A Stronger, More Loving World: How Psychatog Has Influenced Type 1 Control

Like Steve Menendian wrote last week, Tog has completely changed around how the metagame in Type 1 needs to be viewed. This week, Knut’s asked me to look at how Type 1 would change without Tog. In terms of how the metagame would be changed, it’s pretty obvious. I’m going to focus on the various lessons that Tog has taught to Type 1 deckbuilders.

Like Steve Menendian wrote last week, Tog has completely changed around how the metagame in Type 1 needs to be viewed. This week, Knut’s asked me to look at how Type 1 would change without Tog. In terms of how the metagame would be changed, it’s pretty obvious. I’m going to focus on the various lessons that Tog has taught to Type 1 deckbuilders.

Just to get the obvious out of the way now: Keeper, aggro, and prison get stronger, aggro-control gets weaker, and combo stays the same.

Streamlined Control

Traditionally, Keeper has been the best control deck in Type 1 as long as there isn’t another control deck that is more streamlined. Simply by looking at card choices, Keeper is more powerful than Tog. Deep Analysis can only draw four cards, but Skeletal Scrying could potentially draw just about any number.

Normally, when control can’t be so streamlined, it needs to run answers in order to generate enough time to draw out of the deck’s clunkiness. You can just look at tournament reports to see the difference. A Keeper game might consist of killing a creature with Swords to Plowshares, Wishing for a Disenchant to destroy Survival of the Fittest, and setting up Balance with Mystical Tutor and then finishing off with a Yawgmoth’s Will where ten cards were replayed.

Then compare this to Tog reports like”Game 1: I draw lots of cards. Game 2: He doesn’t have basic lands in his deck.” They’re usually oversimplification, but they also explain that just because you could run answers doesn’t mean that you need to.

Note that not all of the innovation here is purely because of Tog, since Tog, GAT, and the old four Fact or Fiction mono-Blue decks are a lot alike. They both contained a lot of draw, a lot of counters, some inexpensive game-winning cards (Tog, Back to Basics) and some expensive game-winning cards (Will, Morphling.) Unlike Keeper, they didn’t bother with cards that really took the opponent into account. Technically, yes Back to Basics and Mind Twist interact with the opponent, but most people just assume that their opponent will have a hand or will have lots of non-basic lands. These decks had very simple win conditions to satisfy. Did you play enough spells? If so, you won your game with GAT. Did you draw enough cards? Then you won with Tog or mono-Blue.

Racing With Control

The shadow of the old Weissman The Deck still looms really large over Type 1 control decks. There’s a real urge for most Type 1 control decks to try to just dominate the opponent, by casting the biggest Will or sweeping an entire board with Smokestack. Tog is probably the control deck where you have needed the least control over the game and the least flashy plays in order to win. This is probably best symbolized by the fact that you could have four counters in your hand, and that would be more than enough to counter any possible future threats from your opponent, but in the end you’ll just end up discarding them to do another six damage. Mono-Blue usually would have a hand full of counters, Keeper would play a Will that would take five minutes to process, and GAT would do some insanity with Fastbond, but Tog has been pretty low-key. Lots of Tog’s Will are just Black Lotus, Time Walk, Tog and then proceed to win on the Time Walk legacy.

Another great example of this is the Tog vs. Prison matchup, where the Tog player will often win with Psychatog being their only permanent because it was able to attack just enough times before the Smokestack ate everything. This sort of thing is starting to show up a bit in Keeper now. It’s really tough for Oshawa Stompy (for instance) to win if Keeper morphs an Exalted Angel on turn 1 and flips it turn 2. If Keeper tried to play for the long game there, it would have had a lot of trouble trying to beat the card advantage from Survival of the Fittest/ Squee and Bazaar of Baghdad discarding Madness cards.

Mana Drain

Probably the most radical innovation to come out of Tog is that not-very-radical-sounding use of Mana Drain as, get this, a mana generator! While everyone knows that control has been using Mana Drain since forever, it was typically used in a much different role. It really just seemed to be used to make spells bigger rather than to, you know, accelerate mana. There’s actually a big difference between using the three mana from Mana Drain to cast a six point rather than three point Stroke of Genius, and the use of Mana Drain to cast Intuition and Accumulated Knowledge in the same turn. With the first usage, you’re using it on a lategame spell. If you tried casting that Stroke on turn 3 right off your Drain, you could do it, but it would probably only be for three points or so, which really isn’t the best use of six mana. The same holds true for a lot of the mana hungry spells in control decks like Will.

In Tog, if you used that three mana on turn 3 to cast Intuition/AK for Cunning Wish and the card you wished for (say, Smother), you’re doing something that you wouldn’t have been able to do at that point. Also, because of the aforementioned streamlining of control, this makes Tog much more likely to use Mana Drain purely as an accelerant rather than a counter. Tog will Drain random cards like Cloud of Faeries for mana that Keeper would never dream about countering.

Tog Without Tog

First off, a bit of a disclaimer on this section: I don’t think that Tog needs to be weakened through restrictions and I’m not going to go through a possible list of all the cards that could potentially be restricted in order to weaken Tog. I’m going to just be dealing with what would happen if Psychatog itself were restricted, since that is the only restriction that would force the deck completely away rather than weakening it in order to balance the metagame.

If Psychatog were to be restricted, I think that it would likely morph into something like the Quirion Dryad decks that GAT has turned into. The difference between current GAT and current Tog is probably only around six cards or so (with most of this coming from the replacement of Psychatog with Quirion Dryad), but the choice of a kill card completely changes the plan the deck needs to win. I’ve chosen Quirion Dryad here instead of something like Morphling or Masticore because, in addition to being much more mana efficient than those two, Quirion Dryad functions in a similar way to Psychatog. In terms of just attacking and blocking, Psychatog and Quirion Dryad are pretty similar, in that they’re both cheap and larger than just about any other creature in Type 1 save Phyrexian Dreadnought.

The difference comes up in how the two creatures are inflated. With Tog, the plan is to go through a large number of cards, while the Dryad decks try to cast a large number of spells (and with Morphling, the plan is to generate a certain amount of mana.) Going back to what I said in the first section, this reduces the streamlining, which is probably the greatest strength of Tog. Tog usually only needs to cast about two draw spells generating around seven cards, in order to win. The total spell count of Tog would probably be something like this:

1-3 tutors (including Intuition, Brainstorm, etc.) to find the card draw

2 draw spells

1 Psychatog

Monkey wrenches like having to block creatures, use Force of Will, or Cunning Wish for Berserk will add more spells to this list, but if you we look at it, Tog really only needs to cast about five or six spells in order to win, (not counting the artifact accelerants, since they don’t go to the graveyard and don’t trigger Quirion Dryad either). Six spells doesn’t seem like that much at all, seeing how Long.dec only needed ten spells to kill, and it was able to count its artifact mana accelerants towards that total. With Dryad decks, the spell total is still probably around five or six spells, but the big difference here is that you can’t just go out and cast them at any time like with Tog, which hurts your streamlining.

While Dryad decks aren’t as extreme as Long.dec in terms of needing to play all its spells at a very specific time or else they”don’t count,” they definitely lose some of Tog’s flexibility. Tog can play its draw whenever it likes and once it gets Tog, it wins. The current Dryad decks have a lot more pure card drawers like Accumulated Knowledge instead of the cantrips that GAT used to run, so this means that even without a Dryad on the board, the deck can take control in the traditional control deck manner and then win. It just means that it’ll take additional work that the Tog deck wouldn’t need in order to win after the deck draws Dryad. This is also why Tog decks can get away with running just three Togs with the Dryad decks must run four Dryads.

The last bit that I’d like to mention about Tog, is that while I’ve said that Tog’s plan is play a certain number of draw spells, at which point it wins, there are actually many other possible ways to play the card. This is what makes it so strong. Way back in the day (meaning, about a year ago,) I ran a copy of Upheaval in Tog, mostly because at this point the deck was still pretty heavily based on the Extended and Standard versions of Tog. This gave it the alternate approach of making the deck’s plan”generate nine mana.” Shortly after Berserk was unrestricted, a lot of people toyed with the idea of making the plan”draw Tog and Berserk.” This got discontinued as the main plan (although as everyone knows, it’s often the primary one against aggro) because as you can see it’s a lot more specific than”draw seven cards” or”generate nine mana.”

And Now What You’ve All Been Waiting For

I was reviewing for my poli sci midterm last week, and one of the areas that was going to be on the test was on the usage of espionage during the Revolutionary War (the”Colonial Rebellion” to our friends from across the pond.) Apparently, a lot of the Founding Fathers were actually very skilled spies. John Jay and Ben Franklin were good with technical things, such as forgery and chemicals, for instance. Aaron Burr was a master of disguise, and George Washington was skilled in infiltration. So suffice it to say, I thought that was awesome, and that it would be really awesome if somebody made a movie that played this up more.

But then my overactive imagination took hold and warped and mutated the idea. What if we went a step further and made the Founding Fathers superheroes. Granted, there’s a fine line to walk here so that this doesn’t just look like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but c’mon, think about it! You could have George Washington be a super soldier or have Ben Franklin give the Patriots thermoptic camo for the Boston Tea Party! How awesome would that be? You’ve even got a perfect villain in Benedict Arnold and you could probably Dr. Doom-ify General Cornwallis. If it works, you could even turn it into a series, with Founding Fathers 2: The War to Save the Union-starring Christopher Walken as Abraham Lincoln, Samuel L. Jackson as Frederick Douglass, and Ed Harris as General Robert E. Lee – and Founding Fathers 3: A Date That Will Live in Infamy which could not possibly fail due to its very concept of superheroes in World War II.

Hell, it’s probably even somewhat sound artistically because of the mythic subtext in superhero narratives, with the reason being that superheroes stories, like myth, both narrative ideology (for instance,”truth, justice, and the American way”) and exist in the shared consciousness of the population.

…or I might just be really, really retarded.

JP Meyer

jpmeyer at case dot edu (it’s different now!)