Breaking Out TurboLand

Zvi Mowshowitz

TurboLand has a long history, although it has never broken through to become one of the top Extended decks. Since the release of Stronghold and with it Horn of Greed, I've been looking for ways to abuse it. Some people have claimed I'm overly attached to it, citing that both times I tried it in serious competition with a real sideboard it failed. But one of those was a single elimination tournament, and the deck has been vastly improved since the other attempt.


A vast improvement over Burgeoning

Of course, there's no reason that TurboLand should ever have been one of the top decks in Extended in any form. Every format only has so many concepts that work well enough to be played, and this is certainly an unlikely candidate. Despite that, it seems the deck's time has come. The biggest lesson of TurboLand is probably keeping everything in the idea box. Give up on an idea if it doesn't work at first, if the cards or combinations have potential, file them away as long as they continue to be legal. There's always a chance that at some point the last piece of the puzzle will be in a new set, or that the decks holding the concept back will cycle out, be banned or become unplayable for metagame reasons. All of that goes double if the deck is fun, and triple if it's your own - don't spend life playing other people's concepts if there's an alternative.

The first attempt used Burgeoning, and ran into a very basic problem: that doesn't work. Playing a land isn't the same as putting a land into play, so Horn of Greed didn't trigger and the combination was useless. Urza's Saga gave me Exploration, which in addition to triggering Horn of Greed when the extra land was played, is just a flat out stronger card. After much work, the first reasonably good version of the deck emerged:

Neutral Ground Extended Championships, December 1998

Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Horn of Greed 
4 Exploration 
2 Time Warp 
2 Capsize 
4 Impulse 
3 Brainstorm 
2 Scroll Rack 
4 Force of Will 
4 Counterspell 
1 Forbid 
2 Gaea's Blessing 
2 Constant Mists 
3 Wasteland 
3 Mishra's Factory 
8 Island 
4 Forest 
4 Thawing Glaciers 
4 Tropical Island 
4 Arcane Laboratory 
4 Chill 
2 Constant Mists 
2 Rejuvenate 
1 Gaea's Blessing 
2 Anvil of Bogardan 

The deck worked by abusing the combination of Exploration, Horn of Greed and Thawing Glaciers. Any two of those together is great, and all three together is amazing. In addition, all three can be great without either of the other two. The problem was finding a good way not to lose while generating all that card advantage. Eventually the deck won by using Time Warps to take infinite turns, then Capsize all the opponent's permanents and kill with Mishra's Factories, but that took a while to set up. Until then, the deck used Constant Mists to stay alive. Since Exploration allowed the deck to play multiple lands every turn and Horn of Greed let it draw multiple cards each turn (and Thawing Glaciers gave it free lands), the deck could easily sacrifice one land every turn for the entire game after the engine started to get off the ground. With creatures unable to touch me, all I had to stop was other threats. Against decks that weren't trying to kill me, I had only two Constant Mists that went to waste; everything else helped fight the war over the engine. The deck had gigantic holes, especially against Necropotence, but it was great fun to play.

The original deck had gigantic holes, especially against Necropotence.

Urza's Legacy included Crop Rotation, and that seemed to fit right into the deck, producing the second incarnation of the deck. With Thawing Glaciers being an amazing card even on its own and the key to wars between blue decks, having additional ways to get them was great. With three copies of Crop Rotation, the new version had seven ways to have a first turn Thawing Glaciers to four for other control decks, giving it an edge in what was normally the only battle that counted; it could also get Wasteland to kill theirs. Against other decks it could get Mishra's Factory, including getting a second one at Instant speed to pump up another engaged in combat. But best of all, it could go get my secret weapon: Glacial Chasm. Most of my opponents had to read it when it came into play. It requires a land to be sacrificed when it comes into play, and after that for a cumulative upkeep of two life it prevents all damage done to its controller. Temporarily untouchable, I could continue to set up the engine to take infinite turns once the cumulative upkeep got to be too high. If I wasn't ready for that, I could go get another one after sideboarding, or the same one before by using Gaea's Blessing to put it back into my deck and Crop Rotation for it again. By using Crop Rotation to get the Chasm when I needed it, I reduced the number of anti-beatdown cards in the deck to just one. The new version went 8-4 in GP: Kansas City, and I finished in 32nd place. At least two of my losses were due to a poor sideboard, which at the time should have included something like Sand Golem.

The third version of the deck kept the maindeck more or less intact, but the sideboard underwent a radical change. Instead of traditional sideboard cards like Arcane Laboratory or Chill, it had four copies of Oath of Druids along with three Spike Weavers and a Thorn Elemental to use with it. This was a vast improvement. If I was playing against an aggressive creature deck, all I had to do was get Oath of Druids out after sideboarding. Putting creatures into play after that becomes outright counterproductive, and without creature pressure the deck had no trouble gliding to victory on the engine. The deck still had holes in it, though. It couldn't handle the Pooh Burn deck in particular, because it would kill at instant speed the moment TurboLand let the Glacial Chasm die.

The other hole was combination decks, which have always defeated this strategy. TurboLand is a very slow combination deck, so racing another combo to see who could 'go off' first was doomed to failure. Trying to be a control deck wasn't going to work either, because by now the combo decks were designed to take out real blue decks that could do that job a lot better than I could. The reason I thought that was okay was that for one brief shining moment the main combo deck in Extended was based upon using Enduring Renewal and Goblin Bombardment with a Shield Sphere, and Glacial Chasm just beats that strategy. They can't do more than a few points on my turn, and can't do anything with the Chasm on the table. Playing that Chasm gave the deck plenty of time to find the counters necessary to prevent the Pebbles deck from recasting its creatures later on. Basically, I was 'cheating' the matchup: the deck should be dead to rights, but a one casting cost green spell gets TurboLand four extra turns so the matchup was actually all right. But after Trix emerged, that no longer held and the deck went back into hibernation again.

The deck surfaced again when I was testing for the Masters. Browsing the lists of Top 8 decks from the last Extended Grand Prix season, I came across the deck played by Satoshi Nakamura. He made Top 8 with a variant of TurboLand. He made two important changes to the deck and some minor ones. The major changes were replacing Thawing Glaciers and Wasteland with Gush, and putting Oath of Druids and a normal Oath style creature set of Morphling, Spike Feeder and Spike Weaver into the main deck. He also made some other minor changes, such as playing Arcane Denial over Counterspell and having less of them, and I quickly discovered I disagreed with those minor details. But the more I thought about the two important changes, the more I understood them. What I arrived at was this version:

Zvi Mowshowitz - Turboland

Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Force of Will
4 Counterspell
4 Impulse
4 Gush
1 Scroll Rack
2 Gaea's Blessing
1 Morphling
1 Spike Feeder
1 Spike Weaver
4 Oath of Druids
4 Exploration
4 Horn of Greed
2 Time Warp
1 Treetop Village
4 Tropical Island
14 Island
5 Forest
4 Annul
3 Emerald Charm
1 Capsize
2 Powder Keg
1 Thorn Elemental
3 Spike Weaver
1 Spike Feeder

The old version of the deck had an overabundance of long term power. Given time, its engine would win the game. Thawing Glaciers was another way to eventually win the game, and Wasteland helped that by taking out opposing Glaciers, but the deck wins those games anyway. Gush turned out to be sufficiently powerful that the long game against Forbidian was still an easy win. In theory, it was scary. They would put out Thawing Glaciers, which gave them an extra land every two turns, and I would have to win the game quickly or die under that pressure. It didn't work that way in practice, because there's no good way to build Forbidian. To play the kind of counterspell base that would be necessary is impossible to do in practice. On top of that, they have no way to win. Without being able to afford something like Whispers of the Muse, the only way for a Forbidian deck to get anything accomplished is to cast a creature. If they do, Oath of Druids suddenly becomes a game winner for two mana. Add to that the issue that they can't counter Gush effectively and that a Horn of Greed on the table will almost always win the game if it stays, and things get pretty easy. There's obviously a lot more to it than that, and this is not yet a guide to playing TurboLand well, which is extremely difficult.

With the matchups where the deck would seem to need the long-term power of Thawing Glaciers already in the bag without it, the deck could afford to trade long-term power to get speed. Oath of Druids was a similar trade-off. The deck now risked having a number of useless cards against certain decks, and having a number of suboptimal ones in the form of the three creatures. In exchange, no longer did the deck have to do anything drastic like sacrifice a land every turn or pay upkeep on a Glacial Chasm. All it had to do was find an Oath of Druids and untap with it in play. In short order, that wipes out the advantage from almost any array of offensive creatures, and often turns the tide back the other way. The engine helped find Oath and the counters to protect it when the enemy was attacking; it generated card advantage when the enemy was not.

What that created was a curiosity: a combination deck that didn't have to go off to win any of its matchups. Against beatdown, the deck sometimes went off but more often won with Oath of Druids. If the opponent managed to kill off all his creatures or get a set I couldn't break through, I would go off to kill him, but the game would already have been won. Against control, the deck would have generated so much card economy in the early stages of going off that actually doing so wasn't necessary. If the opponent got a turn, it wouldn't matter. Against pure combination decks, the engine only had to go off enough to find the counterspells to stop the opponent. That didn't mean that the deck didn't still Time Warp for fun and profit, or that it didn't end a lot of games that way, or that taking them out wouldn't have resulted in a much worse deck.

When I played TurboLand at the Masters series, many people thought it was a joke. It's not. At the time, I thought TurboLand was the best deck in the format. Its bad matchups are still Replenish and Trix. If neither of those is a major factor, the deck is an excellent choice. If they are prominent, it's still a ton of fun. I'm still not sure if I'll be running the deck this season. The details of how to play the deck well would be another article, but go ahead and play a few games with the deck. There's no reason not to give it a try. It's a lot of fun.



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