February 8th, 2003. 2003 Bluegrass Battle. My ‘Tog attacks. I Gush. Carefully, I begin removing cards from my graveyard, counting, one, two, three…I pause to make sure my opponent is at eighteen life and continue counting by dropping a few cards from my hand to the ‘yard….Six, seven, eight, nine. I tap a Tropical Island for a green mana and play Berserk.
That’s Gush, Boys! And that’s game.
In between those two tournaments exists the unrestriction of Berserk, the explosion of Gro-A-Tog (hereafter referred to as GAT) onto the Type One metagame, and the subsequent announcement restricting Gush. This article is going to look at the archetype as it evolved and existed in its variant forms interwoven through three Origins tournament reports. Additionally, for those who aren’t into tournament reports, in the concluding sections of this article, I have some important meanderings on the decision to restrict Gush.
Without listing decklists, I’m going to point out prominent features of different versions of Gro-A-Tog through its evolution. It first reared its head in the January Dülmen, with Roland Bode using three Dazes and two Counterspells; and Benjamin Ribbeck using Chapin Gro’s Foil, Divert, Daze, with three counterspells along for the ride. When I picked up the deck, tuning it for the February tournament I played in Lexington a few weeks later, I dropped the Dazes, Diverts, and Foils for simply three Counterspells, as Ribbeck had. I correspondingly upped the Misdirection count to four and cut one Cunning Wish for a Berserk in the maindeck. I had found the Berserk in the maindeck to be a real winner based upon the sheer ridiculousness of the Berserk plus Psychatog combo, and that I almost always Wished for Berserk anyway.
The only other difference was that I began advocating multiple Merchant Scrolls, wherein neither Bode nor Ribbeck used one. That same weekend, Ribbeck placed second using Gro-A-Tog with one Scroll in the main. I made clear on the message boards my distaste for Daze, which continues to this day. Every time I tested with it, I was never able to use it to actually counter a spell. The best I got out of it was bouncing a land to feed a Tog while getting an extra counter on a Dryad; rather weak. It was dead in the late game, and even if I drew it in the opening hand after a Mox, Land, Dryad, it somehow never got used. I suppose if I had tested against Suicide, or something like that, it is possible that it might have countered a spell – but wouldn’t I rather just Misdirect one of Suicide’s Spells and keep my land in play? The counterspells treated me very well at the tournament protecting my in-play ‘Tog or Dryad and countering slow threats like The Abyss or Nether Void.
In March, the Stax decks apparently surprised the whole Dülmen, leaving one Gro-A-Tog standing, a torchbearer of the archetype for the remainder of its run: Falk Bernhardt, who got second with what I consider, in retrospect, one of the most important advances to the archetype: The addition of Duress to the maindeck.
In April, Roland Bode, the deck’s creator, broke the mold against with two substantive changes to the archetype. He slowed the whole deck down by adding four Mana Drains and another color: Red. He cut the Dazes and slimmed down to two Misdirections. He also added two Fire / Ices in the maindeck and retooled the sideboard for Flametongue Kavu and Red Elemental Blast. The previous consensus was that Mana Drain didn’t work for this deck because you would use your UU casting cost countermagic after you had played the threat, in order to protect it. What Bode had done was to change the possible play style of the deck: Now, against the proper matchup and in the sensible situation, you would play the control deck instead of the aggressor.
I came around to this point of view, especially in light of the Rector Trix and Stax matchups, which had both been difficult before. In those matches, I found the four Mana Drains to be extraordinarily effective. I hesitated at the addition of red; I found Fire/Ice to be amazing as an answer to Goblin Welders, while being strong against some budget decks and TnT. I decided it would make an excellent SB card. Moreover, I felt the addition of Red offered other good anti-Stax sideboard cards like Artifact Mutation and Red Elemental Blast, but a Type One side event at Grand Prix: Pittsburgh proved to me that Red Elemental Blast was not as good in this archetype as I hoped. I sideboarded it against Keeper and it turned out to be a big mistake as my opponent dropped Plaguebearer and cast Swords to Plowshares for which I had no answer staring at my Red Elemental Blast. Often the answers that are brought in against GAT are of such varied colors that REB is too narrow to really abuse. I found this to be the case in other matchups as well and found myself gravitating towards Duress far more than REB. Red Elemental Blast is still the best Sideboard card ever printed. But it is so powerful because it performs a function at a low cost, not powerful as a general-purpose card.
My testing proved to me that four Mana Drain GAT was the best way to deal with Keeper and Hulk, and perhaps only way to beat Rector Trix and Stax. [author name="Oscar Tan"]Oscar Tan’s[/author] online matches against me reinforced my testing results. Additionally, if you can stop the first wave of Stax with Force of Wills, Mana Drain is a huge threat, pushing you out of their lock. Moreover, you can Drain into a tutor chain leading to comboing out before Trix can, or before Stax has you pinned down. As such I took a Four Mana Drain GATr deck to Origins Day One.
Here is what I ran:
//NAME: GATr – Day One of Origins
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Volcanic Island
3 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
1 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
3 Sleight of Hand
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
2 Merchant Scroll
1 Cunning Wish
4 Quirion Dryad
In testing I had found that Artifact Mutation, Duress, Fire/Ice, and the Blue Blast were sufficient for me to beat Stax. The Duresses were strong against Rector Trix, although knowing how to beat Rector Trix was more important than what I sideboarded.
Thursday. 4PM. Type One.
Round One: GAT Mirror.
I hear cursing and swearing. It’s Joe Bushman. He’s swearing because he’s paired up against me.
Let me tell you about Joe: Joe is a nice kid. He’s a senior in High School who plays at one of the local stores. A month or so ago, when I was testing Stax, I helped him build an unpowered GAT. Previously, he had been played a very bizarre R/G deck with Shivan Wurms and Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale. Early in the day of the tournament, I ran into a guy who covertly sold him all the power his deck needed for a very good price. So Joe was able to play and do very well (as you will find out), not only on account that I built his deck card-for-card, but I also helped him acquire his cards. Now, I have helped him build his July deck as well (which happens to sport ‘Togs). While he is not a very adept Magic player in general, he had tested his deck rather intensively in the weeks prior the tournament. In fact, it was at my urging that he came to Origins. When he was paired up against decks he was familiar with, he put his testing to use and went on autopilot. When he was paired up against decks he hadn’t seen before, I would watch him founder about, unsure what to do.
The GAT mirror is not something I had prepared for much. In fact, I hadn’t even tested it at all since April. I brashly assumed that my knowledge and experience of the deck would carry the day. However, it must be understood that unlike many matches with GAT, the mirror is carried mostly by one factor: Luck of the Draw.
There are two exceptions to this rule: The first is if there is an obvious play error on the part of one of the players. And the second is if one of the draws is filled with Tutors. In that case, there are important decisions that must be made which can shape the flow of the game. The Rule, rather than the exceptions, carried the day. Joe made it very difficult for me to win, but I did – and by the narrowest of margins. I knew exactly what was in Joe’s deck and every step of the way, I feared his Misdirections, as I had packed four into his deck. My sideboarding plan against the mirror is to bring in two Submerges and three Duresses. The Duresses revealed that Joe was often holding unused Mana Drains.
Unlike my games against Hulk, Keeper, or even Fish, this was the first time I discovered that the Mana Drains didn’t function smoothly. The only game I lost, I had a turn 1 Ancestral, but failed to draw a second land.
Round Two: Mono Black Control
Chad S Caudell (8th Place)
Mono Black control turned out to be a popular archetype for Origins. I have more respect for black as a mono-colored archetype than most, simply because I believe it is one of the only aggressive budget decks that really has a shot against combo because of the strength of its disruption and discard.
However, against a deck like Gro-A-Tog, MBC really has no shot. Its creatures are much smaller (Negator is a terrible answer to Psychatog), and its discard is ineffective once the threats are on the table. Additionally, any deck that packs four Misdirections is going to have a field day against Sinkhole/Hymn to Tourach.dec.
My opponent won the die roll. Game one was rather interesting, though. I opened with turn 1″Land, Lotus,” with the intent of playing”Dryad, Tog” next turn. Unwittingly, he thwarted this plan with a turn 2 Null Rod. I Brainstormed in response, revealing a Mox on the top of my library. Before this game was over, his Null Rod had managed to stop two Moxen and my Lotus.
However, once I resolved my ‘Tog, his board had a lot of trouble. He had attacked a turn or two with a Flesh Reaver, leaving himself at a low life total and within my ‘Tog’s range. The result was that once ‘Tog hit, he had to go on the defensive. Eventually, the game got to the point where he had no more blockers and my ‘Tog killed him.
Round Three: U/W Control
Charles Depenti is playing the same deck he played last year: A U/W control deck with Iridescent Angels, Adarkar Wastes, and Coastal Towers. My friend Paul commented that Charles was living in the past and should have upgraded; fetchlands would have been a good start.
My games were quick and brutal. He opened each game with a Coastal Tower and followed them up with Adarkar Wastes – not exactly Type One quality. I honestly believe that there is no excuse to run painlands in Type One anymore with the existence of fetchlands. Game two he did managed to cast his Iridescent Angel, but I Cunning Wished for Berserk – and Protection from ‘Tog doesn’t help save you from the trampling damage that gets assigned over the Angel from a Berserking ‘Tog.
Round Four: GAT
Michael P Scheffenacker
Michael played last year, and here is how he did:
Origins 7/4/02 – Classic 7/4/2002
1 Paul A Mastriano (MaskNaught)
2 Matthew C Smith (Mono Blue)
3 Paul M Sekeras
4 Eli I Kassis
5 Stephen M Menendian (Mono Blue)
6 Mark Swenholt
7 Michael P Scheffenacker
8 Ryan A McIntosh
12 Carl Winter (Keeper)
Origins 7/5/02 – Classic 7/5/2002 (58 Players)
1 Jason Ray
2 Dan Goldman
3 Stephen M Menendian
4 Carl Winter (Yes, the World Champion – Who I beat!)
5 Paul Mckenchnie
6 Jonathan B Lentz
7 Matthew J Radford
8 Paul A Mastriano
16 Michael P Scheffenacker
42 Andrew T Stokinger (yes, him)
So he didn’t do terribly last year… But this year he really knew what was doing and he came prepared. He had two duress in the maindeck, no counterspells, no Mana Drain, and no Red. He was running the rather janky Pernicious Deed in the maindeck, and had Steely Resolves and more Deed in the SB. He also only maindecked three Misdirections. Additionally, he had four ‘Togs and four Dryads. In retrospect, he had the perfectly metagamed Gro-A-Tog. My Gro-A-Tog was prepared for a field of Stax, Rector Trix, combo, and crushing control decks. His deck was prepared for a lower-powered field, and ready to destroy the mirror match. If he had to face Rector Trix, odds were strongly against him. In fact, he lost to Stax in the last round (as I predicted).
He won the coin flip.
Game One’s primary feature was that he had resolved more creatures on the board than I could deal with. He played two dryads in the first two turns. My Mana Drains were terrible and what I really wanted was simply more threats. Game two went exactly as I wanted, but not how I planned: I played the aggressor. I managed to fight my way through three Misdirections and get my Dryads large enough that no answer he could come up with, short of comboing me out, would be sufficient to stop me.
Game Three was one of the most revealing games I played all day. He goes,”Land, Mox, Dryad.” I retorted with a turn 1 Library. He had a turn 2 Dryad with a cantrip, making both of his Dryads 2/2. I had no Force of Will for his second Dryad, but I began outdrawing him. I laid a land and played Ancestral on his upkeep. He played a third Dryad, which resolved. He then played another cantrip that acted as a Giant Growth, giving three Dryads a counter.
To anyone who is audacious enough to say that multiple Dryads are not something you want to draw, they have never played the mirror match. I failed to get a third mana source until two turns later, by which point my Tog was too late. His draws were by-the-book optimal and his Dryads crushed me quickly.
Round Five: Mono Black Control
Mono Black Control had managed to earn itself a spot at the top table after the entire day. I recall Misdirecting some early spells in game one as everything went according to plan. Dryads came out quick and played dirty. This match was over with plenty of time to spare.
Round Six: GATr
Paul and I go waaaay back. We played each other at Origins last year, and we play Type One together all the time – including writing the MaskNaught and the Gro-A-Tog article together. The night before, I had built up his deck and sideboard so it was identical to mine. I had much better tiebreakers and we saw that if Micheal lost to Hill Redwine (who was playing Stax), then I would probably win the tournament. However, since we didn’t know who would win that match, we agreed to play it out.
Paul wasn’t really in the match, though, because he knew that I knew the deck better, but what he didn’t realize was that he could win if I got a crap draw. I won game one rather handily and Paul said screw it, and conceded that match, uninterested in playing anymore. We got to watch our neighbors Hill and Michael duke it out.
It was clear that Michael wasn’t entirely aware of Stax or the stacking rules, as he was asking if Hill’s plays were legal. I explained how it worked (since I co-wrote the article). Game two was rather vicious, with Hill locking down Michael rather quickly. Michael only had one Hurkyl’s Recall in the board and envied my Artifact Mutations (which he added upon seeing my deck for day two).
Game three was rather interesting; Michael managed to resolve an early Deed of some Moxen. However, Hill played out most of his artifacts and Welders, holding back a Smokestack, trying to lure him into popping his deed. Finally, after the board was chock full of permanents, including active Welders and a Memory Jar in the bin (which had just been used), Michael blew the Deed for four on this upkeep (he had two lands, two Moxen, a Dryad, and the Deed in play) blowing up a Dryad and two Moxen.
In response, Hill welded in his Memory Jar. The game was over right there. The next turn Hill played out Tangle Wire and Smokestack, and possibly even another welder. Hill handily abused his cards to victory.
Despite losing to Hill, Michael managed to come in second place, with me winning Day one of Origins.
Here were the Results:
ORIGINS Type 1 4PM 6/26/2003 (45 Players)
1 Stephen M Menendian
2 Michael P Scheffenacker
3 Travis E Lee
4 Hill R Redwine II
5 Kevin L Greene
6 Jeffrey D. Cosgrove
7 Paul J Deegan
8 Chad S Caudell
24 Andrew T Stokinger
After the tournament, my mind was spinning at disbelief. I was happy, but I couldn’t stop analyzing. With the struggle of my mirror matches fresh in my mind, I went to work figuring out what the proper GAT build might look like.
The debate that raged in my mind was whether to cut Mana Drains, and if so, why? Why had they performed so poorly in actual practice, but so great in testing? Eventually, I was led to the inescapable conclusion that adding Duress to the main was absolutely necessary. Not to be outdone, I added three to the maindeck. Duress is simply huge advantage at winning the mirror, and Mana Drain is far narrower and only good against combo, Stax, and other control decks. But even against control, sometimes you just want Duress. So, after some consultation with Justin Walters (Saucemaster on The Mana Drain) and Paul, I decided to go even further than Michael and play three Duress main in the next tournament. My fear of Stax and Rector Trix (and other combo) caused me to compromise the build by keeping in three Mana Drains, while cutting a Misdirection (something I once said I’d never do).
The final change that I made was moving the Berserk back into the maindeck. I also decided that not having Berserk in the main was a huge mistake. One of the little ironies of Gro-A-Tog is how after Berserk’s unrestriction, GAT players around the world, including in the Dulmen, have only decreased their use of Berserk. The final builds in Germany included no Cunning Wish and no Berserk.
Simply put, the”combo” of Berserk and Psychatog is far too potent to not use. The thought process behind not using Berserk in the maindeck focused on a simple line of reasoning, albeit faulty. The reasoning basically presumed that Berserk was something of a”win more card.” Specifically, I had the idea that in most games, it only won me by a turn earlier than I would have won anyway. In other words, if I had a creature or two in play, and I was going to win with Berserk that turn, I would have won the next turn anyway. Add to that the thought that it was relatively dead against control, and you have a perfect candidate for a card that should be in the sideboard to be Wished out. While there are elements of truth in this sort of fractured thought process, Magic is always more complicated than such simple reasoning permits.
Two other points persuaded me that I was wrong: GAT is so potent that it can steal wins it may not deserve, should the game go on much longer. As such, instead of a”win more card,” Berserk may capitalize on a narrow window of opportunity to steal a game. Supposing the opponent is near full health, it is possible that resolving and protecting your creatures has sapped your hand. The result is that you may not have a very large Dryad and are eyeing the ‘Tog as your win condition.
Tog can’t always just win in such situations. You may have a partially-filled graveyard and a two- to three-card hand. In such situations, Berserk is exactly the spell you’d be looking for… Especially if your opponent has a few chump blockers on the board, which shield him from your ‘Tog and sap your ‘Tog’s potential for a lethal blow. Those reasons are quite compelling.
(But keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be that narrow of a situation for Berserk to good. As usual, you may be in a winning position and Berserk may just seal the deal a turn earlier. Or it could be anywhere in between.)
Finally, I had the thought in mind that in the mirror, depending on the way the game plays out, I would be the GAT player in the best position to be the aggressor or the controller. The aggressor, because I have four Misdirections to back up my spells, forcing them through; the controller, because I have four Mana Drains to out-counter my opponent and dump my spells into play using Drained mana.
However, this simply isn’t the case. The opposing GAT may have any sort of opening that spills onto the board at a lightning fast pace, and grows large at a tremendous rate. Such were my mirror matches on Day One. The mirror match has many facets – many ways that the game could unfold. But in the end, you want to be the player with the threat on the board. You want to be the one who has two very large and quickly-growing Dryads with a Tog just in case. As such, Berserk is surprisingly strong in the mirror – neutering the opponent before an opposing ‘Tog, or anything else, puts a crimp in your plan. Additionally, I found that Berserk was always that card I’d Wish for. Berserk belonged the whole time, and nobody knew it – although some people always knew the power of Duress (Justin Walters, for example).
4x Quirion Dryad
1x Time Walk
1x Ancestral Recall
1x Vampiric Tutor
1x Demonic Tutor
4x Force of Will
3x “Sleight of Hand
1x Mystical Tutor
1x Yawgmoth’s Will
2x Merchant Scroll
3x Mana Drain
1x Mox Emerald
1x Mox Jet
1x Mox Sapphire
1x Black Lotus
4x Underground Sea
4x Tropical Island
4x Polluted Delta
1x Flooded Strand
1x Library of Alexandria
ORIGINS DAY THREE: SATURDAY NOON TOURNAMENT (39 People)
Anyone who regularly plays in tournaments that are open to all Magic players realizes the need to be able to beat the randoms who inevitably populate the early rounds. Ohio Valley Regionals, the monstrous qualifier for Nationals in my area is always full of random elements that every player aiming to top 8 knows they must face. In 2002, my first-round opponent was playing a Terravore deck against my Zevatog. In Type One, the randomness is much less terrifying if you are playing a rather fast deck like Gro-A-Tog or combo. Nevertheless, you never know. For example, at the Lexington Lotus tournament my first round opponent had an innocuous start: Forest, Fyndhorn Elf, go. My mind breathed a sigh of relief – but the last thing I would ever have expected was his Turn 2″City of Traitors, Eureka.” Fortunately, Force of Will was in hand.
Stephen Gopin, playing pre-rotation Extended combo.
On Wednesday night, a great number of Origins attendees fill the convention hall for registration. Coincidentally, we ran into this kid that night. He showed us his extended deck – it fell to us to tell him that Ice Age had rotated out of Extended. That made his deck Type One legal – and that alone. My games were so over so blindingly fast that I didn’t even get to see his entire combo. I saw Ashnod’s Altar and perhaps an Altar of Dementia, but not much more.
Recall what I said about random players in the early rounds? In that connection, there is not a whit of difference from my experience at the largest of the Standard tournaments. Not wanting to have my first opponent go 0-2 drop, or worse, I asked him if he wanted to drop. He adamantly refused. Imagine my surprise when four rounds later, he was 3-2! How good. He told me that he comboed out against several opponents. My surprise was equaled by his own. I congratulated him and encouraged him to win the next round (admittedly, for my own tie-breakers, but hey).
ROUND TWO: KEEPER
Jamie M Schnitzius
(Grendal on The Mana Drain)
In all my play testing with Gro-A-Tog, I rarely if ever lost to Keeper. I was shocked to find this match not only a struggle, but a war that I did not win. Jamie had played the day before and had scoped out the metagame. He came back with a new deck teched-out to beat the environment.
This Keeper ran Duress maindeck (an excellent choice) and four Cunning Wishes. In February I posted a Keeper on The Mana Drain which featured four Cunning Wishes. Steve O'Connell commented in that threat that he viewed it as a metagamed Keeper – which was precisely my view of it. Specifically, each Cunning Wish which was a virtual Impulse for either a guaranteed Swords to Plowshares or Red Elemental Blast. Rather strong, if you ask me.
My hands were rather terrible. At least twice during the entire match, I Paris mulliganed.
Game one started as quite a shock: I was the victim of double Duress on turns 1 and 2. He pulled Misdirections and some other spell. Despite this, I managed to get a Dryad down, but his discard and countermagic managed to keep my hand low. He managed to outcounter all of my threats with his Cunning Wished Red Elemental Blasts. And so, when he played the inevitable Abyss, the beatings ended.
Ironically, the removal of Cunning Wish meant that my only answer was to get two or more threats on the board and then swing in for a lethal kill. Preferably, I would set this up with a large Will. There are only two problems: I would need to win this game – because if I lost this game, I probably wouldn’t have time to win two more (fifty-minute rounds are a real constraint). Second, it is a risky plan, hedging that I would be able to play the control deck. My games against Oscar online and other Keeper players in testing proved to me that it was possible. The only problem was that I was starting from a serious disadvantage – most of my hand was already spent while he had a good grip. Immediately after the Abyss, or shortly before it, he drew Library of Alexandria.
And so I dug in the trenches and prepared to step up the battle. I drew a Duress, finally, and removed a Future Sight after seeing a lot of land and one or two other business spells. I desperately tried to play out threats to lower his hand size. He Cunning Wished for a Skeletal Scrying; I countered the Scrying. After we had beat each other up for a while, he Cunning Wished up Flaring Pain! He cast the first one and came through for twelve or so; I sucked it up and took it, but when he flashed it back it was lethal. What a way to end the game.
I sided in a Naturalize, the fourth Duress, and the fourth Misdirection. Game two started out a little better for me – but a crucial mistake, in retrospect, cost me the game. My opening play was Duress, revealing Morphling, Misdirection, Fact or Fiction, Pyroblast, Wasteland, Strip Mine, and Mox Sapphire.
What would you take? Well, I took the Mox Sapphire. In theory, it could have turned out to be the correct play had he not drawn into another blue source. But he did have several turns to do so, seeing as he was not only drawing, but he also had two land drops before then. Next turn I Tutored up Ancestral Recall, hoping that my own pitch magic would be able to back my up my spell. Unfortunately, he drew a Force of Will in the next two turns and so he was able to Misdirect the Ancestral to himself. After he Wasted my strategically-played lands, he immediately played an Underground Sea. At this point he had Misdirected my Ancestral and evaded my Duress mana screw, but on top of that was destroying my mana base. My only saving grace was that he couldn’t yet use his Pyroblast.
I dropped Dryad and then Tog rather quickly. However, he soon found his Volcanic Island and destroyed the ‘Tog. I started the beatdown; unfortunately, I had trouble growing the Dryad. And just like the previous game, Abyss ended my beatdown. Eventually, I was able to remove the Abyss, but my creatures were already dealt with. The game went on and on. Which generally means it could turn out either way. At one point all of my Dryads were removed from the game or in the graveyard, and only one ‘Tog was left in my library. All I really had left was my Yawgmoth’s Will, with one Misdirection to back it up. He fanned three Force of Wills (that was his entire hand), and my game was over.
Round Three: Stupid Madness
He was playing Bazaar T1 madness. There were two people playing this archetype at this tournament. Vernan had a lot of burn and some fast beats. His Maze of Iths certainly slowed down my Rush, but very quickly my Dryads were far too large. I had something of a God Draw against Vernan game one (finally, a decent hand!). At one point I Drained a Roar of the Wurm into hard casting two Gushes. He had Fiery Tempers, Basking Rootwallas, Bazaar of Baghdads, Taigas, fetchlands, Wild Mongrels (who couldn’t keep up with the ‘Togs), and Basking Rootwallas. He also had Genesis in play at one point. My Submerges were golden. Most of the time he kept his hand empty and used his Bazaars at the end of my Turn to try and find madness spells or dump a Rootwalla into play. In general, it was a futile effort.
Round Four: TnT
Frankson Lee (Raye on the Mana Drain)
I look forward to this matchup, despite the fact that I had cut the amazing Artifact Mutations. I was excited to play TnT, just as I was to play against Keeper… But this time, things went as planned.
Both games were over rather quickly. TnT has one serious problem: It has no way to refill its hand besides abusing the Survival of the Fittest engine via Squee, Goblin Nabob. Once its hand is low against GAT it is in real trouble. GAT applies pressure and TnT’s only real response (besides using Tangle Wire) is to play creatures, thus negating its ability to abuse the Survival engine to its maximum potential. Raye had a lot of fun playing TnT, but today wasn’t TnT’s day – not against Gush.dec! My Submerges were particularly brutal effectively acting as a Time Walk.
Round Five: Fish
Jameson Ordinoff (Zoneseek on the Mana Drain)
This match is entirely about Tempo. The only difference between this and the mirror is that if you let up in the mirror, it is usually your death – and Fish gives you a lot of breathing room. My Duresses took what I needed, I Forced the only Standstill played during the match, and his Mishra’ Factories were no threat. He did manage to steal my Yawgmoth’s Will in both games with a Rootwater Thief.
Round Six: SuperGro
Revenge. That’s what Travis wants. I hate to bring it up again, but you can read my match against Travis piloting this Gro deck in the Kentucky Lotus Tournament in the fifth round of the Swiss. We are both playing the same decks that we played in February. This matchup is definitely in my favor… But it isn’t a cakewalk.
Game One goes rather as I would like. I resolve a Dryad that doesn’t get plowed, and I am able to carry it out to a victory while nothing he plays gets in my way. In game two he managed to draw three plows and an Enforcer seals the deal.
Game three begins with Lotus, Tog, Duress. I generally do not prefer such hands if they are lacking in cantrip and draw, but the threat of a Tog on turn 1 was too irresistible to pass up, and mulliganning is almost assuredly a bad idea. I have a turn 1 ‘Tog, a turn 3 and 4 Tog, and finally the third ‘Tog is met with a Swords to Plowshares. He manages to massively out draw me while his hand hovers around seven and mine around two. I nip and peck at him with a Tog, trying to get him into lethal range; he plays a Meddling Mage, which I ignore. I am holding Submerge, but I don’t want to have it Misdirected to one of my ‘Togs as that would be a massive setback. When he is just about within my range, he manages to stall for just a bit longer with a few critters of his own. I throw my Submerge on his Enforcer, which resolves.
All my nipping and pecking has used up all our time. I manage to topdeck terribly – all land – as we play through the final five turns. On my final turn, I draw a Brainstorm – which could theoretically lead to the win were it not for the fact that my top three cards were all mana sources. We draw, which for Travis is victory for a hard-fought game.
Results: ORIGINS Type 1 11AM 6/28/2003 (47 Players)
1 Jamie M Schnitzius
2 Kyle Lawrence
3 Travis E Lee
4 Stephen M Menendian
5 Travis D Hopkins
6 Anthony Mccord
7 Ryan M. Boyer
8 Adam B Hartzler
Travis gets 5th. And the Keeper I lost to in Round Two finished in first place! If I had won the last match, I would have gotten second place, instead of fourth. I’m not terribly disappointed, given that a large part of Magic is simply luck – and the mirror matches really attest to that fact. And secondly, Super Gro had managed a second-place win at the last Dülmen where Gush is unrestricted. Travis went on to win the midnight tournament (which I had no intention of playing).
I had once said that a good player playing Gro-A-Tog should always win a tournament. I think there is an element of truth to this – but it isn’t as true as I originally intended the statement to be. People who don’t play in tournaments but do a lot of testing may forget how powerful an element luck is. My discussion of the mirror match reflects how strongly luck can play an important role in magic.
The one card that continued to perform poorly for me was Mana Drain. Despite multiple Stax decks, multiple Rector Trix, and Keeper, I found my Drains generally un-useful. So for Day 4, I made the final adjustments to my Gro-A-Tog.
4x “Quirion Dryad
4x Force of Will
3x Sleight of Hand
1x Ancestral Recall
1x Time Walk
1x Yawgmoth’s Will
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Vampiric Tutor
2x Merchant Scroll
1x Mystical Tutor
1x Cunning Wish
1x Mox Emerald
1x Mox Jet
1x Mox Sapphire
1x Black Lotus
4x Tropical Island
4x Underground Sea
4x Polluted Delta
1x Flooded Strand
1x Library of Alexandria
DAY FOUR: SUNDAY 1 P.M.
This time, knowing the kind of environment I was playing in I was very comfortable. I was a little disappointed that only thirteen people showed up for the Sunday Tournament – so I don’t really consider it representative of anything. We played four rounds of Swiss.
Round One: B/W Junk
This guy was in the wrong tournament. He was playing a Black/White Desolation Angel deck that resembled something more of an Invasion block constructed deck than a T1 deck. Game one I force of Willed his turn 1 Dark Ritual, Phyrexian Arena. The game was over rather quickly with a triple-digit powered ‘Tog.
I am not kidding.
Game two had me a little worried, to be honest. The reason is that this time he resolved a turn 1 Phyrexian Arena. The irony is that Arena was pretty strong – not too much affect on his life, but a pretty solid source of card advantage. My only hope was to outrace his Arena. Unfortunately, I had a rather slow hand with nothing sooner than a turn 3 Tog. I did manage a turn 1 Duress and I spotted the Angel. He tried to Vindicate my Tog twice. The first time, I Misdirected it to his Arena. The second time it resolved. This left me without a threat – and the following turn he cast the Angel with kicker! I knew it was coming, and so I held a land. I luckily drew a Demonic Tutor, which I tutored up Yawgmoth’s Will with using a Mox and a land. I just wanted one more land so I could Will and cast the Fastbond. By the time I cast Yawgmoth’s Will, he had swung twice with the Angel, leaving me at nine. I won that turn.
What did I tell you about random starts at tournaments?
Round Two: Joe Bushman (Oh, the mirror)
I was totally confident that the changes I made would kick ass in the mirror. And they did. Game One was a quick rush of beats, in which Joe played a turn 1 Library, but faced the situation every Gro-A-Tog player enjoys at least once – no more land.
Game two, I kept a relatively weaker hand, but one that is generally worth keeping if you are a good player: Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Merchant Scroll, a critter, and mana. It is one of those hands that requires many decisions: Unfortunately, tutoring up Ancestral was out of the question without a Duress first. I built Joe’s deck and equipped it with four Misdirections (why do I do these things?), and without an Ancestral type boost, the tutors were too slow at getting me what I wanted. Not to mention he countered my Fastbond. Joe managed to squeak out the win. Boo! No matter; I was confident of winning game three.
My opening hand had double-Force of Will, but no land. Shoot. Mulligan. My next hand had Force of Will, Misdirection, other goodies… And no land. Ladies in Gentlemen, lady luck hates me. So I angrily mulligan into Brainstorm, Fetchland, Fastbond, Dual, and a Mox. This is absolutely terrible. My hope was that I would Brainstorm into the three best cards I could imagine and then Fetchland away any crap. This was not the case. I discover that Joe draws three Force of Wills and three Misdirections during the course of the game, having about the best hand you could possibly have. The game was over after my second mulligan.
Round Three: Random Bad Deck
I honestly have no recollection of this match.
Round Four: G/W Oath/Enchantress
This guy had a bit of a scary deck, to be honest. He was running a lot of blue hate in the form of Choke, Carpet of Flowers, and other goodies. The Duresses kept his threats away, and twice I strategically Gushed to prevent him from abusing Carpet of Flowers. In one game I had merely a Library of Alexandria in play, which he could not get any mana from. He seemed to know who I was as well and was intent on getting a win, which made my job even more difficult. I played carefully and won the matchup.
And so my last tournament with Gro-A-Tog ends not with a bang, but with a whimper: 4th Place.
Nevertheless, my combined record with Gro-A-Tog for the weekend was 12-3-1, with my only losses coming from two mirrors and Keeper.
I go over to the top table and watch Joe Bushman play my Gro-A-Tog against a Reanimator deck. As I explained before, with decks Joe hasn’t seen before, he founders, and this was no different. His loss to Reanimator, which should not have happened, caused Reanimator to win the final Origins Tournament. Oh well.
So, in conclusion, what was the best Gro-A-Tog deck? The answer to that is that there was no best Gro-A-Tog build. The best Gro-A-Tog deck was metagame specific. Playing Gro-A-Tog and building it was a metagame puzzle. If you played in a high powered metagame like the Dulmen, perhaps the Drain build was best. If you played against a lot of control decks, perhaps the Red splash was best. Although, there is one thing that I am certain of, and that is that Duress deserved a few spots in the best build.
Against the power-heavy environment, the Drains-heavy, Misdirection-light build enabled Bode and Falk Bernhardt to play the control game against the combo and Stax decks. This allowed them to have enough countermagic to survive the focused discard and prevent the combo player from comboing you out. If they Duress your opening Force of Will, you have the tools to cantrip into Drains, or Merchant Scroll another Force. Also, Misdirections were relatively unimportant in their metagame, as control was generally sparse in the upper tables. And in the mirror, you’d rather just have Duress, Fire / Ice, and Red Elemental Blasts for tempo so that you could play the aggressor.
That is one of the benefits of Duress: It allows a good player to decide, immediately, how s/he wants to channel the flow of the deck, in the way that will best suit the opponent’s hand. The Brainstorms, Tutors, and other cantrips allow you to tweak your hand to best suit the match. Against combo, you might shuffle away your Berserk searching for a Drain. Against Control, you might shuffle away that Tog, looking for a Misdirection. And so on.
Falk got first place in both May and June Dülmen with GATr. One thing he used that I should have given greater consideration for the mirror was Waterfront Bouncer for tempo. Probably my biggest flaw was not testing the mirror enough and realizing that you want to play the aggressor, not the controller; I think the Drains helped reinforce this impression. In the end, Gro-A-Tog was a monstrosity that could be tweaked, tuned, and played differently to suit not only the metagame, but individual matches as well.
Why Restricting Gush Was The Right Call
Since March, there have been many voices heard demanding the restriction of Gush – or claims that it doesn’t deserve restriction. When I first picked up the deck in January, I found it to be brutally powerful. When I won the Lotus tournament in February, I began to see that Gush might be too good. Then in March, Gro-A-Tog got first place at The Mana Drain Invitational in New Jersey. Finally, Ed Paltzik came out and demanded that it be restricted. It really focused attention on the issue. It had been boiling up for a while.
In private, I had told him and a few other people that it needed restriction… But there were some strong voices on The Mana Drain and elsewhere who found the idea patently absurd. I certainly didn’t want to expend my personal goodwill backing such a polemical issue. When Ed posted his argument, I was one of the first to come out in support of him. JP Meyer (who got second at the Mana Drain Invitational playing Hulk Smash – you can read his tournament report here) also agreed. With JP and myself behind Ed, that seemed to lend some weight to the claim.
Once I discovered Stax, and quickly realized how potent it was, I began to think that perhaps Gro-A-Tog wasn’t so bad for the environment. I wrote a letter to Aaron Forsythe that Gush shouldn’t be restricted in June because answers were known, even if they weren’t employed yet – or in sufficient quantities to dethrone GAT. Furthermore, there were other voices who predicted that the metagame would adjust. Early attempts were made to mimic the Extended solution of Four-Color Oath. I tried this myself, but they were fatally flawed. The Type One card pool is too different, in particular, Time Walk combined with Regrowth and Yawgmoth’s Will practically negate Oath of Druids as a viable answer at all.
One thing I was absolutely certain of is that Gush was at least as good as Fact or Fiction. For fun, I piloted Gro-A-Tog against the pre-restriction Blue Bull S**t – the four-Fact or Fiction, mono-blue aggro-Morphling deck that abused the card so badly it needed restriction. I was stunned that Gro-A-Tog won over 50% of our games. It really drove home how good Gro-A-Tog was.
It then occurred to me that in an Environment of Stax, TnT (which was far more prevalent and made far better with Judgement), fetchlands, and Gro-A-Tog, that the four Fact or Fiction mono blue deck wouldn’t be nearly as good as it was. However, after a little while I discovered that Gro-A-Tog could beat Stax… And Bode’s addition of Red using Fire/Ice proved that it would. The fortuitous unrestriction of Hurkyl’s Recall provided an early answer to that deck.
The arguments against Gush being restricted have been articulated well by Oscar Tan: Among others, they focus on the fact that you only net one card, and it has a drawback. The narrow focus on card advantage ignores the tempo advantage of it being a free spell, and its other benefits. The bouncing of the land is almost always a benefit; I have used it numerous times to evade a Sinkhole or a Wasteland. It also bounces up precious land that you can replay to cast a three casting-cost spell. The combination with Fastbond produces a pseudo-Yawgmoth’s Bargain effect, and your Yawgmoth’s Will’s become combofests. Most of the time with Fact or Fiction you get the smaller, stronger pile of two cards for four mana; with Gush you get two cards of the top of your library at a mana cost of zero. Sometimes you might get three cards with Fact or Fiction, but it still costs four mana. And sometimes, you might only get one card with Fact.
With a really low mana base and with creatures like Psychatog around, Gush really is too strong. It isn’t too good because Gro-A-Tog should always win a tournament (which it almost always did, winning two of the four large Origins tournaments – with Keeper and SuperGro winning the rest).
Take a look at Day Two Origins results, where I decided to play Stax but didn’t do too well:
ORIGINS Type 1 1PM 6/27/2003 (57 Players)
1 Michael P Scheffenacker (GATr)
2 Joe Bushman (GAT)
3 Sam Luton
4 Paul A Mastriano (GAT)
That is three GATs in the top 4. Combine that with unparalleled Dülmen dominance for five of the first six months in the year, and mirrored success around the world and you had a deck that was too good because and was environment-distorting.
And that’s the real justification for Gush needing to go. The removal of Gro-A-Tog has opened up the door for competition to other decks that had quietly disappeared from the scene while GAT was around. In the end, I think it was the correct decision based upon the fact that it wasn’t only broken – and even if you don’t agree with that, it was environment distorting, warping the metagame too much and too far because of its mere existence.