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Author Topic: [Article] Learning the basics of TEPS  (Read 5980 times)
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« on: January 24, 2007, 07:40:06 pm »

Learning the basics of TEPS
by Jeff Folinus

For those of you looking to play combo in extended you've come to the right place.  TEPS is an explosive and consistent combo deck that with some practice can put you at the top tables.  In this article I am going to talk about the basic strategy of the deck and provide a test draw so that those unfamiliar with TEPS can understand how it operates.  In addition I have an experiment that shows the win percentages of different storm values.  For this article I used a stock version of TEPS as played by Raphael Levy at Worlds.

The premise of the deck is to use the Invasion sac lands and rituals such as Seething Song and Cabal Ritual to generate mana and storm for Mindís Desire.  The deck runs Darkwater Egg and Chromatic Star to help fix the mana while also drawing cards.  Itís easier to show how the deck works than explain it in detail so take a look at this sample test draw.

Opening hand:
Sulfur Vent
Rite of Flame
Tinder Farm
Burning Wish
Cabal Ritual
Seething Song
Darkwater Egg

Turn 1: Sulfur Vent

Turn 2: Draw another Tinder Farm and play one of them

Turn 3: Draw Chrome Mox for the turn and play Tinder Farm

Turn 4: Draw Channel the Suns.  So the board has 2 Tinder Farms and a Sulfur Vent and the hand contains; Chrome Mox, Channel the Suns, Rite of Flame, Seething Song, Burning Wish, Cabal Ritual, and Darkwater Egg.

Sacrifice Tinder Farm for RW and play Rite of Flame, finally cast Seething Song for RRRRR.
Play and sacrifice Darkwater Egg drawing Lotus Bloom leaving RRUB in the pool.
Using the red mana cast Burning Wish for Mind's Desire
Sacrifice the remaining lands for a total of RRUUWB and cast Cabal Ritual to have RRUUBBB
Lastly play Chrome Mox imprinting Channel and cast Mind's Desire for storm 6 leaving BB floating.

The cards revealed are: Burning Wish, Chrome Mox, Chromatic Star, Cabal Ritual, Rite of Flame and a couple of lands.  Burning Wish finds Tendrils of Agony and the rituals make storm lethal.

Combo Basics

When playing against decks with minimal disruption it is easy to combo off.  With storm-based combo decks there are two things you need to keep track of, mana and storm.  With this deck so long as you are building up to a Mindís Desire and not a lethal Tendrils storm is not that important.  As you will see in the next section the storm doesn't need to be very high to win the game.  Keeping track of your mana is very important; I have seen people who are not very familiar with the deck fizzle because they didnít add up their mana properly.  The first thing I do is see how much mana I can produce and donít concern myself with the colors.  The easiest way to do this is to first see how much your lands can give you and then see how much your rituals produce.  For example Seething Song would be +2 mana, Channel of the Suns +1, and the third Rite of Flame would be +3.  After I have the sum then I check the color of my mana to make sure that I can produce double blue and any other colors I need for my rituals.

Once youíve got the basics down there are only a few more things you need to know in order to play the deck competitively.  Unlike many other combo decks you don't need to aggressively mulligan with TEPS.  If a hand has just rituals and a few ritual lands it's a keeper because it is easy to draw into Desire or Wish.  If a hand is clunked with Desire, Sins and no rituals toss it back.  Along with mulliganing knowing when to play eggs is a big decision.  If you are tight on mana then drop them on the turns before you are going to combo off.  To see if you should play the eggs count up the max mana you will have next turn and then check to see if you can play eggs and still cast Desire.  The only other interesting plays are Burning Wish for Burning Wish to build up extra storm if you have enough mana and the Sins Tendrils kill.  To do the Sins Tendrils kill you need to generate a total of 10 mana to cast both Tendrils of Agony and Sins of the Past, if you cast 3 spells before Tendrils it will hit for 8 and then Sins will copy Tendrils and hit for the final 12 points.

How Perfect is the Storm?

TEPS has defined this extended season into decks that can win on turn four or supply ample disruption.  In previous years decks like Boros and Affinity could win through extremely consistent draws.  The power of TEPS makes this impossible and forces reliance on main deck disruption and loaded sideboards.  TEPS cheats on lands, only running 15, keeping the threat density extremely high allowing the deck to win with small storm counts.  These same lands enable it to generate six mana on turn four  so Mind's Desire can be cast easily.  An experiment in solitaire was done to explore the consistency upon casting a successful Mind's Desire.

For this experiment I goldfished the deck to a point where I would be casting Mind's Desire with a certain storm value.  From that point I set aside all of the cards used, shuffled up, and turned over cards for the Desire.  I repeated this process 20 times at each storm value to see how high you needed to storm to win most games.  As a side note there was never more than BB floating when Desire was cast because I wanted to see if the Desire's would be self-sufficient.  Storm X means there are X+1 copies of Mind's Desire.

Storm 3
Win Percent: 60%
Storm 4
Win Percent: 80%

Storm 5
Win Percent: 95%

Storm 6
Win Percent: 100%

These numbers are higher than I would have predicted before performing the experiment.  It shows that you're almost guaranteed a win if you can generate a storm of 5 or above.  The more mana you have floating going into a Desire the higher your chances of winning will be because it makes cards like Infernal Tutor, Plunge into Darkness, Eggs, and Burning Wish more relevant.  If you have the choice in what color to float going into Desire try to keep BB because then red rituals + Burning Wish will win.

Matchup Analysis

Extended is an incredibly massive field with an immense amount of viable decks.  This makes it very difficult to test against all of the decks so I have chosen a sampling of five decks that I expect to be popular in the PTQ circuit.  Against these decks I played 6 games pre-board and post-board, those games included an even split of being on the play and draw.

For your reference here are the links to the lists I was testing against.
Boros -
Affinity -
Trinket Angel -
UW Tron -

Pre-board: 3-3

One of the best reasons to play TEPS is because it has a strong matchup against beatdown decks.  The average draw of Boros involves playing two power creatures on Turns 1-3 and then supplementing burn with the mana remaining.  The fundamental turn for Boros is 5 which is at least a turn slower than TEPS average goldfish.  The only disruption that Boros has is Molten Rain and two of the pre-board games that Boros won involved a fast clock backed up by turn 3 Molten Rain.

The 3-3 record should probably be 4-2 because a game that TEPS lost it cast an endstep Plunge into Darkness for 8 and didn't see Burning Wish, Mind's Desire, or Infernal Tutor.  Not seeing 1 of 9 cards after going through a third of the deck is unlikely.

Sideboarding: -1 Infernal Tutor +1 Tendrils of Agony
Post-board: 5-1

These numbers aren't due to insane technology from TEPS but rather serve to balance out the pre-board results.  We tested against Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's build of Boros that had no slots dedicated to the TEPS matchup.  I'm sure these numbers would go down against builds with Pyrostatic Pillar or Orim's Chant.  While it would seem bringing in the extra Tendrils would not effect that matchup greatly two of the six post-board games were won with ďraw-doggedĒ Tendrils.

Pre-board: 4-2

Before sideboarding this match is even easier than Boros because they have no disruption and only a slightly faster clock.  For Affinity to have a shot in this match they need to have a very aggressive draw including Cranial Plating.  So long as you are keeping reasonable hands that goes off turn 4 this matchup should be no trouble.  Sometimes you can wait an extra turn but make sure you count up the artifacts to see if plating off the top will be lethal.

Sideboarding: -2 Infernal Tutor -1 Plunge into Darkness +3 Duress
Post-board: 2-4

Most versions of Affinity will be bringing in Stifle and Cabal Therapy to slow down your combo enough to give them time to win.  I have found that it is necessary to board in Duress against any deck that has Stifle because that card is quite a beating.  The only ways around Stifle are either Duress or generating a very large amount of mana for two Desires or Desire and Sins of the Past.

This matchup changes from being very easy to quite difficult.  The build we tested against had Pyrite Spellbomb and other weak spells maindeck that when swapped for hate make the deck much tougher.  If Stifle was the only card that Affinity brought in the matchup would be fine because it is easy enough to setup a Duress before going off but the real problem card is Cabal Therapy.  Even if the first attempt misses Affinity will have no problem saccing an extra Ornithopter or Arcbound Worker to hit a key spell.  If the best Therapy can hit is a ritual you should be fine assuming you draw Burning Wish or Desire in the following turns.  The reason for this is generating enough mana or storm is hardly an issue but having the business spell is necessary to win.

UW Tron
Pre-board: 3-3

The difficulty of this match swings based on what list they are playing.  UW Tron can be tuned to beat aggro decks with maindeck Renewed Faith while others are geared towards beating control with 4 Thirst for Knowledge and 3 Fact or Fiction.  The builds that are designed to beat aggro are easier because they have more dead cards maindeck and without access to Thirst for Knowledge the card drawing suite is slower.  The build that I tested against for this article is geared to beat control and combo over aggro.  It runs 3 Mindslavers, 3 Memory Lapse, 4 Thirst and 3 Fact or Fiction.  Thirst is a card that would seem innocuous to combo but it helps to smooth their draws and hit the Tron faster.

It is normal for a turn 1 suspended Lotus Bloom to be answered by Repeal or Remand, from that point you need to determine if you have enough resources to go for the win without the Lotus mana.  It is much easier to go off the games with Lotus because sometimes when they go to stop Lotus it will create enough of an opening to win.  Due to the large amount of disruption that UW Tron has the games tend to go longer and you will need to have enough mana to replay rituals if they are Remanded or if some are countered by Condescend or Memory Lapse.  Of all the counters that Tron has Memory Lapse is by far the most brutal, Remand is weak in general and Condescend is only good if they have the Tron online.

Against most decks you don't want to see more than 3 ritual lands because you would rather draw rituals themselves or threats.  This is not true against UW Tron because if you have 4-5 ritual lands and Mind's Desire it will often not matter how many counters they have in hand.  The two rituals that have the biggest targets for counters are Seething Song and Channel of the Suns.  Having Seething Song Remanded is not as bad because it is only a net loss of 1 mana but having Channel Remanded or countered can be devastating.  If you have the option of pitching Channel to Chrome Mox over casting it go for it unless you need the fixing.  I spent more time talking about strategy for this match because against Boros and Affinity you are essentially goldfishing, however this match has a lot of interaction.

Sideboarding: -2 Infernal Tutor -2 Plunge into Darkness -1 Channel of the Suns
+3 Duress +1 Empty the Warrens +1 Tendrils of Agony
Post-board: 2-4

Most lists are going to at least have Meddling Mage in the sideboard and the list I tested against had 2 Trickbind's as well.  You can expect your opponent to sideboard out Wrath of Gods so now Burning Wish for Empty the Warrens becomes a strong play.  It costs two less mana to Burning Wish for Empty the Warrens over Mind's Desire and is easier on the mana.  If your opponent taps out for a signet and you can make 8 or more goblins it is a good idea to go for it.

The difficulty of the post-board match depends on if your opponent knows the correct card to name on the first Meddling Mage.  The only two real options are Mind's Desire and Burning Wish, of those two Burning Wish is the better name because it stops a quick Empty the Warrens and protects the Mage from Pyroclasm.  In addition there are 4 copies of Burning Wish which is 1 more than Desire.  If your opponent resolves two Mages on Desire and Wish then you need draw Tendrils or Empty the Warrens or you will lose.  This is why I board in an additional Tendrils of Agony.

The two games that TEPS won were when it was on the play.  So if you win game 1 then you will still have a strong shot to win this matchup.  When playing this match pay attention to the spells they cast so you classify what type of Tron they are playing.  If they are casting Remand and Condescend often then they are likely playing a build without Memory Lapse which means that matchup will be better for you.

Trinket Angel
Pre-board: 3-3

This deck is one of TEPS tougher matchups.  Trinket Angel has maindeck hate for this match that is reserved for the sideboards of most decks.  The pre-board of this match has some similarities to the post-board match of UW Tron except you don't have access to 3 Duress to stop Stifle from wrecking you.  It is not surprising that this is a tough match because historically fish decks have always done well against combo decks.

In our testing being on the play was a critical factor as 66% of the games were won by who went first.  For an average game you can expect your opponent to draw at least one Meddling Mage or Stifle which means you wonít be going off on turn 4 as often as other matchups.  If your opponent has blue mana untapped it is suicidal to go for a Desire unless you can either Duress first or cast another Desire/Sins of the Past.  If you have a second Burning Wish or Desire and Wish it is a good play to find a Duress before the turn you plan on going off because you will generally need to clear the way of Stifle.

Of the 3 games that TEPS won two involved a huge turn with enough mana for Desire and Sins of the Past in order to get around a single Stifle.  The other win was on the back of 10 Goblins created turn 3.  The Counterbalance + Sensei's Divining Top combo was never achieved in the pre-board games because Trinket Angel does not want to tap out for Trinket Mage to find Top.  This means they need to draw 1 of each.

Sideboarding: -2 Infernal Tutor -2 Plunge into Darkness -1 Channel the Suns
+3 Duress +1 Tendrils of Agony +1 Empty the Warrens
Post-board: 2-4

Trinket Angel doesn't have any slots that are only for TEPS but they do have Dwarven Blastminer.  Blastminer is showing up in more and more sideboards because he can come in against so many decks.  The role that this card plays when dropped early is to assure that TEPS has no ability to win in the late-game.  Meddling Mage is a much stronger play turn 2 but if Trinket Angel gets Mage into Blastminer with Stifle mana open it forces TEPS to go off whether or not it has the pieces.  The only way around Blastminer is winning early, drawing tons of land, or Lotus Bloom.  The draws when you get Lotus Bloom Blastminer is less of an issue because Bloom along with Eggs is enough to hit the correct mana you need for Desire or Warrens.

I don't feel the post-board match is any better or worse than it is before sideboarding.  The addition of Blastminer to their deck and Duress to yours balances out one another in terms of relevance.    One thing thatís very disheartening about this match is that if your opponent draws double Meddling Mage or double Stifle itís almost impossible to win.  Of the 12 games played there were 3 games that Trinket drew 2 Stifles or 2 Mages and TEPS was beat handily.  If your opponent has double Stifle with no clock then thatís not a problem but that scenario never occurred in our testing.


I'm not going to bother including win-ratios here as it would be rather pointless.  Instead I'm just going to talk about some of the key elements of the match.  Combo mirror matches can be either very skill intensive or just dumb.  Unfortunately the pre-board of this match falls into the latter as the most important thing you can do is win the die roll.  If youíre playing a build of TEPS with maindeck Duress then you will have a small edge in the match but not as much of an edge as who wins the roll. 

Since TEPS is designed to go off consistently turn 4 when you are on the draw you need to either Burning Wish for Duress or try to win turn 3.  The best draws for winning on turn 3 include 2 ritual lands and a Gemstone Mine along with plenty of rituals.  If you are on the draw on turn 3 and have absolutely no way to win then just pass and hope your opponent missed on Burning Wish or Desire.  If you were lucky enough to win the roll then there's no need to go off turn 3 unless you have a hand that can hit a storm of 5 and Desire.  On the other hand, on the draw if you can get storm 3 go for it because it will win 60% of the time while passing will lose much more than 40%.

Sideboarding: -2 Plunge into Darkness -2 Infernal Tutor -2 Channel of the Suns
+3 Duress +3 Orim's Chant

After sideboarding the match slows down dramatically because both players are Duressing away key spells but are afraid to go off if the opponent has a single white mana available.  Of the two sideboard cards that come in Duress is better for two reasons; it is easier on the mana and you know if it is safe to go off.  If Chant is used to protect your combo and they have Chant you could be in trouble on their turn.  A good time to use it to protect your combo is if you have drawn multiples.  Chant is a tough card to play properly in this match but the better read you have on your opponent the stronger it will be.

The only problem with Chant is that there are only 10 mana sources in the deck that allow you to cast it (3 Gemstone, 4 Tinder Farm, 4 Chromatic Star).  This means there will still be a number of games when your opponent doesn't have time to find the white mana before you can just win the game.  I did not include Lotus Bloom in my mana source count because it won't be relevant in the early game unless you are on the play and have it in the opening.  An interesting play that becomes available in the post-board match is early Burning Wish for Empty the Warrens if you have Orim's Chant for their turn or Duress first and see that they have a slow hand.

In conclusion after all of the testing TEPS never performed worse than 3-3 before sideboarding.  I think that this is one of its biggest strengths.  Against most of the field it has an advantage game one, winning game one means that your opponent must win two games back to back.  It will still be difficult for your opponent to win twice especially the game where you're on the play.  Another bonus is since the field is so open your opponent may not have sideboard slots for your match since they were concerned with dealing with other decks in the format.  TEPS is a strong choice for most environments but if you know that there is going to be a lot of Scepter Chant you may want to swap decks or at least dedicate 3 slots in the board for that match.

After all of my test matches and playing in a PTQ, in which I received my second loss in the 7th round eliminating any chance of Top 8, I have come to agree with the recent changes others have made to the maindeck.  By removing the two Infernal Tutors and replacing them with Duress you improve some of the tougher matchups and also free up room for two more cards in the board.  The sideboard wants to have at least 3 Empty the Warrens.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or comments direct them to the forums and I'll do my best answer.

Jeff Folinus
Gekoratel on SCG/TMD
AnotherAimAddict on AIM
« Last Edit: March 08, 2007, 10:16:58 pm by Bardo » Logged
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