Magic Memories: Tendrils of Agony

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Dec 11, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I might as well do this now. As though The Storm Count wasn't enough. Oh, who am I kidding? If there is such a thing as too much power, I have not discovered it.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself. The proper lead to this, the starting point for what led me here, is an older article. Because yeah, now I have Tendrils of Agony in my signature and I remain a fervent advocate of the card. But several years ago, I wrote an article about things that I thought WotC had really gotten right over the years, things that weren't necessarily universally appreciated but that I had come to appreciate. And here's how I put it when it came to the Storm mechanic...

    So yeah, my stance did a complete 180° on this. No point in pretending that it didn't. Tendrils of Agony is one of my favorite cards. But when it was new, I was livid that I couldn't counter it. The lazy version of my excuse is that I was 17 years old at the time, and therefore I was young and stupid. But really, there was more to it and I can recall most of this stuff surprisingly well...

    I didn't have a lot of money, but I was spending what I could on Magic cards during Urza's Block and Masques Block. But I couldn't keep that up and Prophecy was a very disappointing set, clearly weaker than the stuff I'd been using from Rath Block, Urza's Block, and even the first two sets in the new block. I slowed down on purchasing new cards during Invasion Block and only picked up a few booster packs of Odyssey. So as new sets came out and others were playing the new cards, I became, by default, someone playing with "the old cards." And as it happened, some of those cards were very good. So when I was playing Magic in high school, like I said in the Masticore thread, I won a lot. It probably helped that I had been playing my Necro-Donate deck a lot and had become very proficient with it. It probably helped that my Academy deck was, like almost any Academy deck, broken. And it probably helped that, in general, I was using some good cards. But I also found ways for my casual control decks to sabotage the fads of the month. So when opponents would discard their hands to Wild Mongrel or sacrifice their board to Nantuko Husk, my Word of Undoing was ready. And when they dropped a Goblin Piledriver, Masticore could kill it easily. I had, unfairly, a certain disdain for "the new cards."

    And then Legions came out. A set with nothing but creatures. As a control/combo enthusiast who already disliked newer sets, I was already predisposed to dislike this one. What made me hate it, though, was that it featured a lot of Morph creatures with abilities that they could hide until they were flipped face-up. A nightmare for an old-school control player. In my mind, it was just wrong. Some guy attacks me with his face-down 2/2 whatever and I let it through, then with combat damage on the stack, he flips it face up and I lose half my life to Ebonblade Reaper, a card I'd never seen before. I'd cast a spell at my opponent, but then he'd respond by flipping a creature up, and now my spell was pointed at me instead. I couldn't stop it with Force of Will! I couldn't stand it. These uppity new cards and their weird tricks I couldn't deal with. It wasn't how I thought the game was supposed to work. It was new and different, but it was also causing trouble for me, when I'd been winning so much before. In hindsight, I definitely overreacted. But there you have it.
    I was set in my ways and biased against new cards. When Dragonstorm was spoiled, I sneered at it as overcosted nonsense. When Mind's Desire was preemptively restricted, I was surprised and slightly confused. I asked a more knowledgeable player (my friend Eric, whom I might have mentioned before at some point) about it, and he talked about how it'd be too easy to use Moxen and such to generate mana and cast enough spells that Mind's Desire would hit another Mind's Desire, which would let the deck go crazy. That led me to ask what the deck would use to win. Tendrils of Agony was the answer. And when he showed it to me, that was the first time I'd actually seen the card. Initially, I wasn't impressed. It struck me as a bad Drain Life. You had to jump through all these hoops to make it do anything. But I could see that by that point, it might be possible to cast multiple Tendrils of Agony or to recur them with Yawgmoth's Will, so my next inquiry was why the opponent wouldn't just counter the first Mind's Desire. The Storm player would be investing a lot into it and countering it would stop the whole process, break the engine of the deck. And that was when I learned that Storm, as a triggered ability, still made the copies even if the original spell was countered. It was the Morph thing with Willbender all over again, but much worse. So these upstarts could cast a bunch of meaningless spells and then cast Tendrils of Agony and I couldn't even stop it with Force of Will? I'd have to waste my Force of Will on what? A card-drawing spell? And if they got another one?

    And so Scourge hit the shelves and Storm became one of the new fads. I already despised it and couldn't think of how to deal with it. Countermagic was no longer good enough. Well, it was technically possible to stop the Storm cards with Stifle or Hindering Touch. But those were also in Scourge and I wasn't using the new cards!

    Determined not to give up, arrived at two possible approaches and set out to use both...
    1. Outrace the Storm decks.
    2. Find disruption that did work against them and learn which targets to pick.
    The first approach just involved me making my decks more cut-throat. But the second approach meant that to beat Storm, I had to understand Storm. I had to learn how it was played. I didn't want to play such decks myself. After all, I hated them! But my hatred motivated me to learn how they operated, so that I could find their weaknesses and exploit them. As you might have already guessed, that took me down a path I wasn't expecting.
    Psarketos likes this.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The first widely successful Storm decks used heavy mana acceleration, Burning Wish, tutors, and "draw-7" spells to build up a chain of spells terminating in Tendrils of Agony. It generally won by outracing the competition, a task for which it was better suited than the previous established combo workhorse in Type 1, big mana "Neo-Academy."

    These early Tendrils decks were most commonly known as "Long.dec" and I've always hated that name. In the first place, Mike Long was just one of many pioneers of early Vintage Storm combo. In the second place, Mike Long's version initially had Mind's Desire in the sideboard as the target for Burning Wish, whereas the better version used Yawgmoth's Will for this purpose. In the third place, it's just not a very good name. And in the fourth place, Mike Long was a cheater anyway and didn't deserve the recognition. This is related to bit of recent stir when it comes to the DCI stuff, with WotC issuing warnings and suspensions to some players for their involvement in private Facebook groups or other social media that has nothing to do with their conduct in tournaments (and in at least one case, a lifetime ban over Twitter posts), while exposed cheaters get comparatively light sentences. I never understood this. Magic isn't the Tour de France. Anyway, the name also annoyed me because other, completely different Storm decks were still getting associated with the name years after Mike Long left, like "Grim Long" and "Pitch Long." Oh well.

    As I noted in another Memories thread, this was the deck that got Lion's Eye Diamond restricted in Vintage. The potential to drop multiple copies of LED and crack all of them in response to a tutor or draw-7 spell gave these early Storm decks enough of a mana boost that they could get fast kills very consistently.

    At the time, I didn't own any Power, but even today my interest in Vintage is almost entirely academic. My instinctive affront at this new deck over its speed was emotional, based on my attachment to the old cards and resentment of the new ones. It didn't die out right away, but it was tempered over time. This didn't make me a fan of Storm. It just made my visceral repulsion less prominent and I started to approach the subject with an air of dispassionate analysis. I'd like to be able to say that a little later I became more interested in the playstyle of Burning Desire decks, with their versatility and computational approach to crafting lines of play that resulted in favorable outcomes, the exact sort of thing that appealed to me with my beloved Necropotence decks. And if I'd been a little older or if I'd been paying closer attention, perhaps that would have happened. But no, I continued to generally dislike the situation. Ritual-fueled Storm wasn't the archetype that started to turn this around for me.

    One of the players at my high school built casual deck with Mind's Desire. He used Twiddle and Dream's Grip on Tolarian Academy, generating a flood of mana and increasing the storm count. I don't remember if I ever played against the deck, as he didn't keep it around for very long. If I did play against it, I probably just made him discard his hand and killed him before he could get going. I was into that. But I did witness the deck in action. That was the first time I saw Mind's Desire into Mind's Desire in real life. I couldn't help finding it intriguing. And so, without ever having lost to it, I started to have a bit of a grudging respect for Storm. It was doing something different. Something interesting. Sophisticated. But before I could explore that further, my high school was swept up in Mirrodin Fever. I mentioned Dream's Grip...
    At that point, I had no notion of how influential Mirrodin would become. The set took over casual gameplay around me in a way that nothing else had before. For me, that meant, well, more winning. Here's why. Most of my opponents had been using regular, sane manabases up to this point. But as Mirrodin Fever spread, my opponents were all shifting toward manabases with these cards...
    ...and I was using this card...
    This did not work out well for them. And for the moment, I mostly forgot about Storm. I was playing a lot of monoblue control, as well as branching out more in my combo decks with stuff like High Tide, Dream Halls, Tinker/Colossus, Rec-Sur, Aluren, etc.
  3. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Turn 2, Grand Abolisher
    Turn 3, Eidolon of Rhetoric
    Turn 4, Elgaud Shieldmate...

    - From my ruminations entitled, "This deck is going to make Oversoul so mad!" :)
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    After high school, most of the Magic I played was in a playgroup with friends. But our interests started to diverge. I played casually and had some interest in Vintage and Type 1.5. Most of my friends were playing Block Constructed, Standard, and Extended. After having to play my casual builds against tournament decks, I learned just how tough it could be to win some of those matchups. I was using cards from the entire history of Magic, but these guys were often, because of formats, using a far more limited cardpool. And yet their decks were intimidating. So I worked on making my decks better. But then when I played against people who were newer or who played less often, I crushed them too easily. I felt like I was in a bit of a limbo and started to get more into Type 1.5, but the problem was that no one in my area was playing that format anymore! I didn't have any playtest partners for it. And I couldn't afford to build most of the good decks anyway. I started looking into more affordable combo decks. At some point, I got the notion that I wouldn't mind playing a combo deck based around Tendrils of Agony. I had one in mind: Kobold-Clamp.
    Since its printing, Carnival of Souls had been infamous as a bad card, derided as the worst card in Urza's Destiny and one of the worst cards of all time. I guess it bugged people because it was close to being something useful, but the negative aspects of the card were too severe. But this deck finally gave Carnival of Souls a niche. Play a kobold, use the mana from Carnival to clamp the kobold, draw cards from the kobold, play a kobold, use the mana from Carnival to clamp the kobold, and so on. This could easily cast enough spells and draw enough cards to drop some mana acceleration and a lethal Tendrils of Agony.

    I was toying with other Type 1.5 decks. Kobold-Clamp wasn't necessarily my favorite and might not have even been especially good, but I was building it anyway. My "I don't play with post-Prophecy cards" stance had started out as a kind of pact with Al0ysiusHWWW and had taken a big hit after he ate my library with Scalpelexis.

    And so it began. Really, the deck that I was especially impressed with was "The Perfect Storm." But that was in Vintage and Vintage seemed too unrealistic at the time. But I liked Kobold-Clamp well enough and it was affordable.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    One of my go-to decks from back then used Ertai, Wizard Adept + Arcane Laboratory.
    Psarketos likes this.
  6. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    I had forgotten Arcane Laboratory, and that the single spell per turn started in blue rather than white color identity.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    In early 2004, I had a lot of people to play Magic with. That number started to dwindle as some moved off to college and others quit entirely to pursue other hobbies. I lost interest in Type 1.5 and was losing interest in Vintage. I was at Nick's house, going through some of my cards, and I checked the WotC website. Believe it or not, I used to do that back then! Nowadays I usually just let Spiderman do it and see what he shares here... :p

    Well, there was an announcement that Type 1.5 was going to be replaced by a new format, to be named later. I would go on to submit "Raisin" as my suggestion for the name, on the basis that "Vintage" was technically a term that referred to grapes (it comes from the Old French word for "vine" and took on the connotation that WotC was going for, that of something classic with enduring appeal, in the late 1920's when it was used to describe expensive 1910's cars). So the idea was that I was ostensibly oblivious to the common usage of "vintage" as a classic thing and that I thought the formats were all getting grape-themed names. That was my sense of humor. OK fine, it still is my sense of humor. I will die on this hill. It is hilarious and I am a creative genius...

    ...anyway, the name for the new format became "Legacy." I guess that's fine. It was better than the other choices WotC gave the public to vote on (my own submission didn't make the cut), although I've since forgotten what those were. But before "new Type 1.5" became Legacy, I ran to find Nick and informed him of the announcement. We were enthused, to say the least. I became a kind of early wannabe apostle for the format, trying to convince others to build decks for it. I think just about everyone here who might read this probably has some frame of reference for this, but memories might be fuzzy. So to be clear, I'd better note that 2004 was very different from 2017, both for me and for the game. In 2004, it was easy to see Legacy as "budget Vintage." Someone, I think Shabbaman, had an article comment (which I cannot currently see because of the kerfuffle with front page article comments) espousing essentially this. A lot of players viewed Vintage as inaccessible because too many format staples like the Power 9, Mishra's Workshop, Library of Alexandria, Mana Crypt, and even Mana Drain were financially prohibitive. But Legacy, at first, seemed affordable. Not necessarily cheap, but Revised dual lands hadn't yet soared in price and most other format staples were attainable on a reasonable budget. I can't recall exact figures, but one example that's easy to remember is that the "Stax" deck in Vintage was originally "$T4KS: The Four-Thousand Dollar Solution" because the entire deck was priced at around $4,000* at the time. That was a Vintage deck price, far too exorbitant for Legacy players in 2004. I'd roughly estimate that typical 2004 Legacy decks would weigh in at $200, but I don't have any figures and I never bought my constructed decks from scratch, so I might be off. In 2017, Legacy decks routinely cost about $3,000 and some are well over $4,000 and Vintage decks run closer to $20,000. These days, Modern players deride Legacy as exorbitant, and their decks are in the neighborhood of $800. These numbers are, to put it bluntly, insane. But I won't turn this thread into a rant about card prices. Such a rant might happen at some point. Where I was going with all this is that I got really into Legacy from the beginning, testing builds for the new format with my friend from the day the format was announced. And I was especially keen to build combo decks...

    Tendrils of Agony had made quite splash in Vintage. So we tested it as a likely candidate in Legacy. But at first, we didn't have much luck. Vintage Tendrils decks relied on restricted, efficient mana-producing artifacts and on big card-drawing, much of which was banned in Legacy. I toyed with some Storm deck concepts, but ultimately gave up on it after failing to hit on anything reliable enough to be competitive. But I wasn't the only one exploring this, and with new card releases, others would eventually find ways to make Tendrils of Agony viable in Legacy...

    *As an historical note, this could be a bit of a confusing subject. The deck really was called "The Four-Thousand Dollar Solution" initially, but "Stax" was also a play on a different Workshop deck named "Stacker" that got its name because it beat people to death with Juggernauts very quickly and there was a widely-seen ad campaign at the time for "Stacker 2: the world's strongest fat-burner." Attentive observers might note that Stax decks were characterized by their usage of the card Smokestack, and it seems pretty obvious that Smokestack should be the source of the name "Stax." But Magic decks get weird names so that they can create confusion years later. So yeah, Stax decks are still around today (although rare) and a new player seeing them would think that the deck name comes from the card Smokestack, on account of the fact that the card is in the deck. They'd be forgiven for not guessing that it was originally "$T4KS" because someone contrived it as a joke based on a reference to another, different deck, that itself got its name from some dumb commercial no one remembers.
  8. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    As a dedicated Modern casual player for the past few years, I would note that low cost is almost always something I aim for when building. I have two Modern and one Standard deck in my current rotation that each cost just over $9. When building that Castlevania themed deck for a friend, I went crazy and spent $26.

    While WotC and game stores do very well from the expensive tournament staples, one of the great things about casual Magic is that you can build many decks that can compete just fine for the cost of a meal out, at least in the newer formats.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    This takes us on a bit of a tangent, but I think it's important...

    I've spoken before about an unfortunate mentality that I've seen pervading games like Magic. I guess that sort of growing up with Magic and seeing it in different circumstances, I tuned it out for a long time. What really drove the point home for me wasn't anything in Magic at all, but instead the game Hearthstone. I brought this up before. I forget which thread. But I'll go into more detail now.

    Hearthstone is a video game with the trappings of a card game like Magic. There are no physical cards and the mechanics of the game allow things to happen that couldn't happen in a tabletop game, but the inspiration from Magic is very, very apparent. You build your deck from a pool of cards that make up your collection. You have limits on how many copies of the same card can go into a deck, and decks have to be a certain size. Players get a starting life total and play "minions" (creatures) that can be used to attack their opponents, but can't attack the turn they are played. More powerful cards cost more mana. Running out of cards to draw is bad. And so on. The game diverges from Magic in many ways, and I won't try to note all of them, but pretty much every major difference fits into one of three categories.
    1. Something taking advantage of the non-physical nature of the game. Example: there's a card that, when you play it, shows you three different cards, one that's in your opponent's deck and two that aren't. If you guess the one that's in your opponent's deck, you get a copy of it in your hand.
    2. Something meant to simplify and speed up gameplay. Example: Everything that happens on your side of the board during your opponent's turn is automated. The game is structured so that you do not need to, and indeed cannot, respond to what your opponent is doing, which means no needing to wait for responses, pass priority, etc.
    3. Something meant to fit the game's theme, as it is based on World of Warcraft. Example: you play as a certain class and some cards can only be put into a deck that fits the class of the "hero" your deck corresponds to. Warriors get a lot of weapon cards, mages get a lot of "secret" cards that trigger and have a magical effect when the opponent takes a certain action.
    Following Hearthstone's development has been interesting. I was coerced into playing the game by Al0ysiusHWWW in early 2015. So I wasn't on board from the very beginning of the game, but showed up about a year after its initial release. I often notice that Blizzard is taking a page out of Magic's history, either by imitating something Magic already did or by learning what not to do.

    The way Hearthstone is set up, there are "basic" cards that are never purchased, but that new players start with or accumulate as rewards for gaining "experience" (for playing the game). There's also the equivalent of a core set, which is called "Classic" and comes in booster packs. They also release large expansion sets, which come in booster packs. They used to have small sets in the form of single-player "adventures" that unlocked specific cards, but they've since moved away from that and made the adventures a bonus thing with new sets that can be played to unlock cosmetic content. One very clever aspect of their business model is that booster packs contain five cards each, with one guaranteed rare. The rarity system is set up in increasing order with Common, Rare, Epic, Legendary as the tiers. Because most packs won't have an Epic card and only very few packs have a Legendary card, it takes opening a lot of packs to build a collection. But players can "disenchant" extra cards (or any non-basic cards, if they want to) to get "dust" that can be used to "craft" any cards they want. So if you want a certain Legendary card, you don't necessarily need to open enough packs to find it. You can make the card. It's a very flexible system that gives players a lot of control, but it also encourages them to spend a lot of money. Even so, some players opt not to spend money at all, using only the free cards and the packs that they gradually acquire through building up in-game "coins" that can buy packs.

    When I first started playing Hearthstone, there were four ways to play. There was "Casual" which was was just the normal game with nothing special. There was "Ranked" which had the exact same rules as "Casual" but winning or losing affected your standing on a ladder, and at the end of each month the ladder would reset and you'd gain rewards based on your highest ranking achieved within the month. There was "Arena" which required in-game "coins" to enter and was their equivalent of a "Limited" format (you didn't get to keep the cards from the deck assembled in the Arena, but you earned rewards based on your performance, with strong performances earning better rewards than the cost of entry). And finally, there was "Tavern Brawl" which was a weekly rotating wacky format that offered the chance to earn one pack per rotation the first time you won a game in it...
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    That's all a preamble to this. The team at Blizzard foresaw that as more and more new sets would be released, the most powerful cards from the history of the game would be used together in dominant Ranked decks. This would mean that new players would find it increasingly harder to compete. It would also mean that new sets wouldn't sell very well if the old sets were contributing most of the cards to the best decks. Experienced players would simply ignore new sets or craft a handful of cards that they needed to update their decks. Eventually, the only way to sell new sets would be to make the new cards more powerful than the old ones, which would lead to power creep and lousy gameplay. To address this problem, Blizzard copied the same move that WotC had already made 21 years earlier and split their constructed game modes (Casual and Ranked) into two variants. The original, all cards allowed, format would be "Wild." The new format, in which sets would retire as the format rotated, would be "Standard." The Standard/Wild split coincided with the release of a new set: Whispers of the Old Gods. So, before the split, Ranked gameplay looked like this...

    -Curse of Naxxramas
    -Goblins vs. Gnomes
    -Blackrock Mountain
    -The Grand Tournament
    -The League of Explorers

    And after the split, Wild looked like this...

    -Curse of Naxxramas
    -Goblins vs. Gnomes
    -Blackrock Mountain
    -The Grand Tournament
    -The League of Explorers
    -Whispers of the Old Gods

    ...and Standard looked like this...

    -Blackrock Mountain
    -The Grand Tournament
    -The League of Explorers
    -Whispers of the Old Gods

    I don't want to understate the difference. Naxxramas had a few key cards that were valuable in control decks, and Goblins vs. Gnomes was a very powerful set, arguably the second most power-packed set at the time (Basic/Classic remained the most important). Still, there was a lot of overlap, and essentially 100% of the playerbase at the time were equipped to build decks for either format. In fact, because Standard relied more heavily on the Old Gods set and it was brand new, most players could, at the time, more cheaply build Wild decks than they could build Standard decks. It was apparent that, long-term, it would be much more economical for a new player to buy into Standard than to buy into Wild, but that didn't apply to existing players, and at the time of the initial split, it wasn't a huge factor one way or the other. However, one important thing happened, even before the split. It was announced that tournaments would be run under Standard rules. And this meant that pro players would be playing under Standard rules. And this meant that popular streamers would be moving to Standard. And so, Standard became the format. Wild, which was equivalent to the only constructed format that was even available within the game prior to late April of 2016, was abandoned by the vast majority of players. It was disregarded. It wasn't taken seriously. It went from being the only option to being a sideshow. And it happened overnight. Millions of players who would never play the game professionally all dropped the format they'd been playing in up to that point, because it wasn't the format the pros were playing. Seriously. Millions of people.

    Well, it wasn't so bad that one couldn't find a match in Wild. Wait times were shorter on the Standard ladder than on the Wild ladder, but with so many millions of players (the game is a lot more popular than Magic), Wild survived. But then, sometime later, they started doing some official tournaments under the Wild format. So the pros began testing for both Standard and Wild. And so streamers began streaming Wild. And so the Wild ladder started filling back up. In hindsight, there's a certain logic to it, a kind of reasoning of "Well, of course that's how it worked" about the whole thing. But seeing how severe the reaction was, how abruptly so many people modified their habits in a game, based on factors that had nothing to do with them personally, I was taken aback. Personally, I tinkered with both Standard and Wild. I focused a bit more on Wild because it had certain cards I liked and the flow of the metagame there seemed less erratic. It also just offered more options. Even though I play on the "Ranked" ladder, my decks are often more casual and not necessarily fully optimized for climbing the ladder (climbing the ladder requires far more time grinding games than I can accomodate). So I play what suits me. But I play both formats. I guess I projected my own mindset onto everyone else and thought that, even if they weren't in my exact situation, they'd follow that sort of approach. They'd experiment, they'd tinker, they'd look at what was successful and analyze their potential decks based on what they could afford to build, on what they found fun, and so on. Maybe they'd focus on Standard, or maybe they'd focus on Wild. And some people clearly did! But that was, proportionally, a minority. The majority of players just tried to copy whatever the pros were doing. Bunch of sheep, I tell ya. :rolleyes:

    Anyway, I think there's too much of that in Magic as well. And so we get a Standard metagame with a bunch of $250 decks and everyone wants to build $250 decks because that's what the pros are playing. Well, if you're not a pro, then why is your default to build the decks the pros are building? So many players complain about how expensive the game is, and on one hand, they're right. It is a real problem. But outside of the narrow circumstances of competitive tournament gameplay, that doesn't necessarily have to be the case.

    That goes for deck budgets, but I think it also goes for card usage. So, going back to Tendrils of Agony specifically...

    I think it's a fine card. I think that it enables some interesting and scary combo decks. But it's relegated to cut-throat Legacy decks (and Vintage too, although its usage there has severely diminished). Because hey, it's not legal in Modern and so that means Legacy is its home, and Legacy is so expensive that there's no point in playing it casually, or something. But that doesn't have to be the case. One could easily build Tendrils decks, or other Storm decks for that matter, without tournament play in mind at all. But Legacy is too expensive, and so it can't be a casual format, and so Tendrils, which is a card from competitive Legacy decks, isn't used in casual decks. And that means when it does show up at all, it shows up in those decks, which are competitive Legacy tournament decks. And so, the the myth that the card is inherently "broken" is left unchallenged. I don't think it's true. I think it's a very strong win condition for certain kinds of decks, but that doesn't mean it's a problem or that it ruins all fun.
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The combination of Lion's Eye Diamond and Tendrils of Agony took over Vintage and would later emerge as a Legacy staple. But in the intervening years, other tricks were required. I mentioned that I tried to make Tendrils of Agony work in Legacy and couldn't really pull it off. I just couldn't find enough of the right cards to make it fast and consistent enough. I'll return to that subject later. Before Tendrils of Agony ever mattered in Legacy, it took on Extended. And speaking of budget decks, well, you'll see...

    In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. The card pool in Odyssey Block/7th Edition/Onslaught Block is totally unsuited to assembling a Storm combo deck. Those sets offer the Storm cards themselves and little else. So it isn't surprising that the Standard environment didn't lead to a Storm deck. But with Extended going all the way back to Tempest, there were more tools to work with. The particular tools that wound up powering Tendrils in this environment were cost-reducing permanents (Nightscape Familiar, Sapphire Medallion) and spells that could take advantage of them to generate mana (Cloud of Faeries, Snap, Turnabout, and to a lesser extent Temporal Fissure and Mind's Desire). By today's standards, it's slow. But the combo was just fast enough to outrace aggro decks of the time and it was not especially vulnerable to disruption. My knowledge of the environment is sketchy, but my suspicion is that the deck was helped by the fact that opponents had to run defensive measure that were effective against the very popular monored decks of the era, and such defenses were mostly dead cards against a Storm combo deck. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first tournament-legal deck with the primary gameplan of chaining Mind's Desire into Mind's Desire.

    Strictly speaking, an exact port of such a deck would not, by today's prices, be a budget list. However, essentially all of the monetary value of the deck would be concentrated in...
    • Polluted Delta: not really necessary or even especially important.
    • Chrome Mox: included because it was a new and popular accelerant. Off the top of my head I'm not sure how best such a deck should be restructured in the absence of the card, but I'm confident that it's doable.
    • Intuition: part of the once ubiquitous Intuition + Accumulated Knowledge card-drawing engine that was in every blue deck back then. A single copy now runs more than an entire Psarketos deck (more than some of my decks too, for that matter; damn Reserve List buyouts) and the card isn't actually vital to the concept.
    • Tutors: I've seen lists running Mystical and lists running Vampiric, but whatever. Who needs 'em?
    Exact lists varied, but going beyond the Extended card pool of the time, and really even within it, I think there are sufficient options to make this a reasonable casual combo deck, and a cheap one too.
  12. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The 2006 release of Time Spiral was an important development for Storm decks. The most obvious effect was the advent of Empty the Warrens, Grapeshot, and Ignite Memories. But also important was the poor man's LED...
    Storm deck composition has varied wildly over the past 14 years, and perhaps the most unshakeable constant has been the use of cards that can produce extra mana, preferably more mana than they took to play in the first place. Exploiting Lion's Eye Diamond as a Black Lotus substitute was and is a common feature in all of this, but it was inherently limited by the restriction of LED in Vintage and the card's exclusion from most other formats (as it was exclusive to an older set). The interaction between cost-reducers and land-untapping spells enabled a kind of rogue Extended deck with Mind's Desire, but Lotus Bloom really enabled Storm in Extended.

    Vintage had a deck known as "The Perfect Storm" or TPS. When a similarly-themed deck arose in Extended, it was christened "The Extended Perfect Storm" or TEPS. No Dark Ritual or Lion's Eye Diamond, but Extended at the time had Lotus Bloom, Cabal Ritual, Seething Song, Rite of Flame, and Channel the Suns to provide a burst of mana, alongside the format's best card selection spells and the Invasion cycle of lands that could be tapped and sacrificed for two mana. TEPS became the most successful tournament deck to ever employ multiple copies of Mind's Desire. And of course, all of those spells leading to other spells terminated in Tendrils of Agony.
  13. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    TEPS was a respectable deck in Extended, staying in pretty much the same spot with older sets rotating out, up until Scourge itself rotated out in 2009. That was the last time anyone was able to cast Mind's Desire for free off the back of another Mind's Desire in a sanctioned format. Tendrils of Agony was printed in the very last set before the cutoff for Modern, so it never affected that format.

    In Vintage, following the restriction of Lion's Eye Diamond, other decks rose to prominence, and Tendrils of Agony never again took over the format. But it did become a strong contender. Early efforts simply attempted to emulate the Burning Desire deck, but with Burning Wish, Chrome Mox, and Lion's Eye Diamond all restricted. I enthusiastically tested one such "Draw7" deck, but found it to be too inconsistent. A more successful Tendrils deck used Academy Rector, another card I've written about here. Although the deck I built was a Donate deck, the Tendrils version was similar. It fared better with more Power 9 cards, and I didn't have those, so I built a Donate version. Rector Tendrils or "Rectal Agony" decks could quickly rush out an Academy Rector, sacrifice it with Cabal Therapy, fetch Bargain, pay a bunch of life, and storm out with Tendrils. Excepting the Tolarian Academy decks of the late 1990's and the 2003 Burning Desire decks, this approach produced perhaps the most reliable combo deck in Vintage up to that point. It was fast and versatile. See this thread, a real blast from the past.

    Weird to think that in 2005, Goblin Welder was so renowned as the best creature. I mean, I remember those days, but it's been so long that the conventional wisdom is that the card is too easy to kill before the player ever gets a chance to activate it for anything meaningful.
  14. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    I like the reference to Apprentice in that old thread - that brings back memories. I realized that the kids I teach Magic with have not had an alternate win condition in their decks for around two years, so I recently introduced a deck I call The Nayan Trial. It aims at gaining a large amount of life (I like to call 27,000, while the kids like to call in the millions), then adding player hexproof and library recursion so as not to lose to anything except alternate win conditions - a metagame maker, if you will.

    Facing that with Tendrils, would your tendency be to make a recursive loop for as large a Tendrils as required to win? Outrace the life gain combo engine? Focused disruption to ensure a break somewhere in the anti-damage / anti-mill mechanics? I have gathered that you are a not a Modern format player at heart, but I would be interested to see which line of attack your instincts would follow first. One of the kids is already designing a Revel in Riches deck, which pleases my love of alternate win conditions :)
  15. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I already started Memories threads for both Academy Rector and Yawgmoth's Bargain, so when it comes to a Rector-Bargain Tendrils deck, I'm wary of repeating myself. Rector dies and fetches Bargain from the library, Bargain draws a ton of cards, some of those cards make mana, and pretty soon you've cast enough spells for a lethal Tendrils of Agony. It seems straightforward enough. The details have evolved over the years, but the basic principles are the same.

    And yes, I said over the years. Certain things in Vintage are long-lived, and this is one. I first saw Rector Tendrils decks in 2004. By 2005 they'd displaced Rector Donate decks. They stuck around for a few years and fell by the wayside. Then they came back again. Academy Rector certainly isn't popular in Vintage, but it does exist and has even won tournaments.
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    That potentially loses to a sufficiently large power of attacking creatures. The most obvious would be infinite creatures (Sliver Queen + Mana Echoes) or regular number of creatures with an infinite loop to boost power (Quillspike + Devoted Druid). But, given your specifications, it's beatable even without going infinite. My friend's old Bargain deck that I played against so many times used Spellbook and Ivory Tower, paying most of his life to draw a ton of cards, then gaining it all back, drawing more and causing the deck to explode, with Spirit Link on Serra Avatar to double or triple his life every turn. Such a deck could, with absolutely no infinite combos, overtake your 27,000 life over the course of, estimating roughly, five or six combat steps with Serra Avatar. And even with a larger life total, you wouldn't deck him anyway: Yawgmoth's Bargain would prevent that. However, given the reasonable assumption that you could recycle your lifegain engine and go back up to a higher life total if opponents were beating you down, if probably would take an infinite combo to finish you off with combat damage...

    Well, I have two responses to that. I want to address the point about the Modern environment, because I do think that's of interest, but doing so takes me a bit out of the scope of this thread, so I think I'll wait a bit and formulate something later in a separate thread. As for the question itself...

    The short answer is that yes, a Tendrils deck would probably be looking to outrace such an engine. Either because of the inherent nature of the card or because tournament results tend to set precedents that influence card usage as a whole, nearly every Tendrils deck I've ever seen has been one that was meant to go fast, to be able to outrace just about everything else around. Well, I say "either" of those, but probably it's a bit of both. Tendrils looks like a finisher, and as a finisher, it is fueled by the number of spells cast in a single turn. Inherently, this creates a drive to make that single turn be an earlier one rather than a later one. But also, thinking about the tournament environments that historical Tendrils decks found themselves in, things got dangerous right away. When Storm decks were emerging in Extended and later Legacy, decks like Zoo, Goblins, Affinity, Faeries, etc. were running rampant. Hypothetically, one could try to build a slower deck that dealt with creature swarms and eventually went off with a spell chain, but that would mean dedicating a lot of deck space to cards that didn't directly help, in addition to being bad against control decks. So those decks probably had to be fast.

    "Just kill them before they set up the lifegain combo and player hexproof" would, I think, be the default answer here. It's also not very sporting.

    But there's more to it than that! A more complete answer is that the response to something like your "The Nayan Trial" would depend on the kind of Tendrils deck you're up against...
    1. Outrace the opponent quickly, before player hexproof comes online. This is Plan A for your typical Storm deck, but it can fail. Most obviously, it fails against Leyline of Sanctity.
    2. Some Tendrils decks actually do function as control-combo decks! They'd probably try to counter your stuff so that you couldn't set up your combo in the first place. Tendrils of Agony in control-combo decks is unusual, but it does exist.
    3. One of the most successful Tendrils decks of the more controlling variety wouldn't actually need to counter or destroy your setup. It was Tyrant Oath from Vintage. Instead of racing you, it could set things up so that when it went off, it had Tidespout Tyrant on the battlefield (the most common usage was with Oath of Druids, but Reanimator-style decks also work). Then, as spell were chained together, Tidespout Tyrant could bounce your player hexproof stuff back to your hand. And then, the Storm player would cast 0-drop artifacts and use Tidespout Tyrant to make each artifact bounce the other one, looping through this until the storm count was high enough for Tendrils to overtake your life total.
    4. Some Vintage Storm decks run a Tinker package, which can include Blightsteel Colossus. A 27,000-life hexpoof player could be in serious trouble if Blightsteel Colossus comes in swinging.
    5. Before I saw your post, the next point I had been thinking of writing about was one of my favorite decks ever, the deck that supplanted Rector and all-in Draw-7 strategies to become the definitive Storm deck in Vintage for years. It was called "The Perfect Storm" or "TPS." It was characterized by being lightning-fast, but also packing enough disruption to protect itself, mostly with a combination of contermagic and discard spells.
  17. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Number 3, that Tyrant Oath deck you mention, sounds particularly interesting. Going to look into that, thank you!
  18. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Vintage is, inherently, a fast format. If you want to survive, you'd better be doing something and doing it quickly, whether it's killing your opponent before he can kill you or setting up defenses that can stop your opponent from doing just that. In 2004, Trinisphere hit Vintage like a ton of bricks. Inscribed on the bricks was the phrase, "costs three mana to cast." First turn Workshop followed by Trinisphere was such a potent disruptive play that Vintage decks had to be built to deal with it. A glass cannon like the Draw-7 all-in Storm deck could be completely shut out. This gave rise to the longest-lived major Storm deck in Vintage and one of my favorite tournament archetypes of all time: The Perfect Storm.

    TPS was distinguished from its predecessors by being a blue/black deck with basic lands, maindeck artifact-bouncing, and the disruption package of Duress and Force of Will. It was fast. Really, really fast. So fast that it could pretty reasonably score first-turn kills. But unlike the glass cannon decks, it didn't sacrifice everything for the sake of sheer speed. It was built to act both proactively and reactively to address the threats and answers presented by the opponent. Much like the Necro-Donate decks of the old Extended, it could play at being a blue/black control build for the first couple of turns and then, once the coast was clear, go off as a combo deck. It was glorious.
  19. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    A few times, I talked about "pillars." This is a vague term that has shifted in meaning over the years. I should probably have spelled it out in the Dark Ritual memories thread. Originally, the term applied to Vintage and came about largely due to the rise of TPS. Well, it'd also be fair to say that it came about largely due to the rise of Trinistax or due to the rise of Gro-A-Tog. Whatever. I'm talking about Tendrils of Agony...

    For a deck with a bunch of restricted cards, TPS was remarkably consistent. It was lightning-fast, but also flexible enough to have some way to fight just about any opponent. In order to beat it, opponents had to either outrace it entirely (difficult) or throw enough disruption at it early on that they could shut it down (also difficult). Doing so much in the early turns requires mana acceleration. So, at the time, it was practical to classify decks based on their most prominent 4-of mana accelerant, their fuel source played alongside restricted artifacts that let them push out their threats earlier, rather than later. The original pillars of Vintage were Dark Ritual, Mishra's Workshop, and Mana Drain. Not every successful deck ran one of the pillars, but the vast majority did.
  20. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    As I noted in the Memories thread for Dark Ritual, the card used to be associated most strongly with aggro decks, although it also appeared in control and combo decks. Vintage TPS was probably the deck that really started to turn that around, as Dark Ritual disappeared from most competitive formats outside of combo decks. Dark Ritual became synonymous with combo, and most especially with Tendrils of Agony. This "Ritual Storm" archetype was a defining feature in Vintage, but struggled to compete in early Legacy. I covered this to some extent already. Probably in the LED thread or something. IGGy Pop carved out a kind of niche and turned out to be, I guess, adequate. Tendrils of Agony has had a place in Legacy and Vintage ever since. I've been more interested in casual applications, but I've followed the card pretty closely, so I'll go over most of the big tournament developments.

Share This Page