We join the game in progress as two Planeswalkers battle for dominion over Ravnica, the City of Guilds. It's turn two as the Psychatog player pores over his hand, apparently moving through what will be a difficult sequence of plays...
"All I've got is a tapped Overgrown Tomb, so I guess that's okay."
"Same as last time, friend. Still okay. Is it my turn?"
"Sure. My turn again?"
"I've got no more plays."
How does this happen? Ravnica: City of Guilds has been hyped as a mana-fixing marvel, but the new and unusual mechanic casting its long shadow on this tournament is Dredge, specifically when incorporated in greater draw engines. How is it possible that the Psychatog deck can win so quickly - as fast as turn three - when the opponent has a potential blocker? Welcome to the world of Golgari Grave-Troll.
On the Psychatog player's third turn, he can discard Golgari Grave-Troll to give Dr. Teeth +1/+1. Then when his draw rolls around, he can decline the draw and Dredge up the same Grave-Troll in "exchange" for six cards in the bin; as long-time players know, cards in Psychatog's graveyard are actually a Giant Growth-like resource, not a liability.
Once main phase hits, the 'Tog player can examine his hand - and more importantly, those six or more cards in the graveyard - for options. Did Golgari Grave-Troll turn over Deep Analysis? Does he have Deep Analysis in hand already? He can discard Deep Analysis, Golgari Grave-Troll, or both to further increase the size of his 'Tog and then follow up with another draw effect, again going crazy with Dredge depending on how many draw effects he has available. With 12 or more cards down, it is entirely possible that another Golgari Grave-Troll, or at least a Life from the Loam has been Milled into the graveyard, so that a Deep Analysis can net 9-12 cards in the graveyard and two pinpoint Dredges rather than two random draws off the top of a player's deck.
The remaining two mana that the 'Tog player will inevitably have on his third turn can be devoted to an additional Deep AnalysisFlashback (utilizing that same eerie combination of Dredge effects) or at least a Life from the Loam - possibly with a Dredge for three along the way - that nets another three cards in hand. By the time combat rolls around, the 'Tog player should be able to discard more than enough cards from his hand and remove more than enough cards from his graveyard to deal a paltry 20 damage. And that Sakura-Tribe Elder? Surely a Wonder - or more unusual, a Brawn - will have found its way to the graveyard, ensuring chump block irrelevance.
I played against two different versions of Psychatog + Life from the Loam on Day One, and they were startlingly different decks with very different plans, despite having many cards in common. At the end of the day, Craig Jones stood alone at first place, playing a deck capable of the aforementioned quick-kill shenanigans. His deck is a classic aggro-control build with a curve starting on Wild Mongrel turn one, cheating early with Chrome Mox. His draw engine includes Life From the Loam plus cycling lands (3 Barren Moor and 3 Lonely Sandbar), as well as the Standard favorite, Sensei's Divining Top, plus Dredge effects in general to get more and more free looks. Despite having only 22 lands, Chrome Mox and Life from the Loam ensure that Craig's mana comes out consistently in the early turns… And let's be honest, given the fact that he can win in three.
One of the neat things about Craig's deck is that even though it focuses on the early game, he can fight an attrition war over Life from the Loam using the Onslaught cycling lands. Once a few lands hit the graveyard - Polluted Delta and Bloodstained Mire are his earliest plays for their ability to find Watery Grave and Overgrown Tomb - Life from the Loam can come alive for even sub-three draws. Dredge inevitably deposits Barren Moor or Lonely Sandbar; the chain starts with Life from the Loam targeting some cycling lands, and ever after, each cycle can become a virtual AncestralRecall. With enough mana, one Life from the Loam can turn over enough cycling lands that few decks will possibly be able to overcome the combination of card selection and ever-thickening graveyard.
Every element of the "Troll-A-Tog" deck builds on its Dredge engine. Not only does this deck play Golgari Grave-Troll and Life from the Loam, but its choice in creature kill is Darkblast. With so many cards going down, Brawn, Wonder, and the fearsome Genesis help to create a long game advantage.
On the other side of the same colors and mechanics is a control Psychatog played by Neil Reeves and usual Rock advocate Jeroen Remie. This deck plays only one Life from the Loam, but can get the card with Gifts Ungiven. More of a "classic" Psychatog build, Neil's deck has Counterspell, Force Spike, and removal spells to defend itself on the way to an Upheaval + Psychatog endgame. The control Psychatog deck doesn't win as quickly - no Golgari Grave-Trolls, after all - but it has the same ability to create a powerful long-game draw engine with even a single Life from the Loam. Imagine playing Gifts Ungiven for Life from the Loam, Barren Moor, Lonely Sandbar, and Tranquil Thicket. Is it better to hand the opponent the Green AncestralRecall or "force" him to Dredge for it… and potentially put Genesis or other gas into his bin?
The rest of Saturday and Sunday will show which decks continue to do well and make Top 8, however, for those of you preparing for the Extended Pro Tour Qualifiers, make sure you have an intimate knowledge of how these kinds of decks work and how to beat them. Dedicated land destruction? Can it be good against Life from the Loam and quick offensive and defensive plays? Balancing Act was another hyped-up deck coming into Los Angeles, but even Obliterate versions seem dismal against the tag team of Psychatog and Life from the Loam.
At one point Friday, Zvi Mowshowitz said that if he were playing in this tournament, he would probably run Craig's robust deck list. Keep checking out magicthegathering.com as the tournament continues to develop for more hints on what to do in the upcoming PTQ season!