Feedback Thread - Corner Case Mathematics Decks, Theory Implications, and the Wonderful Turgy


Metacompositional Theoretician
Lets start with the most excellent Turgy (I presume Esquire). Person had the kindness to point out to me that I should provide / inquire / consider looking into enabling some better feedback options for my two recent articles, including the idea of making a thread regarding.

So to the points: Do you have feedback on MetaEsper, alternate decks or revisions you would make for a Modern legal deck comprised solely of instants and sorceries? Distaste for the whole concept (this would apply to most of the kids I teach Magic to - they consider my decks generally to be on the wrong side of eccentric)?

On a theory level, does it seem a reasonable argument that the empty set mathematics of corner case decks like MetaEsper and Transcension may dictate that comprehensiveness in Magic theory precludes both concision and thorough practical utility outside Standard format?

Thank you for whatever even tangentially constructive thoughts you choose to contribute!

- Dan Freagarthach, probably beating up on innocent high school kids with a zero nonland permanents Abzan Approach (of the Second Sun) Standard deck at this very moment


The Tentacled One
I found the "MetaEsper" deck delightful. I've long thought of silly, unusual, and interesting decks as the heart of this place, and I'm especially fond of decks that push boundaries. I still have a sleeved-up Oops, All Spells deck (this exact list) except for the sideboard (took that apart to use the cards for other decks). And I've toyed with other decks along the same lines, such as various Belcher builds. A while back, I had a deck, the list lifted directly off the internet somewhere, that didn't use mana at all. I only ever saw it called "The Pitch." The idea was to land a free attacker (Ornithopter, Memnite, or the token from Chancellor of the Forge), and to use Blazing Shoal and Fury of the Horde to get a huge damage swing. It was a very unreliable deck but fun anyway and completely manaless. However, as bold moves in that direction go, I think yours is the most extreme I've seen: no mana and no permanents. Love it. At some point, I want to build a repository of all the really weird decks that defy conventional deckbuilding methods: decks that use "too many" lands and ones that use "too few" and so on. In such a discussion, MetaEsper is practically in a league of its own.


Nothing Special
Just out of curiosity, have you actually built/proxied and played the MetaEsper deck or it this all theoretical? It seems like one of those ideas I would have ("Oh boy! Wouldn't this be fun?") but when I actually go and play, it fails 99% of the time. Then again, I'm really awful at this kind of thing, so maybe that's just me. I would be interested to hear how it actually played out against a variety of opponents.

Seems like there should be more and better options among the Phyrexian-mana cards out there, but I don't know them well enough to make suggestions. I was just a little surprised to see Noxious Revival as the only one in there.


Metacompositional Theoretician
I have proxy played it enough to learn that you often want to mulligan to 6 cards and scry for your opening hand, and the deck can play surprisingly well against decks that focus on a single flashy play, including things like casual Infect (Carrion Call for me, woohoo!) I have a box and most of the cards sleeved except for Commandeer and Disrupting Shoal, as my local game store was out of stock (need to get around to snagging from Amazon).

Oversoul, that is exactly what I would like - a gallery for decks that showcase some underlying oddity or extremity of the game, with brief archival notes to provide historic context as the game evolves over time.


The Tentacled One
It seems like one of those ideas I would have ("Oh boy! Wouldn't this be fun?") but when I actually go and play, it fails 99% of the time.
I think that's a valid point and a simple one, but it raises an issue that is a lot more nuanced. A lot of these extreme decks have some percentage chance of what I've call losing to themselves. This could be literally attempting a combo kill and decking oneself when the engine fails, or it could be just failing to find the right components in order to do anything for so long that a typical opponent could easily kill you. In theory, it could potentially happen to any deck: a typical boring midrange deck could happen to never draw a single land for enough turns in a row that it simply dies to whatever it is up against. But that's very rare and I tend to think of this with extreme decks because they have some chance to just fail to do anything useful. In my All Spells deck, this tends to be uncommon and usually involves never drawing a copy of either Balustrade Spy or Undercity Informer, but it also happens by drawing into multiple Narcomoebas right away. It's even rarer for Burn, but I did have a game in a Legacy tournament in which I drew every single land in my deck and eventually lost to a slow opponent's mundane creatures. My Fluctuator deck has it a bit worse, because it can simply never draw a Fluctuator, which pretty much kills it, and the deck fares poorly under mulligans. The Legacy monoblack Storm/Belcher "Spanish Inquisition" deck is very fast but also has a noticeable percentage of games (a minority, but noticeable) in which it basically kills itself. For my "The Pitch" deck, it was much more common, probably the majority of the time. So that's bad. But the point of the deck was not to be the most competitive Legacy deck, but more to be a goofball fringe thing. So yeah, it loses to itself half the time, but it kills the opponent very quickly if not stopped the rest of the time, and does it without ever generating a single mana. In my in-house testing (mostly me playing my own decks against each other) that I was doing about four years ago, it actually had a run of good luck and actually won matches against some opponents. But it is not reliable enough to actually be competitive. I scrapped the deck for parts and it was definitely bad, but I could see the appeal. If you only crap out about half the time and have a very fast route to victory the rest of the time, it's possible to actually get some performance out of the deck. Of course, 99% failure rate is too much for anything besides a thought experiment.

Alright, I finally found my old list! Took some digging. I 100% netdecked this from some website several years ago with absolutely no modifications of my own. But I did have an actual, physical, sleeved-up deck that I did use...

4 Chancellor of the Dross
4 Chancellor of the Forge
4 Crookshank Kobolds
4 Ornithopter
4 Progenitus
4 Reaper King
4 Blazing Shoal
4 Coalition Victory
4 Conflux
4 Fury of the Horde
4 Misdirection
4 Serum Powder
4 Shining Shoal
4 Soul Spike
4 Unmask

As you can see, it's mostly looking to get a 0-drop creature attacking and to use Blazing Shoal on it for big damage. Soul Spike can occasionally finish off wounded opponents. There's even a chance to use some disruption in the form of Misdirection or Unmask. And a sneaky Shining Shoal could steal victory from the jaws of defeat. But it is very unreliable and really only has good games about half of the time and I'd say less than that. Fails 40% of the time or perhaps 50% of the time. It's been a while since I played it.

I haven't tested MetaEsper yet, although I'd like to. I suspect that it would get similar results, but has a better or worse chance depending on the opponent. Worse against the average deck, but considerably better in some cases.


Metacompositional Theoretician
You could throw Basking Rootwalla in there as a 0 cost madness discard first turn, a sort of alternate Ornithopter / Memnite.

Your point about combo decks finishing themselves is I think particularly relevant to the discussion of MetaEsper, in how it situationally plays similarly to more ordinarily constructed decks. The other day a student was playing my "Spellshift my own Nourishing Shoal after casting Selective Memory to free cast the one Primal Surge left in my deck along with all the lands, Laboratory Maniacs, and Wistful Selkies to win the game once the stack resolves" deck. Unfortunately for him, my Abzan Approach deck happened to have the mana up and cards in hand to exile both Lab Maniacs at instant speed, causing him to lose. He made all the right plays (waiting for me to draw into another Approach or Doomfall would have been bad), and the deck generally wins plenty in the local environment - it just has a cost of being incredibly fragile to disruption.

MetaEsper is the inverse of that deck - weak in many matchups, yet a particularly disheartening predator against decks that are susceptible to disruption. It could easily have won that same game via any pairing of Snapbacks and Soul Spikes, or even Commandeered the Nourishing Shoal into a free cast Worldpurge and then watched as the other deck lost more slowly. As another example, having a surprise Shining Shoal for 7 against an Infect deck, then drawing the same card again on your turn using Noxious Revival, can make for a difficult time for the Infect player (and immediate loss for similar decks such as Phage the Untouchable).

As one final example, a clever friend who also loves combo brewing has a surprisingly effective and consistent Battle of Wits deck, that often wins by milling itself and then finding relevant casts from the graveyard before reshuffling to library. A single Commandeered Psychic Spiral combined with Ravenous Trap is actually one of the best defenses I have come up with against that deck in terms of casual crafting.


Metacompositional Theoretician
I have a set of revisions in to Spiderman on the Theory article that I think clarify a bit one of my main concerns, that a difficulty for theory is going to be the appearance of the empty set across values it is not going to be expected (mana available, mana produced, battlefield interactions, cards in winning deck across all zones, et cetera).

On a Vorthos note, it occurred to me how fitting it would be if a new format were created for broader comprehensibility with a starting point in lore immediately after the sealing of Emrakul in the moon of Innistrad (post Eldritch Moon, Kaladesh inclusive - what we currently call Standard). I almost feel like that could be the Wizards team giving us a clue or a nod toward the future in a really cool way...


Metacompositional Theoretician
Having thrown the idea that all decks aim at some sort of outcome out the window, I was using the hypergeometric stat calculator that SaffronOlive introduced in this article to work out what I would build for the Freeform format that can be played on Magic Online. It is the game as it first started, all Magic cards legal, can have any number of them in a deck, and the minimum deck size is 40 cards. Quickly finding a way to win at instant speed on the first upkeep of the game when receiving priority, I set about looking at some probabilities related to a deck that can do so:

Banefire - Freeform format Magic deck (40 cards)

8 Banefire
15 Black Lotus
9 Channel
8 Leyline of Anticipation

This deck has a 48% chance to draw an opening hand that can deal 21 points of damage to an opponent, setting itself to 2 life, as soon as the player receives priority on the first upkeep of the game for either player. It has a 66% chance to have such a hand between the initial hand and a first Paris mulligan down to 6 cards, which means that for two in three games, a first upkeep victory is available.

There are the obvious potential counters like Force of Will and Disrupting Shoal, though these are not necessarily effective. A third Black Lotus in hand when the first is the target of a Force of Will, or a second Channel in hand after the first is lost to Disrupting Shoal, allow Banefire to still finish the game immediately, having completed a single untap step. Where things get interesting is that MetaEsper, as a Modern deck, has a 60% chance of Commandeering the Banefire for the victory between its initial hand and first Paris mulligan down to 6 cards, and is thus heavily favored (somewhere around 3 games out of 4) against a deck that is otherwise, first principles more powerful.

One of the lessons I am drawing from this parallel some interesting analysis of the current Standard format over at the ChannelFireball site:

Instant speed effects without mana costs are game shaping, from Freeform all the way through Standard. That might be the first real core principle I am reasonably certain holds for all of Magic.