I’ve played a lot of bad decks over the course of my career, and the worst of them were really bad. I thought it would be interesting to examine why exactly they were so bad, what led me to play them, and what I learned from that (if anything). There is actually value here—you get to mock my heinous deck selection while getting the benefit of things I’ve learned without doing all the losing I did. My deck choices have (mostly) gotten better over time, and there are real lessons to be learned.
5) Jeskai Tokens
Sadly, this is a somewhat recent entry. I chose to play this at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, and went 0-2 after 0-3’ing my Draft. Granted, 0-3’ing the Draft had nothing to do with it, but it somehow makes that Pro Tour feel worse. Jeskai Tokens was actually a decent deck, but the reason it makes the list is the opportunity cost—I declined to play the Esper Dragons list that Team CFB and Face to Face dominated with. That deck was one of the best decks the team has come up with, and the win percentage was very good among those who played it. I chose to play Tokens because I showed up to testing later and played mainly with Tokens, while also not trusting my teammates enough when they said Dragons was great. Tokens seemed good to me, so I just decided that since I had a deck I liked, I didn’t need to really dig deep into the other option, which was largely completed by the time I got there.
Lesson: Examine all your deck options—playing a fine deck at the cost of a great one is a huge missed opportunity. Also, trust your teammates. They are your teammates for a reason.
Okay, now we are back to the early days of my career. The mightily-named DragonTron was something that myself, Paul Cheon, Ben Lundquist, and Jeopardy All-Star Tim Aten brewed up while testing for Worlds 2006 in scenic Vermilion, Ohio, Tim’s hometown. Paul, Ben, and I were the U.S. National Team, despite, uh, having names that could easily have belonged to many other countries, and this was our first Worlds.
DragonTron combined U/R Tron and Dragonstorm, with the following result: The strengths of neither deck and the weaknesses of both. We got summarily crushed, and let our country down.
Lesson: When doing something very similar to an existing deck (or two), you will face strategies and hate intended for that deck. Make sure the thing you are doing is better enough or different enough to justify it. An example is playing a graveyard deck when Dredge is popular—you are going to face a lot of hate even if you aren’t on the radar, so you need to be better than the established tier 1 deck (unlikely).
3) Hammer Time
It’s Hammer Time! This was a fan favorite, and probably did a lot to establish Cheon and I as the (hopefully) lovable buffoons that we are. This deck was a nice one, and looks like exactly what a small child would make if they had access to a lot of sweet rares. Mana ramp, big creatures, and Loxodon Warhammer. Let’s do this!
The idea was that we crushed the best deck, Faeries, and had game against aggro. We were weak to control, but Faeries would handle that, right?
The reality was that Reveillark was a good choice, as despite losing to Faeries, it beat everything else, and we could never in a million years beat ‘Lark. I had the nut draw of turn-3 Oversoul of Dusk, to which my Lark opponent cast Condemn, after evoking Mulldrifter. Yeeeeeeah.
Also, we didn’t beat Faeries. A competent Faeries player was a close matchup, so even though we did beat the less skilled pilots, we weren’t even huge favorites against the actual good Faeries players.
Lesson: Building a deck to just beat the best deck is rarely right, since even the best deck isn’t often more than 20-25% of the field. Also, you usually won’t even really beat them—it’s the best deck for a reason. Lastly, c’mon, don’t play nonsense like this. Look at all the valuable lessons!
This is another (too) recent addition. I guess it’s a solid couple years by now, but it feels recent enough to sting. PV also wrote about this one, as it was what basically all of Team ChannelFireball played at Pro Tour Born of the Gods.
We tried to get too clever, again. Valakut was legitimately good against the best deck, Melira Pod, but it was atrocious against basically every other Modern deck. This was similar to the Hammer Time fiasco, but the results were worse. There was a ton of combo in the format, and Valakut was slower than combo but enough that it had a very hard time winning. Being a combo deck that’s a touch too slow and has no disruption is not where you want to be. This deck was also vulnerable to hate, and I lost to Blood Moon and Fulminator Mage multiple times.
Lesson: You still shouldn’t build a deck to beat the best deck, especially in a diverse format like Modern. Metagame decks are rarely right, and when choosing one, take a look at what your matchup is against major archetypes. Here, being vulnerable to combo was just too big a weakness.
Uhhh, yeah. This is the worst of the worst, hence the name “GarbageTog,” This was another hit brewed up by Paul Cheon and me, for the Extended Pro Tour in Valencia in 2007. The reason I call this the worst deck I ever played is as follows:
This was a format full of great cards, and we managed to play none of them. The winning deck played all of them, and was a deck we even tested for the event. Of note, that list included Counterbalance, Sensei’s Divining Top, Tarmogoyf, and Dark Confidant. We played 1 copy of Top from that list.
It was an under-powered control deck in a powerful format. It was trying to go to the long game, while being at a disadvantage at basically all points. It was too slow against the fast decks and had too many dead cards against the combo decks, much less decks like Tron.
Somehow, Paul made money in the tournament, while I didn’t come close.
Lesson: Don’t get too clever. We played this despite having the Counterbalance/Top/Tarmogoyf/Bob deck, and it made no sense. The idea was that Tog + counters + removal + the Trinket Mage package could answer everything, but instead it answered nothing. It was the epitome of how we used to approach deck building, where we went to great lengths to avoid playing the best deck, and it’s an embarrassing reminder of how that goes wrong. If you take anything out of this article, it’s that you should just play great cards and good decks, and not try and one-up the competition the way we used to. I know I started winning a hell of a lot more when I did, and I have (mostly) not looked back.