Feature: The Return of Mind's Desire

Posted in Event Coverage on October 29, 2005

By Zvi Mowshowitz

Some cards never die. Offer to let someone flip over lots of cards and play them for free and players sense the potential for unfairness miles away. Throw in the fact that Mind's Desire can't be countered (even if it can be Stifled) and it gets even better.

Mind's Desire

Sapphire Medallion tricks may no longer be available, but 17 players decided to use Early Harvest and Heartbeat of Spring as the next best thing. The key to Mind's Desire has always been achieving a high storm count, and the way to do that is to spend a lot of time untapping your mana sources and getting the most out of them so you can keep casting spells. Early Harvest and Heartbeat of Spring will have to do.

Mana Flare never got much play outside of the occasional Grand Melee, but it turns out that the problem was that it was in the wrong color. Getting lots of lands out is green's trick, so cards that boost your lands should also be green. The two combine to provide enough mana to fuel a series of expensive card-drawing spells that forms the basis of the deck. Rather than try to defend the engine with counters or real creature defense, the good versions stop for a few copies of Moment's Peace but nothing else. Moment's Peace can buy a full two turns against many decks for only one card and five mana, letting the Harvest player get two more draws, two more land plays and two more untap steps. Meanwhile he is preparing for his massive turn.

The base of card drawing comes from a trio of four-mana spells: Deep Analysis, Fact or Fiction and Gifts Ungiven. Gifts Ungiven has shown its power in Standard and Vintage but is just now proving how good it is in Extended. Many decks can get good use out of all four cards or get back the ones they want the most. Some are using Gifts Ungiven to revive The Rock, others are using it to boost their new Dredgeatog decks that should replace old Tog strategies. Here it can get back anything thanks to Revive and Nostalgic Dreams, with other versions also using a single Eternal Witness for maximum flexibility.

Gifts Ungiven

Deep Analysis is strong against counters, counts as two spells and as Chris McDaniel discovered in the last round of Day One, it also gives the deck a way to force the opponent to draw, allowing Brain Freeze to win right away rather than giving the opponent one last upkeep step. Sakura-Tribe Elder backed up by Farseek or Rampant Growth (depending on the version) gives four mana reliably on the third turn to start the engine running, and most games should end on the fourth or fifth turn if the opponent is busy doing something else.

Eventually the deck can go through quite a lot and the sideboard is designed partly to emphasize that the deck need not go infinite or generate incredible amounts of mana in order to win. All it has to do is cast enough spells for a lethal Brain Freeze. That's nothing to sneeze at, and the deck is quite good at casting test spells to probe other decks' defenses or stalling them for quite a while with Moment's Peace, and if necessary Cunning Wish, for even more peacefulness. Together these features help this deck justify its existence despite a kill that while nothing to sneeze at is also not the fastest thing out there. It also gets to use all basic lands, which while frustrating in some ways also provides an extra level of protection against some esoteric threats.

The deck does an excellent job of avoiding the pitfalls along the way to a kill once it gets off the ground. With Nostalgic Dreams in the deck, you can repeatedly cast Gifts Ungiven and turn the deck remarkably thin on relevant spells without much risk of running out of gas after a Mind's Desire. Nostalgic Dreams makes the deck very forgiving once it gets started and often it ends up with massive quantities of extra cards and mana even before exploding with Mind's Desires. Most of the time it would have no trouble Brain Freezing out a Battle of Wits deck, if it had to.

Nostalgic Dreams

What are the biggest weaknesses of this deck? Counters can get a lot of mana to work with thanks to Heartbeat of Spring, but that's also where this deck's sideboard focuses its non-Wish energies and the deck is naturally resilient to such things. Traditional hosers for combo decks like Meddling Mage and Cranial Extraction are serious problems - it's hard to know the best card to name but it's also hard to guess that wrong so long as you try to interfere with the engine.

Rule of Law would be a lot more serious, and if combined with a few counters and/or extra copies that would be the game. It also relies on Moment's Peace as its answer to aggression, which doesn't always do that good a job at stopping the bleeding. A good Jank deck seems like it should pose large problems in a way that a Goblin or Affinity deck would not, especially if it also packed land destruction as some of them do. Affinity's loss of Disciple of the Vault helped a lot - it can still Shrapnel Blast if it wants to but most versions now have to do almost all their damage by attacking. When you have seven cards that each buy two turns, going off in time is a lot easier.

Whatever you call Heartbeat Combo, this deck is here to stay. Every format with enough cards has its combination decks, and Heartbeat fills the role of a solid combo deck that can fight with both the control decks and the beatdown decks. Ironically, it isn't the fastest deck - Golgari Madness gets far more third-turn kills - but there's no question that Mind's Desire will continue to have a place in Extended. With a draw in this last round, McDaniel moved to 9-2-1, solidly in contention for a spot in the Top 8.

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