Through the Looking Glass: Golgari Depths with Tom Hepp

Tom Hepp

Special Guest

A few words on Tom Hepp

(Twitter: @Negator77 | MTGO: Negator77 & Duplicatore):

Tom is a Legacy and dog lover from just outside of Philadelphia. He made the top eight of two of the MTGO Legacy Playoff events, the top 4 of the January Legacy PTQ, won an SCG Legacy Classic, and was atop the most recent Legacy trophy race on MTGO. After a few years of running his trusty Depths lists, rumor has it that he may be branching out beyond making 20/20’s and learning other strategies including TES.

What are the typical plans in game one once you realize that your opponent is playing The EPIC Storm?

Plans outside of going for the kill as soon as possible are fairly limited in game one. Turbo Depths primarily has discard and [[Pithing Needle]] naming [[Wishclaw Talisman]] as ways to disrupt TES. Conversely, TES mainly only has [[Veil of Summer]] to stop discard and one [[Chain of Vapor]] to stop [[Marit Lage Token]]. The primary plan is to curve disruption into an early 20/20 from the Depths’ side. Sequencing around [[Veil of Summer]] and identifying when and when not to play around the one of [[Chain of Vapor]] (almost never) are the key aspects to master.

How do you think about the fundamental turn of Turbo Depths vs. The EPIC Storm?

Despite the name Turbo Depths, TES is a faster deck. Turbo is usually hoping to win the game on its third turn,while TES is more than capable of killing before that if it’s not disrupted. Given that dynamic and outside of being on the play, Depths needs its disruption to impact TES on the first or second turn at the latest and/or needs to have a very fast 20/20. The earlier it can impact TES the better and two casting cost cards need to be very high impact like [[Collector Ouphe]] or [[Sphere of Resistance]] . Three mana disruption is a non-starter in the matchup.

How has the addition of main deck [[Veil of Summer]] impacted the way you approach the matchup against The EPIC Storm?

The biggest impact is that Depths is often forced to fire off discard spells at the first opportunity when our opponent does not have green mana available for [[Veil of Summer]] . The games where we are on the play or where the TES player taps out for a cantrip or [[Wishclaw Talisman]] are the easy games. The key is to realize that we don’t have to cast our discard spells if we saw a [[Veil of Summer]] or are fairly sure they have one. Outside of discard spells, it’s really only [[Vampire Hexmage]] that will allow them to cycle a [[Veil of Summer]]. “Trading” a discard spell for [[Veil of Summer]] simply by not casting it is a common line. Stranding [[Veil of Summer]] in their hand after we cast a discard spell (taking another card) on turn one on the play or while they have no green mana available also comes up.

Do you consider [[Empty the Warrens]] to be concern? How much do you value [[Plague Engineer]] in post-board games?

[[Empty the Warrens]] is not that high on the list of things to be concerned about in the matchup. It’s pretty easy to set up an early [[Marit Lage Token]] token since TES no longer runs discard and doesn’t run ways to stop a 20/20 outside of three bounce spells, only one of which is in the main deck. A turn two 20/20 or a turn three 20/20 on the play usually races all but 10-plus [[Goblin Token]]s made on turn one depending on self inflicted damage from things like fetch lands and [[Thoughtseize]]. [[Plague Engineer]] is more of an option for BG “slow” Depths where being able to race with an early [[Marit Lage Token]] is less common due to a lower density of tutors and acceleration.

A common play for a pilot of The EPIC Storm is to play out mana producing artifacts to play around discard. How do you value artifact hate post-board such as [[Force of Vigor]]?

[[Force of Vigor]] is not at the top of the heap when it comes to impactful sideboard options, but it certainly has uses. Being able to snipe an early [[Chrome Mox]] and [[Wishclaw Talisman]] or the dream of [[Wishclaw Talisman]] and [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] are certainly enticing possibilities. There are multiple issues though. TES can often just sequence around it at times without ever exposing a meaningful artifact. This is compounded by [[Veil of Summer]] hampering discard and making sandbagging important targets like [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] risk free at times. Casting [[Force of Vigor]] for four mana is also usually unrealistic in the matchup, meaning that even if we are able to target a [[Wishclaw Talisman]], they have the option to activate it in response since we will almost always be casting the [[Force of Vigor]] for its alternate cost during their turn. It’s usually a better option than some other cards that would otherwise be in the post board 60 for Depths, but I’d be reaching for cards like [[Sphere of Resistance]], [[Mindbreak Trap]], and [[Collector Ouphe]] first.

What hands are you looking to keep or mulligan in post-board games now that you are aware of what your opponent is playing? How aggressively do you mulligan for a fast combo hand?

A few examples of keepable post-board hands include disruption and a fast path to the combo, a turn-one combo, a turn two-combo on the play, turn-one disruption into a lock piece, and a very good early lock piece with a way to protect it like [[Veil of Summer]] either on the play or with acceleration. Disruption plus [[Dark Depths]] is the weakest hand I’d consider keeping since it’s the most important combo piece. If the hand doesn’t fall into one of those descriptions, it needs to be shipped given how well both decks leverage the London Mulligan and how quickly both decks can piece together kills off the top. Aggressive mulligans also won’t be punished as hard now that TES is no longer running discard spells. I would not relax those mulligan standards until mulling at least the first two hands away.

How do you evaluate hands that have disruption, but don’t have don’t have a clear path to quickly create the 20/20?

Discard heavy hands with no combo pieces or only a [[Thespian’s Stage]] are traps since TES is more than capable of finding and winning with [[Ad Nauseam]] or reloading or killing with [[Echo of Eons]] given time. Those kind of hands will usually even lose to an early [[Empty the Warrens]] if the TES pilot takes that line off [[Burning Wish]]. There are specific disruption only hands that I consider keepable like an accelerant, [[Collector Ouphe]] (or [[Sphere of Resistance]]), and a [[Veil of Summer]] to protect them or a discard spell into lock piece. If the Depths player is really tired of TES, ANT, or the new [[Underworld Breach]] decks and is on [[Mindbreak Trap]], a lot more hands become keepable if that card is in them.

In the past, graveyard hate has been considered weak versus The EPIC Storm. With the more recent addition of main deck [[Echo of Eons]], has your value of graveyard hate changed at all? What kind of graveyard hate do you usually play in the sideboard and do you now find it more relevant to find room to bring it in?

Turbo Depths currently runs [[Surgical Extraction]] and/or [[Leyline of the Void]], both of which are marginal options vs TES even with the addition of [[Echo of Eons]]. [[Surgical Extraction]] has uses such as breaking up lines with [[Brainstorm]] or [[Ponder]] that were protecting or hiding cards from discard by shuffling their deck while removing a key card. TES players will usually board in a win condition to avoid losing to [[Surgical Extraction]]  by removing all copies of [[Burning Wish]] from the game. [[Leyline of the Void]] isn’t a dead card since it can limit mana production from TES hands that include more than one [[Rite of Flame]] and shuts off [[Echo of Eons]] flashback, but that is not exactly the primary plan for TES and using multiple slots in our post-board 60 to stop what amounts to one card in their deck and limiting [[Burning Wish]] options isn’t great. Besides the clear drawbacks of needing it to be in our opener and drawing copies at any other point during the game, it is just far to easy for TES to win without ever using their graveyard. It’s also vulnerable to their bounce spells if they really need to cast [[Echo of Eons]]. I find [[Surgical Extraction]] to be the stronger choice of the two and often bring in a copy or two, but consider them the weakest cards in the post board 60.

Has The EPIC Storm’s more recent access to main deck [[Chain of Vapor]] with [[Wishclaw Talisman]] changed your approach to the matchup in game one? In addition, how does the presence of bounce spells such as a second copy of [[Chain of Vapor]] and an [[Echoing Truth]] change your play or thought process after game one?

It hasn’t changed the approach in game one much to be honest, just more of something to be aware of. [[Pithing Needle]] being a relevant card in the matchup and not relegated to naming fetch lands is a pleasant development though. Depths has [[Pithing Needle]] and [[Vampire Hexmage]] that can shut off or remove the counters from [[Wishclaw Talisman]] as well as [[Not of This World]] and [[Crop Rotation]] for [[Sejiri Steppe]] as protection from [[Chain of Vapor]]. When [[Wishclaw Talisman]] is on board with two mana up, it is a pretty transparent trick that we can either play around or not and it’s rarely going to be correct to play around a one of [[Chain of Vapor]] when there is no [[Wishclaw Talisman]]. If our opponent is presenting a kill for the following turn, we sometimes have to play into [[Wishclaw Talisman]] getting [[Chain of Vapor]] anyway to not die. Post-board  games requires more consideration since there is a much higher chance that the opponent found one of their three bounce spells naturally or off cantrips. Depths gets additional protection from bounce in its own copies of [[Veil of Summer]] to help.

Are there any difference between how Turbo Depths approaches the match-up compared to other [[Dark Depth]] variants?

The variant that likely differs the most in its approach compared to Turbo Depths is GW Depths. Cards like [[Gaddock Teeg]], [[Deafening Silence]], [[Ethersworn Canonist]], and [[Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]] on top of the standard [[Collector Ouphe]] can lock up the board can cause serious problems for TES if they aren’t able to win under them on the first turn or two. GW Depths runs a pile of ways to protect those cards from bounce including [[Veil of Summer]], [[Giver of Runes]], and [[Sylvan Safekeeper]] in addition to the standard [[Sejiri Steppe]] tricks. This on top of things like [[Mindbreak Trap]] often allows GW Depths to win with small creatures while not relying winning with [[Marit Lage Token]].

What is the biggest mistake you see The EPIC Storm players make against Turbo Depths? What is the biggest mistake you see Turbo Depths players make against The EPIC Storm?

On quite a few occasions, TES opponents have incorrectly sequenced artifact mana in ways that either exposed [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] or allowed artifact removal to be relevant when there was a line that would have prevented it from having any meaningful impact on the outcome. Once TES has enough mana and action to go for a win, slowing down and considering sequencing would likely prevent this from happening more often than not. The clock (or time in paper) is unlikely to be a consideration in this matchup. The biggest mistake Depths players make against TES outside of playing into [[Veil of Summer]] in situations where that isn’t necessary is not mulliganing aggressively enough. The matchup is often condensed into a relatively small number of turns, and making sure your hand is solid enough to either win early or significantly disrupt the opponent immediately is incredibly important.

How do you think The EPIC Storm matchup compares to other combo decks such as Ad Nauseam Tendrils or Sneak & Show?

The current version of TES is a significantly harder matchup than either of those decks. TES is often faster than both of those decks reducing the ability of Depths to race. Common tools like [[Crop Rotation]] that are just okay versus TES are outstanding against ANT and Sneak & Show respectively. ANT leans on [[Past in Flames]] and its graveyard in general with cards like [[Cabal Ritual]] much more that TES does. This turns cards that can fetch [[Bojuka Bog]] at instant speed like [[Elvish Reclaimer]] and [[Crop Rotation]] into devastating disruption pieces in addition to combo enablers and protection. Those same cards can tutor for [[Karakas]] against Sneak & Show taking [[Show and Tell]] into [[Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]] off the table in many spots. [[Pithing Needle]] is also significantly stronger against Sneak & Show and [[Veil of Summer]] is way better vs ANT than it is versus TES. I would prefer to play against both of these decks all day instead of TES when on Depths.

Do you have any additional insight to share about the matchup? Any tips or tricks for either side?

I recently wrote a TES versus Depths sideboard writeup that digs pretty deep into the match-up and hopefully has a good amount of tips, tricks, and useful information. You can find it here.

Huge thank you to Tom Hepp for joining Through the Looking Glass and providing some great responses on the Dark Depths Combo versus The EPIC Storm matchup.

Until next time, keep storming!