Over the last several years, I think I’ve come to the verge of knowing what it is that takes a player to the highest levels of play. I must say that I’ve been lead there by others, but it boils down to an idea that can’t be stated enough: It is not enough just to play your game. It is necessary to know how to disrupt your opponent’s.
Every deck has a goal that goes beyond reducing your opponent’s life to zero, or running them out of cards, or playing some”I win!” card – and that goal is to create a situation where that goal is attainable. When I sit down to a match and have identified my opponent’s deck, I now almost always try and figure out their means of victory and how best I can disrupt their path. The best way that I can help you see this is to talk about some examples.
Psychatog vs. Red/Green Beatdown
For a long time, Tog has been the king of the Standard format. This is because it was one of the most disruptive decks, sporting a base of two of Magic’s most disruptive colors: Black and Blue. Blue has the game’s most disruptive spell ever in Counterspell, while black has creature removal and discard – two of the game’s other most disruptive elements.
Yet Red/Green has come along to give Tog its own lesson in disruption. How has it done that?
In part by having a designer in Kai Budde, who knows a thing or two about disrupting an opponent. If you or he – or anyone – sat down and asked how are you going to disrupt Tog, you first have to know what the deck you wish to defeat is trying to do other than win. What kind of game does your opposing deck want to have? In this case, Tog likes to have an early game where it can trade cards one-for-one until it can either draw more cards with spells like Deep Analysis or Concentrate, use Psychatog to remove opposing creatures by blocking them, or by using Upheaval where Tog is almost uniquely positioned to be in the driver’s seat after the resolution of that spell.
So let’s go back to the first idea. In the early game, Tog likes to trade one for one. How do you disrupt this?
First, you have to look at Tog’s own early disruption cards. These would be Force Spike, Counterspell, Circular Logic, Innocent Blood, Smother, and Chainer’s Edict. These spells have, in order, casting costs of one mana, two mana, three mana, one mana, two mana, and two mana. Now let’s look at the curve for Kai’s R/G: Llanowar Elves, Grim Lavamancer, Basking Rootwalla, and Firebolt, all at one casting cost.
Notice that it does not use Birds of Paradise. Birds are perhaps the best mana accelerant that the game has ever seen, yet they are not a threat. Red Green follows its one casting-cost cards with these two casting-cost ones: Wild Mongrel, Volcanic Hammer, and Skirk Marauder and follows those up with Call of the Herd and Elephant Guide at three casting cost. We can also note that both Firebolt and Call of the Herd get two uses for one card, and thus further disrupt Tog’s early one-for-one plan.
If you have played this matchup, what happens is that the Tog player invariably has to start using extra mana to kill lesser threats – that is, they become forced to use Smother and Edict to kill Lavamancers and Rootwallas. In this light – namely, the fact that Tog is planning on trading one for one early – there is no penalty for the Red/Green player to just keep playing their cards out as efficiently as they can. When Red/Green wins, it steals tempo this way and maintains it.
Tog is further hampered because many of the other cards not already mentioned are highly mana-intensive to use. When the Tog player”gets stuck” with cards in its early hand like Upheaval (or even Cunning Wish), it moves the tempo further in the favor of R/G. And while Compulsion can often break games in favor of Tog in terms of manipulating card quality, it does so at a mana cost that one cannot usually afford in the Red/Green matchup.
The many Compost found in Red/Green’s sideboard is yet another example of a card that is brought in to disrupt a part of Tog’s game plan – again, the idea that it wants to trade one-for-one in the early game. With Compost on the board, this becomes almost impossible – as every black kill spell that the Tog player plays is often offset by the Red/Green player drawing another cheap threat.
With that in mind, I built this deck:
4 Wrath of God
4 Renewed Faith
4 Force Spike
3 Circular Logic
4 Aether Burst
3 Deep Analysis
2 Cunning Wish
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
This deck must be thought of not particularly as an offshoot of U/B Psychatog, but as a U/W control deck that uses Upheaval and Psychatog as a kill method.
The addition of Wrath of God drastically changes the makeup of the Red/Green matchup. Now, where Red/Green was thinking that it could overwhelm Tog in terms of mana and tempo in terms of trading”one for one,” Wrath of God becomes a real threat to punish the overextended Red/Green player. This possibility is conspicuously absent in Blue/Black Tog decks. The Blue/White Wrath version deck still sports the blue element of early disruption – but now, whatever creature passes through that barrier for Red/Green is at a real danger of losing card advantage to the creature-sweeping Wrath. If the Red/Green player now holds back its own creatures for fear of the white sorcery, it winds up playing very much into the hands of the Tog player – who wants to get as far as possible into the midgame, where it can turn available midgame mana into an advantage.
Finally, be warned that I make no claims for this deck as an entry into a full-blown metagame – only that I feel more comfortable sitting behind it when playing vs. Red Green.
On Halloween, I put forth this deck:
3 Faceless Butcher
4 Mesmeric Fiend
3 Krosan Tusker
3 Nantuko Husk
3 Crypt Creeper
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Chainer’s Edict
4 Oversold Cemetery
4 Living Wish
4 Tainted Forest
Braids, Cabal Minion
Visara the Dreadful
I had helped one of my most regular customers, Jeff Winkelmann (a person I most often refer to as”Good Kid”) build this deck. He took the deck and stomped around my store with it for around a month, perhaps a little less. He beat every deck and won a low-powered Extended event with it before he became enamored of Astral Slide and dismantled the deck.
It then receded pretty much into memory.
It remained there until the recent rash of Black/Green Cemetery deck articles started to appear after the deck did well in a couple of bigger tournaments. Those events rekindled my interest in the deck – and in viewing many articles on the deck, I came to realize that my approach to the design was different and that there were different concerns in the current format, along with some new cards to look at in regard to this deck.
After doing a rebuild, some tweaking, and again watching”Good Kid” kick the crap out of just about every deck we could throw at it – including Mowshowitz’s Red/Green build, Adrian Sullivan Tog, along with U/G Madness and G/W beatdown – I have to present what I feel is the overall most disruptive deck in the format.
Moontown 1.10 Kid Version
4 Mesmeric Fiend
3 Withered Wretch
3 Faceless Butcher
2 Bane of the Living
4 Wild Mongrel
3 Krosan Tusker
3 Ravenous Baloth
4 Living Wish
4 Chainer’s Edict
3 Oversold Cemetery
SB: 1 Braids, Cabal Minion
SB: 1 Visara The Dreadful
SB: 1 Withered Wretch
SB: 1 Rotlung Reanimator
SB: 1 Faceless Butcher
SB: 1 Bane of the Living
SB: 1 Nantuko Vigilante
SB: 1 Ravenous Baloth
SB: 1 Spellbane Centaur
SB: 1 Silklash Spider
SB: 1 Phantom Centaur
SB: 1 Genesis
SB: 3 Naturalize
Have fun. We repeatedly comment on how much of a pile this looks like on paper.
As updates go, we obviously got Withered Wretch – which is far far superior to Crypt Creeper. We were also able to add the”Mutilate on Legs,” Bane of the Living, which works better with Cemetery.
You may also notice that Nantuko Husk is missing. My approach to this deck has always been as that of it being a toolbox midgame creature-based control deck. This is, I believe, fundamentally different from what the Husk/Elf versions are trying to do. In this, we came to a point where we had to decide between two of three cards: Wild Mongrel, Nantuko Husk, and Ravenous Baloth.
Which two of those three do you think is best?
“Stupid Husk Tricks,” as I think Ted Knutson coined the term, can at times be pretty darn spiffy – yet in the end, we felt that they were a lot of flash without a lot of substance in our particular case. In terms of dealing with most decks, we got Mongrel cheaper and Baloth wound up being disruptive to too many decks. Red/Green was particularly a concern, where Baloth really helps swing the matchup to the midgame; it’s generally a big blocking body with lifegain to boot. As the preeminent early game idea with this deck is just to survive, Baloth became a must-have.
These kinds of ideas go very far toward our use of Living Wish. If we take the importance of Baloth in the Red/Green matchup as a guide, we see that Living Wish effectively gives us seven Baloth opportunities. We will trade the tempo of casting Living Wish against Red/Green to get a Baloth.
How It Disrupts
For this part I’m going to go over a few of the more prominent specific matchups in order to point out how the deck disrupts.
First of all, unlike the other Black/Green versions, we have Mesmeric Fiend. If it weren’t for Tog, we probably wouldn’t run Fiend at all – but it has a tendency to really help you get spells into play that make parts of their gameplan difficult to achieve. In particular, if Withered Wretch can spend some time on the board, it winds up clearing out your opponent’s graveyard. This neuters Circular Logic – and in conjunction with any lifegain that you might get from a Baloth, it makes it very hard for the Tog player to actually deal lethal damage in any manner.
The presence of Smother also means that Tog needs to have a counter and mana available when they cast Upheaval, or again their plans will possibly be disrupted.
Against Blue/Green Madness
Here again the comes into play creatures are important. Butcher permanently removes Roar of the Wurm tokens, and Mesmeric Fiend is particularly disruptive because U/G has very few ways to deal with the creature. Since U/G has few real disruptive cards of its own beyond its few counters, this is an excellent play if a Circular Logic or Counterspell can be nabbed. Often you can get one of their better tempo cards as well if they are not holding a counter. Nabbing an early lone madness outlet can be the proverbial”some good.”
Wretch again is a golden follow-up to Fiend, as it allows you to remove cards from their graveyard – especially target problem cards like Wonder and Roar tokens. Edict and Smother also are very disruptive to Blue/Green’s early game, and a Wished-for Visara or Silklash Spider at the right moment presents a whole ton of a problems for it as well.
As before, the first plan is simply to stay alive – and three Ravenous Baloths in the main deck and one in the sideboard as a Living Wish target helps immensely. At times other cards, Phantom Centaur, Visara, Faceless Butcher or even Silklash Spider cast via a Living Wish can be effective. We’ve also found that Bane of the Living can be a backbreaker for the Red/Green side, as often you can sweep their board by morphing him for one.
Using Wretch again to pull out specific cards like Call of the Herd, Firebolt, or simply removing all of their graveyard at opportunity because of a Lavamancer or Barbarian Ring is another disruptive option.
Many have asked us about this matchup sideboarded – and while I don’t have a lot of games to work with, the matchup is winnable. I lost playing Red/Green, despite my opponent getting an early Compost and Naturalizing his first Cemetery. Unfortunately for my side,”Good Kid” Jeff was able to draw into another Cemetery and start Baloth recursion.
To end, I’ll say it again: This is not an easy deck to play simply because it holds a lot of decision branching. Mesmeric Fiend is flimsy and requires a choice to be made. Living Wish requires a mana investment that you must make pay off by choosing the most disruptive creature for the situation. We’ve found that it has game against anything that we’ve thrown against it so far, while almost every game is filled with painful choices where the game hangs in the balance. Wrong choices equal losses. Right ones seem to mean victory.
Owner, Green Dragon Games
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