Chatter of the Squirrel – Standard and Vintage

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Wednesday, September 17th – I know that, in Vintage, you’ve got a two-mana combo that can win you the game at instant speed. I’ve got another two-mana combo for you. It may not win you the game… but it does add 15 to your mana pool, allow you to exchange life for mana on a one-to-one basis, and draw you seven cards. It can’t be that hard to win from there, can it?

There are, I imagine, easier times to write creatively. A personal inspiration to me, probably the single greatest influence not only on my prose style but on my intellectual outlook and my perception of the world around me, has committed suicide at the age of forty-six. David Foster Wallace, the plainly-evident genius author of Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System, and a host of other short fiction and nonfiction covering everything from tennis tournaments to cruise ships to lobster fishing to John McCain, will never again put pen to paper, and I’m still coping with how to handle all of this.

To understand the impact of Wallace’s suicide, you must realize that here was a man possessed neither by the plainly-evident destructive melancholy of a Cobain nor the obsessive, all-consuming mania of a Hughes-fueled desperate Plath. Rather, you have yourself a crusader against the omnipresence of irony and multimedia entertainment, a purveyor of beauty and truth who cautioned us not to be blinded by the distorting lens of post-modern cynicism, the eschatological tendency to view everything through a veil of emotive detachment. Wallace, despite the irony, despite an acute realism and surrealism, despite a haphazard prosodic confetti that itself conceived of entirely new avenues into which to dive tangentially, was above all else a voice of hope, of honesty, of positivism. For such a voice to succumb to such a temptation does nothing less than invert the skies.

But, as I have been reminded, this is a Magic website. Thus the staccato camouflage of the foreign conversation next to me, the commiserate ISA crackdown of a host of prominent Malaysian journalists, the pending announcement tomorrow by Anwar Ibrahim promising nothing less than a new ruling party for the first time in fifty years, the smells and sights and sounds and the wet omniscient humidity and the irregular vapid skyline and the tin-roof huts and the glass-window skyscrapers and a little noodle shop next to CCE Games where I eat Mee Goreng twice a week while its Chinese shopkeep begs me to try the chicken – all of these are subjects for another time, another place perhaps, and so today we move to Tech, capital T, and for me some entirely new territory – but the trail blazing comes later.

First, my Standard list. I know people are sick of Five-Color Control, which is why this isn’t the main subject of my article. Still, this list has carried me to multiple tournament wins without yet losing a single game. I caution everyone not to view every list containing Vivid-lands as some kind of monolithic archetype, though. Kitchen Finks and Mulldrifters change everything – in my opinion, for the worst – and this deck, though it’s been at most five cards off from GerryT and Luis’ starting 60 at any given point, owes much much more to Block Constructed Teachings than it does to Quick n’Toast.

I found that against Red Decks specifically I was having to play more of a Tap-out Control game with an Oona or, worse, a Thresher, because I was sitting on a finite number of Cryptic Commands. I could only say “no” so many times, and there were long games I was losing due to drawing the wrong card at the wrong time and having no means of controlling the threat density of my deck. I was finding myself under pressure to kill the opponent – a situation that a deck like this should never really be needing to deal with. Even winning with an Urza’s Factory could be problematic if it was deep enough into the deck. Thus adding the Blessings – you are already running Careful Consideration – to ensure that you were cementing inevitability every stable turn of the game. This had the side effect of giving the deck (roughly) one extra land, which I found it wanted even if it didn’t need it, and providing some incidental graveyard “hate” against a deck like Reveillark (hitting a Mulldrifter after they evoke one on turn 4 adds a surprising amount of value to the next several turns, especially if you’re holding a Rune Snag).

I changed up the manabase a little. I found it wanted Green Vivid lands to cast a Wall in the early turns. Meanwhile, one of the Yavimaya Coasts could become a Flooded Grove to convert some of that Wall mana into Cryptic Command, without losing Cloudthresher flexibility, which was also important because you never really want to take more than one damage from your Coasts over the course of the game. Only three Groves were necessary because it’s by far the worst Vivid to draw in multiples, even if one copy is outstanding. To accommodate the loss of three Meadows, I replaced a Dreadship Reef with a Calciform Pools just to ensure that Runed Halo always happened, because I found the Black mana was almost always around if you needed it.

Sideboard-wise, I found that Counterbore was excellent Demigod insurance, and was also an outstanding trump to Flame Javelin. Hitting either of these cards cuts down on the range of the Red Deck substantially, and even though it’s a five-mana spell you almost always have the time to cast it. It’s also probably the best card to search up from a neutral board position without another counterspell in your hand, since frequently the single random card from a Cryptic Command is less valuable than the long-term strategic advantage you gain from removing four of the most important threats in the opponent’s deck.

Pull from Eternity and Imp’s Mischief were both weapons against Ancestral Visions. I found it very difficult to win a fight over that spell, and I was losing games because sometimes Faeries was out-controlling me. It wasn’t the first Visions that did it; it was Visions into Visions and all of the sudden they had access to more counterspells than I did. Pull meanwhile trumps the mirror’s Detritivore plan, and Mischief hits the Haunting Hymn plan while proving useful against countermagic and Swans’ Thoughtseizes. The rest of the cards should be relatively self-explanatory.

So, my second idea…

I know that in Vintage — a format which I used to play avidly, but have dropped away from in recent years – you’ve got a two-mana combo that can win you the game at instant speed. One of the components is restricted, though, and many of the tutors for it are also restricted. It also occupies a good deal of space inside your deck. I’ve got another two-mana combo for you, one I’ve been mulling over on the LRT for a while now. It may not win you the game… but it does add 15 to your mana pool, allow you to exchange life for mana on a one-to-one basis, and draw you seven cards. It can’t be that hard to win from there, can it? Moreover, one of the best means of tutoring up this combo, as of October 1, becomes unrestricted.

The combo? Channel plus Lich’s Mirror.

Yep, it works that way.

The great thing is that you have so many ways to draw your Channel, protect it, and force through a win out of the mirror.

As for tutoring, assuming you always plan to Channel on the second turn, you have 1 Vampiric Tutor, 1 Mystical Tutor, 4 Personal Tutors, 1 Imperial Seal, 1 Demonic Tutor, and the Channel itself to draw into. This is in addition to whatever normal card-drawing you’d normally play.

Of course, you have to protect the thing. Fortunately, you’ve got some excellent synergy between Pact of Negation and Lich’s Mirror (assuming you can sneak it into play off an Academy or some regular fast mana or whatever if you’re unable to combo) already, so you can squeeze in four of those, given that you don’t plan on seeing a third turn anyway and can therefore use the card aggressively. Four Force of Wills are obviously do-able as well, given this is Vintage, and also serve to remove extraneous cards once you’re comboing off chaining Mirrors – after all, it’s the colored mana that is your limiting factor. Misdirection can also serve this function if you need it to. Duress/Thoughtseize are not ideal, given that they don’t fit into the turn-1-tutor-turn-2-win plan, but at least one might be able to do the job if you’ve got the requisite mana for the combo but none of the protection. Finally, depending on the ideal speed of the deck, you could position yourself as a control deck running either Counterbalance (I’m assuming Top wants a place, as I’ll explain later) or Mana Drain or both

Of course, that’s how you draw and protect the Channel. But you’ve got to find the Mirror, too. There’s some overlap, of course, but some cards would be particularly good at finding Mirror while also serving the all-important function of winning you the game once you’ve acquired an arbitrary amount of colorless mana. Mirror, too, offers a degree of protection, because assuming you fizzle for whatever reason and don’t outright lose – spending all your mana with a Divining Top, say, and just setting up some counterspells – you can eventually find Pact plus Mirror, Pact something of yours or the opponents, and start all over again from scratch once Channel is shuffled back. So I mentioned Top – a way to use an arbitrary amount of colorless, good with Shuffle lands, etc. There’s also the Planar Portal, which not only is great for finding your first Mirror (though that takes 17 life – looks like Thoughtseize is becoming less attractive) – it’s amazing post-Mirror, too, because all of the sudden you have an incredibly high density of tutors (ability on the stack, kill myself with Mirror, draw 7, and have an 8th of your choice). I don’t know that you want four of these, but they don’t seem bad, either.

Another option post-Channel is something like an Eye or Skull of Ramos to enable all of your Blue or Black spells, since the one limit you’re going to have is going to be the number of colored spells you draw. Chromatic Sphere (not Star, I don’t think – Leyline, though it’s sweet that the Mirror combo dodges Line) is also good at this, of course, but you only get one colored mana. I imagine you want Memory Jar as well. It gives the opponent an opportunity to draw more Force of Wills, of course, but that just might be a risk worth taking if you need it.

As for a kill? There are several ways you can go. If you’re comfortable with the quantity of Blue mana you can generate, something as simple as a Stroke of Genius plus Merchant Scroll might do the job. A Kaervek’s Torch could allow you a good deal better mana-leeway, but would require access to Red. Another approach entirely would be to go for the Servant/Grindstone or Voltaic Key/Time Vault kills – off colorless mana entirely! – but that requires yet another combination, though given the number of iterations you likely have access to, that may not be a big problem. Finally, if you’re sticking purely to the colorless idea, you could run a whole bunch of artifact mana beyond the usual – branching into Mana Crypt, Grim Monolith, Mana Vault, Voltaic Key even, Metalworker maybe – and just draw7 into a whole lot of Spheres/Thorns/Trinisphere and a Juggernaut, Trike, whatever. That seems bad, but it’s possible.

If I had to make a list, though, here’s what it’d be:

Channel of the Squirrel

4 Personal Tutor
1 Sundering Titan
1 Imperial Seal
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Brainstorm
1 Ponder
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Pact of Negation
4 Force of Will
2 Fabricate
1 Stroke of Genius
1 Duress
4 Lich’s Mirror
1 Memory Jar
1 Channel
3 Planar Portal
1 Tinker
1 Black Lotus
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
3 Chrome Mox
1 Eye of Ramos
1 Chromatic Sphere
3 Wooded Foothills
3 Windswept Heath
2 Tropical Island
1 Bayou
4 Gemstone Mine

I’m unsure of a few things:

1) Sundering Titan may not be necessary; it’s included as Tinker target and as something to do if you can’t Just Kill Them with a stroke.
2) Not running off-color Moxen, but Chrome Mox actually feels like kind of a beating in this list, and the only thing a free colorless mana helps with are artifact tutors and Merchant Scroll.
3) 3 Planar Portal is a bit hard-core. One ought to be another Top, or the idea might just be too cute to begin with. Plus, given that it shouldn’t be that hard to hit after a Mirror – you have 4 Mirrors, an Eye of Ramos, 3 Divining Tops, a Memory Jar, a Chromatic Sphere, and 2 Portals (after cutting one) to draw into with seven cards, so it can’t be all that challenging. That’s something for better Vintage players than myself to attempt.

Still, I think this deck could be a real contender. You’ve got all the earmarks of a powerful combo deck – a cheap engine, protection, innumerable quantities of card-draw – and it’s a perfect opportunity to take advantage of powerful unrestricted cards. What do you guys think? Has someone beaten me to this idea already? Are there any obviously powerful spells that I’m missing? Please, do let me know.

Until then, I’m excited by the possibilities.

Sampai nanti!