So Many Insane Plays – Tarmogoyf Beats Vintage!

Read Stephen Menendian every Wednesday... at StarCityGames.com!
The recent Vintage Mega-Weekend in Chicago shook the metagame like a Polaroid picture. The Little Lhurgoyf That Could, scourge of many a tournament, finally made its presence felt in the most broken format. Stephen brings us an exhaustive play-by-play of his own tournament performance, and ruminates on the Vintage metagame as it currently stands. Are we entering a Golden Age?

Ach! Hans! It’s the Lhurgoyf!

That could well be the average Vintage player for the next twelve months.

Mike Turian, you can open your eyes now.

Change is in the air. Pretty significant, noteworthy change.

Vintage looks, feels, and plays differently from any time I can remember. One of the most frustrating things about being a Magic commentator, analyst, what-have-you, is that we spout theories designed to be universally applicable, but turn out to be unintentionally context specific. Theories about the metagame, theories about Magic, theories about best decks… every rule seems to find an exception — not through sheer willpower or intentional action, but through the damage of time.

Time changes everything in Magic.

Today and next week, I’m going to report on my SCG Power 9 experience. More than simply a tournament report, this is designed to be a format report — an analysis of what is going on in Vintage, why things are so vibrant and yet so unique.

StarCityGames.com announced what will presumably be the final stop on its Power Nine circuit for 2007, SCG Chicago. In addition, Mystic Gaming announced a Day 2 for the event, making this a double-header in the Veteran’s Day weekend (giving many of us a cushion holiday to relax and recover). Despite being wedged between (that is, the same day as) two major midwestern PTQs, 126 Vintage players trekked to the west side of Chicago to flick old pieces of cardboard.

I was excited to play some pure, unadulterated Vintage, now with Lorwyn. I was curious to see how the metagame would shift and what the format would look like.

Building Grow Post-Lorwyn

It was a foregone conclusion that I’d play Grow again, but the question was how to build it? Some in-person testing against Joe Bushman and a trial run in a local Columbus tournament confirmed that Ponder was amazing. Ponder is something like a one-casting cost Impulse that can shuffle your library. The verdict on Thoughtseize was still out, the jury in prolonged deliberation. Thoughtseize is good, but the question remained: how good? Understanding exactly how much the two life impacted the game was an unanswered question going into this tournament. It would take, in my view, the crucible of a tournament experience filtered through the views of many people to come to some consensus on this question.

As a consequence of my loss to Paulo on the Invitational, I had resolved to run an answer to Empty the Warrens in the mainboard.

Empty the Warrens is deadly for several reasons. First of all, it is an offensive weapon. Empty the Warrens for any appreciable amount can kill you within a few turns. But just as important, it is an uncounterable defensive tactic. Dryads need help getting through a band of small Goblins. The Goblins can stall the ground for some time.

In my testing, games that were “won” were suddenly lost after a topdecked Warrens. If I had a simple answer, most of those wins would have remained in the W column.

As I began considering the problem, the realistic solutions seemed limited:

Maindeck Echoing Truth
Maindeck Empty the Warrens
Maindeck Berserk

At the Invitational, Raphael Levy told me that he thought the correct answer in the mirror was to board in Berserk to fight ETW. Although running a maindeck Berserk is something I’ve done in the past, especially in 2003, they operated in concert with a team of Psychatogs maindeck. With Psychatog, it only takes a Gush and a few more cards for Berserk to go lethal. Without mainboard Psychatogs, Berserk seemed like a limited solution.

I also considered Echoing Truth. Echoing Truth was a card that Rich Shay, another long-time Grow player, had been playing in his GroAtog lists. In fact, Rich told me that he ran a random bounce spell in every one of his decklists. I considered this option, but then settled on Empty the Warrens.

My primary reason was that it would not only solve opposing Empty the Warrens, but it would give me a powerful, uncounterable offensive weapon, both as a follow up to Gush (which is free), but also as a much simpler end-game play once you have played Yawgmoth’s Will and Time Walk than growing a giant Dryad.

A trial run in the local Columbus tournament left me with few doubts that I had the right decklist.

A lengthy phone conversation with Rich Shay led me to second guess some of my choices. The more I thought about the impact of Thorn of Amethyst, the more concerned I became. I called him to ask him what he felt the best answer to Thorn decks was going to be.

My suite of solutions – Ancient Grudge; Rack and Ruin; and Oxidize – seemed less potent against a deck with a mass of Spheres piling up. I needed something offensive.

Rich convinced me to run Tarmogoyf. The reason was simple: it comes into play large. Whereas Quirion Dryad requires follow up spells to make it large, a challenge at best against a Workshop deck packed with Spheres, Tarmogoyf will enter play at a threatening power level. No additional ingredients required. I cut Snuff Out, Oxidize, but then I couldn’t figure out how to make room for the third Goyf.

This led to a conversation about the metagame. Rich said that he believed that performing well would turn on an accurate prediction of the metagame. Rich predicted a lot of Mask decks and I predicted a surge in Workshop decks, using Thorn of Amethyst.

While ETW seems most effective against traditional Stax decks that use Smokestack and Tangle Wires, it seems less effective against Workshop Aggro decks packed to the brim with Spheres. Second, ETW seemed a terrible solution to Phyrexian Dreadnaught. If Rich was right, then perhaps I should move my Echoing Truth to the mainboard over ETW. That would open up the third sideboard slot for the last Goyf. Echoing Truth can bounce Spheres, Dreadnaughts, and opposing ETW. Echoing Truth on Dreadnaught seemed particularly effective given the fact that Dreadnaught often makes its way into play with the aid of Stifle, thanks to recent errata.

Here is what I played on Day 1 of the SCG P9 Mega-Vintage Weekend:

Saturday November 10

126 players are in attendance, meaning only 7 rounds of swiss. Seven rounds of swiss is fine, but I prefer the full eight rounds. Most of the big Vintage events seem to hover around 120-130 players, including all of the recent Vintage World Championships. When you go into 8 rounds, though, the X-1-1 is almost always guaranteed to make it into Top 8. When you play only seven rounds with a number that approaches the 8 round mark, there are going to be more people X-1-1 vying for Top 8 positions, causing more players to get cut out of elimination rounds on tie-breakers.

Pairings are announced. I hear well-wishing and shouts of good luck as people shuffle to their seats.

Round 1: Paul Mastriano playing GroAtog

I take my seat to find myself sitting across from a familiar face at the front of the room.
Paul Mastriano is one of my closest buddies. When the thought first entered my head to submit articles to SCG back in 2002, I was convinced that I had insightful things to say, but didn’t think people would want to read them, so I asked Paul to co-author the first few articles I wrote for this site (scroll into my article archive to view).

He’s also the creator of Type Four and a close teammate. Being paired against Paul out of 126 is unfortunate, but it happens. In the time I’ve been on the Vintage circuit, close teammate pairings occur at all stages of the tournament. I can recall when Marc Perez (PTW) and his teammate Shane Stoots (Triple S) drew in the first round of the trial-run SCG sponsored Vintage tournament back in 2004. Marc ended up winning that tournament. I’ve drawn with teammates before and it’s not something I generally regret. If you don’t make it, you don’t make it. Hindsight is always 20/20.

We have a team policy drawn up for situations like this, and the general rule is not to draw since a win gives the team 3 points and a draw gives the team only 2 points. But it didn’t matter to me. I told Paul the choice was his. Paul thought about it and decided to draw. We wished to play the match for fun, to sharpen our skills at the beginning of the tournament.

Game 1:

I win the die roll and elect to play. I keep a one-land hand that had double Force of Will, Misdirection, Duress, and Merchant Scroll.

On turn 1 I play Tropical Island and Paul plays Underground Sea.

On turn 2, Paul plays another land and leads with Quirion Dryad.

I topdeck an Underground Sea and cast Duress. Paul hesitates and then shows me his grip:

Quirion Dryad
Yawgmoth’s Will
Merchant Scroll
Merchant Scroll
Ancestral Recall

Which card should I select for Paul to discard?

Taking Yawgmoth’s Will, arguably the most powerful card, is premature. If I can stay ahead in terms of card advantage and counterpower, his Yawgmoth’s Will won’t ever resolve.

Since I’m holding Misdirection, I don’t really want to take his Ancestral Recall. By not selecting it, he can choose to think that it’s a bluff, and walk into my Misdirection, or he can wait to play Ancestral. Either way, it helps me out.

Although there is a slight tempo loss associated with it, the Gush is the card that has the potential to put him ahead and aide both the resolution of Ancestral and Will and grow Dryad. I could take Ancestral, but Gush helps him protect his Will, should he get there, then taking Ancestral accomplished nothing. But if I take Gush, he loses his most efficient draw spell and will be forced to rely on Scrolls to find counterspells — a losing tactical counter-plan.

I end up taking Gush.

He plays Tarmogoyf as expected on his second turn.

I draw my second Misdirection and play Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall. My plan is to drop Dryad and Recall myself next turn.

When he goes to play Scroll, I play Force of Will pitching Misdirection, to prevent him from Gushing and to signal to him that I might not have Misdirection anymore. He springs my trap. His next play is Ancestral Recall into my second Misdirection. After resolving my own Ancestral, I have the tools to just combo out using Fastbond and Yawgmoth’s Will. When I play Yawgmoth’s Will the turn after next, he just scoops.

Game 2:

I sideboard in two Red Elemental Blasts and Volcanic Island and sideboard out Vampiric Tutor, a Quirion Dryad, and Island.

Paul opened game 1 with a Duress of his own. Seeing no Force of Wills, he took my Duress.

I promptly topdecked another Duress and he revealed:

Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Cunning Wish

This is a much more difficult choice. If I take the Fastbond, I’m preventing him from just going off with Gush, but the Gush will still probably dig him deep enough to keep him in this game. If I take Gush, on the other hand, that will temporarily neuter Fastbond until he can topdeck into another Gush or a tutor to find Gush. It’s a close call, but I went with the wrong choice. I took Gush. Although he played draw, go for one turn, he promptly punished me for my decision by topdecking a Gush, which drew a Merchant Scroll, which enabled him to explode in my face. After Gushing once, he Vampiric Tutored for Yawgmoth’s Will and his life steadily dropped from 15 to 6 as he comboed out replaying Gushes many times over, growing a monstrous Quirion Dryad. Midway through his Will turn, I scooped to him.

Game 3:

We begin this game with mere minutes left in the round.

This time, I begin the game with turn 1 Thoughtseize. I see:

Quirion Dryad
Quirion Dryad
Mox Emerald
Lotus Petal
Ancestral Recall
Flooded Strand

I take Ancestral Recall.

Paul plays Island, Emerald, and Quirion Dryad.

On turn 2, I play Brainstorm, throwing back some chaff which I shuffle away with a Fetchland.

On his second turn, Paul attacks me to 16 and plays a second Quirion Dryad and a fetchland.

I Duress Paul and take any remaining business.

On his third turn, Paul draws dead and attacks me with two Dryads, sending me to 14.

On my fourth turn, I float UB and Gush. I play Brainstorm, fetchland and search out another land, going to 13. I then Ponder and burn one mana, going to 12.

Paul attacks me for two, sending me to 10.

Time is called during Paul’s fourth turn.

On his endstep, I Cunning Wish for Vampiric Tutor. I decide not to play it just yet, as I want to play my Dryad first.

Ironically, I draw Imperial Seal for the turn. I play Quirion Dryad and then Imperial Seal for Time Walk.

Paul plays Ponder, which I Force of Will to prevent his Dryads from growing any larger. I am at 7 life. He attacks me for 4, sending me to 3 life.

I draw the Time Walk I tutored for and play it. My Dryad gets larger. I then Vampiric Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will. My Dryad is now a 4/4. I swing at Paul, sending him to 15, and take my next turn.

It’s now turn 4 of additional turns.

I finally cast Yawgmoth’s Will. I play Gush, replay a land, and Time Walk. My Dryad is now larger, and attacks for 7 damage.

I untap, turn 5 of turns, play a single spell, and my Dryad attacks for the rest of Paul’s life.

I’m sure things would have played out differently if we had not agreed to draw, but both of us are emboldened by the match and feel better prepared to win out.


Round 2: Forino Black

I recognize my opponent, one of the many Magic enthusiasts that show up to these events. I distinctly recall him milling around the top tables of Grand Prix: Columbus when I was playing in the final rounds, but I don’t think he was in the competition. He struck up conversation with me then, but I don’t remember his name.

He is on the play.

He opens with Bazaar of Baghdad, which signals to me that he is probably playing Ichorid.

I resolve to find out. I play turn 1 Duress and I see:

Echoing Truth
Tendrils of Agony
Dark Ritual
Dark Confidant

He’s playing Forino Black — the deck that Vinnie Forino played at the Vintage World Championship to a Top 4 finish.

The Bazaar engine is most effectively neutered by discard spells and kept in check by simple countermagic. Once he gets below three cards in hand, Bazaar will be functionally limited.

At this time, I’m wishing my Duress was Thoughtseize so I could take Dark Confidant. I snag the Dark Ritual. I’m happy with that choice. The Dark Ritual would give him turn 2 Dark Confidant and fuel Tendrils of Agony. One of the key plays against Forino Black is to cut off its ability to play Tendrils by countering Rituals anyway.

On his turn he draws a card and activates Bazaar discarding Echoing Truth, and two other cards I hadn’t seen. He plays Mox Jet and Swamp and casts Dark Confidant. I have no answer.

I continue to develop my board and position on my second turn.

He reveals a Tendrils of Agony with Bob and breaks a fetchland for Underground Sea, sending him to 15. He attacks me to 18.

I play a Quirion Dryad and he no longer seems interested in attacking me.

I Duress him again and take something, but I become aware of a Demonic Consultation in his hand.

But I have Vampiric Tutor in hand. He plays Cabal Therapy and misses. He flashes it back and I respond by Vampiric Tutor.

Knowing that if he Consults for Yawgmoth’s Will and does not have Will in his top 6 cards, he’ll win the game, I stray from my plan of Vamping for Ancestral and find Duress instead.

I don’t know much about this player. I do not know whether he is risk averse or not. I don’t know if that’s the sort of play he would even think of. I can’t expose myself to a game loss here simply because I want to assume my opponent is a bad player.

I Duress and take his Demonic Consultation.

This play slows down the game even more. Rather than pushing me ahead, it has the effect of keeping a rough parity. I attack with a 3/3 Dryad.

I topdeck Merchant Scroll. I Scroll for Cunning Wish and Berserk him with exactly enough damage to kill him.

Game 2:

I overthink myself and bring in two Pithing Needles for Bazaars. Those Needles somehow find their way into my hand in spite of multiple attempts to get rid of them. I also bring in a Fire/Ice.

My opponent opens the game with a fetchland and then another. Although I have the option of playing turn 1 Pithing Needle, Needling a fetchland seems like the wrong play. I end up Brainstorming, breaking a fetchland, Brainstorming again. I put back two Pithing Needles with the first Brainstorm only to Brainstorm into one again. I put it back and Ponder on turn 3, only to shuffle my library and draw the Pithing Needle again.

On his third turn, he breaks his fetchlands and plays another land to cast Grim Tutor, sending him to 15 life.

On his fourth turn, he plays Demonic Consultation for Duress. He Duresses my Force of Will and then Cabal Rituals Necropotence onto the board. He thinks for some time, but then decides to Necro for 6.

I have in my hand more mana, Force of Will, and Pithing Needle.

It’s difficult to picture, but I could win this game. If I Needle his Necro and manage to Force the right spell, I could lock him in the game. He won’t be able to draw any more cards. The question is: does he have the Tutor he needs in his new hand?

He has. He opens with Cabal Ritual, which I promptly Force of Will.

He plays another land and casts another Cabal Ritual. This one resolves. With BBBBB he plays Demonic Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will, plays a land, replays the Rituals in his graveyard, and is on the verge of just killing me when I scoop.

When he played Necro, there were almost eight minutes left in the round. By the time I scooped, we were almost to three.

Game 3:

When we finally shuffle up for game 3, he mulligans. That leaves us about a minute for game 3. Only a few turns into the game, time is called.

I come to the realization that I can’t win this game. I’m racing, trying to assemble the combo, but the wrong pieces keep popping up. If I had a few more turns, I think I could pull it off. But it was not to be. Time expires and turns end.

I considered scooping when he played Necro in game 2, but it seemed to me that I had a realistic chance of locking him out. He only had two cards in his hand when he resolved Necro, and he only added 6 new cards. I would have saved over 5 minutes of time.

Sitting in the double draw bracket after round 2 is not ideal, but I feel confident that I can win out.


Round 3: Brennan playing GroAtog

Brennan is part of the Colorado crew. I had never met Brennan before, but he seemed very cool. I was paired down, apparently. Brennan is 0-2.

Game 1:

Brennan opens Tropical Island.

I open with my characteristic Duress and he response with Brainstorm. He reveals:

Quirion Dryad
Force of Will
Imperial Seal

Everyone in Vintage knows how good Duress is, and, before too long, everyone will be aware of how good Thoughtseize is as well. But it isn’t simply about being disruptive. It’s about planning. The information you get is critical.

Duress gives you an opportunity to map out your opponent’s options and develop a counter-tactical line of play. It gives you a sense of control, almost dominance, in many scenarios.

Much of what Vintage players fight over, play over, agonize over, strain themselves trying to evaluate, weigh, and balance is uncertainty. In a format like Vintage, close, virtually unquantifiable costs and benefits are used at every point to evaluate and determine lines of play. Duress is one of the very best cards in Vintage. It not only gives you the critical information you need to optimize those decisions, it takes the best card. It is offensive and defensive. It is role sensitive, and it’s powerful.

The more experienced you become at Vintage, the more information Duress provides. For instance, from this hand I am able to deduce quite a bit. I am able to make inferences based upon what I see that greatly aide me in my decision-making process.

For example, he probably doesn’t have Black mana. When playing Brainstorm on turn 1, particularly in the situation Brennan was in, you generally put your best card on top of your library. If he had any Black mana, such as an Underground Sea or a Polluted Delta, I would see it. If he had Lotus, for instance, he would have played it to fuel Duress, Duress, and Imperial Seal. If he had Mox Jet, the same. That means that Brennan is in trouble. Unless he has a shuffle effect on top, such as a Merchant Scroll, he will be drawing dead for the next two turns.

Second, if he has a spell on top, it’s probably Blue. He needs a cantrip or a Blue spell to dig for Black mana. His only Blue card is his Force. Clearly, development matters more than preventing me from comboing out right now, if I were to have “the nuts.”

Finally, he probably put the least useful card second from the bottom. That means that if I can stop his second turn play, I may be able to put him into a dead draw on his third turn.

What you don’t know is that I have a second Duress in hand. If there is one thing better than one Duress, it’s two. Duress is a card whose marginal utility is quite positive.

I take Duress. My second Duress will discover what he’s been hiding. His Force of Will is not concerning. His Imperial Seal is not worrisome either. If he manages to draw into a Black mana source, chances are that he’ll Duress me first, delaying his opportunity to Seal further down the line. He won’t be able to take advantage of the card he Seals into until a turn after that either.

Turn 2:

On his second turn he plays the Island and Quirion Dryad.

I play turn 2 Duress. I see what it was he was hiding.

It was Ancestral Recall. That’s about the best card he could have been concealing on top of his library.

I have to question his play of turn 2 Dryad. Let’s consider your options if you were in his position:

You know your next card. You have two options: Play Quirion Dryad or play Ancestral Recall. If you play Ancestral and I have Misdirection, you just lose. If I have Force of Will, you don’t lose, but you’d rather have me Force it with a Dryad on the table. If he plays Dryad, there is a very low chance I’d counter it. Given the difficult position I put Brennan in, I tend to think that playing turn 2 Ancestral is better play, but it’s a tough call. There aren’t clear right or wrong answers in situations like this. What comes into the decision-making matrix is a mix of experience, intuition, tactical skill, and forward thinking.

I Duress his Ancestral Recall and pass the turn back.

Turn 3:

On his third turn, he belatedly draws a card already seen, on account of turn 1 Brainstorm.

He attacks for one and passes the turn.

It’s time to set up my defense. I play a Mox Ruby and Tropical Island and play Quirion Dryad. I play Brainstorm seeing Vampiric Tutor. I put back some unnecessary mana with the intention of playing Vampiric Tutor to shuffle my deck and put Ancestral Recall on top. I leave open my Underground Sea so I can play Vampiric Tutor at my leisure.

Turn 4:

On his fourth turn, he topdecks a fetchland. There it is. It’s probably too late, of course.

Think about Brennan’s position. He opened with what appeared to be a solid hand. He had control elements, aggro elements, and even some tutoring and draw (as you’ll see the card he placed below Ancestral was Vampiric Tutor). What it needed to come together was a single Black mana. These decks appear so robust, but they turn on a cheapskate manabase. Brennan’s turn 1 Brainstorm must have been a heartbreaker. He knew that he’d be a sitting duck for the first three turns.

This is a great illustration of the power of Ponder in GAT. If Brennan had turn 1 Ponder instead of Brainstorm, he wouldn’t have been in this position. This is one of the situations in which Ponder is preferable.

Brennan’s fetchland finds Underground Sea. Out of his array of one-mana Black spells, Brennan decides to play Duress. This is probably the most sensible play. While Brennan desperately needs to advance his own game plan, he needs information to optimize his choices. Duress does that. It also nabs my best card. He is probably a bit surprised that my hand isn’t stronger. I haven’t been able to quite capitalize on his misfortune.

In response to his Brainstorm, I play Vampiric Tutor for Ancestral Recall. He looks at my hand and takes my Brainstorm.

A steady stream of Black spells will now make their way to the stack unless I can capitalize on his misfortune now. Unfortunately, I Ancestral Recall into little of immediate use. I see another Duress, and fire it off. I take his duplicate Duress, seeing Vampiric Tutor now in hand. At this point I become aware of the fact that he must have Brainstormed on turn 1 into the Vamp.

Turn 5:

On his fifth turn, he plays Imperial Seal, opting to play that over his Vampiric Tutor. Brennan is at 17 life.

I Ponder into the fourth Duress. When I play Duress, Brennan checks my graveyard to see whether all four Duresses have now been played. Indeed that have. Note, however, Thoughtseize is in my deck somewhere.

It appears that Merchant Scroll is now in hand with Vampiric Tutor. I take the Scroll. No sense in nabbing Vamp since he just Imperial Sealed.

Turn 6:

Brennan draws his card and considers his options. He elects to defer, hoping, evidently, to try to find a way to piece together a solution to this mess of a game. Too little, too late.

On his endstep, I Mystical Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will. I have the Fastbond in hand. It’s time to win. I play the Yawgmoth’s Will and respond with Gush. I play Fastbond and then Ancestral Recall. I Gush. I replay two lands and another going to 14 life.

I play four lands dropping from 14 to 10 life. I Mystical Tutor for Time Walk, Gush into Time Walk, play it. From there, it is merely a formality. I Cunning Wish for Berserk and we shuffle up.

Game 2:

I sideboard in some Red Elemental Blasts.

My opening hand is robust:

Polluted Delta
Merchant Scroll
And one other card I don’t recall

Unfortunately, my notes are incomplete, but based upon what I’ve pieced together, Brennan opened Lotus, Quirion Dryad, and Time Walk. Untap, attack me for 2.

I think I played turn 1 Duress on Brennan, and my notes indicate that he revealed:

Cunning Wish

Obviously, I took Duress. His hand must have been garbage.

On turn 2 he attacks me for two more.

I do recall that I played turn 2 Ponder, on the draw, and based upon what I drew, I wished that I had Brainstormed. I made the sound play, but my top cards were just busted.

On his turn, he attacks me for two more, sending me to 13.

At this point, my notes have my life decreasing in one point increments from 12 to 1, which means, I just comboed out. I recall playing Fastbond and Gushing. I drew into the Yawgmoth’s Will and easily won the game.


Round 4: Aggro Workshop

My opponent wins the die roll. He mulligans to 6 and begins the game with turn 1 Mishra’s Workshop, Mox Pearl, Juggernaut.

My hand is slow, but effective. I am holding:

Flooded Strand
Tropical Island
Echoing Truth
Merchant Scroll
Cunning Wish

My first turn simply consists of me playing Flooded Strand and passing the turn. In case you are curious, the basic rationale for this play has to do with the possibility that he has Strip Mine or Wasteland. If I fetch out Island immediately and he has a Strip Mine, I won’t get to use my Island twice. If he doesn’t have Strip Mine or play a Wasteland, perhaps I’ll want to get an Underground Sea. I can optimize my land selection by getting more information first.

He attacks me to 15 and plays Ancient Tomb.

On his endstep, I break my fetchland for Island and play Brainstorm. I Brainstorm into Mox Emerald, Library of Alexandria, and Quirion Dryad.

I untap and play Library. I draw Gush. I play Mox Emerald and cast Merchant Scroll for Force of Will. Part of the rationale is that I want to be able to Dryad plus Echoing Truth next turn if necessary, but stop any huge bomb he might play.

On his third turn, he attacks me to 9 life. He Strip Mines my Library, probably a mistake, although it would continue to draw me cards, and I have another Blue source to play Echoing Truth if it came to that.

I play Tropical Island and Quirion Dryad. I drew Brainstorm for the turn. Rather than Gush, Brainstorm and trade men, I decide to suck up five more points of damage and then ride this Dryad to victory.

I untap, Gush, and play Brainstorm seeing Fastbond. I Gush again, replay the lands, and Ponder. I Duress him. My Dryad is now 6/6. He attacks his Juggernaut into my Dryad, and next turn I Cunning Wish for Berserk and win the game.

Game 2:

I sideboard in 3 Tarmogoyf, 1 Volcanic Island, 1 Ancient Grudge, 1 Rack and Ruin, 1 Fire/Ice and 2 Pithing Needle for 3 Duress, 2 Quirion Dryad, 2 Misdirections, 1 Pyroblast, and 1 Imperial Seal.

He opens with Ancient Tomb, Sol Ring, and Sword of Fire and Ice. I am not terribly concerned by this play.

My opening hand is broken:

Mox Emerald
Black Lotus
Merchant Scroll
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand

I play Mox Emerald, Fastbond, both fetchlands (from which I find Tropical Island and Underground Sea), Quirion Dryad, Gush, Ponder, Brainstorm, two more lands, and another Dryad. I crack Lotus to Scroll for Ancestral Recall and Ancestral myself. I end the turn with a 6/6 and 3/3 Dryad.

He plays Solemn Simulacrum. I Force of Will it, pitching Cunning Wish. This was more a tempo play. Although Berserk can win me the game, I don’t want him see more cards with Sword of Fire and Ice.

He Wastelands my Underground Sea. There goes my turn 2 Yawgmoth’s Will.
My hand is Thoughtseize, Duress, and Mystical Tutor.

Fortunately, I topdeck Ponder, which I play and see Mox Jet. I take the Jet and Thoughtseize him, seeing Duplicate, which I take.

I attack him. He looks at his next card and scoops.

This match was supposed to be an informative match, telling me what works and what doesn’t against Workshops. My sideboard never really came into play. Thoughtseize, however, proved its worth in spades, winning me game 2 where Duress would not.


Round 5: Kyle with Hulk Flash Combo

Game 1:

I had seen this opponent playing a frustrating match against a Fish-type deck in round 2. So, I knew he was on Flash. To be honest, I was more concerned about this match than I let on.

I knew there was good chance I’d be knocked out of the tournament here.

The die roll remains important, not so much for the match per se, but for my ability to win game 1.

Game 1 is not favorable for GAT. While it’s not that bad — probably around 56-44 or so, winning game 1 is a huge boon in the matchup. The problem is actually tactics. Your only real answer is 4 Force of Will. Force of Wills do not match up well against 4 Force of Will and 4 Pact of Negations. If you can survive past the first few turns, especially turn 2, Flash can’t really win. The absolute best tactic that can get you to turn three is to be on the play and have Duress. In the Flash matchup, Duress and Duress-type effects like Thoughtseize, lose much of their potency on the draw. There are two primary reasons for this. First and foremost, Flash could just win first before you have a turn to play Duress. Second, cards like Brainstorm can hide the most important Duress target.

I was disappointed to lose the die roll.

We shuffle and cut and I draw into a hand that has Force of Will, Mystical Tutor, Duress, and lands.

He opens with Black Lotus. I suppose if I were going to Force a card, Black Lotus isn’t a bad one to counter… if this were a Storm deck. He cracks Black Lotus for UUU and plays Merchant Scroll, finding Flash. He plays Summoner’s Pact for Protean Hulk. All of the components are now in play… but does he have the land? Of course.

He plays Flash. I respond with Force of Will, only to have him play Pact of Negation. He discards the Hulk, searches his library for some Virulent Slivers and a Heart Sliver and kills me on turn 1.

Game 2:

I boarded three Red Blasts, the Volcanic Island, and Fire/Ice and sided out a Dryad, Imperial Seal, Island, and something else.

I begin with Mox Sapphire to fuel Ponder. My opening hand does not have Force of Will. I don’t see a Force of Will or a Duress, so I shuffle the junk away. I play Underground Sea and play Thoughtseize.

Here’s what I see:

Merchant Scroll
Black Lotus
Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Flooded Strand

I was surprised to see the Tarmogoyf. I was actually nervous about it. Tarmogoyf is actually a smart sideboard choice. I boarded out all but three creatures. If his Goyf sticks, he can do some serious damage while I sit on a billion counterspells.

I was shocked when he didn’t play turn 1 Goyf. Instead, he Brainstormed. I don’t think he Scrolled here, but I could be wrong. I’m not even sure he played Black Lotus.

On turn 2 I Brainstorm and break a fetchland for Volcanic Island, holding up Red Elemental Blast.

On turn 2, I at least expect Goyf to come down, but no Goyf joins the table. He must have shuffled it away. He begins digging again, but doesn’t seem to get anywhere. He passes the turn back.

On turn 3, I play a Mox and Gush floating UB. I play Merchant Scroll and cast Ancestral Recall.

He apparently does nothing relevant. There may have been a brief skirmish between us, in which I came out on top, but no Flash was cast this game.

On turn 4 I Duress him and see Virulent Sliver and Flooded Strand. This game is over shortly thereafter. I think he scooped shortly after I resolved Yawgmoth’s Will.

Game 3:

Game 3 is much closer. My opening hand has Force of Will and Duress. He mulligans to 6, I believe.

He opens with land, go.

On my first turn, I Duress to see what he’s holding. He reveals:

Summoner’s Pact
Merchant Scroll
Underground Sea

I obviously took the Scroll.

He evidently realized that turn 2 Goyf might be his best strategy right now. So he went for it.

I slowly developed my hand without having to really put up much resistance to him. I Brainstormed and tutored for the next few turns while he beat me down with Goyf, first from 18 to 15, and then to 9 on turn 4. On turn 4 I finally managed put it all together. It wasn’t pretty. I started Gushing with Fastbond and finally found a Dryad before I had used up most of my draw spells and life. I only had 9 life, and I had to piece together a Dryad, a Time Walk, and then Berserk for enough to kill him. I ended the game at 2 life. Time was called while I was in my Yawgmoth’s Will turn, and I managed to kill him in my Time Walk turn, the first turn of additional turns.

I let out a sigh of relief at the end of that drive.


Round 6: Ben Perry with Storm Combo

The last time I played Ben Perry in tournament, he was the first victim to the Doomsday device.

I watched Ben knock Paul out of the tournament in the previous round, so I know what I’m up against.

Game 1:

I was fortunate to win the game – I mean die roll – in this match. We shuffle up as extensively as combo and control players are want to do in Vintage and we draw. I elect to keep my hand and the game begins.

My hand is somewhat convoluted. I have Mox, Fetchland, dual land, Time Walk, Duress, Imperial Seal, and two other cards. I could play turn 1 Time Walk, then Duress and Imperial Seal. Alternatively, I could Duress, and then play Imperial Seal and Time Walk on turn 2. That’s the plan I selected.

I play turn 1 Duress, seeing:

Force of Will
Force of Will
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Lotus Petal
Volcanic Island

I can understand the impulse behind keeping a hand like this. It either turns incredible within the space of two turns, or it sinks to hell.

I took one of his Duresses. I knew that I would be Duressed as a return favor, but there was no stopping that. That’s what happened.

For some reason, I seem to remember him taking my Time Walk, although that doesn’t make much sense in retrospect. Ben is a solid player, so I’m sure he took something better. Yet my notes indicate that I managed to Imperial Seal for Ancestral and resolve it.

Two turns later, I Vampiric Tutored for Yawgmoth’s Will. It’s a modest Will, as far as Wills go — more of an overpowered Regrowth, but it gets the job done. I resolve Ancestral Recall, replay a fetchland, and Duress him again. At this point, my hand is now at nearly 7 cards against his depleted grip. The following turn I drop Dryad onto the table and successive draw spells. It’s all a formality, but I kill him two turns later.

This is one example of the power of Yawgmoth’s Will. I set up a quick and dirty Yawgmoth’s Will with limited resources. Winning in a match like this requires speed and a quick execution. You cannot give your opponent an opportunity to draw their way out with, say, Empty the Warrens. If I had tried to build up to a large Will, I might not have had the overwhelming power to keep him in check.

Game 2:

Ben seems happy with his hand. He opens with Fetchland, Brainstorm. He then passes the turn.

I am pleased to begin this game with Thoughtseize. My opening hand has Thoughtseize and Force of Will.

I see:

Mox Emerald
Force of Will
Mana Crypt
Dark Ritual

The key here is to figure out what his plan is. He’s bottlenecked in some critical ways. First of all, his mana is bad. He lacks Red, which is good. That means I won’t be facing Empty the Warrens anytime soon. His mana is Dark Ritual and colorless. His key bombs that he might have saved on top could be: Yawgmoth’s Bargain or Necropotence. Unfortunately, for him, he can’t protect either spell if I take his Force. Similarly, if he tries to play Fact or Fiction, Tinker, or Gifts Ungiven, none of those spells can resolve if I take his Force.

I take his Force of Will and resolve to follow up with more Duresses soon.

He Duresses my Force of Will and passes the turn back.

On my second turn I Brainstorm, play and crack a fetchland.

He plays Mana Crypt, Repeal on his Mana Crypt, and Sol Ring.

I take no chances, I Scroll for Force of Will.

From this point, I keep him reigned in. When he has mana, I find ways to Duress his spells. When he has spells, I manage to counter them with Red Blast and Force of Will. Once my Dryad hits the table, his life drops from 19 to 17, then to 15, then to 12, and then to dead.


Round 7: Workshops — Old School Stax

I am sitting at 4-0-2. A win here will safely catapult me into the Top 8. Due to my odd position with 14 points, I am paired against a player with two losses, safely keeping him out of Top 8, however, within striking range of a Top 16 prize award.

I explain the situation to my opponent, politely asking him to scoop me into the Top 8. He explains that even though he reads all of my articles and enjoys my work, he does not wish to scoop. I sense hesitation in his stance, or at least some equivocation, so I press forward, asking one more time. His answer remains the same. Top 16 is awarded prizes ranging from foreign black bordered dual lands to Juzam Djinn. I was unaware of this fact.

We shuffle up to play.

Game 1:

Game 1 is an unmitigated disaster. I happen to know what he is playing. In the previous round, he was paired against Tommy Kolowith and opened a game with turn 1 Mana Crypt, City of Brass, Timetwister. Our shared impression was that he was playing Grim Long, but when he followed that play with a Crucible of Worlds and Wasteland, it dawned on us that he was playing Stax with a more robust complement of Draw7s, something missing from the archetype since its inception in 2003.

In 2003, Stax was a much different animal. I co-wrote one of the seminal articles introducing “Stax” to the Vintage audience. Stax was initially developed as a solution to the Gush-infested metagame that existed in the first half of 2003. The idea behind the spate of draw7s stems from the very different way that Stax was designed to operate. Stax today achieves a lock, hard or soft, from running highly disruptive lock components powered out quickly by Mishra’s Workshop. Much of this is a product of the impact of Mirrodin block (Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, and Crucible of Worlds had yet to see print).

Stax of 2003 had to hang its hat entirely on just a few key lock components, namely 4 Sphere of Resistance, 4 Smokestacks, and 4 Tangle Wires, with Goblin Welder as backup protection. When you think about building a deck, that’s not that many cards to rely on. To compensate and to ensure a quick lock, Stax decks were packed with explosive draw7s and Meditates. In that way, Stax was a much different animal. The end of the typical Stax matchup in mid 2003 featured a board just full of permanents. Ideally, you played your Tangle Wires and Spheres to prevent your opponents from countering your draw, which then got you more lock parts. It wasn’t uncommon to have 2-3 Spheres, 2-3 Tangle Wires, and multiple Smokestacks on the board at any given time near the end of the game. The draw7s also facilitated Welders by discarding cards you lack mana to play. Most importantly, your draw7s eventually find Memory Jar. With Jar and active Welders, you basically just siphon through your deck until you find Tolarian Academy. Once you play Academy, it tapped for roughly 12-15 Blue mana, which you then use to completely lock up the board with the remaining lock components, irrespective of how many Spheres were actually on board. In that sense, Stax of 2003 was viewed more as a combo deck. You just build your board to a critical mass and then swing with a lethal Karn army in one fell swoop.

The printing of cards from Mirrodin changed the Stax archetype forever in some indelible ways. Trinisphere left its mark, but was eventually restricted. Although Stax type decks were upper tier performers in 2004, often on the back of Trinisphere, they never really seemed to break through into the very top level of archetype performers. For instance, although Trinisphere decks made up half of the Top 8 at the Vintage World Championship in 2004, the winner was Control Slaver, a deck that generally had its way with Trinisphere decks. Oddly enough, the card that is most strongly correlated to a strong persistent Stax performance and led to a banner year of Stax in 2004 is Crucible of Worlds. Crucible provides Workshop decks with stability, consistency, and a crucial offensive weapon. It essentially replaced Goblin Welder as the key complement to an active Smokestack. Smokestack set at one can be supported indefinitely with a Crucible in play. Crucible plus Wasteland recursion is also a huge weapon in the Stax arsenal. It also provides inevitability when Strip Mine is finally dug up. Strip Mine recursion is one of the most deadly forces in Vintage once it is operational.

The removal of Draw7s from Stax is partly a consequence the abundance of lock components today, but it is also a feature of the fact that when you move to a Crucible-based Workshop deck, you want essentially every card to be a permanent. A Smokestack set at one can remain in play essentially the entire game if your deck is almost entirely permanents. A draw7 gives your opponent a new hand when you may not actually have a lock on the game. In addition, draw7s are more deadly in an environment in which most decks can combo with Tendrils or Empty the Warrens, given a new hand.

Back to the match…

My opponent wins the die roll and elects to play first. His opening play of Mox Ruby, Mana Crypt, Mishra’s Workshop, Crucible of Worlds is not alarming, until he plays Wheel of Fortune. Unfortunately, I am without Force of Will. My hand, roughly, was Mox Ruby, Polluted Delta, Island, Ponder, Duress, and cards of that type. My new hand does not look significantly different except that all that I am capable of doing on turn 1 is playing a land and a Duress. Boy, was I screwed.

I saw:

Sphere of Resistance
Sphere of Resistance
Time Walk, I think
Sol Ring
Strip Mine
Crucible of Worlds

My fate is sealed when it is revealed that his new hand produced for him multiple Sphere of Resistance and, most importantly, a Strip Mine — all of which join the board. My win condition, at this point, becomes Mana Crypt. I manage to win some Crypt flips, but he topdecks Gorilla Shaman in time.

I look into my sideboard and bring in 3 Tarmogoyfs, Ancient Grudge, Rack and Ruin, 2 Pithing Needles, Fire/Ice, and Volcanic Island. I sideboard out 2 Quirion Dryads, 2 Misdirections, 3 Duress, Pyroblast and Cunning Wish.

Game 2:

Game 2 features an inauspicious start to a very odd game.

I begin with an Underground Sea and pass the turn.

He opens with Mox, land, Gorilla Shaman.

I play turn 2 Brainstorm and then Pithing Needle on Gorilla Shaman. It’s not that Needling Shaman is relevant or matters, but any Pithing Needle I want to play in the future will be of little use if his Shaman is able to gobble it away.

Imagine my surprise when drops a turn 2 Arcane Laboratory.

This play doesn’t seem particularly strong for him. A plan develops in mind. I should be able to stop the most relevant threats with Forces and Scroll for Forces and find ways to play cards when I’m not countering his spells.

He attacks me with Shaman, sending me to 19 life.

I now have several options. My hand has two Merchant Scrolls, Ponder, and Tarmogoyf. My hope with turn 2 Brainstorm was that I’d find a Tropical Island or a Fetchland. I did not. I now have Volcanic Island and another Underground Sea.

I need to figure out the best plan.

I play the Volcanic Island and play Merchant Scroll for Force of Will.

He plays something which I cannot recall, but I believe I Force. He then attacks me with Gorilla Shaman to 17. He also Wastelands one of my lands.

I play Black Lotus instead of my second Scroll. The reason is that I need to get my Goyf into play. However, I see that it is an obvious mistake. On his next turn, this mistake is exploited.

On turn 4, he plays Tinker, finding Platinum Angel. I am relieved when he merely Tinkers for Platinum Angel. Sundering Titan would be larger than my Goyf and nuke my mana.

I break my Lotus and play Tarmogoyf. I burn one mana, going to 15.

On turn 5, he attacks me just with the Platinum Angel. He plays a City of Traitors and passes the turn. He has five mana available at this point and tries to play Trike. I inform him that he is one mana short.

I play a fetchland and break it. My life dips to 10.

I attack him with my six-power Goyf, sending him to 14.

I am not exactly sure what I did here. My notes don’t make perfect sense, and I’m sure there is something missing. I recall playing some cantrips, probably Ponder.

On turn 6, he attacks me with Shaman and Platinum Angel, sending me to 5. I Force of Will his Trike.

I untap and Scroll for Echoing Truth, but it is too late and I don’t have enough mana to play it. I only have three lands on the table.

There are some small gaps in my notes that disrupt the narrative, so it’s difficult to fully evaluate what happened, but based upon my reconstruction, it’s clear that there were mistakes made. This game was a series of mistakes, mistakes made because it was the end of a long day, and because of the very unusual game state. Playing under an Arcane Lab is not something that happens in Vintage very often.

One line of play that I did not seriously entertain in the game, but seems obvious in hindsight, is Scrolling for Echoing Truth to bounce the Arcane Lab. I could have bounced the Lab, played Black Lotus, played a slew of Blue cantrips, including Scrolling up Ancestral Recall, Ponder, Brainstorm, and Gushes and then just comboed out. I committed to my line of play on turn 2. The problem was that I executed poorly. Instead of Lotus, I should have Scrolled for another Force. My hand was packed with plenty of Blue spells to pitch. Then I could have played Lotus and Goyf in subsequent turns.

Final Record: 4-1-2, 25th Place out of 126.

Format Analysis

If this tournament stands for anything, I think it represents the Tarmogoyf Coming Out Party. True, Tarmogoyf had seen play in spurts, and in the smaller tournaments leading up to this. But this was the first major tournament where Tarmogoyf established itself in a large field.

Take a look at the Top 8 decklists

Both the first place and second place decklists had Tarmogoyf, with seven copies between the finals decks.

As a Grow player, one of the reasons I had dismissed Tarmogoyf is that Dryad grows so much larger. What I came to understand, however, is that Tarmogoyf actually does about the same amount of damage as Dryad. If you could draw a curve illustrating the amount of damage that each creature inflicts until the opponent dies, you’d see that Goyf starts out bigger, but ends up doing roughly the same amount. A swing from a 5/6 Goyf Berserked the next turn can get you very close to lethal. The “starting out bigger” matters in a format full of Dark Confidants and Workshop Aggro. In those matchups, Goyf shines. That’s the environment that SCG Chicago represented.

But why? What’s going on here?

Ken Krouner wrote an article on Metagames some time ago that I’d like to excerpt. In the article, Ken describes the types of metagames that might arise in any given environment.

Here’s how he describes the “One Best Deck” metagame:

We are all very familiar with this metagame. This is the metagame that is Mirrodin Block Constructed. Ravager Affinity is insane in this format. The deck is favored against every other deck available, provided near perfect play. Sometimes the best deck is so good that you don’t even need perfect play. That is generally when bannings occur… those decks don’t last very long at all. Another great example of this was Trix. Trix dominated and nothing could really stop it, so they banned Mana Vault and Dark Ritual. Then after that, Trix dominated so they banned Necropotence and Demonic Consultation. Then for a change of pace, Trix dominated, so they took Ice Age Block out of Extended.

This metagame has the capacity to be the best or the worst. When the deck requires a great amount of skill, it is a good format. The best players will generally win, and playtesting is greatly rewarded. When the deck doesn’t require skill you wind up with a degenerate, broken format.

Sideboarding in this format can be very interesting. At GP: Phoenix the then-dominant team ABU brought Trix decks that had main deck Phyrexian Negators and Skittering Horrors. This was a metagame choice against the mirror match. They began with their deck pre-sideboarded. Trix was so powerful, it could support this. Don’t be fooled by the Top 8 at that GP. Trix was by far the best deck. There may not have been any in the Top 8, but there were five in the Top 16. One of them was yours truly (shameless self promotion alert). If you elect not to pre-sideboard, then you must be ready to dedicate at least seven slots in your sideboard to the matchup with the best deck.

These metagames can be frustrating on several levels. If the deck is good regardless of the player, it’s fairly obvious why this metagame is frustrating. When the deck is player dependent, it can be even more frustrating. When you take the best deck and create a deck to defeat it, your testing group likely doesn’t contain a Huey or a Kai or an Osyp. You may tune your hate deck to perfection, take it to a GP, and get rolled over by a high caliber player playing the very deck you were supposed to beat. Playtesting is paramount in these metagames, but if you are confident in your play, you should focus your prep on becoming an expert with the best deck.

Although I don’t think Vintage resembles Affinity, or even Hulk Flash at GP: Columbus, there does seem to be a general acknowledgment among the player base that Gush decks are the best deck. In that sense, I believe that the metagame we inhabit at the moment most closely fits the “One Best Deck” metagame outlined by KK. And maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. It’s true that unrestricting Gush would create a best deck, but maybe the logic is: if Quirion Dryad decks are going to be the best deck, that’s a best deck we can support for Vintage.

The debate rages on precisely how much skill Grow decks require to pilot. The general consensus seems to be that they are high skill decks that require expertise and mastery. I tend to think that they are actually intermediate Vintage decks, with decks like Gifts, or Long require much more skill. Regardless, there does seem to be a real barrier to playing them. While they aren’t the most difficult decks in Vintage to pilot, they are sufficiently difficult that huge swaths of players avoid them.

By Day 2, the full diversity of Vintage becomes completely apparent. What is going on here? Why is Vintage so diverse? How can a Best Deck metagame be so diverse? Certainly, the skill element is a factor. But I think there are bigger and more important factors at work.

Here’s the key: Grow decks are at their absolute peak of power in checking Blue-based control. Mana Drain control decks in Vintage had evolved to the point, in Control Slaver, Meandeck Gifts, and others, that they were capable of consistently winning by turn 4 on the back of Yawgmoth’s Will, and often earlier. Although Gifts was restricted, the basic engine remained intact. Control Slaver is capable of just going nuts by turn 3.

Grow decks are the most natural predators of these Mana Drain based decks. First of all, Grow decks trade fewer mana for more disruption. Grow decks run 19 mana sources instead of 25-26 that Mana Drains run because Grow never need to hit more than three mana in any game. In contrast, the Drain decks use Mana Drain to sink into more expensive draw spells like Gifts Ungiven or Intuition+ Accumulated Knowledge or Thirst For Knowledge. In contrast, Grow’s draw engine is free: Gush. Grow rarely loses counterwars and easily disrupts the slower Drain decks. The restriction of Gifts combined with the unrestriction of Gush has pushed those decks from the metagame.

These Drain decks are often domineering in how they combo out with Yawg Will, and so they dramatically narrow the field of viable decks.

Similarly, the Long decks of 2006, often Pitch Long or variants like IT, resemble the Mana Drain decks in many ways — they run Brainstorms, Forces, Duresses, etc, but they are faster even still. Grow decks, while not quite as powerful against these speed combo decks, is still quite potent. The one-two punch of Duress + Force of Will followed by cards like Thoughtseize, Red Elemental Blast, and a super light manabase which allows maximum density of these spells makes it very difficult for a Long pilot to beat a skilled Grow player.

These speed combo decks and Drain Control/Combo decks were the top tier of 2006 and the first half of 2007. With them out of the way, the metagame has completely diversified. Decks once locked out are now back.

But it’s also a function of speed. The Combo and Control decks I described win quickly, more quickly than Grow in most instances, and they do it with Tendrils or Darksteel Colossus or Empty the Warrens. In contrast, Grow’s stable of win conditions are more interactive. Quirion Dryad is a genuine creature in contrast to DSC, a glorified proxy of a creature.

Grow has slowed down the metagame at its very center so that disruptive, longer term strategies (mid-range in terminology of others) have a chance to develop. The RG deck that won the tournament is a perfect case-in-point.

But I think there are two other elements at play that should not be obscured in all of this. The first is the long policy of not restricting cards. Bazaar of Baghdad and Flash were two cards that could have easily been restricted for sheer objective power reasons had the DCI not shown some cajones. Many players were complaining about the fact that Vintage Ichorid is not “playing Magic” and that Flash is too stupid to be allowed to live. Flash got banned in Legacy, but appears perfectly fair in Vintage, despite being even more broken here. The fact that the DCI held the executioner at bay has had important spillover effects. Although Ichorid and Flash are not actually winning tournaments, their mere presence in the format is like a magnetic pole; it affects the behavior of the other elements around them. It’s been said that Vintage decks now have 11-card sideboards, and that’s not far from the truth.

Vintage Ichorid is so powerful that every single Vintage decks packs 4-5 answers to it, knowing that they can’t win game 1, but must win the match. As a consequence, Ichorid never wins tournaments, but Vintage players can’t risk that they’ll face it. Maybe someday Vintage players will drop their SB answers, and when they do, Ichorid will win a tournament, then we’ll all pack on the hate again, and it will go away, in a weird cycle. Maybe.

Similarly, Flash is just broken. Patrick Chapin has written extensively about the deck, and rightfully so. It’s silly. But it just doesn’t win, for reasons that are somewhat beyond me. Part of it is that the Sliver kill (of 4 Virulent Slivers + Heart Sliver) is easily disrupted by creatures.

Goblin decks were out in force at SCG Chicago. People theorized that Goblins could beat Grow decks with Magus of the Moon and a creature onslaught and then clog the ground, preventing Slivers from doing anything. That’s apparently what happened. And then the Dark Confidant, Mask decks that ICBMer’s played is a nightmare for the Flash pilot. They have Duresses, Force of Will, Thoughtseize, and Stifles (used to help get Dreadnaughts into play). Even a few creatures on the ground will stop the Sliver kill that way. And many of the ICBMer’s were running the Goyf too.

The second element, and one of the reasons that a format as deep as Vintage and as broken can be so diverse, is that there are just so many good cards now. People point to 2002 and 2003 as instances of when the format was similarly diverse. The reason the format is actually more diverse now is that there are just more cards. In terms of playable cards, the format is twice as big as it was then. Future Sight and Lorwyn alone have made a huge impact. Lorwyn diversified and slowed an already diverse and slow field through cards like Thorn of Amethyst and Thoughtseize. Thorn is a brilliantly designed card — it incentivizes certain cards and punishes others in a way that amplifies the trends extant in the format.

It’s complicated, but what you have is a format set by Grow, and bounded by decks like Flash and Ichorid. The giant card pool, undisturbed by frequent restrictions, has created a mix in which many decks are viable within these bounds. It’s a slower format, with more physical turns, that permits more creature interactions.

It’s the most diverse “best deck” metagame I could envision, but I honestly don’t see that changing anytime soon. This isn’t an instance, in my view, that if we just had more data, more tournaments, the field would consolidate — that we’d have perfect information in a MTGO type world. It’s a feature of factors that go beyond player decisions and deck choice. There are hundreds of niches to fill in this giant web of Vintage, each with marginal advantages and disadvantages. You can play almost anything and your choice won’t be wrong. And in a metagame like this, skill is king. It’s incredible upon reflection, but unrestricted Gush has initiated a format that may well be the Golden Age of Vintage.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian

PS – You can see my sweet playmat here.