Back to Basics #7: Counting Tempo (Part III)

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 aside from an extra card draw. In Part II, we went further and showed that you also maximize your mana in a particular turn by paying the lowest mana cost for a given effect. In 2003, however, I feel that even the concept”mana” as broadly discussed doesn’t cover everything about tempo; today, we’ll track tempo in the way that Rob Hahn did – attack phases.

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)

Part 6: Counting tempo (Part II)

Budget Type 0

I came home one night from a frat party, after drinking a glass of Johnny Walker an old lawyer offered in one gulp. Needless to say, Type I Champion and fellow Paragon”Crazy” Carl Winter and I had a most amusing AIM conversation. Among other things, he complained that my last column was terrible because his name only appeared once.

Okay, we can fix that.






(Winter! – The Ferrett, joining in)

Anyway, during the tipsy laugh session, I got an e-mail from Patrick Gaskill on a topic that pops up every so often:

Hi Oscar,

There’s a new shop in town that has been running”unrestricted” Type 1 tournaments every weekend. I’d like to find the ultimate unrestricted Type 1 decklist to take there and prove once and for all to that shop owner that the B&R list is there for a reason. The only power I own is a Timetwister, so I don’t know if full-blown Academy will work (may even be overkill). I’m thinking about something like Academy from its Standard era, with a little budget boost from the Type 1 pool. Can you help suggest a decklist or some ideas?



P.S. Your articles are the reason I keep coming back to StarCityGames! We’ve all started playing (and enjoying) more Type 1 because of your series!

Thanks for the high praise, Patrick. What some people call”Type 0″ is obviously degenerate, but it’s a fun experiment the first time before you all gross each other out. Lacking power altogether extends the fun a bit.

Obviously, the most broken possible deck will take a broken, extreme tempo setup and then power an equally-broken draw engine. For the latter, the Restricted List’s finest include first-turn-kill-worthy gems such as Tolarian Academy, Memory Jar (with Megrim) and Yawgmoth’s Bargain. You lose a lot without the broken mana artifacts, though, and a powerless card pool leaves you mainly with Dark Ritual, Mana Vault, and Lotus Petal.

Extended-esque Academy is still possible, but my bet would be Extended-esque Trix, which mixes the evil trio of Necropotence, Dark Ritual and Demonic Consultation with the Illusions of Grandeur/Donate kill. In just two colors, you get the basic disruption core of Duress and Force of Will, the power of the skull, and a kill with built-in stall against aggro. With lack of power damping the first-turn kill possibilities inherent in the format, a slower but more consistent and disruptive approach should pay off – just keep something handy for things like random Turn 1 Druid Lyrist.

To give you an idea, if you can’t remember the skeleton:

Trix, Ryan Siong Huat Soh, Champion, Grand Prix: Kuala Lumpur 1999 (Extended)

Black (16)

4 Duress

4 Demonic Consultation

3 Vampiric Tutor

4 Necropotence

1 Contagion

Blue (14)

4 Donate

4 Force of Will

4 Illusions of Grandeur

2 Boomerang

Mana (32)

4 Dark Ritual

4 Mana Vault

4 Saprazzan Skerry

4 Gemstone Mine

4 Underground Sea

4 Underground River

6 Swamp

Sideboard (15)

4 Phyrexian Negator

2 Unmask

1 Boomerang

3 Contagion

4 Chill

1 Kaervek’s Spite

Carl concurs and wishes Patrick luck, too, along with every other player sick of”casual” players who insist there’s nothing wrong with packing four Necropotences, four Consults and four Strip Mines in their decks.

This Extended approach to budget adaptation is timely, given the recent Extended bannings. Goblin Lackey, a creature, sets a precedent, and Type I players note it came after they were quietly reevaluating the Lackey/Goblin Piledriver/Siege-Gang Commander core in the more broken format after the Vintage Championships.

Counting Tempo: Attack Phases

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

“Play one land per turn” is a fundamental restriction, and we discussed how one can break this with cards as simple and familiar as Dark Ritual and Mishra’s Workshop.

In Part II, we went further and showed that you also maximize your mana in a particular turn by paying the lowest mana cost for a given effect. Thus, a player sporting Jackal Pups and Lightning Bolts will develop much faster than another with Grey Ogres and Urza’s Rages in the same slots. This also explains why extremely efficient Type I staples such as Swords to Plowshares and Mana Drain keep many expensive spells unplayable.

All this follows from Eric“Danger” Taylor’s original formulation:”Time is for the most part interchangeable with mana.”

In 2003, however, I feel that even the concept”mana” as broadly discussed doesn’t cover everything about tempo. Also around 1997, another writer – the venerable Robert Hahn – also articulated his”time theory,” but grounding it in attack phases. He noted how some decks created”windows of opportunity” that led to a couple of crucial extra turns of damage dealing, and the methods ranged from land destruction to bounce and removal.

Combos aside, Type I features terribly brutal attack phases. The Illusionary Mask/Phyrexian Dreadnought combo is a two-turn kill, and the older Grow decks could easily come up with protected 7/7 or 10/10 Quirion Dryads. The Extended-influenced Goblin decks can go turn 1 Goblin Lackey, turn 2 Goblin Piledriver and Siege-Gang Commander, which is a potential seventeen damage on the second attack (which is lethal if you add the first point from Lackey and the last two from Commander’s ability).

Simply, in every format, you’ve surely had,”One more attack and he’d be done for…” running through your mind one heartbreaking loss. The most striking Type I example remains Psychatog. Faced with a Maze of Ith (and without Ice), the JP”Polluted” Meyer playbook simply tells one to attack and pump, then tutor for and play Time Walk, and Cunning Wish for Berserk in the extra turn.

It’s more difficult to explain this in terms of mana acceleration and undercosted cards when the most striking element of the extra turn is clearly that extra attack.

Abuse of attack phases may be a more confusing digestion than the mana angle. Quite simply, Relentless Assault isn’t anywhere near the Restricted List (it isn’t… right?). Consider, however, that Time Walk is – and so long as you have creatures ready, taking partial turns some other way can give you the equivalent of the extra attacks you want. The cards that make these possible, quite unlike Relentless Assault, are either restricted or define the metagame.

Attack Phases: Bounce And Removal

Magic literature recognizes three main archetypes: The”rock, paper scissors” of the game. Aggro decks are the commonly-perceived tempo-driven deck, using undercosted creatures to mount a swift attack before the opponent can bring his own strategy into play. Control decks do the opposite and aim to stave off such early plays, whittling away the opponent’s tempo until it can bring its card advantage engines into play. Combo decks, finally, break the mold and use mana acceleration to quickly deploy its engine and overwhelm the opponent.

There is a difference, however, in how aggro and the fourth archetype, aggro-control, uses tempo. The latter likewise uses undercosted creatures, but it has a far more measured, controlled pace. Instead of using acceleration and undercosted creatures to swarm an opponent, it uses other spells to disrupt the opponent’s tempo. Mana considerations are also important here, but the dominant feature of the result is that you get an”extra” attack by default while your opponent waits to try again.

Roland Bode’s Growing ‘Tog was the most famous recent aggro-control deck, and it readily demonstrates this. Suppose you have a Dryad out, and the opponent casts Swords to Plowshares, which you Mana Drain. You lose two mana and one card to his one mana and one card – but assuming he has no other solution for the Dryad, you effectively gain an attack while he scrambles for a solution then waits to untap and try again.

Note that this is also different from what an aggro deck would do; it would probably play another threat and try again.

Growing ‘Tog, Stephen Menendian a.k.a. Smmenen, Origins 2003, July 2003

Creatures (8)

4 Quirion Dryad

4 Psychatog

Blue (25)

4 Force of Will

4 Misdirection

4 Gush

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Mystical Tutor

3 Sleight of Hand

4 Brainstorm

1 Time Walk

2 Merchant Scroll

1 Cunning Wish

Black (6)

3 Duress

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

Green (3)

1 Fastbond

1 Berserk

1 Regrowth

Mana (18)

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Emerald

1 Library of Alexandria

4 Polluted Delta

1 Flooded Strand

4 Underground Sea

4 Tropical Island

Sideboard (15)

1 Berserk

3 Submerge

3 Hurkyl’s Recall

2 Smother

3 Naturalize

2 Blue Elemental Blast

1 Duress

Aggro-control thus makes the most use of this aspect of tempo (again, it’s not the same thing as a favorable mana gain, since you lost on mana in the above example but still executed your strategy). Back at the end of 1997, Rob Hahn called them”temporal control” decks on The Dojo and explained the roots of the strategy using the Type II 5-Color Black decks at the time.

5-Color Black, Jakub Slemr, 1997 World Champion (Type II)

Black (27)

2 Shadow Guildmage

4 Fallen Askari

4 Black Knight

4 Knights of Stromgald

1 Necratog

4 Nekrataal

4 Choking Sands

4 Contagion

Red (6)

4 Incinerate

2 Earthquake

Blue (4)

4 Man-o’-War

Green (2)

2 Uktabi Orangutan

Land (22)

3 City of Brass

3 Undiscovered Paradise

3 Gemstone Mine

2 Sulfurous Springs

1 Underground River

10 Swamp

Sideboard (15)

3 Pyroblast

2 Disenchant

2 Dystopia

2 Ebony Charm

2 Forsaken Wastes

2 Hydroblast

1 Honorable Passage

1 Exile

Despite the black weenie core, this was an aggro-control and not an aggro deck, with the tempo strategy played out through various removal and bounce effects. As Rob described:

5CB: Black Knight, go.

Opp: blocker, go.

5CB: Man O War (one turn gained), attack, go.

Opp: Recast blocker, go.

5CB: Man o War (two turns gained), attack for four, go.

Opp: Recast blocker, Incinerate Black Knight.

5CB: Nekrataal (three turns gained), attack for four, go.

Opp: Cast next blocker, go.

5CB: Incinerate next blocker (four turns gained), attack for six, go.

Opp: Next blocker, kill your creatures, go.

5CB: Kindle, Kindle, Incinerate, etc. etc. Win.

Unlike a control deck, these decks did not try to establish complete control before deploying win conditions. In fact, they couldn’t, since all the removal and tricks were not accompanied by card drawing. As shown, the idea was to stall the opponent while the cheap creatures already in play went to work.

If that was the plan, then the obvious foil is to kill the creatures. If that happens, the removal just brings the game back at parity, which is a losing position by default for the aggro-control deck that runs out of steam. Indeed, Rob continued,”Without those extra turns gained via removal, 5CB has a tough time controlling the flow of battle. Thus, 5CB is weak against creatureless decks, particularly ones featuring mass removal (Nevinyrral’s Disk, Earthquakes, Wrath of God).”

Quoting Sun Tzu with approval, Rob visualized:”When you do battle, even if you are winning, if you continue for a long time it will dull your forces and blunt your edge; if you besiege a citadel, your strength will be exhausted. If you keep your armies out in the field for a long time, your supplies will be insufficient.”

This sort of skeleton did not translate into Type I, however, and the metagame explains why: With the large number of near-creatureless and creatureless combos, the removal would be dead weight. Moreover, the lower number of creatures does not give the ability to swarm like an aggro deck, and the token amount of burn is less effective to finish with compared to a better stocked Sligh complement.

The closest, if any, strategy might be Type I analogs of Super Grow that can splash Swords to Plowshares and Artifact Mutation. Still, they lean on their blue cards. In any case, you won’t see Man-O’-War.

Of course, you can take a strategy and execute it however is more effective in your given format.

Attack Phases: Discard And Land Destruction

There are two broad categories of modern aggro-control: Black-based and blue-based. The black-based ones are the less complex and very familiar Suicide Black and Tainted Mask (based on the Mask/Dreadnought combo), and Suicide Black is more relevant now than its usual budget status because its evolution Tainted Mask cannot run Null Rod against artifact mana-heavy combo decks.

Suicide Black, Frederick Gusier, 8th Place, August 30, 2003 Eindhoven

Disruption (17)

4 Duress

4 Hymn to Tourach

2 Chains of Mephistopheles

4 Sinkhole

3 Null Rod

Creatures (14)

4 Nantuko Shade

3 Withered Wretch

4 Hypnotic Specter

3 Phyrexian Negator

Others (2)

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

Mana (27)

4 Dark Ritual

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland

18 Swamp


3 Bottle Gnomes

2 Contagion

2 Diabolic Edict

2 Masticore

2 Planar Void

4 Powder Keg

Duress and Hymn to Tourach form the core of any discard strategy, supported by a select handful such as the venerable Hypnotic Specter, the recent Unmask, and the brand-new Cabal Therapy (Mind Twist is more often splashed in control decks than seen in black discard decks).

Discard in this context is not directly explained in terms of mana. Examining Duress, for example, both players lose one card, but its caster loses one mana. In exchange for this minimal mana outlay, he gets to choose what card the opponent loses.

You can try to explain this in terms of mana by saying you can take acceleration or destroy his play order and create”mana holes” in his curve. However, the specifics of each Duress vary from matchup to matchup that no useful general rule can be written up. In the context of attack phases, we can be satisfied by saying Duress and Hymn temporarily disrupts an opponent’s ability to respond, until he redraws the spells he needs. Thus, using discard is like tripping up an opponent. He’ll get up eventually, but it’s assumed that you’ll kick him while he’s down.

The kick here is your beatdown, which you waste no time sending in while he’s disrupted.

Incidentally, this underlines why good discard decks usually have only twelve discard spells, and not more than fourteen to sixteen. If you stock up on discard but have no threats, you’ll keep tripping him up, but will be helpless when he eventually gets up. Instead of using the attack phases you gained, you’re left with discard spells against the opponent’s empty hand, which do nothing against whatever he topdecks and plays immediately. This is a very common beginner’s mistake to this day, never mind how many years ago Hymn to Tourach was printed.

Mana disruption follows the same lines. Today, you have a very small selection that includes Sinkhole, Strip Mine, and Wasteland, plus Null Rod and Powder Keg. The idea is not to destroy all his mana, but just restrict it long enough for the beatdown to go in, before it can be dealt with.”Restrict” here doesn’t just mean lowering his total mana per turn, since you can cut an opponent off from specific colors as well. Again, overloading on land destruction spells and forgetting threats to exploit the extra attacks with is a common beginner’s mistake.

Note that the disruption outlined is not limited to aggro-control decks, since other decks can borrow a little. For example, going”dark” and adding Duress to aggro is not new. In fact, Duress is so efficient that with the present wealth of targets, control and combo decks all use it now. Obviously, they don’t aim to attack early, but the idea is to use something with the time bought – and here, the cheap disruption buys a little breathing room to deploy their own strategies.

On the other hand, non-aggro-control decks might make their loans at the wrong times. Wasteland is a very flexible card, since it can be used to remove specific lands like Library of Alexandria, but it can also be used to execute a land destruction strategy. The latter has always been a plan in”The Deck,” since a couple of Wastelands followed by a Gorilla Shaman can disrupt the opponent enough win the game right there.

Consider, however, a”The Deck” player who plays Wasteland first and uses it on the first opposing dual land played. Both lose a land and a land drop. Thing is, he’s not playing aggro-control, and he has no early beatdown that skews the trade his way. He doesn’t gain anything, and he even loses the opportunity to better time the Waste later on. This is likewise a common, pointless mistake.

Attack Phases: Counters

A blue-based control player and a blue-based aggro-control player look at counters differently. The control player counters threats, removes the rest, then locks down control and wins. The aggro-control player, however, may counter even seemingly unnecessary spells, if it will stall the opponent while the beatdown keeps up. You saw this in the Growing ‘Tog feature of The Control Player’s Bible, where fellow Paragon Stephen Menendian countered my Merchant Scroll at one point to stall me and keep me from reshuffling.

Simply, a blue-based aggro-control deck does not intend to take control with its counters. They fulfill the exact same function as discard and land destruction in the above black deck, except that the black spells are proactive disruption, while the blue spells are reactive.

The key blue spells here are Force of Will and Misdirection, because they protect the beatdown without skipping a beat. Others range from Red Elemental Blast,”normal” counters such as Mana Drain and Counterspell, and other”free” counters such as Daze and Foil. The marquee aggro-control counter, in fact, used to be Memory Lapse, since it wasted a lot of the opponent’s time by forcing him to replay expensive spells.

Force of Will and Misdirection, though, trade cards for time, and one has to be conscious of the tradeoff. Growing ‘Tog, for example, would have had trouble against a deck that could bring in cheap spells like Duress, Red Elemental Blast and Swords to Plowshares against it. Not only is it hard-pressed in its own tempo game, but the cards it loses will add up.

The second game of the Growing ‘Tog feature demonstrated this well enough.

Rakso Turn 1: Tundra

Smmenen Turn 1: Tropical Island, Black Lotus, Quirion Dryad, Quirion Dryad (end of turn Swords to Plowshares)

Rakso Turn 2: Underground Sea

Smmenen Turn 2 Underground Sea, attack (end of turn Brainstorm)

Rakso Turn 3: Underground Sea, Chainer’s Edict (Misdirection)

Smmenen Turn 3: Tropical Island, attack (end of turn Brainstorm)

Rakso Turn 4: Flooded Strand into Tundra, Cunning Wish, Swords (Mana Drain)

Smmenen Turn 4: Gush, Tropical Island, Sleight of Hand, attack

Rakso Turn 5: Polluted Delta into Underground Sea, Swords to Plowshares (Mana Drain), Dromar’s Charm (Misdirection)

Smmenen Turn 5: Underground Sea, Ancestral Recall, attack

Rakso Turn 6: Balance (Mana Drain), concede

Had there been one less counter at any point, it would have been a different story, and the inefficient pitch counters are less effective when they have no creature to cover for (of course, this is precisely why Steve took the full four Misdirections to Origins).

Again, the use of counters here to stunt my development wasn’t so different from using discard to strip my hand of removal and manipulation.

Attack Phases: Going Aggro-Control

We’ve emphasized a distinction between card-advantage driven control decks and tempo-driven aggro-control decks. To end, I’d note that you can use cards geared for one strategy and execute another if it’ll win the game.

Playing”The Deck,” I’ve often had a Morphling in play, two Mana Drains and a Force of Will in hand, and a stubborn opponent with a useless or empty hand. In these cases, I simply attack, then throw down the three counters, and tell him he has three turns to go.

In this case, I’m telling him that I have three Time Walks and there’s no need to play it out. It’s not so different from having Time Walk and Yawgmoth’s Will in hand, if you look at it.

Of course, whether or not you recognize that you only need your counters here as partial Time Walks, you’re firmly in control and the above game is won. There are times, however, when it’s not so simple.

Manipulation and tutor spells, for example, are usually left alone. However, let’s say you have a Morphling in play and are about to win, but have nothing much in hand aside from a Red Elemental Blast. Here, you’d probably consider countering his Mystical Tutor, or his Brainstorm – especially if he has a Polluted Delta in play.

Again, given the resources, all you need to win is a shred of time, and you should recognize when your spells will let you get it.

Oscar Tan

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