In Vintage, you either want to Jace or beat Jace harder than anyone else. At the semi-annual Waterbury, one of the largest Vintage tournaments in North America, my team opted for the former.
The Vintage format is remarkably diverse. There are plenty of viable deck options. Every deck has at least one bad matchup, and there just isn’t enough sideboard space for everything. Preparing for this tournament, I tested several variations on Jace/Time Vault control, but none sold me on the archetype. The archetype had a major target on its back, and I didn’t want to swim upstream. I was open to other options (like Grow) and wanted to see what we could develop.
I had two focused questions in mind: What synergizes the most with Jace? Or, alternatively, what beats Jace (beyond the obvious)?
The inescapable conclusion was that Dark Confidant synergizes with Jace, the Mind Sculptor more than almost anything else in the format. To put it in terms that older Vintage players will appreciate, Dark Confidant is to Jace, the Mind Sculptor what Merchant Scroll is to Gifts Ungiven. Both Dark Confidant and Scroll help you find the resources to play, protect, and resolve their respective four-mana partner.
But what else?
Teammate Brian DeMars led the way with a bunch of ideas. Brian pointed out that manlands are good against Jace since Jace can’t bounce them. He also had the idea of using Voidmage Prodigy, which turns every Dark Confidant into a walking, blocking Counterspell. You could use Mutavaults bothas Counterspells and to attack Jace. His other main idea? Lotus Cobra.
Why Lotus Cobra?
Lotus Cobra is incredibly synergistic with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Turn 1 Mox, land, Cobra with turn 2 fetchland means that you can play Jace on turn 2
Spell Pierce protection. It also protects Jace by blocking attackers. It protects Jaceâ€”not through card advantage like Dark Confidantâ€”but through mana advantage.
It’s common knowledge that Jace is amazing in Vintage. Understanding exactly why is more elusive. The main reason that Jace is so good is that it quickly generates the critical mass of cards to do one of three things: 1) Tinker for a virtually unstoppable monster like Inkwell Leviathan, 2) Yawgmoth’s Will for overwhelming card advantage, or 3) assemble the Time Vault + Voltaic Key combo. And frequently, it’s a combination of the three.
How? Jace’s ‘Brainstorm’ allow you to see enough cards each turn that within just a few turns, you’ll find a tutor like Mystical Tutor or Vampiric Tutor, or one of the combo parts (i.e. Tinker or Will) directly. Once you’ve found one of these cards, you can select your combo of least resistance, and just win the game.
Beyond accelerating and protecting Jace, Lotus Cobra contributes to the post-Jace game plan by generating additional mana so you can combo out faster. You can play more tutors and more spells per turn.
Dark Confidant is a warm body to protect Jace, attacks opposing Jaces, and helps you find more resources to play and resolve Jace. Lotus Cobra turns every fetchland into Black Lotus, which makes it easy to play and protect Jace, and combo out faster once Jace, the Mind Sculptor is in play. And like Dark Confidant, Cobra beats. It attacks opposing Jaces. If you play both Dark Confidant and Lotus Cobra, your opponent will not be able to stop both with their Jace.
Lotus Cobra also lets you play Necropotence, a huge bomb. For example, turn 1 Lotus Cobra with a fetchland is enough mana to play Necropotence since every fetchland is like Black Lotus. Necropotence, in turn, is surprisingly synergistic with Jace. Once you have Necro in play, one goal is simply to resolve Jace, which will allow you to maintain control for the rest of the game or until you combo out. You can draw down to one life and still see new cards with Jace.
This would be the fourteenth Waterbury (a.k.a. the Mana Drain Open), and the prizes were strong with first place being worth nearly $800. Brian DeMars, Kevin Cron and I drove from Columbus to Waterbury, Connecticut. We arrived late Friday night and immediately began testing. Brian was stomping most of our gauntlet with his Lotus Cobra deck, and Kevin and I agreed, late into the night, to audible. One of the key advantages of Lotus Cobra compared to traditional Jace decks is the mana advantage against Workshop decks.
Here’s what we all played:
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Forest
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Necropotence
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Hurkyl's Recall
- 1 Island
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Time Vault
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Voltaic Key
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Lotus Petal
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Ponder
- 4 Spell Pierce
- 3 Nature's Claim
We ran Perish out of the board for Noble Fish, and Mindbreak Trap and Duresses for Vintage Storm combo. Doom Blade was included for Lodestone Golem and Karn, Silver Golem, among other targets. Darkblast can dominate Dark Confidant mirrors by repeatedly clearing out opposing Bobs and weakening opposing Jaces and was included on that basis.
125 players showed up, so we had a seven round tournament with a cut to Top 16, which meant that it was possible for an X-2 to make the elimination rounds.
Round 1: Bye
I made top 4 of the last Waterbury, so I earned a free bye this round.
Round 2: Matt Elias with Bob TPS
I looked forward to playing Matt, who I met for the first time at GenCon. I had no idea what he was playing, and I was sure he didn’t know what I was playing.
The only thing that was relevant about my opening hand was that it didn’t have Force of Will.
Matt won the die roll and elected to play first. He led with Underground Sea and cast Preordain. He got rid of one and kept the other. He then played Black Lotus and Necropotence. This saddened me. An early Necropotence cannot be beaten in competitive Vintage unless your opponent blunders. He gorged on a bunch of cards and exiled four lands at the end of his turn, having restocked his hand.
I untapped and played a land, holding up Spell Pierce. He played Mana Crypt, Mox, Tolarian Academy, and then cast Mind’s Desire for four copies. I debated whether to counter one of the Desire copies, in case he flipped a Duress or a Force of Will. I decided that I was probably better off hoping I could counter whatever he flipped than trying to stop one of the copies. The issue seemed moot since he had Necro, and it wasn’t likely that I’d survive this game anyway. The second card he flipped was Tendrils, and although I was able to survive for one more turn, it didn’t matter. He killed me the next turn with a Dark Confidant.
My opening hand this game was:
There isn’t any sense in playing Lotus Cobra here unless we have another land in hand. In which case, we could play turn 2 Vault + Key. Dark Confidant is great if our combo is broken up and will be good later on, but playing Dark Confidant here will prevent me from playing turn 2 Key + Vault and comboing out next turn, barring improbable draws. Playing Key is wrong because we’d need three mana to win next turn. The best play, in my view, is Time Vault. We play Time Vault here and plan to Key for infinite turns.
I played Mox, Land, Vault, and passed the turn.
Matt surprised me with turn 1 Duress. The reason I was surprised is because I had already seen both Preordain and Dark Confidant. How did he find the room to cram those cards
Duress in? He took my Key.
I played turn 2 Dark Confidant, which he Force of Willed, to clear the way for his own Dark Confidant. When I played another Dark Confidant on turn 3, he Forced that one, too, but with some reluctance. When I drew Vampiric Tutor the next turn, the ensuing Yawgmoth’s Will I tutored for allowed me to replay a fetchland and Voltaic Key to take infinite turns. Had he not Forced my second Bob, I would have had Bob and Cobra together and been beating down for four damage a turn.
I expected that our third game would be a good one and was not disappointed.
My opening hand was:
Matt mulliganed to six, and being on the play, I felt like my chances of winning this game were very good. Consider the advantages of this hand: I could play both Spell Pierce and Force. That’s huge against a Storm combo deck. I had Darkblast in case he went the Dark Confidant route and tried to overtake me with superior card advantage. Although I didn’t have a lot of pressure, I had a lot of outs in my deck and felt that this would buy me the time I needed to draw into them (like Mindbreak Trap). I was excited about this hand. .
Matt led with Mox Jet and Duress and then tanked. He noted that my hand wasn’t very fast, but I think he recognized that this could change quickly. After a minute, he took Force of Will. He played Polluted Delta and passed the turn with only three cards in hand.
I untapped and drew Lotus Cobra. Now I had a difficult choice.
If I play Cobra, I can’t play Spell Pierce. Spell Pierce is better in the early game, and many of his spells are game-winning bombs. If he casts a bomb next turn, I’ll need to counter it. Alternatively, if he plays a Dark Confidant, I can Darkblast it. On the other hand, if he has a bomb, it’s not likely he’d walk into my Spell Pierce. He’s seen my hand. He’d probably hold back until he found more mana. Similarly, I don’t see why he’d play a Dark Confidant when I have Darkblast unless he felt the need to buy some time.
The dilemma is this: if I don’t play Lotus Cobra here, and he plays “draw, go,” I’ll be in the exact same position next turn. If I draw a land next turn, then I can play Cobra and Spell Pierce (or Cobra and Necro!). But if I don’t draw a land, I’ll have to decide, again, whether to play the Cobra or hold up Spell Pierce. If I’m going to have to confront that decision every turn for the next few turns, my best chance is to play Cobra now and get it down. He’ll have a one-turn window to do something broken with just three cards in hand and one draw step. If he doesn’t, I’ll be applying some pressure on his life and give myself the option to play Necropotence or Jace if I draw a fetchland. If he does do something broken, there is still a chance that I could match it next turn by topdecking a fetchland and playing Necro or Jace. That’s why I played turn 1 Cobra.
Brian DeMars, observing the game, later said that he agreed with this play but added that nothing else I did afterward was right.
Matt untapped, drew, and played Mox Emerald, another Polluted Delta, broke one of his Deltas for Underground Sea, and cast Tinker for Inkwell Leviathan, sacrificing his Mox Emerald. “Great,” I thought, “now I’m screwed.”
However, I untapped and drew Ponder, which I played and saw:
My deck had produced an out â€” a gift from heaven. I popped the Misty Rainforest into my hand, played it (generating a blue mana), feigning Spell Piece (since there was no way I’d break the fetchland and shuffle away Hurkyl’s Recall), and then passed the turn.
Matt untapped, drew (two cards in his hand), and swung for seven, putting me to twelve.
I untapped, drew the Hurkyl’s Recall, and wasted no time. I tapped Tropical Island and the Mox and cast it, knowing that if he had Force, he could pay for my Spell Pierce with his two (or three) mana. Matt responded with Brainstorm, apparently looking for an answer, but ultimately let Hurkyl’s resolve, bouncing his Leviathan.
Matt untapped and played Mana Crypt and Tolarian Academy. He tapped his Jet and the Mana Crypt and played Yawgmoth’s Will. I cast Spell Pierce, and he broke a Delta he had in play and found Underground Sea. He tapped both Underground Seas, leaving only the Academy untapped, to pay for my Spell Pierce.
He replayed the Mox Emerald from his graveyard and tapped Academy for UUU (he had two Moxen and Mana Crypt in play now). He tapped the Mox Emerald, too. He then replayed Brainstorm, putting Leviathan back, and then cast Tinker, putting Leviathan back into play.
I untapped and drew Duress. Not the out I needed. I tapped the Sea and Duressed him and saw: Time Walk and Demonic Tutor. “Wow,” I thought, “I lose either way.” If he Time Walked, he would swing twice with Leviathan. If he played DT, he’d just kill me with Tendrils for four damage since he had two Seas and Jet in play for black mana. I took Time Walk â€” and sure enough, Matt DT’d for Tendrils to win.
Since we were in the feature match area, a crowd of spectators had gathered with Brian, Kevin, and Paul Mastriano standing behind me. Brian said that he would have broken the Misty Rainforest on turn 2 and cast Jace.
Recall the sequence:
Brian argued that I should play Jace here. I could play and crack the Rainforest, generating extra mana with Lotus Cobra, to cast Jace. The argument for Jace is basically this: you get to Brainstorm and gain seven life. Sounds reasonable. From there, Brian argued that I should have a legitimate chance to win the game. Brainstorm could trade some of the weaker cards for better ones, and I had a number of powerful outs, like Black Lotus, Mystical Tutor, or Hurkyl’s Recall. Brian had a lot of faith in Jace.
Of course, Brian’s line of play shuffles away the Hurkyl’s Recall that was on top of my library and is therefore utterly counterintuitive when facing Inkwell Leviathan. While I’m not sure if his play is better than just drawing Hurkyl’s Recall and firing it, I made at least two unambiguous play errors.
First, if I’m going to play Hurkyl’s Recall, I should have done it on his upkeep rather than on my turn. He Brainstormed in response to my Hurkyl’s Recall. We don’t know whether he would have Brainstormed on my end step if I hadn’t played Hurkyl’s there, but it’s safe to assume that a Brainstorm in response to Hurkyl’s means that Matt had not seen the Yawgmoth’s Will yet and was looking for a Force. Otherwise, he presumably would have let Hurkyl’s resolve, Brainstormed Leviathan back, and then played Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker.
If I had held Hurkyl’s Recall for his upkeep, and he Brainstormed on my endstep, he might have put back different cards. If he didn’t Brainstorm, and I cast Hurkyl’s on his upkeep, he could respond with Brainstorm then, but he would have one less mana available on his turn. This would stop him from playing both Brainstorm and Tinker post-Yawgmoth’s Will.
Second, playing the Misty Rainforest on turn 2 was a clear mistake. This is the more important error. If I had held the land in my hand, I could play Necropotence on turn 3 and Hurkyl’s Recall on my end step or on his upkeep after drawing a bunch of cards. Here’s how this plays out:
Matt: attack for seven.
Me: Misty Rainforest, crack, for Underground Sea and cast Necro. Draw eight or nine cards.
On his upkeep or on my end step, tap Mox and Tropical Island to Hurkyl’s Recall Matt. He may or may not respond with Brainstorm.
This is the correct line of play, in my view. It’s not as if Spell Pierce can protect the Hurkyl’s Recall anyway because he has the mana to pay for it if he finds Force of Will for my Hurkyl’s. Necropotence will give me the best chance to find countermagic to protect the Hurkyl’s or to counter whatever Matt tries.
I can then go bonkers the next turn. With another fetchland and Cobra, I can generate at least six mana to try to combo out with cards drawn with Necro.
I can see the merit to Brian’s plan, but holding Misty Rainforest for Necro and Hurkyl’s is the best line of play. Had I held the land and played turn 3 Necro, I probably would have won that game and the match.
Unfortunately, my mistake of playing Misty on turn 2 precluded that sequence. This was only the third game I had actually played with Lotus Cobra, having put the deck together that morning. Had I played with this deck even a couple rounds, I hopefully would have played that game differently. When you play with Lotus Cobra, sometimes holding up lands is the more important play, even when other plays seem reasonable or warranted. Still, the deck felt strong. I learned some valuable lessons and was looking forward to making a good run of it.
Round 3: Oath
I won the die roll. I mulliganed a no-land hand into three lands, two Moxen, and Mystical Tutor. I reluctantly kept it.
I played land, go. My opponent played land, Voltaic Key. On his end step, I Mystical Tutored for Ancestral Recall. I untapped, drew it, and played Mox, Mox, Land, Recall. My opponent played Force of Will. He played a second land and passed.
He untapped and Oathed around 40 cards and found Sphinx of the Steel Wind. I looked through his graveyard and saw all four Force of Wills and all four Spell Pierces. Not many Oaths were in there, but Time Vault was gone, as was Yawgmoth’s Will.
On his end step, I broke a fetchland again to maximize my chance to draw an out. I drew the best possible out. I topdecked Necropotence! I played Underground Sea and cast Necropotence, which resolved! I was at sixteen, and he was going to hit me for six, so I paid eight life and set aside eight cards. Two of which were Hurkyl’s Recall and Nature’s Claim! I immediately used Hurkyl’s on his board and Nature’s Claimed his Oath. He untapped, deflated, drew dead and passed. I untapped, played Jace, set aside more cards, then Nature’s Claimed my Necro. Within a few turns, I assembled Key + Vault, and he scooped.
I sideboarded in Duresses for superfluous land.
Yes! Great hand. He played turn 1 Oath, bringing the early pressure. I debated my opening play. I drew Misty Rainforest. Jace probably could stop everything he could do except for Terastodon. So I played Verdant Catacombs, fetching Bayou, played Duress, saw nothing important, and cast Necropotence off of Black Lotus, refilling my hand and then some.
He played Orchard and Sensei’s Divining Top, and I cast Nature’s Claim on turn 2, killing his Oath. He then played Pithing Needle on my Necro, which I Nature’s Claimed the next turn. From there, my card advantage was insurmountable, and Jace took over a few turns later.
Round 4: Aggro MUD
I mulliganed into:
I played Underground Sea and passed.
My opponent played Wasteland, Mana Crypt, Mox, Chalice of the Void set to zero, and Lodestone Golem. This is one of the strongest sequences in Vintage. I let Chalice resolve, since I had no Moxen in hand. But I had to stop the Golem.
I just didn’t know which card to pitch to Force of Will.
Both cards are terribly important. Spell Pierce slows the stream of threats and counters cards like Smokestack, keeping me in the game. Ponder can help me dig up the combo more quickly, getting me out of the game before I’m locked out. I felt that Spell Pierce was more important, but Brian DeMars later said that I should have pitched Spell Pierce.
I untapped, played a basic land, and passed. My opponent wasted no time Wastelanding my Sea. Then, to my surprise, he played an Arcbound Ravager and a Thorn of Amethyst. I drew dead the next turn and passed. He attacked me with Ravager and passed. I untapped and drew a fetchland, which allowed me to Spell Pierce his Sphere of Resistance. I drew Black Lotus, Mox, and Tinker in those turns. The Ravager eventually killed me.After attacking for one for many turns, he finally decided to ramp it and kill me.
I sideboarded in Doom Blade for the third Jace. I wasn’t sure what to take out, but I knew I wanted Doom Blade. Jace seemed like the most difficult card to play in my deck, but it was also one of the best, so I wasn’t comfortable with this exchange. Especially when I opened:
He played turn 1 Karn, which I Nature’s Claimed. Then, he played turn 2 Karn, which I Doom Bladed. From there, I had accumulated more than enough card advantage to take over.
I fanned open:
This hand seems sub-par. Plenty of mana can be a good thing, but I’m on the draw. Yawgmoth’s Will is almost a blank here. The main upside is the remote possibility of comboing by topdecking a tutor or Voltaic Key. On the other hand, looking at this hand, it can play almost any topdeck. A Lotus Cobra could make this hand explosive. A Dark Confidant is playable. The more and more I thought about it, the better this hand appeared. I kept it.
I untapped and drew Demonic Tutor! I could play Mox, Mox, land, Demonic Tutor, find Black Lotus, play Yawg Will, replay Lotus, DT, and play Time Vault. Or, I could just play Mox, Mox, Land, DT, Voltaic Key, and cast Time Vault next turn. I ended up doing the latter.
On turn 2, he played Ancient Tomb, Karn. I untapped and went infinite.
Round 5: Craig Dupre with Trygon Tez
Craig won the roll, and opened with:
Jace makes Black Lotus in the opening hand even more deadly than usual in Vintage. Black Lotus Gifts or Black Lotus Fact or Fiction is not as powerful as Black Lotus Jace. This is a key advantage that Jace has over both of those restricted cards.
Craig Brainstormed and passed.
My opening hand was something like: Demonic Tutor, Jace, Inkwell Leviathan, Dark Confidant, Misty Rainforest, Ponder, and Spell Pierce. My hand only had one land in it, so I Pondered and saw Force and a Mox, which was good enough for me. I popped the Force into my hand and shipped.
On his second turn, he played a land and Brainstormed again with Jace.
I untapped and played Dark Confidant. He Mana Drained it, and I Forced his Drain.
On his third turn, he untapped, bounced Bob. I still hadn’t drawn another land to bring Spell Pierce online. I replayed Bob, and he had another Drain for it. I sighed.
On Craig’s fourth turn, he Brainstormed with Jace again. I untapped and played Demonic Tutor, still having failed to draw a second land, and he Spell Pierced it. The next turn, he assembled Voltaic Key + Tinker for Time Vault.
I can accept a game loss to turn 1 Jace.
My opening hand was:
The chief reason not to mulligan this hand was that I was on the play. Mulliganing to six on the play in Vintage is a tremendous disadvantage, and this hand is at least playable. Cobra can attack an early Jace and put pressure on his life total, especially if he has Bob. Any land I draw will allow me to play Dark Confidant via Cobra.
He played a land, Voltaic Key, and passed.
I untapped and drew another Force. I played the second Cobra and swung in with the first.
Craig untapped and played Mox, Land, Tinker. I Forced it, pitching Inky.
I untapped and drew Duress, which I could not play since I didn’t have any black mana sources. I attacked for four and passed the turn.
Craig played Black Lotus, sacrificed it for RRR, then tapped a Sea and cast Yawgmoth’s Will. He replayed the Lotus, a land, and a Mox, and cast Tinker for Time Vault. I stared miserably at the Duress in my hand, wishing it was the Nature’s Claim I had sided out for it. I could have broken up his combo and potentially won. He went infinite instead.
Because this tournament would cut to Top 16, I was not out of contention. Both of my teammates playing this deck were already locked into Top 16.
The details of this match are fuzzy because I walked upstairs to catch some college football action after the round. Here’s what I remember.
My opponent led with turn 1 Ancestral Recall, turn 2 Forbidden Orchard, Oath of Druids. That’s a combo. I played Nature’s Claim and had Spell Pierce in hand, but he played Force on my Nature’s Claim with two mana available to pay for my Spell Pierce. Instead, in a Hail Mary, I played Ancestral Recall (I also had Brainstorm) and found my own Force of Will. I played it, pitching Brainstorm. I resolved Jace, and even though he killed it with Lightning Bolt, I was able to take control of the game from there.
I played turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Necropotence off of a Mox Jet and Bayou and Underground Sea. I Forced his next play (Oath?). Then, on turn 3, I Duressed again, seeing Red Elemental Blast, Lightning Bolt, Iona, and Tropical Island. This was perfect because I had Jace in hand. I took the Red Elemental Blast, then played Jace, fatesealing him and putting Oath on the bottom to bring Jace out of Bolt range. He never resolved another relevant spell.
I won the die roll and fanned open:
My opponent mulliganed, then again, and again, all the way down to two cards. From the fearless mulligans, I guessed he was playing Dredge.
I untapped, attacked, Time Walked, attacked again. He couldn’t combo out the next turn, and I killed him.
My opening hand was:
This time my opponent kept a seven-card hand. He played Bazaar and passed the turn.
I played turn 1 Dark Confidant and Relic off of double Mox and a land. He activated Bazaar on my end step, discarding Ichorid, Stinkweed Imp, and I think an Undiscovered Paradise. I should have tapped Relic but didn’t. He Dredged on his upkeep and put Ichorid into play. Then he Dredged Dakmor Salvage on his draw step, allowing him to trigger Bloodghast. He attacked me for three and then played Cabal Therapy, naming Force of Will, sacrificing Ichorid. This gave him two Bridge tokens.
I untapped and flipped Tinker. I played Tinker for Black Lotus to cast Yawgmoth’s Will, replayed Tinker for Inkwell Leviathan, and played Jace. On his upkeep, I blew the Relic, after he had Dredged a bunch of cards, with two Ichorid triggers on the stack. The turn after next, I was able to hard-cast Leyline, and he scooped.
At 5-2, I finished in twentieth place. My other teammates with the deck both made Top 16. Brian made top 4, and Kevin lost in the first round of the Top 16. As a whole, Team Meandeck performed very well. We fielded seven players in the tournament and finished second third, eleventh, fifteenth, and twentieth out of 125 players. The eventual winner defeated three of my teammates in the Top 16.
Congratulations to Joe Brown for winning with MUD. So much for people saying that Workshops suck.
Interestingly, the top 4 was MUD, Ad Nauseam Storm combo, Snake City Vault, and Dredge. Each of the four pillars were represented in that top 4, a reminder of how diverse and balanced Vintage is at the moment.
If Jace continues to be a major feature of the Vintage format post-Scars of Mirrodin, Lotus Cobra will be a serious consideration for any Jace player. Lotus Cobra may actually become more powerful post-Scars if Workshop decks acquire more metagame tools. I would consider playing a deck like this again and encourage you to try it as well.
Mirrodin produced dozens of Vintage playables, and, as a block, generated multiple Vintage restrictions. Mirrodin rests in the top tier of expansion sets that see play in Vintage. Scars of Mirrodin is on track to be a worthy sequel. Next week, Matt Sperling will share his take on Scars, and I’ll share my evaluation with the updated Vintage checklist, the following week.
Until next time,