I’ve not concealed the fact that I currently consider Meandeck Gifts the deck to play in Vintage. Not only did it win Vintage Worlds, but the deck is the only control deck in Vintage capable of beating Grim Tutor combo decks. The other control decks rely on Thirst for Knowledge, a draw engine that is far too slow to protect yourself against the monstrous Pitch Long or even more brutalizing Grim Long.
As an aside, in my Ten Principles of Vintage, I wrote “Force of Will is the Glue that Holds the Format Together.” While oft-quoted, and first stated years ago in my previous article by the same name, I am not sure if it is actually true. Let me explain. If Force of Will is the glue that holds the format together, that implies that Force of Will is what keeps the format from being insane.
The truth of the matter is that the combo decks – Grim Long and Pitch Long – are the decks that keep the Force of Will decks in check! The Stax and Fish strategies keep the Combo decks in check, in turn. Without Pitch Long, Mana Drain decks just run rampant. Pitch Long has pushed Control Slaver – virtually dominant for years – into a bit of a hibernation. In its stead, we have room for more aggressive and Combo responsive Control decks like my creation Meandeck Gifts.
Vintage is incredibly diverse right now – the healthiest I’ve ever seen the format. One only need to take a quick glance at the amazing Vintage Championship Top 8 to see that this is true.
As I’ve turned my attention to Meandeck Gifts, my focus has been on trying to perfect the Gifts piles, much like I’ve done with Doomsday. It isn’t hard to make good Gifts piles. The trick is making perfect Gifts piles. Thus, I’ve drawn myself into the eccentric task of minutely deconstructing possible Gifts piles.
For your consideration, I present some of those puzzles here. Maro’s puzzles increase in difficulty. So, I’ll do the same. All of my puzzles are drawn from real test games.
As a reminder, here is the decklist I’m running in all of these puzzles:
- 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 Hurkyl's Recall
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 4 Gifts Ungiven
- 4 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Chain of Vapor
- 2 Misdirection
- 1 Tinker
- 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
Puzzle 1: The Inverse Tutor Pile
I was playtesting against a teammate who was piloting U/W Fish.
My opening hand is terrible, but for testing purposes I keep it:
I would likely not keep that hand against almost any deck, but I want to see what happens, so I keep it.
I am on the play and drop Emerald and Vault. I play a Delta. Pass.
I draw Hurkyl’s Recall. I play a Delta and pass.
Opp: He drops Savannah Lions.
His pressure isn’t that intense yet, but I’m doing terribly off the top. Let the beats commence. My life is essentially a resource that I’m using to buy time. It’s like the card “greed.”
Opp: He beats me down to 14. He tries to play Kataki, War’s Wage!
I draw Mox Pearl. I mana burn two, going to 10 life.
Opp: he attacks me to 6.
I draw Lotus Petal.
Opp: He attacks me to 2 life.
I think for a moment.
My board is:
My hand is:
And I’m at 2 life.
I must win next turn or else lose. I therefore know that in order to win I’ll have to remove his Mage. That makes sense to use the mana to do it now. On the other hand, if I wait, I can Chain my own cards and then Chain the Mage last. Therefore, I opt not to Chain anything.
I topdeck Merchant Scroll.
With the board state I’ve just described, can I win?
The short answer is yes. The trick is figuring out how.
Can you do it?
I will give you two hints:
1) You have to Gifts twice. The first Gifts isn’t the hard one. The trick is realizing how to play the second Gifts.
2) You can’t use or play Vampiric Tutor because you are at 2 life (soon to be 1 life after you break the Fetchland).
Welcome to Vintage, ladies and gentleman.
There are a ridiculous series of plays that have to commence to pull this off. I advise the reader to try and figure this play out for yourself.
I’ll present the solution in two steps. First, let’s walk through the first Gifts.
We need to Merchant Scroll for Gifts.
Any combination of these cards win the game. In order to see that you have to be able to look way down and realize how the very final steps work out. I’ll take us part way there right now:
If your opponent gives you:
ii) If they Give you Black Lotus and Recoup, you play Black Lotus, Pearl, and Petal, and break the Fetch for Sea, Chain of Vapor a ton of your own spells and then Recoup the Will and handily win (you get to replay all of the artifacts as well as Academy).
iv) If they give you Tolarian and Recoup, you play Petal and Pearl and break the Delta for either an Underground Sea or a Volcanic Island and you play the Tolarian and tap it for quite a bit. You can then Chain all of the stuff and then Recoup and Will with plenty of mana.
v) Tolarian and Will is the same as option 4, except easier.
vi) If they give you Recoup and Will you are the most bottlenecked. Furthermore, your opponent doesn’t know that you’ve been sandbagging Pearl and Petal, so they may think that all you have available is a Polluted Delta. The only advantage to them giving you this is that you get to use your Chain of Vapor pre-Will. But they obviously don’t know this.
Let’s just assume that they give you Recoup and Will to keep us as bottlenecked as possible. As I will show later, it doesn’t matter what they give you.
3) You play Petal
4) You play Pearl
6, 7, 8) You replay Pearl, Emerald, and Vault.
9) Tap Vault and sac Petal to play Yawgmoth’s Will. One colorless floating.
10) Replay Petal.
11) Play Black Lotus.
12) Play Academy and tap it for UUUUU (with one colorless still floating).
Now comes the tricky part. How do you win? I’ve gotten you half way there – now I want you to identify the Gifts pile that wins the game. All you have in your graveyard to work with is Chain of Vapor, Merchant Scroll, and Gifts Ungiven.
How do you win?
If you can’t figure it out, scroll down for a hint.
Everyone is familiar with the Gifts pile that consists of:
This pile is designed to get you whatever you want now.
However, I was cut off from Vampiric because I was at one life. This scenario could arise in other situations in which you don’t have access to one of the tutors.
Your goal is to figure out how to get Tendrils into your hand using Merchant Scroll and Gifts alone.
Can you do it?
Here’s what I came up with:
Scroll into Mystical
Gifts for Ancestral, Brainstorm, Demonic, Random card.
So, it played out like this:
You have exactly enough mana and exactly enough life to just win. Getting there and figuring this all out in a reasonable time is virtually impossible. There are numerous steps along the way where you could make a huge mistake. For example, Gifting without having realized that you need to Scroll for Mystical could easily lead to a game loss.
Because you are using Gifts to find search rather than Tutors, I’ve called this Gifts the inverse tutor pile.
Puzzle 2: Resolving Brainstorm
Here is my opening hand:
I’m on the draw.
My opponent plays an Island and passes the turn.
I draw Tinker.
I play Brainstorm and see:
Can you win now? If not, if you Gifts what combination of cards can lead to a win now?
That’s the puzzle. Obviously, Tinkering right here is probably the safest and most ridiculous play. Tinker for Colossus with Force of Will protection and likely DT for Time Walk next turn is going to seal most games in Vintage. But that’s not the purpose of this puzzle. I want you to figure out how you could possibly win now.
I will give you a hint:
I have not been able to find a Gifts that will guarantee you a win, but there are Gifts piles that will win you the game. That is, if you resolve Brainstorm and then tap the Mana Vault and play Gifts, there are some piles your opponent could give you that would win you the game now. What are they?
a) Play Mox Sapphire.
b) Chain of Vapor the Sapphire and the Vault sacrificing Academy.
If they give you Petal, you can Chain the Emerald and Vault for the same result as the one above.
You use the Black Lotus and Crypt to DT for Yawgmoth’s Will. Replay Black Lotus, the other accelerant, and then use the other accelerant (if it was Sapphire or Petal) to Chain a Mox and the Vault and then just DT for Tendrils.
For instance, if you Gifted for Crypt, Sapphire, Ancestral, and Mox Jet and they, for some reason, gave you Crypt and Sapphire, you win the game.
a) You play Sapphire and Crypt
b) Chain the Crypt and Sapphire, sacrificing Academy.
Please note that Time Walk does not win in any of these piles. Consider this:
5) Time Walk plus Sapphire
In order to Walk, you’ll have to Chain up Sapphire and Emerald, losing Academy in the process. Then you can replay the two Moxen and Time Walk. But you’ll untap with two viable mana. Pretty weak.
6) One alternative non-solution of note: Hurkyl’s Recall plus Sapphire. You can generate quite a bit of mana this way. You can do the same thing as in (5), but then Hurkyl’s.
Stepping back for a moment, what if, instead of Gifting, we tried to Tinker first?
You can turn your U3 into any color of mana with Black Lotus. If you Tinker up Lotus, you could have BBB1 floating, but the problem is that you can’t do anything substantive – you are one mana short. You can DT for Mox Sapphire and Chain to generate BU3, but you are out of juice.
So, knowing that we can’t win on turn 1, what do you think is the best Gifts Pile here?
First of all, since we know that we can’t guarantee the win here, we know that we shouldn’t be trying for that. However, since we know that some combination of cards auto-win, we should try to include as many of those as possible.
Hence, here is my solution:
1) If they give you Black Lotus and Petal, as described above, you win.
2) If they give you Petal or Black Lotus and Ancestral, you can Ancestral now with double FoW backup.
3) If they give you FoW and Ancestral, you can Ancestral next turn with plenty of protection and then follow it up even with Brainstorm.
4) The most likely pile they give you is Petal and FoW. This wins the game as well with a very high probability.
Draw a card.
You play Petal. Your board is Academy, Mox Emerald, and a tapped Mana Vault. Tap Academy for UUU. Brainstorm. As long as you see a Fetchland or a Black mana source (or Will itself), you win. You will then have the BB3 necessary to Demonic Tutor for Will and play Will.
Notice that Jet or Sapphire cannot replay Petal in this Gifts hand. It’s been very carefully constructed.
The next two puzzles came out of my article on tweaking Meandeck Gifts.
This situation came out of Game Two in my Tweaking Meandeck Gifts article. A row broke out on my team boards about the correct play in this situation. I found myself forced to defend my Gifts pile or come up with a better one. As a result, I’ve exhaustively analyzed this Gifts pile.
I’m going to present the situation, then walk you through all of the mistakes my teammates and I made until I finally figured out the correct answer.
So, here is the situation (once again). I’m playing against teammate Joe Bushman piloting Slaver. I’m on the play.
My hand is:
I play, predictably, Mox, Academy, Walk.
I Walk and draw Mana Vault.
I Gifts for:
Recall that I have a colorless floating.
Now, Bushman gave me Will and Sapphire here. Kevin claims that is clearly incorrect and that he should have given me Gifts and Sapphire. The point of contention was whether I could win next turn with that Gifts pile. Kevin Cron (Cha1n5) suggested that it couldn’t be done. This was the challenge.
Assuming that they give you Sapphire and Gifts, can you win next turn? If so, how?
In the real situation, I played Sapphire and Brainstormed into:
I put back two cards.
Now, can I win next turn?
I found a solution, although it was quite difficult. I’ll show you what the solution was and then explain why it was so difficult by showing you the fake outs – the wrong solutions first!
1) Fake Solution 1: My original solution (which was one mana short) was this:
Untap, draw the card.
Tap Sapphire, Emerald, Sol Ring and Play Gifts
Now, what do you Gifts for?
Here was the Gifts I was analyzing for the most part:
The idea behind this is simple: Yawgmoth’s Will this turn.
a) If they give you Petal and Jet, it goes down like this:
i and ii) Play Petal, Play Jet.
iii) Tap Academy for UUUUUU (that’s six Blue).
iv) Break Fetchland for Volcanic Island. Tap Jet. Sac Petal.
That’s nine mana.
v) Play Recoup and Will with UU floating.
vi) Now, you replay Petal.
vii) Replay Black Lotus.
viii) And replay fetchland. You have access to seven mana. The problem is that you need eight! Here’s why:
Remember, your graveyard is Walk, Scroll, Brainstorm and Gifts. That’s it. To win you need to Scroll for Mystical, Mystical, Brainstorm into Tendrils and play it. Problem is that this requires eight mana. We are one short.
So I thought… what if I scroll for Hurkyl’s or Chain of vapor?
Ironically, they both get us to nine mana, which, again, leaves us one short.
You have seven mana (UU from Academy, four from Black Lotus and Petal, and one from post-Will fetchland).
Scroll for Chain of Vapor and play: it takes three mana, so you have four floating.
You get to Chain four cards since you have three lands. You Chain Sapphire, Jet, Emerald, and Mana Vault. You replay them – that’s a net of five mana. That only brings you to nine mana, though.
You need ten – here’s why:
In order to win, you are going to have to Gifts for: Mystical Tutor (MT), Vampiric Tutor (VT), Demonic Tutor (DT), and mana – and they are going to give you VT and MT. You will then need to Brainstorm and then Tendrils.
Gifts + VT/MT + Brainstorm + Tendrils = 10 mana. You are one short.
Same with Hurkyl’s. Watch:
7 mana –
-2 for Scroll
-2 for Hurkyl’s
+ Emerald into Sol Ring into Vault (4)
You go for three to nine mana. One short again.
What if I Gifts first? So, seven mana – four for Gifts. I thought of some ideas, but the problem was that I wouldn’t have enough colored mana. You’d need BBBUU1, eventually, in order to win.
Sigh I thought. I kept focusing on Chain of Vapor because I was wondering if I could sac Academy and replay it in Will and then it struck me!
2) Fake Solution 2:
What if my first gifts this turn was this?
This solved the three-mana tutor problem. DT shaves off a mana. However, Kevin correctly pointed out that with this configuration, if they give you Petal and DT, you can’t win.
Here’s why: You only have the Fetchland in play for your other color pre-Will. You’ll need both a Black and a Red. If you play DT, you’ll only have Fetchland.
I had the right idea however and there is an easy way around that objection solved by what led me to this Gifts in the first place:
And thus, the final, and correct Gifts, is this:
Here is how it looks:
Sapphire, Sol Ring, Vault, Emerald, Academy, Fetch
Hand is Misdirection, Drain, and Gifts. You can break the fetch at any time – it doesn’t really matter now.
In your main phase, tap Sol Ring, Emerald, Sapphire and play Gifts for:
The reason is this:
1) If they give you Jet and DT, you do this:
This way you get to replay Academy post-Will for even more mana! But most importantly, you get to replay the Jet. Thus, you have chained the Jet, Vault, and Sapphire – replayed them so that you have UUURBB3 floating. You Recoup using R3 and then Will with UU floating. You replay Black Lotus and the Academy, and handily win by simply Demonic Tutoring for Tendrils.
The key lesson is this: Jet is sometimes superior to Petal simply because it can be replayed with Chain and Hurkyl’s Recall.
I also learned that DT occupies a more than special role in the deck. It is the only card that can save you Scroll into Mystical + Brainstorm chain and condense that into two mana.
The best part about this win is that you have Misdirection and Drain in hand. Thus you can protect your win from at least one counterspell.
Kevin raised the question though: What if Joe does something really threatening on his turn? That’s the beauty of it: You don’t have to go for that Gifts on your first main. If Joe goes nuts, you can get a control Gifts. But if he goes:
Land, Brainstorm, go
Land, Brainstorm, Mox, go
Land, Welder, Mox, go
Or anything lame like that, I would not assume he has two FoWs. And anyway, you should not assume he has two FoWs in an opening hand.
Thus you win quite handily.
It is important to mention that in the first Gifts of Sapphire, Scroll, Gifts and Will, if they give you Scroll and Sapphire, the result is the same. You just use the colorless floating to Scroll for Gifts on turn 1(A) and then do the exact same play on turn 2 as was done with the Gifts plus Sapphire.
I believe that this debate was the most in depth Gifts discussion I’ve ever seen, and possibly one of the most complicated.
Before leaving, I’m going to turn to a puzzle I offered to you all, and present the solution to the puzzle as offered by the contest winner.
Puzzle 4: Making Painfully Perfect Gifts Piles Even With Overwhelming Advantage
Here is the situation, lifted out of my article:
My opening hand is quite broken:
Just looking at this hand, it enables an early Scroll for Ancestral with protection in Misdirection. It’s a very strong hand. It has powerful Control elements as well as plenty of acceleration.
Joe opens with:
Joe: Island go,
Me: I lucksack and topdeck my tutor target: Ancestral Recall.
I played Sapphire, Emerald, Strand. Then I moved to my second main phase and played Black Lotus.
I tapped the Sapphire for Ancestral, which resolved.
He considers what to get, for a moment, and then lays Black Lotus on the table.
This is not surprising. Black Lotus is incredibly strong. It is a frequent tutor target in decks like these. For Joe, Black Lotus means a better Yawgmoth’s Will (which he has in hand) as well as reuse with Goblin Welder (should he draw one).
I can’t resist. I break my Black Lotus for UUU and put Mana Drain on the stack targeting Fact or Fiction. It resolves. I burn one Blue but gain four colorless on my first main phase. This game is already over.
I untap and draw another Island.
I tap Sapphire and play Gifts Ungiven using three of the four colorless. Keep in mind that I have Underground Sea and Mox Emerald in play with Academy in hand and another colorless floating. Joe concedes the game.
But I raise the question here: knowing that I also have another Scroll in hand as well as Drain and Misdirection, what is the optimal Gifts pile?
That was the challenge I posed. The challenge was met. Scroll down for the solution.
Mon, Goblin Chief [is this Kim Kluck or Carsten Kotter?] wrote:
As quite obviously the opponent is out of counters here, the best Gifts pile would definitely be
This Gifts pile wins always this turn… should be the best.
To illustrate, results depending on what you get:
– mana A means any kind of your choice-
1) Petal plus Recoup
Mana: UUUUA2 Used: 3RUUU
In other words, to interject: you have up Academy (with Petal, Sapphire, and Emerald), Underground Sea, Petal, Emerald, and a colorless. That’s seven mana – and enough to Recoup, Walk, and Scroll for Mystical and Mystical for Will.
(Mana produced: AAAA2UUUUUUUUU; needed: 6UUUUBB)
To translate that shorthand, he’s saying that you play the Island, tap it and the Sea, and Emerald and you play Yawgmoth’s Will. You replay the Petal and the Black Lotus. Tap Academy for UUUU. Tap Sapphire and use a mana to Scroll for Chain of Vapor. Chain Sapphire, Emerald, and Black Lotus. Tap Emerald and Sapphire. You have UUUGAAAA. Then you use UG to Scroll again for Mystical. Then you Mystical for Tendrils and Ancestral into it with Black Lotus and Petal up. Play Tendrils to win. I’m not exactly sure how he got so much mana produced, but I know that his solution still works.
2) Petal and Walk or Ruby and Walk
Mana: UUUUA2 Used: 2UUU
It’s pretty clear that if they give you Walk, it is easy to win on your Walk turn by Scrolling for Mystical and finding Will.
3) Petal and Ruby
Mana: UUUUUAR2 Mana Used: UUUR5
Recoup->Walk, Scroll, Mystical->Will
Ironically, giving you artifact mana makes it easier.
You play Petal and Ruby and tap Academy and other mana for a total of: UUUU1GRB. You can easily Recoup the Walk and then Scroll for Mystical and then do the same thing as above.
4) Recoup and Walk
Mana: UUU2 Used: UUU2
5) Recoup and Ruby
Mana: UUUUR2 Used: 3RUUU
If your opponent looked at your hand and decided to run the craziest bluff ever and has a FoW for the Will, well, you just probably lost. Seems not too likely, though.
Congratulations to Mons, Goblin Chief for building the strongest Gifts solution to my challenge.
Until next time,