You CAN Play Type I #69: When Second-Best Stinks

Over the last two months, a number of people e-mailed to ask about”budgetizing” Type I decks, especially”The Deck.” Since Christmas is just around the corner and people may make some major purchases, this might be a good time to talk about it… And let me tell you, substituting the Power Nine, like Inquest suggested, is a terrible idea.

I had an interesting control tech debate with Carsten Kotter, a.k.a. Mon, Goblin Chief, last week. It seems that the German control players he knows – with the lone exception of Oliver Daems – have been favoring a single Dust Bowl.

I played an unsideboarded mirror with a European player who goes by Radagast, and he plays a turn 7 Dust Bowl on me. With mana advantage, he goes for the jugular, sacrificing land to get me down to two fetchlands and Moxen.. Eight turns later, I topdeck Merchant ScrollAncestral Recall, and finally Wasteland his Dust Bowl the next turn. I end-of-turn-Fact or Fiction, then Mystical Tutor out Yawgmoth’s Will to take control, then finish with Demonic Tutor for Gorilla Shaman.

Suddenly, I’m not the one without mana.

Funny thing; he actually threw all his Underground Seas at me, and topdecked his last black spell after the Monkey had lunch-Yawgmoth’s Will.

So I told Carsten that, in my opinion, it’s a Wasteland substitute that isn’t the early solution Wasteland is (read: first-turn Library of Alexandria). Midgame, it’s great – if you’re winning anyway.

That is, it’s good if you have more land. If you have more land, chances are you drew more cards, anyway. That means you’re winning already.

Carsten argued,”Think of drawing/tutoring for that thing when both of you are in the midgame, with you a little flooded and your opponent only has two sources of black or red. You can keep a lot of good spells from being played by Bowling both of them. Dust Bowl is a powerful card in certain situations – but it needs a lot of experience with it to know when to go for it.”

But I still think this bit of tech is a string of 1:1 midgame trades (assuming you sac Bowl itself when you’ve thrown enough land), which is mediocre for Type I control.

Of course, the Thawing Glaciers trick is slow and is outclassed by Back to Basics anyway. I’m not sure what other arguments the Europeans had, but the only reasonable use I’ve seen for Dust Bowl so far is as a maindeck hedge against aggro-control with eight Mishra’s Factory/Faerie Conclave.

Anyway, Benny Rott and other BattleTech fans e-mailed to say he loved last week’s feature, which featured Mechs since it was Tubbies day. I was surprised, though, that fewer people picked up the references to the characters Kai Allard-Liao and Aidan Pryde. Anyway, I’ve followed BattleTech for thirteen years, but just don’t know if this new Dark Age storyline is interesting or interesting crap (local bookstores haven’t stocked anything, and it’s a bit expensive to have them mailed over). My favorite sci-fi author, Michael Stackpole (who fleshed out Kai and others like Victor Steiner-Davion and Phelan Wolf), at least made me leave room for the benefit of the doubt.

Shopping For Second Best

Over the last two months, a number of people e-mailed to ask about”budgetizing” Type I decks, especially”The Deck.” Since Christmas is just around the corner and people may make some major purchases, this might be a good time to talk about it.

A couple of years back, a kid who lurked in MTGNews e-mailed. His parents had agreed to buy him a box of the expansion of his choice, so he wanted to know which expansion contained the most Type I-worthy cards.

I answered, why not ask for an Ancestral Recall? You’ll get far more mileage out of it.

When you decide to build a real Type I collection, though, you do it piece-by-piece, much like the kid hopefully started doing. Getting that Ancestral is the first step – but it’s just one of sixty slots.

In the meantime, you have to plug a bunch of holes.

When it printed an article that closely resembled an outdated control primer from Beyond Dominia (and has not commented on that accusation to this day), RIP, Inquest Gamer magazine made a few suggestions:


The Abyss, Moat = Island Sanctuary

Black Lotus = Lotus Petal

Ancestral Recall = Fact or Fiction

Time Walk = Time Warp

Sadly, based on the Star City Discussion Forums, too many kids out there still believe Steve Frohnhoefer and Inquest.

They don’t realize they’ve been duped.

Skeletons And Deck Structures

As anyone with half a brain knows, you don’t replace Ancestral with Fact or Fiction – you play both!

So, like everyone asks me, what do you replace Ancestral with?

The problem isn’t the answer; it’s the question. That is, you’re asking the wrong question. It shows a superficial understanding of deckbuilding.

A deck isn’t just a pile of cards; it follows a distinct structure dictated by its strategy. It has a skeleton – a blueprint. The strategy is the bones, and the individual cards fill out flesh and muscle.

The individual cards may give the details, but it’s the strategy that creates shape.

So your decklist, deep down, is actually X slots for counters, X slots for manipulation, X slots for card draw, X slots for creatures, and so on.

The slots have to be filled out by the right cards, and the entire skeleton has to show synergy. Dive into the details right away, and you get a misshapen lump of muscle, much as we demonstrated with”Invincible Counter Troll” (or Incredibly Crappy Troll, as implied).

It sounds easy – but what does it have to do with power cards?

Well, many of them just have no equivalent.

You have certain bones in your deck that can only be filled out by one specific muscle. Ignoring that fact, you may end up forcing muscles meant for your ass into your cheeks, since you ran out of the delicate cheek muscle.

And that’s exactly how your deck ends up looking: Like an ass.

The subtle solution, then, isn’t to change the muscle. You, the powerful, godlike planeswalker, need only change the bone. Then, the available muscles grow into the deck more snugly.

Ancestral Recall

First question: What kind of bone is Ancestral Recall?

Card drawing, you might say?

That answer implies that you can just slip in another card drawer without altering your deck’s skeleton. Maybe a maindeck Skeletal Scrying, then?

Not quite.

Ancestral Recall is brokenly cheap card drawing, one mana for a net two-card gain. It’s the only card drawer that can give you that explosive burst so early in the game, to the point that a resolved early Ancestral can set you up to win the game.

Put in those turns, then, it’s obviously irreplaceable.

So we change the bone.

The solution is to retool your card drawing slots (or devote a few more) to make up for the lack of Ancestral’s explosiveness. You make sure you have enough on hand, and have them cheap enough so you aren’t dead by the time you can use them.

One cheap spell you can milk is John Ormerod’s favorite: Brainstorm. It’s not card drawing per se, but paired with a healthy number of reshufflers like Polluted Delta and friends, it optimizes your hand with no net card loss (-1 Brainstorm, +3 cards, -2 cards, equals zero). It especially smooths and stabilizes your early game, which is more drawn out for Moxless decks.

Lesson #1: Make up in consistency what you can’t have in explosiveness.

A good example is mono blue after the restriction of Fact or Fiction. Some made the ingenuous choice of simply replacing the slots with a Stroke of Genius, Braingeyser, and Merchant Scroll, which was obviously unrealistic. Everyone else retooled to go back to the cheaper, ever-reliable Ophidian.

Incidentally, for aggro decks, the skeletal overhaul isn’t so hard. If you’re twisting your skeleton too far out to include card draw, then just focus on your core plan of beating down.

Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Merchant Scroll

Wait – these aren’t expensive power cards! Everyone has them! (Hardly – The Ferrett, noting StarCity’s recent wave of Tutor sales)

Sure but that doesn’t mean everyone can use them as effectively.

Imagine”The Deck” without Ancestral Recall. Mystical Tutor still fetches Balance, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Demonic Tutor. That’s strong, but admittedly far less broken.

Lesson #2: Your skeletal changes follow a domino effect.

So, if you don’t have enough tricks, just admit it. Note, for example, that mono blue doesn’t bother with Mystical Tutor, despite the possible Mystical for Ancestral opening play.

The best example might be people who want to build old-school Zoo decks without Ancestral Recall and Timetwister. Your card-disadvantage Mirage tutors may end up dead weight.

Yawgmoth’s Will

Following-up the preceding section, you realize that half the power of Yawgmoth’s Win is really Ancestral Recall, which you try to find and use early. In a deck without Ancestral, an early Yawgmoth’s Will just gets back a tutor, a removal spell, and a land – which isn’t nearly as strong.

Library of Alexandria

Same as Ancestral Recall. There’s no way you’ll find another uncounterable, cheap card drawing engine like Library, so don’t bother. At best, you’ll find another reliable if slower permanent like the old Jayemdae Tome. If you insist on looking for a land, you’ll go through cute things like Soldevi Excavations, which can be cumbersome.

Time Walk

Again, what’s this bone? An extra turn?

That’s the Inquest mistake, since that implies Time Warp is a near-perfect replacement.

What is an extra turn worth?

  • Extra untap

  • Extra card draw

  • Extra land drop

  • Extra attack phase

In these terms, you see why Inquest’s Time Warp suggestion is, well… Inquest. You tap out to get an extra untap?

A five-mana cantrip isn’t very appealing. In fact, Time Warp doesn’t give you the early game boost of an extra land drop, making it dead weight.

Later on in an aggro deck, you’ll be able to abuse Time Walk for a free attack that comes with a free untap. For five mana, surely you can just find an additional damage source.

Later on in a control deck, you use Time Walk to lead big spells like Yawgmoth’s Will. It’s a cheap safety for a counter war, or so your opponent doesn’t get the chance to catch you tapped out and counterattack. Again, this doesn’t work with five mana.

Simply, Time Walk is a class in itself, and is absolutely irreplaceable.

Either you see which part of Time Walk you’re milking most and try to replace that, or admit defeat and give the Time Walk slot over to another set of functions like countering or card drawing.


Again, what does this really do?

  • Both players draw cards

  • Both players reshuffle their graveyards into the libraries (recursion effect)

This card, while used less and less, is a good example because it has many knockoffs.

First, few players need a card that provides only the recursion effect. In other words, no one sacrifices card advantage just to slip in Feldon’s Cane or Thran Foundry. So if you want a complete Timetwister replacement, obviously, Diminishing Returns is problematic recursion for a control or combo deck with just a couple of kill cards.

Thus, there’s just no equivalent for Timetwister as a reset button. Plus, looking at casting costs, there’s no truly efficient equivalent as an anti-discard spell.

Second, more aggressive decks pair Timetwister with Wheel of Fortune as card advantage in decks that empty their hands quickly. Thus, in olden times, Diminishing Returns was a passable replacement in more redundant aggro.

The common mistake, though, is to slip in what people think is the closest parallel: Time Spiral. But if what you need is a fast refresh of your hand, are you really waiting to hit six mana? Note that the Spiral saw far more use as a combo card.

Black Lotus

Obviously, replacing Black Lotus with Lotus Petal makes as much sense as replacing Dark Ritual with Cabal Ritual, or Lightning Bolt with Flare. Go, Inquest, go!

Again, what does it really do?

It’s simply a Dark Ritual on steroids. You’re familiar with Dark Ritual, and you’re familiar with Lotus playing dirty tricks with Mind Twist or The Abyss on Turn 1, or with Yawgmoth’s Will later on.

I’m sure even Inquest readers have the sense not to try Lion’s Eye Diamond in normal decks, so unless you’re playing black, you know you don’t have a substitute.

Some think it’s popular to scoff at Lotus as an overrated, unnecessary card. Anyone who’s done Yawgmoth’s Will tricks knows this isn’t true – but given its price tag, the better phrased argument is that Lotus’s functions are superficial.

That is, though you’re still able to do everything you can without Lotus, you just can’t pull any explosive, dirty plays. But again, if you can’t do it with explosiveness, just do it with consistency.

Implied: The simple replacement is a stable mana source of your choice.

Mox Sapphire and the other Moxen

Same argument as Black Lotus. All these do is provide fast mana, so if you can’t have that, then go for consistent mana. Stabilize your land selection, and maybe reduce the mana count because you’ll end up with too much land (and you’re again bound by the one land per turn rule)..

The common idea is to use Mox Diamond or Lotus Petal. There’s a world of difference because these also give you one extra mana early, but add the loss of one card to the price tag. Another idea is to try Mana Vault and Grim Monolith – but these work very differently.

Some people will try things like Sky Diamond and the other Mirage artifacts, or even the venerable Fellwar Stone. They might be passable… But ask yourself if you need mana acceleration or artifact mana when it comes at two mana more.

The big mistake, though, is using Sapphire Medallion and the Tempest artifacts instead. When you think about it, these are only truly useful when you intend to cast more than one spell of that color each turn.

So again, Moxen aren’t integral to the core functions of any deck. It’s just that you have to compensate for a slower deck… This demands changes in play, but you also have to adjust your deck accordingly, mainly to be wary of your expensive spells.

One good example is mono blue. Forbidian is perfectly fine without off-color Moxen – but you play a different game because you can’t rely on an early, explosive Morphling cleaning up your side of the board.

Incidentally, there’s one exception: Moxen are integral to decks that run on Goblin Welder, since you lose a lot of punch when you have to find other artifacts to turn into fat beatdown or Memory Jar.

Mana Drain

Again, following-up from the preceding sections, you can work without Mana Drains if you admit that you can’t pull off explosive plays anymore. A vanilla Counterspell stops spells just as cold – it’s just that you no longer win with Mana Drain’s brutal tempo shift.

So again, watch the number of high-cost spells you’re running. Fortunately, not even Inquest suggested Drain Power

The Abyss, Moat

These permanent anti-creature permanents define”The Deck,” though less so today with the resurrection of Mishra’s Workshop.

There’s simply no replacing The Abyss. The supposed knockoff, Pillar Tombs of Aku from ancient Visions, is actually a damage source for aggro decks, not a creature removal card for control decks. Other parallels like No Mercy leave a lot to be desired, and don’t even clear out utility creatures.

As for Moat, first of all, its effectiveness has diminished with Wonder. Moreover, its knockoff Teferi’s Moat has a hefty price tag of five mana. Humility is usable only in Deck Parfait – which kills with 1/1s anyway. Inquest’s Island Sanctuary is, of course, moronic because it costs a card a turn, which is suicide for a control deck.

There’s no efficient equivalent except for a Morphling on blocking duty backed by a lot of mana. Thus, you can’t rely on just tutoring for your silver bullet; instead, you have to do it the old-fashioned way and draw removal spells one by one.

Of course, these irreplaceable enchantments are more accessible than the real power. You only need one each and Italian reprints aren’t hard to find. However, lacking Moxen and Mana Drains, you may find that you can’t rely on a four-mana enchantment because a good aggro deck should steamroll you by the time you find your fourth land. So even if you have The Abyss, you still have to shore up your spot removal.

You’ll likely need something cheaper (in terms of mana, not dollars), and I mentioned the Morphling on blocking duty. That implies Oath of Druids if you’re trying to build a cheaper”The Deck,” and dropping another color for green is a major overhaul of your skeleton, no longer just individual bones. Moreover, you have to pay attention to the domino effect. Holistic Wisdom is a green control trick that doesn’t work as well without Ancestral Recall and Time Walk, for example.

Mishra’s Workshop

Again, there’s really no replacement. The problem with this particular card is that you’re trying to replace an irreplaceable component of your mana base, which pretty much kills the Stacker 2 or TnT deck idea for you.

When you think about it, lacking Moxen and further lacking Workshops, and with Mana Vault and Grim Monolith long since restricted, you’re pretty much out of explosive options. And further, as mentioned, the lack of Moxen already makes Goblin Welder far less impressive.

If your list runs down to Llanowar Elves, you know you have a problem (try playing Fires and get a Mana DrainMind Twist play in your face).


Sorry if this article ends up more of a”what not to do” discussion – but judging from various forums to this day, that’s the reality check less experienced players need.

If you now ask me what you do, that’s a complex question with no single answer since some of you have some power cards and have to work accordingly, while others don’t have anything at all. (I’ll be going back to some basic deckbuilding updates, and maybe try an actual budget deckbuilding exercise after that, though.)

Again, the basic idea is to make up for lack of explosiveness with a lot of consistency.

What you have to break out of to achieve this, though, is to stop asking,”What do I replace Ancestral Recall with?”

“Budgetizing” the decklists that need power cards is far more complicated than replacing this or that card one-for-one – that’s both lazy and ineffective. (Try it to convert Type I decks for Type II and you’ll see just how bad an idea it is.)

You have to look at the entire deck’s structure, and pay attention to how replacing one slot affects everything else. More likely, you’ll have to retool a large part of the deck to compensate for your card pool, and emphasize other parts of your deck to make up for what you’re missing. Thus, replacing a Time Walk with a Counterspell or Swords to Plowshares might make a lot more sense than Inquest’s Time Warp.

Lacking key power cards, you might realize that you’re actually playing with something closer to the old Extended card pool. It’s a good idea, then, to pay attention to the structures and slot assignments in those decks. In fact, you might come up with a better budget control deck by checking the slots in an old Extended Oath build instead of today’s”The Deck.” You’ll probably end up with something closer to Extended, in fact, possibly with manipulation like Brainstorm and more spot removal slots.

In any case, never forget that it’s the same set of skills you’re using, regardless of the card pool. In case you can’t expand your card pool this December, at least expanding your skill pool is free.

And may you think carefully before you buy that Time Warp… (don’t worry; it has its uses, but just not as a direct Time Walk substitute).

Oscar Tan

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

University of the Philippines, College of Law

Forum Administrator, Star City Games

Featured Writer, Star City Games

Author of the Control Player’s Bible

Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (R.I.P.)

Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance