So Many Insane Plays – A Tyrant Oath Tournament Report

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Wednesday, February 27th – At present, the Vintage metagame is evolving at an alarming rate. With successful deckbuilds in a state of constant flux, it pays to be flexible when planning for events. For a recent Vintage tournament, Stephen decided to shelve a deck on which he’d lavished months of attention in order to run with the New Guy in Town: Rich Shay’s innovative Tyrant Oath. This is his story…

The Vintage metagame is shifting so quickly that at my most recent tournament I couldn’t even play the deck I had been working on for the last month. I had settled on playing MUD at the local Meandeck open, but with Rich Shay big win in Stratford, Connecticut with a new Oath variant, I was faced with a terrible choice: play the deck I had been working on or audible into the deck that I felt might be the best deck in the format for the moment.

I had given up GAT because of its terrible MUD matchup. MUD was powerful and domineering, but I didn’t feel that I had the right decklist for the moment. All Vintage decks are in a continuous state of flux as they evolve to fit the constantly changing metagame. I felt like I had the right MUD list a month ago, but that the metagame may have just passed me by.

I saw Rich’s list and realized that this would probably be my last opportunity to take it for a spin. If I got settled into another deck, I would tune it to a place where I would be more comfortable with my own work than netdecking a deck someone else built. On the other hand, this would be the perfect opportunity, a mere one week after his great victory, to see how his deck ran in a field of players that had read about his performance.

What sold me on it was that it fully utilized the Gush engine. You can see his deck and read his tournament report here. Josh Silvestri has already written about this deck this week, so for more on the genealogy and tactics of this deck, check out this article.

I called Rich and spoke with him briefly about his deck. He gave me an updated sideboard and explained the basic sideboard plans. Without any testing, I decided I would run his deck as close as possible to what he played with one change, and one change only: I would play Lotus Petal over the Mox Pearl.

Since this deck has lots of one-mana spells of different colors, particularly post board, and basically nothing that costs more than two mana, Petal made a lot more sense than Mox Pearl. Post board, with Petal and a dual land I could open with Oath or play Thoughtseize and REB or Ponder and REB. In addition, Petal comboed with Yawgmoth’s Will and the Tyrant combo (which you’ll read about shortly).

Here’s what I sleeved up for battle:

I rolled up for battle at “The Vault” — a new venue that The Soldiery was hosting tournaments in downtown Columbus. The place was amazing. It had been an old style bank, probably from the early 20th Century, with a massive vault in the middle. Inside the vault we had an open cash bar, from which we indulged.

Round 1: Jerry Yang
I sat down against a longtime Vintage competitor, Jerry Yang. I had no idea what Jerry might be playing today, but nothing prepared me for his deck choice – Ichorid. Unlike traditional Vintage style Manaless Ichorid, Jerry had taken the nod of Tommy Kolowith and played a more Extended style version. He ran Bazaars, but he also ran Breakthrough and more dual lands. The effect was at times an equally explosive mix, but with a lot more resilience.

Game 1

Turn 1:
He won the roll and opened with Bazaar of Baghdad. I was shocked. He activated Bazaar and discarded a Bridge From Below, a Stinkweed Imp, and something else I can’t recall. My opening hand was very slow. It had two Gush, two Force of Wills, and mana. I opened with Tropical Island and passed back.

Turn 2:
On his upkeep, he considered his options and dredged. His Imp hit a Grave-Troll and another Bridge. Soon he dredged even more, and on his draw step he dredged again. He dredged multiple Cabal Therapies and Narcomoebas, but he hadn’t found the Dread Return to seal the deal. Without doing anything to me, he passed the turn.

Unfortunately, I did not win on turn 2. I played Volcanic Island, Gush, Lotus Petal, Thoughtseize, and he handily won on turn 3.

I felt like perhaps my hand was too slow to keep, but I had no experience with this deck as of yet, so I’d have to be more careful about mulligan decisions in the future.

I sideboarded in my Tormod’s Crypts and my Extirpates. I also sideboarded in a Blazing Archon for a Tidespout Tyrant and a Pithing Needle.

Game 2:

I kept a great one-land hand with Forbidden Orchard. I opened with Orchard, Pithing Needle on Bazaar and Tormod’s Crypt. Unfazed, Jerry played Polluted Delta and attacked me with a spirit token.

On turn 2, I played Ponder and was excited to see a Flooded Strand. I played it and passed the turn. He attacked me with two Spirit tokens. I broke my Strand for an Underground Sea before he discarded a Golgari Grave-Troll.

On my third turn, I was debating whether to play the Oath, but I decided that I’d rather Extirpate to see his hand and deck. I wanted to get a sense for what his plan was — what answers he might have. I Extirpated the Trolls and saw his hand. He had Chain of Vapor in hand and three more in his deck. The rest of his hand was double Bridge From Below, Underground Sea, Tropical Island, Bayou, and Island. That is a very weak hand. He played the Bayou and swung at me for two more damage.

On my fourth turn, I played the Oath. Predictably, it met with Chain. I could Force of Will it, but I decided to let it resolve. That was a wise decision. On his turn he drew Breakthrough and cast it with his lands already in play as well as Mox Jet and a Tropical Island. I was able to Force of Will it. He attacked me for two more damage.

On my fifth turn, I untapped and replayed the Oath. This time it stuck. Now I just needed him to not win next turn. He attacked me again and passed the turn.

On turn 6, I untapped and Oathed into the Tidespout Tyrant. I played Volcanic Island and passed the turn. He went to attack me and I flashbacked Krosan Reclamation and bounced one of his lands.

On turn 7, I Oathed again and turn over Blazing Archon. I attacked with Tyrant and then realized I could win on the spot. I drew a Mox Sapphire that turn. I played the Mox and bounced the Tormod’s Crypt. I replayed the Tormod’s Crypt and bounced the Mox. So on. I generated infinite blue mana. I flashed back Flash of Insight basically stacking my deck. I just put Brain Freeze into my hand and made him deck his entire deck.

I was very impressed with the combo kill! I was just sort of figuring it all out as I went along. This deck was sweet!

Game 3:

Game 3 is always the nail-biter against Ichorid.

He opened with the terrifying Bazaar of Baghdad and Black Lotus. If that wasn’t bad enough, he played turn 1 Breakthrough using the Black Lotus mana. Unfortunately for him, he saw no dredgers. Otherwise, I was afraid he’d almost win on turn 1! He could have theoretically seen a dredger and then Bazaared to dredge 12 cards or so. After using Bazaar, he had two cards left in his hand.

My opening hand was utterly busted. I played Mox Sapphire and Ancestral Recall. Tormod’s Crypt, Lotus Petal, Ponder, and Forbidden Orchard. I sacrificed the Crypt to remove his entire graveyard. He was pretty much shut down.

On his second turn he did nothing of note. I played Volcanic Island and cast Demonic Tutor for Black Lotus. I played Lotus and cast Time Walk and Merchant Scroll with my mana. I untapped and played Yawgmoth’s Will. It was all over. I DT’d for Fastbond, played Ancestral Recall and was able to Gush-Bond my way into enough storm to kill him with Brain Freeze.

Nice match! I think I was most blown away by the fact that I didn’t need Oath of Druids to win games, apparently. Thanks to the DCI for unrestricting Gush!

I wished Jerry luck and shuffled up for my next match.

Round 2: Paul Mastriano
Paul was playing Drain Tendrils that he and some of my teammates have been working on for some time. Drain Tendrils is Codi Vinci’s Blue/Black Control deck that kills with Tendrils of Agony and Darksteel Colossus. The deck is packed with great Blue and Black cards.

Paul won the die roll. My assessment of the match is that if I’m not favored game 1, but that my sideboard will give me a huge edge post board. If I win game 1, I figure I’ll have little trouble taking the match.

Game 1:

Paul opened with Mox Jet and Underground Sea. He played Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall. I played Flooded Strand and broke it for an Underground Sea of my own. I then cast Ponder.

On turn 2, Paul played Underground Sea and passed the turn. I put Paul on having Mana Drain up, and that was why he was passing the turn. I needed to be careful here. I played Forbidden Orchard and contemplated my next move. I ended up playing Merchant Scroll. I had a Vampiric Tutor in hand. My plan was simple. Find Force of Will to stop his Ancestral. At the very least, put him in a position where I could match his Ancestral with one of my own the following turn. I Scrolled up Force of Will and passed the turn. He played his Recall and I played Force pitching Gush. To my surprise, he could not protect it.

On turn 3 he played Flooded Strand. I played Vampiric Tutor and ended up finding Black Lotus. I played Lotus and Yawgmoth’s Will. I replayed the Lotus. Played a Flooded Strand and cast Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall, which I also played. I cast Mox Emerald. I broke the Strand for Underground Sea and cast Vampiric Tutor and Gushed. I played Thoughtseize and saw Chain of Vapor, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Darksteel Colossus. I took the Chain of Vapor and cast Oath of Druids.

On his fourth turn, Paul topdecked Demonic Tutor and played it. He broke Strand and then passed the turn.

I untapped and killed him. I Oathed up Tyrant and quickly generated infinite mana, Flash of Insighted the Brain Freeze to my hand, and emptied his library. With Colossus in hand, he was truly decked.

Game 2:

I sideboarded out the Gush-Bond combo (1 Fastbond, 4 Gush, 1 Island) for 2 Tormod’s Crypt, 2 Extirpate, and 3 Red Elemental Blast.

Paul opened the game with Mana Crypt, Mox Jet, and Volcanic Island. On my first turn, I dropped a card sure to irritate: Tormod’s Crypt. I played Polluted Delta and passed the turn. On my endstep, he played Gifts Ungiven! I could Force it, but I decided to let it resolve. My goal was to stop Tinker for Darksteel Colossus, but if he got a bad Gifts pile, I could punish him for it with Tormod’s Crypt. I was very impressed when he got Duress, Thoughtseize, Force of Will, and Thirst For Knowledge. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I gave him Thoughtseize and Force of Will. With double Duress, I felt he could too easily strip my hand. Force would at least cost him another spell. It opened the door to me losing to Tinker, but I felt I would have a few more turns before that threat arrived. I had double Force of Will in hand. In retrospect, I think Thoughtseize and Thirst may have been the right call as it gave me more control over the game. Giving him Force gave potential viability to his plan for Forcing Tinker into play.

On his second turn, Paul lost the die roll to Mana Crypt. He played Polluted Delta for Underground Sea and Thoughseized my hand of double Force of Will and Brain Freeze and mana. He took a Force of Will. I played a Volcanic Island and passed the turn.

On his third turn, he played Merchant Scroll, which I Red Blasted. I played Forbidden Orchard and passed the turn.

On turn 4, Paul lost the die roll again and fell to 11 life. He played Recoup, targeting Merchant Scroll. At this point I had enough. I blew the Crypt. I played Thoughtseize and saw Mox Emerald, Red Elemental Blast, and Tolarian Academy. I took the REB.

On turn 5, he played “draw, go” but lost the Mana Crypt die roll. I played draw, go as well. He played Vampiric Tutor. This led to my finest play of the tournament. I Force of Willed it, thinking that he would think that this was his opportunity to find Tinker and go for the win. I wanted him to fight me, hopefully forgetting that I had Brain Freeze. He did. He played the Force that I gave him all the way back on turn 1. His Vamp resolved. I Brain Freezed him, making him flip over 12 cards. He lost his tutor target and more cards as well.

Paul was spent and within a few turn he lost to his Mana Crypt flips. Rough beats.

Round 3: Josh Morford
Josh was also played Drain Tendrils, but with a few card differences from Paul.

Josh won the die roll.

Game 1:

He began the game with Underground Sea. I opened with Polluted Delta into Underground Sea, Thoughtseize. His hand was quite odd: three Force of Will, Polluted Delta, Mox Emerald, and Mana Crypt. I’m actually puzzled on why he kept this hand. I took a Force.

On turn 2 he played another Delta and passed the turn. I played Volcanic Island and Scrolled up Ancestral Recall. On my endstep, he broke a Delta for Underground Sea.

On turn 3 he played Mana Crypt and cast Thirst For Knowledge. I played Force of Will pitching Tidespout Tyrant. My Force resolved. I untapped and played my Ancestral Recall. He attempted to Force of Will it. I played my second Force pitching Ponder. My Recall resolved, and I felt I’d just been pushed closer to the finish line. It was time for the final sprint. I played a Flooded Strand and got a Tropical Island. I Scrolled up a Force of Will to protect myself for one more turn.

On his fourth turn, he took damage to Mana Crypt and cast Tinker! My worst case scenario came about. I got Force of Will for this play. But as I started to think about it, Force of Willing made little sense. I had Oath in hand. If he got Colossus, I could play Oath, then he’d swing me down from 14 to 3. I would be able to Oath up Tyrant and bounce his Colossus. I would be exposed to a Tendrils of Agony, but I could hopefully Force a Ritual or a Lotus. I decided that letting Tinker resolve was actually the right play!

Just as my luck would have it, he decided not to go for DSC, presumably on the basis of my decision (or because he had Colossus in hand?). He found Black Lotus and played Tendrils of Agony, sending me to eight.

On my turn, I played Gush, returning two lands, then Forbidden Orchard and Brainstorm, putting back two lands. Then I cast Oath of Druids.

On turn 5, he attacked me with a Spirit and meekly played an Accumulated Knowledge for 1. I untapped, Oathed into the Djinn and completely comboed him out. I was getting better at comboing. I Krosan Reclamationed Black Lotus and Yawgmoth’s Will back into my deck. Then I played Flash of Insight (flashback) putting Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, and Yawgmoth’s Will on top, drawing the Ancestral. I cast Ancestral Recall into the Lotus and Will. I played them and easily comboed out. I Brain Freezed him for a bajillion.

Game 2:

Josh began the game with Volcanic Island. I answered with Tropical Island, Ponder. In response, he cast Ancestral Recall. I played Force of Will pitching Brainstorm. My Force resolved.

He completely missed his second land drop. On my second turn, I played Underground Sea, Demonic Tutor for Ancestral Recall My hand had Merchant Scroll, Vampiric Tutor, and Force of Will. I needed to figure out the best way to take advantage of his misfortune. I played DT over Scroll so that I could hold up Force of Will. A land drop, and he could be right back in this game with a lot of built up steam.

Indeed, on turn 3 he played Polluted Delta. He broke it for Underground Sea and cast Thoughtseize. He considered my hand for a while and elected to make me discard Force of Will. On my second turn upkeep, I debated whether to Vampiric Tutor. I decided not to in the hopes of just drawing a land so I could Scroll again and play Recall. I topdecked Flooded Strand. I played it and broke it for a Volcanic Island. I played Merchant Scroll for Force and cast Ancestral. It resolved. I passed the turn.

On his fourth turn he played Polluted Delta and surprised me with the eleventh hour Leyline of the Void. I didn’t see the point of this play. I played Brainstorm, Oath of Druids, Forbidden Orchard. Time was called.

On his fifth turn (turn one of additional turns), he Brainstormed, which I let resolve. He played Extirpate on my Force of Wills. But it didn’t really matter. I Oathed up Tyrant. I played Lotus Petal and bounced Leyline. I cast Yawgmoth’s Will. He responded by Chain of Vaporing my Tyrant. I still was able to replay Ancestral Recall, but not much else thanks to his well-timed Chain.

On his sixth turn, he played Mox Jet, Yawgmoth’s Will, Thoughtseize, Ancestral Recall. He played Polluted Delta and Chained my Oath as well. Despite this powerful sequence of play, it was too late. I played Flooded Strand, Ponder, and two Oath of Druids.

In a desperation move, he played Merchant Scroll for Repeal and repealed an Oath. The game concluded in a draw. I would have won in two turns regardless. Still, it turned out to be an interesting game 2.

Round 4: Justin Morford
Justin is piloting the MUD deck we’ve been working on for the last month or so. I offered a draw, and after some deliberation, Justin accepted.

Round 5: “Coffee Cup”
Coffee Cup is playing Hulk Flash. We ID into the Top 8.

Quarter Finals: Kyle Paster
Kyle is well known in the Legacy community. I’ve known Kyle for a long time. I sort of took the kid under my wing back in 2004, but I haven’t really seen much of him since. He’s a good kid who has since mastered many of the intricacies of the Eternal formats. Although I’d be embarrassed to lose to him, he’s playing Hulk Flash, which is not a favorable matchup for my deck, I suspect.

Here we go….

Game 1:

I was relieved to win the die roll. I opened with Underground Sea, Brainstorm, and Mox Emerald. Kyle opened with Underground Sea, Thoughtseize. I had Thoughtseize and Force of Will in hand, but I just hid Oath on top of my deck. He took my Force.

I untapped and played Thoughtseize, seeing: Summoner’s Pact, Protean Hulk, Merchant Scroll, Flash, and Flooded Strand. His hand was terrifying. I took Flash. With the right topdeck, he could just win next turn. I tapped my Mox and dropped Forbidden Orchard, which I also tap, to cast Oath of Druids.

On his second turn, Kyle topdecked Brainstorm, which he plays. He was digging for that Flash! He played Flooded Strand, shuffled his library by finding a Tropical Island, and Brainstormed again.

On my third turn, I Oath into the Tyrant! Unfortunately, he was only a couple of cards deep, so I couldn’t fully combo. Nonetheless, I was able to Thoughtseize him again. He managed to Chain of Vapor my Tyrant, but I Oathed up another on turn 4. This time, I could go infinite. I generated infinite mana and comboed out with Krosan Reclamation and Flash of Insight, using Brain Freeze as a kill.

Got him!

Game 2:

I sideboarded in Red Elemental Blasts and Extirpates for part of the Gush-bond engine.

Imagine my horror when Kyle began with Black Lotus! I was getting flashbacks of playing against Chapin piloting this monstrosity. I played Force of Will on the Lotus, thinking I’ll be buying time. I was afraid of Scroll for Flash plays right there. I also had the off chance hope that he had no lands. Not so. He played Island and Ancestral Recall. Ouch.

On my first turn, I played Polluted Delta and broke it for Underground Sea. I played Thoughtseize, but he Force of Willed it pitching Merchant Scroll.

On his second turn, he played Polluted Delta and Thoughtseized me. He saw my tepid hand of junk and took Yawgmoth’s Will. I topdecked Merchant Scroll and played Scroll for Recall. I threw Recall onto the stack and it resolved! I drew into Extirpate and Red Blast, neither of which I could use. At least, not just yet. I needed one more turn.

It was not to be. Kyle played Summoner’s Pact and then cast Flash. He found his Heart Sliver and four Virulent Slivers crawling down my corpse with their poison.

Game 3:

Kyle mulliganed to 5.

I was pleased with my opening hand, but knew from testing this matchup and my games against Chapin, that nothing could be taken for granted. I led with Mox Sapphire and cast Brainstorm. I played Polluted Delta and broke it for Underground Sea. I played Thoughtseize. This was crucial. I saw: Pact of Negation, Flooded Strand, Thoughtseize, Brainstorm, and Vampiric Tutor. I think Kyle was surprised when I took Thoughtseize.

On his first turn, he just played Strand into Sea.

On my second turn, I led my upkeep with Vampiric Tutor. I tutored up Ancestral Recall. I played Mox Jet, Thoughtseize to shield my Recall once more. He responded with Brainstorm. He actually cast Misdirection on my Thoughtseize, pitching Pact of Negation. That seemed like a deal for me. I pitched an irrelevant card and cast Ancestral Recall. On his second turn, he played Brainstorm again.

On my third turn, I cast Demonic Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will. Kyle was out of gas. He played ‘draw, go.’

My turn 4 plan was just to play Yawgmoth’s Will to replay a fetchland and cast Ancestral Recall. As fortune would have it, I drew Black Lotus for my turn. I played Lotus into Will into Lotus, Ancestral Recall. I Thoughtseized him again seeing: Flash, Protean Hulk, and Vampiric Tutor. I took the Flash and Extirpated the Flashes out of his deck and graveyard. I played Time Walk. I then played Oath. A turn later I Oathed up Blazing Archon and the match was over. Kyle extended a gracious hand.

Semi-Finals: Nat Moes
My next opponent was, once again, Nat Moes. Nat was playing his R/G Belcher deck, a match I did not want to play.

Of all the matchups I had played so far, this one looked the most frightening. First of all, unlike when I’m playing GAT, I have only 3 Duress-effects to proactively stop him, and only four Force of Wills beyond that. Second, I have even fewer sideboard cards, with only 1 Pithing Needle. My only hope is to find and resolve Oath as quickly as possible without losing to Belcher or Welder + Belcher or an Empty the Warrens for something like twelve on turn 1. Combo seems to be Tyrant Oath’s weakest matchup, and I didn’t feel like testing my luck. On the other side of the bracket, Paul had already begun his semi-final matchup against “Coffee Cup.” Nat and I decided to Top 4 prize split, and Coffee Cup and Paul, although they were going to play their match out, agreed that to split with us, but that the winner of their match would get a double share.

Overall, I have to say that I’m very impressed with the decklist. It’s a small sample size, but then again, Rich had a very strange gauntlet to run to win the Waterbury, facing 7 GAT decks.

I know that I made a number of mistakes in the tournament, not all of which were captured in my play-by-play. In a sense, it’s sort of like Doomsday. You have the ability to stack parts of your deck. When you Flash of Insight, you can stack your deck so that a Brainstorm can get you directly into the win. Putting Yawgmoth’s Will and Black Lotus on top can produce the win with a Brainstorm. In addition, if someone is holding something like Red Elemental Blast or Chain of Vapor, you want to be holding a Brainstorm rather than a Ponder so that you can respond at instant speed.

This deck has a lot of advantages over GAT, and only a few disadvantages. This deck reaffirms my underlying belief in the brokenness of Gush. But at the same time, this deck illustrates the strength of a multi-faceted game plan. If someone shuts of the Oath plan, say with Spawning Pit, this deck is very capable of winning with Gush-Bond combo.

On the other hand, the deck’s weaknesses could become quickly exploited. Hulk Flash is just waiting on the margins of this metagame to pounce. GAT’s overwhelming disruption suite and dual Ichorid hate from the metagame in general has kept it in check. If Tyrant Oath becomes the format’s premiere deck, look for Hulk Flash to swoop in and start cleaning up. Regardless of what happens, one thing is for certain: this is not a boring metagame. The format is changing month to month. Vintage is exciting and dynamic right now. May you have plenty of interesting decks to choose from.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian