The thing I enjoy about Magic is winning. A claim like that could easily strike the wrong chord, but I won’t pretend that it’s otherwise. Winning tournaments is exhilarating. It generates a high that lasts for a couple of days. But it’s hardly the only thing I find fun in Magic. Another thing I really enjoy about Magic is playing epic, improbable, and memorable matches. This is probably why I enjoy Vintage so much, and find smaller formats comparatively less interesting.
A week after winning a local tournament with TPS, I thought I’d repeat the feat in eastern Ohio, and try to win a Mox Sapphire in the process.
Here is what I played:
- 1 Tendrils of Agony
- 1 Brainstorm
- 2 Cabal Ritual
- 1 Yawgmoth's Bargain
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 4 Duress
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Necropotence
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Time Walk
- 4 Dark Ritual
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Imperial Seal
- 1 Grim Tutor
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Timetwister
- 1 Gifts Ungiven
- 1 Mind's Desire
- 1 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Memory Jar
- 1 Chain of Vapor
- 1 Misdirection
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Rebuild
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Fact or Fiction
- 1 Lotus Petal
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Ponder
The only change I made from the last time I played this was to switch the Flooded Strand back to a Bloodstained Mire. It turns out that the presence of Tolarian Academy in the maindeck over Bayou means that I need more access to Black, and Mire finds basic Swamp rather than basic Island.
Although this tournament did not play out as I had envisioned, each and every single match was truly memorable, and most were epic. If you have never played Vintage, my hope is that you’ll find these matches fascinating. If you are an avid Vintage player, but don’t play these decks, I think you’ll find these matches interesting as well. Although the outcome of the tournament was not what I hoped, this tournament was a reaffirmation of my love for the format and a reminder of how special Vintage is.
Round 1: Will playing 3c Control
Will was playing our team’s multi-color control deck that I talked about a few weeks back, a.k.a. “New Keeper.” It’s a Black, Blue, and Green control deck, and Will is running Impulse over Strategic Planning.
My opening hand:
This is a remarkable opening hand. It has plenty of mana acceleration, a powerful engine card, Tinker, and disruption with Duress. I could Tinker up Darksteel Colossus, and try to win the game before he can find a bounce spell, or I could even Tinker up Memory Jar. With my fast mana acceleration, a Jar could easily be lethal, either on turn 1 or on turn 2.
Will won the die roll and played Island, go.
I drew an Island and played Delta into Sea, and cast Duress.
Here is what I saw:
Force of Will
Force of Will
Thirst For Knowledge
I felt like I had been slapped across the face. First of all, he had double Force and plenty of Blue spells. My Duress is not going to be enough to push my Tinker through his countermagic. As if that weren’t bad enough, he was also holding Echoing Truth, which meant that even if I could finagle a Colossus into play through his double Force of Will, I’d still have to deal with his Echoing Truth. Finally, he has Tinker! What a ridiculous hand! The more I thought about his hand, the more frustrated I became.
What would you take with Duress?
I decided that I couldn’t stop him. If I took a Force of Will, he could Force my Tinker and then have potentially turn 2 or 3 Tinker of his own, with a giant robot crashing into the red zone each turn. If I took Tinker, he’d still have double Force and a draw spell, sitting in a great position. On the other hand, if I took Mox Emerald, that could cut him off from being able to Tinker for some time. It would also prevent him from playing either Thirst For Knowledge or Echoing Truth in the near term. It would leave both of his Forces up, but it could buy me critical time to topdeck more threats.
After spending far too long on this play already, I instructed him to put Mox Emerald in his graveyard.
I played Black Lotus, Mox Pearl, and cast Tinker. He played Force of Will.
In retrospect, I wish I had waited one turn, since I could have played turn 2 Tinker without having to use my Black Lotus.
This was one of those rare games where things just kept getting worse, and not in a way that I could rationalize. Rather, the next series of plays was angering, an emotion I very rarely allow myself to experience when I play Magic.
Will topdecked Sol Ring and played it. It’s hard to imagine a better topdeck for him, as I will explain in a moment.
I played turn 2 Island, after drawing dead, and passed the turn.
Will drew an Island, because he played it after casting Tinker. His Tinker found Sundering Titan, which he used to blow up both of my lands. He then played an Island and passed the turn.
The reason I say that Sol Ring was his best possible topdeck is because Mana Crypt would have induced him to play Tinker on turn 2, and he wouldn’t have hit my Island, and would have had to kill his own land in the process. Second, not even Black Lotus would have allowed him to Tinker there. I would have rather he had drawn Ancestral Recall than that Sol Ring, by a large margin.
The entire rationale behind taking Mox Emerald was destroyed by his topdeck of Sol Ring.
I topdecked something good, which I don’t recall, and he Forced it, pitching Echoing Truth. He was spent. I needed one more good topdeck.
Will drew one mystery card, attacked me for eight and passed the turn. He now had two Islands on the table.
Well, guess what? I drew Chain of Vapor!
I played Mana Crypt, and then cast Chain of Vapor targeting my Mana Crypt. The reason for this play is that I wanted to try and trick him in the unlikely off chance that he had drawn a Mana Drain. If he let it resolve, I would copy the Chain of Vapor and bounce his Titan to his hand.
Well, surprise, surprise, he had drawn a Mana Drain. He Drained my Chain of Vapor, and, that was my last chance in this game. He attacked me on my next turn, I drew dead and scooped.
As I started to sideboard, I began to wonder whether taking Mox Emerald with Duress was the right play. I think, in retrospect, perhaps I should have taken Tinker.
As frustrating as the previous game had been, I know that sometimes in Magic, god draws just win games. I resolved to regain my composure and try to take this match!
My opening hand of seven had no mana. Back it went. Here is what I drew into:
This is hand is a very playable mulligan hand. It has plenty of mana, a solid engine card in Memory Jar, and the best cantrip ever printed. If this hand can execute Memory Jar, it should have little difficulty winning the game. But even if Jar is countered, this hand has the mana to deploy any topdecked threat. I’m pleased.
The main question is whether I should play turn 1 Time Walk, or wait to Time Walk on turn 2. It’s a minor and probably irrelevant question in the sense that the chances are very low that the difference between the two plays would change the outcome of the game. But, in the quest for perfection, no play is too small to review or second-guess.
My sense, and I could be wrong about this, is that most people would probably wait to play Time Walk on turn 2. Turn 1 Time Walk here risks incurring 4-5 points of damage before your second turn. This is because you’re going to mana burn off the Crypt, and there is a fifty percent chance that you’ll lose the Mana Crypt flip in your Time Walk turn. That makes turn 1 Time Walk a potentially pricey cantrip.
My experience, however, suggests that tempo is too important in hyper-fast formats like Vintage to risk waiting.
I played turn 1 Delta into Sea (19 life), Mana Crypt, Time Walk. Burn (18 life).
My post-game notes indicates that I drew “coyeshu,” whatever that might be, in my Time Walk turn. I think that my scrawl was trying to let me know that I drew Yawgmoth’s Will. Well, whatever it was, I didn’t have enough mana to play Memory Jar yet, so I played another land, and passed the turn.
On his first turn, Will played Black Lotus and Mox Ruby. Now, this had an upside and a downside. I knew that Will needed his Lotus to play a spell that would find him a land. I imagined he was holding either an Ancestral or an Impulse, as well as a Mana Drain. With this play, Will had telegraphed a decent amount of his hand.
Even with that information, I had little choice but to play into it. Since I drew Yawgmoth’s Will, I was going to need to get cards into my graveyard and draw out his countermagic if I was going to win this game.
Accordingly, I played my third land and cast Memory Jar. Predictably, he sacrificed his Black Lotus for three Blue mana, and played Mana Drain. I had to pass the turn.
Will tapped his Mox Ruby and used the remaining Blue mana to play Impulse. I knew it! Will found a card he wanted, presumably a land, and put the remainder on the bottom of his library.
He untapped, played an Island and smartly placed a dice on the table indicating that he had five colorless mana to work with. He tapped his Island and played Thirst For Knowledge. As I recall, he discarded two spells. He passed the turn and burned three mana.
On my upkeep, I took another Mana Crypt roll loss, and fell to 13 life.
I drew Yawgmoth’s Bargain for the turn, and thought about my options. I was sitting on three lands and Mana Crypt. My life was slowly dwindling to my Mana Crypt. I still had time though, although the window of opportunity was beginning to draw to a close.
If I played Yawgmoth’s Will, I could Time Walk, but more importantly, I could replay Polluted Delta. Then I would have the mana on board to play Yawgmoth’s Bargain. With Bargain, I should have just enough to win.
I tapped Mana Crypt and a Swamp and cast Yawgmoth’s Will. Predictably, Will had the Force, and pitched Mystical Tutor.
Will took his turn, played a land and passed the turn.
On my upkeep, Mana Crypt struck me again, knocking me to 10 life.
I drew Ancestral Recall! I tapped my Island and cast it. It resolved, drawing me:
I tapped my Mana Crypt to play Mana Vault. I played the Swamp, and tapped both Swamps to play Bargain. I still had an Underground Sea untapped.
I could try to go for the win here, or wait a turn. If I wait, I risk getting hit by my Crypt again. In addition, I’ll have taken another point of damage to mana burn. If I wait, though, I’ll have a lot more mana to work with. The question is: do I wait a turn and have a lot more mana, or try to win now with at least two available mana and at least four more cards?
I decide to start drawing cards to see what my options might be. The fact that two of my first three draws were Mox Jet and Black Lotus was very encouraging. The third card was Duress. Given this mana, and an untapped Underground Sea, I was pretty confident.
I decided to keep going. All I needed to do was to find a tutor and I could find Tendrils and win the game. However, I was already at 7 life.
I don’t remember the order of the draws, but my next four draws with Bargain were:
This put me to 3 life.
My graveyard had five cards in it (Delta, Time Walk, Jar, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Ancestral Recall).
What is the best play in this situation?
Gifts Ungiven offered many potential lines of play.
The fundamental constraint on any potential line of play would be mana. To reiterate, I had Black Lotus, Mox Jet, and Cabal Ritual available, as well as an untapped Underground Sea.
The one thing that stood out was that I could generate a bunch of Black mana with Cabal Ritual by playing Duress and sacrificing Black Lotus to get threshold. I would have UUBBBBB mana to play with.
Alternatively, if I just played Gifts Ungiven, I would have threshold very quickly. But what could I get? Here’s the only thing that came to me:
Chain of Vapor
The whole idea behind this Gifts package is just to generate additional mana and storm.
I couldn’t find a combination of cards that would get me to a lethal Tendrils.
I decided to keep drawing cards. In hopes of trying to find another Ritual, or a tutor that could find me the Tendrils. I was too greedy. I drew Force of Will and then Imperial Seal, and then I was stuck at 1 life.
That left Timetwister as my final remaining option.
I played Mox Jet, and tapped it to cast Duress. I saw Mox Emerald, Tarmogoyf, Demonic Tutor, and Thirst For Knowledge.
I played Black Lotus and sacrificed it for UUU. I then tapped Underground Sea and used a blue mana to play Cabal Ritual with threshold. UUBBBBB floating.
I played Timetwister with UBBB floating, with my fingers crossed! All I needed to do was draw a Tendrils of Agony.
We shuffled up, drew our hands, and here is what I saw:
Force of Will
Force of Will
With each drawn card, my nerves got worse.
I was relieved to draw Brainstorm, and hoped that portended a card I could use.
I announced Brainstorm, using the last remaining Blue mana from Black Lotus. I drew three cards, and was disappointed to see that there was no business there. I saw Duress, a Mox, and Vampiric Tutor.
I was unable to even move out of the phase without mana burning, and thus dying. I extended my hand and congratulated Will.
I was very disappointed to lose this match, and not simply because Mana Drain decks are generally very favorable, and not even because I thought Will was extraordinarily lucky in game 1, but mostly because I suspected that I bungled game 2. There were too many other possible lines of play, and I had tremendous card advantage over Will. I resolved both Yawgmoth’s Bargain at 10 life and Timetwister.
Returning to the question I posed at the outset of this game, if I had waited to play Time Walk, I would imagine that there is a good chance he would have Mana Drained my Time Walk off of Black Lotus. That would have meant that he would have had to Force my Jar, and then my Yawgmoth’s Will would have resolved. That could have resulted in a range of positive consequences for me. It would have meant more life available when I played Bargain, and perhaps that would have been enough to win it. In fact, if I had three more life, I would have been able to win when I drew Imperial Seal off Bargain by tutoring up Tendrils, drawing it, and then playing it for the win.
Round 2: Jesse with Workshops Homebrew
I had no idea what Jesse was playing. I won the die roll. We shuffled up, and here was the hand I drew:
After we agreed to keep our hands, I started to play Mox Pearl when Jesse announced that he had intended to play a Leyline of the Void before the game began. Although it seemed to me that Jesse was a little bit slow to announce his Leyline, I allowed him to play it.
I played turn 1 Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire, Sol Ring, and cast Merchant Scroll. I had no idea what Jesse might be playing, and whether he might be running Misdirections or not. Instead of Ancestral Recall, I entertained the idea of getting Fact or Fiction or Gifts Ungiven with Merchant Scroll, since I could play either, and all I really needed was a Black mana source before I could go play Dark Ritual.
I fetched out Ancestral Recall, showed it to Jesse, and passed the turn.
Jesse played a tutor of his own. He played Mox, Underground Sea, and cast Demonic Tutor.
I was not happy about that play. I untapped, drew nothing relevant, and thought for a moment. Jesse has just played Demonic Tutor after I found Ancestral. If I were in his position, there is a very good chance I would have gotten a Misdirection to steal my Ancestral. I couldn’t risk that he tutored up Misdirection, and walk into it. I needed to draw another Blue spell so I could play my Misdirection to shield my Ancestral Recall. I had to wait.
I passed the turn.
You could never have guessed what was going to happen, I couldn’t either.
Jesse untapped his Mox and land, and drew a card. He played Mishra’s Workshop. Now I was intrigued. He tapped his Workshop and his Mox, and cast Helm of Obedience!
I had to response. I tapped my Mox Sapphire and announced Ancestral Recall. I drew Underground Sea, Brainstorm, and something irrelevant. His Helm resolved.
He tapped his Sea and activated Helm, and I scooped. I peeked at the top three cards, and among them were Force of Will. Had I played Ancestral Recall on my turn, I would have been able to stop his Helm. I would have been able to play a land and Brainstorm into Force of Will.
I realize that I could have attempted to survive an additional turn by arguing that the Colossus remained in my library. But that would have been futile for two reasons. First of all, I would have had no way to win, and he would have seen the contents of my library in the process. Second, my understanding of this rules quandary is that it ultimately depends upon how the head judge interprets the interaction. Kevin Binswanger has argued that it is a voluntary controlled loop, and thus the Colossus will be RFG. But I’ve heard stories of other head judges ruling differently.
I didn’t want to waste any time. I scooped for game 2.
I sideboarded in a Pithing Needle and a Hurkyl’s Recall for two Moxen.
I opened with:
And two other cards I cannot recall.
My opponent mulliganed to five.
Nonetheless, I wanted to Duress him before playing Ancestral Recall. I used the Delta to find a Swamp, and I cast Duress.
Imagine my astonishment to glimpse this:
Force of Will
What was this? Some sort of bizarre homebrew Workshop combo?
I took the Force and decided to shoot off my Ancestral immediately.
This led to a turn 2 Yawgmoth’s Bargain off of another land and another Ritual.
On turn 3, I easily won with a lethal Tendrils of Agony.
With a quick game 2 victory under my belt, I was confident I could repeat the feat.
My enthusiasm morphed into despair after my opponent’s opening play of:
Mishra’s Workshop, Mox Ruby into Jester’s Cap
What could I do? I mentally threw my hands up on the air in exasperation.
After the shock of the play wore off, my mind turned to getting out of this situation. I had no win conditions in hand, but I needed to find one immediately. I needed to draw a Tendrils or Darksteel Colossus.
I drew Ancestral Recall, having it on turn 1 for the third time this match. I cast it and drew Lotus Petal, which I used to play Ponder. My Ponder showed me a great batch of cards, but no win condition. I had to shuffle it away and Hail Mary that I’d draw a Tendrils or a Colossus. Of course, neither card bounced into my hand, but I did draw a Force.
Seeing that I couldn’t find a win condition, my plan now was to try to stop him from activating Jester’s Cap.
On his second turn, Jesse goes to play a Mox Jet, and I now have hope that I can buy another turn to try and tutor up a win condition. He is a bit started when I play Force of Will on his Mox. After a moment of reflection, he taps his Workshop and Mox and plays Thran Dynamo, and I feel like a chump. He taps his Dynamo and Caps me. I felt my knees buckle. He extensively searches through my deck before resolving on taking my Tendrils, Colossus, and, importantly, Yawgmoth’s Will.
At this point, I have two options. I can scoop and drive home, or I can fight for the long shot chance that I could actually deck him or force a draw.
Here’s the bottom line: I already lost round 1 and there are a little over 25 minutes left in this round. It seems very unlikely that I’ll be able to draw out this match, and almost impossible to win it. Nonetheless, I had to give it a try. I drove all this way to sling cards. I could have cut my losses and still salvaged most of the afternoon. But I decided to hang in there and give it my best shot.
I doubled down and fought for my composure.
Here were my aces. First of all, if I was able to manage all of my resources, I would have at least three hard counters (four if I played Timetwister), Misdirection for his countermagic, Rebuild, Hurkyl’s Recall, Chain of Vapor, and 19 life. I also sideboarded in Pithing Needle, which could single-handedly deal with multiple Helms.
I had tools, not just to buy time, but to answer at least some of his threats. The big question was going to be: what threats was he packing? I hadn’t seen much so far.
As the game began to develop, I realized that I had even more outs. I had ways to prevent myself from drawing cards in Necropotence and Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Eventually, I could deck him. I also had Memory Jar, which I could use to accelerate that process. Most impressively, I could use Jar and bounce spells to act as a sort of Wrath of God effect. If I could get him to commit some threats to the board, I could bounce them inside of a Memory Jar and force him to discard them.
Being in this situation forced me to contemplate answers that I had never given thought to before. Vintage decks are capable of doing incredible things when push comes to shove, even in the most desperate situations.
In the next few turns, I played Pithing Needle on Helm, much to his consternation. On board, I had an off color Mox, Pithing Needle, Tolarian Academy, and an Underground Sea. He had Workshop, Thran Dynamo, Underground Sea, Tundra, and Mox Ruby. He played another Dynamo and eventually a Helm. I used my Academy to hardcast Force of Wills. Eventually, I ran out of Force, and I decided I’d play Timetwister after putting some more land on the table.
I played Timetwister, mostly to recur my Ancestral, which I could even use as a win condition in the last resort and my Forces. My Timetwister was fruitful, and it drew me Duresses, which I used judiciously and sparingly to keep him off of his threats. My Duress, however, revealed how little he had. The Pithing Needle had shut down his major combo.
I got Necropotence into play, and used it like a Fact or Fiction every turn to refill my hand and grow my board. Eventually, I had access to pretty much all of my countermagic and the mana to play them. I had Chain of Vapor, and at a certain point, I started contemplating bouncing my Necropotence, but I would only do that when the time as just right.
When he went to play Painter’s Servant I realized that he was also running the Painter/Grindstone combo. With Necropotence in play, neither the Helm nor the Grindstone could kill me. However, a Painter could. I countered it.
I faced some difficult decisions. I was digging for Jar, but I just couldn’t find it. My library was getting thinner and thinner, and I had more and more manipulation, but fewer and fewer life. So I needed to use every Brainstorm, every Scroll, and every tutor to maximize efficiency. I used them to respond to what he did rather than advance anything for myself.
Eventually, he played Gifts Ungiven. I debated whether to let it resolve. On the one hand, I knew that if he built good Gifts piles, he would be doubling the number of threats in his hand. If I countered it, he would find those threats again eventually, and I wasn’t likely to see more answers. He found Painter’s Servant, Grindstone, Tinker, and another card I know I didn’t want him to have. I gave him the Grindstone and the Painter’s Servant. At this point, I was holding a bunch of bounce spells, so although I had drawn down to four life, I was in no danger. Moreover, I could potentially wipe his whole board if I could just find Jar.
But it became a moot point. Over the course of the 15 or so turns, often involving extensive library manipulation, the 25 minutes had disappeared, and time was called. At this point, I knew I wasn’t going to deck him, but I could stop him from beating me. I even let his Painter resolve. On turn 2 I bounced it, and then when he eventually cast Darksteel Colossus, I just bounced both creatures once more, and that was that! We drew.
At the end of the game, I still don’t think Jesse realized how stacked my hand was. It was flush with countermagic and bounce.
With a 0-1-1 record, I would normally not be very happy. But my play was so smooth in the last game of that match, that I felt quite confident in my chances.
Round 3: Jordan with Mono Blue Tez
I had no idea what Jordan was playing, but I soon discovered. Jordan was playing a variant of a deck I came up with a couple of months ago, a Mono Blue control deck using Tezzeret as the win condition. Since he was playing a deck I developed and knew intimately, a deck that I made Top 8 at the Vintage Championship with in 2004, I was prepared to fight it. The deck was completely packed with countermagic. It could open with Mana Leak, Negate, or Rune Snag and would have a counterspell on every turn. Unless I could stay ahead in terms of card advantage, deploying a threat a turn, keeping him on total defense, I was going to have to take one of two tacks. First, I was going to need to force a major bomb into play extremely early in the game, before he could even set up a defense or I was going to have to sit back and try and win the long game. I would just have to play draw-go with him until one of several things happened.
First, I would have to play draw-go until such point that I could play a bunch of cards on his endstep, forcing him to tap down, and then untap and play more threats. Second, I could try to set up a Mind’s Desire at a point where it was not just functionally uncounterable, but uncounterable in fact. Third, I could wait until he opened himself up by playing a Tez or a Phid or something like that, and then pounce when he was unable to use all of his countermagic.
This would be a tough match, and true test for my skills with TPS.
My opening hand was:
Force of Will
Force of Will
Force of Will
Tendrils of Agony
The fact that I drew Tendrils was fitting, since I agonized over this hand. I ultimately decided to keep it on the back of Black Lotus, one of the best cards in my deck. I reasoned that Black Lotus would make any topdeck immediately effective, and the Forces gave me the protected I would need.
Jordan went first and played a basic Island.
I played Polluted Delta, which I broke for a Swamp, and then played Black Lotus.
Jordan played another Island and cast Powder Keg. I immediately knew what he was playing. We chuckled about it, and he broke his Keg to kill my Lotus.
After that, we both played draw-go for a while. I drew a bunch of lands a couple of spells. I drew Time walk and Gifts Ungiven, but I drew twice that many lands.
Jordan played a Back to Basics, which I decided to just ignore. I played another land, and then my board was: 2 Underground Sea, 2 Island, and 2 Swamp. In short, I had my entire manabase in play except for Tolarian. When I eventually went to play Cabal Ritual, he played Mana Leak. I tapped my two additional basic lands and one of my Seas to pay for it. So one of my Seas was permanently tapped under Back to Basics. He then played another counterspell on it.
Although he had seen a bunch of cards, he hadn’t gotten a draw engine online and I had been able to peel a bit of countermagic out of his hand.
I drew Imperial Seal and I played it. I faced a dilemma. Normally, I would I do as I suggested at the outset and go for Mind’s Desire. However, I lacked the tools to pull off a Desire in the near future, despite having a solid manabase. I decided to go for Ancestral Recall instead. My decision proved intelligent.
On his turn, Jordan decided to go for it, and he gave me an opening of the kind I talked about above. He had drawn as much mana as I had, and he used it to play Tezzeret. I played Force of Will, pitching a Force. He played a Mana Drain. I played another Force, pitching Time Walk. He had yet another Force. His Tezzeret resolved, and he predictably, he found Time Vault. However, he was completely tapped down. Now was my opportunity to strike.
I untapped and shot off the Ancestral Recall I tutored. I played Cabal Ritual with threshold and cast Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Since I had Tendrils in hand, it was a very simple matter to win right there, which is exactly what I did.
I sideboarded out a Mox for a Pithing Needle.
This game was even more incredible than the previous.
My opening hand was:
Chain of Vapor
Force of Will
This is an obviously powerful hand. But Jordan’s opening line of play put me off balance.
He played Island, Black Lotus, Ophidian.
I faced some tough choices. I could Force his Phid. Or I could try to just bounce it after my Ancestral resolves, and then Force it. I decided to let it resolve.
I drew Tendrils of Agony for the turn. I played Island and Ancestral Recall. It resolved and I drew Fact or Fiction, Mana Crypt, and Darksteel Colossus. This only complicated matters.
If I used the Petal to play Chain of Vapor, I would lose the mana to play Fact the following turn. I decided to wait.
I also realized that I tried to Chain on his turn, I could draw out countermagic and then untap and play Fact undisturbed.
When he went to attack with Phid, I seriously considered bouncing it, but ultimately decided to wait one more turn.
It turned out to be a terrible mistake.
On my second turn, I drew Bloodstained Mire, which I used to find Swamp. I played Mana Crypt and then Fact or Fiction. Jordan played Mana Drain, and I played Force pitching Time Walk. Jordan drew a Force off of his Phid on the previous turn, and used it to counter my Force. My hand was now garbage, and I had no chance in stopping him.
I was soon buried in an avalanche of card advantage. What happened next is a blur, but here is what I remember.
Jordan soon had two active Ophidians drawing him cards, and then a Library of Alexandria joined in the fun. He had, on the table, 4 Moxen, 3 Islands, a Polluted Delta, an active Library, Chalice of the Void set at 1, Tormod’s Crypt, and the two Phids. He was drawing four cards a turn for at least 2 turns, and had been drawing 2-3 cards per turn for several turns before that. He had also Strip Mined a basic land, and Wastelanded me twice.
And yet I won.
He just played another Phid and Tinker for Darksteel Colossus, which took him off a couple of Islands, and my Mana Crypt had sent me to 9 life.
I played Mox Sapphire. I tapped the Mana Crypt and a basic Swamp and played Cabal Ritual. He played Mana Leak. In response, I tapped one of my last remaining land and cast another Cabal Ritual. He had to Force of Will. I was able to Force him back. My second Cabal Ritual resolved. I paid for the first Cabal Ritual. It resolved as well.
I played Yawgmoth’s Will. Predictably, he sacrificed his Tormod’s Crypt in response. I then played a Dark Ritual into the Chalice.
And then it was all over. I had exactly 4 mana available and 8 storm. I played that Tendrils and I won the game. 18 points of damage.
I must say, my opponent was aghast.
I used every last bit of mana and every last bit of resources and, miraculously, I won the game.
Round 4: Jerry Yang with DredgeOath
Jerry is a teammate. He evidently thought of this decklist the morning of the tournament, and I had no idea what he was playing. I watched him play a game earlier in the tournament, but it was game three and in turns. It appeared that he was playing an Oath variant running Life From the Loam, Darkblasts, but the win condition I saw was Oath of Druids.
I just didn’t know what the heck was up with this deck. He had me totally confused.
Here is what he played:
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 4 Unmask
- 4 Careful Study
- 4 Cabal Therapy
- 4 Darkblast
- 3 Life from the Loam
- 2 Dread Return
- 4 Bridge from Below
My assumption going in was that he was playing an Oath deck with Dredge cards.
My opening hand was:
2 Polluted Delta
I couldn’t fairly ask for more than these kinds of hands.
Jerry opened with Bazaar and discarded non-dredgers and passed the turn.
Given that I thought Jerry was playing Oath, I had no choice but to lead with Duress.
I saw this hand:
And I realized I made a mistake.
Jerry wasn’t playing Oath. He was playing straight Ichorid with a transformative sideboard. And then I realized how brilliant that was. Oath is one of the most intuitive transformative sideboard plans in Vintage. However, Jerry is the first person to think of it for Ichorid. Virtually all of the cards that are good against Ichorid are worthless against Oath. In some case, they are awful, such as Yixlid Jailer. Now that Oath has Hellkite Overlord, it can win extremely quickly. That leads to a risky gambit. When sideboarding against it, do you run Jailer? Even if you sideboard it in, do you play it immediately? If you don’t play it immediately, you open yourself up to them being able to Unmask or Therapy it. But if you do, you could be walking into an Oath.
I took his Therapy. It didn’t matter.
Jerry Bazaared on his turn and discarded a Therapy and his Narcomoeba. He found a Stinkweed Imp, so I needed to do something quickly
I played turn two Brainstorm seeing:
I’m not sure what the next play was, but I may have played Jar. It didn’t matter, as Jerry quickly won the game on his next turn.
Jerry had me totally bamboozled.
How the hell would I sideboard for this match? I made a point of loading up on anti-Ichorid sideboard cards. But when I opened my sideboard, I felt like dry heaving. What would I do? Should I assume that Jerry was going for Oath or not?
Here’s what I did. I brought in 2 Pithing Needles and 3 Tormod’s Crypt. I thought this was an appropriate compromise. I didn’t want to play a turn 1 Yixlid Jailer into an Oath hand. On the other hand, I didn’t want to caught with my pants down. I needed tools to fight Ichorid, but I felt like couldn’t go all in if I wanted tools like Duress and Force.
I was happy to see this opening hand:
Fact or Fiction
Force of Will
Since I was on the play, I wouldn’t know which route Jerry had settled on until I settled on a line of play myself. Thus, I led with Duress.
Here is what I saw:
Bridge From Below
Force of Will
Another kick in the groin.
Just think about this hand for a moment.
First, he has Force of Will and Unmask, and he can play both.
Second, he has double Careful Study. Even if I wanted to neuter his ability to discard a dredger, I can only take one Study.
Third, he has Cabal Therapy, which complements his Unmask. Once he Unmasks me, he can then Therapy out whatever else remains that he doesn’t like.
I had a plan though.
If I could Tutor up Tinker, and play it, I stood a good chance of racing him. If I took his Force, I could Force his Unmask, and force him to Therapy blind. That seemed to be my best line of play for both neutralizing his hand and maximizing my chances of being able to pull off a quick Tinker.
That’s precisely what happened. I took his Force. He tried to Unmask me, pitching Bridge. I Forced, it pitching Fact. He then played Gemstone Mine and played Careful Study, discarding a Grave-Troll!
But I untapped and drew another land. I played Demonic Tutor, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, and cast Tinker for Darksteel Colossus.
On his second turn, Jerry dredged the Troll and revealed a Narcomoeba. He dredged again and discarded a Bridge From Below.
I swung at him with my Colossus, and it sent Jerry to 9.
It was now or never. Jerry was quite fortunate to hit a second Narcomoeba. He played Therapy, then flashed it back to get two tokens. Then he used all three tokens to play Dread Return on Sundering Titan, blowing up my lands.
I swung at him again, but this time he blocked with his Titan, going to 8 life, putting a bunch of Bridge tokens into play.
Jerry untapped, dredged a bunch on his upkeep and then again on his draw step. He had enough. He had returned an Ichorid. He was able to flash back another Dread Return on Akroma and overrun me with tokens.
This loss knocked me out of the tournament, but I decided that I had such a good time on the day, with so many excellent games and excellent matches, that I might as well stick it out for one more. After all, there was only one more round anyway.
Round 5: Chase playing Mana Drain Control
My opponent had just played Paul Mastriano, and was laughing that he just lost to the 2008 Vintage Champion, and was now about to play the 2007 Vintage Champion.
Paul was also knocked out of the tournament, but was, like me, having a great time.
I opened with:
Chain of Vapor
Force of Will
And something else I don’t remember.
I have very little recollection of this game. I know that I set up Ancestral, resolved it, and then dominated the rest of the game. I do remember seeing a Goblin Welder though.
Game 2 is far more interesting. I brought in a Pithing Needle for an off color Mox.
Chalice won the roll, and led with Ancestral Recall. I played Imperial Seal on turn 1 for Duress.
Chase exploded on turn 2. He played a bunch of Moxen and Painter’s Servant and Tinkered up Grindstone. Fortunately, he couldn’t activate it just yet.
I had little choice but to try dig up an answer. I shot off Ancestral, which resolved. I drew a Dark Ritual and more land.
I weighed my options. I simply lacked the resources to win right now. I needed at least one more mana to win with Tendrils.
I played land, Ritual, Grim Tutor for Black Lotus. I played Yawgmoth’s Will, and replayed Lotus and Ritual to play Grim Tutor and then Pithing Needle on Grindstone. I Duressed him to take another card from his hand. This line of play ate up a bunch of my life, sending me to 11. I used up all of those resources to stop his combo.
But when I thought I about, later on, I realized it was a mistake. I should have let him Grind my deck into my graveyard! I was holding Yawgmoth’s Will, and I would have drawn the Colossus. It would have been an easy win. I would have been able to replay the entire contents of my graveyard and win with a super lethal Tendrils.
As it stood, I had to dig in for the long haul.
He attacked me to 10 and cast Cranial Extraction naming Tendrils of Agony. That was an unfortunate topdeck, as now I’d have to win with Darksteel Colossus.
On my third turn, I played Tolarian Academy and cast Timetwister. I played a Mox, Lotus Petal, and tapped my Tolarian Academy. Then I sacrificed the Petal to play a Ritual.
I had Vampiric Tutor and a Brainstorm left (and a Necropotence). My life was too low to make Bargain or Necro good enough. I could have I played Vampiric Tutor for Mind’s Desire and then cast Brainstorm, drawing into it. If I saw one more mana source, I’d be able to resolve the Desire. I did. I resolved Desire for nine.
Every single flip was exciting.
Mind’s Desire revealed:
Fact or Fiction
This was everything I had. I was going to have to use cards in ways that I hadn’t used them before. How should I combine these cards to achieve my goal? How would I get Darksteel Colossus into play?
I needed to play Time Walk to untap and somehow find the Colossus. Also, if I could find a bounce spell, I could generate a bunch of additional mana.
The first thing I needed was Mox Sapphire. I Duressed his best card, then I played Demonic Tutor for Mox Sapphire. I then played Fact or Fiction. I played Gifts, perhaps too early, for artifact mana, to thin my deck. I still had Chain of Vapor and Rebuild in there. I played Mystical Tutor for Time Walk. I Pondered into it. I then played Fact. Unfortunately, it didn’t show me a bounce spell, a Memory Jar, Tinker, or even a Colossus. I played Necro and Time Walk, and it felt like I had somehow misused all of these resources.
At this point, Time had been called. I didn’t need to actually win anymore, although I certainly had the resources to hardcast a Colossus.
I Necroed to 4 life, drawing 4 cards and took my next turn. I drew a Force of Will and bounce spells. I took the first turn and just passed the turn back to Chase.
Chase attacked me with his Painter, and I took the damage, going to 3. But he wasn’t done. He cast Tezzeret! I let it resolve. I didn’t care. He tutored up Time Vault. I used the Chain to bounce my Pithing Needle and his Painter. I replayed the Needle on Tez. I passed the turn back. All he could do was replay Painter, but I countered it. I took my turn and that was it. We drew.
After time was called, I realized I didn’t even need to win, so I just let the five additional turns expire. With the game draw, I won the match, 1-0-1.
Final Match Record: 2-1-2
This was an amazing tournament. I am certainly disappointed with the outcome, but my miscues and other errors were major contributors to my performance. Had I played just a little bit tighter, I think I could have made Top 8. One thing I really like about TPS is that once you’re in Top 8, you have really good odds on winning the whole tournament. Each match featured something special. Although Fish appears to be on the rise, I still think that TPS is about the strongest deck in Vintage. I’ll get there next time.