Psychatog: The Breakdown

How do you beat Dr. Teeth? Dave offers up some answers… But it’s like applying a Band-Aid to a severed limb.

I was first exposed to this deck at States this year; an early, primitive version that nonetheless managed to make the top eight. At our local Standard tourneys of late, Brad’s been running it constantly because it generally hasn’t lost to anything. I’ve been trying everything but not having much luck. In my opinion, it’s the best deck in Standard right now – and judging from the San Diego Masters, the pros are in general agreement.

The San Diego Masters showed off the two very viable Psychatog variants, the”traditional” one that depends upon Psychatog and bounce to clear a path, and the others that use more creatures and try to use the Upheaval engine to create a one-turn clock, much the same way as previous decks have tried to abuse Upheaval with Zombie Infestation. Get eight or nine mana, cast Upheaval, float three extra to drop the Psychatog, and the game ends next turn.

So let me put on my Zvi hat and break this concoction down.

Psychatog: Obviously, it’s what the deck is centered around. The deck is designed to use”Dr. Teeth” for an alpha strike, filling the graveyard with cards, then using the discard/graveyard-consuming engine of the Psychatog to pump itself up to be able to finish an opponent off in one stroke. The ‘Tog tends to grow in the vicinity of 18/19 when going in for the kill. Many decks used this as the lone creature in the deck.

Shadowmage Infiltrator: Some versions like to run Finkel for extra card drawing. Others use – either instead of or in addition to – Merfolk Looter and Thieving Magpie for card drawing. While the Infiltrator is a powerful card, I think the versions that run just the Psychatog are stronger.

Nightscape Familiar: If I were to run an additional creature in a Psychatog deck, it would be the Nightscape Familiar. For one, he’s a great blocker, slowing down a creature rush to a degree, and he blocks Finkels and ‘Togs quite well. Secondly, he accelerates your deck, enabling a turn three Fact or Fiction – and he shines in the mid to late game, when you have seven, eight, nine mana on the table, cheapening spells like Aether Burst and Upheaval. He seems more at place in the Upheaval versions of the deck.

Fact or Fiction: Duh. Like I really need to go into how good this card is in the deck…Get great cards and put more cards in your graveyard for Dr. Teeth to eat. I’d say add five to the deck if you could get away with it. Some variants also splash Probe, which I’m not sold on. True, at five mana, you get your three cards and you’re opponent loses some of his, and, again, you’re filling up your graveyard. I’d probably pass on the card, but maybe find room in the sideboard.

Opt and Peek: This is a one-or-the-other card, ‘twould seem. Opt has the advantage of getting you deeper into your deck. Peek gives you a glimpse at an opponent’s hand, which can be valuable if you’re getting ready to enter a counter war. Based on the extra information it gives you, I’d give Peek the nod.

Another possibility is Think Tank, which kind of works like a permanent Opt. I’ve seen it used to some success.

Memory Lapse and Predict: Just about every variant of the deck runs Memory Lapse, but not all run Predict. That I can’t understand, as the Lapse/Predict combo not only gets you cards but gets rid of potentially nasty threats as well. Properly played, it’s a three-for-two trade. In straight counter wars, though, Memory Lapse works, since a Lapsed Counterspell isn’t that effective if you can get the original spell through, since you can’t counter what’s already on the table. Therefore, I’d say you should always find room for Memory Lapse, and at least a couple of Predicts as well. At worst, Predict gets rid of an opponent’s top card and gets you a new one as well.

Counterspells: Counterspell and Undermine are automatics for the decks, to go along with the aforementioned Memory Lapse. After that, things get iffy. Ryan Fuller’s deck had success with Force Spike (and maindecked Gainsay), some decks use Syncopate and Disrupt in the maindeck (what is this, IBC all over again?).

Usually, four Counterspells and three Undermines seem right. After that, pick your poison. I don’t like Syncopate, as it can be worthless in the late game. Same with Force Spike. Maindeck Gainsay and Disrupt, however, may have merit in a field that may be soon flooded with Dr. Teeth.

Bounce: Usually, the bounce contingent is some combination of Recoil, Repulse and Aether Burst. Repulse costs 2U but gets you ca card. Aether Burst works better in multiples, and once there are one or two in the graveyard it starts getting sick. Recoil I like more not only for the discard effect but also for the fact that it can target permanents, not just creatures. I think there ought to be room for at least one Recoil in the deck simply for utility. After that, I’d rate Aether Burst ahead of Repulse, simply because it’s cheaper, can hit more targets, and it’s not like the deck is hurting that badly for card drawing.

Of course, the Upheaval version is based entirely on bounce, bouncing the whole damn world in one fell swoop.

Duress and Lobotomy: Best discard in the game right now – and given that there’s probably going to be a glut of these decks, I’d definitely run this card in the main deck. It’s too good not to run. Lobotomy seems to be a 50/50 card, usually appearing in either sideboards or main deck. Personally, in a field that may be skewed towards control, I’d prefer another counterspell to Lobotomy.

Lands: The usual suspects, Underground River, Salt Marsh, maybe Darkwater Catacombs, but especially the Cephalid Coliseum. Yeah, the pain can such, but, again, it synergies so well with the theme of the deck, drawing cards and filling the graveyard. You have to run at least two, preferably more in the deck.

The deck tends to run around 22-23 lands; a bit low for a control deck of this nature, but given the massive amount of cantrips and card drawing the deck has, it can get away with it. I like at least 23 lands.

I’ve declared it the best deck in Standard. So how do you stop this deck? There are a few obscure cards available to help combat the problem.

Steamclaw: If the Psychatog player has no cards in his graveyard, the ‘Tog doesn’t seem quite as impressive. Trouble is, the Steamclaw is a poor man’s Phyrexian Furnace, requiring three mana to use on a regular basis, whereas the Furnace was essentially free (and a cantrip to boot). I’d been playing around with the Steamclaw and it’s simply too slow. An opponent’s graveyard can fill up faster than you can deplete it. For that reason, other graveyard depleters, such as Coffin Purge and Decompose, are essentially unplayable, since they can’t take out enough cards.

What we really need is Planar Void back. Better start checking that Torment spoiler…

Juntu Stakes: A much more viable choice, since they’d keep a ‘Tog tapped down permanently. But that only works on a single ‘Tog once, and an opponent can simply cast a ‘Tog and leave it there until he’s ready for the alpha strike, or bounce and recast it. It also limits you from playing cards like Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves and anything else in the one-power range. Still, it’s a possibility. If your opponent is running the Upheaval variant with Finkel and/or the Familiar, it becomes a much, much better card.

Kirtar’s Desire: A wonderfully underrated Pacifism, in my less-than-humble opinion. Even without threshold, it keeps Dr. Teeth out of the red zone, and, at a mere one white mana to cast, it’s a viable defense against the Upheaval version of the deck. Hobble also belongs in this category, being a cantrip as well. Trouble is, the deck tends to be packed with bounce, so these solutions are temporary at best.

Chamber of Manipulation: Expensive, yes. More suited for Limited, perhaps. But it will at least slow down the beats until you can better deal with Dr. Teeth and prevent the dreaded alpha strike.

Circle of Protection: Black: Scary to say, but it seems to be the best defense against the traditional Psychatog deck – but it’s vulnerable to the Upheaval variant.

These cards, however, are only partially effective at best. They’re like applying a Band-Aid to a severed limb. The deck has answers for anything that can be thrown at it, as one color can cover the weaknesses of the other. Spellbane Centaur wrecks the bounce element, but it can be taken out with Slay. Mystic Enforcer? Innocent Blood. Other control decks? Gainsay, Disrupt, Lobotomy, Mana Short. Green rush decks? Hibernation. Theme decks? Engineered Plague.

One might think Meddling Mage would lock the deck down, but you’d need to get at least three out to eliminate bounce spells as well…Certainly not impossible, but the Mage is not the answer. Mystic Enforcer can block the ‘Tog quite well, as can Sabertooth Nishoba (which can’t be bounced), but both are vulnerable to sideboard options.

Man, where’s Dense Foliage when you really need it?

I’d have to say that R/G Beats has the best chance of beating the deck. With the ability to bring a lot of beats fast, it can overwhelm the defenses of the Psychatog deck, and it can maindeck or have in the sideboard Yavimaya Barbarian, which can’t be bounced and can block the ‘Tog until the minotaurs come home. Unfortunately, Slay and Hibernation can clear him out of the way. Flametongue Kavu can be effective against Dr. Teeth; not to burn him away necessarily (I’ve seen it tried and even with four burn spells, he’s almost impossible to kill using that method), but to make it harder for the deck to get enough cards in the graveyard for an alpha strike and have a temporary, un-Slayable, un-Hibernation-able blocker.

Another possibility are”fish” decks, which traditionally have been a strong metagame choice when control decks are prevalent. Built along the lines of a cantrip-heavy Turbo Xerox-type deck, a Merfolk deck could be an excellent choice against the Psychatog.

But until someone figures out how to beat this deck on a regular basis, though, it’s what I’m going to be playing.

By the way, this is my version of the deck:

3 Cephalid Coliseum

10 Island

4 Salt Marsh

4 Underground River

1 Darkwater Catacombs

4 Psychatog

4 Counterspell

3 Undermine

4 Memory Lapse

1 Recoil

3 Duress

4 Predict

4 Peek

4 Fact or Fiction

3 Repulse

4 Aether Burst


1 Duress

3 Innocent Blood

3 Gainsay

2 Recoil

2 Mana Short

3 Slay

1 Divert

Give it a test drive. Your mileage may vary.

Dave Meddish

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