Magic Memories: Necropotence

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

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Oh yes, we're doing this. We're making this happen now. I finally decided that I'd put it off for long enough. But the time has come! Well now, where to begin?

    I don't know whether my favorite card ever is Dark Ritual or Necropotence. They go together anyway, so it's really just a matter of emphasis. The mana acceleration from Dark Ritual enables Necropotence to be the powerhouse that it is and the possibility of turning Necropotence into a one-drop is part of what makes me like Dark Ritual so much. Yes, I could play either one without the other. But I'd prefer not to have to make that choice!

    I've long been a fan of the "Friday Nights" sketch comedy series. In their "Throwback" episode they employ the gimmicky concept that everyone's favorite Magic gameplay environment is the one in which that player first started out. Something like...
    "What was your favorite era of Magic?"
    "And when did you start playing Magic?"

    It's silly and, I assume, doesn't really hold true for that many people. But if I were there, it'd be pretty weird...
    "What was your favorite era of Magic?"
    "Black Summer. The summer of 1996."
    "And when did you start playing Magic?"
    "With Portal, in 1997."

    I think maybe something is wrong with me. OK, I know something is wrong with me. I'm a Necropotence fanatic (and to be clear, I know that's not the thing that's wrong with me). The card represents the pinnacle of what a Magic card should be, should look like. Even the drawbacks contribute to the whole package, give the card its complete and unique feel. Even the art is perfect...

    Did I build a shrine to Necropotence? Probably not. I mean, that doesn't seem like something I would do, but it's an oddly specific thing to bring up and now it makes you suspicious and...anyway, I may or may not be plotting to someday get Necropotence unbanned in Legacy. It seems pretty farfetched. How would I even accomplish that? Ha ha, seems pretty implausible and there's probably nothing to worry about.

    There's a lot more to be said about "The Skull." I personally used it in my own casual decks pretty consistently from 1998 to 2006 or so. And then there's its extensive history in tournaments. Much like its best friend Dark Ritual, Necropotence can be used in combo decks, control decks, and aggro decks. And there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the card. No, that isn't my preamble to trying to convince you that the card is totally safe and isn't overpowered. The fact that it's powerful is part of why I like it so much. Powerful cards can be fun. Suitable for casual Magic? Well, maybe. That all depends on the circumstances.
  2. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Let us imagine this card was reprinted in Standard, with strong instant speed enchantment removal - lets say "Instant, W - exile target enchantment, then scry 1." and "Instant, G - exile target enchantment. You may put a land from your hand onto the battlefield tapped."

    What would be the effect on Modern? Monoblack decks would rule the format, winning on turn 4 with high consistency against anything that would lose to early discard. Their weakness would remain Leyline of Sanctity decks with awesome tricks, so Bogles would remain a strong contender.

    My thought here is that the farther you remove this card from its broken accoutrements in the more broken formats, the more fair a card it seems (closer perhaps to how the designers envisioned it originally).
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Necropotence will never again be reprinted in a Standard set until after my hostile takeover of Wizards of the Coast. Then it will appear in the core set alongside Dark Ritual. :p

    I'll admit I'm at a loss to see how. In Vintage, Necropotence is almost exclusively used in Storm combo decks. If the card were legal in Legacy, it's highly likely that it would be attempted as some sort of combo deck, although no one can be absolutely certain of the particulars. But in Modern? Necropotence was banned out of tournaments years before any Modern-legal set existed. Most of the cards that made Necropotence decks successful aren't Modern-legal. That's not to say I think Necropotence would be bad in Modern. Oh no. I'm just not sure where your hypothetical fourth-turn kill deck is coming from. What would its kill condition look like? Most of the mana acceleration tools available in Modern aren't well-suited to use with Necropotence. So you'd be looking at a third-turn Necropotence. From there, I don't think a fourth-turn kill is practical. Even at the height of the usage of Necropotence as an engine in combo decks, the sequence "third turn Necropotence, dig up X cards, fourth turn kill" was extremely rare. Those decks weren't built that way.

    I'm skeptical. Leyline of Sanctity does weaken Soul Spike, which would presumably be one of the most powerful tools Necropotence would have access to in Modern, and it would shut off Duress-like cards. But if black decks are so good, what's to stop a hypothetical Necro deck from just dropping Bloodghasts and the like? "Oh, you mulliganed into Leyline of Sanctity to shut off my discard spells? I guess I'll just have to beat you to death." I mean, Jund can already outrace Bogles, right? If a black-heavy deck with Necropotence couldn't do it too, wouldn't people just not play Necro in Modern?

    Oh, I agree with that! Like most card advantage engines, it definitely becomes more explosive when you have access to more broken cards.

    I suspect that when the "East Coast playtesters" designed Necropotence, the concept they had in mind actually functioned pretty much the way Necropotence was mainly used. At least at first. They couldn't have anticipated "Cocoa Pebbles" and other types of decks that didn't yet exist, but it's important to emphasize that Necropotence got its reputation as a powerhouse completely independently of its usage as a combo-enabler. That's a kind of historical nuance that can easily get overlooked these days. People remember it for "Trix"and for its use as a powerful restricted card in Vintage Storm decks. But it was already famous as one of the most powerful cards before any of that, and it got its reputation due to its role in control decks, not combo decks.
  4. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    There are so many ways to construct high consistency finishers off turn 3 Necropotence, but let me modify the Theoretic Velocity deck just to show one variant:

    24 Swamp

    3 Duress
    3 Inquisition of Kozilek
    3 Thoughtseize
    3 Ravenous Trap

    4 Altar of the Brood
    4 Heartless Summoning
    4 Myr Retriever

    4 Necropotence
    4 Night's Whisper
    4 Sign in Blood

    In fairness to your point, that deck does not look more dangerous than "I play both sides of the game" decks that already exist. Perhaps Necropotence would just be one more contender in a control field of turn 4 wins generally, which speaks to how much it leans on Dark Ritual to really shine.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I hope you didn't think I was asking you to come up with an entire decklist on the fly! Although I guess that sort of thing comes more easily to you than it does to me. I take forever to build decks. I get stuck obsessing over minor details and find the experience frustrating. That was why, for many years, I tried to trick Al0ysiusHWWW into building my decks for me. Once I had a start, even if it was a little rough around the edges, I'd play with it and use testing to refine the deck. Clearly you have his talent for taking a simple premise (deck that does X) and turning it into a 60-card deck. Not all of us do! Anyway...

    I don't have sufficient Modern expertise to determine whether that might or might not be the best approach with a hypothetical "Necropotence is in Modern now" scenario. But it's the start of something that has some kick to it. I don't really think that Leyline of Sanctity seems like a very good sideboard card against this unless it's also paired with something to neutralize Altar of the Brood. Regardless of whether this concept has legs in competitive Modern, I think it's an interesting application because historically, the problem with Myr Retriever loops has been that they need to set up too many cards to yield a reliable combo. Necropotence can dig deeply enough to potentially mitigate that.
  6. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    The above deck is far from tournament worthy (just considering the Burn matchup shows that), but it does demonstrate something about me - I have no concept of why one would use Necropotence over other tools. Having never seen the card in action or had any previous familiarity, the delayed draw at end step is really conflicting with my build instincts. What I was attempting to illuminate with that concept though is that if you take a fast casual combo, like Heartless Summoning, and then add tournament style turn 1 hand disruption and the ability to draw somewhat over a third of your library by the fourth turn (lets mulligan to 6 cards scry with opening hand, 5 cards between draw phase and a turn 2 sorcery, 10 cards from Necropotence when it drops to keep life total from being precarious), you should be able to get consistency.

    My initial analysis of tournament strength was probably too high, but it is so far outside my first hand build experience that I am by no means certain. I will think on building a theoretic deck that is stronger than the one above.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    It's hard to gauge the extent to which Necropotence leans on Dark Ritual because virtually every historical Necro deck included a playset of Dark Ritual. The only exception I can think of is Extended Trix following the banning of both Dark Ritual and Mana Vault. I'll get back to that later, but it's unclear to me just how good Trix really was in that environment and how much it really was an example of Necropotence producing a powerful tournament deck without Dark Ritual. A lot of other stuff was going on at the time. I do not think that Necropotence is a bad card without Dark Ritual. Far from it. Dark Ritual never really seems to make bad cards good. Three mana for a versatile card advantage engine is an excellent deal. In Legacy, with so many options for fast mana (Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, etc.) and Tendrils of Agony, I could see this leading to a fast combo deck. But in Modern? I tentatively suspect that if Necropotence existed in Modern, the deck it would empower wouldn't be a glass cannon fast combo deck, but something more traditional, something that could use card advantage over multiple turns to overwhelm opponents...
  8. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    If it were relegated to grindy control deck enabler, I would see that as not very impactful on the format. Pushing it just a little in that direction though makes the deck significantly closer to tournament strength, with the concept "turn opponent creatures into cards."

    Oversoul Is a Lich Version 2

    24 Swamp

    4 Altar of the Brood
    4 Heartless Summoning
    4 Myr Retriever

    4 Duress
    4 Inquisition of Kozilek
    3 Ravenous Trap

    4 Necropotence

    3 Pharikas Cure
    3 Sorins Thirst
    3 Yahennis Expertise

    Increase life total while disrupting, free cast Necropotence turn 4, profit.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I mentioned in my first post that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the card. I've noticed a trend of non-Necro players, years after the card had left the limelight, claiming that the way the card would work would be to "pay 19 life" and then win with a combo (this made its way into articles I've read, although I don't remember where offhand; it's also seen in the Gatherer comments for the card, amusingly). I've never seen anyone do that, although I did occasionally pay more than 20 life (after gaining life from Illusions of Grandeur) with my old Necro-Donate deck to ensure that I'd have more access to countermagic than the blue player I was trying to kill.

    I've often seen players refer to their pet cards as "skill-testing" and I'm slightly wary of that, even though it's usually true. Some tournament players seem to become too presumptuous about the application of skill to individual cards and the extent to which such claims are relevant in any sort of argument. "Games should be decided by skill. This card takes skill to use. Therefore this card shouldn't be banned, because it's so very skill-testing and its dominant performance simply shows that the players winning with it have skill. They're winning with skill, and the people who have skill should be the ones who win. Skill, skill, skill, skill, skill, skill." Or something. Nevertheless, I think that in most historical tournament decks employing Necropotence, the card was highly skill-testing. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that you don't know what cards you'll get until your main phase is over. Players who correctly deduce the approximate composition of the opponent's deck and are judicious in tracking their own cards can read the board state and, if they're smart, estimate probabilities to know the correct number of cards to acquire with Necropotence each turn. Use the ability too many times, and you are more likely to waste cards and precious points of life, putting yourself in danger of being killed, especially against decks with direct damage spells. Use the ability too few times, and you won't be as likely to dig for the resources you need. Get it just right, and you're keeping yourself alive while overwhelming your opponent with card advantage. But it can take considerable experience and familiarity with the metagame to have a good chance of getting it just right. It's frustrating at first, but it's part of the allure of the card: you start to win games by making the right calls and balancing on the knife's edge, and you start to feel like the game is rewarding you for being smart.

    In 1999, the popular mentality was that Necropotence was a control engine and that Yawgmoth's Bargain was a combo engine. Necro players traded points of life for packets of cards at the ends of their turns, carefully deciding how much life to pay and which cards to throw away, picking opponents apart with removal and taking over the board. Bargain players paid a life, drawing into mana acceleration, playing it, and drawing more cards as they went, aiming for a kill within the course of a single turn. They needed more setup, so playing a control game wasn't feasible, but the power to draw cards instantly enabled combo kills far more easily. The advent of Necro-Donate decks in Extended changed that dichotomy, because the synergy between Necropotence and Illusions of Grandeur allowed for a small amount of setup to lead to a big card "drawing" burst from Necropotence, with Illusions also doubling as the kill condition thanks to Donate.
    Psarketos likes this.
  10. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Alright, you have me convinced. Free Necropotence from the Legacy banned list!

    I ran the numbers on Phyrexian OIL v2, and presuming the early turn disruption is successful, the deck has around a 50% chance to combo on turns 4 or 5 taking into account mulligans and averaging life total availability and needs. The engine itself is too casual - to really make Necropotence shine as a combo enabler, it needs a simpler two card set up (to make the total cards needed a set of 3 or less).
  11. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Coming to terms with the fact that Necropotence does not fit racing very well in Modern, Phyrexian OIL (Oversoul IS a Lich) version 3 sacrifices the attempt for speed with better consistency and control.

    24 Swamp

    4 Duress
    4 Inquisition of Kozilek

    4 Exquisite Blood
    3 Sanguine Bond
    4 Soul Spike
    3 Pharika's Cure
    3 Sorin's Thirst

    4 Necropotence
    4 Sign in Blood
    3 Yahenni's Expertise

    As a part of his administrative assistant duties, I hereby charge TomB with proxying and reporting back results of this version against current Modern tournament staples :)
    Oversoul likes this.
  12. TomB Administrative Assistant

  13. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Well without TomB analysis, it occurred to me that Treasure Hunt seems like a close analog to Necropotence for the Modern format, and Treasure Hunt + Seismic Assault + Reliquary Tower seems like a reasonably close analog to Necropotence + Donate (+Spellbook? Did decks of that era use Spellbook with Necropotence?).

    Using that comparison gives me more confidence in my second thoughts analysis that a well constructed Necropotence combo deck in Modern would be strong and interesting without being format defining, similar to 48 lands.

    The lesson I learned from this is that when faced with unfamiliar card mechanics and color dynamics, finding a mathematic comparison to something more familiar (a Temur configuration, in my case) can be very helpful for consideration.
  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Fun fact: Spellbook with Necropotence was a giant nonbo back then. The core set reprints of Spellbook and the Oracle text say "You have no maximum hand size." But the original Exodus printing came out during Fifth Edition Rules, and "maximum hand size" wasn't part of the game rules yet. The card instead said "Skip your discard phase." And Necropotence waited until the beginning of your discard phase to put cards into your hand. Under Spellbook back then, you'd never get to see your cards. Oops! This was before the advent of Donate, so actually giving your Necropotence-using opponent a Spellbook took some doing. But the more practical anti-Necro card at the time was probably Anvil of Bogardan.

    Necropotence is one of those cards that it can be dangerous to underestimate, but either I'm out of practice or the possibility to do anything absolutely gamebreaking with Necropotence and the Modern card pool just isn't there right now. I suspect that someone, somewhere would find the best use for it in the format. I suspect there'd be a lot of failed attempts at first. Would the card ever dominate without the other tools Modern is missing? I really have no idea.

    As much of all of this is a moot issue, I want to add something else when it comes to Modern, because I forgot that the format does contain another card from Ice Age that allows for my favorite combo of all time.

    My very favorite.


    Bar none.

    I just want to keep emphasizing that, because I'm pretty enthusiastic about combos and this one is my very bestest most favoritest combo in the whole entire world. I love it to death.

    Some people would say that this combo is mean and that I'm bad for liking it. They're probably right.

    It does demand some mana and some setup. For it to really work, you need a deck with some form of recurring lifegain available and you need for your opponent not to possess a dominating board of creatures or other threats. Those demands are why it's fallen out of favor and never really comes up anymore. But if you can get it to work, once it comes together, the result is amazing. Ready? Here it is...

    That's why I emphasize that Necropotence isn't really a card-drawing-engine. It's a card-putting-into-your-hand engine, which is totally different. Almost any kind of symmetrical card-drawing hoser can easily be bypassed with Necropotence. There aren't very many such cards that are practical, but Zur's Weirding is quite the synergy. You can say, "No" to every card your opponent might draw, and since you're not actually drawing cards with Necropotence, all your opponent can do is watch helplessly as Necropotence fills up your hand. The downside is that both cards require paying life to function, so most opponents will try to finish you off with creatures or something. My preferred source of fuel for Necropotence + Zur's Weirding was Ivory Tower. Just one Ivory Tower ensures that you can keep Zur's Weirding going indefinitely while slowly building up life that can be used for Necropotence. When I used this, I typically set up enough control of the board that I could let my life total drop and Necro to find extra copies of Ivory Tower, at which point cards and life would be raining down on me, my opponent would never get to draw another card, and I'd stolen or killed every relevant permanent on my opponent's side of the board. Also, Zur's Weirding showed my opponent all of the gas I was getting from Necropotence, a courteous preview of what I'd be using to win the game.

    No idea if that could work in our hypothetical Necropotence-containing Modern format, but I'd be sorely tempted to give it a try.
    Psarketos likes this.
  15. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    We didnt have maximum hand size back then?! I have no memory of that! ;)

    The control synergy (I hesitate to call it a combo) with Weirding is exactly along the Grixis Control variants I was envisioning would adopt Necropotence if given access to it. Interesting variations, but still Grixis soft lock grinders (and thus my view of not game changing. Though it might lead to incorporating Manamorphose...)
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    It wasn't a phrase used in the rules! These days, Rule 514.1 has the first thing that happens in the cleanup step: "First, if the active player’s hand contains more cards than his or her maximum hand size (normally seven), he or she discards enough cards to reduce his or her hand size to that number. This turn-based action doesn’t use the stack." Back then, although I don't know where I'd look to find the exact wording of the rule, the gist of it was that at the beginning of your discard phase, you discarded down to 7 cards. Because cards like Spellbook, Anvil of Bogardan, and Library of Leng* stipulated skipping the discard phase, cards set aside by Necropotence stayed set aside indefinitely. Notably, the rules change that ended this type of interaction also allowed for the templating of cards like Thought Nibbler.

    *While the Revised Edition printing of Library of Leng did adopt a wording that instructed the player to skip a phase, the original text used on the A/B/U version actually does say "There is no limit to the size of your hand." So the modern version is closer to the original interpretation than later printings were. But back then, there was no technical document formalizing the rules of gameplay and players were expected to figure out that if the rules say you discard down to 7 cards at the end of your turn and a card said "there is no limit to the size of your hand" that meant you were able to ignore the rule about discarding.

    I touched on this in my early Comboist Manifesto articles at some point, but when it comes to defining the boundaries of "combo" I prefer to be as broad as possible. "Combo" is an abbreviation of "combination" and a combination of cards is just the usage of multiple cards together to accomplish something. That covers a lot of ground, but I think that's fine. I know that when Smokestack + Tangle Wire was especially popular, players generally referred to it as a combo. The first image that comes into someone's head when I say "combo deck" is probably a deck that uses a combo to kill someone, not merely to slow the opponent down, but I can live with that bit of linguistic uncertainty and I'll take it over attempts at gatekeeping the criteria for what is and isn't a combo. When it comes to Magic theory, I don't know what the best approach might be. My own method is somewhat derived from the lighthearted analysis I was fond of employing. I had a friend who was enamored with the card Psychatog back when it was taking over tournaments, and he'd try to shove Psychatog into everything. Somewhere on the internet, there might still be a website with the purported killer combo (which I listed in his name as a joke) of Psychatog + Mystic Remora. This was back when Mystic Remora was nonexistent in tournaments and I was the only person I knew of who'd ever used it. My claim was that Mystic Remora draws cards and drawing cards feeds Psychatog, therefore it's a combo. :p

    Anyway, I do suspect that Necropotence would be safe in Modern, but I also suspect that this would be an unpopular stance among tournament players. The card is great. It's one of my favorites, after all. But its reputation goes kinda over the top. I also suspect that if the card were seriously reprinted in a Standard set, there'd be a much more thorough look at options including ones neither of us would ever think of. Also, the Soul Spike synergy, which wasn't available back when Necro decks in tournaments were thing, seems really strong and might enable Necro players with black-heavy decks to risk digging deeper than historical Necro decks usually did. That's more relevant for Legacy. In Modern, it seems like there aren't enough strong black cards for a Necro deck to run so heavily toward black. I'm really unsure. Maybe some sort of black/green build would be better? What Modern decks out there can reasonably afford to be throwing around BBB for a card? I guess it's pretty good with Death's Shadow? Maybe some sort of Suicide Black type of deck? This is tricky. I just don't know the intricacies of Modern well enough to have confidence on this issue...
    Psarketos likes this.
  17. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    The similarity to Treasure Hunt is close enough that I actually designed this...


    ...before error checking and finding a very interesting, and unexpected, limitation, from the Comprehensive Rules: 118.4. If a cost or effect allows a player to pay an amount of life greater than 0, the player may do so only if his or her life total is greater than or equal to the amount of the payment. If a player pays life, the payment is subtracted from his or her life total; in other words, the player loses that much life. (Players can always pay 0 life.)

    If I am reading this correctly, that only allows for drawing 20 or so cards, rather than the library as I initially intended...which is going to be another difficult-for-me restriction on what Necropotence can do outside Dimir style, "We have 20 turns left to play yet you shall contribute nothing meaningful to this game in that time due to my awesome Combo (I actually mean control synergy) Might!" shenanigans ;)

    Edit! I ran a quick look at numbers, and if you have Necropotence and 20 life to start your second turn, that deck has around 90% (9 in 10) games chance of throwing 22 damage at the opponent...on turn 3. That end step thing is debilitating to fun!

    Edit the Second: Leyline of Anticipation can fix this on a mechanical level, but at that point one is asking improbably much of the opening hand. LofA combines beautifully with your Weirding style control synergies though.
    Oversoul likes this.
  18. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Yeah, Necropotence can only be activated if you have at least 1 life to pay, but the card that does have a pretty good combo, er, aggro synergy with Angel's Grace is Ad Nauseam. It causes you to lose life, which isn't the same as having you pay life, so you can go ahead and bleed out all you want with Angel's Grace keeping you alive. Necropotence doesn't cost as much mana, but I suspect that Ad Nauseam is better to use with Angel's Grace than Necropotence is.
    Psarketos likes this.
  19. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    That has been my trouble to this point, finding a use case for Necropotence in Modern that is not handled better by another existing card. As another example, in many decks, I suspect that synergizing Yahenni's Expertise to a common like Painful Lesson is practically better in a majority of cases than bothering with Necropotence - two cards now rather than end step, same cost, alternate functionality of finishing off opponent.

    Give us some power classic lists so I can learn from the greats!
  20. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Reflecting on your favorite combo of all time lead me to examine how I would implement it in Modern as it currently exists, and what I found might actually be a solid control engine (this may exist in decks already at some slice of time and space, well outside my wheelhouse). Maralen of the Mornsong + Isochron Scepter imprinting Shadow of Doubt means your opponent can never draw from or search their library once you have 5 mana in place, while you replace your draw step with searching for card of your choice at the cost of 3 life (which you will be stealing from them).

    Liches are Weird (Modern legal emulation of NecroWeirding)

    24 Swamp

    4 Maralen of the Mornsong
    4 Isochron Scepter
    4 Shadow of Doubt
    4 Sign in Blood

    4 Soul Spike
    2 Mutilate
    1 Exquisite Blood
    1 Sanguine Bond

    3 Fatal Push
    3 Doomfall
    3 Thoughtseize
    3 Inquisition of Kozilek

    Wondering how that combo strikes you. In case you want to reciprocate, my favorite combo of all time is Leyline of Anticipation allowing Worldfire to be cast in response to Sentinel Totem ability going on the stack ;)

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