Matchup Analysis: Meandeck Ichorid vs. Brassman Gifts

The Vintage game can be daunting to the casual observer. Powerful cards, insane plays, games won and lost on the very first turn… Luckily, Stephen is here to help. By running through, play by play, four actual matches featuring Meandeck Ichorid versus Brassman Gifts, he dissects each and every possible twist, and the thought process behind every move. An excellent article, destined to spawn many others…

Brassman Gifts is clearly one of the most important matchups that any deck will have to learn in the current American Vintage environment. Vintage is pretty well dispersed at the moment, but there are a few decks that you can expect to face in any tournament. Control Slaver and Brassman Gifts are at the top of that list.

For the uninitiated, Brassman Gifts refers to a particular Gifts configuration that uses the Time Vault plus Flame Fusillade combo, in place of the once preferable Mana Severance plus Goblin Charbelcher route to victory. It should be noted that this Gifts variant also uses Darksteel Colossus, but eschews the Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony plan in favor of having a maindeck combo kill.

The Villain: Brassman Gifts

Brassman Gifts derives its name from progenitor Andy Probasco as he was the driving force, along with Ben Kowal, behind this Gifts variant. Ben Kowal list here is the most recent highest placing variant of this deck, so it will be our gauntlet villain for this article.

The Hero: MeanDredge

Robots in Disguise

This version of the Ichorid deck has some slight modifications from the list I ran at Richmond. Specifically, I have included a maindeck Balance and a Chain of Vapor in place of a Careful Study and Time Walk. The sideboard is also different.

Now that I’ve introduced the main actors, I will play a sample of test games and then we’ll see what conclusions we can draw from the matchup.

One caveat… Although my original intention was to provide some more detailed observations about the flow of the match by reference to the games presented herein, I soon discovered that these games were much, much longer than I anticipated. After only presenting three games, it was already six pages longer than my usual articles. Therefore, instead of viewing this article as a comprehensive analysis of the matchup, it would be better used as an insider’s guide to the sorts of considerations and plays that come into issue while playing MeanDredge against BrassyGifts. The first game alone is only four turns, but it involves a series of complicated and nuanced plays that are not clear-cut, at least to me.

Gifts wins the die roll and will be on the play. Both decks will alternate going first after the first game regardless of the winner of the previous game.

Game 1

Our opening hand is solid:

Gemstone Mine
Lotus Petal
Careful Study
Imperial Seal
Chalice of the Void

In general, the one card you want to see every game is Bazaar of Baghdad, simply because it is your outlet to begin dredging. However, over-reliance on Bazaar may be disastrous, as Brassman Gifts runs multiple Pithing Needles. I would keep this hand simply because it has Imperial Seal in addition to a discard outlet. It is also worth noting that this hand also has Chalice of the Void, a very powerful effect against both Gifts and Slaver, even on the draw, as you will hopefully see.

The one concern I have with this hand is whether I’ll need to use that Gemstone Mine more than three times.

The Gifts player keeps his hand and begins.

Turn 1

Brassman Gifts (BMG): Play Polluted Delta. The Gifts player breaks the Polluted Delta and drops to 19 life. He fetches out Underground Sea and plays Brainstorm. He then plays Mox Pearl and passes the turn.

MeanDredge (MD): We draw Ashen Ghoul.

The one clear play to begin whatever we do is Lotus Petal. We should avoid playing the Gemstone Mine on turn 1, in case we play Careful Study and draw into Bazaar of Baghdad. Similarly, you do not play the Chalice of the Void before playing Careful Study in the off-chance you draw another artifact accelerant you’d like to resolve.

It is not surprising that the Gifts player played a turn 1 Brainstorm. They knew that they were playing against this deck, and therefore sought to find as many Moxen as they could before passing the turn.

Therefore, I play Lotus Petal.

I break the Lotus Petal for Blue and play Careful Study. This is a tough situation from the Gifts player’s perspective. If they have Force of Will they will need to seriously consider playing it. MeanDredge tends not to play that many spells over the course of the game. Countering the Careful Study is probably the correct play, since it may be the only discard outlet available, in addition to the fact that it draws me two cards for one mana.

Predictably, the Gifts player played Force of Will pitching Mana Drain. They are at 18 life.

I then play Chalice of the Void, which also resolves.

I then play Gemstone Mine and tap it for Black to play Imperial Seal. It resolves and I find Bazaar and put it on top of my deck.

In retrospect, the only debatable play was whether I should have led with Chalice of the Void or Careful Study after playing Lotus Petal. MeanDredge puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the opponent, and Chalice of the Void slows down one of the best tools that Gifts has to compete: artifact accelerants and Yawgmoth’s Will. Yawgmoth’s Will is much weaker if you can’t feed your draw into more acceleration. Similarly, draw in general is much weaker if you can play acceleration.

Turn 2

BMG: On its upkeep, the BMG player plays Vampiric Tutor going down to two cards in hand. He drops to 16 life. He draws his card, plays Tolarian Academy, and taps the Academy to play Ancestral Recall.

He then taps the Mox Pearl to play Sol Ring. He taps the Sol Ring to play Time Vault.

He then passes the turn.

MD: I untap and draw Bazaar. I play the Bazaar and activate it. I draw: Gemstone Mine and Crop Rotation.

First of all, I have to discard three of these five cards. It seems to me that the best way to discard is to discard Ashen Ghoul first, then Ichorid and then Darkblast. I do that.

Then I have to decide what to do next. Chalice of the Void has clearly hurt the Gifts player. However, they have manage to evade it with the two strongest resources left in their deck in terms of mana acceleration: Sol Ring and Tolarian Academy. However, I could also Crop Rotate into Strip Mine, take out the Academy and then parlay that tempo boost into a game win.

I believe that the correct decision here should probably win the game, unless two remaining cards in the Gifts player’s hand happen to be a Volcanic Island/Fetchland and Flame Fusillade.

If I were to get the Bazaar, I could only Bazaar for three unless I see another dredge card in the Darkblast dredge. However, that would dig me really deep. Next upkeep I could presumably dredge most of my deck. I could untap and dredge with the first Bazaar on my upkeep and do the same with the other Bazaar. I’m very confidant that I would be able to play the Ichorid and the Ashen Ghoul and probably Cabal Therapy for two. However, even assuming that I can dredge twenty-plus cards next turn, there is a small chance that I’ll only see one Cabal Therapy. The danger, then, is that I will miss with the first flashback and need a second Cabal Therapy to maximize my ability to strip his hand. I honestly don’t know what the correct play is here, but my instinct is to simply go for Strip Mine.

Here is the reasoning. First of all, Strip Mine takes out the strongest mana source the Gifts player has on the table. Combined with Chalice of the Void, that severely restricts the Gifts player’s ability to explode. I would gain a significant tempo boost from the play, and I’ll still have a Bazaar on the table. The value of the second Bazaar isn’t really that significant for two reasons. First of all, it won’t dramatically increase the number of relevant cards I can dredge next turn. Either way, I can only bring back one Ichorid and one Ashen Ghoul since the Ichorids have to be in my graveyard at the beginning of my upkeep and I’ll only have one mana to bring in an Ashen Ghoul. Thus, I won’t really increase my damage next turn. What it comes down to is the value of Strip Mine versus the possibility of double Cabal Therapy. I think the Strip Mine is therefore the better play. But this is a complicated decision either way.

I tap the Gemstone Mine with two counters on it to generate a Green mana, which I use to play Crop Rotation into Strip Mine. I Strip Mine the Academy and pass the turn.

Turn 3

BMG: The gifts player draws a card and thinks.

After careful consideration, he taps the Underground Sea and the Sol Ring and plays Yawgmoth’s Will.

Yikes! I suppose Stripping the Academy may well have been the correct play, then. Not to mention that the Chalice will severely hamper the power of this Will. Let’s see what happens.

The Gifts player plays Academy from the graveyard. His board is Sol Ring, Time Vault, Mox Pearl, Academy, and Underground Sea.

He taps the Academy for three Blue and replay the Ancestral Recall. He then uses another blue to play Brainstorm from the graveyard. Finally, he uses the last blue mana to play Brainstorm from his hand. Presumably, he has put the most important card on top of his library. His hand is now stocked. He discards an Island and passes the turn.

MD: Here we go… turn 3! Most of this turn will be spent on the upkeep. The cards revealed on the upkeep will be critical to the outcome of this game.

On upkeep, I untap and tap Bazaar to dredge the Darkblast with Ichorid trigger on the stack. The dredge reveals City of Brass, Cabal Therapy, and Ashen Ghoul. I am forced to draw the second card, Chain of Vapor, and discard it, the Gemstone Mine, and the Darkblast.

I remove one of the Ghouls from game to put Ichorid into play.

On my drawstep, I dredge the Darkblast again, revealing:

Golgari Grave Troll,
City of Brass,

That, my friends, is the difference between Darkblast and Golgari Thug! Curse Darkblast! That’s why I run one and one instead of simply two Darkblast. The fourth card sometimes matters, as it clearly did here. I could have dredged for six on my drawstep here.

Darkblast is in my hand.

I move to my attack step and swing for three damage. The Gifts player is at 13 life. I then replay the Cabal Therapy. I’ll only get one shot with this.

We reach the third (arguably fourth) critical play of this game.

Mike Flores once called Cabal Therapy one of the most skill intensive cards in Magic. It requires not only an extensive knowledge of the format, but it requires a sensitivity towards game states, bluffs, tells, and other hints that your opponent may provide you over the course of the game.

Although there is no opponent to play this into, since I’m two-fisted testing, there are a number of critical points that should be brought to the fore at this point.

First and foremost, the Gifts player just drew seven cards last turn off the Yawgmoth’s Will. There is a great chance that the Gifts player anticipates getting Therapied, and therefore has kept Force of Will in hand since I can only Therapy once (due to the fact that I don’t have any mana to return a Ghoul into play, and I have only one Ichorid in my graveyard at the beginning of the turn. Thus, the Gifts player can safely shield their hand with a single Force of Will).

Second, the Gifts player has not played a single Thirst for Knowledge as of yet. The general rule with Ichorid against Gifts is that if you are playing Therapy blind, you name either Brainstorm or Thirst for Knowledge. The two major exceptions are if the opponent has played either card, or if you are going to win the next turn. In the latter case, you name Yawgmoth’s Will. In the former case, you name the card they haven’t played.

Although those are the major exceptions, there is one minor exception worth noting. If your opponent has been gone several turns and appears to be missing a particular color of mana, then it is wise to name a card of that color of mana because their hand may be clogged with that card. For example, if it were turn 6 or so, and the Gifts player had not played a Black mana source, there is a good chance that their hand is clogged with Black spells that they can’t play. In such a situation, it is a good idea to name a Black card, even a restricted Black card like Demonic Tutor or Yawgmoth’s Will.

In this case, there is one card that we fear above all: Flame Fusillade. We can rule out naming Brainstorm, since two have already been played. We can also rule out naming Force of Will, because that’s absurd. Furthermore, we can rule out naming the two other biggies, Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker, because the former has already been played and the latter is irrelevant. The Gifts player can Tinker up Darksteel Colossus and it shouldn’t matter at this point. I would still win.

What matter most is: a) Flame Fusillade b) Tutors to find it and c) Blue draw spells to find it. Gifts Ungiven, for example, could be extremely annoying. The Gifts player could Gifts for the Flame Fusillade, for Recoup, and other goodies.

One problem, however, is that the Gifts player did not appear to have Red mana. We no longer assume that they are cut off from Red since they just drew seven cards. However, it is worth noting that Chalice of the Void has probably slowed them down quite a bit. You don’t see as many cards as the Gifts deck just did and not find Chalice extremely irritating.

Chalice of the Void has clearly directed the flow of this game. The question is whether it will be enough, since it was on the draw.

In sum, the relevant Therapy targets appear to be:

1) Flame Fusillade
2) A tutor of some sort (which presumes that they have the Red mana to play FF.
3) Thirst for Knowledge
4) Gifts Ungiven.

Gifts seems the least relevant of all, simply because there isn’t enough mana on the table to maximize it. They could get something like Time Walk, Flame Fusillade, Recoup, and Mana Vault. But playing the Gifts would cost four mana — which means Sol Ring, Mox Pearl, and one mana from the Academy. That would leave only four mana left. If I gave him Time Walk and Mana Vault, however, they could just untap and Recoup, assuming that they had a Red source. So any of 1-4 is probably very threatening.

Flame Fusillade is a restricted card, however, as are the tutors. I think that the right play is probably just to name Flame Fusillade or Thirst for Knowledge. It’s a really tough call. You’d kick yourself if you named Thirst and they were holding Flame Fusillade. They haven’t had an opportunity to play a Red mana source, so the right call is probably FF.

So I go for it. I sacrifice the Ichorid and play Cabal Therapy. It resolves.

I name Flame Fusillade. I look at the Gifts player’s hand:

Thirst for Knowledge,
Mox Jet,
Mox Ruby,
Imperial Seal,

Shoot! I could have gotten Thirst OR Brainstorm. Still, you can’t feel bad about naming FF. Like I said, if I named Thirst, but saw FF, I would have been quite peeved.

Two things are worth noting from this hand. First, there is no Red source aside from the Mox, which is being held at bay by my Chalice. Second, it makes you wonder what the Gifts player has hid on top. Perhaps they have FF, but hid it to protect it?

Well, the course of this game is now out of my hands. Both decks have reached a critical mass. I believe that if I get another turn, I’ll probably win. So let’s see what the Gifts player (heh, me) can do.

Turn 4

BMG: Taps Underground Sea and Mox Pearl and plays Demonic Tutor (so that was the card he was hiding). He then plays Island and taps the Island and Sol Ring and plays Thirst for Knowledge. Discards Mox Jet. He then taps the Academy and plays Time Walk.

On his second turn, he plays Polluted Delta — breaks it for Volcanic Island and plays Imperial Seal, and Brainstorms into the Flame Fusillade, and plays it. That’s game.


There are a number of things worth noting in this game. Because there are so many, and to keep them all organized, I’ll number them.

1) The first interesting play was the question of how to lead off. For pragmatic reasons, I led with Careful Study. Although that appeared to be the correct play because it resulted in both Chalice and Imperial Seal resolving, there is one small reason, in retrospect, to question whether that was the correct play. You’ll note that my first dredge revealed no dredgers. The first card of my second dredge (off the Darkblast, once more) saw Golgari Grave Troll. If my Careful Study had resolved, I would have been able to possibly get another dredger into the graveyard immediately, and instead of being forced to draw and discard the Chain of Vapor off the second Bazaar draw, I might have been able to dredge. Also, the turn I played Bazaar I would have been able to dredge. If I had been able to dredge that much sooner, I may have been able to swing with more threats and therefore Cabal Therapy twice or even three times on my third turn! Also of note, if I had dredged on turn 2 because of turn 1 Careful Study resolving, I would never have had to deal with the Strip Mine question. Instead, I would have swung with probably 2 Ichorids and 1 Ashen Ghoul on turn 3, and then Cabal Therapied three times, or at least twice.

2) The big play that I made was the decision to Crop Rotate for Strip Mine. This play was probably the correct play. If I had gotten Bazaar, I would have been able to dredge a lot faster, but probably not have done substantially more disruption that I did with Strip Mine. However, and this is an interesting point, perhaps the correct play was actually to Strip Mine Underground Sea.

BMG runs Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, Imperial Seal, and Yawgmoth’s Will. The deck is very Black heavy, but it only has two Underground Seas and five Fetchlands. With Chalice for zero in play, you cut off a substantial amount of colored sources. If I had Stripped the Underground Sea, ironically, I would have won that game. Note that the BMG player played all four of those Black spells this game: Vamp, Imperial Seal, Demonic Tutor, and Yawg Will. Taking out the Sea would have slowed the Yawg Will down, and I could have Therapied it out of the hand. This may have been simply the wrong play. It’s counterintuitive, but nailing the Underground Sea does make a good deal of sense simply because without it the Gifts player must find the last remaining Underground Sea and a Volcanic Island in order to combo me out, because of Chalice of the Void. Furthermore, they are going to have to get a Red source into play to Rack and Ruin the Chalice. Thus, Strip Mining the Tolarian may have been a play mistake, albeit a very hard play to catch or see.

3) One really important factor in this game was who won the coin flip. I was playing both decks, so I can tell you that Chalice of the Void was crucial. The Gifts hand had Vampiric Tutor, Academy, and Brainstorm in the opening hand, but no Mox. I played the Brainstorm in the hope of seeing a Mox. Otherwise, I would have just dropped the Mox, played end-of-turn Vampiric Tutor for Tinker, Tinker up Colossus, and tried to win with Colossus. Since I had no Mox to Tinker away, I had to Brainstorm in the hopes of seeing a Mox, which I did. But that didn’t leave me enough mana to turn 2 upkeep Vampiric Tutor and mainphase play Tinker for Darksteel Colossus.

4) Although the Strip Mine play was really good, there was some cost to it. It cut me off from playing the Ashen Ghoul out of the graveyard. Had the Careful Study resolved, this all might have been a moot point, however.

5) The Therapy there illustrated a point I was making about BMG having lots of tutors and being unable to play them all. Naming restricted cards with Cabal Therapy is not always stupid. Sometimes, it’s really smart.

Let’s go to game 2.

Game 2

I’m really excited to be on the play! Yay!

My hand is solid:

Mox Sapphire
City of Brass
Bazaar of Baghdad
Cabal Therapy
Chain of Vapor
Putrid Imp

Now do you understand why I made so many play mistakes with this deck when I played it, despite having created it? This deck is insanely difficult to play perfectly.

Without giving an in-depth analysis, I find a number of things compelling about this hand. First of all, it has a dredge outlet in Bazaar, which makes it keepable alone. But it also has disruption in Therapy, and it has the Chain of Vapor for Pithing Needle, or, god forbid, turn 1 Darksteel Colossus. The only thing this hand is missing is Chalice of the Void.

I announce that I’ll keep. BMG will keep as well.

Turn 1

MD: My goal is to try and figure out if I can get a Chalice of the Void into play on turn 1. That is what I have found to be a key determinant to beating Slaver and Gifts. However, this hand may just have so much gas that it’s a non-issue. The question of how to play out this hand is not simple. Nonetheless, I’m going to go with the obvious play.

I play Bazaar of Baghdad and tap it to draw: Ichorid and Crop Rotation! The plot thickens! Obviously, I discard Ichorid and Putrid Imp. The question is which other card do I discard? Next turn I could Cabal Therapy twice if I keep the Therapy in hand. Likewise, I could also use the Rotation to find Strip Mine, so I want to keep that as well. However, Chain of Vapor may be crucial in saving my ass from a lucky turn 1 Tinker if my Brainstorm doesn’t show me anything useful. So there are three candidates for the third card to discard: Crop Rotation, Cabal Therapy, or the Chain of Vapor. In the end, I think the Chain will prove the least disruptive, so I let it go.

I then play Mox Sapphire and Brainstorm. I see Bazaar of Baghdad, Putrid Imp, and another Bazaar. Ridiculous. I put back Bazaar and Putrid Imp.

BMG: BMG drops a Mox Sapphire into play and thinks. He then plays Strip Mine on my Bazaar thinking that it will cut me off.

Turn 2

MD: I return Ichorid into play on my upkeep and remove a Putrid Imp.

I draw a Putrid Imp on my draw step.

I now have a dilemma. I can assume that the Gifts player does not have a Brainstorm, otherwise they would have played it on turn 1, despite the fact that I didn’t drop a Chalice into play on turn 1 — after all, I could draw one this turn with a land and some draw spell, or another Bazaar. Remember the rule? The rule is that you name Brainstorm or Thirst. Since we can assume they don’t have Brainstorm, the question is: would it be more valuable to Therapy and snag Thirst or to play Bazaar and dredge? I think the more valuable play at this point is to be more disruptive. The Crop Rotation play is not available to us at the moment, but the double whammy of double Therapy this turn and then turn 3 Rotation should be enough to really slow the game down in my favor. In addition, waiting to play Bazaar has another benefit: it doesn’t make me discard a card this turn. Thus, I’ll get to play all the goodies from my hand before using the Bazaar.

I play City of Brass and then play Cabal Therapy. It resolves. I name Thirst for Knowledge.

The Gifts player’s hand is:

Polluted Delta
Polluted Delta
Darksteel Colossus
Thirst for Knowledge
Thirst for Knowledge

Ouch! Both Thirsts are gone.

I attack with Ichorid sending the Gifts player to 17. I then sacrifice the Ichorid and flashback Cabal Therapy naming Tinker. That is just a safety precaution.

BMG: BMG draws a card and plays Mox Pearl and Polluted Delta! Passes the turn.

Turn 3

MD: I draw a Bazaar (remember the one I hid with Brainstorm, since I already had an extra one). I play a Bazaar. My hand is currently Putrid Imp, Crop Rotation, and Bazaar. I tap and activate a Bazaar and draw: Ichorid and Gemstone Mine, both of which I discard, along with Putrid Imp.

I move to my endstep. The Gifts player breaks the Fetchland for Underground Sea. Before my end of turn, I tap the City of Brass and play Crop Rotation for Strip Mine. I Strip Mine the Underground Sea.

BMG: He draws a card and plays another Polluted Delta and a Mox Jet. Pass.

Turn 4

MD: My hand is just Bazaar, and I have a Bazaar and a Mox Sapphire in play. I put Ichorid into play and remove a Putrid Imp.

I draw Underground Sea! I play the second Bazaar, nonetheless. I tap the first Bazaar and draw: Ichorid and Cabal Therapy. I discard my hand. I tap the second Bazaar and draw two City of Brass. Where are my bloody dredgers!

I swing in with Ichorid. There is no point flashing back a Therapy since we knew the Gifts player’s hand is just Colossus.

End of turn, Gifts player breaks Fetch for Volcanic Island. He’s at 12.

BMG: He draws an Island and plays it and passes.

Turn 5

MD: On my upkeep I put the Ichorid triggers on the stack.

I tap my first Bazaar, hoping to draw a Black creature or a dredger, and I see City of Brass and Chalice of the Void. Nuts. I tap the second Bazaar and see Gemstone Mine and Ichorid #4. So I can see four Ichorids but not a single dredge card? I remove one of the Ichorids from game to return an Ichorid into play.

On my draw step I draw Chalice of the Void, which I play for zero (much good it will do me now).

I swing in for three, BMG is now at 9 life.

BMG: Draws a card and passes the turn.

Turn 6

MD: On my upkeep, with Ichorid triggers on the stack, I tap a Bazaar and draw Ashen Ghoul and Golgari Grave Troll. Finally!

I tap the second Bazaar and dredge the Troll into:
Troll, Putrid Imp, Chalice, Stinkweed Imp, Ashen Ghoul

I then dredge another Troll into:
Black Lotus, Stinkweed Imp, Chrome Mox, Darkblast, Stinkweed Imp, Putrid Imp

I have plenty of black creatures now to feed all of my Ichorids. I return three Ichorids into play.

On my drawstep, I dredge.

I put three Ichorids into play and swing for the final 9 damage.

That’s game.


This game was defined by one card: Cabal Therapy. The Strip Mine from the Gifts player could have been devastating if circumstances had been different. I would have named Thirst if I had been flashing back the Therapy, had I discarded it on turn 1, or if I was playing it on turn 2 like I did. One question is whether I should have discarded the Therapy on turn 1 so that I could have flashed it back on turn 2 without having to hard-cast it first. However, it is not usual that your Bazaar gets stripped by Gifts. It is more likely that you’ll get Needled. However, I could have anticipated that possibility. One note, you almost never turn 1 Therapy for Needle simply because its far more likely that they’ll use a draw spell to find the Needle rather than just have it. Thus, you would want to name the draw spell instead. If I had to flashback the Therapy instead of use it twice, he would have been able to keep the Tinker, little use it would be since he was stuck with Colossus in hand.

One other note: this game was slow because I failed to find any dredgers. When I did, I was able to dredge half my deck in the span of a turn. But it was pretty deep into the game. The way the game ended up playing out was interesting from the Ichorid perspective, because I played every single card in my hand before I started using the Bazaars to fill my bin.

Game 3

Once again, my opening hand is solid. However, I’m on the draw.

Here is what I’ve got:

Mox Jet
Putrid Imp
Crop Rotation
Gemstone Mine
Bazaar of Baghdad

Let’s see what BMG does:

Turn 1

BMG: Island, Brainstorm, pass

MD: I draw Brainstorm. Ugh. So many decisions. It would be so much simpler if I just had a single dredger in my hand. I could Imp and then dredge with Brainstorm, and maybe even Cabal Therapy this turn!

The obvious thing is that I’m going to play Mox Jet. And I’ll probably play Putrid Imp after that.

But things then get hairy. If I play Gemstone Mine into Crop Rotation into Strip Mine, which is the most powerful play right there, I’m cutting myself off from Brainstorm. Alternatively, I could play Bazaar right here. My hand is primed to be very aggressive, since I’ve got two Ichorids in hand as well as Putrid Imp. It’s a tough call.

So there are three distinct plays, which all appear equally appealing:

1) I could play the Gemstone Mine and Crop Rotate (presumably for Strip Mine). This cuts me off from Brainstorm, probably forever.

2) I could play the Gemstone Mine and play Brainstorm. If I see a dredger or a Cabal Therapy, that would be amazing. I could then discard the dredger and the Therapy to Putrid Imp and dredge on my next draw step, and then dredge against with bazaar. In addition, I could flashback Therapy and feed the Ichorids.

3) I could just play Bazaar and use it. If I do that, I’ll have to discard three cards after drawing two more.

Option 2 would enable me to play Crop Rotation on turn 2, as well as the Bazaar in hand. It seems to be the play that makes the most of the cards I have. But I’m really not sure if it is the best play.

I decide to Brainstorm. I draw: Vampiric Tutor, Cabal Therapy, and Balance.

Locke and Charlie find the Black Box from [card name=

If you thought things were complicated already, now things have gotten downright filthy. My head asplode. Shades of Meandeck Tendrils. Holy Grim Long batman, where is Deep Blue when you need him?

Okay, let’s try to analyze this insanity. Putting aside the fact that I need to put some cards back, let’s take a look at Balance. If I therapy next turn and then Balance… not much would happen. There is also the whole question of Vampiric Tutor. That card could get me any number of bombs at this point. There is also the question of whether I should Therapy now, or wait. That depends on what I want to do next. This is too complicated to analyze fully. I decide I’m just going to put back an Ichorid and Balance.

I then discard the Ichorid and Cabal Therapy, and flash it back. It resolves. I obviously name Thirst for Knowledge. I see the Gifts player’s hand, and it is:

Gifts Ungiven,
Sol Ring
Tolarian Academy
Strip Mine


That was a complicated turn 1.

Turn 2

BMG: Draw a card. Play Polluted Delta. Fetch out Underground Sea and play Brainstorm off the Island.

Tap the Underground Sea for Sol Ring.

Tap Sol Ring and play Pithing Needle, naming Bazaar of Baghdad. Ouch. Mana burn for one.

MD: One thought that I entertain is upkeep Vampiric Tutor for Chain of Vapor. The problem is that I don’t have any Therapy anymore to remove the Needle with. If I had played my turn one different, I may well have had an answer to this, but I was surprised.

Instead, I just play Vampiric Tutor for Ancestral Recall. I also remove the Putrid Imp and return Ichorid into play.

Ancestral Recall resolves and I draw Gemstone Mine, Cabal Therapy and Brainstorm.

One play would be to tap the Gemstone and play Rotate on the Gemstone with one counter, to find Strip Mine. I think the stronger play is to play the Therapy, however, since I can Therapy twice this turn.

I play Gemstone Mine and tap it for Therapy. It resolves. Since I’d seen Gifts Ungiven, I name Gifts and hit it. I see:

Mystical Tutor
Gifts Ungiven
Tolarian Academy

I attack with Ichorid sending the Gifts player to 15 life. I flash back the Therapy and take Mystical Tutor.

Turn 3

BMG: The Gifts player plays Brainstorm off the Island. He then plays Academy and passes the turn.

MD: I draw another Cabal Therapy. It is clear that I want to resolve both Brainstorm and Crop Rotation this turn. However, the Gifts player is fronting Force of Will with Academy, Needle, Sol Ring, and Underground Sea. Thus, I will probably play the Therapy for Force of Will, even though he may not have it. Since he just Brainstormed, he would be more likely to be holding Force of Will than Mana Drain, since few Gifts players want to be holding Drain against this deck.

So I tap the Jet and play Cabal Therapy. It resolves. I name Force of Will and see: Force of Will and Polluted Delta.

I Brainstorm into Balance, Golgari Grave Troll, and Stinkweed Imp.

I suddenly decide that Balance is my best new plan.

So I put back the two dredgers, play my Bazaar and tap and kill a Gemstone to Rotate the Bazaar into Strip Mine. I Strip the Gifts Academy and pass.

Turn 4

BMG: Draw a card. Play Polluted Delta and pass

MD: Draw Chalice. Play it for zero. Sacrifice Gemstone Mine and play Balance. It resolves. Gifts loses all his land and his one card hand.

Turn 5

BMG: draws a card and passes

MD: I draw Stinkweed Imp and pass

Turn 6

BMG: Draw, Go

MD: I draw Cabal Therapy and play it on myself naming Stinkweed Imp. I discard the Imp.

Turn 7

BMG: Draw, Go.

MD: Draw step, I dredge Stinkweed Imp into:
Ashen Ghoul, Ichorid, City of Brass, Chalice of the Void, and Careful Study.

Pass. That was really bad for me. I needed there to be a dredger in there so I could continue to dredge.

Turn 8

BMG: Draw Flooded Strand, play it and break it for Volcanic Island, and play Rack and Ruin on my Mox Jet and Chalice of the Void.

MD: I return an Ichorid into play, removing the Ashen Ghoul.

I draw and play Bazaar.

I attack for three, sending BMG to 11 life. I flash back a Therapy naming Yawg Will. I see Mana Crypt and Mana Drain.

Turn 9

BMG: Draw, Go

MD: On my upkeep, I return Ichorid removing an Ichorid. Draw step: I draw Golgari Grave Troll.

I attack for three, sending Gifts to 8 life. I flashback Therapy on myself, naming Golgari Grave Troll.

Turn 10

BMG: Play Mox Sapphire, pass

MD: I dredge on my draw step and strike gold:
Putrid Imp, Ashen Ghoul, Golgari Thug, City of Brass, Lotus Petal, and Golgari Grave Troll.

Turn 11

BMG: Draw and tap Mox Sapphire and Sol Ring, and play Thirst for Knowledge, discarding Darksteel Colossus. Play Underground Sea and Mana Crypt, and pass.

MD: I returned Ichorid into play

I dredge on my draw step and see: Ashen Ghoul, City of Brass, Imperial Seal, Brainstorm, Chalice of the Void, Mox Sapphire.

I attack with Ichorid sending Gifts to 5 life. I play Cabal Therapy from my graveyard. In response, Gifts plays Gifts Ungiven for: Yawgmoth’s Will, Recoup, Time Vault, and Black Lotus. I gave him Time Vault and Black Lotus.

I then name Black Lotus with Therapy, and snag it.

Turn 12

BMG: BMG untaps and takes three damage to Mana Crypt, going to two life. He then plays Recoup with Volcanic Island and Mana Crypt and Sol Ring, and then plays Yawg Will after tapping Sapphire and Underground Sea.

Then he plays Black Lotus and Tolarian Academy. He taps the Academy for UUUUU. He then plays Mystical Tutor for Flame Fusillade. He plays Brainstorm and draws the Fusillade. He sacrifices the Black Lotus for RRR, and plays Time Vault and Flame Fusillade for the win.

This game was very close. However, I made a critical and stupid play mistake, and perhaps more than one. The mistake was not playing Bazaar on turn 1. I should have just played turn 1 Bazaar and drawn two cards, and discarded double Ichorid and another card. I would have been able to do everything else on turn 2 that I wanted. I never even got to activate a Bazaar this game, and I suffered for it. I really needed that one activation. There was no difference between options 2 and 3 discussed under turn 2. That was a pretty substantial error on my part.

Game 4

My opening hand is:

City of Brass
Mox Sapphire
Bazaar of Baghdad
Putrid Imp
Ancestral Recall
Ashen Ghoul
Golgari Thug

Turn 1

MD: Play and use Bazaar drawing Black Lotus and Underground Sea, and discarding:
Ashen Ghoul, Putrid Imp, and Golgari Thug.

Play Mox Sapphire and Ancestral Recall. It resolves. I dredge the Thug first seeing:

Chalice of the Void
Cabal Therapy

Dredge the Darkblast into:

Stinkweed Imp
Gemstone Mine

Dredge the final Ancestral Draw using Stinkweed Imp seeing:

Chrome Mox
Cabal Therapy
Chalice of the Void
Cabal Therapy
Lotus Petal

I then play Black Lotus and Stinkweed Imp. I sacrifice the Imp to flashback Cabal therapy naming Brainstorm.

I see:

Mystical Tutor
Mana Drain
Gifts Ungiven
Polluted Delta
Tolarian Academy
Underground Sea

Swing and a miss.

Nonetheless, that whole series of plays fit together perfectly, from dredging to using Therapy. It was beautiful.

BMG: Play Underground Sea and pass.

Turn 2

MD: Upkeep, I activate Bazaar and dredge the Imp revealing:

Cabal Therapy
Golgari Grave-Troll,
Ashen Ghoul
Chalice of the Void

I dredge the Troll:

Vampiric Tutor
Golgari Grave-Troll
Gemstone Mine

I discard Troll, Imp, and Thug.

Draw step: dredge the Troll again, revealing:

Putrid Imp
City of Brass
Chalice of the Void
Bazaar of Baghdad
Careful Study
Golgari Grave-Troll

Play Underground Sea and pass the turn.

End of turn, BMG plays Mystical Tutor for Ancestral Recall.

BMG: Play Ancestral Recall. Play Volcanic Island and Pithing Needle on Bazaar.


Turn 3

MD: Upkeep, return two Ichorids and an Ashen Ghoul into play, removing two Putrid Imps and tapping the Underground Sea.

Draw step: dredge a Troll, revealing:

Stinkweed Imp,
City of Brass,
City of Brass,
Ashen Ghoul,
Golgari Grave-Troll.

Swing for nine damage. Gifts player is at 11.

Cabal Therapy, sacrificing an Ichorid.

The logic behind what you name in a situation like this is pretty clear. First of all, a lot depends upon whether you are countered. If you are, then you know that they still know that you can Therapy twice.

If you aren’t countered, then you probably start by naming one of the cards you’ve already seen, or a Thirst or Brainstorm.

Since Gifts didn’t play an artifact, the Tinker isn’t immediately threatening. Furthermore, you wouldn’t name Mana Drain anyway. So, I’ll name Gifts and I see:

Thirst for Knowledge
Time Walk
Gifts Ungiven
Tolarian Academy
Mana Drain
Polluted Delta

We take the Gifts. I flash back and take the Time Walk, and then the Thirst. I play a City of Brass and pass the turn.

I’m not too concerned about the Tinker. If he Tinkers away the Needle, I can use the Bazaar.

At the moment, I have sixteen cards left in my library. Oddly, I’ve only seen two Ichorids. Nonetheless, even if he got a Colossus in play, I could return two Ghouls and two Ichorids and swing for twelve, putting him at three life, which means he can’t win unless he can Time Walk.

BMG: He untaps, and plays Black Lotus and Tolarian Academy. Tap Academy and two lands and Tinker Lotus into Darksteel Colossus.

Turn 4

MD: Upkeep: Return two Ashen Ghoul and two Ichorid into play. Go to 19 life from City of Brass.

Draw step: dredge a Troll.

I attack him with two Ichorid and two Ashen Ghoul. He goes to three life after blocking a Ghoul.

BMG: Untaps and scoops.

This is the kind of hand you’d like to open with all the time, simply because it does not involve lots of decision making. The key and most crucial point about this game is to make sure that you put back your Ashen Ghouls under as many cards as you can. A good part of the game here is simply a race. If you accidentally put a Ghoul on top of something else, that could prevent you from being able to blitz past Colossus and cost you the game. Careful technical play wins this sort of game.


This has been a very small sample size. Although we can’t really draw any conclusions about the matchup in terms of win ratios and the like, that wasn’t my intention at the outset. I think it’s far more important that we discuss the sorts of in-game considerations that arise, and think about how we handle them. I hope that I’ve left you plenty to think about. Although this was a small set of games, I’ve already written 22 pages in Word. That simply supports my point that although most Gifts versus Ichorid games will be about 3-5 turns long, but they are jam packed with tough decision-making. Game 3 was such a mess, and I’m not even sure what the correct plays were at multiple points in that game.

Ichorid may be only an aggro deck, but like all good Vintage decks, there are tons of decisions to be made, and often there won’t be clear criteria to help us decide what to do. Some of the plays that I’ve discussed here are subtle — like Stripping Underground Sea instead of Tolarian Academy. Other decisions may not be subtle, but they could be extremely complicated: like what I should have Brainstormed back in game three when I saw Balance and Vampiric Tutor. The Vintage game is compressed into such a small space that there is very little room for error.

Both the Gifts and Ichorid deck are forced to make a substantial number of decisions in the course of a single turn. Not infrequently, whether Ichorid wins or loses will depend upon whether a seemingly innocuous play on turn 1 was correct or mildly faulty. It requires a great deal of matchup knowledge to make the correct play. You need to be aware of what your opponent’s deck is threatening before they have even played a card. What should remind you of this truth is the fact that a great deal of this deck’s disruption is proactive: Cabal Therapy, Chalice of the Void, etc. You are only as good as your Cabal Therapies. Make ‘em count.

Stephen Menendian