Deconstructing Constructed – Stratfordbury: What to Expect

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Taking a step back from Extended, I’ve decided to delve into what I’m looking forward to seeing at the next major Vintage tournament, held in a week in Stratford, CT. To that end, I’m going over most of the major archetypes, looking at where they are now and how they’ll be looking at the tournament itself.

Taking a step back from Extended, I’ve decided to delve into what I’m looking forward to seeing at the next major Vintage tournament, held in a week in Stratford, CT. To that end, I’m going over most of the major archetypes, looking at where they are now and how they’ll be looking at the tournament itself.

The king, he has no clothes! There has been quite a large backlash against GAT, and it has finally started to show in tournament results. Steve has already written a small library of articles on the deck, so I won’t bother rehashing what has already been covered most thoroughly. I’ll simply point out that many Shop decks are still aiming directly at GAT, and many other decks like Fish, Goblins, and Bomberman will have most likely been metagamed for the number of skilled GAT players in the area.

One of the key changes we’ve started to see in GAT builds is the switch to large single-shot creatures like Tarmogoyf and Psychatog versus incremental creatures such as Quirion Dryad. In the face of Spheres and Blood Moon in increasing numbers, this is a logical switch as the former two monsters require much less set-up than Dryad to deal significant damage. Trygon Predator is also another creature that gets very little respect, but absolutely decimates Shop decks if it gets into play.

Anyway, the basic point is GAT is no longer the clear choice for a top player to bring to a tournament. If you do want to play the deck, I suggest making the manabase as stable as possible by keeping the total number of colors down and the number of basics high. In addition, the sideboard should most likely be consistent with on-color hosers such as Energy Flux, Oxidize, Blue Elemental Blast, Propaganda, and other such cards to minimize the splash damage of the high degree of mana denial being used.

Workshops have returned in force over the past 4 months or so, largely due to the resurgence of GAT, but also because Thorn of Amethyst provided a huge boost to the archetype. Although it took a little time, the obvious power of having 9 Spheres available on turn 1 has finally broken out. The non-creature clause of Thorn also bodes well for Workshop Aggro which many Workshop decks have now turned to. Being able to play Thorn off Ancient Tomb or Mishra’s Workshop and then following up with a Karn, Silver Golem or Arcbound Ravager is a strong play that isn’t easily disabled by Force of Will or Wasteland in the intermittent turn.

In fact, Smokestack itself has fallen out of favor in many builds for the increased pressure of Triskelion, Razormane Masticore, Karn, Arcbound Ravager, and even the old favorite of Juggernaut. Simply put, a dead opponent is a better goal than a crippled one, like the plans older Stax decks were molded to accomplish. At the moment the established lock pieces seem to be Chalice of the Void, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn, and Trinisphere for stack control, while Crucible of Worlds support Strips, and Tangle Wire buys more time for Metalworker or aggressive creatures to do their work.

The best example of a MUD deck would be David Beduzzi’s winning MUD deck from the MTG Gamblers Valencia back in December.

In large part, many of the MUD variants of recent have been based off this build or an off-shoot thereof. You need to be prepared for Shop decks like these and other variations if you expect to do well at Waterbury. This means devoting a significant sideboard to beating these decks if you don’t have a naturally good match-up against them (and unless that deck happens to be Oath or Dawn of the Dead, you probably don’t). Cards like Kataki, Energy Flux, and Ingot Chewer all help, but aren’t sure bets because of the sideboard utility the deck has. Eon Hub is a biggie that more people are starting to adapt, since it can hit play on turn 2 and trumps many of the cards the deck has issues with. The multiple Spheres and Chalice of the Void also present an imposing wall in front of Ancient Grudge or Hurkyll’s Recall as possible answers to the deck.

Also, if you plan on running a variant of this deck, I would highly suggest having a full set of Duplicant between the main and sideboard. There’s a huge amount of creatures floating around, many of them as big or bigger than the men in this deck, and being able to remove a Karn or Darksteel Colossus from the game is always a huge boon. I expect a lot of people to show up with plans against this and the Red Shop Aggro that just aren’t comprehensive enough or rely on seeing one of four or five cards to win the game.

Red MWS Aggro
In essence, these decks are similar to the aforementioned MUD deck, but put greater emphasis on messing with your lands by running Magus of the Moon and possibly Blood Moon. They also gain a direct Mox killer in Gorilla Shaman if they choose to run it, and Viashino Heretic is still ridiculous in the artifact mirror match. If Welder or Heretic are left unanswered, the game will most likely be over in a turn or two, which is why the Red decks tend to have a slight advantage even though they lose Metalworker brokenness. Against normal aggro, although they have more random 2/2 dorks than Metalworker variants; they also can easily run removal like Pyroclasm or Pyrokinesis to take care of swarms.

Rich Shay has said on numerous occasions the Red MWS match is incredibly difficult for even a prepared GAT player to beat simply because of the number of weapons they have against that strategy. Blood Moon effects can totally kill the combo aspects of the deck, while Spheres make any aggressive strategy much slower. In addition, even Tarmogoyf usually flees in terror at the sight of Razormane Masticore or Triskelion, usually being able to trade at the very best.

The main drawback this variant has over the mono-brown version is the lack of Metalworker and additional two-mana producing lands, reducing the number of outright broken starts the deck can achieve. As a result of the color commitments, it also doesn’t have room for man-lands like Mishra’s Factory or Blinkmoth Nexus which can come in handy for extra beats, a handy Sword of Fire and Ice equip plus swing or collecting Ravager tokens.

In the past month or so, Bomberman has really picked up steam in the results department. A number of the New England tournaments have seen Top 8 finishes by Bomberman decks and even locally in California the deck has done well in the face of Shops and Ponder Long combo. The basic premise of the deck has never changed, Plan A is to combo out with Auriok Salvagers, Black Lotus, and Aether Spellbomb. Plan B is to beat down with many two-power guys, which seems weak, but gets you there about half the time anyway because of the utility they can produce. The deck is a well-rounded aggro-control-combo deck in the same vein as a less broken GAT.

The advantages to playing this deck over GAT is the very stable manabase, inability to be hated out in any significant way, and the reaming you give certain decks like Ichorid and Fish due to the unique configuration of the deck with graveyard hate, Pithing Needle, a combo win and counters.

The following is Oliver Beaumont’s Bomberman decklist which won ELD’s most recent Mox tournament.

Extirpate is an adorable maindeck addition that can really screw up GAT combo turns, Ichorid, Ponder Long in certain situations involving Yawgmoth’s Will, and any sort of card-disadvantage tutor set-up. Ponder is another choice I like, because a deck like this really benefits from the cycling since it can flexibly answer a number of issues present by opponents. The only true weakness is the fact that it can’t go broken on a consistent basis, the utility and answers actually take up too much room to consistently find the combo which can be a very large issue when playing against a deck that just wants to crush you on turn 2 or 3 like Flash or Ponder Long.

Although coming up with a specific plan against this deck isn’t really advisable, I’d suggest having tested against it enough to feel comfortable. Otherwise you could find yourself making sub-optimal decisions playing against one angle of the deck the opponent wasn’t even trying to use and not realizing it until you’ve already lost.

Fish variants have been picking up popularity and solid finishes in power tournaments in the general area around Stratford. In large part many Fish decks have moved to a UWB configuration to best take advantage of Dark Confidant, Jotun Grunt, Meddling Mage, and the normal swath of utility and counters run in the deck. Although I much prefer Bomberman over Fish, this type of aggro-control deck will likely be in Vintage for as long as the format exists. UW Fish is likely the second most popular variant, and has a heavier mana-denial component than the format. It also runs more answers against MWS aggro decks in Kataki, War’s Wage; Energy Flux; Disenchant; and Null Rod (at least in the European builds).

Never underestimate the little buggers, as every time they seem to be replaced for a few months, new versions tend to pop up to beat the metagame. At the moment I wouldn’t be surprised if Vial Fish came back due to the large number of Shops floating around.

Still a valid option, but scary for such a long tournament. Once again you’ll be playing statistics with your tournament and in large part the games that you will have control over will be games two and three, so be very well acquainted with your sideboarding and post-board play. Tommy Kolowith also recently did well with, what I’ve been told anyway, amounts to an Extended Dredge deck with modifications for Vintage like Moxen, Ancestral Recall, Bazaar, etc. The main thing though is the maindeck mana and use of Breakthrough and Careful Study. Without the decklist though I can’t offer any more information about the deck, my only remaining suggestion is simply to not forget about the deck. Also remember that Offalsnout is another very good answer against Ichorid, because it’ll rarely be named by Cabal Therapy, remove Bridges and hit any possible Dread Return targets like Angel of Despair or Cephalid Sage.

Silly aggro decks like G/R, Dawn of the Dead and other such confections will likely be running around. Ponder Long is also something I mentioned, but didn’t go into much detail about. This is largely because the number of Long decks seem to of decreased in the recent months, so the odds of them being a factor go down quite a bit. Oath always shows up, so if anyone is surprised when that comes, you’ll deserve to lose to it.

As for what I’d end up playing…

At the moment Earwig Squad enjoys a nice overhype in formats like Standard and Extended, where people actually think the Jester Cap effect matters outside of a few matches and 5/3 guys are really good. I think it’s passable in Extended, but things change dramatically in Vintage. For one you can consistently hit Squad turn two by playing a one drop and powering the Squad out with artifact mana. The reason for the full set is that Earwig Squad does two important things.

1. The Squad gives you a very good out to decks like Oath and Ponder Long. In these matches you’d have no real chance against them without major changes to the maindeck. Instead you now have a decent chance of getting out turn 2 Earwig Squad and just removing all of the opponent’s win conditions from the game. Even in matches where it isn’t a game win, removing the capability for a GAT deck to ‘combo out’ or the Bridge from Below in Ichorid, Auriok Salvagers from Bomberman, etc. you can do a lot of damage to the finely crafted Vintage decks with a turn 2 Cap effect followed up by a fast clock.

2. A 5/3 on turn 2 in Vintage is still pretty good against a lot of decks. It may not strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but you can pretty consistently destroy Tarmogoyf, Juggernaut and a number of other smaller creatures that cost less than 6 mana. In the framework of the deck itself, you have enough ways to get damage through and never pay full retail price for the Squad that the five mana hard-cost isn’t just an albatross around your neck.

For the maindeck I feel comfortable with it, although I’m unsure if off-color Moxen wouldn’t be better than Aether Vial. Vial is better with the normal Goblins plan, but you already have so many good early drops against Workshops and Mana Drain that it may be overkill to keep them in. The sideboard needs tweaking for what you expect to face, as Pyrokinesis is still good as well as Artifact Mutation. Grip is there to deal Oath of Druids specifically, as you can hit it through Force of Will before they have a chance to Oath.

Hopefully this gives you some idea of what to expect for those showing up to the big dance. Good luck to those racking away at Extended PTQs, and I’ll see you next week.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom