Fireball
1x Compost
1x Swords to Plowshares
1x Zuran Orb
1x Mirror Universe

This version is heavily geared toward beating combo decks, as is evidenced by the very aggressive and disruptive cards that are within it. In this era, casting the invincible Morphling (a far superior option to a Serra Angel) and riding him to victory is much more important than maintaining card advantage. Four Force of Wills in the main deck is ample proof of this, as The Deck and its kindred are not at an advantage when removing their own cards from the game. They are present as an anti-combo measure more than as a control measure.

That Mirror Universe (albeit mainly as a result of the Sixth Edition rules set negating Mirror-Kill decks) and Zuran Orb are in the sideboard, while Moat is no longer present at all, strongly indicates that The Deck is not as concerned with creatures as it was before. This version is much weaker against fast damage decks or weenie styles, but is very strong against combo decks and Necropotence based strategies.

The Keeper - Mike Long; 1998 Duelist Invitational

1x Black Lotus
1x Mox Jet
1x Mox Pearl
1x Mox Ruby
1x Mox Sapphire
2x Felwar Stone
1x Sol Ring
1x Barbed Sextant
1x Urza's Bauble
2x Lodestone Bauble
1x Mirror Universe
1x Elemental Augury
1x Ancestral Recall
1x Time Walk
1x Braingeyser
1x Amnesia
4x Mana Drain
2x Hydroblast 1x Recall
2x Merchant Scroll
1x Demonic Tutor
2x Abyss
1x Coercion
1x CoP: Red
2x Disenchant
2x Swords to Plowshares
1x Gorilla Shaman
1x Incinerate
2x Fireball
2x Pyroblast
3x Tundra
3x Underground Sea
4x Volcanic Island
3x City of Brass
4x Strip Mine
1x Library of Alexandria

Sideboard:
1x Zuran Orb
1x Aeolipile
2x Anvil of Bogarden
1x Wand of Denial
1x Moat
1x Amnesia
1x Force of Will
2x Memory Lapse
1x Disenchant
2x Dwarven Catapult
1x Gorilla Shaman
1x Svyelunite Temple

An interesting outgrowth of the Weissman deck, The Keeper is designed to frustrate the opponent’s development by containing many cards that wreck certain strategies. Card advantage engines and Elemental Augury ensured that while the Keeper produced excellent cards and the answer to whatever the opponent had cast, the opponent may very well draw nothing but land for ten turns as a result of the Augury. It is essentially a pile of card drawing and threat removal with some creature kill cards that can also kill the opponent. As a result of this deck, Classic control strategies diverged into two main types: The Deck and The Keeper.

While designing a version of the Weissman deck and being unaware of Long’s deck, I came upon this deck which has become known as The Franchise for its recurring role at Beyond Dominia as the standard for control for some time. It essenially evolved from being a strict copy of The Deck to being something more intent on recursion and versatility, much like Long’s Keeper. Since The Deck was the original inspiration, The Franchise combines elements of both The Deck and The Keeper to create a solid recursive control deck that is capable of dealing with anything an opponent can do. The following is the pre-Sixth Edition listing, along with some notes on The Franchise and how it is best played:


The Franchise 1998 – Darren Di Battista, aka Azhrei

LAND:
3 Underground Sea
2 Island
2 Tropical Island
4 Tundra
4 City of Brass
2 Wasteland
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Strip Mine
1 Library of Alexandria

ARTIFACTS:
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Sol Ring
1 Zuran Orb
1 Mirror Universe
1 Jayemdae Tome
1 Tormod's Crypt
1 Jester's Cap

RED:
1 Kaervek's Torch

BLACK:
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 The Abyss

GREEN:
1 Regrowth
2 Gaea's Blessing
1 Sylvan Library

WHITE:
1 Moat
1 Balance
2 Swords to Plowshares
2 Disenchant

BLUE:
4 Mana Drain
2 Counterspell
2 Force of Will
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Timetwister
1 Time Walk
1 Braingeyser
1 Amnesia
1 Stroke of Genius

Points that make the Franchise different than the Deck, as both strengths and weaknesses:

1. The Franchise has more paths to victory in the main deck. Whereas the Deck had two Serra Angels and Braingeyser, the Franchise has Tormod’s Crypt, Jester’s Cap, Stroke of Genius, Braingeyser, Kaervek’s Torch, Regrowth, Timetwister, and two Gaea’s Blessing. All of these, in addition to being useful as victory conditions, serve other, more primary, functions. Blessings, Regrowth, Timetwister, Stroke, and Braingeyser all provide card advantage and/or recursion. The Crypt can stop other recursive strategies, and the Cap can remove headaches before they start. The Torch is the most common kill method, when combined with Mirror Universe, but can also serve as creature removal in a pinch. Torch was used over Fireball due to the already high number of creature removal cards present in the Franchise as well as its special ability that makes it more difficult to counter.

2. The Franchise is not very vulnerable to Jester’s Cap as a result of the many victory conditions. The best cards to Cap out are the Blessing and Torch the first time, and then Regrowth, Timetwister, and Tormod’s Crypt. That will pretty much ruin the chances of victory, though it is still possible because of the Stroke and Braingeyser. It is extremely hard to beat the Franchise with anything other than massive fast damage or heavy discard.

3. Creature decks that do not also include a great deal of direct damage or enchantment/artifact removal can lose almost immediately, though the death blow might be much later on. In many cases, simply dropping The Abyss is essentially game over, especially if Moat follows. Balance protects against what those two cards won’t stop.

4. Discard is less important now with Necropotence being so popular, though Amnesia is too strong to be removed, though Disrupting Scepter has been removed from the main deck. Balance and Amnesia make good things to Mystical Tutor for after being Hymned down to few cards (assuming you can cast either).

5. The Franchise is much faster at recursing cards than the Deck. Recall is gone, but it’s not really that good compared to Blessing anyway, especially since it is a one shot use in the first place. The Franchise focuses on the long game.

6.Blood Moon is always a concern, but the amount of countermagic plus the Jester's Cap alleviate fears of that greatly. In fact, I think I have encountered Blood Moon maybe once or twice in a CounterBurn deck, which isn't even a great strategy in Type One. I think the biggest reason for this is that many Type One decks rely heavily on their own dual lands, or are mono-black Necro. A lot of decks would end up killing themselves through Blood Moon by wrecking their Thawing Glaciers, Mishra's Factories, etc.. Blood Moon falls into basically the same category as Primal Order and Price of Progress: cards intended to level the playing field which aren't often used except in red burn or Stompy because almost everyone on the field wants to use their duals and special lands.

7. The choice to go creatureless was largely the result of never being happy when I drew a creature I had in the deck. Palinchron, Morphling, or Zephid are all good SIDEBOARD options against decks where the Moat and Abyss are not helpful, but in that case you are better off siding in things other than a creature to help you win. They generally weaken the deck more than help it.

Playing the Franchise:

This deck is very straightforward in its goal, much like the Weissman deck of old. Basically, survive as long as you can until you reach a point at which you can’t be defeated. Get Abyss or Moat out as fast as you can and then protect against anything that will disrupt your defense. Draw cards, recurse cards, and repeat ad nauseum until you have reached a point of control. Zuran Orb and Mirror Universe in play is a good sign that you are going to win very soon. Use Mana Drain to cast fast Amnesia, Stroke, Geyser or Mirror, and don’t be afraid to Mystical for a Stroke. But, if you might need it for Balance, take mana burn if you have to. Otherwise, get aggressive with Ancestral and try to cast it as many times as possible. Use Strip Mines and Wastelands to hit Library, Academy, and Thawing Glaciers first, but don’t be afraid to us them to slow down early development. If you have a couple Moxen and some other card drawers like Ancestral don’t be afraid to destroy any land you can in the first few turns. Cap as fast as you can, but don’t look for it unless you need it to beat the opposing deck. Always make sure you can use your Library, Sylvan and otherwise. Use the “two blue” bluff, but ignore it if you can drop a Tome or something else as important. Getting more cards is the most important thing you can do, and ideally you won’t need to “pretend” you can stop anything that is thrown at you. Bless immediately if you have enough mana leftover to maintain countermagic. Bless back in a Blessing, Ancestral, and whatever else you might need, usually Mystical Tutor. Make certain to keep the recursion alive.

Sideboarding:

I currently use Diabolic Edict to deal with untargetables, additional Swords to Plowshares, Disenchants, an Ivory Tower and CoP: Red against burn, a Black Vise, a Gorilla Shaman, and additional countermagic and Force of Wills. Since SRB and Necro are your two biggest threats, with SRB being more of a nuisance than something to really fear. Necro is the biggest threat, and your sideboard should be reflective of that.


The Modern Era:

The following deck has its roots in The Deck, but the higher emphasis on recursion and abusing power cards such as Ancestral Recall separates it from the current Deck. The Deck is now mostly interested in fast disruption and dropping a Morphling as early as possible. The Franchise is capable of a fast win but is more interested in establishing itself quickly and then seizing total control of the board during the midgame. Gaea’s Blessings and library manipulation allow for Ancestral Recall to be cast again and again, thus creating a never-ending cycle that is simply devastating for many decks. With Blessings, Recall, Regrowth, and Timetwister, it is nearly impossible to prevent The Franchise from getting back whatever it needs to beat you, assuming that you can even stop something the first time around. Here is the decklist as it appears now, in the era of combo decks and Necropotence. It is a hybrid of The Deck and The Keeper that is better against a field than either, while The Deck performs somewhat better against combo decks and The Keeper has a bit better a lock on creature decks, The Franchise is geared toward dealing with both very well.


The Franchise 2000 – Darren Di Battista

LAND:
3 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
2 Tropical Island
4 Tundra
4 City of Brass
3 Wasteland
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Strip Mine
1 Library of Alexandria

ARTIFACTS:
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Sol Ring
1 Zuran Orb
1 Jayemdae Tome

RED:
Fireball

BLACK:
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 The Abyss

GREEN:
1 Regrowth
2 Gaea's Blessing

WHITE:
1 Moat
1 Balance
2 Swords to Plowshares
2 Disenchant

BLUE:
1 Morphling
4 Mana Drain
4 Force of Will
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Timetwister
1 Time Walk
1 Braingeyser
1 Soothsaying
1 Recall
1 Stroke of Genius

The Sideboard:

4 Annul
1 Mirror Universe
1 Compost
1 Disenchant
2 Swords to Plowshares
1 Ivory Mask
2 Gorilla Shaman
2 Red Elemental Blast
1 Tormod’s Crypt


The contents of the main deck are fairly self-explanatory. If you are familiar with the Extended deck Counter-Oath, then you should recognize a deck that contains one card that can defeat an entire strategy, and numerous ways to get it. The Franchise excels at having what it needs, when it needs it. “Topdecking” is something that almost never happens due to the intense manipulation and card drawing that can be found present. Topdecking from an empty hand is even less likely. The most common comment that this deck gets from opponents, beside those complaining that it’s just “sick”, is that it seems to always be one step ahead of them and is constantly saving itself just one turn before they would be victorious. This is no accident.

There are three Tutor cards that allow you to play with only one copy of many key cards, and also allows you to find restricted cards easily. Soothsaying acts as a mini Vampiric Tutor for as much of your deck as you can afford at the time. The potential for being perpetually controlling your every draw phase is astounding. In many cases, you will feel as though you are able to essentially fix your deck every turn according to what happened just beforehand, and always have the upper hand. The fact that you will be drawing three or more cards per turn helps greatly as well. This is a change from Sylvan Library, which reflects a need for both superior draw manipulation over card advantage, as well as making the deck more blue overall, and therefore more reliable.

The card drawing engines of this deck are Jayemdae Tome, Ancestral Recall, Library of Alexandria, Stroke of Genius, and Braingeyser. Three of these are accessible by Mystical Tutor, and three can also be used as Mana Drain sinks. As a rule of thumb, Ancestral as often as it is possible to do so, and use everything else to make sure that your hand is full and stays that way at all times. You absolutely will have a serious advantage in cards drawn versus every deck sort of Necropotence, but even then the advantage should not be overwhelming. Some players favor the Emmessi Tome over the Jayemdae, but that requires a discard drawback that many are hesitant to embrace, as The Franchise will generally want to play all of its cards, and will have dead cards only against a creatureless foe. The argument that being able to see more cards is worth the drawback is one that should be taken into consideration, but it is to be noted that Emmessi makes the deck act in a much more aggressive manner.

As was said before, recursion is what separates The Franchise from The Deck. Gaea’s Blessings, Recall, Regrowth, and Timetwister all help to create a cycle where The Franchise will never run itself out of cards. In some games against blue control or other slow decks, it is not out of the question to end up with all permanents in the deck in play. Blessings usually look like “Ancestral, Demonic, Mystical”, then “Blessing, Mystical, Ancestral.” Always make sure to Bless back in a Blessing to keep the cycle alive and infinite. Timetwister is best used when you either have a hand that is not optimal, fewer cards than your opponent, or when they have just gone through a turn that set something up, such as a Trix deck setting up a hand to go off with. The timely use of Timetwister is a skill that can only be learned through experience, much as any control deck takes a great deal of practice to play correctly.

Creature decks should not be faced with too much difficulty. Moat, The Abyss, two Swords to Plowshares, Fireball, and Balance round out the creature removal. There simply are no creatures in Magic that can survive this range or removal spells. Even if facing a Morphling with your own in play, do not hesitate to kill your own; the odds are you can get it back with ease, and that the other Morphling will be Balanced away never to be seen again. The Abyss is usually the best bet against most decks as a first call, but Stompy and Sligh decks are stopped better by Moat. Swords round out spot removal, and Fireball can sweep the board of weenies with ease.

The primary kill method of the Franchise is the Morphling, which is easily the best creature ever printed in Magic, especially under Sixth Edition rules. Failing that, or better yet accompanying it is Fireball, which can act as faster damage or a quick way to cut down on Necropotence’s card drawing ability. Decking with Blessings and Stroke/Geyser is also an option, but one that is more a last resort as doing so could easily take an hour or more to accomplish.

The sideboard is fairly simple as well. Annuls are excellent cards versus Necro based decks, as well as any deck that relies heavily on enchantments or artifacts. The Mirror Universe works very well against Sligh decks or other quick styles, as it allows you to turn the tables on them in a very quick manner. The Shamans are good disruption against other control decks, as are the Red Elemental Blasts. Compost is an anti-Necro measure that allows you to circumvent discard as much as possible. Ivory Mask and Moat in play is nearly an auto win for The Franchise against burn decks. Story Circle is a possible repalcement for Ivory Mask in some cases, and is situationally better. Tormod’s Crypt is a great card against decks that like their graveyards, and in a pinch a Crypt/Timetwister combo can mean the game as well, with the bonus of making decking much easier. Lastly, the additional creature removal is used against decks that have a lot of creatures.

Necro-based decks are by far the worst match-up, followed closely by high power Sligh. Mask and Moat beat Sligh completely though, so it should not be too rough if you sideboard and play smart. Necro is more of a challenge, but there are enough cards that can beat it present that if played correctly The Franchise should be able to come out on top. Trix is the most common combo to date, and while it is very powerful it is beatable by careful play and proper sideboarding. Amnesia ended up being removed in favor of Recall due to bringing a less reactive flavor to The Franchise, since Amnesia is often uncastable against Necropotence decks, and the speed of Morphling compensates for the lost advantage in cards by dealing damage, thus preventing the Necro player from drawing additional cards.

Overall, The Franchise is capable of beating any deck consistently with a decent draw and intelligent play. It takes a lot of practice to get used to, but it can simply auto-win against many, many decks. Creature based decks that are not Necro/Discard/Negator pose little challenge in most cases.

Read More Articles by Oscar Tan aka Rakso!

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