8Rack Creator Robert Leva Speaks Out – Interview

8rack thoughtseize

It’s not often Modern decks are definitively created by a single person, but that certainly seems to be the case with 8Rack, a discard deck created in 2013 that kills you with The Rack, among other things. Today we get to talk to the man behind the deck Robert Leva (aka MemoryLapse on MTGSalvation) and pick his brain about how he came up with this idea, how the deck has evolved, tournament success, and more.

[d title=”8Rack by Sean Ridgeley”]
4 Thoughtseize
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Wrench Mind
4 Raven’s Crime

4 Liliana of the Veil

3 Shrieking Affliction

4 The Rack
4 Ensnaring Bridge

3 Victim of Night
1 Slaughter Pact

2 Pack Rat

15 Swamp
1 Dakmor Salvage
4 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Mutavault

2 Pithing Needle
3 Surgical Extraction
2 Darkblast
1 Pack Rat
2 Bile Blight
1 Syphon Life
3 Nyxathid
1 Shrieking Affliction

Tell me about the origins of 8Rack. How did you come upon the idea and develop it?

8Rack has a rather odd origin. I was working a line of decks in the R/W control spectrum. The main idea of those decks was to use non-creature threats and board wipes to stall out until various planeswalkers finish the game.

The reason I was investigating these types of decks? Back in the beginning days of Modern, before the actual cutoff was declared, when folks were playing overextended, Goblins and red burny fast decks were everywhere. I hated these decks and designed the R/W Lockdown deck to combat them first and foremost, with everything else as an afterthought.

8rack pack rat

I abused the Leyline of Sanctity and Ensnaring Bridge lockdown heavily and saw what a broken card Bridge was on its own.

I then began experimenting in other colors — B/G specifically, where I used Garruk Wildspeaker and Liliana of the Veil while hiding behind a Bridge. This G/B deck had a hefty discard package. I noticed how amazing Lily worked with the Bridge and the discard setups. I then switched to mono black and 8Rack was born through logical fallouts of that.

Tell me about the uphill battle that came with creating a unique deck like this and sharing it with the community.

Man, when I first shared the idea, I was trolled and flamed harder than a Teemo player in solo queue. “It won’t work”, “Discard decks cannot function in Modern”, “You are a fucktard”, and on and on ad nauseam. Page after page, I defended the strategy, until finally Sheridan (Ed. note: ktkenshinx on the MTGS forums), actually gave the deck a fair shot and did well with it in an FNM type of thing. All of a sudden people stopped auto-trolling a new idea and things started moving forward.

How did the first list look? Do you still have it? How competitive was it? How did it evolve?

The first list was surprisingly not much different than my current stock list.

The main card I wasn’t running main board was Wrench Mind, though my original primer shows it in the optional cards list. Those early lists opted for Duress mainboard. Primitive Blue Tron and Gifts Tron lists were sparking up in the early Modern days (and affinity times a million) and Wrench was a bit less attractive. Once things settled out, it became an auto-include.

Dakmor Salvage was one of the very few cards that were suggested [early in development] that I had completely overlooked, Pack Rat being the other notable exception, though I like to think I redeemed myself on that card. Better late than never, I suppose.

What are some misconceptions people have about 8Rack, and what would you say to people who believe them?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions with 8Rack is that it needs to be “fixed” somehow. The reason for this is because the deck isn’t popular. People equate popularity with effectiveness and this is a huge trap. In 8Rack specifically, the strategy’s effectiveness is inversely proportional to its popularity. People want to “fix” 8Rack because there just must be something wrong with it if all the “pros” aren’t using it. Sorry, but this is just plain wrong.

Why has tournament success eluded the deck so far? What kind of cards do you want to make it more competitive? What area of the deck is the most lacking? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

That’s a lot of questions rolled into one, but I think I get what you are really asking: why hasn’t 8Rack won a big tourney? All I can do is voice my opinion on this, which I have formed from logical induction.

The main reason why 8Rack can’t seem to place is because only a fraction of a percent of people are playing it. You compare that to say Burn which is taking [up] 10-15% of all decks in any given tourney and the odds are just very low that you will see an 8Rack deck in the top 8. For all of the amazing depth of strategy and skill Magic has, there is just too much random chance engineered into the system to expect anything but mass numbers of similar decks to consistently perform. Furthermore, 8Rack cannot exist in a state where it is popular. It’s a very linear strategy that only works because it isn’t being prepared for. And who would bother preparing for a deck that only takes up a fraction of a percent of the meta? Anonymity is 8Rack’s greatest ally but also the reason for all its disrespect.

What is the future of 8Rack? Do you have any new card ideas you’re currently trying out?

8Rack’s future depends more on where the meta flows than it does on specific cards. I mean, sure occasionally we make a breakthrough like Pack Rat, but for the most part we are looking to exploit decks that are using creatures as a primary win condition. It also fares pretty well against combo decks. It’s weakness is to decks with a better late game plan such as RG Tron, or to a very fast strategy — anything in the middle we have a better than average shot at winning. If the meta shifts to far to either one of those extremes, 8Rack loses footing. The good news is that Wizards seems to be engineering the format toward critter-based midrange stuff.

8rack victim of night

What is your current primary list? Any notes to share on it?

My current primary list is the stock list suggested by you or something so close to it as to not be any kind of significant departure. I like more Rats than your average Joe, but I wouldn’t say that is the definitive way to play it.

Do you plan on bringing 8Rack to any tournaments in the future?

If I ever get a chance to play in a decent sized tourney in Tampa or Orlando, then sure, I will give it a go.

What tips do you have for new 8Rack players?

Try the stock many many times before adding your own flavor; you need to master the stock list. I see people ignoring the stock list and taking on these inconsistent variants and it just will not work for many, everyone, or anyone really.

Favourite ragequit stories? Tell me again about how 8Rack killed your local Modern meta.

It’s hard to come up with a single favorite rage quit. In paper Magic, I one time had a person refuse to shake hands with me after the game, and he refused my saying “good game”. According to him I didn’t beat him, he just didn’t draw what he needed in time.  He then proceeded to scream at his girlfriend when she said he was being a baby. Good times.

8rack shrieking affliction

(Laughs) Oh my god, I basically ruined Modern at my local game store (LGS) when I showed up with 8Rack. They were simply not prepared for it. I won four straight weeks in a row, then no one came. To this day there is no Modern event at that store.

What are your thoughts on splashing each of the different colours?

Regarding splashing, I would say that you should do so with great care. Only do it if you are completely confident it will give you some sort of meta advantage. Even in these cases, keep the splash to a very minimal upgrade of specific cards (i.e. removal spell gets upgraded to Lightning Bolt).

8 thoughts on “8Rack Creator Robert Leva Speaks Out – Interview

  1. To the writer- you’re missing the decklist. You can’t write an article like this without reference material, posted as “8-Rack, by Robert Leva”
    To the content- A little research would go a long way. This deck’s popularity is not limited to central Florida’s FNM scene (BTW, being proud of destroying a metagame is perverted and horrendous. People playing Magic is always better than people quitting.) In fact, this deck has at least three Grand Prix cash finishes. I say three because, well, I have three. If someone else has shared success, I’d love to hear about it! As to why it hasn’t placed in Top 8 of a major event? Even the smallest mistakes can punish an 8-rack player. I definitely knocked myself out of Top 8 in GP Richmond by playing for a draw when I had a win available (notably, a poor choice anyways since a draw is a loss in a 4100 person event!)
    The deck’s success is almost 100% due to metagame effectiveness. Combo and control decks are hard to lose against, while Burn is highly favorable, too. The only horrible matchup is Tron, who can play the game with 3 lands in play, who can re-draw from an empty hand with artifacts on the field, and who topdecks better than every other deck. Midrange decks that can also pilot with 3-4 lands in play, decks with access to Ancient Grudge or Wear//Tear, and decks with Lingering Souls are the hardest to beat.
    That said, playing the deck well is immensely important. Every decision, from deciding which card to Inquisition on turn one, to whether or not you can afford to play Lilly on three, and then which card to discard… every bit matters. You have to plan for this turn and 2 turns down the road. Cards like Pack Rat take a little less thought (and also win against those Green midrange matchups,) but overwhelmingly YOU NEED A PLAN.
    This probably comes easier to me because I’ve been playing this deck since 1999, back when Torment gave us Mesmeric Fiend. The Rack, The Rackling, Hymn to Tourach, Duress, Ensnaring Bridge… all the fun 14-year old me could possibly have. Truthfully, I didn’t even make this deck- Matt Myers did. Because of how much fun the deck was then, re-building the deck in Time Spiral block (the first year I played competitively) as Tarmo-Rack was an immediate and natural response. The deck had some success then, too, but was an aggressive archetype. As formats rotated or changed entirely (extended, lesser extended, Modern,) the deck had no gas left. That is until September 24, 2012 when Shrieking Affliction was spoiled. Rejoice! Modern! The Rack + Shrieking Affliction! I had moderate success in the New England regional scene (eight PTQ top8s, a few 1k wins, two 5k top8s) but no Pro Tour invites. This was going to be my ticket! By October, I had a list ready and I was mashing games against Noah Walker during the power outage (yes, there was a blizzard in October) and the gauntlet of established Modern decks. It was crushing every deck that didn’t play Deathrite Shaman. The problem was, the *only* deck was playing Deathrite Shaman. That deck also played Bloodbraid Elf… and Treetop Village… and Dark Confidant. Beating Jund was impossible (good players would put 3 lands in play and only cast those aforementioned cards to win.) Going to a tournament with 8-rack was asking to go 6-0 versus the field and 0-3 versus Jund; so on the shelf it went again. We took solace in #1; #2 finish at the 1k the next day.
    February 3, 2014: Deathrite Shaman banned on Modern! Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom unbanned in Modern. Instantaneous metamorphosis; the deck was good overnight. Not only did they remove our #1 problem card, but they also gave us a reliable win-condition (turns out they had already given us Pack Rat but people weren’t on board with that yet.) For the next 7 months, 8-rack was, in my opinion THE #1 DECK in Modern. No one was playing it, but Scapeshift and The Rock were the only <60% matchups. Tron was bad, but also absent. Everything else was OH SO GOOD! I cashed every event I played.
    June 4, 2014: My first son was born, and my playing Magic career (HA!) ended. It was hella fun, and I kept my Commander deck and it's infinite replay value, but I love him so much more.
    September 22, 2014: Spoilers for Khans of Tarkir featuring- Treasure Cruise. 8-Rack dies again.
    January 19, 2015: Treasure Cruise banned in Modern. Rejoice!
    March 18, 2015: Here we are. It's still a REALLY good deck and YOU should play it.

    Robert has cultivated an impressive MTGSalvation thread, and it's a great place for card catalogs and ideas. For feedback, you're best off testing games and practicing the deck. Play two decks face up, so you can see exactly which decisions matter and when they do. Watching videos only offers information that's solicited to you. Your local metagame will give you more information than someone else's experiences in their climate.

    8-Rack, by Roberto Mahoney
    4 The Rack
    4 Shrieking Affliction
    3 Ensnaring Bridge
    4 Liliana of the Veil
    3 Bitterblossom

    4 Funeral Charm
    4 Thoughtseize
    4 Inquisition of Kozilek
    3 Wrench Mind
    4 Raven's Crime

    1 Urborg, tomb of Yawgmoth
    4 Blinkmoth Nexus
    1 Mutavault
    17 Swamp
    Dakmor Salvage + Raven's Crime is cute, but actually RARELY does anything in a game that's not already locked. The tapped land is too rough. Funeral Charm is the glue of the deck and is a must play in any environment that has X/1 threats. Pack Rat belongs in the 75, and probably over Bitterblossom. My environment was Infect and Affinity heavy and they have a mightily tough time beating Blossom and Nexus. Multiple Urborgs has potential value at no cost since you are self-discarding with 8 cards in your list.
    Is a per-event thing.
    My Worcester list tech'd against Affinity and Birthing Pod by playing 4 Lightning Bolts and 2 Grim Lavamancers. A White splash gives you access to backbreaking sideboard cards and Lingering Souls. Green gives you Abrupt Decay and Tarmogoyf (to go aggro in bad Bridge metagames.) Blue gave you Treasure Cruise (Ew.) Red gives you Grim Lavamancer and sideboard cards, but don't eschew Wrench Mind for Blightning!
    To quote Paul Harvey, "That's the rest of the story."

        1. I ask him for his decklist in the interview and he says it’s pretty much just mine, without supplying his own. So, I used mine. Mine has always been based on his anyway — they’re pretty interchangeable, mostly just tiny tweaks between them based on personal preference and style (and math).

  2. First and foremost, crushing the Modern scene at an LGS is nothing to be proud of. In fact, it comes off as sociopathic. If that’s truly how this guy feels, that’s some reprehensible stuff right there. The goal of 8Rack shouldn’t be to induce “rage quits”, it should be to build an effective deck that’s fun to play.

    Those comments aside, 8Rack is a pretty interesting deck that I’ve piloted myself, often successfully. I believe it’s good enough to make a bit of noise in the tourney scene, but there are several obstacles to overcome or at least keep in mind:

    1. Getting blitzed. While the CMCs for the cards 8Rack prefers are low, this is still a control deck at heart, which means that when you play aggro, you need to stabilize. Now, stripping your opponent of 1-2 early-game cards might work well against something like Burn, Infect, or Bogles, but it’s not so great against Merfolk or Zoo, and cards like Drown in Sorrow or Damnation might show up when the damage is already done. Ensnaring Bridge and Lili help, but if one of those doesn’t make its way onto the board T3, chances are you’re in big trouble.

    2. Discard hate/graveyard-based strategies. There’s a significant subset of decks out there that shrug and say “OK” when forced to discard, because you’re feeding their casting of Tasigur/Become Immense/Gurmag Angler, or their cards have (or can obtain) flashback. Worse yet, players at the helm of decks using Loxodon Smiter, Wilt-Leaf Liege, and Obstinate Baloth will actually get a big body out of your forcing them to dscard (which 8Rack is poorly suited to handle), or you might be getting a Dredge deck going.

    3. Artifacts and enchantments. Mono-black can’t deal with them once they hit the table. That’s a problem, especially if they contribute to board state or shut down yours (Detention Sphere springs to mind as something an 8Rack deck never wants to see).

    4. Artifact and enchantment hate. Conversely, 8Rack relies on artifacts and enchantments to win (barring a well-placed Pack Rat), which present a clear avenue of attack for opponents. If they can roll their artifact/enchantment hate into a creature shell (Qasali Pridemage, for example), this gets extra tough.

    To resolve all of these issues, I actually propose a splash – red offers artifact hate and quicker sweepers, white and green offer both artifact and enchantment hate along with ways to safeguard your stuff (white also offers graveyard hate, whereas green combines with black to give you top-flight removal options), whereas blue gives you the gift of enhanced consistency (via one of the two versions of Tezzeret fetching your artifacts) as well as counters, card draw, and bounce to help you stabilize. Blue is my favorite of these, but I’m open to suggestions.

    1. -1 Thoughtseize -2 Rat -4 Bridge +1 Affliction +2 Blight +3 Nyxathid +1 Syphon Life. Try it yourself and you’ll see it’s an extremely formidable plan. Also, because they dump their hand, sometimes we just race them with Racks. Sheridan has run hard tests and found we have a ~65% win rate with a very similar list and sideboard plan (he may have an article on this soon).

  3. Thanks for the shout-out Roberto. This is the most legit I will ever be at M:TG. 😛

    Ahh my old Rack deck was da bomb back in the day, that was fun. For those curious, my list (in Masques / Invasion era Legacy) was something like:

    Ravenous rats 4
    hypnotic specter 4
    rackling 4

    dark ritual 4
    funeral charm 4
    duress 4
    cursed scroll 3
    the rack 4
    diabolic edict 4
    hymn to tourach 4

    mishra’s factory 4
    urborg 1
    swamp 16

    It smashed everything except monored, and I had Spinning Darkness and some other stuff to deal with that. Everything else was pretty much helpless against this deck at the time. Good to see one of us has gone on to make something of themselves in M:TG (hint, it wasn’t me.)

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