DNA: Mind’s Desire for the Masses Part 2

In this installment, the Jimmest of Beans provides an updated build of everyone’s favorite Standard combo deck, gives sideboarding information for the current metagame, and answers the question on everbody’s mind:

Jim, how do you play this damned thing?

[oldarticlelink id="6556"]Part 1 of this article[/oldarticlelink]

I’d like to apologize for the delay in the release of this second half of the DNA article; I had to leave town the week after the article was released due to a death in the family and didn’t have time to write. Then, the next week I had to go out of town again. I wanted these articles to follow up one another fairly quickly as to not lose steam, but alas… On the flip side, there has been an awful lot of traffic in the forum thread for the original piece, and the community has had a couple weeks to live with the deck, test it, and haggle over what belongs and what doesn’t before I eventually come correct with some changes of my own. That’s nice to see.

A lot of the discussion treads on ground I’ve traveled in months prior, when DNA was essentially just a concept instead of a full-fledged deck. One post gave me cause to revisit a card that I had not tested extensively early on, and I have been so impressed with it that I’ve added it to the deck after only a handful of games. More on that card in a bit; first let me hit ya’ll with the changes.

First, the original mix:

8 Forest

7 Island

2 Plains

4 Birds of Paradise

“>Rampant Growth

“>Explosive Vegetation


“>Thirst for Knowledge

“>Mind’s Desire

“>Spellweaver Helix

“>Chrome Mox

“>Solemn Simulacrum

“>Temporal Fissure

“>Chain of Vapor

2 Tendrils of Agony



“>Akroma’s Vengeance


“>Circle of Protection: Red

1 Chain of Vapor

The remix:

-4 Solemn Simulacrum

-1 Forest

+3 Journey of Discovery

+1 Chain of Vapor

+1 Hunting Pack


-1 Chain of Vapor

+1 Hunting Pack

As I intimated a couple weeks ago, I was not entirely happy with the performance of a particularly somber robot and was looking to reinsert Aether Spellbomb into the deck. I’m glad that I gave Journey of Discovery another try; it’s proven to be a ton better than Jens and has streamlined the deck’s overall speed by virtually insuring that there won’t be any missed land drops in the critical early turns of a game. DNA needs every land drop, whether from the hand or from the library. The goal is to have at least six to seven mana sources by turn 4 or turn 5 at the latest. With four Birds of Paradise and four Chrome Mox, having three mana on the second turn was a situation that came up a lot, but sometimes the deck wouldn’t cough up that fourth mana source – and two of DNA’s biggest money cards (Explosive Vegetation and Concentrate) reside in the four slot.

Adding Journey of Discovery gave Thirst for Knowledge some needed company in the three casting cost slot… but that’s not all! It has been tremendous at making sure early land plays aren’t tragically missed, but it’s also another cheap sorcery to imprint on Spellweaver Helix. It thins the deck by two cards to Jens’ one… or it lets DNA play two more lands from a particularly corpulent Mind’s Desire resolution. This last bit shouldn’t be overlooked; DNA often has to tap out for a huge Mind’s Desire, and the ability to”cheat” and play more than one land per turn has been a godsend.

Just ask your favorite Pro Tour player how effective this tactic can be! (ducking thrown objects)

The other two changes I’ve made: moving the third Chain of Vapor to the maindeck and slipping in another super tricky win condition in Hunting Pack. Chain of Vapor has simply been too good as a storm enabler; I finally felt it was time to go to three and see what happened. Well, good things were what happened – I had a Chain in hand more often when it was time to go off, and I also always seemed to have one handy in the early game to bounce a quick threat. That sold me. Hunting Pack is really not so clever; it just makes a crowd of 4/4s that beat the opponent’s face in – a pretty effective strategy when all of his permanents had been returned to his hand, I found.

The real reason for Hunting Pack is that early in the development of DNA, I recognized Gilded Light as a major problem should White decks get smart enough to sideboard it. 4/4 beast tokens don’t care whether an opponent can be targeted, thankfully. Now that Gilded Light is appearing in more White control sideboards, it would be foolhardy to not include an”out” to address the problem. Hunting Pack has also been randomly good as an occasional end of turn response. It’s also an easy choice to sideboard out in matchups where it’s really not effective or there are better cards waiting on the sidelines.

Well then, enough about changes – Jim, how do you play this damned thing? I don’t know if I can cover every situation, but I can present some general guidelines and concepts that every DNA player would do well to internalize.

Thin lands before drawing cards

This one should be fairly obvious, but every Rampant Growth, Journey of Discovery, and Explosive Vegetation cast markedly improves any subsequent Thirst for Knowledge or Concentrate. When posed with a choice of four available mana and Concentrate or Explosive Vegetation, putting two lands into play is almost always the call. The only case where I can see casting Concentrate instead would be when there are four mana sources in play, a forest and Bird of Paradise in hand, and a land has not been played this turn. In this example, drawing three cards and putting two more mana sources into play and having six (potentially seven if another land is drawn) is preferable to having eight or nine mana available on the next turn. As a general rule though, get those lands on the table as soon as possible, and then draw cards.

Spellweaver Helix is not the focus of DNA

Huh? What? How can this be true? It is. A lot of DNA rookies are overly concerned with making the right plays with Helix when they first pick up the deck, not realizing that it is more of a complement than anything. Whether it’s getting hung up on trying to make the”perfect” imprint of Mind’s Desire and Rampant Growth or even refusing to cast Spellweaver Helix”dry” (without holding either of the imprinted cards), I see novice pilots focusing far too much on setting up a seemingly optimal Helix play while they miss better and more obvious options.

DNA is a Mind’s Desire deck, not a Spellweaver Helix deck. It wins by first firing off a decent sized Mind’s Desire and then parlaying that into a continuation of free-spell playing through Spellweaver Helix and other sorceries. The idea is to make the first Mind’s Desire as large as possible, not to get cute with Helix. If imprinting Rampant Growth and Concentrate is an option with a Rampant Growth in hand and five available mana, do it! Don’t be too concerned with protecting Spellweaver Helix against artifact removal, either. If your opponent has a spell to kill it, then there’s little you can do about it. Don’t burn a Chain of Vapor trying to save it unless there’s a game winning play in the offing in a couple of turns. I think I’ve said enough here.

Bounce can bounce your stuff, too

Of the times where I’ve screwed up”going off” with the deck, it’s usually because I forgot to return a couple of Chrome Moxen to my hand and lacked the mana to cast something important: the final copy of a sorcery in my hand, a Spellweaver Helix that could imprint Tendrils of Agony and something else, etc. This is the problem that crops up when I have multiple excess storm copies of Temporal Fissure and lack the good sense to think about my own permanents while I’m gleefully reducing my opponent to none in play (the best way to win a game of Magic).

I’ve also forgotten to use Chain of Vapor to return Spellweaver Helix to my hand when doing so would win me the game. Always think ahead – DNA is a sensitive deck that won’t forgive mistakes. Going off is like a puzzle, and it’s up to the player to put the puzzle together. Missing the chance to bounce a Chrome Mox and re-imprint it with a useless card in hand for more mana might be the difference between a completed puzzle and one missing its entire center.

Mind’s Desire or Temporal Fissure?

At times, a DNA player is faced with the dilemma of using storm fuel for one or the other. If the opponent has a really good clock on the table, the temptation is to simply”go for it” with a smallish Mind’s Desire and see what comes up. I can unequivocally say that this is the wrong choice. The play here is to bounce the imminent threat and perhaps a few of their land and then see what comes up on the next few draw phases. A good sized Temporal Fissure might buy the time needed to safely cast Concentrate, Thirst for Knowledge, or Spellweaver Helix before the opponent’s clock becomes active again. During that time, the deck has surely improved its board position or pilot’s hand so markedly that the one time threat isn’t problematic any longer.

DNA can take advantage of a huge shift in tempo better than any other deck in the format, and each turn that you do not die incrementally increases your chances of winning the game. For more on this concept, check out the latest Magic University article and note the concept of”inevitability.” Combo decks have a high inevitability factor in most matchups, and DNA is no exception. Take Douglas Adams’ advice and Don’t Panic!

Counterspells and discard can’t hinder you that much

DNA can’t do anything about either of these, but the good news is that it doesn’t care. Countermagic is naturally a poor answer to DNA’s game-winning spells, but less obvious is how ineffective discard is against the deck. In many games, I’ve had my entire hand Persecuted of either Blue or Green, and Spellweaver Helix has saved my bacon time after time. Even Cabal Interrogator, whom I don’t really enjoy seeing on the table, can be overpowered thanks to card drawing. These things don’t cause much concern for me, given how atrocious Black is in the current environment, but I needed to clear up the misconceptions surrounding discard – it doesn’t hurt the deck like it hurts other combo decks.

I’ve also heard the notion that all it takes are well-timed counterspells to beat DNA. Well, Mana Leak is the format’s most common counterspell, and DNA quickly makes that card deader than Dillinger. That leaves Override and Assert Authority in one matchup and Rewind in the other to deal with the following list of spells that can’t resolve if the control deck is to win:


Explosive Vegetation

Spellweaver Helix

Mind’s Desire (“Stop that traiiiiiin, I wanna get off…”)

Temporal Fissure (“Bounce, come on bounce…”)

Tendrils of Agony (“Will you please kiss the boo-boo, mommy?”)

Seem like a long list? It is. The only time I’ve found counters to be effective against DNA are when they’re backing up a strong Affinity draw where the deck might not have time to recover. I essentially disregard counterspells when up against U/W Control. Please, cast them. I. Don’t. Care.


The format is wide open right now and looks to become more so after Darksteel is legal. DNA has game in just about every matchup, but it has difficulty against weenie rushes. For this reason, some have suggested maindecking Wrath of God, which is doubtless a decent idea in a creature heavy field. Others have intimated that Decree of Pain might be good, but I tried about twenty different versions of DNA with that card and it never performed the way it should. Right now though, I feel that the metagame is more control than beatdown and only one of the format’s most common decks could really be considered true beatdown. Darksteel will probably change all of that, thanks to all of the Skullclamp hype. I do pay lip service to Goblins – even though the deck has fallen off the online map entirely, local metagames often have a couple players devoted to that sad religion.

Affinity [control]

Control Affinity is probably the most popular deck in Standard, and though I’d like to say that DNA utterly smashes it, it doesn’t. The first game is a contest decided by how fast the Affinity deck applies pressure and what the DNA player chooses to slip through the counterspell sea. Sometimes walking a Concentrate into an Override is the only way a Spellweaver Helix can resolve, sadly… DNA will usually win if the Affinity deck is low on pressure, but Affinity decks have an alarming ability to produce a huge Broodstar in the mid game and then protect it for two turns on the way to the Promised Land.

Fortunately, Birds of Paradise are around to block! Temporal Fissure is really bad in this matchup because every lousy permanent that an Affinity deck has is as good as a land for the purpose of casting their spells. Bounce is just not as good here, so it’s harder to keep the beats off.

Things get a lot better for DNA after sideboarding, as the Affinity deck has to play more cautiously around the threat of Akroma’s Vengeance. Spellweaver Helix also becomes doubly important to counter, as one can easily cycle Akroma’s Vengeance in response to the Helix’s comes into play trigger and then blow the board up On The Sly. Naturalize can be used to either attack the Affinity manabase or to blow Myr Enforcers off the board. Almost all of the bounce is sided out in favor of spells that actually destroy Affinity’s permanents and light trimmings made elsewhere.

+3 Naturalize, +4 Akroma’s Vengeance

-3 Temporal Fissure, -1 Chain of Vapor, -1 Hunting Pack, -1 Journey of Discovery, -1 Spellweaver Helix

Affinity [aggressive]

This matchup is played in much the same way as its controlling cousin, except DNA doesn’t need to be concerned about any of its spells not resolving. What it does need to be concerned with is not dying, but the four maindeck Disciples of the Vault / Shrapnel Blast / Lightning Greaves powered creature attack will make this extremely difficult. In many ways, this is the worst game one matchup DNA has – super fast creatures, low casting cost direct damage, and no way to deal with Disciple of the Vault. It’s basically a race to see whom can goldfish whom quicker. Once again, bringing in the artifact kill (or in this case, entire deck kill) package out of the sideboard skews things in favor of DNA since nothing an aggro-Affinity deck brings in is liable to be as good as Akroma’s Vengeance. Just pray that they don’t get the double Disciple / double Shrapnel Blast draw.

+4 Naturalize, +4 Akroma’s Vengeance

-3 Temporal Fissure, -2 Chain of Vapor, -1 Hunting Pack, -1 Spellweaver Helix, -1 Concentrate

U/W Control

This is DNA’s best matchup, and nonbelievers haven’t played it enough or haven’t played well enough to win in the matches they did play.

I play against U/W Control a ton online, and the result of game one is often build dependant. If they’re running the MWC engine with Urza Lands, Mindslaver, and the like, things are a little poorer simply because an activated Mindslaver against DNA is game over. This does take ten mana (a rawdogged Mindslaver without mana to activate on the same turn will just get bounced), but U/W can get there without much issue thanks to Cloudpost and friends. Builds like this usually have difficulty supporting the UU inflected counterspells, so be aware that they may only have Mana Leak to stop anything.

More conventional U/W Control builds have almost zero chance against DNA. There are too many storm spells, no maindeck Stifle, and any sizeable Temporal Fissure bends them right over the pickle barrel. They’d better have four Stifles in the sideboard to stop the dunk, because just two or three are not going to cut it, either. I like to bring in a few of my own to stop sizeable Decrees of Justice, and all three copies come in if I even smell Mindslaver. Put in the second Hunting Pack in if Gilded Light has made a guest appearance.

+2-3 Stifle, (+1 Hunting Pack)

-1 Chain of Vapor, -1 Journey of Discovery, (-1 Spellweaver Helix)


Since MWC decks possess a full four copies of Mindslaver, the matchup is a bit worse in game one, but still favorable overall. The most important thing to do is to keep them off of the Urzatron as much as possible – their deck doesn’t work well without it. A lot of the way I play DNA against MWC is similar to how I play against U/W Control, except I don’t have to worry about spell-testing and the like. All of the Stifles come in to guard against Mindslaver and the occasional problematic Oblivion Stone. MWC can’t really”stop” DNA from going off, nor are its creatures (Eternal Dragon, Exalted Angel) of much use. There’s really not to much more to say here; DNA either combos out and wins or becomes enslaved and loses. MWC can sometimes establish the Urzatron very early and cycle up some huge Decrees of Justice, but I’ve only had this happen a few times. The matchup is really all about Mindslaver, so don’t worry about anything else.

+3 Stifle

-1 Hunting Pack, -1 Journey of Discovery, -1 Spellweaver Helix


When R/G goes first and can Stone Rain on the second turn, the game will be difficult. Otherwise, this matchup is surprisingly quite easy. DNA can frequently have plenty of mana at its disposal before R/G can even destroy their first land, thanks to Birds of Paradise, Chrome Mox, and Rampant Growth. Their threats are all four and five mana, which make them extremely susceptible to Temporal Fissure. Yeah yeah, how am I ever going to get the mana for a five casting cost sorcery… you’d be surprised.

Simple mathematics explain the essence of the matchup: DNA has zero, one, and two casting costs mana accelerants and has spells that get two lands, while each spells of theirs only destroys one land. Sooner or later, they are going to run out of gas. A couple of Akroma’s Vengeance join the fray for games two and three, since it’s far superior to Hunting Pack and Chain of Vapor and can randomly win against a beatdown draw. I too thought this matchup would be one of the worst, but playtesting has simply proven this notion incorrect. Girly men who fear this matchup could easily cut Hunting Pack and a copy of Akroma’s Vengeance from the sideboard to make way for two copies of Sacred Ground, but I don’t feel it’s needed.

-1 Hunting Pack. -1 Chain of Vapor

+2 Akroma’s Vengeance

RDW2K4 / Goblins / Goblin Bidding

The aggro denizens of the field will give DNA more issues because the deck has no way to kill a creature. Duh. It also can’t really stop direct damage in game one, so any game one against a heavy Red deck is going to be no better than fifty percent. The most common aggro deck that I see played online is mono-Red with Slith Firewalker, Isochron Scepter, Blistering Firecat, and all manner of burn spells. I’ve dubbed the deck RDW2K4, simply because I don’t know what else it’s close to.

DNA is slightly better against this deck than it is against Goblins, largely because Isochron Scepter is nullified (thanks to all of the bounce), and Slith Firewalker is kept to a reasonable size for the same reason. A turn 1 Chain of Vapor on their Chrome Mox is also good times. Still, RDW2K4 can win quite easily with any double Blistering Firecat draw. It’s not a tremendous matchup, but it’s better than the Goblin variants, which are terrible. It’s Goblin Piledriver that causes all of the pain; since I’ve removed Aether Spellbomb from the deck, he is impossible to deal with. When there’s a Goblin Piledriver on turn 2, it’s difficult to win. Fortunately, all of these Red-oriented problems are treated with CoP: Red and a ton of mana to back them up. I tried Ravenous Baloth in this role once upon a time, but he always got overrun.

When playing against any of these decks, just try to combo out as fast as possible and don’t forget to use Birds of Paradise to block before getting into lethal damage range. They can’t stop you from killing them either, and I’m somewhat comforted by the fact that a sick DNA draw will still beat the best draw that any of the aggro Red decks can produce.

+3 Circle of Protection: Red, +2 Akroma’s Vengeance

-3 Temporal Fissure, -1 Hunting Pack, -1 Concentrate

The Future of DNA

I’m not certain what additions to the deck that Darksteel will bring, since I haven’t tested anything yet. Aggro decks will definitely jump in popularity simply because everyone and their mother will be trying to abuse Skullclamp, which could make DNA a weaker deck against the field. However, it may not – I’ve played against plenty of Equipment packing White Weenie decks and DNA wins handily the majority of the time. Why? If your opponent is busy using his mana casting Equipment and equipping creatures, then he’s not casting creatures and attacking with them. This plays right into the hands of DNA, which can cause huge tempo loss on any given turn.

DNA also doesn’t care about the cards that these decks will draw if they kill their own creatures with Skullclamp; a creature off the table is worth its weight in gold to a defenseless combo deck. On any turn where DNA is left alive, the inevitability clock inches ever forward. Suffice it to say that I’m skill skeptical on the impact Skullclamp will make, but I can’t deny that it’s going to be hella popular next month. It’s going to be interesting.

Oh, and as I stated a few weeks ago: New England Patriots – 2004 Super Bowl Champions

Woooooo hooo!

Now if only my Celtics would stop sucking.

Albums contributing to the creation of this article:

The Dears – No Cities Left

Prince & The Revolution – Purple Rain

Tom Waits – Rain Dogs

Jurassic 5 – Power In Numbers

Prefuse 73 – Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives

Neutral Milk Hotel – Neutral Milk Hotel

Approximate temperature in the train car for the entire freaking trip: 85 degrees Fahrenheit

That’s right – I sweat for you people. [Sweat for the lemonade, Sweat for the team. – Knudacris] I’ll be fielding comments in the forums per usual; the response to this deck has been overwhelming.

Enjoy life.

Jim Ferraiolo

[email protected]

Dobbs on IRC and MTGO