You CAN Play Type I #84: Is Gush > Ancestral Recall?

Taking a page from other blue-based decks from High Tide to Forbiddian, Roland added red to his deck in anticipation of the mirror, and went 7-0 at the last Dülmen, beating two other Growing ‘Togs. To make room, he even removed Berserk, figuring he wouldn’t need to slip past as many blockers. This is the deck that many people are now claiming is almost unbeatable. It proves, they claim, that Gush is broken.

Is Future Sight Good?, Part II

I mentioned last week that a number of control players, including other members of the Paragons mailing list, have been sticking Future Sight into their”The Deck” builds. I also mentioned that no matter what I do, I just can’t make it work for me, and keep getting land or reactive spell clumps (and I’d agree with Eric Wilkinson, who further notes that the commonly-used Red Elemental Blast can kill its slower climb to card advantage).

I still think it’s Germans like Stefan Iwasienko, a.k.a. Womprax, who have the right idea – and he demonstrated how Sight is a much better card with Fastbond (love that Zuran Orb/Fastbond/Yawgmoth’s Will combo), with the Grim Monolith/Power Artifact combo replacing reactive removal. Interestingly enough, Stefan told me over IRC that when they playtested their”The Shining” combo build, it beat Growing ‘Tog since Future Sight couldn’t be Misdirected.

In any case, I discovered an incredibly good reason to think it isn’t very good: Someone sold me a foil for $3.

So please break the damn card in”The Deck” already…

Back To Basics Revisited

No, not the card that adds a good share of randomness to Type I. James Haggerty,”Magic player since Legends,” wrote in to say he loved the new Back to Basics columns and suggested introducing beginners to older decks like the Trinity build we featured last week.

Well, I envisioned the series as introducing fundamental concepts to beginners, without focusing on any particular deck. This makes sense, because you have to assume beginners don’t know what a good deck looks like in the first place (or wouldn’t recognize one), and you don’t want to distract them with nuances and combos that each one has. What I do, really, is to slip in the nuances of various decks in Control Player’s Bible installments that discuss matchups or sideboarding.

James said he wanted to compile a timeline of various tournament decks over the years. The best place for that is actually the Dojo archive, where you have deck histories until about 1999. After that, you’ll have to do word searches for key decks or cards in the StarCity Article and Deck databases.

Is Gush > Ancestral Recall?

Almost a year ago, this column took Mark Rosewater to task for practically saying that Pat Chapin’s Miracle Grow deck ruined the entire Type I metagame. The most memorable line in the fiasco was Pat’s mantra”Gush > Ancestral Recall,” hilariously quoted out of context by Type I players all over the world.

Last week, though, I got some messages that claimed Gush should be restricted. Normally, you’d laugh… But it actually came from players like JP”Polluted” Meyer of the Paragons.

On its face, the idea that Gush is broken looks preposterous. Using its alternate casting cost, you go back two turns in mana development, lose one card in hand, and draw two cards. Since you never play a land before using it (and usually don’t have one left), you instead lose one land drop and gain one mana, by floating before you bounce.

Roughly, that translates to +1 card in hand, -1 land drop, and +1 mana.

It looks more balanced than broken, really, since the effect is technically not free; there’s a tempo loss you have to recognize.

The real target, apparently, isn’t Gush. Under the surface, some people fear that German mad genius Roland Bode unleashed a monster when he grafted Psychatog onto Miracle Grow:

Growing ‘Tog (metagamed), Roland Bode, Champion, April 13, 2003 Dülmen, from e-mail

Creatures (7)

4 Quirion Dryad

3 Psychatog

Counters (10)

4 Mana Drain

4 Force of Will

2 Misdirection

Draw and Manipulation (18)

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Fact or Fiction

4 Gush

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Merchant Scroll

4 Brainstorm

4 Sleight of Hand

1 Vampiric Tutor

1 Demonic Tutor

Others (6)

1 Time Walk

2 Fire / Ice

1 Fastbond

1 Regrowth

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

Mana (19)

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Ruby

1 Library of Alexandria

4 Polluted Delta

4 Underground Sea

3 Tropical Island

2 Volcanic Island

Sideboard (15)

4 Red Elemental Blast

3 Flametongue Kavu

2 Duress

2 Hurkyl’s Recall

3 Naturalize

1 Diabolic Edict

Taking a page from other blue-based decks from High Tide to Forbiddian, Roland added red to his deck in anticipation of the mirror, and went 7-0 at the last Dülmen, beating two other Growing ‘Togs. (Red Elemental Blast are the classic red sideboard card, but more recently, Flametongue Kavu gave the same color a good option against aggro as well.) To make room, he even removed Berserk, figuring he wouldn’t need to slip past as many blockers.

With or without the red element, this is the deck that many people are now claiming is almost unbeatable. It proves, they claim, that Gush is broken.

Is Gush broken in Growing ‘Tog?

Gush is, admittedly, a great card in Growing ‘Tog. The one-mana side effect helps in a deck with only ten actual land, and the latter improves the one-card gain since you have a much lower chance of drawing land. The tempo loss is, further, mitigated by the low casting costs of all the cards. After the first one or two counters are thrown, Gush keeps the momentum at very little cost to the ‘Tog player. Against a control deck, for example, it can fight off a counter on a Quirion Dryad, then Gush into a Force of Will or Misdirection for the second. With the opponent’s hand depleted anyway, having one land less the following turn to cast cantrips is a very minor drawback at that point.

The thing is, none of these qualities are recognized as broken. Having a low land count is just good deckbuilding if the card pool supports it (moreover, Gush helps protect the fragile mana base from disruptive Wasteland), and no one ever complained against Stompy. Having the cheapest possible cards in terms of casting cost is plain common sense. And while it’s free in terms of mana, the tempo loss isn’t really free. I’ve played many matches against Chapin Grow (and a handful against Growing ‘Tog) where I Mana Drained the Gush, leaving me with five free mana on my turn and him scrambling to catch up with no land.

Fitting snugly into a well-designed deck isn’t the same as making the deck broken all by itself – considering the synergies between various cards is the entire point of intelligent deckbuilding. I could draw an analogy to Mana Drain in”The Deck” and Powder Keg in mono blue, for example.

And again, one card net for crying out loud.

Another seemingly popular argument is that Gush is broken with Fastbond. With this combo culprit from Timetwister to Storm Cauldron days, the Gush formula reads +1 card, -1 life, +2 mana. This is obviously a lot better… But is it broken?

It can’t be any more broken than unrestricted Power Artifact and Grim Monolith to everything from Ancestral Recall to Dark Ritual and Yawgmoth’s Broken Will.

Get real.

This is Type I; broken things happen, right?

Moreover, if Gush/Fastbond was truly broken, then why was it never slipped into Chapin Grow, despite all the discussion about it? Why is Turboland not considered broken in Type I, despite having Exploration to back up Fastbond?

This last point is actually the hardest to argue. It’s a very narrow card that can only be played in a few decks outside of Fish and Stasis, and none of those decks like Grow and Turboland have ever been considered broken.

What’s The Culprit?

I shared my thoughts with other people over the past week, and I’ll repeat them here: Aggro-control is nothing new, and it’s been around since Merfolk/Fish and other things like Forgotten Orb and CounterSliver. What’s new, in my opinion, is the available aggro-control creature base.

If you look at the typical Fish deck, classic aggro-control is designed to be a combo-breaker. It puts two or three weenies on the table, then stalls the opponent by turning free or cheap counters into Time Walks. It will run out of steam after a while, but that’s all the time it needs to beat down. Against a control deck with minimal creature removal, you get a comparable result.

The classic weakness, however, was the creature pool: It was pathetic. It was good enough to beat down with, but good luck in creature combat. The best classic solution was just to run a lot of good flying weenies and race.

Recent sets, though, changed all that. When green was given good weenies, a blue/green aggro-control deck suddenly had a combat-worthy creature pool. The multicolored CounterSliver, for example, was made obsolete by Miracle Grow, since Quirion Dryad and Werebear gave you twice the firepower for half the colors. With Quirion Dryad, players like Pat Chapin were confident against aggro decks that they should have had trouble with, since they could make their creatures bigger.

Psychatog is the tail end of this development. Although you only get it for one turn, it can pump to upwards of 20/21, and it can get to this critical number even faster with Berserk. That is bigger than anything aggro can muster, and it isn’t so hard to play and protect early if one can assemble a hand with a couple of pitch counters.

Along with Quirion Dryad, you have seven or eight threats in a deck that can each become bigger than any other creature ever printed.

Thus, although aggro-control has improved with the smaller but bigger creatures available, I do wonder if they are already too small and too big.

The non-blue equivalent is actually the Illusionary Mask/Phyrexian Dreadnought combo used in black-based aggro-control. It makes a 12/12 for three colorless mana and two cards, and made Suicide Black obsolete because no black creature could compare. The end result is a Suicide Black evolution that also gives aggro fits because their creatures are suddenly all too small.

Dissecting the ‘Tog

If anyone proposed restricting or banning Psychatog in Type I, that person would be laughed at as surely as someone who said Gush > Ancestral Recall a year ago. I’m not going that far, but what I want to do is steer people towards analyzing the new aggro-control creature bases if they think the metagame is unbalanced.

First of all, everyone from beginners to myself dismissed Psychatog in Type I, and everyone who posted a decklist was dismissed as an Invasion-era Type II player trying to come up with a Type I deck (in all fairness, they were). To everyone’s surprise, however, Mr. Teeth eventually displaced Morphling in Extended, and that eventually encouraged JP”Polluted” Meyer to design the Type I version.

No one really saw it. Conventional logic simply dictated that Morphling was better since it could protect itself as it killed over four turns. I once e-mailed John Ormerod, and he replied that ‘Tog would be less useful in Type I where Fact or Fiction is restricted and the burn still deals three damage apiece. In fact, when JP first posted his deck on the Paragons list, it was seen as something to have fun and embarrass other people with.

The problem with every Type I player’s thinking was that we looked at Teeth as a control kill card – a substitute for Morphling, Silver Wyvern, Rainbow Efreet, and every other flying fat finisher from old Type II. Few really saw it in action, and even then, the Type II coverage give you that impression.

In hindsight, however, ‘Tog’s ability doesn’t fit the usual template. As old Type II tournament reports hinted, it really reads:”Target opponent loses the game if you have X + .5Y + 1, where X is the number of cards in your hand and Y is the number of cards in your graveyard.”

That, my friends, is really a combo.

In Type II, this wasn’t as easy to see since you saw cards drawn and counterwars fought, and you saw a control deck. In Type I, however, all the cheaper cards can set up ‘Tog so fast that taking control isn’t even important – especially not with Berserk, Shadow Rift, or even Jump. Type I ‘Tog decks are not control decks, to be sure.

So what you have is a combo card that combos with anything that draws cards or puts them into the graveyard. Gush, thus, not only helps a ‘Tog deck develop, but turns into 6.5 points of damage when it’s done using the cards. Add a sacrificed fetchland, a couple of cantrips, and a Berserk, and your opponent is dead meat.

Minus the Berserk, it’s arguably this 6.5 points that makes Gush broken with Fastbond, since winning immediately is a very strong incentive to scramble for more cantrips and another Gush in one turn. Further, Meyer’s Psychatog deck, being more controllish, doesn’t even run all four Gushes.

Creatures As Problems

Over the past years, some frustrated kids on Type I forums would always propose the restriction of Morphling at one time or another (with Mana Drain a close second). The standard initial reply would always be,”But it’s only a creature!”

The point, however, is that you have practically a combo in creature form, and one that kills so fast you don’t even have time to search for a solution if you have one.

Creatures kill as surely as the fanciest combo, you know.

The reason conventional logic pooh-poohs creatures is that they’re the easiest to destroy of all the permanent types. Initial thinking on ‘Tog precisely read,”Why bother in a format with Swords to Plowshares?”

Now, though, you realize that very few decks can play the handful of removal spells that can deal with ‘Tog.

Outside”The Deck,” Swords to Plowshares is found only in Deck Parfait and White Weenie, and Blood Moon is the only other threat a Growing ‘Tog deck would have to worry about. Diabolic Edict and Chainer’s Edicts aren’t really used except in a few builds of black decks. Powder Keg is limited mainly to Ophidian-based decks and Nether Void. Red Elemental Blast is limited to the sideboards of some red decks.

If you look at the list, in fact, only”The Deck” runs this kind of removal in significant numbers since it can sideboard both Swords to Plowshares and Red Elemental Blast.

Now, before ‘Tog, not all decks ran Swords to Plowshares or some other removal and they were perfectly viable. The alternative to having a solution is to make your own threat. In other words, the alternative is to bring the opponent down to zero.

The irony is that it’s extremely difficult to race a Psychatog in Type I once it’s already on the board, since it can kill in one turn. Roland actually tried his very first build on me when I was playing Sligh, and I only won once, on a Turn 4 with three 2/1s out, and with him poised to hit 20/21 the moment he untapped. The low land count and Gush just made Price of Progress a Flame Rift.

Not having much luck against Misdirection and too-big creatures, present aggro decks are thus placed into the seemingly absurd situation of having to run cards like Maze of Ith, Gilded Drake, and Waterfront Bouncer. They can’t play their aggressive strategy, and are thus forced to dilute these with control elements. (Maze of Ith is probably the most effective, since Roland put Ice into his deck to counter it.)

Roland Bode came up with an incredibly good deck, but the jury is still out on whether or not it’s broken. If Psychatog, Phyrexian Dreadnought and, to a lesser extent, Quirion Dryad have made aggro-control too powerful, though, I there will a problem since you want good aggro decks to keep the metagame honest.

If it is broken, again, consider the new creature bases in your assessment. Again, Gush was never cause to complain about Turboland, and it’s apparently not broken with anything other than Psychatog.

To end, if there is a problem as some people claim, then identifying the broken link in the chain is extremely important. Remember how the DCI missed Necropotence in Extended, banned Dark Ritual instead, and still refuses to admit it made a mistake?

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