Word was sent out that RIW, locating in Livonia, Michigan, was going to hold a Black Lotus tournament to celebrate its ninth anniversary. Coincidentally, this was the first weekend in some time that I was free to travel to attend a Magical tournament. On Saturday I drove up to Toledo, met Paul Mastriano, and we trekked the remainder of the journey to Detroit. We arrived just in time to watch the semi-finals and finals of the Michigan State Championship match — a fun Flare versus Glare match (I think that’s what those decks are called). We headed back to Brian DeMars place, played some Type Four – I fell asleep in the middle of the game – and readied ourselves for a great tournament.
We arrived at the tournament site (a nice venue) and registered our decks. Here is what I played:
- 1 Tendrils of Agony
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Mana Drain
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 4 Gifts Ungiven
- 4 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Chain of Vapor
- 2 Misdirection
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Rebuild
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Recoup
- 1 Lotus Petal
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
The astute among you will notice some subtle shifts in the configuration. They all deserve explanation, but it will better serve this article if I discuss those changes at the end rather than at the beginning – there will be a fuller analysis based upon the tournament experience of the day.
46 players meant six rounds of swiss and a cut to the Top 8.
I didn’t notice it at the time, but I didn’t experience my usual first round jitters. I generally get really nervous before any tournament. It takes my first win to calm the nerves. I was completely relaxed (almost lackadaisical) when this tournament began.
Round 1: John Sonheim (sorry if I misspelled your name)
My round 1 opponent showed up about five minutes late, but this being a relatively relaxed environment, I didn’t press the issue. My opponent seemed flustered enough when he finally arrived at the table. He was still sleeving what appeared to be a Blue creature from Portal Three Kingdoms. This signaled many things, but none of which inspired fear.
If I were in a fouler mood, I might have tried to leverage his frustration to my advantage by making some comment in an attempt to get into his head. I really didn’t care that much.
I lose the die roll and he announces that he’ll keep his hand.
The obvious vulnerability of this hand is twofold. First, it has no basic lands or acceleration. Thus, it is vulnerable to Wasteland (especially if my Brainstorm doesn’t pan out). Second, it is vulnerable to any fast start because it doesn’t have Force of Will. My opponent didn’t seem that threatening, so I kept it. It’s not a bad hand, it just has particular vulnerabilities.
John plays a proxied card labeled “Lotus.” Clearly, it was one of those fabricated Black Lotus proxies. I called the judge over, who had earlier announced (perhaps while John was absent) that such proxies were not permitted. The judge confirmed what he had said earlier and instructed John to remove the card. I interjected because we had already had a late start and told the judge that he could play the card throughout this game — it didn’t bother me. I just didn’t like that the card didn’t say “Black Lotus.” After all, it could have been Lotus Petal, Lotus Bloom or whatnot. There are other Lotuses that cost zero in this format.
So, John plays Black Lotus and Wasteland. He sacrifices the Black Lotus for Standstill. Inside, I sigh to myself — knowing that this is going to be a long game. The Standstill doesn’t bother me because it means that although he has plenty of chances to wipe out my lands — the vulnerability I articulated in the evaluation of my opening hand — it also means I have time to topdeck. My intuition told me that he probably was going to start dropping manlands. But I never saw any.
I played a dual land, and he Wasted it. I played another and he Wasted that as well.
We played draw-go for about five turns. He got two more lands on the table and my hand became juiced. I drew Brainstorm, Emerald, Mana Crypt, Rebuild, and Mana Drain. Of course, I couldn’t play them because of his Standstill. I think I discarded the third Brainstorm, Rebuild, and Mana Drain. When John’s hand reached seven cards, I announced a Brainstorm in his end step.
This is how I’ve always played around Standstill. Standstill used to see quite a bit of play in Vintage. In 2004, U/R Fish was indisputably the best deck in the format and it played four Standstill to slow things down, gain card advantage, and to instill fear. The correct play against Fish was almost certainly to break the Standstill immediately. The longer the game went, the more damage that Fish would deal and the less tactical options you would have. Another deck that ran Standstill is, of course, Landstill. Against that deck, when playing Control, I would try to make sure that the Standstill wasn’t that advantageous. I did that by sitting back until the Standstill player had seven cards in hand. At that point, I would break the Standstill so that they’d have to discard at least a few cards. That’s what I did here.
John discarded some cards and then I took my first turn in which I could play spells. Critically, John discarded Darksteel Colossus.
I drew Yawgmoth’s Will on the turn. I dropped Emerald and Mana Crypt on the table. I played Brainstorm and saw an Island, Force of Will, Force of Will. I considered playing Scroll for Ancestral here, but I felt it was better to go for the kill. I Scrolled up Gifts and readied myself to inflict the lethal blow.
At this point I had to think. Tinker… did I really care? I had Gifts and Will. Having seen Darksteel Colossus, I could safely assume that this was his Tinker target of choice. I didn’t have to be too concerned about a Sundering Titan or a Mindslaver. I let it resolve, and sure enough he found the Big Robot.
Storm is 1.
I played them both. Storm is 3.
I played Rebuild. Storm 7
I replayed Jet, Sapphire, Emerald, Crypt, and Vault. UUUBG5 floating and storm 12.
I played Merchant Scroll for Mystical Tutor, tutored up Tendrils with UBG4 floating. I Brainstormed into the Tendrils. I replayed an Underground Sea from my graveyard to get the second Black mana to play Tendrils. Good game. I ended the game with double Force of Will and a Mana Drain in hand.
I thought about getting a Chain of Vapor in my Gifts at one point — only to scare him off from giving it to me in fear of my using it on his Colossus. I also considered putting Time Walk in the Gifts, but in the end, it was unnecessary. It’s best to just win, if possible.
He elects to play.
Much like the first hand, this is vulnerable to Wasteland. Nonetheless, I am on the draw and there is a chance that I’ll be able to use my Underground Sea twice even if he has a Wasteland. I decide to keep it.
My opponent plays Wasteland and passes the turn.
On the draw, I open with Mox, Sea and play Merchant Scroll. Instead of Scrolling up Ancestral Recall, I decide to find Force of Will. If he goes to Waste my Sea, he might be mana-screwing himself, but I’ll have the ability to stop any play he makes and have time to topdeck.
My opponent is surprised by my choice.
On his second turn he drops Black Lotus, which he breaks for UUU to play Merchant Scroll. Unfortunately for him, he finds and puts Ancestral Recall on the stack. I play Misdirection pitching Gifts. He predictably has Force of Will, but I’d just tutored up my own. I Force of Will his Force of Will and draw three cards. He Wastelands my Sea, but it’s too late. I drew Island and Ancestral Recall off his Ancestral Recall, mooting the need to Scroll for it.
As we filled out the match slip, my opponent remarked on how I had been so lucky in this match. On how I “topdecked” the Ancestral. I explained that I drew the Ancestral off his Ancestral, as if there was a relevant difference between the two. He thought I was quite fortunate to have drawn “the nuts.”
Looking back on my hands they seem either mediocre or weak. Against skilled opponents, my hands wouldn’t perform very well — particularly against a good Fish or Stax player. I would have been eaten alive.
I had to reply that it was he, not me, who had drawn Black Lotus in his opening hand in both games.
It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how inexperienced, opponents always tend to overestimate how strong they are. They exude confidence in the face of tall adversity. This is often a beneficial trait I suppose, but a little bit of humility once in a while would be refreshing. Vintage is unpredictable as well as enormously complicated.
My opponent then said something like “Well, I know you are a good player but… I didn’t expect you to Merchant Scroll for Force of Will. I thought you were going to find Ancestral so I could Scroll for my own Misdirection.”
Most people make that mistake and assume that Scroll only finds Ancestral. Some go so far as to write that on the Scroll.
Merchant Scroll is my All Star card. It is enormously flexible. I can find virtually any card in my deck via Scroll itself, or tutor chaining with Mystical Tutor found by Scroll. Scroll for Force of Will is one of the most critical plays this deck can make.
Round 2: Jeremy with Madness
Midway through registration Jeremy had dropped a Daze out of his deck near the judge’s table. Consequently, when I sat down across from him in round 2, I assumed was playing against some aggro-control variant.
Jeremy wins the die roll and elects to play.
My opening hand is:
I can’t complain about this hand. Since I’m on the draw, this hand is only going gain power because any draw will likely be a Blue spell.
Jeremy opens the game with:
I play Island, Pearl and pass the turn.
Jeremy plays Mishra’s Factory. He attacks me with the Mongoose. I go to notate a change of life to take a point of damage and Jeremy stops me. He clarifies that I do not declare any blockers. I’m a bit puzzled by this, but it becomes clear when he uses Ninjitsu and puts Ninja of Deep Hours into play. Aha! I take two damage and he draws a card.
Now I have to think. I’m looking at his hand. Should I go for the kill? I weigh the risks.
I can Mystical for Tinker right now. Unless he has a bounce spell and a counterspell, I’m going to win. On the other hand, it might be safer to just get Ancestral and set up a game winning Gifts into Yawgmoth’s Will into Tendrils. If he manages to bounce my Colossus, I’m sure to lose since he’ll have men on the board to run me over before I can recover. On the other hand, he could always have cards like Null Rod to stop my path to Tendrils. And in any case, he’s drawing more cards with Ninja if I don’t get Colossus now. Plus, I’ve never seen Madness decks full of bounce. I’ll bet he has one bounce spell in there somewhere, but probably not in hand.
Jeremy plays a Flooded Strand and finds another Tropical Island. He plays Brainstorm and then Wild Mongrel. Wild Mongrel is a very strong card. If he can remove the Colossus I’m sure he can win quickly.
Fortunately, this becomes a moot issue.
I untap and draw my own Brainstorm. I debate whether to Brainstorm or not. I realize there is an outside chance I’ll find Time Walk. I try anyway. I Brainstorm into Demonic Tutor, Mana Crypt. I play the Mana, and the Delta fetching Underground Sea. I play Demonic Tutor for Time Walk and play it. I attack and then untap and attack again.
Jeremy played no disruption that game. I anticipated that game 2 would be different.
My opening hand was:
Jeremy opened with the same opening as last game:
I draw a Brainstorm. I played Island, Ruby, Brainstorm seeing Scroll, Force of Will, and Force of Will number 3 but no lands. I’m going to need to Scroll next turn for Ancestral and hope that I’m still alive by the time I resolve it. I’ll need to leverage my Pitch Magic to survive until then.
Root Maze would slow me down enormously. It would effectively cut me out of being able to utilize the Yawgmoth’s Will into Tendrils kill because all of the Moxen from my graveyard would come into play tapped. It would also put my Colossus into play tapped, as well as all mana. I Force of Will the Root Maze pitching Brainstorm (according to my notes).
The Null Rod is very strong. It doesn’t cut me off of Tinkering for Colossus, but it slows down my ability to find Colossus and generally resist his threats. With Tinker nowhere in sight, I need to Force the Rod to keep my strategic options available.
I resolve Ancestral and play a land. I think I also play another Scroll for Gifts Ungiven.
I don’t remember what happens here on his side of the board, but I leave four mana up for Gifts Ungiven.
He doesn’t do anything relevant — I think he just plays some creatures. In his end step, I Gifts for the following:
He gives me two cards that are not Black Lotus.
Round 3: JR Goldman playing Bomberman
In my last tournament report, I detailed my match against JR. In that match, he played Wipe Away on my Darksteel Colossus at the moment of victory. My hand was filled with counterspells and I had complete dominance over the game. I walked into Wipe Away showing him my hand in the process. I lost that game. I made a few misplays towards the tail end of that game stemming from both my unfamiliarity with having Darksteel Colossus bounced to my hand as well as the sheer surprise of the play. Now, this match would test my ability to play against Wipe Away with the knowledge that it was there. In a very real sense it was a chance to “redo” our last match. How much does knowledge matter? This match demonstrates that knowledge is power — it is more important than design and more important than tweaks. It determines what the correct tactical plays become…
I win the die roll and elect to play.
My opening hand is weak:
I drop Island and pass.
He plays Flooded Strand and passes.
Now things get interesting.
How should I win? In the next turn, JR had five cards in hand.
My Ancestral and his Ancestral have given me the nuts. I could set up the Tendrils kill, although it will take a few turns. I am in a position to Tinker and Time Walk right now. He’ll have one turn to respond (he only has one mana up right now). I have countermagic to stop him from being able to tutor up his Wipe Away.
But last time he had his single Wipe Away. Would he have it again?
Adrian Sullivan wrote an article some time ago about singletons in Tog. He inserted a small piece of paper into a card sleeve and noted how soon he saw that singleton just using regular draw of Brainstorm plus Fetchland and Intuition/AK. What he discovered was that by turn 5 he always found the singleton. That’s how powerful Brainstorm plus Fetchland is as a draw engine.
I tried to read JR, by asking: “I wonder if he has Wipe Away”… but he is inscrutable. He gave me a glance that suggested he didn’t.
He untapped and passed me the turn again… This suggested that he didn’t have the Wipe Away. If he did, wouldn’t he be so excited to show me that he had it? I know I would.
I draw my card and swing, dying to know…. Does he have it?
My friends, last week I wrote about the tactical confusion in Vintage. I elaborated on my view that knowledge and experience both on your part and the part of your opponents is absolutely critical — that Vintage, at a tactical level, is an untenable balance of guesswork, intuition, and luck. I was stunned into a loss by Wipe Away last time despite having a totally dominant position. This time, I would not be so deterred. I was ready for that play and being ready — anticipating the possible — made all the difference in the world.
Robert Vroman predicted that Wipe Away would make Gifts obsolete because it would take away the Colossus option, which in turn would rigidify the Gifts deck strategically into a Tendrils kill and make it vulnerable. With that single-minded lack of flexibility, it would become an inferior deck. This prediction is clearly wrong for reasons that should now be apparent.
What I’m about to say is perhaps the most important paragraph in this article: My match against JR reflects the importance of experience/know-how in combating split second cards — and illustrates further how knowledge/experience can be used to combat, effectively, any tactical threat. Playing differently is just as important as changing your deck design. That’s just the way Vintage works right now. It’s partly explainable by the tremendous number of options that occur in each game.
Here is what happened next:
He kept playing creatures. He played a Salvagers and I Drained it. I had four colorless mana and I had another Mana Drain in hand. I played Recoup and targeted Merchant Scroll. After Scrolling I couldn’t Recoup another Scroll without cutting myself off of Drain, so I burn two mana. I Scrolled up the Mystical Tutor so I could finish him off with Tendrils.
He plays another Salvager, which I drain again. He has two cards left in his hand. It’s time to try and win.
I need to do ten damage to him to kill him. In order to kill him I’ll need:
I have available:
So I need
And I have
4UUUR(U/R)AA (A= any color)
When I go to play the Rebuild, JR plays Force of Will pitching Echoing Truth! I am extremely surprised by this play. Nonetheless, it’s too late. I have enough storm to kill him and he knows it. That’s game.
JR is on the play. My opening hand:
This is a very unusual hand — but one that is made viable by the presence of Lotus in my hand. The longer the game goes before our first counter-war, the more powerful this hand will become. Thus, my hope is that I can delay that counter-war until my manabase is more developed.
Unfortunately, JR is not willing to oblige.
The question becomes this: should I play Sol Ring?
Reasons to play it:
If I don’t play the Sol Ring this turn and I don’t draw another land, in order to play Sol Ring some time down the road I’ll have to cut myself off from the second Mana Drain. It seems better to invest in the Sol Ring now and have the two Mana Drains available later in the game.
I decide to play it.
At this point, the psyche game becomes my only tactical play.
JR thinks about whether he should play the Ancestral and quips: “Seems like a waste of that floating Blue mana if I don’t play Ancestral.”
I said “true, but … well, never mind… I shouldn’t say anything… just make your play.”
Yeah, I know — weak reverse psychology.
I feel an enormous sigh of relief when JR announces that he’ll burn a mana.
Later on I learn that JR was holding two Force of Wills but could only use one because he didn’t have two other cards to pitch. I only had one Drain up, but it was very possible that I would be holding a Misdirection or a Force of Will. Thus, JR’s play is not actually that bad. It just happens to be wrong at this point in the game.
That moment was so psychologically intense for me that I stopped taking notes on the game. It required my full attention. Here is basically what happened:
We played draw-go for the next couple of turns. I didn’t see land until at least another turn later. However, I did see Lotus Petal. When I did see another land, I played Merchant Scroll for Misdirection, knowing that JR was holding his Ancestral.
Eventually, I decided to instigate a counter-war with my deck’s namesake. After he made his third land drop, his board was lands and a Spellbomb. According to JR, he had two Force of Wills in hand but no second Blue card, so he cycled the Spellbomb to try and draw another Blue spell. This he did, in Merchant Scroll. His hand is then: FoW, FoW, Scroll, Scroll, Salvagers, Disrupt, Ancestral Recall.
He Forces the Gifts, removing a Scroll. I play Mana Drain on his FoW. This process repeats. At this point, I have three cards in hand, one of which is a Misdirection. I break my Lotus Petal to play a second Drain. JR reasons that even though he will lose this counter-war, he has to cut me off from as many resources as possible to minimize the advantage I will gain from having ten colorless mana. He disrupts the Gifts Ungiven knowing full well it will not resolve. The difficulty I had was figuring out what to pitch to Misdirection. In the end, I kept Merchant Scroll and pitched Brainstorm.
Here is what the stack looked like:
JR was tapped out at this point, and I knew that one of the two cards left in his hand was Ancestral Recall.
I untapped with what I had notated to be ten colorless mana derived from my Mana Drains.
Anyway, I Merchant Scrolled for Gifts Ungiven and then Gifted for:
Lotus Petal was already in my graveyard, otherwise I would have found that.
I had six colorless still floating. He gave me Ruby and Volcanic. I Recouped and played Yawgmoth’s Will. In my Ancestral I saw Academy, so I never ended up playing the Volcanic Island. I Scrolled for Chain of Vapor to generate mana and storm and then I finished the game with Tendrils of Agony.
I escaped with my life and defeated Wipe Away in the process! It may have appeared to the reader that JR made some play mistakes, but the truth is that JR played superbly. His decisions were all logical. He was faced with the difficult reality that he is playing a deck with eight creatures against a deck that is all instant speed bombs, tutors, or restricted cards. It’s not an easy position to be in. I look forward to my next match against JR.
Round 4: Josh Racine playing T1T
T1T, for those of you who don’t know, refers to Type One “Tog.” Many moons ago I was known for playing Psychatog. My team at the time, Team Paragon, took Tog to the first Vintage World Championship where we emerged victorious. Over time, Psychatog has died off. Partly in response to fear over getting Mindslavered. Partly as a consequence of the fact that Tog plus Berserk is not as good as simply Tinkering up Darksteel Colossus. Nonetheless, the shell of T1T remains intact: using Intuition plus Accumulated Knowledge as a completely busted draw engine. Most of the time you play Intuition, you are already holding one AK, but you draw seven cards very quickly. Also, you can run Deep Analysis for your second (or even first) Intuition. In addition, you play Cunning Wish for flexibility and resilience.
I had no idea what he was playing, but I could tell that he knew what he was doing. I settled in for a long, intense control battle.
People know me for playing Combo or odd-decks like Ichorid. The truth is that I’m a control player at heart.
Coterminous with Brian Wiessman, I developed, in high school, a deck that looked almost exactly like “The Deck” except that I kept it Blue/White alone and that I ran a Mahamoti Djinn in addition to two Serra Angels. When I got back into Magic after Invasion, my type one deck of choice was mono blue control. I played mono-Blue exclusively for a longer time than I’ve played any deck since.
My formative years with The Deck and my vast experience with mono Blue instilled in me a preference for the control role. In control mirrors, I play a very risk-averse game and tend to overload my sideboard with control answers. Thus, all of the years I played Tog I played with five and even six Red Elemental Blasts in my sideboard — so that I’d never get out-countered in the control mirror. I carried this with me playing Gifts, and my Gifts lists always had five Red Blasts. I only changed this recently to combat Split Second, thus why I cut two of the Blasts for two Duress. One of the reasons you know I’m a serious control player is that I will never play Control decks without Misdirection. The original Meandeck Gifts design ran three. Meandeck Gifts is the product of a design process in which I was tuning a different Gifts list to play the control role more effectively. Counter intuitively, Merchant Scroll does just that.
The mono-Blue deck I played was extremely permission heavy — running upwards of 21 counterspells. Playing mono-Blue in Vintage essentially means playing a prison deck. I brought back mono-Blue in 2004 to make Top 8 with it at the Vintage Championship. After destroying the Swiss at 6-0 (defeating Fish, Workshop decks, and even combo) and then drawing into the top 8, Aaron Forsythe stopped by to inspect what I had wrought. He commented that this was no different than any other deck in Vintage: it prevents the opponent from every resolving a spell. Whether you are playing Fish, Stax, or combo — it’s really all the same in that respect, isn’t it?
The point is that I am extremely sensitive to the importance of playing the control role. I think one thing that confuses people about Meandeck Gifts is that I often present it as a combo deck. My articles on how to “combo out” as quickly as possible tend to reinforce this view. The truth is that I hardly ever actually play it like that. I am very conservative and risk-averse. The only reason I go through those machinations is because I want to be able to do that if the need arises. There are games where you will simply not win unless you win now. Your opponent may have just cast Mindslaver, but didn’t have the mana to use it. Your opponent may be a combo deck and just about to combo out. Speed matters.
If I’m such a control player, then why do I have a reputation for playing combo — having brought to light Long.dec, Grim Long, and having, perhaps most egregiously of all, invented the fastest deck ever made: Meandeck Tendrils? The answer is really simple: I think that threats are better than answers in Vintage. Mind’s Desire, Necropotence, etc — are unbelievably powerful. Let’s not even mention the raw non-interactive power of Xantid Swarm. I play what I think is the best deck, and because I have experience with every single archetype having invented, in many cases, the best version of each archetype or the progenitor to the best version of each archetype (combo, certainly, and I would contend Meandeck Gifts is the best control deck, and arguably the best aggro deck is Ichorid), I have the ability, if I want, to play any deck in Vintage with a solid level of expertise. Many players just play what they know regardless of whether they think it is objectively the strongest. I love playing Mana Drain decks, but I tend not to play them because I think that combo is often just better. Meandeck Gifts is the exception, not simply because of Gifts Ungiven, but because Merchant Scroll is so good.
I’m quite happy that I win the die roll.
My opening hand is:
There was one other card in my hand, but I don’t remember what it was. It must have been a land, however, as you will see…
I played Ruby, Crypt, and Delta.
The question was: Should I Gifts now or wait? My thinking is this: If I play Gifts now, I can make a solid Gifts, but I won’t be able to exploit inefficiencies in his board, hand or whatever may become evident over the course of his first turn. If I Gifts now, on the other hand, there is a better chance that it will resolve. However, even if he counters it, I still have a backup plan in Mystical Tutor for whatever I want.
At this point, however, it needs to be remembered that I had no idea what he was playing. It could have been combo or Workshops for all I know.
He plays Polluted Delta. Immediately, I decide that if he plays a Lotus Petal, a Black Lotus, or a Mox Sapphire, I should play Gifts with any one of those cards on the stack. Why? I definitely do not what him Mana Draining my Gifts. That would be a devastating thing to have to deal with. He plays Mana Crypt. At this point, I get skittish and jump the gun.
With Crypt on the stack, I break my Delta. He responds by breaking his. He indicates that I can fetch out my land. I put Gifts Ungiven on the stack.
On my upkeep I play Mystical Tutor for Ancestral Recall and my notes indicate that I played it. It resolved! What happens now!? Who wins when both players resolve Ancestral? (Yes, I’m being facetious).
Both Josh and I took three points of damage from Mana Crypt in our second turn, sending us to fifteen and sixteen respectively.
He plays a land and then passes the turn.
I decide to go for the gusto having just resolved Ancestral, which drew me into Force of Will.
I play Tinker, sacrificing my Mana Crypt. In response, he plays Cunning Wish. I think for a moment. I think it would be amusing if he went for the Gifts Ungiven that he removed from game on turn 1. Instead, he searches his sideboard, cognizant of not of the fact that he could get Gifts, and finds Vampiric Tutor, which he plays (sending him to thirteen). If he loses his Mana Crypt flip, I conclude that I will only need one swing with the Iron Giant to win the game. I let Vampiric tutor resolve.
He goes to his turn. He does lose the Mana Crypt flip, going to ten life. He plays Black Lotus, which I let resolve. He then plays Yawgmoth’s Will floating two Black, which I Mana Drain. He doesn’t have Force of Will, but if he did, he’d win because he then plays Tendrils of Agony, to my surprise. Unfortunately for him, it’s only for eight life. This sends him to eighteen and me to eight.
I become so eager to bash face that I forget I had three mana floating from Mana Draining Yawgmoth’s Will and I go to 5 while sending him to 7. It’s all moot, however, as untaps, draws a card and then scoops up for game 2.
Having escaped with my life and the “W” in game 1, I now have a very comfortable edge. Unfortunately, Magic games are not set in a vacuum. The fact that I won game 1 gives me considerable leverage in game 2, a fact that is most powerfully true in the control mirror. Simply put, I do not have to win. In not having to win, I can thereby win the match by ramping up on defense. That’s precisely what I do. I sideboard out one of my bounce spells, the Mirage tutors, Fact or Fiction, and a Gifts Ungiven for 2 Duress, 1 Pyroblast, and 2 Red Elemental Blasts. I could arguably even cut my win conditions entirely, if I so desired, but I foresee the possibility of gaining a peak advantage in which I actually would want to seal the deal.
I fan open a hand that has the following:
That hand has two disruptive plays immediately: Duress and Misdirection and a single mana means that I have Gifts online with the mana to play Yawgmoth’s will subsequently. Nonetheless, the risk that I fail to draw a land is too high. After some careful consideration, I mulligan.
I draw into six cards that contain:
This hand is mana heavy, but business light. Although I have DSC, I am also fortunate to have Brainstorm. My plan is to Brainstorm on turn 2 or 3, but of course that depends upon what I draw on my first turn.
I draw Time Walk. How neat, I think. I plan on Walking first. This has two potential side effects. First, it could draw out a Pyroblast he may be holding. Second, it will dig me deeper so my Brainstorm will be more effective.
I play Time Walk and it resolves. I untap and then play Brainstorm and break a fetchland to ensure that the Colossus goes away. My hand becomes a solid wall of counterspells. However, this is irrelevant because:
Josh plays Brainstorm and then passes the turn. He has missed his second land drop and will be in deep trouble. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to directly exploit this weakness. Instead, I will continue my steady development so that when he emerges from his hole, he won’t get very far.
That’s exactly what happens.
A couple of turns later he draws a Mana Vault, which he plays and I let resolve. He follows up the Vault with another Island. In my end step he plays Intuition with a colorless floating. If he gets Accumulated Knowledges, I’ll have to counter the one he finds and the one that is likely residing in his hand as well. That doesn’t concern me much because at least they will be out of his deck. However, if he gets Deep Analysis, I would be in a world of hurt. Therefore, I see no choice but to counter the Intuition. I play Red Elemental Blast. He mana burns the colorless and takes his turn, in which he plays an AK for one. I let it resolve.
Over the next five turns he takes one point of damage from the Mana Vault during his draw step. He plays Tormod’s Crypt, which I let resolve. He also plays Tolarian Academy as well. I draw and play my own Academy, sending him back to Island, Volc.
My board becomes Black Lotus, Mox Sapphire, Volcanic Island, Volcanic Island, and Underground Sea with a hand that includes: Pyroblast, Force of Will, Misdirection, Mana Drain, Yawgmoth’s Will (which is worthless against his Crypt) and a few other gems. Eventually, I play a Brainstorm and am shocked to see Library of Alexandria. The way out becomes clear.
I play Library and begin to draw off it.
It has been some time since I used Library. There are generally a few ways to time it.
First, you can use library on your turn — on your upkeep, before your draw step, or sometime afterward. For example, activate Library, play a land, pass. Another way to use it is to use it on your opponent’s turn. I tend to do it on their upkeep, although it probably makes sense to wait until they try to play something. The logic behind using it on their upkeep is that, although they can respond to library’s activation, there is a small outside chance you’ll draw something you want to play before their draw step. The other upside to using it on their turn is that you’ll have eight cards in hand so that if you get engaged in a counter war, it will be easier to get back up to Library range more quickly.
I was probably misusing Library because I was using it on my turn and then passing with seven cards in hand. This became apparent when he played Duress revealing:
He took the Gifts. On my next turn I drew Tinker, but decided to wait so that I would get to eight cards on his turn. Then I drew Rebuild, used the Library and drew Scroll, and just won via Tendrils since he was already at 12 life from his Mana Vault. Game and match.
Round 5 and 6: Intentional Draw
At the end of round 4 and at the end of the swiss I am in first place. I have a 64% opp. win percentage and 100% player game win percentage.
I ate some calzones and got to watch some of the other matches play out.
I’d like to comment on one particular match I watched between Brian DeMars and another Control Slaver player.
Brian was on the play and had the utter nuts hand:
How do you play this hand out?
Brian went like this:
His opponent went:
Island, Black Lotus! Aha! What an interesting start! His opponent positions himself to be able to counter Brian’s threats. Brian, however, has the advantage that Mana Vault will permit him to play both Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will very soon! How interesting! Only Mana Vault can serve that role — it requires the first turn investment. Also, the fact that Vault leaves play ensures that even if Tinker is countered, he can still replay the Vault via his graveyard and reuse the mana! Holy synergy batman! Mana Vault is incredibly powerful.
He draws the Force and plays a Fetchland and passes the turn!
His opponent plays another land and passes.
Brian is the luckiest lucksack as he draws the triumvirate of his trifecta of pain: Black Lotus!
He plops the Lotus on the table and breaks it for Black. He plays Tinker on Vault. His opponent responds with Ancestral Recall! TouchÃ© good man! His opponent Mana Drains the Tinker and Brian lets Drain resolve. He then plays Yawgmoth’s Will, which meets Force of Will and Brian responds with the Force that he tutored for the turn before. Brian Tinkers up Sundering Titan (blowing up his opponent’s lands), Mystical tutors for a Drain to protect his Titan, and passes the turn. He did make one mistake: he should have broke the Delta pre-Yawgmoth’s Will so that he could replay it for a third land in play. That could have cost Brian dearly, but his opponent made a number of misplays.
Brian takes his turn, draws the Drain, his only card in hand, and passes the turn after swinging with Titan.
If his opponent had simply played Tinker first, he would have easily won! The Tinker would have been Drained, but Will would have resolved. And I’ve almost never seen a Slaver hand more broken than Brian’s!
Anyway, the Top 8 turned out to have a number of very strong players:
Myself, Brian Demars, Arend (who made Top 8 at the Vintage Championship this year) as well as some other local players and my round 4 opponent.
Quarter-Finals: Ed playing Gifts variant
I sit down across from a guy who is clearly happy to have made Top 8. He’s having a good time – I will as well.
My opening hand is weak:
This hand looks atrocious, I know. But I’m on the draw and I think to myself: almost any single topdeck is going to be good. Look what I could draw from my decklist that will put me on solid ground or, at least, not suck:
2 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Tolarian Academy
4 Polluted Delta
1 Flooded Strand
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Lotus Petal
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Vault
1 Mana Crypt
And most of the possible topdecks are not just live, but they are actually good — any land, for instance, would be great.
He takes my Force of Will, predictably.
Not a terrible topdeck.
Ed plays Island and passes the turn.
I draw Demonic Tutor! What do you get?
My first instinct was to grab Mana Crypt. Look at what that would do to my game. I would immediately be able to start playing those monstrous four-mana spells lodged in my hand. But…
a) What if he counters the Crypt?
b) Let’s say that I do get Crypt, and it resolves. Next turn I play Crypt and pass the turn, let him have his third turn, on his end step I play Gifts or Fact, he Mana Drains it, I Misdirect his Drain, he Force of Wills my Misdirection. He’s out of counterspells, I untap and play Gifts… Can I win from that position? Possibly… I am holding Yawgmoth’s Will, but constructing the win after resolving that will not be simple.
Let’s say I untap in my fourth turn after having done what I just described… I Gifts for:
I can’t actually play the Yawgmoth’s Will unless I draw another mana in the meantime. And even if I do, how will I Tendrils? I need six mana to Demonic Tutor for Tendrils. I suppose I could Gifts for:
… but again, if I don’t see a land, it’s all academic. If I don’t see a land, he’ll get to untap with four colorless Mana Drain mana and no resistance, and thus he’ll easily win.
I don’t want to pin my hopes and dreams on drawing a land in the next two turns and him not winning before then.
Here’s my reasoning. First of all, Library of Alexandria puts my opponent on a clock. If he doesn’t win in the meantime, I’ll start to outdraw him and leverage the power of my four-mana spells to overwhelm him.
Second, it’s a land. It gets me to three mana. Another land topdecked will put me in range to play my four-mana spells. In short, Library is both a threat and a mana source and that’s why I select it here.
It’s a choice with costs and benefits just like any other choice. But I like my chances with LoA over Mana Crypt. Do you agree or disagree?
I’m astonished at this point. What is he waiting for? His hand has only three or four cards, I believe.
I untap, draw something I can’t remember, and am now in Library range. I use Library and may or may not have played something else.
Ed plays a land and decides to go for it: he plays Gifts Ungiven. I Force of Will, he Force of Wills, I Misdirect his Force of Will pitching my Fact and leaving me with one Gifts and Yawgmoth’s Will in hand. What do I do now?
It’s time to go for the kill.
Remember that I have been holding Yawgmoth’s Will.
My extensive analysis on building optimal Gifts piles actually becomes relevant here — under the time constraints of reasonable play, I can only find one Gifts that actually works:
Unfortunately, this won’t make sense to you because I’m not fully remembering the rest of the board state. My notes only say “win here.” My recollection was that the Chain of Vapor was the only other card that generated the win here because it gave me two mana by itself, at the very least. I do remember that when I used the Chain I bounced three of my own permanents and sacrificed at least two lands. I think he probably gave me the Chain and the Academy.
My opening hand was solid:
What an absolutely amazing opening hand, especially on the draw. I was quite happy to see it signaled that I’d likely win this match and advance to the semi-finals.
I deployed the knowledge of the Library and passed. Note that I drew Duress on the turn.
On his upkeep I activated Library, drawing Demonic Tutor.
On his upkeep I used my Library again, drawing Darksteel Colossus.
Now I make a huge blunder. A blunder I’ve written about before. Take a look at the very last example in this article I wrote for MagicTheGathering.com:
The game state is almost precisely the same: I have Library and plenty of pitch magic, while my opponent has Petal and makes the following key play:
Of course, I attempt to Misdirect the Ancestral. That makes sense and puts me down to six cards in hand. He Force of Wills my Misdirection. Here is where I got greedy. I Force of Will back, only to run into Pyroblast. He draws three cards and I’m left with a useless four card hand: Academy, Darksteel Colossus, Demonic Tutor, and Duress.
Counterfactually, if I had just not used my Force of Will, I probably would have won. Next turn I could have used my Library and then Brainstormed back terrible cards for good cards. In the Brainstorm, I may have seen a Black mana that I could use to Duress the Yawgmoth’s Will he’s about to play (and does play on turn 5).
Here’s what happens:
I draw Tendrils of Agony and pass — trying to build back up to seven cards.
He does nothing and passes.
I draw Lotus Petal and pass.
I untap and draw Mana Crypt. The irony is that I would have had enough mana to play my own Colossus with Crypt, Petal, Vault, LoA, Volc and Academy if he hadn’t have played Academy. I lose a few turns later.
I want to analyze this game further, but I will do so in the discussion of Library of Alexandria below.
Please note that this was the first and only game I lost in the whole tournament. I was not pleased with the way it played out.
At this point in the tournament, I sort of lost my composure. Playing Grim Long, I am fairly excitable. Meandeck Gifts, in comparison, is a fairly tame deck so there isn’t much to get excited about. Not true for game 3…
My opening hand was:
And I was on the play. (Evil Grin.)
I actually debate which land to lead with. If I lead with Sea, what happens if I draw Library and want to play it? I won’t have all my mana available. Therefore, I play Academy, Jet and Time Walk.
I play Scroll for Ancestral, which resolves in my favor. I debate what to do. I can play Tinker for Darksteel Colossus with counterspell protection or I can try to go for the Tendrils kill next turn via Gifts. Seeing as he hasn’t had a turn yet and that I’ll still have plenty of resources available after playing my Tinker, I decide to apply pressure. At the very least he’ll expend a great deal of precious resources trying to answer my DSC. Indeed he does. I Tinker up the big guy and pass the turn.
What an utterly broken turn 1.
This was my first fully defensive Gifts of the day. He gives me Misdirection and Duress, I think. I Duress and see only two relevant cards: Brainstorm and Demonic Tutor. He doesn’t have another land. Thus, I have a quandary:
If I leave him Demonic, he could topdeck a land, Demonic and Chain me. But if he doesn’t topdeck and land, he can’t get a bounce spell. On the other hand, if I take Demonic, he can’t directly get a bounce spell, but Brainstorm could draw him into one. After a moment of thought, I take the Demonic Tutor. I swing for 11 and pass.
He untaps, plays Brainstorm, sees a land but can do nothing else. I win.
The top four agrees to split! And not a moment too soon. I escape at about 9pm and arrive home half past midnight, enough for a decent night’s sleep before waking up at 7:30am for work.
First of all, let me say that I am not the person to underestimate the power of basic Island. If we were still in a four Trinisphere Metagame, I’d probably be playing at least six Islands and five Fetchlands. If Stax were more prevalent, these Islands would become more precious.
In game 2 of the quarter-finals, I had what appeared to be a dominant position flowing from a perfectly timed use of LoA: Turn 1 on the draw.
The problem is that Library is deceptively bad. It is easy to see when it is good — it is drawing you cards. But its costs are hidden because they are difficult to identify and isolate opportunity costs.
Let’s rewind the decision tree in game 2 above. If I had played Island there, I would have probably played turn 1 Mana Vault and followed that up with Brainstorm and Scroll for Ancestral which would have resolved because I had pitch magic in hand and on top of my deck. I would have been able to likely use that Duress and win quite quickly. Instead, I was short-changing myself by using Library. It looked like Library was going to win me that game, instead it lost me that game. Alternatively, I could have just played it differently in three respects. I didn’t have to use the Library like I did. I could have played it a little more aggressively. Second, I didn’t have to play the Force of Will on the Force of Will on my Misdirection targeting Ancestral. I didn’t think about what would happen if I got Pyroblasted. I just really wanted that Ancestral to resolve in my favor. Third, I suppose I could have responded with Brainstorm to put the crappy cards on top of my library. That play didn’t occur to me simply because I thought my Misdirection was going to resolve. In any event, the real cost of using my pitch magic there was the fact that I had to lose my Brainstorm. That isn’t always as costly as it was in that game, but with so many dead cards because I was cut off from Black mana, Brainstorm was more critical than ever.
What about game 1 in the quarter finals — where I tutored up Library? Arguably, Mana Crypt would have produced a better result, faster. It’s hard to say. The one clear place that I know Library was strong was in my post-board game in round 4. That isn’t to say that I would have lost without it, but it was nice.
So, Library contributed to two game wins, possibly producing one, but definitely contributed to a loss in another game that could have possibly been controlled by different play. However, I almost certainly would have won the game without it. I think Library is an overrated card, and certainly not stronger than another land printed in the same expansion, but the costs of running it are probably so low right now that it can’t be justified to omit.
Library, like any other card, is a tool. It is incumbent upon the user to use it correctly. Given that Stax is so light in the metagame right now, I think that the cost of running the Library over the fifth Island is probably not greater than the potential benefit. I’m making the switch permanent on an indefinite basis.
I never cycled Rebuild all day, but its casting cost could have mattered. I think I’m going to stick with the configuration I have, but be ready to switch back to Hurkyl’s if I so desire.
Note that if those Duresses had been REBs I would have won game 2 in the quarter-finals because the Duress would have countered his Force of Will and I would have successfully stolen his Ancestral. Regardless, the presence of Split Second necessitates this change despite the additional demands on the manabase.
I probably could have said more about the game states, about the deck, and about the various choices I made. But, at over 10,000 words already, it’s time for us to do something else.
Until next time,