Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Turbo Xerox Rule

Notice anything odd about this deck?

Delver Blue by newplan. 4-0 Daily Event 2925834

4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
4 Spellstutter Sprite
2 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
2 Curse of Chains
4 Daze
2 Echoing Truth
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Gush
2 Intervene
4 Preordain
4 Think Twice
14 Island

Only 14 lands. Fourteen!? I've never seen a land count that low. A standard midrange deck should run 24 lands. Control decks need a few more and aggro decks can use less. But the minimum I've seen is 17, and that's for very aggressive Goblin and Infect decks. At first I thought the list had a typo. Then I thought maybe that deck was just super inconsistent. Then SpikeBoyM over at PDCMagic, in a roundabout way, taught me a little history lesson. He said, "I encourage you to read everything out there about Turbo-Xerox".

I dug up what I could about this mysterious "Turbo Xerox".

Our first reference is an email from 1997:

Subject: Re: A Chance With Common Cards?
From: Alan Comer
Date: 1997/06/27

Even without weatherlight, it is possible. The deck I took 2nd place in the So. Cal Regionals had no rares. It was more by coincidence than by design. Around here, it has been dubbed the Turbo Xerox deck, as everybody copied it due to the lack of rares.

4 x Force of Will
3 x Dissipate
4 x Counterspell
4 x Powersink
4 x Memory Lapse
4 x Foreshadow
4 x Portent
4 x Impulse
4 x Suq-ata Firewalker
4 x Waterspout Djinn
4 x Man-o-War
1 x Dream Tides
17 x Islands

The important thing to remember with this deck is that early on, you MUST use the library manipulation to get to your land. Later, you can use it to get to cool spells. Things like: I portent your library. I foreshadow away your good spell...

The library manipulation he's referring to are the cheap cantrips Portent, Impulse, and Foreshadow.

Mike Flores wrote about this deck in 2005:
The principle of the original Xerox deck is that for every four 1-2 mana cantrips, you can remove two lands. Therefore, even though Alan played only 17 actual Islands, the Foreshadows, Impulses, and Portents raised his effective count considerably. In the early game, Alan would have to use his cantrips to find land, but in the late game, he could use them to always have a counter in hand."
I'll call this the Turbo Xerox Rule.
The Turbo Xerox Rule
For every four 1-2 mana cantrips, you can remove two lands.

Looking back over newplan's deck we see:

One mana cantrips:
2 Brainstorm
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Preordain

Two mana cantrips:
4 Cloud of Faeries
2 Gush
4 Think Twice

Ten one mana cantrips and ten two mana cantrips.
20 cheap cantrips / 4 = 5 sets of cheap cantrips.
5 sets * 2 lands = 10 lands saved.
24 lands -10 lands = 14 lands.

Like I said, I've never seen that before, but it makes sense. I guess most Storm builds operate on the same principle.

I wonder what Alan Comer would think about pushing the rule to that far of an extreme. To me the concept makes sense in general but I have to feel it starts to break down at some point. This is just conjecture, however. Another very important point is the Delver deck is fully operation on two lands. You can't put five drops in a 14 land deck no matter how many cheap cantrips you have.

Another thing to watch out for: You need to have plenty of one mana cantrips. If you only have two mana cantrips then you run the risk of never getting to two lands. This deck has the nice even split though.

This is definitely an expert level deck-building trick, but it's good to understand. I don't see myself building any 14 land decks in the immediate future, but I've often struggled with finding four slots for a set of Ponders. Armed with the knowledge of the Turbo Xerox Rule I can cut two lands making a full set of Ponders only cost two slots! Early you dig for land and late you dig for business spells. Very cool.

Patrick Chapin provides some interesting additional insight into Turbo Xerox in this article.


  1. For months I played a Kuldotha deck with 16 lands(eventually added 2 mox opals). Just red, no cantrips, no nothing. I even added a 4-drop at one point, and all was good. I even got to 10 mana during a particularly nasty flood, which just shouldn't happen.

  2. Yeah 16 lands with 2 mox opals (mana sources most of the time I presume) and no cantrips sounds about like the bare minimum, but it can work as long as you have a ton of one and two drops.

  3. A normal deck for me runs on twenty lands, but I once ran a goblin deck on twelve mountains. Every card but one cost a single mana, the last one was a two drop. It wasn't a great deck, but I never got mana screwed with it.

    In most of my decks I won't run a card that cost more than four mana unless I know it will win me the game. I just like to keep the mana curve down so that I have room to include more spells that actually do something.

  4. 10 lands Stompy