So Many Insane Plays – First Place: A Post-Shards Vintage Tournament Report

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Monday, October 27th – Over the past month or so, Stephen Menendian has been telling us that TPS – The Perfect Storm – is perhaps the best deck in the current Vintage metagame. However, the deck itself has not been gathering many followers. Today’s So Many Insane Plays, however, may change that… Stephen takes his TPS build to the winner’s podium! For detailed in-game analysis, read on!

No sooner had Paul “Mr Type 4” Mastriano claimed the Vintage Championship title this year than the metagame that had concretely established itself amidst the Top 8 competition and in the wake of the June restrictions mysteriously disappeared without a trace. The chaos and confusion engendered by format convulsing, apocalyptic restrictions had seemed to coalesce into a very obvious, and study edifice: a two-headed Tier 1 of TPS and Slaver, followed by a batch of Drain decks and Ichorid in the subsequent half tier.

This result had not only the benefit of experience, but it also provided narrative closure to an unfinished and unresolved storyline whose last published page had been the restriction of Gifts Ungiven. The three best decks in the waning months of the Gifts era were Gifts followed by Pitch Long and Slaver. The brutal slaying of the Gush metagame, cap-stoned by the events of the Vintage Championship, signaled a resumption and resurrection of the now-Giftsless Gifts metagame. For one clear moment, that metagame came into view. And then almost as quickly as it materialized, it vanished. The month of August, September, and October display, if anything, a greater metagame incoherence than was experienced in the months following the slaughter of Gush-bond leading up to the Vintage Champs. There are a number of possible explanations for this, none of which seem so intuitively obvious or logically persuasive that they leave me satisfied, but they are all I have.

First of all, Strategic Slaver didn’t take. Although Strategic Slaver performed outstandingly well in the Vintage Champs, few people seemed to play it beyond that dazzling performance. The reasons for this alone are undoubtedly several. One possibility is that local opinion leaders rejected the Strategic Shell in favor of other Slaver lists or, alternatively, in favor of Painter. Apparently, if you are in a Mana Drain metagame, it is a tactically sensible decision to play Painter. If not, you are taking a giant disadvantage in not having X maindeck Red Elemental Blasts.

Second, and perhaps more important, TPS didn’t take. This was quite surprising to me for a number of reasons. Apparently, a number of opinion leaders, again, rejected TPS, or never really gave it a chance to begin with. Since Pitch Long was relatively popular, and since TPS was historically a huge hit in Europe, I found this to be quite surprising. I suspect that a large part of TPS’s failure to take root in the post-Vintage Champs metagame has a lot to do with peoples’ relatively inexperience and underdeveloped skill with the deck. It is not as fast or brutally powerful as Pitch Long was in its time, but TPS is arguably a better deck for the metagame. Another reason may simply be that people are not in the mood to play Dark Ritual decks at the moment. Beyond that, I’m flummoxed as to why TPS hasn’t been continuing to perform.

That’s probably why my three-part, comprehensive TPS Primer fell like an iron anvil to the bottom of the ocean.

Part One introduced the archetype, and explained the decks various engines and its disruption suite, with guidelines on usage.

Part Two covered the decks tutor suite, with guidelines on usage, and a description and explanation of the deck’s manabase.

Part Three focused on matchups and sideboarding, with detailed sideboard plans and descriptions of every major Vintage match.

Well, I never lost faith. I advised those who cared to listen that I strongly believed that TPS was the best deck in the format.

I think a big reason that this fact was not more evident is, frankly, the lack of major Vintage U.S. tournaments. It is clear that Europe takes its trends from its own metagame. Without a couple of StarCityGames.com Power Nine tournaments to spice up the closing Summer and early Fall months, the void was filled by small and local tournaments, which make for fragmented and locally driven deck-choices. I have no doubt that if there had been an early September SCG Power Nine tournament, a semblance of the Vintage Champs metagame would have returned.

With that faith and conviction in the power of TPS and its place in Vintage, some dramatic changes came to Vintage.

With Shards of Alara in print and in play, with a wave of unrestrictions, and with the final, incontrovertible restoration of Time Vault, there was much to cause me to reconsider my position on the place of TPS in Vintage, and for good reason. Ethersworn Canonist alone is enough to give a deep and lengthy pause. Don’t get me started on Time Vault.

Although I was much impressed by what I had seen in Shards, and although I felt that there were many changes and many viable innovations that would emerge from it, I did not see anything that simply said: you must play me over TPS. In addition, my general position as an analyst is humility in the face of tournament results, tempered by experience. I take my cues from tournament results, which I used to construct my theory, rather than the other way around. Tournament results reflect unmitigated complexity that cannot be found in any analytical model. To reason from a model supported by results rather than from results to a model is, in my view, backwards. Most importantly, if I were going to change decks, I felt I might as well reject TPS first. My interest in playing decks like Parfait or Ad Nauseam or even Tez did not reflect a rejection of TPS, but a desire to try something new and fun.

So, for my first tournament outing since the Vintage Champs, TPS it was. After some modest testing, particularly as I was facing against Mindlock Orb, I made a crucial tweak. Since the Vintage Champs, I had wanted to find a way to include Fact or Fiction. It tested well, and it was another Blue card to pitch to Force and Misdirection. However, each of the options I had entertained were unsatisfactory to me. Jerry Yang and, maybe even Tommy Kolowith, had suggested cutting Desire. Desire was a critical card in matchups like heavy control and the like. I couldn’t do that. Paul Mastriano suggested cutting Misdirection. I tested it for a bit, but I really missed Misdirection, and Misdirection had performed very well in the Vintage Champs. I wouldn’t go that route. Only last week did I think about cutting the 2nd Grim Tutor for Fact. This minor epiphany worked beautifully. I upped my Blue spell count to 18, a much more comfortable place for TPS. I also swapped out the Bloodstained Mire for a Flooded Strand. This was because I was no longer running green in the sideboard nor the Bayou in the maindeck. Those changes deserve explanation

As I described in Part III of my TPS primer, Mana Drain decks constituted the strongest matchups, and Workshop decks were the weakest. Since Workshops were often utilizing Thorn of Amethyst to slow you down, I concluded that Tarmogoyf is a great counter-tactic.

That tactic had worn out its usefulness. The bottom line was that Workshop players were accommodated to it. They were running fewer Thorns and more giants like Sundering Titan. Finally, it wasn’t even that useful against Fish or Aggro anymore. Sometimes they’d bring in cards like Threads of Disloyalty for your Goyfs.

I decided to try a different tack.

I decided to construct TPS from the ground up to beat Workshops. How would it look? I went back to the old European lists for inspiration. I built a deck that had a LOT of basic lands and at least 3-4 bounce spells. The only rule I imposed on myself was that I wouldn’t add 2cc counterspells. Otherwise I would have ended up with a Mana Drain deck.

So, I decided that I would sideboard into that deck against Workshops.

In short, I have two and half TPS decks in one. This is the TPS hydra. My mainboard TPS list is built for Drains. Half of my sideboard is dedicated to Workshops, so that I might transform into an anti-Shop TPS deck, the other half to Ichorid, so I might do the same for that match, and the last two cards are for Fish decks.

I am terrified of Ichorid, and refuse to go below 8 anti-Ichorid cards.

By cutting Green, I managed to improve upon a potentially difficult matchup: The TPS mirror. By removing Bayou, I can move Tolarian Academy back into the deck and retain my complement of four basic lands. Tolarian is an explosive mana source that synergizes with addition of Fact, and is particularly supportive of Mind’s Desire.

I think these changes have helped me arrive at a near-perfect TPS mainboard.

The big doubt I had in my mind was whether and how I would perform against Fish decks. I wasn’t sure that Massacre was going to be good enough to do the trick. Would I need another maindeck bounce spell? These were questions and thoughts I resolved to reflect upon after the tournament.

Round 1: Ellis w/ Mana Drain control deck

For the first round, I take my seat across from a young man who rode up with the Pittsburgh crew. We shake hands and wish each other luck.

Game 1:

Ellis won the die roll and mulliganed. I mulliganed as well; my opening hand had no mana. I fanned open this hand of six:

Tolarian Academy
Underground Sea
Black Lotus
Memory Jar

I was not unhappy with this hand, but I wasn’t sure, from a glance, how it would come together.

If you’ll recall from my primer on TPS, the first step with TPS is to attempt to execute one of the deck’s major engines. Memory Jar is one such engine. My plan is to resolve Memory Jar. This should be possible with a turn one Duress to clear the way. Then, on turn three, I can bust the Jar and hopefully pull off the win with a lethal Tendrils.

On his first turn Ellis played Fetchland into Tropical Island, Lotus Petal, and cast Dark Confidant. This line of play should work well with my plan for turn 2 Jar. All I would need is for him not to draw a counterspell on his second turn.

My first turn draw of Cabal Ritual was nice, but didn’t help me resolve a plan any sooner. I couldn’t Duress and play Memory Jar on turn 1, even with the Cabal Ritual. I knew that I had to resolve Jar next turn or I could be buried in an avalanche of card advantage.

I played Sea and Duressed him seeing land, and Thirst For Knowledge, which I take.

On his second turn, Ellis revealed Sol Ring with Bob and played it and a land.

On my turn, I topdecked another land, which I played, followed by Black Lotus, Cabal Ritual, and Memory Jar, with one mana floating. Should I break the Jar now, with one black Floating? I decided to stick to my plan and wait. I had Rebuild and Tolarian in hand. I wanted to play my land before breaking Jar, and start with several untapped lands.

On his third turn, he revealed Misdirection with Bob, sending him to 13 life. He attacked me for 2, sending me to 16.

With my plan in place, I untapped and drew Tendrils of Agony. I could only laugh inside. This was one of the worst conceivable draws I could have made here. In the forum threads responsive to my TPS primer, Kevin Binswanger argued, strenuously, that I should be playing two Tendrils for precisely this situation. In reply, I argued that any situation where Tendrils was in hand could be played around with tight maneuvering. This would test the validity of that claim.

I played my Academy, broke Jar and drew these cards:

Mox Jet
Dark Ritual
Force of Will
Gifts Ungiven
Mind’s Desire

Oh boy. This oughta be fun!

I needed a plan. The most obvious plan here is to try to find a way to resolve Mind’s Desire for a decent amount of storm. Mind’s Desire is one of the deck’s most powerful engines. With the Mox, Ritual, and Duress, I should have little trouble getting a mid-sized Desire, but how could I maximize my storm count? Could Gifts Ungiven be utilized to that end? A lot, it seemed, depended on what he might have in hand.

Before planning out a line of play, I decided to lead with Duress. I tapped my Underground Sea and cast Duress. In response, he tapped his Sol Ring and a land and played Thirst For Knowledge, discarding Darksteel Colossus. I saw a hand full of restricted cards, but no countermagic. He was particularly disappointed to be discarding Yawgmoth’s Will.

The way was clear, but what should I do, precisely?

If I played Mox, Ritual, Gifts Ungiven, I would have no mana floating, and two lands untapped. It quickly occurred to me that if I tutored for four artifact accelerants, I would be duplicating that mana generation with Tolarian Academy. So long as I got artifacts, I would be ramping Academy.

With that thought in mind, I played Mox Jet, Dark Ritual, Gifts Ungiven, and quickly tutored up Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Lotus Petal, and Mox Sapphire.

Ellis gave me Lotus Petal and Mox Sapphire.

I played Petal and Mox, and tapped Academy for 3. I tapped my untapped land and the Petal and the Mox and cast Mind’s Desire for 7.

Suffice to say, that was that. Among the Desire flips were Time Walk, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Necropotence. I didn’t even need Tendrils, since I was able to Tinker Darksteel Colossus into play and cast Time Walk. I untapped, swung at him, and killed him with Tendrils.

The engines in this deck are so powerful that they can be used to set up victory even without Tendrils immediately accessible. The fact that Tendrils was stuck in my Jar hand, face down and out of play, while I was comboing out made virtually no difference in the outcome of this game.

The highly interconnected nature of the TPS engines means that one engine can usually be used to set up another engine. Mind’s Desire is perhaps the great example of this since every flip is a free spell, and every engine card can be played directly with Desire. When you start feeding the engines into each other, you can build such a critical mass of card advantage that you are basically omnipotent. The reason this rarely happens is that it takes so little to actually win the game that it is simply absurdly redundant to set up excessively giant Desires. It is pointless to see how big a Tendrils you can achieve when a Tendrils for 20 damage wins the game.

Game 2:

Before the game started, the tournament organizer came over to inform Ellis that he had mis-registered his decklist. Apparently, he registered a 56 card decklist. Since this was an unsanctioned tournament, and we have a somewhat relaxed tournament atmosphere, we don’t enforce this as a game-loss or any other serious penalty unless there is a suspicion of bad intent. Deck registration here is less to catch cheating and more to report results. The TO just wanted to find out what the missing cards were. Still, it’s a good thing the TO checks decklists. Before the game was about to begin, Ellis started laying out his deck to try and find the cards. To stop him, I suggested that he do this after the match, but he had already revealed a Helm of Obedience plus Leyline plan in his sideboard. Ellis agreed to figure out the mix up after the match with the TO.

We shuffled up and began.

My opening hand, in organized form, was:

Vampiric Tutor
Dark Ritual
Cabal Ritual
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Polluted Delta

Unfortunately for me, Ellis opens with:

Mox Sapphire, Land, Tormod’s Crypt.

Remember this diagram?

Well, now I’m going to have to find another way to Tendrils. It just so happens that my hand is suited to do just that.

Of the engines my deck runs, Desire seems like one of the strongest here, although Bargain and Necro are also feasible. Since I have no disruption, Desire seems like the theoretically strongest due to its general uncounterability.

Therefore, my plan is to tutor up Desire and go nuts! I just need one more land or on-color Mox to start playing Rituals before casting Desire.

On my first turn, I draw Mystical Tutor, play Delta and pass the turn.

He plays another land. On his endstep, I break my Delta for Underground Sea, and announce Vampiric Tutor. Imagine my surprise when he plays Mana Drain!

Well, “Fine,” I think. I don’t lose my draw, and I’ll just make the same play next turn with Mystical Tutor.

I untap, play Island and pass.

On my endstep, Ellis plays Mystical Tutor of his own, finding Ancestral.

Ellis then untaps and plays Ancestral Recall and then Mana Vault with his drain mana. He then played Black Lotus and passed the turn.

On his endstep, I make my second tutor attempt and cast Mystical Tutor.

Imagine my surprise when he responds by tapping Mana Vault and Mox Sapphire to play Gifts Ungiven!

I am very curious about what he is going to Gifts for.

He finds:

Merchant Scroll
Mana Drain
Thirst For Knowledge.

So, the situation is this:

It’s the endstep of his third turn. He’s resolved Ancestral in his favor, but I have more cards in hand. I’m holding a bunch of mana and I’ve got two lands in play. He’s all tapped down except for Black Lotus. His lands, Moxen, and Mana Vault are all tapped. Both Mystical Tutor and Ancestral Recall are in his graveyard.

I don’t want to give him Mana Drain. I’m certainly going to give him Merchant Scroll. The question is: do I give him Thirst or Gush?

If I give him Thirst, he’ll see one more card than Gush, but he’ll have to use his Lotus to play it, if he wants to play it right now. If I give him Gush, he’ll get to keep his Lotus up, but he’ll see fewer cards. I settle on giving him Gush.

He plays Gush, returning to lands to his hand and drawing two cards. He casts Force of Will, countering my Mystical Tutor.

Although I’m out of gas, I’m sitting on plenty of mana to topdeck myself back into this game. I just need to find Desire! I’m very confident I can win this still. He’s spent all of his good cards, and it really hasn’t gotten him very far.

Ellis takes a point to Mana Vault, plays Dark Confidant and passes the turn. That will put me on a clock, but I still have a turn or two to try and break through.

I topdeck Brainstorm, which I promptly attempt to play. He Mana Drains that as well. He has countered Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and Brainstorm, in succession. Unusual, but it has proven to be to his benefit.

He reveals a Krosan Grip with this Dark Confidant, sending him down to 13 life or so.

I topdeck Duress and play it.

I see:

Krosan Grip, two lands, and another Dark Confidant. I take the Grip.

Ellis reveals a Leyline of the Void to Dark Confidant, going to 7 life. He also untaps the Mana Vault. He attacks me for 2.

He Duresses me and finally sees my acceleration. I am holding Cabal Ritual, Dark Ritual, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, and a Mox. He considers his options and takes my Dark Ritual. He attacks me for 2. He plays Leyline of the Void.

I untap and draw Chain of Vapor. Small consolation. I can bounce his Tormod’s Crypt. Woopdie-doo.

At this point, time is wearing down, but I still have strategic endgame in which I can win. His hand is still garbage. Any business spell should set me up for victory. Even a Tendrils of Agony would win the game. His Bob has taken him down to the danger zone life total.

Ellis reveals a Chain of Vapor to his Bob, attacks me for 2, and then Duresses me again.

I flirt with the notion of playing Chain on something of his. He’s already at 4 life, and I know he has a Chain of his own. If I don’t Chain his Bob, he’ll likely take my Chain with Duress rather than my mana. And then, he’ll Chain his own Bob. It seems like it’s obvious that I don’t Chain his Bob. His Bob could kill him. However, if I don’t Chain his Bob and it doesn’t kill him, his Bob could eventually kill me. If I Chain his Bob now, he’ll probably not replay it, and then we’ll both be in a situation where we are just topdecking. I should win that, right? Since all I need is a Tendrils. I did not realize that there were only a few minutes left in the round or else I would not have done this, but I Chained his Bob. I’m pretty sure this was the flat wrong play given the time situation (and probably otherwise), but Ellis made it clear that if I hadn’t have done that, he would have done it himself, so I didn’t feel as bad about it.

In any case, we play ‘draw, go’ for a few turns while I draw Blue pitch magic, including Force of Will and Misdirection.

Then, time is called in the round.

Ellis taps Mana Vault and a Mox Emerald, and cast Tinker on his Mox. Since he has Leyline in play, my fear is that he’ll get Grindstone. I lead with Cabal Ritual so that I can cast Gifts Ungiven for 4 Blue spells. He breaks his Black Lotus and casts Mana Drain on my Cabal Ritual. I play Force of Will on his Tinker, but he has another Force in hand, going to 3 life.

He Tinkers up Darksteel Colossus and passes the turn.

I inform him that he is now at 1 life. He looks at me puzzled. He burned Mana Drain mana.

In the past I’ve written about this error. Most players are likely to make this mistake just at the moment of victory. It’s caused me to win games before. He either forgot or didn’t realize that Mana Drain mana goes in your next main phase. He also did so at the moment in which he thinks he is finally about to win the game.

He falls to 1 life.

I untap and draw… Underground Sea.

He swings me to 2 life.

I draw dead and the game is over.

We were within turns, so the match is a tie, 1-1.

I was looking forward to getting a game on the play, but it was not meant to be.

Round 2: Paul Kim with Painter

The one and only other time I played Paul in a tournament, he whooped my butt. I expected this to be a good match.

I was fortunate to win this die roll, and I elected to go first.

Game 1:

I fanned open:

Mana Vault
Mox Sapphire
Tolarian Academy
Imperial Seal
Fact or Fiction
Memory Jar

This is another interesting hand. Paul simplified my calculations by mulliganing to 6. I decided to go all in with a turn 1 Colossus.

I played Mox, Academy, Mana Vault, and cast Tinker, sacrificing Mana Vault. Paul played Force of Will on my Tinker, and I was disappointed. I burned two mana, going go 18 (that was sloppy on my part).

Paul played land, Grindstone and passed the turn.

I drew Necropotence on turn 2, and passed the turn.

Paul played a second land and cast Painter’s Servant. His combo was already online! I felt like making a smart-ass remark about his luck, with his double turn one Oath of Druids protected by countermagic from January somehow still fresh in mind.

If he had a third mana source he could combo out next turn. I needed to get something going immediately.

On my third turn, I topdecked Mox Pearl, and not a moment too soon!

I played Mox Pearl, tapped Academy and both Moxen and cast Fact or Fiction. I was so glad to be running Fact over that second Grim Tutor.

My Fact or Fiction was BONKERS:

Underground Sea
Ancestral Recall
Mind’s Desire
Vampiric Tutor
Black Lotus

Even the Sea is amazing here since I needed a Black mana source.

How would you split this Fact? Of course, it depends on what’s in his hand, which we don’t know.

He put Sea and Lotus in one pile, and Ancestral, Desire, and Vamp in another. I took the Black Lotus and Underground Sea.

I immediately cast Necropotence. It resolved.

I thought for a moment.

If he draws a mana source he can mill my entire deck. Fortunately, I have Darksteel Colossus in my deck, so I’ll get one more draw. However, I’ll need a way to win the game.

I was at 18 life, and he’ll be able to deal at least one additional point of damage to me if he doesn’t draw a land by attacking me with Painter’s Servant. In addition, I will need life to Force of Will anything he plays. I decided I needed a 4 life cushion after he attacks with Painter, so I went to 6 and set aside 12 cards with Necropotence.

As if to answer that query, my Necropotence for 12 sees me Yawgmoth’s Will, among other goodness. I pitch a bunch of garbage and pass the turn.

It doesn’t matter because he didn’t draw a mana source.

I untap and Duress him seeing: Red Elemental Blast and another Painter’s Servant.

I simply announce Yawgmoth’s Will and he scoops up his cards.

Game 2:

My opening hand has:

Mox Sapphire
Mox Pearl
Polluted Delta
Cabal Ritual
Yawgmoth’s Bargain

Imagine my disappointment when Paul plays turn 1 Thoughtseize and decides to take my Timetwister. This had the potential to be a turn 1 win, with Cabal Ritual, Timetwister.

The contours of the game, as I recall them, were defined by my struggle to get Bargain online while he tries to prevent that from happening. Oddly enough, I never ended up even casting Bargain.

After the first turn, the next couple of turns were defined by development. We both played land and interacted modestly, exchanging some Duresses and countermagic. He had Tolarian Academy, but no Volcanic Island to fuel his Red Elemental Blasts.

The critical turning point, as I recall it, was when I drew Gifts Ungiven. I knew that he could only counterspell one threat. With Gifts Ungiven, I could bait him into countering my Gifts, untap and then resolve Bargain. Alternatively, if Gifts resolved, I should be able to easily win through his counterspell.

He passed the turn and I announced Gifts Ungiven in his endstep. After some consideration and brief calculations about what I might get, he let it resolve, seemingly prompted by the mental reminder that I still had Bargain in hand, signified by a subtle flinch.

But what to get? On the board, I had Mox Sapphire, Mox Pearl, Island, Underground Sea, and possibly one other land or Mox Jet. I was still holding the Cabal Ritual and Bargain.

After the match, he told me that he calculated this Gifts pile:

Black Lotus, Mystical Tutor, Necropotence, and Duress.

Upon reflection, that probably would have worked fine, except that if he gave me Necropotence and Black Lotus that would mean that I might not actually win this turn.

If he gave me Mystical and Duress, I could Mystical in my upkeep for Dark Ritual, Duress him and resolve Bargain. If he gave me Black Lotus and Mystical, I could Mystical for Duress, Duress him and play Bargain easily.

As it stood, I went a slightly different route.

If I recall correctly, I got:

Black Lotus
Demonic Tutor
Ancestral Recall
Lotus Petal (although I’m not 100% sure about this card)

He gave me Demonic Tutor and Lotus Petal.

I untapped, and my draw for the turn mooted the Gifts split, as I think I found something apparently useful. When I began to make my line of plays that would begin with Demonic Tutor, he tapped his Academy for 2, sacrificed his Black Lotus, and played Intuition, then cast Accumulated Knowledge for 3 before scooping for lack of countermagic.

The resolution of my Bargain was inevitable, at this point, and he picked up his cards and we shook hands.

Round 3: Tiffany

Tiffany was playing WGB Fish. This deck was so full of haterade goodstuff like Ethersworn Canonist, Aven Mindcensor, and, most problematically, Gaddock Teeg.

My opening hand in game 1 was explosive in mana, but lacked any real gas. I had: Ancestral Recall, Force of Will, Duress, and Mana, including Black Lotus. I shot off an Ancestral Recall on turn 1, but it drew me only more of the same, a Force of Will and Dark Rituals. She played a Windswept Heath, and passed the turn. This allowed me to see her grip.

I played Duress and saw:

Swords to Plowshares
Ethersworn Canonist
Dark Confidant
Tidehollow Sculler
Gaddock Teeg

Good lord, I thought. And then, I didn’t know what to think. I forced her to discard the Swords to Plowshares. She broke her Heath for Savannah.

She tried to play Canonist on her turn. After thinking about it for a little bit, I hardcast Force of Will, sacrificing my Lotus, to counter it.

She drew a Black mana and played Sculler, putting a Dark Ritual underneath it.

But it didn’t matter. My drought ended. The Ancestral had dug me deep enough. I topdecked Demonic Tutor. I found Yawgmoth’s Will, replayed Lotus and Ancestral, and tutored up Tinker, putting Darksteel Colossus onto the table.

She played Dark Confidant, but the Confidant didn’t find her another Swords. In two turns all she saw was more creatures and hand disruption.

Game 2:

I sideboarded in two Massacres, and Hurkyl’s Recall for things I can’t recall.

Gaddock Teeg singlehandedly won the game, as I was prevented from being able to play anything relevant.

I opened with Time Walk, Sol Ring, Tolarian Academy, Black Lotus, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, and Rebuild. This hand is not particularly strong, I admit, but it has such explosive mana that I only need to see one card to easily win this. She had turn 1 Windswept Heath. I couldn’t play turn one Time Walk without sacrificing Black Lotus. So I played turn 1 Academy, Black Lotus, Sol Ring. On her turn she broke Heath for Savannah, played another land and cast Gaddock Teeg. That was pretty much the game right there. My consecutive draws were: Tendrils of Agony, Cabal Ritual, Memory Jar, Force of Will, and more crap of that nature. Expensive stuff ruined by Gaddock Teeg.

That nasty troll with his enormous head held my entire deck in abeyance. Teeg took his shots at me, and the rest of her team cleaned up.

Game 3:

I opened with:

Mind’s Desire
Hurkyl’s Recall
Force of Will
Merchant Scroll

In terms of power level, answers, and flexibility, my opening hand was incredible, but I didn’t have enough mana to utilize it. Consequently, it was risky, but I decided to keep it because it had Tinker in hand. This was my ace.

She played a Plains and then cast Black Lotus. My spidey-sense alarm went off at this play. There was a good chance, I intuited, that she might be relying on that Black Lotus to make some killer plays. If that was her only other mana source, I could cut her off at the outset and buy precious time.

I did. I Forced her Lotus, pitching Mind’s Desire. She meekly passed the turn.

I drew Duress, played Island and passed the turn.

She drew, and passed. Countering Black Lotus had temporarily shut her down by preventing her from playing her two-drops.

On cue, I drew an Underground Sea. I Duressed her, seeing:

Dark Confidant
Null Rod
Null Rod
Gaddock Teeg
Gaddock Teeg
Gaddock Teeg
Ethersworn Canonist

Two-drops indeed.

I took a Null Rod, and chuckled to myself. She topdecked a land that produced Black mana, but not Green, and she elected to lead with Canonist. I let her resolve Canonist since I could bounce it or Massacre it at my convenience. She had three Gaddock Teegs I hand but no Green mana to play them. I’d be lying if I said I felt sorry for her.

At this point, I could have played Massacre or even Hurkyl’s Recalled her. I decided to do neither. I must have drawn a Mox because my notes indicate that I never took any damage from her creatures this game. Tinker found Darksteel Colossus. That was pretty much the game. Next turn I played Massacre on her, just to add insult to injury.

Even had Teeg come down, I had Scroll for Chain to bounce him off the board, had I needed to do so.

I was very happy to have survived this match. It goes to show you that even seemingly incredibly unfavorable matches can be won in Vintage with a spider-sense. But more importantly, TPS is so fast and disruptive that it can still win through untold hate.

Round 4: Bobby playing Slaver

Game 1:

My opening hand:

Fact or Fiction
Polluted Delta
Black Lotus
Force of Will
Lotus Petal

I was fortunate to win the die roll, as a turn 1 Duress revealed that he had kept a hand that had Mox Sapphire as its only mana source, but an Ancestral Recall as well.

I saw:

Mox Sapphire
Ancestral Recall
Sensei’s Divining Top
Mana Drain
Time Walk
Merchant Scroll

I took Mox Sapphire.

He dejectedly drew a card and passed the turn without having done anything on his first turn.

I untapped, and debated what to do. I decided to play Fact or Fiction. I sacrificed Black Lotus and Lotus Petal and announced Fact. Surprisingly, he drew Force of Will, because that’s what he tried to do. I protected my Fact with Force, pitching Ponder.

My Fact or Fiction revealed Yawgmoth’s Will, which I think he split into a pile by itself. Suffice to say I took Yawgmoth’s Will.

He topdecked a Library on his second turn, but by then the train was already moving ahead full steam. He was stuck on the tracks. After I announced Yawgmoth’s Will, post-Fact, he scooped.

Game 2:

In one of the most improbable oddities I’ve ever seen, my opening hand was:

Tolarian Academy
Cabal Ritual
Force of Will
Force of Will
Force of Will
Force of Will

I have never before drawn all four Force of Wills in an opening hand, either in testing or in a tournament game with any deck.

My opponent led with Land, Mox, go. I drew Underground Sea. I wish that I had led with Academy, but I played Swamp. He then played his Academy, and passed the turn.

I was quite pleased to draw Black Lotus. I played my Academy, trading Academies.

He did nothing of consequence. I drew Mind’s Desire. I decided to try and bait him.

I led with Black Lotus, which I slammed down excitedly to try and draw a Force of Will.

It didn’t work.

I tried a different approach. I loaded up the hook with juicy meat, I swung my arm as far back as I could and cast my line.

I pretended to be pensive, in deep contemplation. Very deliberately I tapped my Swamp and Underground Sea and announced Cabal Ritual. I could feel him perusing the bait.

He bit.

This time, he decided to counter it. He played Mana Drain. Perhaps he wanted to counter my threat. Perhaps he just wanted the mana, thinking he could stop me from whatever I might try to do. In any case, I had him hook, line, and sinker.

He wasn’t surprised when I played Force of Will on his Mana Drain, and he calmly announced Force of Will of his own pitching Arcane Laboratory. He was somewhat surprised when I played another Force of Will, pitching Force of Will.

And then, for the grand finale, I announced Mind’s Desire for 7. The first card I flipped over was Tinker. The second card was a Polluted Delta. The third card was Ancestral Recall. From there, it was pretty much all over. The next four cards included Necropotence and Yawgmoth’s Will.

He told me that he sensed I was going to try to play Mind’s Desire. In that case, he certainly took the right approach in trying to counter my Cabal Ritual. But who can account for a hand that had four Force of Will? I suppose the third and fourth Force of Wills could have been Merrow Reejerey. All that mattered was that they were Blue. Even still, it turned into a nice hand.

I suppose by now another principle of TPS has been adequately illustrated. TPS pilots must have faith that the components they need to win games need not be in one’s opening hand. They can be drawn into, so long as the pilot is sensitive to what those needs are and realistic about one’s ability to find a needed card. Granted, drawing Desire and Lotus in near consecutive draws is better than I expected, but the principle remains the same.

Round 5: Juan Rodriguez w/ GWS Tez

Intentional Draw

Top 8 Quarter Finals: Anthony Michaels aka Twuan007

Anthony was playing the GWS BUG Fish list, a terrifying match in theory. It was developed by Eric Becker, a storm combo expert, who undoubtedly built many booby traps for TPS into his design.

Game 1:

Anthony mulliganed to six.

My opening hand was:

Mystical Tutor
Force of Will
Mana Crypt
Chain of Vapor
Sol Ring
Some other Blue spell

My plan here couldn’t be any more evident. Tinker for Darksteel Colossus is the obvious path to victory.

I played Island and passed the turn.

Anthony played turn 1 Land, Mox, Null Rod, as he did in all three games this match.

I thought about it, and decided to let it resolve. Here is my reasoning. In the first place, I am holding Chain of Vapor. In the second place, if I were to Force of Will his Null Rod, I would have no means to help resolve Tinker or protect the Colossus once he came into play. Once I decided to let Null Rod resolve, a sensible move in this situation, I was forced to change plans.

On his endstep, I played Mystical Tutor for Ancestral Recall. He responded with Force of Will, which I followed up with Force of Will, pitching the misc. blue spell. The fact that he had Force reinforced my sense that I had made the right play letting Null Rod resolve.

I played Polluted Delta and broke it for a Swamp.

Somehow, again, Desire found its way into my hand. Anthony would have none of it as Desire then was sent on a vacation to the graveyard by one of Anthony’s Duresses.

Then began the battle over mana. I drew several Dark Rituals, and he played a Cursecatcher and Wastelands.

Finally, I drew and played my Rituals and cast Yawgmoth’s Will with one land untapped. I ran through some calculations, trying to figure out how I could most easily achieve victory. Soon, it occurred to me that if he Stifle, he could thwart them by Stifling my Polluted Delta from my graveyard. I think he sensed that I was going to try and set up a Mind’s Desire, which was my goal.

After a moment’s consideration, I stated that I found a way to beat Stifle. I played Polluted Delta before doing anything, and very blatantly broke it to see whether he wanted to Stifle it. He looked at me blankly and I fetched out another Island.

In what I later realized was a mistake, I tapped one of my untapped lands to play Chain of Vapor targeting his Null Rod directly. Instead, I should have played Mana Crypt, and bounced my Crypt and Sol Ring to generate storm. In any case, his Rod went into hand. I tapped another land to play Mystical Tutor for Demonic Tutor, and then cast Ancestral Recall to draw it. With the Rituals, Mana Crypt and Sol Ring, I was able to generate 16 mana. I used to of it to play Demonic Tutor and then put Bargain into play. I used Bargain to find Duresses, saw that his hand had a Stifle, took it, and then found Tendrils for the win.

Playing around Stifle that entire time rather than going for the early Desire proved to be the correct play.

Game 2:

I sideboarded out three fetchlands for three basic lands. Inadvertently, this dropped my Black mana count, and it had consequences for later in the game.

My opening hand:

Dark Ritual
Grim Tutor
Force of Will
Vampiric Tutor
Underground Sea

Once again, Anthony plays turn 1 Mox, land, Null Rod. I’m conditioned to that play at this point.

I exclaimed that I was very pleased with my hand. I asked him what I should Vamp for, and he, said, “I dunno, Necropotence?”

Why not? I played Vampiric Tutor for Necropotence.

I played Underground Sea, Dark Ritual, Necropotence. I stuffed 8 cards into my hand. I had drawn Memory Jar, Academy, two Moxen, and a Sol Ring, among other goodies. I ditched the Jar, Mana Crypt, and a Mox.

Anthony played land, Time Walk. I was feeling pretty cocky. Anthony played Wasteland on my Sea and passed the turn.

I untapped, played my Swamp, my Mox, Duress (seeing a Negate (I think), Tarmogoyf and a Wasteland) and drew 6 more cards, going to 4 life. This time I saw Yawgmoth’s Will and plenty of Rituals.

Anthony untapped and drew one more card. I was going to untap and obliterate him. He announced Demonic Tutor, and went to get Strip Mine, which he played on my Swamp. Amazingly, this proved to be critical.

My only other mana source in hand was Academy, and I had already pitched several artifacts since he had Null Rod on the table. That was my last viable Black mana source which I needed to play the Rituals and the Tendrils in hand.

I untapped, played Academy, and faced a crucial decision. How many cards should I Necro for? I was at 4 life.

I needed to maximize my chance of seeing either Underground Sea or my additional Swamp. I had sideboarded out two Polluted Deltas and a Flooded Strand, so the choice was really between drawing 2 cards and going to 2 life, or drawing 3 cards and going to 1 life. It turns out that it didn’t matter. Polluted Delta was the third card down.

I was Necrolocked and Anthony quickly won the game with Goyf.

This was the first game I can recall in memory having lost after drawing 17 cards with Necropotence. In the first place, I was ridiculously greedy and inefficient in my use of Necro, and deserved to lose this game. In the second place, I realized that my sideboard plan was probably not that good of an idea since it dramatically narrowed access to Black mana. The sideboard plan of bringing in more basics was built for the Stax matchup, not this one, and in any event was not supposed to work with lands being sideboarded out. The idea was to up the land count to 15 in that matchup.

Game 3:

My opening hand was weak:

Mox Sapphire
Underground Sea
Force of Will
Dark Ritual
Cabal Ritual

It wasn’t so terrible that I couldn’t keep it, but it was incredibly vulnerable. I felt that my prospects for winning this match were dim. Wasteland plus Null Rod would render my hand unplayable.

I led with Sea, Duress, seeing:

Polluted Delta
Mox Emerald
Ancestral Recall
Null Rod

A pretty hate-filled hand! I would have to play flawless to even have a chance.

I took Ancestral. I then played Mox Sapphire and cast Ponder. I saw: Tendrils of Agony, another Dark Ritual, and Timetwister.

As I indicated earlier, true to form Anthony again played turn 1 Null Rod, for the third time.

This time, I decided to counter it. I pitched Timetwister to Force of Will. My reasoning was this: I only had two lands in play and given that I knew the top two cards of my library, with no more land in sight. My original plan was to play Dark Ritual, Timetwister. But Null Rod would prevent that if it resolved, since I wouldn’t be able to tap the Mox for mana, or if I countered it, since I’d be removing Twister from game. In any case, that line of play was gone for the next few turns. Therefore, it made as much sense to counter Null Rod as not. I’m not sure if this reasoning is sound, but it was a close decision.

As soon as I saw my third and fourth cards down, lands, I regretted it, however.

Anthony played his Cursecatchers, and started to whittle away at my life total. When he got both on the table, he started swinging with both, sending me from 17 to 15 to 13 to 11 to 9. Finally, I decided to make some plays, maybe baiting him in the process. I drew Tinker, but it was going to be some time before I’d be able to get it to resolve. I had to clear his hand and get him to sacrifice some of his Cursecatchers. Importantly, I had to do it in a way that would trump his Extirpate, which he was still holding from his opening hand.

I put a Dark Ritual on the stack, and then before passing priority put another on the stack. He used a Cursecatcher to make me tap a land, which I did. Then he played Negate on the other Dark Ritual. Ugh.

He attacked me to 8, and then to 7, and then topdecked another Cursecatcher. I played another land, going to 4 lands. I topdecked Tendrils, which I played. He refused to counter it, and that sent me back to 7 life. He attacked me back down to 5 and played a Dark Confidant. The Tendrils bought me the one additional turn I needed to find another mana.

I played Tinker with two mana still available, trumping his double Cursecatcher. There was nothing he could do about it.

I had thrown all of my bait and all of my resources to reach this point. The question was, what would happen next. By no means did I feel confident about the board state, but I did feel that I was back in the game.

He took his turn and then debated whether to attack me. Had he attacked me, I would have blocked the Bob and gone to 3 life. This meant that he only needed one more creature to try and get enough damage on the board to kill me. Most important, I couldn’t attack him without being killed.

He Wastelanded a land and then passed. He made the mistake of not attacking me, but it turned out that it wouldn’t have mattered. My next card was Brainstorm, which I played and saw Time Walk. I played Time Walk. Had he attacked, I probably would have waited to play it. But if he sacrificed a Cursecatcher to counter it, he wouldn’t have enough creatures on the board to do anything in the near term. If he didn’t, I’d win on the spot. He countered it. I attacked him. He untapped, drew nothing that would stop another lethal attack, and scooped.

Almost from turn 1 I thought I was going to be a goner in that game, but I managed to pull it out under extremely adverse circumstances, which demonstrated to me that although these Fish matchups were very annoying, they were still very beatable.

My sense is that this is probably a fairly close match. Null Rod, while powerful, is not as devastating here as it is against Time Vault decks and less resilient combo. My deck and my mana base are fairly immune to Null Rod and Wasteland. As a result, I can build up a manabase and use Rituals to trump Null Rod. Beating Cursecatcher was not particularly difficult either so long as you are extremely judicious. I can sideboard three more basic lands, which is partly what I did. I would at least sideboard out a Mox or two for more lands in the future.

Top 4: Brian Keil with Ichorid

Brian and everyone else in the Top 4 are interested in a four-way split. I urge them to play it out because this is the only tournament I’ve played in since the Vintage Champs, and I don’t get to play in tournaments as often as I like. The money is less important to me than the Top 8 tournament experience, where competition is fiercest and games are played under tournament conditions and tournament pressures. Brian explains that he is sleep deprived and has to wake up super early in the morning, and, as is, they won’t get home for several hours. I am sympathetic, but urge him to play it out anyway because I very, very rarely have the opportunity to test my 8 card sideboard for Ichorid against a great Ichorid player, win or lose. This might be my last tournament before the next major SCG event or other major tournament in which I could face Ichorid.

In frustration, Brian just says that he’ll scoop so they can get home at a decent hour. He accomplished what he wanted to accomplish in making Top 4. I strongly urge him to reconsider, but he refuses. Another part of my motivation is that I hadn’t played a single Tezzeret deck yet, and both of the other players in the Top 4 are on Tez today. I really wanted to see how my deck fares against them as well. They offer to play me after the split, but I argue that those matches wouldn’t be under tournament conditions. In the entire day, I hadn’t gotten to test my deck against many Shards-based cards. I missed a great opportunity to test my Ichorid sideboard. If I discovered that my deck still can’t beat Ichorid, I would have seriously considered going up to 9 anti-Ichorid spells. I realize that even with 8 anti-Ichorid cards, Ichorid can still win through them, but I wanted to see how it might do that. I wanted to see whether if anything in the match we played might indicate that my opponent is likely or unlikely to fight through the level of hate I am running. More importantly, I wanted to see which configuration of hate cards seem most effective in the match, and test various sideboard plans.

Finals: Doug Linn with Meandeck Tez

Doug Linn beat Paul Mastriano in the quarter-finals mirror match (Paul had designed the Tez deck Doug was playing), and then beat Juan Rodriguez in the semi-finals. I was eagerly looking forward to this match.

Game 1:

My opening hand was:

Time Walk
Vampiric Tutor
Force of Will
Underground Sea
Tolarian Academy

On my first turn I drew Mana Crypt. Of the lines of play, Vamp for Tinker seemed by far the most profitable. Twister carried all sorts of risks that DSC did not. Moreover, I already had Time Walk in hand. I Vamped for Tinker and rode DSC all the way home.

Game 2:

The second game was very interesting.

My opening hand was:

Yawgmoth’s Will
Dark Ritual
Grim Tutor
Underground Sea

Doug opened with land, Mox.

I drew Mox Pearl, and played Mox, Land.

Doug played a land and then cast Duress, taking my Tinker.

I returned the favor. I topdecked Duress and saw that he had Transmute Artifact in hand. He also had Mox Pearl, and Thirst For Knowledge. I took his Thirst.

On his next turn, Doug played a Sphere of Resistance. I actually concluded that it would hurt him more than me. I had plenty of mana available, and my mana base was only growing. I played the Academy I drew, and cast Grim Tutor for Necropotence, only to play it a turn later with one mana up (so that I could Force of Will under 2Sphere). I only used Necro to refill my hand, assembling a full suite of countermagic. Doug did nothing relevant, and I untapped and played more mana and Moxen, then refilled my hand again. At this point, I had to settle on a strategic end-point.

I could bounce his Spheres and try to win with Tendrils or I could just try to Tinker. I decided I had the mana to play under his Spheres. I played Cabal Ritual, Dark Ritual, Yawgmoth’s Will, Cabal Ritual, Dark Ritual, Duress, tap Academy, Tinker. I found the big robot and handily won. I set aside three more cards, going to 6 life. At the end of the game my hand had Force of Will, Force of Will, Misdirection, and 4 Blue spells.

One of the overarching features of this match was that I always felt in control. Part of it might have been Doug’s lack of an aggressive draw engine, but I always had more cards in hand than he did. I parlayed this card advantage into winning positions. I would often just play a land per turn, while he did nothing that directly impacted the strategic end-game I wished to achieve.

Final Thoughts

Fact or Fiction was incredible on the day. It proved its worth, time and again, both of its own accord and through the beneficial side effect that I now have 18 maindeck Blue cards (a nice symmetry with 18 maindeck Black cards!).

My Blue cards are 4 Force of Will, Misdirection, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Brainstorm, Ponder, Fact or Fiction, Gifts Ungiven, Tinker, Timetwister, Mind’s Desire, Chain of Vapor, Mystical Tutor, Merchant Scroll, and Rebuild.

My Black cards are 4 Duress, 4 Dark Ritual, 2 Cabal Ritual, Demonic Tutor, Imperial Seal, Vampiric Tutor, Grim Tutor, Yawgmoth’s Will, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Necropotence, and Tendrils of Agony.

It occurred to me that I could have reached this configuration sooner if I had just realized that Grim Tutor was weaker than Fact or Fiction for this deck in the current metagame. A part of my failure to come to this conclusion can be attributed to the fact that I think Grim Tutor is really a great card here, and that I was uncomfortable with the fact that I was only running two, and what that might mean. In a sense, Fact or Fiction already has synergy with Dark Ritual (because they can be played together), and because it fuels Yawgmoth’s Will. It also acts like a tutor by digging up good cards.

Tolarian Academy was gangbusters all day as well. It fueled Fact, supported Desire, and helped me when under Spheres or a Null Rod, by giving me another explosive mana source. I am so glad I cut green so that I could play this guy again. Things were possible that were otherwise not possible without this card. It’s presence even makes Moxen useful under a Null Rod, something not to be overlooked, as I did in the quarter-finals.

I believe TPS is perfectly equipped to combat most metagame threats, and can be sideboard into addressing the remainder. It’s very surprising that no one plays this deck. It’s as powerful as anything on the market. It contains the most powerful cards in the format (what other deck gets to run Mind’s Desire?), and it is incredibly consistent and highly disruptive. These tweaks only make these statements truer. I never had a problem not being able to Force of Will on the day, and Tolarian gives this deck additional explosiveness. Now we can run Academy and four basic lands.

I played a bunch of Mana Drain decks on the day and mowed through them like a buzzsaw through flesh. I anticipate that the metagame, from here on out, will continue to be littered with Drain decks. In my last metagame analysis of the format, Mana Drain decks were almost 40% of Vintage Top 8s. So long as Mana Drain decks anchor the format, and they will for the foreseeable future, I believe that TPS is poised to strike. Although I devoted a bunch of sideboard space to Workshops, a matchup that has seemingly disappeared in this Drain metagame, and Ichorid, a rare matchup, I don’t anticipate making any changes in the near future.

The only change I think will probably be made will be if the levels of Fish decks continue to rise. If so, I may take additional measures to address those, and tweak the sideboard options I’m currently running to combat Fish decks. In a worst case scenario, I might need to devise new approaches as well as new tactics for this growing menace. I might switch the mainboard Misdirection, there for an already favorable matchup, to an anti-Fish card or bounce spell. Whatever the case may be, I’m confident I can rise to meet this challenge.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian