Recurring Nightmares – A Rose by Any Other Name

For better or for worse, there are some debates I can’t keep out of. Knowing that I’m plunging headlong into a discussion that is destined to go as deep as the proverbial rabbit’s hole, I still find myself taking the fateful step and offering my opinion—consequences be damned.

This week, Brian Kibler found one of my buttons, and pushed. Obviously his intent was to bring light to an issue he feels strongly about, and my own reaction has much more to do with my own hangups than any intent of BK; nonetheless, I found myself fighting (and ultimately succumbing to) the urge to add my own thoughts.

The issue at hand is the status of deck names. More specifically, Legacy deck names. In a blog post on his personal site, Brian essentially called out the Legacy community (and to a lesser extent, the Magic community at large) for their insistence on using obscure and irrelevant names for their decks. After reading through his post, I came to the conclusion that while many of his points were certainly relevant, overall there was a lot to the post that I simply couldn’t agree with. Because I have the background and history with Legacy, I felt the need to reply. Because I wanted to do the topic a bit more justice, I decided to continue the discussion here.

The way I read it, Brian’s post had a few key points.

1. Deck names are important to distinguish between differing archetypes.

2. With an increased emphasis on streaming coverage, identifying what decks are on screen at a moment’s notice is important to retaining viewers.

3. Many deck names are terrible.

4. Legacy decks’ names in particular are very terrible.

Despite agreeing with all of these points in the abstract, the tone and inferences of BK’s post were hard for me to back. Had he been more broad in his condemnation of the deck names of Magic, I would likely have been on board—instead, he decided that the most egregious offenders represent the Legacy community, and focused most of his attention at painting them in a negative light. This is strange to me for a number of reasons, but the most distinctive one to me is simply that the deck names he refers to were a product of the time in which they were developed, not some trend specific to the Legacy format in and of itself.

There was a time in Magic when every deck had a stupid name. This was well before there even was a Legacy, so there’s absolutely no reason to think players in that format set the precedent. There were decks named after breakfast cereals (a lot of them, in fact), there were decks named after players that made them famous (Sligh, Cuneo Blue), there were decks that were named after in-jokes of professionals and amateurs alike. There were decks that were named after absolutely nothing in particular, and there’s no discernible connection between the name of the deck and the cards they contain.

Today, this is not standard operating procedure. Most of the time, decks are given descriptive names that boil the strategy and colors of the deck down to easily digested portions. Esper Control. Mono-Blue Devotion. Boros Aggro. The deck names that do diverge from this convention are adopted, used, and discarded as the changing face of Standard forces cards through the rotational cycle.

As I said to BK, this is the difference between bad deck names in Standard (and old Extended) and bad deck names in Legacy. In Legacy, a deck can hang around for years if it’s good enough—and if it’s unfortunate enough to have a nonsensical name attached to it, the name tends to stick as well. BK’s assertion is that the established names of these decks are irrelevant, and that a more descriptive name creates a shallower barrier to entry into the format. I assert that the deck names are part of a long and illustrious history of Legacy, and that the fact that they may not make sense in the present context doesn’t mean they lack value. If anything, seeing a deck like Death and Taxes at work, and hearing the name without knowing the context, sparks an interest in a viewer to learn more about why the deck is named what it is. I have never heard anyone ask, “Why is that deck called RUG Delver?” They get the point, and move on. Asking, “Why is that deck called Maverick?” inspires a player to do a Google search, where they find more information about the deck and others in the format, and begin to develop an interest in Legacy. I don’t agree that a barrier is created—I don’t believe a deck name has that kind of influence on the format’s popularity, and the massive explosion of the format corroborates my opinion.

I believe that the scenario where a player who is new to Magic, or new to Legacy, turns on the coverage of the most recent SCG Open or Legacy Grand Prix and hears about a player piloting Team America vs. a player piloting Solidarity, gets confused, and turns off the coverage is far less likely than the viewer seeing the interesting dynamics of Legacy matches and is instantly inspired to play themselves—regardless of the deck names. I believe that the much more likely scenario is that they tune in, watch a few matches, and are hooked by the interactive and intricate gameplay, and the cool interactions of powerful cards. The fact that the deck names are nonsensical may be a moment of confusion, but the moment will pass.

Ask yourself: to a brand new Magic player (say, a year of playing) is there a real difference between a deck named “Nic Fit,” and a deck named “Affinity?” Or a deck named “Jund,” for that matter—the last time we used the Jund Shard in the context of a block was in 2009. People still refer to enemy Shards by their “Volver” names ([card rakavolver]Raka[/card], [card degavolver]Dega[/card], etc.), and it’s been over a decade since IPA block.

Magic is not a game that lacks in jargon that separates those in the know from the newbies. The issue is that the jargon that’s Legacy specific has been ignored by the greater Magic populous, and now that they’ve realized they’ve been missing out, they’re upset that they have a new history to learn.

But consider those deck names again. If a new player (a player who does not already possess years of Magic background) must learn the difference between “deck A” and “deck B,” the difference between learning them as “RUG Delver” and “Esper Deathblade,” or “Nic Fit” and “Sneak and Show” is marginal. The only subset of players that are positively impacted by the mass renaming of all Legacy decks with non-descriptive names are the players with an established history within the game, but no history with Legacy (the kind of player that would be frustrated by a deck name like Team America, but be capable of discerning the differences between four different types of BUG Tempo). Maybe that group is important enough to ignore 10 years of history to appease. I don’t personally hold that opinion, but I’m speaking from a privileged position. I think the history of Legacy is equally important as the more general history of Magic, and these decks (along with their quirky names) are an integral part of telling that story.

As a point of interest, note that the vast majority of decks developed since the inception of the SCG Open Series (and along with it, the highlighting of Legacy deck names to the public eye) have been descriptive in nature—Sneak and Show, RUG/BUG Delver, UW Miracles, etc. This week, Brian Braun-Duin posted a new Standard deck list on his Facebook wall. He called it “The Sunny Delight: Black Cherry.”

A Guide to Legacy Deck Name Origins

Because it matters to me, I’ve gone through old tournament reports, deck descriptions, and talked to the people who dubbed the decks, and came up with what I consider to be the most accurate versions of the stories behind the names. Hopefully this can put some of the debate to bed, so feel free to share these stories as you will.

Death and Taxes – The most-referenced deck in terms of, “Legacy deck names are stupid,” this deck began its life on the Legacy boards of mtgsalvation.com, and was created by a player with the handle “Finn.” From Finn’s original post, dated August 31, 2006:

“’Taxes’ refers to the disruption provided by the choice of tricks, as you can delay or even ‘turn off’ elements of your opponent’s strategy while your creatures deliver damage. The specific taxes you levee can be arranged to suit your metagame, and should be tailored for it.”

So, the name specifically refers to the taxing effect of the disruptive creatures in the deck (which at one time included [card]Glowrider[/card]), and the creator (who is also known for naming a deck “Dirt”) decided to use a common phrase that’s tangentially related as the mantle for the deck. It has nothing to do with “There’s three things guaranteed: Death, Taxes, and White Weenie.” That was a misconstrued adaptation added to the deck later on.

Team America – From Dan Signorini on mtgTheSource.com (non-coincidentally, he recently came in 9th at GP DC with Team America) in the opening post revealing the deck—dated 10-19-2008:

“The history behind the creation of this deck is quite interesting, as it sort of started out as a joke deck of Dave Gearhart’s, referred to as “Europe.” It was blue and black only, played confidants and stalkers as the only creatures, combined with the same LD package as Team America. Also, it played 4 maindeck extirpates and no removal. To say the least it was pretty bad (although pretty fun to play). The name was a reference to the vast differences between European and American legacy meta games, and was a[n] homage to a lot of cards that rarely see play in America.” 

There was an ongoing joke that Europe played an entirely different format than the Americans did, as the decks popular with each group were as far separated as the continents themselves. The high popularity of storm combo in Europe colored the metagame considerations there, as much as the popularity of Threshold-style decks did the States. Dave’s joke—combining all the cards that the American Legacy community generally dismiss into one deck, and calling it “Europe”—developed into the original BUG Tempo shell when combined with the threat-base of a green-splash Suicide Black deck (called “Eva Green,” for what it’s worth). The new deck was dubbed “Team America,” both as a reference to the original Europe deck as well as to the movie.

Solidarity – The same David Gearhart referenced above developed a mono-blue combo deck that could win at instant speed, using [card]High Tide[/card] and untap effects to generate mana, which it converted to cards via spells like [card]Meditate[/card]. It was one of the first experiences the eternal formats had with card prices jumping exponentially overnight, as [card]Reset[/card] went from bulk chaff to $40 in a matter of weeks. The deck was named “Solidarity” in reference to the card [card]Solidarity[/card], because Dave had a great beat story involving the card in Limited—his opponent went for a blowout with a well-placed Nausea, to which Dave responded with a Solidarity, exclaiming “Solidarity for the win!” So, Solidarity. Notably, there was another Legacy deck at the time named Nausea—the predecessor to nearly all of the Modern Legacy Storm combo decks. It used a combination of [ccProd]Helm of Awakening[/ccProd], [ccProd]Trinket Mage[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Priest of Gix[/ccProd] as an engine.

Tin Fins – [ccProd]Griselbrand[/ccProd] = Grizzlebees. Tin Fins = This

I don’t know what else to tell you. This one is a stretch.

Nic Fit – From Tao, on mtgTheSource.com, on 5-27-11:

“Because many people asked and speculated: Its name comes from a Sonic Youth song that I was listening to when I named the deck. If you were a smoker you also might get the desire to smoke while playing a tournament because you will often play long rounds but mostly I just found “Nic Fit” to be a good name for this deck.”

For reference.

Also for reference, I don’t get Sonic Youth.

Maverick – In the vein of “Sligh,” Maverick is named after Luis Viciano, the deckbuilder who brewed up the first version of the deck. Luis’s nickname is Maverick; ipso facto, the deck is named Maverick.

The EPIC Storm – TES, as it is otherwise known, was an adaptation of the [card]Ill-Gotten Gains[/card] storm combo deck that predates it (known as Iggy-Pop). It was developed around the same time as the Extended TEPS deck (The Extended Perfect Storm), and I personally had a hand in the development of both decks. The “EPIC” in TES comes from the team name of three Syracuse, NY locals that developed the original deck list—specifically Bryant Cook, myself, and Mike Herbig. At the time, the three of us were playing a lot of Vintage, and the influence of TPS on the deck is unmistakable. The major difference between TES and the other combo decks in the format was its adoption of the five-color mana base, to utilize spells like [card]Burning Wish[/card] and the red ritual effects, [card]Xantid Swarm[/card], and [card]Orim’s Chant[/card]. Bryant Cook has played the deck to widespread success, including a Grand Prix Top 8.

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