I always wanted to write an article about how to correctly manipulate your library. It doesn’t come up so much any more, because the decks that have manipulation in Standard or even Mirrodin Block these days don’t really require a lot of strategic Tutor technique. Sylvan Scrying doesn’t typically compete with any other Tutor for mana in a turn, and it pretty much always goes for either a Cloudpost or a missing Urza’s Tower. A short year after mono-Black control was at least arguably the best deck in Standard, no one plays either Diabolic Tutor or Undead Gladiator. Ditto on Steelshaper’s Gift – I can think of a lot of decks that might have wanted Steelshaper’s Gift in with a very slightly different card pool.
Like what are you really going to play as a Tutor? Right now there aren’t a lot of complicated Tutor chains. The most difficult decision making process I’ve heard of in a while is deciding whether to imprint Thoughtcast or Serum Visions on a Chrome Mox.
Here is a deck that we looked at last time, Kai’s High Tide winner from GP Vienna in 1999:
2 Arcane Denial
4 Force of Will
3 Frantic Search
4 High Tide
3 Merchant Scroll
1 Mystical Tutor
3 Stroke of Genius
4 Time Spiral
4 Volcanic Island
4 Thawing Glaciers
2 Null Rod
I chose this deck to open up because it plays three distinct cheap plays that Kai would have made consistently at the end of his opponent’s turn: Brainstorm, Impulse, and Mystical Tutor. The first thing Randy would point out is that Kai should be Impulsing for his Brainstorm so that he can go off with his Thawing Glaciers, but we’re going to jump past that one. Kai’s Merchant Scroll and sometimes Frantic Search would add an additional layer of complexity to the Tutor sequence decisions, but the first three are plenty difficult for at least our initial discussions.
Now there will be simple turns where Kai had his one Mystical Tutor at the end of the opponent’s turn (which he probably got with one of his Merchant Scroll). What can Mystical Tutor get that Merchant Scroll can’t? I’m guessing the German Juggernaut-to-be was going for Time Spiral most of the time, ending the game with his subsequent untap.
But there would be many games where he might have both Impulse and Brainstorm. In what order should he cast them? I think that the answer is dictated by whether or not he thinks he can live through the next turn and by how many combination pieces he needs. If Kai only needs one combo piece but he thinks that he has to go off next turn, he should probably play Impulse followed by Brainstorm. Why? Because his goal is to dig as deeply into his deck as possible. Think about it this way: If he wants to find a specific card, it is probably better to look at 4 + 3 (7) possible cards rather than to play Brainstorm first, which doesn’t add a lot to what you would be getting from Impulse alone.
Now what if Kai had Mystical Tutor in his hand with Impulse or Brainstorm… but needed two different cards? In this case his plays would be very different if he were playing at the end of the turn or if he were playing on his own main phase. At the end of the turn, Kai would almost always lead with the Impulse or Brainstorm and then follow up with the Mystical Tutor (which incidentally shuffles for Brainstorm). But if he rips Mystical Tutor, he will probably use the Mystical Tutor specifically to find the card that he wants and use the Impulse or Brainstorm to put that card directly into his hand.
As you can see, when playing a deck with a lot of manipulation, you will be presented with many opportunities to play badly. Approaching a turn correctly requires not just a donkeylike capability to tap mana and drop spells on the table, but the knowledge of what you want, and clear thinking of how to get there.
Now other library manipulation cards present different decision making processes. Mystical Tutor and Merchant’s Scroll let you build your deck with singletons, whereas raw card drawing like Accumulated Knowledge and Fact or Fiction reward a library full of redundant copies of the same spells. One card in particular asks you to build your deck in a very specific way: Intuition.
Intuition is a special case in that it works as a direct Demonic Tutor for any class of card, but only as long as you have three copies of a card in your deck. This created a new deck design paradigm based on threes rather than fours or ones. For example, you might see a High Tide deck with three copies of Mind Over Matter. In addition, Intuition has a perhaps unintended interaction with graveyard-based effects. For many years, you could Intuition for Gaea’s Blessing + Gaea’s Blessing + X and have a guaranteed deck shuffle; in the present Extended, Intuition is used more for finding triple Accumulated Knowledge than anything else (setting up a pure Ancestral Recall). One of the more specialized competitive direct applications of Intuition to see competitive play in recent years is another deck we looked at last time, U/G Threshold:
4 Careful Study
4 Deep Analysis
4 Mental Note
1 Rushing River
1 Krosan Reclamation
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Roar of the Wurm
4 Wild Mongrel
3 Flooded Strand
1 Polluted Delta
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Yavimaya Coast
This deck does all kinds of insane Intuition tricks. It can Intuition for Krosan Reclamation and any combination of two other cards and always get the Krosan Reclamation. It can go for Wonder + Wonder + X or Genesis + Genesis + X and always have access to the proper Incarnation. It can go for triple Roar of the Wurm or triple Deep Analysis (or some combination of the two) and demolish the opponent with overwhelming Flashback card advantage. Once Genesis is in the graveyard, Intuition can pump out infinite creatures, starting off as a straight Demonic Tutor for the first creature and then recoup the follow-ups. Like Mental Note and Careful Study, Intuition always puts three cards in the graveyard for Threshold.
An even more specific application of the same principle is Guided Passage.
Aaron Moshiashwilli won an Invasion Block Constructed PTQ with this deck:
4 Fact or Fiction
4 Fire / Ice
4 Guided Passage
2 Meteor Storm
4 Mystic Snake
3 Prophetic Bolt
2 Breath of Darigaaz
4 Urza’s Rage
4 Shivan Oasis
3 Shivan Reef
3 Yavimaya Coast
2 Breath of Darigaaz
4 Jungle Barrier
What is tight about this deck? Guided Passage can only get Mystic Snake. While the opponent will always get some random land and always have to pick some spell – and most them are pretty good – the only creature that he can ever choose is Mystic Snake. This turns Guided Passage into a straight up Eladamri’s Call for one more mana that draws two more cards (and always ensures your next land drop). I think Flametongue Kavu would have been a good sideboard card following this logic, but Aaron didn’t need it to win his 2001 Q.
You can build with Guided Passage the opposite way. For a long time, I tried decks that had a lot of creatures but only a few non-creature spells. One version could be an Animal Farm sort of deck that only has Guided Passages for non-creature spells, which would keep the Passages flowing indefinitely.
So what is the point?
Recently, we have seen a brand new and challenging library manipulation card: Gifts Ungiven
Even though Gifts Ungiven has the same cost (U3) and a similar effect (put two cards in your hand and two in the graveyard) to Fact or Fiction, Gifts Ungiven presents challenges that are not present when playing with the once-ubiquitous Fact or Fiction. Fact or Fiction was just an excellent card drawing engine. You always got three cards in hand if you wanted, or could take the one when it was better than four cards combined. Fact or Fiction was in a sense a very strategic card, because it asked for strong decision making on both sides of the table, but it went happily into whatever decks capable of a single Blue mana. Heck, there was more than one very good deck that played both Fact or Fiction and Blastoderm!
Rich Frangiosa used to like to run this play where he would have a counter, but would play Fact or Fiction with a must-answer threat on the stack. That way, the opponent might bias his Fact or Fiction piles away from a counter (say 4-1 where 3-2 would normally be the split) and he could mise an extra card (and just answer the stack spell with the counter in his hand). Say in the same situation you are holding Gifts Ungiven.
First of all, you would have had to build your deck in a particular way such that you have four different kinds of counters if it is your intention to counter the spell. Say you have Vex, Condescend, Mana Leak, and Rewind. Guess what? You are losing the Mana Leak and Condescend. Worse yet, you are getting the Vex. I guess you could build your deck with three different kinds of counters and just get Vex + land or something. Not that you have to play with four copies of each class of permission… you just have to have a discreet copy of a counter when you want to play Gifts Ungiven. The point is, where a previous strong card drawing made you play like you had more counters, Gifts Ungiven, even as it puts more cards in your hand, doesn’t.
That said, Gifts Ungiven is probably going to be a nice fit in a U/G artifact hate deck. Where most of the U/G Mirrodin Block decks have focused on specific artifact hate cards, playing with Gifts Ungiven actually gives you an incentive to do things like play 2 Viridian Shaman, 1 Tel-Jilad Justice, 1 Naturalize, and 4 Oxidize or something, rather than just playing the most powerful artifact hate for your deck. You can do the same thing with Electrostatic Bolt, Shatter, Echoing Ruin, and Detonate… but Red ain’t got no Eternal Witness.
Gifts Ungiven is going to be a challenging card to play. It generates card advantage every time, but asks specific things in return. It is almost guaranteed to deplete your deck of its best spells… but it also always puts two cards in your hand. In addition, Gifts Ungiven is an instant, and Blue mages have been very eager to play whatever Blue instant card drawing they can of late.
On the subject of Blue instant card drawing and playing sub-optimal spells, we have this card Thirst for Knowledge. I hate Thirst for Knowledge. Not that Thirst for Knowledge is actually a bad spell or anything, but every time I see it in a U/W deck I kind of cringe.”It’s card selection,” BDM tells me… but to me that is like playing Probe in a straight U/W deck. I liked Probe more than most people, before most people, but I wouldn’t have played it in straight U/W.
Most of the U/W decks that showed up at Worlds had 3-4 artifacts in their main decks, usually some Wayfarer’s Baubles or Relic Barriers. Seth Burn played a combination totaling five artifacts. What does that mean? Most of the time Thirst for Knowledge is going to be a one-for-one at the end of turn. It’s probably simplistic to put it in this way because of the ability to pitch extra land or even creature elimination in a control war, but Thirst for Knowledge is, on the numbers, usually a one-for-one. I look at it in the U/W decks and say to myself”Why not play Gempalm Sorcerer? That way, if you don’t want to draw 1 card for 2U, you have always got a beater.”
In all seriousness, Billy Jensen kind of put Thirst for Knowledge in perspective. Billy is a criminally underrated designer responsible for Roar of the Wurm in Oath of Druids and Four Freedoms in Marvel. He also called Enlightened Tutor”Careful Study” (before Careful Study was cool), summoned Paradise Mantle in Florida a couple of months back, and most impressively, made Top 8 of a Grand Prix with Battle of Wits. Billy used to be the best player who never won a Pro Tour, but then he went and won one.”I’d rather play Catalog.”
At the end of the day, there were too many decks, in my opinion, that played only 2-3 Eternal Dragons but 4 Thirst for Knowledge. Which would you rather have on turn 2? On turn 7? Which is likely to draw more cards over the course of a twenty-turn game? Now I’m no Gabriel Nassif – and Nassif especially did a great job with U/W last weekend – but I just don’t get Thirst for Knowledge in U/W… not in the specific builds we’ve seen thus far, anyway.
Oh, and Billy would”rather play Catalog.”