So Many Insane Plays – Playing The Perfect Storm

Read Stephen Menendian every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Monday, August 25th – Last week, Stephen brought us the first part of a Vintage Perfect Storm primer. Today, he continues that fine work with a continued look at available tutors, important mana considerations, and the merits of playing a second Tendrils of Agony…

Last week, I published the first part of a primer for Vintage TPS (“The Perfect Storm”). Working backwards, I began by setting out the deck’s two paths to victory, Tendrils of Agony and Darksteel Colossus. I then explored how the deck’s major ‘engines’ helped move the deck into the end-game (Part II). Next, I described how the decks’ disruption suite is used simultaneously to cut through an opposing defense and defend TPS from an offensive attack (Part III). Finally, I took a moment to illustrate the use of many of the deck’s major tutors. (Part IV).

IV. Tutors continued

As I said last week, tutors are the deck’s connective tissue. They bridge the deck’s major engines to its grand finale of a massive Yawgmoth’s Will or, more directly, a lethal Tendrils of Agony. From that vantage point, your tutor target will be self-evident. However, deciding to what to find with an early- game tutor is not as easily intuited or logically deduced.

Grim Tutor, Merchant Scroll, Tinker, and Gifts Ungiven were analyzed, in turn, last week. Because of the particular roles that Grim Tutor and Tinker play in the deck, it is easier to talk with specificity about how and when to use them. The other spell-tutors, Demonic Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Imperial Seal, and Vampiric Tutor, are more difficult to teach with the same degree of specificity since they do so much.

Navigating the hazy seas that prelude the execution of one of the deck’s major engines (see Part II) is the essence of TPS’s early game. It is here that playing with Tutors is most challenging. The end-game, and very often the middle game, will not be within sight. Let me be your compass as you navigate through these choppy waters.

Demonic Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Imperial Seal, and Vampiric Tutor

The most fruitful way to conceptualize the use of these tutors is “set up.” “Set up” means positioning yourself to pull off one or more of the deck’s major engines (again, see Part II). Each of the engines requires a different set up because of the particular mana or storm requirements. In addition, each engine will require differing degrees of protection to ensure that it successfully resolves. For example, because Yawgmoth’s Bargain is twice as expensive Necropotence, it is typically played later in the game. Consequently, one can expect that an opponent will put up greater resistance to a Yawgmoth’s Bargain than Necropotence.

‘Set up,’ therefore, means one of three things as it relates to potential tutor targets. First, it can mean finding protection to resolve one of your major engines. This could be as simple as a Duress or as complicated as a bait spell. Second, it can mean finding mana to play one of your major engines. Third, it can mean fetching a major engine directly. Let me show you what I mean.

Example 1:

Suppose your hand is:

Polluted Delta
Imperial Seal
Dark Ritual
Dark Ritual
Mana Crypt

This hand has plenty of mana, but no protection or engine card. Of the major engines, Mind’s Desire stands out as a potential tutor target here. It has built in counterspell protection thanks to the storm mechanic and should be easily played.

Your plan, given this hand, is:

Turn 1: Swamp, Imperial Seal for Mind’s Desire

Turn 2: Polluted Delta/Island

Turn 3: Island/Polluted Delta. Tap Swamp for Dark Ritual. If it resolves, play another Dark Ritual. Then Mana Crypt. Finally, play Mind’s Desire for 4. It is possible that you will have seen additional spells that you can play for free to up the storm count since then. If so, play those as well.

Example 2:

Suppose your opening hand is:

Underground Sea
Mox Pearl
Yawgmoth’s Bargain
Vampiric Tutor
Force of Will

You already have a major engine in hand, and the Force of Will to protect it. I would consider playing Vampiric Tutor on your opponent’s endstep for Black Lotus so that you may cast turn 2 Yawgmoth’s Bargain.

Example 3:

Underground Sea
Polluted Delta
Mox Ruby
Black Lotus
Yawgmoth’s Bargain
Mystical Tutor
Gifts Ungiven

I think the proper line of play here, all things equal, is to Mystical Tutor on turn 1 for Force of Will and then play turn 2 Bargain with Force of Will backup.

Although game states with TPS can become quite complicated, if you think about tutors as ‘set up’ cards for the deck’s major engines (in terms of mana, protection, and an engine itself), it will help provide clarity to your thinking. Keep your focus on resolving one of the deck’s major engines and your thoughts about what to tutor up should simplify.

I will show one final illustration.

Example 4:

Polluted Delta
Lotus Petal
Vampiric Tutor
Yawgmoth’s Will
Mana Crypt

This hand is complicated and can be played any number of ways. Suppose that your turn 1 play is Delta into Sea, Mana Crypt, Tinker, and that your opponent counters your Tinker with Force of Will.

From here, you should be thinking about your remaining resources and what engine you can execute. You already have Yawgmoth’s Will in hand. What you are missing is the mana to play it. Assuming that your opponent has now burned through their available countermagic, I would play Vampiric Tutor on your second turn’s upkeep for Black Lotus. From there, you can play Petal, Black Lotus, and Yawgmoth’s Will. You can then replay all of the mana you’ve played in the game so far, including Polluted Delta.

From there you should have little trouble winning.

Tutoring for Ancestral Recall

So far, I’ve described the use of the deck’s major spell-tutors as “engine set-up.” Although this is true, it is also true that Ancestral Recall is a very common tutor target. Ancestral Recall is not mana or protection, nor is it a major engine. So why would it be a common tutor target, and something you should consider tutoring up? The reason is that Ancestral Recall is all of those things. Ancestral Recall is one of the most efficient bursts of early game resources you can play. It will draw you into more cards that you can use to resolve one of your major engines. Your opponent will try to stop it and will thus expend the same resources that you invest in finding it and protecting it. Since most, if not all, of your major engines potentially feedback into a penultimate Yawgmoth’s Will, having Ancestral Recall in your graveyard is a great boon for the end-game.

Even if Ancestral does not find you the card to pull off a major engine, it will draw you closer to doing so, and give you the resources that matter so that when you finally play one, it is more likely to resolve and lead to victory.

V. The Mana

We began with the win conditions and have worked backward to the mana. TPS has the best spells in Vintage. Once those spells resolve, it is lights-out for most of the competition. Decks that want to stop TPS from winning can either try to stop its spells or try to stop it from playing spells.

It is the manabase where TPS and other storm decks are most vulnerable and where TPS will come under heavy attack. Vintage decks can be lumped into two camps. The first camp is those decks which use and abuse Yawgmoth’s Will. The second camp is those that do not. For the most part, those decks that do not use Yawgmoth’s Will play a whole subset of cards that attack Yawgmoth’s Will, directly or indirectly. These decks include Ichorid, Fish, and Workshop decks. For example, Ichorid runs Chalice of the Void not simply as a tempo booster, but also because of its effectiveness at cutting off Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will. Much of the boost from Yawgmoth’s Will comes from being able to replay spells like Black Lotus. Null Rod, in Fish decks, serves a similar role. Likewise, cards like Thorn of Amethyst and Sphere of Resistance are also anti-Yawg Will cards, in that Yawg Will gains its power from being able to replay a bunch of spells in a single turn. Spheres make Yawgmoth’s Will much less efficient, and much less deadly.

With this in mind, the TPS manabase has been designed to provide the utmost stability and resilience, whatever the cost. After Black Lotus and the four Dark Rituals, the four most important mana-producing cards in the deck are the two Swamps and two Islands. Going below four basic lands is a mistake. It could pay off in any given tournament, but the more basic lands, the better your chances for developing a stable mana supply in the face of what will almost certainly be the most common line of attack.

Basic lands won’t stop a Null Rod from shutting off your Moxen, nor will it allow you to play a Mox through Chalice of the Void. However, it will provide you with the stability to respond and play through those situations. In general, those cards are used in tandem with Wasteland and Strip Mine. Together, they will prevent you from being able to develop a manabase. The Null Rod, Spheres, and Chalices are used to prevent the explosive artifact acceleration from coming online, while Wastelands are intended to keep you from being able to develop the mana to bounce those annoyances.

Basic lands allow you to play under a Sphere or a Null Rod with some measure of stability. From them, you can cast tutors which can find bounce spells. In addition, they give you the stability to buy time to draw more cards and find more answers. The way TPS is built at the moment, it is remarkably immune to Chalice of the Void and Null Rod. Both faster combo decks, such as Pitch Long and Grim Long, and slower Mana Drain decks, like Control Slaver, are much more vulnerable to a well-timed Null Rod or a Chalice of the Void. This is because TPS relies on Dark Rituals, which are so effective at making an end-run around Null Rod. Cabal Rituals can also be used to win through Spheres. With Threshold, a Cabal Ritual under a Sphere of Resistance costs 3 mana, but produces 5. You can use this mana to tutor up a bounce spell or play a threat.

When playing TPS and developing your mana, you need to be aware of both your needs, immediate and longer-term, and potential vulnerabilities. Fetching a Underground Sea on turn 1 instead of a Swamp could mean the difference between losing and winning a match. It is not simply what you find either, but timing matters too. Walking into a turn 1 Stifle can also mean the difference between winning and losing a match. Although Strip Mine is restricted, it is nonetheless a card to consider when deciding what to do. Using a fetchland on turn 1 when you have no intention of playing a spell on your first turn can open yourself to being Strip Mined on turn 1. Although it is improbable in any given situation, it will happen in the long run. I can attest to walking into Strip Mines time and again throughout the years. Just remember, if you are the likely victor unless your opponent has a Strip Mine, why give them even one ‘out’ in their 60 card deck?

One of the questions that was asked in the forums last week was whether I should run Tolarian Academy. The answer is ‘yes.’ In the abstract, Tolarian belongs in this deck. It is immensely powerful and facilitates cards like Mind’s Desire. On the other hand, I would not cut a basic land to run it. I think the best place for Tolarian is in the Bayou spot. If you do not want to run a Green splash, or feel comfortable running that splash on a single sideboard Bayou, then I would encourage you to play a Tolarian in that spot. It will enhance many matchups, particularly the important mirror match. If you choose to run Red for Empty the Warrens in the sideboard, it should be easier to get away with only one Volcanic Island in the sideboard.

Addendum: One Tendrils or Two?

In the forums last week, community denizens were curious about the merits of running a second Tendrils. Running a second Tendrils serves a number of purposes. First of all, it provides additional resilience in case one of your Tendrils is removed from game or discarded. Second, it allows you to have another Tendrils available if you are within a Memory Jar and a Tendrils is face down. Third, two Tendrils can be paired together at storm 4 and 5 for a seat-of-the-pants victory. Fourth, having another Tendrils increases your chances of finding it or find it sooner with Necro or Bargain. The additional life gain can make it easier to win the game and reduce the work/stress of trying to combo out.

However, running additional Tendrils also has drawbacks. First of all, Tendrils of Agony is not a card you would like to see in most opening hands Second, Tendrils of Agony is not a strong topdeck. The opportunity cost of a second Tendrils is high. Third, many of the cards that would make one Tendrils less useful would also render a second Tendrils unhelpful. In those situations, an alternative win condition is preferable. I like Tinker and Darksteel Colossus.

In my view, the advantages of running a second Tendrils, which are real, are not significant enough. First of all, Darksteel Colossus is an automatic inclusion, in my opinion. Before the second Gush era, Tendrils and Darksteel Colossus were the most powerful win conditions in Vintage, and they remain so today. A threat to one win condition (such as Trickbind or Wipe Away) usually is ineffective at addressing the other. This is why they are so powerful together. There has never been a situation in which I could not actually win because a Tendrils was face down thanks to Jar. In those situations I either play the Tendrils before activating Jar, or I am able to set up an absurd dominance over the game state (say, with Desire or Bargain followed by Time Walk), and then untap and use the Tendrils, or just win with Tinker for Darksteel Colossus. Finally, the resilience that comes from having a second win condition period, such as not losing to Hide/Seek or Extract, is certainly present when you have Darksteel Colossus. Having a second Tendrils would be nice, but unnecessary.

Next week I will discuss the merits of various color splashes (including Red or White over Green), matchups and sideboarding.

Until then…

Stephen Menendian