Sometimes, there’s a card… I won’t say a playable, ’cause, what’s a playable? Sometimes, there’s a card… well. It’s the card for its time and place.

Portland, Oregon in 2002 was not a great place to prepare for a Pro Tour. At 23 years of age, I had qualified for my second PT and was determined to do better than my first. 2-4 drop was a low bar to leap, but it would be embarrassing not to. My team for the tournament was, in alphabetical order:

Gabe Carleton-Barnes: Age 23, veteran of Pro Tour New Orleans 2001, 1998 nationals competitor (best known as that kid who was asleep in front of the standings and didn’t wake up for his round 11 match), and one-time GP Top 10 on tiebreaks.

Eric Franz: Age 17, fresh of a US Nationals Team appearance, helping US to a second place finish. Won some scholarship money on the JSS.

That was it. The format was Extended, and we were in trouble. The format had a lot of known, powerful decks like Reanimator, The Rock, Oath of Druids, and Aluren. Psychatog had just come off a dominant year in Standard, and everyone knew that Dr. Teeth would be ready to make an impact in Extended, though no stock list had been established. The new set on the block was Onslaught, bringing anti-Psychatog Goblin Piledriver to an already dangerous Goblin Lackey-based Sligh deck.

Eric and I tested as much as we could, but we were out of our element. We really liked our Psychatog deck, but we couldn’t make it beat Sligh with Piledriver, and it wasn’t overwhelming against the rest of the format.

Fortunately, Eric was a charming, free spirited young man who had made a lot of connections during his Nationals and Worlds runs. We ended up getting two decklists from a young Brian Kibler: Sligh and Psychatog. His lists were better than ours, and Eric and I loved the Psychatog list… except that it still couldn’t beat the Sligh deck! Kibler had admitted that this was an issue and was starting three copies of Engineered Plague specifically for that matchup.

This was a cute plan, but Eric and I had already tried it and found that it wasn’t good enough: Plague came out too slowly, didn’t kill the non-Goblin creatures, and it actually left Goblin Piledrivers sitting on the table to stop your Psychatog from ending the game, or to attack in pairs!

This Psychatog deck, though… it was a thing of beauty. Let me start by showing you how good it was at feeding cards to Dr. Teeth:

2002 Tog: Draw Spells

Accumulated Knowledge
Fact or Fiction

Just look at that! 12 spells! Fully 20% of the deck was just drawing more cards. This deck could also kill an opponent on turn five with Counterspell backup. 12 draw spells, turn-5 kills. You could to play all sorts of situational blow-outs like Force Spike and Engineered Plague in part because the Good Dr. Teeth was ready to make a situation for every card: nom, nom, nom! We couldn’t NOT play this deck!

The Sligh matchup gnawed at us, though, because we had the same problem with any deck that just spilled little creatures on the table. Engineered Plague wasn’t enough against the Goblin-rich Sligh deck: it certainly didn’t help against non-tribal White Weenie and the like.

Our thinking about the situation had become very uptight. What we wanted was a black Wrath of God, but that was still a decade away. Perhaps a Pestilence? One of my favorite Odyssey-block limited cards was a much-maligned, two-mana Pestilence that had no business being played in constructed, much less a big format like Extended. The card was Sickening Dreams, and… it really tied the room together.

For the low, low rate of two mana and some extraneous cards, we had our Wrath of God. Here’s the list I played on the Pro Tour:

2002 Extended Sickening Tog

Creatures (5)

Spells (31)
Accumulated Knowledge
Diabolic Edict
Fact or Fiction
Force Spike
Mana Leak
Rushing River
Sickening Dreams
Lands (24)
13 Island
Polluted Delta
Underground River

Sideboard (15)
Deep Analysis
Diabolic Edict
Engineered Plague

Now, make no mistake: Sickening Dreams is not an Extended-quality card. It is B-A-D bad. The card does nothing by itself. It’s at its best when repelling an aggressive creature blitz, but it does damage to you! The whole point of a Wrath of God is to catch up while getting card advantage so you can pull ahead… and this card requires you discard two additional cards just to kill a Goblin Piledriver. BAD.

The thing is… Sickening Dreams was perfect for this deck. There are a lot of ins and outs, here, so stick with me.

Remember all that card advantage we talked about? The reason more decks don’t play 20% card-draw spells is because card draw spells don’t impact the game directly. Psychatog’s power was in converting all those extra cards into impact immediately. Sickening Dreams could do the same thing, and in the matches where you most needed it! The downside of Sickening Dreams was discarding cards, but this is a deck built to discard cards. The damage was even a potential plus, as it facilitated lethal Psychatog attacks: all the more likely when the board is clear of small creatures. What’s more: Sickening Dreams could kill creatures of many different sizes, but you could almost always save your Psychatog from it by exiling the very cards you were discarding in response!

I could go on, but ultimately Eric and I tested this bad card and found out that it worked. This deck needed a card to do a job, and Sickening Dreams did that job. The deck’s strengths propped up all of the card’s weaknesses.

Of course, the best part was the look on people’s faces. From an unbeatable board of little beaters to… well, losing to a corner-case draft card. Eric and I spent the whole tournament trading Sickening Dreams stories.

Both of us made our first Pro Tour Day 2s. For a moment, I was in serious top 8 contention. To this day, I’ve never topped my finish at that PT: 32nd. Just enough to qualify me for PT Chicago 2003.

Sickening Dreams is a bad card, but sometimes your deck needs a particular card, even if it’s bad. On Sunday, my friend Seamus Campbell almost top-8ed the Modo PTQ with a Feast of the Fallen in his deck. Bad card? Yes! For his deck, though, it played an important role.

Sometimes there’s a card, and even if it’s a bad card – and Sickening Dreams was most certainly that: quite certainly the worst card in our deck, placing it high in the running for worst in the tournament… sometimes there’s a card… sometimes… there’s a card. Well. I done lost my train of thought.

Finding the right bad card is really, really exciting. But don’t let it stop you from playing Damnation.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.