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Eric Taylor - Free Tech
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 all.

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 eight.

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
3 Intuition
4 Counterspell
2 Turnabout
4 Impulse
20 Island
4 Thawing Glaciers
Theron Martin's deck
4 Survival
3 Recurring Nightmare
1 Living Death
1 Goblin Bombardment
2 Duress
2 Lobotomy
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 Nekrataal
2 Uktabi Orangutan
1 Monk Realist
1 Shard Phoenix
1 Spirit of the Night
1 Carrion Beetle
1 Ravenous Baboons
3 Ashen Ghoul
1 Triskelion
1 Volrath's Stronghold
2 City of Brass
2 Undiscovered Paradise
2 Reflecting Pool
3 Taiga
2 Badland
2 Bayou
1 Tropical Island
1 Savannah
3 Forest
3 Swamp

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 with Palinchron.

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 mana.

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 final Stroke.

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 choked.

But that single game made the tournament very memorable.

--- edt

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