So Many Insane Plays – Murderer’s Row: A Power Nine Vintage Tournament Report

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Monday, July 27th – At a recent Power 9 Vintage tournament, Stephen Menendian rocked a powerful Grow deck. Unfortunately, while his deck choice as solid, his technical play was lacking. In today’s exhaustive report, Stephen takes us through his mistakes piece by piece…

Here is the deck I decided to play at the ICBM Xtreme Games Power 9 Tournament, Day 1:

What is this deck about?

This is an extremely efficient and synergistic tempo-control deck. It has most of the hallmarks of a typical Vintage control deck: counterspells like Mana Drain and Force of Will, and efficient Blue draw spells and tutoring like Ancestral Recall and Merchant Scroll. It wins the game by attacking with Tarmogoyf, or Tinkering for Inkwell Leviathan.

The deck’s three distinguishing features are 1) the use of Dark Confidant as an unrestricted draw engine, 2) a highly disruptive suite of spells, including 8 Duress effects, and 3) an unusually light manabase for virtual card advantage.

Dark Confidant generates greater card advantage the longer the game lasts. The average mana cost of the deck is about 1.53, so you can expect about 1.5 damage per turn with Dark Confidant. This may seem like a lot, but when you factor in the card advantage, tempo advantage, and damage that Dark Confidant inflicts on your opponent, it is a huge net gain. Long before you would die to Dark Confidant, you will either win the game or find Sensei’s Divining Top and be able to control the amount of damage you suffer from Dark Confidant. But in the meantime, Dark Confidant brings you closer to victory.

By itself, Dark Confidant can be slow in Vintage. One of the ways in which this deck abuses Dark Confidant and allows the Dark Confidant engine to generate overwhelming card advantage is by running 8 Duress effects. Duress allows you to slow the game down, trading Duress for your opponent’s best spell. The sheer quantity of Duresses allows you to consistently slow the game down, creating a tempo and card advantage with Bob. Eventually, instead of attacking with just Dark Confidant, you will be able to play a Tarmogoyf to finish off your opponent or Tinker up Inkwell Leviathan for the same effect. All of the deck’s tutors will help you find the Tinker or Yawgmoth’s Will to generate additional card advantage to replay spells you’ve already cast or to find Time Walk to finish your opponent off.

The light manabase, only 18 cards, allows you to draw more spells over the course of the game than your opponent. Most Vintage decks run 24 or more mana sources. Some run as many as 28-30. If Duresses strip away your opponent’s best spells on a one-for-one basis, then you will be able to play more spells than your opponent over the course of the game. They will be more likely to topdeck mana while you topdeck useful spells. Also, Dark Confidant helps you find additional lands so that you can survive on a light manabase.

One of the ways in which you can get away with a light manabase is by running 4 Sleight of Hand. Four Sleight of Hand allows you to run only 18 mana and still find the mana you need. If you have a one land hand, you can keep it with Sleight of Hand, which will dig you closer to more mana. Also, the 8 Duress effects, by slowing down the game, supports a lighter manabase, since a hand with few mana sources but a bunch of Duresses will buy you time to draw into more lands. There are only two spells in the deck that cost 3 or more mana in the deck: Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will. These two spells are spells you play before you are about to win the game. The Mana Drains also help you play these spells.

It is helpful to think of this deck as a Dark Confidant deck that tries to maximize synergies with Bob. However, this deck has another game plan as well. The deck runs Imperial Seal, Mystical Tutor, Merchant Scroll, Demonic Tutor, and Vampiric Tutor to generate early card and tempo advantage with Ancestral Recall. Because of the 8 Duresses, 4 Force of Wills, Misdirections, and 3 Mana Drains, this deck has very little difficulty getting its Ancestral Recall to resolve. Once it’s Ancestral Recall has resolved, it has tools to generate additional card advantage, such as Gush, Regrowth on Ancestral Recall, Dark Confidant, or Yawgmoth’s Will to replay Ancestral to draw more cards. The deck parlays this card advantage into board and tempo advantage which it uses to kill the opponent eventually with Leviathan or Goyfs.

That pretty much explains the whole deck. Hurkyl’s Recall is included as a failsafe bounce spell, just in case something came through your counter-wall that needs to be stopped, such as Time Vault or an opponent Darksteel Colossus.

Although the deck has a lot of tutors, the deck does not run Time Vault and Voltaic Key. Instead, the deck uses Tarmogoyf. It does this for several reasons. First of all, Time Vault and Voltaic Key are not very good by themselves. Since Dark Confidant already inflicts a non-trivial amount of damage on your opponent, Goyf will often be enough to finish the job within a few short turns. You might be sitting there longer hoping to tutor up the missing Key/Vault combo part. Goyf is good by itself, unlike Key/Vault. Although Key/Vault can indeed generate victories by randomly drawing both in an opening hand, or one and a tutor, or assembling them mid-game, Goyf better synergizes with the deck’s existing strategy, while Voltaic Key/Time Vault does not. For example, one of the advantages of this deck is invulnerability to Null Rod and other anti-Time Vault hate. All of the times that you would randomly win with Key/Vault are outweighed by the fact that Goyfs (or any other card) are individually useful. In the end, it makes more sense to run Goyfs than Key/Vault.

This deck is very good at attacking Key/Vault strategies without using Null Rod because of the sheer quantity of Duresses and virtual card advantage. The reason this deck does not run Null Rod, despite being relatively immune to it, is that this deck also wants to take advantage of being broken. It has a very broken Yawgmoth’s Will, which often relies on Black Lotus to do the greatest number of broken things after resolving Yawgmoth’s Will. Like other UB decks that run Mana Drain or Dark Ritual, this deck uses Yawgmoth’s Will to win the game through overwhelming card advantage. For that reason, Null Rod is not very good here. It’s better to run Yawgmoth’s Will and other broken cards than Null Rods in this deck. Yawgmoth’s Will allows the deck to replay spells such as: Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Gush, and tutor up those cards, and others besides such as Tinker. That’s another reason this deck runs so many efficient restricted tutors: to abuse Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker.

Although the deck only has two Tarmogoyfs, it will often feel like more because you do not play the Goyfs until you have exhausted your other options and because once you’ve played your other spells, the Goyfs become readily available.

This deck is not very difficult to pilot once you understand its game plan. For example, if you have a hand such as this:

Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Sleight of Hand
Dark Confidant
Mana Drain
Force of Will

The likely correct line of play is turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Dark Confidant. From there, you should be able to establish control over the game.

Alternatively, consider this hand:

Flooded Strand
Underground Sea
Mystical Tutor
Sleight of Hand
Mana Drain

You will want to Duress on turn 1 to clear the way for your turn 2 Ancestral Recall, which you’ll retrieve by playing Mystical Tutor on your upkeep.

This deck is very strong in the metagame, which favorable matchups across large swaths of the field. It is most powerful against Tezzeret Control decks and UB Combo decks. It is weakest against Mishra’s Workshop based strategies. Its advantages against the former are drawbacks against the latter. The light manabase is punished with Sphere effects, although it is probably stronger than its predecessors against those decks on account of Dark Confidant. This is one of the reasons that so much of the sideboard is devoted to Workshop strategies. The plan is to sideboard in lands and Blue bounce spells. The other half of the sideboard is dedicated to Dredge, and a card or two are included for Fish matchups, such as Darkblast. This deck is somewhat symmetrical to Fish decks, although it has one huge advantage: Tinker for Inkwell Leviathan. This is your trump in the Fish matchup. Tarmogoyf is often very good there as well.

Long-time Vintage players would be in error if they mistook this deck for simply an inferior ‘Grow’ variant. It runs many of the best cards in Vintage, including the strongest unrestricted draw engine of Dark Confidant, which it heavily abuses. The difference is that it trades off cards like Fact or Fiction and Gifts Ungiven for a lighter manabase and virtual card advantage.

I highly recommend Grow as a choice for the upcoming metagame. It is well positioned in the field. I managed to get third place at the Waterbury (going undefeated against everything except, ironically, Ichorid) even when Thirst was still unrestricted. As good as I felt Grow was in that metagame, it is even stronger today.

Round 1: Bye (tough match)

Ben awarded byes to players who had won ICBM Opens and previous Vintage World Champions. I used the opportunity to snag some food with Paul Mastriano.

Round 2: Dan Carp

Dan Carp (AngryPheldagrif) was playing a mono Blue Tezzeret list I developed last year. The deck has multiple Tezzerets, a plethora of countermagic, and cards like Back to Basics and Engineered Explosives (instead of Powder Keg) to keep control. Post-board, he has Sowers and Chalices. The idea is to play a mono Blue control deck like Draw-Go decks of the past used to use Morphling, but now with Tezzeret. Instead of winning in four turns, you win the turn after you resolve Tezzeret.

My notes from this round are sparse.

Game 1:

Dan won the die roll and fired off an Ancestral Recall on my upkeep. I was a bit miffed about that. The top card of my library and my first draw of the game was Force of Will. Dan tapped out early to play an Ophidian, and I answered with Bob. He was able to draw a card off of Phid before my Bob came online.

I Duressed his hand and saw: Mana Drain, Relic of Progenitus, Engineered Explosives, and Impulse. I took Mana Drain, hoping to resolve my Tinker. He’d see two more cards. I just needed him not to draw a counter. He attacked again, drawing another card. I fired off Tinker, but he had drawn the counter.

On the next turn I dropped a Goyf to keep his snake at bay, and he answered it with Explosives, wiping my board. This was my final chance. I fired off Gush (another reason I took Drain), which resolved, and it drew me into Black Lotus to fuel the Yawgmoth’s Will I’d been holding since turn 1. It resolved.

I played a land, Gushed again, cast Tinker for Inkwell, Goyf, and Bob. I had no lands or Moxen left on the table. My board was simply three creatures. Dan scooped soon thereafter. Dan did not play Relic of Progenitus. Had he played it, I would have lost this game. He remarked later that he couldn’t have imagined that I was going to fire off a Will right there.

I didn’t sideboard.

Game 2:

This game was much slower. Nothing happened for a few turns as we developed our boards, a land at a time.

On turn 3, I played Thoughtseize and saw:

Force of Will
Sower of Temptation
Fact or Fiction
Powder Keg

I debated my options. I was holding plenty of permission, including Mana Drain, so I wanted to Drain the Fact or Fiction. I took Force. Predictably, he played Fact, which I Drained. I took over at that point. I untapped and played Tinker for Inkwell Leviathan. Good games.

Round 3: Jason Jaco (He Top8ed on Day 2)

My notes for this match are also sketchy. Jason was playing a highly efficient and disruptive Painter’s Servant/Grindstone Mana Drain deck.

Game 1:

I won the roll and kept a hand that looked something like this:

Force of Will
Ancestral Recall
Dark Confidant
Sleight of Hand
Hurkyl’s Recall

Jason mulliganed, and mulliganed again.

I fired off Ancestral Recall on his upkeep, which resolved.

I was impressed with his answer. Jason played turn 1 Mox, Land, Dark Confidant. Not too shabby for a mull to 5. I wasn’t playing around. I Forced his Bob.

I untap, play a land and Thoughtseize him, seeing this:

Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Sensei’s Divining Top
Painter’s Servant

My hand was bursting at the seams, but I was mana constrained.

He played land and Top. On his next turn, he activated Top and played Painter’s Servant.

I Duressed him and Jaco’s last card in hand was Ancestral Recall. I was bummed. I wanted Misdirect that Ancestral to myself. Although he was furiously digging with Top, I eventually pulled so far ahead that he couldn’t do anything. He scooped and we moved to game two.

I sideboarded in Darkblast.

Game 2:

I have almost no recollection of this game except that he mulliganed again. According to my notes Jaco’s life fell from 19 to 12, which leads me to believe that I Tinkered up Leviathan in this game for the win. Also, I Duressed him mid-game and saw:

Demonic Tutor

Make of that what you will. I won in short order.

Round 4: Michael Mohring with Mono Red Workshop Aggro

Michael went onto make top 8.

I won the die roll and elected to play. I knew what Michael was playing. His deck appeared to be a standard mono Red Workshop aggro build, with Thorns, beaters, and Wastelands.

Game 1:

I opened this:

Sleight of Hand
Hurkyl’s Recall
Force of Will
Two more spells, one of which was Blue.

I kept that hand.

I played turn 1 Sleight of Hand into a Bob and a land. I took the land.

He played turn 1 Mountain into Goblin Welder, which I didn’t hesitate to counterspell with Force of Will.

I played turn 2 Goyf, which was already 4/5.

He played another Welder on turn 2, and another Mountain and Gorilla Shaman.

On my upkeep I played Mystical Tutor. I really wanted to find Tinker, but I didn’t have any artifacts to Tinker away. Instead, I got Time Walk. My plan was to simply beat him down, with Hurkyl’s as backup to clear the board once to make sure my Goyf could go all the way. I figured I could tempo him out.

I attacked with my Goyf, sending him to 15 life (my note had him at 19 before that). I was drawing land. I Time Walked, attacked again, sending him to 11. Unfortunately, I was drawing dead on my draw steps.

On his third turn he played a Mox, Mishra’s Workshop, and hardcast Trike. Suddenly, M10 rules became very real for me. I was trying to contemplate my options, but all I could think was that his Trike had the upper hand. I could attack, he could block, but he could weld it back and then ping my Goyf for the last few points of damage. The rules wouldn’t bend to my wishes.

I just couldn’t figure out what to do.

My board was:

Mox Sapphire (which he refused to eat with Shaman to grow my Goyf).
Tropical Island
Underground Sea

His board:

Mishra’s Workshop
Mox Ruby
Goblin Welder
Gorilla Shaman

From this position, I drew a second Goyf. I could hardly believe my fortune.

What would you do?

I was just confused. As I said, if I attack with the first Goyf and he blocks with Trike, Welds the Trike back in, kills my Goyf.

But there were wrinkles. First, I had a second Goyf. Second, with him having an artifact in his graveyard, my Goyf would get bigger. If he Welded Trike back in, he’d have to ping Goyf at least once if he blocked with Shaman. He’d then have a 3/3 Trike. However, if he drew another Mox, then his Trike could be instantly replenished.

A further complication is that he didn’t have to block just yet. What if he let my Goyf through? Or just blocked with Shaman? I didn’t know what to do. Gah! Creature combat!

In my confusion, I just played the second Goyf and passed.

This board state, bizarrely, persisted for many turns. We played draw, go for at least 4-5 turns, if not more. I was waiting for him to start pinging me for damage, but it never happened, using the Welder to constantly recur Trike. I understand why he didn’t do this at first, since he only had one other artifact in play and so as not to enlarge my Goyfs, but he soon drew another Mox.

Finally, I drew Imperial Seal, and cast it for Yawgmoth’s Will. I used my Sensei’s Divining Top to draw it. Then I played Black Lotus, Mox Jet and cast Yawgmoth’s Will and easily won from that position.

I sideboarded:

– 4 Duress
– 4 Sleight of Hand
– 1 Misdirection
– 1 Gush
– 1 Regrowth

+ 3 Island
+ 3 Hurkyl’s Recall
+ 1 Rebuild
+ 1 Darkblast
+ 1 Echoing Truth
+ 2 Pithing Needle

The rationale behind this plan is that you replace your weakest cantrips with actual mana, and you replace your weakest disruption spell with the best anti-artifact tools. Thoughtseize still has a lot of utility, although Duress is less useful, and Misdirection is virtually useless.

Post-board, then, I have 4 Hurkyl’s Recall and 1 Rebuild, a rock-solid manabase of 17 lands, including 4 basic Islands, and many other tools and answers, like Pithing Needle.

I struggle with cutting Gush, especially since it’s such a great anti-Wasteland card, but I just can’t bring myself to cut anything else. Regrowth gets the cut because it’s here to recur your draw spells or a countered Yawgmoth’s Will. Your game plan here is different.

It’s survival.

There is a real possibility that this plan, which I’ve been using for some time, is actually overkill. I could be over-sideboarding by 1-3 cards, but I simply don’t know. It could be that by over-sideboarding I actually decrease my chances for winning.

Game 2:

My opening hand is:

Polluted Delta
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Hurkyl’s Recall
Force of Will
Black Lotus

This hand is almost exactly what I want. My plan against Workshops is to establish a solid manabase and then execute my basic game plan of creating card advantage with Bobs and beating with Bobs and Goyf, or going broken with Tinker and/or Yawgmoth’s Will. Either way, I win.

Michael opens with:

Mishra’s Workshop, Mox, Trinisphere.

I have beaten Trinisphere multiple times with hands like this, and I contemplate letting it resolve.

The most deadly play he can make post Trinisphere is Crucible + Strip Mine. That’s very unlikely. But even then, I can beat that. I have all fetchlands. It will take him two turns to knock out any of my lands before I can Hurkyl’s him.

The deciding factor for me is the fact that I have Darkblast in hand. Even though I can play under or around Trinisphere, if I bounce it, he can still just replay it unless I win the game. By Forcing it, it will be gone for good. Darkblast assures that it won’t be coming back with Welder.

I Force Trinisphere pitching Hurkyl’s Recall.

On my first turn, I draw Black Lotus. My plan is now clear: Tinker away Black Lotus on turn 3 for Leviathan and win the game. I played a fetchland and passed the turn.

On his second turn, Michael played Solemn Simulacrum, finding a Mountain.

On my second turn, I drew an Island, played another Fetchland and passed.

Turn 3 is where things got hairy. Michael played Sword of Fire and Ice! This is a card I was not prepared to face. Rather, I was really hoping he was gonna play a Red creature that I could Darkblast into oblivion.

Sword of Fire and Ice!

I started doing the math. Inkwell Leviathan does not beat Solemn Simulacrum equipped with SOFI. He played the SOFI with his Shop then equipped it with Mox and Mountain and attacked me for 4 and did two more via the Sword to send me to 14.

If I were to untap and Tinker away Lotus into Leviathan, I would have to take at least two more damage by Fetching lands. Then he could attack me to 6. I would get one swing it before dying.

If I had Darksteel Colossus, he wouldn’t be able to attack. Then I could attack with DSC, sending him to 9. He could attack me to 6, and then I’d untap and finish the job. This is one of the few times I wish I had DSC over Leviathan.

I drew Imperial Seal, but I had nothing I could get that could stop him from killing me. His next turn Trike ensured that.

What if I had let Trinisphere resolve?

His game:

Turn 1:
Michael: Workshop, Mox, Trinisphere
Me: Fetchland

Turn 2:
Michael: Solemn Simulacrum
Me: Fetchland

Turn 3:
Michael: Sword of Fire and Ice, equip, and attack (send me to 14) and hopefully not play anything else.
Me: Fetchland.

Turn 4:
Michael: Attack me to 8. On his endstep, break fetchlands for three Islands (going to 5) and play Hurkyl’s Recall.
Me: Play Black Lotus and Tinker

It’s too difficult to tell what might have happened from here. He could play SOFI and possibly Solemn again, but I’d be in a much better position.

I probably shouldn’t have countered Trinisphere.

But more importantly, this game highlighted a flaw in my testing. I only tested against MUD and 5c Stax before the tournament. This game made me want to run genuine artifact removal, not simply bounce. Ingot Chewer could have blown up the Sword and blocked the Simulacrum.

I’m sold in Ingot Chewer and a fourth color for this deck.

I cut Seal of Primordium because I couldn’t get Green online to play Seal against Shops consistently enough. But Ingot Chewer only costing one mana is a tremendous difference.

Game 3:

We both mulliganed our hands. My initial opening hand was a risky one-lander with Bobs and Goyfs. Top card was a land. Oh well.

I mulliganed into this:

Merchant Scroll
Force of Will
Hurkyl’s Recall
Flooded Strand

Definitely a keeper. It has all of the tools we want: countermagic, bounce, lands, and a man.

Michael opens the game with the terrifying Mountain, Mox, Sensei’s Divining Top, Gorilla Shaman. Hardly a broken start.

At this point, we are one of the few interesting matches still playing. Jimmy McCarthy sits down next to me.

I play a Fetchland and pass the turn.

On his second turn, Michael played something that I Forced, pitching Hurkyl’s Recall. I think it was a Welder.

I untapped, played my second land and debated my two options: Scroll or Goyf. Which should I have played?

If I play Goyf, it won’t be that big, only a couple of power. Still, it’s Goyf.

On his third turn, he played Workshop Tangle Wire. This wouldn’t be that bad. I tapped all of my permanents. The Wire faded, and then he Topped.

On my fifth turn, I was able to tap all but Goyf and swing for a few points of damage. This, however, was trumped by his play on turn 6: Chalice of the Void at 2. I never broke out. My hand became Bobs, Scroll, and Hurkyl’s…


After this I was pretty demoralized, for having won game 1 and then losing after an 11 card sideboard plan.

Jimmy thinks that I should have played turn 2 Scroll for Ancestral. I think he’s right. Had I been playing 4 Gush Grow, I definitely would have played it that way. Jimmy’s point is that I would have had more resources to play around his threats. Not to mention, with the density of bounce effects, I have a good shot at drawing another bounce spell.

I also wonder if I just don’t need 3 additional lands. Two more lands in my board may be enough. Here is what I am thinking in the future for the sideboard:

4 Leyline of the Void
2 Pithing Needle
2 Volcanic Island
3 Ingot Chewer
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Rebuild
1 Echoing Truth
1 Darkblast

Round 5: Willie Milton on Tezzeret

Willie is a teammate, but I was pretty frustrated after the previous match. Tez is a great match for my deck. I blew Paul Mastriano out the last time we faced, and in testing I was destroying DeMars and his Tez list. You are about as good against Tez decks as Fish. However, I was extremely frustrated about the previous match, almost demoralized, and it was hard to focus.

Game 1:

My opening hand is:

Force of Will
Vampiric Tutor
Underground Sea
Underground Sea
Polluted Delta

Willie is on the play.

He opens with Polluted Delta into Sea, Ponder.

My plan at this point is to Duress then Vamp for Ancestral and Force it through.

On my first turn draw step I draw a Tropical Island.

I Duressed his hand and saw this:

Underground Sea
Polluted Delta
Night’s Whisper
Skeletal Scrying
Voltaic Key

What would you take?

Any one of those cards has merit as a target. One would think that he left the best card on top of his deck.

Given my plan, which cards works best? Tinker is very powerful and he could Tinker away Key for a Big Man. However, that’s several turns away. Tinker doesn’t seem to interfere with my immediate plan. Night’s Whisper would let him see two additional cards, digging closer to Force, before I get a turn. Neither Scrying or Key would be a problem unless he has Pondered Time Vault on top. In any case, I have Force in hand.

I took Night’s Whisper.

On his second turn Willie plays Delta, Key.

On my upkeep, I Vamp for Ancestral Recall. I play a land and cast it. He plays Force of Will, pitching Tinker.

It turns out that Force was the card he hid on top with Ponder.

I am a little bit frustrated to have to pitch Brainstorm, especially since I have so much land in my hand.

I drew:

Mox Emerald
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta

My hand was now:

Underground Sea
Tropical Island
Mox Emerald
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta

And I know his hand is:

Skeletal Scrying

On turn 3 he plays a land and passes the turn. From here, I am bluffing Drain.

I play a land on my third turn and pass.

On his turn 4 he plays a land and passes. On my fourth turn, I play Mox and a land.

On my endstep he plays Skeletal Scrying, and I hardcast Force.

I topdeck Sleight of Hand and see Tinker. I Tinker into Leviathan. He plays Top. I play Bob and attack for 7.

With Top he finds Demonic Tutor and the game ends immediately. He tutors up Time Vault and goes infinite.

In retrospect, I am not sure I should have never pitched Brainstorm to Force. Since I had two lands in hand, Brainstorming away junk lands and getting to shuffle would have produced the same effect. In fact, the game state would have been identical except that I would have had another Force of Will in hand for his DT. Also, it may have been a mistake not to take Tinker. With Night’s Whisper he not only has to draw a Force, he has to see a Blue spell there or in the draw in his draw step.

But the bigger blunder was not taking Tinker. I am willing to bet that most of you voted for Tinker. Rightly so.

Game 2:

I tried to refocus.

My opening hand:

Polluted Delta
Sleight of Hand
Vampiric Tutor
Inkwell Leviathan
Dark Confidant
Sensei’s Divining Top

I thought about this hand for some time. I am on the play with Sleight and Vamp. Ideally, I will Sleight into a land for great subsequent plays like Thoughtseize and Top or Bob followed by Vamp for Ancestral. I kept it.

Turn 1:

I broke the fetchland and cast Thoughtseize on turn 1. Willie Forced it.

Willie played Mox Sapphire and Underground Sea.

Turn 2:

I played Sleight of Hand, but didn’t see any lands. I took a Demonic Tutor over Bob.

Willie cast Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus and cast Tezzeret.


Immediately, I asked if he was done, and he said yes. I was trying to jedi trick him into not activating Tezzeret, and I thought he obliged.

I untapped, drew Mox Sapphire, and played it. I debated what to do. I figured I had one more turn to stop Tezzeret, since he needed to find Time Vault before going infinite. I needed to find a creature and play it next turn and Time Walk. Alternatively, I needed to find Hurkyl’s Recall and Duress away Tezzeret.

I decided to Top and then Demonic Tutor. I activated Top and saw: Underground Sea, Force of Will, and another Dark Confidant.

I activated Top, drawing Underground Sea, played it, and passed the turn.

Willie untapped, quickly cast Time Vault!

I was astonished. It never occurred to me that he could have had Time Vault in his hand.

At a minimum, Willie should have used Tezzeret to find a Mox last turn. His failure to activate it led me to believe that he just forgot. However, the irony is that had he done so, I would have figured out that he had Time Vault in hand and found a way to stop it. After all, Force of Will was in the top three cards when I activated Top. I could have pitched Inkwell to Force to counter Time Vault.

I was bothered by how I lost these two games. Not simply because of the incredulity of the lines of play, nor even because this was the first time since playing 1 Gush Grow that I had lost to Tezzeret, but rather because I wasn’t focused. I was still thinking about the previous match.

At this point I would normally drop from the tournament. But I didn’t come this far to simply drop. I wanted to learn more about the new Vintage. I hoped to face another Workshop match and try my luck with the sideboard I’d built again.

My wish came true.

Round 6: Nam Tran playing 5c Stax

I have an abysmal lifetime record against Nam, something like 1-3. Nam is an Ohio player and rode up with my crew. I was really looking forward to this match. I felt new energy and new purpose. I might be out of the tournament, but this was an opportunity to even the score against Nam as an underdog. It was a cause worth fighting for.

Game 1:

My opening hand was incredible. I had

Ancestral Recall
Dark Confidant
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Sleight of Hand
Force of Will

Turn 1:

Nam led with Mox, Gemstone Mine, Voltaic Key. I was prepared to counter a Sphere, but that wasn’t his plan.

I played Underground Sea into Duress, seeing:

Crop Rotation
Bazaar of Baghdad
Vampiric Tutor
City of Brass

I couldn’t decide which to take. Countering Crop Rotation was exciting, but countering Time Vault was equally so. I took Crop Rotation, which in retrospect was probably the wrong choice on account of the fact that countered Time Vault could be Welded in later in the game.

Predictably, he played Vampiric Tutor for Time Vault. I countered it, pitching Sleight of Hand.

Turn 2:

I untapped, played a land, and cast Dark Confidant.

Nam did nothing on his turn.

Turn 3:

I untapped, cast Ancestral Recall, which I had been holding the entire game. I Regrowthed Force of Will and attacked with Bob.

A turn or so later, Nam scooped.

Game 2:

I sideboarded a little bit differently this time. I wanted to keep Gush in.

I cut 4 Sleights, 4 Duress, 1 Misdirection, 1 Regrowth and sided in 3 Islands, 2 Hurkyl’s Recall, 1 Rebuild, 2 Pithing Needle and an Echoing Truth.

We shuffled up and I fanned open 5 lands, Force of Will and Tinker

It seems I draw the same hand every time post-board against Stax. Once again, I kept it.

Turn 1:

Nam opened the game with:

Sol Ring
Black Lotus

I Forced, pitching Tinker. Nam meekly passed the turn. That was the last spell he played this game. He drew Mana Crypt, Shop, Mana Vault, Shop, and so on.

For the next 5 turns I played lands, drawing more lands and an Inkwell Leviathan. Nam refused to Wasteland any of my lands, and at the crucial moment I drew an 8th land. I tapped all eight of my lands and Mox Emerald and hardcast Inkwell Leviathan.

The game ended quickly thereafter.

Revenge is so sweet.

Round 7: Steve Golenda playing Faeries

This was going to be a tough match. Goyfs were going to be very important, as was Tinker. Steve is a solid technical player, and we were both playing for pride.

I won the die roll and elected to play.

Turn 1:

I led with Underground Sea into Imperial Seal for Ancestral Recall. I had Force in hand so I figured I’d be able to Force Ancestral Recall through. Then, I could use my card advantage to stay ahead.

Steve predictably Wastelanded my Sea and then played a Mox Sapphire.

Turn 2:

I Fetched out a basic Island and fired off Ancestral. He Forced it pitching Spellsutter Sprite. I Forced it, reluctantly pitching Tinker, my only other blue spell.

He answered my play with Sea, Dark Confidant. Now I’d have to race him for tempo and card advantage. It would be more difficult without Tinker.

Turn 3:

I played Goyf and passed the turn.

At this point, the game gets a little blurry, but I think he Wastelanded one of my lands.

Turn 4:

I played Thoughtseize, going to 13. He revealed:

Path to Exile
Relic of Progenitus
Underground Sea

I took Path.

Steve played Relic, which I Drained.

Turn 5:

I attacked with Goyf, sending him to 11. I then played a Bob of my own.

Steve revealed a Clique and passed the turn..

Turn 6:

I untapped and attack him to 7 with Bob.

On my endstep, Steve played Clique.

He untapped and attacked me with Bob and Clique.

I thought about the math. I had fallen, thanks to Fetchlands and other damage, to 9 life. I also had Vamp in hand. It was a pure race. I decided to trade Bobs.

I blocked his Bob with mine and went to 6.

Steve had one card in his hand.

Turn 7:

I cast Regrowth. I looked at my gigantic graveyard and debated what to get. I had to choose between Vampiric Tutor and Ancestral Recall. I chose Vamp. I played Vamp for Time Walk.

In response, he played Aven Mindcensor!

What a blowout! I looked at my top 4 cards, and dejectedly attacked him with Goyf to 2 life. He untapped and killed me.

As in my earlier matches, I made a number of errors in this match. Trading Bobs turned out to work in his favor. He won the game at 2 life. That one swing could have won the me the game.

I couldn’t wait to trade Misdirection for Darkblast!

Game 2:

I led with Underground Sea into Duress, and saw:

2 Path to Exile
Sensei’s Divining Top
Spellstutter Sprite
2 Wasteland
Underground Sea

I took the Top.

Steve Wastelanded the Sea, and I was left without a mana source.

I passed the turn.

On his second turn he played Mox Jet and Underground Sea.

I topdecked a fetchland, found Island and cast Sleight of Hand, which he countered with Spellstutter Sprite.

I found another land, which he Wasted. But first I Duressed away one of his Paths. He attacked me with the Sprite.

I found another land anyway and played Bob.

Steve went to play a Bob of his own. My hand was Force of Will, Brainstorm, and another useless Blue spell. I debated whether to Brainstorm or wait. I decided to wait.

I Forced his Bob. Then, I decided I wanted to Brainstorm anyway. I Brainstormed into: Darkblast, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Inkwell Leviathan.

I couldn’t believe my stupidity and misfortune.

I couldn’t put Inkwell back on top since I would have to reveal it to Bob. I didn’t want to take 3 from Yawgmoth’s Will either, so I put Darkblast (the best card here) on top. Idiotic.

To punish the error, it turns out that Steve drew a White mana source that turn. He played Strand into Tundra and cast Path to Exile. I debated what to do, and ended up getting a basic Island, shuffling away my Darkblast.

Darkblast singlehandedly destroys Steve’s entire deck. It’s the ultimate trump. Yet I shuffled it away.

I untapped, drew Goyf and played it.

On my next turn I attacked with Goyf and Bob, sending him to four.

Steve played Clique on me to take my Yawgmoth’s Will.

I knew from Duress that he had a Sprite in hand. I had Thoughtseize and Ponder in hand. I played Ponder and he responded by playing Sprite to counter it. I played Thoughtseize and took Time Walk.

I attacked him and he blocked with Sprite. He topdecked Engineered Explosives and wiped my Goyf and Bob out. His Clique went all the way.

In retrospect, it was an obvious error not to attack before playing Ponder. He would have had to flash Sprite to stay alive. Then, in my second main phase I could have cast Ponder and it would have resolved without question.


Overall, I was very pleased with my deck choice, fairly pleased with my card choices, and disappointed in my technical play. On balance, I played poorly, much like I did at Grand Prix: Chicago. Perhaps worse than my in-game decision-making, I allowed mistakes I had made earlier in the tournament to affect my focus later on. For example, I allowed the Round 4 match result to interfere with my decision-making processes in Round 5.

I don’t know what the solution is. Do I need to play more Magic? Less Magic? It’s frustrating, not to mention embarrassing, to be playing so poorly. One of the reasons I played Grow instead of something like TPS (the other deck I was considering) was specifically because it requires less play skill. From here out, I am going to put much more energy into my technical play, both in testing and in tournament.

In the week before the tournament, I drew up a gauntlet that included 3 Workshop variants: 5c Stax, MUD, and Mono Red Workshop Aggro. I ended up only testing the MUD and 5c Stax match, which I later ended up regretting. Had I tested the Mono Red Workshop Aggro match, I may have been better prepared for my Round 4 Opponent. I now have a much better sense of how to win that matchup. I believe that adding Red in the sideboard with Ingot Chewer is the way to go. Also, since I expect Fish type decks to increase in popularity, I think running a third Tarmogoyf over Regrowth is probably called for. Had I done that, I would have at least forced a game 3 in Round 7. Because of the nature of the deck and how the deck accelerates into the mid-game, two Tarmogoyfs actually feels like three or four. However, a third could still be warranted anyway. It’s strongest against your weakest matchups.

Here is how I would run the deck going forward:

Pretty sick.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian