Ideas Unbound – One Game Remix: Tendrils vs. U/G Survival

Thursday, December 2nd – Max zooms in on his Tendils analysis and specifically recounts one game of Tendrils vs. Survival in order to closely examine the specific tactical plays one can make in a single game of Magic. A great look into Legacy.

When I wrote
my massive

Tendrils primer,

I got feedback from a few people along the lines of “I liked the article, but I would’ve liked to see some play-by-play analysis of specific games.” I’ve
wanted to experiment with other methods of writing matchup articles anyway, so today I wanted to look at
one game

between Tendrils and U/G Survival.

(And yes, this is the last article I’m going to write about Tendrils for a while.)

I’ve been playing around with a lot of different ways to write matchup articles these days. Broadly, there are two kinds of matchup articles. The first kind is the article that looks at matchups on a macro scale, where lots of games are played, and the author looks at common patterns that emerge. The other kind is the article where a matchup is analyzed on a micro scale, where individual games are looked at in great detail, and there are a lot of examples of specific tactics.

I mostly write articles that look at matchups from a macro scale, both because I usually grind out a bunch of playtest games, so I’m already putting all the work in, and because I feel that understanding the strategy behind a matchup is more valuable than highlighting a few specific tactical plays. Still, writing this article was pretty enlightening, and I may do more in the future.

I’ve also seen more and more requests for videos. By their nature, videos tend to be limited in scope to a look at one game or a few games. That’s perfectly doable, but I’m not sure what the optimal movie length is such that people won’t get bored, but I’m still conveying enough relevant information. I’m also not sure what the best way to record movies from my laptop is; I’ve used Camtasia in the past, but it turns out that licenses for it are hideously expensive. If you want to see videos, pipe up in the forums!

Our contenders today are Tendrils and U/G Survival. For most Tendrils players, I think that testing against Force of Will decks is most important, so I wanted to look at the most popular Force of Will deck.

I decided that I wanted to play this game as if the players didn’t know what they were playing against. I recognize that sometimes you have scouting information, but I think that it’s also important to prepare for the times where you don’t know what your opponent is doing.

Survival plays.

Survival’s opening hand: Noble Hierarch, Survival of the Fittest, Vengevine, Force of Will, Trygon Predator, Misty Rainforest, Forest.

This hand is basically the nuts; Survival can use Noble Hierarch to play and activate Survival on turn 2 with Force of Will backup for any shenanigans that an opponent might try to pull. An easy keep.

Tendrils’ opening hand: Rite of Flame, Dark Ritual, Infernal Tutor, Xantid Swarm, Underground Sea, Polluted Delta, Swamp.

This hand appears quite strong at first glance. It has plenty of mana, a protection spell, and Infernal Tutor to act as gas. However, the hand has a few problems. First, that Polluted Delta can get either a green source to fuel Xantid Swarm or a red source to cast Rite of Flame, but it can’t do both. Second, it might be hard for Tendrils to get hellbent for Infernal Tutor; if Tendrils draws a land, it can’t cast Infernal until turn 4 without the help of a Lion’s Eye Diamond. Tendrils might peel a cantrip to help filter, but it also might draw Burning Wish or Infernal Tutor to make getting hellbent virtually impossible; although drawing Burning Wish and mana might enable Tendrils to set up an Ill-Gotten Gains loop.

This is exacerbated by the fact that Tendrils can’t cast Rite of Flame

Xantid Swarm without the help of an extra mana source. When you simultaneously can’t afford to draw a land but need a land to cast your spells, a mulligan is probably in order.

Tendrils’ second hand is much better: Xantid Swarm, Ponder, Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Scalding Tarn, Polluted Delta. Tendrils is going to be leaning awfully hard on that Ponder to win, but at least it has plenty of mana and Xantid Swarm to help force crucial spells through.

Survival’s main decision on turn 1 is what land to get with Misty Rainforest: Forest or Tropical Island. A Forest makes Survival immune to Wasteland but leaves Survival unable to represent Daze. Further, if Survival actually draws Daze, Survival is going to feel quite foolish. Moreover, Survival doesn’t really need to fear Wasteland right here; few opponents are going to Waste Survival when Survival has Noble Hierarch in play. Even if Survival does get hit by Wasteland, Survival of the Fittest is coming down next turn no matter what.

Survival: Misty Rainforest, crack it going to nineteen, get Tropical Island, cast Noble Hierarch, go.

At this point, Tendrils can reasonably infer that the opponent is playing either U/G Survival or a control deck with Bant colors. Given the popularity of Survival right now, I’d be inclined to assume the opponent was on Survival.

Tendrils draws another Lion’s Eye Diamond, making Tendrils’ hand Xantid Swarm, Ponder, Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Scalding Tarn, Polluted Delta.

Tendrils has some interesting options here:

-          crack a fetchland for Tropical Island and cast Xantid Swarm.

-          crack a fetchland for an Island and cast Ponder.

-          crack a fetchland for a dual land and cast Ponder.

-          play a fetchland and pass.

Xantid Swarm is very valuable against all Noble Hierarch decks. However, virtually every Noble Hierarch deck plays Daze, and trading Swarm for Daze is a pretty bad deal for Tendrils; Tendrils can beat Daze by assembling more mana but can’t get through a Force of Will without Swarm or Duress. If Tendrils had Duress here, it would be much more tempting to Duress looking to hit Survival of the Fittest in addition to Force of Will, but Tendrils doesn’t have that option. Tendrils should probably wait until it can pay for a Daze to play Xantid Swarm.

The obvious alternative to playing Xantid Swarm is for Tendrils to play Ponder. However, what land would Tendrils fetch to cast Ponder? Most Noble Hierarch decks have Wasteland, and Tendrils doesn’t really want to fetch up a nonbasic just to see it blown up. Tendrils can fetch an Island and duck Wasteland, but then the Island can’t cast any of Tendrils’ other spells, so that line is out. If Tendrils fetches out a dual instead, it risks the opponent having a Wasteland and a two-drop, which probably would put Tendrils under enough pressure that Tendrils couldn’t afford to play around Daze. Note also that casting Ponder on turn 2 instead of turn 1 won’t make much of a difference when going for a turn 3 kill.

Tendrils plays Scalding Tarn and passes. Because Tendrils is almost certainly going to fetch Tropical Island and play Xantid Swarm next turn, playing Tarn is better than playing Delta because Tendrils retains the ability to fetch the Swamp. Next turn, Tendrils can play Swarm plus Ponder.

Survival untaps and draws Windswept Heath. Survival’s hand is now Windswept Heath, Survival of the Fittest, Vengevine, Force of Will, Trygon Predator, Forest. Nineteen life.

Scalding Tarn is played mostly in Counterbalance and combo decks. Either way, Survival wants to get its namesake card into play this turn. The only way Survival could justify a Trygon Predator here would be if the opponent played Chrome Mox and no other lands on turn 1. Survival plays the Windswept Heath, cracks it for another Tropical Island while going to eighteen, and plays Survival of the Fittest, tapping the two Tropical Islands.

Tendrils draws Lotus Petal.

Tendrils’ hand: Lotus Petal, Xantid Swarm, Ponder, Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Polluted Delta. Twenty life.

Tendrils’ board: Scalding Tarn.

It’s pretty obvious now what Tendrils’ opponent is playing. Tendrils needs to recognize that it will only get one more turn in this game. Survival will be able to set up either a lethal Vengevine chain or a Necrotic Ooze combo by turn 4, so Tendrils needs to win on turn 3. Tendrils will need to use Ponder to find Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor, or Ad Nauseam and will need to use Xantid Swarm to fight Force of Will.

As mentioned above, it’s pretty important not to trade Xantid Swarm for Daze, so Tendrils plays Polluted Delta, then cracks Scalding Tarn, going to nineteen and getting Tropical Island. Tendrils plays Xantid Swarm. The jig is up; Survival responds with Force of Will, pitching Trygon Predator and falling to seventeen.

Now, Tendrils is going to want to fetch out Underground Sea and play Ponder, but first there’s the question of whether or not Tendrils should play Lotus Petal to ensure that the Ponder isn’t Dazed. After all, Tendrils basically has to resolve that Ponder in order to look at enough cards to have a decent chance of winning, and if you played around Daze on turn 1, isn’t it inconsistent to not play around it on turn 2?

Only sort of. Tendrils could afford to play around Daze with only one spell in this game. It’s no guarantee that Tendrils will have sufficient mana to play around Daze next turn. Besides, now Survival only has two cards, and one of them is a creature. Tendrils shouldn’t play around Daze. Besides, a Survival player who’s clever enough to Daze a Ponder is also clever enough to recognize that trading Daze for Lotus Petal is very good when the Tendrils player is on all nonbasics and doesn’t have one color. For example, right now, that Petal is Tendrils’ only source of red mana; if Tendrils cracks the Petal to pay for Daze, it also blanks any copies of Burning Wish it might run into. If Survival follows up with Wasteland on Underground Sea, Tendrils is probably dead.

(Also, in my experience, most Daze pilots don’t go after Tendrils’ cantrips; rather, they save their permission either for mana acceleration or Ad Nauseam itself.)

So. Tendrils fetches out Underground Sea, falls to eighteen, and Ponders. The Ponder reveals Infernal Tutor, Burning Wish, and Duress. Tendrils will have access to any two of those cards on its next turn.

Stacking this Ponder is interesting. Tendrils can set up an Ill-Gotten Gains loop with Infernal Tutor and Burning Wish, but then Survival can pull back Force of Will and Survival up Waterfront Bouncer to pitch to it. Infernal Tutor plus Duress might allow a chain involving Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish for Ill-Gotten Gains getting back the Duress, but that would require a dump truck load of mana that Tendrils doesn’t have. Burning Wish and Duress could set up Empty the Warrens, but Wonder will just allow Survival to fly over the Goblins. Diminishing Returns with a ton of mana floating is a viable option, but you still run the risk of bricking on your Returns.

Is there another option here that guarantees a kill?

There is. Tendrils stacks the Ponder from the top: Duress, Infernal Tutor, Burning Wish. Tendrils draws the Duress and passes the turn.

During Tendrils’ end step, Survival activates his namesake card and discards the Vengevine to go get another Vengevine. After untapping and drawing a Daze, Survival is at seventeen with a hand of Forest, Vengevine, Daze.

Playing the Forest gives Survival access to four mana. With four mana, Survival can repeatedly use Survival to chain Vengevines into more Vengevines until all of the Vengevines are in the yard. With the last Vengevine, Survival finds a Basking Rootwalla. The Rootwalla is then played via madness while Survival tutors up Memnite and plays it, returning all of the Vengevines to play. The hasty Vengevines knock Tendrils down to two.

Tendrils calmly untaps and draws Infernal Tutor. Now, Tendrils’ hand is Lotus Petal, Duress, Infernal Tutor, Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Lion’s Eye Diamond with a board of Tropical Island and Underground Sea.

Survival is at seventeen and is tapped out with one card in hand. Survival is dead.

Tendrils leads with Lotus Petal. Survival allows it to resolve. Tendrils taps the Sea for Duress. (It’s good practice to hold Dark Ritual if you’re playing sorceries earlier in the turn, so that you can respond to taxing counters with Ritual.) Survival declines to Daze the Duress; it won’t accomplish anything other than raise the storm count. Now, Tendrils plays Dark Ritual and both copies of Lion’s Eye Diamond.

The board is: Underground Sea tapped, Tropical Island untapped, Lotus Petal, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lion’s Eye Diamond. Tendrils has BB floating and Infernal Tutor in hand. Storm is five. Survival is at seventeen. Tendrils can tutor up Ad Nauseam and cast it, but that line can only win the game with a weird flurry of zero-mana acceleration into a Ponder or Brainstorm that finds Tendrils or a tutor for Tendrils.

Instead, Tendrils casts Infernal Tutor while cracking both Diamonds and the Petal for black and tapping the Tropical Island. Now, Tendrils has BBBBBBBU while the Tutor is resolving. Tendrils gets another copy of Infernal Tutor and plays it. BBBBBB floating. Storm seven. Tendrils gets another Infernal Tutor and casts it with storm eight, and BBBB floating. Tendrils gets Tendrils of Agony, casts it, and wins.

I wanted this game to illustrate a few things about the matchup. First, I wanted to show that Tendrils can have some opening hands that are giant traps. Second, it’s important to recognize how fetching wrong can easily color-screw you.

The most important takeaway for Tendrils players, though, should be that you don’t want to be leaning on Ad Nauseam to win if you don’t have to. When you cast Ad Nauseam (or Diminishing Returns), there’s some possibility that you can lose the game through no fault of your own. If you can set up a tutor chain into Tendrils on the other hand, or make an Ill-Gotten Gains loop, you’re never going to accidentally lose because you flipped a bunch of Ponders and Xantid Swarms.

I hope this article has been informative.

Max McCall
max dot mccall at gmail dot com