(Editor’s note: The first part of Stephen’s impressive series can be found here.)
Long Versus Control
The real trick to playing this deck is under threat of Sphere of Resistance and Force of Will. And so the next deck we are going to look at is a deck which poses perhaps the biggest threat to Long of any: Psychatog. The Tog build we used is an updated version that was used to win the Vintage Championships at GenCon, sporting four Duress, as well as the amazing Mind Twist, on top of the already-strong Force of Wills and Mana Drains. We have chosen Tog because it is widely acknowledged as the best pre-Mirrodin Control deck. Functionally, it is the most dangerous for Long because it has four Duresses on top of the regular Control complement. Some might argue that the full Wasteland and Gorilla Shaman complement of Keeper would be more threatening – but that ignores how powerful Duress is, and overestimates this decks weakness to Wasteland.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the analysis, until you have read through the Logs. Let’s go through some games that I have selected from testing and then I’ll make some general assertions. I have really worked hard to make these games readable – to read them and get a real feel for the games. I’ll try and point out some of the major choices, and contextualize the games a bit.
My opponent for these games is Kevin Cron, Five Color guru and semi-finalist at the Vintage World Championship. I roll the die. Long plays first. Good times for me.
We pile shuffle, riffle, and cut.
My opening hand:
No matter – an automulligan. Kevin does the same. Kevin notated his hand and gave it to me after the games to fit into these reports.
My new hand is the oh-so-explosive:
In retrospect, both of us have extremely slow hands. I drew three of my eleven lands. It all depends on what we draw this game. I am also thinking that my Brainstorm could very well get me some acceleration and throw back some of those lands.
Now I need to really think. Even this early in the game, critical elements of this matchup come into play. In fact, the most important plays with Long occur on turn 1 as it usually is trying to set itself up to win on turn 2. How well you play here defines your game.
At worst, I can expect Mind Twisting on his turn. More likely, I’ll face Duress and Force of Will. I need to somehow make my hand Duress-proof, but maximize my plays on the next turn, since my hand isn’t that explosive. Recall that the rest of my hand is Time Walk, lands, and Burning Wish. I literally take about five minutes to think this over. I have several options here. These decision trees are what make the difference between a good player and a bad one.
Playing the Brainstorm was an obviously correct play. The first reason is that the three lands in my hand are slowing me down, and I need to find some acceleration. Now I have more options. Recall that my business spells are Burning Wish and Wheel of Fortune; I can help set up my game with Time Walk, getting another land in play, and the Duress can help clear the way. The Lion’s Eye Diamond assures that I have enough mana that either Burning Wish or Wheel of Fortune is going to be strong. The difficulty comes into trying to maximize both cards. With Lion’s Eye Diamond, I might be put into a situation where I have to play the Wish or the Wheel, but am not able to sac the Diamond because if the spell I play is countered, I want to be able to play the other on the following turn.
In order to decide what cards to put back on top from the Brainstorm, I need to think ahead.
1) Next turn I could Time Walk, then I could untap and Wheel the following turn, popping Lion’s Eye Diamond… But then I won’t be Duressing. This is a great example of Duress slowing me down, since it’s a play that just loses if he has a Force of Will or plays a turn 1 Duress.
2) Another option is to Walk next turn, then untap, and instead of playing Wheel, I could Duress, and Wish and sac the Diamond for black to Will. Saccing the Diamond would send the Wheel to my Graveyard, which I then could play. The problem with this plan is that it is vulnerable to Duress, if he takes my Time Walk or my Burning Wish. If he Duresses my Burning Wish, I could just go for the straight Wheel of Fortune plan – but then I lose the Duress protection, since I won’t have enough mana to both Wheel and Duress.
I decide to go for speed and the Walk, Duress, Will plan. So I put back Wish so that if I get Duressed it’s safe. I also figured that the Duress is what makes sure my plan goes off and that if he Duresses me, he might not realizing how fast my hand is. It seems to me that the obvious card to take is Wheel. The Time Walk affects what cards I can put on top of my Library, if it resolves, since I can then draw both cards.
Just as a side note, one other possible play, just looking ahead, is that I could do plan two – but instead of sacrificing the Diamond in response to the Burning Wish, I could just wait to play Yawgmoth’s Will the following turn, and if that is countered, Wheel on turn 4. The problem with that sort of play is how slow it is, and how it makes Mana Drain a real threat.
So I pass the turn.
Polluted Delta, fetching Underground Sea – which he taps to play Duress. After some deliberation, he takes Time Walk! Bummer. I guess he wants a new hand of seven. I still don’t think there is anything I should have done differently without more knowledge.
I play another Gemstone, drawing Duress. I play it. He pitches Tog to Force of Will. At this point I have been stunted. My plans are foiled by his Duress + Force… But his hand is low. If I had just tried to Wish, he might have Forced that, and as long as I didn’t blow the LED, I’d still have the Wheel – but if I blew the LED, I would have been dead in the water. Duress served its purpose here. I pass the turn.
I play the COB. I have three lands and an LED in play. Thinking – should I play the Wheel or the Wish? We discovered that this is a situation that comes up a lot in this matchup. This is a case where playing the best cards isn’t the best solution; the best solution is maximizing the number of good threats. If I just Wheel and it resolves, I have lost a Wish. If I Wish and sac LED, I lose the Wheel. This also puts a constraint on the capacity to freely use LED – an important lesson of this matchup. Any deck that has such strong Force power means that if you pop LED and rely on it, you may lose big time.
He has three cards in hand. I’m going to play the Wish. I don’t sac the LED though, and that is critical. I get Yawgmoth’s Will.
Kevin: Draw, go
I draw Mana Crypt. Now here is my dilemma. He has two lands. I could only play either Will or Wheel, but I am one mana short of playing both. Recall that I have Mana Crypt, three lands, and a Lion’s Eye Diamond. If he Drains, he can cast Intuition + Accumulated Knowledge, assuming he has Intuition. In other words, allowing him to Drain gives him too much mana that he doesn’t have, and access to more answers… So I need one more mana to play both. That way I can have one be safely drained, but yet still”go off.” I play it safe and pass the turn in the hopes of drawing one more mana source next turn. This is risk, but I think a risk that is worth it considering that he gets a huge tempo boost off of Mana Drain. So I pass the turn.
Kevin: He plays a Polluted Delta, and passes the turn.
I play Lotus, it resolves. I sac the Lotus for black. And play Will – obviously, it gets Mana Drained as expected! Fortunately, I planned that I would wait until I could play both spells. All I needed was a land – but heck, I’ll settle for a Lotus!
His hand was two Togs and a Cunning Wish.
My new hand from Wheel:
I have two lands untapped, and BBB floating. I think. A plan coalesces in my mind: All I need is for a Demonic Tutor to resolve and I win. How? You’ll see.
I cast Tutor. In Response, Kevin plays Ancestral Recall. He is now tapped out.
Storm Count: 8
The Demonic resolves! I fetch out Tolarian Academy because it’s uncounterable and allows me to cast a broken Mind’s Desire. I play both Lion’s Eye Diamonds. I play the Mox Jet, Sol Ring, Mana Vault, and the Academy.
Storm Count: 13
I tap the Academy for five Blue, and I have two black floating, and three colorless from Mana Vault. I play the Desire, leaving two Blue and two Black mana floating with two unused Lion’s Eye Diamonds sitting on the board.
Mind’s Desire for 14.
My Desire Reveals: Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Sphere, Duress, Gemstone Mine, Brainstorm, Lotus Petal, Underground Sea, LED, Mox Sapphire, Windfall, Demonic Consultation, Dark Ritual, and Mox Ruby, and City of Brass. Recall that all these spells are all free. I play both Spheres.
The key in this situation is to figure out how best to get Burning Wish, or my maindeck Tendrils. Since I have plenty of options, its best to go about it conservatively. I could Windfall, and since he cast Ancestral after Wheel, I’d get ten cards. However, I decide to start off carefully. I blow one Sphere, and I see Burning Wish. The coast is clear. I play Duress and see no Force of Will – and so I play the Mox, the LED, and the Lotus Petal. Recall that I have BBUU floating. I sacrifice the Petal for R, and tap the Mox Sapphire for U. I play Burning Wish to fetch out Tendrils of Agony and play it with about 24 storm. Just to see what was coming. I Brainstorm into Mystical with Sphere on the board – another way to get Tendrils – or I could even Consult for Wish.
When I played Tendrils, I won.
And so already you can see that the thought process needs to begin before a single spell is played. You need to consider the costs of what is going to happen in the successive turns. You also see that I can win through Force of Will and Duress if Tog has no real draw to keep up the power. In fact, too many answers may mean insufficient other elements.
This game also really illustrated how to play around Mana Drain. He could have drained into a Wish for Blue Elemental Blast to Counterspell the Wheel if I had walked into it. Or he could have Drained into the Wish to get a Vampiric Tutor. It could have been worse if he had an Intuition; he would have been able to play both the AK for three and the Intuition with the Drain Mana. The point is, I slow played, realizing that with thirty-two mana sources, my chance of topdecking another was pretty high. The key was not just winning faster than Mana Drain, but that overwhelming Mana Drain is just as good as blitzing by it. In other words, I rammed through control that game.
I think the game also illustrates how Long is just so broken. It can blow through a multiplicity of answers through a precise combination of mana and threats at an incredibly rapid speed, despite my slow-ass hand. Recall that Kevin played Duress, Force of Will, and Mana Drain in the first four turns.
For reference, Kevin’s first hand that game:
He decided that this hand was too slow, and I probably agree. His second hand was:
Obviously, Kevin was going to keep that.
Kevin is playing first.