The purpose of presenting walkthroughs of this kind is twofold. First of all, you get to see a popular deck in real action. I can imagine it happens way too frequently that you hear the name of a certain deck, but otherwise know very little concrete about it. By going over an example game with me, it will improve your understanding of the deck and the format. The second purpose is to make you a better Magic player, and the best way to get better is to analyze Magic games. By constantly trying to find the optimal play, considering all the options, and reflecting back on your decisions afterwards, you will improve quickly.
But let's tackle Standard first.
|Deck name||Popularity||Change compared to last week|
|1. Dralnu du Louvre||■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■ (18%)||-2%|
|2. Dragonstorm||■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)||+3%|
|3. U/W Urzatron||■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)||+4%|
|4. Mono Green Aggro||■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)||-5% (!!!)|
|5. Angelfire||■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)||+6% (!!!)|
|6. U/G Scryb & Force||■■■■■ ■ (6%)||-2%|
|7. DemonGlare||■■■■ (4%)||+4%|
|8. Boros Deck Wins||■■■■ (4%)||0%|
|9.G/B Dredge||■■■ (3%)||-5% (!!!)|
|10. U/b Pickles||■■■ (3%)||-1%|
|11. Panda Connection||■■ (2%)||+1%|
|12. Goblin Storm||■■ (2%)||+2%|
|13. Zoo||■■ (2%)||+2%|
|14. Satanic Sligh||■■ (2%)||+1%|
|15. KarstenBotBabyKiller||■■ (2%)||+1%|
|16. U/W CounterMesa||■■ (2%)||+2%|
|17. Black Rack Discard||■ (1%)||-2%|
|18. BlinkRiders||■ (1%)||-1%|
|19. Izzetron||■ (1%)||-1%|
|20. Solar Flare||■ (1%)||-1%|
Angelfire is on the rise, and consequently Mono Green Aggro took a dive. G/B Dredge may just have been the flavor of last week, as it didn’t stick in the top ranks this week around.
On to the Extended recap.
|Deck name||Popularity||Change compared to last week|
|1. Boros Deck Wins||■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%)||+3%|
|2. Aggro Loam||■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)||0%|
|3. Affinity||■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)||+1%|
|4. Aggro-Flow/Rock||■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)||+5% (!!!)|
|5. Flow Rock||■■■■■ ■■ (7%)||+5% (!!!)|
|6. Scepter-Chant||■■■■■ ■ (6%)||-2%|
|7. U/W GiftsTron||■■■■■ (5%)||+5% (!!!)|
|8. Ichorid||■■■■ (4%)||+4%|
|9. U/W Tron||■■■■ (4%)||-3%|
|10. U/W TrinketPost||■■■ (3%)||+2%|
|11. U/G Opposition||■■■ (3%)||-4%|
|12. U/B Psychatog||■■■ (3%)||0%|
|13. G/W Hate||■■■ (3%)||+3%|
|14. Domain Zoo||■■ (2%)||0%|
|15. Goblin Storm||■■ (2%)||-2%|
|16. U/B/W Trinket-Angel||■■ (2%)||+2%|
|17. Gifts-Rock||■ (1%)||0%|
|18. U/W Post||■ (1%)||-2%|
|19. TEPS Desire||■ (1%)||-7% (!!!)|
|20. U/R/W Trinket-Angel||(0%)||-7% (!!!)|
I see a bunch of interesting observations this week. Destructive Flow decks are surging in popularity online, consistent with the recent Pro Tour Qualifier trends. It may be smart to prepare for this enchantment; little tweaks like cutting artifact land and/or Minamo, School at Water's Edge from your Scepter-Chant deck for more basics can help a bit.
A brand new archetype, developed by Zac Hill and Richard Feldman, has also made a splash online. It's a splash on the omnipresent U/W Tron decks, this time build to get maximum efficiency out of Gifts Ungiven.
I love me a Gifts Ungiven, so I wholeheartedly approve of this deck. Once I get back from Pro Tour – Geneva and have time to log onto Magic Online, I will certainly give this deck a try. Interesting elements are the 4 Chalice of the Void, which can shut down complete decks. Chalice for two means no more Isochron Scepter, no more Life from the Loam, and no more Burning Wish. On the other hand, sometimes it just clogs up your hand or ends up hurting you more than your opponent, so I'm not yet completely convinced the artifact needs a four-of status, but I'll admit it can be very powerful.
All those tasty one-ofs allow for spectacular Gifts setups. How about Mindslaver, Academy Ruins, Crucible of Worlds, Petrified Field, for instance? It doesn't matter what combination of 2 cards you get, eventually you will get the Slaver plus Ruins "steal all your turns" lock.
So What's Up with TEPS Desire?
I'll conclude this week's Extended analysis by stating my surprise that TEPS Desire took a huge plunge. The deck only posted one Top 8, even though enough players entered the events with the combo deck. Perhaps people are running infinite hate cards against it, perhaps the TEPS pilots didn't play well enough, or maybe they just had an unlucky week. I'd guess it's a combination of all of those factors. I still consider TEPS to be one of the best decks (if not the best) in the format, so I certainly wouldn't discount the deck yet.
To stick true to my words, I entered an Extended 8-man tournament online, hoping to get in some interesting games to show here. I beat Dezerter_23's Boros deck in round 1, then beat Wurst_'s Ichorid deck in round 2, and eventually fell to manu chao's Flow Rock deck in the finals. The match against Wurst_ felt like the most interesting to me, so I picked it for my detailed game walkthroughs.
For reference, here's the deck I used in the games:
It's my own version, which still changes a couple cards every other week, but the main outline is good. I'll quickly highlight the deviations from a stock TEPS list. I like Channel the Suns more than most, because it fixes your color problems (more important than you might think), and because it is awesome to flip with a Mind's Desire. And +1 mana is never bad. I run 4 Infernal Tutor because you need some card selection. I don't have good experiences with Plunge into Darkness or Sensei's Divining Top, and Infernal Tutor was the best other one available. My mana base places more emphasis on getting double blue for Mind's Desire, evident from the Irrigation Ditches. My sideboard is fairly typical.
Alright, on to the games! I win the die roll, choose to play first, and am presented with this opening draw:
Well, that's an easy mulligan. Not even a single land!
Tendrils of Agony, Infernal Tutor, Chromatic Sphere, Sins of the Past, Gemstone Mine, Rite of Flame. That's not much of an improvement over the first hand. We have one land, but it's the worst possible one. An Invasion block sac-land would be miles better. Another problem with this hand is that Infernal Tutor can never get to hellbent in time. Usually, a typical game involves a big turn where you empty your hand with a bunch of ritual-type cards, get up to 8 mana, then play Infernal Tutor for Mind's Desire and go off. However, we're basically stuck with two uncastables (Sins of the Past and Tendrils of Agony), which means that Infernal Tutor can't be used that way. And regarding those uncastables, well, you're happy if you flip them off a Mind's Desire, but they're incredibly bad in your opening hand. We have to go down to five.
I have seen better, but at least we don't have really awkward cards (like in the previous hand), and a Lotus Bloom in your opening grip is always good. I'm not happy, but going down to four cards is even worse. Our opponent Wurst_, in the meantime, mulligans down to five cards as well, making it all fair.
However, I was playing on auto-pilot mode here, not thinking everything through. I said that in 99% of the cases it is right to suspend Lotus Bloom right away. In hindsight, as I am typing this, I believe this particular game would fall into that 1% exception category. What makes this game so strange is that both players took a mulligan down to five. An argument I offered for suspending Lotus Bloom right away over holding on to it for a turn is that you can't take the risk to lose to a turn four Affinity or Boros kill. We may very well draw into the right Mind's Desire cards to go off by turn four with our Chromatic Spheres, and if we had decided to plan for a turn five combo (with a turn two Lotus Bloom suspend) then we would look very stupid. However, even if our opponent plays Affinity or Boros, he mulliganed down to five! Then what are the odds he has a turn-four kill? That is very unlikely. I didn't take that information into account and probably should have waited with Lotus Bloom, but alas, I miscounted that option because I was not thinking everything though completely.
- Casting Lightning Helix in your opponent’s attack phase, and then he runs Stonewood Invocation in response. We are all taught to wait until the last possible second with instant removal spells, but sometimes it’s better to cast them at sorcery speed.
- Playing end-of-turn Fact or Fiction with U/W Tron, and flipping Mindslaver amongst others. Then you see your array of untapped Urza lands and wonder why you didn’t just play mainphase Fact or Fiction, as that would’ve allowed you to pop Mindslaver right away. Fact or Fiction doesn’t always have to go at end of turn.
- And so on…
There are so many examples of situations like this, and even good players can fall victim to them. The best way to handle stupid plays like these is to make a mental note not to make the same mistake again, learn from it, then shrug and move on. Don't weaken your concentration by hitting yourself up for making a mistake.
Alright, so let's think well about the next decision for a change: Do we also cast Chromatic Sphere? Here's our opening hand once again for reference.
There are pros and cons to playing Chromatic Spheres as early as possible. The main reason to hold on to them as long as possible is to jack up the storm count. On the turn where you plan to play a bunch of rituals and Mind's Desire, you can throw in a Chromatic Sphere to get another Desire copy. But this is not always right. Sometimes you are pressed for mana on that turn; if you can only ritual your way up to six mana, then keeping a Chromatic Sphere in hand is useless. You'd be better off playing it beforehand. Furthermore, by playing Spheres as quickly as possible you can dig through your deck more quickly. This may allow you to draw into lands and play them one turn earlier. In this situation, we would like to draw into some lands for mana (and after a few turns a Mind's Desire of course), so it is right to cast the Sphere right away, with the intention of sacrificing it and playing the other Sphere on turn two.
Pfff... Turn one done, finally. Perhaps I was a bit too long-winded there.
Our opponent plays Flooded Strand, sacrifices it for Watery Grave, and plays Cabal Therapy for Burning Wish. That seems like the right card to call. My play of Gemstone Mine, Lotus Bloom and Chromatic Sphere completely betrays my deck, and since I play 4 Burning Wish, it's the best probability of hitting a relevant card.
On our second turn, we draw into Cabal Ritual. As planned, we sacrifice Chromatic Sphere and draw into Seething Song. No land in sight, too bad. We just play Chromatic Sphere with the mana in pool and pass.
At end of turn, our opponent activates Zombie Infestation. I expected to see a dredge card, but he doesn't have one. That's what a mulligan to five does to you. Instead, he pitches Psychatog and Deep Analysis.
Alright, so on to our turn. Lotus Bloom hits play in our upkeep and then we draw...
Bleurgh. Another Lotus Bloom. We might as well suspend it immediately; nothing else we can do with it. So then we have Cabal Ritual and Seething Song in hand, and our board consists of Gemstone Mine, Geothermal Crevice, Chromatic Sphere, Lotus Bloom, and a freshly suspended Bloom. Our opponent's board consists of Watery Grave, Breeding Pool, Cephalid Coliseum, Zombie Infestation, and a Zombie token. He has four cards in his graveyard, amongst which are two Cabal Therapy. He played Deep Analysis last turn, so there's a fair chance he may have drawn into a dredge card. Now what? Do we:
- Pass the turn?
- Tap Gemstone Mine and crack Chromatic Sphere?
- Tap Geothermal Crevice and crack Chromatic Sphere?
- Sacrifice Geothermal Crevice for 2 mana and crack Chromatic Sphere?
Let's first rule out passing the turn. Generally, a reason to keep Chromatic Sphere in play is that you need the colorfixing the turn you go off. If, for instance, in a given situation you are sure that your opponent won't win or disrupt us next turn, and you really need that colorfixing for the big Mind's Desire turn, then you're better off passing the turn and banking the Sphere, until you draw a Mind's Desire and are sure to go off. However, in the situation in this game that is not applicable. With a Gemstone Mine and Lotus Bloom, we won't need the colorfixing, so we can draw a card with no downside attached. If there is a Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor, or Mind's Desire lurking on the top of our deck, we won't miss out on the chance of going off this turn.
That would certainly be the best play if the top card of our deck is not a Desire-enabler. But what if we do draw into a Mind's Desire, Infernal Tutor, or Burning Wish? Well, then we turn the red mana from Geothermal Crevice into another red mana, plus one black from Gemstone Mine, plus three blue from Lotus Bloom. Then we use one blue and one black for Cabal Ritual, proceed to spend two black and a red on Seething Song, which equates to . That way, we can always cast Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor, or Mind's Desire if we draw it. Seems good. The last thing we have to consider is what happens if we draw into another Chromatic Sphere or Chromatic Star. That's pretty awkward, but if it happens we'll just cast it, pass the turn and see what happens next.
Our opponent apparently didn't find a dredge card, as doesn't use his Zombie Infestation. After his draw, he plays plays Tolarian Winds (discarding Chrome Mox and Putrid Imp), leaving Watery Grave open. He then attacks with the Zombie token, plays Putrid Imp and yields.
Our draw step is uncomfortable.
Chromatic Sphere? Pffft. Going into the think tank now. The situation is similar to last turn, but there are a couple key differences; (1) we have to pay two mana to play Sphere and see another card; the Sphere isn't in play yet (2) Cabal Ritual will get tresholded this turn (3) if we survive two more turns, then Lotus Bloom will come in play. So as I see it, we have the choice between the following actions:
- Pass the turn.
- Tap Geothermal Crevice, play Chromatic Sphere, and pass the turn.
- Tap Gemstone Mine and Geothermal Crevice for 2 mana, then play and sacrifice Sphere.
- Sacrifice Geothermal Crevice for 2 mana, then play and sacrifice Sphere.
Passing the turn may be good if we survive our opponent's next turn unscathed. If Mind's Desire is the second card down in our library, then holding on to that Sphere will give us an extra storm copy. Especially with a thresholded Cabal Ritual, that one mana needed to play Chromatic Sphere won't be a problem.
The other options (sacrificing Sphere this turn) are of course better if Desire/Wish/Tutor is the top card, but they're not much better than not sacrificing the Sphere this turn, as we will probably win anyway if a combo enabler is on top. And they're much worse if Mind's Desire is the second or third card down. We're not under a fast clock yet, so we don't have to try and combo now. Sure, our opponent may have Golgari Grave-Troll in hand and start the nuts dredging next turn, but there's no guarantee and if he doesn't have it, we should still have at least one or two turns.
Taking all of this account, my play is to... simply pass the turn. At this point my opponent reaches across the table and strangles me for thinking a full two minutes without actually playing anything in the end, but that's the sad life of a TEPS player.
Alright, at the end of our turn Wust_ doesn't discard anything. No dredge card or Ichorid; who-hoo!
On to our turn 6. We draw Seething Song. Heh.
Soooo, that's the exact same situation as last turn? Well, not completely. He now has a real threat in play! Last turn we felt we still had some time. Now that Psychatog has entered the scene, things change. In order to figure out our play, we have to do Psychatog math for our opponent. Are we certainly dead next turn or what's the deal? Let's see. Imagine the card in his hand is a blank (a land, for instance) and that he doesn't find a dredge card for sake of simplicity. Our opponent will discard the card in his hand to Psychatog in his upkeep, then activate Cephalid Coliseum (hoping to draw into a dredge card, which he can pitch to Psychatog still in his upkeep, then dredge back in his draw for mass pumps). If he doesn't draw a dredge card and goes all-in (pushing his hand and grave into his Psychatog), it grows to a 9/10 size. Wurst_'s team (including Putrid Imp) then attacks for 10. 11.
But what if he has a dredge card in hand or on top of his deck? We can safely deduce the card in his hand is not a dredge card. First, he didn't have a dredge card last turn, otherwise he would have discarded it back then. Furthermore, we know that he did not flashback the Cabal Therapy left in his graveyard last turn. That is important information. Put yourself in Wurst_'s shoes. If the card in your hand is a dredge card (Golgari Grave-Troll or Stinkweed Imp, for instance), turning that Psychatog into a 100% sure kill next turn, then why wouldn't you flashback the Therapy last turn? All I can do to stop his game plan is to go off next turn, and that Cabal Therapy can take out one spell at least. Keeping Cabal Therapy around in the graveyard won't help to prevent a big Desire next turn.
We could also just pass and wait until next turn to go off. That brings that suspended Lotus Bloom in play. In other words, going off next turn will give us a higher chance of winning than this turn, as there is another spell for the storm count coming in.
The last thing we have to consider is the Therapy that is still lurking in his graveyard. He hasn't been too quick to flashback Therapies, but if we just pass the turn without doing anything and he can only put me down to 1 next turn on his attack, then the best play for him is to sacrifice Putrid Imp and flashback Cabal Therapy on Chromatic Sphere. If I don't do anything this turn, he knows we didn't draw Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor, or Mind's Desire, so we probably drew a ritual-type card. He can't do anything against us topdecking a Mind's Desire next turn, but if that Desire (or Wish/Tutor) is two cards down, then taking out our Chromatic Sphere wins him the game.
If this were a real-life game, at this point a judge would be impatiently tapping his toes, telling me to speed up and make a play. I could easily have been thinking a couple minutes about all the factors already, so it's time to make a decision.
Let's put everything in perspective. Here is a matrix that highlights the optimal play based on the location of a Desire enabler (Mind's Desire, Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor) on the top of our deck and whether or not our opponent can kill us with Psychatog next turn.
|Opponent finds a dredge card (~50%)||Opponent doesn’t find a dredge card (~50%)|
|Desire enabler on top, second card down doesn’t matter (23%)||We have to play and crack the Sphere now.||Doesn’t matter, we win.|
|No Desire enabler on top, but there is one in the next draw (18%)||Doesn’t matter, we lose.||We should play the Sphere and pass the turn.|
|No Desire enabler in the top 2 cards (59%)||Doesn’t matter, we lose.||Doesn’t matter, we lose.|
This also abstracts away from the probability of truly winning when we play Desire, but for sake of argument let's just assume that casting Desire equals a win. As it is, I think we have to go for it this turn. I sacrifice Geothermal Crevice, play Chromatic Sphere and turn it into a red mana. We draw ... Tinder Farm. Boooh. I burn down to ten. He of course sees the Cephalid Coliseum play and attacks for the kill.
Alright, let's review the sideboard. Ichorid typically doesn't run any hate cards (like Stifle) that we have to answer. Furthermore, Duress or Orim's Chant won't help against Ichorid's strategy. They won't care if they can't play the spells in their hand, they'll just dredge and attack with Ichorids. There is no reason to adjust our deck, so we just present the same 60 cards again, keeping a solid consistent combo deck.
Time for game number two. We choose to play first and look at our opening hand.
Some lands, some mana cards, a Mind's Desire, that's everything we need. We keep. Our opponent keeps his hand as well for a change, and we're off to go.
The game plan with this hand is to go off on turn four. We suspend Lotus Bloom right away, then on turn four we plan to sacrifice all our lands and the Lotus Bloom, play Cabal Ritual and any other spells we might have drawn in the meantime, then finish with a Mind's Desire.
We draw Burning Wish, then play Irrigation Ditch. Why Irrigation Ditch? Well, once again it doesn't really matter, but in case we draw Channel the Suns next turn and somehow decide to go off next turn, we need the extra blue that Irrigation Ditch can provide. But it's very unlikely that will happen; even if we draw Channel the Suns, we will probably still wait a turn for the Lotus Bloom to kick in.
Our opponent dredges back Golgari Grave-Troll in his draw step, dumping, amongst others, another Golgari Grave-Troll and Cabal Therapy in his grave. He attacks me down to 16 and passes the turn. Note that he doesn't flashback Cabal Therapy yet, but that makes sense. Judging by that Lotus Bloom floating around, I will most likely try to go off on my fourth turn. If I don't go off next turn, then it's safe to wait around with Therapy for one turn. The main advantage of doing that is that I may draw the card that he is going to name in my next draw step, and it gives him more information in case he dredges another Cabal Therapy in his graveyard next turn. Lastly, he gets another attack out of the Zombie token that would have fell to a flashback otherwise.
Alright, my turn three. I draw Chromatic Sphere. This is how the game state looks now in my main phase.
Our opponent has Golgari Grave-Troll in hand, and the notable cards in his graveyard are Ancient Grudge, Cabal Therapy, and Golgari Grave-Troll. His beatdown force consists of two puny zombie tokens. Note that his Chrome Mox gives black mana. We have Geothermal Crevice and Irrigation Ditch in play. Our hand is Mind's Desire, Cabal Ritual, Tinder Farm, Tendrils of Agony, Burning Wish, and Chromatic Sphere. We will remove the last time counter off Lotus Bloom in our next upkeep.
So what do we do? We can't go off yet. Four mana from our lands plus Cabal Ritual doesn't add up to six. The question, though, is whether to play Burning Wish or Chromatic Sphere. Let's think about what our opponent is going to do next turn. He will dredge back Golgari Grave-Troll, attack with his guys, then flashback Cabal Therapy. He may dredge into a second Therapy (a reasonable chance), and he may also dredge into Riftstone Portal, which enables Ancient Grudge (less likely, since I expect he only plays one copy of that land).
So we simply lay Tinder Farm and say go.
As expected, our opponent dredges back Golgari Grave-Troll. The notable cards that hit his graveyard are Riftstone Portal, Ichorid, and Coffin Purge. This means that he can now flashback Ancient Grudge, and that Coffin Purge may come in handy against any Sins of the Past we may have.
In our turn, we plays Lotus Bloom. Still in the upkeep step, Wurst_ plays Ancient Grudge from the graveyard targeting Lotus Bloom. He saw the play, not allowing me to use Lotus Bloom mana in my main phase. We'll have to let it resolve. We draw our card for the turn and then ponder.
This turn we'll certainly try to go off. Two spells have already been played this turn, which are free Desire copies. Furthermore, our opponent doesn't really have any disruption. He has 2 Golgari Grave-Troll in hand and the only interactive card he has is the Coffin Purge in his graveyard (his Chrome Mox is black, so he can play it). So let's do it. In order to keep oversight over the entire combo sequence, I listed everything in a table.
|1. We sacrifice all our lands.||2|
|2. Play Chromatic Sphere, spending a white because there are no white cards in our deck.||3|
|3. Sacrifice Chromatic Sphere, minus one green (the only green card in our deck is Channel the Suns), plus one blue (for Mind’s Desire). We draw Rite of Flame.||3|
|4. Cast Rite of Flame.||4|
|5. Resolve Rite of Flame||4|
|6. Cast Cabal Ritual (thresholded at exactly 7 cards). Our opponent could respond with Coffin Purge to remove threshold, but opts not to. Seems fair – It would only be an extra spell for our Desire, and waiting for a Sins of the Past is more valuable.||5|
|7. Resolve Cabal Ritual.||5|
|8. Cast Mind’s Desire for 6. Leave in pool. The double black is important for the Tendrils of Agony still in our hand. The other mana we leave up is probably irrelevant, and if possible I usually try to leave one blue in my pool, as it may come in handy if a specific situation arises (can't do that here though). In particular, if our initial Desire “misses” and just hits upon a combination of lands, Cabal Rituals, Seething Songs and a Chromatic Sphere. In that case, we can cycle Chromatic Sphere for a second blue mana, and if we topdeck a Mind’s Desire then we can play it. This is planning ahead for a very unlikely situation, but sometimes it can matter. In this situation, we cannot keep a blue mana open, so we'll keep .||6|
Ding! The win is straightforward from here. We cast everything, then play the Tendrils in our hand to finish it once and for all.
On to Game 3... Or Maybe Not
I was now planning to highlight my third game (which I won, wheee!), but this walkthrough process turned out to be more length than I expected, and I have a flight to Geneva to catch. So with that, today's column must end. What did you think of the walkthroughs? Would you like to see how Game 3 unfolds, or perhaps a completely different deck, or did you hate the whole concept? Share your opinions on the message boards, and feel free to give suggestions. I learned from the experience of writing this. If I do this again, I would probably include a couple more screenshots and less text. I believe this type of thing has a lot of value, and think it doesn't get done enough. I hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for reading.