Deck Clinic Number Two: Tempo About Thoughts

Will creates his second Deck Clinic for beginners, this time asking the critical thoughts behind tempo play… And let me ask you a question: Does StarCity (or anyone) need beginner articles?

This was a recent submission to my deck clinic from Molson Hart.

Dear Mr. Rieffer,

I am a new player just getting into my local tournament scene. I think a deck clinic article on this deck would be refreshing because for the last three weeks or so all articles have centered around Regionals; this deck is more casual. I play a type two deck that I named”Thought Munchers,” which revolves around the synergy between Spellbook and the thought eating creatures from Odyssey, which I discovered while rummaging through my cards. The idea of the deck is to cast large creatures for low mana costs, negating their drawbacks through spell book. I also use eight counterspells to keep threats off the board. I also use two Upheavals that I use with the Spellbook in a mini-combo. I cast Upheaval when I have six mana on the table. Then play a Spellbook for free immediately after so I don’t have to discard. Since Upheaval returns all permanents to your hand, my opponent is forced to discard most of his threats.

“Thought Munchers”

4x Thought Devourer

4x Thought Eater

4x Thought Nibbler

4x Standstill

4x Peek (Debating between Peek and Opt)

4x Counterspell

4x Syncopate

4x Spellbook

2x Upheaval

2x Washout

1x Divert

23x Island

Once I have a threat on the board that can win the damage race I try to cast Standstill to give me the card advantage is if my opponent wants to turn the tables and eliminate my threat. I can’t decide whether it’s more important for me to see my opponent’s hand and draw or choose between two when I draw, so I am still debating between Peek and Opt. I know I need Fact or Fictions in this deck but I can’t figure out a place to put them. After getting slaughtered by larger armies of creatures in game after game, I think I might need two more Wash Outs, but I don’t know where to put them. I have no idea whether to include Syncopates because they take a lot of mana and ideally I like to be wasting all my mana every turn to overwhelm my opponent with threats. The Divert is in there for kicks.

My deck really has trouble dealing with beatdown and mana acceleration-oriented decks. As it stands now, my deck has no sideboard. I would love to add a second or even a third color to this deck but if your knowledge of the game deems it to be detrimental I would gladly prefer remaining mono-blue. I’d really like to at least come in third with this deck because every time I go to my local tournament I always end up in fourth – one spot out of the prize of one booster of the newest set. I would really appreciate your help.


Now this type of deck and strategy isn’t terribly uncommon. Versions of the”Thought” deck were published on various websites. It was a logical jump to this sort of deck from the former”Blue Skies” decks of the past standard which were based around Masques block cards. We will look back to that deck to see how it worked and why and what we hope to accomplish in tweaking the”Thought” deck.

Let’s look at Jay Elarar’s top eight deck from PT: Chicago.

Mono blue – Jay Elarar

20 Island

4 Rishadan Port

4 Troublesome Spirit

4 Rishadan Airship

4 Spiketail Hatchling

2 Air Elemental

2 Drake Hatchling

4 Brainstorm

4 Thwart

4 Foil

3 Daze

3 Rising Waters

2 Wash Out

1 Misdirection

This style of deck is commonly known as aggro-control. With Elarar’s deck, we see that it has sixteen creatures and it will”aggressively” tap out to put them into play. It could do this because those creatures were backed by eleven different counterspells that had alternate casting costs, which allowed the deck to halt opposing threats while it was tapped out – while again being aggressive, too.

The creatures all have flying. This is to facilitate what this deck wants to do: Snatch the game’s tempo and keep it. At a point it won’t matter too much if your opponent is casting groundpounding creatures, because they won’t be able block and kill the flyers – and they won’t be able to catch up in the damage race.

The commonalities of these decks we see are the rather cheap efficient flying creatures and a deck idea that is focused on playing and winning a very tempo-oriented game. The difference is that the”Thought” deck doesn’t have any access to alternate casting cost counters; you have to choose between playing creatures or countering spells in the early game, not both. That being the case, we need to look at what could possibly be used to substitute for these”tempo” cards in this deck.

Molson tells us that he has trouble versus more traditional creature oriented beatdown decks. This fits into known theory, where decks like Red and Green decks will have more efficient (if less evasive) creatures. As an example, Green can have a 5/5 Jade Leech for four mana while Thought Devourer is merely a 4/4 – although it has flying and a drawback. What the”Thought” deck needs to do, like the”Skies” deck before it, is gain tempo and keep it through maintaining a superior board position. This will probably best achieved through the use of”bounce” spells; blue cards that return creatures or permanents to their owner’s hand. The most notable examples for us are going to be those that focus on creatures like Aether Burst and Repulse. With these cards, one will steal”tempo” from and opponent at a cost in pure card advantage. I will illustrate.

When one casts a spell like Aether Burst, the Burst goes to the graveyard while the bounced creature goes to the opponent’s hand. What the opponent has lost is the mana that they used to cast the creature, plus the attack or block it could have made… But they still have the card. What you have used is some mana, 1U for a Burst, and a card to gain this state. Hopefully, now you have a turn where your fast efficient flyers put in their attack, while your opponent has none. From here, you proceed forward with this same plan. You will trade cards for a superior board position (your creatures that can hit with their attack, as opposed to your opponent’s creatures, which are still being recast) until you overwhelm your opponent in time. They may be able to actually play a superior set of creatures… But not in time to outrace you to reducing their life total to zero.

This idea borders on what has been called at times”card disadvantage” ideas. The Burst-for-position trade leaves you with less playable cards than your opponents, yet it does swing the tempo of the game in your favor. Let’s look at something Molson said, and then again at the decks.

He says,”I know I need Fact or Fictions in this deck but I can’t figure out a place to put them.”

Now if we look at Elarar’s deck we find that he has no pure card drawing spells in the all-blue deck! The fact is that it isn’t necessary – and strange as it may sound, it’s actually not a very good idea for this type of deck. Elarar did use Brainstorm, which is a tempo/quality blue library manipulation card… And while it is not a pure drawing card like Fact or Fiction almost always is, it is very cheap at one blue mana to cast. That means that it can be used early and in a turn where other things can be done. It also was useful for Elarar in conjunction with digging for a useful alternate casting-cost spell. Currently, Molson’s deck sports Peek while he admits that Opt is also a consideration. In fact, I think we may want to use both.

One thing is that the Thought deck will run on a small amount of land. It really wants no more than four or five lands for most of the game, Upheaval notwithstanding. This is because, again, its game focus is on the very early game and maintaining tempo. It wants cheap business cards and it wants them up front – not an excess of land that becomes worthless as the game goes on. Opt is the best card for this, allowing you to both find that early land in a land-light deck or skipping over a useless land in the later game.

So first of all, I’m going to cut the land down to twenty Islands, putting in both four Peeks and four Opts to find them.

20 Islands

4 Peek

4 Opt

Next, our creatures, straight from Molson’s deck:

4 Thought Devourer

4 Thought Eater

4 Thought Nibbler

Now the”bounce” I talked about:

4 Aether Burst

4 Repulse

Now for the necessary evil card:

4 Spellbook

The problem with Spellbook is that it doesn’t do anything on its own; it only offsets a drawback created by other cards. It usually isn’t good to have cards in your deck that fall into this category, but here we make an exception.


4 Force Spike

4 Counterspell

To even begin to get a counter-type effect with Syncopate, you have to use two mana to mimic a Force Spike. Why not get the real Counterspell for UU – and for a single U, take the actual Force Spike? The other consideration here because the deck is so tempo oriented is to use Memory Laps. I think at this point that again, you can have Counterspell for two mana and Force Spike is cheaper – even if it doesn’t always counter.


20 Islands

4 Peek

4 Opt

4 Thought Devourer

4 Thought Eater

4 Thought Nibbler

4 Aether Burst

4 Repulse

4 Spellbook

4 Force Spike

4 Counterspell

Now, I could posit another version, which would follow some rules of mine – namely, that having six cards that do similar things is the right number. It would look like this:

20 Islands

4 Opt

2 Peek

4 Thought Devourer

4 Thought Eater

4 Thought Nibbler

4 Aether Burst

2 Repulse

4 Spellbook

4 Force Spike

4 Counterspell

This would give our deck four additional slots. Taking a nod from Molson, I could add two Wash Outs and the two Upheavals. Other options would be to add the Syncopates – or probably better yet in a tempo-oriented deck, Memory Lapse – as counterspells are one of the kinds of spells where more than six copies are definitely better. I would also consider Sage Owl, which is cheap, flies, and allows you to stack the top four cards of your deck in any order getting to the spells you need sooner.

A sideboard for this deck would probably like up to four copies of Hibernation. Also, Molson’s Divert would be an excellent card… Possibly Aven Smokeweaver for decks using red. The other copies of Repulse or even copies of Unsummon could be useful. Disrupt (or Envelop, once Judgment appears and is legal) against decks using a lot of sorceries – and lastly, Gainsay against other Blue-oriented decks.

There we go. I hope these changes help Molson achieve some better results by better controlling the early tempo of games and I hope it has helped some newer players understand what it is that one wants to accomplish with an aggro-control tempo oriented deck.

Further Reading:

Crazy Pierre on”Blonde Skies” Thought Creature deck


Surviving the Early Game: Understanding Tempo Advantage- 12/21/00

by Donald Shepherd on MTG Word


Controlling Tempo

By Eric Taylor



Deck Submissions

Remember, the more information you give me, the more likely it will be that I will select a deck to discuss. Tell me everything. In what format is the deck to be played? What sort of card pool do you have? What decks are you having trouble against – and similarly, what decks are popular where you play? What sort of further resources do you have – that is, are you willing to spend money to upgrade the deck and how much?

I will present the deck clinic every other week or so with a focus on beginning the game. In this I hope to use the clinic to talk about general theory, which every new and aspiring player needs to know. Send those decks in!


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