Draw Go Primer by Oscar Tan aka Rakso June 8, 2000

Beyond Dominia: Type One Primers: Draw Go Primer by Oscar Tan aka Rakso

(note: This is a casual deck Primer and sets before Revised and Fallen Empires are not emphasized, though Ancestral Recall and Library of Alexandria would automatically be in the deck)

Cuneo Blue, Tempest-era Standard
Andrew Cuneo

Counters (14)
4 counterspells
4 dismisses
4 dissipates
2 power sinks

Card Drawing/Manipulation (8)
4 Impulse
4 whispers of the muse

Creatures (6)
4 Steel Golems
2 dancing scimitars

Others (8)
2 Argivian restorations
2 capsize
4 Nevinyrral's Disks

Land (25)
4 Quicksands
4 Sylvanite temples
3 reflecting pools
14 islands

Draw-Go, Pre-Mercadian Masques Standard
Randy Buehler, World Championships '99 (6-0 in Standard)

Counters (17)
4 Counterspell
4 Mana Leak
1 Miscalculation
4 Forbid
4 Dismiss

Creatures (3)
3 Masticore

Others (12)
4 Whispers of the Muse
4 Powder Keg
4 Treachery

Land (28)
4 Faerie Conclave
4 Stalking Stones
4 Wasteland
16 Island

Blue decks have come a long way from when I first began playing. Years back, if the ordinary player wanted to build a counterspell deck, all he had was Counterspell and Power Sink (excluding Mana Drain), and had to stretch the list with picks such as Force Spike, Flash Counter, Remove Soul and Spell Blast. Even with the printing of Force of Will in Alliances, counters were always paired with another theme and were well-played in blue/white and blue/red control decks. As more and more counters were created, and especially with the printing of Forbid, a deck that was mostly counters became possible. With the only non-land and non-counter cards (aside from Whispers and Impulse) being a creature or two and Nevinyrral's Disks, these decks often played nothing in their own turns, earning them the nickname, "Draw-Go".

Similar in structure to but at the opposite extreme of the burn decks, Draw-Go plays like a wall of countermagic, yet requires great patience and skill as one still cannot afford to counter every spell played by the opponent. They excel in matches against slower decks where they can pick out one aspect of a deck and focus on it, such as one part of a combo deck or the victory conditions in a deck with very few of them such as a Wildfire deck. Their greatest nightmares, however, come against fast, aggressive and redundant decks. At the height of their popularity, Draw-Go decks had difficulty facing red decks with cheap but potent cards such as Jackal Pup and Cursed Scroll.

Playing this kind of deck in Type I with the power cards often involves few actual counters and a lot of splashed cards plus Ophidian and Morphling. Excluding the power and the other colors, however, the Type I casual Draw-Go regains many old friends to cover the Type II versions' weaknesses. For example:

Casual Type I Draw-Go (excluding Ancestral and Library)

Counters (19)
4 Force of Will
4 Counterspell
4 Mana Leak / Mana Drain
4 Forbid
3 Force Spike

Card Drawing/Manipulation (8)
4 Impulse
4 Whispers of the Muse

Others (6)
4 Nevinyrral's Disk
2 Morphling

Land (27)
4 Thawing Glaciers
1 Strip Mine
3 Wasteland
1 Dust Bowl
4 Mishra's Factory
14 Island

The art of countering something
Since you cannot counter everything, regardless of the deck you are playing against, you will have to make decisions on what to focus on. This becomes obvious when playing against a combo deck, for example, but the weak spot of a deck is not always easy to spot. In general, however, there are things you never counter.

Do not bother with cards that have no direct effect on the game, especially on the board. This is especially true of life gain, for example, such as Zuran Orb or of a Shock aimed at you while you are at 18 life. Do not bother with mana producers. Do not counter cards you can play around, especially creatures that will later die to Disk.

Do counter things that will result in card advantage such as Ancestral Recall and Necropotence (but don't Force of Will Hymn to Tourach unless you need to save a key card). Do counter things that you cannot kill (such as a Rainbow Efreet) and especially permanent sources of damage (nasty things like Cursed Scroll, Mishra's Helix and Phyrexian Processor) if you have no Disk. Do counter things that disrupt your counters (such as City of Solitude and Temporal Aperture, and if you actually can, first-turn Hypnotic Specters).

It takes a lot of skill because you have to know both your deck and your opponents' (without using things such as Jester's Cap, Lobotomy, Telepathy or Urza's Glasses), but you will never be able to play a control deck without this knowledge. This can be very confusing; against Type II Replenish decks, for example. Players will play spells to bait you and hope you counter to deplete your counters, and sometimes, they play spells you have no choice but to counter.

One example of confusion is that you might want to counter the early mana producers of an opponent, especially a Birds of Paradise, to keep mana parity to allow you to counter all his spells if necessary until you can safely play a Disk. You might not bother with a first-turn 1/1, but you might want to play Force Spike to counter first-turn Jackal Pups, Goblin Patrols or Goblin Cadets. Again, things like this take a certain knowledge of both decks.

Here, for example, is the commentary of Erik Lauer for his 1998 deck in the introduction (at a time when blue had a whole range of counters and unlike the Urza Type II where few good counters brought about Accelerated Blue)

"When playing the deck, the early strategy involves countering almost any spell you can. For example, a Wall of Roots or a Bird of Paradise is a card I almost always counter in the early going ; if my opponent has more mana available than I do, I will become unable to counter all the threats he can present in one turn.

"After I build up to about 4 mana, I will often use quicksands for creature control, trying to hold off on playing a Disk when possible (since I have to tap my mana, letting my opponent cast any spells he wishes). When under severe pressure I cast a Disk as soon as possible. I try to gain a little card advantage using Dismiss, then eventually gain total control via Whispers of the Muse.

"Even when sideboarding against a very agressive deck, I tend to leave all my Whispers in (since my main midgame plan is still to gain control through Whispers). If I am bringing in either the Sea Sprites or the Capsizes I tend to take the Rainbow out. The Sea Sprites give me enough ways to win (and the Rainbow is too slow against most red decks).

"When I bring the Capsizes in, I don't want to draw Capsizes and Rainbow in my opening hand (since they are both rather slow), and I know that eventually I can protect a Stalking Stone with a Capsize. While this deck is rather homogenous (just lots and lots of land and counters), I still find it rather enjoyable to play. I don't think this style of deck takes nearly as long to win with as a deck that uses Gaea's recursion to win; a Rainbow or a Stalking Stone typically just takes 7 turns to win with after you have established control."

As a general rule, of course, always leave mana open even if you have nothing but land in your hand.

As a final note, your skills in countering will be sorely tested when playing against another counter deck, and you will generally be caught in counter wars where counters fly back and forth over one spell. When these happen, try to see whether or not you want to (or can) win and count mana available and both of your cards in hand. Counter wars can be bluffs, of course, and some decks can start these wars during the opponents' end phases (with cards like Turnabout and Mana Short, for example) to clear the way for their main phases.

Rundown of counters

(Type II note: Rishadan Port is a popular card in the present Type II, making it better for decks to use the Port early on instead of holding back mana to counter because they prevent the opponent from casting nastier spells earlier. This does not work in Type I.)

Card drawing and manipulation
Card drawing is essential to most blue decks, and Draw-Go does not use the top blue card drawer (Ophidian; the top drawer is, of course, Library of Alexandria) because it keeps few permanents to maximize Nevinyrral's Disk. This is also why it does not use the alternatives such as Treasure Trove and Jayemdae Tome.

Whispers of the Muse is the card drawer of choice for decks that intend to play out long games of control (other decks might use Opportunity and Stroke of Genius, for example). Just be careful when tapping out to use it before you untap as something might come in response. Also, when you have four, do not be afraid to cast one early without buyback to cycle through your library.

Card manipulation has to be examined carefully in terms of net card gain. Frantic Search, for example, uses one card to draw two cards and discard two more for a net loss of one card (but it is useful in Type II to combat Tangle Wire). The same goes for Attunement. Cards like Scroll Rack and Soothsaying also gain no cards and their manipulation ability is limited in a deck that is very redundant.

The manipulation cards of choice are often Impulse and Brainstorm, which have a zero net loss. Impulse is the classic card as it cycles through four cards (more than similar cards); play it early before you untap to smooth out the land and counters in your hand.

Brainstorm only digs through two cards but it is more useful in some situations due to the tricks it can perform. In Type I, it is easily cast in response to a discard spell to "hide" key spells on top of your library. With Thawing Glaciers, one can also draw three cards and return two weaker cards (excess land, for example), which will them be reshuffled away.

Blue's best friend: The Disk
This deck type would not be possible, of course, without Nevinyrral's Disk. The reset button gains you several cards because you can neutralize the entire board with it, destroying many of your opponent's cards with just one of yours. This is the reason why you can afford not to counter some of your opponent's spells and then begin countering more aggressively after you use the Disk. The loss of the Disk severely weakened mono blue in Type II, forcing them to seek faster wins because they could no longer clear the board.

A favorite spell to use with the Disk is Capsize, as one can Capsize the Disk in response to its ability (it does not say "sacrifice" so the Disk will return to your hand to be used again). Capsize is also useful in blue decks to return permanents that were not countered when they were first cast, especially regenerating creatures that do not die to Disk. Early on, they are used as a desperation move to break the tempo of an aggressive attacking deck.

The Urza Block brought Powder Keg, however, which can be played earlier but does not sweep the board like its ancestor. However, it can selectively kill opposing creatures, and can be used even when Morphling is already in play.

The finer points of Morphling
Draw-Go contains just a few creatures because when it plays a creature, it expects to win. Morphling is the best finisher available in the game and is not nicknamed "Superman" for nothing. For beginners, though, the Morphling rules are described in this Primer as well.

(The classic choice was Mahamoti Djinn and was followed by other big creatures such as Waterspout Djinn and Silver Wyvern, but even the classic Serra Angel has been displaced by the mighty Morphling. There are alternatives, however, which survive the Disk unlike Morphling: Palinchron with its "free" casting and return-to-hand ability, and Masticore which is strong against weenies and regenerates after Disk.

Rainbow Efreet has become stronger after Sixth as it can now phase out after dealing damage, and can evade the Disk as well. Before Morphling, Draw-Go decks killed with only Stalking Stones and a lone Efreet.)

First, never play Morphling unless you have at least six mana (the sixth is to activate the "cannot be the target of…" ability to protect the Morphling); in Draw-Go, it is better to wait until you are in complete control. Always use this ability in response to spells and effects, and you waste their resources. Once you can protect Morphling, play it immediately and win in five turns.

Second, remember that if you want to fly past blockers, you have to give Morphling flying before blockers are declared.

Third, remember that Morphling untaps, so attack with it and untap it when you need a blocker.

Fourth, turn Morphling into a 5/1 for a faster kill or to kill a larger creature. The latter is done by using the reverse ability and pumping the Morphling's toughness after damage is assigned. The Morphling will deal damage based on its original power, but damage will be applied to its new toughness. Thus, to kill a Juzam Djinn, one only has to spend two mana to turn the Morphling into a 5/1, assign damage, then spend five mana to turn it into a 0/6.

Finally, against "power" Type I decks, remember that Morphling gets past both Moat and The Abyss, but dies to Balance and Diabolic Edict as these are sacrifices and are not targeted.

Aside from Library of Alexandria, there is no land stronger in Draw-Go than Thawing Glaciers. It gives you the mana to win the counter war and thins your deck, improving your draws.

Mishra's Factory is a classic utility land, and gives a backup win option as well as a powerful early blocker (remember that in Sixth, tapped blockers deal damage but a Mishra's Factory just played still cannot tap itself and give itself +1/+1). Against an opposing counter deck, remember that Mishra's Factory is uncounterable. One must choose when playing one's first land, however, as playing Mishra's Factory in the first turn will remove its summoning sickness for the next turn but disallows you from playing Counterspell.

Faerie Conclave and Stalking Stones are other alternatives. If you like man-lands, you will also probably enjoy Trade Routes which turns them into Blinking Spirits.

Land destruction is necessary in any deck and especially against opposing man-lands that cannot be countered. Dust Bowl was added to supplement the deck because Draw-Go plays long games where the Bowl's ability can come into play, and it can be fueled by Thawing Glaciers.

Remote Isle is a good Type II choice as it can be cycled if drawn late, but note that Thawing Glaciers is more powerful.

Finally, some old decklists contained Quicksand as a creature removal spell in place of Mishra's Factory. It has to be sacrificed and stunts your development, however. If you like this, my personal favorite is the Desert of Arabian Nights.