So Many Insane Plays – Psychatog in 2008

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With a plethora of choices available to the Vintage player – including fast aggro, storm combo, and tempo decks – Stephen has turned his head towards a control creation… yes, that’s right: Doctor Teeth is back! The Vintage World Champion looks at Tog in the current Vintage metagame, and runs the deck through the wringer at a local Vintage tournament.

After getting crushed by Workshop Aggro in the last tournament I played, it was time to try something radically different. I came up with what I thought might be the perfect metagame choice for an upcoming tournament.

Here’s what I drew up:

The inspiration for playing Tog came to me as I thought about the problem with Grow-a-Tog (GAT). GAT’s greatest advantage, and the whole reason for Quirion Dryad, is that you have an incredibly light manabase. Most decks in Vintage tend to curve out at around three casting cost with only a few cards that cost more. Most Mana Drain decks were built to use Mana Drain to Drain into something like Intuition or Thirst For Knowledge, and before that Fact or Fiction. In contrast, the Grow concept curves out at around two mana and has only a few cards that cost three (Yawgmoth’s Will and Cunning Wish). The difference in those mana curves allows you to run an 18-19 card manabase instead of 24-26. In order to make such a light manabase work, the Grow decks substitute mana for additional search. In the past, Grow decks ran cantrips like Sleight of Hand and Opt. Ponder is now an automatic four-of in Grow.

It is precisely these advantages – low manabase, cheap cards, and all around hyper-efficiency – that Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst punish. Gush is a great card because it is free. It’s particularly great in GAT because the drawback is turned into an advantage when all of your spells cost two. Turn 3 Gush guarantees a third turn land drop. It takes little imagination to recognize how disadvantageous it is to bounce your own lands under a Sphere. GAT is designed to operate on one-land hands, particularly when they have a Mox and Merchant Scroll or Ponder and Brainstorm. Thorn of Amethyst can lock you out quickly. Finally, GAT’s light manabase requires plenty of dual lands, making it extremely vulnerable to Magus of the Moon.

With Psychatog, I could accomplish several goals. First of all, I could retain many of the advantages of GAT except those that are now liabilities against Workshops. I can run Gush as a draw engine and as a “grow” card that is practically ludicrous with Psychatog. Second, I can run a ton of basic lands to immunize myself from Wastelands and Magus of the Moon. I settled on 4 Islands and a Swamp in addition to 6 fetchlands. Third, with so much more mana, my plan is to play one or two spells per turn, not three or four like GAT. With more mana, I can play a decompressed game rather than a concentrated one. As a consequence, I can ignore so much more, cards that for GAT are must-counter. Even with a Sphere on the table, I can Mana Drain into Intuition for Accumulated Knowledge. Every single card in Workshop Aggro is deadly for GAT. Psychatog can ignore most of the cards. I don’t have to counter Magus of the Moon, Solemn Simulacrum, Spheres, or even Juggernauts. All I have to do is get a Psychatog in play. At that point, he’ll be forced to play spells to walk into my Mana Drains which fuel my Wish tutor suite and Intuition + Accumulated Knowledge.

Psychatog as an archetype is a proven Vintage tournament winner. Carl Winter won the first Vintage Championship with Tog using a decklist I helped develop for Team Paragon. As you can see from the 2003 coverage, Carl Winter had to go through the Workshop field to do it. Psychatog has a nice advantage on Workshop decks, where GAT does not.

The main difference between Carl’s GAT and mine is that Gush was restricted when Carl Winter took home the Black Lotus painting. If we go back further, we see at the very first Waterbury, that JP Meyer lost to GAT in the finals with Psychatog.

I took my inspiration from JP Meyer list, Carl Winter list, and my own work on the archetype, including my 2005 primer (Part 1, Part 2). Reading my own articles was extremely helpful! I had forgotten most of those tidbits.

Fastbond + Gush and Intuition + AK

My first list, up until the night before the tournament, had Fastbond in it. JP Meyer list ran Fastbond, but only 3 Gushes. After some goldfishing, it became apparent that Gush’s primary use is not to combo out, but to give Tog girth. Fastbond seemed like win-more. After all, I had no Merchant Scrolls, so I couldn’t continue to find Gushes to combo out even if I had Gush + Fastbond. It seemed that I would need Intuition + AK to win, and at that point there seemed to be no need for Fastbond as I was going to win anyway.

Intuition +AK and Gush gave the deck a dual engine, but I imagined that Intuition + AK would be the deck’s primary engine. I envisioned playing AK for 3 and then being able to Gush and draw two new cards.

Although I’ve recently stated that Merchant Scroll is the best tutor engine in Vintage, and that Scroll for Ancestral is one of the best tactical bursts of card advantage in the format, Intuition + AK pretty much precludes running Scrolls. Granted, Carl Winter ran two, but I don’t think they fit well.

Cunning Wish

One of the best things about Tog is that it makes incredible use of Cunning Wish. When a Tog is in play, Cunning Wish is functionally Regrowth. You can remove Ancestral Recall or a fourth Accumulated Knowledge from game with Psychatog and Cunning Wish for it to draw a few more cards. More critically though, you build a toolbox of Wish targets. I used to think that this card would be up for restriction someday if Burning Wish was.

Former Magic world champion Tom Van de Logt used to swear that 4 Cunning Wish was the right number in Tog (he, too, was a big Vintage Tog fan). While I agreed that it probably was, I ran three. I reasoned that while Wish was amazing, the fourth Wish wasn’t worth cutting any other given card.

While I wanted to run three Wishes now, I just didn’t want to cut the Misdirection for it. I figured three might be the right number, but the cost of running two shouldn’t be match determinative. If it turns out I wanted three, I’d know in the future. After the tournament, I’d recognize that three is probably the right number.


This was also an area of intrasubjective debate between me and myself. My gut was to run 2 Shamans and 3 Togs. Rich Shay thinks Gorilla Shaman is a terrible card. I couldn’t disagree more. Shaman has qualities that go beyond its obvious use. First of all, he eats artifacts, which is one of the key decks I’m fighting. So he’s amazing against Workshop decks. He’s a great Drain sink as well. But he’s also great in Vintage in general and a perfect fit for this deck. He gets maybe 4-5 damage in so that Tog + Gush can finish the deal. Third, he controls Goblin Welders, or at least seriously interferes with their use. Fourth, he is great versus Combo, and without Duress I don’t have many tools for that match. He has even more marginal uses. For instance, in the Ichorid match he can help me buy time by removing opposing Bridges from my opponent’s graveyard. Any single reason might not be enough to run him, but when you add up all of the advantages, he’s a bargain deal. I would love to run a second, but I just couldn’t find the room.

There is basically only one reason that I ran Empty the Warrens: The GAT matchup. Tog historically and presently has a weaker GAT matchup. GAT is a turn faster on the goldfish and generally able to out-tempo you. Empty the Warrens is a huge play in that match that buys quite a bit of time. It’s also not a terrible way to win after Yawg Willing + Time Walk. Finally, it’s useful against Shops at the right time. An explosive start with ETW is basically game over.

The final and most important question was how many Togs to run. The more controlling Tog lists of 2004 and later ran 2-3. JP ran 4. I could see running either 3 or 4. Ultimately, I remember that part of my goal was to fight Workshop Aggro. Therefore, I ran 4. This decision would have been even stronger had I run more Misdirections. But my goal was to play Tog as quickly as possible. In some ways I was analogizing to GAT. With 4 Dryads and one other win condition, it seemed like the right amount. 4 Togs and an Empty and a Shaman for disruption seemed just perfect. Also, Togs were pretty good in the GAT matchup too. My Togs could block almost any Dryad at any time and survive to tell the tale.

Disruption Suite

Beyond 4 Mana Drains (the raison d’etre for this deck) and 4 Force of Wills, I wasn’t sure which route to go. Tog has traditionally always run Duress, whether 2 or 3. However, I was playing Tog for this metagame. Therefore, I ran zero. It also ran Misdirections. I had zero Misdirections in for most of the time I was working on the deck, but eventually cut something for it. I figured one wouldn’t get in the way of my Shop match that much.

Building a Sideboard

The trickiest and perhaps most important tuning question was how to build a board. It was also in this area that the last few years of printings could make the biggest difference. My article on sideboarding with Tog in 2005 was actually quite helpful. I remembered that I used to run Vampiric Tutor and Fact or Fiction, but when I read my article, it reminded me that Vampiric Tutor was actually unnecessary. It may seem odd to the casual observer that Vamp would be unnecessary or even omitted from the maindeck at all.

What I had to rediscover during the tournament and read about was that tutors really aren’t that great in this deck. This deck is highly uniform. You don’t need to tutor up Yawgmoth’s Will because by the time you are ready to play it, you’ll have already drawn it. If you’ve played AK for 3, AK for 4, and a few draw spells, you’ll have seen it. Read Adrian Sullivan Singleton Tog article if you don’t believe me. It’s just a fact — after all the Brainstorming, fetchlands, and drawing, you’ll have it. The real tutors in this deck are the Wishes and the Intuitions (that’s another reason to run three Cunning Wish).

So Fact or Fiction was in, as was Berserk. But what else?

I knew that I didn’t want to sacrifice the Ichorid matchup, so I would be running either 4 Leyline or 2-3 Jailers and 2 Pithing Needles. I’d finalize that decision once I figured out everything else I wanted to run.

The first and best card I wanted to run was Firestorm. This card is amazing in Tog. In my post-tournament testing against Trogdon, I was routinely blowing away his board of Shamans, Welders, Magi, Simulacra, and even Juggernauts/Trikes with this single card. Gush + Firestorm is game changing. This deck doesn’t have Scroll, so it’s not like you can Scroll up Fire/Ice anyway. This card was all-star.

Although I wanted to play more anti-artifact cards, by the time I cut my sideboard down to 15 cards, I only had room for Rack and Ruin (all-star), Artifact Mutation, and Oxidize. Artifact Mutation did do very well for me, but Rich Shay made a good point about Ancient Grudge over it. With Grudge, you can discard it to Tog to turn it to a Green spell if you don’t have Red mana. Still, AM’s game-swinging feature made it the choice for me. I’m not sure I’d change that decision.

I needed an all purpose bounce spell. I debated between Wipe Away and Echoing Truth and, because of the possibility of an opposing Empty the Warrens, I settled on E. Truth.

Extirpate was a big printing that seemed like it deserved a spot. Extirpate, I envisioned, could really serve me well in the GAT mirror by stripping out Gushes or Force of Wills at the right time. Also, it could counter a Mirage tutor by forcing them to shuffle their deck. The information it provides is also of value. I wanted this card.

Then Trickbind. It didn’t seem to be worth running this card unless I ran either 3 Wishes or at least two Trickbind. I did neither, but I still wanted it. I figured, even as a singleton, it could steal me a game against combo or flash. It was either that or a third Red Elemental Blast.

That left me with just two slots. In went Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast.

The sideboard seemed damn good (and was) and was pretty close to what I’d run if I had to do it all over again.

The one card that seemed most intriguing that I ultimately rejected was Pernicious Deed. I even thought about running 1 Deed main and 1 Deed in the sideboard. Deed deals with Magus and all manner of artifacts. Then I read my article and it was harsh in its criticism of Deed. I wrote that every single time I played Deed, I wished it had just been Psychatog number 4. I could easily see that. Then I thought about other drawbacks. It’s going to be hard to cast, often feeling like 5 mana against a Shop deck since I need a secondary and a tertiary color to play it. I decided against it. My sideboard was finished.

While most of my local tournaments are a Columbus establishment called the Soldiery, I rode with Nat Moes up to Sandusky to play at the Hero Zone, a very nice gaming shop that reminded me of some of the gaming stores I’d seen in Belgium. $15 entry, cash prizes, and unlimited proxy. That’s the way Vintage tournaments should be.

Round 1: Marcus Rose

He wins the die roll and elects to play. On his first turn I am stunned to see him play Glimmervoid. He follows it up with Lotus Petal. I am tempted to counter the Lotus Petal and force him to lose his land. Instead, I elect to let it resolve knowing full well that he will be constrained in what he can do with that Petal for fear of losing his land as well.

On my turn I play an Island and pass.

On his second turn he plays a Mox Jet, causing me relief for not countering his Petal. He casts Impulse. He then plays another Glimmervoid as visions of Gorilla Shaman feasting dance in my head. He plays another Impulse, sacrificing his Petal. I am trying to figure out exactly what he’s playing. I have to assume he’s playing storm combo, but I have no idea what tools he’s using exactly. I play an Underground Sea and pass the turn, wishing I had a Mana Drain.

At this point, some glaring weaknesses of Tog become evident. On the draw, Tog basically gives storm combo two unmolested turns. The only tool I have is Force of Will. Unlike GAT, which runs upward of 6 Duress effects, Tog only has Drain, which isn’t castable on a reliable basis on the Tog players second turn or the Storm players third turn. That equation changes post-board when I bring in Red Elemental Blasts, Trickbind, and the like.

On his third turn, on his mainphase, he plays Enlightened Tutor for Black Lotus. That was an odd play, until he plays Ancestral Recall. I play Force of Will pitching a Tog. On his endstep I play Mystical Tutor and debate whether to get a Force of Will or Ancestral. I get Recall. I play another Underground Sea and pass the turn, holding Intuition up.

On his fourth turn, he plays the Lotus and tries to cast Yawgmoth’s Bargain. I am forced to Intuition for 3 Force of Wills and pitch an Accumulated Knowledge in hand. He passes the turn. I play Ancestral Recall and Flooded Strand into Tropical Island. I cast Gush and play Tog.

On his fifth turn he plays Mox Sapphire and Burning Wish. I am totally exposed to a Balance right now, which would take out my Tog and most of my hand. Instead he gets Time Spiral and is forced to pass the turn. Instead, I end the game.

I attack for 1 and then play Time Walk. I play a Delta, Gush, and attack for 19 damage to kill him.

Well, Gush + Tog is a self-sustaining combo. It only took two Gushes for Tog to deal 19 damage. Extraordinary.

Game 2:

Marcus appears pensive. He eventually decides to mulligan to 6. While not visibly satisfied with his hand, he elects to keep it.

Marcus leads with Gemstone Mine this time. I’m not sure how stable it will be for him. Gemstone Mine is not the sort of land you want to lead with. He follows it up with Mox Ruby, Mox Pearl, Tormod’s Crypt, and Shield Sphere?!?

But that’s not all. He has one card left in his hand. I was expecting something, but not Timetwister. It’s worse than if he had just played Ancestral Recall right there. Not only does he get seven new cards, I am forced into a hand that could have no mana. He plays Mox Emerald, Mox Sapphire, and Mystical Tutors for Windfall.

After that dazzling whirlwind of plays, I finally get a turn. I open with Mox Pearl and Flooded Strand.

On his second turn he plays Crucible of Worlds! He taps his Mox Ruby, his Gemstone Mine, Mox Pearl and I predict the Windfall he had just tutored up. I was holding Pyroblast for it. Instead, he plays Wheel of Fortune. In response, I break my Strand for Volcanic Island and play Brainstorm, fully intending on just putting my best cards on top of my library, including the Yawgmoth’s Will I have in hand. Unexpectedly, I draw into Force of Will and counter his Wheel of Fortune pitching Psychatog. Unfortunately, I don’t have another land drop. I draw a card and pass the turn.

On his third turn I have five or six cards in hand and he plays Windfall. I Pyroblast it.

On his upkeep I play Mystical Tutor for Force of Will. Part of the reason for playing Mystical is that I want to shuffle my deck because I knew my top card. I draw the Force and pass the turn.

On his fourth turn, he plays Enlightened Tutor for Black Lotus again. On my turn, I play Brainstorm and see three fresh cards, none of which are land. I play Mox Ruby and pass the turn.

On turn 5 he plays Black Lotus and breaks his Tormod’s Crypt. I play Time Walk and he hard casts Force of Will! I cannot predict any play by this guy!

I could Force his Force, but I smell a trap. If I take my turn and Brainstorm, there is a good chance that he’ll untap and just play a game ending spell. He knew that I tutored for Force, so he knows that I have it. He might be trying to draw it out here.

On his sixth turn he plays Candelabra of Tawnos! More intrigue.

I untap and play Brainstorm and finally find a second land. I play Polluted Delta.

As if things couldn’t get any stranger, on his seventh turn he taps out all of his mana, replays his Gemstone Mine, taps it and casts Kaervek’s Torch for 7. He leaves his Mox Pearl open, which I audibly wonder about. I was at 19 life, and I gladly suck up 7 points of life even though I could counter his burn spell. I play Island and pass.

On turn 8, he plays Sol Ring. On his endstep, I break Delta for Underground Sea and hardcast Gush. And then I find it.


I untap and beam. I tap my Mox Ruby and play Shaman. I tap to eat one of his Moxen and plays Swords to Plowshares. That explains the open Mox Pearl. He has no cards in hand. I debate for a moment, but decide to Mana Drain it. I move to my second mainphase and use the mana to eat his Sol Ring.

At this point, the game wraps up. In the next turn I eat most of his board and lock him out. He manages to play two more Shield Spheres, but every time they block they get smaller. On turn eleven, he tries to Crop Rotation into a stable land, but I counter that. I Intuition for Black Lotus and other mana so that my Yawgmoth’s Will is ridiculously game ending. I play Time Walk and Empty the Warrens for about 22 Goblins.

Game, set, and match.

Round 2: Paul Kim with Plat Oath

I am looking forward to this matchup. Although I know that Paul is playing Oath with Platinum Angel and Pact of Negation, I also know that he’s using AK as a draw engine. My guess is that he is unfamiliar with the AK mirror. Although I haven’t tested it in some time, I am familiar with the intricacies of it. I am excited as the prospect of playing AK for 6 or 7.

Once again, I lose the die roll. I am steamed about that.

On his first turn, Paul lets it all out. He plays Black Lotus and casts AK for 1. He then plays Forbidden Orchard and casts Oath of Druids. How unfair. I know that I’m probably toast this game.

I play Island and cast Brainstorm. I don’t see anything useful, not even an AK.
On his second turn, he Oaths up Platinum Angel. He plays Duress and sees my double Tog, double Mox hand as well as a Mana Drain and a land. I hid Empty the Warrens on top. He takes the Mana Drain, as I hoped. My plan is to deal lethal damage with ETW and hope that I can bounce the Angel before he can find countermagic. It’s a long shot plan, but it’s a plan.

I play three Mox and cast Empty the Warrens.

On his third turn, he stacks Oath and plays Brainstorms, then Oath resolves and he has a second Angel on the table. He attacks me for 4. I return the favor and swing in with Gobbos.

On his fourth turn, he swings me down to 7. I topdecked C. Wish. On his endstep I play Cunning Wish. It resolves. I peek into my board and debate between Rack and Ruin and Echoing Truth. I can’t think of a reason to play one over the other. I go for Rack and Ruin.

I untap and do not draw a counterspell. I think about going for it now, but if I do, he might be able to just Krosan Rec it back into his deck. So I wait until his upkeep. He doesn’t Oath so I cast Rack and Ruin. He Force of Wills it.

As we scoop up I see more Forces in his hand. Ugh.

Game 2:

This game was even more frustrating than the first.

I play Volcanic Island and pass. It seems that most of my turns are just land, go.

He leads with Mox Jet, Duress. He takes one of my two Gushes. My hands are just incongruous to the situation before me in these games. He plays Mox Sapphire, Mox Pearl, and Strip Mine! He plays Time Walk!

He untaps and plays Accumulated Knowledge for 1. He Strip Mine’s my Volc. My hand has another Volcanic Island and a Tropical Island. He plays AK for 2. Why can’t I draw an AK?

I am holding a Red Elemental Blast, so I play the Volcanic Island. Big mistake. He Wastelands my Volc.

I play my Trop and cast Brainstorm. No more land. He plays draw, go.

On my fourth turn, I do the same. On my endstep, he plays Brainstorm and then Fetches a Tropical Island. He plays Accumulated Knowledge for 3 on his turn. I play Force of Will pitching Gush. He plays Oath of Druids. Now the race to find Orchard is on.

I desperately play another Brainstorm on turn 5. Still no land. It’s over now. He plays AK for 4 on his turn. I Force of Will pitching Drain, but he protects it this time. He finds the Orchard and Duresses me. The way is clear. I can’t win, so I scoop.

Round 3: Geoffrey Moes with Ichorid

I was not looking forward to this match. This deck has a lot less cantrippage and Intuition can’t find either Needle or Jailer (perhaps I should do something about that).

For the third time today, I lose the die roll.

He opens the game with Leyline of the Void. Annoying.

Unsurprisingly, on his first turn he opens with Bazaar and turns it sideways, discarding Ichorid, Stinkweek Imp, and Bridge From Below. I’m going to get mauled. On my turn I play Tropical Island, Mox Emerald, and Accumulated Knowledge.

On turn 2, he dredges the Imp, then dredges another, and then sees Golgari-Grave Troll and dredges that on his draw step. His Ichorid attacks me. He plays a land, Dakmor Salvage. Odd, I thought. He flashes back Cabal Therapy naming Brainstorm. I’m holding Force of Will and he misses. I play an Island.

On his third turn, he begins to dredge about 18 cards and rather than go through this and to save time, I scoop.

I sideboard out two Drains and two Togs. I can’t remember if I sideboarding anything else.

Game 2:

My opening hand has nothing of use against him, yet. But it’s pretty explosive, so I keep it in the hopes of finding an answer quickly.

I open with Black Lotus, Mox Emerald, Accumulated Knowledge, and play Brainstorm. I play Polluted Delta and break it for Underground Sea. I play Demonic Tutor for Yixlid Jailer.

On his first turn, he opens with Black Lotus, Bayou, and casts Imperial Seal!

On my second turn, I cast Accumulated Knowledge for 2, play Flooded Strand and pass the turn. I don’t want to risk playing my Jailer into Contagion or Darkblast here. I need to wait until I can protect it. If he isn’t going to apply pressure, there is no hurry. On his second turn, he plays Bazaar and discards Troll, Leyline, and Imp. I break my Strand for a Volc at this point. He actually plays his Stinkweed Imp.

Okay, now the time has come. On my third turn, I play Island, Jailer. He plays Darkblast on my endstep. Fortunately, I Force of Will it. He can do nothing on his turn.

On turn 4, I play Pithing Needle naming Bazaar to stop him from dredging. He attacks me for 1. On his endstep, I play Intuition for AK 3, A. Recall, Mystical Tutor. Mystical Tutor would give me Yawgmoth’s Will. He gives me Accumulated Knowledge.

I play AK for 3. I think about attacking him with Jailer, but the risk that he has Emerald Charm is too great. I hold back.

He attacks me with Stinkweed Imp again. I draw dead for the next few turns, holding countermagic. However, I attack with Jailer on turn 6.

On turn 7, I draw Extirpate and Extirpate his Darkblast. I see his hand which is: Emerald Charm! Bridge From Below, Ichorid, Troll, Stinkweed Imp, and Bazaar. He could have killed my Jailer last turn. Whoops. He realizes this. I also realize I should never have been attacking.

On turn 8 I play Tog. He blocks with Imp and plays another Imp. I have another Tog. He blocks with Imp. I attack him down with Jailer until he’s dead.

Game 3:

He opens with Bayou, Putrid Imp. I open with Island, Pithing Needle. I am astonished when he does not respond by jettisoning his hand. I name Putrid Imp and the flow of death is plugged.

I play Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, and Black Lotus too. My hand is double Force of Will and Mana Drain.

On his turn, he plays Dakmor Salvage. He attacks me for 1. My second turn is draw, go.

He plays Black Lotus. After a moment’s consideration, I Mana Drain it. I don’t want him dredging. He plays Nether Shadow. I Force of Will that. I play Underground Sea and pass.

On his fourth turn, he attacks me for 2. I just draw a card and pass.

Our fifth turns are the same.

At the end of his sixth turn, I play Intuition for AKs. I play Accumulated Knowledge for 3 and a Polluted Delta.

Then he plays Bazaar and I’m wondering if I’ve made some horrible mistake. On my seven turn I Brainstorm, play another Delta into Volcanic Island, play Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm again. From there I manage to find Time Walk. Whew!

I play Time Walk, Intuition for Demonic Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and AK 4. I AK for 4 and it’s all over. Yawgmoth’s Will enables me to replay the Black Lotus and all of the other bombs I’ve played so far. I play Psychatog and Time Walk again. On my Time Walk turn, I Cunning Wish for Berserk and win the game!

Round 4: Mark Trodgon with Workshop Aggro

At last! My rematch!

Mark got me pretty good last time. Now it was time to return the favor.

For the fourth time today I lost the die roll. I wasn’t fazed. My hand was incredible.

He opened the game with Mox Sapphire, Sol Ring, Sphere of Resistance. I thought about it. If I was on the play, I wouldn’t care. But I have two Moxen in hand. I decide to play Force of Will pitching (I believe) Intuition. Mark plays a Wasteland and passes the turn.

I play Mox Sapphire, Mox Ruby, and Flooded Strand.

On his second turn, he plays Mishra’s Factory. He taps his mana to play Solemn Simulacrum. I play Mana Drain. Unfortunately, I do not topdeck a Wish or another Intuition. I burn four mana on my turn after playing a Polluted Delta.

On his third turn, he plays another Solemn Simulacrum and gets a Mountain to go with it. This time it resolves. On my turn, I play Demonic Tutor and Swamp. I have Yawgmoth’s Will in hand. I have no idea what to get with DT. From what transpires, I think that I get Intuition to fuel my Will.

He stymies my plans. On his fourth turn, he plays Thorn of Amethyst. I respond by breaking the Delta for an Island and cast Intuition. It slowly dawns on me that my Yawgmoth’s Will is going to be quite limited with Thorn on the table. As I try to run through the math, it looks more and more frustrating. I am taking up way too much time, so I just get Cunning Wish, Black Lotus, and Ancestral Recall. He gives me the Wish. And then he attacks with Factory and Simulacrum.

And then he plays Sphere of Resistance. Ugh. He plays Sword of Fire and Ice. Now I’m in trouble. I can still tap my five mana and Wish on his endstep for Rack and Ruin.

On his sixth turn, he goes to equip his Simulacrum. I respond with Rack and Ruin on the Solemn and on his 2Sphere. He equips the Factory and sends me to three life. Suddenly, I’m wondering if I made the right hits.

I’m forced to go for it. I play Yawgmoth’s Will which costs 4. I replay my Lotus and all I can do is Rack and Ruin the Sword of Fire and Ice and his Thorn. Now I’m out from under the artifact pressure, but still close to death, staring at my Ancestral Recall in the graveyard I wish I could play. I don’t have any mana to do anything else, so I just pass the turn.

He plays Mana Vault, Solemn Simulacrum, and Goblin Welder and attacks me to 1 life with Factory. Ugh.

I’m sure I botched this game six ways to Sunday. I’m just not sure what I should have done. I could have just DT’ed for Ancestral Recall to set up my Yawgmoth’s Will as more of a Regrowth. I was so confident in my ability to win this game that I didn’t realize how problematic a Sphere would be.

We had plenty of time left for me to win two more games. I sideboarded in Artifact Mutation, Rack and Ruin, and two Pithing Needles. I left Oxidize and Firestorm in my board as Wish targets.

And we begin.

Game 2:

I open with Mox Ruby, Mox Emerald, and Underground Sea. He immediately Wastelands my Sea.

On turn 2, I play Polluted Delta and pass the turn. My hand is gas. He plays Mishra’s Workshop and Sphere of Resistance and then burns one life.

I am holding Artifact Mutation. But do I use it now or wait?

This is a classic instance of pattern recognition coming into play, rightly or wrongly, for good or ill. In Round 2 at SCG Chicago, I had the opportunity to Artifact Mutation a Sphere of Resistance, but elected not to in order to nail something bigger.

In game 3 of the crucial match, I’m sitting on both Force of Will and Artifact Mutation with a Sphere in play.

Basically, how it went down (for those of you who don’t want or don’t care about clicking the link) is this. I played turn 1 Ruby, Fetchland into Trop to play Tarmogoyf with Ancestral Recall and no more lands in hand. He played Mishra’s Workshop and then Sphere of Resistance (and burned for one). On my second turn, I played Ancestral Recall and drew into another land. I played the Fetchland, attacked, and passed the turn. My hand now has Artifact Mutation and Force of Will. On his second turn, he plays Mountain and a second Sphere of Resistance. I let it resolve, locking me out of Artifact Mutation. If I had Force of Willed the second one, I could have untapped and Artifact Mutated the first one. My Goyf would have been huge and I would have annihilated him. By the end of the game, I got him to 6 life before he killed my Goyf with Duplicant. If I had two more power on the table for all those turns, I would have won the game much more quickly and I would have been able to develop my game plan without Spheres slowing me down. By not Forcing the second Sphere I was forever locked out from being able to play Artifact Mutation.

Never again.

I Mutated Mark’s Sphere on his endstep.

On my third turn, I attacked for 2 and passed the turn back. It didn’t bother me that he just played Mishra’s Factory and a Solemn Simulacrum. I Force of Willed the Solemn, pitching Intuition. On his endstep, I played the other Intuition I was holding for Accumulated Knowledges.

On my fourth turn, I played AK for 3 and attacked him again. He played a Mountain, and Sword of Fire and Ice, and Mox Jet. I drew the other main card I sideboarded in. Watch.

On my fifth turn, I played an Underground Sea. Mark played Sphere of Resistance. On his endstep, I Rack and Ruined both the Sphere and SOFI.

I played a Volcanic Island on turn 6. He played Thorn, but I didn’t much care at this point. On his endstep, I played Brainstorm, Brainstorm, and Gush.

I played an Island. On his endstep, I tried to play Mystical Tutor, but he Pyroblasted it.

The Factory and my tokens were in a standoff. I couldn’t attack him, but he couldn’t attack me. Those two tokens bought me so much tempo.

On turn 8 I played Mox Emerald and a Delta. He played Wasteland.

On turn 10, I played Mox Sapphire. Finally, he attacked with his Factory into my men. I don’t know why I blocked, but then he played Magus of the Moon, which I should have seen coming.

It made little difference, for on turn 11 I played Tog with a Swamp or a Mox Jet, I’m not sure which. He managed to play some blockers, but I was able to Berserk my Tog with spare damage to boot.

Game 3:

Now the real test would begin. On the draw, I’d have to beat Mark post board. If I could do that, I could say that my metagame test was a success. A lot was on the line.

Mark opened with Mox Sapphire, Mishra’s Workshop, Sphere of Resistance. My opening hand was incredible. I have Mox Sapphire and two Mana Drains. I really didn’t want to see a turn 1 Sphere, but it was predictable at this point. Why couldn’t I just win the die roll at the beginning of these matches so I could play game 3 on the play?

I debate but end up Force of Willing his Sphere, pitching a Mana Drain. On my first turn I play Mox Sapphire and Polluted Delta. I’m holding Mana Drain, Intuition, Time Walk, and feeling pretty good about the game. Then just after I pass the turn, time is called. I am miffed. Mark just decides to play no more spells for the rest of the game. I can’t actually steal a turn with Time Walk, as I’m to take turns 1, 3, and 5. If I had Fastbond, I might have been able to combo out, but probably not even then. We end up drawing.

Round 5: Nat Moes with Belcher

This match is for Top 8. Unfortunately, Belcher is a very messy matchup. I have no Duress. And most critically, I lose the die roll, again.

Nat has written an excellent tournament report here.

Here’s my account.

Game 1:

Nat begins with Taiga, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Tinder Wall. He plays Rite of Flame and casts Memory Jar. My opening hand is also very explosive, including Yawgmoth’s Will and plenty of acceleration.

I open with Mox Emerald, Mox Sapphire, and play Brainstorm. I play Mana Crypt, Volcanic Island, and pass the turn. I Brainstormed on top some cards I could afford to lose.

On his upkeep, he breaks the Jar. He draws a card on his draw step. Then he plays Lotus Petal, another Tinder Wall, and casts Goblin Charbelcher. I have momentary relief. He’s two short from killing me! That means I’ll be able to untap and casts Yawgmoth’s Will and hopefully find Cunning Wish and stop his Belcher before he can kill me.

Unfortunately, he also has Simian Spirit Guide and Elvish Spirit Guide and killed me. Ouch.

Well, at least I’ll be on the play game 2. Man, there are few disadvantages you could have than lose every single die roll.

Game 2:

I won’t try to describe how much I enjoyed playing turn 1 Volcanic Island, Gorilla Shaman. On his turn, Nat shuffled, struggled, and hesitated and then finally settled on Lotus Petal for Tinder Wall.

I sat there and thought. I imagined myself in Nat’s position. None of his artifact mana is stable with Shaman on the table. His best route to victory is to reach storm and play Empty the Warrens. I could see him sacrifice the Tinder Wall for a Rite of Flame and then remove an ESG or a SSG, and a horde of Goblins join the table.

It’s too dangerous. I play Force of Will pitching Intuition. Nat passed the turn.

On turn 2 I played Polluted Delta and attacked with Shaman. Nat removed an Elvish Spirit Guide and played Mox Sapphire to cast Living Wish. Now I know that Nat is desperate. I know that I’ve got him where I want him. I break my Delta for Underground Sea and cast Mana Drain.

On turn 3 I play Flooded Strand. I used the Mana Drain mana to play Intuition for Accumulated Knowledges and attacked him. He did nothing.

On turn 4, I attacked, played Mox Pearl, AK for 3, Ancestral Recall and an Island. He played nothing and passed.

On turn 5, I played Flooded Strand and attack. Once again, he played nothing and passed. I broke my Strand and played Tog.

On turn 7 I played Accumulated Knowledge for 4, a Mox Sapphire, a Mox Jet, land, and another Tog. Nat went to play Mox Ruby, Rite of Flame, and I didn’t bother countering. Nothing he could do would matter.

He played Chrome Mox, imprinting Wheel of Fortune. He played Empty the Warrens, which was answered with Trickbind.

On turn 8 I Berserked my Tog.

Game 3:

I’m happy with my opening hand. Nat isn’t. He cycles two Street Wraiths and passes the turn. I begin with Underground Sea, Mana Crypt, Time Walk. I lose the coin flip on my upkeep, but I play Brainstorm and Mox Sapphire, Island, and Demonic Tutor for Ancestral Recall

On turn 2, he removes a Simian Spirit Guide and plays Goblin Welder. One of the last times I faced Nat, I severely underestimated Welder and it cost me the game when he dropped Lion’s Eye Diamond. When playing GAT, you have to Scroll for Fire/Ice immediately. Welder is deadly in Belcher.

I have no easy way to deal with Welder, but I am speedy in terms of development. I just need to stay ahead tempo wise and counter any relevant mana development. On his endstep I played Mystical Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will. I play Ancestral Recall. I have Mana Drain in hand and can hold up Mana Drain so that I can play Yawgmoth’s Will next turn.

For some reason, inexplicable to me, I decide instead to play Psychatog and forget to play a Flooded Strand. This is a classic example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I was going to Yawgmoth’s Will next turn replaying Ancestral Recall and Time Walk, among other spells. And yet, for some reason, I decided not to leave Mana Drain mana up. Worse, I played a Tog. It makes no sense. Worse still, I didn’t even play a land.

Nat plays Land Grant on turn 3, revealing Tinder Wall, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Pyroblast, Empty the Warrens, Sol Ring, and Goblin Charbelcher, and I know I’ve lost. He found a Taiga, played Tinder Wall, Sol Ring, and played and sacrificed Lion’s Eye Diamond, Welding in the Belcher and blowing its nasty stench all over me.

Why I blew it I can’t even guess. Maybe I don’t like Mana Draining into Yawgmoth’s Will. My board state was Mana Crypt, Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire, Island, and Underground Sea. If I had played the Flooded Strand I would have had another land on the table too. What possible reason did I have for playing Tog instead of just holding Drain up? Did I think that my Yawgmoth’s Will would have been more effective with less mana and a Tog on the table? It’s hard to say.

One thing can be said. For whatever reason, as much as I love Tog, I have never been able to make it through a tournament without making an unacceptable number of simple errors and blunders. I love Tog and think it’s a great deck, but I have little faith in my ability to execute properly. It’s particularly sad because it’s a deck I’m so completely familiar with and have a great deal of experience piloting.

So, I’m left outside of the Top 8, forced to stare from the outside in, wishing that I had been able to compete. I think I would have fared very well in that Workshop heavy Top 8.

After the swiss had concluded, Mark Trogdon and I sat down to play a set of games of his Aggro Workshop decklist versus my Tog list. After 10 games, I had taken 7. Tog indeed seemed to have a favorable matchup against these decks, just as I had imagined.

Final Analysis

Although it was a small sample size, I felt like Tog was definitely outmoded in at least one respect. First of all, I don’t think that Intuition/AK is really fast enough for Vintage anymore. It requires too many spots and too many things to go in alignment to pull off. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t work, but it’s not entirely optimal.

I started wondering: what if I cut Intuition/AK? I thought about cutting AKs for Deep Analysis, but the Scroll engine seemed to have more synergy. I could compensate by boost my Wishes as a Mana Drain sink. I definitely felt like I made a mistake in not running more Wishes. The ability to Wish for an answer is not just a great tempo play, but it is basically a game winning play.

If I cut Intuition + AK, I can make room for the Scroll engine. If I do that, then I’ll almost assuredly want the full blown Gush engine as well, so I’ll need to find room for the fourth Gush and Fastbond. I would probably also cut the Trickbind for a third Red Elemental Blast.

If I were to play Tog again in tournament, here’s what I’d play:

Tog is a great metagame choice. I think this deck has the ability to compete with everything, but is probably weakest against Storm Combo (just win the die roll!). On the other hand, and this is something I was well aware of, it has been some time since Storm Combo has faced 4 Mana Drain decks. In this era of heavy Duress and tempo games, I am willing to bet that many combo players will make mistakes that will hand you games simply because of inexperience against decks like this. They have turned and practiced against decks that are very different from this. You’ll be playing against their pattern recognition skills.

I also think that this deck has the potential to be one of the top decks in Vintage. I could imagine a few other changes being made. You could try Regrowth, but running Regrowth would require that you probably add another Trop, which means you probably need to cut the basic Swamp. I would also seriously entertain the idea of a Fire/Ice maindeck, perhaps over the 4th Tog.

This deck does what I wanted it to do, it’s just too bad that I can’t seem to pilot it without blundering. I offer this up as a choice for the unrepentant Drain pilot who wants something competitive in this metagame, or for someone who wants to play something a little more controlling than the usual fare. It’s a great deck and a good choice.

Until next time!

Stephen Menendian