So Many Insane Plays – How to Gro-A-Goyf

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After coming so close to a Top 8 spot at Day 1 of the StarCityGames Vintage Mega Weekend, Stephen dipped low into the think tank in order to improve his chances for Day 2. Today’s So Many Insane Plays is a comprehensive report on the highs and lows of the tournament from Stephen’s perspective. Did his changes to his beloved GroAtog deck cut the proverbial mustard? Read on to find out!

Next week we’ll know if the DCI has done the right thing and unrestricted Fact or Fiction. If they have, you can expect that I’ll be talking about that (or whatever other changes they may have decided to implement).

When last we left off, I was reflecting on my SCG Chicago P9 Day 1 tournament experience, enjoying the metagame shifts, and Lorwyn in particular. It’s a pretty exciting time to be a Vintage player or to be enjoying the Vintage format in general.

My plan of Tarmogoyf in my Grow sideboard was implemented primarily to fight Thorn of Amethyst. But the mere threat of Thorn (combined with the constraints that Gush decks put on the format in keeping Drain Control and Combo in check) had swung the metagame wildly in the direction of aggro decks. A presciently metagamed R/G beatz deck managed to take home the Black Lotus.

So while Goyf was there to fight Workshops, it turned out that it was pretty good in general. With my only loss being to Workshops, I decided to rethink my approach.

My threats were fine, but imperfect. Goyf is great, but it’s not going to win the game by itself. The pinpoint, targeted artifact destruction like Oxidize and Ancient Grudge is very good, but it’s most effective when you are trying to nail a particularly bothersome threat. It’s less good when you are getting pushed out of the game by a blizzard of Spheres.

This got me thinking… Energy Flux popped in my head as perhaps the right answer to the 9Sphere threat. Energy Flux is a card that lots of people have been using in GAT for some time. I’ve always felt that it was simply inferior to something cheaper and more directed. After all, it’s not as if Stax decks can’t pay for the critical threat for as long as they need. But with the strategy shift to just piling on Spheres, there really is no single card you can nail to stay in the game. Energy Flux seemed like the perfect antidote to strategies that would try to keep you out of the game by building a wall of Spheres around you like the Cask of Amontillado.

But I also wanted some pinpoint answers. While the logical mind said “Oxidize please,” Artifact Mutation is such a huge tempo bomb that it seemed like the perfect complement to Energy Flux. Have them sit there paying for the one or two key threats, then Mutate them and kill them seemed so much better than merely Oxidizing their threat.

I moved some Goyfs maindeck and made room for that sideboard plan.

There was no doubt that I would have to run 4 Ponder. Without really putting my analysis into it, the card that popped out to me to cut was Imperial Seal. So I did. I also moved the Fire/Ice maindeck, primarily to ensure that I had room in my sideboard for the Flux plan. To fit it, I cut a Misdirection. I also tweaked my Duress/Thoughtseize ratios to reflect how well I thought of Thoughtseize.

Here’s what I ran:

Round 1: Nicholas with “DeezNaughts”

I played Nicholas in Round 3 of SCG Indy in September. He gave me my first lost, which preceded me getting knocked out of the tournament by Dave Feinstein.

I put Nicholas on the same deck. I was not wrong.

Game 1:

I am relieved to win the die roll with memories of getting Stifled on turn 1 fetchland still resonating in my skull. I elect to play first. My hand is Island, Volcanic Island, and Underground Sea for mana. We both begin the game with Land, go. On turn 2, it’s more the same except that I think Nicholas Thoughtseize’s me. I quickly sense that he’s got a lot of counterpower in hand, as he’s doing nothing on the table. I don’t have Fetchland, so I don’t know whether he’s on Stifle or not. On his third turn, he Wastelands my Underground Sea, but it’s replaced with another. I topdeck a fetchland and decide to test to see whether he has Stifle. He apparently doesn’t, as he lets me find another Sea.

For some reason, I don’t have any cantrips or Duresses. My hand has Fire/Ice, Merchant Scroll, Gush, Force of Will, and Force of Will, among other cards.

On my fifth turn, I decide to do something. I float two mana and Gush. He Mana Drains my Gush. I Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall, but suddenly that plan seems worse and worse. He has Mana Drain mana up and nearly a full grip. I decide to pass him the turn and see what happens.

My notes are a little confusing, but I know that Nicholas burns at least 4 mana, going to 14 life. I’m not sure what he did with the last bit of mana. He played a Black Lotus.

I’m sitting on Fire/Ice, trying to figure out the optimal use of it. I just draw a card and pass the turn.

Nicholas draws a card and passes the turn. I draw Brainstorm and play it. It resolves. I see garbage. It’s lands and more reactive Blue spells.

On my endstep, Nicholas announces Mystical Tutor. He tutors up Ancestral Recall. On his upkeep, I announce Ice on his Black Lotus, hoping to limit his mana and cycle a card. He responds by breaking his Lotus for UUU. I had not even considered that possibility. Fizzle Ice! No way!

I feel stupid for not realizing that you could fizzle Ice that way.

I chug on. He Ancestral Recalls himself. In response, I lamely throw my Ancestral onto the stack. My fears are realized when he reveals Misdirection. I would like to Force of Will here, but my other Blue card is on top of my deck (I honestly thought that Ice would resolve). But it wouldn’t have mattered. I’m sure he had more countermagic. Nicholas draws 6 cards.

Why stop there? He plays Dark Confidant.

I try to play a Green dude, and he Mana Drains my Goyf. I think he reveals Lotus Petal with Bob.

He burns two mana, going to 12.

He attacks me to 17.

I don’t have a follow up. I draw dead and pass the turn, feeling out of the game.

He reveals a Phyrexian Dreadnaught with Dark Confidant going to 11 and plays a fetchland. He attacks me for 2, sending me to 15.

He then plays another Dark Confidant.

There is nothing I can do about it. I drop a Quirion Dryad and Fetchland (breaking it) into play and pass the turn.

He reveals mana with Bobs and attacks me to 10.

I do nothing relevant.

On his turn, he reveals Force of Will with Bob and mana.

He attacks me to 6 life. I return the favor and attack him for 3 life, sending him to two (I think, I can’t otherwise explain his drop from 5 to 2 life).

He then reveals Time Walk on his upkeep, and the game is over.

Game 2:

Tarmogoyf is killer here. I sided out a Quirion Dryad for a Tarmogoyf. I debated whether to bring in Red Elemental Blasts. My chief concern was whether Nicholas was running Threads of Disloyalty. I couldn’t afford to assume that he wasn’t running them. I cut 1 Misdirection for 1 Red Elemental Blast. I know that’s not much of a change, but I still have an Echoing Truth in the mainboard if Threads becomes a problem. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

We shuffle up. Nicholas thinks for a moment about his hand and decides to run with it. I have to mulligan a no land hand. I mulligan into a 5 land hand with 1 Merchant Scroll. I keep it.

I would be lying if I wasn’t excited about this hand. I have an opportunity get back at Nicholas.

To understand why I was so excited, you have to understand how Nicholas beat me at the last SCG. I didn’t know what he was playing and he won the die roll. He played a land. I played a fetchland and went to break it. He met me with Stifle and promptly tempoed me out of the game.

Now it was my turn to play upon the latent memory of that match, to my advantage. Nicholas played a dual land on turn 1 and passed the turn back.

I played one of my five lands, a fetchland, and went to break it with a motion that indicated that I needed that land — I did it quickly and with purpose. Nicholas played Stifle. I almost had to smile inside.

Over the next few turns, I played out all four of my other lands while Nicholas and I played draw go. The Stifle play actually bought me time, giving me time to develop by trading a card from him. It turns out that he topdecked Phyrexian Dreadnaught shortly thereafter because when I eventually Thoughtseized him, I saw two Dreadnaughts in hand. It’s not that Dreadnaught would have been the end of the world — I have Echoing Truth in the maindeck, a potent thread against action because they can’t replay the Dreadnaught. But it gave me an advantage in this game.

Soon into the mid-game, Nicholas and I get into a Tarmogoyf staring match. My Quirion Dryad manages to break through the standoff. My Duresses give me plenty of information to stay ahead. Our hands were full of disruptive elements. He has Spell Snare, but I have Red Blast. Once he grows beyond the Goyf’s reach, he swings for 6 twice and then kills Nicholas.

I’m off to a much better start than the day before, where I had two draws before a win. I’m feeling very good about my deck and my chances.

Round 2: Zack with Workshop Aggro

Game 1:

I won the die roll of this match. My opening hand was only a component or two off from being a turn 1 combo.

My hand is:

Black Lotus
Polluted Delta
Underground Sea
Merchant Scroll

I played Underground Sea, Duress. Since I didn’t know what he was playing, I wanted to clear the way for my Fastbond.

I saw:

Mishra’s Workshop
Thorn of Amethyst
Mana Vault
Mana Crypt
2 Gorilla Shaman

I took the Thorn.

I played Black Lotus and busted it for GGG. I played Fastbond. I played Delta and broke it for a Tropical Island instead of a basic Island. I then Gushed and saw Quirion Dryad. I played it. I then replayed the lands and cast Merchant Scroll. At this point, the question was: should I get Ancestral or Gush? Gush would not cost me anything in terms of mana or space. On the other hand, if I Scrolled for Ancestral, I would see another card. I went for Ancestral Recall. My Dryad is 3/3. I was out of gas. Next turn, I’ll be able to play the Yawgmoth’s Will I drew and finish the job.

Zack would have none of it.

Answering my plays by topdecking Magus of the Moon and playing Mountain, Mana Crypt, Magus on turn 1 was a big hitch in my giddyup.

I had neglected to actually Fetch out a basic Island as I was comboing out. I knew he was playing Shop Aggro and there was a chance he’d run Magus. I should have fetched out an Island on turn 1.

I am stuck on riding this Dryad to victory. I just need to draw a Force of Will or a Mox. Hell, basic Island would do.

On turn 2, I attacked for 3.

He wins his Crypt flip and attacks me to 16. He plays a Shaman and a Mana Vault.

I swung back at him, sending him to 14. Note that I drew Force of Will on the turn.

He attacks me to 14. He tries to play a spell that seems threatening (I think it was Sword of Fire and Ice or a Trike). I would have none of it. Forced.

I continue to beat him down. He chumps with Shamans (also eating his own Mana Crypt). Pretty soon he is forced to block his Magus of the Moon to stop the onslaught. At that point I just draw a million cards and finish him off.

My level of excitement at this point is quickly reaching a critical mass. The anticipation of playing Energy Flux is almost too much to contain. As if the prospect of Energy Flux wiping away his board, wreaking havoc isn’t enough to make me salivate, I practically stroke out at the thought of Artifact Mutation resolving.

This is a sign that my sideboard is awesome.

Game 2:

I sideboard out my Duresses, my Misdirection, and two Quirion Dryads. In return, I bring in a Tarmogoyf, 2 Artifact Mutation, and 3 Energy Flux.

I giggle inside when he mulligans to 6. I shuffle and cut him up. I grimace at the last cut, having a bad feeling about it.

My fears were well founded. He opens the game with Mishra’s Workshop, Sol Ring, Trinisphere, burn one mana.

I sigh. I have two fetchlands in hand, so there is a good chance I’ll be able to play a spell, but it better be a good one. I may be able to play one, maybe two spells, so I’m going to have to make the most of them. And I won’t be able to dig for them either.

I drop a fetchland and he essentially does nothing. No Juggernaut, no Smokestack. No broken turn 2 follow up. Instead, all he does is play Sword of Fire and Ice and Gorilla Shaman. Fine by me.

I play a second fetchland. On his turn he equips and attacks me for 3 and Fires me with the Sword. He plays another Sword of Fire and Ice.

I topdeck a third fetchland on my third turn. I can now play under Trinisphere. The problem is that I haven’t seen anything worth playing: no Goyf, no Artifact Mutation, and most critically, no Energy Flux.

Why haven’t I drawn one of my sideboard cards??

I Force of Will his Trike and untap to Ponder.

Come on Energy Flux, Artifact Mutation, something! These three cards will determine whether I lose this game. I Ponder into…

Nothing. Nada. Crapola. Shuffle it away.

He equips the Shaman again and sends me for 5 and then Fires me twice. I’m at 2.

My top card is not Energy Flux. But my next card is. I am crushed.

Well, I suppose I can’t be too despondent. That’s Trinisphere for you.

I am still psyched. I’m on the play. If I can actually make a game of it when he has Trinisphere, I’ll probably crush him in game 3, especially if I see a sideboard card.

Game 3:

I keep the same sideboard plan and go into battle.

I draw up my hand of seven and it’s a thinker.

I have one land, a fetchland, a Mox Ruby, and spells. They are good spells. I have Tarmogoyf and Ancestral Recall. Okay, they are great spells. I also have multiple Merchant Scrolls.

Here are my basic two options: Fetch out Tropical Island and play Tarmogoyf OR fetch out Island and play Ancestral Recall. There are risks attendant in each play. First of all, if I play Goyf, he could just Wasteland my Tropical Island, leaving me with no land and no ability to play my Ancestral to draw more. If I play Ancestral Recall, I lose the ability to attack on turn 2 and I may not even draw a Tropical Island or fetchland to find one. If I play Ancestral on turn 1, there is a very good chance that I won’t be able to Tarmogoyf until turn 3 and not start beating until turn 4.

To me, the answer was Tarmogoyf. First of all, even if he has Wasteland, there is a chance that he’ll wait until turn 2 to play it. If I have another land, he’s just Time Walked me. When you are staring down Tarmogoyf, you have to be doing something better than Wasteland. That’s precisely what happened.

I dropped Ruby, Delta into Trop, Goyf on turn 1. He played turn 1 Mishra’s Workshop, Sphere of Resistance and burned for one.

As soon as I saw him play Workshop, I was relieved at my choice of play. So far so good.

Turn 2:

I tap my Trop and Ruby on turn 2 and cast Ancestral Recall. I draw Force of Will, Artifact Mutation, and another land this turn. I play the Fetchland.

I attack him for 2 with my not-so-beefy Goyf and pass the turn.

Now we come to another critical juncture.

My opponent taps his Workshop and plays another Sphere of Resistance.

What do I do?

I can play Artifact Mutation next turn. I can Force his Sphere. If I Force the Sphere, there will be an artifact in his graveyard and I’ll be able to swing with my Goyf for more damage. However, if I untap and Mutate one of his Spheres, I’ll be able to get him for even more.

There is another consideration. I’m wondering why he’s going to all this trouble to pile up Spheres when I have a Goyf on the table. It seems like his Spheres have as much potential to stunt him, if not more, than me.

What do you do?

I let Sphere number 2 resolve.

What I didn’t quite account for is that I’d need another mana to be able to play my Mutation now.

If I Force his 2Sphere, I can untap and blow up his other Sphere at my leisure.

He plays a Mountain and passes the turn.

I attack him to 15 and pass the turn. I don’t see another land.

He finally draws his Wasteland. He Wastes my Trop and I’m sitting dead.

We play draw-go on the next turn, while he begins to establish his mana by continuing to make land drops, while I do not. I swing him to 13. Eventually I use my Force of Will by breaking my Fetchland for Island to counter a big artifact creature. I attack him for 10, failing to draw more lands

On my next turn I finally do manage to draw another land, I cast Brainstorm. I put back Quirion Dryad and Tarmogoyf. Unfortunately, I put them back in the wrong order. I draw the Goyf and am forced to discard it. My Goyf is now at 4 power.

He doesn’t do anything relevant and I attack with Goyf and he takes 4, going to 6. At this point, I debate what to discard. The end of this game is in sight. I draw Mox Sapphire and debate discarding it. I end up deciding to discard it because it makes Goyf 5 power.

His many turns of draw, land, go finally pay off for him. He taps down and play Duplicant.

There is some rules confusion about this interaction. The night before, I was having a conversation with some Ohio Vintage players and they made it absolutely clear to me that if you Duplicate a Goyf or a Dryad that the Duplicant will be a 0/0 or a 0/1 respectively.

The judge informs me that this is not the case. Evidently, there has been some rules change in Time Spiral so that the Goyf takes upon the power and toughness mandated by the rules text so that it is not */*+1 but actually has the power and toughness it becomes. Duplicant is a 5 power creature at this point.

His Duplicant removes my Goyf from game and now the tempo has reversed.

The good news is that I’m still holding that Artifact Mutation. The problem is that I need one more mana, and I just discarded that Mox Sapphire.

It gets worse. He finds another Wasteland and Wastelands my land and attacks me for 5. I’m at 12 life now with only one land and one Mox on the table.

I topdeck more Blue spells and he swings me to 7.

But then it happens. I topdeck a land. I promptly drop it on the table and pass.

He sends me to 2. Here it comes. All I need here one more mana source and we’re in business. I’ll be able to Artifact Mutate his Duplicant to hell and return swing alpha strike him next turn.

One more topdeck. One last play and I win! Once I fire off that Artifact Mutation, this game will be over…

And I topdeck… A spell.

I lose.

This was a horrible match for me. I mangled game 3 beyond recognition. Certainly, I could have Forced his turn 2 Sphere and then just Mutated the first one and gone for the throat. It’s difficult for me to imagine him winning the game under those circumstances. Even if I don’t Mutate the first Sphere, I almost certainly should have Forced the second one. But then, discarding Mox Sapphire… I made some serious judgment errors in this game. And it cost me.

I was stoked to be playing against Workshops. It’s true, he had the nuts in game 2 with turn 1 Trinisphere, and I still had outs.

I resolve to suck up this loss, but not content to let me lose to Workshops again. I feel vindicated with my sideboard plan, although recognize that Oxidizes over Artifact Mutations here may have actually helped me out more. Nonetheless, Energy Flux would have been a huge game winner had I ever actually drawn it.

Moving on…


Round 3: Worldgorger Dragon Combo

My opponent says that he is excited to play me. I peer at him skeptically for a moment, then take the complement and we shuffle up. I win the dice roll and elect to play first.

I don’t know what my opponent is playing, but I begin the game with turn one land, Brainstorm.

He plays a dual land and passes the turn back.

I play the Thoughtseize I Brainstormed into last turn, only to see:

Worldgorger Dragon
Worldgorger Dragon
Worldgorger Dragon
Worldgorger Dragon
Force of Will
Animate Dead
Polluted Delta

Yes, it is one of the weirdest hands I’ve ever seen. Evidently, he had 3 Worldgorgers in his opening hand and drew the fourth.

So, I know what I’m put against. Not too long ago, Peter Ozlwecki, currently the Legacy World Champion, wrote an excellent article on this matchup. Having read it, I’m familiar with the Oath SB plan, which I think is quite clever. The Hellkite sideboard isn’t just good with Oath, Animate Dead + Bazaar makes it a backup plan as well. Swinging with a 5/5 flyer has never been better in Vintage.

I take his Animate and pass the turn. A turn later I Duress him again and see another Animate. I take that one as well.

A turn later and I’m comboing with Fastbond + Gush.

Game 2:

We shuffle up for game 2 and I am anticipating Oath plan coming in. I watch him sideboard, but I’m not able to get a sense of what he’s doing. I have Echoing Truth and Fire/Ice maindeck, so that feels good. I bring in my Pithing Needles.

He opens with Bazaar of Baghdad, the most frightening start possible.

I Thoughtseize him on turn 1 and see:

Animate Dead
Animate Dead
Force of Will
Polluted Delta

If you were going to construct a hand that was the polar opposite of his opening hand last game, it would be this. First of all, this hand is Duress proof. Having duplicate Animates and duplicate Intuition means that I can’t break up his combo or cut off a necessary tool. I just take the Force.

He plays Delta, breaks it for Underground Sea, and casts Mana Vault.

I’m extremely nervous. At any point, he could just go off. Unfortunately, there is not much I can do. I’m not in a position to really advance my game state that quickly. All I can do is play a land and wait.

On his turn, he activates Bazaar. He discards a Hellkite, Intuition, and a land. He taps his Mana Vault and plays Intuition. I debate Forcing it for some time, but I eventually settle on letting it resolve. If he gets more Dragons, there is nothing I can do. He goes for Deep Analysis and two creatures. He then plays another land and Animate Dead. I’m able to Force that but I have Echoing Truth in hand. I Force it.

On his turn, takes a point to Mana Vault and then he plays another Animate. I take 5 to the face when the Dragon hits play.

I Brainstorm and see Fastbond. I’m able to cast a Dryad. I build my Dryad up a bit with Fastbond and Gush (going to 11). It’s a standoff. I don’t have a Force, so the question is: when should I Echoing Truth?

He attacks me for 5. I untap and swing back at him to 13.

On his turn, he attacks me to 6. I seriously debated whether to E. Truth here, but I decided to wait just one more turn.

I attack him down to 5. I dig and dig, but can’t find a Duress.

On his turn, he topdecks a Necromancy which he casts on another Hellkite in his graveyard. I bounced his Hellkite in play, but he kills me when his second Hellkite CIP triggers.

If I had just bounced the Hellkite last turn, I could have won this game…. Aaaaargh!!!

We shuffle up for game three with mere minutes left in the game.

Game 3:

I mulligan looking for a combo hand. He resolves turn 2 Oath and topdecks his Orchard in turn zero of time. Time is called. I bounce his Oath before he can Oath by casting Echoing Truth. I build up a hand, but it’s all moot. We are in turns before he can begin to Oath. I steal another turn with Time Walk and it’s a draw…


Not a good start. I’m a bit mystified as to how this match went to time. I suppose my game 1 execution just took too long. Game 2 was tight and could have gone either way. I could have just wrapped up the match had I bounced his Hellkite a turn earlier. That was a tricky play.

Round 4: Paul Nicolo, Control Slaver

Paul Nicolo is one of the better Vintage players, with some success elsewhere and a good amount of Professional experience. He’s also got many Vintage Top 8s to his name, including the 2005 Vintage World Championship. He’s known for playing Fish, but I know that he’s playing Slaver today. Control Slaver is normally a very easy matchup, but Paul knows what he’s doing. This will be tight.

Game 1:

Paul wins the die roll and elects to play. Paul opens with Volcanic Island.

I play a fetchland and find Underground Sea. I play Thoughtseize and see:

Goblin Welder
Mana Drain
Mystical Tutor
Thirst For Knowledge
Red Elemental Blast
Mana Crypt

I believe I took Mystical Tutor. My knowledge of his hand will keep him in check.

Mystical may seem an innocuous card to take, a card disadvantage tutor at that. It’s my extensive experience against Slaver that tells me otherwise. Just for starters, he could EOT Tutor for Tinker and then resolve it with his Red Elemental Blast. I’ll bet he was pretty surprised I took the tutor.

I’m pretty certain that he went to play Thirst For Knowledge when I tapped out at some point. I Forced his Thirst. His Mana Drain was pretty worthless as it just sat in his hand. We both get close to topdeck mode, but he draws lands while I draw spells. Pretty soon I have Yawgmoth’s Will. I play Gush. Then I sacrifice Black Lotus for BBB. I play Yawgmoth’s Will. When I Force Will through, he scoops.

Game 2:

This game was a comedy of errors. I made about four or five mistakes, one of which was mechanical and accidental. He plays early Welder, which I am cool with. My goal is to stop him from drawing cards. I use Red Blasts, Duresses, and Force of Wills to keep him in check. Keeping him in check forces me to expend some of my resources. He’s finally in topdeck mode. He decides to fetch some lands. I shuffle him up really good and cut. His top card?

Ancestral Recall. He casts it and then plays Thirst For Knowledge.

On his next turn, he moves into his second mainphase and plays Yawgmoth’s Will. I Force of Will it and he plays Mana Drain. His Will resolves, but he’ll only get to play Ancestral Recall, and land, and one other one-mana spell. I think he played Brainstorm and a Mox and passed the turn.

I know that Paul was holding Spell Snare because of an earlier Duress. But I figured he might still have a Red Blast. When I Brainstormed into Ancestral Recall, Mystical Tutor, and Duress, I kept the Duress and put the other two back. I Duressed and saw no resistance. I took something that would slow him down. For some reason, I put Mystical Tutor on top of Ancestral by accident. Oh well, I just waited another turn and Mysticaled for Yawgmoth’s Will and Ancestraled into it.

After playing Duress, he plays Triskelavus. I attack with Dryad, he makes a dude, blocks, and pings me. I then draw Mystical Tutor. He attacks me while I attack him back. Same thing. He makes a dude, blocks, and then pings me. He swings back at me. But then it’s all over. I Yawgmoth’s Will over him finishing him off with Fire/Ice, killing him.


Round 5: Juan Rodriguez playing GroAtog

Juan and I roomed together this weekend. Juan is part of the Ohio crew. He’s a very solid local player. After my disappointing Day 1, we worked on GAT together. I’m glad he’s done well enough to get to this point. I tell him that he should play as best he can and play for the win. The player who wins this match is the player that is best suited to make it to Top 8.

With that we begin. My notes on this match are sparse. Although I could probably image stream and force myself to remember most of this match, it took me hours to reconstruct some of the matches from last week’s tournament report, and this match was at least as complicated as any of those. So, I’ll save myself an hour or two sitting here trying to remember what happened and just give you a basic overview.

The GAT mirror has become more and more frequently a combo matchup. There is a standoff, sometimes, until one player combos off. More likely, one player has the tempo initiative and carries it to the end of the game. When the games decompress, the GAT matchup is very intense and decision heavy. This matchup played out that way.

I Vamped early on for Ancestral Recall and managed to Force it through. I used that card advantage to slip and Dryad into play and protect my board position, staying ahead in terms of development. I played turn 3 Dryad and attacked him for 3 on turn 4, 6 on turn 5, and killed him a turn later.

Game 2:

Game 2 was a frustrating game because my opening hand had Ancestral Recall in it, and he was on the play. Predictably, he played turn 1 Duress, and took my Recall. I was peeved. It’s ironic, but one of the worst places for Ancestral Recall is in your hand in this format. I’d much rather tutor it up than lose it on turn 1 to a Duress. Predictably, this disadvantage costs me dearly. I am unable to stop him from resolving his Ancestral and comboing out.

Game 3:

I played turn 1 Strand into Underground Sea, Thoughtseize and saw:

Merchant Scroll
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta

I took a Tarmogoyf.

Juan played turn 1 Polluted Delta.

On his second turn, he played Merchant Scroll off Island and Delta into Tropical Island for Ancestral Recall, as I knew he would.

I had another Duress for him (actually two more). I play turn 3 Duress. He thinks for a moment, Gushes, and reveals:

Ancestral Recall
Flooded Strand
Quirion Dryad
Tropical Island

I’m feeling very good about this game. He’s massively behind in terms of tempo, and his card advantage is not going to last. I Duress his Ancestral and I Duress his Brainstorm.

He plays turn 3 Tropical Island and passes the turn back.

At this point, I just Scroll for Ancestral, Force it through his Misdirection, and go to town. He plays Green men, I play mine, but with gas to back it up. I move quickly so that I don’t give him time to recover and undo the tempo loss. This game ends soon with me comboing out all over him.


Round 6: Nat Moes with RG Belcher Combo

Nat Moes is another guy from the Ohio crew. In tournament play, I have a dismal record against him, but to enjoy himself, he decided to play a fun deck today. By “fun,” of course, I mean a deck designed to win on turn 1 or make a million goblin tokens.

I was ecstatic to win the match, I mean, die roll. Imagine my delight when Nat mulliganed to 6.

My opening hand has Force of Will, but no Duress.

I played turn 1 land, Brainstorm. He played turn 1 cycle Street Wraith, play Mox Ruby.

I think about countering Mox Ruby, but decide, given the size of his hand, to let this one resolve. Plus, I have Duress in hand now to Duress him next turn. He plays Goblin Welder. Again, I have no real interest in countering that. It will make his Goblin Charbelcher’s uncounterable, but I just need to make sure that he can’t cast them, or that I kill his Welders first.

I Duress him and see:

Elvish Spirit Guide
Chrome Mox
Goblin Charbelcher

If I don’t take Chrome Mox, he could play it, imprint something, and then he’d only be one mana away from being about to hardcast the Belcher. Even if I take Chrome Mox, he can weld it back. Nonetheless, I can’t take the Elvish Spirit Guide or the Belcher. I end up taking the Chrome Mox.

I have Forces in hand, so I know that I can stop him should he try anything. I Gush and Scroll and have the option of playing Scroll for Fire/Ice and Firing his Welder or going for Ancestral Recall. I decide the latter. I pass the turn, he draws a card and attacks me for 1. I play a land, Ponder, and pass the turn.

He topdecks a card and attacks me for 1.

I topdeck another land, play another land, and pass back.

He draws a card and play Lotus Petal. I think. He can go: Petal, Weld it back, ESG, and tap his Mox to play Belcher. While he’ll need to be able to activate the Belcher, that will still give him the win on board. I Force of Will the Lotus Petal.

Imagine my surprise when he plays Lion’s Eye Diamond. He captured my response:

“Oh God!” said Steve. “Do I lose? I think I lose!”

I did. Nat discarded my hand, Welded in Belcher, and cratered me.

I smacked myself for not getting Fire/Ice there. I had built up a hand that had plenty of counterspells. Not going for Fire/Ice was a clear mistake. First of all, my deck topdecks a lot better than his. I don’t need Ancestral when I can topdeck Gush and then find Ancestral later. Of course, there is a chance I could have drawn dead for a while, but my chances of drawing something relevant were better than his.

Game 2:

The good news is that I was on the play. I resolve not to screw up this game.

I play turn 1 fetchland, break it for Underground Sea, Thoughtseize.

I see:

Goblin Welder
Mox Emerald
Memory Jar
Simian Spirit Guide
Mox Pearl

It’s interesting to see that even Belcher plays Tarmogoyf now I guess.

The immediate threat here is the Goyf. The long term threat is the Memory Jar. The key and absolutely most important thing to do is prevent him from playing Jar. If he can cast it, he can begin to Weld it to accelerate into my demise.

He has potentially 3 mana right now. So he’s a good turn or three from being able to play Jar. If I take the Goyf, he has three mana.

If I take the Mox Emerald, he can’t play Goyf or Jar for some time. He could use the SSG to play Welder and get turn 2 Tarmogoyf by welding in his Mox Emerald. But that takes time and it will still only leave him with one mana on the table and no mana in hand. Seems solid.

I snag the Mox.

Unfortunately, Nat draws Land Grant. I groan as he gets Taiga to cast Goyf and begin the beats. Of course, I have a Goyf of my own, which is why I really wasn’t concerned with that play.

His line of play best fed into my own. I was hoping to get him to waste more resources to do it.

On turn 2, he plays his Welder, and I answer with Pithing Needle on Welder. Pretty good for me.

Nat plays draw, go, while I play, Draw, cantrip, go for a few turns. He cycles a Street Wraith and then another and I Duress him again and see:

Memory Jar, Simian Spirit Guide, Pyroblast, and Red Elemental Blast,

I take the Pyroblast. I have Force now for the Jar. I realize he has another Red Blast, but he’s going to have to have 6 mana for it to work.

He plays draw go, cycling another Street Wraith in the process.

I Gush, hoping to draw out his Blast, but he doesn’t go for it. I draw some cards. I Brainstorm, but he still doesn’t Blast it.

He plays Living Wish. I consider it, but let it resolve. He finds another Taiga to support his Red Blasts, I presume, but my Duress reveals Channel and Elvish Spirit Guide.

He was trying to set up Channel + Red Blast + Jar. I stopped that shenanigans.

Within a few turns, I’m able to combo out. Nat scoops to save time.

Game 3:

We shuffle up. Nat looks at his hand and grimaces. He mulligans to 6. He thoroughly shuffles up again, and frowns once more, throwing it back. I’m practically ecstatic because this means I’m going to be in great shape. He mulligans to 5 and keeps.

I mulligan my opening hand because it does not have Force or Will or Pithing Needle. I am shuffling for my mulligan when the judge walks by. Time has been called during Nat’s mulligans. The judge informed us that we could not begin, even though Nat had decided to keep his hand.

Nat flashes his hand: Mox Pearl, Mox Jet, Lotus Petal, Rite of Flame, Goblin Charbelcher… it would have been turn 1 Belcher and maybe turn 2 activation, if he draws another mana source. However, it would have folded if I could find Force or Pithing Needle. I’m sure it would have been a good game though.

Rather than have us draw, knocking both of us out of contention, Nat decides to scoop to me on the grounds that I’m playing the real deck.

I owe Nat a game 3 sometime.


Round 7: ICBMer w/ UB Aggro-Control

So, I am in roughly the same position as the tournament the day before. I’m sitting in the last round, paired down. My opponent has two losses, while I’m X-1-1 (the day before I was X-0-2). I asked my opponent to scoop me into Top 8.

First of all, there are no prizes for 9-16th at this tournament. Second of all, he was locked out of Top 8 with two losses. My opponent refused, even after I explained to him these things. I also think that he was part of team ICBM (I Can Beat Meandeck), so I understand his motive. If I were in that position, I certainly would have scooped him into Top 8.

My opening hand was garbage. I had a one land hand with Goyf. I went for it, and it did not pay off. He Wastelanded my land on turn 1 and I was out of the game right there. I would not have kept that hand under normal circumstances, but I wasn’t entirely focused on the match just yet.

In game 2, I had a much better hand. My problem was execution. I kept ahead of him the entire game, playing around his tactical tricks and traps, but it just takes me forever to win this game. And he makes me go through it all. When I begin to combo out, he has two Goyfs on the board and I haven’t even found my Dryad yet. And I’m at 10 life. I win the game at 2 life, which is customary for me. I try to leave myself a one life cushion, just in case something goes awry.

And then, the same problem happens. We shuffle up for game 3, but he mulligans and the judge walks over and informs us that since we haven’t begun, we won’t be able to play game 3. Once again, I ask him if he wants to scoop, and his answer remains the same. He can’t make Top 8, but he seems perfectly content playing spoiler. That’s his right.

Final Record:


My final showing was disappointing, on the cusp of contention both days, but knocked out in the final round. It must be nice to be Owen Turtenwald and just waltz into top 8…

Here are the Top 8 decklists, if you’re curious.

It seems that a lot of players, observing the surge in aggro decks from Day 1, audibled into combo decks for Day 2. Lucky for them that they didn’t have to play Stax in the swiss. I guess that’s why Stax ended up winning in that Top 8 and a deck with 4 Thorns and 4 Chalice in the sideboard made it to the finals.

On Time

Vintage tournaments seem to have a disproportionate amount of instances of people going to time. Beyond that, an additional five turns can easily be upwards of 20 minutes, even when played at a reasonable pace. Vintage may be the fastest format in terms of turns, but it is easily the slowest format in terms of time.

The banning of Shahrazad in Vintage and Legacy was partially explained as a way to address decks that are designed to stall and eat up time. At the Invitational, one of the reason that Mike Turian gave for restricting Gifts Ungiven was the fact that it takes so much time to play. People have to find four cards and then the opponent has to make a decision. This takes time, sometimes a lot of it.

While a silly reason on its face, Vintage formats have serious logistical issues that take up quite a bit of time that aren’t generally faced in regular Magic. The reasons are many.

First of all, mulliganing. Vintage decks mulligan a lot. And mulligan decisions in Vintage are never simple. It’s rarely because you don’t have a land. It’s more often tactical or strategic mulligans. In fact, there is a deck, a very good deck, in Vintage where almost half of its game is mulliganing. Vintage Ichorid uses the “mulligan man” a.k.a. Serum Powder to find Bazaar of Baghdad. The pile shuffling, side shuffling, and opponent shuffling in between each round of mulligans takes time, and a lot of it. Vintage players’ mulligan decisions are also generally conditioned upon whether an opponent mulligans. Very often I’ll be in a situation where I will be initially inclined to mulligan, but if my opponent mulligans to 5, I will decide not to.

The second thing that takes time is the shuffling. Most Vintage decks shuffle their library about once per turn. Every single Vintage deck, with very few exceptions, tutors. The most common cards in Vintage are Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand. It’s not that finding the right land takes time so much as the shuffling that follows it. New cards like Ponder only add to this.

Finally, the execution. Lots of Vintage decks take forever to win, even once they have the game locked up. I noticed that actually winning with GroAtog takes a lot of time. From the moment I cast Yawgmoth’s Will to the time that I Time Walk and Cunning Wish for Berserk can take 10 minutes or more. The tutoring, shuffling, drawing, and decision trees take time to walk through. I could easily play 15 spells in between those two moments — Fastbond, Gush, Gush, Gush, Gush, Brainstorm, Ponder, Demonic Tutor, Brainstorm, Merchant Scroll, etc, etc.

If you play Necropotence and draw 12 cards, it will take you more than a minute to figure out what to pitch and when you go off the next turn, it will take you some time to actually kill the opponent. You may do quite a bit of tutoring and shuffling and interactive disruption before you finally win with Tendrils or Empty the Warrens.

The Vintage Championship at Gencon used to have 60 minute rounds until recently, and I think that greatly resolved many of the problems.

At every Vintage tournament I’ve attended in the last year, the problem of “slow-play” has always been mentioned and the sounding rhetoric against it has been strongly pronounced.

This leads me to one critical point: I am beginning to think, moreso than I can ever remember, that one of the critical skills in Vintage is “knowing when to scoop.” This can make the difference between drawing and winning a match. In Vintage, I believe that you must sometimes scoop games that you would never scoop in other formats because your percentage chance of winning may be greater than negligible. You could have a 10% chance of winning a match from a certain game state, but the correct play may still be to scoop, and often will be.

The second lesson that all of this bears upon — and one that it has taken me some time to learn and fully comprehend – is that “win-more” cards are not necessarily cards you shouldn’t run. As I’ve explained, execution matters. Let me break this down.

In a deck I created in 2005, Meandeck Gifts, many players around the globe would tell me that I should include a Dark Ritual. I said that until I came upon a Gifts pile that required it or a game state where I needed it, I would not run it. I argued that it wasn’t necessary. Strictly speaking, it was not. But when I did test it, it made my wins easier, simpler, more efficient. To me, that was the definition of a “win-more” card. Therefore, I should not run it.

That reasoning is flawed. First and foremost, if you can win more efficiently and effectively, you actually can speed up your execution. That time matters and it matters a lot. Decks should not be built as if you have infinite time in some untimed Top 8 match. If the DCI will use time as a factor in its decisions to restrict and ban cards, you should definitely consider time as a factor in design. Win-more cards may not be strictly necessary, but they can actually save you time and end up helping you avoid draws. The perfect example of this for this tournament would be Empty the Warrens. I debated whether to run Empty, and instead settled for Echoing Truth. In retrospect, I think I would have saved a lot of time and headache and avoided going to time in most of my matches, if I had just run ETW. It provides an instant kill once I’ve played Yawg Will that does not require me to play 15 spells to grow a Dryad.

Another important reason to not necessarily avoid “win-more” cards is this: win-more cards actually reduce your opportunity for error. You will be less likely to make a play mistake. I believe that those two reasons alone are sufficient to overcome the opportunity cost of the card slot.

During the weekend, I ended up with 4 draws — 3 unintentional and 1 intentional, but another one that was avoided because Nat scooped to me. In 14 rounds of Magic, that’s 28.5% of my matches. What’s more, 6 of my rounds went to time or would have gone to time. That doesn’t really tell you much, since 5 turns is sometimes an eternity in Vintage, but it does tell me that my matches are taking a long time. That’s 42.8% of my matches going to time (even if they don’t go to turns). Of course a non-trivial percentage of those are going to be draws. Even if one of them is a draw, that’s still one too many.

Upon reflection, it appears that the problem is that I’m too cautious when comboing off. I think I’m just going to need an Empty the Warrens. Dryad requires that I play so many spells to get the win, and in a particular order — especially when I have to draw into a Dryad after playing Yawgmoth’s Will. With ETW, I can play spells in whatever order I want, play Empty the Warrens, Time Walk and end the game on the spot. Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda, now I know better.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian