The Case For MeanDeath

Why play a deck that just dies to Trinisphere and Null Rod? Why play a deck with land and consistency issues? Why play a deck that can randomly crap out on you? Why play a deck that is trying to compensate for having two cards restricted out from under it? I think I’ve got it figured out and the answer is nearly as impressive as its Long.dec cousin.

Late July, on AIM:

Smmenen: Carl

Smmenen: wassup

CrazyCarlWinter: nm

Smmenen: have you decided what you are going to play at gencon?

Smmenen: i’m playing longdeath

CrazyCarlWinter: don’t play long

CrazyCarlWinter: play something good :

Why play a deck that just dies to Trinisphere and Null Rod? Why play a deck with land and consistency issues? Why play a deck that can randomly crap out on you? Why play a deck that is trying to compensate for having two cards restricted out from under it? I think I’ve got it figured out.

I played LongDeath on Gencon’s Friday T1 and went 4-1-1 (we drew the last round) and despite his preconception about the deck, I clearly convinced Carl, as he just won a piece of power by placing 2nd out of 187 players in the Vintage Waterbury Tournament with LongDeath.

In this article series, I’m going to lay out the case for LongDeath and try to help you play the deck efficiently and well. I realize that this deck is probably the hardest deck to play in the format and almost every card has qualifications upon when you should play it that may not be immediately obvious. I’ll explain how to play the deck so that you can have as much fun with it as I have.


By Stephen Menendian

Revised: 8/20/04

The Mana

4 Gemstone Mine

4 City of Brass

1 Glimmervoid

1 Underground Sea

1 Tolarian Academy

1 Black Lotus

1 Chrome Mox

1 Lion’s Eye Diamond

1 Lotus Petal

1 Mana Crypt

1 Mana Vault

1 Mox Diamond

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Sol Ring

2 Elvish Spirit Guide

1 Crop Rotation

4 Dark Ritual

Setting up and Protecting the Combo

4 Duress

4 Brainstorm

1 Hurkyl’s Recall

Cards that Fetch Cards that Win

4 Death Wish

1 Burning Wish

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Demonic Consultation

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Time Walk

1 Ancestral Recall

Cards that Win:

1 Tinker

1 Timetwister

1 Memory Jar

1 Wheel of Fortune

1 Windfall

1 Necropotence

1 Mind’s Desire

1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain


1 Tendrils of Agony


The Combo:

1 Yawgmoth’s Will


1 Tendrils of Agony

Permission Hoser:

4 Xantid Swarm

Niche Cards:

1 Diminishing Returns

1 Time Spiral

1 Balance

1 Hurkyl’s Recall

1 Primitive Justice

1 Oxidize

1 Regrowth

1 Simplify

1 Hull Breach

The deck started out as an idea Mike Krzywicki shared with Mike Long. The idea was simple: use Burning Wish and Lion’s Eye Diamond as a way to cast Yawgmoth’s Will early and consistently. Their crude build was redesigned by Roland Bode with a superior mana base. In the process, Bode somewhat weakened the structure of the deck by using cards like Hunting Pack and removing Brainstorms. I picked up the deck upon returning from Europe last summer, combining the best parts of what had come before and making the necessary final touches that turned Long.dec (as the deck had come to be known by then) into a true monster. The ink had barely dried on the restricted list announcement that Wish and LED were getting the axe before I had drawn up an excellent list with Death Wish. I gave up on the project after going 4-0 at the January Waterbury, only to lose enough matches to knock me out of the tournament. I thought another approach to Tendrils might be superior.

To this end, I developed Draw7. The point of Draw7 was to try a logical extreme: To see if using concentrated draw7s might be the best shell for a tendrils deck. Draw7 is able to resolve draw7s through any amount of resistance, but it is a flawed idea. Giving your opponent new spells has always been undesirable. Particularly when after an attrition war, they have mana available to stop you even when your draw7 resolves. Then luck becomes too much of a factor and you are bound to become unlucky.

With my understanding of Tendrils combo at full flower, I fiddled with my LongDeath list and came up with the most potent build yet. While the two Mike’s certainly had an important role in idea of Wishing for Yawgmoth’s Will, their involvement is too remote to justify retention of that name. The”Long” can be dropped to reflect that it is more a creation of Team Meandeck than Mike Long. As such, it is appropriate to change the name to MeanDeath.

The Case For MeanDeath

The primary metagame threats to this deck are Force of Will, Trinisphere, Null Rod, Wasteland, and Mana Drain. Testing MeanDeath is essentially goldfishing against these cards. The way to beat these cards is to have a plan for success. There is a way to beat each of these cards reliably.

Fish has Force of Will, Null Rod and Wasteland. Duress effectively deals with two-thirds of these and gives you information that helps you play around the third (Wasteland). When you go land, Duress against Fish, you will always be able to take the Null Rod – even if you are on the draw. Why? Fish can’t play Null Rod on turn 1 without drawing its lone Mox Sapphire. Additionally, knowing Fish’s hand is half the battle. If you see Wasteland, you should play appropriately to minimize your chances of getting hosed by it. If you played Chrome Mox or Mox Jet imprinting a Black spell to cast the Duress, you are now in a position to decide whether to even play a land that is just going to get Wastelanded, or whether you should play the land and Brainstorm to dig for another. Regardless of what decision to make, your decision is well informed and Fish’s chances of winning drop dramatically.

Mishra’s Workshop decks really only have one tool in the maindeck to beat you: Trinisphere. Around 50% of the time you will be able to nab the Trinisphere with a Duress and then win quickly. Since Mishra’s Workshop decks don’t have Force of Will (with very rare exceptions) you can forego the hesitation and second guessing that may characterize some of the tense control matches. Go for the jugular and there is nothing they can do. If you are playing first, Duress will be able to take their Trinisphere, leaving them with really only one weapon: Wasteland, a weak weapon at that. The best they can do is drop Goblin Welder and hope they survive the next turn to be able to Weld back the Trinisphere – a vain hope.

If you happen to be on the draw against Workshop decks, take solace in the following facts. They no longer run Sphere of Resistance or Chalice of the Void. Chalice and Sphere cost anywhere from 0-2 to be effective. Trinisphere costs three and therefore the Workshop player can’t just assume that if they draw it in the opening grip that they will be able to play it. Casting Trinisphere on turn 1 requires having drawn a limited number of cards. That gives the combo deck a window of opportunity. They have to find a Trinisphere because they can’t let you explode on turn 1. Yet, they can’t easily find one because doing so means that they need to mulligan. At some point, a solid hand of six without having or being able to play Trinisphere is stronger than a possible hand of five that may or may not have Trinisphere, and even assuming that it does, may or may not be able to play Trinisphere.

If the Workshop player does get Trinisphere, they may have mulliganed or kept a bad hand simply on the strength of Trinisphere. I have played uncountable games where Workshop players have gone:

Turn One:

Mishra’s Workshop, Trinisphere, go


Land, go

Turn Two:

Workshop player: Draw, Go


Land, Remove Elvish Sprit Guide and play Death Wish (I find Hurkyl’s Recall) or tutor up your maindeck Hurkyl’s Recall.

Turn Three:

Workshop player: Draw, go.

Me: Land, go.

Turn Four:


Oh look another spell. Crucible, Juggernaut, or whatever.

On their endstep, I Hurkyl’s Recall all of their stuff to their hand and combo out on my turn.

People who haven’t tested against me will just assume, wrongly, that the Trinisphere will be enough. Some combo players might be stupid enough to just scoop.

On the whole, the numbers favor the combo player. Even if they win the die-roll (also called the match-roll), you can assume that you will lose one game to Trinisphere, win one game by winning on turn 1 or Duressing the turn 1 threat and winning on turn 2, and the third game is the real struggle, but on the whole, one that favors the player who can”just win.” You can also win on turn 1 or Draw7 your opponent into a hand they can’t mulligan out of. In summary, I see the Workshop match as a three-game match where each player steals one game handily and the third game is fought for control of the match, a game which favors the combo player.

Against Mana Drain decks, Xantid Swarm is the superior disruption spell, but that isn’t sufficient to justify running it maindeck. Xantid Swarm is very poor in many respects in that it can’t tell you whether your opponent has Wasteland nor can it deal with Null Rod, the primary reasons why I learned that it was an epic mistake to sideboard Xantids against Fish. Nonetheless, your plan against Mana Drain decks is perhaps the most elegant of all. Recall that I said that Draw7 would be able to force through a draw7. That generally happened like this:

Turn One

Combo Player: Draw7 or equivalent threat met by Force of Will

Turn Two:

Combo Player: Draw7 met with Mana Drain

Turn Three:

Combo player: Brainstorm, Draw7

This one resolved, but now the Control player has two untapped Blue lands and will have a new hand to stop you with. Each iteration makes the Control player stronger but weakens your deck because you are removing cards with Diminishing Returns or whatnot.

Take that same scenario, but instead, if you change the third turn Draw7 into Death Wish for Yawgmoth’s Will, the winner is far more likely to be the Combo player.

Essentially that is what we have done. Diminishing Returns was the most difficult Draw7 to play on turn 1 anyway because of the four-mana cost, including UU. As a result, a turn 1 draw7 or threat was far more likely to be a three-mana Draw7. Now we have substituted a six-mana Yawgmoth’s Will for that final slot and the result is a tremendously more powerful deck. Even if you play a relatively weak Will, say to simply replay a land that has been Wastelanded, a Mox, a Duress and a Brainstorm – from a position of parity where both players are topdecking, that should be enough to put you over the top so that you will be the game winner.

Aggro decks are basically a bye. At the most, they have Null Rod and Wastelands, which are insufficient to beat you. Every aggro player knows this, so don’t disappoint.

The final element is combo, and while I’ll hit all of these matchups individually, the broad strokes are the same. These decks have about as many tools to fight you as the Aggro decks (usually 1-2) and aren’t prepared to beat you because you are the much faster combo deck in every case except Belcher, and in that case you are still sufficiently fast that the most minimal disruption will give you the win.

Finally, the most important reason to support this deck is when you understand what is lost from the transition from old long.dec. If you don’t know what old Long is, I’ve written many articles about it on this site, and you can check out the list here.

There are two primary consequences from having lost the use of a full set of Lion’s Eye Diamonds and Burning Wish. The first is that you have to work harder to answer threats – i.e. you are less resilient to hate. Burning Wish for Primitive Justice is four mana. Death Wish for the same is five but is at least a full turn slower as a result unless you want to waste a Ritual on it. The upside is that you can get any card – so finding Oxidize actually makes the spell equivalent. The versatility of the cards you can find is a huge boon. The second consequence is that you lose the bulk of the”oops” I win with almost nothing hands. Those hands were something like this:

Land, Mox, Burning Wish, LED, LED, Demonic Consultation

The upside is that those hands were too risky against control decks in old Long. In addition, the decks that you destroyed with those hands are still favorable matchups.

The one thing that absolutely bears mention is that you lose virtually no speed against control decks. Why? Because, as I described in the primer for Long in playing against Control, sacrificing your Lion’s Eye Diamond on turn 1 against Control is begging to lose. Old long.dec would not go: Burning Wish for Yawgmoth’s Will, in response sacrifice LED on turn 1 against a control deck because it would lose its hand and then lose to Force of Will. You always play your other threats first and wear down there resistance before you use the Lion’s Eye Diamond. The only difference is that the turn you play your broken card, you have less mana to fuel the Yawgmoth’s Will – but the actual speed of the deck has only marginally changed in those matches.

So one question you might have: why hasn’t this deck been used for the last nine months? Frankly, I didn’t have a very good build. My build wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t optimal – and given what I’ve seen other people do in adding four Cabal Rituals and four Helms, people were trying to overcompensate for the loss of LED and it pushed them in the wrong direction.

One of the rules of playing this deck is that you must pile shuffle before every game. I recommend piles of five or seven and then a few good side shuffles afterward. If you don’t pile shuffle, you will get the worst hands imaginable.

Now that I’ve been through the reasons to play MeanDeath, in part two I’ll try my best to explain how to pilot the deck properly.

Stephen Menendian

You can reach me at steve dot menendian at gmail dot com