Lessons In Humility

The weekend past in Roanoke at the SCG Power Nine double-header was a humbling experience that left me questioning what I know and not knowing what to question. I ended up taking home a Timetwister by the end of the weekend by getting 9th Place on Day Two, but the experience has reshaped my view of Vintage and refined my understanding of Meandeck Gifts. So let me tell you what I learned in defeat.

The weekend past in Roanoke at the SCG Power Nine double-header was a humbling experience that left me questioning what I know and not knowing what to question. I ended up taking home a Timetwister by the end of the weekend by getting 9th Place on Day Two, but the experience has reshaped my view of Vintage and refined my understanding of Meandeck Gifts.

This article is the set up. Because my in-game is so comprehensive, the four matches I played on Day One weigh in at twenty pages of text. Rather than dump fifty pages of article on you, the bulk of the heavy analysis will come next week when I bring together the themes that I introduced here.

Here is what I played Day One:

Round One: Brian Demars

Pairings were posted and I saw my name next to Brian’s. Brian hadn’t walked up to the pairings sheet, and I caught him milling around looking a bit lost. I grabbed his attention and told him to take a seat at my table. He looked dejected by this turn of events. The good news for him was that my mind wasn’t on the game; my alternator died the night before and I had been trying to reach a repair shop in the Roanoke area all morning. I was more worried about my car and getting out Virginia than this silly tournament. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get my car fixed until Tuesday following the tournament.)

I was fortunate enough to win the die roll. Unfortunately, my hand of seven had absolutely no blue mana. After announcing a mulligan, I peered at the top six or so cards and no land was in sight.

I mulliganed into a saucy of hand of six that had the same problem:

Sol Ring
Mox Ruby
Mox Pearl
Force of Will
Gifts Ungiven

I agonized for a bit over this hand. A single blue source and I’m in business…. But you can’t keep that, either. After announcing a second mulligan, I peeked at the top card — it’s a Polluted Delta.

My hand of five was this:

Force of Will
Gifts Ungiven
Fact or Fiction

This is probably wrong, but I announce that I’ll keep. It has two pitch Counterspells, which means I can actually do something (two things) in the early game. It has Brainstorm, which means that a land in the next two or three cards is probably as good as a mulligan to four. I keep it.

Remember that I was on the play. Here’s how the game went:

Turn 1:
Me: Pass.

Brian: Huh?

Me: I just took my turn. Go ahead.

Brian: Huh?

Me: Go, man.

Brian plays Island, Sol Ring, Mana Vault, burns for one colorless mana, and passes.

Turn 2:
Me: Draw, go.

Brian: Mindslaver.

Me: Force of Will on the Slaver.

Turn 3:
Me: Draw, go.

Brian: Volcanic Island, Crucible of Worlds

Turn 4:
Me: Draw, go.

Brian: On my end step, he plays Mystical Tutor for Gifts Ungiven.

Turn 5:
Me: Draw, go.

On my end step, he plays Gifts Ungiven for Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Thirst for Knowledge, Mana Drain.

I consider my options, briefly.

Holding Misdirection, I very much want him to play Ancestral. Looking at this game state and this board position (and drawing upon my pattern recognition, as well as the caliber of the player I am facing), I have little chance of winning. It seems to me that whatever chance of winning I have, it has to come from a blunder on his part.

Remembering that people are most likely to make a play mistake at the moment of victory, I decide to give him a chance to Ancestral into my Misdirection, knowing full well that by giving him Ancestral I’m signaling that I have Misdirection.


I give him Ancestral Recall and the best cantrip ever printed, Time Walk.

This was, clearly, a mistake. The correct split would have been to give him Time Walk and Mana Drain, sending the two draw spells to the bin. I’m already racking up the mistakes. I only hope that if my mind had not been on my car I wouldn’t have played so poorly.

Brian: Draw, go.

Turn 6:
Me: Draw, go.

On my end step, he plays Ancestral Recall. I play Misdirection. He plays Mana Drain — and then he Brainstorms, plays Underground Sea, Goblin Welder, Time Walks, Demonic Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will on his next turn. He untaps and easily wins.

My next card was an Island.

Counterfactually, had I given him Drain and Time Walk, he would not have had the Ancestral and Brainstorm dig him half as deeply into his deck. I would have had a few more turns. Given that my hand was utterly absurd by this point, I may have had a slim chance to pull it out had I not given him Ancestral. Giving him Drain would have increased his desire to interact with me.

Granted, I wouldn’t have had much time — perhaps two turns at most. But in Vintage, you can’t really ask for anything more.

C’est la vie.

I sideboard in three Red Elemental Blasts, two Duresses, and a Fire / Ice. I sideboarded out Fact or Fiction, Recoup, Vampiric Tutor, a Gifts Ungiven, Mox Pearl, and Rebuild.

Game Two:
I am disheartened to have to mulligan for a third time in two games.

My hand was:

Force of Will
Merchant Scroll
Mox Jet
Polluted Delta

This hand has all the components of a classic Meandeck Gifts opener. It has the Mox for turn 1 Scroll to preclude the opponent from having Mana Drain online before either Scroll or Ancestral can be cast. It has pitch magic to protect both the Scroll and the Ancestral. And it has a nice mix of mana so that Gifts (or any other follow-up bomb) can come online quickly. Alternatively, a topdecked Drain become quickly playable.

Turn 1:
I follow the script and play of turn 1 Mox, Island, Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall.

I can’t say I’m surprised when Brian downloads his hand onto the table by dropping Mana Crypt, Mox Ruby, and Tolarian Academy to generate a potential total of five mana on turn 1.

His first play is to play Ancestral Recall of his own. How fortunate for Brian that he is unencumbered by the need for tutors to find Ancestral!

After a brief moment of consideration, I pitch Force of Will to Misdirection, targeting his Ancestral. My Misdirection resolves.

I am greatly relieved and envision myself winning this game quickly.

Not so fast… Brian uses his remaining mana to put Tinker onto the stack. I watch Brian struggle with the same calculus that I am flirting with: does he get the Mindslaver or the Sundering Titan in this position?

In the world of Pat Chapin, resolved Ancestral is the trump card unless trumped by another “I win card.” What happens if I resolve his Ancestral, he plays another trump card, and then I resolve my own Ancestral? Which trump card trumps?

Clearly, in my view, the more dangerous card has to be Slaver. Having resolved two Ancestrals, Slaver is the card that could most quickly unravel the board state.

There are two direct weaknesses in the Slaver plan: First, you can, to some degree, play around it. I could Brainstorm away things that could kill me, or worse, I may just win before he can activate it. I could try and fashion a hand where he can do some serious damage with the Slaver, but one that would leave him with no gas and me still ahead in the race to the finish line.

Second, as I said, it would leave him with nothing. It’s an all-or-nothing plan.

But so is Sundering Titan. The advantages of Titan are this: a) It puts me in a tailspin to win immediately. Even if I can remove the Titan, he gets the advantage of destroying many of my lands — lands from when the Titan hits play and more when it could return to Brian’s hand. In either case, Titan will probably deal a great deal of damage before leaving play.

I probably would have sought out the Slaver, based upon the assumption that in Vintage, Slaver is the ultimate trump card — that is, based upon Chapin’s math, double Ancestral is going to trump a big dumb creature.

He went for the Titan. I wasn’t surprised, since both were logical choices. He blew up my Island.

One wrinkle before moving onto turn 2: notice that I could have pitched my Ancestral to Misdirection. I honestly didn’t foresee Tinker being played after his Ancestral. Why would I? His hand was mostly restricted cards. Assuming I had pitched Ancestral, I would have drawn into a blue spell that would have been pitchable to my Force of Will to stop his Tinker, probably winning a very long game. Meandeck Gifts is a deck that relies on Ancestral. Pitching my Ancestral is not a thought I entertain very far.

Nonetheless, it is something I will consider my carefully in the future.

Turn 2:
I played an Island I drew off of Brian’s Ancestral and played my own Ancestral. In the two Ancestrals, I drew two lands, two Moxen, and two more Counterspells. I have no business as of yet, and am staring down a Sundering Titan. I am not that worried, however, as I know that I’ve blown through some chaff on the top and should see something relatively soon.

Brian attacks me to fourteen, plays Black Lotus, and passes the turn.

Notice that even if I can bounce his Titan, he is once again in a position to replay it.

Turn 3:
I draw more countermagic: Red Elemental Blast. Interaction on the stack is nice, but what I need is a Merchant Scroll or a Gifts Ungiven.

Brian: He attacks me to seven.

Turn 4:
It’s do or die.

I topdeck Brainstorm.

I play Brainstorm and drop Black Lotus, Mox Emerald, and announce Merchant Scroll, tapping an Island and the Emerald. He taps his Academy and plays Mana Drain.

My hand has Drain, Red Elemental Blast, and Misdirection. I see all the puzzle pieces, but I don’t quite know how to optimally configure them.

I ponder the question and decide to break the Delta for a Volcanic Island , knowing full well that when I bounce the Titan, I will lose the Volcanic Island.

Brian throws a monkey wrench into this questionable plan by announcing Stifle. Brian thinks this is a clever move, but he can’t see that it’s really an irrelevant move. The downside is that I lose a life to my fetchland activation.

I break the Black Lotus and announce Mana Drain on his Mana Drain. My scroll resolves and I find Chain of Vapor.

Drawing upon the final Black Lotus mana, I announce Chain, targeting his Titan, killing one Island and leaving another in play.

Before passing the turn, I play Lotus Petal. A questionable play, to say the least.

My board is now Island, Mox Emerald, Lotus Petal.

This was an interesting turn of events. I could like to more closely scrutinize the series of plays, but this article is already going to be long enough and I don’t really think it’s worth the bother at the moment.

On Brian’s turn, he plays Thirst for Knowledge, discarding the Titan. He breaks his Black Lotus for RRR and plays Gorilla Shaman.

He uses the remaining mana to eat my Petal and my Mox.

Blunder, blunder, chicken-thunder. He has now used his Titan and Shaman to annihilate my mana supply. Is the squeeze going to be enough? Has he tempoed me out of this game?

If you think I’ve played poorly until now (and I think I have), wait until you see what I do next.

Turn 5:
I play a fetchland, going to five life, and find Underground Sea. I tap the Sea and the Island and announce Time Walk.

Did you see what I did wrong? You missed it, didn’t you?

I had Mana Drain mana floating in my first main phase. The full import of this mistake should be clear: I just lost a turn because I’m at five life and he has Gorilla Shaman.

What I should have done was play Time Walk, burning one life. This was a novice mistake: I mana burned two because I forgot about my Mana Drain mana. What I could have done was Brainstorm, fetch, Time Walk, only burning one.

I go to three life.

Brian attacks me to two.

Turn 6:
I Brainstorm into Yawgmoth’s Will, but only have one additional mana available. If I had done the Time Walk thing correctly, I could have possibly set up the Yawgmoth’s Will. Brian tells me that he had Drain anyway, but I may have been able to pull it off through that resistance.

Anyway, despite my mistakes (which were significant, but possibly not game altering) I think that this goes to show you something important: Tinker trumps two Ancestral Recalls.

Remember Chapin’s maxim: Ancestral followed by trump loses to the trump, but what about Ancestral followed by trump followed by Ancestral? The interceding trump still can win, especially if it’s Tinker.

I lost a game I thought I was certain to win. Well, I’m off on the wrong foot.

Round Two: Brandon Cook, playing CounterGoblins

He wins the roll.

Game One:

Turn 1:
He plays Wooded Foothills and fetches it into Volcanic Island, and lays Aether Vial.

I play Mox Ruby, Tolarian Academy, and Time Walk. Then I play Volcanic Island, Merchant Scroll, and Ancestral Recall myself.

I played the Tolarian first because I want him to think it’s more important so he’ll Wasteland it first, if that makes sense.

Turn 2:

He puts a counter on Vial and obliges my psychological bait: he Wastes my Tolarian Academy with Wasteland.

I play Brainstorm, Underground Sea, and Chain of Vapor his Aether Vial.

Turn 3:
I am dismayed to see that he has another Wasteland. Will the mana denial ever stop? But then I am bewildered to watch him tap his Wasteland and Volcanic Island for Time Walk, only to play another Foothills/Volcanic Island into the utterly stupendous (a.k.a. terrible) play of Goblin Warchief.

He would have been much better off just cutting me off from another land. Instead, I take the opportunity to thank him by winning.

On my upkeep, I tap my Volcanic Island for Mystical Tutor. I put Yawgmoth’s Will safely on the top of my library, which conveniently transfers the card into my hand during my draw step. I drop Mana Crypt, Mox Emerald and use the Underground Sea (which could be in my graveyard right now) to play Demonic Tutor for Black Lotus. I use the Lotus to play Yawgmoth’s Will.

I replay Black Lotus, Tolarian Academy, and Mystical for Tendrils of Agony. I Ancestral Recall into the Tendrils for the kill.

Note that I had Chain of Vapor in my graveyard for more storm.

Perhaps it is time to discuss this again. I think that banning Yawgmoth’s Will could have a seriously positive impact on the format. It’s at least something that should be more seriously entertained than it currently is.

I sideboarded in Fire / Ices and Pyroclasms. I also cut Rebuild for Hurkyl’s Recall.

Game Two
My hand is:

Volcanic Island
Hurkyl’s Recall
Gifts Ungiven
Yawgmoth’s Will

This game plays out very similarly to the first.

Turn 1:

He plays Wooded Foothills, Volcanic Island, and Goblin Lackey.

I play Island, Brainstorm into Fire / Ice, Island, and Tolarian Academy.

Turn 2:
He plays Foothills into Volcano once again. He attacks me to nineteen and puts a Matron into play which finds Recruiter, which he hard-casts, stacking the top six cards of his deck with some combination of Goblin Piledrivers and another red creatures.

I play Volcanic Island, go.

Turn 3:
He Wastelands my Volcanic Island, and I Fire his Lackey and Recruiter. He puts a Warchief into play.

I play Tolarian Academy and pass.

Turn 4:
He plays Piledriver and is now one strike away from killing me.

But it’s too late. The Fire was a delaying tactic. I play Volcanic Island, Mana Crypt, and Gifts Ungiven for Lotus Petal, Tendrils of Agony, Black Lotus, and Mox Jet.

This is the leverage Yawgmoth’s Will in hand buys you. Yawgmoth’s Will in hand makes Gifts Ungiven incredibly unfair.

Predictably, he gave me Lotus Petal and Tendrils. I play Petal and Will, tapping out. I replayed Petal and then played Mox Jet, and Black Lotus.

I play Hurkyl’s Recall to replay my Mana Crypt and Mox Jet. I put Tendrils on the Stack and the game is over.

Interlude: Note on Average Number of Turns Per Vintage Game
Recently, I wrote an article for magicthegathering.com in which I claimed that the average number of turns in Vintage was slightly over 4.5 per player. Some readers questioned that statistic. Let me explain it a bit and where it came from.

First of all, the purpose for citing that statistic was to undermine the claim that Vintage is all about turn 1 kills. That damning claim is starkly refuted by the assertion that the average player gets over 4.5 turns per game. On the other hand, it is also true that many Vintage experts overestimate the number of turns per game, on average. This occurs because so much happens in a game.

Take a look at four games I’ve presented in this tournament so far. Two were control mirrors and one was Aggro-Combo versus Control. The average number of turns in those four games was 4.75.

Brian read my article and assumed that I was talking about the Combo versus Gifts match when I said that games were that short. I was not.

Take a look at some of my matchup articles in my archive. Take a look at my Control Slaver v. Ichorid article. At the end, I calculated that the average number of turns per game in the very small sample I drew there was 5.42 — a number that skewed very much upward because of the one super-long game that began with Balance.

My view is basically this: the slowest decks in the format, Fish and Stax, basically seal the game by turn 10 almost every time. Fish wins by about turn 8.5 (U/R Fish used to take about 9.5 turns) and Stax takes anywhere from 5.5 to 9.5 turns. When I played Stax at SCG Richmond last May, I remember having the opportunity to win by turn 3 or 4 using an early Karn, Silver Golem. Instead, I played it safe and drew. Decks like Slaver and Gifts routinely win by turn 4 and often on turn 3, sometimes on turn 2, and once in a while on turn 1. And obviously, decks like Pitch Long and Dragon win mostly around turn 2, but the average is really somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5 turns per player per game.

I challenge anyone who thinks I’m wrong, although I’m using only anecdotal evidence, to actually document the number of turns per game at your next tournament. Don’t use tick marks, but actually keep careful track of this.

Sure, I know that sometimes Vintage games can play “Draw, go” for a very long time. My belief, based upon lots of years of doing play-by-plays, is that the player on the play gets slightly above five turns on average and the player on the draw gets about four turns on average, making over 4.5 turns per player per game.

Round Three: Jeff Folinas playing Pitch Long (he later won the tournament)

He won the roll.

I knew what Jeff was playing, and in my pre-match banter I remarked that I this would be a fun and memorable matchup. Part of the reason I was playing this deck was because I had a strong Pitch Long matchup. I was eager to show it and comfortable with my ability to win this match.

My opening hand was:

Mox Jet
Mana Crypt
Polluted Delta
Demonic Tutor
Library of Alexandria

On the draw, I could drop Library and then Tutor for Force of Will, which would probably be my play unless I drew something that would change that plan.

Turn 1:
Jeff played Black Lotus — always a bad sign for the opposing player when facing combo.

Here is what he did:

1) Black Lotus for BBB
2) Dark Ritual, BBBBB
3) Sol Ring, 2BBBB
4) Grim Tutor, 1BB
5) Cabal Ritual, BBBB
6) Mox Sapphire, BBBBU
7) Timetwister

My new hand had no Force of Will.

8) Dark Ritual, BBBB

Polluted Delta into Underground Sea

9) Ancestral Recall
10) Black Lotus BBBBBBB
11) Dark Ritual, BBBBBBBBB
12) Yawgmoth’s Will

Black Lotus, Rituals, Grim Tutor for Tendrils and I die on turn 1.

Some of you may be shocked to see a turn 1 win. I wasn’t upset or particularly disturbed by the outcome of this game. The way Pitch Long or Grim Long works is that it tries to steal a game a match through sheer brokenness. Without that X factor, the deck wouldn’t be worth playing given the inherent instability of Combo. I knew that I’d probably take the second game and then game three would be the toughie. That’s exactly what happened.

I sideboarded in Red Elemental Blasts, Fire / Ice, and Duress probably in a similar manner to how I sideboarded against Brian in round one.

Game Two:

Turn 1:
I open with Mox Jet, Mox Sapphire, Polluted Delta, Ancestral Recall and Lotus Petal.

He plays Mox Sapphire, Mystical Tutor, Mox Pearl, Tolarian Academy, and Brainstorm.

Turn 2:
I played Volcanic Island and passed, asserting my control position with board dominance.

He plays Flooded Strand and Ancestral Recalls, which I Misdirect. He plays Cabal Ritual and Misdirects my Misdirection. Unfortunately for me, his Ancestral resolves in his favor.

Turn 3:
I play Island, go. He plays Demonic Tutor, Mox Ruby, and plays Memory Jar. I Force of Will the Jar.

Turn 4:
I play Time Walk, Island. During my upkeep, I Gifts Ungiven for Red Elemental Blast, Duress, Mana Drain, and Force of Will. He gives me Red Elemental Blast and Force of Will, so I drop Mox Ruby and pass.

He plays Bayou and Grim Tutor.

Turn 5:
I play Tolarian Academy to destroy his.

He plays Yawgmoth’s Will, which I Force of Will. He Misdirects, but I REB it. He plays Force of Will, but I Pyroblast.

Turn 6:
I play Merchant Scroll for Mystical Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will and win on turn 7.

Ironically, this game was the longest game so far. However, I didn’t get a turn in game one, so it balances out.

Game Three:
We suit up for the final battle. Having had two lopsided games, I know that this is going to be a barn-burner.

Turn 1:
He starts us out with the conventional Underground Sea, Brainstorm.

I play Lotus Petal, Island, Sol Ring, Mana Vault, signaling a speedy but awkward hand.

I ponder my options but see no choice other than to break the Petal for black to Duress.

I see Black Lotus, Lotus Petal, Cabal Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Force of Will, Brainstorm.

Assuming that he has his strongest card on top of his deck, what do I do? What could he have put on top that he passed the turn? If he had Grim Tutor, he wins the game immediately, does he not?

The way I see it is that he needed one more card in hand, so he was waiting until turn 2. Look at it:

Petal, Lotus, Cabal Ritual is only five mana. He needs six to Grim Tutor for Will. With the land open, he’ll have seven so he can Grim Tutor for the Tendrils post-Will.

Seeing all of that logic could lead me down the route of taking Black Lotus, but I have Force of Will and a blue spell in hand, so I narrow my options to Force of Will or Brainstorm.

The question then becomes one of timing. Taking the Brainstorm helps me in the short term because he will eventually get another blue card to use his Force. But if I take the Force, he could Brainstorm his way into the win within a few turns giving him a turn 3 and 4 advantage.

I take the Brainstorm.

Turn 2:
Indeed, he hid Grim Tutor on top.

He plays Black Lotus, Cabal Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Lotus Petal, Grim Tutor.

The smart play would have been to let the Grim Tutor resolve, but I stupidly counter the Grim Tutor instead pitching Gifts Ungiven, emptying my hand. I don’t think I fully grasped the situation at the time.

We are both in topdeck mode and I know his last card in hand is Force of Will.

I play Black Lotus, Go.

Turn 3:
He plays Bayou, Go.

I play “Draw, go.”

Turn 4:
He plays Brainstorm, go.

I play “Draw, go.”

Turn 5:
He plays Xantid Swarm, which I Mana Drain.

I topdeck Merchant Scroll and play Ancestral into another Scroll, which I use to find Gifts. I Gifts for control cards, and we play about five more turns each.

My hand becomes Mana Drain, Mana Drain, Force of Will, and Mystical Tutor. I debate whether to play Mystical for Tinker and start attacking. The sooner I make the play, the better it is. Each turn that I delay, his hand builds. However, if I see a black mana I can Mystical for Yawgmoth’s Will and just win the game. Also, I want to be able to triple Counterspell. If I Tinker, there will be a turn where I can only have one Drain up.

Time is called. On turn 1 of time, I feel I have no choice: I Mystical for Tinker for Darksteel Colossus.

On turn 2, he plays Black Lotus, Necropotence. He’s at fourteen life. He won’t get many cards out of it, especially since he’ll likely take a hit from my Colossus. But I decide not to risk it, so I Drain the Necro — and he then plays Ritual, Tendrils for ten.

I have to Force of Will the last copy, since I’m only at thirteen life and since gaining ten life would put him out of Colossus range within two turns. Remember that I Drained the Necro and have nothing to sink it into. I go to five, and then I untap and mana burn, going to two life. He goes to twenty-two.

On turn three of turns, I attack him to eleven, ready to kill on turn 5… Unfortunately, he’s holding another Tendrils. He plays it and kills me.

There was a long stretch of mid-game where I could have just gone for the win and sealed the game. I played conservatively, hoping to maximize my Counterspell power at all times, and in doing so I opened myself up to a Tendrils kill at the very end. Had I drawn a black mana, it wouldn’t have mattered… But I didn’t. I had the chance to kill him, but I wanted to play it “safe.” The result was a loss at the hands of Tendrils of Agony.

Ironically, the failure to let Grim Tutor resolve on turn 2 made a big difference — not because the Will would be in the graveyard, but because he would have had less life. When he played Necro, he was at fourteen life. My fear was that he’d draw a few cards to find a Chain of Vapor and be able to use pitch magic to make it resolve. That is, he could Necro a lot and then Chain + Force of Will backup.

If I had let that turn 2 Grim Tutor resolve, his Necro would have been much weaker bait. He would have had less life to dig and the failure to stop Colossus immediately would result in a one-swing game for me. Even if he had tried to bounce the Colossus, I wouldn’t have used my Mana Drain on the Necro. Thus, I would have had Force of Will and Drain up to stop his attempt to bounce my Colossus — which would probably be enough to finish him off.

Instead, I had to use a Drain on his Necro and a Force pitching Drain on a Tendrils copy so that I wouldn’t die. It was a tremendous waste of my resources… And all because of a very strange position that the game had evolved into. Also, I wouldn’t have mana burned from countering the Necro, which would have kept his Tendrils from killing me.

For want of a nail….

The longer the game goes, the more life does matter. The Mana Vault damage I took put me in Tendrils range. Each point of mana burn mattered greatly. I tried to plug up some holes, but new ones sprung up. My fervent attempt to play the control role undermined my ability to maximize my chances of winning. I was stuck in role paralysis instead of being sufficiently flexible to see that my chances of winning peaked in the mid-game. Moreover, my failure to see that I needed to let the Grim Tutor resolve so that Yawgmoth’s Will would go the graveyard gave him three life he needed to ruin my endgame.

Round Four: Pitch Long, again
I win the die roll and elect to play. I’m not sure what he’s playing when we sit down. He looks calm and focused.

Turn 1:

I play Flooded Strand, Lotus Petal, holding Mana Drain up.

His opening is better. He plays Black Lotus, Dark Ritual, Necropotence.

I scramble to play Mana Drain, but he answers with Misdirection. With the two mana floating he plays Demonic Tutor — as if resolving turn 1 Necropotence wasn’t enough!

I know this game is over if he executes his endgame with anything more than gross incompetence.

Turn 2:
I meekly play Sol Ring and pass.

On his upkeep, he plays Vampiric Tutor, which elicits a chuckle from my side of the table.

He plays Polluted Delta, Mox Sapphire, and casts Ancestral Recall. Delta finds a Swamp. I am shocked that he passes the turn.

Turn 3:
I play Merchant Scroll for Force of Will. He plays Tinker and then Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, and Yawgmoth’s Will.

The game is over. He replays the mana acceleration he unfurled on turn 1 and easily finds the Tendrils for the game win.

Game Two:
This match already resembles the previous one. However, I’m losing my focus due to my lingering irritation at the previous match’s happenings. He mulligans to five and I know it’s going to be another blow out.

I play Mox Ruby, Underground Sea, and Demonic Tutor.

He plays Flooded Strand into Underground Sea.

Turn 2:
I play Mana Vault, Island, and then cast Gifts Ungiven for Duress, Force of Will, Misdirection, and Mana Drain. He gives me the two pitch Counterspells.

I play Ancestral Recall. He plays Brainstorm in response. On his upkeep, he plays Mystical Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will.

He plays Polluted Delta into Underground Sea and Duresses me.

I honestly consider countering his Duress. I would be lying if some small part of me didn’t let the Duress resolve for amusement value. Oh, how I relished the look on his face when he saw Force of Will, Force of Will,

Force of Will, Misdirection, Misdirection, Mana Drain, Merchant Scroll.

And yet, as powerful as that hand seems, I think it illustrates something I want to return to time and again in this report: my inability to properly play into the optimal role. This hand isn’t as strong as it appears. It’s not that he is going to win this game; much like game two in the previous match, given the opening, it should have been a no-hitter instead of a mere shut-out. By taking the Merchant Scroll, he gives his deck time to try to wear down my defense.

Turn 3:
I draw Red Elemental Blast.

And, like game two of the previous round, we slip into topdeck mode.

A few turns down the road, I Duress him and see Black Lotus, Dark Ritual,

Lotus Petal, Chain of Vapor, Memory Jar, and Yawgmoth’s Will. Obviously, I take Yawgmoth’s Will.

He attempts to play the Jar, but I counter it… And fortunately, I win a few turns later.

Although I won, I am frustrated. Despite my insane hand, it actually turned out to be a very tenuous sort of control position. My ability to seize on and really crush my opponent from the control role turns out to be quite difficult.

Game Three:
My frustration bleeds away the focus and seriousness that game three deserves.

My opening hand is something like:

Black Lotus
Volcanic Island
Gifts Ungiven
Red Elemental Blast
Chain of Vapor
Another nonland card

The hand is clearly problematic: I have a rainbow of colors, but a very limited mana supply to fuel them. Even as a goldfish hand, I would be hard-pressed to identify an optimal line of play. Clearly, an early Gifts looks to be the way to go, but what to get?

Instead of the careful analysis this hand deserves, I decide to improvise.

Turn 1:
He gets Polluted Delta and fetches Tropical Island, and casts Xantid Swarm.
I’m not overly concerned. I know this is the third game, which traditionally signals that neither one of us is going to have the nuts (since the first two games were lopsided — I know that isn’t a logical analysis of the situation, but hey). I figure I have until turn 2 to deal with him.

I play the Volcanic Island and Black Lotus, which I use to announce Gifts Ungiven. It resolves. I find Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Lotus Petal, and Force of Will.

He gives me Mox Sapphire and Lotus Petal. My thinking was that I needed mana. Gifting here for a mana gave me the resources to play the spells from my hand and to topdeck well. It also opens the door for a strong mid-game Yawgmoth’s Will.

I Chain the Swarm and then Force it a turn or two later.

Eventually I establish a position where I once again have a solid control grip on the game state. Then time is called.

Turn 1 of Time:
The situation is this: My board is Island, Mox Sapphire, Underground Sea. I just drew and played the Sea so that this is the first time I can use the black cards in my hand.

My hand is Misdirection, Duress, and Demonic Tutor.

His hand: One card

His board: Underground Sea, Tropical Island, Lion’s Eye Diamond.

The turn before he had played Cabal Ritual before trying to Timetwister, which left him with BB floating and an unused Tropical Island. This signaled that he had no card left in his hand that he could have played last turn. Nonetheless, I wanted to be sure…. So I Duress him and see Elvish Spirit Guide.

I had presumed that I had made the right play, but now I realize that I was wrong. I should have played Demonic Tutor here.

Turn 2 of Time:
He takes his turn and passes. A crowd is gathering behind my opponent and some people gasp when he draws his card.

Turn 3 of Time:
On turn 3, I play Demonic Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will so that I’ll win on turn 5 of time. However, on turn 4 he draws Grim Tutor and he plays Cabal Ritual, Grim Tutor, response sacrifice LED and wins the game.

Notice my mistake, subtle as it was: I played Duress on turn 1 of turns because I wanted to clear his hand… But there was nothing he could have played. Every Draw Seven, every Tutor, every bomb (aside from Bargain or Desire) would have been playable from the position he was in. If I had played Demonic Tutor instead of Duress on turn 1 of time, I would have won the game with turn 3 Yawgmoth’s Will. Even if I had played Tutor and then Duressed the following turn, I would have cut him off from being able to play the Grim Tutor with the Cabal Ritual.

He topdecked perfectly and I made one subtle play mistake. And so I lose the game.

I am exasperated.

The common thread throughout the entire tournament is “my conservative play leads to game losses.” At every turn where I could have made the bolder play and gone for the win, instead I made plays designed to prevent my opponent from winning. The end result was both Pitch Long matches: a game three in which both players were poised to win in turns, but in which the Pitch Long deck in fact did.

After four rounds of Swiss, I have the miserable record of 1-3. Rather than play on, I drop to clear my head and watch the OSU-Michigan game.