Back to Basics (A Beginner’s Guide to Type I Magic Concepts)
Part 1: Why Timmy and [author name="Brian Kibler"]Brian Kibler[/author] shouldn’t play Type I (why fat is bad)
Part 2: A mana curve can be a line or a blob
Part 3: Counting card advantage
Part 4: Recounting card advantage (a clarification of Part 3)
Part 5: Counting tempo (Part I)
I just got an e-mail reminder from Darren Di Battista, a.k.a. Azhrei, to sign”Paragons of Vintage” under every article, and my apologies. I’m a founding member of the group that includes players from the old Beyond Dominia crew of Darren, Matt D’Avanzo, JP”Polluted” Meyer, and myself to Type I World Champion”Crazy” Carl Winter and finalist Shane Stoots. I realized some people have mixed things up when a reader e-mailed me to ask whether or not I agreed with a certain doctrine traced to the Paragons.
You might remember the bulk of the signed cards in my real-life deck came from our little group, and Steve Holeyfield recently mailed a signed Beta Swords to Plowshares and signed foil Chainer’s Edict (he proposed the latter most vocally in our e-group, after it was initially thumbed down immediately after the creature-light Fact or Fiction environment).
Reactions To The Worlds Side Event
“The Deck,” Sylvain Lauriol, Champion, Worlds 2003 Type I side event, August 2003
1 Gorilla Shaman
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Sol Ring
1 Strip Mine
1 Library of Alexandria
1 City of Brass
3 Polluted Delta
3 Flooded Strand
4 Underground Sea
3 Volcanic Island
1 Tropical Island
1 Circle of Protection: Red
2 Swords to Plowshares
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Blue Elemental Blast
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Ebony Charm
3 Red Elemental Blast
1 Skeletal Scrying
1 Shattering Pulse
“The Deck” diehards, all the way down to Brian Weissman, have sent in their congratulations to Sylvain – but no one could make sense of the mana base and striking omissions like Brainstorm. I noted last week that he lacked cards like Tundra, but Matthieu Durand, a.k.a. Toad on TheManaDrain.com, e-mailed with the complete story.
He said:”The guy who has won the tournament is Sylvain Lauriol, the 2002 French National Champion. He was playing in Worlds and finished the first day with a perfect 6-0-0 with Goblin Bidding. He sometimes plays Type One and decided to get involved in the Type One side event at the end of the Worlds. The only decks he could find were a Keeper with Collector’s Edition lands and Power 9, and a bad Neo-Academy. So he took both decks and built a Keeper with all the cards he had available. When he started to list his deck, he noticed he had six Underground Seas, then swapped two with Islands. Then the tourney starts, and at that point, he didn’t even know he has no Tundras in his deck. He admitted he had a real bad deck, and he added he won a lot of games thanks to opponents’ mistakes.
“The conclusion of his report was ‘Avoir des cartes à 500 euros et tester le T1 c’est bien, mais savoir jouer à Magic l’Assemblée c’est mieux,’ which I would translate by ‘Owning five hundred Euros cards and playtesting Type One is good, but knowing how to play Magic The Gathering’ is better.”
Congratulations once again – and perhaps that last note reinforces the wake-up call that was GenCon 2003, as noted in the second half of “The Vintage Conundrum.”
Super Grow, Maxim Barkman, Second Place, Worlds 2003 Type I side event, August 2003
Our finalist Maxim also dropped a line:”I read your article ‘Back to Basics,’ where you mentioned my Grow Deck from the Worlds.
“Until now, I’ve played in only three Vintage events and each time I played Grow. The first was in Mönchen Gladbach on 10/11/2002; you can check the decklist at Morphling.de ‘Decks to Beat.’ At this time, Grow was not considered a good deck and only the Chapin version was known. Other Dülmen players (for example, Oliver Daems) were not successful in the tests. I think the problem was the lack of fetchlands until this point. I made second place, losing to Carsten Kötter (my friend and test partner in Berlin) in the finals.
“My second tournament was Dülmen 06/15/2003, where I once again made second place with my new version of Grow. It was the brightest time of the unstoppable Gro-A-Tog, and I had to fight four Tog decks (the others were The Shining, Zombies, and the mirror against Carsten Kötter playing my deck). I lost only one time against Falk Bernhardt with his Tog because of a double-mulligan and manascrew in the second game.
“My third tournament’s already been written about, and I once again I made second place (which is strange, since it means that I’m the one Carsten always wants to play in the finals!). I played Grow again. I played against almost all decks from the new metagame (The Shining, B/G suicide with Void, Rector/Bargain, Survival-Mask, Long.dec, Illusions/Bargain, and Fish). I lost against Illusions/Bargain because I made a mistake and I was playing against Tom van de Logt, the 2003 World Champion – and he hardly ever makes them.
“He had one card and I held Seal of Cleansing, Accumulated Knowledge, two Meddling Mages, and Counterspell. All the dangerous cards were in the graveyard (including Rushing River) so I played Meddling Mage and Seal of Cleansing, tapping all my lands and thinking that his draw was unimportant – but I forgot about Yawgmoth’s Will. The other two games were funny because in one game he managed to Donate one Illusion of Grandeur, but I Swordsed my Enforcer and survived with one to beat him down with Meddling Mage because he did not find the second Donate for his Mana Crypt. In the third game, it was a second-turn kill (I had no Force of Will, but I kept the hand because of two Meddling Mage).
“What do I want to say? I am not a very experienced Vintage player because I’ve played in only three Sanctioned Vintage events, but my Grow Deck always performed very well against almost all deck types in really big events. In my opinion, Grow is one of the best Vintage decks even after the restriction of Gush.”
Counting Tempo: Recap
In Part I, we recapped card advantage and summed up that drawing extra cards is like taking extra turns. However, this is put in context when you consider that an extra turn has other components, in addition to an extra card draw:
- Untap all your permanents
- Draw one card
- Play one land
- Make an attack
Today, we continue with our exploration of the non-card advantage components of a turn, and link land drops with the use of an untap phase.
We already touched on mana when we discussed land drops – but with the complexity of present Magic, I’d like to split up the discussion, despite unavoidable overlap.
You gain a tempo advantage by building a total mana capacity beyond the total land drops allowed by your present turn. For example, Dark Ritual gives you three mana on turn 1 – a time when you should only have one mana at most. Thus, you can make a Turn 3 play on Turn 1, gaining two turns on your opponent in that respect. Pushing your total mana envelope can be done with anything from Mishra’s Workshop to Llanowar Elf.
Beyond this, however, you also need to maximize your given mana in any single turn. The simplest example? You can also use the cheapest possible spells.
The Restricted List reflects this by classifying some of the most undercosted spells ever printed as abusive. Ancestral Recall, for example, gains card advantage with a disproportionately small fraction of any untap phase. Demonic Consultation similarly lets you tutor without skipping a beat. Mind’s Desire is the newest and perhaps the worst culprit: When set up right, not only does it”draw” a lot of cards for six mana, it even gives them to you for free!
Note that the bulk of permanents untapped each turn are mana producers, so when we talk about”untap phase” here, we ignore the few commonly-used non-mana permanents that can only be activated once a turn, such as Goblin Welder. We’re focusing on the mana.
Why You Have To Be Stingy With Your Mana
“Why Timmy and Kibler Shouldn’t Play Type I” (discussing fat) and “A Mana Curve Can Be a Line or a Blob” both explained why you want to use the cheapest possible spells in your deck, but tempo is the complete context.
Let’s backtrack from the above two articles and give you three sets of Oracle text for comparison:
One of your first steps out of scrubdom was the realization that Gray Ogre is mediocre even in Limited, Ironclaw Orcs is a placeholder in red decks when cheaper or better creatures aren’t in the format, and Jackal Pup is still red’s most important front-liner to date.
The simple explanation is that drawbacks don’t matter; the original Sligh decks with Ironclaw Orcs didn’t plan on blocking much, anyway. But this isn’t the complete picture.
These”abilities” aren’t so much drawbacks as they are trade-offs. Jackal Pup simply reads,”Get a two-power creature two turns earlier, at the risk of some extra damage.” Not all trade-offs are worth it – you don’t see Scarred Puma in use, for example – but Jackal Pup’s isn’t so hard to minimize.
If you had a Black Lotus in your opening hand, which would you rather have? Obviously, three Jackal Pups, and definitely not one Gray Ogre. (You might remember the”Dark Ritual, Sarcomancy, Sarcomancy, Carnophage” openings from the old Type II.)
Imagine a deck of nothing but Mountains, Jackal Pups, and Lightning Bolts squaring off against a deck of nothing but Mountains, Ironclaw Orcs and Incinerates. The latter would have some serious catching up to do-if the Pup player goes first, he’ll have three two-power creatures even before the first Orc hits the board. Heaven help a deck of nothing but Mountains, Gray Ogres and Urza’s Rages.
Going to a completely different archetype, Red Elemental Blast has been one of the game’s best control cards in tempo terms. Consider this hypothetical Turn 5, with both players having five land on the board:
Hulk Smash: Psychatog.
Mono Blue: Mana Drain.
Hulk Smash: Red Elemental Blast.
Mono Blue: Mana Drain again.
Hulk Smash: Red Elemental Blast again.
Mono Blue (with just one blue untapped): Force of Will!
Hulk Smash: Force of Will back! Psychatog resolves?
Why is it better if your cards cost half as much as your opponent’s?
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Why Vindicate Is A Bad Type I Card
Measuring your partial Time Walks in terms of how you maximize an untap phase is murky, however. The above Jackal Pup/Ironclaw Orcs/Gray Ogre example is vague because you need an implied benchmark, and playing Jackal Pup puts you ahead only if you accept Gray Ogre as your standard. However, everyone would probably consider the Pup as the standard, and no one plays the Orcs or Ogre in Type I.
The bean counting is more practical, however, when you start looking at trades with your opponent. Going back to the Pups/Bolts and Orcs/Incinerate decks, consider:
If, at this point, the Orc player blocks, the trade is even in card advantage terms, but he trades two mana for the Pup player’s one. In this particular context, he lost his entire turn 2 untap phase for only half of the Pup player’s.
The same thing happens if the Pup player just Bolts his Orcs, then sends the three Pups in. The same thing also happens if the Orcs player holds off and casts Incinerate instead.
(This helps explain why Powder Keg was so important to mono blue, incidentally. Stopping one-mana 2/1s with two-mana counterspells is a losing proposition, unless you have Keg to blow up several one-mana creatures simultaneously.)
The above simple demonstration has not lost relevance since Tempest – note that”Bears” (for Grizzly Bears, the quintessential two-mana 2/2) is a very relevant Limited term.
Gaining tempo trade-offs are apparent when you play removal. As noted in “Why Timmy and Kibler Shouldn’t Play Type I,” fat creatures are generally bad because the opponent can just do whatever he wants in his turn, leave a single white mana open, then use Swords to Plowshares to neutralize your entire turn’s worth of mana.
Mana Drain is even worse for you because the opponent can just hold two mana open, neutralize a turn’s worth of your mana, then use the same mana against you next turn. From here, it should be obvious why Force of Will is incredible protection for broken plays – you can play out your strategy without skipping a beat.
Thus, you can see that removal and counters come out ahead in tempo if they neutralize more expensive plays, and Type I has every cheap removal and counter ever printed. This line of thinking, for example, explains why Ball Lightning is not played in competitive Sligh, despite its efficiency.
Apocalypse’s Vindicate presented a (relatively) recent tempo skill test.”Destroy target permanent” is a very attractive ability.”The Deck” players eagerly tested one or two copies, figuring it made for a more flexible Dismantling Blow.
My forecast was wrong, though. I admitted that a three-mana sorcery was awkward, but it seemed fair given the flexibility. The tempo, however, was all wrong – something I saw immediately after the first test that involved an opponent’s Jackal Pup. For exactly the same reason, Urza’s Rage is not removal that gives you a free finisher, since the early tempo trade-off is so cumbersome.
Bounce presents another good example, and it’s generally bad in Type I outside combo decks that can’t run anything better than Rushing River to clear out problem permanents. One reason, of course, is that you have so many better spells to run than Unsummon, Boomerang, and Seal of Removal. However, if you’ve ever tried to recreate a Tempest-era Capsize and Tradewind Rider deck, you’ll find that Type I permanents are so cheap it’ll take you an eternity to win by bouncing permanents. That sort of casual deck will just win with Morphlings anyway, making the bounce superfluous.
Loss Of Untap Phases As A Drawback
You’ll only fully understand Echo if you fully understand tempo, and this mechanic confuses a lot of newer players. For example, if Jackal Pup is really good, then why not use Goblin Patrol, which even works with Goblin Grenade?
The answer is, again, tempo.
Paying the echo cost, simply, eats up part of an untap phase. A one-mana echo creature will most likely eat up half of Turn 2’s. It’s easy to see that if a Patrol gets Bolted after you pay for the Echo, you lose tempo almost as if you ran Ironclaw Orcs instead.
This is also why Pouncing Jaguar, Albino Troll, and others are not used in Stompy, though they were efficient enough for Urza-era Standard. Morph costs have to be analyzed along similar lines. Further, seemingly bargain creatures with upkeeps are even worse; Spindrift Drake, for example, is hardly a top Fish pick.
You have to be able to spot other drawbacks that are really tempo losses in disguise. Lands that come into play tapped are a very common example, and there’s a world of difference between Bad River and Polluted Delta.
Some very powerful mechanics, of course, are thinly veiled tempo gains. Priest of Gix was a striking example from the old Type II, and”Dark Ritual, Priest” could lead to degenerate weenie swarms. In Type I, Cloud of Faeries is still used in Fish decks today, and Frantic Search was restricted because its untap mechanic was too easily used to fuel combos.
The most powerful enhance a deck’s ability to play multiple spells in the same turn. Nightscape Familiar was a Type II example, and you had Sapphire Medallion and Helm of Awakening in Type I. Of course, this is also why Sphere of Resistance isn’t something a combo player wants to see.
Application: Mana Curves
If you’ve played for some time and have read a few articles, you might think it’s pretty simple.
If I hard-cast a Shivan Dragon and it gets Mana Drained, I’m screwed because it’s like I lost a turn, my opponent got to use his, and it’s like he even gained one more from my mana. Check.
Back in the day, Memory Lapse on an expensive spell could waste an opponent’s time by forcing him to replay it? Old news, Oscar.
I’d like you to also take a deeper look, though, at how very concrete Magic theories all trace themselves back to tempo (though it can be useful and less overwhelming to think about them separately).
“A Mana Curve Can Be a Line or a Blob” explained mana curves comprehensively. More than meeting a fixed quota of spells in each casting cost, a mana curve is simply about being able to use all of your mana in a given turn.
Tempo underlies the theory, however, and the mana curve is not an independent theory in itself. This is readily seen when a deck’s curve has”holes” in it. For example, here’s the”Limp Black” deck used for demonstration in “The Nantuko Conspiracy”:
A lot of people played this about a year ago without realizing the tempo problems of a bad hand. Again, that article’s mana chart read:
Hymn, Sinkhole, Reaver, Shade, Keg, Tutor
Negator, Specter, Yawgmoth’s Will
All of the cards from Hymn to Tourach to Nantuko Shade are incredibly efficient – but the wrong mix can lead to wasted untap phases, as seen in the above turn 1 and turn 3. This problem has yet to be satisfactorily resolved, especially with cards like Null Rod and Withered Wretch being touted for the present metagame, but it has to at least be recognized. White Weenie also has a similar problem, with most of the best plays in the two-mana slot.
This caveat isn’t limited to Type I. You might, for example, put in too many three-mana creatures in Onslaught Limited, forgetting about your Morphs.
It’s useful to separate very concrete and well-defined segments of a theory into its own little compartment, but trying to create a slew of little sub-theories is as unproductive as it is confusing.
One of the more over- or misused, in my opinion, is”investment theory.”
The idea was first articulated by Mike Flores on the rec.games.trading-cards.magic.strategy newsgroup, in a post dated March 20, 1998 (“Advanced Strategy: Investment”). He couched the theory in a specific question: Why was Whispers of the Muse seeing play in Standardat that time, but not Jayemdae Tome?
Mike answered his own question:”What makes Whispers of the Muse so good? Investment. That is, the Whispers does not force you to invest a card.”
Mike’s points are easily restated in table form, and assume the player only has six mana:
Whispers of the Muse (with buyback)
First turn: 6 total mana spent, +1 net card advantage
Second turn: 12 total mana spent, +2 net card advantage
Third turn: 18 total mana spent, +3 net card advantage
Fourth turn: 24 total mana spent, +4 net card advantage
First turn: 4 total mana spent, -1 net card advantage (considering it sits there useless)
Second turn: 8 total mana spent, +0 net card advantage (first draw”replaces” Tome)
Third turn: 12 total mana spent, +1 net card advantage (second activation)
Fourth turn: 16 total mana spent, +2 net card advantage (third activation)
Thus, the point is Jayemdae Tome normally reaps card advantage only on the third turn (again, you spend the first casting it, and the second”breaking even”).
Mike’s specific framework was useful for examining specific contexts he then discussed. For example:”Did you ever wonder why a lot of the better big blue decks had somewhere from two to four Soldevi Excavations in their decks, but no Browses? While Browse’s effect is clearly more powerful in the long run, the two to four Soldevi Excavations could generally give immediate utility to the blue player: He does not even suffer -1 mana advantage due to the 1U produced by the Excavations over the U produced by an Island. Furthermore, the decks employing the Excavations usually used multiple Impulses, which were like an immediate Browse in their own way. Together, the Thawing Glaciers, Impulses (and whatever other cantrips), and Soldevi Excavations were able to simulate the card advantage of Browse without having to make the initial investment of -1 card from hand.”
What I frown at, however, is some writers taking a particular segment of a rule or even an exception and treating it as a new or more”advanced” rule altogether.
If you read that paragraph from Mike, the language follows our tempo discussion anyway. Thus, when some articles use the word”investment,” they just talk about tempo loss anyway.
A random word search, for example, digs up this paragraph from another site:”I quite like all of the dragon enchantments – except for Dragon Breath – oh, and Dragon Fangs… Firebreathing is only good on evasive creatures and tramplers (it wouldn’t be too bad in the R/G mirror either, I guess) and even then it is still an enchantment which requires mana investment and loss of tempo in the early game… A late pick, 9th to 12th.”
Simply, what’s the difference between”mana investment” and”loss of tempo?”
The general explanation shows why Planar Portal is atrocious. Following the above table, you need eighteen mana just to turn get a one-card advantage – or three entire midgame untap phases’ worth. You just follow Mike’s thinking and write off your permanent since it doesn’t do anything apart from the draws.
The same general explanation also shows why Skeletal Scrying, Future Sight, and Accumulated Knowledge are the latest popular draw cards. You’ve seen how cards as familiar as Dark Ritual and Force of Will can gain good tempo with an affordable card advantage cost, and these cards instead gain good card advantage with more affordable tempo trade-offs. Survival of the Fittest is likewise explained, though here you also factor your supply of green mana.
Treating”investment theory” as a distinct theory in its own right might restrict your thinking when you deal with permanents outside the Tome mold, like Planar Portal and Browse: For example, Sylvan Library, Necropotence, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain eat up no untap phases beyond the one spent casting them, and life points are irrelevant unless you’re in danger of losing the twentieth.
Final example: Tempo and manipulation
You see the most dramatic gains in tempo when a Juggernaut gets hit with Swords to Plowshares, or a Yawgmoth’s Bargain gets Mana Drained. However, a lot of it is less flashy, like careful selection of card choices and crafting of a deck’s mana curve.
I think, however, that tempo is most subtle when applied to tutor and manipulation in control decks.
-1 card (Demonic Consultation moves from the hand to the graveyard)
+1 card (A card moves from the library to the hand)
-1 card (Mystical Tutor moves from the hand to the graveyard)
+0 card (A card is moved from the library to the top of the same library)
When we consider tempo in addition to card advantage, we draw two insights.
First, although a Tutor may have inherent card disadvantage, a very minimal tempo cost may make its flexibility worth it, anyway. Normally, you use these to get cards that more than make up for the loss, from Ancestral Recall to Yawgmoth’s Will – but that’s not always the case. Again, you can regain your lost partial turn (the lost card) some other way if your tutor is far less cumbersome than Long-Term Plans or Insidious Dreams. (Note, though, that Mystical Tutor is more convenient because it pitches to Force of Will it’s when not needed.)
Second, the best tutors are the card advantage-neutral ones. This extends to weaker manipulation effects as well, and you can imagine why Impulse was far better than, say, Diabolic Vision or Ancestral Knowledge.
You have the general statement, though, that the best tutors are cheaper than the cards they fetch. This explains why Diabolic Tutor is a completely different story from Demonic Tutor. A low tempo drawback is equally important, and Mystical Tutor is played far more than Diabolic Tutor. In fact, Brainstorm and Demonic Consultation are among the best support spells ever printed, and it’s all in the minimal mana plus lack of card advantage drawback.
You have to recognize, however, that even the best manipulation effects have a tempo trade-off. Blue control decks readily afford it since they can threaten a counter and use the mana end-of-turn, and they won’t be doing as much early anyway. Combo decks can likewise afford it, since they’ll more than make up when they go off. Note that aggro and aggro-control decks, however, would much rather just play out their hands and be redundant. Even Tainted Mask plays Tainted Pact only when it has nothing better in hand.
Simply, a mono blue control deck wants Impulse, but something more tempo-driven like Fish won’t bother.
Even in control decks, you have to pay attention to tempo costs. Landcycling is a good recent example, and I explored it in detail in “Sifting Through Scourge, Part I – The Landcycling Mechanic.” I took Shoreline Ranger and listed its”abilities” as:
- Pay two mana and discard it to put any blue dual into your hand
- Pay six mana to put a 3/4 flier into play
- Pitch Shoreline Ranger to Force of Will or Misdirection
- An additional reshuffler to improve Brainstorm (and Future Sight, if you have it)
- Evade a Blood Moon already in play if you have a basic Island in your deck, a Cunning Wish in hand, and a Blue Elemental Blast in your sideboard (the Steve O'Connell, a.k.a. Zherbus, plan)
- To a lesser extent, another early discard to fuel Skeletal Scrying
In tempo terms, Ranger is an obvious poor version of Polluted Delta, so the question boiled down to whether these other implied abilities made up. I later concluded that in many cases, they just don’t. Barring a Mox in your opening hand, you’re forced to use your Turn 2 or Turn 3 untap phase just to cycle, and it got cumbersome.
Applying this generally, you can’t build a deck that spends more time than necessary manipulating or cycling, and it’s possible to get too many cantrips and not enough punch.
Bean counting individual mana is murkier than cards and land drops, but all you need is the general idea. In the next installment, we’ll approach all this from another angle: Attack phases.
Paragon of Vintage
E-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com
IRC: rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
University of the Philippines, College of Law
Forum Administrator, Star City Games
Featured Writer, Star City Games
Author of the Control Player’s Bible
Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (R.I.P.)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance