Psychatog (also known as “‘Tog”) is a card that has seen play in every Constructed format graced with its presence. Type One is no exception. In fact, I would say Type One is the rule. Although one can easily recall instances of Block Constructed or Standard where it seemed that Psychatog was the only viable choice, I hope I’m not going too far in saying that Psychatog has made his strongest showing and longest stand in Vintage (Yes, I remember the Regionals where ZevAtog seemed omnipresent.) The Tog claimed the first Vintage Championship in the process. Despite the fact that there are no rotations to speak of, Vintage is a highly cyclical format. Virtually nothing survives in whole cloth from year to year anymore. That the Tog has hung on speaks for itself.
The stronger the card pool and better the draw, the more powerful Psychatog arguably becomes. This partially explains why the Tog has been in Vintage for so long. Psychatog wasn’t heralded as the second coming – it was nearly a full block later when Psychatog finally saw play. The printing of the Onslought fetchlands made it possible to splash lots of colors together in a small mana base. Gro builds then could utilize Psychatog, which had natural synergy with the archetype. Gush + Psychatog is a combo of enormous power in a format with the original dual lands.
That Psychatog has survived shouldn’t be surprising to Magic theorists. Psychatog is a nearly ideal win condition for Blue-based control decks. The Tog has what Zvi calls Inevitability. If the Blue-based control player manages to survive long enough, the Tog will become lethal.
Psychatog, while terribly undercosted, is a work of art. It takes the arguably strongest mechanic in the game, card drawing, and transfers it directly into damage. Psychatog is the flip side of Necropotence. With Necropotence, you trade life for cards. With Psychatog, you trade cards for life (your opponent’s life, in this instance). Both cards funnel one resource into another without the usual mana limitations. As a result, they are pure siphons. A deck built around Psychatog merely needs card drawing, counterspells, mana and little else. In Vintage, Cunning Wish provides the final touch as the ultimate flexible answer as well as a tutor that finds Berserk, the other combo part. Berserk bypasses the normal pathways of combat resistance and acts as another conduit by which your cards become direct damage.
Psychatog’s primary flaw has been the fact that it needed both Red and Green as tertiary colors. You need Red to beat Control and Green to beat Workshops. Running four colors made it prohibitively difficult to also have the requisite four to five basic lands necessary to fight Crucible of Worlds + Wasteland. Now that Trinisphere is restricted, Psychatog may actually become a more popular control choice: particularly if I can demonstrate how to beat Control Slaver and Oath. If Tog isn’t your deck of choice, but you like Goth Slaver or other Mana Drain decks, I encourage you to read on because much of what I will say is applicable to other control decks.
The other two difficult matchups for Tog included Fish and Combo. Combo wasn’t a bad match. You have more tools against combo than most control decks including a pair of Duresses, but against a competent combo player, it was hard to do better than 50%. Fish, on the other hand, was a bad matchup. I tried Tsabo’s Web and Plague Spitters and found them insufficient. It wasn’t until later that someone else discovered the silver bullet: Old Man of the Sea. Likewise, Arcane Laboratory should shore up any combo weaknesses.
Part One: The Deck
The core of the deck is a set of three casting cost blue spells. The first of which is Intuition.
Intuition and Accumulated Knowledge
Many Psychatog players play with two Intuitions. This is not correct. This is your primary draw engine. Intuition – > Accumulated Knowledge (AK) by itself is not the most efficient draw engine. The reason it is so powerful is because you have a very good chance of having an Accumulated Knowledge in hand before you play the Intuition. Drawing a total of seven cards with AK 3 and AK 4 for seven mana doesn’t seem like the most efficient draw engine in the world. It is more powerful than you might imagine. First, it isn’t seven mana invested all at once. All of the spells are instants and so you get to play the cards at the time that you believe will be optimal. Second, Intuition for Accumulated Knoweldge is a combo you can often Mana Drain into on turn 2 Mana Drain. For example:
On your opponent’s turn, Mana Drain.
Play another land: tap one of your lands and play Intuition. Now you have two mana up to Mana Drain again.
If your opponent doesn’t play anything into your Mana Drain, you can then play Accumulated Knowledge. Because these spells are instants, you can maximize your mana by playing them when it is best for you. If it wasn’t an Instant you might have to sit there holding your counterspell mana up instead of playing the draw spells. Now you don’t have to make that hard decision.
By your third turn you basically want to have played an Intuition. That would suggest that the deck needs four Intuitions would be the optimal amount in order to maximize your chance of seeing one in the first ten cards. I have tested with four Intuitions and found that four functions well, but surprisingly, isn’t necessary. I have found that the marginal difference between three and four is slight enough that you can justify running only three. The real problem with four is that you may draw too many. The reason you can run more Intuitions than two or three is because we have multiple uses for it. The second (or first depending upon the matchup) will be tutoring up
At first I found the addition of Deep Analysis to be nothing short of bad. I was the Team Paragon member who opposed its inclusion at the first Vintage championship. However, I have changed my thinking on it. First of all, there are quite a few decks in the format that run the Intuition/AK engine. You will be happy to be able to Intuition up three Deep Analysis in that case. Second, it actually isn’t that bad to Drain into. Each Deep Analysis is functionally uncounterable because you can just flash it back. Anyone who wants to counter your Deep Analysis will only stop you from drawing two of the four cards. However, you have to be careful about letting someone Drain a Deep Analysis. Getting a four mana boost can really give them a solid tempo advantage that may significantly put them beyond your ability to stop.
I tested various configurations of Deep Analysis – from 2, 3, and 4. Two works. It’s functional. However, in order to really get the most bang for your buck – to squeeze very bit of juice out the decks potential plays, three is really the right number. I tried four with four Intuitions and it was too dicey. I’d get into situations where I’d use all four Deep Analysis, but I’d be in a position where I’d have to marshal my extra resources into unnecessarily protecting my life. Flashing back four Deep Analysis is twelve life – and you’ve often eaten through a few more with Fetchlands, Force of Wills, and possibly a few hits from a creature of some sort (since this deck is such a tempo black hole in the first few turns).
This is the other three-mana, broken Blue card that makes this deck hum. Cunning Wish is amazingly versatile in this deck. The primary purpose of Cunning Wish is as a tutor to find Beserk, and one of the reasons this deck works is because Cunning Wish is so effective. In Aggro matches, Berserking a Tog as soon as possible is a game winning play that ends the game. In Control matches, playing Cunning Wish for Red Elemental Blast at the end step is a very solid play to help solidify your game one position. Heck, I leave a Red Elemental Blast in the sideboard for that very purpose even after board. In the control match, if you just need a nice draw spell, you can Wish out Fact or Fiction to get accelerate your game plan. In Workshop matches, you can Cunning Wish for Hurkyl’s Recall, Rack and Ruin, and even more potent, Artifact Mutation. I play Artifact Mutation against Workshop decks as a win condition. More on that later. Also, in a pinch you can wish out Firestorm to ruin Food Chain Goblins, Xantid Swarms, or a few Goblin Welders. The options are nearly limitless given the four-color mana base. The question, of course, is how many Wishes should I run?
Tom Van De Logt, former magic world Champion, thinks that four Cunning Wishes is the optimal number, although he’d never run less than three. I agree completely. Four is solid, but it can sometimes be a little annoying to draw multiple Wishes. The deck is already clogged with three-mana spells. As a result, I prefer three.
The biggest mistake I see people making with Tog is not fully using Cunning Wish to maximize your plays. For example, if you have a Psychatog in play, Cunning Wish becomes a three-mana Regrowth. You can remove Ancestral or an AK with the Tog and then replay it with Cunning Wish. This play is extremely good and can often mean the difference between winning and losing.
Despite the uncounted games I’ve played with Tog, I still haven’t gotten a good handle n the proper number of Togs that should be in this deck. During 2003, I thought it was blatantly wrong to run less than four. After testing with only three, I agree that three is viable. The key is that you can find a Psychatog in time to stop a rampaging Juggernaut or a weenie rush. Three is sufficient for that goal. But two is not. That is not to say that you can’t run two. It is, in essence, a metagame determination. In some metagames – particularly control heavy or combo heavy metagames, two Psychatogs may be ideal. One other consideration worth mentioning is that if you run three, you can Intuition them up in a pinch.
Force of Will, Mana Drain, Brainstorm, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Yawgmoth’s Will
I don’t think any of these cards require explanation.
Duress is a curious card. It is often difficult to tell when running Duress is optimal or when it is not. Duress can seem to be so amazing and simultaneously seem weak. That ambivalence is reflected in the fact that I prefer to run two. The more combo you anticipate, the better Duress becomes. In 2003, I ran four Duress.
In the modern environment I prefer two because Duress is most needed in the very, very early game and the very, very late game. The utility of Duress is equal to the strength of the card you nab with it. A turn 1 Duress maximizes your chances to a take a stronger card. If you are in a mid game situation where both decks have expended their resources, it doesn’t really help to Duress. You will likely hit nothing and you’d rather have something better like Cunning Wish 4 or Intuition 4. Duress is also good in the late game to clear the way for your game breaking Yawgmoth’s Will or Berserk. Having two seems to maximize the chances of both you getting one in the opening and the late game but not getting one in the midgame point where it’s not optimal. I’m not sure I can explain why.
You are running four Underground Seas. As such, it makes sense to run this amazing card. I often tutor up Yawgmoth’s Will or Mind Twist with it. In control mirrors, I will often tutor up Library of Alexandria. For the efficiency of this card, it’s simply too good not to run.
I find this card too good not to run in this deck. I can see why other control decks have cut it, and if you don’t like it, I’d just add another Duress in that spot. Mind Twist functions in two key ways. First, it is randomly powerful in the early game. A Mox, Mox, Mox, land hand with Mind Twist is often enough to give you the game. Alternatively, you can Mana Drain into it and ream Aggro. Second, it is a late game bomb. Mind Twist simply ends Control mirrors in a similar way that Yawg Will does. It takes a lot of skill to understand the various dynamics which help you figure out the right time to play it. Timing is everything in matches like that and experience is the key to understanding there. I’ll talk more about this later.
The correct amount of mana to run is 24, unless you want to run both Mana Crypt AND Sol Ring – in which case 25 is optimal. When I first retooled Tog in Jan of 2004, I included Mana Crypt. At the time, Crypt, Island, eot Intuition had almost no risk. Too many decks these days are running Accumulated Knowledge to justify that play. The influx of Fish decks and decks like Fish that are designed to whittle away at your life make Mana Crypt a much more risky card.
The mana base is the most flexible area of the deck and there are seemingly infinite permutations. After a lot of testing, here is my preferred configuration:
4 Underground Sea
3 Volcanic Island
2 Tropical Island
1 Library of Alexandria
7 Artifact Accelerants
This mana base clearly became problematic in the field that emerged after Gencon of last year. I think it was still viable, but it was clearly weaker than the mana bases that you could use with Goth Slaver of Oath.
In the Crucible/Trinisphere infested waters, the following mana base was probably stronger:
3 Underground Sea
3 Volcanic Island
1 Tropical Island
1 Library of Alexandria
7 Artifact Accelerants
This configuration gives you 9 functional Islands.
Nonetheless, this just begins to demonstrate the possibilities. A lot of that is moot now, because I don’t think that Crucible will drop dramatically with the restriction of Trinisphere.
Let me explain some of the choices. It is a little strange to talk about the mana base without explaining my sideboard. The reason you can’t go lower than 3 Volcanic Islands is that your post board game plan against Control involves lots of Red Elemental Blast. Volcanic Island becomes your most important land. I also like Ground Seal in the sideboard, which necessitates two Tropical islands + Five Fetchlands – for a total of 9 functional green mana sources in the deck. As a general rule, however, the more basic Islands, the better. It remains to be seen what the exact metagame shifts will be. If lots more Wasteland decks come into the format or if Crucible continues to stay around, I might want the four Islands.
So far the list is 35 spells and 24 mana sources:
3 Cunning Wish
4 Accumulated Knowledge
3 Deep Analysis
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
4 Mana Drain
4 Force of Will
1 Mind Twist
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Engineered Explosives
The last slot is a matter of some debate, in my view.
Here are what people, including myself have played in Tog:
This is one of the cards I disagree with most in Tog. I used to run one on the singleton theory that [author name="Adrian Sullivan"]Adrian Sullivan[/author] has so nicely laid out. I highly recommend you check out that article! Deed was strong against Stax and aggro. Over time though, I came to realize that the times in which I preferred Deed over a 4th Psychatog were precious few. Perncious Deed is an amazing board sweeper, but against Fish or Food Chain, Psychatog is often better if only because it will eventually attack. Deed, on the other hand, just sits there and does nothing until you blow it. If you play Deed, you will actually need to use it. Therefore, Deed creates the illusion that it is actually good. The only reason I recognized how bad it was was because in a tournament I consciously asked myself: would this Deed be better as something else? And if I gave it serious analysis, I almost always came to the conclusion: yes. With Workshops taking a dive, Deed will be even worse.
If you scan the list of Top 8s where Tog has performed, you will see that this card is a maindeck staple. It has replaced the use of Pernicious Deed because it is more flexible. This may be your best maindeck solution to Oath of Druids. However, as a singleton, it may come up too late to stop them from Oathing. Given the success of the Tog lists in Italy that have been running this card, there must be something to it.
I like this guy. I think the singleton Gorilla Shaman is a good choice and it is usually the 60th card I run. It’s good against Workshops, Control and Goth Slaver, and its good against Combo. Moreover, I used to run Mana Crypt over Sol Ring which means that I really felt like I needed Shaman to insure that I wouldn’t die to my own crypt in long games. For all those reasons, I ran Shaman.
This is also a card I am a big fan of. It is incredible at just randomly getting you to 7 cards in the midgame to activate Library of Alexandria for its useful ability. It is also good at randomly boosting the Tog. I prefer to run this card in an aggro/aggro-control/control field. It is great against both Aggro and Aggro-Control and has mid/late game goodness in control mirrors. Control mirrors almost always run long and therefore, Gush will have some use – even if it is just “on your endstep, hardcast Gush.” However, control mirrors have become faster with the rise of the Slaver variants and it’s just not a good play to have to play Gush the real way (because returning lands you want to use in subsequent turns is massive tempo loss and you will lose mana superiority).
This is another card I like in Tog. Running one, like the single Gush, is fine. I guess the question is whether it’s better than Duress #3, Intuition #4, or Cunning Wish #4. Scroll helps you find the 4th AK after you’ve played Intuition AK. It’s also helpful in finding Ancestral Recall or Intuition. It is a generally good card.
I have similar feelings about this card as Merchant Scroll.
The sideboard is heavily influenced by the centrality of Cunning Wish in this deck. As a result, the sideboard is and should be well integrated with the maindeck. I don’t like having to demarcating the sideboard as a separate entity. I only do so for organizational clarity in presenting the deck. The sideboard should be a fully integrated mechanism that is designed concurrently with the maindeck.
Berserk is the first and probably only absolutely necessary card in the sideboard. Tog players who have cut Green have used Fling as a substitute, but if you are playing four color Tog, you should be playing with Berserk.
Fact or Fiction/Vampiric Tutor
Fact or Fiction is the general utility spell of choice with Tog. Some players prefer Vampiric Tutor. After extensive testing by providing myself with the option of either Vampiric or Fact or Fiction, I have found that I almost always prefer Fact or Fiction. Vampiric Tutor can find singletons, Yawgmoth’s Will or other bombs, but most of the time, you will find that Fact or Fiction has greater overall utility and also accomplishes the same ends. People forget the power of Fact or Fiction since it has been restricted for so long and because it is not so heavily used at the moment in other Constructed formats. Fact or Fiction is a genuine beast in Vintage and rightly deserves its spot on the restricted list. Revealing five cards in this deck is like showing you a new hand. Your opponent will be a tight spot trying to split piles that have Deep Analysis, Intuition, Accumulated Knowledge, countermagic and hopefully other restricted cards. Vampiric Tutor is strongest after game one when you have sideboarded in enchantments, artifacts or other silver bullets that you may want to find immediately. Nonetheless, I don’t believe that warrants the Fact or Fiction spot.
Old Man of the Sea
The Fish game plan is simply antithetical to your plan. I will explain this in greater detail in the matchup analysis section of this article. For now, all I can say is that this is the only silver bullet against Fish. I have tried many cards including, but not limited to, Tsabo’s Web, Plague Spitter, and multiple Fire/Ice. None of those cards were particularly effective. Tsabo’s Web slowed the game down a bit. Plague Spitter was far too conditional and often put you in a position where you were in danger of being killed. Only Web and Spitter together provided the lock you needed. Old Man is like both cards in one. He is the only silver bullet and if you expect Fish, I would run no less than 2. I prefer three myself.
Red Elemental Blast/ Pyroblast
This card is central to your ability to combat control decks. Almost always the proper role for Tog is the control role. I prefer to run four Red Elemental Blasts and one Pyroblast. I will describe why in more detail in the Matchup analysis section.
The trick with this card is realizing how it works. Firestorm is here because it is efficient and useful against lots of decks. At one mana you can Firestorm away Xantid Swarms, Goblin Welders, and even small weenie hordes. I would be hesitant about using this against Fish, because it rarely works. But if it does, it will win you the game. This card deserves a slot because it is efficient. It can’t tap a Maze of Ith like Fire/Ice or easily kill an Exalted Angel like Snuff Out, but I prefer it to both cards. Combo decks may only give you one turn to find a way to kill that Xantid Swarm before they go nuts. Firestorm may be the only way you can kill two active Swarms with Cunning Wish plus one additional mana. The same applies to Goblin Welder. The reasons to run Firestorm become even more compelling if you play much against Food Chain Goblins. Against Food Chain, this card will hands down win you the game.
The key limitation is the fact that Firestorm requires a target for each point of damage. For that reason it will rarely be a win condition or large enough to kill a flipped Angel. I find it best against combo using Xantid Swarm, Welder decks, and pure aggro swarms.
As a final note, although you may not view this card as a win condition, never forget that it may actually serve that function in odd game states. If you have been beating down against an Oath player with his own tokens, you will have plenty of Spirit tokens to target as you shoot the guy at his own dome.
If you simply can’t live without an answer to Exalted Angel, this is your man. This card has gotten notably worse as it can’t target Akroma.
This card isn’t bad at nailing much of what Firestorm can kill, and it has the added ability of being able to stop Maze of Ith from shutting down your Tog. Run it only if you have room.
In the environment before Trinisphere’s restriction, I wouldn’t run less than two. This card becomes your win condition against Artifact aggro decks and Workshop Prison. Your entire game plan is nothing more than to get R/G online and play Mutation. Even if that doesn’t win the game by itself, it is usually enough to swing the game your way so that Tog can clean up. It’s also useful against Belcher and not horrible against Platinum Angels.
Rack and Ruin
I didn’t have room for this card in my sideboard until after 3Sphere was restricted. This may become the preferable artifact hoser because it is stronger against Affinity and Belcher. Often Artifact Mutation is simply not enough to stop the Affinity horde. The Ravager will just move his power onto something else. This stops that from happening. Run it if you have room.
This is the strongest combo hoser that exists. It isn’t simple to use and it isn’t the cheapest hoser you can play, but it is the best. I wish that I had tried this in the summer of last year. Laboratory will totally ruin most storm decks and slow down Food Chain Goblins, Belcher, and other decks that play lots of spells in a single turn tremendously. Just remember, don’t play anything on your mainphase with this card in play until you are absolutely certain that if it will get destroyed or bounced, you will be able to stop them from winning, or win before passing them a turn. Most combo players will scoop either after this enters play or a few turns afterward as long as you are holding counters or appear to be doing so. It’s better to move onto the next game rather than draw a game to time.
The reason this card is actually functional is because combo players don’t beat Control by pure speed alone. They will try to overpower you and wear you down over a few turns. Often it will take several turns as they push you into Force of Willing them on turn 1, Mana Draining them on turn 2, and then finally killing you on turn 3. You should have enough time to drop this thing into play.
I probably wouldn’t play with less than two if I expected much Combo. Optimally, I’d run three.
Chain of Vapor/Unsummon/ Echoing Truth
Historically, I’ve run Blue Elemental Blast as a versatile sideboard solution to Goblin Welder, Blood Moon and a hoser for Worldgorger Dragon. However, the rise of Oath means that you will need something to stop them from killing you. Naturalize will often be too slow. The stronger card is a card that puts the creature that they Oath up into the worst possible zone: their hand. From their graveyard or their library they can just Oath it back up. From their hand, they are stuck until they find a Brainstorm or other way to get the creature out of their hand. Chain of Vapor and Echoing Truth might be preferable because they can hit both the Oath and the creature. You’ll have to decide for yourself which you prefer.
Ground Seal/Phyrexian Furnace
I’ve historically run Ground Seal as a sideboard solution to Goblin Welder decks as well as the problematic Worldgorger Dragon matchup. This card would also double against the annoying Cerebral Assassin and just hose them.
Squeezing all these cards together into an optimal sideboard is no easy task. A lot of what you are going to include will depend upon your metagame. If you play in a heavy control metagame, I would definitely want to include the upper end of Red Elemental Blasts. If you expect Fish, you should not leave home without Old Man. And if you expect any combo at all, Arcane Lab is too good to pass up. You can’t fit all the good cards in here, but for a generalized metagame, here is a decent sideboard list:
1 Fact or Fiction
4 Red Elemental Blasts
3 Arcane Laboratory
2 Ground Seal/2 Phyrexian Furnace
1 Echoing Truth
1 Rack and Ruin
1 Artifact Mutation
As a final note, it is important that you keep your sideboard in tune with the maindeck. You may have an excellent number of hosers for a particular matchup, but if you are making increasingly tough decisions about what to cut out, then your sideboard design is probably flawed. Your sideboard plans should be well thought out and smooth transactions. One way of doing this is to figure out what you want the maindeck to look like in games two and three in a particular matchup. This will force you to evaluate which cards you are likely to bring in and help you find room by cutting cards that you might not have thought of before.
I want to emphasize that this sideboard should be malleable and changed to address specific threats that you will face. However, you should try to stay within the general guidelines I’ve set out.
In the final analysis, I think that the Engineered Explosives has to get the final maindeck spot simply because of the Oath threat.
3 Cunning Wish
4 Accumulated Knowledge
3 Deep Analysis
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
4 Mana Drain
4 Force of Will
1 Mind Twist
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Underground Sea
3 Volcanic Island
2 Tropical Island
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Ruby
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
Part Two: So How Do I Play This deck?
I’m going to assume that you know the very basics based upon what I’ve said so far. What follows is advice directed at tightening up your game with the deck.
Figure Out Your Opponent’s Deck
As you begin your match, you should try to quickly identify what your opponent is playing. This is important for many reasons. Foremost among them is thinking about how you are going to win. In order to trump your opponent, you need to make more than just generally good plays and drawing lots of cards, you need to be able to know when to put a Psychatog back with a Brainstorm and when you are going to need him soon. You need to know when a Cunning Wish is going to be optimal and when you’d rather just have that Duress.
Perhaps the biggest mistake I see people make with Psychatog is improper mana management. Every single time you break a fetchland or even decide which land to play you introduce the possibility of making a mistake. The correct decision could be: not to break a fetchland at all right now, break it for Island, Volcanic Island, Underground Sea, or Tropical Island. This is no small mistake. It can literally make the difference between winning and losing. This deck runs on four colors and you need to be able to identify as soon as possible which colors you are going to need and in which ratios.
Knowing what you are playing against will help you determine which land to fetch out and when. As a general rule, if you are playing against Aggro or Aggro-Control decks with Wastelands, it is a good idea to get Islands into play as soon as possible. If you are playing against a blue based control deck, you will want to find Volcanic Islands first. Against Combo, Underground Sea is likely to be the play followed quickly by mana that facilitates your sideboard answers. Against decks without Wasteland, basic Island is the last land you want to see. Additionally, you will want to make decisions that will maximize or minimize the number of lands you put into play. Against Aggro, Aggro-Control and Combo, you want a bare minimum to stay afloat while managing to keep lands on the table in the face of multiple Wastelands. Against Control, you don’t want to miss land drops at all in the early game.
Mana management is also important because this deck is relatively mana hungry. Lots of your spells cost three mana and you basically can’t run on two mana or less. The biggest fear I have with this deck is opening a hand like this:
This is the archetypical problematic hand with Psychatog. The fetchland automatically decreases your chance of not seeing another land. If you Brainstorm on turn 1 and see, say the following cards:
You will be in big trouble. It will be at least two more turns, and likely more than that, before you see another land. Here is another variant on the same problem:
I honestly think that the safest play with a hand like this is to do as follows:
Volcanic Island, go
Draw a card. Now play the Brainstorm.
You have seen one more card down. True, you won’t have Mana Drain up this turn in all likelihood. But it is much safer to have seen that additional card. It is worse to have Brainstormed and then have to wait three full turns before seeing another land at best than to wait a turn, than to not have Mana Drain mana up on turn two. Not having Mana Drain mana up on turn two isn’t ideal, but it likely isn’t going to end the game. Brainstorming into no land with a one land hand on turn one is likely going to end the game for you.
One other lesson in terms of mana management. If you don’t really need more land at the moment, break your fetchlands as soon as you play them. If you forget to break a fetchland and you marginally increase your chance of topdecking a land which you in fact topdeck, that can be a fatal blow in a razor tight match.
Know Your Role
One key to playing any Vintage deck is knowing your role. In most cases, you are the control player. However, that doesn’t mean you are just going to sit on your rear. All that means is that you need to figure out how your game plan trumps your opponents. In most cases, executing your normal game plan will facilitate your efforts to stop your opponent. This is because your game plan is little more than drawing lots of cards which will enable you to find cards which stop your opponent. Most of the time, you’re role will be control – so this won’t be a tough question. In some matches, you will be forced into being the beatdown if you wish to win. You need to recognize this situation. This can happen against Aggro, where you may only have one opportunity to Berserk a lethal tog in order to not die to weenie horde. This can also happen against Oath, where you have a turn or two to find and play Yawgmoth’s Will or Berserk a lethal Tog. Most of the time you will plan on being control, but must shift according to the circumstances of the game.
Always. Be thinking about what you are going to have to deal with from your opponent and how you will do that. Think what is going to happen next. Consider what will happen if your opponent plays any given spell in their deck that scares you. Anticipate what they might play. Run through in your head what they have in their deck and how you will have to answer it. For example, if you are in a control mirror, you might want to just go ahead and Cunning Wish for Red Elemental Blast at your first opportunity on their end step. It will be useful in the first big counterwar.
Here is an example of a mistake that I too frequently make in testing:
Me: Land, Brainstorm. I see two cards I don’t want right now and I put them on top.
My opponent: Land, Duress. Doh!
Lesson: If you don’t need a crucial card right now because you will draw it, put it on top to hide it from Duress, Mind Twist, or whatever your opponent might do to even gain more information. Often this card will be Intuition or Mana Drain.
But also try to think as far possible in advance as you can. You need to know whether to keep long term solutions like Cunning Wish in hand or whether to go for the Tog. One of the keys to thinking ahead is realizing the position you will need to be in order to win. If you are in a control mirror and realize that you will win by eventually resolving a Yawgmoth’s Will or Mind Twist, you also need to realize that in order to get them to resolve, you have to have mana and counterspell superiority. That means figuring out the impact of any given card drawer on your ability to resolve those spells. If you let a Deep Analysis resolve it may give them just that marginal card advantage they need to stay ahead of you the whole game. You need to think through the lines of play.
Using Mana Drain
Go read Kevin Cron’s article on Mana Drain. Manipulation of your phases is absolutely crucial. It can, and will, make all the difference in the world.
If you plan on playing a spell on your mainphase that you intend to protect with Mana Drain, move to your second mainphase first. That way you will actually get to use the mana on your next turn. The only exception is if you actually want to use that mana on your second mainphase because you plan on playing Mind Twist, Yawgmoth’s Will, or Deep Analysis. Always be aware of this.
Second, although Kevin is right that you should play spells on your opponents first mainphase to make their Mana Drain mana inefficient, that rule only holds in the early game. Otherwise you may enable them to move to their second mainphase and ruin you with Mind Twist or some other bomb like Cranial Extraction.
Also, when you play Mana Drain, please use a dice or a counter to remind yourself that you have mana coming. This is particularly important because it will only matter when it counts the most. The more intense the match, the closer the games, the more stress you will be under and the more likely you will be to forget. In that case you risk dying to mana burn or some small threat that you would otherwise have easily handled.
Double Check Your Tog Math
Make sure that your Tog is lethal before you ever go all in. It’s almost always better to err on the side of caution than to risk losing everything.
If you are holding Yawgmoth’s Will
Remember that Intuition is a bomb. One of my favorite Intuitions is: Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Black Lotus.
In general, if you have nothing you need to wish for, get Fact or Fiction.
Never underestimate the power of Time Walk in this deck. It is possibly one of the strongest cards in the deck and something that you will need to do after you Yawgmoth’s Will. You can also sandbag Time Walk for use at a time when it will seem innocuous but be lethal. For example. In the mid to late game when you have five or more mana on the table, Time Walk followed by a spell that your opponent will want to counter will give you an opportunity to untap with full power and ruin them.
In the next article, I will handle the specifics of what to do in the various matchups, including sideboard plans.