I have written in the past of my love for The Rack and discard spells and all things black because…well, because this is a column exclusively about black cards. As a former 8 Rack player in Modern, I will take every opportunity to play my favorite cards. So when I fell into Premodern a month and half ago (a format that plays only cards between Fourth Edition and Scourge), I was strongly drawn to Pit Rack.

I tried. I did. Really. I tried to play some other decks. A BW Deadguy Ale-type deck. I even made a RW Rifter deck. And I have a White Weenie deck I’m tinkering with. I’m trying, folks. Sort of.

Don’t worry. This isn’t a deck tech column. It’s an ode to a deck; a love letter to a pile of cards that does what it says on the tin. And that tin is an empty void that wants to pull, suck, and drag you into it. No more, no less. There are fewer synergies in black that I love more than stacking the upkeep triggers of Bottomless Pit into The Rack. Bottomless Pit is one of those cards that opposing players hate. For good reason. Kind of in the same way that I leak urine when Stasis enters the battlefield. Outside of a dying Mindslicer, it’s a constant disruption. (There actually is a great list out there that includes Mindslicer, though.) And unless I Dark Ritual’d into Pit on turn one, I likely may already have The Rack out. Which means opposition’s potential disenchant effects become a game of What Hurts More?

As of now, Pit Rack isn’t exactly a top deck in the Premodern metagame. According to MTGDecks, it’s a Tier 2 deck. And by the lights of TC Decks, it’s the 22nd most played archetype in the format. It’s not exactly efficient (aside from a raft of one mana spells). It doesn’t do beatdowns–though it can, if need be (e.g. Mishra’s Factory). Pit Rack is a mouth that wants to eat cards. As much as blue players love drawing cards, I love watching a card vanish into the pit.

I’ve been learning to be patient and mulligan down until I have something like a Swamp, a Dark Ritual, and a Bottomless Pit, if possible. Five good cards can get the job done. However, I’m a nervous mulliganer. My abilities are weak when it comes to trusting the variances of the 60 cards. I can stare at a hand of 4 to 5 Swamps and The Rack and a Duress and think, “I can make it work. I have the power to see this through.” Yet, no one would keep that. The odds on hitting a land on my draw are less than hitting a needed spell, but still. The opening hand of any deck is a blueprint. A prophecy. A talisman. That hand needs the pit.

Bottomless Pit is also a hindrance. If I dump my hand early, which often happens, I’m top-decking. And that can end up a bummer. Black’s top-decks don’t shine the way red or blue’s do.

The engine is the Pit + Rack. Let it do its thing. Disrupt the hand with Cabal Therapy and Duress[/mtg_card] and Funeral Charm, etc. Chip damage with Mishra’s Factory or Skittering Skirge or Plague Spitter. The deck, when it functions smoothly, reminds of a demonic Rube Goldberg machine. Maybe like a demented piece of Mishra’s own machinic making. The art on the Fifth Edition of Ankh of Mishra puts me in mind of what it could be visually.

I came into Premodern after the Land Tax ban, so I’ve played in a different meta. One where discard can thrive a bit more. I’ve played folks over webcam and gotten in a fair number of reps. The deck breaks even. But I’ve committed myself to getting to know the Pit Rack archetype so well that I can understand the various lines of play from any starting hand. This shouldn’t be impossible. Look at the recent European Premodern Champs in Darmstadt, Germany. The winner of the whole thing was Pablo Suárez Fernández on Elves. From what I heard, Pablo plays Elves all the time. And has done so for years. Imagine that. To get to know a deck inside and out so well. The deck becomes a companion. A partner.

Which leads me to ask: Does the player make the deck or does the deck make the player? Or is that an unfair question altogether?

Of course, in the end, I can’t care too much about such a paradox. I’m doomed to love what’s second or third tier. Not because I don’t want to win. I do want to. But because I want to win with what’s unexpected. It’s not noble. And it’s not strategic. I suppose it’s the constant underdog in me that wants to make the cards work where they shouldn’t. Or can’t. That’s a better paradox to ponder.

Kyle Winkler (he/him) is a teacher and fiction writer. While he was pre-teen when Magic: The Gathering was released, he didn’t start playing until recently. He’s the author of the cosmic horror novella (The Nothing That Is), a collection of short stories (OH PAIN), and a novel (Boris Says the Words). His favorite card is a toss up between Crypt Rats and Oubliette.

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