In the first part of this series, I introduced a new Type One deck that my team had worked hard on. It was an attempt to break the format – A deck that will take a great deal of time to completely master, will test your limits, hone your skills, and demand elevated focus. In this article, I’m going to explain and justify the various card choices and show how to play them correctly. This article is written for those of you who want to try to learn and play this deck. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, I strongly urge you to come back next week to read part three. My teammate Justin Walters is going to go into detail about how to play the deck and trust me, you don’t want to miss it. If you don’t believe me, read Justin’s tournament report with the deck.
Generally, I agree with JP Meyer that card-by-card explanations are boring and not particularly helpful. However, with a deck like this, it is not only helpful, but critically important because the inclusion of many cards here will not be self-evident as the inclusion of restricted cards in other storm combo decks might be. My hope is that by understanding why certain cards made the cut, you will have a better idea how to play the deck. Additionally, the explanation of the cards that were considered but didn’t make the cut might help you decide how to personalize the deck for your metagame.
In the last article, I described how asking the right question helps focus deck design and bring to the fore the important considerations that one needs to take into account. The question I asked was:
How would I go about building a deck designed to play exactly nine spells and then Tendrils of Agony?
I. The Shell
With that in mind, I began thinking of the conditions that would need to hold to achieve this goal. That is where I began deck construction. Besides the four Tendrils of Agony, the first card that I put into the deck was Dark Ritual. In order to win, you need to get four mana, two of which had to be a pair of skulls. Dark Ritual was an obvious fit. However, this decision automatically narrowed the range of possible designs. I also wanted to know if this deck could win on turn one any appreciable amount of the time. The addition of the restricted acceleration requires no detailed explanation given its synergy with Storm and the help it provides in casting the Tendrils.
At first, I hoped to keep the deck mono-Black. Therefore, here is what I call the “shell” of the deck: The shell consists of the Rituals, artifact acceleration, and the win conditions.
4 Tendrils of Agony
4 Spoils of the Vault (to help find the Tendrils – pseudo Tendrils)
4 Dark Ritual
4 Cabal Ritual
11-12 Artifact Accellerants (5 Moxen, 1 Black Lotus, 1 Lion’s Eye Diamond, 1 Lotus Petal, 1 Sol Ring, 1 Mana Crypt, 1 Mana Vault,)
The difficulty is that there are dozens of routes to the same end, to the end of Storm 10 Tendrils for the Win. The hope is that by exploring all the various options we can find one that is “best” in that a) it is most resilient (in both the sense that it doesn’t just die to Force of Will and in the sense that it can recover most quickly) and b) fastest (highest turn 1 win percentage).
The hope in Constructed formats is to find a deck that has a sizable win percentage over every deck and is relatively immune to hate. Unfortunately, this goal is nearly impossible to achieve in Vintage because of the size of the card pool. Over the years, Wizards has printed all manner of hoser for everything one might want to play. This is the biggest strength of Type One.
I once held out hope that a mono-Blue control deck would be the best deck in the format. If you could counter every spell played and then through gradual virtual or actual card advantage, seal up the game, it might be “broken” in the sense that it ruins the format because there is nothing that has a statistical advantage over it. I believe mono blue actually comes closer than you might imagine to doing this. The decklist I played at Gencon is a great example. Despite the fact that you might have a good shot at winning every match because you erect a near impenetrable counterwall, if people actually started metagaming against it, you would have to deal with cards like Multani’s Presence on a regular basis.
There is, however, a way to create a deck that breaks the format without actually having to have a statistical advantage over every deck in the format: Win on turn 1 consistently. Despite widespread belief to the contrary, no deck in the history of Magic has been able to do this. The Academy decks often could win on turn 1, but having played with them ex post facto, I can report that they are not faster than modern combo. Probably the closest that we got to this was a four Mind’s Desire deck that got pre-emptively banned, and then, Long.dec. The closest thing that is legal, up ’til now, is Belcher.
Goblin Charbelcher has the highest turn 1 win percentage in the format, but it actually seals the deal on turn 1 no more than 30% (being generous here). Most of the time, it sets itself up for an unstoppable turn 2 win by resolving turn 1 Belcher or something along those lines. Belcher is extremely inconsistent. It mulligans over 50% of its games.
With these thoughts in mind, I began to scour the Vintage card pool. I discovered a number of ridiculous cards that had gone unnoticed – including, but not limited to: Culling of the Weak and Infernal Contract. I believe Culling of the Weak to be ridiculously broken. Lion’s Eye Diamond gave you three mana at the price of what was left of your hand. This nets you three mana at the price of a zero-mana creature. Nevertheless, given the components I had, there was no need to actually use it in this particular deck.
II. The Tutors:
Tutors are extremely powerful because each tutor counts as two storm when counting storm in your opening hand.
A. Spoils of the Vault
Spoils of the Vault was one of the cards that made my original concept work. Spoils doubles the number of Tendrils and Rituals in the deck and therefore helps it follow the rule of 7-9, which makes the deck consistent.
1. Consider Each of your four-ofs.
Spoils is one of the trickiest cards to use properly, but Spoils is a card you will come to appreciate if you are rewarded by using it properly. And the good news is that learning how to skillfully use Spoils is one of the easiest skills to acquire with this deck.
Most of the time you play Spoils of the Vault, you should play it for Dark Ritual. Although, recalling that there are 10 “four-ofs” in the deck, you should consider each card before you actually name one. I have had situations where naming Darkwater Egg is the correct play: Mox Pearl, Mana Vault, Land Grant for Bayou – Spoils for Darkwater Egg.
Or heaven forbid, Spoils of the Vault (you should basically never name Spoils unless it is definitely not going to kill you – like you have Consulted away 40 cards from your library and you have 3 Spoils in your library and a Tendrils in hand.)
As a general rule, never Spoils for a restricted card unless, again, it is assured to work. It simply doesn’t work unless you have done the math and you are not going to die. The point is that if you don’t consider each of these cards, even briefly, you might be missing a better play.
2. Thin your deck as much as possible before playing Spoils.
Here is a common example of how to use Spoils:
Although this is a common and powerful play, there are ways to make this play less risky. First of all, if you go:
3) Chromatic Sphere
4) you can break the Sphere or Egg for Blue
5) and then play Brainstorm or Sleight of Hand first. Doing this helps clear the way, getting you closer to your desired card and making it less likely that Spoils will kill you.
Countless times I have seen someone forget to do one small bit of thinning and die as a result to Spoils when the card they needed was the 21st card. Doing every last bit of thinning before making the play that could kill you is absolutely necessary.
3. Learn How to Use Multiple Spoils
Another key use of Spoils is knowing how to use it if you have two Spoils in hand. Let’s say your hand is this:
You can play the Mox Jet, Dark Ritual and now you have to Spoils of the Vault. Here is one thing you could do. Although you want to see Dark Ritual, it makes more sense to Spoils for a four-of first. If you Spoils for Dark Ritual, you are more likely to remove any four-of which you would have named first. Since you have sufficient mana to Spoils twice before playing anything else, the smart play is to Spoils for the four-of and then make another decision. Therefore you could Spoils, say, for Land Grant. Then you play the Land Grant and find Tropical Island or Bayou. If you get the Tropical Island, you can Brainstorm and then Spoils. This digs a bit and may make the Spoils unnecessary. Or you could just get the Bayou and Spoils immediately for Dark Ritual. The point is that using two Spoils effectively means thinking ahead.
B. Demonic Consultation
This deck has taught me the full potential of Demonic Consultation. There are many circumstances in which Consulting for Black Lotus or Yawgmoth’s Will is the correct play. You will have to do a little bit of math.
Let’s say your hand is as follows:
Let say you more than 50% likely to lose if you pass the turn. So you need to win on turn 1. You can figure out what your chances of outright losing are. You know that your chances of losing next turn are. You have 53 cards in your library and will have 52 after the Land Grant resolves. If the Black Lotus is in the top 6 cards or the bottom 4, you will lose outright. The reason Lotus can’t be in your bottom four is because you need to be able to cast Ancestral Recall to draw into some more cards to up your storm count. Since some of the cards you will need to play will probably be cantrips, you need a card or two safety margin. I’d say that if Lotus is in your top six or bottom six, you stand a chance of being unable to win. Otherwise, you have a turn 1 goldfish. The probability of Lotus being in those 12 cards is something like 23%. That’s much lower than your chance of losing next turn – which means you go for it.
C. Demonic Tutor
The next obvious addition is Demonic Tutor, since Dark Ritual, Demonic Tutor finds Black Lotus so Demonic Tutor generates two storm and adds to the threshold as well as generating a mana.
D. Vampiric Tutor
Vampiric Tutor is a powerful card – most of the time it will be used to find Black Lotus. A single cantrip turns this into an odd Dark Ritual. In my personal testing, the problem I found with Vampiric Tutor wasn’t that it wasn’t powerful enough. The problem I repeatedly ran into was that the loss of storm didn’t compensate for the mana boost. The deck performs a tightrope act trying to string enough mana into enough cards to win on turn 1 and Vampiric Tutor can certainly help that. I’d like to test it again, now that the maindeck has settled a bit differently than it was when I first tried the card. But I don’t think it should be here based upon the testing I have done. But it’s a spot worth revisiting.
III. The Blue Cantrips
Originally, I tried to keep the deck monochromatic. Quickly it became obvious that Brainstorm was simply too good to not use. The mono-Black lists often wanted the ability to put back two redundant cards for three different effects. Accommodating Brainstorm required a reconfigured mana base.
In the last article, I described how speed combo is so reliant upon the opening hand and as such a design rule called the Rule of 7-9 should be adhered to as nearly as possible to help consistency. No amount of design perfection can take away from natural draw variances.
Brainstorm is the best fixer in the game. The one thing this deck doesn’t want to see is multiple artifact cantrips, Night’s Whispers or Tendrils. Brainstorm helps you optimize your hand as no other card does. At the same time it digs and helps you find the busted restricted cards.
Here is a great example of how to use Brainstorm:
1) Play Land Grant finding Bayou
2) Play Mox Emerald
3) Play Cabal Ritual
4) Play Chromatic Sphere and break it for Blue. Draw Tendrils of Agony.
5) Play Brainstorm. This increases your chance of seeing more mana dramatically. What haven’t you seen? You haven’t seen a Dark Ritual yet. Put back the Land Grant (if you don’t need more storm) and whatever redundant cards you may come across.
6) Spoils of the Vault. Here Brainstorm has great synergy with Spoils (as does Land Grant). They remove cards you’ve already seen and dig, dig, dig. If you have threshold or shortly will – you can Spoils for Cabal Ritual and hope to just win. If you don’t have threshold, Spoils for Dark Ritual and you are one mana away from nearly winning (provided you have enough storm).
B. Sleight of Hand
Once provisions were made for Brainstorm, it became obvious quickly that more blue cards could and should be added. In addition, having more Blue spells help us meet the 7-9 rule. Sleight of Hand made the cut. Sleight of Hand is not just a weak Brainstorm – it must be used differently and can actually, in some cases, be used more aggressively.
C. Serum Visions
Serum Visions was the other Blue card that was given serious consideration, but it didn’t make the cut. You want the cards *now* not later, and information is not the same as having the card in hand. I suggest that you try and come to your own conclusions. However, this card is not without merits. It doesn’t have to be a four-of – you can run this as a singleton if you have room.
E. Ancestral Recall
Land Grant says this:
As an addition cost to play, reveal your hand and shuffle your library.
Tap for Blue or Black.
There is a very important Land Grant trick that you should be aware of. If your hand is like this:
1) Play the Mox Sapphire,
3) You can respond by playing Brainstorm, which will resolve before the Land Grant does – but your opponent will not know what your hand is. This makes it more likely that they will not counter the Land Grant and helps you keep your hand hidden.
Testing has shown that 3 land is the proper configuration. My first list has 2 Gemstone Mines in that slot, but for obvious reasons, the fetchlands are better, and currently I’m only running one. Although originally I had 4 land and 4 Land Grant, they got in the way too often and got cut. We decided that two land is actually the optimal land configuration for goldfishing, the additional fetchland provided a little more mana stability and a nice shuffle effect, helping add to threshold.
V. Artifact Fixers
A. Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Sphere was the most obvious and first fixer to go into the deck. In fact, I might even feel compelled to play it in a mono-Black list. You can go: Mana Crypt, Sphere, Ritual, Ritual, and so on. Drawing a card and fixing your mana is worth the cost. This is a good card and is seeing more and more play in all the formats as a result.
B. Pentad Prism
This was the other artifact I included in my very first build. Unfortunately for me, I misread the card. I thought you could go: Land, Ritual, Prism and get two different colors of mana from it. Immediately I started look for a substitute, although this card was horrible.
What this deck really wanted was a card that did this:
Implements of Sacrifice, Pentad Prism, Chromatic Sphere, Lotus Petal. All these cards skirt the issue. They printed this card at zero-mana in Lotus Petal and it was too good. This deck really wants this card. Hell, it’d even take this card without the sacrifice. The sacrifice is a huge boost because it helps threshold, but it would want it just that bad that it would take it like one half a Pentad Prism.
C. Conjuror’s Bauble
This is the other half of Chromatic Sphere. I had multiple copies of this card in the deck for most of the deck’s development. I started out with four, and then when we decided to try Darkwater Egg, I went down to two. I found that this a) addition to storm, b) the assistance to threshold, and c) that additional draw often made all the difference in the world.
One trick I would do is if I drew Demonic Consultation, I could return an amazing bomb from my Graveyard to the bottom of my library (like Black Lotus) and then Consult for the Lotus and win with the Tendrils in my hand.
This was the final card cut from the deck.
The obvious problem is that we don’t have enough Black or Blue. If we Land Grant for Blue, we can’t play the Black spells and vice versa. The play that comes to mind is to Demonic Tutor for Lotus to play both Sleights – but this will keep us out of Spoils. The hope is that the Sleights will help find a Chrome Sphere or Egg, which we can easily play off Vault.
This would be the wrong play.
Here is what happens if you play it correctly:
2) Play Spoils for Darkwater Egg. It’s the 10 cards down. I lose 9 life.
3) I play Mox and
4) Mana Vault.
5)I play Egg off the Vault and draw Dark Ritual. Pretty good.
6) I play the Ritual. Now I think.
I have three cards in hand, I need to play those three cards and win. I have Sleight, Sleight, and Tutor. I think about various configurations and I realize that if I use the floating Blue and one of the Black from the Ritual I can Demonic Tutor for Lotus and play both Sleights! (storm 7 and 8).
10) Play and tap the Crypt.
Now I have 2UUBB floating.
11) I Sleight again and I see brainstorm and Spoils. I have to take the Brainstorm if I want to play Tendrils. I play the Brainstorm and my top card is Tendrils. I have 2BB floating and play it and win on turn 1 if I make the first play correctly, which was the Spoils for Egg!
VI. Black Cantrips
A. Night’s Whisper
Night’s Whisper was in the first list. It may not deserve four slots – it may be better as a three-of – but it has repeatedly earned its spot. It’s kind of interesting how B1 for two cards is really the nice, finishing touch to the deck. The timing of Night’s Whisper has to be perfect. It is one of the hardest cards to use because the instinct is to wait to play it, but it is generally better played sooner.
B. Plunge into Darkness
This card was included in the mono Black builds, but it simply ate too much of your life. It’s not that it’s bad, but there were better options.
C. Tainted Pact
Like Plunge, it’s not that this card is bad, but other cards were better.
VII. The Rest of the Deck
A. Chain of Vapor and Hurkyl’s Recall
I would recommend running at least two of either of these in the maindeck. Sacrificing a land with Chain of Vapor is very strong if you get to bounce to artifacts at half the price of Hurky’s Recall.
This card should belong in the maindeck, I think, if you play in control-heavy metagames. The problem with the card is that it requires that you actually pass the turn. Justin thinks that it doesn’t belong and I’m not sure. I found it to be useful, although the rest of my team thinks its pretty bad. Try it for yourself and see what you think.
D. Infernal Contract
This card is hot. I tried it in the mono-Black version, but I couldn’t get it to be more consistent than what we had. This is a card innovative deck designers among you should pay attention to for the future.
E. Draw 7s
We tested some – but giving your opponents a new hand is not good and one of the allures of this deck is that it doesn’t do that.
Have fun and good luck with the deck. Don’t forget to read part three next week as I hand the reins over to Justin Walters. Even I’m excited to see what he has to say!
You can reach me at steve dot menendian at gmail dot com