The Story of Low Tide
Everyone knows the story of the High Tide deck by now. Get some
Islands in play. Play High Tide. Play Time Spiral for free. Make
lots of mana. Then let your opponent draw up his entire deck. It is
the defining deck for extended.
But this isn't the story about High Tide. This is the story about "Low
Tide." A story about Stroke of Genius, Time Spiral, but no High Tide at
It was the second week of the Pro Tour New York qualifiers.
Theron Martin was playing Pat Chapin in the first round of the final
Martin had an atypical rec/sur deck. Chapin was playing Tide
with Thawing Glaciers, one of the first people to do so.
Pat Chapin's deck
4 High Tide
4 Time Spiral
4 Stroke of Genius
3 Mind over Matter
2 Force Spike
4 Force of Will
2 Merchant Scroll
4 Thawing Glaciers
Theron Martin's deck|
3 Recurring Nightmare
1 Living Death
1 Goblin Bombardment
2 Firestorm (these were misregistered as fireblast, so Theron had
to play fireblasts instead of firestorms)
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Wall of Blossoms
2 Wall of Roots
2 Spike Feeder
1 Spike Weaver
2 Uktabi Orangutan
1 Monk Realist
1 Shard Phoenix
1 Spirit of the Night
1 Carrion Beetle
1 Ravenous Baboons
3 Ashen Ghoul
1 Volrath's Stronghold
2 City of Brass
2 Undiscovered Paradise
2 Reflecting Pool
1 Tropical Island
It is definitely an atypical Rec/Sur deck. Let me quote Martin about
the one of the choices he decided to make in it:
"The biggest reason why I chose not to use the combo...was that
I wanted to make the statement that Recur/Survival can succeed just as
well without an infinite mana loop. Players have become so obsessed
with creating infinite mana loops to kill opponents with X spells or
repeatedly-recursed damage-dealers that they are missing how perfectly
good a deck Recur/Survival is without it. (Although I must admit that
using a Whale/Triskelion/Recur/six lands loop to kill an opponent does
have a certain appeal.) Recur/Survival is the pinnacle of
creature-based deck design in Magic; it shouldn't be used just as a
variant combo fad."
The game starts out with Theron playing a Carrion Beetle with a
Badlands and then playing a Forest and another land but not showing any
blue or any other spells. Pat had the chance on turn two to cast
Merchant Scroll, but the opening lead by Theron left him uncertain as
to what kind of deck he was facing so he kept open Counterspell mana.
On turn three Pat decided that he should go for the High Tide with Merchant
Scroll to win on turn four, since his opponent had shown no hand
destruction so far. (The new scouting rules tend to favor unknown
players over pros, by the way. By the end of the first round, everyone
knew what Pat Chapin was playing, but even by the final eight it was a
mystery to Pat as to what Theron was playing. If Pat had known it was
Recur, of course he would have Merchant Scrolled on turn two, Countered
the Lobotomy on turn four and then won. But he wasn't sure what the deck
was, especially considering the strange start by Theron.)
Theron untaps. Drops a source of blue. Lobotomy.
Theron deliberates for a bit and then takes High Tide.
Now it is a game of low tide. The only way to win for Pat is to Stroke
Theron out without using high tide.
This was before Urza's Legacy was released, so Pat didn't even have the option of beatdown
The first thing Chapin had to do was get as many lands into play as
possible. Pat used Turnabout to untap his Thawing Glaciers to bring
more Islands into play. After Pat played his Mind over Matter he was
also able to both use the Mind over Matter to repeatedly untap his
Thawing Glaciers to get out more Islands and to also stall Theron's
offense a little by pitching a card to tap his attacking creatures.
Soon however, Pat ran out of cards and had to Time Spiral and then say:
"Go." Theron had been using his Carrion Beetle this whole time.
By this time, the hungry beetle had eaten every Turnabout in Pat's deck,
and two of the four Strokes.
Theron drew up his hand, attacked for the last time, looked at the load
of crap that Spiral had given him, and then just dropped some walls and
birds. Pat now figured out exactly how many cards he needed to Stroke
for in order to win.
During Theron's discard phase Pat first did a baby Stroke, by tapping all of
his mana and discarding his entire hand to the Mind over Matter during
Theron's discard to draw up his entire deck minus one card.
The way that this "Low Tide" game works is that unlike High Tide where
if you discard a card to untap an Island, generating two or more mana,
Pat was only generating one mana for each card he pitched to Mind Over
Matter. Still, because Time Spiral is a "free" spell, in combination
with Mind Over Matter it will still generate a net six mana (if you pitch
all but one card you draw from the Spiral).
The reason Pat had to go off that exact turn was that he needed to put
as many cards as possible with this "baby Stroke" into his hand, so
that when he untapped, he could pitch all but one of them to the Mind
Over Matter and generate as much mana as possible. If Pat had waited
one more turn, his deck would have one less card and thus generate one less
Theron said done.
Pat untapped and drew the very last card of his deck. On Pat's side of
the board was a sea of Islands. Islands, Islands everywhere and only a
single Mind Over Matter. His side of the board looked as bare as
Mother Hubbard's cubbard, but on Theron's side were various sundry and
interesting multilands, walls, birds, a Carrion Beetle and an Uktabi,
but unfortunately for Theron, no Monk Realist to blow up the Mind Over
Matter and force Pat to waste precious mana either playing another one
or countering it.
Pat pitched every card in his hand to generate mana and
Spiralled. Earlier he had been counting Theron's deck, counting and
double checking. "61 cards?" Yes. For a regular Tide deck, 61, 62,
63, it doesn't matter. But this was Low Tide. Pat figured out that if
everything worked out right he would have exactly two mana to spare.
This meant on his final Spiral he could go Merchant Scroll for his
Stroke of Genius if he had to, or in the middle of his Spiralling he
could use a single Impulse to find his second or third Spiral.
Theron and Pat drew up their new hands.
No need for Pat to tutor for his next Spiral. There it was in his
hand. He could just Spiral and use it to low tide 6 more mana for the
Theron then Fireblasted Pat. Pat looked like he had been shot. A
Recur deck that starts off with Carrion Beetle, land, land, land,
Lobotomy. And now Fireblast? Theron was just happy to do four more
damage to Pat. But it wasn't about damage at all at this point. The
Fireblast had put two more cards (the Mountains) into circulation. Now
there was no more chance to tutor for a Stroke or a Spiral or
anything. Pat recounted Theron's deck. Now there was exactly enough
to Stroke him out without even a single mana to spare. Luckily for
Pat, Theron had not figured out what was going on in time, otherwise he
would have taken the chance to Fireblast one of his own creatures and
not Pat, just to make his deck thicker.
All that was left now for Pat was to Low Tide it and hope that
magical luck smiled on him.
Pat used up his final Time Spiral. There were 26 cards left in Pat's
library. All the Spirals were removed from the game. All the
Turnabouts were removed from the game. All the High Tides were removed
from the game. There were only two Stroke of Geniuses left. This gave
him a 53% chance of drawing that final Stroke.
Pat Spiralled. And there it was. Pat added six more mana to his pool, and
Stroked Theron for 45 cards, when Theron had only 44 cards. Game.
Chapin couldn't Stroke him for only 44, by the way, and let Theron die
in his upkeep because Theron might be able to fireblast one of his
creatures in his upkeep and put it back on his deck with the
stronghold, while Pat, due to having to empty his hand to do the monster
Stroke via low tide of course would not be able to force of will it.
There's a lesson in there. When you are in a nearly hopeless situation
it's not enough to just keep playing mechanically. Playing
mechanically until you get killed doesn't help, unless you make a
plan. Pat realized that a lot of things had to fall his way. A lot of
things had to work out. But because it was his only possible route to
victory he played his cards as if they would come up that way. If Pat
had realized on turn six or seven that he would need to Low Tide it, even
then it would have been too late. He would have lost. As soon as he
saw the High Tides leave via Lobotomy, he realized that there was one
single way for him to play to win. So he played that way and the luck
smiled on him.
The rest of the tournament was anti-climactic. Chapin beat Theron due
to color screw the next game, and in the next match Pat's deck just
But that single game made the tournament very memorable.