The Complete Mind’s Desire Strategy Guide

From a purely strategic point of view, there are a good many reasons to play Desire at your next Extended tournament. The first (and probably best) reason is because the deck is just hard to play against unless your opponent has dedicated a large amount of time to it — which, given that you’re at a PTQ, is doubtful. So let me walk you through the intricacies of the deck that got me all the way to the Top 4 at Los Angeles.

Before you can play Mind’s Desire, you need to ask yourself a very important question: Why do you want to play a Mind’s Desire deck in the first place?

There can be many answers — and for me, the most obvious is “because it’s fun!” But from a purely strategic point of view, there are a good many reasons to play Desire at your next Extended tournament. The first (and probably best) reason is because the deck is just hard to play against unless your opponent has dedicated a large amount of time to it — which, given that you’re at a PTQ, is doubtful. When you’re piloting an aggro deck against Desire, you’re on edge for the entire game because you never know if your opponent has the goods to kill you or not. The very nature of your deck puts pressure on your opponent to put the game away as quickly as possible, which opens up the possibility that your opponent will misplay. That’s the best, because you didn’t need to do anything except wait for him to screw up.

An aggro/control deck — or worse, a control deck — can be even harder on your opponents because their deck already provides them with a wide variety of choices. Your ability to explode into victory forces them to be even more careful throughout the game. “When to use disruption” and “when to try and put you on a clock” are the hardest things for an opponent to figure out how to do… And the more complex choices your opponents have, the greater their opportunity to mess up.

Not only can the deck be quite intimidating to play against, it’s also a rather unique deck on its own. Almost every game is a solitaire match for you, with your opponent’s actions little more than a rough timeline telling you how long the game is going to last. Any disruption or potentially new threats are variables you must take into consideration. This means that as long as you become proficient playing the deck, any new or unexpected matchups shouldn’t cause you as much trouble — unlike a more interactive deck like Psychatog.

Your opponent’s almost always going to be setting the pace of the match, which allows you to adopt your play to match theirs. It’s much easier to see where they’re trying to lead the game; if they’re going for a turn 5 kill, then you need to kill them by their turn 4 (or have a reliable way to stop them). But if they’re going for disruption instead of beatdown, then you’re going to need to play the attrition war. In that case, it’s important to develop your mana base before you worry too much about trying to cast a bunch of blue spells. If you draw a bunch of spells you can’t cast (or that get discarded), it won’t do you much good. If you have a solid amount of mana available, then you can make any topdeck into a potential game-winner.

For example, if you’re at five life against an opponent playing the Rock, you can be fairly sure that your Moment’s Peace will buy you an additional turn to work with. But if your opponent is playing R/W or a deck with counters, then Moment’s Peace has less of a chance of buying you the needed time.

Learning why and when to use a Fog effect can be one the most difficult things to do when playing U/G. You can’t be too greedy with them, and yet you being too cautious will put you in the losing bracket. A good rule of thumb would be to always assume your red opponent has two burn spells in his hand, and potentially another on top of his deck. I also always assume that one of those is the best possible burn for him (say, Char instead of Shock). This isn’t necessarily the best way to approach the red matchup — but it’s a good guideline for someone who’s just starting to play Desire.

So if you assume your opponent has the Char or Lightning Helix or whatever and that they’re likely to have another burn spell along with it, then you’ll want to keep yourself at seven life at the very least. This doesn’t mean that you should scoop up your cards should you fall below seven — just that this is the point where you become easy prey for their burn. So if you’re at nine and your opponent is attacking you for three, you’re probably going to want to use your Fog effect, even if it means you won’t have access to it later.

Then look at things from an aggressive player’s point of view. They have the option of dropping a creature that ends the game a turn quicker, or they can cast a mana denial spell, or they can save mana for a counterspell. Each turn, they’re usually going to be faced with this choice — while most of your action spells are instants. You can wait until their end-of-turn phase before casting anything, which will give you a better idea of how your opponent is playing and what cards you to assemble for the win.

Without going too much further, I guess I need to give some kind of deck list. I am still a big fan of the list I ran in Los Angeles, so I’ve made only one change. The Echoing Truth I had in the main deck never ended up costing me a game — it even won me two matches — but I believe it’s better off as the third Rampant Growth.

Sure, it doesn’t look too flashy; it’s just about as straightforward as a Mind’s Desire deck can be. I think that’s a good thing. If you try and be too techy with your deck, you can easily find yourself stumbling over your cards. You’re a combo deck! A combo deck wants to do one thing and only one thing: win under its own terms. You don’t want to be forced into playing your opponent’s game; you want them to be playing yours. If you throw in a bunch of cards for specific matchups or cards that have the opportunity to be really good in very specific situations, then you’re deviating too much from what you want to be doing with your deck.

Thus, you shouldn’t waste too much space to cards that stop what your opponent is doing with his deck. Your cards operate under the assumption that by their raw power alone they will be able to get the job done. This deck knows what it wants to do, and has all the tools necessary to do the job.

The card choices are important to understand before playing the deck, because if you don’t know why you’re playing a card then the odds are you aren’t going to play it well.

Mind’s Desire
This is where the deck gets its name — and it’s actually the most controversial card choice, strange as it may seem. You probably have seen a lot of lists running just one Desire, or even none. I can say with a great degree of certainty that if you aren’t running four of these cards, you should be; that the only other number I could possibly even respect would be none.

Most lists substitute Ideas Unbound or some other drawing spell in its place, which makes the deck much more straightforward but weaker overall. If you’re just starting to play the deck, it may be the best choice in order to simply learn the interactions between the cards in the deck. It certainly makes the deck much easier to play as it removes many of the difficult decisions, like….

When exactly do you go nuts with casting spells for the Desire? How much storm is enough? How do you calculating mana efficiency and card efficiency? Do you Desire for five with three lands untapped, or do you Desire for six with no available mana?

Ideas Unbound presents you with only one real game plan: keep drawing cards until you have enough stuff to win. Really, the only thing Ideas Has going for it’s that it’s a much better card to draw than Desire when you have no cards in your hand — but then again, that’s why you’re running four Gifts, four Wishes, and three Fact or Fictions. I have played with lists without Desire, against lists without Desire, and against both kinds of lists, and I am quite sure that Desire is the better option. You may note that the only two Heartbeat decks to make Day Two at Pro Tour: Los Angeles both had four copies of Mind’s Desire in them.

VrooooooooomSome have called Desire a “win more” card, but this could not be further from the truth. Desire is a card that lets you go from 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds. Not only does Desire allow you to randomly win games when your back is against the wall (just get lucky with some free spells), but it’s what gives the deck a ton of resilience and makes any control player’s game an uphill battle. It turns any of your spells into card drawers, and is essentially uncounterable except by Stifle.

If you have time, test versions of the deck with and without Mind’s Desire, then play the version you feel most comfortable with — but be aware that lists with Desire have much more potential.

Two-Headed TutorGifts Ungiven
This is probably the most powerful card in any format that it’s legal in, purely because it gives you an incredibly efficient and instant-speed tutor effect that gives you card advantage instead of merely breaking even or having to sacrifice some resource. When paired with Nostalgic Dreams and Revive, it’s just a double-Demonic Tutor. No, wait; it’s actually better than that if you’re already holding a Dreams or Revive. Play it, have mana available, win.

(You don’t have to get Dreams and Revive, and it’s not always correct to do so. Getting Cunning Wish, Fact or Fiction, Deep Analysis, and Card X can be an equally strong play when you have a light hand and are in no particular hurry.)

I believe playing four of these maindecked is better than three main and one in the board to Wish for. Fact or Fiction is generally going to be a much better Wish target to just get things going; naturally, drawing the Gift off of a FoF is critical.

Cunning Wish
Play four of these. I can’t think of a realistic situation where I’d be disappointed to draw one.

Obviously, there are many instances where it’s not your ideal card — sometimes you’d rather have the Early Harvest, Fact or Fiction, or Moment’s Peace that you end up Wishing for — but that’s the price for such versatility and pseudo-tutoring. This card is insane against control decks, as you can usually just cast it whenever, and it presents a great enough threat of Brain Freeze or Mana Short or something to cause a reaction. If they don’t counter it, then you get the Brain Freeze or Mana Short or whatever else you need. Also, it’s important to not automatically scoop a game to a single Cranial Extraction or Meddling Mage.

Sakura-Tribe Elder
The best basic land fetcher there is. He blocks and gets a land, and there really isn’t more you can ask for from a green and a colorless. You need some kind of acceleration/mana fixing in the deck, he is awesome.

Heartbeat of Spring
It gives you the mana to go off with, you usually are going to want to get this into play as early as possible. Don’t worry too much about your opponent having all that mana; your deck is built around abusing the mana, and theirs is not. The extra mana is merely an unexpected boost for them, but it’s one of the key pieces in the Desire puzzle.

This is the number one card you need out against control decks; your goal is to run them out of cards, not mana. With Heartbeat out, you can just cast spells on your turn, letting them counter them as they may — then bam! Cast a Desire to refuel or to win the game. If you hit another Desire, you just win; even just a little bit of action, and you win anyway.

Against stuff like Scepter Chant or Tog or whatever, with Heartbeat out you can sculpt a decent hand in Games 2 and 3, since you have the time to work with. Then, at the end of their turn, go for broke and cast a bunch of instants with the goal of getting two Brain Freezes to deck them right then and there. If they stop you successfully, then just untap and continue with your broken barrage of spells.

Nostalgic Dreams
This is your Yawgmoth’s Will. You cast your draw spells and Early Harvests — and then you get them all back by discarding your useless stuff to amass the critical amount of spells needed to win. This also combos quite well with Gifts Ungiven/Fact or Fiction.

Early Harvest
If Turnabout was legal, you’d play it too. This card is awesome; it’s the backbone of the deck, giving you the mana needed to keep casting your blue cards. It’s a spell that generates mana which is great for upping your storm count and is usually the best card to hit besides Desire off of a Desire. You have to save these for the turn you’re going off (except under weird circumstances that should be obvious when they arise).

Rampant Growth
Sakuras #5-7. I only ran two at the Tour, and while I never really had problems, you really need the turn 2 accelerant in a lot of matchups in order to get your draw engine online a full turn faster. However, any Growths beyond the first one are usually strictly worse than land. I’ve talked to a few people, and three seems to be about the right number.

Fact or Fiction
The best legal straight-up draw spell. It’s an instant and only four mana, yet it gets you five cards deep — and at the worst, it gives you three cards in hand to fuel a Nostalgic Dreams. Flipping over a Nostalgic Dreams with this card is just unfair… Especially if you’re already holding one in your hand.

This is another card that gives your opponent a chance to screw up, especially because the cards in your hand completely change the value of cards you flip… And your opponent has no clue what you’re holding.

Moment’s Peace
A double-Time Walk against aggressive decks, the threat of this card can give Tog players pause. You board in one against aggressive decks, but they’re easily boarded out against non-aggressive decks. Don’t forget you can flash this card back in order to up your storm count in a pinch. Gifting for this card is win-win; regardless if they put it in your hand or graveyard, it allows you to live for another turn.

Strictly — and yes, I said strictly — better than Recollect and Eternal Witness. The difference at this slot between two mana and three is incredible. Eternal Witness is next to unplayable in this deck, as the double-green is too hard on your mana base; you need all the green mana you can get for Harvest and Nostalgic Dreams, but you really only need one or two Islands in play on the turn you’re going off. I cannot recall one instance at the PT where I wished the Revive was a Recollect, but I can think of more than a few where a three-mana Recollect would have lost me the game.

Some lists run one Revive and one Recollect in order to Gift for three Regrowth effects, and another card in order to be sure you get a Nostalgic Dreams and the fourth card. Like Ideas Unbound, this feels like a crutch; it makes the deck easier to play, but it wastes unnecessary slots. If you’re learning to play the deck, the additional Recollect could prove quite useful… But really, it’s just wasted space. It’s bad enough drawing Revive or Dreams when there really isn’t anything you want to return in the early game.

Brain Freeze
Your kill card. You need one maindecked so that a Cranial Extraction for Cunning Wish doesn’t knock you right out of the game.

There are many circumstances where you’ll need to cast this card on yourself: you have no card drawing spells except for Nostalgic Dreams and need to go off this turn, you need to hit a Fog or die, or need to Millstone your other flashback spell in the deck, Deep Analysis (see the Day 1 Coverage of LA for an example of when I needed to do this). You board into more against control and other combo decks so you can just aggressively up a storm count on someone else’s turn or on your end step.

Deep Analysis
It’s another draw spell to Gift for, and it doesn’t hurt you if they place it in your graveyard. Also many times you can’t afford to allow your opponent to untap after you Millstone them. The best way to get the kill is to cast Deep Analysis, targeting them, and cast your Brain Freeze with that on the stack.

Sideboard: Mana Short
You board two in against control or combo to trip them up, allowing you to combo without the threat of disruption. If there was ever a must-counter spell, this is it; if they don’t, they have no mana to play any more. Use it during their end step after drawing it (or Wishing for it) to start a counter war/storm count when you still have an untap phase before they do. You don’t ever have to plan on this card actually resolving; fishing a counter from their hand and depleting their mana pool is more than enough.

The other sideboard cards are pretty self-explanatory; the only thing to consider adding might be a Hunting Pack as an alternate win condition and blockers. People take a lot of damage against you because they can thanks to the new land, so even if you just cast it for two or three it has a good shot of being lethal very quickly.

The metagame you’re expecting should determine if you play this card — and what you take out. I could see taking out a Mana Short for it, but I don’t think that’s the right answer even though this card seems like it should be very good against slow control decks. Just make sure to keep the fourth Moment’s Peace in your sideboard to Wish for against aggro decks.

The most important thing to learn about this deck is what hands to keep and what to mulligan; I’m known for keeping rather risky hands, but for this deck I mulligan relatively aggressively. Do not be afraid to. I mulliganed to five a total of four times all weekend. All four times were on day two. I won three of those games.

You cannot keep a hand of just Islands, no matter how tempting it is, but if you have a Rampant Growth or Sakura you can keep a mono-forest hand. You really want to have Wish/Gifts/Fact in your opener, but it’s acceptable to keep a really good hand like Sakura, Peace, Heartbeat, Harvest, Forest, Forest, Island, since any blue card gives you a way to win. You don’t want to keep any two-landers unless they have a Sakura/Rampant/or Heartbeat. Treat anything like Brain Freeze or Revive as a dead card in your hand; that should make mulliganning a bit easier. The deck can win out of nowhere as long as you have a decent mana base, so keep that in mind when deciding to keep a hand or not.


This is your easiest matchup, since they have really no disruption and their scariest sideboard card, Pyrostatic Pillar, isn’t even game over for you. Any deck that has a hard time winning through a Fog is going to be good for you.

Be mindful of the fact that they can flashback Lava Darts after you Millstone them, so keep track of how many mountains they have in play. When going off, just make sure to have at least one extra Wish handy. Cast Deep Analysis on them, respond with Brain Freeze. If they have exactly enough Darts to get you, just wish for a Memory Lapse. If they still have one more extra Dart to can kill you with, you need two more Wishes to get another Brain Freeze, deck them again and then Wish for Words of Wisdom and cast it to kill them with Lava Dart on the stack.

Board in a Moment’s Peace, board out a Rampant Growth or a Nostalgic Dreams.

Game one can be troublesome; if they tap out for something and you can force off a Desire for four, go for it. If you can resolve a Heartbeat things are much easier, as you will have all the mana you need.

Games 2 and 3 should be in your favor; they can’t kill you very fast, and if they tap out for turn 3 Psychatog you can drop a Heartbeat or just potentially kill them on your turn. After turn 3 they don’t have a real good window for dropping a creature, so just pick your spot to go for the end-of-turn kill; if you fail untap and try again.

Board out Moment’s Peace, Rampant Growth, and a card of your choice, probably another Rampant Growth.

Scepter Chant
Hey, good news! This isn’t a hopeless matchup. In fact, depending on their build, it can actually be as good as “not terrible” after boarding.

Game 1 should be atrocious for you; you can get lucky with a Wish for Freeze/Mana Short and try to catch them with their pants down. Games 2 through 3, you board in the same thing you do against Tog, except that you take out Moment’s Peace and Desires; it will be very hard to cast Desire through an Orim’s Chant lock, and Chant in response to Desire sucks. However, you can still mise with one or two of your Desires as a Gift target if you get a Mana Short off. All you want to do is deck them at the end of their turn by firing off two Freezes.

Like R/W, except they can have a few different hate cards and probably less burn, if any. Fog is really, really good here because, yeah… Double Time Walk. Take out Rampant Growth for Peace #3.

Madness Tog
Aggro-control can be hard, but I feel the matchup is at worst 50-50 and possibly in your favor. As long as they don’t get insane Circular Logic draws, or you don’t flood or get land screwed you can be okay. Fog effects are good against them, but you have to be careful; even though you may not die on their turn, that’s just more time for them to draw a Logic or hit a Cabal Therapy.

They don’t have a fast or efficient kill. As long as you don’t get Extracted right out of the game, it’s really, really hard to lose. They have enough discard to screw you — but honestly, discard without a fast clock isn’t that great against this deck. Just get out mana, beware of any random hate cards they may have, and then kill them.

I’m not even sure you should bring in the third Fog here, it really depends on what kind of creatures you see from them game one, if they have stuff like Hypnotic Specter/Sword of Fire and Ice, then Fog is probably a lot better.

I’m not sure if this is still really a deck at this point…

Fog is very good here, just beware of insane Piledriver draws and you should be fine.

If you worry about the mirror, then cards like Seedtime and Krosan Reclamation become viable sideboard slots. But I doubt you’ll see this deck very much, even though that it really doesn’t have any terrible matchups if it’s played well. 40-60 is probably the worst it gets down in an environment where people aren’t totally hate-filled decks.

Even decks that are good against you can become bad against you if you play well enough, and your opponent doesn’t know how the match should play out. Bringing in Mana Shorts to Time Walk them and Brain Freezes to kill them in response to a draw spell (or empty their library in response to a Desire) can be good. If you worry about the mirror, then playtest it a lot and come up with some sideboard cards for it. Desire mirrors favor those who have playtested more.

It’s rather difficult to try and sum up all the playtesting I have done with Desire into one article; this a complex deck where the right play in one game becomes the absolute wrong play in another just because of a one-card difference.

I have played this deck for a long time, and I still got a few slow play cautions at the Pro Tour; so many games end up hinging on just one turn, just one card, and you often will have no room for error with your mana and the order you play your spells in. It’s especially important to take your time when resolving a Gifts Ungiven, as that’s probably the easiest thing to screw up if you’re trying to take things too fast. It’s safe to say that if you have Early Harvest and Gifts Ungiven and about six or seven lands in play, then you have enough tools to win the game that turn.

One final piece of advice to leave you with: never, ever concede a game because you don’t think you can win unless you think you may not be able to win the match in time. I literally cannot count the number of times I almost packed it up because I thought I just had no shot… But my deck surprised me again and again, presenting me with everything I needed in order to steal the game back. Due to the nature of the deck, you’re basically going to be losing every single game you play, right up until the final turn where you go for it.

That’s why it’s so cool when you win with it; to most people, it seems like you just have no shot at pulling it out, and you end up looking like a master when you do what the deck just does normally…Cast a few broken cards that lead into even more broken cards.

May you always reach your untap step with your Heartbeat of Springs still in play.