So Many Insane Plays – Winning With TPS

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Monday, September 1st – The Perfect Storm, or TPS, is perhaps the most powerful deck in the current Vintage format. Stephen Menendian concludes his three-part primer series on the deck, taking us through the important matchups and sharing sideboarding strategies. With the most important matchup in the metagame being the TPS mirror, no serious Vintage player can afford to miss this!

VI. Matchups and Sideboarding

The TPS mainboard is fairly inflexible for a Vintage deck. There is a minimum requirement of 16-17 Blue spells to support the on-demand use of Force of Will. You need at least 28 mana sources to pack in enough lands (12) and mana acceleration (10 restricted artifact accelerants and 6 Dark Ritual effects) to support your bombs. The remaining spells, which are Black or artifact, are automatic inclusions for power reasons. They are either broken or they are essential tutors. Any mainboard adjustments have to take place within the confines of those limits. For example, someone may opt to play a second Tendrils over the Tinker into Darksteel Colossus Plan B. In that case, you cut Mana Vault for a third Cabal Ritual, Tinker for another Blue spell (perhaps Fact or Fiction), and Darksteel Colossus for another Tendrils.

Because the mainboard is so inflexible, most of your metagame tweaks will be in the sideboard. The only maindeck evidence of those tweaks will be the dual land that reveals your splashed third color.

Although some will take issue with it, the evidence is convincing that TPS is the best deck in Vintage. Make no mistake, people will be gunning for you. The key to success will be anticipating how the metagame will adjust (and it will adjust, but only slowly) to TPS success. Your sideboard plans must continually evolve. But before you can build a sideboard, you need to understand the matchups.

A. The Perfect Storm

Let’s start with the most important matchup in Vintage, the TPS mirror. Aside from the restrictions, the primary reason that TPS is a better choice than faster Pitch Long or even faster Grim Long combo is because it is more interactive. By running both Duress and Force of Will, you are able to stop your opponent from going off while you are building resources, which you then use to win the game. It can stop Grim Long just long enough to win first.

That approach, of being both the Beatdown and the Control role, is really the key to the TPS mirror. In Mike Flores classic Magic article “Who’s the Beatdown?” he asserted that the key to winning in Magic was proper role assignment. In any given match a deck will either be the control deck or the aggressor (the beatdown), according to his now-classic formula, “misassignment of role = game loss.” In a follow-up article (Who’s The Beatdown II? , an article that I can no longer find on the internet), Zvi Mowshowitz built upon the precepts that Mike Flores laid down and concluded that the very best decks actually seize both roles, depriving their opponent of an optimal role. In the TPS mirror, you want to do precisely that.

You want to be looking for hands that have Force of Will or Duress. That is not to say that I would mulligan hands that don’t have these cards, but these are your interactive tools. They will help you slow your opponent down and protect your deck’s engines. I would and do keep hands that only have these cards in the TPS mirror. For example:

Polluted Delta
Underground Sea
Mox Jet
Dark Ritual
Force of Will
Chain of Vapor

Not only would I keep that hand, I would be excited to draw it!

Almost every card in your deck is playable off this hand. While there is a chance that your first couple of draws are mana, you have the tools to survive the early game.

To get a good sense of the ebb and flow of the match, I would suggest that you read Round 8 of my Vintage Championship Report, my match against Paul Mastriano.

There will be plenty of opportunities in the course of a TPS mirror match to make mistakes. Don’t. That is, by far, your best strategy for winning the TPS mirror.

Despite the thousands of Vintage printings, there are no silver bullet card strategies you can employ to tilt the TPS mirror in your favor. All of the silver bullets would hurt you as much as your opponent unless you devoted space to a transformational sideboard plan. The typical cards that you might consider using in the TPS mirror all come with their own drawbacks: additional Misdirections, Thoughtseizes, Mind Twists, Hymn to Tourachs, Pyroblasts, and even Dark Confidants.

There are radical changes that can be made for a TPS mirror that might be best suited for a TPS heavy metagame, such as a White splash, using Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author] in the maindeck and another in the sideboard, to support Orim’s Chants. Let your opponent announce a Mind’s Desire, and then respond with Orim’s Chant. They then put Yawgmoth’s Will on the stack. “Chant You.” Or, play Chant and then go off with your own combo cards. I have been down that road before and found Chant ineffective. Others, like Eric Becker, have found it effective. The reason I thought Orim’s Chant was not particularly useful was because of pure mana constraints. Unlike Duress, which can be played on a different turn than “Dark Ritual, Necropotence,” and still protect the latter, Orim’s Chant has to be played on the same turn. In a deck with only 12 lands, that means that a lot of the time you’ll need 3 or more lands in play to actually have Orim’s Chant be useful in shielding your spells.

Packing additional Thoughtseize or even Misdirection into the sideboard can help as well, but soon the costs will outweigh the benefits. To sideboard more than a couple of cards in the mirror, you will start cutting cards that are actually objectively better than anything else from the maindeck and eat up sideboard space in the process.

Typically, for the mirror match, I sideboard in a Tormod’s Crypt or two, and that’s about it. One of the points that I emphasized in Section II of this article series is that the deck’s engines do not exist in isolation from each other, but are often strung together, made stronger by their mutual interaction. While most of the engines interact, or have the potential to interact, the primary interaction running through all of them is Yawgmoth’s Will. That’s because almost all of the engines have a feedback loop running into Yawgmoth’s Will. Even in the midst of these other, powerful engines, Yawgmoth’s Will remains, all too often, the most efficient path to a lethal Tendrils.


From that diagram, it should be obvious why I think Tormod’s Crypt is so effective. Tormod’s Crypt is like a Duress on Yawgmoth’s Will. As I said, the reason that all of the deck’s major engines feedback through Yawgmoth’s Will is because it is the most efficient route to lethal Tendrils. Thus, a player who resolves Necropotence will aim for a Yawgmoth’s Will to generate the storm and mana needed to pull off a lethal Tendrils. Having a Tormod’s Crypt on the table doesn’t stop your opponent from winning, but it does slow them down. All of the quickest routes to lethal Tendrils are cut off by this simple play. Similarly, Duress doesn’t stop an opponent from winning, but it slows them down. What’s more, all of the tutors in the deck become less productive and useful, from Gifts Ungiven on down.

Although Tommy Kolowith, the person who rediscovered TPS post-June 20, liked both Mind Twist and Hymn to Tourach, I would not recommend them. Mind Twist is the superior choice, and it is a great card for the control match. However, the problem with Mind Twist in the TPS mirror is that it is worse than Thoughtseize. The efficiency and pin-point precision of Thoughtseize gives it the edge. Running a Mind Twist out there is a big risk. It could not only miss the most relevant card, opening the door to an opponent’s topdeck, but it is critically slower than Thoughtseize. Thoughtseize can strike on turn 1, give you critical information, and then allows you to resolve your bomb or plan the rest of the game.

Although additional Thoughtseize, Bitter Ordeal, or even a suite of Orim’s Chants have the potential to be useful in the TPS mirror, for my money, I prefer just Tormod’s Crypt. My suggested sideboard plan for the mirror is to sideboard out the 12th land (usually the dual land), for a Tormod’s Crypt, and that’s about it. I am not saying that you should follow my lead, but you should consider my reasoning. However, if TPS comprises an ever larger portion of the metagame, than a different sideboard plan should be pursued.

In my view, TPS will remain a critical match for the TPS pilot, but not one that deserves a great deal of sideboard attention. Simply put, the marginal benefits aren’t worth the costs. Every additional sideboard slot does not produce a correlate gain for the mirror. This because the high power level of the maindeck means that the luck of the draws and the skills of the pilot will be far more important than finding ways to cram in more sideboard cards. Your sideboard space, in my view, is best left for other matchups. Your best chances for success in the mirror are to focus on playing well in the mirror and understanding its dynamics by practicing it. I can guarantee you that if you make fewer play mistakes than your opponent that you will win the mirror match.

B. Control Slaver/Strategic Slaver

Control Slaver is one of the preeminent Mana Drain decks in the format. It is certainly the most successful. To be a successful TPS player, you will have to win this matchup time and time again. To understand this matchup, you must first approach it from the perspective of your opponent. They will come at the matchup with the expectation that they are a game 1 underdog, but favored post-board. They will see themselves as positioned to win game 1 roughly 40% of the time, but win games 2 and 3 60% of the time. According to this logic, they see the matchup as roughly even. They might be right.

The reason game 1 is so favorable is that Control Slaver, unlike other Mana Drain decks, has fewer relevant ways to interact. This is a structural defect to Slaver, and the reason that it will never have a favorable game 1 against TPS, no matter the tweaks or adjustments. Where other control decks would run Duress, Control Slaver runs Goblin Welder and expensive artifacts. Goblin Welder is a trivial non-threat in this matchup. Where other control decks might play cards like Misdirection or other draw, Control Slaver will draw large, expensive artifacts. To make matters worse, splashing for Duress strains Slaver’s manabase, as it will want both Red and Black in the early game. This is not necessarily a problem in this matchup, but a design flaw when facing the anti-Yawgmoth’s Will decks I described last article. More fundamentally, the Dark Ritual decks generally beat the Mana Drain decks. This is because, for the most part, the decks are symmetrical except that the Ritual decks are faster and more powerful. They run Duress instead of Drain, and they have bigger and more powerful bombs. Force of Will is more powerful on offense than defense. It is more powerful when it is used to protect Necropotence than when it is used to stop Necropotence.

In order for Slaver to win game 1, it will need a particularly robust opener. Slaver is capable of winning very quickly. Slaver’s utilization of Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker is anything but minimal. It runs a full complement of artifact acceleration. As a result, Slaver is capable of quite explosive starts. However, if Slaver sits into the control role or has an average start, the only resistance you will likely encounter is Mana Drain and Force of Will. Playing through those cards is not difficult, particularly when you run a full complement of Duress and Force of Wills yourself. One of their potentially strongest tools for game 1 is Sundering Titan. A well-timed Titan can blow out your mana and leave you helpless as the Slaver pilot assumes control over the game. Slaver also has a maindeck Tormod’s Crypt, which it can and will use to buy some time.

Post-board, the Slaver pilot will most likely sideboard in Sphere of Resistances or Thorn of Amethyst, and probably a Trinisphere as well. This is almost a guarantee. Beyond those cards, there are a host of other cards Slaver players might bring in. Slaver players in the past have sometimes brought in Arcane Laboratory as well. However, I think it is less likely that you’ll face an Arcane Lab than a Sphere. Other cards you might face: Duress, Extirpate, Red Elemental Blast, additional Tormod’s Crypts, Sower of Temptation/Control Magic, and even Strip Mine and Wastelands. I’m sure there are others besides. The most terrifying, but under-utilized, is Pyrostatic Pillar.

There are many potential counter-tactical sideboard plans. The initial TPS lists ran Phyrexian Negator. The idea behind this sideboard tactic was the recognition that Slaver pilots would bring in a lot of hate to slow the storm combo, which would inadvertently slow the Slaver deck as well, and make Dark Ritual into Negator a game-ending play. Negator tramples, so Goblin Welder’s will provide futile resistance to this beatstick. So long as TPS can stop Slaver from winning first with Duress and Force, Negators can go all the way. I don’t consider this to be a bad plan, but I don’t think it’s optimal either.

A second option is to run Tarmogoyf over Negator for the same purpose and same effect. Tarmogoyf is not quite as fast as Negator, but it is more efficient. It is also much more resistant to Spheres and Thorns because it can be played more easily through either.

A third option is to bring in Mind Twists. Mind Twists can be used early to hit a couple of cards (maybe even lands) or later to wipe out your opponent’s hand. Since Mind Twist can be played off Dark Rituals, you can render your opponent’s hand empty early on.

A fourth route, and my preferred route, is to simply focus on your main board strategy of resolving a major storm engine. Although this plays into the Slaver pilot’s plan of using Thorn and Spheres, if you bring in an additional Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild, you should have little trouble fighting through them. If isn’t a given that they will find or resolve a Sphere. In the meantime, it will be business as usual. If a Thorn or Sphere hits, you can develop your mana base using your basic lands and then continue to needle at your opponent and whittle away at them with Duress effects until you can bounce their Spheres and explode all over the table.

As I explained earlier, Slaver’s weaknesses against TPS are structural and cannot be remedied. The features and card synergies that make Slaver a powerful deck happen to be the same features that make TPS a bad match. As such, Slaver will use all of its might to attack TPS from its board. The TPS player must be vigilant to pursue sideboard tactics that best respond to the evolving stratagems that Slaver players will employ. Being aware of your options is critical.

C. Ichorid/ Dredge

I have bad news, good news, and then some more bad news. The bad news is that Ichorid will win most of its game 1s against you. Ichorid only needs to find a turn 1 Bazaar of Baghdad. From there, it can kill you on its second turn. The good news is that you still can control the outcome of this match. The bad news is that it will cost you a great deal of sideboard space. Your chances of winning this match are mathematically correlated to the amount of sideboard space you devote to this match.

Ichorid is one of the most powerful decks in Vintage. It is very fast and very difficult to stop. Although TPS is a fast deck, Ichorid is about the same speed. In addition, Ichorid will use cards like Leyline of the Void, Chalice of the Void, Unmask, and Cabal Therapy to slow you down. Winning first is only sometimes an option, and probably only if you are on the play. That means that you will need to plan on finding ways to interact in this matchup. Although most decks in Vintage interact through either countermagic or mana denial, neither strategy is effective against Ichorid. Virtually the only way to interact with Ichorid is to attack its graveyard. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent cards available to do just that.

Let me first describe Game 1 in more detail. Winning the die roll is quite important in this match. Generally, Ichorid will be able to deal 20 damage on either turn 2 or turn 3, with a high frequency of turn 2 kills. Being on the play will mean the difference between having one additional turn to win first or being overrun by an army of Zombie tokens led into battle by Flame-Kin Zealot.

Your two strongest tools are Tinker and Timetwister. Either play on turn 1, going first, is your best chance for victory at three mana. Tinker can summon Darksteel Colossus to the table. Although they can still win before the Iron Giant can get in a second attack, you at least have a realistic chance to win the game. They will need a turn 2 kill to stop you. Timetwister is particularly devastating for a number of reasons. The Ichorid pilot will have used their Serum Powders and paris mulligans to find Bazaar of Baghdad. If you can Timetwister them into a new hand on turn 1, there is a good chance that it will not have the needed Bazaar. Without a Bazaar on turn 1, your Ichorid opponent will likely be dead in the water, a sitting duck.

Of course, a turn 1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain or Mind’s Desire will likely result in victory as well. Necropotence can also be effective, although be aware of the fact that even if they can’t deal 20 damage on turn 1, they will likely be able to deal quite a bit with a hasty Flame-Kin Zealot, and probably enough to kill you if you have spent a chunk of your life to draw cards under Necrooptence. Unless you are on the play, Necropotence is a gambit.

Once your opponent has a turn, they can play a host of annoyances, such as Chalice of the Void, Unmask, and later Cabal Therapy. There is also a 40% chance that you will be cut off of Yawgmoth’s Will thanks to Leyline of the Void. Chalice will also make Yawgmoth’s Will an unlikely path to victory.

Game 1 is a race, a sprint to the finish. But games 2 and 3 are a war. Game 2 and 3 can best be understood as a highly interactive battle over answers.

There are a host of tools that you can use to combat Ichorid. Let me run through them, briefly.

Leyline of the Void — With a Leyline of the Void in play, Ichorid won’t do anything relevant. It prevents all dredging and graveyard recursion. In addition, it can be put into play before the game begins so that the Ichorid player can’t Unmask or Cabal Therapy it from your hand. Even if it isn’t in your opening hand, it can easily be played off Dark Ritual effects. Those are the upsides. On the downside, it is one of the easiest cards for the Ichorid player to address. Cards like Reverent Silence, Chain of Vapor, Emerald Charm, evoked Wispmare, and many other cards can easily answer a Leyline of the Void.

Yixlid Jailer — This is hands down the objectively most powerful answer to Ichorid. It completely neutralizes all of the graveyard effects, from Bridge to dredgers, rendering them inert. It doesn’t have to be in your opening hand to function and is very cheap to play. The downside to this card is that it, too, is relatively easy to answer. Almost all Ichorid pilots run sideboard Contagion, and many run maindeck Darkblast. It can also be bounced with Chain of Vapor. If the Ichorid pilot is smart, they can make sure that Darkblast is always in hand whenever Yixlid Jailer might be played.

Tormod’s CryptTormod’s Crypt is a powerful delaying tactic, buying at least one turn, and possibly more. You can force your opponent to dredge a decent amount of their deck before sacrificing the Crypt. If you wait until a Narcomoeba trigger is on the stack, you can take out quite a few threats in one fell swoop. However, if your opponent has played a turn 1 Chalice of the Void and you are on the draw, you will likely be prevented from playing this card. It is also not a silver bullet, but merely a delaying tactic. Unless it is paired with other disruption or followed up by victory, it will not be sufficient to stave off death.

Pithing Needle – Each of the cards listed so far do not prevent your opponent from using Bazaar of Baghdad to find either answer to them or the mana to play those answers. With an active Bazaar, your opponent can begin to cycle through dreck to find the solutions it needs, drawing 3 cards a turn. Pithing Needle stops your opponent from finding answers to your solutions by turning off Bazaar. A turn 1 Needle on Bazaar can prevent your opponent from doing anything since they won’t be able to discard some dredgers on turn 1 to Bazaar. However, a Needle on the draw, while buying some time by preventing your opponent from using the Bazaar on their second turn’s upkeep to dredge, will not stop them from dredging at all. When you announce Needle, they can respond by activating Bazaar and discarding Bridges and dredgers. If you don’t follow the Needle up with additional disruption, you will soon find yourself in the same predicament. Needle is best used in tandem with other answers.

ExtirpateExtirpate is similar to Tormod’s Crypt in that it buys time without serving as a silver bullet. Since it is not a permanent, your opponent’s answers will have limited use against this card. At best, they can make you discard it to Unmask or Cabal Therapy. It also combos well with Dark Rituals, Storm, and evades Chalice on zero. Again, this card is not sufficient by itself, but best used with other answers.

There are other cards that can be used to fight Ichorid from the graveyard. However, these are your primary weapons. Since any single tool has its own unique drawbacks, I prefer a constellation of answers. If you want to have a shot at winning this match, you will need a minimum of five of these cards. In my experience so far, I believe that eight is probably the number needed to maximize your chances of beating Ichorid without facing substantial diminishing returns.

By now you may have the impression that the post-board match is simply about these cards. While they are important, nothing could be further from the truth. The Ichorid pilot will be using their mana to disrupt you with Cabal Therapies and bounce spells. You will need to use your disruption, such as Duress and Force of Will, to protect your answers and slow them down. In other words, it’s a real Magic game, not a race to see who can find answers to the other player’s answers. Since discard is such a large component of the match, topdeck tutors and stable mana are two key ingredients as well. If you can develop a manabase, you can use topdeck tutors to dodge discard effects and ensure that you get an opportunity to play your answers. I also suggest that you use a different sideboard plan for game 3 than for game 2. If you are on the play, I suggest sideboarding out Force of Wills, since your blue spells are basically your weakest link. Sideboarding out Forces will allow you to also sideboard out some mediocre blue spells I the process. Also, if you are on the play, you will not be as concerned about Chalice of the Void at zero, since you can play any opening hand Moxen. In addition, Duress will come online before they begin and can help you proactively answer your opponent’s bounce and removal spells. On the draw, I would suggest sideboarding out Duresses and keeping Force of Will so that you can stop Chalice.

As I said, this is a highly interactive match. Time will be relevant. If you are in a very bad situation, and unlikely to win, consider scooping to save time. Your opponent will eat up many minutes shuffling and mulliganing with Serum Powder and otherwise. In addition, dredging will take up a lot of time. Don’t get caught with an unintentional draw that could have been avoided by scooping sooner.

One last note on Ichorid. At the end of the day, you may decide that running 5-8 sideboard cards for this matchup is not worth the space, since it is a match you might not even face. This is the Ichorid Gambit. It may work in small metagames, but I think it is too great of a risk for larger tournaments. Let me put it this way. In almost every single major tournament in the last year, there has been one Ichorid deck making Top 8. If that trend continues, there is at least a 25% chance that you’ll face the best Ichorid pilot in Top 8 of a major tournament. If it makes Top 4, then that chance goes to 50%.

If your plan is to win that tournament, not simply make Top 8, that is a gambit I do not think you can afford to make. But people will make it, and that is part of the reason that Ichorid succeeds.

D. MUD/ Workshop Aggro/ Stax

These are the decks that naturally run the cards that trump yours, rather than sideboard them. The storm mechanic is naturally trumped by cards that make everything cost more, so that fewer spells can be played in a single turn and so that mana acceleration does less. The good news is that despite recent printings, the number of cards that you care about remains limited.

The tier 1 threats are Trinisphere, Strip Mine, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst and, to a lesser extent, Chalice of the Void. Wastelands do have targets and Tangle Wire can be annoying. But Crucible, Magus of the Moon, Goblin Welder, Juggernaut, and Smokestack can generally be ignored unless a tier one threat has already hit the table.

Since so few cards really matter, your basic objective is to Duress or Force the tier 1 threat, and then ignore the remaining threats and just combo out. Your four basic lands will give you the foundation you need to ignore their other cards and then answer their threats with bounce.

Game 1 is somewhat unfavorable. The good news is that they can’t counter anything you play. If you can Force of Will or Duress their Sphere, you will have a good chance at resolving a threat. Even if you get caught under a Sphere, you will have opportunities to tutor up a Rebuild to clean up the board and play a major engine. Even if you are caught under their lock parts, you still have outs. An early Tinker for Darksteel Colossus can also be a major game-ender. Tinker can be easily tutored up.

The fundamental problem with Mishra’s Workshop decks is Rebuild and Hurkyl’s Recall. Both cards can be played with minimal mana, and they are silver bullets. The tactics that the Workshop player has to fight both cards are generally weak. Tangle Wire can make it difficult for you to execute an optimal Hurkyl’s Recall (although it has less effect on Rebuild). Red Elemental Blast may be employed, but that requires that your opponent hold up red mana and additional mana to play Red Elemental Blast under Spheres.

Once you bounce the artifacts off the table, you can then play all of your spells unimpeded. Thus, although game 1 is somewhat unfavorable, you can even the match by building a strong sideboard. Since Spheres take advantage of your light mana base and your game plan of playing multiple spells a turn, I like to sideboard in an additional land I this matchup. I also recommend bringing in at least one more bounce spell, such as Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild. Thus, the post-board match is a battle, jockeying for position to keep you locked out of the game, and you struggling to find an opening to bounce their Spheres and win the game.

Just as Tinker for Darksteel Colossus gives you a way to evade that battle entirely, I think that Tarmogoyf shines in this matchup. Since Thorns and Spheres make everything cost more, Tarmogoyf is a card that can be played very early on, even under Spheres, and deal a lot of damage very quickly. Bringing in Goyfs is not inconsistent with your Plan A of winning with Tendrils, but it can buy you time and spread their resources. If you have Goyfs, the Shop player cannot simply devote all of their energies to locking you out of the game. They must find an answer to Goyf or lose. In the meantime, you can use that tempo to build your board.

Thus, my sideboard plan for this match is roughly:

-4 Duress
– 1 Misdirection
– 1 Mox Pearl

+ 1 Hurkyl’s Recall
+ 4 Tarmogoyf
+ 1 Bayou

The best counter-tactic to both of your sideboard strategies may just be for them to load up on Sundering Titans. Titan nails your basic lands, even if you can bounce it, and is bigger than Goyf will ever be. The downside to Titan is that he is quite pricey and difficult to play.

There are other major matchups, such as Drain Tendrils, Fish, and Painter’s Servant.dec. However, I am out of time for today.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this three-part series on TPS. TPS is a great deck, it’s a lot of fun to play, and it’s a proven winner. If your goal is to accumulate as much power and win as many tournaments as you can this Vintage season, you couldn’t do better than to master TPS.

Next week, we will take a first look at the metagame breakdown, analyzing tournament data since the Vintage Apocalypse on June 20.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian