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January 27, 2011


Deckmasters- Garfield vs Finkel: Garfield’s Deck Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

In the booklet that comes with the Deckmasters boxed set, both Magic creator Richard Garfield as well as the game’s best player, Jon Finkel, make mention of the same analogy in their deck write-ups, and it went more or less as follows: who would you pick to win a game of basketball, Michael Jordan… or Dr. James Naismith, the man who created the game. Written in 2001, the analogy has a certain sense of regrettable prescience about it. Most folks if asked today know exactly what basketball is, but very few might know Naismith. One wonders how long it might be before Garfield suffers a similar fate. After all, how many Magic players have ever read Worzel’s Story, the dollop of pulpy placesetting fiction penned by Garfield that was included in the rulebook in Alpha (and removed from all subsequent printings)? It’s not a number that grows. How many even know what it is?

What’s reassuring here are two things- first, that if a game is established long enough so that it’s still being played long after its creator is easily remembered, then that game can most assuredly be called a success. And second, one very quickly realises that there’s much more to Garfield than Magic. Gamers of a certain age are sure to remember other collectible card games that Garfield had a hand in creating perhaps without even realising that he was involved: Jyhad (later Vampire: The Eternal Struggle), Netrunner, BattleTech, Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle, and Star Wars, to name the more well-known ones. He still enjoys a paterfamilias-level of respect from those involved with the game, and continues to be active in gaming and game design. Pro tip: check out his “Three Donkeys” podcast (also available on iTunes).

Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but for newer players it might be useful to at least establish that what Jon “Johnny Magic” Finkel was up against was no slouch himself. Still, he addressed the Deckmasters competition with a healthy and somewhat unconventional approach, and his deck reflects this. In Finkel’s we saw a who’s-who of solid, efficient beaters backed by truckloads of removal. In Garfield’s, we see something altogether quite different.

Ach! Hans, run!

For his deck, Garfield elected to go with a Red/Green quasi-stompy deck, with some rather unconventional choices. Here’s the creature curve, quite a bit more spread out than Finkel’s laser-narrow selection:

To be certain, the early-game presence is token at best, but it does give the opportunity for consistently quicker starts. Like Finkel, Garfield went overwhelmingly with the two-ofs, as dictated by the rules of the format (no more than two copies of any card, excluding basic lands).

At the front of the curve is a pair of Fyndhorn Elves– critical mana rampers in this rather mana-hungry deck- and beyond them a pair of Balduvian Bears. These are the “classic bear,” a vanilla 2/2 for two mana. After that things get a bit tricky.

Anti-Flyers: With Finkel packing in all of two flyers (Abyssal Specters both), these were perhaps a wise guess on Garfield’s part. A 2/3 for three mana, however, the Woolly Spider is slightly beneath the curve.

High Toughness: Garfield hits a winner here, however, in his large selection of high-toughness creatures, which will help offset Finkel’s arsenal of burn. Two each of Storm Shaman, Walking Wall (which Garfield referred to as “wily”), and Yavimaya Ancients, with a Folk of the Pines thrown in for good measure. The latter is noteworthy for being one of the few Green creatures that possesses firebreathing (pumpable power).

Midrange Beaters: Most everything else falls into place here. Green’s version of Ball Lightning, the Yavimaya Ants, are about as close as Green gets to direct damage (yes, yes, Hornet Sting). Like Finkel, Garfield saw the risk/reward ratio of the Phyrexian War Beast as favourable, and included a brace as well. Finally, there are singletons of the Elvish Bard (whose Lure-ability can orchestrate wins), a Giant Trap Door Spider, and the famous Lhurgoyf.

Altogether it’s a fairly eclectic bunch, but will it be enough? We move next towards the noncreature support. Unlike Finkel’s spell-heavy deck, Garfield dialed back the ratio to be more creature-heavy, but made some very findamental selections.

Destroy That Which Destroyed Us

Garfield’s selections here can also be divided into some fairly broad-based classifications.

Mana Fixing: A pair of cantripping Barbed Sextants give a one-shot of mana before heading to the graveyard and replacing themselves in your hand. Of course, these are not actually mana ramps- each costs one to play, and one to activate. Their value is moderate, but at least they don’t burn a card.

Combat Tricks: A pair of Giant Growths, simple enough. There’s also a Bounty of the Hunt which, as we mentioned last time, is part of the same cycle that Force of Will is contained in (ahh, if only one of these two fellas went with Blue!).

Removal: The first item we’re looking at in this category is something of a novelty. Time was that graveyard order mattered, and that you were not allowed to just mix up the order of the cards within it. Magic flirted with exploring the design space here around this time in its development, and the pair of Death Sparks are a direct result.  Although this was later abandoned as being needlessly complicated, the mechanic is remembered here. Like Finkel, Garfield fills out the burn with pairs of Incinerates and Lava Bursts, while further looking to hose flyers by adding a Hurricane. This isn’t the weak draw it seems- this earlier version of Windstorm was more like Earthquake in that it damaged players as well as creatures, so it becomes a situational win condition all on its own. Finally we have some prescient artifact hate in the form of a Shatter and a Pillage. The latter harkens back to a bygone era- these days you’d be lucky to find quality landkill costing three mana, let alone landkill that has this much versatility (today’s fixed version is Demolish).

Miscellanous: Garfield includes a Jokulhaups for a board reset, and an Elkin Bottle for card advantage. (Quipped Finkel in response, “I have Necropotence, and Richard has Elkin Bottle. Elkin Bottle? Maybe there’s some parallel universe in which that’s the right choice.”)

Here’s the overall curve:

Overall, the deck seems a bit more casual than Finkel’s agressively-designed Red/Black one, and seems to have put itself at a slight disadvantage with its somewhat unfulfilled anticipation of flyers. Still, it’s hard to discount a personality such as Garfield’s, and playtesting might well reveal some evil genius at work. In our next tow columns, we’ll be taking these decks against one another- find out then!

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Icehawk
    Jan 27 2011

    These two master decks have got me really thinking about mana fixing. It’s probably because I’m messing with my Coalition deck and trying harrow out over terramorphic expanse.

    Even though this deck has a more casual feel, I like it more. Not sure why, but I do.

    Also, I had no idea who this guy was.

    • Jan 27 2011

      I don’t know the composition of your Coalition deck, but I personally don’t see the Terramorphic Expanse as optional. Harrow is a great way to ramp and/or get what you need and use it too, but TEx is more versatile. *shrug* Personal preference maybe. Try sticking two of each in and see what happens, perhaps.

      • Icehawk
        Jan 28 2011

        Mainly green with a strong splash of white and pinch of red and blue. I flipped my terra for Rupture Spire for mana fixing before I even thought about harrow. Trying both out this weekend.

        Tribal Flames and Evasive are the only 2 domain spells I use. Evasive should be fine. Tribal I’d love to get 5 dmg out of, but 4 would be acceptable.

        Depending on how it goes, might stick 2 terra back into it.

        • Jan 28 2011

          Ah. Mine’s five colors, and while I may not need to *use* mana on each turn, I need to hit the land drop every turn. At least.


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