Sometimes, when you’re twenty and lonely and dubiously-socialized, you develop a question that you ask people to break the ice. This question can take many forms. Some popular versions include, “Which three people, living or dead, would you want to have dinner with?” or my old favorite, “If you could ride any animal to work, what would it be?” In its purest sense, though, it all comes down to the old BBC program Desert Island Discs: if you had to reduce your consumption to one single point, what would it be?

What if we framed this question in terms of Magic? If you knew you’d only be able to play one Magic deck for the rest of your life or the rest of your conceivable life, what would it be?

Your actual choice isn’t why the question is interesting, because the criterion by which you make the choice is everything. Is it the first deck you built yourself? The first deck you took to a top 8 finish? Your favorite tribe? Is it the deck you most enjoy playing, or the deck that’s worth the most on the secondary market? I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that you’re stuck on an island with someone whose company you enjoy and their preferred deck of choice—goldfishing gets old quickly.

You can learn a lot about people by what they choose: some people would default to a 4×4 White Weenie or Death and Taxes build—these people are stolid, predictable, but trustworthy. Some people might choose an Eight Rack build; these folks are sadists, but equitable sadists. Some people might choose Eggs or Krark-Clan Ironworks, which is Magic’s equivalent of flunking the psychopath test. If money’s no object, some people would love to play one of Legacy’s staples, Ad Nauseam Tendrils, which has the benefit of basically taking a couple decade’s worth of practice to master. That’s the crux of this: it’s not your favorite deck, but the deck that, to you, embodies Magic; the deck you’d be happy shuffling up today and thirty years in the future.

Personally, as someone who started circa 1998 and later became fascinated by the early tournament scene, my first thought was Jakub Slemr’s 1999 Worlds deck. It’s a hybrid of a control deck and an aggressive disruption aggro deck, with a Hatred combo backup in the sideboard. It also runs Yawgmoth’s Will—to buy back Ravenous Rats, presumably. The rest of the deck is early Black’s greatest hits, plus a full set of Wasteland and Cursed Scroll. It sums up an era of Magic for me, even if it didn’t take down Worlds; and it plays fair cards unfairly, which is essentially what I’m always seeking to do in my games. It’s heavy on interactivity, and requires you to read the board anew each turn.

The only issue is that the deck only functions under pre-M10 rules. Believe it or not, the flightless Air Elemental that is Phyrexian Plaguelord was a powerhouse—with damage on the stack, it let chump blocks turn into trades or even potential two-for-ones. In a pinch, the Plaguelord himself could block a 4/4, lock in a trade, and take out another 4/4. Bottle Gnomes, Ticking Gnomes, and Corpse Dance also used to be able to pull similar tricks, until the summer of 2009. Without that rule, the deck doesn’t tick as well. So anything that operated from that principle—including Onslaught-era Beasts, Mogg Fanatic-heavy Sligh decks, and the original Rock—is out of contention.

I’d also eliminate combo decks—while they’re fun initially, they lose a fair amount of their savor after a few hundred matches. Some people would push for Splinter Twin, which can play a more traditional control game or combo off; or for a Forsytheian build of Project Melira, which is based around an infinite life combo, but also runs interaction and some of the most fun cards from that era.

The original Recurring Nightmare/Survival of the Fittest deck is one of my favorite archetype—but like Slemr’s deck, the decklist is comically quaint in this day and age. When your toolbox is limited to Uktabi Orangutan and you’re discarding real creatures instead of Bloodghasts and Vengevines, you’re not playing the same game as your theoretical opponent. But my instincts are good there.

If I were limited to one deck and one deck only for the reminder of my days—a deck I don’t mind getting sunbleached and sandscuffed—it would be Reanimator. I’ve been playing Reanimator decks for almost two decades, and I still haven’t gotten tired of the three of a turn two game-closer, even as the targets have changed from Spirit of the Night to Griselbrand to Ilharg, the Raze-Boar.

Shallow Grave, Goryo’s Vengeance, Exhume—these are the cards that I could never get tired of casting, especially in the Legacy builds that back up the pseudo-combo with counters and discard. Faithless Looting, Force of Will, Thoughtseize, Careful Study, and a half-dozen 8-drops: this is the way I want to play the game.

Or perhaps, faced with the absurdity of life, we’d want to default to something much sillier. I’m not saying it’s the perfect desert island deck, but there is something I’ve been toying with and no. With the release of Ikoria in paper, it’s becoming one of my favorite Standard decks (assuming nothing happens to Lurrus anytime soon).

Kroxdos Sacrifice (Lurrus)

Creatures (22)
Stonecoil Serpent
Cauldron Familiar
Footlight Fiend
Order of Midnight
Dreadhorde Butcher
Fiend Artisan
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger

Spells (15)
Witch's Oven
Dreadhorde Invasion
Angrath's Rampage
Call of the Death-Dweller
Lands (23)
Fabled Passage
Blood Crypt
Savai Triome

Sideboard (1)
Lurrus of the Dream-Den

It’s the Standard Rakdos sacrifice deck, but built around Lurrus and Fiend Artisan. Sacrificing a Zombie Army token to toss out Kroxa feels great, as does casting Kroxa every turn with Lurrus in play. Sideboard the other fourteen slots as you see fit.

The desert island archetypal speaks to something in us that desires both individuality and peril, a part of us that’s certainly getting satiated this year. It shows up from Robinson Crusoe to Swiss Army Man and in The New Yorker cartoon style guide and the Far Side. We’re drowning in experiences and stimuli, and the simplicity of having your life reduced to a square mile of sand with a single palm tree and a handful of cheap gags is alluring. It’s in that simplicity that we find answers.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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