Some Background From Teddy Cardgame
Back at Pro Tour: Seattle in July of 2004, I was having dinner with Randy Buehler and told him that Sundering Titan and Mindslaver were starting to see play in Type One. His jaw dropped and said, “You’re kidding! Those can’t be good in Vintage, can they?” repeating words that so many other players had said in the months previous. At that same dinner, Randy mentioned the fact that he would love to play in our unsanctioned Power 9 tournaments – in fact many Wizards employees (who are barred from Sanctioned play) would – but being on the other side of the United States was a problem. While Randy didn’t get to play at that first Power 9, Aaron Forsythe presence at P9 #2 was a result of those early dinner chats.
This past weekend Randy played in his first tournament since 1999… and won. Even better was that it was an unsanctioned 12-Proxy Vintage event with a Black Lotus as the grand prize. We sent our crack reporter JP Meyer off to a secret resort on the island of Maui (also known as “R&D’s Winter Home”) to ask Randy about his tournament experience, what deck he played, how R&D looks at Vintage and his thoughts on the format as a whole.
Randy Buehler Rides Again!
[Setting: Picture Randy sitting by the pool wearing a straw hat, a flowing Hawaiian shirt, and sunglasses while drinking a pina colada.]
JP: What sort of preparation did you do before this event? Did you design/playtest with other members of R&D?
Randy: A guy in Market Research named Ryan Lorenz discovered this awesome store in Tacoma called Tabletop Games. I think he made Top 8 at their last unsanctioned Type 1 tourney and he told us they were having another one. I had been wishing those Star City tournaments were on my side of the country, imagining how nice it would be to play a Magic tournament again. (Wizards employees are prohibited from playing in DCI sanctioned events, but since they use proxies they are unsanctioned and thus we’re not prohibited from playing.) Well here one was… not quite as big or prestigious, but the same basic idea. John Carter (of Magic Rules Manager and Saturday School fame) proxied up some decks last week, but I was too busy with real work stuff to play even a single game. I had to content myself with reading about Type 1 on Star City and The Mana Drain and doing test draws on the deck I put together.
JP: What deck did you play? How did you choose this deck – did you just snag something that looked cool, or did you grab something that fit the old Buehler style of play?
Randy: Two things went into my deck choice. On the one hand I was sure before I even started looking for a deck that I wanted to play with Force of Will and maybe also Duress … all the stuff I hear people complaining about seemed vulnerable to those strategies. (I also knew I would play Brainstorm … I know how ridiculous it was with Thawing Glaciers back in my day, so I was sure it would be nuts with the Onslaught fetchlands. I think Brainstorm is actually my pick for the single most powerful unrestricted card in the format right now.) On the other hand I thought [author name="Stephen Menendian"]Stephen Menendian[/author] wrote a really insightful article on Goblin Welder – the one where he argued that Mishra’s Workshop was no better than Mana Drain so why are people calling for its restriction, especially when Welder shows up way more than either? Anyway, I was interested in seeing what all the fuss was about with Welders.
I didn’t have time to make anything truly innovative, so those two thoughts made my choice pretty easy: Control Slaver. I found a list attributed to Rich Shay, tweaked a few cards, and ran it as follows…
4 Mana Drain
4 Force of Will
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Goblin Welder
1 Platinum Angel
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Lava Dart
The list I started from had a couple maindeck Duresses and I also toyed with main deck Blood Moons for a while. I actually had a Blood Moon main when I showed up for the tourney, but it started an hour later than I had been told, so I got a chance to play my first matches with the deck before round 1 even started. I played 5 games of the mirror against Carter and also looked around and saw a lot of Welders in play in other practice games as well. Meanwhile there didn’t really seem to be decks that auto-lost to Blood Moon (or time for it to matter, really). These observations led me to throw in one Dart main at the last minute. I had cut the Duresses earlier because I really wanted a Trike in the deck and I really wanted a 27th mana producer. (Both because I always like more land than most people and I also couldn’t see which of the 27 on my list I would cut.)
I still can’t believe most decks eschew the use of Strip Mine and Wasteland. They’re so powerful. I decided to trust the ‘Net opinion, figuring the power level of the spells has gone up since my day and maybe you can’t afford to have 29ish mana cards like I used to run when I played Mirror Universe decks (pre-6E rules). I couldn’t help myself from putting at least the Strip in the side, though, figuring I could bring it in against Bazaar decks plus I could bring it in as a 28th land against control matchups and against Crucible decks.
Anyway, it retrospect I really wasn’t impressed by Darksteel Citadel. I just don’t think it does enough … yes it does do stuff, sometimes, but I think I would rather have replaced those two with a main deck Strip Mine and a Mana Vault. I lost a game 1 to a Dragon deck in the finals where I could have tutored for Strip and nailed his one early Bazaar and I also lost a game 1 to Landstill. As far as Vault goes, I have no idea why it isn’t in the builds I found on the ‘Net. Sure the deck is “control,” but stuff still happens blisteringly fast in lots of game plus the drawback is smaller than Mana Crypt’s drawback.
The other tweak I would make is changing the main deck Lava Dart to a Cunning Wish. That seems almost strictly better to me. It’s also possible that Duplicant is better than Trike as the creature-removal artifact, but I kind of doubt it, as Trike doubles as player removal, which came up for me more than once. Maybe in a heavy Oath field you’d rather have Duplicant, but I would stick with Trike I think.
JP: What sort of environment did you expect at the tourney?
Randy: I really wasn’t sure… which for me was yet another reason to go with counterspells.
I wound up playing against Slaver (W 2-0), TPS (L 1-2), Blue/Green Madness (which was mostly just some guy who threw some proxies into an Extended deck, but it’s pretty good against C-Slaver when it draws first turn Mox Emerald + Strip Mine for Wild Mongel, turn 2 Wasteland, turn 3 Wasteland. My Lava Dart saved me when it killed a Basking Rootwalla that was attempting to pump up to lethal damage. W 2-0), LandStill (W 2-1), C-Slaver (W 2-0), (Draw with unknown), LandStill (W 2-0 in QFs), Affinity (W 2-0 in SFs), and Dragon (W 2-1 in Finals).
JP: Did you have fun?
Randy: Yes, definitely. Getting paired up is just fun. Magic is such an awesome game and I really miss getting to play in tournaments. Of course, I had also forgotten what it’s like to completely throw a round away. I did that in round 2 when I just forgot what it meant to have Arcane Lab in play. I had it down in game 3 against The Perfect Storm and I had both a Force and a Mana Drain to defend against any potential Echoing Truths so I felt safe. So safe that I went for the kill by playing out a Mindslaver which I wouldn’t be able to activate until next turn. When he then bounced my Lab I then reached for my permission when I realized D’OH … I already played a spell this turn, didn’t I? Just dumb dumb dumb. I hadn’t played with the card since like 1998 and kinda forgot all the implications. (All I have to do is wait until I get to 10 so I can both play and activate a Slaver … or how about just doing nothing until I could discard it seeing as how I had an active Welder in play. I wasn’t kidding when I said I completely threw that round away!)
Of course, what that loss really did was put the pressure on … I ran off three wins after that and was able to draw into the Top 8. Playing out a Top 8 again was also quite nice. I just really enjoy the adrenaline and pressure of tournament Magic so I had a great time. It was particularly nice since I knew none of the boys back in R&D were expecting me to do well. I think they thought I’d be too rusty to perform… Monday at work was probably even better than the tournament!
JP: Control Slaver has been dominating tournaments in the North East to the point that many consider it to be THE dominant deck in the metagame, but it doesn’t see nearly as much play elsewhere. What did you think of the deck?
Randy: It’s good … I did win, so what else can I say? As much as I’d like to claim all the credit on my own behalf, I have to acknowledge that the basic archetype I was working with is both powerful and consistent. It didn’t seem ridiculously powerful to me … Welder seems kind of fragile and I suspect that the metagame can adjust to it (which may be just what happened at the SCP9 tourney last weekend). Thirst also seems like a pretty weak card compared to the other options available in Type 1. So my take on Control Slaver is that it’s very good, and personally I found it fun to play since it suits my style, but I doubt it’s so good that it’s unfair… time and the metagame dance will tell, I suppose.
JP: One of the big buzzwords right now in Vintage is “interaction.” Did you find the tourney suitably interactive?
Randy: Meanwhile, the games themselves were fun too. I was pleasantly surprised by how interactive the games were. I never got killed on turn 1 or even blown out of the game on turn 1. Trinisphere only resolved on turn 1 once, and that was out of an Affinity deck that didn’t do anything else. I looked at my land-heavy draw and had no problem with this… I didn’t have the Force but I probably wouldn’t have used it even if I did. I actually think every one of my game losses with one exception were games I could have won if I had played better. I also know I won games I should not actually have won because I played better than my opponents. So yeah, it was suitably interactive.
JP: Another issue is whether the Vintage metagame has started to coalesce or if it is still random and region-dependent. Did the tournament have large numbers of established archetypes or was it a mishmash of all sorts of random decks?
Randy: The top of the Swiss was ‘Net Decks, the bottom was garbage, and the middle was a bit random. I suspect most tournaments on the East Coast are like that as well. There’s definitely some regional biases (I ran into multiple Land Still decks, for example, and played near multiple Affinity builds), but I think that’s true at the local store level no matter what format you’re playing.
JP: How difficult did you find your games of Vintage relative to Limited and Constructed? Did you ever need to take one of the infamous five-minute Brainstorms that Vintage players attempt to justify?
Randy: I definitely had some tough decisions and a couple long turns. I don’t think I ever took a full five minutes for a Brainstorm, but I wouldn’t be shocked if someone told me I did. It’s definitely a decision intensive format, but I didn’t find it any more complicated than Constructed normally is. It’s just swingy-er.
I think the longest I thought was actually the final turn of the championship match. My opponent was playing Dragon, but his variant killed with Eternal Witness plus Triskelion which meant that he has to cast more than one spell to win, so he was actually hosed by Arcane Lab. Anyway, I’ve got him Labbed in game 3, but he’s got an annoying Xantid Swarm which means I can’t defend my Lab if he Bazaars into his answer. Anyway, I finally get out a Welder and draw an artifact and Slaver him.
I see that he’s got another Xantid Swarm in his hand, along with some Reanimation spells, a Worldgorger Dragon, and his draw for the turn is Triskelion. Trike seems like it could really hurt him here… I get to kill the pesky Swarm that’s in play plus the one in his, no wait, can’t play two spells here … gonna have to discard Swarm to the Bazaar (and hope I don’t draw too many good cards when I activate it)… maybe there’s a better play.
I’ve got Stifle in my hand, which has been useless with him Swarming me each turn. I figured the best I could do was Stifle the Swarm ability if for some reason I thought I could figure out which turn he drew his Echoing Truth. But now… I am smart enough not to attack myself with the Swarm so Stifle is an option again and I can actually Stifle the Dragon and wind up with him having all his permanents removed from the game. That seemed pretty good, but there was this voice in my head like in Searching for Bobby Fisher saying “Don’t move until you see it.” Killing all his creatures would be good and removing all his permanents from the game would be better, but what if I just let the Dragon come back, and leave again, and what if I activated Bazaar each turn. This was probably immediately obvious to all of you guys, but I had never actually seen a Dragon deck in the flesh before so it took me a couple minutes to realize that I could kill him with his own combo, going off and activating Bazaar each time until he decked himself. Eventually I solved the puzzle and collected my new Black Lotus!
JP: Another issue in Vintage right now is whether or not the games are over too quickly. Was this a problem at your tourney or were the games suitably long?
Randy: The format is clearly flawed and games are decided faster than I would describe as “healthy” for Magic. That said, I found that the games took more turns, in general, than I was expecting going in.
JP: At SCG Syracuse, I noticed tons of games where players had marked proxies and/or played really slowly. Did this come up at your tourney?
Randy: I find proxies really annoying. I don’t like to play with them or against them. Some people had theirs done up obviously, but I did mess up one Fact or Fiction split where I thought I gave my opponent an Island and it turned out it was an Ancestral Recall! He had an Island in play so I didn’t blink when he flipped one over for me to split… I did notice that he had something written on it, but I didn’t think I needed to read that part. Luckily I won that game anyway so I don’t have to feel too bad about it. (I thought his five cards were Yawgmoth’s Will, Goblin Welder, and 3 land… so the split was obviously “Will or no?” but even if I know that’s an Ancestral, I still might go “Will or no?”)
Slow play was only an issue with the one opponent that I think might have been stoned.
JP: How does R&D get their information on Vintage?
Randy: Mostly by reading articles and analysis on the ‘Net, though we also put together playtests decks from time to time.
JP: How does the lack of Vintage sanctioning and thus DCI Reporter information affect the ability of the company to get good, reliable data about Vintage? Is it harder to make policy because of this?
Randy: It’s harder to know how popular the format actually is, but I don’t think it prevents us from paying attention to the results of tournaments.
JP: There’s this public perception that Wizards has a massive vault full of every card ever made. Did you need to proxy or borrow cards for your deck? If so, were they hard to find because they’re expensive (power) or because they’re obscure (say, Chains of Mephistopheles)?
Randy: Well I own all the power from back when I was competing in sanctioned Type 1 as a player. It’s funny, when I put my deck together I did have a number of proxies, but it’s just because I don’t own any cards from the Mirrodin block! I had to proxy my Thirsts for Knowledge, Darksteel Citadels, etc. I thought about leaving it that way (real Moxes, but recent commons as proxies), but I very much prefer to play with real cards so I borrowed those from the R&D library (which only goes back to Mirage, by the way).
JP: How much consideration is given to Vintage when designing cards?
Randy: We design the occasional card specifically for it, and we usually notice when one of our cards is likely to be particularly relevant to it; but mostly we ignore it. The format is so huge and the power level is so ridiculously high that we can’t actually impact it all that much. My boss calls it “The Abomination” and I wouldn’t go that far, but I do understand his point.
JP: Which recent cards have surprised you in how much/little play they’ve seen in Vintage? Which decks surprised you in how successful/unsuccessful they are in Vintage?
JP: Were many of the recently-printed restricted cards (Mind’s Desire, Trinisphere, etc.) simply missed by development?
Randy: No … they were believed to be interesting in other formats. Type 1 is so different from the rest of Magic that we can’t afford to nerf interesting cards just because they might be too good under Type 1 circumstances.
JP: Were there any cards that were scrapped or nerfed during development because of power-level concerns with regards to Vintage?
Randy: In general, that’s not a good enough reason to get a card scrapped. It would have to be ridiculous in Type 1 and also uninteresting elsewhere. I can’t remember a case of that off the top of my head.
Thank you for your time, Randy. Congratulations on your new Black Lotus, and hopefully we’ll see you at some more Vintage tournaments in the future.