Chatting With The Champ: Paul Mastriano

Brian talks with NYSE Vintage Champion Paul Mastriano about the deck he played to win the tournament last weekend and the current Vintage metagame.

Hello and welcome back! Today I am going to be talking with last weekend’s NYSE Vintage Champion Paul Mastriano.

First off, congratulations on your recent success in New York and taking home the Black Lotus!

"A prize fit for a champion!"

This title is only the latest on your long list of accomplishments. You are one of the old-time, seasoned veterans of the Vintage scene with quite a list of accomplishments, including a Vintage Championship title with three Top 8s, the RIW Lotus P9, and several SCG Power Nine Top 8s.

In the scheme of all of the Vintage tournaments you’ve won, how does this NYSE title rank? How is this one special or different from the others?

This one ranks high because everyone was pretty serious with the high buy-in. The level of competition was very high for a Vintage event.

The NYSE Vintage Open took place two weekends ago and was a $100.00 cash buy-in ten-proxy Vintage tournament with a pretty fantastic prize payout. Each player who made Top 8 got a piece of Power Nine, with first prize obviously the most powerful of the power in Black Lotus. Is there a big difference between a tournament that has a $100 buy-in as compared to more traditional events that have a smaller entry fee but a smaller prize purse?

I think so—the players’ expectations, the seriousness of what people are doing, and also the fact that players bring out the deck they are most experienced with. For instance, Justin Kohler was on Bomberman, Raph Forino was obviously on Workshop, Mark Hornung was on Dredge, and Smennen was on combo. People didn’t have decks they slammed together at the last minute or brews, which is something I think people do a lot of for smaller events.

Did you anticipate this going in or was this something you learned after the fact? How did the high entry fee influence your deck decision for the tournament?

It didn’t affect my deck choice. I knew my deck was good because I’d played with it a couple of weeks before and not much had really changed since then. If I didn’t think I had a good deck, I might not have even played!

Let’s talk about the deck that you piloted at the NYSE Vintage Open.

It seems to have many similarities to a Grixis Control deck, yet there is one pretty big difference—it swaps out a red for white and is an Esper deck! Why white instead of Red, and how did you reach arrive at this conclusion?

I really wanted to play Swords to Plowshares because it is good against everything that is scary. It’s really good against Workshop and Fish decks.

Rest in Peace is also a bonus! But for the most part I wanted Swords to Plowshares; it’s just the best removal in the format.

"Two good reasons to play Esper."

Can you tell the people out there a little bit about how your deck works and what it is trying to do?

Yeah. I basically look at my hand and figure out how fast I can get the Time Vault combo; if that doesn’t seem possible, I figure out how fast can I get Tinker off; and if that isn’t possible, I figure out how long can I hold them off while I try to draw into a combo.

If you can combo, that is plan A, and if you can’t, you try to buy more time and draw cards.

How is your Workshop matchup?

The Shop matchup is ok. They can get broken openings that are hard to beat. I lost a game where my opponent played turn 1one Trinisphere and turn 2 Smokestack. I have a lot of cards in the sideboard to shore it up.

Speaking of Workshop, only one Workshop deck made the Top 8 at the NYSE Open, and it was a very nonconventional Workshop deck at that. It was playing Skullclamp, Genesis Chamber, and Arcbound Ravager!

You actually got to face off against this deck in the Top 8 and defeated it.

Do you think Workshop is on the downslide, or was it for some reason just not a good event for Workshops? What is your take on the Ravager deck and the apparent decline of Shop recently?

I do think Workshop is on a bit of a downslide, but only because it couldn’t go any higher than it was. It was everywhere and winning, and basically everybody had to adjust. Does that make sense?

(Makes sense to me.)

Shop was so good that it got hated out a lot. Even the Workshop decks themselves began to become inbred to beat other Shop decks. The metagame will fluctuate that way. Workshop was just so good that it was impossible to stay at that level.

I played against Affinity Robots, and I thought that deck was really cool. It was very fast, and I’m probably lucky to have beaten it. The two games that I won I don’t think he had very good hands. He didn’t see Skullclamp against me, and that is probably one of the best cards in his deck. I’m not sure I can beat a Skullclamp if it resolves and gets going.

The whole tournament people were saying "can you believe this Affinity guy!" almost like the deck was a joke, but after rounds 3, 4, 5 when he was still undefeated, people didn’t think it was a very funny joke anymore! The deck crushed in this tournament!

Mana Drain decks appear to be making a push toward once again being the premier archetype in Vintage. How do you think the metagame will adjust to the predominance of Drains in the next few months? Where do we go from here?

"Back on top of the mountain."

A good question…

I am noticing the trend, but I don’t know the answer. Cavern of Souls could be bigger, and that is a really good thing to be playing against Drain decks. Pretty much any deck can run it.

As I am sure you have already heard, the Vintage Championship is no longer going to be held at Gen Con and is instead going to be out East. Is it the end of an era? What impact do you think this change of venue will have upon the tournament? Will it affect the metagame?

I think it will definitely affect the metagame because it will be heavily influenced by the Philadelphia metagame, but I am sure people will still travel.

As far as being the end of an era, I don’t know. For all I know, it could go back to Gen Con next year. I know it will be handled well, and I have noticed a lot of the players out here have gotten more interested in acquiring Power for the event, which is awesome. It has really invigorated the scene.

There are some pretty significant rules changes coming with M14, most notably for Vintage the legend rule aka the Jace rule. How will both players being able to have an active Jace at the same time change some of the fundamental interaction in Vintage? Do you think Jace is just going to take over? Do creatures that can attack Jace get better? What is your take on how this change might theoretically impact Vintage?

"Vintage is Jace’s format; we just play in it."

Ha, all of that stuff! Now people are incentivized to run all four Jace, the Mind Sculptors. Having a way to kill opposing Jaces is going to be more important. Vendilion Clique gets much better. The Restoration Angel guys may have been a few weeks early even.

Blue Angels was another breakout deck at NYSE, ultimately putting two players into the Top 8. The deck is kind of like Bomberman but foregoes the traditional Auriok Salvagers combo kill for a more aggro plan of blinking Vendilion Cliques and Trinket Mages.

Is this deck the real thing, or is it more of a metagame deck for this particular tournament?

Seems like a good idea to me. The more emphasis on Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Vintage, the better that Restoration Angel becomes. Resto is really good at killing opposing Jaces, and you never want them to have that guy for very long.

I agree that the Salvagers combo is not what makes the deck good and isn’t really needed. Catching people by surprise with Restoration Angel as a blocker seems pretty good and probably had a lot of value! In Vintage, you really do get rewarded for innovating, and this was a good idea.

The deck that you played looks a lot like a mid-2000’s style combo control deck in that it plays a lot of draw, a lot of permission, and all of the most powerful U/B broken cards. Your forte has always been various Yawgmoth’s Will good stuff decks.

Is there ever really a time when playing U/B Will is bad!? (Laughs.) Or is it just a matter of finely tuning the other 73 cards that one wants to play alongside Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will?

Finding the cards to play with Will and Tinker is the trick.

This isn’t very different from other decks I’ve played since the beginning of time. It’s how I like to win: I Tinker you; if that doesn’t work, I Time Vault; and if that isn’t enough, I Yawgmoth’s Will and do both! Playing all the best cards will always be a good strategy in Vintage.

You’ve had a pretty exciting year and have gotten to play a lot of Vintage and a lot of different decks, including Bant Midrange, Workshop, Burning Tendrils, Bomberman, and Landstill. What made you finally decide to come full circle and play a more old school style deck?

I tried Bomberman and it got me a Top 8, but I didn’t like the way it won. I was doing a lot of good control stuff but felt I could have won so much more easily if I had better draw and better win conditions. Dark Confidant is such an edge in the control mirror.

Somebody built a Mana Drain deck (Bomberman) to beat Workshop, and I just tweaked it to also win control mirrors.

How much preparation do you put in for a tournament like NYSE? How did you get ready for this event?

I practiced with my friend Ryan and played in a lot of small tournaments leading up to it. I played the Esper deck in two events leading up to NYSE.

There is nothing better than playing tournaments for skilling up with a deck.

What are you going to play in your next tournament?

I don’t know. I kind of want to try out the Affinity deck to be honest!

Anything else you want to say to the readers out there?

NYSE was a really sweet event, and it seemed like everybody had an excellent time.

You especially!

Thanks, Paul, for taking the time to share your deck and your Vintage insights with the readers and me today. Always good stuff.

Also thanks to the readers for tuning in! I hope you all enjoyed this discussion with Paul Mastriano, NYSE Vintage Open Champion.

Brian DeMars