The Control Player’s Bible, Table of Contents:
Part I: Overview
Part II: History, 1994-1996
Part III: History, 1996-2000
Part IV: History, 2000-2002
Part V: A sample control mirror match
Part VI: Playing the core cards: The counters and tutors
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!
Christmas is as warm and colorful here in Southeast Asia as it is over there (especially when China is the one exporting a lot of the Christmas decorations). One thing warmer, though, is the hit Fact or Fiction (and Britney Spears’ Boobs) is going to take come 2002.
Rant: Goodbye, Mono Blue!
Goodbye and good riddance to a deck that isn’t bad in itself, but sours the environment thanks to the impossible number of clueless children who paste the decklist in Apprentice and think they have mastered Type I (by getting an opening hand with Back to Basics, Black Lotus, and Force of Will). I think I even saw a Neutral Ground Type I tournament report that said there were too many bad Type I reports on the Net, then went on to describe how his Mox-laden deck beat an Odyssey draft deck.
I spent some time refining BSB, but I remembered why it has to go when I had one last game against a guy who wanted to play with four Fact or Fiction.
I forgot his name, but we basically countered each other’s hands away, then stalemated throughout the topdeck war. We even had a”Fact or Fiction in response to your Fact or Fiction” segment that ended with us going back to one card in hand after getting eight spells on the stack.
It was completely random (and he was no scrub), but he lost when I topdecked Library of Alexandria and he took the advice of a scrub who said not to run Strip Mine or Wasteland. He threw Morphlings into my counters, then managed to get the third through. I responded with my own Morphling, and it was a Morphling standoff.
The funny thing is that he conceded when I let his fourth Morphling resolve despite my full hand of seven.
I had a Powder Keg with two counters on the board, and he had just played his last Morphling (I pointed out I had three more and he had no way to remove Keg).
It was too much like the Necro mirror, where”skill” was Consulting into Necropotence first (Impulsing into Fact or Fiction first). If a”The Deck” mirror is a fight scene from The Fellowship of the Ring, a BSB mirror is one from Pokemon: The Movie.
Unfortunately, you can’t count out the kiddies fixated with the B2B-FoW god hand. Come January, with everyone fearing”The Deck,” expect all of them to”tech up” with anti-“The Deck” hate even in a field full of Sligh and White Weenie.
My compliments, by the way, to Akiga of #mtgonline on Innernet. I tried joining their second Type I tournament (and got screwed because I was told to intentional draw ROUND 3 because my opponent and I were both firewalled, then the guy I drew with dropped because his Mom told him to go to bed) and he handed me my first loss in Round 4.
January rules were in effect, and I played Gabriel Roldan from Mexico in Round 1 and won a hard-fought 2-0. Akiga, though, went first and played a second-turn Back to Basics using Mox Sapphire, and I couldn’t Mana Drain off one Underground Sea.
No sane”The Deck” player concedes there, though. Two turns later, he tapped to play something. I cast Ice on one of two untapped Islands, then Dismantling Blow with two blue open and a Mana Drain. He showed me Force of Will and Misdirection.
Can’t beat the god hand.
I conceded to go to game 2 and he again did the same thing. I cast Dismantling Blow and he let it resolve, then played another Back to Basics. A Red Elemental Blast, an Ancestral Recall and a Yawgmoth’s Will later, I almost got him. He Capsized, I Misdirected off Yawgmoth’s Will, and he played his last card – another Capsize.
I had a long laugh with one of the organizers, Nebrindil (and not just about how he paired me by mistake against a red hate deck in Round 6), about having to play thirty minutes against a”The Deck” player who wouldn’t concede to multiple Back to Basics. I patiently topdecked, got Undiscovered Paradise, and killed two more Back to Basics and Edicted a Morphling somewhere in between. Akiga was getting flustered because he played another unprotected Morphling and I still didn’t concede.
I untapped and played my own Morphling to block his, and I would’ve won with a Sylvan Library (though at four life) and then a Scrying Glass on the table, but two turns after I got rid of Back to Basics, he topdecked another last Morphling and had a hand of exactly two previously uncastable Misdirections against my Mana Drain. He cast it even though I had four cards in hand, and my next counter was in Sylvan range.
Can’t beat that…
Again, my compliments.
The Core of”The Deck”
Anyway, I hope you took some time to look at the development of the deck, because I felt it would be easier than overwhelming you with the entire 2002 deck in one sitting. By now, you’ve probably tried a few test draws on Apprentice, but the sample log in Part V might have left you with more questions than all the answers given so far.
Hang on to those questions, since asking them is the best way to learn. Now, let’s go through”The Deck” again, part by part, in more detail.
Every version of”The Deck” at present has thirty-two to thirty-three spells. If you looked through the decklists in Part IV, you’ll notice that some of them are always there, regardless of personal preferences. A few such as Misdirection, Regrowth, and Vampiric Tutor might be absent occasionally, but always for a very, very good reason.
We call these the”core” cards:
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Mystical Tutor
4 Mana Drain
4 Force of Will
1 Stroke of Genius
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Mind Twist
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 The Abyss
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Disenchant / Dismantling Blow / Seal of Cleansing
Plus: Two slots for Fire/Ice and/or Swords to Plowshares
These are the twenty-seven cards that are rarely absent in any build, the bare bones of basic”The Deck” card advantage, counter ability, and removal.
The remaining six to seven slots are filled from a pool of equally nasty cards, usually to emphasize the part of the core most potent in one’s metagame.
This core defines”The Deck” of 2002, so know it well.
The Counter Base
If you’ve read my Draw-Go Primer, you have a good idea how to use counters in Type I. What other family of spells defines control, after all?
In”The Deck,” though, it might help not to think of them as counters. Yes, most of the time, you’ll fight counter wars or Force of Will a key spell like a first-turn Mind Twist, but remember that counters just trade for one (or one-half with Force of Will) with the opponent.
There’s no card advantage there.
Unless they are countering an opponent’s bomb, the main thing counters are here for is to make those well-timed one-for-one trades and clear the way for the other cards that build overwhelming advantage. With only eight to ten counters,”The Deck” cannot afford to play like mono blue and counter everything.
You can’t, so don’t try.
One the other hand, this isn’t 1995. You can’t just sit there and wait to counter only the”big” spells,0because the environment has sped up in the last six years. So first of all, if you have to throw a counter to buy time, do it. For example, if a Sligh player plays a Pup, then untaps and plays a second, you’d consider countering depending on your hand because you might take too much damage before The Abyss ends the party. If the same Sligh player untaps and plays a Gorilla Shaman and you’re land light with a Mox out, you might consider using Force of Will because you might not live to see more mana. Same thing if he played a turn 2 Pillage.
With only half the counters of a mono blue deck, countering gets more complicated because you have to choose what will really hurt before your more broken spells can take control. If the same Sligh player played that Null Rod or maybe Gorilla Shaman on turn 20 instead of turn 2, for example, you just smile and let it go.
Some decks are less redundant, especially combo, and for these, you have to plan how to use your small pool of counters. For example, against Academy, I usually let mana artifacts go and fight over card drawers. Against Deck Parfait, I place a low priority on Land Tax, but counter Scroll Rack.
It’s difficult to explain, but there are no hard and fast rules. An old rule, for example, was to always counter Ancestral Recall, but if you have to Force of Will and lose a Mana Drain to do it, you have to think very carefully. Sometimes, Type I games will degenerate early into a”stalemate” after both sides throw a Mana Drain and Force of Will into a counter war that empties both hands, and you might be better off losing the counter war but keeping your hand. And, as shown in Part V, it’s not true that you never counter tutors.
Incidentally, you might ask why”The Deck” never ran a lot of counters. The simple answer: They’re ineffective against cheap threats that hit the board early, as any mono blue player caught with a handful of counters and two Jackal Pups on the other end of the board can tell you. You have a more diverse array of brokenness than that, and there are times when you need anything but another counter.
Against another deck with a lot of counters, though, note that”The Deck” cannot afford to sit back and wait. A piece of advice John Ormerod gave me while talking about his”Blessing-Go” Extended deck:”The control deck that can sit and lay land will probably beat the one that is either forced to discard or tap out for its threats.” Monoblue decks will always be better at sitting back and topdecking more counters, so don’t let them (as hinted at in the intro rant).
Against any deck with counters, to end, never assume that every card he has in hand is a counter. If you know the deck type (if you don’t, guess from his land), you can guess. For example, a deck with ten counters gets an average of one counter every six cards, so if he’s used up three in just the first few turns, you can make a calculated assumption that he’s out. An intelligent player can guess the number of counters the opponent has in hand, cast an instant threat during the end of his turn to bait some of them, then untap and play a big spell like Mind Twist, Yawgmoth’s Will, or Morphling protected by enough counters.
You have to be able to do this without Duress or Scrying Glass, though these don’t hurt.
Force of Will
You may pay 1 life and remove a blue card in your hand from the game rather than pay Force of Will’s mana cost. Counter target spell.
As noted, Force of Will is an emergency card that loses card advantage. You pay the mana cost more often than you might think. Play this last in a counter war, but hard-cast it over Mana Drain when you know you won’t be using the rest of the mana (for example, against a deck that tapped out).
What to pitch out of the game is always an interesting question. Early in the game, never be afraid to lose a late-game spell such as Braingeyser, Stroke of Genius or Morphling (especially if you have two). Later, the reverse is true, and you might hold cheaper blue spells like Ice, Mystical Tutor, and Merchant Scroll instead of casting them. Incidentally, this is why a blue conditional spell is better for”The Deck” than nonblue conditional spells (think about how Force Spike could fuel Forbid in 1998 Draw-Go).
Having to pitch another counter is always a sign of trouble, and pitching Ancestral Recall isn’t so far from Osama Bin Laden surrendering at the nearest NYPD station…. But if you really have to, do it. Make sure, though, because sometimes, it might actually be better to keep that Force of Will and Mana Drain in your hand, or if you cast Ancestral or Fact or Fiction in response and hope to draw a blue spell.
Counter target spell. At the beginning of your next main phase, add X colorless mana to your mana pool, where X is that spell’s converted mana cost.
Mana Drain is the defining counter of Type I, but milking it requires skillful timing. A normal aggro tactic is to keep casting spells to bleed away the control deck’s counters, but Mana Drain makes that more difficult because the mana might turn into an early Abyss, Mind Twist, Morphling, Fact or Fiction, Braingeyser or Stroke of Genius that just wins. (Thus, you can even counter an unimportant spell to turn the mana into a big lead – say, a person who taps out for a turn 2 Time Walk when you have a couple of Moxen and a Mind Twist.)
Many novice players”walk” into Mana Drain for no good reason. Smarter aggro players will just sit back and avoid casting spells if they have two creatures (or one big one) on the table, especially if the opponent is light on mana.
A lesser-known trick is to counter something in your turn, declare your attack phase, and get the mana in your second main phase. If your opponent cast something expensive like Force of Will, you end up catching him vulnerable in your own turn. You can even do this with uncounterable spells – and yes, you can Mana Drain an Obliterate during your turn to set up Yawgmoth’s Will in your second main phase.
Another subtle detail is to note which cards you are countering in a counter war. Say, you counter a cheap spell with Mana Drain, then your opponent casts Force of Will, and you counter with a second Mana Drain. You can get forego the five extra mana by letting Force resolve and just countering the original spell again, which you do if you have nothing to cast and have no”mana sink” like Mishra’s Factory, Morphling or Jayemdae Tome.
Mercadian Masques rare
You may remove a blue card in your hand from the game rather than pay Misdirection’s mana cost. Change the target of target spell with a single target.
This has become the de facto ninth counter – and if there’s one that requires timing, it’s this one.
Misdirection can be bad most of the time. Anyone who topdecked Misdirection and watched the opponent play his topdecked Phyrexian Negator can tell you that. In Extended, it’s just used as an extra Force of Will – but heck, it can’t even counter Duress.
There’s a subtle difference between the Extended and Type I card pools, though. In Extended, Misdirection doesn’t touch Accumulated Knowledge, Fact or Fiction, and Skeletal Scrying. In Type I, though, it turns Ancestral Recall, Mind Twist, Braingeyser, and Stroke of Genius against the caster-four of the deadliest spells in the game. In fact, just the threat of Misdirection to keep an opponent’s first-turn Ancestral Recall at bay is an advantage in itself.
But like I said, it requires timing. Unless you’re sure you can use it as a Force of Will later on, don’t keep waiting to Misdirect a big spell. And in a counter war, if you have just a Force of Will and Misdirection in hand, pitch Force to Misdirection to save yourself one life. (But, as Matt D’Avanzo points out,”If you play with Timetwister in your deck and think you might cast it, you’re often better off keeping the Mis-D out of the game and paying the life for the FoW.”)
Power cards aside, Mis-D can provide a fatal tempo turnaround against Suicide Black’s Sinkholes and Hymns to Tourach if it isn’t Duressed away, and Suicide only becomes more dangerous with Fact or Fiction restricted. Against Sligh, it can trade for a careless Bolt and a creature, though it’s less effective here. Against most other decks, you run into the problem kids discovered back during Ice Age: There aren’t really a lot of spells you can cast Deflection on (yes, Urza’s Rage is just an overcosted Lightning Bolt in Type I).
The threat of Misdirection can be worse than actually casting it so most decks that use it use only 1, but in a fully-powered environment with many control players, using 2 isn’t unreasonable, especially with Braingeyser coming back.
Beta uncommon (common in later reprints)
Counter target spell.
The last important detail about counters is what not to use. The plain Counterspell was an option for players who needed ninth and tenth counters before Mercadian Masques and Misdirection. It’s still a good tenth counter, though very few environments are so skewed that sideboarded Red Elemental Blasts don’t hack it.
People sometimes add more counters without really thinking, and I’ll emphasize that few other counters work. The common mistake is to take a page off Britney Spears’ Boobs and play Mana Leak. First,”The Deck” isn’t as aggressive with counters, and it has other spells that handle an opponent’s early plays. Second, it doesn’t have as many counters as BSB, and isn’t as concerned with countering twice with only three blue sources. Third, with less counters, there are less counter wars where Mana Leak becomes good at the end.
What you get is a player who topdecks Mana Leak against an opponent with six mana on the table, and the best thing that can happen is the opponent thinks he has four Mana Leaks.
Another idea is Prohibit, because it counters all the cheap spells right down to Jackal Pup… Then you realize it doesn’t counter Force of Will, Misdirection, or Fact or Fiction.
And so on.
Flash Counter is too narrow (it’s a sideboard card for mono blue decks that can’t use Red Elemental Blast), Arcane Denial is plain card disadvantage, and everything else is too conditional or too expensive.
But hey. If you’re a”The Deck” player, you’re supposed to have skill instead of mono blue fantasies of brainlessly countering everything.
The Tutor Base
In Part II, we discussed how Mirage tutors radically changed how”The Deck” played. However, you have to understand that these are the”bad” tutors because you lose a card every time you use them. (I’m proud to say that the guy who drove this point into my novice mind was none other than Frank Kusumoto, an eternity ago.)
You cast the tutor (-1 card in hand) and put the card on top of the library (+0 cards in hand), unlike Demonic Tutor where it goes straight to your hand. This is why tutors are best used to fetch a card advantage card or a bomb instead of a counter or other one-for-one trade. In fact, when only a specific removal card can save you, you are probably well behind and have a better chance gambling by tutoring for a card drawer instead and hope to draw the specific card you need or another tutor.
Remember how, in Part IV, Neutral Ground decks didn’t even use Vampiric Tutor because of its inherent disadvantage, which can be fatal against another control deck?
That said, tutors made”The Deck” more flexible than the original build and amplify silver bullets, especially sideboarded bombs such as Circle of Protection: Red.
The obvious question is, of course, what to tutor for? Most of the time, especially in the first few turns where neither player has developed significantly, you go for the default Ancestral Recall to try to gain an advantage. The figure varies among experienced players, but Brian Weissman e-mailed that he goes for Ancestral 90% of the time.
Midgame, your default card becomes Yawgmoth’s Will or something as big, because you have the mana… But it’s the same card advantage idea.
If you know what you need from the board or guessing at the opponent’s hand, though, then you can fetch the right silver bullet. Against weenies, go for Balance if he has three or more creatures already in play, and The Abyss if he has one or two. If your life total is in danger, you go for Zuran Orb. Other times, you just go for a sideboarded card or simply Morphling to end the game. Or, if you have an opening against another control deck and have the mana, go for Mind Twist, as in Part V, or try Library of Alexandria as an uncounterable threat.
However, try to tutor for a specialized card at the last possible moment because you might draw it anyway. In other words, don’t go for Mind Twist or Yawgmoth’s Will on turn 2, unless of course you have Black Lotus to fuel it.
Search your library for a card and put that card into your hand. Then shuffle your library. (Restricted in March 1994)
Not much to say, except that you can Mystical Tutor for this one to fetch any spell you need (The Abyss is the common target).
Just note that if you go early for an expensive spell you can only cast next turn and your opponent has discard, you might lose the spell.
Search your library for an instant or sorcery card and reveal that card. Shuffle your library, then put the card on top of it. (Restricted in October 1999)
Search your library for a card, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it. You lose 2 life. (Restricted in October 1999)
Although these are the”bad” tutors, the card disadvantage is an advantage against discard. Always consider responding to a discard spell to”hide” a key spell on top of your library, and a topdecked Balance in response to a big Mind Twist brings the game back to parity.
Always remember that you don’t have to reveal the card you got with Vampiric Tutor, and that you don’t lose two life if it gets countered. And, though this sounds moronic, don’t cast these two tutors in the same turn because you reshuffle away the first card. You might actually forget during a Yawgmoth’s Will, unless you draw the first card before the second tutor. Finally, when you have eight cards, consider casting a tutor during your turn.
Note that Enlightened Tutor is rarely used. It has the same card disadvantage, but can’t fetch key cards such as Ancestral Recall, Yawgmoth’s Will, Balance, Mind Twist, or even Morphling. It can’t be pitched to Force of Will, too, when it isn’t particularly useful.
Search your library for a blue instant card, reveal that card, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library
If Merchant Scroll isn’t considered a”staple” tutor like the other three, it’s because it’s a sorcery and only fetches seven cards commonly found in”The Deck.” Of course, the seven covers the most powerful blue cards in the deck.
The default card for Merchant Scroll is Ancestral Recall. Later, it fetches Fact or Fiction (now restricted, remember?) or Stroke of Genius.
It improved with Apocalypse, because it fetches Fire/Ice. When nothing else is left or when something needs protecting, it still fetches Mana Drain or Force of Will.
And if you really need to, you can fetch Mystical Tutor to begin the”tutor chain” that ends with Demonic Tutor, allowing you to fetch any card in the deck.
The best thing about Merchant Scroll is that the card goes straight to your hand, generating no card disadvantage. It’s also blue and can be pitched to Force of Will when it’s not useful. Again, the drawback is that it’s a sorcery, so you time it carefully and usually hold back on this turns 2 and 3, unless you aren’t afraid to tap out or can cast it turn 1 with a Mox.
Well, I guess that’s it for this year. I’m leaving to visit my grandmother and some other relatives in the province (an hour by plane from Manila), so we’ll pick up from here next week. We’ll finish up with how to use card drawing and various removal spells, then go to the trick cards that give”The Deck” its color.
And again, thanks for being here with me in my first Christmas as a Star City writer. I got a bunch of warm e-mails last week, around Christmas Day, and I can’t thank everyone enough for their support.
rakso on #BDChat on Newnet
Type I, Extended and Casual Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (http://www.bdominia.com/discus/messages/9/9.shtml)
Featured writer, Star City Games (http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/archive.php?Article=Oscar Tan)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance (http://www.casualplayers.org)