So Many Insane Plays -Top 4 With Tezzeret: A Vintage Tournament Report

SCG 10k St. Louis Offers First Chances to Qualify for the 2010 StarCityGames.com Invitational!
Monday, December 7th – Today’s So Many Insane Plays sees Stephen Menendian doing what he does best: in-depth, intricate, play-by-play tournament reports! He shares his recent Top 4 success at a local Vintage tournament, with decklists, detail, and drama throughout.

Probably my favorite manga (if it even qualifies as such) is the Koike and Kojima’s epic “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Set in medieval Japan, the story follows Ogami Itto, the Emperor’s former official executioner, in self-imposed banishment, framed for a crime he did not commit, as he wanders the countryside a murderer for hire with his infant son Daigoro. Few are aware of his true identity. It’s a brilliant series with themes of fatalism, revenge, and redemption, as powerful as Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, spiced with Buddhist overtones and imagery.

What’s so striking about the series is the skill and style of the main character, the Lone Wolf, Ogami Itto. Itto is portrayed as one of the most skilled swordsmen in Japan, a deadly warrior, master of a very difficult and unusual sword-style. Those who recognize him fear him, and avoid him.

The series was so popular in Japan that it was made into a series of films in the early 70s. For an action series, one would probably expect drawn-out battles of skill and panache filmed in slow-motion, like the Matrix ala John Woo. Instead, the battles are over so quickly it is difficult to tell what even happened. In one moment, Ogami Itto raises his sword above is head horizontally, assuming his opening stance. Both fighters are still as statues for a moment and then, in a flash, the battle is over, and the opponent is dead. The corpse, often squirting blood, is the only evidence of what happened. In the comic, the authors provide but a few panels of sword play, just enough so you can tell exactly what happened. In the film, the actual sword fight often lasts but a second or two. Ogami’s opening and closing stance last longer than the fight itself.

I imagine that this is probably what Vintage looks like to the outside observer or new players. A lot of shuffling, mulliganing, and pre-game procedure for games that last only a few turns. Many Vintage games are so one-sided that they often appear shorter, as the last few turns are denouement or wrap up. That’s why, although Vintage games last, on average, 4-5 turns per player, they often seem so much shorter.

However, just as it appears that Ogami Itto’s battles are but momentary skirmishes, they mask all of the intricate skill and interplay that happens in that moment, and the incredible skill and experience of the fighters. Similarly, brief one-sided battles in Vintage often conceal the skill and preparation of the pilot, the complexity of the lines of play, the number of decisions made, and Vintage games often appear to observers as a product of luck or over-powered cards because of their relative brevity.

Once in a while Ogami faces gangs or small fighting forces, and even less frequently he faces fighters near his level. In those instances, the fights may last several pages or a few minutes. And only a handful of times throughout the 9,000 page epic does he face a swordman his equal. His first duel with Retsudo Yagyu, the head of the clan responsible for his banishment and the murder of his wife, lasts 178 panels (according to Wikipedia, it’s one of the longest fights in comics). The final duel, presented in the very last issue, lasts days, as Retsuedo and Ogami face fighting without food or water, neither able to finish off the other.

Vintage is just like that. Many matches last a lot longer, regardless of the archetype, simply because of the skill of the pilots. Perhaps one of the great ironies of Vintage is that so many Vintage matches go to time. Players are often surprised at the number of unintentional draws in Vintage tournaments, even when players are playing in a timely fashion. Often, one long game can dominate a match, and after sideboarding, a second game is won in a hurry, not leaving enough time for a complete third game. Sideboard adjustments and mid-match tactical adjustments even matchups, so much so that Robert Vroman isn’t even sure that there are favorable matchups in Vintage.

My goal with Vintage tournament reports to pull back the veil a little, to demystify those interactions, to show you everything that happened in those few decisive turns, and to slow down events to give you the panel by panel illustration of what Vintage is really about.

Last week, I went through a process for preparing for a tournament that took many hours to complete. It involved putting together multiple decklists, making metagame predictions, designing decklists for multiple opponents, each of which involved further experience and testing, and designing sideboard plans as well. If you were new to Vintage, that kind of preparation could take weeks. And that’s just the preparation. The other side of the coin is execution, as anyone familiar with football can attest. That can take years of experience. (Or 6-8 weeks if you are my student, at least with a particular archetype.)

Two weeks ago I presented a Gifts puzzle at the end of my article. Matt Sperling finally solved the puzzle. The key, I believe, was recognizing that you Demonic Tutor for Mana Crypt. This link in the puzzle served several ends, but it was one of the hardest to see, since it is such an unusual play. The problem is that pattern recognition (experience) will channel you into certain plays, and would obscure your ability to decipher the correct play.

I posed a second challenge, asking readers to see if they could suggest a line of play if your opponent has turn zero Leyline of the Void. One of the forum readers complained that they were anxious to know the solution.

The second challenge, or the variant puzzle, was more important than the main puzzle. What makes this challenge so important is that it resembles the actual reality of Vintage. The ‘answer’ is that there is no line of play that will deterministically win you the game, as there was in the original puzzle. However, and this is the real ‘answer’: there are lines of play that will give you a chance to win the game, either if your opponent gives you the wrong cars with Gifts or if you take a chance on topdecking the right kind of card.

One might appreciate the incredible brilliance needed to ‘solve’ deterministic solutions like Matt Sperling did in a tournament context, with time pressures. However, one might criticize that thinking as little more than sophisticated or complex solitaire. There is a solution – it may be very difficult to spot, but it is there. In fact, that’s what I love so much about Zero Variance. It’s incredibly complex, as my unfinished article presenting my game with Patrick Chapin illustrated. I often had to reason for hours to make my next play. I could imagine that two skilled players might exhaust the better part of the Magic card library before a game concludes.

What makes Vintage so difficult is not the difficulty of reasoning to the deterministic answer, but precisely the opposite: the difficulty of reasoning to the probabilistic answer. It is the complexity of the puzzle combined with the fact that you must select the probabilistic answer, not the deterministic answer, to win games in the most difficult situations. Thus, winning in Vintage, at its highest level, is a function of giving yourself the most ‘outs’ rather than finding the line of play that will foreclose your opponent’s ability to stop you.

Moreover, making this calculation is not mathematic. For example, in the variant puzzle, you have to weigh the chances of one line of play that involves your opponent giving you the ‘wrong’ cards with Gifts against a line of play that involves, maybe, a 30% chance of topdecking the right card. In short, you have to make probabilistic decisions based on information that is not inherently mathematical or easy to quantify, such as the chance your opponent gives you certain Gifts cards or that they run a particular Tinker target rather than another, or that they have a particular kind of hate card, and not another. This is what makes Vintage so challenging, at its highest level: making probabilistic decisions for lines of play that are not quantifiable, but require judgment about your opponent and educated guesses about the choices they made or are likely to make.

The high-stakes, complex decision-making is intriguing to many skilled Magic players, and is addictive.

David Williams posed this question to Team Meandeck (apologies to David if he didn’t want me publishing this question — I thought it was great):

You are in the Top 4 of a tournament playing Bob Tezzeret against Intuition Tendrils.

Your opening hand is:

Scalding Tarn
2 Thoughtseize
2 Mana Drain
Force of Will
Merchant Scroll

Question 1: Do you keep that hand?

Then, you play turn 1 Thoughtseize, and you see this hand:

Library of Alexandria
Mystical Tutor
Thirst For Knowledge
2 Polluted Delta
Mana Drain.

Question 2: What do you take?

I think this question is extremely revealing about Vintage skill. The precise answer is surprisingly complicated, but the general idea involves playing to your outs. David made exactly what I think is the optimal play, although, to be honest, I’m not sure I would have reasoned to it in a tournament setting. My answer, and his, is to take anything but Duress. The reason is simple: The only way you lose is if they get Library online, which means they’ll skip their turn 2 land drop and activate Library on turn 3. Therefore, the correct play is to maximize your chances of not losing to that by giving them the chance screw up and, succumbing to fear, play Duress on turn 2, killing their chances of using Library until turn 5, more than enough time for you to draw more mana and fire off Ancestral Recall.

It’s one thing to make the right play in theory, but execution is the other side of coin.

I couldn’t wait to run Tezzeret at the Meandeck Open.

Here’s what I played (from my article last week):

Twenty-eight players from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky meant five rounds of swiss with a cut to Top 8.

Round 1: Mike Shean

I know some of you out there don’t play Vintage. You tell me in the forums all the time. So step into my shoes for a moment.

You find your seat across from a friendly guy.

Your lay out your playmate, and shuffle your deck. You roll the die and your opponent rolls higher, and elects to play.

Except this ain’t Standard. This isn’t even Extended. Those formats are for boys.

Your opponent is playing THIS:

This deck is a monster. It will lock you out, shut you down and prevent you from playing a single doggone spell, if it could.

Are you afraid? No?

Well, what if he locks you out on turn 1 with Crucible and Strip Mine? What if he plays Sphere of Resistance so you can’t break the lock? All that could happen, and more.

Now, imagine you fan open a hand, your hand of seven, except that there is no land. Instead, you mulligan and draw this, almost the exact opposite:

Inkwell Leviathan
Polluted Delta
Polluted Delta
Mox Ruby
Sol Ring

How do you feel? Are you confident? Nervous? Afraid? Terrified?

I was ecstatic. I knew what my opponent was playing, and I knew that my land heavy design was going to be a trump. And this hand just reminded me of my advantage. Of course, it didn’t mean I had the match won, not by any stretch. This was going to be a battle.

Unfortunately, Mike won the die roll.

And, since this is Vintage, he played, on Turn 1:

Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Chalice of the Void at zero


Sounds pretty devastating! Chalice + Smokestack, on turn 1! Absurd!

I still wasn’t scared. Here’s why:

First, he didn’t have Mishra’s Workshop. What you have to understand is that the key to his deck, and the sustainability of Smokestack, is the density of permanents and the ability to play a permanent a turn. However, without Mishra’s Workshop, he can’t play a permanent a turn. He can’t play Tangle Wire, Crucible, or another Stack. He is deeply mana constrained.

What do you do?

I played turn 1 Island, Sol Ring. Why?

If I don’t play Sol Ring, he probably doesn’t add a counter to Smokestack. For the reasons above, he really doesn’t want to. He probably waits another turn or two, trying to bait me into playing more lands before ramping Stack. If I play Sol Ring, here’s what happens: he’ll ramp Stack, and I can force him to sacrifice a permanent a turn. Meanwhile, I’ll stop playing permanents altogether. If he doesn’t draw exactly the right sequence of lands and two-mana spells, he will have to start sacrificing his manabase, the Chalice, or his own Stack.

He played exactly as expected. He ramped the Stack, but he drew Sphere of Resistance, and played it. I was disappointed, but not deterred. Let’s see if he could keep it up.

On his next turn, he’ll have to sacrifice the Sphere and, again, have to draw either a land or another two-mana spell. A Mox won’t do, since Chalice is in play. Let’s see if he could do it.

On my second turn, I sacrificed Sol Ring, and passed the turn.

Note that I could have sacrificed a land, on the off chance that I drew something I could play this turn, like Hurkyl’s Recall.

He sacrificed the Sphere and played a land. Darn, I thought. At least I knew what was coming next.

I sacrificed my Island and passed the turn.

He sacrificed Chalice of the Void, and played Tangle Wire! Like a minor miracle, he had drawn a playable sequence, in just the right order. However, it was about to come to an end. Tangle Wire will prevent him from being able to play more spells, and he’ll fall behind in permanents.

But it was not to be. He tapped the Tangle Wire, Stack, and a Mox, sacrificed the Wire, and, guess what, he had to sacrifice the Smokestack.

He played Null Rod and passed the turn.

Game On.

I played Polluted Delta, and he played Wasteland and Sphere of Resistance.

I played another Polluted Delta. My intent was clear. Next turn I would play another land and cast Dark Confidant. From there, I would take over.

However, he still had a foil. He drew Strip Mine!

He Wastelanded my Fetchland and when I fetched out a Swamp, he played Strip Mine, and Strip Mined it. Then he played Goblin Welder, and that was that. He Welded in Smokestack, and I was never able to break the lock again. I played a land, but he ramped the Stack, staying one ahead.

So close, I thought. Oh well. Not bad for facing down turn 1 Smokestack with Chalice, and having mulliganed to 6. You must always remember the upside in Vintage.

Over the course of the game I drew:

Mana Drain
Yawgmoth’s Will
Gifts Ungiven
A few other cards…

… and I finally scooped.

As planned out last week, I sideboarded in my Rack and Ruins for Misdirection and Gifts Ungiven.

Shockingly, I again had to mulligan to 6 because of a no-land hand.

I drew:

Mana Vault
Mana Crypt
Mox Sapphire
Time Vault
Vampiric Tutor
Mana Drain
Mana Drain

So much for the concern of my teammates that I was playing too many land, huh?

If the Mana Vault had been an Island (as I originally had wanted it to be), I probably would have kept that hand.

I was fascinated that despite having 17 land in my deck, I had already drawn two hands with no land!

Thankfully, though, I mulliganed into this:

Black Lotus
Dark Confidant
Dark Confidant
Mox Ruby
Misty Rainforest
Volcanic Island

Welcome to Vintage! One evil turn deserves another, no?

He can play turn 1 Smokestack and Chalice, I’ll play two Dark Confidant on turn 1!

I played Lotus, Mox, Rainforest, and cast both Bobs.

Well, guess what he did?

Remember, again, this is Vintage.

He played, on turn 1 mind you:

Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mishra’s Workshop

That gave him 7 mana. There was almost nothing he could play that would scare me here. But I was intrigued. He was going to put up a fight!

He played:

Trinisphere and Smokestack! On turn 1!

And, yet, I was not afraid.

Preparation is the enemy of the powerful. My deck was designed to be able to win, despite the insanity that was his draw. Moreover, while these opening hands, and the opening sequences of both games, might suggest just how insane Vintage is — how luck based it appears to be — the actual sequence of plays belies that notion. This was a tightly competitive match.

On my upkeep, Bobs revealed a land and Rack and Ruin (ding ding!). I’m so glad that I included Rack and Ruins in my sideboard instead of just pure bounce.

I played Volcanic Island, attacked with Bobs for 4, and passed the turn.

On his second turn, he ramped Smokestack and cast Tangle Wire. On his endstep, I broke Misty Rainforest for Underground Sea and cast Rack and Ruin, targeting Trinisphere and Smokestack.

I untapped and revealed a land and Imperial Seal with Bobs. I tapped my Bobs down, of course, and a land, and played another land, holding up Mana Drain. He played a Null Rod on his third turn, but I could care less. I Imperial Sealed for Tinker and smashed with Inkwell Leviathan.

Game 3:

As is so often the case, game 3 is where it’s at in Vintage. Mid-match tactical adjustments are made, sideboard plans are refined, and the third game is the true test. It separates the men from the boys.

My opening hand was so much fun!

Mox Jet
Demonic Tutor
Library of Alexandria
Rack and Ruin
Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Polluted Delta

I LOVE four-land hands against Stax! I was on the draw, and I couldn’t wait to start using Library of Alexandria! I was so pumped!

That was, until my opponent played:

Turn 1: Workshop, Mana Vault, Smokestack.


I untapped and drew Time Walk, and decided to go a different route. I decided to take the tempo route.

I played turn 1 Time Walk and then passed the turn. He ramped Stack, of course, and played another artifact. I Rack and Ruined both of them. I set the trap and he walked directly into it.

I then untapped and played Demonic Tutor for Tinker, which I rode all the way to the finish line.

My Inkwell Leviathan laughed at his deck. Inkwell Leviathan is the man!

Despite losing to me, Mike Shean went onto Top 8.

Round 2: CJ Moritz

CJ was playing this:

Poor CJ. I almost feel sorry for him. This is the third or fourth time we’ve been paired up this year, beginning, I believe, with Grand Prix: Chicago, where I had to knock him out of the tournament.

I know what CJ is playing, as he was at my table in the previous round. He had Back to Basics down against Isaac, a Tezzeret pilot, and defeated Isaac. Considering that Isaac went on to make Top 4, CJ’s deck was well geared for beating Tezzeret. CJ’s deck has plenty of countermagic and mana denial, including a full complement of Rods and Chalices.

I was not afraid. My extreme manabase was going to be a tremendous boon. I even had basic Swamp. In addition, I had the ultimate trump in my sideboard, Sower of Temptation. I imagine that Sower would easily clean up post-board, and my manabase would remain more or less impervious to his attempts to shut me down and lock me out. In addition, I would bring in Red Elemental Blast, the card that kills and stops everything he does.

Game 1:

I open this hand:

Polluted Delta
Volcanic Island
Voltaic Key
Dark Confidant
Mana Drain
Merchant Scroll

This hand’s strengths? Plenty of tools. Key, which makes every tutor deadly, in potentially getting Time Vault. Drain for counterspell protection. Merchant Scroll for additional draw. And most importantly? Plenty of mana!

I led with turn 1 Key, which resolved. He played an Island and passed the turn back.

My turn 2 Dark Confidant was Force of Willed, which was disappointing. He played another land and passed the turn.

I untapped and drew Imperial Seal. What do to do? I felt like I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

I considered the interaction between Scroll and Imperial Seal, trying to puzzle out a way to make them synergize here. One thought was to Imperial Seal for Time Vault, and Scroll for Mana Drain and to protect Time Vault. I could play my fourth land, cast Time Vault, Drain his counter, and use my Drain mana to activate Time Vault. I thought about that play, I ended up going a different route.

I played my third land. I cast Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall. Then, instead of playing it, I cast Imperial Seal.

I was disappointed, but not shocked, that CJ played Null Rod. This made me wonder whether I should have Sealed for Tinker! Or whether I should have played Scroll at all!

Such thoughts were not helpful at this moment. I set them aside and pressed forward.

I played the Time Vault, and it resolved.

On my endstep, CJ cast Vendilion Clique, targeting me. I responded with Ancestral, which he Mana Drained. Clique resolved, and upon seeing my hand he declined to put anything on the bottom of my library.

I topdeck Dark Confidant, and played it, despite the risks. It’s my best shot of hitting the right cards, even though it will deal me some damage. It paid off, because, after he swung at me twice, I topdecked Darkblast. Darkblast shot Clique. He answered with Augury Adept. Bob flipped a Force of Will this time and my life fell precipitously. He attacked me with the Adept, and I was almost relieved to trade.

He played another, but this time I hardcast Force of Will. I promptly drew another. But guess what? So did he. I hardcast Force on yet another Adept.

Then, I topdecked Tezzeret! I played it and formulated my plan. Despite Null Rod being on the table, I could win in two turns. I had a Mox in my hand, Key and Time Vault on the table. I just needed to find another artifact and use Tezzeret’s ultimate. I untapped Time Vault and added a counter to Tezzeret, and passed the turn.

It was all for nothing, however. I untapped and drew Demonic Tutor the next turn. I played Demonic Tutor for Hurkyl’s Recall, which I used to bounce his Null Rod and activate Time Vault. I went infinite and he scooped.

Game 2:

I sideboarded in 2 Sower of Temptation, 3 Red Elemental Blast, and 1 Rack and Ruin.

My opening hand was interesting:

Dark Confidant
Red Elemental Blast
Merchant Scroll
Sol Ring
Mox Ruby
Polluted Delta
Demonic Tutor

Turn 1:

CJ led with this play:

Island, Mox Pearl.

He then passed the turn.

I drew Island on my turn.

Well, I thought. Should I play turn 1 Bob, and hope it resolves, or wait a turn and protect it with Red Elemental Blast? Last game he Forced my early Dark Confidant. I didn’t know whether he ran Mana Leak or not, but I wouldn’t put it past him.

If he had Null Rod, wouldn’t he have played it? Probably.

I played Mox Ruby, Island, and cast Sol Ring. I passed the turn.

Turn 2:

CJ missed his land drop and played Null Rod.

Shoot, I thought. Now I understand. CJ didn’t have a second land, so he didn’t want to play Null Rod to cut himself off from half of his mana.

I sat there with Red Elemental Blast in hand, disappointed.

I played Dark Confidant on turn 2, and it resolved.

Turn 3:

CJ missed his land drop on turn 3. I played Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall and attacked him for two.

Turn 4:

CJ again couldn’t find a land. Dark Confidant again swung in for more damage. I played Demonic Tutor for Tinker.

Turn 5:

CJ drew another card, and was about to discard, and I decided to fire off the Ancestral. I was a bit surprised that he had Misdirection. I hit Misdirection with Red Elemental Blast. He Forced it. He drew three cards, and passed the turn.

I untapped, attacked with Bob, fired off Tinker, which of course resolved. Inky finished the game. Of course, by now he had lands, but it was too late. And that was the point.

I wished CJ the best of luck, and we moved on.

Round 3: Will Cutler with Oath

My notes on this match are sparse because we played to time. Consequently, I didn’t have time to make my post-match notes.

Here is what I do know:

Will was playing this:

Game 1:

I had no idea what Will was playing. His manner of play was deliberate. Very deliberate, and a bit poker faced.

I won the die roll.

My opening hand was:

Mana Vault
Sensei’s Divining Top
Force of Will
Voltaic Key
Underground Sea

Turn 1:

I played turn 1 Island, Mana Vault, Sensei’s Divining Top. So far, so good. Then, I played Voltaic Key, and got a resounding Force of Will. I activated the Top, but there weren’t any Blue cards on top of my library.

Immediately, I decided that my opponent was a good player. This was a tempo play. It was a play that an aggressive Vintage player would make. But it was a play that came from someone who struck me as a player would not make impulsive decisions. It was aggressive, but not impulsive. A strong combination.

Will played a land and passed the turn.

Turn 2:

I played another land, and passed the turn.

Will played Oath of Druids, and this time Top found another Blue spell to support Force. I countered his Oath.

Turn 3:

Top revealed a Bob, and I decided to go for it. If he has another Oath, he has it. If I can weather a turn or two, I should probably win.

Of course, he — apparently — topdecked another Oath.

He Oathed up Hellkite Overlord, and I scooped.

Game 2:

I sideboarded in my three Greater Gargadons, and Extirpate for 4 Dark Confidant. I also sideboarded out Swamp and Darkblast for 2 Red Elemental Blast.

My opening hand was tutor heavy. I played Vampiric Tutor on turn 1 and went for the gusto. I suspended Greater Gargadon, and that shut down the game. We both went land, go, for many turns. He tried to play Pithing Needle, but I hardcast Force, despite having Hurkyl’s Recall in play. For some reason, he gave me an Orchard token, and I pinged him with it for at least 4 turns. Fetchlands and a Force of Will brought combined to bring him to 17 before that. We depleted each other’s hands. Except he topdecked Demonic Tutor. I thought he was going to find Yawgmoth’s Will and go bonkers.

I was shocked that he apparently found Pernicious Deed! He was only a turn or two away from being able to Deed away my Greater Gargadon, if I brought it into play. That’s because he had 8 mana on the table — 6 lands and 3 artifact accelerants.

I topdecked into Gifts Ungiven, which gave me the game. I set up a pile that included Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, and tutors. Will took forever deciding what to give me with Gifts. I set up and executed a massive Yawgmoth’s Will that allowed me to take consecutive turns and bring in Greater Gargadon for the kill.

Unfortunately, time expired while we were shuffling up for game 3.

My record: 2-0-1

Round 4: Nam Tran with 5c Stax

Nam Tran is one of the few Vintage players in my area with a winning record against me, and a perpetual top 8er. I beat him this summer at the ICBM Open, and I relished the opportunity to take another notch from him!

He was playing:

Oooh boy. Another Stax deck! This should be fun.

Game 1:

Nam Tran won the die roll, and elected to play first. Always a terrifying thought with Stax.

Turn 1:

He opened with:

Mishra’s Workshop, Sol Ring, Smokestack.

Nice start! We’ve seen this before.

I opened with:

Mox Ruby, Mana Vault, Land.

I felt I could keep up this game. I had Fire/Ice in hand and Dark Confidant, but no black mana.

Turn 2:

He added a counter to Smokestack, and then played City of Brass and Goblin Welder. Bingo, I thought. I tapped Mana Vault and Mox Ruby to play Fire on the Welder. I sacrificed the Mana Vault and drew another land. I played another land and passed the turn back.

Turn 3:

Nam Tran sacrificed Sol Ring, I believe, and ramped the Smokestack. He played Wasteland, Mana Crypt and Powder Keg. He Wastelanded one of my lands and Kegged the Mox I untapped, and sacrificed my Bob and a land. The upside was that Bob drew me another.

Turn 4:

Nam Tran sacrificed the Smokestack and Mishra’s Workshop and passed the turn.

Now we went into draw, go mode. Nam Tran drew a Gorilla Shaman, which he played. I drew Yawgmoth’s Will, Mystical Tutor, Demonic Tutor, and Mana Crypt. I then drew a fetchland. I played it, and passed the turn. On his endstep I played Mystical for Tinker. I played Mana Crypt and then Tinker, which found Inkwell Leviathan and won me the game.

Game 2:

I sideboarded out Misdirection and Gifts Ungiven for 2 Rack and Ruin.

I had to mulligan to 6 for having no lands.

My opening hand was:

Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Ancestral Recall
Sensei’s Divining Top
Demonic Tutor

His opening play was:

Turn 1:

Gemstone Mine, Chalice of the Void, Gorilla Shaman.

I played Ancestral Recall immediately rather than risk running into a Red Elemental Blast. I discarded a superfluous land rather than Darkblast.

He did nothing from there on out.

I played Demonic Tutor for Tinker. And on turn 4 I was able to Tinker away my Sensei’s Divining Top for Inkwell Leviathan, and stomp him.

Nam Tran was a bit demoralized in having to play me. My deck’s manabase was so strong against Stax, and I had so much anti-Stax technology.

Round 5: Jerry Yang, ID

I am third place in the swiss. Jerry and I intentionally draw into the Top 8.

Now the real tournament begins.

Top 8: Korey Age

Korey played Empty Control:

I love playing in Top 8s. Top 8 matches tend to be the most memorable. Those, and the matches that decide who advances into the top 8. Four of the five Kentucky crew made Top 8 at the Meandeck Open, including Korey. I couldn’t wait to play him.

Game 1:

My opening hand was weak:

Mystical Tutor
Force of Will
Time Vault

I play turn 1 Time Vault, and he doesn’t bat an eye. Instead, he casts turn 2 Thirst For Knowledge, which I decide to Force of Will, pitching Mystical Tutor, after some contemplation. It’s a play I later regret. Two turns later, he played Tinker, and finds Sundering Titan, blowing up my lands.

Nonetheless, thanks to Top and Black Lotus, I am able to cast Gifts Ungiven for these cards:

Tinker, Hurkyl’s Recall, Mana Crypt, and Ancestral Recall.

My board has just Island and two Moxen as mana sources, with one Blue mana floating.

He gives me Hurkyl’s Recall and Tinker. I activate Top, hoping to draw something nutty. I draw Library of Alexandria, which gives me the second mana to play Hurkyl’s Recall. This wipes out his side of the board.

However, he plays a Dark Confidant, and I’m dead within three turns. One, two, three. I’m dead. I do not see another Blue mana to cast Tinker.

Game 2:

I sideboarded out Swamp, Island, and Mana Vault for 3 Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast

I opened:

Mox Jet
Sensei’s Divining Top
Merchant Scroll
Dark Confidant
Red Elemental Blast
And a second Sensei’s Divining Top

Yes, it’s a risky keep, but it’s also not bad given how controlling it could be. It has protection, draw, and tutors. It just needs time to be effective.

Fortune smiled on me, as he rolled out turn 1 Ancestral Recall, which I Misdirected.

Last week I wrote:

Misdirection will win a fixed number of Vintage games. The question how many games will it win? Even if we assume that it will win half of the games that an opponent draws Ancestral and you draw Misdirection in the opening hands, and that is being conservative, that could turn out to be as few as 5% of games, or 1 in 20. That’s as few as 1 game in 5 full rounds of swiss and a Top 8. Nonetheless, I am building a list for the Drain mirror. Here, Misdirection not only fills the function of stealing Ancestrals, it also protects your spells, acting like a defensive Force of Will.

This was the tenth game I played in the tournament so far. This alone justified running Misdirection. At least one critical game — and could there be a more important game? — won because of Ancestral Recall. I was on my last leg, and Misdirection bails me out.

I played Mox, Sol Ring, Dark Confidant, and the second Top, which I use to draw a Mox Ruby (to support my Red Elemental Blast). Remarkably, however, I do not see a land.

Dark Confidant draws me some cards, but no lands.

You see? This is what happens when I play less than 26 mana sources and 17 lands. 15 lands! Pshaw! I don’t know how people think that they can get away with manabases like that.

I attack him with Bob. He plays a Magus of the Unseen to try and get in my way, but I Fire it and him.

The critical turn arrives. I have two Tops in play, and no land. I have 3 Moxen (Pearl, Ruby, Jet) and Sol Ring on the board, and Yawgmoth’s Will, Force of Will, and a Blue spell in hand. I look at the top three and I see Gifts Ungiven and Black Lotus.

There had to be a way to go off here! But how? I had Mox Jet and Sol Ring, but no land! How could I get both Black Lotus and Gifts Ungiven off before playing Yawgmoth’s Will?

I pay a mana to rearrange the top of my library with Top, and in response activate Top and drew Black Lotus. I then rearrange my deck and activate the other Top, drawing Gifts Ungiven.

I play Black Lotus and use the Sol Ring mana and tap Mox Ruby to play Gifts Ungiven.

I Gifts for:

Time Walk
Tolarian Academy
Force of Will
Mana Crypt

He gave me Force of Will and Mana Crypt. What happened next was absurd.

I played Yawgmoth’s Will and played Academy. I then played Time Walk, and then Gifts Ungiven for tutors. I used one of the tutors to find Tinker, which found Inkwell Leviathan to quickly end the game.


Game 3:

Here it was, game 3. The final and decisive game.

My opening hand was:

Mox Pearl
Black Lotus
Vampiric Tutor
Sensei’s Divining Top

My opponent played turn 1 Dark Confidant. He put me on a very short clock. I needed to do something quickly.

I drew Volcanic Island on my first turn, and played Sensei’s Divining Top. I played Mox Pearl to peek at my top three cards, praying for a Blue spell so I could fire off turn 1 Tinker with Misdirection backup.

Instead, I saw this:

Dark Confidant
Mox Emerald

Boo! The Dark Confidant was mocking me, and I was angry at not seeing a Blue spell.

However, I wasn’t going to let him run me over. I popped Top to draw Bob and broke Lotus to cast it. He responded with Force of Will, pitching Hurkyl’s Recall.

Interesting, I thought. Hurkyl’s Recall is gone.

I need to Force Tinker through next turn or probably lose the game. What’s the best way to do that? I need to Vamp for something, but what?

Ancestral Recall seems like the play. He Forced my Bob, so he probably doesn’t have another. If he does, I’ll pitch Ancestral to Misdirection to resolve Tinker. If he doesn’t, I’ll fire off Ancestral as well, and draw a bunch of cards.

Turn 2:

He attacked me with Dark Confidant, played a land, and passed the turn.

I untapped and played Tinker, and it resolved! Inkwell Leviathan hit the table, and I was feeling mighty confident.

Turn 3:

I couldn’t believe my blunder when he played Tinker of his own, this time finding Sundering Titan, blowing up my lands.

I was so greedy! Getting Ancestral there was unnecessary. Had I gotten Force of Will instead of Ancestral, I could have countered his Tinker, and had insurance to stop Rebuild, if he ran that.

I couldn’t ruminate on my errors. I had to move beyond it and give the game my best shot.

Incredibly, he attacked me with his Dark Confidant, and I blocked with Inkwell.

Our robots then stood there like mechanical statues. We had a standoff. My Leviathan. His Titan. The difference was that he had an Island.

I was desperate, and felt doomed.

Over the course of the next eight turns I drew:

Demonic Tutor
Time Walk
Tezzeret the Seeker
Yawgmoth’s Will
Mana Crypt
Hurkyl’s Recall
Gifts Ungiven (which was discarded)

Every draw was a glum moment, in which I wondered if the game was about to end.

But finally I drew Misty Rainforest.

Incredulous that I was still alive, what’s the play, I wondered? How do I create a miracle?

I played Mana Crypt and Misty Rainforest. I found an Underground Sea and played Time Walk. He let it resolve. I attacked with Leviathan. That put him at 11.

Incredibly, I drew another land, Polluted Delta.

Now, remember that I’ve been holding Misdirection since the start of the game, and Ancestral since turn 2. I played Ancestral Recall, as bait.

He tapped a Volcanic Island and played Red Elemental blast. I Misdirected the Red Blast pitching Tezzeret, and was shocked that he didn’t have another counterspell. Or did he? Perhaps he was bluffing and baiting? Perhaps he really didn’t care about my Ancestral, that his Red Elemental Blast had already gotten enough value.

I wasn’t sure. But I went for it anyway. That’s right, you know what I did.

I tapped my Mana Crypt and my Underground Sea and cast Yawgmoth’s Will.

I was stupefied when it resolved. I played Black Lotus, Time Walk, and that was the end of the game. I attacked with Leviathan, untapped and did it again.

Unbelievable. Vintage is too cool for school, and has to be seen to be believed. In what other format does an Inkwell Leviathan stand off against a Sundering Titan? Would you believe that such a thing could happen for eight turns? In Vintage?

This was a great match, and it sent me into the Top 4.

The prize pool (almost $500) was pretty deep for a Sunday afternoon Vintage tournament. A Top 4 split meant that each player would walk out with over $80. I was agnostic about a split. Playing it out meant more experience and Vintage fun, but splitting meant getting to eat a famous Thurman Burger. The folks from Indiana were eager to get back on the road, so a split was amicable and we all left for this:

My metagame prediction was practically a bullseye, and the fact that I played three mana denial decks meant that my manabase was my deck’s greatest strength.

The question I had struggled with last week was how to round out the decklist. In the end, I settled on Misdirection and Mana Vault over the alternatives, including Thirst For Knowledge. While I would not have minded Island over Mana Vault, Mana Vault pulled its weight. Misdirection was great, no question there. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a card.

I look forward to doing the whole process over again in the near future.

Until then…

Stephen Menendian