Marshall Sutcliffe (@Marshall_LR of Limited Resources and one of the nicest people you will ever meet in the Magic podcasting community) has been asking me about… Believe it or not… Napster!
Marshall makes the reasonable point that Napster is a deck that we talk about a lot (myself, BDM, and so on)… But only really longtime readers know what the hell a Napster is. So… Here is the rundown, only eleven years after the fact. Briefly, we will go over:
- The Deck
- The Name
- The Tournaments
- The Pedigree
- The Plan(s)
- … and Namor
… As Jon Finkel played it (to the 2000 US National Championships win):
At the time, Napster (the “real” Napster) was the industry leader in music sharing; instead of legally downloading music via iTunes or Amazon.com, less scrupulous young people would login to Napster and download the songs they wanted that had been uploaded by different less scrupulous young people. You could pretty much get whatever you wanted without having to pay for it, therefore.
Brian Kibler came up with the deck name.
The deck that would eventually [also] be called Napster could go and get whatever it wanted thanks to playing Vampiric Tutor (we’ll get into more on how that worked in a future section).
In the Spring of 2000 The Magic Dojo was pretty much a sinking ship. However they were still paying me (and a couple of other people) so we would still show up for work. We would do some work, but the onetime dreams of dotcom IPO millions were a thing of the past.
So while updating our resumes, one of the things we did was play lots and lots of Standard.
The Magic Invitational that year gave us a great set of gauntlet decks; and because I am forbidden from looking things up, I won’t… But I think our gauntlet was a Blue deck played by Zvi Mowshowitz some kind of Rebels deck played by maybe Chris Pikula or Darwin Kastle, and a StOmPy deck played by Patrick Chapin. There were also some combo decks (for example Sabre Bargain).
We played lots and lots of Standard and had quite a few good decks we could play.
At the time, BDM was innovating the tournament scene with the Grudge Match (which he resurrected just this past weekend), and we had weekly Standard at Neutral Ground, therefore. Awesome decks like Replenish were coming out at the same time, and the Grudge Match gave rise to ZevAtog the next year (for those of you who don’t know about ten year old decks these were the CawBlade and so on of the age).
I decided to play what Napster was in a Grudge Match qualifier and won it, beating Ben “Manascrew” Murray in the finals. US Regionals was soon after and I played it there, too.
In Regionals I qualified, losing a total of three games (two of them in the Top 4, and one in the Swiss). Both my losses were based on errors. In the Swiss one I had my opponent completely locked down with Agonizing Memories and no creatures in play; I made him put a land and Lin-Sivvi on top of his deck, and the turn he played her out, I ran Vampiric Tutor to get my Eradicate… Which wasn’t in the deck. I had no way to directly kill Lin-Sivvi with the amount of mana I had in play and he got a Protection from Black creature and killed me with it.
Obviously I won the next one.
Eventual Champion Sayan Bhattacharyya beat me in the Top 4 at a point when we didn’t yet have Stromgald Cabal. Stromgald Cabal (main deck) put our Replenish matchup to about 75% (it was about 45/55 in favor of Replenish at Regionals)… I messed up on an Unmask and Sayan beat me after 100 turns of do-nothing (hiding behind Circle of Protection: Black).
After qualifying at Regionals, I hooked up with Jon Finkel and the OMS brothers for US Naitonals testing, and we did exactly one session of Standard. I brought my Black deck and Jon and Chris Pikula played 3-4 different decks against me. We were a slight dog to Blue but beat every other deck by a margin of 70% or greater; as he does, Jon said it would be pointless to play any other decks and thus elected to prepare exclusively for Limited.
Jon won the Limited portion of Nationals that year, famously beating Mageta, the Lion with a “mere” Wandering Eye.
Pro Tip: If you give Jon Finkel perfect information, he will beat you, even if you have an unlimited number of Wrath of Gods.
Jon used Napster to win the 2000 US National Championship, including one of the most lopsided finals matches of all time (versus Chris Benafel). Benafel was thought to have the dominant matchup with Mono-Red land destruction, but Jon beat him 3-0, after beating him badly in the Swiss as well.
Here was a typical Finkel opening draw against the Mono-Red deck:
Things to keep in mind:
- Red had no Lightning Bolt at the time.
- Jon’s play on turn two was a Rishadan Port
This leads us reasonably-ish into…
Napster did lots of different things well, but the main awesome sauce was its twofold dominance as a Vampiric Tutor deck and a Yawgmoth’s Will deck. Unless the opponent was playing a Morphling deck, you could pretty much just play Vampiric Tutor and win the next turn. The game might not be over, but the opponent would be more-or-less incapable of winning.
For example, you could play Vampiric Tutor for Engineered Plague against Elves. Could they win? Maybe. But not before you killed them with Thrashing Wumpus and Skittering-something.
You could get Stromgald Cabal (tap to counter a White spell), and a Replenish deck would need eight mana before it could do anything productive. Zvi, Sayan, and Don Lim eventually figured out to play Ring of Gix to tap Stromgald Cabal, but up until that point, it was a pretty firm soft lock.
All the decks in the format would fold to some kind of Vampiric Tutor. Frank Hernandez (Jon’s Top 8 opponent at Nationals) complained that his StOmPy deck was up against “nine Perishes” in Game One… As above, Jon had more Perish action in his sideboard.
Yawgmoth’s Will is maybe the most powerful Magic card of all time… and they let us play four. No, I don’t know why more people didn’t play it. In Napster the routes to card advantage should be pretty obvious (smash guys, re-buy creature removal), but when you start doing stuff like using your Dust Bowl so you can re-buy a land, plus popping Vampiric Tutor from the graveyard to get your next Yawgmoth’s Will… The deck was easy to win with at 25% efficiency (again, Vampiric Tutor auto-beat almost every deck)… But there was significant room for mastery.
Subtly, Unmask (a Black pitch spell) was there to help you get rid of cards like Perish when off-matchup.
… And that’s about it.
I could write about Napster, um, forever, but I’ll leave it at that. Basically a deck with potentially fast threats (turn one 5/5), more card advantage than anyone else (Yawgmoth’s Will), and the ability to beat almost any deck with one spell.
I leave you with some sketches I did of the King of Atlantis yesterday:
“The Now-Famous Supermodel NipSlip Incident of 1995” (and associated shenanigans)