Wurms: 3rd place!

These finalists are a cut and a class above the competition. They have overcome a deep pool of opponents, faced a wide array of strategies, knocked out the competition, taken the game to its core.

In third place, Wurms.


Mighty and destructive, wurms dominate with their control spells. Wurms can smash anything, even the most aggressive aggro tribe (knights). Damnation blows up all creatures, Mind Shatter takes out all the reserves, Maelstrom Pulse eliminates vital combo pieces or single threats.

It’s a formidable play, especially when this wurm shows up.


The “curb stomper”, Massacre Wurm will single-handedly munch an army while setting up the counterattack. Chump blocking it will not do much good. It can also bite a hugeeee chunk of an opponent’s life before starting to move. Deadly. Deadly. Deadly.


Panglacial Wurm is the ultimate trump card when holding a hand full of nothing. Because it can jump from the library, the only creature in the game that can do so. Fetchlands, land search, all trigger it. Once on the battlefield, that 9 power will break jaw.


Life can get low playing control, so, its nice to get out of burn range. Wurmcoil Engine does that, and it’s also a tough, deathtouching SOB. Things are seldom bigger than a wurm, but they do exist, in which case, it dies anyway. Killing the wurmcoil engine will only make them….TWO wurms. Double trouble.


And wurms will literally never die, as long as Elderscale is on the table. It bumps the player’s life to seven, and then keeps it at seven forever. Entire armies, even Gods, cannot penetrate this defence. The only way is to kill the Elderscale Wurm.

Wurms are the definitively the best defensive player on the block. Very little slips past them.  If the opponent tries to bum rush with a big army he is destroyed with a big advantage. If the opponent sandbags his threats and cautiously summons them one by one, then Wurms will eat everything from his hand.

Zero correct choices to be made.


One additional benefit of Mind Shatter is, it destroys the opponent‘s defensive removal saved up for the Wurms. Big plus in the control vs control matchup.

Redundant defences give additional security. Maelstrom Pulse cleans up pesky non-creature permanents (such as Equipment, Planeswalkers or Combo pieces) that need taking care of.


Crime//Punishment is more expensive, but can sometimes hit multiple. It also bypasses Protection or Hexproof because it doesn’t target. Which is ironic, because Knights had this Mirran Crusader which was Protected from both Black n Green.

Wurms are Black n Green, and yet gobbled up the knight with no difficulty whatsoever.


It’s not all kill spells and massive wurms. The engine needs fuel. Mana is produced by the Kamigawa-era sorcery and snakes. The land-thinning effect sets up higher card quality in the lategame.


Garruk, Primal Hunter has proven to be a worthy pew Commander of Wurms. He can repeatedly summon minor beasts, or draw a lot of cards. Opponents who ignore (or are unable to deal with) him will someday find themselves staring at ten or more giant Wurms. Wurms managed to pull this off once under tournament conditions.


Lastly, a double-edged gamble which steadily improves your position at the cost of slowly murdering you. Usually not casted versus aggressive burn or aggro decks. But Wurms have several ways to gain life. Phyrexian Arena has a place in this type of strategy.


The full decklist: Nom Nom Wurms


  • Colors: Golgari (Black Green)
  • Nature: Ramp Control
  • Offensive Feats: Trample, Life Loss
  • Defensive Feats: Mass destruction, mass discard, nonland permanent removal, deathtouch, lifelink, life locked at 7
  • Speed: Slow

The Top Ten Creature Types in Magic (Part 2)

Number 6: Knight


This is the only pure attack deck that managed to enter the top ten. (55 other pure attack decks failed.) Aggro, as this strategy implies, is to quickly overload the opponent with too many threats. But with the dawn of high class defensive systems, and the slower but bigger counterattacks of other decks, aggro has invariably failed to deliver its potential. Knights succeed where the others failed due to its insane concentration of quality.

Let’s start with the weakest knight.


Student of Warfare starts the game as a lowly 1/1, but levels up cheaply to a dangerous 3/3 first striker. Later in the game, it can hit for 8 damage with double strike. The opponent is forced to spend at least one card to rid the Student of Warfare. You don’t have to over-extend by committing more creatures to the board.


The ranks of the knights are superior to most other creatures at their cost. First strike is a significant advantage in combat. Auto-regeneration and indestructible make it hard to kill. Also, there’s power and land boosting effects. This lets knights keep up with midrange enemies.


There’s even an absolutely crushing one-two sequence. Mirran Crusader is a ridiculously powerful attack unit, protected from 2 out of 5 colors. It has double strike. With Elspeth, who can grant temporary flying, it will win in two moves. Without Elspeth, its a five turn clock. It is common practice to force the opponent into wasting their removal on the lesser knights (shown before), so Knights can play the Crusader unopposed.


For breaking stalemates, knights can even the one-man army: Hero of Bladehold. This bad boy (I mean, good boy!) hits for 7 damage on the first attack, from 3 different vectors. And the calvary grows by 2 every turn. Riders of Gavony makes the entire horde unblockable (this is tribal wars, yeah). And also totally immune to their damage.

With this level of power, it is a well deserved sixth place. And an ominous hint of what lies ahead. Five tribes managed to defeat the knights. They must be absolutely terrifying.

  • Colors: White
  • Nature: Pure Aggro
  • Offensive Feats: First strike, double strike, battle cry, combat pumps, flying (temporary), protection
  • Defensive Feats: First strike, double strike, protection, automatic regeneration, indestructible
  • Speed: Fast

Number 5: Rhino


Rhinos have been covered before – they are siege warfare specialists, able to form a defensive perimeter and slowly chip away at the opponent. The life gain, life drain, and big rhinos are incredible both defence and offence. Rhinos have both card advantage and card quality advantage.


It is quite common for a control deck to have the ‘wrong answer’ in hand. Multi-option spells avoid this. Rhino charms not only dispatch enemy creatures, but have other applications. Duneblast is a knightmare (literally yes) finishing off every opponent on the battlefield, but leaving behind a Rhino to win with.


Breaking the symmetry, Rhinos are not shy to use dark magic for an advantage. Mind Shatter is horrifying versus enemy control or combo. It strips them of their vital cards. Profane Command is yet another multi-option genius, doing 2/4 things at the same time:

  1. Resurrecting dead rhinos
  2. Killing a creature
  3. Making rhinos unblockable
  4. Killing the opponent

Green Sun’s Zenith is also multi option. Either it brings Dryad Arbor or Birds of Paradise (making mana), or it summons a Rhino.


The rhinos themselves are medium power threats, not as big as the Eldrazi or Wurms but definitely bigger than aggro tribes such as Knights. They gain life which neutralizes “first strike” strategies. Rhinos believe in the “second strike” – survive the initial onslaught, counterattack with stronger forces. They can clearly outclass the knights in battle, except for Mirran Crusader who has protection (which Rhinos will just finish off using Duneblast).

So the match between Rhinos and Knights were quite a sight to behold. Twenty turns later, there were scores of dead knights. The rhinos somehow managed to cling on at 1 to 3 life. But with lifegain, this went back to fifteen soon, and rhinos had the advantage in both size and numbers winning the endgame.

  • Colors: Every Color Except Red
  • Nature: Midrange Control
  • Offensive Feats: Trample, Life loss (repeatable), Fear (temporary)
  • Defensive Feats: Exile, Mass Destruction, Reanimate Dead, life gain, destroy Artifact, counter Instant
  • Speed: Medium

Number 4: Eldrazi


Marketed as a planet-destroying, world-eating alien race, Eldrazi present a difficulty level from “out of this world”. Any physical contest between Eldrazi and other creatures is only going to end one way. The Eldrazi will annihilate its opponent, the ground it is standing on, several neighboring countries, and also the entire plane.


If it wasn’t for their gargantuan real estate costs, no other opponent could win. But Eldrazi, even with a price tag of 15 mana, can still hit the battlefield as early as Turn 3 (thanks to super ramp spells). So they’re quite fast for their size. A dragon looks like a kitten standing next to Emrakul. An army of anything else is barely visible.

All Eldrazi can win the game AND take out an army if they just hit twice – so what will we do when there’s infinite numbers of them?


Or when the Eldrazi destroy everything before they annihilate everything else?


This is truly one of the most powerful decks, as long as it doesn’t get disrupted. The only way anyone will have a chance to defeat Eldrazi is to stop the spells from being cast. (Trying to aggro the Eldrazi will not work, because lifegain and walls.) Land destruction or hand removal would give rivals a fighting chance. Cos once the aliens reach the battlefield, it’s over.

Even superman can’t save the world now.

  • Colors: Green
  • Nature: Ramp Control
  • Offensive Feats: Annihilator, Flying, Cannot be Countered, Extra turns, Infinite Eldrazi
  • Defensive Feats: Walls, Annihilator, All is Dust, Life Gain
  • Speed: Fast, unless disrupted

The top ten creature types in Magic

Number 10: Worm


Worms have a slick three part combo which many opponents have trouble handling. it’s because the first two parts use enchantments / artifact. Few decks are equipped to directly deal with those. There are backup combo pieces to deal with stuff getting destroyed. By the time the worm comes out, its too late.

The combo is to sacrifice Reef Worm five times in the same turn for 21 damage.


Cryptic Annelid is used to draw into combo pieces. It’s too slow to serve as much of a defensive blocker. But it’ll have to do.

  • Colors: Izzet (Blue Red)
  • Nature: Pure Combo
  • Top speed: win in 4 turns, Normal speed: win in 5 to 7 turns
  • Offensive feats: none (zero attack strategy)
  • Defensive feats: Remand and Gigadrowse

Number 9: Treefolk


Trees are green and they love the forest. They also like to blow lands up (wait, what?)


I once tried regular beat-them-smash-them Treefolk. It didn’t work so well, because other decks would just murder all the trees. So I went for a cold, cynical reboot. The new Trees are terrorists. They hate lands and will destroy them without mercy.

This realignment turned trees into one of the strongest tribes ever. Everyone needs land, it pays for the spells. Without land, enemy control is unable to power their defence grid. Enemy combo gets slowed down. Enemy ramp never even gets to play.

Every turn you play another forest, growing your trees ever so larger. The attack on the enemy manabase means they cannot quite summon their biggest creature, or even the destruction spell to nuke the trees, so the battlefield will be stacked in your favor.


  • Colors: Green
  • Nature: Pure Tempo
  • Offensive Feats: +1/+1 growth per Forest, trample
  • Defensive Feats: Land destruction, Durable creatures (hexproof, indestructible), destruction of non creatures.
  • Speed: Reasonable

Number 8: Snake


Snakes are not even supposed to be on this list. They are not very good…I guess they sneaked in.

With tiny 1/1 bodies, snakes don’t strike fear. But most of them have abilities related to creating mana, which powers tiny but steady methods of creating an advantage.



The cards in the first row enable the cards in the second row. The idea is to slowly build a tiny swarm with the Sosuke’s Summon engine, which keeps running even if an opponent kills all snakes. Snakes are persistent, and are able to directly counter an opponent’s spells. If an opponent plays in a linear fashion (playing 1 creature at a time, or destroying 1 creature at a time), then snakes play in a non-linear fashion. They are well suited for battles of attrition.

It turns out Snakes are strong against control, but weak to aggro. Any aggro deck can block the 1/1 snakes, but the near-creatureless control decks must eat the damage. But aggro decks in general had a very poor showing in this tournament. Powerful control tribes killed all the aggro tribes in the early rounds. This left the field wide open to something like the Snakes, who feasted on control for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  • Colors: Simic (Green Blue)
  • Nature: Midrange Tempo
  • Offensive feats: Snake Lords, Flying (occasional)
  • Defensive feats: Deathtouch (rare), Repeatable summoning, Counterspells
  • Speed: Slow

Number 7: Angel


The expensive angels tend to have powerful bodies to win entire battles by themselves. In the case of Iona, head angel, she can just stop the opponent from playing spells (which conviniently makes herself unkillable as well). Baneslayer Angel can gain so much life that attacking becomes pointless, while Admonition Angel and Angel of Serenity can exile enemy armies to prevent them from attacking you.

These abilities are primarily defensive, but Angels all fly, making blocking tough, and they hit hard.


Heavy duty ramp spells are used to pay the exorbitant costs of Angels. The Locii formation is used to generate tons of mana, but because Angels also require heavy White commitment, this is combined with the Selesnya base.

This land base has the unique property of being able to gain life with Glimmerpost, then gain life again by having Selenya Sanctuary bounce the Glimmerpost. Lifegain helps a lot since Angels aren’t doing much until the late game. It buys a turn or two.


  • Colors: Selesnya (White Green)
  • Nature: Ramp Control
  • Offensive Feats: Flying, dragon-sized
  • Defensive Feats: Total lock (Iona), Exile Non-Land, Lifegain (Glimmerpost / Baneslayer Angel), Battlefield Wipe (Wrath of God), Hexproof (Sigarda)
  • Speed: Very slow

The starting pool was 140 tribes, so Number 10 is a pretty significant accomplishment. Next post, I’ll do numbers 6 5 4.

Calling the Bluff

It was a fairly standard French Defence, except my opponent brought his queen out one move early. Being a lifetime French player myself, I immediately saw the possibility of Black trying to exchange off his bishop like this:


Its a slow but fairly simple idea. Black’s light square bishop is hemmed in by Black’s chosen pawn structure, so why not get rid of the problem piece?

So I raised the stakes.

5. Qb3


Now my opponent has two choices. He can take the queens off the board, which gives me some pawns but reduces the dynamic potential of the position. Trading pieces could lead to a draw. Now Black is nearly 100 points higher rated than me, so this would be a pretty embarassing outcome.

Or alternatively, Black could avoid the trade by moving his queen, in which case he would have to admit that Qb6 was a wasted move.


Black decides not to do anything. He passes the turn and lets me have the same dilemna. Do I want to exchange queens and kill all the joy on the chessboard?

6. Qxb6 axb6

Position if Black had taken the queens off. This didn’t happen.
Position after White took the queens off. This happened in the game.

Played without emotion. If Black had been brave enough to take off the queens, I would have a weak, doubled b-pawn. Instead, his dithering allowed me to inflict a bruise in his pawn structure.

I had called his bluff, and risked a draw. But its a draw on my terms.

7. f4

This move is usually impossible to make in the normal French Defence. It weakens my kingside, lets the Black queen stare all the way to g1. automatically pins my pawn on e5…except…

Black has no queen.

Nc6 8. Nf3 cxd4 9. Nxd4

And then I offer a second piece to trade.


Nxd4 Black accepts. 10. cxd4 Ne7 11. Bd3 Nc6 12. Be3 Nb4 


Now Black has a simple tactic here. If my bishop steps off, he will play Nc2+ forking my king and rook. If my bishop doesn’t step off, he will exchange it off to win the bishop pair.

How significant is this? The pawn structure is very much closed. It can be reopened sometime in the next decade or so, but until then, there won’t be any way to exploit the bishop pair advantage.

13. Kd2 Nxd3 14. Kxd3 Bc5+ 


Getting this lovely diagonal for his Bishop must be why Black decided to enter this line. Piece activity is looking good. His bishops have good squares, whereas mine seems locked inside my own pawn chain.

On the negative side, the wound I inflicted at the start of the game is starting to fester. Black’s doubled b-pawns have, with neglect, turned into doubled, isolated, b-pawns. Now I just need to get those damn bishops off my back.

15. Kd2 Bb4+ 16. Nc3 Rc8 17. Rc1 0-0 


The bishops are halted at Helm’s Deep, and now the counterattack begins.

18. Kd1 Unpins the knight and allows it to capture Black’s bishop.Bd3 Black advances forward. His light-square bishop gains a second diagonal.

19. a3

Black is given the question of whether he wants to trade a third set of pieces, which would bring the game even closer to a draw. Or drop the bishop back, which gives me the advantage.

Be7 Black runs, because, he considers the preservation of pieces to the best path towards eventually outplaying me for the win. Of course, present realities mean that I am retaking some lost territory. Reducing his trump cards and ever so slightly inching towards mine.

20. Kd2 Bg6 21. h3 h5

Black loses control of another diagonal. The bishops are not doing much anymore.

22. Na4


An uninspired, predictable and boring stab at an obviously weakened pawn. Yet Black is defenceless.

Black’s refusal to trade pieces has backfired. Those pieces he allowed to live are mounting an attack on his weak pawns. Should have shot them when he had the chance. Every movie villain’s regret.


Apparently, black’s motto is, when ya need to retreat, you should retreat forwards!

23. Nb6 Rc6

Again, he retreats by advancing.

24. Rxc6 bxc6 25. Rc1 


Now Black’s just going to lose a pawn, and gain nothing in return.

How did things reach such a terminal stage? Because Black wanted a fight rather than a draw, so he got a fight – but it was a fight on my terms. I got the time and place and it was in his territory.

Be4 26. g3 b4 27. a4

And all that squirming achieves nothing whatsoever. I’m collecting my pawn and that’s final.

Bd8 28. Rxc6 Bxb6 29. Rxb6 Rc8


Black is finally compelled to trade in his Bishop pair to win an open file for his rook. But the stock has not much value now – there is only one rook and one bishop for both sides. The bishops are of opposite colors which would ordinarily mean that the game is headed for a draw.

30. Rxb4 

Except that I am two pawns up now.

Black’s motto of “always moving forward” just got his pawn into waiting and eager jaws.

Rc2+ 31. Ke1 

It is extremely doubtful that Black can kill me with just a lone rook and bishop. But still, e1 is a better square than the more active d1, because it is a different color than Black’s bishop. There is no need to “threaten” Black’s rook. I just need to stay safe and win quietly.


Black threatens Re2+ which will pick up my bishop.

32. Bd2 


My bishop now cuts off Black from any, and every single, attacking line. There is no Rc1+, no Rg2, no Rh2…nothing. It’s just one solid, unbroken line of pawns. No clever comebacks. Cold shower.


Threatening to undermine my pawn chain, but thanks to f4 (played 25 moves ago), I don’t even need to waste time defending it. Instead I just start pushing my extra pawn.

33. a5 fxe5 34. fxe5 Ke7 35. Rb7+ Kg6 36. Rb6 Kf5 37. a6 Rc7 38. Rb7 Rc6 39. a7 Ra6


With some difficulty, Black finally stops the march of my a-pawn. He also gains one, last, active move in the game. It could maybe make a dent somewhere, somehow.

40. Bc3

But I clear a square in preparation for the rook check, and protect the d4 pawn (against Ke4).

Ra1+ 41. Kd2 Ke4 42. Rxg7


No mercy. I just killed a third pawn. It’s not the fastest way to win but just emphasizes how hopeless the situation is. I can take my time.


Black moves his bishop out of my King’s radius and could be dreaming of some kind of mating net involving Bb3, Kf4, and Rd1#. It never happens.

43. Rf7 1-0

I trap the Black king, so Rf4# next move is checkmate. Black’s only defence is Rf1, but that would let me queen my pawn, so black…gives up.

A long term rook sacrifice

Usually a piece has to be sacrificed very carefully because a lost position can be the result. But today I found an exchange sac that only paid off many moves later.

It started with 1. e4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nc3 c6.  I was playing my favorite French defence and I thought it’ll be nice to play on the dark squares.


5. d4 Bd6 6. Bd3 Ne7 7. h3 Bf5 8. Be3 and we have a fairly standard looking position. I continued with Na6, slightly controversial but I felt it will be interesting.

After 9. Bxa6 bxa6 we have a dynamic-looking position.


I’ve accepted some structural damage in exchange for piece activity on the queenside. One backward pawn, and two isolated rook pawns. On the plus side, I’ve got the bishop pair and an open file for the rook. White does not have much activity for his pieces.

The game continued 10. 0-0 0.0 11. Ne2 Rb8 12. b3 Qb7 13. Ng3!? My opponent tries the same thing I did, opening up some lines in exchange for structural damage. It seem like neither side is thinking long term they want to pew.

I accepted, Bxg3 14. fxg3 Qe6


Now White has a good file for his rook, also that e5 square for a knight. The kingside is slightly weakened, in fact, white’s bishop is in danger. For the moment though, White controls the game.

15. Ne5 Ng6 (I did not fancy the complications after 15. Ne6 Ng6 16. g5. I think White would be better) 16. Bf4 Nxf4 17. Rxf4 f6


My queen is overworked here. White takes this opportunity to win my backward pawn. 18. Nxc6 (I can’t take his knight, because my bishop would hang) Rc8 19. Nb4 a5 20. Nd3


It seems like White has gotten away with it – he won a pawn, and shielded the attack on his own c-pawn. But here comes the shock.

20…Rxc2 I take the pawn as if it wasn’t guarded anyway. Yet in reality, it was guarded, so I’m a rook down now.

21. Qxc2  Qe3+ 22. Rf2 Rc8 23. Qe2 White couldn’t find a way to save his knight, so it dies. Qxd3 24. Qxd3 Bxd3 


Was it worth it? For the sacrifice of a rook, I have a bishop, so I’m going to place it at e4 soon, where it blocks White from using the open file, and scrutinizes White’s weak pawn on g2. The other open file is strictly under my control.

White has to get his two rooks together to challenge my lone rook. But easier said than done. My bishop controls key squares and stops the rooks from coordinating. And if White’s f2 rook ever steps off there is Rc2 which is extremely dangerous for both king safety and his queenside pawns.

25. Re1 Be4

The first of White’s rooks is rudely cut off, preventing White from using his big cannons.

26. Rd2 Rd3 

Now White’s g3 pawn is threatened with gain of tempo.

27. Kh2 Kf7 28. Rf1 Ke6 29. Rf4 

White threatens to break out. But I immediately push him back.

g5 30. Rf2 f5


There is absolutely no space for White’s superior forces. His g2 weakness is now doubly shielded, but I control all the key routes in the game. Now White has to concentrate, because, if I am allowed to bring my slow-moving King all the way to a3, then he’ll be shut in for the rest of the game.

31. Rb2 The only move that gives White a fighting chance. Kd6 32. b4 a4 Of course I don’t take that pawn because it would let his rook break free from the web I have woven. 33. b5 Kc7 34. Rb4 a3 35. Ra4 Kb6 36. Ra6+


White has finally escaped the bind. But this has come at perhaps too great a cost, because my King is now active and able to influence the game.

Also, my a-pawn is quite the runner. It has reached the third rank and can promote (if White ever loses control of the second rank).

Still, White is finally free to use the power of his rooks. This is the moment where I have to prove my sacrifice, made sixteen moves ago, wasn’t a mistake.

36…Kxb5 37. Rxa7 Kb6 It looks unusual just letting my h-pawn drop off, especially when I’m already a rook behind. But the immediate King entry with Kb4 can be met by Rc7+ if White is not greedy.

38. Rxh7 Kb5 (I skip the f4 tactic, since White has Rh6+) 39. Rg7 Kc4


Here I am quite certain that White will be greedy and gobble up my pawn, because he could eliminate all competition for his h-pawn and queen it. Rc7+ is still an important defensive resource for black. If he choses to trade rooks, I wont have the firepower to move against White’s weak pawns on g2 or a2.

But i’ll still have a passed d-pawn which can be queening.

40. Rxg5 White chooses the  most materialistic move. Good for me.

Kxd4 41. Rg7 Ke3 


Despite the loss of two additional pawns I believe Black has never been stronger. White’s defensive rook is finally driven back, by force, from the second rank, leaving him with one…last…rank to array his forces.

42. Rf1 Rc2 43. Ra1?? 

White defends the wrong pawn in a stressful situation.

Rxg2+ 44. Kh1 Rxa2+ 0-1 Black resigns.

If Black had tried 43. Rg1 the defence would hold out longer. Then, I would have to resist the temptation to gobble White’s a-pawn, because its a race to queening! My d-pawn versus his h-pawn, and I have strong reasons to believe mine is faster.

d4 44. h4 d3 45. h5 d2 


Here is the critical position. There are a few different defences White can try here, but I don’t think any of them will work.

A) 46. h6 Rc6! 47. Rh7 (otherwise Rh6 checkmate) Rc1 48. Ra7 Rxg1 49. h7 d1Q 50. h8Q and black finishes prettily with Rh1# checkmate.


B) 46. Rd7 Rc1 47. h6 Rxg1 48. h7 Rxg2+ 49.  Kh3 Rg1 50. Kh4 (otherwise Rh1#) Rh1+ 51. Kg5 Ke2 


In this slightly tougher line, White is still lost because very simply, both sides can sacrifice their rooks leaving me with an extra bishop and the game.

Or, I could be cruel and play f4 so I don’t have to sacrifice anything, while winning it all.

C) 46. Rd7 Rc1 47. h6 Rxg1 48. Kxg1 Bd3 


This is the drag-and-drop version. White’s king is decoyed to the first rank, where I will queen, with check, preventing his h-pawn from moving to save the game miraculously. No eagles in this version of LOTR.

My bishop blocks the White rook  from interfering. If white chooses to check with the rook, then eventually the checks run out when I get my King to a2 (where it will also eat a pawn).

Cute Geometries


While parrying a French Defence, I reached the cute position above.

White has a small advantage. The bishop is where it wants to be, pointing at the two black pawns. And curiously, it’s symmetrical. White is sitting in the middle of two Black camps and attacking both sides of the board.

Divided we fall, so Black didn’t last long.

Defense beats attack, usually

In my Creature Wars tournament there were 140 decks playing a variety of styles. With such a huge sample size, trends that emerge echo with the ring of solid truth. And I can say, with quite a high level of certainty, that control (defensive) decks are much stronger than aggro (attacking) decks.


Aggro (attacking) decks are easier to assemble because they just require a bunch of attackers and light spell support. Control on the other hand requires elaborate defense mechanisms and sometimes an even more intricate winning system. There were 65 aggro decks and only 28 control decks. And yet, 10 control decks won gold medals, with only 2 aggro decks getting a gold medal.

Even more significantly, the 2 aggro winners (knights and ooze) did not meet a high-class defensive opponent in their starting league. Had they met one of these, it is possible that they would not advance.

(Of the other three families, Tempo is a hybrid of both aggro and control, Ramp is just focused on making mana and outspending their opponent, while Combo aims to land a perfect one-hit-kill combination. In boxing terms, Aggro is the guy who punches the opponent early and often. Control is the guy who blocks and tries to win on endurance. Tempo punches, but in a careful way to avoid counterattacks. Ramp tries to abuse its size advantage. While Combo tries to kill u with a single left hook to the jaw.)

Why is Aggro so weak?

One theory behind the weakness of aggro is its predictability. Cast some guys, try to get past defence with sheer speed and ferocity – Control saw it coming. Eventually, Aggro runs out of steam, allowing Control to get the advantage, and while a Control deck can defend against another Control deck, Aggro is just not built to defend. So it collapses.

But this theory fails on many levels. Many aggro decks incorporate anti-control elements to give themselves a chance against the predicted defense of their opponents. It should be equal. Magic was designed for balance.

But in game after game, Control would fall behind, stall, stabilize…and then somehow steal a win. The best aggro decks would never get more than a draw  from the best control decks. The rest would lose and get mowed down.

3 games versus 2 games 

One striking feature of my league format is that it allows draws. Each deck faces each other twice, taking turns to start first. In professional Magic there is always a “third” around to act as a tiebreaker. But my system allows two decks of equal strength to get 1 point each.

This probably masked the weakness of Aggro decks, since, in a system with 3 games, a draw is never allowed. Somebody has to win. Even if two decks are of equal strength, one of these would win. 50% of the time, it would be the Aggro deck.

In the league system, however, the best Control decks only need a draw against the best Aggro decks. Control can make up for the point deficit by defeating the less powerful Aggro decks / non-Aggro decks. By contrast, an Aggro deck finds it very hard to defeat other Aggro decks / non-Aggro decks. The reasons are:

  1. Non-Aggro decks, such as Combo, can make mincemeat out of Aggro because Combo is even faster than Aggro.
  2. Two aggro decks are ‘cut from the same cloth’ and thus has a tendency to get drawish outcomes whenever two aggro decks face off.


The results from the 1st runoff (silvers vs bronze) certainly paint such a picture. All these decks have passed through a qualifying round so they have ‘some quality’ to them. For example, the Kavu are just a typical burn deck. They are a repeatable burn deck that never runs out of ammo. And so on.

The Kavu, Soldiers, Pegasus, and Skeletons faced off against each other. Almost every one of these matches ended up in a draw.

  1. Kavu vs Solder – the Kavu had the advantage going forward, just toasting every single soldier that landed on the battlefield. However, Soldiers found Mark of Asylum, which stops burn damage, and won a critical point ending the matchup in a draw.
  2. Pegasus vs Kavu – The Pegasi can fly, and the Kavu can burn. This ends up being roughly equal.
  3. Soldier vs Pegasus – Pegasi can fly, but there are more soldiers. Another draw.
  4. Pegasus vs Skeleton – Skeletons can regenerate, while Pegasi can make (slowly) summon more pegasi. Dead draw.
  5. Soldier vs Skeleton – Both sides slug it out, but a draw was the final result.
  6. Kavu vs Skeleton – the only match where an aggro deck beat another aggro deck. With protection from Black, the Kavu smashed through dead bones.

The two strongest Aggro decks are Soldiers (speed and numbers) and Kavu (size and burn). The Archon control deck simply held a draw versus the two strong aggro decks, and then grinded out the two weaker ones (Pegasus and Skeleton). Aggro had four players. Control had one. But Control won.


Archon Control 

The Archon tribe is built around preventing damage and gaining life. If not killed straightaway, eventually, a net will be formed using Proclamation of Rebirth + Kami of False Hope, preventing any damage from slipping through. The best Aggro can kill it before the ‘total defence’ shield is ready. But anything slower than that will walk into the Archon Endgame.

The Archon Endgame has two premises, I can’t lose and you can’t win. It eventually wins by using Karn Liberated, Mirror Entity, or one of the archons…and it doesn’t really care that it takes a long time, because it has all the time in the world. Aggro sucks at defending, so, eventually something slips through and it’s the game point for Control.

Not all Control decks will win

Golems are control as well, but too slow to matter against the improved breed of aggro decks. They don’t have enough time to stabilize before the wave of soldiers flood them.


All is Dust costs 7 mana, shackles cost 5, the cheapest defensive spell costs 3. This slowness may be okay during the qualifying stage, but not in the more competitive runoff period.

But in general, odds favor the control deck.  Ability to protect itself, strong against a variety of different styles, getting better and better over time…the qualities of control trump the reckless aggression of Aggro, which often finds itself one or two points short of victory.


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