Compulsive Victory: A CounterBurn Tournament Report

I have to warn you, though, my tournament report is long – almost definitely long-winded. But this deck is quite complex to play and describing the interactions with discarding and paying madness requires a lot of extra words in each sentence.

After scrubbing out at Mid-Atlantic Regionals with CounterBurn, I made modifications to the deck and decided to give it one last chance at a local tournament in order to see how bad it really was or wasn’t. Since everyone (myself included) is so addicted to deck lists, I’ll get it out of the way immediately:


10 Island

9 Mountain

4 Shivan Reef

4 Merfolk Looter

4 Compulsion

4 Counterspell

4 Circular Logic

3 Fact or Fiction

3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Fire/Ice

4 Fiery Temper

4 Flametongue Kavu

3 Violent Eruption


4 Aquamoeba

4 Gainsay

3 Engulfing Flames

2 Flaming Gambit

1 Persuasion

1 Violent Eruption

As I mentioned in my Regionals Tournament report, this deck is totally inspired by Tony Tsai’s build, which he piloted to a Top Eight in the GP Milwaukee Trial at Neutral Ground. I have to warn you, though, my tournament report is long – almost definitely long-winded. But this deck is quite complex to play and describing the interactions with discarding and paying madness requires a lot of extra words in each sentence.

More importantly, by capturing the details in a report, hopefully readers can actually learn from both my good plays and my play mistakes. I can’t stand the typical tournament reports that frequent the Internet. When three sentences make fun of who you’re playing against, mention an amazing topdeck, and then describe what smashed someone’s face in, why bother reading a report at all?

Want to build this deck and play it yourself? This report should provide insight about how to play the deck effectively.

Or perhaps you hate that damn blue mages and their counterspells and you want to stick with your R/G beatdown deck. Fine. Read anyway, and learn how I managed to wade through a horde of R/G. Figure out what made me win, and be that much wiser when you end up in a CounterBurn match-up.

Since I already worry that my tournament report will exhaust the patience of most readers, I’ll save a detailed look at the deck and card choices for a later column. Onward to the report.

Round One: Len, playing Tog w/Edict and Standstill (McKeown’s version)

Game One: I win the roll and play first. My opening hand looks great. I play: Mountain, Grim Lavamancer. Len drops a Salt Marsh. Turn 2 I successfully cast Compulsion, which is guaranteed to make it a tough match for Psychatog. Grim swings for one and I say go. Len Chainer’s Edicts away Mr. Grim.

At this point, I comment about how it’s nice to see that Len is playing an original version of Tog; he smiles and admits that it’s copied straight from an article by Sean McKeown. I happen to remember that article and the deck list card-for-card. Turn 3, I drop another land and with Compulsion primed for action; I say go. Len drops a land and Standstill. At the end of his turn, I break Standstill by discarding Fiery Temper to Compulsion and paying the madness cost.

Yeah, Len’s drawing a lot of cards, but I don’t care; better to break the Standstill right away and play my game than to sit around and wait for a devastating Upheaval to hit. Plus, with Compulsion out I’m bound to generate some serious card advantage in the long run. In the mid-game I make a big mistake. At the end of Len’s turn I tap out to abuse Compulsion to its fullest. I’m just about to untap, when…

"Fact or Fiction?" Len asks.

I look at the Circular Logic in my hand. I look at the one land still untapped.

"Sure," I reply, knowing damn well that there are only two Fact or Fictions in McKeown’s version of Tog and I just let slip through.

This game goes on for a long while, almost forty minutes -so I’m going to skip to the exciting part. Note that during this whole time Len is struggling to produce a single Psychatog. With Len at eight life and me near twenty, he casts Upheaval. By then he has a Nightscape Familiar in play as well.


On the plus side, my hand is looking good, with no spells that cost more than two mana. I’ve been holding counters for just this instant, but my Circular Logic (cast via madness and Compulsion) and Counterspell aren’t enough; he out-counters me. But at that point he only has one land untapped, so I Fire his Familiar. Replaying a land, he says go. I respond in kind, discard about four excess lands and say go. He drops a second land and a Familiar. I Fire it and am very happy. Meanwhile, Len is drawing land, land, more land, and no Togs (I learn after the match). I replay Compulsion, followed my two Merfolk Looters on my following turns.

Enter the weird zone.

Rather than dig for more cards, I shift into Looter beatdown mode. Although Len uses Aether Burst and an Edict, they don’t buy him enough time. A Grim Lavamancer at the end seals the deal.


-4 Flametongue Kavu

-4 Fire/Ice

+4 Gainsay

+3 Engulfing Flames

+1 Flaming Gambit (better than an FTK, I think…)

Game Two: We only have about fifteen minutes to complete this game. Len is known for taking his time and playing carefully, which doesn’t help, and I’m not exactly a speed demon either. Thanks to sideboarding, now I’m more confident about the matchup, but Tog is always a tough battle. Turn 1, I get Duressed: Welcome to card number one from Len’s sideboard. I fan my hand out, revealing two Counterspells, one Compulsion, one Circular Logic, two Islands, and a Mountain. Len agonizes over my very good hand. He takes a Counterspell. I untap, draw, and play a land. Len comments that he probably should have taken the Compulsion. I think he’s right. Turn 2, Len drops a Nightscape Familiar. I play a second land and drop Compulsion. Len casts another Familiar and swings with the one in play.

Things are getting a little scary. The Familiars are putting me on a clock, accelerating Len’s mana development, and my deck is refusing to produce burn. Similar to the first game, bizarre beatings commence – only this time I’m on the receiving end. The Familiars knock me down to ten life. In the meantime, I draw a couple of Gainsays (wishing they were Fire/Ice) and Circular Logic. I Compulsion away the worst-times best hand of counter magic ever.

Dig, Dig, Dig.

Where is Engulfing Flames?

By the time I finally get rid of the Familiars, I’ve cast or Compulsioned away all the counters in my hand. Time is called and the five-turn countdown begins. Without a single threat in play, and Len at almost full life, I just want to draw the game to win the match. During the second turn on the clock (with only one turn for him remaining) Len drops Psychatog. Much to my dismay, my lone Counterspell isn’t enough and I can’t stop it from hitting the table. Next turn, Len can attack and for one huge swing and the win. I untap, and draw…

Merfolk Looter.

I Fire the Tog and Fiery Temper it, via Compulsion/Madness to soak up graveyard resources – but what I’m really trying to do is bait out counters. Len bites and Syncopates the Temper for two, tapping out. I easily pay the two mana and cast the Looter. Len untaps and draws…


I win because Merfolk Looter is a chump!

Games 1-0-1, Matches 1-0

Round Two: Albert, playing R/G Madness w/Patchwork Gnomes

Game One: I win the die roll and play first. He answers my Island with a Mountain. I drop a Looter on turn 2; it gets Firebolted. We trade threats back and forth for a while. I don’t really remember the details very clearly, but I cope with the usual suspects: Basking Rootwalla, Wild Mongrel, and Arrogant Wurm. The raw speed of his deck squeezes hits through with Fiery Temper, Violent Eruption, and creatures. I stabilize at four life with a seriously-needed Violent Eruption. It comes down to war of the topdecking. The game goes according to plan, though; I counter and burn whatever threats he manages to produce and then I ride a Flametongue Kavu for twelve points of damage.


-4 Merfolk Looter

-2 Compulsion

-1 Fact or Fiction

-1 Circular Logic

+4 Aquamoeba

+3 Engulfing Flames

+1 Violent Eruption

Game Two: Albert takes a look at his hand and hesitates, unsure whether to keep it or not. My hand is devoid of burn spells, has plenty of land and no early plays – except Compulsion. I keep it solely based on Albert’s hesitancy to keep his hand and the fact that I won the first game. Turn 1, he plays a Mountain. Turn 2, he plays another land, but no Mongrel. It looks like I’m going to be okay. Turn three Patchwork Gnomes resolves and I don’t have any counterspells.

Where is Engulfing Flames?

Desperate to find some good spells, I drop a land and Compulsion on my third turn. Meanwhile, I’m obsessing about how slow the Fact or Fiction is that I’m holding. Turn 4, Albert drops another land and Wild Mongrel. The Gnomes smack me for two, and a Fiery Temper makes it five. I drop my fourth land and decide to hold out for an end-of-turn Fact or Fiction. Albert attacks with the Gnomes and the Mongrel.

"Fiery Temper, Violent Eruption to the Mongrel?" Albert asks.

I take thirteen.

At two life, I Fact or Fiction at the end of his turn. Flametongue Kavu appears, but it isn’t enough. When Albert finishes dividing the piles, I scoop up both of them, and the rest of my cards.


-2 Fact or Fiction

-2 Compulsion

+4 Merfolk Looter

Game Three: I get off to a much better start, burning his first turn Birds of Paradise with Engulfing Flames. Wild Mongrel tries to give me a hard time, but Violent Eruption takes care of it. Patchwork Gnomes get a flashbacked Engulfing Flames. Overall, I’m generating serious card advantage. The bad news is that two Shivan Reefs are my only sources of red mana. I quickly draw into a third Reef.

Whoopee! Now I can hard-cast Violent Eruption.

I’m totally controlling his creatures, but my painlands are pinging me to death… Plus, I’m holding two Eruptions in my hand. A topdecked Aquamoeba makes all the difference. The killer Amoeba goes all the way. I swing for three each turn thanks to extraneous land and the Eruptions, burning anything that gets in my way.

Games 3-1-1, Matches 2-0

Round Three: Davy, playing Tog w/Undermine, but no Standstill

Game One: Luck is with me and I get to play first again. At this point I am starting to feel really good, being undefeated and never rolling less than 16 on the d20. Davy keeps a two-land, three-Familiar hand. I keep a three-land hand with multiple burn spells.

So I win, right?


Tog/Upheaval is just that good. It can snatch victory from the jaws of death like no other deck.

The first two Familiars die to successive Fires, but the third one sticks around just long enough for Davy to resolve Fact or Fiction after struggling to make his third land drop. I make a big play error here, tapping out to Compulsion at the end of his turn when I had Circular Logic in my hand. Davy flips over five cards, only one of which is a land. Also included is an Aether Burst, Shadowmage Infiltrator, an Undermine, and something else. I look at my hand. Too much land, no counters, and no burn big enough to deal with Jonny Magic. I divide the piles aggressively, Finkel and the Burst in one pile with the Undermine, land, and something else in the third. Davy comments about how glad he is that he doesn’t have to sit around for five turns to draw just one land. I grumble at my play error. Believe it or not Davy almost recovers from the huge gap in mana development with a late game Upheaval. Fortunately, I have the counters and Compulsion/Loot into enough burn to finish him off.

Game Two: Davy is much happier this game, making three land drops in a row and playing that smiley guy with all the teeth. I do manage to hit his turn 2 Familiar with Engulfing Flames, though. Now it’s my third turn and I have an active Merfolk Looter. Davy is tapped out. There are zero cards in his graveyard. I main-phase Loot, discarding Violent Eruption and paying the madness. Davy discards two cards and removes them from the game to keep the Tog alive. Over the next several turns, I use the Looter to throw additional madness/burn spells on the Tog. When Davy finally lets it die, he has an empty graveyard and just two cards in hand. My hand is almost full. Of course, one of the two cards happens to be a Fact or Fiction, which aids his eventual last-ditch attempt to Upheaval, protected by two Diverts and some other form of counterspell. I counter his counters with two Gainsays and a Counterspell.

Do you see something wrong with that? Did you catch it?

Divert requires that an opponent pays two generic mana to prevent its effect. Gainsay and Counterspell also cost two mana. Rather than actually counter the Diverts, I could have just tapped Mountains!

Grim Lavamancer and Compulsion help me end the game quickly.

Games 5-1-1. Matches 3-0

Round Four: Thor playing R/G Madness w/Patchwork Gnomes

Game One: His deck is very similar to Albert’s – only it has Sonic Seizure and Reckless Charge instead of Firebolt and something else. I don’t remember the details of this game, but I seem to recall being run over my a turn 3 Arrogant Wurm, compliments of Wild Mongrel. Not drawing Flametongue Kavu makes it tough to recover.


-4 Merfolk Looter

-3 Fact or Fiction

-2 Compulsion

+4 Aquamoeba

+3 Engulfing Flames

+1 Flaming Gambit (don’t ask)

+1 Violent Eruption

Game Two: Engulfing Flames cooks Birds of Paradise. Turn 2 Aquamoeba sets me up perfectly to handle his Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla that follow. In a play that becomes very familiar by the end of the tournament, I assign the Moeba to block the Rootwalla. Before combat damage is on the stack, he taps two lands to pump the Rootwalla. I respond by discarding Fiery Temper to switch Aquamoeba’s power and toughness and using madness to shoot the Mongrel for three. Thor discards two cards to keep the Mongrel alive. But I’ve used two cards to get rid of his three, soaked up his mana for the turn, and avoided taking any damage. Especially against speedy R/G, that means I came out ahead, big time. Nevertheless, the game comes down to topdecking – and after my planned finisher, a Flametongue Kavu, chews on a Sonic Seizure, I aggressively discard extra lands and a not-so-great Flaming Gambit to Aquamoeba to end the game pretty quickly.


-1 Flaming Gambit

+1 Fact or Fiction

Game Three: This one is a total nailbiter. I can barely manage his threats and stay alive through turn six. Compulsion eventually gets my deck rolling and I manage to generate a Flametongue Kavu in response to his FTK that kills my Lavamancer. Thor is at eight life, thanks to his City of Brass and Karplusan Forest. I am at 4 life. I swing once with the FTK. Thor prays for burn but doesn’t draw it. With my next attack I win the game. By now, several people have gathered around us.

"Watch this," Thor says after losing, "The next card is burn." He flips over the top card of his library.

Fiery Temper.

Everyone laughs, including Thor.

Games: 6-3-1, Matches 4-0

That’s the end of the Swiss rounds and I’m clearly in the top four. I’m feeling really good after having won harrowing matches against not one, but two fast R/G decks that can just win out of nowhere with a fistful of madness cards. The tourney organizer walks around and tells me that for the next round, Thor and I don’t have to move. He’s the last seed and I’m the first, so we get to play each other again.

I am not pleased.

Round Five: Déjà vu special treat

I lose one game again and win the others. I don’t remember much in terms of specifics, but I do remember a few key plays:

First, after screwing around all day with my sideboarding against these R/G decks, I finally figure out what seems to be the optimum configuration.

-4 Merfolk Looter

-2 Fact or Fiction

-2 Compulsion

+4 Aquamoeba

+3 Engulfing Flames

+1 Violent Eruption

It’s clear what cards have to come in, but choosing what comes out is the hard part. Siding out too many card advantage mechanisms forces you to play the R/G game of topdecking; blue shouldn’t have to do that. Two Compulsions and one Fact or Fiction for the late game seems perfect.

Second, I did the Aquamoeba blocking Rootwalla, blasting a Mongrel with Fiery Temper trick again. Against speed R/G, the game plan is simple: play Aquamoeba on turn two and then cast as many Violent Eruptions and Fiery Tempers as possible to control incoming creatures. Later on, Flametongue Kavus and Grim Lavamancers work great as creature removal and finishers. With a good hand, it usually is that simple.

Third, in one game I’m playing first with a weak draw that includes two Circular Logics. Thor casts Wild Mongrel on his second turn. I look at my three untapped lands.

I cast Circular Logic without any cards in my graveyard.

Next turn, Thor (missing his forth land drop) casts Arrogant Wurm via the Mongrel – and I Circular Logic it. Had I not cast the Logic for zero mana the previous turn, I probably would have lost that game.

Fourth, one game Thor and I ended up in that dreaded topdeck battle that is so scary. He peels a Basking Rootwalla off the top and casts it. I have Fire/Ice in hand and plenty of lands in play, but not much else. I almost wait to Ice the Rootwalla. Then I make the right play. At the end of Thor’s turn, I Fire the Rootwalla for one and him for one. He pumps in response. I respond by flashing back Engulfing Flames. The key here is that Rootwalla’s ability can only be played once each turn. From there, I topdeck Flametongues for the win.

Games: 8-4-1, Matches 5-0

Round Five: Albert playing R/G Madness w/Patchwork Gnomes

I offer to draw for the prize. It’s getting late. I’m tired, my girlfriend is waiting back at my apartment, and I don’t feel like gambling in another R/G match-up of madness insanity. Albert says no. He’s already splitting with someone else, since he borrowed cards for the deck. Finally, in mock humor, he offers a split that favors him 80-20.

Gee, let me think…

Game One: For what I think was the sixth consecutive match, I win the die roll. Compulsion comes out on turn two and I have Fiery Temper in hand. He starts off slowly and between my opening hand and successive draws I get a fistful of madness cards. With Compulsion, for every threat that he plays, I counter or burn it, and draw a card. He loses to my insane card advantage.

My deck isn’t supposed to win that easily before sideboarding… But I am in the zone. After coping with a Magic slump for months, I finally have that unstoppable feeling. Whatever comes off the top of my deck is going to win the next game.

I know it.

I think back to Jamie Wakefield awesome tournament report about when he qualified for the pro-Tour with Secret Force. This sure as hell isn’t a PT qualifier, but I’ve never won six rounds of tournament Magic in a row – so it’s still a big deal for me.


-4 Merfolk Looter

-2 Compulsion

-2 Fact or Fiction

+4 Aquamoeba

+3 Engulfing Flames

+1 Violent Eruption

Game Two: This is easily one of the best Magic games I have ever played in my sporadic history of collecting, quitting, coming back to the came, and then trying to win tournaments. If you only read one part of this report carefully, please read this section.

Albert’s fast opening with Birds of Paradise slows down courtesy of Engulfing Flames. Despite having only two copies left in the deck, Compulsion comes out again on turn 2. On turn 3, he plays a sideboarded Yavimaya Barbarian; Compulsion helps me Fiery Temper it. We are in a bit of a stalemate. I keep drawing lands and using Compulsion to search for the good stuff. Somehow, Wild Mongrel makes it into play. I dig furiously through my library with Compulsion, but don’t find any answers. On his turn, he discards Arrogant Wurm to the Mongrel and attacks. I take the damage, and Compulsion into Flametongue Kavu at the end of Albert’s turn. I knock off the Wurm, but my Flametongue gets hit by a Firebolt. Albert attacks for two and casts Patchwork Gnomes. I flashback Engulfing Flames to kill it during my turn, but the Mongrel swings for another two during Albert’s turn and he plays another Patchwork Gnomes and somehow I can’t counter it.

Now the Mongrel has dropped my life down to thirteen and Albert is holding several cards in his hand.

I have ten lands (five Islands and five mountains) and Compulsion in play. There is nothing good in my hand; more lands I think. Albert attacks with the Mongrel and the Gnomes. "Damage on the stack?" I ask. He empties his hand, discarding two Fiery Tempers to the Mongrel.

I tap an Island and a Mountain to Compulsion, turning up nothing good.

I do it again and draw nothing good.

I do it again and draw Violent Eruption.

I only have two Islands and two Mountains untapped. Had I tapped my mana differently, I could have cast Violent Eruption to kill the Mongrel and avoid taking four damage from it.

So I take twelve, dropping to one life – and I know there’s a Firebolt in Albert’s graveyard.

I cast Violent Eruption main-phase via Compulsion to nuke Albert’s team and deal one to him. This actually puts Albert’s life at five, due to his two Cities of Brass that have been seeing constant use.

Albert peels Fiery Temper off the top like a pro and aims it at me, tapping a City of Brass (he only has one Mountain and Forests for additional lands) and going to four life. Again, I’m living off Compulsion. With my last bit of available mana, I dig up Circular Logic and cast it. He doesn’t have enough mana to also flashback Firebolt. I untap and draw…

Flametongue Kavu, which seems really bad right about now.

On his turn, he flashbacks the Firebolt, tapping both Cities of Brass, because he only has five lands in play, and his life total drops to two.

I Compulsion once.

I Compulsion twice.

I Compulsion thrice.

I Compulsion a fourth and final time, discarding Fiery Temper for the win.

Games: 10-4-1, Matches: 6-0

Albert was more than a little frustrated after watching Compulsion repeatedly dig up the cards I need to deliver that game. He complained about my luck in topdecking. But with Compulsion on the table, my topdecking should always be better. With all the discards creatures and madness burn, his topdecking was far more impressive than mine.

Lessons learned:


  • Everyone I played, for good sportsmanship

  • Alliance Comics, for having a generous $100 store credit prize

  • My buddy Marc, for loaning me three Engulfing Flames and one Compulsion

  • Me, for making fewer play errors than usual.


  • Me, for the numerous near catastrophic play mistakes I did make.

Take it easy,


[email protected]

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