Innovations – The Italian Job: Playing Vintage

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Monday, September 8th – Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin is currently in Italy, for both yesterday’s Eurovino Vintage tournament and next weekend’s Grand Prix: Rimini. Today, he brings us a touch of Block talk, a smattering of Vintage, and a Next Level Blue deck for Magic’s most broken format…

Today, I am (mostly) going to recap my Italian Expedition, at least as it stands so far, but first, by request, even more talk on Block. I know, I know… you love it. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the business shortly thereafter.

We are starting with a Kithkin deck today. I know a lot of people like Stillmoon Cavalier, but my innovation is to play Kitchen Finks instead.

Here is the starting point.

Kithkin Finks

4 Figure of Destiny
4 Goldmeadow Stalwart
4 Wizened Cenn
4 Knight of Meadowgrain
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Spectral Procession
4 Unmake
2 Ajani Goldmane
1 Mirrorweave
4 Cloudgoat Ranger
4 Windbrisk Heights
2 Rustic Clachan
19 Plains

To begin with, you can see that Figure of Destiny, Kitchen Finks, Unmake, and Mirrorweave mean this deck is actually a five-color White deck. As such, the first change I made was to replace the Windbrisk Heights with Vivid Meadows.

Now that we have other colors of mana, I think we should consider changing the Knight of Meadowgrains into Shriekmaws and Runed Halos, so as to adopt a more defensive stance.

I also think that Goldmeadow Stalwart is a little weak without enough Kithkin to show to it. Let’s try Broken Ambitions instead.

We are definitely going to need more Blue lands, so let’s take out 8 Plains for 4 Vivid Creeks and 4 Mystic Gates.

Of course, with access to so much Blue mana and so few Kithkin, we should consider changing the Wizened Cenn to Cryptic Command, which I feel provides a stronger punch.

Unmake is solid removal, but I think that we want to be sure to win the Kithkin mirror. Firespout has traditionally been a stronger anti-Kithkin card, so let’s play four.

Spectral Procession is a strong source of flying, providing a literal three-for-one, but Mulldrifter is an even stronger three-for-one, since heads up, a Mulldrifter usually wins. Swap it.

I actually think we might not be aggressive enough to combat Faeries properly, so let’s try Cloudthreshers instead of Mirrorweave.

Yeah, we are definitely going to need more Vivid Lands…

As I write this, I am 12,000 feet above the ground. Or at least 12,000 feet above where the ground would be, if there was ground beneath me. I am flying across the Atlantic Ocean for my first international event in seven years.

In order to get to this point, though, I had to go through quite an ordeal in Chicago. I used to have a passport, but I had to get a new one this time around. Since I didn’t have time to apply by mail, I had to drive to Chicago the day before my flight and get one in person from the passport agency.

When I showed up, I waited in line for a while, eventually seeing someone that talked to me for five minutes. He then said I was all set, and to come back in an hour and a half.

Mike Jacob and I were very tired from driving all night, but had little choice but to hang out and just bide our time.

When I went back to pick up my passport, I was sent to a room with 200 people and told to wait for my name to be called. I waited, I waited, and I waited. Eventually, every single person had been called except me.

Needless to say, my heart was racing a little, as paranoid fantasies danced in my head. I approached the desk and asked what the problem was. “You have to speak with an agent in the Suspense Room…”

Are you joking? The Suspense Room?

I entered the Suspense Room, and saw some glass with a desk behind it. I walked up to the glass and read the sign on it.

“Do not approach the glass.”


I looked around, and there was a big sign on the wall.

“Sit down and wait.”

Was this real?

I waited for a while, and eventually returned to the original room to ask for assistance. I was told to return to the Suspense Room, sit down, and wait.

I did so, and I was eventually “dealt with” by a passport agent. He seemed to be of the opinion that I was up to no good, as my story about what happened to my last passport seemed to set off alarms in his head.

Eventually he told me to calm down, which I thought was strange considering I was calm and not even acting as wildly as usual.

Right after that, a uniformed guard came in and I thought it was over. I didn’t know what I had done wrong, but I was sure that the game was up. He merely looked at me and said something intelligible into his walkie-talkie. Then he left.

After another twenty minutes of “reasoning” with the agent, I eventually managed to leave with a passport. Success!

Less than 24 hours later, and MJ and I caught a flight to Atlanta, where we met up with LSV and Cheon. From there, we flew straight to Italy.

The plan is to hang out in Milan for almost a week, playing in a few Vintage tournaments, as well as doing some testing. Then, this upcoming weekend, we will all take a train down to Rimini and play in the last Block Constructed Grand Prix.

We are working on both Vintage and Block, but I will only get into our Vintage experience this time around, as I sincerely doubt you need to hear any more about how much we all love Five-Color Control.

I know Vintage is not everyone’s cup of tea, but bear with me. Vintage is a pretty cool format, and it deserves more attention than it receives. Besides, the good times flow around these parts, so it should be a fun ride regardless.

I have not played a ton of Vintage lately, so I am unsure of how well I will do… however, Brian DeMars, Steve Menendian, Paul Mastriano, and the rest of team Mean Deck have always been very helpful when it comes to keeping me up to date on the starte of the format.

I have also enjoyed the benefit of talking with superstar players who happen to also dabble in Vintage, such as Mike Long, David Williams, and LSV. With the help of these great minds, I feel like I have a shot at playing competitively, despite having no recent direct experience with the format.

Initially, I was planning on playing some sort of Pitch Long deck, as Menendian talks about here. This was based on my affinity for combo decks, and the near universal agreement that Long is the best major archetype.

However, after playing for a couple of hours with Brian DeMars, I was left very unsatisfied. The deck was powerful, no doubt, and I was winning reasonably well… however, I felt like I was too much at the mercy of whatever my opponents did.

It felt like I had a very mechanical line of play that was the way I should play, whereas my opponents could actually interact with me in meaningful ways and actually play Magic.

I enjoy winning, no doubt, but I also like actually getting to play a real game of Magic. I did not feel like the deck was so powerful that it was worth playing it when everyone is gunning for it, and I don’t particularly enjoy it.

The most interesting thing I learned was that while I mulliganed at least a third of games, the deck is very resilient to mulliganing and could easily win with five- or six-card hands. Seriously, a decent five-card hand is much better than a mediocre seven-card offering. You have so many insane plays, whether it’s Necro and the mana to cast it, Timetwister and the mana to cast it, or Ancestral Recall and the mana to cast it.

Basically, after playing for a couple of hours I knew I didn’t love the Long deck, nor did I love the DeMars Slaver-less Slaver deck.

The only major note on this deck is that a large number of Slaver players I have talked to say they never actually activate it. It was also interesting that this version seemed to go almost 50% against Long in game 1, and it has such a great sideboard plan that the match-up seems clearly favored.

That said, I was not inspired by this deck either. It just felt like another Slaver deck, an archetype I have not particularly loved. Why? It is not really a five-color Control deck at all. It is much more of a Tron deck, an archetype that I actively detest. I mean, how does this deck “control’ the game at all? All it does is hang out until it plays a giant robot and then bashes your face. That isn’t what I like to do.

I decided that since both of these decks seemed strong but not particularly fun, I would just try to brew my own. I threw together a Next Level Blue deck, powered up, and played some games. It was kind of awkward that I initially wanted to use three Chrome Moxes as well as a Voltaic Key and a Time Vault, but since the big tournaments in Milan are before the changes, I had to adjust.

After all was said and done, I was very pleased with the results. While I do not feel I broke Vintage, I felt like my deck was “good enough,” and a lot more fun for me. The impression I got with this format was that it is actually very wide open, and that just because a lot of people copy each other, it doesn’t mean that the lots of other people who don’t can’t do well. It is a great place for a rogue deckbuilder, though admittedly Long is kind of obnoxious for a lot of decks to compete with.

I talked to LSV about whether it was wise to play a rogue deck, and he told me it was more important to play a deck that I enjoy than what most would consider to be the “best deck.”

Fast forward a day…

Okay, I am at the tournament site in the middle of a Vintage Team Tournament. The really big tournament is tomorrow, but today, LSV, Cheon, David Besso, Stuart Shinkins, Andrea Giarola, and I are playing on some three-man teams.

The way this one works is that two of the members of the team can play with any cards they want, whereas the third team member cannot play Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Timetwister, Black Lotus, or the original Moxen. You could still have your team play 12 Mana Drains, if you were so inclined, and so on.

Here is what I played in the Team Tournament.

I brewed this one up myself, so it is possible that there is a better version out there. Still, it is a lot more fun than Long, Slaver, Stax, or Dredge, in my opinion, though without any of the Big Four (Dark Ritual, Mana Drain, Workshop, and Bazaar) it is certainly starting from a disadvantage power-level-wise.

The recent discovery of Leyline of the Void plus Helm of Obedience doesn’t seem to be making that big of waves around here, but we will see what tomorrow brings.

Round 1 I played against a non-powered U/W Fish deck with Meddling Mage, Kataki, Ninja of the Deep Hours, Sage of Epityr, Cursecatcher, Daze, Stifle, Force of Will, and so on. Game 1 I lost on account of the die roll. He played turn 1 Chalice, which shut down my hand.

Game 2 I won easily by playing Lotus, Mox, Land, Tarmogoyf, Top, Time Walk, Counterbalance. Game 3 would have been a good one, but I set myself up to lose if he has both Stifle and Daze turn 1, which he did. I still would have been fine if I drew a land in the next 5 turns, as his draw was not aggressive, but it was not to be.

We end up drawing the round on account of one of the matches not finishing. Ah, the draw bracket.

Round 2, I played against another un-powered Fish deck, this time U/r. I win one game with Counterbalance Top and one with Old Man of the Sea. Our team pulls out the win.

One of my teammates beat an Oath deck by Ancestral Recalling him in response to the kill, so we are now 1-0-1.

Round 3, my opponent was playing Stax. For the third match in a row, I lose the die roll. Game 1, I have Louts, Mox, and no way to stop his turn 1 Chalice.

Game 2 I win easily with turn 1 Mox, Mox, Time Walk, Thoughtseize. Turn 2, my Goyf with Grudge back-up was enough to win.

Game 3 I was locked by Crucible plus Wasteland plus Smokestack plus Thorns, despite coming out to a blazing start. I still would have beaten all of this if not for the turn 2 Karn, Silver Golem.

Our team ends up losing that match, and is stuck having to win out just to have a shot. It’s all good, as I am just glad to be getting in some practice. It is annoying, though, that I am having so much trouble on account of the die roll.

Round 4, I played against a Mono-Brown MUD deck. I ended up beating him in three games, though my teammates lost, so we were out of the tournament.

I learned some interesting things. First of all, I want the Tarmogoyfs in the main. I boarded my other two in every round. Second of all, Duress should just be Thoughtseize. Every time I cast it, I wished it was Thoughtseize. Beyond that, I am probably going to keep the list mostly the same, albeit with a few minor changes here and there.

Man, the living situation here in Milan is insane. I am staying with David Besso, which is nice, but the fact that there are nine people staying in a two-bedroom apartment is… how shall we say this… cozy. The fact that there is no air conditioning is a little rough.

This city is so beautiful. I have been to Milan several times before, but this is the first time I have traveled internationally in seven years. You can imagine just how sweet this all is. Summer in Italy. Good times with friends. Magical cards. Seriously, sometimes this job is just awesome.

I was drafting with some of the locals earlier. Wow, you kids today have no idea just how good you have it. In my day, to get in a draft you had to walk ten miles in the snow, uphill both ways, barefoot, on broken glass and razor blades, after a long day in the coal mine… and even then we had to run our Triple Homelands draft with just seven people.

Right, I’ve gotta get back to playtesting for the Grand Prix. You’ll have to wait and see what Manuel B and I have cooked up this time!

Next week, I will recount the Grand Prix, with both in-game and out-of-game adventures. I will let you guys know how the big Vintage tournament turns out. I will also drop a little bit of insider information on a new strategy guide coming out this fall.

See you then!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”