In Magic: the Gathering, "Silver Bullets" refer to one-of cards included in the main deck which are able to wreck particular decks or playing styles. In order to make these bullets available at the right moment, such a deck will also feature a strong tutoring or searching element, be it a "bullets and tutors" approach or an engine such as survival of the fittest.
Such an approach flies in the face of conventional magic deck design. Typically, you include 4 copies (the limit for cards other than basic lands in all sanctioned tournament formats) of your best cards, meaning that you can consistently expect to see at least one copy turn up during a match. Any narrow cards ("hosers") that are only effective against specific decks or colours are left in the 15 card sideboard, and then substituted in for the second and third games of the match once you have an idea of what you're facing.
Why then use silver bullets? If a given decktype can be shutdown by a certain card, then it might seem sensible to run one copy of that card for random "I win" moments against that deck - for instance, running a single Worship in the maindeck of a white weenie deck, simply for its ability to shut mono-red out of the game.
However, the silver bullet approach tries to reduce this element of chance. By including enough tutors, the deck can play as though it had four (or even more) copies when it in fact only has the one. In the Worship example above, the deck could be running 4 Academy Rectors, which, on death, allow an enchantment to be fetched from the library and put into play. Thus, although there is only a single copy of the card in the deck, there are in fact 5 ways to get it - draw any of the 4 rectors, or draw the worship itself.
This strategy therefore allows for greater flexibilty without sacrificing too much consistency. There are a number of limitations which should, however, be noted:
- The bullet must be potent enough as a one-shot effect. This is because although the tutors act as virtual copies of the card, in that they increase the chances of gaining access to it, they are not themselves the card. What this means is that subsequent tutors drawn do not add to the effect, and if the original card is dealt with there are no replacement copies in the deck, only tutors. In the case of Worship, this might not be a problem - once one is on the table, it should prevent the mono-red deck from winning. If however you tutor for a creature removal spell, then later a better target appears, you cannot draw that bullet again. Thus, suitable bullets must be able to win or seriously hinder their victory condition in a single stroke and not be needed in multiples.
- Second, it goes without saying that there must be enough good tutors in the format to make this approach viable. If the tutors are restricted or banned (as tends to be the case with deeper card pools such as type 1), then there may not be enough to make up for the inconsistency of only having one copy of a given bullet.
- As an extension to this, the tutors must be fast enough to be workable. This in part will be determined by the format and in particular by the deck the bullet works against. For instance, Moat basically ends the game for many green-based creature decks. However, such decks can be lethally fast - if you tutor for the Moat on turn 4, ready to cast 5, then this is only of use if you survive to turn 5. If you cannot, then it would have been better to draw and cast the Moat on turn 4 - that is, you need the real consistency of having 4 copies if the virtual copies represented by tutors are too slow against the target deck.
- Finally, it should be recognised that the more bullets the deck runs, the greater the potential to draw dead cards: that is, a card of no value in the matchup. Thus the deck must have an outlet for these cards (usually discarding them for a payment) or you must be confident that the bullets are of value against the bulk of the metagame. Decks based around Survival of the Fittest have no dead creature cards, as they can simply be turned into a different, more useful card. Similarly, creature bullets at the very least can be used as a mediocre attacker or as a chump blocker. On the other hand, specialist enchantments tend to be all or nothing affairs - although Worship shuts down mono-red, it has zero value against a deck that mills for the win.
Given these restrictions, it is appropriate to give an example of a successful deck in this style. "Flores Black" became known as Napster for its ability to give you exactly what you want, and was piloted to victory at the US Nationals in 2000 by Jon Finkel.
Flores Black Control
2 Phyrexian Negator
3 Skittering Skirge
1 Thrashing Wumpus
2 Skittering Horror
1 Stromgald Cabal
4 Dark Ritual
1 Engineered Plague
4 Vampiric Tutor
4 Vicious Hunger
4 Yawgmoth's Will
4 Rishadan Port
2 Dust Bowl
2 Spawning Pool
2 Engineered Plague
2 Phyrexian Negator
1 Phyrexian Processor
1 Powder Keg
2 Rapid Decay
1 Stromgald Cabal
1 Thran Lens
As can be seen the bullets available are certainly potent enough to ruin the chances of specific decks: perish taking apart green whilst eradicate damages decks revolving around a single creature (such as Academy Rector) beyond repair; whilst the assorted discard effects allow key spells to be forced through against control and the Cabal shuts down combo decks with white cards such as replenish - in other words, there are answers for every aspect of the field, then impressive creatures to go about the job of winning afterwards.
The speed of access to these cards is also about as fast as it can get - the tutor of choice, vampiric tutor, only costs a single mana (the loss of 2 life is acceptable in pursuit of speed) and with dark ritual to power it, other cards can be played that turn or expensive tutored-for cards can be cast the next turn.
The real advantage that this deck has though are the (now restricted, banned or out of print for all formats) 4 copies of yawgmoth's will. This negates the previously highlighted problem of only really having a single copy: if a second eradicate is desired, the tutor can be used to fetch yawgmoth's will which then allows it to be recast, and the tutor can also be recast for another spell of choice! Alternatively, if the card hasn't yet been used, if there are tutors in the graveyard then drawing a will is as useful as drawing the tutor or needed card in the late game. Any dead cards drawn could be used for unmask's alternative casting cost.
Coupled with further options from the sideboard, this combination of fast mana, tutors, silver bullets, and the ability to recast the lot created a deck with more consistency than its rivals running 4 copies of their key cards but little or no search elements.
Thus the merits of the silver bullet can be seen. At the extreme are toolbox designs featuring nothing but bullets and tutors, with a way to use the redundant cards, ideally turning them into the appropriate bullet. Of course, in some formats (essentially those that lack efficient tutors or bullets with enough impact to make up for the cards and time used to find them) a traditional four of the best, none of the rest approach is optimal. The trick is to figure out which is the more devastating in a given environment- and if it's the bullets and tutors, then the suprise element also adds to its potency.