So I had this hilarious intro all ready and waiting as soon as Ted assigned me this article, based around the fact that Mind’s Desire and Aluren are the only “cool” combo decks in the format and how gaining infinite life is the dumbest combo ever. But then Osyp had to go and write this article and screw me all up. Damn you, Joe Black! One day I will have my revenge!
Anyway, this article is really long, so let’s get right to the meat of it: I’m gonna give you the low-down on the best combo deck in the format: Mind’s Desire.
Why Play Desire?
Well, first things first: you have to want to play a combo deck. There are lots of people out there who don’t, because playing combo often boils down to little more than doing math problems and playing solitaire. You’ve been warned.
Given that, now consider the sort of metagame that you’ll be seeing in your local PTQs and Grand Prix Trials. The inordinately high amount of Red Deck Wins being played right now is trouble for Aluren, which goldfishes faster than Desire if and only if its nonbasic lands and/or Birds of Paradise survive. U/G Madness is perhaps the most popular deck on the East Coast, and its Dazes, Circular Logics, and Waterfront Bouncers are a nightmare for the various reanimation combo decks (Cephalid Breakfast, Dancing Ghoul, and the like). And as Osyp said, Life is not only an un-ambitious combo, but it can be trumped by both Desire and Aluren, which get around Life’s win conditions.
Mind’s Desire, however, avoids those minuses. It can (and usually does) go off on basic lands alone, and in going off it untaps a bunch of lands, so it can get around the mana-denial of RDW. And as we’ll see, it is very countermagic-resistant, so Circular Logic does not necessarily spell game over. There is some hate for the Desire combo, but only one or two rarely-played cards are of the “if this card resolves, I might as well scoop” variety. Unlike some combo decks, it can win even after a Cranial Extraction. In short, Mind’s Desire is the best of the combo decks because of its resiliency.
First things first: the goal of the deck is not to cast Mind’s Desire. If you start thinking that simply resolving a Desire for five or six is enough to win the game, you’ll have a large Desire fizzle, go on tilt, and lose your mind along with your bankroll.
Rather, a better way to look at it is that you’re playing a combo deck with the goal of resolving a lethally stormed spell such as Brain Freeze or Tendrils of Agony. Mind’s Desire is the most efficient tool to accomplish that goal, but there are other ways you can reach the finish line.
Note that each kill method has its drawbacks. Against Life the Tendrils kill is useless, and against Red Deck Wins the Brain Freeze kill is risky because you will flip all of their Lava Darts into the graveyard, which may be the final points of damage they need to kill you. You can get around this by Wishing for Stroke of Genius to deck the Freezed opponent, but that brings an additional level of complexity to your win.
Now that you know what you’re aiming at, let’s look at the two most commonly played ways of getting there:
3 Nightscape Familiar
2 Deep Analysis
4 Cloud of Fairies
2 Merchant Scroll
2 Chrome Mox
4 Mind’s Desire
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Sapphire Medallion
3 Vampiric Tutor
1 Tendrils of Agony
3 Cunning Wish
4 Underground River
1 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
2 Echoing Truth
1 Power Sink
1 Memory Lapse
1 Mana Leak
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Engineered Plague
1 Chain of Vapor
1 Brain Freeze
This list, piloted by Pat Hepner, Top 8’ed a Grand Prix – Boston Trial in Fairmont, West Virginia, on January 2. Here’s a link to PES’s Top 8 decklists from that event.
There are a lot of things I don’t like about this deck. Cunning Wish is far too slow to be running as a 3-of, there is waaay too much countermagic in the sideboard, only two Chrome Moxes are inexcusable, and there is absolutely no way in the board to deal with Red Deck Wins (which took four slots in this Top 8). I don’t recommend that you play this exact build, but it’s a good place for you to start with your own modifications.
And, there are also some things to like about this list. Note the 7 MEs, whereas Masashi Oiso PT Columbus Top 8 build had only six (four Medallions and two Familiars). The medallion effect is so important that I recommend running as many of them as possible. Also note the Echoing Truth in the sideboard, which is great against aggro and can also accelerate you in a major way if you get more than one Cloud of Fairies into play.
The main advantages of Dark Desire are that you get to play with Vampiric Tutor to find any missing combo piece you want, and you have Nightscape Familiar to block anybody and regenerate to tell the tale. This deck doesn’t do it, but you can also try the old “transformational sideboard” by boarding in Psychatogs as an alternate win condition (that’s a good plan against Cranial Extraction, for one).
But, that’s not the end of the story. Vampiric Tutor is disadvantageous for you in terms of both cards and tempo. Leaving 1B open for the Familiar can be very annoying, and it’s worse than useless against Red Deck Wins, which can kill him repeatedly until you run out of regeneration mana. Even if you do board Psychatog, Doctor Teeth doesn’t really give you an decisive post-sideboard advantage in any matchup.
4 Mind’s Desire
4 Sapphire Medallion
4 Sunscape Familiar
4 Cloud of Fairies
4 Accumulated Knowledge
2 Deep Analysis
3 Merchant Scroll
1 Cunning Wish
1 Brain Freeze
4 Flooded Strand
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Chrome Mox
4 Sphere of Law
1 Deep Analysis
3 Brain Freeze
3 Echoing Truth
1 Stroke of Genius
This is my current list: I tried Prismatic Strands instead of the Sphere in a recent GP Trial, but it didn’t work out (more on that later). The list is slightly modified from Morgan Douglass’s deck from PT: Columbus, where he took 88th place. I would link to Morgan’s decklist from Columbus, but that page takes an absurdly long time to download, so I’ll spare you that nonsense.
The big reason I prefer this deck is that you are as fast as you can possibly be, with four each of Mox, Familiar, and Medallion. In my opinion, eight MEs are absolutely necessary: if you don’t draw one, you’re not casting your first Mind’s Desire until turn 5 or 6, and even then for a storm of about three, and only if you have a godly draw. Plus, Sunscape Familiar can be a good blocker, as you can throw him in front of a Frogmite or a Goblin Cadets all day long.
Also, this build runs more of Turnabout, which is a hugely important card. First, it lets you go off even if the opponent has a way to stop you from Snapping Cloud of Fairies. It can serve as a Fog, buying a turn against Goblins, U/G Madness, Affinity, etc. Finally, it can be an Abeyance, tapping the opponent out so that tricky control decks can’t wreck your plans. Thanks to Turnabout, I have won test games after the opposing deck has resolved an Isochron Scepter on Orim’s Chant or a Cranial Extraction on Mind’s Desire. I can’t go on long enough about how awesome Turnabout is. Knutson might have to cut me off here.
It’s not all sunshine and daffodils, though. By giving up Black, you have to give up Vampiric Tutor for Merchant Scroll, which can be a problem – you can’t Scroll up a Mind’s Desire, which can seriously cramp your style. You’re also forced to either adopt the Brain Freeze plan, or run the risk that you draw an uncastable Tendrils while you are going off.
Preparing the Deck
First, you will want to play a lot of “goldfish” games (i.e., games with no opponent), just to practice going off. This will hone your skill in recognizing which hands are keepers and which are not, and which board positions allow you to go off and which do not. Take copious notes, tracking your floating mana, your storm, and whether you played land this turn or not; all of those things will be important to keep track of during a match.
Develop ways to determine, just from looking at your hand, how much mana and storm you can build up for a Mind’s Desire. For example, since I’m a math guy in “real” life, I have no problem with simply assigning numerical values to each of my spells. With a ME in play, each copy of Cloud of Fairies and Snap in your hand becomes +1 mana, +1 storm. Cloud of Fairies/Snap becomes +3 mana, +3 storm, since the Cloud will be played twice and the Snap once, derf. Each copy of Turnabout becomes +1 storm and +[(L)-(ME)-2] mana, where L is the number of untapped lands in play and ME is the number of Medallion Effects in play.
Play the games all the way out; do not stop once you resolve a Mind’s Desire for twelve or whatever. It’s important to see the win develop on the table in front of you, especially if you’re playing for the more complex “Brain Freeze + card-drawing spell targeting you” win.
Only once you think you have a good grasp on your various methods of going off, then you sit down with your teammates (or Apprentice or whatever) and start playing the deck in matchups. Especially focus on aggro matchups – Red Deck, U/G Madness, Affinity – because they put you on the quickest clock and force you to try and go off from untenable positions. Be sure to play against Cranial Extraction, just so you can force yourself to adopt the “casting Brain Freeze without ever casting Mind’s Desire” plan and be aware that savvy opponents may call something else with their Extractions – something that hinders the deck more than just blindly naming Mind’s Desire. Also be sure to test plenty of post-board games against Red Deck Wins; since they are the favorite in game 1 you absolutely must be at the top of your game in games 2 and 3 against them.
Playing the Deck
It’s said that Mind’s Desire is very hard to play. This mainly comes from the sheer number of decisions you are offered, and the mental weight of those decisions over the course of an eight-round tournament. But, some of the key decisions are not so bad as long as you have practice ahead of time in making them.
Your first step is whether or not the opening hand can be kept. Brainstorm is one of the best cards in your deck; if you’re on the play you can usually get away with keeping a one-land hand containing Brainstorm (that keep is slightly riskier on the draw because your opponent might Duress you, or might decide the spell is worth a Force Spike).
The next step is to plan out your first couple of turns from the hand. Obviously, your best possible turn 1 is “Land, Mox, Medallion.” Next best is to Brainstorm with a fetchland in hand, and the next best after that is to Brainstorm blind, hoping to draw a fetchland or other shuffle effect. Turn 1 “Land, Mox, Merchant Scroll for Intuition” is an okay play, but if you didn’t play a ME on turn 1, then you will face a tough choice: will your Intuition fetch AKs, or Medallions? Also keep in mind that if you Scroll for something on turn 1, an opponent wielding Cabal Therapy knows what to name.
If you played a turn 1 Medallion, it’s notable that your absolute nut-high draws can cast Mind’s Desire on turn 2. “Land, tap two lands for Cloud of Fairies (1 floating), tap two land to Snap the Cloud (2 floating), tap two lands to replay Cloud (3 floating), Mind’s Desire for a total of 4 effects with 1 floating” is one way to do this. However, even if you can do this you might not want to, hoping to build up a bigger storm count by waiting a turn.
Assuming you can’t or don’t want to cast a turn 2 Desire, the next-best play following a turn 1 Medallion is to Wish for the final going-off piece, i.e., you have a Cloud and Desire in hand and you Wish for Snap. After that, your best post-Medallion play is to Intuition for AK, or equivalently, to Merchant Scroll for Intuition and cast it.
If you did not make a turn 1 ME, then your best possible turn 2 is to play one, otherwise Merchant Scroll for Intuition, but that is a distant second because you have already wasted a lot of time. If you would make any other play on turn 2, you kept a bad hand (although it might have been unavoidable, for example, if you had already mulliganed to five).
Sometimes it makes sense to wait with your turn 2 play, so that you can do it while going off on subsequent turns. For example, you are on the draw and have a turn 1 Medallion; let’s say your draw on turn 2 gives you (Cloud, Scroll, Desire, land, land). You could Scroll on turn 2 for Snap, allowing you to cast Desire for 4 the following turn. But, if you do nothing on turn 2, then on turn 3 you’ll go “land, tap land to Scroll for Snap, play a Cloud (3 lands and a Mox untapped), Snap the Cloud (1 floating), replay Cloud (2 floating), Desire for 5 with 1 floating.” So, waiting that extra turn helped your storm count by 1.
In fact, that example can be expanded into a more general rule: playing Desire requires an odd combination of patience and aggression. Sometimes when a control deck leaves UU open, you will cast your spells right into them with no fear of Counterspell, and sometimes you will decide to wait until you can Turnabout them in your end step. Sometimes Affinity will call for you to go all-in with a pretty small Mind’s Desire rather than risk them playing Cranial Plating or Disciple of the Vault on their turn, and sometimes you will have to simply wait a turn and pray that they don’t have either of those tricks, so that you may go off on the following turn. There is no hard-and-fast rule, “always go off when X happens.” Playing the deck involves a large number of judgement calls; for my part, I find solving challenges such as those to be a lot of fun, which is why I play the deck.
Let’s look at a few test hands, which I pulled while goldfish-testing the deck at home:
2 Cloud of Fairies
2 Merchant Scroll
This hand probably goes back. As you’ll see in the next section, even hands without MEs can go off just by drawing into them, but in this case you have to scrounge up both an ME and a Mind’s Desire. Now, this hand can go Scroll for Intuition / Intuition / AK for three / Scroll for AK / AK for four, which will probably draw you into those combo parts, but this will also be a lot slower than the hands below, and you’d like to have a much more aggressive hand.
Cloud of Fairies
This hand is a keeper, but it’s also very average It’s a keeper because you have the two MEs and the Cloud + Snap combo, and if you have another land by turn 3 you’ll be able to go Scroll-Intuition. However, hands like these can also completely crap out on you: either you won’t draw a Desire, or you’ll get disrupted because it’s slower than your Mox hands, or you won’t draw a third land, etc. Hands like these can sometimes leave you thinking, “Damn, I could have won that game if only…”
2 Cloud of Fairies
Seems good. You have a Desire, you can Scroll on turn 1 for some gas, and you can generate a lot of mana when you go off. But, you have no MEs; is that a deal-breaker? That question really deserves its own section:
The Mechanics of Going Off
I decided to play three goldfish games with hand 3, assuming that I was on the play and making the same turn-1 play each time (land, Mox imprinting Cloud, Scroll for Intuition), to see how the hand developed. All of these games ended in lethal Brain Freezes on an average turn of 4. Here is how they worked out:
I topdecked and played Sapphire Medallion on turn 2. Then I got my second Island on turn 3, which I calculated would allow me to go off that turn. First, tap Mox and land for Intuition. I need to pump up the storm count, so I would like to get (Snap x 3). But, there’s a Snap in hand. Next best would be (Cloud x 3), because I don’t want my Clouds to be in the deck when I cast Mind’s Desire – due to errata, a Cloud played off of a Desire untaps zero lands. But, there are only two Clouds left in the deck. So, the Intuition fetched (Cloud x 2, Snap). I assumed the opponent gave me a Cloud; if he gave me a Snap, my mana and storm count would be even higher when I cast Desire.
Then, I tapped my remaining land for a Cloud, untapping the two Islands (storm = 2). I played a second Cloud (storm = 3, U floats), Snapped one of the Clouds (storm = 4, UU floats), and re-played the Cloud (storm = 5, UUU floats). I had UUU and two untapped lands, which allowed a Mind’s Desire for six total effects.
The first three Desire effects flipped over Sunscape Familiar, Chrome Mox, and Cunning Wish. The next Desire effect flipped over Brainstorm, which allowed me to make a key play: with two Desire effects left on the stack, I cast Brainstorm (storm = 7), drawing (Desire, Merchant Scroll, Island). I kept the Island in my hand and put back the spells; this makes it just that much more likely that my last two Desire flips will reveal gas. And then I flipped over … Turnabout and Mind’s Desire!
I played Sunscape Familiar and Chrome Mox for free (storm = 9). I played Cunning Wish for free (storm = 10), getting Intuition from my board. I played Turnabout for free to untap my two lands (storm = 11), and used those lands to cast Intuition from my hand (storm = 12), fetching (Island x 3) to thin my deck for the next spell: Mind’s Desire for 13 total effects.
The first two cards flipped over were Brain Freeze and Deep Analysis. Game over.
I drew Adarkar Wastes on turn 2, and played Intuition. I could fetch three Familiars and play the Familiar on turn 3, which will allow me to cast a Desire for four effects on turn 4. I could also go for three AK, but I did the math and realized that even if the top three cards on my deck were the nut high, I could not go off on turn 3. So I fetched (Familiar x 3).
On turn 3 I topdecked another Desire. I cast the Familiar and moved to turn 4, where I drew Brainstorm. I tapped the two lands for Cloud of Fairies (storm = 1, C floats), Snapped Cloud of Fairies (storm = 2, CC floating), re-played Cloud, tapping the Wastes for U (storm = 3, CCU floats), tapped the Mox for Brainstorm (storm = 4), drawing (Medallion, Adarkar Wastes, Cloud). I put back one Desire and the Medallion, and played the Wastes and a second Cloud of Fairies (storm = 5, CCCU floats). Then I emptied my hand by casting Mind’s Desire for six total effects and two Adarkar Wastes untapped.
The Desire was a disaster: AK, Island, Flooded Strand, Island, AK, Plains. I cast the two AKs for free, drawing (Island, Merchant Scroll, Brainstorm). I Brainstormed and drew (Snap, Cunning Wish, Sapphire Medallion). Unfortunately, because I have already played a land this turn, I cannot continue going off. However, I calculated a path that could let me try again next turn. I put back Island and Cunning Wish, and moved to turn 5.
On turn 5 I drew the Island I had put back on top from Brainstorm, and played it. My hand is (Snap, Scroll, Medallion), my board is 2 Islands, 2 Wastes, and a Mox. After using the Snap in hand on a Cloud to build up mana, the key play was to use the Scroll in hand for an Intuition, which fetched (Deep Analysis x 2, AK). I assumed I would get a DA in hand, because it is the most mana-intensive. I flashed the DA in the bin back, which gave me another Snap and another Cloud, which allowed me to build up enough mana to cast and flashback the DA in hand, which gave me Cunning Wish and Merchant Scroll and some other nonessential spells. The Wish fetched Echoing Truth for my three Clouds, at which point my notes went all to hell, because I was too busy calculating my mana and storm. But, the end result was that I was able to Scroll for a Brain Freeze that milled 51 cards, without ever casting a Mind’s Desire in the turn. Remember: the goal of the deck is not to cast Mind’s Desire!
I pulled a second Snap on turn 2, and was forced to do nothing and pass the turn. On turn 3 I pulled a Sapphire Medallion and played it. On turn 4 I pulled Flooded Strand and fetched an Island, then went Cloud-Snap-Cloud-Snap-Cloud to build up a storm count of 5 and UUUUU floating. I then cast Intuition (storm = 6, UUU floats), fetching a Cloud as in Game 1, and then cast the Cloud (storm = 7, UUUU floats). I then used the floating mana and the Mox to cast a Mind’s Desire for eight effects.
The revealed cards were Adarkar Wastes, Turnabout, Island, Sunscape Familiar, Mind’s Desire, Adarkar Wastes, Sunscape Familiar, and Intuition. I played the two Familiars for free (storm = 10) floated two mana and cast Turnabout for free on my lands (storm = 11, UU floats). I cast Intuition for free (storm = 12, UU floats), fetching (Island x 3) and thinning the deck so that I can cast a Mind’s Desire for 13 total effects. The top seven flips had only one land, and included Brain Freeze, so I ended the game right there.
Whew! That was tough. I gotta go get a beer. Thanks for reading.
[Ahem. -Knut, using the black arts to possess Mark’s body]
Oh, yeah – the matchups. This is my experience from testing (both solitaire and with teammate Rick Rust), and also from a Grand Prix Trial in Rockville, MD, on January 2. As is my habit, I don’t list percentages, since nobody trusts them worth a damn anyway. The sideboarding is mainly for my build of White Desire, as it is the deck I have the most experience with, but I will mention Dark Desire as I see fit.
A. Red Deck Wins
Sideboard: You will always want -1 Cloud of Fairies, -2 Deep Analysis, -1 Cunning Wish, +4 Sphere of Law. If you suspect that they are bringing in non-Red hosers such as Tangle Wire or Psychogenic Probe, you may want to pull the other three Clouds for Echoing Truth also.
Probably your worst matchup, because they are so damn fast and they can disrupt you just enough with Wasteland and Rishadan Port to delay your going off by a couple of crucial turns. It has gotten even tougher since most people got the news and started running Lava Dart, which makes it near impossible to go off with Cloud of Fairies + Snap.
The matchup swings in the opposite direction in the post-board games, because your silver bullet (Sphere of Law) trumps theirs (Pyrostatic Pillar). If you have to waste a Snap, Cloud or Turnabout to play the Sphere, you should do so; I can say from heavy testing that you won’t win post-board games unless Sphere resolves. Once it does resolve, you will usually gain enough turns to take your time and build up to a maximum Desire. However, don’t get lazy – in one test game I used a Cloud to get a Sphere down on turn 2, but Rick killed me with double Cursed Scroll and a morphed Blistering Firecat when my first Desire fizzled.
A certain editor for a certain other strategy website has suggested Prismatic Strands. Please, take my word for it, you don’t want to do this. The Strands’ incredible sucktitude eliminated me from the Grand Prix Trial by itself. If you have friends considering this extremely bad card, take their car keys, stage an intervention, do something. Friends don’t let friends play Prismatic Stains.
And if you are playing Dark Desire … may I suggest prayer? Instead of the Sphere you can bring in +4 Chill, but you’re almost completely forced to mulligan into turn-1 Chill, which can wreck your combo chances. Plus, you’re still forced to go off fast, because they can resolve Pyrostatic Pillar under the Chill by turn 4, which will screw you as badly as if it happened on turn 2. This matchup and the general popularity of Red Deck Wins is the primary reason why I prefer White Desire.
B. U/G Madness
Sideboarding: -2 Deep Analysis, -1 Cunning Wish, +3 Echoing Truth
(Aside: if you are unsure of how to sideboard against a fast, aggressive deck, your slowest cards are Deep Analysis and Cunning Wish, so they are usually the best ones to take out in favor of Echoing Truth, which is good against aggro.)
Let me say something really dumb: over an infinite number of games, you are favored. This is because they have an ugly mana base, you have a slightly faster goldfish, and you have Turnabout to get around countermagic and such. Now let me return to reality: over any given three-game span, they are even money with you, because of the nature of the Madness deck. Anything can happen, and it can happen fast.
Here is where it hurts a little to have changed my deck from Morgan’s build; Submerge was in his board specifically for this matchup because it is ridiculously hot. If you are expecting a ton of U/G Madness in your area, you might want to change the Truths to Submerges (although I personally like Echoing Truth because it is more flexible). Another change that Dark Desire can make is to run Terror or Smother to shore up this matchup, and those cards just happen to be good against Goblins, RDW and Aluren also.
Your biggest nightmare is Daze. They will put so much pressure on you, and your deck has so few mana sources, that you have to tap out a lot in the early turns. You’ll see that you have a string of plays which leads to a massive storm count, you start out along that path, and then they pick up one of their Islands and break your heart. But, it’s really important that you not have The Fear against their countermagic. Remember: you are the beatdown, because even an aggro deck like Madness has more counters and disruption than you do. So, while you should at least consider how to play around countermagic, you must also have the mind-set of “go off aggressively and force them to have it.”
(NOTE: I had this section all finished, and the article ready to turn into Ted, when I heard about the New New Tech for U/G: Seedtime, mainly for the mirror match and against Blue-based control. This just happens to be awesome against you. Many times your going-off scheme will involve Intuitioning or Brainstorming during their end step, and then they surprise you with a Time Walk and kill you instead. I haven’t had a chance to test this, but I would be on the lookout; it’s dangerous.)
Sideboarding: You could bring in +2 Echoing Truth for -2 Deep Analysis, because having to Cunning Wish for the bounce spell against Rule of Law is annoying. But the matchup is still favorable for you if you board in nothing, so Wishing for Truth is not required (at least, that’s what my President keeps telling me).
You have utter, complete strategic superiority against Life. They are built to combo and you are built to combo, and your Brain Freeze trumps their infinite life every time. The only things you have to worry about are them getting a fast Rule of Law + Sterling Grove, or the possibility that they might have Orim’s Chant in the main. But neither of those results is terribly likely.
This is one of the major reasons to play Mind’s Desire: if the last PTQ or GPT in your area featured a lot of Red Deck Wins and U/G, many people might start playing Life as a reaction to the metagame. Then you, as the Desire player, will crush those Life decks while still having game versus U/G and a solid chance in post-sideboard games versus RDW.
Getting back to Life: you still have strategic superiority in the post-board games, but now they have tricks. And the bad news is, if one of those tricks resolves, you are in a world of hurt. Imagine if a donkey kicked you in the crotch once a day for the rest of your life, and you condensed that pain into a single second; if your Mind’s Desire for 15 is on the stack when Orim’s Chant is announced, that’s what it feels like. They might also be running Gilded Light or something equally baggy. So, I generally suggest that you play the post-board games with the same mindset as though you were facing U/G Madness: try to get Turnabout into your hand early, so they don’t try any funny business while you are going off.
Sideboarding: -2 Deep Analysis, -1 Cunning Wish, +3 Echoing Truth
Another aggro matchup where they can get draws that just cause you to throw up your hands in frustration. The good news is that they have less disruption for your combo than U/G Madness does, and they fear your Snaps more than U/G Madness does (they will always be hesitant to go all-in with Modular counters). The bad news is that they are usually running one of two disruption cards that are disastrous against you: either Meddling Mage (if they are smart, they will name Snap), or Tangle Wire. If either of those resolves, it will usually buy enough time for them to beat you.
This matchup is yet another lesson in the hotness of Turnabout. “Turnabout your artifacts” is usually both a Fog and a Mana Short against them. However, in the end the matchup will be all about explosiveness: assuming both players know how to mulligan correctly, either you will get a draw that kills by turn 5, or they will do the same to you. I always think of this as a dead even matchup, for that reason. It requires you to have nerves of steel, since you will often be required to win on the last possible turn before they crush you, and make some risky decisions as a result.
Pierre Canali’s version offers extra complexities, because it’s not easy to remove a Meddling Mage set to Snap (and it’s impossible to remove two Meddling Mages set to Snap and Cunning Wish). If their mana were not hopelessly screwed up, you would be at a decisive disadvantage against Mr. Pikula.
Just to make sure I don’t run into any Affinity nonsense at GP: Boston, I may replace the Deep Analysis in my board with Rebuild (not Energy Flux, because you can’t Scroll or Wish for Flux). In that case, board out Turnabout instead of Cunning Wish, so that the Rebuild can be Wished for. Also, use caution in that the Rebuild will hurt your Moxen and Medallions.
E. The Rock
Sideboarding against Extraction: -2 Mind’s Desire, -1, Merchant Scroll, +2 Brain Freeze, +1 Deep Analysis. If you should somehow know that they don’t have Extraction, board in only +1 Deep Analysis for -1 Merchant Scroll.
If they don’t have Extraction in the main, then game 1 favors you, because no matter how hard they hit you with Duress + Therapy, you’ll usually be able to refill your hand with card-drawing before they can kill you. There are B/G Beatdown builds which are exceptions to this rule; if they have Duress, Therapy, and Troll Ascetic in the first three turns, you are in a lot of trouble. For the most part, as long as you hold back some MEs for post-Pernicious Deed situations, you will be in good shape.
Deed is harsh against you, of course, since it wipes out your crucial MEs, but you draw so many cards that it’s easy to recover from. As soon as you see Forests and Swamps you can just try to go off with only one ME, holding the others as redundant backups. Also, remember to use your Brainstorms to hide key cards in hand from their Duresses and Therapies.
It’s when you start facing Extractions that the game turns ugly for you. Very ugly. You have to remember (and this is the last time I’ll say this): the goal of the deck is not to cast Mind’s Desire, it is to resolve a lethally stormed Brain Freeze (or a series of them). So, for that reason, you will be boarding out some Mind’s Desires in the post-board games. I think you should board out no more than two, so that they still have to be worried enough about Desire to use their first Extraction on it. You fill those slots with Brain Freezes, which are useless to Extract since you can just Wish for them. Then, your winning plan (which I take no credit for because Douglass was playing this way before I even owned any Mind’s Desire) becomes this: By turn 3 you will require no more than 17 Freeze effects to deck them; you do not have to get all of those effects at once and you have three Freezes in the main after boarding; “Scroll for Freeze, Freeze” is two activations right there, so you can get to critical mass very fast.
There are those who say that Psychatog is great in the Dark Desire sideboard because it allows you to still win even if they Extract all of your Mind’s Desires. But, I’m still skeptical because the Rock also has a lot of ways to remove a Tog: Smother, Deed, maybe Rend Flesh or Diabolic Edict. I think that Dark Desire should also go with the Douglass plan of boarding in Brain Freezes, which are harder for the Green/Black deck to handle.
Normally, I recommend running only one Cunning Wish, but if there is a lot of Rock in your area, you should consider making room for a second one. You could cut a Merchant Scroll from the main to make room for it, or – and I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out – you could put a Cunning Wish into your sideboard. Your winning plan is then to generate sufficient mana with Turnabout, play Cunning Wish for the Wish in your board, and then chain-cast Wish into Wish over and over until you can obtain a Brain Freeze. However, as Game 3 above indicated, you don’t have to do this to obtain a brutal Freeze.
F. Other decks
Scepter-Chant can be annoying, if they get a crazy Meddling Mage draw and keep you from playing both Snap and Turnabout. But, remember, you can do stuff in their end step to allow yourself a chance to go off, so you should not scoop to Chant-on-a-stick alone. If they get any other spell under their Scepter, you shouldn’t worry; they’ll be operating at two less mana than you for the rest of the game, which is often enough tempo for you to go off. Draw out their counters; if a Turnabout on their end step is countered, it will usually tap them low enough for you to go off on your own turn. You board -1 Merchant Scroll for +1 Deep Analysis – you need DA because they have AKs for card drawing. If you were to replace the DA in the board with Rebuild, as I suggested against Affinity above, you bring it in for this matchup also, to wreck their Scepters and Moxes. In five matches against Scepter Chant, Desire won four – although that’s too small a sample size to be definitive, it should be enough to show you not to panic at the matchup.
Goblins is not a great matchup for you, because their clock is as fast as yours and it’s supported by Cabal Therapy (and possibly Cranial Extraction out of the board). You should board in +4 Sphere of Law, -2 Analysis, -1 Cunning Wish, -1 Cloud of Fairies, but even with Sphere on the table they can get a nasty Piledriver draw and just stomp you. Mulligan very aggressively in post-board games. Dark Desire actually has the advantage here, because in addition to the Smothers or Terrors it might be running, there’s also Engineered Plague to tutor for.
Aluren and the mirror are both problematic because they are just as fast as you are, and you have a hard time disrupting them. Aluren is especially annoying because they have Cabal Therapy to disrupt you. I would recommend boarding in +3 Echoing Truth for -2 Deep Analysis and -1 Turnabout, and hoping to outplay the opponent at a key moment, such as bouncing Aluren while Cavern Harpy is on the stack. You also could consider boarding a couple Brain Freezes in the mirror, so that when they try to go off they suddenly lose half of their deck.
Reanimator (and the various Sutured Ghoul combo decks) will steal the occasional game from you with a crazy Duress + Therapy draw, followed by a hasty giant monster. But I don’t need to tell you how amazing Snap and Echoing Truth are against them, right?
Finally, this Flores article concerns me a little, because Pirates could become popular at Boston as a result of this tournament. Pirates is bad news for you because their entire strategy is about mana denial and you don’t run a ton of mana, plus they have Daze. You can board in Echoing Truth to deal with their Parallax Tides and Ankhs, but I’ll be honest: you’ll have some serious problems with this deck.
All Jon Becker articles are great, but I’m linking to last week’s in particular because he mentioned me in it. If there’s one message I would say links this entire article together, it’s “accept your beats, and learn from them.” So rest assured that I took Mr. Becker’s solid thrashing of me like a man, and will strive to produce Limited material worthy of his standards.
In the same way, I hope that everyone out there understands that Mind’s Desire, like every combo deck, can crap out on you from time to time and result in your receiving a sound beating. Take it like a grownup, learn, and grow stronger.
Until next time, here’s hoping your favorite team is still undefeated (go, Jayhawks!).
This article written while listening to Kanye West’s “The College Dropout.”
mm underscore young at yahoo dot com