The plan is simple, but getting there is anything but: turn your Psychatog sideways and bring your opponent from twenty to zero life in a single turn. Winning with Psychatog is nothing new in Magic: the Gathering, but doing so in Legacy is a novel approach indeed.
Where have all the Togs gone?
Control-based Psychatog has broken every format since the card’s printing in Odyssey block. To this day, despite numerous upheavals in its respective formats, Tog remains a top tier deck in Extended, taking First Place at GP: Los Angeles; and, in Vintage, taking Second Place at the most recent Waterbury, where it lost to Grow-a-Tog, of all things. But Psychatog’s absence in Legacy is perplexing.
One of several possible scenarios can explain this phenomenon. Let’s analyze them point-by-point:
1) The current Legacy metagame is an inherently unfavorable environment for Psychatog.
The logic here: Legacy is currently dominated by aggro and aggro-control, and those archetypes have an inherent strategic advantage over combo-control. This is somewhat compelling, but I’m reminded of Dan Paskins’ Worst Nightmare. Have a look at this crazy Pro Tour Qualifier Top 8 (March 19, 2005) in Extended:
One Tog and seven Red decks in the Top 8. So, Tog can be tuned to beat on Goblins. But against other aggro and aggro-control we’ll need to tune the deck accordingly. We’ll also need to ensure that we don’t scoop to a resolved Pithing Needle on “Psychatog,” or suffer the splash damage of a Tormod’s Crypt aimed at Threshold.
2) Legacy players, on average, lack the play skill required to take Tog to a high finish in a large, competitive event.
For fear of starting and all-out flame war in the forums, I will only say this: the deck listed below is the most complicated deck I have ever played in Magic. There are many players far more skilled in this game than me, but that doesn’t change this simple fact: this deck is extraordinarily difficult to play optimally.
3) The deck isn’t receiving the hype and publicity needed to get people to take Tog to their next tournament.
Unless #1 above is universally true and everyone read the memo on this except me, I think #3 plays a strong role in Tog’s absence. I recall a flurry of Tog-building activity when Legacy was created out of the ashes of Type 1.5 in days of yore. Then another frenzy erupted after everyone realized the power of Life from the Loam. Despite the optimism of many for a high Psychatog finish at Legacy’s first Grand Prix, GP: Philadelphia (November 2005), Tog’s failure to produce any relevant results caused the buzz to die as quickly as it started. I’m writing this article to get the buzz ignited again.
Starting from scratch, we have a lot of options in how we develop our deck. The Blue/Black base is a given, for reasons that are too obvious to mention. We can stop there and develop Antoine Ruel’s GP: LA bi-colored deck for Legacy, but what fun is that?
Red gives us access to Pyroclasm, Pyroblast (or Red Elemental Blast), Fire/Ice, and Flametongue Kavu. White offers Meddling Mage and Swords to Plowshares, but U/G/W Threshold can exploit those cards at least as well as we can; not to mention that Swords to Plowshares really distorts our delicate Tog-math. Finally, Green offers the raw power of Life from the Loam and Pernicious Deed.
Deed is perfectly suited to combat the diversity of threats in Legacy, and Life combos with Psychatog in a way reminiscent of Gush and gives us a robust and uncounterable draw engine. Given the strength of these two cards, we’re going to explore the possibilities of Blue/Black/Green Psychatog for the remainder of this article.
Like Vintage, Extended and Standard Psychatog, the cards we choose will fall into the following categories: permission (countermagic), card drawing, removal, win conditions, and mana. Since they play so prominent a role in this deck, I’ve set aside a separate category for the true engine of this deck: Intuition and Life from the Loam.
Duress fills one of several “metagame slots” in the deck. If you’re anticipating a heavy-aggro environment, these slots would be better filled by additional removal (Putrefy, Smother, Ghastly Demise, etc.). In a field with a high density of control, aggro-control, and combo, Duress can be used to strip a Swords to Plowshares from U/G/W Threshold’s hand, a High Tide from Solidarity (Reset Tide), a Hymn to Tourach from B/W Confidant (a.k.a. Pikula.dec), Humility from R/W Rifter, etc. Against aggro however, Duress is the first thing you’ll sideboard out.
There’s not much to comment on the 4 Force of Will and 4 Counterspell configuration, except to say that you shouldn’t fear pitching a Tog to pay the alternate cost of Force of Will. That’s often the right play.
B. Card Drawing
When viewed strictly in terms of the maindeck, Mystical Tutor is resoundingly mediocre. There it can fetch Darkblast, Duress (if you’re about to go all-in with Tog), Intuition, Fact or Fiction or Life from the Loam. Solid, but not overwhelming. When viewed as an extension of our sideboard sorceries, Mystical Tutor is looking a lot more attractive. Still, it’s on my conditional watch-list, and may just as well be Fact or Fiction #2 (without the inherent card disadvantage).
Accumulated Knowledge, a long-time companion to Psychatog, makes the cut here too. It’s not uncommon to end the game with fifteen or so cards left in your library, and you’ll likely have seen AK #3 or #4 by this point. You’ll also be dredging cards frequently and will often cast Accumulated Knowledge for at least two or three cards for a negligible investment. You also have Intuition, but as explained below, “Intuition for AK” is not all that common.
Brainstorm is a no-brainer, but those who are coming to Tog as Threshold players will need to be more patient with Brainstorm here. Thresh wants to cantrip early and often, to hit threshold and make all of its early land drops. But in Tog, you have less business spells and more lands, so Brainstorm is less likely to strike gold. Unless it’s an emergency, I’d suggesting holding onto Brainstorm for as long as possible, or at least until you have a fetchland on the board to shuffle away unneeded cards.
Lonely Sandbar is useful as a land, if you really need it, or as part of the Life from the Loam draw engine. You don’t have to worry about diversifying your cycling lands to avoid Pithing Needle set on “Lonely Sandbar.” With Psychatog, Pernicious Deed and several other powerful cards with activated abilities, you’ll be thanking your opponent for setting their Needle on Sandbar.
A lone Fact or Fiction rounds out the draw package. It is as useful in digging for specific cards, as it is in giving a Tog +6/+6 if you need to accelerate a win.
Few decks can exploit the power of Intuition as well as Dredge-a-Tog. This is the true heart of the deck, and while you can win without it, once this resolves, the real potential of the deck comes online.
The Engine Intuition
This is the most common Intuition you’ll play, the one that fetches the engine: “Life from the Loam, Lonely Sandbar, Lonely Sandbar.” This is a skill-intensive draw engine, not one that runs on autopilot. With three Sandbars in the graveyard, you can return all three to your hand for 1G and draw three cards for UUU. It’s not nearly as efficient as Ancestral Recall, but it’s available every turn once you get it going.
As you’re running the engine, you’re also dredging cards to make for an enormous Psychatog while you dump incarnations, Darkblast, and Accumulated Knowledge into the bin for future use. It’s an elegant set-up.
The Gush-like power of Life from the Loam is finally realized in the “kill-turn,” where you’ll cycle Life from the Loam numerous times – in conjunction with Brainstorm, Lonely Sandbar, and Accumulated Knowledge – to fill your hand and dump fifteen-plus cards into your graveyard to make a lethal Psychatog out of nowhere.
For comparison’s sake:
Gush (notation: + cards in hand / + cards in graveyard/ + Tog power)
Cast Gush, draw two cards (2/0/0)
return two lands to your hand (4/0/0)
Gush goes to the graveyard (4/1/0)
pump Tog from your hand, +4 (0/5/4)
pump Tog from your graveyard, +2 (0/1/6)
Life from the Loam [LFL] (notation: + cards in hand / + cards in graveyard/ + Tog power)
Cast LFL, return three lands from your graveyard to your hand (3/0/0)
LFL goes to your graveyard (3/1/0)
next draw, dredge LFL to your hand; three cards go to your graveyard (3/3/0) [replaces draw]
Cast LFL, return three lands from your graveyard to your hand (5/3/0)
LFL goes to your graveyard (5/4/0)
pump Tog from your hand, +5 (0/9/5)
pump Tog from your graveyard, +4 (0/1/9)
You can repeat the cycle if you have another card drawer in hand and enough mana.
As unintuitive as it sounds, Intuition for Accumulated Knowledge is a rare play for two good reasons: 1) it’s mana-inefficient; and, 2) you have better things to do with Intuition. Remember, this isn’t Vintage, and we don’t have the luxury of fast artifact mana. Without Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, Moxen, and Mana Drain mana, 3UU to draw three cards isn’t much better than Braingeyser for three. You’re better off casting Fact or Fiction for a lot less hassle and using Intuition in this deck properly, to get the draw engine online or just win the game.
The ‘Oh Sh**’-tuition
As you may have guessed or know, the “Oh-Sh**-tuition” comes in one of two flavors: “Force of Will, Force of Will, Force of Will” and “Pernicious Deed, Pernicious Deed, Pernicious Deed.” It’s never a pretty sight, but sometimes it’s the only thing that will keep you in the game. In short, don’t overlook the Demonic Tutor-like quality of the card.
Note that the “Oh-Sh**-tuition” is a play of last resort. Be sure you have exhausted all of your other options before it comes to this point.
The Utility Intuition
This is a customizable use of Intuition based upon your hand, graveyard and strategy in the upcoming turns. If you have Life from the Loam/Sandbar in hand/graveyard, it might be composed of “Darkblast, Genesis, Accumulated Knowledge” or any other combination of cards that offers dredging, card drawing, mana and/or removal. It depends on the circumstances (board position, life, cards in hand/graveyard, etc.) and is hard to generalize. However, these are the most skill-intensive Intuitions you’ll cast.
This is the second most common configuration when casting Intuition. It’s usually done when you’re in control of the game, and where winning is merely a matter of formality. It usually takes the form of “Wonder, Genesis, Psychatog” or “Meloku, Genesis, Psychatog,” but even “Psychatog, Psychatog, Psychatog” is common.
After the “Win-tuition,” you’ll typically win in a turn or two; maybe a little longer if Meloku is the endgame.
Pernicious Deed is our catch-all answer to the various threats in Legacy. It’s an ideal solution to the Nimble Mongoose, Werebear, and Meddling Mage in Threshold; the hordes of little red men in Goblins; Lightning Rift, Humility, and a battalion of Decree of Justice soldier tokens in Rifter; Nantuko Shade, Dark Confidant, and Cursed Scroll in B/W Confidant; equipment and knights in Angel Stompy, etc. And since almost all of Tog’s non-land permanents cost three or more, it’s common to sacrifice Deed and be left with all of your goodies intact, while you opponents loses their board.
Props to Richard Feldman for suggesting the addition of Vedalken Shackles to Tog. Simply, Shackles patches a hole in Tog’s armor by giving you near complete control of the creatures on the board. Shackles are even golden in unlikely places, as I found when I played them to steal the Eternal Dragon from a W/R Rift player in my last tournament. Note however, that Shackles are slow and aren’t intended as your first line of defense against aggro.
At first blush, Darkblast is an innocuous weenie-buster, but it also supplements the dredging power of Life from the Loam. With both Life from the Loam and Darkblast in the graveyard you can cycle two Sandbars to dump six cards in your graveyard (+3/+3 for Tog) and have both back in your hand again.
Like Duress, Cabal Pit occupies a utility slot. In a metagames where your hardest competition will be aggro, Pit supports the rest of the removal as an uncounterable Abyss. Since the effect is cumulative, you can sacrifice it to give, let’s say, Burning-Tree Shaman -2/-2 until the end of the turn, and then return Cabal Pit to your hand via Life from the Loam, play it, and activate it again for another -2/-2. Use it in conjunction with Darkblast as well.
E. Winning the Game (a.k.a. Creatures)
I was originally running four Psychatog, but vulnerability to Pithing Needle and Tormod’s Crypt had me looking for an alternate win condition. Morphling’s day has come and gone, but Meloku, the Flying Beatdown is well suited for this deck. With both Meloku and a Tog in play, every land becomes an Oboro waiting to feed a Tog. It’s a ridiculous combination.
Wonder is this deck’s Berserk, and is included due to its synergy with Intuition and the dredge mechanic. Berserk in the sideboard is an option, but in testing, Cunning Wish is too slow and mana-intensive. Berserk in the maindeck too often runs the risk of getting dredged into oblivion.
Genesis fills many roles and is also synergistic with Intuition and the dredge mechanic. If he’s in your hand, you can often dump him into the graveyard on your endstep when you have eight-plus cards in hand from Loam/Sandbar. While it’s not particularly elegant to watch, don’t discount beating your opponent down with Genesis. He’s not the most efficient beater in the history of the game, but he’s often good enough, and he’s a huge pain in the ass to remove.
F. The Mana
There’s some wiggle room, but the base is solid enough: eight dual lands, six fetchlands, six basic lands, three cycling lands, and one or two “utility lands” (Wasteland, Cabal Pit, Quicksand, Cephalid Coliseum, etc.)
The high basic land count gives us some resilience against Wasteland, but non-basic hate aimed at our Green-producing lands is a concern, especially if we absolutely need to get Pernicious Deed into play. We could add a basic Forest, but without a Blue/Green fetchland (yet), we don’t have much assurance we’d ever have our Forest in play when we really needed it.
Testing with Mox Diamond has not been that satisfactory in the control-heavy version of Dredge-A-Tog, where Pernicious Deed is a solution to so many problems. I think the Moxen have a better home in pure-combo version of this deck. You can find the list of my teammate, Josh Silvestri (a.k.a. Vegeta a.k.a. Artowis), here (post #19).
Taken together, we arrive at the following list:
The General Legacy Metagame and Sideboard Guide
With several large events occurring within the last six months, the upper tier of the Legacy format is far less murky than when I was writing about Threshold (then called “Super Gro”) a year ago.
The decks that stand out as the most consistent and powerful are: Goblins, Threshold, White/Red Lightning Rift, Survival of the Fittest-based decks, Black/White Confidant (a.k.a. Deadguy Ale) and an assortment of Tier 1.5 and Tier 2 decks: Reset High Tide (Solidarity), Landstill, and Angel Stompy (Accelerated White Weenie).
With all of this in mind, I propose the following sideboard:
Wow, I’m really impressed that my pet deck has become such a juggernaut in this format. The good news: Threshold won’t have a lot of cards to sideboard in for you; the bad news: they won’t need to. Meddling Mage on “Intuition” and “Pernicious Deed”; Swords to Plowshares and Mystic Enforcer for Psychatog; and an arsenal of card drawing and counters will all make this a difficult, but not unwinnable, match.
Since Wasteland won’t be an issue, you can safely cut the Swamp, since your lands will be unmolested. Other than as a dredge machine for Psychatog, Darkblast is just pointless. I’d also recommend dropping the Fact or Fiction, since it’s doubtful this will ever resolve.
Honestly, this isn’t going to be an easy match, but Perish (for every creature not named “Meddling Mage”), Virtue’s Ruin (for Meddling Mage and Mystic Enforcer), Haunting Echoes, Psychatog, Pernicious Deed, and Vedalken Shackles (to take care of the stragglers, sans Mongoose) will all let you turn the game around to your advantage. You will, however, have to play your ass off. Seriously, don’t walk into Daze.
You’ve decided to play Psychatog because it’s a powerful and flexible deck and because you enjoy a good puzzle. Goblins presents an excellent puzzle. Psychatog is your Abyss with legs, and can contain your bleeding until you stabilize the board with Deed, Darkblast, Shackles and Cabal Pit. But if you’re predicting a heavy Goblin presence in your metagame, you may as well move the Plagues into the maindeck, as Mike Clair did in the Pro Tour Qualifier listed above.
In MWS testing, the match is roughly even, with the margin of error largely determined by a combination of play skill (especially for the Tog player) and luck (your ability to find Darkblast or detonate Deed, and how many Goblin Ringleaders resolve).
Post-board, Intuition becomes your Demonic Tutor for Engineered Plague, and a single Plague supported by a recurring Darkblast is as good as double-Plague. Finally, Hydroblast offers some low-cost removal against a lean deck.
W/R Lightning Rift (Rifter)
A favorable but tedious match, Rifter is designed to thrash aggro by playing Humility and clearing the boards with Pyroclasm or a cycled Slice and Dice, among other tools, but Tog isn’t any random aggro deck. Pernicious Deed answers every question Rifter poses, and your counters can handle everything else.
Shackles can be used to steal a wayward Eternal Dragon, since you’ll have plenty to time to get your Islands into play, but I’d opt for more disruption, post-sideboard, instead. You can also cut Cabal Pit, which is weak here. And Tog-aside, Darkblast is irrelevant. We’ll also drop a Deed to make room for a Naturalize. While Disenchanting Humility for 1G is a pretty good deal, removing one for 5GB is not. Finally, be on guard for Renewed Faith cast or cycled in response to Psychatog damage being put on the stack.
B/W Confidant (Deadguy Ale)
The versions that run Withered Wretch are more frightening than those that don’t, but this won’t be a weekend in the Hamptons with your mistress in any case. Not to sound like a broken record, but Pernicious Deed answers every threat they can play, and with all of their non-land permanents costing two or less, you can detonate the Deed and still be left with your Shackles and Tog.
The match will also hinge on your judicious use of Brainstorm (to hide your key spells from discard) and your fetchlands (to offer protection against land destruction and to have green mana available just when you need it). As for Confidant, you might make your first Intuition mana, Life from the Loam and Darkblast.
Mystical Tutor is not all that hot here and Fact or Fiction too easily stands the chance of rotting in your hand and eventually getting Hymn’d away. In their place we bring in the rest of our Duress to fight fire with fire and work their hand over to remove any Vindicates, Hymns, and Swords to Plowshares they may have.
The good thing is this: only a handful of people can play this deck competently, and odds are your Tide opponent is not named Dave Gearhart.
The remainder of your Duress are brought in to gain information on your opponent’s hand (any bounce spell can be a rout when you’re going all-in with Psychatog) and to strip away a critical piece of their combo or a draw spell.
Psychatog is a distant cousin of Landstill. Both are based on the foundations of blue-based control (attrition, card advantage, and a high land count). Instead of pummeling your opponent into a narcoleptic stupor with manlands that swing for two, Tog condenses all of the damage from ten attack phases into a single phase, and wins in a combo-like frenzy. Hybridization is the future of the format and Tog is such a hybrid.
Duress proactively answers Swords to Plowshares, Nevinyrral’s Disk, Crucible of Worlds, and Decree of Justice. In the worst case it will pluck a Standstill from your opponent’s grip. Life from the Loam is your Crucible of Worlds with which to recur Wasteland, etc. Finally, a lone Naturalize further supplements our removal to destroy anything menacing or annoying.
Accelerated White Weenie (Angel Stompy)
Angel Stompy is another aggro deck that doesn’t want to be anywhere near the game when Pernicious Deed detonates. Mother of Runes can do little about Cabal Pit, and Vedalken Shackles is similarly demoralizing.
We board in the hate, because at this point, we’ll really need some pizza and fresh air.
My main motivation for writing this article isn’t to reveal some gospel list for Psychatog in the modern Legacy environment. I write this to give the deck some publicity and ask that designers and players who are better than me give Tog a shot and report back on your results.
Thanks for reading.