After a fantastic Torment Prerelease, a Torment-free Standard tourney doesn’t sound too much fun. But when it’s all you’ve got, you really have to make the most of it… And so I’d been playtesting Tings, Psychatog and a tweaked R/G deck.
The idea was simple: R/G is easy to play, giving you more spare thinking time to think about the harder plays. Sometimes you just win because you get a good draw; sometimes you win because your opponent is mana screwed. A lot of the time they blow up the world or drop a really good blocker, like Psychatog, and ruin your day.
I started with Darwin Kastle’s R/G deck from the Masters and added four Yavimaya Barbarians to the main deck. Surprisingly, this tweak alone improved the deck’s performance against the ‘Tog decks and so I started working on sideboarding options. I took the deck along to playtest it and wasn’t that happy: Too often, I found myself hoping to win from the top of my deck – and when you’ve been playing control and aggro-control decks for the last six months, going pure aggro can be a bit of a shock.
I thought about the matchups and discussed my options with some friends and we came to the conclusion that although a deck tweaked to beat ‘Tog would probably beat ‘Tog, it would probably lose to other control decks with spells like Wrath and Rout, and it still had no better chance against Tings.
So with all the practice I had with ‘Tog, and a firm belief that it’s the best all-round deck out there at the moment, I sat down and started to look a little more at the deck and the writings about it on the ‘net.
One of the best articles on the ‘Tog decks is Zvi’s article on Brainburst. To cut a long article short, Zvi advocates using no Finkels or Familars – something I agree with based on the mirror match statistics from the Masters and Gateway. He also suggested adding Peek instead of Opt and somehow fitting Slay into the sideboard.
With this in mind, I put the following deck together:
Psychatog (Kai and Patrick Mello’s versions, with changes by Zvi).
Other Spells (34):
4x Memory Lapse
4x Fact or Fiction
4x Force Spike
4x Salt Marsh
4x Underground River
2x Cephalid Coliseum
2x Engineered Plague
1x Mahomoti Djinn
2x Innocent Blood
I was a little unsure about Peek – but hell, if Zvi thinks it’s worth a try I’m willing to trust him and give it a go! I really like the thinning aspect of both Opt and Peek… And maybe, just maybe, seeing your opponent’s hand is better than choosing to put a card on the bottom of your library right now. I’m sure we’ll see. I also dropped one Island for a second Coliseum – they really are very good.
The biggest problem I had was the sideboard. With only a day to work out what cards to bring in and take out, I really didn’t know where to start and nearly scrapped the whole sideboard and started from scratch. Sometimes life doesn’t give you enough time for Magic and I went with a modified Zvi sideboard.
Saturday came around and I was ready to head off. Unusually, no one turned up to ask for cards for their decks, so I put three or four I had built up in a bag, grabbed a few handfuls of useful cards, and headed over to the tourney.
As soon as I got there Tom Cleaver, asked me if I had any spare decks. We went through the ones I did have, and he took the R/G deck and we finished off its sideboard. Gordon Benson asked me if I had any spare cards for his sideboard, and I ended up lending him a handful too. Spike asked to borrow any Yavimaya Coasts I might have, so I leant him four, and finally Saul asked if I had another spare deck.
With all the cards I’d ripped out of the decks, only my U/W Opposition deck, Traffic Jam, was untouched and it didn’t have a sideboard. We spent a little time throwing sensible-sounding cards in there, and eventually the tourney was ready to kick off. Talk about frantic!
Round 1: Anwar Tarafder playing G/B/U control.
I’ve played Anwar a number of times over the last few years and he’s been getting better and better. Although he toys with net decks, he generally plays a deck of his own construction, or a modified net deck.
In the first game we both started well, dropping lots of lands, but he cast a bunch of Fact or Fictions whilst I stood by and watched. The card advantage he gained meant that he got me down to very few cards in hand while he kept his full, thwarting any chances I had at casting a threat. Although he was at one life when he gained control, it was down to his own painlands. I was cut out of the game.
Sideboarding was very hard. I knew that I wanted to bring in a little creature removal and the Gainsays, but I also wanted a little more permanent bounce to get rid of his Deeds. What do you take out? Duress is good against him, Probe is good but a Sorcery. All the counters are quite good – Force Spike being the worst perhaps.
In the end, I mistakenly took out the Peeks and Probes, reducing the consistency of my deck and reducing my ability to wreck his hand. Luckily it didn’t matter. I mulliganned a one-land hand to draw another. I went with it, having a Duress in hand.
By turn five, Anwar had Recoiled my one Salt Marsh twice already and I conceded the game. I tried to be friendly and happy about it… But hey, I was 0-1, sideboarded badly, and was mana screwed – how happy do you want me to be? One play I’d noticed Anwar make was dropping his Finkel on turn three, tapping out to do so. If I untap and have Innocent Blood, I can kill it. He had two Recoils in hand. In my opinion, he should have Recoiled the Salt Marsh for two turns, dropping land each turn until he could play the Finkel with counter backup.
But hell, I’d just lost – what do I know?
Matches: 0-1, Games: 0-2
Boo! Hiss! Not a good start to the day.
Round 2: Tom Maine playing R/B
Sitting opposite Tom Maine, I couldn’t remember last time we played. He’s been coming to Bath tourneys for a while but I always seem to miss him, normally he finishes mid-table, but I’ve seen him playing some good decks well. With a 0-1 start, it’s time to pay attention and play well.
As we present decks, I’m deck checked. I’m a bit cheeky to Chris as he takes it away, as he’s saying that he’s going to check me each round… Fine by me – I can’t remember the last time I failed a deck check. It’s part of Magic I’m glad to see, but also a part that lots of people do badly on.
As a judge, I see players forgetting where there decks are, what cards are in their sideboards, and even where their sideboards are! I’ve seen players playing with sleeves and having no spares and – worst of all – keeping cards in their pockets! After a few rounds, they have to be played in sleeves, they’re so scuffed.
When you attend a Magic tourney, you should write your deck out carefully, then check that each card on the deck list is in your deck and there are no cards left when you’ve gone down the list. Add up the cards on the deck list and then count your deck. It’s also good to make a list of your sideboard and keep it in a bag so that you can check you have it after and before each match. Finally, I’d advocate taking a big plastic box with you, big enough to put your deck, sideboard, and spare sleeves and keep everything in the same place. That way you won’t leave your sideboard behind when you pick up your deck.
Anyway, back to the tourney. I start and I Peek and see a hand of red and black spells, including a Stone Rain and a Terminate. I play around the Stone Rain and Duress the Terminate when I get a chance. Tom plays a few early creatures, like Raging Goblins and Nightscape Familiars, but I mange to bounce then, counter them, and the power of Probe and Fact or Fiction wins me the day.
In the second game, Tom had to mulligan and went with a one-land hand. He didn’t lay a land for a few turns as I Peeked and Duressed a few cards I didn’t like until my graveyard was big enough to protect an early ‘Tog. Out it popped, and five turns later the game was mine.
Matches: 1-1, Games: 2-2
Round 3: Chris Brown playing B/U/w
Sitting across from Chris, I realise I’m playing another player I haven’t played in years. I know nothing about him at all, and so caution is my byword.
I start well by (once again) Peeking and seeing a hand of UB land and consider the mirror. A few turns later, I Spike a Zombie Infestation and settle in for a careful game. Chris then drops a Stormscape Apprentice.
Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that one. I can deal with it quite handily with my sideboard, dropping an Engineered Plague and naming Wizard, but if he keeps recasting his 1cc guy I could have problems. Luckily, he doesn’t see much else, and makes a few bad plays, casting Fact in response to my Fact in his end step, tapping himself out a number of times and allowing me to drop a ‘Tog with counter backup for the next turn.
I stabilised at eleven life in the end after Recoiling his Stormscape and countering it on the way back down. With the extra cards from multiple Facts and Probing him to keep his hand low, I quickly built up enough of a graveyard and hand to beat him down with the Tog.
Chris went first in the second game and dropped – you guessed it – an Apprentice. I sighed and looked at a very good hand and started dropping land. I countered a few of Chris’ other Spells until he had only a few cards in hand and dropped my Tog. Next turn he plays his Infestation. I let him cast it to allow him to waste cards blocking the Tog – in retrospect, I’d have killed him faster if I’d countered it. He made a few more bad plays – discarding cards to a Probe instead of making a Zombie token in response – and I kept coming in with the Tog for the kill.
Matches: 2-1 Games: 4-2
Round 4: Sam Ferris playing W/U/b
I had no idea what Sam was playing, but he also started with a Stormscape Apprentice. I considered that he might be playing the same deck Chris had played the round before and settled in for the long haul. I quickly realised he wasn’t when I Duressed him and looked at a Magpie and some Zombies. We fought over a few cards, and I eventually bounced his Apprentice. As he recast it, he had B/U/W untapped and I countered with confidence.
Chris tapped to play Dromar’s Charm. Oops, forgotten about that one. I used to play them, but I just didn’t think anyone was any more. I really should have a look around tourneys more when I’ve finished games.
Chris slowly built up a small army before I could drop a ‘Tog and slow him down. Eventually he had me on four life with two 2/2 zombies in play and an untapped Stormscape Apprentice at the end of my turn. I had two Togs by now. Basically, he could kill me by tapping one, untapping then tapping the other – attacking me for four and the win.
He took a point of my life, tapped one and came in for four – I blocked and killed one.
I untapped and sent the Togs in for the win with one, big strike. Even gaining five life with a Charm couldn’t save him.
In the second game, he won a few counter wars until he had a Finkel and Apprentice on the table. He taps my Tog to attack and draw with Finkel. I eventually see a second Tog, but he’s filled his hand up and drawn and cast two Magpies. I drop a Plague naming”Wizard” to put paid to Finkel and the Apprentice, but it looks like I’m still in deep trouble.
The next turn he cast Wrath of God – saving my bacon! He thought that the loss of the Apprentice would kill him, when he could keep attacking through the air for two a turn and drawing two cards! I dropped a Tog I’d kept in hand and Fact or Fiction into some counters to gain control and win the match.
Matches: 3-1, Games: 6-2.
I got the feeling that I was a little unlucky, but that Sam should have won the match. I explained all the things I’d spotted throughout the match and he agreed and looked like he wanted to kick himself – I felt bad telling him, but I hope he bears it in mind in future matches and that it wins him a few more games.
Round 5: Spike.
I walked up to the standings and saw that I’d been paired against Spike, who I’d lent the Yavimaya Coasts to earlier. I wandered over to the table and Spike came over.
“I knew I forgot something this morning,” Spike said.
“My pillow; I’m going to need it in this match.”
I laughed. I knew what he was playing and I had a good chance at beating him.
“You want to ID and chill for a while?” I offered.
As soon as the Judge shouted that we could start, I told him we’d ID’d.
Matches: 3-1-1, Games: 6-2.
Magic isn’t just about winning; it’s about having fun and playing with your mates too. An ID certainly didn’t hurt me as much as a loss would, but then a win would have placed me much more favourably. Who cares? These days, I want to enjoy a tourney, not worry about trying to win it.
Round 6: Mike Hampton playing ‘Tog.
Mike is a solid player and I know he’s playing ‘Tog. In game one, I gained control with Peeks, Duresses, plenty of Fiction action on my side, and a Probe or two. Mike eventually succumbed to the Tog. The Peeks were great yet again, allowing me to gauge what Mike had drawn and what he still had in hand. They also let me make the most effective use of my Duresses, allowing me to take Facts from him that he couldn’t afford to lose.
In game one, I didn’t see any Finkels or Nightscapes and so didn’t bring in the Plagues. In game two I Duressed him and saw Familiars and started to kick myself – my Plagues were still in my sideboard. Still, I’m one game up and we’re not done yet. The slow death starts and Mike dropped another Familiar to double the amount of damage his army can do me each turn. I soon drew into a ‘Tog and managed to force it into play, slowing the beatings for a little while and then Mike tried to force Finkel out. I couldn’t really let him have it, as he might bounce my Tog, and so we go to war – a war I won.
A few turns later, I’m sitting with a Memory Lapse, Repulse and Peek in hand and I’m pretty sure that Mike has a land. I draw… Mahomoti Djinn! I only have six land, so I’ll have to tap out to cast it so… I bounce a Familiar back to Mikes hand. Next turn he tries to cast it, and I Lapse it back on to of his library and in my turn cast the Djinn.
I know what he’s going to draw, and the best he can do is drop the Familiar, then I get to untap with my newly-drawn counters in hand for backup. Four turns later, the game is mine.
Matches: 4-1-1, Games: 8-2
Not a bad turnaround – from 0-1 to 4-1-1. One match to go. Even if I win it, I can’t win the tourney as, with 49 players there are two people on 5-1 and one on 6-0. Someone will probably win with 6-1. The best I can do is head for Top 8. I’m quite relaxed because even if I lose I’ll be 4-1-2, and that’s not a bad days work.
Round 7: Steve Foulkes playing R/G/B
Game one Steve dropped Mongeese – hundreds of them. I managed to get a ‘Tog down and start to block and kill some creatures – including a Jade Leech – and I managed to stabilise on four life! With bounce in hand, a second Tog available, and some counters, I went on the offensive. A few turns later, the game was mine.
Once again, I’m stuck with my sideboarding. I can bring in the Slays, Innocent Bloods, Hibernation, Plagues and Boomerang. Hell, I could even bring in the Moti, as it doesn’t look like Steve can stop it. What to take out? I have to leave in some Force Spikes, and the Peeks are too useful. Probes are expensive and I really need the mana to counter, so a few go out. A little bounce goes out to give me room for some Slays, and eventually I even remove a Memory Lapse! I really need to work on this aspect of my play. With my own decks I never seem to have a problem, but picking up a sideboard someone else has worked out a day before doesn’t seem like a good idea at all!
Again, Steve started well with a Blurred Mongoose and started attacking for two a turn. He dropped another and starts in for four. Finally, I get a ‘tog and stop the attack, with counter backup and I Lapse a Mindslicer. Next turn he doesn’t attack, but drops a Scuta. I’d have to block and kill it and the two Mongeese would come through, so I counter… And he drops the Mindslicer.
So a key decision: If I wait I can kill the Slicer, but at only eight life I’ll be down to four with two Mongeese on the table. If he drops another Mongoose, I’m dead and he’s hinted at rage in hand too. I do have a Plague in hand, and if I drop it he can come in for four with the Mindslicer, but won’t be able to do the extra two the turn after and Rage will take me down to one life. Plus, if he does attack, I may be able to go in for the win, as he’s painlanded himself down to eleven. I decide to drop the Plague naming Mongoose, killing the two Blurred Mongeese, and pass the turn.
Steve attacked and was surprised when I let it through, leaving himself two untapped Sulfurous Springs. I’m on four life. Either he has a Terminate in hand – in which case he should have already tried to kill the ‘Tog, or he doesn’t. I attack. Before damage goes on the stack, I tap out to Fact or Fiction and get another three cards and two in the graveyard. With the extra cards, I can pump the Tog to eleven and go in for the win.
He looks at me surprised and offers his hand in defeat. Without the Fact, I couldn’t kill him and I didn’t have the mana to cast it in his turn. Even so, with a Terminate he’d have won the game. I was one game up, and I figured the match was in my favour – even with the Mindslicers – so I didn’t mind taking a chance. Occasionally, you’ve got to give it everything and keep your fingers crossed.
Matches: 5-1-1, Games: 10-2.
So. I won five matches 2-0, lost one 2-0, and came in fourth. My tiebreakers were awful, as Anwar finished very low in the field, and so playing and possibly winning the match against Spike wouldn’t have helped – I’d have come third instead.
Peek is amazing in this deck. It enabled me to use Duress to the full, keep my graveyard topped up, and play with Memory Lapses, making sure I knew my opponent couldn’t control some of my threats.
Probe fits the deck wonderfully, was expensive to make full use of, and I surprised a number of people by casting it without kicker throughout the day. They didn’t seem to understand that I was increasing my card quality and filling up my graveyard – never mind the fact they weren’t having to discard. I’m not sure whether it should stay in the deck after the advent of Madness.
The real problem I had was sideboarding strategy. With so much uncertainty about what deck to play, I only had a day to decide what to bring in and out in each match up.
Talking to players throughout the day, I saw a number of ‘Tog decks with Cabal Pit in, to try and give the deck at least one main deck answer to Yavimaya Barbarian. Not a bad idea, but you don’t want to have to play too many painlands, really.
The top eight was as follows:
The G/R deck that won played main deck Blurred Mongeese, Nimble Mongeese, and Spellbane Centaurs with four Yavimaya Barbarians, three Price of Glory, and two Obliterate in the sideboard.
Well, that’s that for this week. Next week I’ll start looking at some Standard decks for after Torment rotates in. Have fun!