Two and a half weeks ago I traveled with a group of guys to Michigan’s RIW to fight for a Black Lotus. It would be Patrick Chapin’s first Vintage tournament in five years. My other teammates Brian DeMars and Paul Mastriano would also be on hand to help me wreak havoc. Over forty of the strongest Vintage players in the Midwest showed up to battle, including recent Grand Prix Columbus Top 8er, Paul Nicolo, a regular at RIW.
But before I give my tournament report, I have some metagame news. Last weekend 125 Vintage players traveled to Stratford Connecticut to attend the semi-annual “Waterbury” — one of the largest regular Vintage tournaments in America. The decklists will be available soon, but the reports coming out indicate that the Top 4 included two GroAtog, U/B/W Fish, and Flash. The Flash deck knocked out the Fish deck, and Rich Shay piloting GAT beat Andy Probasco in the mirror. Then the Flash deck, piloted by Justin Timmoney, no stranger to Vintage top 8s, reportedly annihilated Rich, playing GroAtog.
So, Flash claims its first major Vintage tournament victory. The reports also suggest that in the semi-finals and finals match, the Flash player had three turn 1 victories and one turn 2 victory. I’ve also heard that Rich Shay tapped below Mana Drain mana for some reason, and let Justin go off unimpeded.
As a result of this tournament, we have witnessed some metagame changes from the metagame I described a few weeks ago. First of all, Flash has clearly joined GroAtog in the Tier 1. That was ambiguous at best when I wrote the Decks of Vintage article, although I admit there were many forum responses saying that that was the main gripe with my article. I’d listed Flash in the Tier 1.5, a hair below GAT. Second, Bomberman is gone. No sooner had it taken the metagame by storm than it has disappeared. And to be honest, I’m not surprised. Bomberman was doing well partly on the premise that it could handle GroAtog. This was mistaken. It took people a while to figure this out (I knew it all along), but now everyone else realizes it. I mean, if Bomberman isn’t the solution to the Merchant Scroll/Flash format, then it just isn’t robust enough at the moment. Third, Ichorid isn’t a serious contender and it isn’t too far behind Bomberman in disappearing from the metagame (although you wouldn’t guess it from the tournament report I’m about to share with you). It’s very much as I understand Dredge to be in Standard: a game 1 bomb, and an objectively disgusting deck that no one should be playing if they want to win tournaments.
So, the metagame heading into Gencon’s Vintage Championship seems to look something like this:
I hesitate in listing Fish. I honestly think that the Fish in the Top 4 of the Waterbury was more attributable to the pilot (Dave Feinstein) than any objective statement about Fish’s place in the new metagame. See my article on Fish versus GAT for an explanation of why this might be the case.
I say all that with the huge caveat that metagames are often regional phenomenon. 80 players showed up to an Italian tournament known as the “Catalan” last weekend, and the Top 8 could not have been more different:
While the tier system I just listed may describe how the American metagame is unfolding, that should not be taken to mean that those are the only playable decks — those are just the decks that you should expect to see in an American tournament. The European experience is apparently quite different.
One more matter to discuss before moving onto my tournament report. Flash versus GAT. Look, I’m the first to admit that I think Flash is awesome. I managed to get 21st place out of nearly 900 at Grand Prix: Columbus playing Flash in Legacy. I appreciate what Flash can do. I just happen to believe that GAT is better for reasons that I articulated last week. I should mention, however, that Flash does happen to share many of the traits that I praise in GAT. Of the six reasons why I claim that GAT is the best deck, Flash shares three of those traits: the light base, the abuse of Merchant Scroll, and the core Blue and Black. It lacks the consistency, flexibility, and abuse of Yawgmoth’s Will that GAT has, however.
The real reason that Flash is so good in Vintage is essentially attributable to the Pacts. Flash is the only deck in Vintage that has found a solid home for Pact of Negation and fits very nicely with Summoner’s Pact. However, I believe it can definitely be beaten by GAT. The primary weakness, as I described last week, is that GAT basically needs two counterspells in the early game to stop Flash, unless it has Duress. Misdirection, by itself, does little. You need to be in a position to use Misdirection to shield your counterspells. If I think Flash is going to be a serious threat at Gencon, I will play maindeck Red blasts in GAT. But I’m not sure that will be necessary. I think proper attentiveness to role and a due regard for how deadly and swift Flash can kill you can produce the desired results.
For instance, here are some games I played online a few weeks ago. Some guy messaged me on AOL Instant Messenger telling me how he was slicing through GAT players with his Flash list. I had some free time so I asked him if he was up for some games. He agreed.
Here are those games:
GAT versus kingpin [7/13/2007 12:04:14 AM]
0:00:01 [GAT] GAT rolled a 18, using a 20 sided die
0:00:06 [kingpin] kingpin rolled a 12, using a 20 sided die
We shuffle up and I open a hand with Duress.
He keeps his hand as well.
I see his hand and realize that I’m not favored to win.
I think about it and decide to take the Misdirection. My reasoning is simple: I’m holding Misdirection. If he plays Ancestral, I’ll draw three cards. Moreover, if he can put a single Flash into his hand, his Misdirection will protect it and kill me. It’s a no-brainer.
He plays Flooded Strand, Mox Sapphire, and rather than play Ancestral Recall, he goes straight for Force of Will with Merchant Scroll rather than Flash. That surprises me. He makes the superior play here.
My hand becomes:
He scoops up, and we move on.
He drops some cards into play:
Then he passes the turn.
Yay, I get a turn!
I see his hand:
This is a very disconcerting hand. I have to make good decisions.
If I take the Merchant Scroll, he can just Scroll up another Flash. He’ll only have one counterspell to protect it, but that means that I’ll need two counterspells in either case. However, taking Misdirection here doesn’t make much sense because Pact of Negation is almost better. If I take the Pact, then he can Scroll and protect his Flash with the Misdirection. There is no good answer here, and probably incorrectly, I take a Scroll.
His Ancestral resolves.
I play Flooded Strand and pass the turn.
He breaks his Delta for Underground Sea.
He casts Merchant Scroll. I just drew another Force, and I Force it pitching Gush. That probably wasn’t the correct play. But I didn’t want to risk him topdecking a single Pact of Negation to just win (after drawing a Hulk, of course). However, the reason not to counter it here is that he needs a Hulk. Forcing here was an obvious mistake.
0:05:11 [kingpin] kingpin puts Merchant Scroll to Graveyard from Play
I break my Strand for Volcanic Island.
I play Duress and see:
I take the only legal card.
He plays draw, go.
I drew a card and passed the turn back.
I’ve sideboarded out some of my men, so I’m going to have to hope I can find a creature before I die to poison counters.
I untap and play Duress.
He only has Elvish Spirit Guide, so I get nothing
I play Volcanic Island and pass the turn.
He attacks me with a Sliver. Poison counters!
I play Black Lotus and pass back.
He attacks me again with Sliver. Two poison counters.
I draw and pass.
He attacks me again. Three poison counters.
He attacks me again. Four poison counters.
But it’s too late. I drew Vampiric Tutor.
I Vamp for Yawgmoth’s Will.
In that match, I sideboarded in three Red Elemental Blasts. I just never saw them.
And while the match is probably a bit tighter with a more cunning opponent, I still like GAT’s chances, especially post board.
Even if he had made the correct plays in game 2, I still would have won. If he had Scrolled for Flash with the intention of upkeep Vamping for Hulk, I would have been able to Duress the Flash and then assemble Force and Misd at the same speed and stop his second attempt to combo out with Scroll for the second Flash.
Since the Flash versus GAT match is probably the most important match in the Vintage metagame right now, aside from the GAT mirror, I’m going to spend the next two weeks deconstructing it.
But now its time for my tournament report!
Nat Moes knocks on my door a few minutes before 9am, and I’m ready to go as soon as I put my shoes on, grab my car max (miracle lip balm) and a bottled water. I read a few chapters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the newest issue of Esquire, and we arrive in due time.
I registered the exact decklist I suggested last week, with one small difference in the maindeck:
For some reason I cannot explain, I didn’t run a basic Island. I intended to run a basic Island, but the idea of putting in a basic Island somehow never got to the physical act of actually putting in the Island. That’s the problem with doing a lot of testing and preparation on a computer. While I updated the rest of my GAT list, I didn’t think about the Island. I completely forgot about it.
Also, I ran a slightly different sideboard. Here’s what I played:
I get some Almond Chicken down the street from the RIW shop and munch while we wait. RIW pulled out all the stops to create a “carnival atmosphere.” They had a grill going, with dogs and burgers sizzling. Great fun.
After a little bit of delay and a brief player’s meeting, round 1 pairings go up, and we are underway.
Round 1: GAT Mirror
I win the die roll and am just flabbergasted by my opening hand:
There are quite a few options here. Right now, more than a few decks are running Misdirection, but most are running just two. The chances that my opponent, piloting an unknown deck, has Misdirection are slim. If he has something for my Scroll into Ancestral, it is most likely that he has Force. I figure that if he Forces, then had I can Brainstorm for a Tropical Island to play Dryad and then follow up with Vampiric Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will.
My exclamation regarding my insane hand actually backfired. I typically say how insane my hand is when playing combo to induce my opponent to aggressively mulligan. However, my opponent knew I was playing GAT, and assumed that I probably had early Ancestral. While he didn’t have a land, he did have Force of Will and Misdirection
I Scrolled for Ancestral and played it. He Misdirected the Ancestral to himself. Boo hoo. I made a calculated error. But in retrospect, I begin to wonder if that was even the right play.
My chances look grim.
I draw nothing of use and play draw, go.
He plays Ancestral Recall of his own, but no second land.
I topdeck Psychatog and throw it onto the table.
He Forces the Tog.
I draw a Cunning Wish and pass.
I draw Tog and play it. This one resolves.
He plays draw, go.
I then drop a Dryad onto the table (I finally see a Green mana!).
He draws a basic Island. He Gushes, but it’s too late.
I Gush and the game ends.
I win a game in which my opponent resolved two Ancestral Recalls for the first time ever.
This game is much more of a grinder.
My hand is pretty Duress-proof. It’s a bunch of innocuous but good cards. I’m not holding any important restricted cards, but a nice blend of dig, search, and permission.
He takes the best cards in my hand: Brainstorm.
I play land, go.
I play a Tropical Island and pass.
I play Delta and cast Duress.
He pauses for a moment, considering his options. Ultimately, he lets it resolve.
I see why he hesitated. He had the opportunity to play Gush there. His hand is weak. If I just play carefully and tightly I should be able to out-control him.
We both play draw, go.
He plays draw, go.
I play Tropical Island, go.
I play draw, go.
He plays draw, go.
I play draw, go.
He goes for it. Until this point, it’s been a tense and even control match.
He hoped that I hadn’t drawn simply Blue spells. I had.
I play Quirion Dryad and pass.
He plays Draw, go.
I play Demonic Tutor and attack.
He plays Duress. I respond with my own Ancestral. He takes my Mystical, but I Scroll for another draw spell and he scoops.
My patience paid off.
We had parity for most of the game, but he flinched first. He went for Ancestral and it didn’t work out for him. I win.
Round 2: Ichorid
I know somehow that my opponent is playing Ichorid. I open with a hand as good as any.
He plays Bazaar and Chalice of the Void at 0.
I consider trying to go off, but think my chances are too remote. I decide to wait one turn.
He dredges a bit and passes the turn.
I Gush three times, but end up stalling. I get to a position where I can Merchant Scroll for Mystical Tutor, Mystical Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will, and then Gush. That would give me two lands. If I draw another land in addition to the Yawgmoth’s Will, I would win. However, it’s too much of a risk. I decide that instead I should just continue to Scroll up Gush and hope to see the Yawgmoth’s Will directly. It doesn’t work out. Eventually I’m out of mana and cards at about ten life.
He has no trouble killing me.
I had about as good of a sporting chance as one can expect to get against Ichorid. It just didn’t work out.
I mulligan my hand of seven and keep turn 1 Pithing Needle.
He Serum Powders and then keeps a hand of seven.
I play turn 1 Needle on Bazaar.
He draws a card and discards a Golgari Grave Troll.
He dredges and sees Ichorid and Bridge.
He attacks me with two Ichorids and puts tokens into play. He dredged some more. He now has two Bridges and four tokens.
I’m at 14 life. I do the math and I need at least 13 life to survive 4 swings. He’ll to 6, 4, and then 2 damage to me and I can’t block with Jailer. Fortunately, I draw Time Walk and get another Jailer on the table just in case.
The problem is that once I start attacking, time is called. I have complete control on the game, but his bridge tokens will cause this game to draw. It does.
I lose the match because of this draw. I should have played a little faster and more aggressively, but there was no clock so I didn’t know how much time was left. If I win this game, as I should have, I draw the match, which is a moral victory against Ichorid anyway.
Round 3: Ichorid, again (Ed)
I’m told that out of forty players, there are four Ichorid pilots. Apparently, I am lucky enough to face another one.
I can’t assemble anything. I lose.
I sideboard the same as last time.
I think he mulls to 4 and finds the Bazaar. However, I have a nice start with early Needle followed by Jailer.
It’s enough to win the game. I see what he does on turn 2, but decline to Vamp. I drop turn 2 Jailer and it seals him up.
Round 4: Justin Droba (JD) playing Grim Long
Justin was a former teammate. He quit my team and (supposedly) Magic sometime last year.
I win the die roll and elect to play.
My opening hand has:
I draw and play the Mox Emerald.
I draw the Yawgmoth’s Will and pass.
He Duresses my other Force of Will.
He then casts Brainstorm.
He lays Black Lotus, Dark Ritual, Mox Ruby, and Wheel of Fortune. He drops Petal and thinks. He plays Duress off the remaining Ritual mana. I respond by tapping my Volcanic Island for Blue and play Mystical Tutor for Force of Will. He takes a Blue card. He plays Time Walk. He untaps and plays Grim Tutor.
I draw the Force on my draw step.
JD does nothing on his turn.
Although the danger is the Tendrils, his Chain is the major engine for it and can bounce my Dryad. I take the Chain.
He’s out of gas. In the next few turns I kill him with Dryad.
I sideboard in three Red Blasts.
My opening hand is silly:
A no-land hand, but I keep it anyway, mostly for entertainment value. A hand of six could theoretically be weaker if it didn’t have a Force of Will. If I see a land in the top three cards, I’ll probably be okay anyway.
I draw Duress and pass the turn.
He Duresses me on turn 1 and takes a Force.
He attacks me.
I play a Delta and pass.
He attacks me with SSG and passes.
I am building a hand full of countermagic, including Pyroblast.
Round 5: Ichorid. Dave Dougherty.
Of the four Ichorid pilots, I face three. Oh well.
My hand is nuts.
He mulls to six, saying that he can’t use a Powder to remove three Bridges. He uses a Powder after that. Then he mulls to five, and then to four. He keeps a hand with apparently no Bazaar, but with Contagion, Leyline, and Chalice.
I play turn 1 and turn 2 Dryads and he Contagions them. One survives, another dies. He never draws Bazaar and I win by turn 6.
I draw with Jeremy Richard.
Top 8: Nam Tran playing 5cStax
So, it’s the quarterfinals.
The Top 8 is rather robust, and two of my teammates made it in. The Top 8 looks roughly like this: 3 GroAtog, 1 Control Slaver (Brian DeMars), 2 5c Stax, JD with Grim Long, and 1 Tarmogoyf deck. Paul and I are in the same bracket, so once we meet in the semis it’s a prize split for Top 4, as per the usual arrangement.
I know Nam Tran is playing a brutal 5c Stax list. It will be a deadly match, but careful play should win the day. I need to stay focused.
I’m pleased to win the die roll, perhaps the most important edge in the match.
I fan open a strong hand:
I could theoretically just let this resolve and then try to go off around it by Demonic Tutoring for something broken next turn. In any case, the obvious first play is Opt. I play Opt and see Mox Jet. I think more. I can sac Lotus to Drain and then untap and use the Jet to Demonic Tutor for Ancestral. If I draw a Black mana source (a land), I can then Yawgmoth’s Will with the remaining Drain mana.
That seems like the best plan. I sac the Lotus and Drain the Smokestack.
I burn three mana.
He plays Crucible of Worlds.
I think about it. I have four mana sources. With my Jet, I can play Yawgmoth’s Will regardless of what he does. I let Crucible resolve. He was representing Wasteland, but he didn’t have one. He passes.
My opening hand has Pithing Needle.
His opening hand is:
I don’t beat that hand.
I play Flooded Strand and pass.
I’m holding Pithing Needle, but Strip Mine is the counter-trump. He has Crucible Recursion as well. I have to put a land into play in order to play Needle. I don’t recall exactly the situation. But I don’t think I there was an opportunity for me to play around Strip Mine. For instance, if I was holding Gush and Needle and another Fetch, I could theoretically play the second fetch, then announce that I was breaking the first fetch. Tap the Fetch for Needle on Strip Mine. In response, he would break the Strip Mine. Then I could response by breaking Fetch for another Land and Gush. I don’t think that I had that opportunity. I got Needle into play, but sans one land.
I played draw, go.
He played Sphere number 3, the second one to resolve.
I play Delta and passed.
He attacked me with Welder.
I played draw, go.
I’m at 17 from Welder beats.
I tap both lands and Gush. I replay a land and discard a card.
He finds Wasteland, and the game ends.
Although I have Needle on Strip Mine, I can’t get back up to three mana ever to play a second Needle on Wasteland because I don’t have a maindeck Island. Why aren’t I playing with Island again? Oh yeah, I forgot about it.
Anyway, it’s very hard to beat multiple Sphere of Resistance.
We go to game 3. Meanwhile, Paul, playing a nearly identical GAT list, has just beat “Pacman” playing 5c Stax. He’s in Top 4 and plays the winner of our match.
I keep this hand:
Perhaps Nam was genuinely afraid of Yawgmoth’s Will, but he opens with turn zero Leyline of the Void.
So, here we are. I have no basic Island in my deck, although I’d kill for one right now.
I was in exactly this position against Nam when I test-ran the Mean Deck in a local tournament. In that tournament I didn’t have a basic Swamp. It was my match against Nam Tran that motivated me to put the basic Swamp in the Mean Deck because my turn 1 Sea, Duress, was followed by Wasteland and I lost the game because I kept a one-lander.
You’d think I’d learn my lesson.
Instead, I break Delta for Sea and Duress.
Very surprising hand. It’s precisely the kind of hand that my hand folds too. If I had just had a basic Island in my deck, I’d tear him apart right here.
I take the Sphere
He Wastes my Sea and I never really recover.
Here’s how he describes the rest of the match in his tournament report:
It seemed like whenever Steve drew a land, I drew a Wasteland. Or when Steve played a few Moxes and Psychatog, I ramped my Smokestack and I drew Gorilla Shaman. Eventually the Spheres come down, the lands are destroyed, and a lone Gorilla Shaman is picking away at Steve.
I drop Steve to low life with my Gorilla Shaman, when I draw Demonic Tutor. Steve has 4 cards in hand and a Flooded Strand in play. I Tutor up Trinisphere and play it. Steve casts Brainstorm, but the Sphere resolves. When Steve would draw land, I see another Wasteland, followed by a Crucible of Worlds, which allows me to end the game with Gorilla Shaman.
As he describes, I did draw a mid-game Psychatog and played it off Moxen in the midgame, after he played a Stack. My hope was to get him to clear the board and pray that I recover faster. But as he described, he topdecked Shaman immediately after I made that play. I still managed to get him to sack the Smokestack, but once Sphere came down, things went south.
Two of my game losses were game 1s to Ichorid, and the other two happened in the quarterfinals.
I have no idea why I didn’t play with a freaking Island.
The top 4 is Paul (GAT), Nam Tran (5c Stax), Justin Droba — JD playing Grim Long, and Jeff Anand (GAT). Paul beats Nam Tran, and Jeff and Paul split in the finals.
I don’t expect the players who played Ichorid to be likely to repeat that choice again. While they were near contention, unless they really enjoyed their deck choice (unlikely), I imagine that they will be looking for new options in the future. In light of the Waterbury, I expect a surge in Flash in the Ohio/Michigan metagame. Let’s see what happens.
Until next week,