So Many Insane Plays – A Vintage Primer: Grim Long Returns!

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Monday, June 23rd – With the controversial Vintage restrictions now in place, it’s time to examine the face of an altogether new metagame. Vintage World Champion Stephen Menendian believes that Grim Long is primed for a triumphant return. The deck is packed with all the broken goodies the format has to offer… will it have the strength to shape the format in the months to come?

[Author’s note: I am waiting for the final tournament results to filter in before I file my May-June20 metagame report. Expect that article next week]

Break out the champagne bottles, it’s time to uncork combo! It’s been in the cellar for the last year, quietly fermenting into a monstrous brew. Gifts is Gone. Gush is gone. Most importantly, Merchant Scroll is gone. Grim Long is here to stay.

Understanding Grim Long

Grim Long is the fastest and most powerful deck in Vintage once again. It wins by stringing ten spells together and casting Tendrils of Agony. Grim Long is a compilation of Vintage’s greatest hits, the deck that features the most broken cards ever printed. It is also the fastest deck in Vintage, with a goldfish speed that hovers somewhere between 25% and 33% of the time on turn 1, if not higher.

Aside from the restricted list, there are two cards that Grim Long hangs its hat on: Dark Ritual as a consistent mana engine and Grim Tutor as the deck’s tutor engine. Grim Tutor is now the format’s best unrestricted tutor (followed by Intuition), and Dark Ritual is one of the best unrestricted mana sources.

Grim Long is a deck that wins by throwing bomb after bomb onto the table until one of them sticks. Fortunately, with the restriction of Brainstorm, your Blue opponents are less likely to be able to stop you with their countermagic. You’ll be able to throw threats out there faster than they can answer them. Most importantly, your Duresses will nab all manner of answers, and no Brainstorm can hide their Mana Drain for them.

I’m The Biggest Bomb That You’ve Seen Thus Far

The most important two cards in this deck are probably Yawgmoth’s Will and Black Lotus. The “Long” concept is essentially a recognition that the best way (read: most efficient) to fuel a lethal Tendrils of Agony is Yawgmoth’s Will. Long decks have been built around a subset of unrestricted tutors that can find Yawgmoth’s Will in the first turn turns, initially Burning Wish (which was restricted), then Death Wish, and later Grim Tutor with the legalization of Portal in Vintage as a superior Death Wish.

Quite simply, the deck tries to achieve a critical mass of mana which it can then use to play Yawgmoth’s Will, and it then replays all of the same mana – and the tutor which it used to find Will – to find Tendrils and play it. In terms of mana requirements, you essentially need seven mana to combo out to play Grim Tutor, Yawgmoth’s Will, replay the Rituals, Grim Tutor, and Tendrils. If you have a Black Lotus or a Lion’s Eye Diamond, the mana requirements are even leaner.

Necropotence is the second big bomb that Grim Long can throw down. A turn 1 Dark Ritual, Necropotence should be able to fuel a fun-filled second turn that wins the game. You should draw no less than eight cards immediately, and should consider going up to eleven. Your basic post-Necropotence game plan is to accelerate into Yawgmoth’s Will. You’ll be turning your tutors into Yawgmoth’s Will and then replaying your graveyard to fuel a Tendrils. If Yawgmoth’s Will is out of the question because of a Leyline or a Tormod’s Crypt, you’ll want to try to set up a Desire or perhaps a direct chain of tutors or Draw7s to Tendrils.

Yawgmoth’s Bargain is perhaps the single most powerful card in terms of its translation from resolution to game win. Turn 1 Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Mox, Yawgmoth’s Bargain should enable a turn 1 win on most days. Don’t draw yourself too low, but draw until you have a sense of whether you may be able to go off now or next turn. A Bargain with anything more than ten life is going to put you in great shape. Unlike Necropotence, which most often needs Yawgmoth’s Will to follow it up, Bargain can help you set up anything, and is fine for just playing spells and casting a lethal Tendrils.

Mind’s Desire is the ultimate trump, but it requires a bit of set up. What makes Desire so ridiculous is not just the fact that it’s uncounterable (basically) because of storm, but that all of the spells revealed are free. It’s possible to pull off a turn 3 Desire with two Seas and another Black mana source so that you can pay for the rest of the Desire with Ritual mana. Although this will be the plan against some control decks, more likely you can pull of a large Desire with a Black Lotus (often tutored up) or Tolarian Academy. The trick, more often than not, will be to see if they let your Black Lotus resolve. Most often they will unless they smell a Desire, so play it cool. A Desire for five or more should be lethal. You only need one or two nice bombs to show up, and this is a deck stacked with bombs. A Desire for four is a riskier proposition, but I think you still have about a 50% chance of hitting something very good and leveraging the card advantage into a victory. It’s possible that a larger Desire can whiff, but unlikely.

Post-Desire, the quickest route to victory, once again, will be to tutor up Yawgmoth’s Will, which will allow you to replay all of your mana and then Tutor up the Tendrils and play it. Of course, if your Desire flips over a Tendrils, you just have to generate enough storm to be able to play it. Of course, things are rarely simple with Grim Long. Imagine you just spent all of your mana to cast Desire and you see these cards:

Bloodstained Mire
Cabal Ritual
Mox Emerald

That is not necessarily an atypical sort of Desire in terms of the mix of mana to spells. Now, assume that you don’t have threshold yet, you haven’t made your land drop this turn, and that you don’t think your opponent has any countermagic. What do you do?

This is one of the areas where playing Grim Long gets tricky. Ordering your plays in the wrong way can lead to a game loss here. You need to see how all of the parts fit together in terms of your mid-term and ultimate objectives. Your mid-term objective is to have a successful Jar. It may be tempting to Duress now, but the proper play is to Tinker for Memory Jar, activate it, and then Duress. Once you have cleared out your opponent’s hand of Force of Wills, you can then Cabal Ritual (now with Threshold) and try to go off. Also, it would be a mistake, although an easy one to make, to simply play the Bloodstained Mire before Tinkering. This play is a mistake because there is a chance that you’ll see a Tolarian Academy in your Jar, which would help you play more spells.

If you are new to Grim Long, you will make plenty of mistakes like the ones I just outlined. But the more you play it, the more powerful you will become with it.

How to Use Draw7s — a Mini-Primer

One of the key points of differentiations between Grim Long and many other Storm Combo decks is draw7s. Draw7s are a gamble. Slower, more methodical Combo decks typically do not like to rely on Draw7s, except for the safer ones like Timetwister, Tinker for Memory Jar, and Time Spiral. Those decks like to buy lots of time and set up a very late game Draw7 after the pilot has already cycled through a bunch of their deck playing a bunch of land and moxen. That way the Draw7 is very likely to be lethal. These decks never want to pass the turn after giving their opponent a new hand.

Grim Long is very different. It uses Draw7s aggressive and as many efficient ones as it can run. In the ideal Draw7 scenario, you will resolve a turn 1 Draw7. Imagine this hand:

Polluted Delta
Underground Sea
Mana Crypt
Mox Emerald
Simian Spirit Guide
Wheel of Fortune
Merchant Scroll

This sort of hand is what I’m talking about. Play your mana and throw a Draw7 out there. If it gets countered, next turn you can untap and Scroll up Ancestral. If your Draw7 resolves, you have just force mulliganed your opponent and gained very substantial card advantage.

Draw7s are basically the first threat you want to throw out there. They are an early burst of card advantage, they are most effective on turn 1, and they are essentially must-counter. If your opponent counters your Draw7, they will be less likely to stop your next threats.

Draw7s may appear to be these risky things, but in reality they have subtle applications. Understanding them is probably the biggest obstacle to using them properly. In the early game, they can be viewed more of as a souped-up Ancestral Recall in that they are simply card advantage generators. But in the late game, they serve a very different role. In the late game, they are more akin to tutors. Once you have a board established, a full graveyard, your Draw7s are actually used and should be used for a much narrower purpose. You want to pull off a Draw7 as essentially a Gifts Ungiven that tutors for a handful of cards. First, you want a Duress or Thoughtseize so you can clear your opponent’s countermagic. You may also need another bomb so that you can bait your opponent if they have more than one counterspell available. Second, you want a tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will or an equivalent bomb to resolve, such as Desire or Necro.

Just remember, early game Draw7s are Ancestral Recall and late game Draw7s are Gifts Ungiven.

Each of the Draw7s has its own subtle application that players should be aware of. I will go through each Draw7 and discuss minor differences that are relevant to game play.

Windfall is, overall, the weakest Draw7, but that should not lead you to believe that it is automatically a card that you cut when sideboarding. Windfall has the potential to be one of the most dramatic Draw7s, particularly against Workshop decks. When you sideboard in Hurkyl’s Recalls and Rebuilds, Windfall is one of the best follow up plays to bouncing your opponent’s board. You will draw as many cards as they discard, which could be upward of ten or more. Also, Windfall is often a powerful follow up to drawing a bunch of cards with Bargain. When you are playing against a deck that has no countermagic, a Windfall after drawing 12 cards will see a bunch of new spells. Because Windfall is based upon the number of cards in hand, when there is a choice between turn 1 Windfall or another threat, Windfall is almost always the correct play as its value will drop in subsequent turns.

Wheel of Fortune
Wheel is the all-weather, pure Draw7. The only “trick” with Wheel is ensuring that you have the mana to cast it. In general, you need to be conscientious about getting a Badlands into play before Wheel shows up. You don’t want to draw Wheel and then realize you can’t cast it. Even if you do make that mistake, there is a good chance that you’ll have access to another Red mana source with Simian Spirit Guide or an artifact of appropriate hue.

Timetwister is a great turn 1 Draw7 as it leaves your opponent with no graveyard to play with. It’s also highly disruptive and a weapon against a deck like Ichorid. This is your go-to Draw7 against Ichorid. Timetwister is also a go-to Draw7 if your Yawg Will has been countered. Don’t scoop if your Yawgmoth’s Will and Tendrils are in the graveyard. Timetwister is still an out.

Tinker and Memory Jar
Tinker and Jar are a package, but they also work independently. Two Dark Rituals can fuel a turn 1 Jar. Tinker can also be used to find Black Lotus if you are holding Yawgmoth’s Will. That is a key Tinker target. The use of Memory Jar can be a little tricky. Timing is crucial. My preference when I am tight on mana is to pass the turn and break the Jar in my upkeep so that my draw for the turn will be within the Jar, so to speak. If you think your opponent could bounce the Jar, you will need to think about trying to go off immediately.

Jar is one of the safest Draw7s since it does not leave your opponent with a new hand. The restriction of Brainstorm makes it even less risky. The other key with Jar is that it functions well with other Draw7s. You can Tinker for Jar and then Wheel of Fortune before breaking the Jar. If your Wheel turns up garbage or just mana, you can play the mana and then break the Jar. A Windfall within a Jar is going to be great because of your opponent’s large hand.

Special Ed: How To Use Tutors Effectively

As you no doubt understand by now, this deck is a Yawgmoth’s Will deck. Tendrils decks in Vintage are really just Yawgmoth’s Will decks as Yawg Will is the most efficient way to generate ten storm and the mana to find and play Tendrils. Of course, this deck banks on Yawg Will pretty hard, but there are still plenty of other ways to “get there,” even if most of those also rely on Yawg Will, some more than others. Although the standard Tutor target is Yawg Will, it is far from the only card you will tutor up. Although this list is not exhaustive, here are other typical tutor targets:

Ancestral Recall
Black Lotus
Wheel of Fortune
Mind’s Desire

The one tutor that requires the most early commitment is Imperial Seal, since it’s pretty much a turn 1 play. If you have very little to go on, I would think about getting Ancestral Recall. One of the upsides of Grim Tutor over its predecessors Burning Wish and Death Wish is that you can get Ancestral Recall. Imagine this opening hand:

Underground Sea
Bloodstained Mire
Mox Emerald
Simian Spirit Guide
Wheel of Fortune
Grim Tutor

In its broad strokes, that is not an atypical hand. Let’s say you know you are facing a control deck and you play turn 1 Duress, taking their Mana Drain. Then, on turn 2 you play Wheel of Fortune and they Force it. On turn 3, your best bet, believe it or not, may be just to Grim Tutor for something simple like Ancestral Recall. Of course, if you drew a Dark Ritual, I would consider Necro instead, but you may not have that luxury. Grim Tutor for Ancestral is not a terrible play in the right circumstances.

I’ve also Grim Tutored for Necropotence before, and for Draw7s many times. Imperial Seal and especially Vampiric Tutor for Black Lotus is very often a great play. Getting Lotus into your yard as quickly as possible is a huge boon when you eventually play Yawg Will.

Coping With Loss, Grieving Over Brainstorm

From the surface, the restriction of Brainstorm seems to have done great harm to Grim Long and similar Long variants. After all, as the DCI accurately pointed out, Brainstorm was often able to dig for restricted cards, and no deck has more restricted cards than Grim Long. After a great deal of testing, I discovered that the loss of Brainstorm is not much of a loss at all. These decks operate on light land bases that sit at the foundation of a very heavy manabase (11 lands with 30 mana sources!). Brainstorm would seem to be critical to mana consistency and spell consistency. As it turns out, this is not really true. The manabase has been honed to perfection by literally years of testing. The mana is surprisingly smooth.

In fact, I now believe that the loss of Brainstorm will help this deck against the rest of the field. Brainstorm was such a powerful turn 1 play that it actually slowed this deck down, consuming your first turn with Brainstorm rather than an explosive Draw7 or a Duress.

The deck that I believe is ruined by the loss of Brainstorm is not Grim Long, but Pitch Long. Pitch Long was a Long variant that relied on Force of Will and Misdirections to force the same bombs onto the table, cards like Tinker and Timetwister. The restriction of Brainstorm has robbed Pitch Long not only of its consistency, but of its Blue spell base that it may use to support pitch countermagic. Attempts to abuse Pact of Negation or shoehorn it into a similar role will fail because this deck does not win at a single moment like Flash does. Key cards to force into play are often cards that require another turn to abuse, such as Necropotence. The best unrestricted disruption spells for combo are now Duress and Thoughtseize, two cards that Grim Long is best suited to utilize.

The Mana

The most striking change from essentially every iteration of Long that I have endorsed since 2003 is the abandonment of the five color manabase. Essentially since the original Long.dec, I have endorsed this land configuration: 8 five-color lands, 2 Underground Seas, and 1 Tolarian Academy. That’s because the core of the deck has remained essentially unchanged except for the restriction of Lion’s Eye Diamond and Burning Wish. Original Long.dec relied on the five-color lands because Burning Wish and Xantid Swarms required early Green and Red, in addition to turn 1 Duress and Brainstorm. I kept that manabase primarily to support Xantid Swarm and Regrowth.

Regrowth is amazing in Grim Long. Since there are so many tutors, finding early Ancestral or other huge bombs is quite easy. Regrowth allows you to quickly and efficiently replay them.

The printing of Thoughtseize gives us additional Duressees, which in general, are just better than Xantid Swarms, particularly when so many other decks are now using Duresses and since Brainstorm is gone Duress gains value. With these additional Duress effects, there is no reason to run Green except for Regrowth.

Although I don’t mind using a five-color manabase, there are obvious advantages to running fetchlands. First of all, when you sideboard, you can sideboard in more basic lands and find them with Fetchlands. Second, Fetchlands can sit in play and give you some mana stability against Wastelands until you need to use your mana. Finally, five-color lands are unwieldy, cause a lot of damage, and unless you know exactly how to utilize them, life will be lived on the razor’s edge.

Quite simply: this manabase causes essentially none of the headache of the five-color manabase and brings 95% of the benefits. Since the only splash needs are Wheel, it really isn’t that hard to ensure that you get it, especially with Simian Spirit Guide.

That brings me to that last note on the manabase. The printing of Simian Spirit Guide helps a lot. It replaces Elvish Spirit Guide as the final additional mana sources that help fuel turn 1 Draw7s (Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister, Windfall, Tinker, and Memory Jar). Simian Spirit Guide also shores up the Red, just in case you can’t find that Badlands in time. Finally, the Red is a lot easier to splash now that Brainstorm is restricted. With 4 Brainstorms, the demands for turn 1 Brainstorm are extremely high. A turn 1 Badlands is not a bad play now, whereas it might have been before.

This is the first time in the history of Long (aside from Pitch Long) that I think that a non-five-color manabase makes a lot of sense. Although I miss Regrowth greatly, Empty the Warrens is not at terrible addition.

If you have never played with Lion’s Eye Diamond before, you are in for a treat. Lion’s Eye Diamond is not far from a functional Black Lotus in this deck. You can break it in response to Draw7s, Mind’s Desire, Grim Tutor or other Tutors, and especially with Yawgmoth’s Will. If you have LED in your opening hand, it’s a good sign that you’re going to win the game.

For those of you wedded to the old ways, like myself, here is how I would substitute the five-color manabase in. I would play these lands:

1 Tolarian Academy
2 Underground Sea
4 City of Brass
3 Gemstone Mine
1 Forbidden Orchard

Then I would cut the Empty the Warrens for Regrowth.



9Sphere decks like Mono-Red Workshop Aggro or MUD, or even 4+Sphere decks like Stax, are not good matchups for you. It’s not that they are unwinnable, it’s just that their tactics inherently trumps yours. You play a deck that wants to generate ten storm in one turn. Spheres and Chalice stop that for the same reason they did to Grow decks. That said, I have built a solid plan for winning the match.

First of all, game 1 is going to be very difficult. But if you win the die roll, there is a non-trivial chance you’ll win on turn 1. Alternatively, there is a non-trivial chance that you can pull off an Empty the Warrens for some decent amount. Finally, even if your opponent has early Sphere, there is a non-trivial chance you can tutor up the Chain of Vapor and try to go off. If you add up those possibilities, you are reaching a high enough number that you have a decent chance of winning game 1.

Post board, here is what you do:

– 3 Duress
– 3 Thoughtseize
– 2 other cards (Maybe Merchant Scroll and Grim Tutor?)

+ 3 Island
+ 1 Swamp
+ 2 Hurkyl’s Recall
+ 2 Rebuild

Although I haven’t quite worked out exactly what to sideboard out, I have figured out a plan that I am very comfortable with.

Every time I think about it, I want to kick myself. Multiple times piloting Grim Long I lost to a Workshop deck in Top 8. At SCG Chicago in 2005, I lost to 5c Stax in the Top 4. At SCG Rochester in May 2006, I lost to 5cStax in the Top 4. In both instances, my plan was the same.

+ 2 Hurkyl’s Recalls (one maindeck)
+ 2 Elvish Spirit Guides (two maindeck)

It was a flawed plan. I would be able to craft hands with Hurkyl’s Recalls and ESGs, but end up with no lands. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me, perhaps because of sideboard space constraints, but if I had even just brought in a few more land, I think my chances of winning would have risen.

Later, against Jeremy Seroogy in that other SCG Top 4, I brought in 4 Forces on top of that and never drew any threats in the game 3 in which he mulliganed to five! Ugh! The perils of oversideboarding! The bottom line is this: With Grow I finally figured out what I feel is the optimal Stax plan: lands and bounce, period. No tricks, no frills, just do it. With 6 Duresses, you have plenty of obvious sideboard openings.

The goal is simple: just wait until you can bounce all of their stuff, untap, and win. It is important to note that I have included a sufficient number of bounce spells that I should be able to draw at least one. Be careful about going to three bounce. The Chain of Vapor needs to stay in the maindeck in case they run something like In The Eye of Chaos or Aven Mindcensor.


I haven’t quite figured out the right way to address this matchup, which can be quite dangerous, especially if they are manaless Ichorid and run Leylines and Chalices maindeck. Although my initial impulse was to go with Leylines, I think that the combination of Extirpates and Tormod’s Crypts should buy you enough time to win first, even through Chalice. It’s pretty much a race and they will be terrified to face you.


Although Duress 7 and 8 may seem like the most sensible choice, Pyroblasts have a number of other advantages, including the fact that they diversify your interactive spell base and can hit cards like Meddling Mage or Phid (if that ever matters). I would sideboard out something like the Scroll and the Empty the Warrens for the two Pyroblasts. Depending on the matchup, Extirpate or Crypt may be good against Drains as well. But don’t over-sideboard.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Grim Long is a great deck for experiencing the fast side of Vintage without having to play hyperlinear decks like Flash. You get to experience the joy of playing with Vintage’s most broken cards.

Although I think Grim Long is an excellent choice for the new Vintage, it is a choice that I would be cautious about making in the immediate term. Right now, Workshop decks are about 25% of Top 8s because of the Gush metagame. As that metagame filters out and as the Control Slaver metagame filters in, Workshops will subside to their historic levels of around 12-15% of Top 8s and the broader metagame. That’s when Grim Long will be most potent. 9Sphere is not a good matchup for Grim Long, especially if you have to face it in the Top 8. But you should be licking your chops to play against Drain decks. Grim Long will be a better deck two months from now, and better still beyond that. That said, it is a deck that can still do quite well and will do quite well. Better get on board now.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian

Further Reading on Long.dec

If you would like to read more about Grim Long and its predecessors, here are the links to articles in my archive pertaining to Long variants. Even though the original Long.dec and Death Long lists are different in critical respects, the general flow of play and tips and tactics remain the same in most cases.

1) Introduction To Original Long.dec, Sept. 25, 2003

2) Long.dec versus Control Matchup Analysis, Oct. 1, 2003

3) Long.dec versus Workshop Decks Matchup Analysis, Oct. 17, 2003

4) DeathLong Introduction, Oct 1, 2004

5) How to Play DeathLong, Oct 7. 2004

6) Sideboarding with DeathLong, Oct. 18, 2004

7) Grim Long FAQ and SCG Top 4 Report, Nov. 11, 2005

8) SCG Richmond Grim Long Top 8 Report, March 29, 2006

9) Three Grim Long Puzzles, April 13, 2006

10) SCG Rochester Grim Long Top 4 Report, June 16, 2006

11) The Art of Playing Grim Long, July 26, 2006

12) Grim Long versus Meandeck Gifts Feb. 19, 2007