Grim Long and the Impact of Portal on Vintage

In the first months of 2004, we threw together some Grim Tutor variants of the deck in preparation for what we believed would be a forthcoming announcement. We did some preliminary testing and tuning and then we waited. And waited. And waited and waited and waited. Finally, the announcement came. Now that people are concerned about the deck, some even claiming (absurdly) that Grim Tutor needs restriction. This article is going to demystify Grim Tutor and introduce Grim Long by tying my experience with all three incarnations of the Long.dec archetype together to provide a solid foundation for your own testing.

[The author of this article respectfully requests that people do not cut and paste this decklist in sundry forums and that you link back to this article instead.]

Way back in 2003 the DCI asked Type One players to write in and make suggestions concerning the format. Aaron Forsythe received a number of suggestions about cleaning up and modernizing Vintage. I reported a series of polls I ran on a website called the TheManaDrain.com designed to gauge support for the unrestriction of three cards I felt were particularly in need of unrestriction at the time: Berserk, Recall, and Fork. Aaron Forsythe summarized the findings in this interesting article.

At the end of the article is perhaps the most compelling suggestion of all: the idea that Portal should be legal in Vintage. Forsythe was receptive to the idea:

Now this is a proposal I can get behind. Not many people suggested it, because it requires “thinking outside the box,” but it is a great idea nonetheless.

Portal as an oversimplified way to introduce players to the game was not the best idea ever, and the creation of cards that were not overtly goofy (like Unglued), yet still not legal in tournaments has been met with a small amount of ire in the community (especially by those players that started with Portal, only to find out later that the cards were “useless”). We have since stopped making such sets, and have gone so far as to make special exemptions for the tournament legality of cards that will only appear in the Starter game, as Eager Cadet will do when Eighth Edition rolls around.

The logistics of legalizing all three Portal sets, plus a few random Starter cards, is the real barrier at this time.

Most Type 1 players call for the legalizing of Portal because of one card in particular, the green common Jungle Lion, which many claim is just the card Stompy (mono-green beatdown) needs to be truly competitive. The problem is that the rules team can’t just say “Jungle Lion is legal in Type 1.” If Portal is to be legalized, all three sets must be legalized, which would entail writing Oracle wordings for all the cards (some of which are quite awkward under “real” rules), and assigning creature types to a bunch of monsters. While not an impossible task, it would require a bit of time.

All in all, a good idea, and one I’d personally like to see happen. But if and when such a change would be made are murky at best.

The new and improved [card name=

The first hint that plans were underway to do just that was the discovery that Portal had been put into the Oracle and updated all the wordings by late 2003. I knew then it was a matter of time. Why go to all the effort to make Oracle wordings DCI compatible if there weren’t intentions of making Portal legal? Even assuming that the oraclization of Portal was for some other purpose, the timing was too close to be coincidence. My team and I began looking at Portal cards and picking them up in anticipation that it would happen. One of the first cards we stumbled across was Grim Tutor.

In late 2003, my favorite deck caused Lion’s Eye Diamond (from herein is referred to as LED) and Burning Wish to be restricted. It took some time to tune the replacement deck, but Death Wish finally made a replacement viable. The reason it took so long is that the changes were pretty drastic. Chromatic Spheres were cut entirely and the card that made the deck so broken, Lion’s Eye Diamond, was now a one-of. A surprising amount of testing was necessary to figure out that an odd two Elvish Spirit Guides were what the deck wanted over the alternatives, which included cards like Cabal Ritual.

In the first months of 2004, we threw together some Grim Tutor variants of the deck in preparation for what we believed would be a forthcoming announcement. We did some preliminary testing and tuning and then we waited. And waited. And waited and waited and waited. [No and waited! – Knut, stuck in the drive thru… again] Finally, the announcement came. Now that people are concerned about the deck, some even claiming (absurdly) that Grim Tutor needs restriction. This article is going to demystify Grim Tutor and introduce Grim Long by tying my experience with all three incarnations of the Long.dec archetype together to provide a solid foundation for your own testing. Finally, I’ll conclude with some thoughts about Portal generally and a few other cards of note.

Deconstructing the Long.dec Combo

To understand how to properly build GrimLong, I need to explain how it is different from Long.dec and LongDeath (Meandeath). Many of you probably started playing Type One since Long was legal.

The purpose of what follows is to outline the “core” of the Long.dec combo. It is not supposed to be an accurate representation of how the deck actually goldfishes or plays matches – but to provide some bare bones outlines for comparing all three incarnations in terms of efficiency and logistical requirements to achieve Tendrils for 20 life. There are two parts to the Long.dec combo: the spells played on the way to resolving Yawgmoth’s Will and the spells played after Yawgmoth’s Will resolves. For lack of a better terminology, I call the former “on the way in” and the latter “on the way out.”

Long.dec Combo:

Turn One:

Gemstone Mine. Pass the turn. On opponents end step: Brainstorm.

The Brainstorm has two functions. First, it fixes your mana readying you for a turn two win using Lion’s Eye Diamond, at least one Mox, and another land. Second, it helps you adjust your threats on top of your library so that when you activate the Lion’s Eye Diamond, the LED won’t take it with your hand.

Turn Two:

City of Brass, Mox Pearl (any Mox will do), Lion’s Eye Diamond. Tap the City of Brass for Dark Ritual. Duress. You see nothing of relevance. Tap Gemstone Mine and play Burning Wish, respond by sacrificing the Lion’s Eye Diamond. Find Yawgmoth’s Will and play it leaving a mana up. Replay the LED and sacrifice the LED for mana and replay the Ritual. You now have six mana. Play another Burning Wish and find Tendrils of Agony. If you don’t have enough for another Burning Wish, you may have a tutor at this point or a draw 7 with plenty of mana floating. Either way, these were almost always enough steam to get your busted cards active to find and play more busted cards until you finally Tendrils them out.

The point is that the core combo of Burning Wish + Yawgmoth’s Will + Lion’s Eye Diamond cost a total of five mana, only two of which you had to pay with mana other than LED. The only trick was getting up to six mana necessary to play Burning Wish + Tendrils of Agony. And since LED could only be used to play Yawgmoth’s Will (in the core combo), the combo was essentially two mana on the way in and six mana after Will resolution.

By contrast, Death Long costs seven mana both before and after Will resolution:

DeathLong Combo (MeanDeath)

Turn One:

Gemstone Mine, Brainstorm. Same as before.

Turn Two:

City of Brass. Mox Pearl. Dark Ritual. Dark Ritual. Death Wish for Yawgmoth’s Will with BBB1 floating. Play the Yawgmoth’s Will. Replay both Rituals. You need two other sources of mana to play another Death Wish and Tendrils.

This generally isn’t how DeathLong combos. That’s the flaw in the deck compared to Long.dec. You don’t have enough mana to “just” win like that.

The normal turn two is more likely something like this:

Turn Two:

City of Brass. Mox Pearl. Dark Ritual, Timetwister (any draw7 will do), then with the mana floating play another Ritual, another Mox, and Death Wish for Yawgmoth’s Will and hope to go off.

The point here is that the core combo costs seven mana on the way in and the way out. It costs three mana to play Death Wish, three mana to play Yawgmoth’s Will, and you need one more mana to start it up again. Then you need three mana to play Death Wish and four mana to play Tendrils.

If you draw a Black Lotus or a Lion’s Eye Diamond, the combo only costs six mana before and after Yawgmoth’s Will resolution because you don’t need any mana to replay the LED or Lotus, unlike Ritual.

By now you can see why Long.dec was so much better than DeathLong: it was incredibly efficient at comboing out. The reliability of being able to find a Lion’s Eye Diamond basically meant that you needed no mana to restart the combo up. The whole combo was much more efficient and much faster.

First, Lion’s Eye Diamond entirely pays for Yawgmoth’s Will. With Deathlong, you need to tap a land to play Dark Ritual. That leaves you one more mana free with old Long.dec

Second, Lion’s Eye Diamond means that you need no mana left over after playing Yawgmoth’s Will since you can just replay the LED for free and break it. DeathLong needs one more mana floating to start up the combo with Dark Ritual.

Third, Burning Wish needs to played at least once and likely twice with old Long.dec. It costs one less than Death Wish which means you save two total mana. Death Wish costs one more for each Wish.

Therefore, DeathLong is less efficient by at least three mana and a good part of the time by four mana (the times you will find the Tendrils by Wishing for it). That is hardly trivial. Of course, if you are lucky enough to randomly draw a Lion’s Eye Diamond or Black Lotus with DeathLong then you are only two mana less efficient.

The goal of DeathLong has been to find ways to minimize that inefficiency. Elvish Spirit Guide didn’t really help either because it was not reusable mana after playing Yawgmoth’s Will. The practical solution was simply that you were a much slower deck, but this affected old Long.dec as well. Old Long.dec generally didn’t play its combo in the way I described. Breaking Lion’s Eye Diamond was simply too risky such that against control decks you needed to overpower with a wave of fast threats. Old Long.dec would try to play a few bombs first and establish its mana so that after breaking LED and playing Yawgmoth’s Will it would have worn down the opponent’s resistance. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read my old “Long.dec v. Control Article“) It could do this because the core combo was so efficient. It was slowing down the goldfish against control in order to leverage that speed into power. I suggest that if you are interested in how Long plays against Control, that you read that article – the core principles remain true today even though the cards in the deck are different.

DeathLong does the same thing not by choice, but necessity. It simply isn’t efficient enough to just “combo” out. Sure, sometimes you will get the “Just Win” hand that I categorized in my primer where you have: Lotus, Ritual, Demonic Tutor, Death Wish, Land, Duress, and a Mox. You just go, Land, Ritual, Duress, Lotus, Demonic Tutor for LED, Death Wish, break LED and Yawg Will. Replay Lotus, Ritual, and LED and Demonic Tutor for the maindeck Tendrils. GG. But barring double Rituals or a Lotus or LED in the opening hand, it is unlikely that the Wishes are even usable. Sure you can Wish for a Time Spiral, but if you’ve got nothing else, this deck’s game plan looks like a joke unless you are able to Wish -> Diminishing Returns or Time Spiral with lots of mana floating.


The first limit on both Long decks is their mana limit: the combo requires two mana and an LED in old Long.dec and seven mana in DeathLong. The second limit should now be obvious: the logistical limit. Just because you have seven mana and a Death Wish doesn’t even mean that you will win. Nor two mana and LED and Burning Wish for Long.dec. You need another Wish and a way to reuse seven of that mana. So it isn’t just that you need seven mana, you need seven reusable mana and another Wish (or access to a Wish without using up the needed mana.

How does this apply to Grim Long?

The first thing you need to recognize is the mana cost going into the combo is identical to Death Long. The combo still costs seven going in. What made old Long so broken was first and foremost the severe and uncompromising abuse of Lion’s Eye Diamond. Chromatic Sphere was used to even use LED to play regular spells like Draw7s.

The advantage Grim Long has over DeathLong and possibly even over old Long.dec is the logistical limit. How? Since Grim Tutor is not actually removed from game like Death Wish. This means that you do not need another Grim Tutor after playing Yawgmoth’s Will since you can just replay the one you used to find the Yawgmoth’s Will. In a related way, the mana cost of the combo is actually marginally less. First, you don’t need to expend mana or other resources to actually find the second Wish or the maindeck Tendrils. This means that the combo on the way out (after Yawgmoth’s Will) is practically easier to achieve and in that sense more efficient.

It may in fact be more efficient as well because you may be able to abuse Cabal Ritual. Cabal Ritual can be replayed from the graveyard unlike Elvish Spirit Guide and since Grim Tutors sit there as well, you have a much better chance of hitting threshold. Second, if you have two Grim Tutors, you can Grim Tutor chain going:

Dark Ritual,

Grim Tutor for Black Lotus,

Sacrifice Black Lotus and

Grim Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will.

If you have three more mana, it is a small matter to combo out, but your graveyard, at the least, will already be juiced. Therefore, Grim Tutor may actually make the logistics of comboing out easier so that you can combo out sooner than you would have been able to do with DeathLong. However, it must be remembered that the mana cost is still the same. It doesn’t matter how much sooner the logistical limits are met if you still need 7 mana on the way in and the way out. That is a crucial limit that keeps this deck from winning too quickly.

The Substitutions

Now that we understand how Grim Tutor functions and what it adds, the obvious starting place for deck design is to simply substitute four Death Wish for four Grim Tutor and Burning Wish for Yawgmoth’s Will. Grim Tutor is clearly better than Death Wish as the means of finding Yawgmoth’s Will. The change would mean that Yawgmoth’s Will would move to the maindeck and as a result you could just randomly draw it. That way, moving the Yawgmoth’s Will to the maindeck and adding four Grim Tutors directly replaced Burning Wish and four Death Wishes.

That’s a one-for-one substitution. However, since you have fewer Wishes and you can’t run Demonic Consultation (for fear of removing your win condition and Yawgmoth’s Will), the deck needs two Tendrils of Agony instead of just one. Therefore, we just substitute Demonic Consultation for Tendrils of Agony. Windfall also gets cut to make room for a maindeck bounce spell. Without the Wishes, the deck needs at least some solution to board threats like Arcane Lab, Chalice of the Void, and so on.

Therefore, here is what I propose as a solid starting point and what I built last year:

Grim Long

By Stephen Menendian

The Combo:

4 Grim Tutor

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

2 Tendrils of Agony

The Draw7s:

1 Memory Jar

1 Tinker

1 Wheel of Fortune

1 Timetwister

The Truly Broken Cards:

1 Necropotence

1 Mind’s Desire

1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain


1 Mystical Tutor

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Crop Rotation

Finding the combo

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

4 Brainstorm

Protecting the Combo

4 Duress

2 Defense Grid

1 Chain of Vapor/Hurkyl’s Recall/Rebuild, etc

The Mana:

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

1 Black Lotus

1 Lotus Petal

1 Mana Crypt

1 Lion’s Eye Diamond

1 Mana Vault

1 Chrome Mox

4 Dark Rituals

2 Elvish Spirit

4 Gemstone Mine

4 City of Brass

1 Glimmervoid

1 Underground Sea

1 Tolarian Academy

Well there is the decklist for October 20th, 2005.

That is simply the straight one to one conversion of updating DeathLong to Grim Long. Nothing in there is about maximizing inherent synergies. The next step is determining what to do about trying to work in Cabal Ritual. It is possible that you could build the deck to achieve threshold as quickly as possible and then use four Cabal Rituals. That list might actually be slightly faster and better at abusing Grim Long. It would require careful tuning much in the same way that Death Long did after the restriction of LED and Burning Wish.

Should Grim Tutor be Restricted?

It should be pretty clear from my discussion so far that I do not think that Grim Tutor is worthy of restriction. Diabolic Tutor sees absolutely no play in Vintage (although I have tested it). Yet Demonic Tutor is omnipresent. A card that sits in the middle of those two costs might be cause for concern if it were differently costed, but it has the worst part of the Diabolic Tutor’s drawback: the double Black requirement. As a result, it cannot be splashed in prominent Vintage decks for a nice power boost.

The key reason that I do not think that Grim Tutor will be a problem is for the reasons I’ve already laid out: it doesn’t actually alter the mana cost of the first and most important part of the Long combo one bit. Lion’s Eye Diamond and Burning Wish were orders of mana more efficient for the reasons I’ve already stated. This deck will be only a stronger Death Long. It is still far from Long.dec in power, resilience, and speed.

Grim Tutor, on the other hand, is almost strictly superior to Death Wish. Death Wish is the same casting cost, but you lose only 3 life instead of half of your life. In one important respect, Grim Tutor has a functional superiority to Burning Wish as well: you can replay it under Yawgmoth’s Will. Both Burning Wish and Death Wish remove themselves from the game. That said, Death Wish has one important advantage over Grim Tutor – it provides a range of answers to various threats that aren’t worth running in the maindeck. Cards like Hull Breach, Balance, Oxidize, Naturalize, etc can’t be forced into the maindeck. Death Wish made DeathLong (Meandeath) powerfully resilient to hate.

Nonetheless, Grim Tutor is clearly a better card than Death Wish, but also clearly inferior to the decks incarnation with Burning Wish. Burning Wish can be played off of a Mox and a land and in combination with Dark Ritual makes the Yawgmoth’s Will combo much easier to pull off. Burning Wish also was able to find Time Spiral or Diminshing Returns in the sideboard in addition to answers like Primitive Justice (would not be Echoing Ruin) and Hull Breach. Burning Wish also saw play in many other decks. The Germans invented a control deck called “The Shining” which used Burning Wish aggressively as well. Grim Tutor cannot be used in that manner. In fact, it will probably see no play aside from this deck.

One problem with Death Wish was that you couldn’t afford to use Death Wish to find a non-bomb or answer. For example, Death Wishing for Defense Grid or Xantid Swarm was just more than it was worth. Using Grim Tutor to find a Duress or a Defense Grid is probably an acceptable play. In that respect, Grim Tutor is more versatile – but not by much. If you are using Grim Tutor and you aren’t finding Yawgmoth’s Will, there better be a damn good reason. Grim Tutor also doesn’t solve the primary drawback the deck has had since the restriction of Lion’s Eye Diamond: it doesn’t make the combo cost any less. It still costs 7 mana to play Grim Tutor, play Yawgmoth’s Will and one mana to replay a Ritual to start the combo up again. Lion’s Eye Diamond made that whole combo cost effectively just five mana – the cost for Burning Wish – only two of which had to be paid out of non-LED sources. The LED paid for the Yawgmoth’s Will and it replayed itself for free to get the whole thing started up again. Dark Ritual is basically necessary to play the Yawgmoth’s Will and needed to start the combo back up again.

People forget that old Long.dec only split with control preboard if the control deck was sufficiently prepared. People get in hysterics with the thought that DeathLong will actually get stronger. Control is a much stronger animal than the Tog decks that were splitting with the original Long.dec. The printing of Chalice of the Void was one of the key events that really made Long.dec a much more difficult proposition and nothing has changed to make that less true. I think even more important than Chalice is the identification of Arcane Laboratory as a true silver bullet. You may notice that I added two Defense Grids to the maindeck. These tools are added to fight Control maindeck. I have found them superior to Xantid Swarm because of the prevalence of Lava Dart, and other issues.

If you have any questions about how to play the deck, I have written six articles about how to play with the archetype to which I refer you:

1) Introduction to Long.dec and basic explanation of the mechanics of the deck (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/article/5820.html )

2) Long.dec v. Control Matchup Analysis


3) Long.dec v. Workshop Decks Matchup Analysis


4) Meandeath (DeathLong) Introduction and Summary of the Basic Game Plan versus Control and Workshop


5) How to Mulligan with Meandeath (Deathlong) and optimize your Plays


6) Sideboarding with Deathlong (Meandeath)


Since this deck is so close to Meandeath and most of the points made in my articles on Long.dec apply to this deck as well, I’ll spare you the “how to play this deck” routine. I’ve covered this archetype in an amazing amount of detail that I think only Oscar Tan has matched in terms of writing about a single deck.

Wait, What About Imperial Seal and Personal Tutor??

I tested both cards and I don’t think they deserve a slot. Personal Tutor is pretty bad. Vampiric Tutor and Mystical Tutor can both find Ancestral Recall – which is an awesome bait card to force a real threat through. Personal Tutor is far too narrow. Imperial Seal can’t be used on your upkeep before drawing nor on your opponent’s endstep. The deck doesn’t need one more bad Vampiric Tutor.

I think it is difficult to argue that Imperial Seal did not deserve restriction. Although I had not actually tested or tuned such a deck, a combo deck built around Chromatic Sphere and Imperial Seal might be too strong. The functionality of the card itself warrants restriction though. In Stax it can find Strip Mine and combo well with Crucible of Worlds. In other decks I’m sure it can find other restricted cards. That said, I don’t think the card is very good. Vampiric Tutor has been on a decline in the format generally. It doesn’t see play in almost all of the Control Slaver decks despite the fact that they are loaded with singletons. It sees no play in most Psychatog decks or sideboards either. It is debatable whether Mystical Tutor should even see play in those decks – a debate that is far from resolution.

Personal Tutor, on the other hand, will probably see almost no play. That doesn’t mean it didn’t deserve restriction either. There is something to be said for the fact that they let in a number of portal Tutors that restrictions might be necessary just to prevent a critical mass of tutors from becoming unreasonable.

There are a few other interesting cards from Portal. Three cards that I think are most interesting, even more so than Personal Tutor or Imperial Seal are:

Strategic Planning

This card has numerous potential applications. It sees three cards for two mana, which makes it sort of like an oddly costed Thirst for Knowledge without an artifact. I think this card may be very good and be the basis of a new deck.


This card is not unlike Strategic Planning. Actually, its really just another Brainstorm that has a built in shuffle option and costs one colorless more as the payment.

Keep eight eyes open.

Goblin Lore

Perhaps the most broken card of all. This card may have real strong applications in madness, Dragon, and other reanimator. The problem is clearly the random discard. But it such a huge burst of cards that I can’t but see that this card is going to be abused. Anything that draws four cards for two mana is begging to have a deck built around it. If it can be abused, this will be a new engine for type one. Mox, Land, Goblin Lore sounds ridiculous if it can be properly abused.

That’s all I’ve got.

Next week, I’m going to introduce a brand new variant on an old Meandeck archetype.

Stephen Menendian

Steve dot Menendian at gmail dot com

P.S. I no longer read or post on the manadrain.com. But if you have any questions for me, email me or post in the thread attached to this article and I’ll be happy to answer them for you.