Removed From Game – TEPSage

Read Rich Hagon every week... at StarCityGames.com!Yeah, I know, it sounds disgusting doesn’t it? Still, that’s the word that Craig the Editor used earlier this week to describe the act of playtesting Extended with Mind’s Desire, a.k.a. The Extended Perfect Storm, a.k.a. TEPS. Join your only-slightly-above-average-at-Magic host, Rich Hagon, as he explores all the fun of the Storm in an E cup.

Yeah, I know, it sounds disgusting doesn’t it? Still, that’s the word that Craig the Editor used earlier this week to describe the act of playtesting Extended with Mind’s Desire, a.k.a. The Extended Perfect Storm, a.k.a. TEPS. This article is primarily intended for those of you who are fairly new to Extended, or Combo decks, or TEPS specifically. If you’re a 1950-ranked Pro, you might just find some new wrinkle here, but the chances are that you already know all the stuff I’m going to tell you, and more. Why not save yourself the bother and go back to thinking about Draft archetypes for Kuala Lumpur next month?

Right, now that the game’s geniuses have gone, we can get cosy. Let’s kick off by looking at the deck, and then we’ll talk a bit about what all the cards do, what they should do, and most importantly what they can do when you’re up against a brick wall. Then we’ll move on to some test games on Magic Online, and we’ll end by concluding you should all be dull and go and play Doran decks anyway. The decklist:

This, boys and girls, is most definitely not a 60 card deck. No, it’s a 69 card deck, it’s just that 9 of those start out in the Sideboard. Tutoring effects are amongst the game’s most powerful historically, and if you haven’t been playing long you might not have experienced the straight-to-hand power punch of a decent tutor. Mind you, even the Harbingers in Lorwyn Limited give you a glimpse of that. Here we have Burning Wish, a card that allows us to get any of our 9 sorceries out of the sideboard and into our hand at the price of just two mana. It’s no coincidence that many Black players name Burning Wish as their first stab-in-the-dark with Cabal Therapy.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What does the deck aim to do? First, put a lot of mana into play. Second, convert this boatload of mana into one killer turn, building up a Storm count ready to be exploited by Mind’s Desire. This six-mana beauty allows you to remove cards from the game and then play them for free. This, all being well, allows you to wade your way through as much of your deck as you need before using the Storm mechanic again with Tendrils Of Agony aimed at your opponent. In that one turn, they can lose far more life than they have. So now let’s see how the components of our deck shape our gameplan.

Geothermal Crevice, Irrigation Ditch, Sulfur Vent, and Tinder Farm.

Mana acceleration generally comes at a price, most often in terms of disposability. Cards like Birds Of Paradise that let you ‘cheat’ on mana turn after turn are in demand for a reason. As for land, most of the time there’s a penalty to pay for generating more than one mana. In the case of these Invasion lands, the penalty is that you have to sacrifice the land to get the second mana out of them. Fortunately for us, having cards in our graveyard is no bad thing, as we’ll see.

Gemstone Mine.

One of the challenges about putting this deck together so that it functions is the problem of running many many colors. Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Deckcoat wouldn’t have as many colors as this bad boy. While the Invasion lands are something of a blunt instrument, Gemstone Mine is our go-to-guy in a mana crisis when the quantity is less important than the quality. Like Aladdin’s genie, the Mine can grant you three wishes, and frankly, anyone who can’t win a game of Magic after that kind of help doesn’t deserve it. Still, we really don’t want to have color issues, so…

Chromatic Star, Chromatic Sphere.

Eight one-mana artifacts join the team, and they serve four functions in our deck. First, they get to generate the color of mana we need when we want it, and at essentially no cost (although we have to have one mana available to activate them, we get one mana back.) Second, when we sacrifice them, we get to draw a card deeper into our deck. This is good times, when we’re busy searching for killer cards from our library. Third, they fill the graveyard, pushing us towards Threshold, which is key for one of our cards. And fourth, because they’re so cheap at one mana each, we can cast them on the turn we propose to win sometimes, generating an extra tick in the Storm count, increasing our chances of success. One little aside, although they mostly do exactly the same thing as each other, the Chromatic Star allows you to draw a card even if it has been destroyed by your opponent. Worth bearing in mind if you have both in hand and expect some countermeasures.

Chrome Mox, Lotus Bloom.

The zero cost Mox helps boost our mana supply, and can get us out of tight spots regarding mana color if we Imprint wisely. Because it costs precisely nothing, we’ll be casting these like they’re going out of fashion on the turn that we ‘go off,’ i.e. win. Remember, the higher the Storm count, the more likely we are to win, so this is just gravy. The Bloom gets suspended, generally on turn 1 if we can make it so, and will appear as scheduled on turn 4. Especially on the draw (going second), turn 4 is when we expect to drop our load and do our thing (that’s another way of saying ‘win’). The Bloom not only gives us a three mana shot in the arm, it also contributes to the Storm count.

Cabal Ritual, Rite Of Flame, Seething Song.

These are our dedicated bonus mana producers. On our winning turn, we want to cast as many spells as possible, and that means mana. Seething Song is the most dependable of the three, since it always always always gives you two more than you started with. On the downside, if you started with UBR mana in your pool, out the other side of a Song you’re looking at RRRRR. Perhaps you’re starting to see why those one-mana artifacts are a bit good? Rite Of Flame is never bad, but gets incrementally better as you see more of them. The first Rite gets you plus one mana (single R becomes RR), the second gives you plus two net (R becomes RRR) and so on. It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll actually cast three or four before you get to the initial Mind’s Desire, and from there on they’re free to cast anyway. Cabal Ritual is the most interesting and often the most important of the bunch. Unlike Song, which is a static +2 mana, or Rite which could be 1,2,3, or 4+, but is always a known factor (‘there have been none so far, therefore this Rite will generate plus 1,’ for example), Cabal Ritual is an either/or card. Either you don’t have Threshold, in which case you get +1 mana, or you’re in the happy position of having 7 cards in your graveyard already, at which point it’s +3 mana. I have to tell you, most of the time you need that +3, so you want to be planning on obtaining Threshold, which isn’t always as easy as it looks. One of the quickest ways to improve when you first start playing with TEPS is to pay attention to your Cabal Rituals and make sure they give you that +3 bonus. When we get to Sins Of The Past, I’ll explain a bit more about this.

Channel The Suns.

Although Channel does give us a minor mana boost of +1, that’s not the reason we’re playing it. Rather, it’s the ultimate mana fixer. G and WWW? Cast Channel, it’s one of everything. GRUB? Cast Channel, it’s one of everything. BBBG? Cast Channel….you get the idea. You know the Spice Girls song ‘Two Become One’…? Channel The Suns is ‘Four Become Five,’ and you might feel like singing about it too.

Sins Of The Past, Infernal Tutor.

In a way, these are our Get Out Of Jail Free cards. Infernal Tutor isn’t that great a lot of the time. For it to really shine we need Hellbent, so it has to be the last card in our hand. When we’re busy going off that’s not a major problem, and at that point it functions like a super-Burning Wish, that can get any card at all from our entire library, most often Mind’s Desire. When we have plenty of cards still in hand, it can only find something that’s already in our hand. This can be fine if all we want is more mana – a second Cabal Ritual or Rite or Song or Channel – but it does nothing to find the missing pieces from our setup. As for Sins Of The Past, it’s an unwieldy bugger of a card at 6 mana, but has the advantage of costing nothing but Black mana. This is another reason why Cabal Ritual is so important as a +3 spell, because Sins is the ultimate backup spell, where you get to play Mind’s Desire from out of the graveyard if you haven’t managed to sew up the game on your first Stormed-up Desire. It’s very very hard to lose if you have Sins plus mana as backup when you go off.

Burning Wish.

You know how you’re only allowed four of any one card in a deck? Not in this deck. Here you have 7 Channel the Suns, 7 Mind’s Desire, 6 Sins Of The Past and so on… well, not literally, but that’s the effect of playing Burning Wish. When you draw it, what it’s really saying is, ‘Hi. I’m your friendly Burning Wish, and I want to be your low-maintenance girlfriend. What would you like me to be today? For just R1 I can be almost anything you like. Want to smooth your mana? I’ll be your dream Channel The Suns. Fancy some Combo power? I’ll be your next Mind’s Desire. You have a pesky monster problem you want clearing up? I’ll be your Pyroclasm. Want a permanent to be not-so-permanent? Eye Of Nowhere is what I’ll become. I can expose an opponent’s plans if you make me Duress. I could turn into a bunch of monsters with Empty The Warrens. Let’s go round again as I become Sins Of The Past. Or if you want to end it all, I’m your Tendrils Of Agony.’ Talkative little thing. One thing you’ll find as you start playing with TEPS is that peoples’ fear of Burning Wish is basically justified, but that also means that they can make some horrible miscalculations. As I’ve said to several opponents lately, as they named Burning Wish with Cabal Therapy deep into the game, ‘Are you kidding? If I had Burning Wish anytime since last Tuesday, you’d be dead by now.’ And, despite the hyperbole, it’s essentially true. You struggle to lose once you successfully resolve Burning Wish, God bless it.

Mind’s Desire.

They named the deck after this one, because it’s next to impossible to execute a decent winning strategy without casting it (Empty The Warrens notwithstanding, more later.) We’ll have plenty of opportunity to see this guy in all its glory later.

Tendrils Of Agony.

Not to be confused with the workmen outside my house who woke me at 6.15 this morning – this was of course the Ten Drills Of Agony – Tendrils is the kill mechanism, the coup de grace, the cherry on the cake, and the shuffle-up-your-permanents. Your life goes way way up, and theirs goes way way down.

Orim’s Chant, Krosan Grip.

The only cards in our Sideboard that can’t be searched for by Burning Wish, hence our need for a goodly number of them. Orim’s Chant can buy us a crucial turn against an opponent who is about to wreck our plan if left unmolested, and also guarantees that we’ll be left in peace when our moment comes. Krosan Grip is there for all the assorted naughty things people will throw at us of an Artifact and Enchantment disposition, which might include vile things like Chalice Of The Void, or Engineered Explosives, or Trinisphere, or Counterbalance or….

And that’s our deck. Like most Combo decks it’s extremely tightly focused. Get mana, play a bucketload for Storm, Mind’s Desire, go off.

Of course, it’s not always as simple as that. Let’s get to the Tournament Practice room on Magic Online and get some games going.

Match 1 versus Dredge

Generally I expect to lose to Dredge. It’s simply quicker than we are. Not this time though. In Game 1 I take an opening hand featuring no land, but with a Lotus Bloom and assorted acceleration I can expect to go off turn 4. Although he has a poor start, I’m still surprised to find myself getting to turn 4 without being, er, dead. Still, there I am, putting my Bloom into play, and from there double Seething Song, Channel the Suns, 2 Chromatic Spheres and assorted other goodness lead to my opening Mind’s Desire being for 10 copies. (If you’re still not sure what happens, I get to remove 10 cards from the game – technically the top card of my library on 10 separate occasions, but now just the top 10 as a sanctioned shortcut – and play any of them I like for free. Mana producers? Free. Artifacts? Free. Tutors? Free. And most importantly, more Mind’s Desires or Sins Of The Past, Free.) Since many opponents will concede at this point, it might be worth running some solitaire games to actually see the whole Combo in action. In Game 2, I keep two land, a Rite, a Ritual, a Wish, a Desire, and a Chant. Good news. He’s set to go off, so I Chant him, meaning he can’t play spells that turn. That leaves me vulnerable to him having a Stifle for my Storm trigger when I go off, but it may surprise you to learn that it’s generally better to have some chance than no chance, provided that you’re trying to win of course. He doesn’t have a Stifle – are people running Stifle in boards right now? – and I Combo out. Somewhat to my surprise, I win the match.

Match 2 versus BG

On the play, I keep Gemstone Mine, Lotus Bloom, 2 Cabal Rituals, Seething Song, Infernal Tutor, Chromatic Sphere, and Mind’s Desire. Turn 1, I don’t have the Desire any more, thanks to his Duress. In this environment, it’s a good idea to calculate mulligans on the basis of what your hand looks like without its best card. As we’ll see, sometimes they don’t take the best card, but you can’t expect that, especially if you’re at the back end of a PTQ. He follows up his Duress with Dark Confidant and then a Tarmogoyf. By now I’ve drawn into Sins Of The Past, and that means it’s time to switch to plan B. Assuming that he doesn’t have Extirpate maindeck, I can aim to generate a bunch of Black mana, cast Sins, then play the Desire out of my graveyard. In order to do this I really want my Rituals to be for 5 Black mana, so I deliberately burn for one at the end of his turn. Why? Because that way I get to sacrifice the Gemstone Mine when I remove the last counter, contributing to Threshold. My Bloom resolves, followed up my Chrome Mox, Seething Song, Ritual, Ritual, Sins, Tutor, Sphere and then Desire from the graveyard for 9 copies. End of game.

Game 2 gets complicated. I have a genuine (i.e. unplayable hand) mulligan to 6, keeping 2 land, Bloom, Star, Tutor and Burning Wish. What does a hand of five look like? It’s the same without the Bloom, when he Duresses me turn 1. Turn 2 he makes Ghost Quarter. Now that’s a proper irritant, since I have zero basic lands to go and fetch when he blows it up. I make a Chromatic Star to help smooth mana, but he Molders it, and then makes Dark Confidant a.k.a. Bob. When I get up to 8 cards in hand, I have to discard. Since I’ve drawn Sins, it’s time to try the same plan as Game 1, so I discard Mind’s Desire. Now that we’ve boarded it’s more likely that he’ll be able to Extirpate me into near-oblivion, but there’s no way with his Ghost Quarter and minimal fixing for me that I’m going to be able to operate normally. This way, I have a chance of brute-forcing my way up to six Black mana and get a speculative Desire off for 4 or maybe 5 from the graveyard. Tediously, he Duresses again, taking a Ritual. Needing a Gemstone Mine or Channel The Suns to get the engine started, I don’t find them, and die.

I keep Bloom, 2 Chrome Mox, 2 Chromatic Star, Rite of Flame and Orim’s Chant to start game 3. On the play, I can at least suspend the Bloom before his inevitable turn 1 Duress hits. And there it is, taking my Rite Of Flame. 3 games, 3 Duresses. Like I said, visualise your hand without something. I Imprint the first Chrome Mox with Orim’s Chant and make a Chromatic Star. I mock his Ghost Quarter, since I have no land for it to destroy, and watch as he makes 2 Dark Confidants. Only more hand disruption worries me, and he doesn’t see any. I get off a Desire for 6, and with another Desire in hand the mana acceleration I get for free sees me home.

Match 3 versus Mono-Green Beats.

Whilst not a rich man, I am prepared to lay a modest wager that you are unlikely to face this deck at the top tables of a PTQ. Barring miracles, this is essentially a goldfishing operation, where I lay a land, then a second sac land plus a Chromatic Star. Turn 3 I draw Channel The Suns. I go off with Channel, Rite, Song, Burning Wish, a sacrificed Star into another Ritual, Chrome Mox and then Desire for 7. The Storm count reveals Burning Wish and plenty of free mana. Game 2 is even simpler, with a Desire for 9, a number at which it’s next to impossible to misfire. Incidentally, now seems a good time to issue the standard government health warning about any results you see here. Never was a room so misnamend than the Tournament Practice room, since many of the decks you’ll play against (and indeed with) should never be allowed near a PTQ unless you have a death wish. In other words, testing lies. Thanks Zvi.

Match 4 versus Domain Zoo.

I’m generally pretty hopeful about this matchup, since I hope to simply be a turn quicker than my opponent. Game 1 really doesn’t work out like that, and turns out to be quite the workout for the deck, which is exactly what we want, so that we can learn what the deck can do under pressure. I mulligan to 6, and keep land, Bloom, Star, Sphere, Mox and Song. This is what’s known in the trade as a drawing hand. Right now I have absolutely nothing in terms of going off, but I do have mana of multiple colors, at least 6 mana by the time Bloom resolves, and two extra draws via Sphere and Star. I should be fine. Things start getting complicated when he makes Turn 1 Birds Of Paradise and follows up with Turn 2 Magus Of The Moon. I like Mountains, but not that much. I suspend a second Lotus Bloom, but when the first one resolves he Putrefies it. He makes Tarmogoyf and then casts Living Wish for Gaddock Teeg, casting the Lorwyn Legend. Now there’s another hoop we have to get through, since Gaddock comprehensively shuts down the bit of our deck where we actually win. Fortunately, my hand has been building up nicely, and the goodness is complete when I draw Burning Wish just after my second Bloom resolves unmolested. Song, Song, then Burning Wish for Pyroclasm. Cast it, goodbye Gaddock. Sacrifice a Star, draw Chrome Mox, which I cast without Imprint. Sacrifice another Star, draw Channel The Suns, nice. Sacrifice a third artifact mana-washer, draw land, never mind. Lay another Chrome Mox, cast Desire for 9. Overcoming both Magus and Gaddock, nice.

He pulls things round Game 2, as he puts quick pressure on me, and my Desire for 5 (which is on the border of likely failure) doesn’t come through for me, as I see 2 Rituals and three land. I fizzle and die.

In the decider I make the first use out of Plan C, which involves Empty The Warrens. I have to be honest, I hate Plan C. Whether you’re going about your lawful business with regular Desire action, or cheating a bit with Sins Of The Past, you’re the one making the running. Most of the time, only the vagaries of your own deck can stop you doing your thing. With the Empty plan, it’s very well named, as empty is exactly what your hand and options are going to be once you’ve tried it. You use up every resource in the known universe, and at the end of it, you don’t kill your opponent. Instead you pass the turn, and pray. Not that I have any objection to the power of prayer, but when it comes to Magic I like to leave the divine out of it. Whether you have 20 tokens or 200, they all have 1 toughness, they’re all monsters, and they all die to mass removal. ‘Please don’t kill them, please don’t kill them’ you chant over and over, and that’s without the decks toting burn spells who calmly thank you for their bonus turn and set you alight. No, I’m really not a fan. However, as plan C goes, it does pose a fairly considerable question. I was forced into Plan C here thanks largely to Magus Of The Moon and a clumsy initial Desire for 5. Thankfully, my 20 goblins were sufficient to pull off a 2-1 victory.

Match 5 versus Opposition

When he made a turn 2 Wirewood Hivemaster I was smirking. I mean, who plays with junk like that? When he made another one turn 3, plus a token, I was still smiling, though it was a bit of a puzzled smile. When he made Opposition turn 4, I wasn’t smiling at all, as he proceeded to tap everything I owned forever and ever Amen. In the second game he made Sensei’s Divining Top turn 1, and Counterbalance turn 2. These get followed up by a pair of Wren’s Run Vanquishers. I manage to Krosan Grip the Counterbalance, which improves my odds somewhat. Then he makes a third Vanquisher and Imperious Perfect. Since I’m on 11, I have to go off the following turn. This is problematic. Double Seething Song, double Chrome Mox, last card Infernal Tutor for Burning Wish, Wish for Empty The Warrens, and we’re off to the races with your friend and mine, Plan C. I make 14 1/1s. Now, bizarrely for Extended, we’re playing combat math. He attacks, I chump two of them and fall to 7. Now I have 12 guys left. 10 of them attack into Imperious Perfect and Wirewood Symbiote. He drops to 4, and as things stand I can beat him. Not if he plays Opposition however, and that’s what he does. Frowny face.

Match 6 versus Mirror, kind of.

At least, that’s what I think as he starts off with a suspended Lotus Bloom and an Invasion sac land. Interestingly, it turns out that he’s actually running a version of the Aussie Storm deck from last Summer’s Standard. That means Pyromancer’s Swath and Grapeshot, plus card draw and search like Ponder and Compulsive Research. He also has Sensei’s Divining Top, and when he draws a second one things get a little funky. He gets in a position to go off, and then uses most of his mana to lay a Top, tap it, draw a Top, putting Top to the, er, top, play a Top, tap the Top, draw a Top, putting Top to the, er, top… He does this nine times then casts Grapeshot for 30. If I’m going to get beaten, this is the kind of thing I love to watch. Game 2 I get to go off first, but he’s on the play in the decider and goes off with Swath plus Grapeshot. This is the kind of Magic that make Pros want to not play a deck, knowing that so much depends on the opening coinflip. Admittedly, Orim’s Chant would have given me the decider, as I was ready to go off the following turn, but them’s the breaks.

Match 7 versus Mirror, actually.

Turn 4, I win on the play. Turn 4, he wins on the play. Turn 4, I make a crucial error on the play. It turns out that Sins Of The Past gets removed from the game when it’s done its thing. If you’ve bothered to read the whole of the text on the card, you already know this. I either hadn’t, or had forgotten that I had, and dismally failed to reach Threshold, thus stranding myself on insufficient mana. Urghh.

Match 8 versus Domain Zoo

This is the reason I wouldn’t play Zoo in Extended. His Game 1 involved Isamaru, Hound Of Konda turn 1, Watchwolf turn 2, Watchwolf and Mogg Fanatic turn 3, and die on my turn 4. He hit me for 2,5, and 9. He could do no more. And I ignored him totally from first to last, and won. His pressure was slightly more troublesome in Game 2, and when I was forced to go off I could only Desire for 5. Thankfully a second Desire and a Burning Wish took care of things, but 5 is definitely a number where things can go wrong.

Match 9 versus WBR Aggro

Another goldfish type of opponent. He got me to 5 life, but then I Desired for 9. Game 2, despite him coming out with a Molten Rain, I was on 14 when I went off for 9 again. I really question why you would play these kind of decks at the moment. Isn’t Doran really hard work? Isn’t Dredge really hard work? Isn’t TEPS really hard work?

Match 10 versus Dredge

I’m on the draw, but let’s not worry about me, let’s look at what he does. Turn 1, he makes City Of Brass and casts Tireless Tribe. He discards Golgari Grave-Troll. He untaps, dredges the Grave-Troll. He lays Cephalid Coliseum. Thanks to the dredge, he has Threshold. He activates the Coliseum, and proceeds to dredge all kinds of naughtiness into his graveyard. He casts Cabal Therapy with Flashback, and makes 4 Zombie tokens thanks to all four copies of Bridge From Below. He Dread Returns a Golgari Grave-Troll, which is a 12/12. I have laid a tapped Invasion land. Ouch.

Game 2 was much more interesting. I manage to Desire for 6, where I should be safe to not fizzle, and see 3 Chromatic Stars, 2 mana accelerants, and a land. I lay all three artifacts, and sacrifice them, netting me another 3 cards. None of the cards I saw that final turn were Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor, Tendrils Of Agony, or Mind’s Desire. I wondered what the chances were of that happening. Now these calculations are extremely rough, but when I started the turn I was looking for 8 cards out of 50. That’s not far off 1 in 6. So each additional card I see will have a roughly 83% chance of not being what I want. In reality, as I continue to see more ‘bad’ cards, my chances of seeing those ‘good’ eight ones increases slightly, but we’re only looking for approximate information. In total I saw 10 cards unsuccessfully. The chances of that are approximately:

.83 x .83 x .83 x .83 x .83 x .83 x .83 x .83 x .83 x .83

Which, as you’re doubtless bursting to know, is 0.15516041187205853449. That’s 15% to you and me. That probably means the actual figure, factoring in the slight increase in our chances each turn, is roundabout 12-13 %. In other words, what felt like an extremely unlikely loss actually has a failure rate of around 1 in 7 to 1 in 8. You are of course quite at liberty to say that you don’t care about this, but people have a nasty habit of talking in generalities: ‘It can’t fail. It never loses to Dredge. It’s a guaranteed bye against Aggro.’ That kind of thing. Knowing your deck’s failure rate is essential, especially with a deck like this.

Ten matches, and a 6-4 record. Not especially impressive. Does that mean you shouldn’t play TEPS at your next PTQ? Not necessarily. Consider this:

England has had one PTQ this season. It was won by TEPS, piloted by a man called Matt Light who started the day with a Constructed ranking roundabout 1630. He went 4-1-1 in the Swiss. In the quarterfinal he faced Goblins, and simply was one turn too quick for them. In the semis he faced Dredge, but the Dredge deck malfunctioned at critical moments, and Matt was able to go off turn 4 both games. In the final he faced perennial PT Qualifier veteran Stefano Gattolin, playing Domain Zoo. Stefano did everything he possibly could to eke out the win. He Vindicated land, he hit with Boros Swiftblade plus Tribal Flames for 17 damage on turn 3. In game 2 Matt avoided death by effectively giving himself an extra turn thanks to Orim’s Chant, and Matt went off without a hitch twice to win his first slot at a Pro Tour.

I don’t pretend to know when it will be, but sometime this qualifier season there will be another window, where, if you’re prepared, you can monster your way through a field that have forgotten all about the deck that Raphael Levy called the best deck he ever played. Whatever you choose to play in Extended, good luck.

Until next week, as ever, thanks for reading.