Cashing In with Meandeck Gifts

Stephen follows up his excellent Puzzle article from yesterday with an in-depth look at a recent tournament he attended… with winning results. He shares detailed play-by-play data from each game, and has the decklists from each opponent too! All this, plus his views on Split Second cards in Magic’s most broken format…

Mean Deck indeed. Having given up on Grim Long, I’ve been playing Meandeck Gifts, a deck I created in the late Spring last year, since Vintage Worlds this year. Since then, MDG has been my little cash cow. In every event I’ve played in during that time I’ve split a cash purse.

The question for an upcoming tournament was: what should my sideboard be? The sideboard would have to be built from scratch. Although I expected the same old players: Stax, Fish, and Control mirrors, the only matchup I was truly concerned about was Meandeck Ichorid.

Meandeck Ichorid was intended to be able to beat decks like this. Specifically, I designed it to attack the Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker strategy directly. Leyline plus Chalice of the Void buys time so that the Unmasks and Cabal Therapies strip the control players’ hand. Then, Chalice plus Chain of Vapor deals with the residual Colossus plan. You can use Bazaar and tutors to ensure that you find Chain of Vapor before you take lethal damage from a Colossus. It’s an amazingly effective plan against Gifts.

It’s sad that the decks I fear the most are other decks I’ve created. The answer to my fear is: well, don’t worry about that – no one plays Ichorid. No one?

Take a look at the seventh place list from a recent German tournament:

That’s my deck, almost card for card.

And what about this:

Again, my decklist.

That’s just in the last couple of months.

But what’s worse is that Ichorid always shows up in my local metagame. I needed a solution. The problem is that there is no solution. If the Ichorid players knows what they are doing, nothing you can play will stop them – that’s the impact of Chain of Vapor on the matchup.

Nonetheless, I felt like I had to do something.

So, I designed the following sideboard:

For the Control Match:
2 Red Elemental Blast
2 Pyroblast

I also wanted to test Wipe Away in a tournament setting – knowing that it would be a powerful card in the Slaver matchup with the potential to stop Slaver itself, to bounce Welders, and to stop Tormod’s Crypt (most importantly). It would also offer a potential and unstoppable out in the MDG mirror to Colossus.

1 Wipe Away

Since the fall of last year I have been advocating Pithing Needle in the MDG sideboard as a way of dealing with Goblin Welder. As I’ve articulated before, Needle is fantastic at stopping Welder and hence of making Thirst less powerful. Part of the power of Thirst comes from turning the Thirst drawback into a benefit. If the Slaver player has a useless 1/1 Goblin on the table and can’t Weld in that Slaver, then he’ll be much less likely to discard the Slaver for fear of not being able to replay it. That takes some of the “oomph” from the Slaver plan as well as undermining the central synergies of the deck.

Pithing Needle is also there for the Uba Stax matchup. Against Uba Stax, almost everything is Needleable. Bazaar of Baghdad and Goblin Welder are your first targets. Ironically, Needle may be the strongest card against Ichorid. If you can stop the dredging before it starts, you can stop the Cabal Therapies from finding their way from the deck onto the stack.

The remaining matchups that are concerning are:

Fish, Stax, and Xantid Swarm.

For Stax, I ran the perfunctory:

1 Rack and Ruin
1 Rebuild
1 Hurkyl’s Recall

For Fish, I decided to switch it up a little bit. I only had five slots left, so I had to find cards that addressed all of those matchups.

1 Fire / Ice

This became my first inclusion. Fire/Ice was good against Stax, Fish, Ichorid, Xantid Swarm – and was Blue to top it off! I’d like to find room for another.

1 Pyroclasm
1 Massacre

I wanted two Pyroclasm, because I think the card may just be better, but I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to observe Massacre in action. Until that day, I’m going to leave the Massacre in my board.

Then I rounded out my sideboard with:

1 Old Man
1 Caltrops

I ran the Caltrops as another out to Ichorid.

The number of one-ofs were fortuitous, not by design. It was a function of the fact that I only had fifteen sideboard slots and I was trying to make my sideboard fight lots of different matchups.

That weekend Paul Mastriano, Mr. Type 4, came down and we do some testing on Saturday. We head to a corn maze on Sat night (and stay up waaaay too late). Then on Sunday we fight!

Round 1: Jimmy McCarthy

One of the good things about our local metagame is that many of players who go onto make Top 8 at a SCG P9 event first tested their mettle in this proving ground. The next time we hold a Meandeck Open, these players return, emboldened, more confident, and as better competitors. Jimmy McCarthy is just such a player. After playing a few times in the Meandeck Open, Jimmy got second place at SCG Rochester with Grim Long last May, and has put up competitive numbers ever since.

In a recurring pattern I lose the die roll.

I opened up the hand of:

Mana Drain
Lotus Petal
Merchant Scroll
Demonic Tutor

If the Petal were a Mox of any color, this hand would be solid. As it stands, it is only a little suboptimal. With turn 1 Mana Drain mana, you can’t throw this back.

Fortunately for me, Jimmy mulligans to 5.

I’ve learned a critical lesson this year about my Vintage decision making process – one of the ways that I tend to lose the most games is by making incorrect assumptions about what my opponent is playing.

My guess would be that Jimmy is either playing Fish or Combo. Yet, to assume either one would involve me making plays that could open me up to a game loss if I was wrong. The decision making process, from the mulligan, is so critically tied to matchup, that to make a decision now without that information would be to limit my tactical and strategic options in a possibly very negative way. Therefore, I decide to make no tentative assumptions about what he might be playing.

He opens with Bloodstained Mire. The only decks that I’m aware of with Mire are Goblins, Intuition Tendrils, and jank. He passes the turn without doing a thing.

I draw Merchant Scroll. I play Island and Petal, holding Drain mana up and pass the turn.

Turn 2:

Jimmy plays a land and passes.

I draw Tolarian Academy and play it. I scroll up Ancestral Recall with Academy and Island. On my endstep, Jimmy cycles Gempalm Incinerator.

Turn 3:

Jimmy plays Warchief, I Mana Drain the Warchief and untap and play Scroll for Ancestral Recall and play Ancestral. I burn two life but draw into Yawgmoth’s Will.

Turn 4:

Jimmy plays Goblin Ringleader. I Force of Will the Ringleader.

Unfortunately, I see no more land! I play Merchant Scroll for Brainstorm hoping to find more juice.

Next turn, Jimmy plays Recruiter. It resolves. He piles Ringleader, Warchief, and a couple of Piledrivers on top.

I have to win relatively soon. Fortunately for me, my Brainstorm yields the solutions I’ve been looking for. I see a Mox and land and then I tutor up Time Walk, untap, draw Gifts, Gifts for mana and then I easily win.


I sideboarded in 1 Pyroclasm, 1 Caltrops, and 1 Fire / Ice.

Game 2:

I mulligan to six card hand that I keep simply because it is playable:

Mox Emerald
Sol Ring
Hurkyl’s Recall
Polluted Delta
Demonic Tutor

He opened with turn 1 Lackey. I drew Force of Will.

I play Polluted Delta into Underground Sea, Mox Emerald, and Sol Ring and Demonic Tutor for Tinker. I want to end this game as quickly as possible.

Turn 2

Jimmy makes a small mistake. He attacks with Lackey (sending me to 18) and puts Siege Gang-Commander into play. A mistake you say – yes, because his next play is the stronger play. He plays a land and drops Goblin Recruiter on the board. He probably didn’t expect me to draw Force of Will, but I did, and now he gets to stack nothing.

Nonetheless, he’s got a lot of board pressure that I can do little about aside from a Pyroclasm. The Siege-Gang Commander can easily swing in for five damage with extra damage on the board in addition to the Lackey, as well as damage he can throw at my head. Arg at combat math.

I untap, play Island, and announce Tinker (sacrificing my Mox). He plays Red Elemental Blast which I Force of Will (sending me to 17). I consider getting Caltrops for a nanosecond, but then go for the big guy. So long as he does nothing terribly relevant, I have enough life to win.

Turn 3

Unfortunately, he does something terribly relevant. Brutal even. He plays Goblin Piledriver. With all of those tokens, Piledriver can beat in for well over a dozen life. That means I can’t turn my Colossus sideways – it has to sit back as a blocker! How weak and embarrassing for the Iron Giant.

But I do something relevant as well. I draw my deck’s namesake: Gifts Ungiven. Unfortunately, I’m stuck on five mana: Sea, Island, Island, Sol Ring. That isn’t much to work with. Yet, somehow I’ve got to find a way to win now. Before I play Gifts, I need to see what Jimmy is going to do. I pass.

Turn 4

Jimmy untaps and thinks. I know that if he is going to attack, I’ll have to block the Piledriver first and foremost and the Colossus will live. My life is precarious. Siege-Gang enables Jimmy to throw Goblins directly at my head if need be. Combine that with some, but direct, combat damage and he can try to finish me off. If Jimmy can just find a way to get one more Piledriver on the board, he wins. Jimmy does just that. He goes through some machinations but finds a Driver is positioned to have him in play and ready to attack next turn. It’s now or never for me.

I announce Gifts Ungiven. This is the crucial play of the game. I need to find the Gifts that wins as quickly as possible. With the Colossus on the board a Gifts with a Time Walk will be almost sufficient to do the job. The problem is that I have tight mana constraints, with only five mana on the table.

I pull a dozen cards from my deck and consider some of the configurations. Then I remember a Gifts that I wrote about last week. Demonic Tutor is a very special Gifts card because of its unique versatility. I realize that if I put Demonic Tutor into a pile, it can find a Mox Ruby to play Recoup. I only need to Time Walk once.

I consider going for the simple solution of Mox Ruby, Black Lotus, Time Walk, and Recoup, but I want to have the option to win now. Thus, I construct the superior Gift options of:

Demonic Tutor
Time Walk
Black Lotus

If he gives me DT and Black Lotus, I win now via Will. If he gives me Time Walk in any pile, I won’t win on the spot, but he’ll lose his whole board to prevent Colossus damage from taking him out of the match.

He predictably gives me DT and Recoup. The solution is simple: DT for Mox Ruby, Recoup Walk, and play Walk. I swing in with Colossus and then Time Walk and do it again. He isn’t dead, but his position is hopeless and he scoops.

Here is what Jimmy played:

Round 2: Joe Bushman playing Control Slaver

Joe Bushman, my most valuable playtest partner, has returned to tournament Magic after a long hiatus. Joe is piloting the same Control Slaver deck he’s been playing since before Vintage Worlds last year. Here is what he was playing:

This list might be a little outdated without Memory Jar, but Joe is a great player. I’ve talked a little bit about our Slaver list here:

He wins the die roll.

Game 1:

Joe opens the game with the extremely fortuitous Mox Sapphire into Ancestral Recall. I attempt to Force of Will it, but he has Force of Will as well to protect Ancestral.

Joe follows up this play with Fetchland into Volcanic Island, Emerald, Time Walk. He untaps, draws a card, and plays Strip Mine.

I had mulliganed into a hand that had Force of Will, Brainstorm, and a single fetchland. Now I can’t even use that Fetchland. If I break the fetchland and fail to find a land with the Brainstorm, I won’t have any mana available.

The good news, however, was that I drew Force of Will on my first turn’s draw step. The rest of my hand was Fact or Fiction, Gifts Ungiven, and Merchant Scroll in addition to the cards I already mentioned.

I realize that the Force of Will in my hand is going to be huge. I’m in a really bad position. Joe has not only resolved Ancestral (and according to Pat Chapin, that’s game, right? My game plan becomes trying to get him to walk into it so that I can get some tempo. It works.

I played Polluted Delta and passed the turn.

On my end step, Joe plays Gifts Ungiven! What is this? So, in the space of one turn, Joe has played: 1) Ancestral Recall, 2) Time Walk, 3) Strip Mine, and 4) Gifts Ungiven?

Welcome to Vintage.

This is a huge play. Far too few players realize precisely how busted Gifts can be in Control Slaver. Many Slaver players are too timid and try to get mid-range cards – using Gifts like a draw spell. I know Joe, and Joe goes for the throat. He is a skilled control player (Joe was best known as a Tog player), but Joe doesn’t fool around in Vintage. He knows that tempo is huge and isn’t afraid to play an earlier Yawgmoth’s Will to push him far ahead in the race.

I need to think. Under other circumstances, my pause may be perceived either as a bluff for FoW or as an indication that I have FoW. Fortunately, the Delta into Brainstorm play covers me here. I orally remark that I need to think about how much I want to get Strip Mined here, implying that I may want to dig for Force of Will. I know that if his Gifts resolves here, it is going to be huge. He’s going to put two massive bombs in his hand. On the other hand, my trump card is the fact that he doesn’t know I have Force of Will. I assume that I’ll lose this game unless he walks into my FoW, and therefore I let Gifts resolve in the hope that he overextends.

Joe pulls out the following cards: Black Lotus, Lotus Petal, Tinker, and I think Mystical Tutor (although I could be wrong about the last card). I give him Black Lotus and Lotus Petal.

Turn 2

He untaps and on his second regular turn he plays Brainstorm. He then plays Black Lotus (but not Petal). Sacrifices it for Black, Demonic Tutors for Yawgmoth’s Will and announces Yawgmoth’s Will with two cards in hand.

I politely announce Force of Will and Joe appears shellshocked. He was blindsided. Now he is now in topdeck mode. It’s anybody’s game. If anything the momentum has swung my way. And all in the space of two turns. Welcome to Vintage. He opens with Ancestral and Walk, and I can steal this game.

I draw Volcanic Island and play it. I play Merchant Scroll immediately for my own Ancestral Recall. Joe only has two cards in hand.

Turn 3

Joe draws a card and Strip Mines one of my lands sending me back to one land. Joe plays another land and passes the turn.

I untap and play my Ancestral. I see another Island and a Lotus Petal, which I play.

Turn 4

Joe draws another card and plays Thirst for Knowledge (I could be mistaken about the timing), but I Mana Drain the Thirst, breaking my Petal to do it.

I think it was here that Joe then belatedly dropped Goblin Welder.

I untapped and have some options. I think I played Sol Ring off of the colorless mana. But the question is: I could Scroll for bounce to bounce the Welder off the table – but then I’d have to counter the Welder. I judge that I have a little more time to deal with Welder. I decided to try and go for the win immediately, so I scrolled up Gifts. I debated whether to Scroll up Force of Will as well so that in a subsequent Scroll I could find the solution to Welder.

Turn 5

Joe played draw-go, but he Welded out my Sol Ring into Lotus Petal to keep me off Gifts a turn. Joe was clever in manipulating my own mana against me.

I untapped and drew Brainstorm. I Brainstormed into a pretty good set of cards fully planning on going off in two turns.

Turn 6

Unfortunately, it was too late. Joe untapped, floated some mana and then Welded out a Mox for Black Lotus. He had the Slaver.

I winced as Joe announced Mindslaver.

If I had Scrolled for an answer to Welder instead, I could have stopped Slaver by preventing these mana shenanigans that helped the Slaver get into play. But now… now Joe could just Weld in the Slaver even if I countered it. He Slaved me a turn later.

I was in a quite a pickle. My limited mana development made his Slavers rather ineffective. He wasn’t in a position to find my Yawgmoth’s Will so he could Recall himself to resupply his hand and board. In addition, he had already spent his Yawgmoth’s Will, and his Tinker was in the bin as well. So he wasn’t in a position to use Slaver to shut me off while he engaged in a series of game-ending plays.

However, he was still able to seriously deplete my hand. I looked at the time – we had already spent 23 minutes or so in the match so I decided to scoop and move onto the next game. Even if his Slaving turned to nothing, he had that available to him in the future. I’d rather just end it than play a really, really long 40 minute game where I lose. If I lose that game, I have no chance of winning the match. I had to make a tough decision. I had a decent chance of winning that game, even after being Slaved – maybe as much as a 33% chance. But if I lost that game, I lost the match. I called the game and we moved onto game 2.


I sideboard in 4 Red Elemental Blasts and Wipe Away for 1 Chain of Vapor, 1 Hurkyl’s Recall, 1 Vampiric Tutor, 1 Mystical Tutor, and 1 other card I can’t recall.

Game 2:

Now it was my turn to have the nuts.

My opening play was Island, Ancestral Recall, just as Joe’s had been last game. And just as Joe had done, I followed it up with Mox Sapphire, off-color Mox, Time Walk.

I had almost the same opening start as Joe.

Joe played Island-go. On his end step, I played Gifts Ungiven for a controllish pile of cards like Scroll, Brainstorm, Gifts, and Red Elemental Blast.

It was very clear that I was dominating this game. Joe scooped within a few turns after my hand became something like:

Force of Will
Red Elemental Blast *2
Mana Drain
Merchant Scroll

And a full board of mana to Joe’s much inferior position.

I was playing the Control role and we both knew that I’d win this game, sooner or later. Joe made a similar cost/benefit analysis that I had made last game, and we shuffled up for game 3.

Game 3

With two blowout games against a fierce competitor in Vintage, you almost always try to settle in for mind-bending, mettle-testing game 3. But that’s how Vintage goes. You’ll have two games full of one-sided dominance only to be followed up by the skill-decider. It is as much a test of stamina and fortitude as it is intelligence. You have to psychologically survive the devastating loss, chalk it up as experience, and prepare yourself for the final battle.

We shuffle up and we both decide to keep a hand of seven.

Turn 1

Joe opens with Volcanic Island, Goblin Welder.

I was very happy to see Force of Will in my opening hand. My hand is a controllish start with all of the right elements: mana, permission, and search/draw.

The trick in the control mirror is leveraging the decks disparate elements to have a smooth draw – a draw that includes proper ratios of mana to search. The card that best does all of this is Brainstorm, bar none. The problem is that Red Elemental Blasting a Brainstorm, while not bad, only changes the development in the first few turns. It’s only the correct play if it can be quickly capitalized on.

We both had Brainstorms; however, mine gave me all of the right elements. I Brainstormed and got the perfect ratios of mana to spells to mana. Joe’s did not.

Turn 2

Joe Brainstormed and winced. He waited until after his draw step to try and dig as deeply as possible. Unfortunately, nothing came up.

Fortunately for Joe, I’m not in an aggressive position. To capitalize on this sort of play, you would want to be in the aggressive position. The key weakness of this kind of mana tightness is that he can’t effectively interact – he can’t put spells on the stack that stop me. But myself having settled into a nice control posture, I am ready for him to do something. I decide to try and move a little more quickly.

I play Lotus Petal and break it to Demonic Tutor for Ancestral Recall, which I play, and which resolves. I play Mox Emerald and pass the turn.

Joe and I play draw-go for a couple of turns, all the while his Goblin Welder whittles away at my life. My hand continues to build up as I Brainstorm and develop my board position. Joe too finds his way out of the hole he had dug.

On about turn 6, things came to a head. I was at 12 life and Joe announced Gorilla Shaman.

I had two Moxen on the table, Moxen I very much wanted to remain where they were. I had a six-card hand, and Joe had a five-card hand. Even if Shaman had resolved, that would put me on a six-turn clock. But he would have really hurt my mana development, undoing much of the progress I had made.

I responded by putting Gifts Ungiven on the stack.

Joe couldn’t let that stand. He responded with Red Elemental Blast. I thought for a moment. I was holding Misdirection. I wanted to find a way to use the Misdirection to counter two of his spells.

I wasn’t sure what to do. In the face of my uncertainty I morosely announced Mana Drain targeting Gorilla Shaman. Joe responded with Brainstorm.

At this point I thought for a moment. The stack looked like this:


Mana Drain (targeting Gorilla Shaman)
Red Elemental Blast (targeting Gifts Ungiven)
Gifts Ungiven
Gorilla Shaman


If Joe’s Brainstorm resolved, he could Force of Will any one of these spells, assuming he draws a Force (or a Blue spell he needs to use Force). I was thinking that if that happened, I could Misdirect the Red Elemental Blast to the Force of Will ensuring that my Gifts resolved at the same time that I used his own card to stop his counterspell on my Mana Drain.

After a moment, however, I realized that my little trick wouldn’t work. If I put Misdirection on the stack, the Misdirection would redirect the Red Elemental Blast to the Force of Will, but the Force would resolve first and the Red Blast, when it resolved, would have no target on the stack. Thus, I knew it made no difference. I put Misdirection on the stack and had the Red Blast target the Brainstorm.

Brainstorm resolved. My Mana Drain resolved countering the Shaman. The Red Elemental Blast fizzled. Then my Gifts resolved.

I had mana, but not a lot. I needed to find a way to win now if possible.

I went through my deck looking at my options. I already had Demonic Tutor in the graveyard. My library had Academy, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt…. It looked like I could pull off a powerful Yawgmoth’s Will. But could I win? The trick, I assumed, was getting enough Storm.

I settled on Recoup, Mana Crypt, Black Lotus, and Yawgmoth’s Will.

I already had Mox Ruby in play. Note that I also have Tinker in hand.

What are the permutations of these choices?

1) He wouldn’t give me Yawgmoth’s Will. So that rules out all Gifts piles where he would give me Will; Yawgmoth’s Will, I would just play Yawgmoth’s Will immediately, replay the Crypt, the Lotus, and try to win. I would only have to generate enough Storm and leave six mana up to DT for the Tendrils.

2) If he gave me Mana Crypt and Black Lotus, then I would be able to tap Crypt and Black Lotus, use the Mana Drain mana and the Ruby to Recoup and Will.

3) The hardest permutation to play out is one where he gives me Recoup and Mana Crypt. That’s what he gave me.

I used the colorless from Drain and the Ruby to play Recoup targeting Will. I use the Crypt and a Sea to play Yawgmoth’s Will. Storm is 2.

I play Black Lotus. Storm is 3.

I play Lotus Petal. Storm count 4.

My mana looks like this:


A= any color of mana from my Lotuses.

I use two Islands, an Emerald and Sol Ring to play Gifts Ungiven again from my graveyard.


I gifts for Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, and Mana Vault. He gives me the Pearl and the Sapphire. I play them both. Storm 7. I get two more colorless mana.

My mana is AAAA1UUU. All I have to do is Ancestral and Brainstorm with six mana up to Demonic Tutor for the Tendrils and the game is over.

Round 3: JR Goldman playing Bomberman

JR’s list is a little bit unconventional, but I think he’s struck gold by borrowing the four Merchant Scroll idea from my deck.

Merchant Scroll is unbelievably good right now – some have gone so far as to call for its restriction. If Merchant Scroll were like Relentless Rats, I would cut Fact or Fiction and Vampiric Tutor from my deck to play six. Merchant Scroll is probably, next to Grim Tutor, the strongest unrestricted tutor in Vintage. It’s hard to compare tutors directly because each tutor is stronger or weaker in different decks. If you aggregate them, however, Merchant Scroll probably stacks out on top of Imperial Seal, which is restricted. But then, Personal Tutor is worse than all of those as well, and it’s restricted for some reason.

JR won the die roll and my opening hand was:

Force of Will
Force of Will
Fact or Fiction
Polluted Delta
Underground Sea
Sol Ring

If I were playing against Fish, this hand is virtually game over. Potential double Force of Will to protect turn 2 Tinker for Darksteel Colossus? Absurd. It also has the potential for turn 2 Fact or Fiction. Insane.

JR has to spoil all of my plans with this opening:

Island into Ancestral Recall

I have to counter it.

If I don’t counter it, he’s way ahead in card advantage. If I do counter it, and my counter resolves, which is the most likely scenario, I’m in a great position. If I do counter it, and he counters my counter, then I have a tough decision to make. That’s what happens.

I Force of Will and before I can even decide which card I’m going to pitch, JR announces Force of Will as well pitching Merchant Scroll. I don’t feel like I have much of a choice. I suppose in retrospect I could have tried to do what I did against Joe – trick JR into thinking that I don’t have another Force and then get him to Walk into it – but JR’s deck is very different from Joe’s. JR’s deck is more of an aggro-control deck and doesn’t just win in such a big splash. Even when Bomberman “combos” out, it doesn’t just win the game on the spot – it draws a good deal of its deck and plays some creatures, but it still take another turn to seal the deal.

So I Force of Will again and I’m left with mana. I feel some pangs about removing Tinker from game, but those pangs quickly evaporate when JR plays turn 3 Aether Spellbomb. For the cost of two mana he could have easily bounced a Colossus if I had chosen to summon one up.

On my first turn I draw Mystical Tutor. I play Sol Ring and pass.

Turn 2

JR plays an Island and passes.

I have no play but Mystical. I have two options: 1) play Mystical 2) wait to play Mystical and start topdecking.

My thinking is this: JR and I are both spent (me more so than him, obviously, but only by a little). I figure that if I’m going to get Ancestral to resolve in the short term, it has to be now – a turn away from when he played Force of Will. I upkeep Mystical for Ancestral and play it off my land. He plays Mana Drain. Now I’m pretty deep in the hole. In retrospect, I was not sufficiently patient. If I had just waited I would have had a great chance of getting Ancestral to resolve later on. I had plenty of mana so any topdeck I had was going to be immediately effective. He can’t win in a flash, so I had time.

Soon after that debacle, he plays and cycles a Spellbomb and then drops Trinket Mage for Black Lotus, which he uses to play Auriok Salvagers. After he gets going I scoop it up.

Most of my experience in this matchup is from the Grim Long side of the table. When playing Grim Long, I absolutely wreck Salvagers. JR’s addition of Merchant Scroll number four may actually help even that matchup.

Strategically, if not tactically, Bomberman is a very tough matchup for my deck. He has three Spellbombs maindeck as well four Trinket Mage to find them. How am I suppose to get Colossus to be effective against that? Add to that his four Scrolls and Wipe Away (very sneaky), and Colossus looks like a foolish plan. But what is the alternative? Tendrils is hard to pull off without Will and he has Tormod’s Crypt maindeck in addition to the Mages to find it and more in the sideboard.

Game 2:

Fortunately for me, I have very solid hand with one weakness:

I have:

Black Lotus
Merchant Scroll
Force of Will
Gifts Ungiven

I decide to risk it. I play turn 1 Scroll for Ancestral, which resolves! I see a land! I break the fetchland for Brainstorm, which sees me another land and a Mox. We are in business!

JR spends his first turn playing a land and a Tormod’s Crypt.

I just explode. I counter his Thirst for Knowledge, use the Drain mana to fuel a Gifts and create even more card advantage. His hand slowly dwindles to 3-4 while mine grows stronger while I’m adding cards to the board. Eventually, with a totally dominant board position, I tinker up the Colossus with a hand that has Pyroblast, Red Elemental Blast, Misdirection, Mana Drain, Merchant Scroll, Force of Will and another Blue card.

At the precipice of my first attack step with Colossus in play, I drop my hand on the table in the hopes that JR will scoop it up for game 3. JR asks me to put my cards back into my hand and when I turn the Colossus sideways, he plays Wipe Away.

I slump back in my chair stunned. JR has two Tormod’s Crypts on the table. I could easily find Wipe Away, but that would only deal with one of the Crypts. And since I’ve sideboarded out both of my other bounce spells, there is no way I can reliably resolve Tendrils without resolving a modest Yawgmoth’s Will.

My plan becomes singular: find a way to get to eleven mana, resolve Colossus and win. Unfortunately, it should be equally singular for JR to oppose that plan. All he has to do is get Spellbombs on the table and wait for me battle to get the Colossus into play.

As my library gets to about 30 cards, JR engages me in a massive counter-battle. The unfortunate part about this battle is that the turn before I had finally Brainstormed the Colossus back into my deck.

JR instigated the battle by attempting to play Auriok Salvagers. I Mana Drained it. I then, intentionally trying to draw out his FoW, Red Elemental Blasted his Drain, Misdirected his next Drain (implying that I had no more Drains), and then deployed my own Drain for his Force of Will. This gave me nine mana to play with. Had I still been holding that Colossus, I would have easily been able to play it.

Unfortunately, that mistake meant that I had to win the hard way – the very hard way. I think JR has now realized that he has to play defense. There is no reason for him to win. So long as he doesn’t lose, he wins. He made a huge strategic error getting into a counter-battle with me. Meandeck Gifts doesn’t lose counter-wars. I built it that way. I use my previously dominant hand to ensure that JR can do nothing. The fact that I revealed my hand to him was a huge bonus for him – he knew not to play Ancestral anytime soon. If I hadn’t have shown him my hand, I may have been able to pull this game out sooner. Nonetheless, he still should have just played defense.

Over the course of the next half dozen turns I judiciously deploy Brainstorms, Scrolls, and Gifts for mana. I am essentially manipulating my library. With every Scroll I count my counterspells and mana left. I am whittling away at my decks resources, slowly but surely moving them from the library to the board. At the critical moment I make a misplay of playing a Fetchland into Island before I Brainstorm – I realize that I could have Brainstormed into Academy (although I didn’t). If I had seen the Academy, I would have been able to play the Colossus right there.

I can see the writing on the wall – I’m almost there. I’m a few turns from just winning. My library is getting thinner and thinner and I’ve leveraged every last bit of resources from my deck. I even Recoup a Merchant Scroll just to build up my hand a little more. That forces him to Crypt me, but then I Recoup another Scroll a few turns later. I’ve perfectly manipulated my library, squeezing every last bit of juice, and then time is called. Five turns left. The problem is that it isn’t until my second turn of time that I’m able to play the Colossus. I get one swing in and then the game is drawn.

If we had more time, I’m confident I could have built it up more. Leveraged more of my resources so that I could have definitely won. I was a turn late and a dollar short.

I learned several critical lessons. First of all, Wipe Away is huge. Meandeck Gifts needs to account for it. This was the first time I’d seen it, and JR had it maindeck. Second, I shouldn’t ever board out all of my other bounce spells. Perhaps what I should have done was bring in Rebuild (or even run Rebuild over my Hurkyl’s). Had I done that, I would have a never dead bounce spell that can win me the game with Tendrils. Finally, it is making me rethink whether I should have Duress in my board.

This was a fascinating match and I’ll have to watch it carefully. I feel like I could have won both games if slightly different plays were made, but perhaps JR could have done better as well if he had the knowledge that we have in hindsight.

Round 4: Mark Trogdon

In the words of Ted Knutson in his Vintage Championship report:

Mark Trogdon is a 51-year-old insulator from Lakewood, Ohio who says he plays a lot of Vintage in his spare time.

Mark is a mainstay in the Ohio Vintage scene and regularly treks to the SCG circuit. To be brutally honest, Mark Trogdon has gone from scrub to expert in a relatively short amount of time. In the words of Nat Moes: Mark Trogdon is the most patient Magic player he’d ever seen. Here is an excerpt from Nat Moe’s report from this tournament on Mark Trogdon’s quarter final’s match:

By the time we started watching each player had about eight lands in play in the second game and were having the most ridiculous battles between Goblin Welders, Gorilla Shamans, Duplicants, and Solemn Simulacra. I was watching Trogdon’s hand, and I have to say that he’s probably the most patient Magic player I know. He had a Rack and Ruin in his hand for so many turns against Yang’s plethora of machinations, and he continued holding it even after Yang dropped a Mycosynth Lattice out of the sideboard with an, “I win.” Of course it wasn’t victory quite yet, it was just a wacky card choice.

Yang dropped a Null Rod next turn to lock down the board, but ran his Solemn Simulacrum into double blockers. Somehow Trogdon got two Smokestacks into play and ramped to two counters on each.

Yang bided his time, built his mana, and sacrificed his Null Rod to them. Then, with the power of Mycosynth Lattice, he played Shattering Spree for 14 targeting most of Trogdon’s board. Trogdon let the ones targeting artifacts resolve, then cast Rack and Ruin on his opponent’s Lattice and another target. When the R&R resolved and the smoke cleared, Trogdon’s lands were no longer artifacts and were spared.

That play even brought Type 4 at the next table over to a screeching halt as everyone wanted to know what was going on.

I don’t even remember what happened after that.

Game 3 should have been decided by Game of Chaos.

The point is that Mark Trogdon is a patient Magic player. He holds cards in his hand, reveals as little as possible, and knows all of the tactical plays of his deck and what it needs to do in very matchup. That isn’t to say that Mark is a great player, but he’s on the road to becoming one.

In my article on Tweaking Meandeck Gifts, I closed with a brief summary of my last match against Mark Trogdon where I took my only loss in the whole tournament. My hope was to get my revenge today.

Here is what Mark was playing:

Game 1:

I’m a little concerned because I’m on the draw. Mark has the potential to open with any number of game-breaking plays. One thing that makes Mark less scary than most players is that he doesn’t tactically mulligan. I’ve only seen him mulligan in circumstances in which he must. He tends to begin is evaluation of his hands with what he’s got and not what he could have. This is a crucial skill in Vintage and one that probably keeps Mark from having a better edge in this matchup.

My opening hand is:

Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Fact or Fiction
Chain of Vapor
Mana Drain

Mark, however, opens with the threat-less Mountain, go.

I play a Polluted Delta and pass. So long as I can get to my second land drop without anything too dangerous happening, I’ll feel comfortable. I’ll have Mana Drain mana online and Mark will be forced to play into it at some point.

Mark plays a Goblin Welder. I have no qualms with this guy at the moment. He resolves. Mark then plays a Barbarian Ring and passes the turn.

On his end step, I break a Delta and play Brainstorm. I put back the Misdirection and fix up my hand a little more.

I break the fetchland and then take my turn. I draw a fresh card and play another land and a Mox and pass the turn.

Turn 3

Mark untaps. He plays a Mishra’s Workshop and thinks. He doesn’t want to play into a Mana Drain. He passes the turn. On his end step, I play Fact or Fiction. He splits my Fact into two piles:

Hurkyl’s Recall

… and…

Merchant Scroll

I am tempted to take the large pile. I don’t need the Scroll right now, but the problem is that if I take the larger pile, I’ll likely have to discard two cards and at least one at the end of my next turn’s draw step. I take the Scroll.

I untap and play Scroll for Ancestral Recall.

Turn 4

Mark amazingly makes no other plays – he plays another Workshop and passes yet again. At this point, I decide to end the game. My Ancestral yields the way to find Yawgmoth’s Will. I untap, Chain of Vapor some Moxen, Yawgmoth’s Will, reply the Chain, and Tendrils-kill Mark.

Game 2:

My memory of this game is a little bit sketchy, but I can give you a sense of what happened.

Mark opened with Sphere of Resistance and a Mox off of a Mishra’s Workshop. I felt the squeeze. I played Volcanic Islands that I had drawn in the hopes that he wouldn’t be able to Wasteland me out of the game. He played Goblin Welder within a few turns and commenced his beatdown.

In this game I played four different Merchant Scrolls. They were absolutely critical, acting like Blue Demonic Tutors. I can’t recall what the first one found, but it was probably Ancestral. The second Scroll found either a Mana Drain or a Force of Will.

I attempted to stop a Gorilla Shaman, but my counterspell was met by a Red Elemental Blast. His Shaman slowly ate what I had put on the board, leaving me with something like Volcanic Island, Volcanic Island, Island, Island, and a tapped Mana Vault. Each Scroll cost me three.

However, my third and game-turning Scroll was for Fire / Ice.

The turn before I was about to play Fire / Ice, he cut me off of my fourth mana via Wasteland, which cut me off of the Tinker that was in my hand. Nonetheless, I Fired his creatures in a devastating two-for-one that pacified his board. Mark began using a Bazaar to dig for answer, yielding none. In the turn following my Fire, I topdecked the land I needed to play Tinker.

Mark had one card in hand. He would have this next turn to find an answer or forever hold his peace. He would get his draw step and then one use out of his Bazaar – seeing three cards. To no avail. Mark passed.

I swung for 11 and Scrolled up a Force of Will, confident that Mark was locked out of the game. This match was over.

Round 5: Intentional Draw

Quarter-Finals: Jimmy McCarthy, with Food Chain Goblins

This match was a speedier version of my swiss round against Jimmy, except that I Tendrils-killed Jimmy in both games.

In a very unusual coincidence and ironic twist, Top 4 was Joe Bushman, JR Goldman, and Mark Trogdon – my swiss round opponents. Joe and I were slated to play in the semis, with the winner of the Trogdon and Goldman match. Unfortunately, Top 8 matches – especially as you approach the Top 4, become extremely intense. It is not unusual for them to last upwards of ninety minutes. After the quarter-finals concluded, it was almost a quarter to 7 (pm, obviously). Rather than play three or more hours of grueling Magic, the Top 4 settled on a prize split that left my Sunday evening intact.

In the end I learned a number of important lessons. Wipe Away was a card that upturned my match against JR. Yet my own Wipe Away was never used. The presence of Wipe Away in my own deck in lieu of Chain of Vapor or Hurkyl’s Recall was instead a liability. I often ached for that single bounce spell to make my Tendrils kill so much easier. I don’t think that Wipe Away will remain in my board. Even more so, I don’t think I’ll go into a control mirror post-board without a bounce spell that I can use to generate Storm. This deck appears to be vulnerable to Split Second answers. Depending on how widespread their usage and tactically efficient they prove to be, I may need proactive solutions.

I would praise Split Second if I thought that it had a tendency to reward better play. But I think what it does is tend to make Vintage Magic even more chaotic. That isn’t to say that Split Second cards are a bad thing. I don’t think that at all. I think they are a neutral thing, neither bad nor good, but their end effect will be to increase the complexity of Vintage. The decks that are vulnerable to Wipe Away and Trickbind will have to 1) guess whether their opponents are likely to run them in deciding whether to add solutions to them (like Duress or alternative win conditions) to the sideboard, 2) guess whether an opponent in fact has one in their deck or sideboard in an actual match, and 3) decide even if their opponent does probably have Split Second in their deck whether in a particular game state they have one in their hand. Imagine your opponent has six cards in hand, a Mox and an Island up (having had one turn) and you are about to Tendrils kill your opponent on your second turn with Force of Will backup. Should you assume that your opponent may have Trickbind? Or should you cash in your chips and go for the kill? In that way, Split Second makes Vintage even more guesswork than it already is.

Split Second, I think, best reveals the chaos occurring in top level Vintage Magic. Top level Vintage Magic is a tactical mess. Answers beget answers beget answers. There are so many efficient and useful solutions to almost any situation that if you can anticipate the problem, you can find a solution to that solution. And I’m not even necessarily talking about more cards, but playing differently. The answer to an early Jotun Grunt isn’t necessarily to try and win sooner, but to try and starve the beast. It all depends upon so many unknown factors:

Will your opponent be filling their own yard?
Will your opponent be playing more threats quickly?
Can you stop other threats without filling your own yard?
How fast can you win and through how much resistance?

The answers to these questions are not clear. It is almost always educated but haphazard guesswork. Your opponent’s hand affects so much of the tactical decision-making that it is almost impossible to contextually plan. You have to adjust during the course of the game. Sideboarding is now an extreme hazard. Since so little remains static a sideboard plan pursued against a sea of changes circumstances will fail to defend against an opponents countermeasures. Cards like Pithing Needle can single-handedly deal with a wide swath of cards like Bazaar of Baghdad and Goblin Welder in the UbaStax match. Yet, a more traditional Workshop draw may moot the power of such a card. So much depends upon what your opponent draws, what they are trying to do, and the decisions they make. If they have Shamans or Viashino Heretics they may tactically respond to your solution. If they have them but fail to draw them, they could sit there helpless as you build and secure your position.

Complicating the picture even further is the value and utility of testing and preparation. The assumption behind testing is that you will be better prepared to tactically respond to obstacles through the use of answers developed in testing or by having a frame of reference (pattern recognition) with which to evaluate a given board state. The problem is that testing no longer (and arguably never – but much less so than in a more dynamic metagame) operates on an objective scale – the more you test the better off you are. The fact is that so much depends on where your opponent is both knowledge-wise and experience-wise. If your testing is far more advanced than your opponents, you will very easily over-think yourself assuming that your opponent knows even a fraction of what you know. Such mistakes lead to game losses that shatter confidence and leave one wondering what all their effort was worth. I could imagine, for example, an entire game needless played around Trickbind – an easy turn 2 kill that becomes a failed turn 5 attempted kill.

At a certain level, Vintage becomes an untenable balance of guesswork, probability, and intuition. That’s why, to a certain extent, it’s simply better to follow Pat Chapin’s rule: let your opponents screw up. Let them fall on their own sword. You go in and clean up the mess. When your opponent’s stop messing up, then you’ll have to make adjustments. Otherwise you’ll drive yourself mad.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian