So Many Insane Plays – Saved By The Bell: A StarCityGames Tournament Report

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Monday, May 19th – At the StarCityGames Mega-Magic Weekend, Stephen Menendian took full advantage of two days of competitive Vintage play. Unfortunately for the Vintage World Champion, things didn’t quite go his way on an intriguing Day 1…

In response to my article last week, someone asked:

I’m really surprised Gush is ranked 6th. I would have put it at #3, right behind Brainstorm and Force of Will, just based on the sheer number of decks that run on Gush engines.

I’m also surprised that Thorn of Amethyst didn’t even get an honorable mention. Maybe because it’s a functional Sphere of Resistance 5-8?

And if you look at unrestricted cards from an idea that there are powerful ones that you may not want to run four-of, I would think that Tendrils of Agony would rank #8, 9 or 10. It may have not even been on your radar.

If you recall, my article last week opened with a theoretical exercise about what the top ten unrestricted spells of Vintage might be. Here was my list:

1) Brainstorm
2) Force of Will
3) Merchant Scroll
4) Thoughtseize
5) Duress
6) Gush
7) Leyline of the Void
8) Dark Ritual
9) Ponder
10) Tormod’s Crypt

The question about Gush is a good one. And after analyzing it, I realized that the answer to that question pretty much structures the rest of my list.

Last week I discussed why I put Brainstorm above Force of Will and how pretty much everyone ranks those as the top two spells. But why did I rank Merchant Scroll third?

Gush is pretty much the best unrestricted draw spell in Vintage. It’s a free draw spells that actually generates mana, enables an incredibly light manabase with an engine that maximizes abuse of Yawgmoth’s Will. The Gush engine is so powerful, that it is showing up in a preponderance of Blue-based Vintage decks that are making Top 8 in major Vintage tournaments.

But notice my language. I shifted from talking about Gush to the “Gush Engine.” The Gush Engine is what is known as the Gush-Bond engine. It is an engine that fuels the use of Gush with Fastbond and pretty much enables the pilot to combo out. Gush can be used by itself as a standalone draw spell. It can also be used as a card advantage engine by itself. But by Gush-Bond engine, I am referring to the use that most people recognize if they’ve played in a Vintage tournament in the last nine months. It’s what happens when your opponent drops Fastbond, casts Gush, and then within five minutes has won the game. It looks like: Gush, Merchant Scroll for Gush, Brainstorm, play a fetchland – break it, Gush, Ponder, Gush, Gush, Merchant Scroll, Gush, Yawgmoth’s Will, Win. Or some variant thereof.

The Gush-Bond engine works as a one-turn “I win” engine because of the density of cards that makes it run. Cards like Brainstorm and Ponder help you find more Gushes. Two weeks ago I talked about how Ponder fundamentally changed the Gush-Bond engine by making it a lot more consistent in terms of a progression from Fastbond to Yawgmoth’s Will. You’re a lot less likely to stall out. But the real key to the Gush-Bond engine, aside from Fastbond and Gush itself, is really Merchant Scroll. Scroll makes Gush a Blue, free Night’s Whisper. You trade two life for two cards, almost like Yawgmoth’s Bargain. The Gushes, the Scrolls, and the Fastbonds interact like Yawgmoth’s Bargain until you’ve found Yawgmoth’s Will, at which point you tutor up the game ending card like Tendrils or some other combo part.

Without Merchant Scroll, the Gushbond engine would be a much weaker engine. It would not function as a full-fledged Yawgmoth’s Bargain as it does today. Today, a hand that has Fastbond and a Scroll and a Gush is probably over a 50% chance of being able to win on turn 1. Before Ponder was printed, that number was probably around 40%. If Scroll were restricted, your chances would be probably under 15%, if not under 10%.

In short, the value of Gush is directly related to the value of Scroll. Without Scroll, Gush as an engine would be more obscure, more niche, and certainly not the fundamental, common draw engine for every other Blue deck.

Take a look at this:

Andy Probasco Painter’s Servant Deck
The Tyrant Oath deck

Gush Tendrils

It follows, almost as a matter of hard logic, that Scroll has to precede Gush. Gush may be the best draw spell, but the full brunt of its power is a function of the presence of unrestricted Merchant Scroll. That isn’t to say that Gush wouldn’t be a good card without Scroll, but it wouldn’t be what it is now. It would be played in fewer decks, and certainly not the Gush Tendrils and Doomsday decks, which use Gush as a combo card rather than a real draw spell, like GAT does. It might still have a place in Painter’s Servant and Tyrant Oath, but it would compete with other options and neither deck would be as powerful in the abstract or in practice.

Moreover, Merchant Scroll has been, since the invention of Meandeck Gifts, the best unrestricted tutor in Vintage. I have already written in previous articles how Scroll is the key Ancestral engine, a versatile tutor which can find bounce and other answers, and built a deck called “the Mean Deck” pretty much around Scroll itself. See here for an elaboration on that point. In my view, it made very little sense to restricted Gifts over Scroll from the point of view of raw power, since Scroll was obviously the superior tutor. Scroll is also the key tutor in Hulk Flash combo.

For all of those reasons and more, I ranked Scroll as the third best unrestricted spell in Vintage. It’s the best tutor, part of the best engine, and all around incredibly efficient for its effect. Gush is merely the best draw spell, and one that is vulnerable to a raft of Workshop strategies. Scroll is the card that gives you a needed edge in those strategies. In fact, Scroll is so good that if you are playing Blue and you aren’t a Fish deck, you are probably playing with three or four Merchant Scrolls. The same cannot be said of Gush.

But even then, I ranked Duress and Thoughtseize above Gush, and I did so for a critical reason. One sliver of the overall equation for which I ranked Brainstorm over Force of Will is the overwhelming presence of Duress and Thoughtseize in Vintage. Duress has been on a steady incline since 2002, but it has just exploded in use in the last two and half years, pretty much ascending over Mana Drain with the fusion of Pitch Long and Meandeck Gifts in the final evolutionary highpoint of Ritual Gifts that preceded the restriction of Gifts and the unrestriction of Gush. Now, in this Gush/Scroll metagame, Duress and Thoughtseize, particularly the latter, are basically as ubiquitous as Force of Will and almost as important. Force of Will’s importance has also faded as a function of Flash (where Leyline is often just as important) and especially Ichorid, where Force is often irrelevant. Cards like Duress and Thoughtseize have picked up a lot of the slack, making appearance in Doomsday, GAT, Oath, and the Gush combo decks. Since the format has slowed with the restriction of Gifts, unrestriction of Gush and the printing of Thorn, even in spite of Flash, both Duress and Thoughtseize are closer in value to Force of Will. In short, Force, Duress, and Thoughtseize are the three key interaction spells in Vintage, replacing Force and Mana Drain from three years ago. And because Leyline hits other decks from a very different angle, an angle that is increasingly important, even though Yawgmoth’s Will is not as central due to the presence of Ichorid and Flash, Leyline falls just outside of those three as the fourth most important interactive spell. Thus, the order of my list sort of falls into place. Scroll is the third best unrestricted spell, Duress and Thoughtseize follow because of their close relation and function with Force, and then Gush as the best unrestricted drawing card follows, with Leyline right behind. From there, Dark Ritual as the best unrestricted mana card and Ponder as a critical part of the Gush-Bond engine and the next best Ancestral/Brainstorm type card follow.

The question about Tendrils not making my list is a good one, but it’s not that I didn’t consider it. The reason cards like Oath, Dryad, Darksteel Colossus, Tendrils, or Empty the Warrens didn’t make my list is that the engine is far more important than the win condition. If Tendrils didn’t exist, you could probably run Tinker and Colossus or Psychatog or Empty the Warrens, just like the ICBM “Empty-Gush” deck does, and be just fine. The close call, of course, is Oath, and only because of the unique way it impacts the Workshop/Ichorid side of the metagame. It is a huge tactical and strategic boon in ways that Dryad isn’t, for reasons I discussed two weeks ago.

As I said there:

Oath can easily be played with a Sphere in play, and still win the game. Neither the Doomsday engine nor the Gushbond engine works under a Sphere. The TTS, Doomsday, and GAT decks either can’t win or struggle greatly under a Sphere.

Nonetheless, I believe Oath is much less important than it was even three months ago. The Workshops have receded a bit; Oath is not particularly good in the objective sense either, as it does nothing the turn you play it or even on your opponent’s turn (much like Smokestack), and because Oath of Druids also gives your opponent a window to combo out; thus, the rise of Reveillark Flash makes Oath a slightly worse deck.

I also think that people have been attacking Oath from the wrong angle. Oath is actually a very simple card to respond to. But people haven’t been taking the time, partly due to the incredible diversity of the metagame, to attack it properly.

I did. I was on the Oath bandwagon for the last few months, but I prepared for the StarCityGames Mega-Magic Weekend on the assumption that some players would be ready (at least, more ready) for Oath than they would have been some time ago. And they were. A great deal of the “oomph” that came from the Painter’s Servant deck that ended up winning Day 1 is a consequence of the fact that a ton of Red Elemental Blasts pretty much destroys Oath’s ability to win with Tidespout Tyrant, or even Gush-Bond off. It also happens to keep Flash in check. Thus, Red Blast.dec, a.k.a. Painter’s Servant combo, keeps the two biggest metagame threats in check. Hence, Andy Probasco wins SCG Day 1.

As for my plan, I played GroAtog with eight Duresses. It was the deck I highlighted last week, but with a few differences.

On the suggestion of my teammate Doug Linn, I cut Naturalize for Seal of Primordium. And boy, was that a great move. Oath has up to 6 possible Duresses post-board to snag a Naturalize form your hand. They probably only have one bounce spell to bounce a Seal. Seal also stops both game plans. It hits Fastbond as well as Oath of Druids. The only way they can really beat it is by playing more Oaths. And with the bounce and mega-Duress package, that is a hard feat to accomplish.

I ran GAT because I felt it gave me an inherent edge against the entire metagame. My Duress package should help me attack Oath in a way that other decks can’t. Granted, Oath can always have turn 1 Oath, or Brainstorm it on top in response to my turn 1 Duress, or they could just topdeck it when I don’t have a Force, but aside from those possibilities, I’m super favored. And even when those possibilities arise, my Duresses can take anything they might use to stop me from Scrolling up Echoing Truth to bounce the Oath or post-board, my Seals.

Rich Shay analysis of GAT versus Oath wasn’t wrong. Here’s what he said:

Oath was testing very well, but I wasn’t comfortable with its GAT match in theory. My reasoning is this. GAT plays three fewer mana sources than Oath, and uses three fewer spots on its victory conditions. So, GAT will be drawing Mana Drains and Misdirections while Oath is drawing Orchards and Krosan Reclamation. However, I predicted that it wouldn’t be significant because I didn’t think that there would be many GAT decks there.

Rich’s analysis isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s more right than he suggests. The problem is that Mana Drain and Misdirections are the wrong tools. In fact, my GAT list has basically four fewer mana sources and no dead cards compared to the Tyrants, the Reclamations and other junk that Oath will be drawing, so while Oath is drawing mana or Gushing into mana or junk, I’m far more likely to be Gushing into business or topdecking business. In short, even in topdeck mode, GAT has a very significant advantage.

It was my basic assessment that the key play that I feared from Oath was turn one or turn two Oath. Beyond that, I should be able to win. Pre-board, a late game Oath can always just be answered by comboing out or by bouncing it and Duressing it. Post-board, it can just be destroyed with Seal or comboed over. And the only real reason I feared turn 1 or turn 2 Oath is that GAT only runs three Moxen, which means that I may not be able to Scroll on turn 1 for Echoing Truth or play Seal.

I also realized that Duress effects were actually the most effective weapon against Flash decks. Duress gives you crucial information while taking the key card. It’s much harder to beat Flash on the stack than it is to beat Flash from their hand. That’s a function of the fact that Flash can combo out whenever it wants and also has Pact of Negation.

The big weakness of GAT was still Workshops. But as I explained two weeks ago, Ponder now enabled you to combo out. And since no Workshop players ran Smokestack, I should be able to sideboard in 3 Islands and 4 Hurkyl’s Recall effects and just drop Islands, eventually bounce their board, and then win the game.

I wasn’t going to take any chances against Ichorid, which Oath has a trump matchup against, so I ran 6 key anti-Ichorid components.

Here’s my story:

Round 1: Albert Kyle with Manaless Ichorid

After looking at the pairings, it took me a moment to remember Albert. Albert goes by the handle “meadbert” on these forums and on the ManaDrain.com. Longtime readers will remember him for innovating Manaless Ichorid, a deck I wrote about extensively a year and a half ago. It came as no surprise that he was playing the same deck. Although Albert has some wacky ideas both about deck design and the metagame, he has come up with enough serious ideas and has performed well enough that I respect him as a serious Vintage innovator.

Albert ended up making Top 8, so here is his deck:

I won the die roll, recognizing that it probably meant very little. I opened a hand with Black Lotus and Mox Emerald and decided that I would keep it, on the off chance that I could win by turn 2 or 3. Albert used Serum Powder, confirming my suspicion that he was playing Ichorid.

He then mulliganed, then again, then again, then again, then again, and again all the way to one card. I must say I was astonished. I opened the game with: Lotus, Mox Emerald, Underground Sea, Quirion Dryad and he promptly scooped after drawing a card and not seeing Bazaar.

I sideboarded in 4 Leylines and 2 Yixlid Jailers for 4 Duress and 2 Thoughtseize. I’ll elaborate on my rationale for those changes later.

We shuffle up and Albert opens with turn 1 Bazaar, which he activates and discards Bridge From Below, Golgari Thug, and Wispmare! Then he played a Chalice of the Void at zero.

I kept my opening hand because it had Yixlid Jailer. However, I wouldn’t be able to play it on turn 1 now thanks to his Chalice.

I played turn 1 Delta into Underground Sea and cast Thoughtseize.

Here’s what I saw:

City of Brass
Cabal Therapy
Chain of Vapor
Emerald Charm

What would you take? I puzzled on this one for a minute, and by the time I made my decision, I still had no idea what the right card was. Obviously, I was most afraid of Therapy since I was holding Jailer. However, Chain of Vapor can bounce the Jailer. I ended up taking Therapy, which I think was clearly the wrong play. Since he is going to want to dredge on his upkeep, there is a good chance he’ll just discard it anyway. Taking Therapy here doesn’t actually turn it off in any real sense.

On his second turn upkeep, he activated the Bazaar to dredge, discarding Chain of Vapor. He saw Narcomoeba and then dredged again in his draw step. He played City of Brass and actually shocked me by casting Emerald Charm on his Bazaar to untap it. Somehow, despite playing Ichorid for some time, I hadn’t either seen that play or remembered it. He dredged another 12 cards in his mainphase. A that point, he flashed back Cabal Therapies, stripping my hand, which had been: Island, Tropical Island, Gush, Brainstorm, Brainstorm. Oddly enough, perhaps the correct play would have been turn 1 Brainstorm, hiding the Jailer instead. His oversideboarding no doubt slowed his goldfish, and I probably could have banked on having some more time. He eventually killed me, either on turn 3 or turn 4.

At this point, he had only seen my Jailers, which would lead a reasonable person in his position to probably guess that I was running the Jailer/Needle combo that I’ve always run in GAT. For that reason, I was confident that I could take game 3 by surprise with Leyline and that he would probably sideboard out some, if not most, of his anti-Leyline technology. I also realized that I wanted more Thoughtseize in here. Thoughtseize can nab Wispmare, Chain of Vapor, and Echoing Truth as well as Contagion. I cut a Dryad for a third Thoughtseize and proceeded to game 3.

I opened game 3 with turn 0 Leyline of the Void. I played Tropical Island and passed the turn. The rest of my hand was Gush, Thoughtseize, Thoughtseize, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Dryad. Unfortunately, I needed one more mana source, and hopefully a Black one. I kept the hand, despite the risks, because it wasn’t likely that I’d get a hand of 6 that both had Leyline and the potential to keep the Leyline on the board like this one. Throwing this hand back was no different than playing off the top here. He Unmasked me on turn 1 and took Yawgmoth’s Will. Then he played Bazaar and passed the turn.

I topdecked Brainstorm, which thrilled me. I just needed to Brainstorm into a Black mana source and I could Thoughtseize him and probably take this game. I played Brainstorm, but I only saw more Brainstorm and a Yixlid Jailer, and I put both on top. I had to pass the turn.

On my endstep, Albert activated the Bazaar and discarded a Troll, a Thug, and a Powder. Then he drew a card and Unmasked me again, taking Time Walk. Then he played City of Brass and cast Cabal Therapy, taking something irrelevant. We both played draw go for two turns. Then on turn 4, I decided to play Brainstorm again. This time, I would see all new cards. I hoped for the best and… no mana. I did see another Jailer and another Brainstorm. I was very upset by this. I had drawn about 7 cards and I only had one mana this game. I was giving him too much time to answer my Leyline. He used his Bazaar on his turn to draw more cards and discarded some more junk. On turn5, I drew more junk and passed the turn. Then he did it. On his turn he Emerald Charmed my Leyline. He activated the Bazaar and discarded some good stuff. I played draw, go. He returned an Ichorid to play, and attacked me and dredged twice. My life fell to 17. I played draw, go one more time and then he returned three Ichorids on turn 7 and did nine damage to me, sending me to 8. On turn 8, I drew Ancestral Recall. Unfortunately, Albert was a master. He orally commented that he was not going to dredge enough so that he’d be vulnerable to two Ancestral Recalls (forgetting that he had taken Yawgmoth’s Will on turn 1). After that happened, I Ancestral Recalled myself, but still I saw no mana! He therapied me naming Jailer, seeing Jailer, Gush, Gush, Dryad, Ponder, and Scroll. By this point, we were already in turns. Finally, I topdecked a Brainstorm and played it, seeing a land and Black Lotus and Demonic Tutor.

If I had either Time Walk or Yawgmoth’s Will in my deck, I could have drawn the game on the spot by taking the final turn. As it was, all I had was Echoing Truth. For some reason, I made a critical misplay. I looked through his graveyard and counted up his Black creatures. He had three Ichorids in there but no other Black creatures. I also figured that based upon what I saw was removed from game (3 Thugs and 3 Stinkweed Imp) that he still had two other Black creatures in his deck, a Stinkweed Imp and a Thug. Therefore, Echoing Truthing his Bridge tokens would not save me from losing from three Ichorids. I Tutored up Fastbond, played it, and then Gushed. For some reason, I thought I would have one more mana and I played a Dryad, suddenly realizing that I’d be out of mana. I could have continued to try to Gush-Bond myself, but I didn’t. Also, I was now cut off from being able to bounce anything since I was just holding Scroll with only one available mana. In sum, I was one mana short from being able to bounce his Bridge tokens. It turns out that he can return only two Ichorids as he sideboarded out a Stinkweed Imp. If I had just made the safe play, or played even a little better, this match would have been a draw.

If I had drawn a Black mana any time in the first five turns, I would have won this match.

Round 2: Anthony Grasso with MUD

Anthony won the die roll. When he opened with Mox Jet, Strip Mine, and Chalice of the Void at one, I was oddly pleased despite almost all of my hand costing one mana. Sure, that’s a tough opening to beat, but I would have an opportunity to test my sideboard plan in action.

I opened with Mox Jet, Strand into Island (my rationale being that if I got a dual land, he could Wasteland me and still have Strip Mine on the table), and played Merchant Scroll for Echoing Truth.

On his second turn, he played Sphere of Resistance. I played a Polluted Delta and passed the turn.

On turn 3, he played draw, go. On his endstep, I broke the Delta for Island and played Echoing Truth, bouncing the Chalice. I untapped and Duressed the Chalice away, seeing:

Sword of Fire and Ice
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sphere of Resistance
Jester’s Cap

He was clearly mana screwed. I wasn’t concerned with Cap at all. SoFI only mattered if he could get a Trike down, which I’d have to stop.

He topdecked a City of Traitors on turn 4 and played SoFI. I tapped down and played Ponder.

On turn 5 he played another Sphere of Resistance. I untapped and Thoughtseized his Trike with all of my mana, but this time I saw a Thorn of Amethyst in his hand as well.

On turn 6 he played Thorn. I played Brainstorm and a land.

On turn 7 he played draw, go. I played upkeep Mystical Tutor for Ancestral Recall.
He stripped my Tropical Island, but I played an Underground Sea.

On turn 9 he played Mox Sapphire. I thought about it, but let it resolve. On my turn, I cast Ancestral. He played draw, go, again and at this point I cast Vampiric Tutor on his endstep for a Tropical believe it or not. I played Tropical Island and cast Dryad, which only cost four under the Spheres.

He played Draw, Go, and I cast turn 11 Tog, growing my Dryad. This turned out to be the right play.

On turn 12, he topdecked Metalworker, which would almost certainly be my doom if it got to untap. But I attacked with the Dryad and the Tog, and he had to block the Tog or die, since my hand was quite large and my graveyard was full of cards. A turn later he scooped.

Game 2:

I sideboarded in 3 Islands, 2 Rebuild, and 2 Hurkyl’s Recall. I sideboarded out Duresses and all but one Thoughtseize.

I opened a hand with all mana, including several Islands, and bounce spells. I announced that I’d keep it.

His first turn was Mishra’s Workshop, Chalice at 1. I played a Flooded Strand and passed the turn.

He played Mox Emerald, Strip Mine, Thorn of Amethyst, and Sphere of Resistance. Pile it on, I thought. All resolved. On my second turn I played Island, go.

On his third turn, he played another Workshop and Triskelion. I played an Island and passed the turn.

He attacked me for four and Strip Mined a land. I played a Tropical Island and passed the turn back to him. My plan was working perfectly.

He played Uba Mask, an unexpected play indeed. The time had come. He’d already taken me to 12 life. My Hurkyl’s Recall would throw three more damage at me, sending me to 9. I Recalled his board on his endstep. I untapped, played spells like Brainstorm, a tutor, Gush, and Fastbond. Instead of comboing out right there, I wanted to play it safe. I got a dude down and then Time Walked. I then cast Yawgmoth’s Will, Time Walked again, and won the game.

Record: 1-1

Round 3: Adam Tayler playing Goblins (Gob-Lines)

I won the die roll, which was very fortunate. His opening was busted.

I played Mox Jet and cast Thoughtseize. I saw:

Black Lotus
Goblin Warchief
Wooded Foothills
Aether Vial
Goblin Piledriver
Strip Mine
Changeling Titan

He could open on turn 1 with Warchief and Piledriver and Strip Mine me on turn 2. I had to take the Lotus. I played Tropical Island and passed. He Stripped my land, which I was hoping he would do to buy me more time.

On turn 2 I played Strand into Sea, Duress taking the Vial. I saw the new card – Leyline.

He topdecked Mox Ruby, which was bad for me. He played Mox, Foothills into Badlands, Piledriver.

On turn 3, I played Sea and passed. He topdecked Wasteland and tried to Waste my sea. I responded with Gush. He attacked me for one.

I untapped, played Delta into Tropical Island, and cast Fastbond. I played Sea, Gush, Trop, Scroll, Sea, Dryad and passed the turn. He played Mountain, Warchief, and attacked. I blocked the Chief and took three damage.

On turn 5 I cast Yawgmoth’s Will and won with a Berserked 10/10 Dryad.

I made absolutely no sideboarding changes between games, despite feigning a sideboard plan.

Game 2:

He opened game 2 with Badlands. I opened with Delta into Sea, Thoughtseize. I saw:

Goblin Ringleader
Goblin Piledriver
Earwig Squad
Kiki-Jiki, the Mirror Breaker
Goblin Matron

I took Piledriver. Adam had serious mana problems.

Fortunately, he topdecked Goblin Lackey. Fortunately for me, I had Force of Will, which I played pitching Gush.

I played Brainstorm, Delta, and passed. He could do nothing on his turn and I cast Dryad. Again, he played ‘draw, go’ and I played Gush, Brainstorm, and Delta into Sea, Duress, Ponder, and attacked for five. He played Wasteland, but I Vampiric Tutored, played Tropical Island, Lotus, Ancestral Recall, and cast Berserk for the win.


Round 4: Bernie Parial with Tyrant Oath

Once I discovered what my opponent was playing, I was very excited to test this matchup. Believe me, I was disappointed when Bernie opened game 1 with: Sea, Ruby, and then announced that he would be playing a spell on my upkeep.

Damn him for winning the die roll! He played Ancestral Recall and it resolved.
I opened with Sea, Duress, seeing:

Demonic Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Force of Will
Mox Sapphire
Chain of Vapor

Witness an exercise in futility. If I take the Force, he can DT for Oath, drop Mox, and Orchard and play Oath. Alternatively, he can upkeep Vamp for Oath and do the same thing. So I took the Force instead, hoping to throw him off a bit and make him hesitate. It didn’t work. He played Upkeep Vamp, played Orchard and cast Oath.

I played Brainstorm, Strand into Sea, and cast Gush, Ponder, Mox Sapphire, Ponder.

On his third turn, he Oathed up a Tidespout Tyrant and played DT. I Forced it pitching Scroll, even though I had another Gush in hand. At this point, I realized that this guy, and probably most Oath players, weren’t running Flash of Insight. This is a critical error, in my view. They lack the means of straight comboing out without it.

He actually passed the turn to me. I cast Thoughtseize and saw Mox Sapphire, Mox Ruby, and Chain of Vapor. I took the Chain.

He Oathed up the second Tyrant, attacked me for five, played a Mox and bounced my land. I untapped and played a land and Pondered. Unfortunately, at this time he cast a Ponder, then generated a lot of mana with Tormod’s Crypt and Moxen, and then Brain Freezed me.

I made a big mistake that game. I pitched Scroll instead of Gush. I could have Scrolled for Echoing Truth and Truthed his Tyrants with my Moxen! I made the mistake of assuming that once the Oath player Oaths at least twice they will win the game. I forgot that most players aren’t running Flash of Insight. In any case, pitching Scroll over Gush made little sense. I think I was already prepared to lose that game and that is what partly explains my choice.

Even with his turn 1 Ancestral, I had an opportunity to stay in that game.

I resolved to win this match! I sideboarded out a Dryad and a Ponder and brought in two Seals.

Game 2:

I opened game 2 with Mox Sapphire, Ponder, and Underground Sea, pass.

He opened the game with Volcanic Island, Mox Jet, Time Walk. I rarely let that resolve anymore. I Force of Willed his Walk, pitching Gush.

I played Tropical Island and cast Merchant Scroll for Recall, which I played, and Black Lotus.

On his second turn, he Duressed me, and I responded by breaking my Lotus for BBB to cast Vampiric Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will. He Duressed my Berserk. Then he played Brainstorm, Flooded Strand into Tropical Island, Ponder. I was a little bit concerned, but went for it anyway. I played Yawgmoth’s Will and it resolved. I played Lotus, Recall, Ponder, Brainstorm, and Vampiric Tutor for Fastbond and passed the turn.

Unfortunately for me, he played Orchard, played Lotus, sacrificed it for UUU, cast Ponder, Demonic Tutor and played Brain Freeze, making me lose my Fastbond and two more Gushes and two more Scrolls. It didn’t matter. He was spent.

I played turn 4 Ponder, Dryad and Duress. He played draw go. I Scrolled for my last Gush, played it, Duressed him again. He responded with Gush and Brainstorm. I Duressed an Oath and Duressed again, seeing Force, Force, Delta, and Strand, taking a Force. Of course, he had Oath on top of his deck. He played it and I even let it resolve. I just Echoing Truthed it to grow my Dryad, Thoughtseized him, and won with a large Dryad and tokens.

We had to play game 3, but we were very low on time.

He opened game 3 with Underground Sea and Mox Sapphire.

I dropped Underground Sea, Black Lotus, and Duress. He responded with Brainstorm, and played Force of Will pitching Scroll. No wonder. I broke my Lotus and played another Duress. He responded with Ancestral Recall. My Duress resolved this time, and I saw:

Force of Will
Force of Will
Red Elemental Blast
Underground Sea

I took the Brainstorm, obviously.

Turn 2: He played Thoughtseize on me taking my Yawgmoth’s Will. I played Brainstorm, then a Delta into Tropical Island.

On his third turn, he played draw, go. I topdecked Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall. I played Gush, and replayed Sea.

Time was called on my turn. I was still playing for the win.

On his upkeep, I played Ancestral. He Force of Willed me pitching Tyrant, I Forced him back pitching Force. He played draw, go. I played Mox Jet, Duress seeing: Oath of Druids, Red Elemental Blast, Force of Will.

He played Delta and passed. I broke my Delta for a Sea. I played a lame Gush, and he Rebbed me. He took his turn and we drew.

My top cards were Scroll and Seal. The plays we made in the final few turns would not have resembled what really would have happened had we not run out of time, but based upon the situation, both of us in topdeck mode with me having a slight lead in terms of development and card advantage as well as a stacked top of the deck, I am almost certain I would have won this game. As I said at the beginning of this article, GAT is a better topdecker and has more spells to mana. I had the advantage in this game, but I just didn’t have time to seal the deal.

This was a disappointing end to the match.

Record: 2-1-1

Round 5: Kevin with Bomberman

I won the die roll. My opponent won the lottery.

I open with Delta and break it for a basic Island and play Ponder. My opponent opens with Tundra and Black Lotus. I put them on Fish, but that doesn’t make much sense. I had forgotten about Bomberman even though I’ve played against it many times in tournament, including against the people who pioneered it (see my archive).

On turn 2 I play Delta, Brainstorm, and break the Delta for Underground Sea. I play Thoughtseize. Oh boy.

My opponent plays Misdirection pitching Brainstorm. I Force of Will pitching Ponder. He sacrifices the Lotus and plays Mana Drain on my Force of Will! I respond with Gush, but then Thoughtseize resolves on me and I discard a Brainstorm rather than the Yawgmoth’s Will in my hand. The rest of my grip is land. Perhaps playing Gush there wasn’t the best call. Oh well.

My opponent untaps and plays Tundra, Trinket Mage, which finds Tormod’s Crypt. What a beating. Three Mana Drain mana left. He plays a Sensei’s Divining Top and activates it, looking at the top of his deck, and then casts an Aether Spellbomb.

I replay an Underground Sea on my third turn and Duress him. His hand is Plains. He plays the Plains, activates Top and attacks. I can feel my chances of winning diminish with each passing turn. Top is such a monster card. I would run it in GAT if it weren’t so mana intensive. I topdeck Dryad, play Mox Emerald, and cast the dude. He plays draw, attack, go. I cast the Yawgmoth’s Will just to grow the Dryad and he responds by looking at his hand for a moment, almost as if he knows he has a card that answers it, but he can’t find it. No later than a moment passes and he realizes that he has Tormod’s Crypt on board, which he promptly activates. I wish I could say that I let the Crypt resolve and then played a sweet spell, but I didn’t. He did bounce my Dryad though, and then attacked me again. I played Strand and broke it for Tropical Island and cast Dryad again. This time he Topped and played a Spell Snare. He played Strip Mine on my Underground Sea, attacked me again, and passed the turn.

Giving me one last chance to get back in this game, my deck fed me Ancestral Recall on turn 7. He activated the Top, tapped all his mana and played Force of Will. He now had no cards in hand. I had to make him use all of his resources. He attacked me and played Top. And then I topdecked Demonic Tutor. Could I get back in this game? I didn’t know what to find. I ended up getting Gush, and lo and behold I drew into Fastbond and Psychatog. The Fastbond was of little use since my life was so low, but I played it and the Tog anyway. Then he played another Trinket Mage, found Spellbomb, and that was game. I lose.

I had played a slew of Trinket Mage decks on Magic Workstation in preparation for this tournament, and rarely lost. Although this game appears less lopsided on paper than it was in real life, I was confident that I was the likely victor. The question, as always, was time.

Game 2:

My opponent mulligans and I do the same.

I open with Delta into Underground Sea, Thoughtseize. I see:

Sol Ring
Tormod’s Crypt
Aether Spellbomb
Echoing Truth

Garbage. I took the Spellbomb simply because he sees more cards with it.

On his first turn he played Island, Crypt and passed.

On my upkeep I Vamped for Ancestral Recall. I played a Tropical Island and cast Recall on myself. He simply played Plains, Sol Ring and passed.

On my third turn I played Duress and saw: Time Walk, Echoing Truth, and Mox Pearl. I took the Time Walk. He played a Polluted Delta and passed. I could tell that I had this game won, it was just a matter of executing it quickly so that we could move onto the next game.

On my fourth turn I floated a Blue and a Black mana and Gushed. I Duressed him again seeing Echoing Truth, Mox Pearl, and Flooded Strand. My fear at this point is that my sense of urgency will lead me to play sloppy. He plays a Strand.

On my turn, I Echoing Truth is Crypt, Gush, Brainstorm, Fetch, Scroll for Gush, then play Tog. On his turn, he just draws a card and passes. I was holding Force of Will for his Tormod’s Crypt and wondered why he didn’t play it.

On turn 6 I attacked him with Tog for one damage. I played Time Walk, Merchant Scrolled for Mystical Tutor, and on the upkeep of my Time Walk turn, I Mysticaled for Yawgmoth’s Will and promptly won the game.

Game 3:

Kevin plays Polluted Delta. I play Underground Sea and Ponder. On my endstep he fetches up a Tundra and plays Brainstorm.

He plays a Flooded Strand and passes the turn. I play a Delta which I break for Tropical Island.

Time is called. Active Player finish your turn, you have five additional turns.

I play Mox Jet and Duress him. I see:

Tormod’s Crypt
Engineered Explosives
Black Lotus
Echoing Truth
Trinket Mage
Jotun Grunt

I took the Black Lotus.

He plays Tormod’s Crypt. My notes break down a little bit here, but I think what happened is that I responded with Brainstorm and then played Force of Will pitching Ponder. If I was going to win this game in turns, it was going to be on the back of Yawgmoth’s Will. He then played Ancestral Recall and I Forced again. I played Demonic Tutor and passed the turn, hoping to pull out a victory on my penultimate turn. He drew and passed.

I played Black Lotus, then Yawgmoth’s Will, Black Lotus, Delta, Duress, seeing:

Echoing Truth
Spell Snare
Jotun Grunt
Trinket Mage
Engineered Explosives

He just had too many answers between Snare and Echoing Truth. If he only had one of those, I might have been able to pull out a victory here. I could draw a ton of cards, but I wouldn’t be able to keep a win condition down. This situation is the case for Tendrils maindeck! We draw.

Record: 2-1-2

Now I am out of contention. The problem with falling out of contention is that I can never take the matches seriously after that point. I usually drop, but I wanted a little bit more anecdotal information for the tournament on the next day. I decided to play one more round.

Round 6: Kayleigh playing Flash

I had never seen Kayleigh at a Magic tournament before, and she was a very nice opponent. Apparently, I had been paired down as her record was worse than mine at, I think, 2-2-1.

She won the die roll and elected to play first.

She opened with Underground Sea, Mox Emerald, and Ancestral Recall. I Force of Willed it pitching Ponder. She Forced me back pitching Brainstorm. Not a good way to start a match.

She played Mox Sapphire and passed the turn.

I played Delta into Sea, Thoughtseize seeing:

Force of Will
Flooded Strand
Mox Ruby

I took Brainstorm.

She played the Mox and the Strand. I played another Delta into Tropical Island, and Quirion Dryad.

Imagine my surprise when she played Virulent Sliver. On my turn, I Gushed, and played Ponder, Scroll, which she Forced pitching Pact of Negation, and I attacked with the Dryad for 4 damage, sending her to 13 life.

She played Scroll for Echoing Truth which she played on Dryad. I played Mox Sapphire, Strand, another Scroll, which found Recall, which I played on her upkeep.

She just drew a card and passed. I Gushed, Pondered, played Dryad, Brainstormed, and played Mox Emerald and Demonic Tutor. I killed her next turn with Dryad beats.

Game 2:

I sideboarded in Leylines for lord knows what. Not that anyone really cares by this point.

I mulligan a no-land hand into a hand with Leyline and play it on turn 0. She begins with Island, go. I play Mox Sapphire, Ponder. She plays Brainstorm on my endstep.

On her second turn she plays Delta into Sea, Demonic Tutor. I play Flooded Strand for Tropical Island and play Dryad and Gush. At this point, I make a play I would not normally make if this game mattered. I played Ancestral Recall and she had the Misdirection. Ouch! I played Black Lotus and passed the turn.

She played Delta, Tropical Island, Mox Ruby, and Tinkered up Platinum Angel. I played Sea, Duress, then Brainstorm and Time Walk. I wasn’t going to be able to answer her Platinum Angel. I scooped.

I sideboarded in a Seal.

I opened with Sea, Thoughtseize. She Force of Willed it. I played Black Lotus and passed the turn. She played Mox Sapphire, Lotus Petal, and Polluted Delta. Time is called. Ugh. Not again.

I played Tropical Island, Ponder. On my endstep she shot off Ancestral Recall, which resolved. She untapped, and played Tinker off of her land, a Petal, and sacrificing her Mox Sapphire. Now her Pact of Negations would come online. I sort of sighed. She wouldn’t be able to kill me in turns, but I would still like to win this match!

Turn 3 of time: I started digging for cards, but didn’t get very far. I couldn’t find a Time Walk or anything relevant.

Turn 4 of time: She attacks me with Angel.

Turn 5 of time: I play Echoing Truth on her Angel. She plays Pact of Negation. I Gush floating mana, and then Brainstorm. I let her Pact resolve. I play Seal of Primordum. It resolves! I Seal her Angel, killing it. If she had one upkeep, she would be dead! Saved by the bell!

My final record: 2-1-3

Not only did I have three unintentional draws, four of my six matches went to time. If I had played round 1 correctly, it could have easily been a draw as well. What was going on here? Why was I getting so many draws? In almost all of my draws, I had winning board positions. What could I have done differently? This is a question I explore next week as I share my day 2 tournament report.

Until then…

Stephen Menendian