The Writer’s Ballot and More of Those Top 8 Things

Posted in Feature on March 2, 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."

This week's unofficial Top 8 count:

Red Deck Wins11111111
Mind's Desire****111
The Rock11111
U/G Madness11111
NO Stick111 (including Columbus West and hybrid Confinement)
Cephalid Brunch11
Goblin Welder11
Dempsey U/W11
U/W Opposition1
Trinity Green1
White Weenie1
Intruder Alarm1

Red Deck Wins... in the Swiss, Anyway

Overall, Red Deck Wins remains the most represented deck across the Top 8s I studied, including both domestic and international PTQs and Grand Prix Eindhoven. That said, Dan Paskins' favorite deck has zero first place finishes this week... While Red Deck Wins seems over the past several weeks to be your best bet to make Top 8, this week's runner up -- edging out Goblins -- seems like your best bet to actually win the PTQ.

Over the eight Top 8s I polled for this week, Mind's Desire fell shy of Red Deck Wins by a single Top 8 appearance. That said, of its seven spots, Mind's Desire took four blue envelopes -- more than half the Mind's Desire players got their hearts' desires!

Personally, I find Mind's Desire to be a very difficult deck to play. It is complicated and many times non-intuitive. Take a look at Nathan Zimmerman's deck from this week's High Point PTQ:

Nathan Zimmerman / Blue-white Desire

Download Arena Decklist

Mind's Desire has only 17 lands. Even with four copies of Chrome Mox, it needs a little more oomph to get going than your typical deck with 24 or so lands. Luckily, it plays cards like these:

Accumulated Knowledge

Since about 1997, players like Alan Comer have pioneered a less than obvious method of deck design that says that for every four cheap cantrips in your deck (cards that allow you to draw or dig for low mana, such as Portent, Foreshadow, Impulse, or the Brainstorm and Accumulated Knowledge that we see here), your deck can be said to play like it has (virtually) two additional lands. The reason is that these cantrips essentially reduce the size of your deck so that you are basically counting 17 land in a 50 card deck rather than a 60 card deck. In the early game, you have to use your cantrips to make sure your mana is flowing, but once your deck gets going, it will draw a lower percentage of lands, and therefore, more good stuff.

Mind's Desire
Mind's Desire the deck takes its name from Mind's Desire the Storm bomb. The deck is built to generate a mana advantage using the Urza's Block untap mechanic in concert with enablers like Sapphire Medallion, Sunscape Familiar, or (in the black version) Nightscape Familiar. Note that with a single Medallion out, the Mind's Desire player can play a Cloud of Faeries or Snap for one mana, but untap two lands. Therefore he could tap two lands for his creature, floating , spend , and have left over. Done a couple of times, especially in concert with one another, hopefully finishing with a big Turnabout, the Mind's Desire player can simultaneously ramp up his single turn mana and set up many spells for his Desire Storm count.

Once the Mind's Desire player plays his namesake sorcery, the fun starts (or ends, depending on which side of the table you are on). The deck seeks to generate a critical mass of cards culminating in multiple Mind's Desires and/or Brain Freezes (some versions don't run Mind's Desire at all, focusing only on the latter Storm killer). Remember, the Storm counts of Mind's Desire into Mind's Desire into Brain Freeze are going to be cumulative, so Brain Freeze can go lethal from even a small number of "actually" played spells.

Mind's Desire can win even if its Mind's Desires themselves fall victim to Cranial Extraction (remember, some versions don't run Desire at all). The deck merely needs to play two total Medallions or Familiars. At this point, Cunning Wish turns into a one mana spell. The Desire player will typically Cunning Wish for something to put Cunning Wish in his sideboard (probably something along the lines of a Turnabout), and then chain a second Cunning Wish for Cunning Wish between his hand and his sideboard for no reason other than to up the Storm count for one mana each; at the end of his mana, the Desire player will choose a sideboard Brain Freeze and win with that powered up Storm spell.

Blue Envelopes with Blue/Black

While Mind's Desire had a great week, the real story this time around is the return of Doctor Teeth. With six Top 8 finishes, Psychatog finished only slightly behind mighty Mind's Desire. The difference is that Psychatog took not only three first place finishes, but GP Eindhoven itself. In fact, these two decks made up 7/8 of the first place finishes for Top 8s I studied for this week.

Sebastien Roux

Download Arena Decklist

Adam Simoneaux / Psychatog

Download Arena Decklist

Paulo Henrique de Oliveira / Psychatog

Download Arena Decklist

All three of these Psychatog decks run 23 lands and 3 Psychatogs. Roux and Simoneaux run two creatures in addition, a Wonder and a more traditional control creature. Roux's Masticore makes a lot of sense because Psychatog is the natural inheritor to Draw-Go, but Simoneaux's choice of Meloku the Clouded Mirror of Victory, is a testament to that legendary creature's raw power (at PT Columbus, Team TOGIT ran Morphling in the secondary finisher slot against Cranial Extraction). Good enough to finish out of Aluren's sideboard, Simoneaux's Meloku can also set up additional damage for his Psychatog by picking up lands for Dr. Teeth to munch on.

In previous years, one of Psychatog's strengths was its combination of creature kill and true control elements. However, this week's three top finishers ran a total of 4 Engineered Explosives, 2 Engineered Plagues, 4 Smothers, and 2, um, Boomerangs in their main decks. To be fair, all three decks could use Cunning Wish to grab Diabolic Edict, Ghastly Demise, Smother, or Rebuild out of their sideboards if under creature pressure.

This selfsame drop in creature kill also affects how the Psychatog decks themselves are set up. Previously a card like Upheaval would be automatic (to defend against Chainer's Edict, a card in the same block as Psychatog itself). At eight mana, Upheaval + Psychatog was almost always a kill (the Tog player would re-play one of his lifted lands post-Upheaval to cast the Tog); only decks with one drops would even be able to chump. At nine mana, a Psychatog deck could even represent a response card such as a one mana counter. This week (again among the winners) only Simoneaux played Upheaval main. The other two decks relied on attrition to power up their Psychatogs to lethal damage.

The creature Psychatog has been called the finest control creature of all time, better even than Morphling. At , Psychatog costs half as much (who really plays Morphling without a mana open?), and unlike Morphling, Psychatog can defend itself without additional mana requirements. Psychatog has essentially the same ability as Wild Mongrel... but goes one better. While a Wild Mongrel can turn two cards into two additional power and toughness, a Psychatog will turn two cards into three! You can see how a card like Upheaval, that not only annihilates the opponent's defensive position but also fills the Tog player's hand with ready-to-pitch ammunition, is a synergistic weapon that can give this archetype an almost-combo feel.

Similarly, the Psychatog can go one-for-one the entire game, relying on Accumulated Knowledge, Fact or Fiction, and its low mana count to stay one step ahead of the opponent's threats. Remember, every time the ‘Tog player trades a Counterspell for a threat, that card in his graveyard is going to contribute to half a point of power down the line. At some point, you get into too many trades and the Psychatog goes lethal, Upheaval or no.

Intruder Alarm Update

Last week we looked at the unusual Intruder Alarm deck that took Rusty McAlexander to a Top 8. Rusty made many of the modifications I suggested in last week's article, and went one better. I suggested mixing up some of his manipulation, adding Intuition, and moving Enlightened Tutor to the sideboard; but why play Enlightened Tutor in the side when you can play Vampiric Tutor? Rusty will be trying to follow up on his PTQ Top 8 in Seattle at this coming GP.

For another look at Intruder Alarm, here is Dr. Ped Bun's deck from the Top 8 of this week's Costa Mesa PTQ:

Ped Bunsongsikul / Intruder Alarm

Download Arena Decklist

Ped Bun is a very important deck designer responsible for some of the game's most influential decks. Given a resume that includes Maher Oath and a rogue Regionals win, I thought that his take on Intruder Alarm would be worth a look.

For a look at all the other decks from the Top 8s, click here.

The Writer's Ballot

Here's how I cast my five votes:

Osyp Lebedowicz
Our criteria for the Writer's Ballot was not just on play skill and resume, but rather on their combination of play skill and personality. My top vote went to Osyp Lebedowicz, my commentary colleague, a PT and GP champion that has just come off yet another great GP Top 8. Magic has a great many great storytellers, but Osyp is the game's unquestioned number one fib machine. A blatant liar who has gotten in trouble on airplanes for his imaginary poker skills, a longtime (alleged!) latin dance chumpion who was finally called on it by the appearance of actual salsa instructor Pierre Canali on the PT scene, you never know when Osyp is helping you out or reeling you in, in person or in print. The only thing not in dispute regarding Magic's popular Joe Black is his professed love of -- believe it or not -- testing constructed.

Brian Kibler
The recently absent tie-dyed favorite nevertheless has a GP Top 2 in the last several months. One of the game's most relentless deck designers, the fang faced former rassler is beloved of all seven girls who play Magic as well as any small child who has ever summoned a 5/5 or 6/6 flying beater, regardless of creature type. Let's hope the "Dragonmaster" returns to his rightful place in the Top 8 of premiere events, armed as usual with a mana base only a GAT advocate could love.

Jeff Cunningham

Tim Aten
I've known Tim Aten since he was knee high to a grasshopper. In fact, at a local tournament back in the summer of 1998, Tim defeated the mono-blue deck I had copied from Andrew Cuneo by summoning a Scragnoth. Sure, I had such cards as the equally large Steel Golem and the Scragnoth removal capable Nevinyrral's Disk in my stack, but Tim dispatched me with green's most expensive hate card anyway. In the subsequent seven years, Tim has become no less hateful, though these days, most of his ire seems depressingly, humorously, self-directed. Quite possibly today's top Limited commentator, Tim has an active following.

Antonino De Rosa
Ask any ten kids (who look like they study Internet Magic sites or perhaps deck history archives anyway) who invented Deep Dog, and eight out of ten will tell you "Jeff Cunningham." But the other two will definitely say "Antonio." That point is arguable, especially if you are from Britain, but what isn't is that this guy's name isn't Antonio. Antonino has had regular success, especially on the GP circuit, but unlike most pros at his level shares his successes and experiments with his readership on a regular basis. He has long been considered one of U/G Madness' most successful advocates, and is one of the minds behind the currently successful Vial Goblins deck.

Latest Feature Articles


November 15, 2021

Innistrad: Double Feature Product Overview by, Wizards of the Coast

More monsters! More horror! More drafts! More of everything you love about Innistrad arrives January 28, 2022, with Innistrad: Double Feature. Available at your local WPN game store,...

Learn More


November 12, 2021

The Legends of Innistrad: Crimson Vow by, Doug Beyer, Ari Zirulnik, and Grace Fong

We managed to get ahold of the guest list for Innistrad: Crimson Vow, and it's looking kind of wild! We've got faces old and new, fanged and un-fanged, human and . . . uh . . . slime mons...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All