The Control Player’s Bible, Book I (The Fundamentals of 5-color control)
Table of Contents for Book I
The Control Player’s Bible, Book II (“The Deck” v. Aggro)
Table of Contents for Book II
I recently got in a few games with another German I correspond with, Roland Bode, who developed the KrOathan anti-aggro strategy. We had quite a few hilarious games with his playtest decks.
The first series featured his Dragon variant. One game showed me why”The Deck” is a funny matchup for Dragon. Imagine this dialogue:
“Worldgorger Dragon enters play?”
“You have a Swords to Plowshares, don’t you?”
(Worldgorger Dragon and Animate Dead form a loop that brings an Underground Sea in and out of play-always untapped when it”phases” back in. Swords to Plowshares in response to the Dragon’s trigger, though, removes all his permanents from the game when the Dragon’s trigger resolves.)
The second set of games featured a reworked Lackey Sligh with Goblin Piledriver backing up Mogg Flunkies. The egg was on my face one game when I went Ancestral Recall–Brainstorm/sac Polluted Delta–Yawgmoth’s Will-Ancestral, then conceded in the middle of resolving the Brainstorm with ten cards in hand.
I showed Roland my hand of eight land and two uncastable Morphlings.
As a Type I control player, I honestly wonder if Magic Online’s shuffler is better than Apprentice’s.
When Core Cards Are Chaff
The complexity of”The Deck” has spawned what [author name="Abe Sargent"]Abe Sargent[/author] calls a”Raksonian fest,” to the point that we’re already inserting corrections into the Bible even before it’s half done.
There are some plays you couldn’t possibly visualize”The Deck” without, like Mystical Tutor–Ancestral Recall or Mana Drain–The Abyss. New releases, though, continue to prove that Type I isn’t all about Beta and Arabian Nights antiques. As discussed, the consistency added by the Onslaught fetch lands forced the unimaginable – almost sacrilegious – step of cutting Regrowth.
If you thought that was something, then this segment of the Bible is going to be discussing major blasphemy.
Mystical Tutor‘s Poor Relation
Vampiric Tutor was the talk of the Net when the new Extended debuted, but in older Type I days, it was all about unrestricted Mystical Tutor. It’s a one-mana instant that fetches Ancestral in a pinch, gets some other bomb like Balance midgame, and pitched to Force of Will if you had nothing better to do. Vampiric may fetch any card, but the last detail made it nothing more than a stand-in for the lost Mysticals.
If you remember, the tutors in”The Deck” add flexibility crucial to a control deck that needs to get the right answers to an opponent’s threats. The Mirage tutors, though, have the problem of costing two cards to fetch (-1 tutor in hand, -1 card draw, +1 searched card), unlike Demonic Tutor, Merchant Scroll, and more recently, Cunning Wish (-1 tutor in hand, +1 searched card).
Many times, the flexibility gains interest. Ancestral Recall is the primary tutor target. Other choices such as Balance and Yawgmoth’s Will at least double your investment. And, you can severely cripple some decks by just fetching one card like The Abyss or a sideboarded bomb.
Other times, though, you can’t afford to invest the one-card loss. Against another counter-based deck, it doesn’t matter what you can fetch with Vampiric Tutor – since it won’t matter if you have one less counter than he does. (And fetching the uncounterable Library of Alexandria is mediocre, since the one-card loss stalls your buildup back to seven cards.) In the mirror, Mystical also fetches Yawgmoth’s Will to catch your opponent right after a stalemated counter war, but you can at least pitch it to Force when the one-card loss only hurts you.
Note you normally side out Vampiric Tutor in the mirror match.
Recent developments have exacerbated Vampiric’s weakness, however. On one hand, the departure of Sylvan and some Cities of Brass means Vampiric has no other competitor for life (unless you use Skeletal Scrying). On the other, some newer decks just aren’t solved by silver bullets. German Tools ‘n’ Tubbies, for example, mocks The Abyss, and anti-TnT bullets such as Ebony Charm and Shattering Pulse are poor maindecks.
The Online Debate
The idea of removing Vampiric Tutor originated in Neutral Ground in New York, where Matt D’Avanzo and friends hated seeing it in Game 1 of the mirror, considering the unusually large proportion of good control players there. The story goes that, with unrestricted Fact or Fiction, Matt and Darren Di Battista from the Virginia chapter, tried it as a permanent tweak. Of course, Matt is the Sylvan Librarian, so Vampiric’s life loss annoyed him more than most.
After FoF got restricted, they testified to not missing Vampiric and never put it back. Matt, heck, tried a second Merchant Scroll for a while. With Cunning Wish as a possible fourth tutor, the hated dead card was stricken for good from their lists.
Confident with playtest results, they promoted the new idea online, concluding that you don’t miss Vampiric if skillful play can milk the most out of every card you draw.
When I mentioned the idea, Brain Weissman’s comment was blunter: All the skill in the world won’t make you draw Ancestral Recall more often.
I was on the other side of the fence of that debate, and simply appreciated fetching silver bullets when it worked. Changes in the metagame due to Judgment and Onslaught have increased the stakes of getting the right answer, though, so I’d like to revisit the debate more comprehensively.
Since it began (and is still somewhat perceived) as a metagame reaction, I’d like to go over twenty different matchups, plus the mirror.
The two life hurts most in this matchup – but Sligh can’t do much to interfere with you. It’s another way to get to Ancestral early and, later, to cards that hurt like Balance and The Abyss. After sideboarding, it gets Circle of Protection: Red or even the D’Avanzo secret tech of Celestial Dawn (which shuts down every red hoser from Red Elemental Blast to Price of Progress, at the price of your own Merchant Scroll). Fetching Mind Twist against a suspected hand of Red Elemental Blasts is gold, too.
Darren reiterates that you might get the hoser one turn too late because of the card disadvantage – but you also have to note that Cunning Wish and the need to run graveyard removal against newer decks means you have less room in your sideboard. Where there used to be two CoP: Reds, for example, it’s hard enough to fit one.
Similar to Sligh, where the faster creature damage makes this somewhat analogous despite the lack of burn. Similar tutor targets, similar silver bullets. Another way to fetch Pyroclasm, if you have it, is greatly appreciated against a three-creature opening complete with Rushwood Legate.
#3: Zoo (aggro)
Zoo was the classic multicolored aggro deck. It had the restricted cards down to drawers like Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune, and diverse damage sources. These days, many drop the Draw 7 cards and look more like three-color Sligh decks that were closer to what people used to call Gun. You get something like Sligh with Savannah Lions and tricks like Seal of Cleansing or Swords to Plowshares.
#4: White Weenie (aggro)
White weenies led by Savannah Lions, mono white or with a blue or red splash. Builds of varying potency revolve around tricks from Army of Allah or Armageddon to Land Tax/Scroll Rack or Empyreal Armor.
Same as all of the above, except White Weenie is slower and gives”The Deck” even more elbow room to time bombs for maximum effect.
Conventional logic said that Vampiric Tutor is best against aggro, where you have more control over the choices in the game and can get back the card advantage with your choice of bomb. But what do you do with your conventional logic against a deck that isn’t hit by any of the normal bullets? The card disadvantage hurts even more when you have to do it the hard way and trade counters and removal for fat and Welders.
This is what I personally consider a one-matchup justification to run Cunning Wish, because you need specialized sideboard solutions like Ebony Charm and Shattering Pulse. Vampiric for Wish is too cumbersome, and it doesn’t get anything else truly special until you board.
#7: Grow (aggro-control)
Blue/green or blue/green/white based around Quirion Dryad and a lot of cheap spells and cantrips, plus free counters like Force of Will and Misdirection to force the creatures through.
The Abyss helps here – but he has counters, too. Fetching a bullet when you’ve depleted his hand is great, but the card disadvantage is hardly appealing if you’re still slugging it out and his own card disadvantage (like pitch counters) hasn’t added up yet..
#8: Fish (aggro-control)
Mono blue weenies and manlands backed by counters and a few other tricks like Standstill.. Pushed by Beyond Dominia’s BurningIce and, more recently, Paul Shriar a.k.a. Bebe.
Same as Grow. And Fish may be slower in terms of creature power, but a Rootwater Thief can’t be left alone on the board.
Vampiric is a welcome sight here. First, The Abyss and all your other tricks work as advertised. Second, it hides the bullet on top of your library, safe from discard. After you board, you might have a one-of silver bullet like Circle of Protection: Black or Ensnaring Bridge.
There isn’t a real silver bullet against Mask because The Abyss takes care of everything but Phyrexian Dreadnought. Nevertheless, Mask developer Chris Flaaten e-mailed,”It’s not that bad. Two life is neglible. Card advantage isn’t a key issue either. It can fetch Swords, Chainer’s Edict, or Balance for defense, Ancestral to push ahead, or a counterspell to seal a lead. Or
Cunning Wish for Pulse. It’s certainly not a dead draw. What would you rather draw instead? If there’s nothing you can fetch with it, you’re on thin ice anyway.”
So this is a case where fetching a Swords to Plowshares may not be so bad, since it’s a choice of stalling him a few turns or taking twenty-four damage over two turns. If you’ve played Mask, you’ve known the sick feeling as you hope to topdeck removal fast.
#11: Neo-Academy (combo)
Combo can’t be killed by normal silver bullets (well, Library of Alexandria to ease ahead is nice, but fetching it with Vampiric isn’t), and you just have to out-counter him until he runs dry.
That said, there’s a very satisfying feeling in fetching Gorilla Shaman against Matt D’Avanzo’s pet combo, and others that replace a lot of land slots with fast artifact mana.
Intuition is the main setup card, so a lot of decks run only two (three at most) of each combo piece. If you can remove all his Saproling Bursts, he has no win option, and Cunning Wish for Ebony Charm can pull that off as a side effect. Again, not Vampiric Tutor – or not directly.
Vampiric for early Ancestral is always nice, but otherwise, the card disadvantage isn’t so good when you consider this deck should have four Duress and four Force of Will to your nine counters. Chris emphasizes it’s not quite so easy to consistently out-counter his pet deck.
This is an old combo but relatively new versions like Darren’s pet build use Intuition to set up the graveyard and to set up Accumulated Knowledge. Your normal silver bullets don’t really help, except, again, Ebony Charm.
You face essentially the same problem as you do against Pande-burst, except Reap-Lace has cheaper setup and combo cards.
This combo was noted in Germany’s Dülmen tournament, picked by players like Oliver Daems because it had nonblue combo pieces that couldn’t be hit by Red Elemental Blasts. Builds like Oliver’s were among the most controllish of combo builds, packing more counters than others. You actually approach this like a control deck, possibly even mistaking it for blue/green Oath if you don’t notice it has uncharacteristic basic Forests.
TurboNevyn has mainly four Duress to force the combo, but you don’t have any maindeck silver bullets against Horn of Greed (this time, Gorilla Shaman doesn’t work unless you have seven mana on the board). Still, this has less disruption than other combo decks, so you can milk the flexibility unmolested and get a surprise Mind Twist or some other trick..
JP”Polluted” Meyer clarifies that Nevyn and friends have evolved the deck to be less controllish than some versions you might have seen from the old Extended.
#16: Dragon (combo)
A blue/black-based deck built around the Animate Dead or Dance of the Dead/Worldgorger Dragon infinite mana combo. Sets up with Buried Alive, Entomb, or Intuition, and channels the mana into Aerial Caravan.
Dragon is considered the weakest of the feasible Type I combos, and is mainly a lot of combo and setup cards. This means it doesn’t have both the disruption and the cheap draw the more powerful combo decks pack. There isn’t any special silver bullet against Dragon, but”The Deck” in particular can remove all its permanents if it can catch Worldgorger Dragon with Swords to Plowshares.
#17: Forbiddian (control)
A mainly mono blue deck named for Ophidian, and formerly held in high esteem in Type I circles as #mtgwacky op Michael Bower, a.k.a. mikephoen’s, pet deck in the original Beyond Dominia Type I Tournament of Champions. It packs a lot of counters and Back to Basics, with some splashing red for Blood Moon instead.
This is where you side out Vampiric Tutor, as explained.
The main thing about Parfait is keeping Scroll Rack off the board, stunting its draw engine. It has neither damage sources nor counters, so you can use Vampiric Tutor’s flexibility to good effect. It won’t fetch anything special, though, until you board in Aura Fracture or Allay (or unless you make a tutor chain to Cunning Wish in Game 1).
Same as Deck Parfait for all purposes related to Vampiric Tutor, except this time you’re watching out for Enchantress.
Same discussion as Suicide Black for our purposes.
Summarizing The World…
If we simply divide the other twenty archtypes discussed above into”good” (where Vampiric Tutor is at least decent) and”bad” (where it’s not particularly useful or the card advantage is a clear liability), we get:
So if we want to revisit the Vampiric Tutor debate, we can do it more objectively with this very rough table. It reflects the old rule of thumb that the tutor helps more against aggro and Suicide Black, while hurting in the control matchups.
However, it also reflects recent metagame shifts, the Mishra’s Workshop decks being the most important. To a lesser extent, you have the increased popularity of aggro-control, with Pat Chapin’s self-promotion rekindling the interest that caught on a long time ago with monoblue Ice Blue Zoo and Beyond Dominia’s BurningIce.
But this isn’t an election. The decision whether or not to run Vampiric Tutor isn’t going to be determined by counting the”good” marks above. For example, at the moment TnT weighs in heavier than every other aggro deck listed, and Suicide Black popularity dropped like a rock with TnT’s rise.
There’s also an implied third column in the table: Especially when you factor in TnT, the argument for turning over the Vampiric slot to Cunning Wish becomes clear. Again, since it has no inherent card disadvantage, Wish is much better in matchups where neither it nor Vampiric would get anything special anyway, and it fetches silver bullets in Game 1 against newer graveyard-based and artifact-based decks. And it pitches to Force of Will.
Pitting Other Cards Against The World
Doing the above table for other cards that might be superficial elements of the core is good practice, and it especially sharpens your sideboarding sense.
The next card you should do it for is Dismantling Blow. You have a lot less to consider than with Vampiric Tutor, so it shouldn’t be too hard. Having long since cleared a slot for the first Cunning Wish because of TnT, I realized that replacing Blow with the second Cunning Wish and sideboarding both Shattering Pulse and Allay was far more flexible, given how many matchups where Blow is flat dead or just cycles. You feel naked without a maindeck Disenchant effect and it’s scary if you think about first-turn Survival of the Fittest, but you feel better after looking at twenty other matchups.
Another card you might want to consider is Zuran Orb, especially given the current focus on TnT and drop in interest in Sligh and Zoo-ish decks. I haven’t used the Balance–Zuran Orb Armageddon effect in a while, anyway. One morning, in fact, Darren, Shane Stoots and myself e-mailed the Paragons list about cutting the life gain slot altogether, in the same thirty-minute period.
Incidentally, if you want the end of my story, I left Vampiric in – unlike most of the people I correspond with. However, that’s because I have different reasons for doing so.
Everyone knows I practice mainly casually online, since law school doesn’t leave me with a lot of time to join even online tournaments. Thus, I prefer to keep on my toes and be ready to play against whatever deck the guy who joins the IRC channel has. In a twisted sort of way, I’d actually prefer to lose to more focused decks like TnT than to what less experienced players pick up like Sligh, Zoo variants and especially Suicide. I enjoy another fetch for Balance or The Abyss against weenies and a hedge against discard. Roland’s Extended-ish Goblin deck, for example, made me remember not all aggro runs Mishra’s Workshop (though Roland isn’t quite in the”less experienced player” category).
But that’s just my personal preference for more casual play, and I wouldn’t hesitate to replace Vampiric with something like a Brainstorm against stronger opponents (and besides, Vampiric stinks against brainless mono blue). I tested that and missed Vampiric much in less matchups than you might think. A lot of times, you replace the urge to go for this or that bomb with a bit more patience.
The one time I did miss it was one game where I’d used Yawgmoth’s Will and had to pitch my first Morphling early. In complete control of the game, I just sat back and waited for my second Morphling, or the Vampiric Tutor I forgot I cut (Demonic Tutor had already been used as well).
Unfortunately, we don’t add Apprentice shuffler to our table…
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