Magic Memories: Survival of the Fittest

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Feb 22, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The first Magic tournament I ever attended, some time in 1998, was Type 1.5. I didn't know what formats were back then, but I sort of fell into Type 1.5 thereafter, only to later realize that it was a niche format without much of a dedicated playerbase. Card prices and my annoyance as a new player with bans that I didn't understand kept me away for the most part, and I am, of course, mostly a casual player to this day. But I did find a website dedicated to Type 1.5: "The Source." I never posted there, so you won't find any content by me (don't really see much point, as I'm not really a tournament player anyway). But I have lurked there since the early 00's, even before I was lurking at the CPA!

    Over the years, one of my favorite reasons to visit The Source has been their thread on the Banned/Restricted list. Many of the members there loathe the thread for its endless bickering and rehashed arguments, but I love it. The thread warms my cold, dark heart. Some of the points put forth have been insightful and some of them have been hilariously ill-informed, but I love it all. The thread has been a little quiet lately, but the message board has provided me with a bit of a supplement in the form of a single-card discussion thread on the banned Survival of the Fittest. I realize that exhaustive discussion of banned list details and format theorycrafting is something most players aren't into. Again, I love it. Can't get enough of this stuff. Something is wrong with me, but that's how it is.

    We had our own discussion here at the CPA on the subject. See here, here, here, and here. But I just can't stop, so now I've started yet another thread. A common theme among these "Magic Memories" threads is that these are cards with a lot of fun stories from the past about how cool they were, but for which circumstances have changed. Dark Ritual, once nearly ubiquitous in black-heavy decks across several formats, is now relegated to fuel for Reanimator decks in Legacy and Storm decks in Legacy and Vintage (with its performance in Storm falling a bit in recent years). Soldevi Digger and Scalpelexis, while not tournament all-stars, saw some play and were once commonly seen in casual gameplay. Survival of the Fittest still at least gets a prevalent role in Commander decks, but its role in Legacy was cut short by a ban, and I can't help but wonder what might have been.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    One of the points brought up in SotF discussions contemporary with the ban was that the rise of "Vengevival" had made Survival decks by far the most prevalent decks in tournaments. While Survival had been part of the Legacy metagame from the beginning, it had finally been pushed to a new level with the introduction of a creature that enabled it to play a fast beatdown game. Discussions went back and forth on how significant the numbers really were, what the long-term effects might be, and so on. We could have argued those points ad nauseam, but I suppose that we realized it was over and done with, our positions already firmly entrenched. I might revisit the controversy, because like I said, I love this stuff. But for now, I want to put forth something that wasn't been discussed back then, at least not anywhere I know of. In another recent thread, I speculated that, given an impossibly ideal level playing field with no preconceptions or other confounding variables, the most popular type of deck to play would be aggro-combo and the least popular would be midrange. This is not something I can substantiate in a truly robust way, and I appreciate that some people are going to dismiss my assertion on the grounds that I can't really demonstrate its veracity. I do want to lay the groundwork for my ruminations on the subject, but I'll do that later. For now, I'll just note that if I'm right, the Legacy ban on SotF was skewed by an explosion in popularity of a successful aggro-combo deck. Basically, it was a fun deck to play and players liked playing it. Some of the Vengevival pilots were old-school fans of SotF who had used the card at some point in the past or who had never stopped using it. But a lot of the Vengevival pilots in the time before the ban were not regular SotF players and had gotten into Survival only after Vengevine was printed. My contention is that, rather than jumping on a bandwagon because they wanted to play the best deck in the format, they were getting into the deck because it had broad aggro-combo appeal.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    People play Magic to have fun. Part of having fun is winning, yes, but how you win matters, even though theoretically it should not. I mean, if we were all computers or something, it wouldn't matter. But to humans, the details behind the outcome color our perception of the outcome. Years ago, I noticed this was particularly prevalent with Burn decks in Legacy. At the time, I was testing Burn builds thoroughly and realized that I got better win percentages off a build that had what was, by the standards of everyone actually playing Burn in tournaments, too few lands. I forget the exact numbers, but let's just say that I found 15 to be optimal and most of the competing builds were running more than 18. Basically, it was a significant difference. The issue was that in the builds with higher land counts, gameplay was more consistent and the deck, while not always victorious, usually got enough lands to put up a fight. It was OK. In contrast, the build with "too few" lands was less consistent, to the point where in some games it would just lose to itself, failing to ever draw enough lands within a reasonable time frame to beat any opponent other than a dead fish. And players hated having the deck crap out on them. The build with more lands, even when it lost, did a lot of damage and sometimes came close to winning before it was defeated. Well, this isn't horseshoes or hand grenades. A win is a win and a loss is a loss. The Burn build with the low land count had a higher win percentage, and the fact that it seemed manascrewed in the games where it lost was irrelevant to that win percentage. That a build with a higher land count might have very few manascrew games and more games in which it would almost win was also irrelevant. Ultimately, there's a bunch of hash marks in the "W" column and in the "L" column, and if my deck wins more and yours loses more, then that's that. You don't get special bonus points for fluorish. Losing in an elegant manner is still losing, and winning clumsily is still winning. But humans don't think that way! We want to win, sure, but we want winning to be fun. Biases creep in, even for professional players, although I'd bet that the effects of player preference are more impactful for casual players than for more competitive ones, but still, it matters. People care about the way they win, not just whether they win. And that's why you get some jerk whose forum signature is "Every game of Magic should end with a Tendrils of Agony."

    Of course, different people have different preference, and some of the effects of that are obvious. In the CPA Awards we had something like "The Beatdown Guy," "The Control Nut," and "The Combo Freak." Different people like different playstyles, and some playstyles are more popular than others. For a certain set of people in a certain environment, determining which playstyles of are most and least popular isn't difficult. But that could shift dramatically when the environment changes. In fact, we know it does, because of how dramatically the dominant decks in Standard can change. Most of that is down to people playing what they think will win, but they can be biased on that too! We cannot contrive a true vacuum of an environment to test this. Eliminating other factors just isn't possible. But in the 20 years I've been playing this game, I have noticed some trends...
    • In every environment, you get certain people who want to be on the defensive. Dedicated control nuts. If the environment is fast enough, they'll play whatever deck they can find that is built to withstand early pressure and come out on top. If the environment is slow enough, they'll play the control deck that is slower and grindier than the control decks around them. In Legacy, a lot of these players are attracted to Miracles decks.
    • Control enthusiasts often like strategically challenging decks, ones that force decisions onto players and allow them, through their superior skills, to make the right plays and win. But they prefer to work with more information available and to be able to control the game by responding to their opponents. Proactive means of control and ones where decision-making with limited information can alter the course of games isn't what they want. They tend to find the process of more tedious, slogging through endless analyses. And it doesn't feel as interactive to them as acting immediately on what the opponent is doing. This is why, even if the deck were technically powerful enough to be one of the top decks (it isn't), Pox would still not be very popular.
    • Combo players tend to either want the potential of an explosive victory, even against opponents who are prepared, or they tend to be people who like to view the metagame as a puzzle, analyzing possibilities and trying to find the best way to work around the opponent and combo off. For me at least, I transitioned from mostly the former to mostly the latter.
    • Aggro players have a slew of motivations, but the most common mentality seems to be a mixture of an appreciation for speed (and outracing one's opponent) and a desire to show up snooty control players. "Think you're so smart with all your plans and junk? Well, I'm too fast. Lightning Bolt to the face, plan for that!" Aggro tends to be easier than other archetypes, and not having to think over moves appeals to a lot of people. But aggro is constrained by its simplicity and if something hoses it, then it gets hosed very badly. When aggro decks are possible that can potentially find ways to fight through barriers using clever means, it opens up the appeal to players who still want to outsmart their opponents, but want to do it with a fast deck.
    • Everyone starts out with midrange. Throw a pile of random cards together and it's a midrange deck, just a bad one. It isn't tuned for speed to be an aggro deck and it isn't built to draw games out and take over like a control deck. It certainly isn't likely to combo off. A few players out there really, really love midrange because it represents balance. Some players see it as bland and don't like it, but for most people it's there as an option, but not the first choice if the other things they like might be better.
    • Many competitive players seek out tempo or seek out aggro-control because it gives a mixture of speed and decision-making.
    • When a deck is both aggro and combo, players who normally eschew combo are appeased because it's an aggro deck, while players who would hesitate to play aggro because it is linear can be attracted by the combo.
    When Vengevival decks added a Necrotic Ooze instant-win combo finish to a deck with fast, unrelenting beatdown, players flocked to the deck. I can see the appeal. It's fun to be able to say, "Oh, you stopped me from getting my combo. I'll just beat you to death with creatures. I win anyway" And the corollary, "Oh, you can deal with my creatures attacking you? Here's a combo that will deal massive damage right to your face." It's aggro with a panic button. It's combo without the stigma. Not everyone likes it, and some people even hate it, but when aggro-combo is good it seems to capture the interest of more people than any other style of deck. Vengevival was a great aggro-combo deck.
  4. Melkor Well-Known Member

    So I wonder which decks you would consider Aggro-Combo? It's hard to think of a lot of aggro decks that also had what we would usually think of as a combo win. But it seems to me that their are quite a few aggro decks that feel like combo decks, with Infect being a current example and historically, Suicide Black with Hatred also feeling that way.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Good question. I don't know how familiar the term is to everyone else, and it occurs to me that I don't remember seeing other people actually use it in the past few years, so I should note that the term "Aggro-Combo" is a concept that I used to see different Magic writers throw around, and in no way something that I came up with. As with other such labels, I don't think there's a hard and fast rule, and in cases where things start to get muddled, people are going to disagree on which label is the right one. But I think the general understanding of aggro-combo is that it is a deck that blends aggro and combo and is probably leaning toward one of two things...

    1. A combo deck that can, in the course of gameplay, put threats on the board and potentially use them to win without executing its full, lethal combo. This doesn't mean that they are going to be good at winning without a combo finish against every opponent! If I'm playing an aggro-combo deck against an opponent with a linear, fully-focused aggro beatdown deck of some sort, I'm probably not going to just play my normal creatures, not use a combo, and still outrace my opponent. But if I'm up against a control deck that scrambles to stop my combo, but is only able to stop the one key card that I was going to use to go off, without answering my board, I could conceivably just beat my opponent to death the old-fashioned way.

    2. An aggro deck that is mostly trying to win with traditional beatdown, but also includes some trick for a big combo finish if opponents can withstand the regular assault.

    Perhaps aggro-combo is less prevalent than other concepts like aggro-control and control-combo because the circumstances have to be right for it. You have to have either an aggro deck that can make room for a combo instead of just packing more aggression or a combo that is good enough to play, but fits comfortably in an aggro shell. Usually, this is going to require something special to be consistent enough to bother with. Survival of the Fittest, for example. But for a better example, well, a while back I wrote an article about aggro/control/combo as elements in deckbuilding. I don't know if I'd still say the article did a good job or did what I wanted it to, but I think I've got a fine example of aggro-combo in it. I used to have a Goblins deck. It was Legacy-legal but I didn't ever intend to take it to tournaments, and it was more for fun and testing. Most Goblins decks in Legacy nowadays are more controlling, and my deck might have been a bit dated even when I was using it, but the list I was running was definitely what I think of as aggro-combo. I used a version of it in Tribal Game 15 (cards other than basic lands and creatures of the deck's tribe were restricted, so I tweaked it a bit to account for only having one copy of AEther Vial). I am a jerk, but here's the list:

    4x Goblin Lackey
    2x Goblin King
    4x Goblin Piledriver
    4x Goblin Chieftan
    4x Goblin Sharpshooter
    4x Goblin Warchief
    2x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker
    2x Siege-Gang Commander
    1x Skirk Prospector
    4x Goblin Matron
    2x Krenko, Mob Boss
    2x Lightning Crafter
    1x Æther Vial
    1x Patriarch's Bidding
    1x Oversold Cemetery
    1x Mana Echoes
    1x Goblin Warrens
    1x Braid of Fire
    1x Bloodstained Mire
    1x Wooded Foothills
    1x Cavern of Souls
    1x Badlands
    1x Dragonskull Summit
    1x Blood Crypt
    4x Snow-Covered Mountain
    6x Mountain
    3x Swamp

    Looking back, I'm a bit puzzled at some of those choices, but you probably get the basic idea. Some of my goblins make my team bigger or enable me to get more goblins onto the battlefield faster. All of them potentially buff Goblin Piledriver to ridiculousness. In the game, I used my early Lackey to cheat out Kiki-Jiki and make token copies of the Lackey, which led to an even bigger army and, if I remember correctly, a fifth-turn kill on my last opponent (out of four opponents). Aggro? Combo? A bit of both? I think the deck plays mostly like an aggro deck, but shenanigans with Kiki-Jiki look more like something a combo deck would do. I didn't do it and would have taken it out of the deck if I'd thought about it, but the deck even had an on-the-spot infinite combo win once it got enough mana: Goblin Matron could be deployed to help assemble a board state with Kiki-Jiki, Skirk Prospector, and Lightning Crafter, then repeatedly make a token copy of Lightning Crafter Championing Kiki-Jiki, activating it, then sacrificing it to Skirk Prospector to refresh the loop.

    Other decks I've seen called aggro-combo...
    • Some elf decks. Doesn't apply too much to current Legacy tournament Elves lists, which strike me as almost pure combo decks, but in the right situation, the threat of aggressive beatdown is there even still.
    • Ravager Affinity. Arguably, this loses most of its "combo" nature with Skullclamp banned, but before that, it sure could both beat people to death and potentially chain into a combo kill.
    • Probably a lot of Skullclamp decks were aggro-combo. I don't know how I like it as an example because it makes it seem like aggro-combo must be all about broken cards, but it does seem to fit. For Tribal Game 3, I built a Soldiers deck with the idea of beating people up with soldier tokens, Skullclamping my guys to draw through my deck, and eventually assembling an infinite combo with Mobilization + Earthcraft + Overgrowth. It didn't work, and was maybe more combo masquerading as aggro than true aggro-combo. I'm a jerk.
    • Yes, I think Suicide Black with Hatred fits. I mean, usually if you drew Hatred and tried to cast it, you were either killing your opponent or killing yourself, but they don't call it "Suicide" for nothing. And at least some versions could kill at least some of their opponents handily with pure beatdown and no use of Hatred.
    • Scapeshift Zoo. Maybe not the most famous deck ever, but it was successful in its day. Could totally win with creature beatdown, but didn't mind setting up Scapeshift, either with a bunch of Landfall guys for a sudden, lethal attack or with an explosive Valakut kill.
    • I'd think that certain Berserk-based decks qualify. Mostly they act like aggro, but Berserk can turn a non-lethal attack into a lethal attack pretty easily. Infect is the most popular home for this sort of thing nowadays.
    • Along similar lines to Berserk, I've seen aggressive, creature-based decks that would attempt to pump an attacker up and then Fling it.
    • I forgot what the deck was called, but I think I mentioned it in a forum post back when this happened. There was a time when we tried to get a sort of Legacy tournament team going with myself and two of my friends that both occasionally posted here a long time ago (Al0ysiusHWWW and Unsanitarypigs). We attended this tournament and my friend (Unsanitarypigs) won the tournament, but in between rounds I found him standing outside the game store smoking a cigarette and cussing up a storm. He'd piloted his expensive CounterTop deck that I'd helped test and just barely squeaked by with a win against a Standard deck, a Standard deck that he assured me wasn't even good. It used a bunch of those vampires from Zendikar and had the potential to suddenly win with Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths. I played against the same deck and beat it with Burn.
    • I had a casual red/green deck with aggressive creatures and Fires of Yavimaya and such. It wasn't very good, but it also had Pandemonium + Saproling Burst for a combo kill. Both cards were pretty good on their own, at least by my standards at the time. Later, I threw Channel and Fireball into the deck. Like I said, I am a jerk.
    • Some versions of Dredge, but the trouble is that Dredge decks are weird enough to defy classification.
    • Some Living Death decks, I'd think. But it's been a long time and I can't remember which creatures they used.
    • Some versions of Soul Sisters are arguably aggro-combo.
    • Food Chain Goblins. Totally aggro-combo.
    Essentially, my notion, whether or not I'm right, has to do with players wanting options. Some of the players who wouldn't want to play a pure combo deck can be drawn in if the deck is also aggro. Some of the players who would hesitate to play the more straightforward aggro decks because they don't like getting stuck when an opponent has a strong defense against aggro might be up for it if the deck could potentially fall back on a combo finish. Before SotF was banned, a lot of the decks using the card were practically old-school Blue/Green Madness decks, but with the added explosive kill of Survival of the Fittest with a package of Vengevines, and sometimes a Necrotic Ooze instakill thrown in. It wasn't the fastest combo deck out there and without Survival, it wasn't really the most impressive aggro deck either. Actually, I'd argue it wasn't as amazing of a deck on the whole as was portrayed back then, but that's a subject for another post. However, it was reasonably fast, could beat people down, and had options lacking in a straightforward, traditional aggro deck. Regardless of how well those options might pan out against real opponents over large set of games, the mere idea of the options, the hypothetical scenarios people envisioned, made the deck enticing. And it was fun too. That helps. Doesn't mean it was broken. Also doesn't mean it wasn't broken. But I do think that the effect I'm describing, that when decks become a mixture of aggro and combo they potentially gain more broad appeal because they mitigate some of the turn-offs of pure combo and pure aggro, did contribute to how quickly Vengevival decks swarmed tournaments (and subsequently put up results).
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    There's really so much that could be said about this card that has nothing to do with its ban in Legacy...

    ...but right now I still wanna talk about Legacy, so too bad.

    Looking back at the discussion here from that time period, I think that in hindsight, both sides got some parts wrong. Trouble is, it's been so many years that I'm having trouble remembering the finer points of the format in the time leading up to the ban, and the format has changed so drastically that I keep thinking in terms of the Legacy format today and not as it was when SotF was banned. Some of the changes have been so pervasive for such a long time that it's weird to try to think in terms of the "old" Legacy. Cards that define or once defined the format weren't even printed yet back when SotF was banned: stuff like Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Griselbrand, Past in Flames, Batterskull, Shardless Agent, Terminus, Monastery Mentor, Deathrite Shaman, Abrupt Decay, True-Name Nemesis, Grafdigger's Cage, Leovold, Young Pyromancer, Gitaxian Probe, Gurmag Angler, Baleful Strix, Surgical Extraction, Thought-Knot Seer, Entreat the Angels, Cavern of Souls, Reclamation Sage, Phyrexian Revoker, both Thalias, Sword of Feast and Famine, Council's Judgment, Sanctum Prelate, Omniscience, Scavenging Ooze, Liliana of the Veil, Preordain, Dismember, Green Sun's Zenith, Flusterstorm, Inkmoth Nexus, Elesh Norn, Ancient Grudge, Gut Shot, Karn Liberated, Blighted Agent, and even Mental Misstep. It was a completely different format. I could (and probably will) try to argue that the card isn't ban-worthy now, but whether it legitimately was a problem back then is trickier...

    Other than Survival, strong performers back then included Storm (both TES and ANT), Merfolk, Zoo, Aggro Loam, Goblins, Elves, Landstill, Dredge, Enchantress, Junk, Threshold (a broad category, but whatever), CounterTop Control (another pretty broad category), Affinity, Faeries, and Stiflenaut. That tells part of the story, but Legacy was on the rise back then, with Extended dying out and Modern not yet existing. A lot of players new to the format were still finding their way and playing with the decks that they could afford to build. Zoo, an archetype that seems pitiful by today's standards in the format, was hugely popular for years. Merfolk used a lot of then-new cards and was cheap for players to build, so a lot of tournaments were still filled with Zoo vs. Merfolk matches. Reanimator had fallen out of favor after Mystical Tutor was banned, but Storm had adapted and did well. Overall, this isn't a format that looks very well-poised to withstand an aggressive Survival of the Fittest deck. Some of the most popular decks among the ones I've named had little in the way of answers to stop a superior beatdown kill, and only a few of the aggro decks could potentially outrace Vengevival. In a sea of newer, less enfranchised players piloting tribal decks (because of the boost from Lorwyn/Shadowmoor blocks) and going light on dual lands, a Madness aggro deck that can pull creatures from its library is probably quite good, and Vengevine pushes it even further. But some of the decks that were relatively underplayed were probably quite good against the new kid on the block. For one thing, I'm thinking it was a great time to be playing The Epic Storm. And I'd totally pilot Dredge against Vengevival. Reanimator probably already had the tools to be a first tier deck in that environment, and the deck-brewing work just hadn't been done yet in the wake of the Mystical Tutor ban. Even some creature-based decks could totally wreck Vengevival (I recall a funny anecdote about a player taking Vengevival to a tournament and getting completely stomped by an Allies deck using Kazandu Blademaster, finding out that the Allies player had already beaten a couple of other Vengevival decks earlier in the tournament, basically preying on the recurring 4/3 haste creatures with growing first-strike, vigilant guys), just not the creature-based decks that were popular at the time. And perhaps most importantly, CounterTop decks had plenty of tools to beat Survival.

    Tellingly, the format didn't revert to anything resembling its pre-Vengevival state when SotF was banned.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    In the interest of fairness, some of the things I think the "my" side of the discussion got wrong...
    • Some enthusiasts of the Vengevival deck thought that blue/green Madness would still be good without Survival of the Fittest. While I'm not saying that post-Survival Madness aggro was never a thing, it certainly wasn't very high-profile.
    • We tended to assume that the post-banning metagame would largely resemble the pre-banning metagame, at least for a while. We didn't count on Batterskull hitting the format like a truck, nor on "The Mental Misstep Era."
    • I, at least, figured that if Necrotic Ooze was Legacy-playable, Survival wasn't the right archetype for it. I had some notion that it would be easier to just cast Buried Alive and then a reanimation spell for the win. But such an approach didn't really fit into any decks that anyone came up with. In my defense, Necrotic Ooze was being dropped from most of the successful Survival lists in the time between the rise of Ooze combo in Survival and the banning of SotF.
    • We all thought that Survival was gone for good once it left Legacy. While there's a huge categorical difference, the card is excellent in Commander, which took off shortly after the Legacy ban. But Survival of the Fittest actually saw Vintage play too! Not a lot, admittedly, but I'd have predicted a flat zero.
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Before the messy brokenness of CPA Tribal Game #14 (oops), there was CPA Tribal Game #13. And while I'm biased in having won in the end, I think it was one of the coolest games I've seen here (some of the ones that I lost were pretty great too). I noticed that spirits were available as a tribe, and there'd been some pretty good spirits printed over the years. I was also a big fan of Tradewind Rider. Tradewind Rider made me think of "Angry Tradewind Survival."

    When Legacy was brand new, in 2004, there were primarily three different SotF archetypes that people were trying in tournaments, each with its own advantages: ATS, Welder Survival, and Full English Breakfast. I'll get to the other two later. Angry Tradewind Survival (ATS) was the most prevalent, and had a philosophy something like "use Survival of the Fittest to access a toolbox of utility creatures and control the board, playing enough disruption and blockers to make faster decks ineffectual, getting Anger into the graveyard for team-wide haste and eventually building up a board with multiple copies of Tradewind Rider in order to bounce the most threatening opposing permanents and then, once the threat is neutralized, bounce their lands so they can't catch up, bounce their blockers so they are unprotected, and finally attack for lethal damage." It wasn't the fastest deck, nor the most controlling deck, but it was versatile enough to see some play in the old Type 1.5 and lost nothing substantial when Type 1.5 was remodeled into Legacy.

    My tribal Spirits deck was a bit of a throwback to ATS, although it differed substantially. I had tribal multiplayer in mind, rather than Type 1.5 tournament decks. And I had a spirit theme to work with. But like I said, there were some very good spirits. In the game, Mooseman was playing an allies deck with the new tribe from Zendikar Block, ramping up to a powerful board with each ally he summoned and draining the life from the rest of us with Hagra Diabolist. Turgy22 was playing a treefolk deck that made itself a very sticky threat due to Timber Protector. Spiderman played an orcs deck with some strong utility, but got a slower start developing a board and became the easiest target for the treefolk army. I used Survival of the Fittest to fetch my Windborn Muses and make myself a difficult target. As the game played out, the treefolk became the biggest threat, but this caused the rest of us to band together to stop them from dominating. I went for the kill against Turgy, but Pernicious Deed stopped me and wiped out part of the board. It was actually Spiderman's orcs that finished him off, but that left him exposed, so I finished him off. And then the game almost played out according to Mooseman's grand scheme. Everyone else had killed each other except for the two of us. He was at 41 life and took me down to 3 with Hagra Diabolist, but Survival of the Fittest had allowed me to fetch the resources I needed to establish a Tradewind Rider lock, and I bounced all of his stuff.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I've already mentioned ATS, the frontrunner in the early days of Legacy. Another strong Survival deck from the same era was Welder Survival. Goblin Welder should probably get its own thread in this series: it was once arguably the most well-regarded creature in all of Magic, a superstar in Vintage, Legacy, and Extended all at the same time. Any deck that could get artifacts into its graveyard, say by discarding them, could play cheap utility artifacts and then swap them out for the big bombs. Goblin Welder was famous for retrieving Memory Jar, Mindslaver, Phyrexian Colossus, Sundering Titan, and other goodies. In conjunction with Pentavus, Goblin Welder could establish a lock in which one could take control of an opponent repeteadly. But the most iconic usage was probably to cheat Sundering Titan onto the battlefield and blow up opposing dual lands. Welder Survival was a green/red/blue deck that squeezed a Survival toolbox creature package into the same deck as a Goblin Welder artifact-swapping package. That left little room for anything else, so the rest of the deck was acceleration and card-drawing. Whereas ATS employed countermagic and more disruptive creatures to slow opponents down before taking over the game, Welder Survival had little in the way of interaction and was all about sheer power.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    In my "Combo Breakfast" article, which just might be my favorite CPA article that I ever wrote, I talked about Full English Breakfast. I'll just copy and paste that, because I'm lazy efficient...

    Of course, by the time the deck made its way to Legacy, the toolbox had evolved. Anger was there to serve its normal function, and Phage the Untouchable was dropped into the graveyard to make Volrath Shapeshifter's combat damage lethal. The deck also became focused on a creature recursion and token generation engine, so it would flood the battlefield if left unchecked. Full English Breakfast was never really the best Survival deck in Legacy, but it was fun and had its advantages here and there. As new cards were printed that made the format faster, setting up an involved engine became untenable anyway. And then the M10 rules changes invalidated the deck, even for casual play.
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I mentioned three main Survival archetypes in early Legacy, but it's been so long that I forgot: there was one more! Red/Green Survival Advantage was a much more straightforward approach than these other decks. RGSA, as it was sometimes known, played like an aggro-control deck, with SofT included to find the right cards and Squee, Goblin Nabob used to fuel it. The deck employed no big, flashy instant win, but it had efficient threats like Flametongue Kavu, Deranged Hermit, Masticore, and so on. Equipment in the form of Umezawa's Jitte or Sword of Fire and Ice gave those medium-sized creatures even more board presence. Usually, virtually every card in the deck was a creature, a land, equipment, or Survival of the Fittest. It's an interesting concept, although like most of these decks, outmoded by what is currently available. Even back then, I don't think that it was a particularly great approach, but it was a sticky deck to go up against when contrasted with more dedicated aggro decks, and it was definitely an easy deck to pilot.
  12. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    One of my favorite SotF decks was a Legacy deck called Survival Elves. Here's a list:

    4x Survival of the Fittest
    1x Caller of the Claw
    1x Spore Frog
    1x Genesis
    1x Wellwisher
    1x Viridian Zealot
    3x Llanowar Elves
    3x Elvish Champion
    3x Wren's Run Vanquisher
    3x Quirion Ranger
    4x Priest of Titania
    1x Chameleon Colossus
    1x Mirror Entity
    3x Sylvan Messenger
    3x Windswept Heath
    2x Gaea's Cradle
    4x Forest
    2x Taiga
    1x Thornweald Archer
    1x Wood Elves
    2x Wirewood Symbiote
    4x Fyndhorn Elves
    4x Imperious Perfect
    1x Anger
    4x Wooded Foothills
    2x Savannah

    1x Magus of the Moon
    4x Krosan Grip
    1x Caller of the Claw
    3x Wilt-Leaf Liege
    1x Gaddock Teeg
    4x Wheel of Sun and Moon
    1x Eladamri, Lord of Leaves

    Really, I'm not sure if it's even better than what Elves decks are already doing these days. But it sure was fun to play.
  13. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    While I'm still talking about Legacy decks, another archetype to employ Survival of the Fittest was Madness. It came onto the scene a little later than ATS, Welder Survival, RGSA, and Full English Breakfast. Madness-based decks were probably tried from the beginning of the format, with attempted ports from Extended and such, but they didn't take off until around 2005 and 2006, as Legacy developed its own identity and the prospect of a fast aggro-control deck using Wild Mongrel and Survival of the Fittest as discard outlets for cards like Arrogant Wurm, Basking Rootwalla, Wonder, and Roar of the Wurm. I say "aggro-control" because these decks often played a fair amount of disruption, but they were definitely built with speed in mind and would not usually do well in long games. Al0ysiusHWWW built a blue/green/red Madness deck, and I believe that was the original source 3/4 of my playset of Lion's Eye Diamond, a card that was still reasonably cheap back then.

    I do not think that Madness decks back then made ideal use of SotF, as they tended to empty their hands very quickly, whether with Aquamoeba, Wild Mongrel, or Lion's Eye Diamond. But Survival was an excellent tool anyway, and the technique of chaining Basking Rootwallas into each other as setup for something bigger would later go on to be a big deal. The deadly combination of SotF and the "Madness" mechanic was a bit of a flash in the pan the first time around: it seemed to die out in late 2006, but it would later resurface in the infamous Vengevival decks.
  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    There's a lot more to say about this wonderful card, but before I completely move on from Survival Elves, I should note that it was one of many Survival decks to have the potential for a big combo finish. After all, SotF is a reusable tutor, and the ability to find a particular configuration of cards lends itself to explosive aggregate-based combos. Later, I'll list some of the other powerful combos. For Survival Elves, it might not be be obvious at first glance, so...

    Firstly, get some elves on the board. Should be easy enough. Get a Priest of Titania that has been on the battlefield for at least a turn or just give it haste using Anger. Then all you need is Mirror Entity and Wirewood Symbiote. Tap the Priest for mana, use a bit of the mana to make all of your creatures X/X elves, then use Wirewood Symbiote's ability, bouncing itself (it's an elf because of Mirror Entity's ability) to untap Priest of Titania, replay the Symbiote, rinse, repeat, saving some of the leftover mana from each iteration of the loop, and finally dump as much mana as you want onto Mirror Entity's ability, making your whole team a bunch of arbitrarily large attackers.
  15. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    While it's possible to build a Survival deck without a built-in instant kill combo, why would you do that? Some game-winning combinations to fetch with SotF include...

    -The aforementioned Full English Breakfast method. While there were several versions over the years, the most straightforwardly lethal take on the concept involved discarding Palinchron to Survival for Volrath's Shapeshifter, casting the Shapeshifter as Palinchron to untap lands, then pitching another creature to Survival to turn Volrath's Shapeshifter into Akroma, Angel of Wrath to give it haste and trample, then Phage the Untouchable to make it automatically kill the opponent.

    -The infamous Ooze combo. Use SotF to get Triskelion and Phyrexian Devourer into your graveyard, fetching and casting Necrotic Ooze. Since Necrotic Ooze has the activated abilities of both Triskelion and Phyrexian Devourer, it can eat cards off the top of your library to gain +1/+1 counters and then immediately remove the counters for direct damage to your opponent's face. it's not infinite, but it should easily be lethal a few times over.

    -Kiki-Jiki shenanigans. Similar to Necrotic Ooze, but infinite and slightly more expensive. Use SotF to get Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and either Sky Hussar or Pestermite into your graveyard, fetching and casting Karmic Guide. Karmic Guide brings back Kiki-Jiki, which can tap to make a copy of Karmic Guide, which then brings back the Sky Hussar or Pestermite, which untaps Kiki-Jiki, which can then tap to make a hasty copy of the Sky Hussar/Pestermite, which untaps Kiki-Jiki. Rinse, repeat, attack with infinite token copies of either Sky Hussar or Pestermite.

    -Saffi Survival. Another three-card infinite combo powered out by Survival. Use SotF to get Saffi Eriksdotter and Caller of the Claw into your graveyard, fetching and casting Crypt Champion. Crypt Champion brings back Saffi, which you sacrifice targeting Crypt Champion. Then Crypt Champion dies to its other ability, gets brought back by Saffi's ability, and brings Saffi back again, looping the two of them dying repeatedly until at one point you say, "Just kidding, Crypt Champion targets Caller of the Claw." Infinite bears. They don't have haste unless you use another card to give them haste, but still, it's not a bad combo. The main drawback is that it looks best-suited to Commander, and a Commander deck using this combo would need to have at least four colors.

    In Commander, my approach has often been to use Survival to fetch a sac outlet, such as Phyrexian Ghoul or Carrion Feeder. This opens up a lot of opportunities for infinite loops.
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I devoted some posts in this thread to the usage of Survival in the early days of Legacy (ATS, Welder Survival, RGSA, Full English Breakfast) and toward the end of its Legacy tenure before it was banned (Vengevival). But the card had other appearances in Legacy between those two eras. To some extent, that's what I was touching on with posts about Survival Elves and the role of the card in pre-Vengevine Madness decks. But there was more. Before Vengevine existed, for years the most popular creature to fetch with SotF was Tarmogoyf. It was a very popular creature in Legacy at the time, even moreso than it is today. Lots of other archetypes were taking advantage of Tarmogoyf, and the card made sense in a Survival deck, because drawing and playing an early Goyf was fine, but searching for all of your copies of the card and dropping them onto the battlefield was even better. Most of the good Survival decks from the Goyf era were Bant (white/blue/green). Like everyone else, they were using fetchlands, and as a blue deck also ran cards like Force of Will, Daze and Brainstorm. So once a Bant player cast Ponder, Tarmogoyf would likely be a 4/5 (bigger in some cases, like if a Trygon Predator hit an opponent's artifact or enchantment, of if such a spell had been countered). And thanks to Survival dumping Wonder into the graveyard, the Tarmogoyfs could fly too. While it's easy to see how another deck might be able to top that kind of power under the right circumstances, it was very efficient and cards like Eternal Witness and Squee, Goblin Nabob helped it play like a tempo deck. Some of these decks took black over blue, forgoing the use of countermagic, but gaining access to potent weapons like Big Game Hunter, Shriekmaw, and Pernicious Deed.
  17. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Before Survival got its suite of options for Legacy, long before the format even existed, Survival of the Fittest was the linchpin of a successful Standard deck, used together alongside another iconic enchantment from Exodus. I half expected that someone else might chime in on this thread to berate me for mentioning so many other Survival decks and not the Survival deck: RecSur.

    The idea behind RecSur was to play both Survival of the Fittest and Recurring Nightmare, use Survival of the Fittest to find the right creatures and dump them into the graveyard, and use Recurring Nightmare to get them from the graveyard onto the battlefield. Although often used some of the most potent big creatures available, such as Spirit of the Night, it wasn't meant to function as a straight combo deck, but as a creature-based toolbox engine that could tailor its performance to find the best way to deal with its opponent. Opponent swinging for the fences with an aggro deck? Get Spike Weaver and stall. Opponent holding onto cards to stop you from winning? Get Thrull Surgeon and take those answers away. Opponent has a creature that's a big threat? Take it out with Nekrataal. RecSur seems tame compared to what Legacy Survival decks could do, but for its day, it was versatile and very dangerous. Survival of the Fittest could pull creatures from the library into the graveyard, and Recurring Nightmare could get them from the graveyard onto the battlefield. Combining the two also made it easy to abuse EtB triggers.

    Because of its well-established power in Standard, Recurring Nightmare + Survival of the Fittest was long thought to be one of the more potent combinations in the game. And back then, people would try almost anything in Type 1. This article showcases some of the attempts. Nick had a RecSur deck and I remember him really liking it, but for some reason, he didn't keep it around for all that long. Probably timing, as there were occasions on which he dismantled all of his decks on principle. After that, I thought I'd seen the last of the deck, but the concept was so popular, so clearly etched into the minds of its fans, that RecSur was eventually revived in Legacy. Recurring Nightmare was, and is, one of those powerful cards, highly successful in some environments, that just didn't see much success in Legacy just because of the nuances of the format. I don't think that RecSur was ever really the best Survival deck in Legacy, but it did see some success here and there. Most versions I saw attempted to set up a kind of prison with Recurring Nightmare and Yosei, the Morning Star. Ultimately, there were better ways to exploit SotF in Legacy, and Recurring Nightmare fell by the wayside.
  18. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    After Survival of the Fittest was banned in Legacy, it was thought to be gone from competitive Magic, and essentially, it has been. Almost, anyway. It has appeared in Vintage, although it's tough to say how meaningful that is these days. Vintage has become so marginalized as a format that results are sparse and most tournaments are so small that all manner of weird stuff shows up in results. Many of the results for small tournaments are populated by homebrews, and decklists vary widely. But one thing in Vintage that is a sort of archetype has been "hatebears." Such decks attempt to very quickly get small, efficient creatures onto the battlefield with abilities that in some way disrupt the usual broken stuff that people are trying to do in Vintage. They often play Gaddock Teeg, Phyrexian Revoker, Magus of the Moon, etc. A Vintage deck, sometimes known as "Apple Jacks" (in keeping with the theme of my "Combo Breakfast" article) has made appearances in some tournaments, flooding the board with disruptive creatures and using SotF to fetch them.

    I've also seen some Vintage results showing that the classic blue/green Madness stuff (Basking Rootwalla, Arrogant Wurm, Wonder) alongside Vengevine with Survival of the Fittest is another potential option in Vintage. These appearances are few and far between, even for Vintage, a format that is too sparse as it is, but it is noteworthy and probably represents the most powerful usage that Survival of the Fittest has ever seen.
  19. Shabbaman insert avatar here

    I think one of the reasons I picked up my Survivals is because I tried them in null rod zoo.
    RecSur has a special place in my heart: that deck is so awesome that it has been the main drive to bring my game to a different level. Being entrenched in the Ice Age storyline, I found Mirage to be a very boring set. Around that time I went to university, leaving my old playgroup behind. RecSur got me interested in building Real Decks (tm). Funny, because banning Survival is what turned that off.
  20. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Huh, I always thought of Zoo as more competing with Survival decks than joining with them, but both concepts were flexible enough for there to be overlap. Don't think I ever actually saw the card in Null Rod Zoo firsthand, but I've seen stranger things.

    Huh, I guess I did have a similar kind of storyline experience, but set just a bit later. I got into the game around the time the Weatherlight Saga started, and I became entrenched in that, so when they made the storyline go all stupid toward the end of Invasion Block and then reset everything with new characters, I lost interest. It even led to my weird "I don't use post-Prophecy cards" deal, which was really more of an excuse for "I'm poor and cannot buy new cards." Anyway...

    I maintain that banning Survival of the Fittest in Legacy was a huge mistake. While the issue is subjective, I think evidence at pretty much every turn, from every single set release that followed the ban, bore this out. Yeah, there's the old cliche that hindsight is 20/20, but a lot of people spoke out against a ban before it happened too. I'm not saying that I or anyone else is spectacular at predicting things in such a complicated system, but man, in this one case, we called it. And I wonder if it was a case of the left hand not talking to the right, with the timing of Survival being banned directly preceding the release of some of the most powerful, Legacy relevant sets ever, completely rearranging the very nature of the format. I mean, the people making banned list decisions work for Wizards of the Coast and presumably have access to new cards before they come out. Again, predicting complicated systems is hard and I grant some leeway for that, but if they looked at the upcoming sets and could not see that Scars of Mirrodin and Innistrad blocks were going to hit Legacy like a truck, then they were incompetent. That may sound harsh, but come on. It's not like it was a near thing. "This spell gives all the other spells in your graveyard Flashback for their own mana cost and also has Flashback itself so it can be played from your graveyard if necessary. Gosh, I wonder if combo decks in Legacy could use that effect. It costs 3R and I just don't know if it would be worth it to them. It's kind of similar to Yawgmoth's Will and Ill-Gotten Gains in what it would do for a Storm deck, but I just don't know if Storm decks in Legacy would benefit from it. There's really no telling and it is a complete mystery!" And a Storm deck beefed up with Past in Flames isn't even that impressive anymore, but it would have spanked Vengevival all day long. As someone who has focused on fast combo decks, there's no matchup I'd like better than one that wastes the early turns setting itself up to find the creatures it wants to play lieu of doing a single thing to stop me from executing my combo.

    At the CPA, I remember that you and I were the two people here most strongly arguing against the ban, and Ransac was the main person who argued in favor of a ban. I think we pretty much called it and that events have left his position untenable, but to be fair, he really should be off the hook for that, because unlike WotC, he didn't know what was in the pipeline. Also, he didn't know what Legacy would become. There was still this vague notion that Legacy could be like the old Extended that was lost to rotation and that so many players wanted to hold onto. Vengevival wasn't the only thing steering the format away from an emulation of the days of yore, but it was seen as a bigger departure than anything else. No one knew what Legacy would turn into, and that Survival of the Fittest powering out blue/green Madness stuff that the old decks couldn't compete with was small potatoes compared to what would follow.

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