Dan Paskins’s Worst Nightmare

Posted in Feature on March 24, 2005

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

First up, this week's Top 8 trends:

Goblins *111111111111
The Rock *11111111
Psychatog ***1111
Red Deck Wins *111111
Temporary Solution 11111
Reanimator 1111
Deep Dog 1111
Mind's Desire 111
UR Rogue *1
NO Stick *1
Sneak Attack 1
Affinity 1
Kiki-Jiki/Tradewind 1
Opposition 1
Ponza 1
Cephalid Brunch 1
Aluren 1

Gone are the days of Red Deck Wins dominating the Swiss, with Goblins once again leading all Top 8s in terms of numbers if not qualifications. So even if it isn't the burn/utility powerhouse that took second place at the Pro Tour, a Red Deck is still the most popular opponent. What do you think Dan Paskins, author of "Why Red is Simply the Best Color" would make of this Top 8?

Michael Clair / Psychatog

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Creature (3)
3 Psychatog
Sorcery (1)
1 Deep Analysis
Enchantment (4)
4 Engineered Plague
60 Cards

Michael Peditto / Goblins

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Michael Ioli / Goblins

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Dan Bergey / Goblins

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Charles Glass / Goblins

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Jimmy Rogers / Red Deck Wins

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Mario Melillo / Sneak Attack

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Patrick Sullivan / Red Deck Wins

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That's right. SEVEN Red Decks: Four Goblins, a Fujita Sneak Attack (even if it looks and smells like some sort of dirtbag B/U deck), and two Red Deck Wins (including TOGIT standout and Goblin Cadets advocate Pat Sullivan). SURELY a Red Deck would win that PTQ, right?


Fresh off his first Pro Tour one week earlier, New York State Champion Michael Clair accurately predicted a field of all Goblins opponents. This version of Psychatog was co-designed with Scott McCord and Tim McKenna. Rumor has it that in testing, Clair started with three main-deck Engineered Plagues, but that, time and again, McKenna handed him Dr. Teeth's head on a platter with his Warchiefs, Ringleaders, and Piledrivers deck: Enter that fourth Engineered Plague.

With Brainstorm and Accumulated Knowledge, it is no problem for this deck to find ("mise") the first Engineered Plague by turn three, fair and square. At that point, Clair would use Intuition to get one of the remaining three Engineered Plagues so that he could "combo his opponent out" with a double Plague draw. Although most Goblins decks can overcome a single Engineered Plague, almost none can beat two Plagues in play (their biggest creatures tend to be toughness 2), and even the decks siding in Naturalize present a card that, unlike their Aether Vial-driven Gobin threats themselves, gives the Psychatog player something to counter.

Trends in 'Tog

Japanese master Itaru Ishida's Ink-Eye Special is reminiscent of Taylor Putnam's Gush-a-Tog, which the latter used for a second place finish at the recent Grand Prix Seattle.

Taylor Putnam / Gush-a-Tog

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Creature (4)
4 Psychatog
Artifact (4)
4 Sapphire Medallion
Land (23)
3 Swamp 4 Polluted Delta 16 Island
60 Cards

The deck lists conform pretty closely... until you see that the Ink-Eye Special cuts Sapphire Medallion, one of the key components of Putnam's deck, for better actual early game defense, while focusing even more effort on the Gush aspect. Force Spikes and an early game Gush compromise allows Ishida to cheat even further on land (down to 22!), where earlier (especially Standard) versions of Psychatog played 24 or more lands.

The Gush-mana trick is an old one that has been used since Masques Block. Gush costs no mana, and in a queer, having-less-land-in-play-than-at-the-beginning-of-the-turn way, sort of makes free land drops. What you do, say on turn three or later, after you've missed a drop, is to float and Gush. You then play (or re-play) a land and make a play. Back in the Rising Waters days, the Gush trick actually let you untap more lands, but these days, the Ink-Eye Special can follow up with a black for Engineered Plague or Dr. Teeth himself, creating action without compromising drops (again, sort of).

An even more unusual take on Dr. Teeth is Jerret Rocha's winner from Chicago.

Jerret Rocha / Psychatog

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Reminiscent of Jeff Cunningham's deck from last year (or Team TOGIT's at PT Columbus), Rocha's deck is a three color Psychatog touching red for Fire/Ice and Isochron Scepter. Fire/Ice on Isochron Scepter gives Rocha a long game card drawing engine that is also powerful creature defense that works both on the tiny threats of Red Deck Wins or Goblins (Fire) with equal vigor as the giant Legends of Reanimator (Ice).

Isochron Scepter + Fire/Ice does a lot of things well. It is disruption that draws cards. It can tap blockers for a big Psychatog swing or draw cards to set up land drops or make Psychatog lethal. In some games, it helps to escape an opposing Cranial Extraction, giving this control deck a way to win when Dr. Teeth is missing.

Rogue Deck Wins

Not counting the "extra" PTQs we get in the Northeast (on account of Philadelphia being local), there is only one more week of mainstream PTQs, with only 3-4 more locations listed. What do you think the chances are that the guy sitting across from you in Vancouver or Atlanta will be packing this:

Marshall Arthurs / Fish

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I honestly don't know how this deck works, or what it does. In fact, it seems pretty low powered to me. Sure, it can get a one drop advantage with Grim Lavamancer, Mogg Fanatic, or Aether Vial and then play the Standstill... but is that enough in today's competitive Extended? I speculate that the Swords let its small creatures dance past the surging Psychatog and Goblin opponents... but the counters don't seem very consistent to me against a an opposing deck with an actual long game. Grim Lavamancer may not be "Shadowmage Infiltrator" or "Meddling Mage" but it fulfills the Voidmage Prodigy's lifelong dream -- before now left unfulfilled -- to sacrifice other wizards to the whim of Kai Budde.

As I said before, I don't know how this deck works... which is probably one of its great strengths. Can you imagine sitting down across from Marshall Arthurs? On his first turn play, you'd put him on Red Deck Wins or Goblins and get your game plan ready, when all of a sudden, he's all "Island, Cloud of Faeries, Standstill, go!" and you're all "Huh? Wait a minute!?!" The power of rogue decks is often in their ability to make their opponents play badly due to their unpredictability, their inability to be categorized in existing boxes, and this deck seems to have that cache. While it might not be geared against legitimate long games, the current Extended is largely defined by short term gains in beatdown or combo decks, and the light counters of this U/R deck, reminiscent of Vintage's so-called "Fish," are effective there.

What I do know is that this deck ran the rounds in a 176 player PES PTQ... and faced itself in the finals! Arthurs went Hatchling-to-Hatchling with Mark Kelso in the U/R Standstill mirror for the slot! Losing little, will a deck like this be the face of the post-rotations new Extended?

Marshall, Mark, I had very little lead time between getting the week's deck lists and writing Swimming With Sharks for what was formerly a Wednesday publication. If you guys want to drop me a line regarding the deck, I'd be happy to do a follow-up.

For the complete list of the week's Top 8 PTQ decks, click here.

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