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: Counters and tutors
Part VII: Playing the core cards: Card drawing and removal
Part VIII: Playing the Sapphires
Part IX: Playing the Jets
Part X: Playing the Pearls
Part XI: Playing the Rubies
Part XII: Playing the Emeralds
Part XIII: The Sol Rings: Rounding out”The Deck”
Part XIV: Building a 5-color mana base
Part XV: The budget 5-color mana base
Yes, I’m still alive. Fortunately, people are in a good mood in my law school, since we topped the national bar exams again.
Look, we’d do anything to get professors happy during final exams, right?
Anyway, John Ormerod e-mailed on the last article:”True. Lots of shaky mana bases in T1. Probably one thing that most people get wrong when building from scratch rather than modify a proven netdeck.”
My sentiments exactly.
Last week’s column pointed out how a bad mana base could subtly screw up an otherwise normal-looking Type I control deck. Sometimes, though, mana bases aren’t built wrong because the player doesn’t know how. A lot of mistakes are made by players who lack power cards and have to fill in the blanks. Compensating for missing cards is more complicated than replacing cards one-for-one (ex. Time Warp for Time Walk, which is not an uncommon screwup), but replacing mana cards is usually straightforward.
Now, I believe that you can enjoy Type I without the power – you just have to know how.
So while my brain is still somewhere in outer space, I’d like to write on a topic that, in my opinion, accounts for at least half the”Your deck sucks” comments on Type I forums.
Read my lips: This column goes out to every clueless visitor to Beyond Dominia I’ve secretly wanted to strangle over the past couple of years…
The members of the dream team: The fully powered five-color mana base
Of course, you can’t talk about replacement cards without talking about what they’re supposed to replace in the first place. Briefly, let me walk you through the power cards in the mana base.
The Dream Team: Artifact Mana
Don’t think the mana is obvious or insignificant. The power mana cards add an element of explosiveness nothing else can replace. If you’ve tried converting your power Type I deck to I.5 or Extended, you’ll know what I mean.
Tap: Add U to your mana pool for each artifact you control. (Restricted January 1999)
This is one of the most broken cards ever printed, but you might wonder why it’s not in my deck.
If you have Moxen, it doubles the insanity of all those early Mox draws, Mind Twists, Strokes of Genius and especially Yawgmoth’s Wills. You can even force a Morphling far earlier than usual, and with mana left over for Mana Drain.
A long time ago, however, Brian Weissman e-mailed that all it did was make blue mana, and that got me thinking.
While it does eat up yet another slot that could’ve gone to a multicolor producer, I’ve since felt that an even bigger problem is the inconsistency Academy adds. You only have eight cheap artifacts, and Zuran Orb gets sided out sometimes. Sometimes you get the mad Mox + Academy draws and do something broken, but sometimes you get no Moxen + Academy and mulligan unnecessarily. It can also double the damage Gorilla Shaman does to you.
I prefer to get as much consistency as I can into an already inconsistent mana base. I do miss the occasional explosive early mana, but I think my deck still does fine without giving Apprentice shuffler another chance to screw me.
If you do use it, note that a second Academy that enters play goes to the grave without even an opportunity to tap it for mana. Legendary rules are fun to remember against an unprepared Academy combo deck.
Just to clarify: Black Lotus is overrated, but not that overrated.
It’s the last piece you buy for any serious Type I deck, but it amplifies the brokenness of all those broken cards early on. Imagine, this actually makes Yawgmoth’s Will even more broken in the midgame (sac Lotus, Will, sac Lotus again… just remember to pick the right color of mana both times).
Tap: Add one blue mana to your mana pool. (Restricted January 1994)
Before anything else, memorize the names:
Black = Jet
White = Pearl
Red = Ruby
Green = Emerald
You know what these are, but you need to know why it’s hard to get them for less than a hundred bucks each.
The Moxen are more than glorified basic land because they break one of the most fundamental rules of the game: Only one land a turn.
Because of this rule, getting an extra mana on turn 1 is like a Time Walk (think Elvish Spirit Guide in Stompy). Playing out a hand of Moxen, then casting Balance or Timetwister is like cheating – even by Type I standards.
The subtle decision with the Moxen is whether or not to play them immediately from your opening hand. You obviously do if you can cast something, but what if you can’t and don’t want to mulligan?
If you play them, a Monkey or something else like Powder Keg might give you trouble. If you don’t, you might get Hymned. There’s no hard and fast rule, but if you don’t have enough information, you may as well drop them if only because you might see a broken Balance, Timetwister, or Mind Twist that would make you wish you had mana on the table. But again, that’s not a rule – and even later on, many other things might make you think, such as holding back for Library of Alexandria.
Tap: Add two colorless mana to your mana pool. (Restricted January 1994)
It’s simply the most solid artifact mana source after the Moxen, and it goes into any deck that can use the colorless mana. (Meaning too many beginners stick it into things like Suicide Black, where most of the costs are in black.)
The note is not to be afraid to tap this for a spell with only one colorless mana and burn.
The Dream Team: Multilands
Dual lands alone won’t cut it, and you need a core of 5-color mana producers to assure consistency. All 5-color lands have terrible drawbacks, so it’s a small core, but there’s a reason playing with less than all four Cities of Brass raises eyebrows.
City is the classic 5-color land, and is still the most reliable to date.
See, effects that slow your mana development are bad (comes into play tapped, returns to your hand, doesn’t untap every turn, etc.). Damage isn’t good, either, but at least it doesn’t matter until you’ve taken nineteen points.
City’s value to you changes with the stage of the game. Early on, it’s very valuable because you won’t have all the duals down. Later, the one damage makes it the most expendable land. Keep this in mind when you play land against land destruction, or have to Zuran Orb later in the game.
Rules notes: Remember that City deals damage no matter how it’s tapped, so you can actually win a mirror with Ice (but feel free to strangle Rishadan Port players).
On the other hand, remember that the damage is a trigger that goes on the stack and you can respond to it. This means that if you’re at one life and have nothing but Cities in play, you can still tap mana then use Zuran Orb or cast Fire to win before you take the City damage.
Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool. During the next untap step of Undiscovered Paradise’s controller, as that player untaps his or her permanents, he or she returns Undiscovered Paradise to its owner’s hand.
Undiscovered Paradise is the second best 5-color land, though”sucks the least” is more accurate.
The use is obvious to those finicky players who just have to have that fifth City. The subtle use, though, is to help get Red Elemental Blasts in against Back to Basics. The drawback helps in a few other situations, such as Masticore upkeep and aggro with Winter Orb.
Note that I said fifth City; I’d only think about two if I were a budget player who needed to fill in slots that should be jewelry – and even then, the words”double Paradise opening hand” would make me think harder.
The Dream Team: Dual lands
Now, we move on to the workhorses of the Type I mana base:
Again, the names:
Obviously, because of the importance of getting double blue reliably, no self-respecting 5-color deck will use a non-blue dual.
That aside, you might think it’s beneath me to tell you how to tap for mana.
(You can skip this if you’re the average player, but I’ve played a number of people who tested the lists in this article on #apprentice on Newnet, so…)
I’ve played against many a beginner who didn’t know how to. The way I tagged the nonblue colors, you get the idea that black is the most important, followed by red and white, then green. So you usually tap the black last, play the Underground Sea last (Wasteland, remember?), sac the Sea last, etc. And you tap Moxen and unneeded Wastelands before your duals.
Of course, things change after sideboarding, and white or red might become more important). Things also change when you need to hold mana open for a certain spell in hand, like a Swords. It’s even trickier when you have to hold mana open for a spell you might draw.
Suppose you have a Wasteland, an Underground Sea, a Volcanic Island, and a Tundra in play. You topdeck Merchant Scroll, and use it to cast Ancestral Recall. Which of the three dual lands do you leave open?
It depends on so many things, but you get the idea. Heck, you might even make a case for none of the above and hold Wasteland open.
Rules note: An Underground Sea is a nonbasic land with three land types: Underground Sea, Island, and Swamp. That means it’s affected by things that affect nonbasic land (Back to Basics, Wasteland), Underground Sea (Lobotomy), and Islands and/or Swamps (Choke, Mirage fetch lands), but not things that affect basic land (Land Tax).
The Dream Team: Others
Finally, we end with the utility lands that round out the mana base.
Library of Alexandria
Arabian Nights uncommon
Tap: Add one colorless mana to your mana pool. Tap: Draw a card. Play this ability only if you have exactly seven cards in your hand. (Restricted in May 1994)
Library is nicknamed”Library of I Win,” but note that it got weaker as the game got faster. Since you often have to respond quickly to counter or remove an opponent’s threats, and with Wastelands standard in most competitive decks, the Library isn’t an invincible, uncounterable threat.
That said, use this powerful card with reasonable expectations, and don’t be afraid to drop below seven cards (like Force of Will) for a good reason. When to activate Library is a subtle art. Normally, you have seven cards in hand, then activate Library during your opponent’s turn to avoid discarding. If you have just six, though, you draw then activate it in your main phase, then play a land (it’s easy to play land automatically and forget). When you have seven cards in hand and don’t need to tap Library for mana, always tap it to draw before you cast something (like a counter). Finally, don’t be afraid to use Library with a full hand and no land drops, forcing you to discard weaker cards (you activate in your opponent’s turn to avoid discarding, unless you have land or Moxen).
Another classic question is when to play Library. Contrary to old logic, first-turn Library is usually worse than playing two blue sources first, though you might want to play Library first if you have a so-so hand. If you draw it during the game, try to play it when you have seven cards in hand, so you can activate it with your next draw before an opponent plays a Wasteland. Never force yourself to hold back and go to seven cards, though, unless you really have nothing to cast and have enough mana out. Against a discard-heavy deck like Suicide Black, you may as well let it just sit there unless you have Timetwister – and it’s a poor Suicide player that Sinkholes Library when its owner has no hand.
Wastelands aside, one of the simplest tricks to defeat an active Library was the same thing later used on Whispers of the Muse at the height of Draw-Go in 1998: Just cast things and force him to react. This used to tie down mana for Whispers, and forces the Library player to go below six cards, especially if he is forced to enter a counter war and Force of Will. (Just be sure to do it intelligently.)
If you read Part V, the sample game revolved around Library, especially the question of when to just counter things instead of using the Library of I Win.
Again, these are obvious, right? Play four or five slots so you can take out Library of Alexandria when you see it? Something to leave untapped to drive an Academy player nuts?
Taking out annoying utility lands is just the first function. The second is to simply disrupt your opponent.
When you see your opponent miss a land drop in the crucial early game, consider using Wasteland to further slow his mana development. Never underestimate the difference between two and three mana on the other end of the table in the early game, between three and four, and between four and five. In fact, the demo in Part V opened and ended with mana squabbles.
To maximize the effectiveness of your few mana denial spells, you have to aim the barrage at just one color. Against”The Deck,” for example, you want to kill City of Brass and Underground Sea (City and Volcanic Island after boarding). Stalling the arrival of key restricted spells in that color by a few turns can help you more than you notice.
Of course, you can only do this if you’re not behind on mana yourself, since it’s no good to color screw the opponent and end up mana screwing yourself. And, don’t start saccing Wastelands on dual lands when it won’t make a dent on his mana base. Save them for topdecked Libraries or those situations where he has just two blue lands untapped to counter with (Waste one and declare the attack phase if he floats). Obviously, save Strip Mine for last, since it can hit basic Islands.
And never sac a Wasteland first turn. It doesn’t make sense when you don’t know how your development will go and how your opponent’s will go.
Aside from all that, with Balance, Shaman, and enough Wastelands drawn, you can actually leave an opponent with no mana on the table. It’s not #1 in your battle plan, but I’ve done it a number of times with”sac Wasteland, sac Wasteland, YawgWill, sac Wasteland, Shaman from grave, munch, munch.”
An important question you have to ask yourself is how many Wastelands you want. Matt D’Avanzo suggests that three is enough. Others, like Brian Weissman and myself, want all four. Still others with too much mono color in their environments can live with two.
Rules note: You can sac a Wasteland targeting itself (for example, to get around Land Tax or Price of Progress or to manipulate Balance) by announcing the target first, then paying the costs afterwards.
Tap: Add one colorless mana to your mana pool. Tap: Target Assembly-Worker gets +1/+1 until end of turn. 1: Until end of turn, Mishra’s Factory becomes a 2/2 Assembly-Worker artifact creature. It’s still a land.
This classic man-land actually does a lot for a 5-color control deck: It’s an uncounterable, colorless damage source that isn’t affected by sorceries and Abyss, it’s a Mana Drain mana sink (you can activate the ability any number of times), and it soaks up early damage.
I don’t use them because I don’t think I can strain my mana base with more colorless producers, but some work with a couple.
If you use it, the”early blocker” part requires planning. The Factory can pump itself into a 3/3 blocker, but not in the first turn it is played because the Assembly-Worker will have summoning sickness. So decide if you want to play it first (to block very early) or later after colored sources (to cast other things). Remember that you don’t want Factory killed for no good reason because that stunts your mana base (so don’t be so gung-ho about attacking immediately with it for no reason).
When you block a one- or two-toughness creature, don’t pump Assembly-Worker until after damage is put on the stack. This way, if the pump gets responded to (ex. Fire), you still kill the creature. (Some exceptions, of course, like Jackal Pup.)
One nice trick with Assembly Worker is to set up Misdirection on creature kill, and this can completely take the wind from out of his sails.
Mishra’s Factory is, to end, a wonderful collector’s card. It has four different artworks, one for each season, with Winter being the most valuable. They really should start doing this again, in addition to killing the moronic puns in the flavor text.
The B-team: The Mox replacements
Because the above are so efficient and a guy has more than enough to fill out a mana base, the mistakes usually come from the number of producers assigned to each color. It’s much rarer to see a guy screw up by using subpar cards.
You end up using what you might not realize are subpar cards when you don’t have power. One Black Lotus + five Moxen + Library of Alexandria is seven slots, and even if you cut one or two because you’re not running Moxen anyway, that’s a lot of room for error.
In addition, people don’t pay a lot of attention to lacking power. A lot just adjust their real-life mana bases right before they play, and play”normally” in Apprentice. Finally, the most experienced players have usually picked up the cards they need, so no one discusses the budget build in-depth. Besides, different budget builders are usually missing different cards, so you have to know how to do it yourself.
I note all this because I remember Invasion started a thread on Beyond Dominia, something like,”Are the Invasion duals the best for budget decks?” There are a lot of players out there who want – need – to know how to compensate, but are just too shy to ask or have no one to ask.
Anyway, the philosophy isn’t so complicated:
Because you don’t have the brokenness and won’t ever until you get the real cards, you just have to make up for lack of power with a lot of consistency.
The B-Team: Artifact mana
Too often, I see people stick mana artifacts that look or feel like Moxen, but just aren’t Moxen. I said make up for power with consistency, not exacerbate lack of power with lack of consistency.
You can’t replace a Mox, so don’t try.
You don’t try to do it in I.5, you don’t try to do it in Extended – so why do it in Type I?
John Ormerod commented on the draft:”Without Moxen, this is a different deck anyway. You almost need to start again.”
I can understand why these two attract players without real Moxen. In fact, when Stronghold first came out, people were speculating on how good Mox Diamond would be. One argument I saw on The Dojo was that it would speed up aggro decks. A Sligh deck, for example, might draw a third Mountain in the first or second draw to play Ball Lightning on turn 2. I even saw an Inquest list this in a Hatred deck with only sixteen land.
Key word: Inquest.
Proposition #1: Good decks do not wreck their own mana bases.
Proposition #2: Card disadvantage wrecks more than the mana base.
You make the call.
Again, they don’t belong in a control deck.
Mana Vault doesn’t untap during your untap step. At the beginning of your upkeep, you may pay 4. If you do, untap Mana Vault. At the beginning of your draw step, if Mana Vault is tapped, it deals 1 damage to you. Tap: Add three colorless mana to your mana pool. (Restricted October 1999)
Despite Mike Long’s last fling with Mind Warp, these two are too erratic in control; not even the now illegal Fact or Fiction-based mono blue decks could use them consistently. (And not Mana Vault in any case, since you have to untap it in your turn.)
It’s a sad thing, though, that a lot of cards had to be restricted to kill abusive combo engines. The goal of one of the fun archetypes of my old high school playgroup was to Mana Vault into Erhnams and even Scaled Wurms…
The B Team: Multilands
One tempting way to fill in empty slots is to use more multilands. Theoretically, this makes your mana base even more color-consistent under the rule of thumb from last week’s table.
Remember, though, that multilands have severe drawbacks and the mediocre ones screw consistency like nothing else.
Gemstone Mine comes into play with three mining counters on it. Tap, Remove a mining counter from Gemstone Mine: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool. If there are no mining counters on Gemstone Mine, sacrifice it.
Question: Why is Undiscovered Paradise the second best multiland available?
Answer: Its drawback sucks, but everything else just sucks worse.
Pool and Mine are the best of the”everything else,” yet I automatically assume I’m playing a newbie when I see them in control decks.
Pool won’t give you the mana you need all the time. (I call this the”Reflecting Pool” problem when critiquing new land).
Pool is so bad that it can only give you a second mana of that color – but you already keep double-colored mana costs to a minimum so what use is that? Plus, I’ve hit people with multiple Wastelands before and left them with just their Pools, which don’t produce mana with just each other for company.
Mines at least give you the mana, but they’re used in very fast decks that get the job done before the self-inflicted damage catches up with them. (In Type I, that’s usually combo, not control.)
Dromar’s Cavern is a Lair in addition to its land type. When Dromar’s Cavern comes into play, sacrifice it unless you return a non-Lair land you control to its owner’s hand. Tap: Add W, U, or B to your mana pool.
Old-school players may only know Nicol Bolas:
The Lairs are probably the most stable multilands for budget play that I’ve come across. Their drawback is also very bad, but at least having two Lairs in a deck is easier than having two Paradises. Still, I wouldn’t use more than two or three Lairs and Paradises, total.
They’re easier to use in a casual playgroup that doesn’t use sideboards, though, because no Lair can cover both tertiary colors.
The B Team: Dual lands
Most of your missing slots are going to come from this group, and the truth is you don’t have much of a choice.
These are nicknamed”painlands”:
These are the next best duals, again, for the same reason City of Brass is the best multiland. At least you can stop tapping them for colored mana after the first few turns, though you have to plan what you tap after Yawgmoth’s Will turn even more closely.
You’ll be forced to use them because replacing Moxen with the off-color duals makes no sense. You end up reinforcing a color with painlands. For example, if you maindeck Moat in your casual playgroup, you need Adarkar Wastes (remember, the Mox and Lotus count as white sources, too).
Don’t think, though, that you can use painlands to make up for a lot of missing dual lands in addition to the jewelry. Having three or four in a deck with four City of Brass is a lot of pain, and aggro decks aren’t that forgiving. Having more is just too hard to work with, and don’t think the mana bases of old Type II Donais decks will work for you in Type I.
I mean, come on. This article can help you plug a few holes, but can’t replace hunting up reprinted Cities of Brass and Revised duals and a Sol Ring. A plastic surgeon can give you a nose job, but he can’t turn you into Brad Pitt, right?
Rules note: Unlike City of Brass, all other lands inflict damage as part of the mana ability, not as a separate trigger that goes on the stack.
These are the examples of budget lands that make your mana base erratic. They might look less painful, but casting your spells consistently is the best way to minimize damage. They’re not necessarily bad, like the Mirage fetch lands, but they just don’t belong in a control deck.
As John Ormerod put it,”If you take out the artifacts, the last thing you want is land that comes into play tapped. You just can’t afford to give your opponent even more time.”
I want to emphasize this because strictly Type I players do end up trading for cards that are useful in Type II and Block – and therefore expensive when they come out – but useless in Type I.
The B Team: Others
Finally, you can’t make up for the lack of power in a budget deck by getting funky. I don’t know of any utility land card not listed that adds anything to even a budget deck.
Maze of Ith
The Dark uncommon
Tap: Untap target attacking creature. Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to and dealt by that creature this turn. (Restricted from October 1994 to April 1999.)
Arabian Nights common
Tap: Add one colorless mana to your mana pool. Tap: Desert deals 1 damage to target attacking creature. Play this ability only during the end of combat step.
I had a lot of good memories with my Maze, so don’t get me wrong – it just doesn’t belong in most 5-color control decks. It’s just a stall card, doesn’t really kill the creature, and doesn’t produce mana. You don’t want to stall; you want to hit four mana and drop Abyss.
Desert is another of those cards I just find cute, but Mishra’s Factory is just more effective if you have to use more colorless land against weenies. Same with the Quicksand you saw in old decklists, etc.
If Soldevi Excavations would come into play, sacrifice an untapped island instead. If you do, put Soldevi Excavations into play. If you don’t, put it into its owner’s graveyard. Tap: Add U and one colorless mana to your mana pool. 1, Tap: Look at the top card of your library. You may put that card on the bottom of your library.
This is one of the better examples of land you might try to work in to add flexibility in the absence of things like Library of Alexandria. Again, focus on consistency in your mana base and let your spells do the work.
The only reason to use cards like this is if you have fun with them, conscious of their drawbacks. Look more closely if you think they add anything but fun or style.
Again,”The Deck” is enjoyable not just because it’s powerful, but also because few other decks give you so many”toys.” And I don’t think a lack of power should take that fun away from you.
I mean, you’re not Michael Jordan, but I’m sure you have fun playing basketball, right? And he sure looks like he’s having fun even without Pippen, Rodman, and the rest of the crew, so why shouldn’t you?
Well, thanks for humoring my”these are the damn basic, miscellaneous notes I’ve been wishing for years that every beginner knew so we could move on to discuss the gray areas of strategy” moods.
My exams are far from over, but this is probably the last”basics” article I have in mind on this topic. My apologies if you think knew everything already, but I got some good feedback on the past few columns and feel I reached the audience I wanted to.
Next week, if I can, I’ll try to think of a few more advanced topics.
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)