So Many Insane Plays — Vintage Championship Report: 1st Place!

Read Stephen Menendian every Wednesday... at StarCityGames.com!
As you’re no doubt aware, Stephen Menendian — the Voice of Vintage — is the new Vintage World Champion! At GenCon, piloting his much-lauded GroAtog list, he grabbed the tournament field by the throat and walked off with the title. Today, he takes us through his exhaustive preparation for the event, and shares each match, each game, and each play with his signature analytical style. Congratulations again, Stephen… you definitely deserve it!

On Sunday I called my friend and testing buddy Joe Bushman and said…

“I have some good news and some bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”

“Better start with the bad.”

“I finished second in the Invitational Storyteller ballot.”

“Oh man, that sucks. By how many votes?”

“Roughly seventy votes, I think.”


“Yeah, but if something happens to Evan, then the invitational would fall to me.”

“You mean like if someone shoots him?”


“So, what’s the good news?”

“I won the Vintage Championship.”

“Holy sh**!”

Last Wednesday night, Joe came over to my house and we did some GAT mirror testing. I wanted to try Tendrils in the maindeck over Tog. In our first six games it came up five times, and was contributed either directly to my own game loss, or it assisted. It was simply terrible in the GAT mirror. I quickly abandoned that idea. I spent the rest of the night with my girlfriend after I finished packing.

I took Thursday, Friday, and Monday off work. The plan was to play in the Thursday 1pm Vintage tournament. Matt Hazard picks me up at 9:30am, and we roll out. We arrive just in time for me to register for the event.

Thursday, 1pm Vintage tournament. 35 players, but only four Swiss rounds. 4-0 gets 18 packs, 3-0-1 gets 12 packs, and 3-1 gets 6.

I have never arrived early enough at GenCon in the past three years I’d attended to make the mid-day Thursday Vintage event. It is usually about this size, and pretty irrelevant. The fact that they kept it to four rounds with no Top 8, despite having 35 players, speaks volumes about the importance of this event. It’s a piddly pre-game tournament to help players warm up. That’s precisely how I treated it.

Here’s what I played:


4 Quirion Dryad
1 Psychatog
4 Force of Will
4 Duress
2 Mana Drain
2 Misdirection
1 Red Elemental Blast
4 Gush
4 Brainstorm
1 Cunning Wish
4 Merchant Scroll
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Time Walk
1 Fastbond
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Mystical Tutor
3 Opt
1 Library of Alexandria
3 Polluted Delta
3 Flooded Strand
1 Island
1 Volcanic Island
3 Underground Sea
2 Tropical Island
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Emerald
1 Black Lotus

1 Berserk
3 Pithing Needle
3 Yixlid Jailer
1 Fire/Ice
2 Oxidize
1 Artifact Mutation
2 Submerge
1 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast

Round 1: David Caplan, playing Stax

David Caplan is part of the Canadian crew. He’s a nice enough guy, but he, to me, typifies the personality in Vintage of someone who is competent at the format but makes overbroad assertions about matchups.

I win the die roll.

Game 1:

My opening hand of seven has Ancestral Recall and Force of Will, but no land. I mull to six. This hand is even worse: it has Library of Alexandria, but no other land and no Force of Will. This is unkeepable.

I mulligan to five and keep an Ancestral Recall hand sans any mana whatsoever. Depending upon what David is playing, if I topdeck a land in the first two turns, I could still be in this game.

David plays turn 1 Mishra’s Workshop, Chalice of the Void at one. So I know that he is on Stax and I fail to draw any lands before he has me 100% and completely locked out.

Game 2:

I sideboarded in 2 Oxidizes, 3 Pithing Needles, and 1 Artifact Mutation for 4 Duress, 1 Red Elemental Blast, and 2 Misdirection.

I open a solid hand that leads with Polluted Delta.

Unfortunately, David has the two most relevant unrestricted cards in this matchup. He leads with Mishra’s Workshop, Mox Jet, and plays Chalice of the Void at one. That resolves. With the remaining mana he casts Sphere of Resistance.

If you take a look at the cards in any given Stax list, these are the interactive cards that can reliable be cast on turn 1:

4 Chalice of the Void
4 Sphere of Resistance
1 Trinisphere

If a Stax player doesn’t have one of those cards on turn 1, it basically can’t keep that hand. Cards like Tangle Wire and Smokestack doesn’t actually do anything on turn 1 and In the Eye of Chaos is too expensive to reliably cast on turn 1.

I responded to his Chalice with Brainstorm, but I didn’t see a Force of Will. I played a land and passed the turn.

On his second turn, David dropped another Chalice of the Void on two. I have only one out in my deck: Psychatog. I did not draw it.

After this match I come to two realizations:

1 – I should have actually tested the Stax matchup.
2 – My Stax plan still sucks

I can rationalize the first on the basis of the fact that I know Stax inside and out. I’ve played in many times, and tested it many times in the past, both against 2003 GAT and other decks. The fact that I’m playing in these tournaments with my Vintage Champs list is precisely to make the key final adjustments.

So, what to change in the sideboard? First and foremost, not having access to a three-mana artifact answer is a mistake. With GAT being widely known as a deck to beat, and Flash heavily played, Chalice of the Void’s incredulous absence from Stax maindecks had finally run its course. Double Chalice has to be answered. After discussion with Rich Shay, he suggests that Ancient Grudge is, in his view, the reason to run Red. I really like Artifact Mutation, but Ancient Grudge is probably too good not to run. Second, I need a Blue spell that can be found with Merchant Scroll, but I don’t want to run Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild. I don’t want to run Rebuild because I definitely want to play Rack and Ruin, which I feel is superior in this deck. Second, I don’t want Hurkyl’s because Ancient Grudge already meets the two-mana spot. I also feel that Hurkyl’s isn’t right for the deck. This isn’t Gifts where you bounce all their stuff, untap, and combo. You don’t have to win that way.

At some point, Rich Shay says that he has loved how Rushing River plays. In fact, he plays a maindeck bounce spell. It is a perfect fit for my needs. First of all, it’s a second three-mana spell. Second, it can hit the one gap of cards like Oath of Druids and potentially In The Eye of Chaos. Finally, it is Scrollable.

In this tournament, Stax and Flash appeared to be the most popular decks. I decided that I needed a second basic Island, somewhere. Here were the options I was contemplating:

1 – In the sideboard. The problem with this is that the sideboard was extremely tight. Playing a land in the sideboard seems like it has a high potential of just being a wasted/strange slot anyway.
2 – In the place of creature. Psychatog is a card that I haven’t been using much at all. It’s really solid in the GAT mirror, however.

3 – Cutting the sixth fetchland in my list for a second basic Island. The problem with this is that I could begin to have color problems. I rarely have any issues with color using the build I am currently running. I’m reluctant to make this change. Filling one gap could create a worse problem than it solves.
4 – No second Island. In fact, one Island solves 95% of the problems with not running a basic land. You really don’t need a second Island for almost anything. There are only two Mana Drains that require Merchant Scroll. Unless they have Strip Mine, which is restricted, they can’t do anything about your basic Island once you’ve fetched it up. Since none of your spells require UU, why run a second? Why not fetch out another, more useful, land?

I ended up going with option 1. The reasoning looks like this: running a fifteenth land really risks getting mana flooded. This isn’t Gifts. You don’t need a fourth land in play. You don’t want a fourth land in play in the vast majority of situations because it means that you are mana flooded. You have more supply than you require. After all, this is a Gush deck. However, in the Stax matchup, and in other matchups where decks run a lot of Wastelands, as well as Magus of the Moon, the fifteenth land is perfect, for a host of reasons. It increases the chance that you’ll see a land off a Brainstorm. It also increases the probability that your first land drop will be a basic Island off your opening draw. Turn 1 Island practically ensures that your second turn dual land won’t get Wastelanded if you are holding Gush. But if you are forced to drop a dual land first, Wasteland can hit it before you are able to Gush.

In short, the reason to eventually go with option 1 had as much to do with a desire to have a fifteenth land in particular matchups as it did with a desire to have a second Island. Theoretically, and it never occurred to me until this moment, it could have been a Volcanic Island. In the matchups where I sideboard in the other three Red Elemental Blasts/ Pyroblast, sideboarding out the second Tropical Island for a second Volcanic Island is possibly the right move — especially in a matchup like Flash.

Anyway, I figured most of that out after I had time to reflect on it. Back to the tournament report.

Round 2:

With a 0-1 start, I’m suddenly ported back to 2001. I’m not sure if this happens in other formats, but at GenCon, there are often people who show up and register in Vintage solely because that’s the tournament for which their decks are obviously legal.

The gentleman who sat across from me had a completely unsleeved “Goblins” deck. I put Goblins in parenthesis because there were no Goblins that I recognized. No Goblin Lackey, no Piledriver, no Recruiter. I had to read most of the cards he played. In addition, he had no sideboard. Since he didn’t have a sideboard, I elected not to sideboard either. There was no possibility that I would lose this match anyway.

Here’s the dialogue that occurred after we shuffled up and drew our hands.

Me: “So, you have a decision to make now.”

Him: “I’ll elect to draw.”

Me: “What? Okay. I was referring to whether you wanted to keep your hand or not, but that’s fine.”

Round 3: New England, Myriad Games player whose name I can’t remember

He was playing Bomberman: the Trinket Mage, Auriok Salvagers, and now Aven Mindcensor Control-Aggro deck with Mana Drains and so forth. I don’t really recall much of this match except that I was playing around Aven Mindcensor repeatedly, and that he never actually cast one. In addition, I was able to fire off early Ancestral Recalls and stay ahead in card advantage. This was one of the few matches where I played a tight control deck the entire match. I was constantly asking how many cards were in his hand and ensuring that I could counter anything he might play and win every counterwar. I think he made a pretty big play mistake in the first game, but I don’t recall what it was.

I sideboarded in two Red Elemental Blasts, one of which I used to counter a Trinket Mage in the second game. I took the second game rather handily with Yawgmoth’s Will.

Round 4: Oliver Beaumont

Oliver is a British ex-pat who helped develop the Bomberman deck. I’ve seen his name listed many times in New England tournament results, but I’ve never met him or had the pleasure of playing him. He immediately struck me as a very strong player. I was pretty afraid of him, to be honest. It is one thing to know that you have an excellent grasp of the Vintage format, but Oliver would say and do things that made me realize that he had perhaps a more intimate grasp than I did over certain things. When I engaged him in counterwars, I was constantly afraid that he’d find ways of baiting me, or getting me to win a large counterwar but then win the game as a result.

Game 1:

My opening hand is just incredible. It has Library of Alexandria, Force of Will, and a Time Walk. He won the die roll and plays his own Library of Alexandria. I laugh because I draw a card and then drop mine. On his upkeep, I use Library.

Oliver draws a card, uses his Library, and plays a land.

I untap, draw a card, play Mox, Land, and then use my Library. I then cast Time Walk. It resolves. I untap and draw a card. I cast Duress on Oliver, seeing:

Mana Drain
Mana Drain
Force of Will
Mana Crypt
Tolarian Academy
Black Lotus?
And a spell I can’t remember.

I pass the turn. [Without taking a card? — Craig.]

He plays a land and passes the turn.

At this point, my goal is just to play the Control role. We each pass about one more turn, both using Library, when Oliver and I finally engage in a counterwar. He plays Mana Crypt, and Academy, and I think Black Lotus.

I Mana Drain him, he Mana Drains me, I think I Red Elemental Blast something off my Mox Ruby, he Forces, I Misdirect, He Drains me again, and I Force him. I win the counterwar, but he is at three cards.

Within a turn or so I Gush and am back using Library while he is out of the game. Basically, he explained that if he didn’t go for something soon, he was going to get buried. He went for it and it didn’t pan out.

Game 2:

My recollection is that my hand is extremely nutty. I believe I had turn 1 Fastbond, Duress, Gush, and Scrolled very early for an Ancestral Recall that resolved. I may have won the game on turn 2 or 3.

So, I’m 3-1 and I get 6 booster packs. Woo. hoo. Rich Mattuizzo wins by going 4-0. It was ridiculous that they only played four rounds with 35+ players and no Top 8, but no one really complained. We just enjoyed a taste of what was to come.

The information I gained, specifically from the Stax match, was invaluable. I re-designed my sideboard to the one that won me the Vintage Champs.

In addition, I got a sense of the metagame. Far and away the most popular decks were Flash and Workshops. GAT and Bomberman were third and fourth.

The next morning I slept in and leisurely made my way to observe some of the Legacy Champs after a nice breakfast at the Red Eye Café. I went back to my hotel, swam in the penthouse swimming pool, and then after some sun, some leisure reading, and a nice shower, I sat down to think about my sideboard. This is when I finalized my choice for Friday evening’s Vintage Championship Preliminary tournament.

The Legacy Prelims the night before had over 70 players. I watched a bit of that and Bill Stark grabbed me for a quick interview (you can read it here). The Vintage Prelims ended up over 50 players, I think about 56. That meant seven rounds of swiss, starting at 5pm. It was going to be a long night.

Here’s what I played:

The major changes:
I added another Pyroblast to the sideboard. I took Rich’s advice and played Rushing River. I added Island. I cut Artifact Mutation for Ancient Grudge and the second Oxidize for Rack and Ruin.

At roughly 5:20, the tournament began.

Round 1:
I sat down across from a Fish player who said that playing against me was very odd because he was so used to playing against people in his playtest group. He wasn’t used to seeing other people play with those cards.

Our first game goes for over 30 minutes. The early game is just a match of whittling away at my own life total with fetchlands and so forth. Every Dryad I drop is met with Swords to Plowshares, and I can’t seem to dig up others fast enough. We are both assuming the control role. I resolved early Ancestral and have plenty of counterspells to keep him from resolving threats. However, on the one turn where I was tapped down, he also managed to resolve his Ancestral. When I had previously Duressed him, I saw three Force of Wills. Now I imagined that he probably had at least two more Blue spells to fuel them. I managed to win the counterwars, but when he got a Grunt on the table and my plan of Yawgmoth’s Willing dissipated quickly. I chumped a few turns, but eventually he got me.

In game 2 I play turn 1 Quirion Dryad. He plays turn 1 Swords to Plowshares. I Duress and see: Force of Will, Force of Will, Tundra, Flooded Strand, Meddling Mage, and Meddling Mage.

I’m not exactly sure, but somehow I won this game. I don’t really have any recollection. We shuffle up and with about 30 seconds left in the round, I present my deck. With about 10 seconds left in the round, I draw my hand and announce that I’ll keep. He plays his first turn and during his first turn, time is called.

I know that he has no chance of winning, and I have only the slimmest chance. However, I set it up. I don’t remember many of the details except that I manage to kill him on turn 5 of turns. My kill had to involve Yawgmoth’s Will, Fastbond, and probably Berserk.

Unfortunately, because our final five turns took about 10 minutes total, the judges ordered me to sign the match slip when I hadn’t had a chance to look at it. I signed it, and my opponent had put down that he won the match 2-1.

Round 2: Stax player
I get paired against a Stax player. Somehow it comes out that he was in the 0-1 bracket. I call the judges over and explain that I won the previous round. They find my previous opponent. Rather than switch spots or repair since they were already well into the match, we would keep our current opponents but my record would be manually corrected. This killed my tiebreakers, but gave me an edge. I played a player who lost the previous round. He made several key mistakes with the Workshops and possibly could have won game 1. However, I took the game. One of the key problems was that he was cut off from colored mana. On turn 1 I Duress him and saw: Mishra’s Workshop, Crucible of Worlds, Chalice of the Void, three Goblin Welder, and Ancestral Recall. Obviously, I took Chalice of the Void. Eventually, I Duress him and see Karn and Platinum Angel too.

In game 2 I sideboarded in 1 Island, 1 Ancient Grudge, 2 Pithing Needle, 1 Oxidize, 1 Fire/Ice, and 1 Rack and Ruin for 4 Duress, 2 Misdirection, and 1 Red Elemental Blast. I rather handily got the second game.

Round 3: Ralph Forino, Stax
Now I play a Stax player of the highest competence. I am extremely concerned, but eager to see if my sideboard works against someone who is basically top notch with Stax.

I remember much more of this match because I amped up the intensity to remain completely focused.

Ralph wins the die roll, but I am very relieved to see that he mulligans to six. He opens with Wasteland. I play Fetchland and pass. He plays Mana Crypt and casts Trinisphere. At this point I break my Fetchland and cast Opt. My top card is a Gush, so it goes back. I then see Force of Will. I Force the Trinisphere and pitch something bad. I untap and Merchant Scroll for another Force of Will. He plays Ancient Tomb and some spells I don’t remember. I do remember letting most of his spells resolve. I don’t try to counter cards like Powder Keg, Crucible, and the like. My Duresses keep him off Balance. I manage to Duress a Demonic Tutor after he got a Crucible into play. I Scroll up Ancestral and then Scroll up another Force, and eventually I get the game.

I sideboard the same as last game. He has turn 1 Smokestack, which I let resolve despite having Force. The reason is that I also have Oxidize in hand. I let him ramp it up, and then on his end step I break my Fetchland for Tropical Island and cast Oxidize. He gums up the works a little bit, but my hate and answers keep him off balance. Eventually, I combo out with Fastbond, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Time Walk.

Round 4: Jeremy Seroogy
Jeremy made Top 8. I actually put him on Stax, since that is what he almost always plays. I am 0-2 against Jeremy in tournament play. You can read about my heartbreaking and tournament ending losses to Jeremy at SCG Rochester, Top 4 match here (he’s “Spooky Kid”) and my SCG Roanoke tournament contention ending match here.

Suffice to say, Jeremy killed my closest attempt at winning a big tournament last year. I was eager to avenge myself. But most of all, I knew this would be a fantastic match. It was fortunate that my opening hand had Force of Will because he opened with Island. He removed an Elvish Spirit Guide from game and cast Flash!

I Forced it and it was countered. He was banking on the fact that I’d anticipate him playing Stax and not mulligan into Force of Will. I was fortunate to have drawn it. I play Underground Sea and pass the turn. He plays Brainstorm, go. I topdeck Ancestral Recall here and instead of going with my original plan, I play it. Turns out he saw Misdirection. He Misdirections my Ancestral and then untaps and plays his own. That was a huge play mistake on my part. I am able to Duress him and I see: Street Wraith, Merchant Scroll, Force of Will, Polluted Delta, Black Lotus, Heart Sliver, Protean Hulk. Rather than combo out, however, he untaps and plays Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, a Tropical Island, and another Mox and casts Protean Hulk. He kills me within a few turns with a 6/6 Hulk.

I sideboard out three Quirion Dryads and something else for three more Red Elemental Blasts and a Fire/Ice. He assumes I sideboarded in Leylines.

Game 2:

He actually manages to Flash out, except that he apparently was stuck with Virulent Slivers in hand. He attacks me for eight poison counters with two Virulent Slivers, a Winged Sliver, and a Heart Sliver. I actually manage to stop all of that with Scroll for Fire/Ice and Fire/Ice the two Virulent Slivers. I pull that off by playing Fastbond, Gush, Duress, Scroll for Fire/Ice, Fire the Slivers. So I know his hand.

He topdecks Mox Emerald, which I have to Force. I go onto win this game.

Game 3:

He mulligans first to six and then to five. This wasn’t even a game. I take him pretty swiftly.

I’m 4-0 in a six round tournament, which usually means that I can just draw in from here. Unfortunately, my round 5 opponent, Tommy Kolowith, is 3-0-1. I scoop to him so that he makes Top 8. I draw the next round with [email protected] Degraff. The problem was that [email protected] actually wouldn’t make Top 8, I told him, if Mark Trogdon won his match. But because I scooped to his teammate the previous round as a gesture of goodwill, [email protected] agreed to draw anyway. Sadly, Mark beat Vroman and [email protected] got 9th place.

The top 8 decklists can be found here.

Top 8: Lam Phan – Landstill
I am paired up against the matchup I had been dreading. This is the deck that Rich Mattiuzzo had been wrecking Canada with for the last several months. Rich started playing Landstill back in 2001 when I was playing Mono Blue control. I remember many of our online matches with those decks. If anyone knows how to fight Landstill, it’s probably me. Lam is playing Rich’s deck.

I’ve also never played against Lam, a perennial Canadian Vintage all-star.

Game 1:

I have a control-heavy hand and manage to outcounter everything Lam does. Unfortunately, I can’t capitalize by playing men. Lam gets manlands into play and beating first, and he gets the game.

Game 2:

I sideboarded in Red Elemental Blasts. I have a fairly aggressive hand and although I take few beats, I play around his early Standstill, break it, instigate a large counterwar which I win, untap and then Yawgmoth’s Will combo him.

Game 3:

My hand is broken and I go nuts quickly. Before I actually go through the motions, Lam Phan concedes. I am furious at him. It’s past 1am, and now I’m forced to claw my way through these standings. My goal for this tournament was not to win it so much as to get the necessary practice and know-how in to prepare myself for the main event, ensuring that my deck is properly tuned.

Top 4: Mark Trogdon
Mark Trogdon is an Ohio native who was featured in last year’s Vintage Championship match coverage. Mark has improved his game tremendously over the last two years and is a serious threat at any Vintage event. He is playing a Workshop Aggro deck akin to the TnT decks of years past, except that he is using equipment such as Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa’s Jitte. He also just knocked Vroman out of the tournament, which speaks for itself.

Mark plays turn 1 Mishra’s Workshop, Umezawa’s Jitte.

I open with Mox Sapphire, Land, Time Walk. I untap, play a Sea and cast Duress. I see: Juggernaut, Magus of the Moon, Mountain, Wasteland, Shrapnel Blast. I take the Shrapnel Blast.

He plays Juggernaut and I manage to Cunning Wish for Rack and Ruin to kill the Juggernaut and the Jitte.

I manage to counter the Magus, but he keeps playing men and eventually a Solemn Simulacrum with Sword of Fire and Ice all over it beats me down for the kill. I drew Misdirections and land and no answers.

Game 2:

See my Stax sideboard plans above.

I have no recollection of these games except that have some tense and grueling matches, and I manage to take down Trogdon.

Finals: Tommy Kolowith with Sullivan Solution using MaskNought
Tommy Kolowith is an individual I’ve written much about last year. He was the best performing Magic player in Vintage last year, winning at least two SCG P9 events, a Waterbury Day 2 by himself, and finishing in the finals of a couple of other major events, including the 2006 Vintage Champs. I’ve never had the pleasure of playing Tommy. However, it’s 3am and I am exhausted.

Tommy is using a brilliant deck. He has SS, a deck which most Vintage players are familiar with, but has incorporated Phyrexian Dreadnoughts and a few Illusionary Masks. Since the deck already has lots of Stifles, he can just drop Dreadnought and Stifle or Mask and Dreadnought and win games. Also, Mask makes Dark Confidant (etc) uncounterable.

Game 1:

It appears that I have control of the game and am well on my way to sealing it up when, at a moment in which I don’t have countermagic, he drops Dreadnought and Stifles its trigger. My 6/6 Dryad is no match for that. My life goes from 18, to 6, to dead.

I bring in lots of Red Elemental Blasts and Fire/Ice.

Game 2:

Game 2 is very interesting. His hand was otherwise not terribly controlling, and everything I play resolves. Tommy sets up an insane hand that has Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker with a Mox on top (put there via Brainstorm). On that precise turn I topdeck Black Lotus. As a result, I am able to play Vampiric Tutor into Yawgmoth’s Will, Opt into it, and play it and then combo out. If I had played Duress, I would have probably lost. I figured he didn’t have Force in his final two cards, and I was right.

Game 3:

I manage to combo out rather quickly. He tries to Trickbind a Dryad, but the judge rules that that doesn’t work. Tommy thought that Trickbind stops all Dryad counters from accumulating, but it doesn’t.

I should mention that a key to my match against Tommy is realizing that he has Stifles. I played around Stifle at every single turn with very little cost to myself, despite having six fetchlands. I believe Stifle is a card that traps bad players, but is very weak against strong Vintage players.

It’s now 4am and I am exhausted. However, I have two byes for tomorrow.

I had to work my way through an insane gauntlet of players to earn those byes, so I’m happy with the experience, but concerned that I’ll scrub out tomorrow due to sheer exhaustion. In 2005, I also had two byes, but it didn’t do me much good. I finished in the Top 16, well out of the Top 8. I arrive in the hotel room and jump into bed with Patrick Chapin (we had seven guys in our hotel room). Brian DeMars and Mark Biller were still up building their decks. We chat for a bit and go to sleep.

The Vintage Championship

Everyone else wakes up at 9am, but I roll out of bed at 10:30 and walk to the site, register, and wait for the players meeting. Afterward, I go for a walk, get some breakfast, read a bit, and head back with about a half hour left in the second round of the tournament.

Round 1 & Round 2: Byes

Round 3: Scott Limoges

Scotty. I love Scotty. He’s a great guy. The first time I met Scott, I was at my first Waterbury, January, 2004. Lion’s Eye Diamond had just been restricted and my precious Long.dec was taken from me. In its stead I played Death Wish Long and used Cabal Rituals. I had many turn 1 kills. Unfortunately, future teammate Jacob Orlove and later Rich Shay (in our first ever match) took me out of the tournament.

I went on to do match coverage for the finals. Gush had been restricted for over 6 months and yet Scott Limoges was still playing GroAtog. You can read my coverage of his match here.

Scott won at least one Waterbury with GroAtog when Gush was restricted. That should tell you something about how good Scott is with GroAtog. He also came up with Ritual Gifts concurrently at the same time we did. Scott is a great Vintage player and a great guy.

At the same time, I haven’t lost the mirror match since 2003, and only then to one person ever, my personal test partner Joe Bushman.

In some ways, this match was just like the finals with Shay, but in reverse. Scott won the die roll and was a turn ahead of me the entire game, tempo wise. He did “sack” into Yawgmoth’s Will the turn before I was going to go off. However, he intelligently baited all of the countermagic out of my hand so his Will would resolve. We had both resolved Ancestrals as well. He went off and there was nothing I could do about it.

I sideboarded in 3 Red Element Blasts/Pyroblasts for 2 Mana Drains and Vampiric Tutor. Scotty evidently sideboarded out his Dryads. I put up a valiant fight, but Scott was ahead the whole time, from my now-vague recollection. I believe Scott killed my Dryad at the critical time with Cunning Wish for Snuff Out.

So, I had two byes and now I had a loss already, my first match in the tournament. If I was going to lose a match, I suppose it should be in the mirror, although my mastery of the mirror made this one a hard loss to swallow, even against expert GAT pilot Mr. Limoges.

Such is life.


Round 4:

I am paired up against David Carheart, who I played in the final round of GenCon last year. He is playing SS, again, but this time with a Red splash for Magus of the Moon, among other goodies.

I am not sure who went first, but in my notes when I Duressed him I saw:
Duress, double Dark Confidant, Volcanic Island, Island, Dimir Cutpurse, and Flooded Strand.

On the other hand, I think he played a turn 1 Chalice for zero, but I’m not sure.

His life went from 19, to 15, to 10, to 5. I believe that much of that damage was from seeing Force of Will of a Dark Confidant and then my Dryads ate him alive. Quirion Dryad was clearly the key to this matchup. In game 2, he has turn 1 Mox, Land, Time Walk and drops a Cutpurse. I Force it. However, he has too much disruption between Pyroblast, Spell Snare, Force of Will, Magus of the Moon, Duress, and other threats like a Dark Confidant that starts eating away at me. I go from 18, to 16, to 14, to 12, and then a Cutpurse joins and the battle and I die soon thereafter.

In game 3, I have complete control. An early Duress sees: Red Elemental Blast, Wasteland, Delta, Dark Confidant, and Ninja of Deep Hours. I let him try to Ninja me, which is met by Red Elemental Blast. His late game Magus is necessary for me to cast Fire/Ice in hand since he Wasteded my Volcanic Island. Once I Fire his Magus, I untap and combo out with Fastbond and Yawgmoth’s Will.


Round 5: Rich Mattiuzzo

I’ve already mentioned Rich and his annoying, extremely hateful U/R Landstill deck. Rich took Patrick Chapin out of the tournament in round 7. Neither Rich nor I wanted to play this match. Although we were both X-1, I think we both liked our chances if we just drew. Plus, this would give us an opportunity to take a break and get some food. It was worth it as we both made Top 8.


Round 6: Simon Hale (Purple Hat)

This matchup is intense. Simon made Top 8 at the Vintage Champs two years ago. Plus, he’s also playing GroAtog. I can’t honestly tell you much about what happened except that he did give me a run for my money. I stayed ahead of him the whole game. At one point I Duressed him and saw double Gush, Brainstorm, and Mox Ruby. I took Brainstorm. Unfortunately, he topdecked another, but that shows you that I fear Brainstorm more than Gush.

I bring in a bunch of Red Blasts in game 1, and we trade swings with Dryads until I get the jump on him and kill him by comboing out.


Round 7: JACO with Oath

This was the most terrifying match of the day, and the second most difficult. Strategically, Oath has superiority to GAT. I have to be either extremely aggressive or able to stop Oath with Duresses, Forces and the like to win. Even worse, he won the die roll.

Game 1 was murder. He kept a hand with Wasteland and Strip Mine and played turn 1 Chalice for one. As a consequence, I was on one land and two Moxen for two-thirds of the game and unable to play my opening Ancestral. I did, however, have turn 1 Dryad. I attacked him for two damage a turn for five turns as we just played draw go. At that point I played another one-mana spell into his Chalice and attacked for three. He went to six. When I tried the same thing next turn, he Wiped Away the Dryad. Since I didn’t have a Green mana anymore, I couldn’t replay it, so I discarded my Dryad. We played draw-go another eight or nine turns. Note that probably on turn 7 or so he played Gaea’s Blessing. We both set up hands with essentially seven counterspells. When he finally went to play Oath, I could cast: Mana Drain, Force of Will, Force of Will, Misdirection. Unfortunately, his mana superiority (Black Lotus is good, I hear) ensured that he could resolve his Oath by Draining three times. He discarded Thunder Dragon at one point. When he finally got the Oath down, it didn’t matter because he drew the second creature in his deck and Blessing was already in his graveyard. I killed him with an Orchard token and a new Dryad.

Game 2:

We have ten minutes left in the match because game 1 took so long. I sideboarded in Rushing River.

On turn 1, astonishingly, JACO plays Mox Jet and passes the turn. I have turn 1 Duress and see:

Oath of Druids
Oath of Druids
Mana Drain
Thirst for Knowledge
Strip Mine

Wow. I take an Oath.

He topdecks Mox Emerald and plays Oath of Druids. He Wastes and Strips my first two lands, but it doesn’t matter because I have Ancestral Recall and more cards to dig with. He soon plays Life From the Loam to dredge up a Forbidden Orchard, which he does. I Mana Drain his LFTL and play a mid-range Yawgmoth’s Will that helps me dig into Time Walk among other cards. I Duress anything relevant from his hand. I finally River the Oath and then Duress it away. A couple of turns later I drop Psychatog and after swinging for two, and then seven. It goes all the way. I win game 2 with under a minute left in the round.


Round 8: Tommy Kolowith with GAT sans Dryads

Instead of running Dryads, he’s running an Empty the Warrens. Once again, Tommy Kolowith is a fearsome competitor and a spectacular Magic player.

Honestly, it is my opinion that Tommy is the most skilled player in Vintage Magic. I’ve played against hundreds of people in Vintage and there is no one’s skills I respect more than Tommy. He’s up there with Brian DeMars, Vroman, Shay, Chang, etc, but it is almost as if Tommy has his own tier.

I win the die roll, importantly.

Game 1:

I Duress Tommy and see: Black Lotus, Mox Ruby, Underground Sea, Mana Drain, Mana Drain, Gush, Force of Will.

This is one of the hardest Duress decisions I’ve ever had to make. Black Lotus would seem to be the presumptive choice. It helps his storm if he were to draw Empty the Warrens. However, I’m pretty sure I make him discard Force of Will and play turn 1 Quirion Dryad. He can’t Gush, at least not in the near term. He is stuck on Lotus, Sea, and Ruby for several turns while I Gro beatdown. That’s precisely what happened. I win this game.

Game 2:

Tommy mulligans to six and keeps a hand with no land, but Mox Jet. He plays Mox Jet and passes.

I turn 1 Duress and see: Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, Merchant Scroll, Demonic Tutor, and Mana Drain. I take Ancestral Recall. A turn later I duress the DT. By the time he finds a land, I’ve knocked him out of the game.

I’m in Top 8.


Here are the Top 8 decklists.


Quarterfinals: Ray Robillard, Staxless Stax

This match takes over an hour and is the hardest match of my entire day.

Ray Robillard is an amazing individual. He is the operator of the Waterburies, the biggest Vintage tournaments in the format, and an all around great guy. Last year he stayed with me. One of the drawbacks of being the creator of the Waterbury is that he can’t play in his own events. GenCon is an opportunity for him to showcase his Magical talents. I am very happy he made Top 8 with his own creation: Staxless Stax.

To decide who goes first, we play Rock Lobster, Paper Tiger, and Scissors Lizard from Unglued, best two of three. Everyone is entertained. I win the first draw, lose the second, but win the third. I elect to play.

Game 1:

I have turn 1 Time Walk. I untap, play another land, Ancestral Recall and Duress him twice. I see:

Coalition Relic
Gemstone Mine
Sol Ring
Orb of Dreams
Strip Mine
Black Lotus

I take Black Lotus and Sol Ring. He topdecks a Mox, however, and casts turn 2 Coalition Relic. But it’s too late. I’ve developed too far. I Mana Drain his Trike and combo out with the mana.

Game 2:

My opening hand has Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Ancestral Recall, and lands. He goes like this:

Black Lotus
Mox Sapphire
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mishra’s Workshop
Orb of Dreams

It resolves.

Then he taps the Mox Sapphire and plays Ancestral Recall, drawing three cards.

He thinks for a moment and sacrifices the Black Lotus for Trinisphere, which, fortunately, comes into play tapped and is therefore turned off. [Now THAT’S a turn… eat your heart out, Affinity. — Craig, amused.]

I draw a card and play Island, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, all tapped.

He untaps and plays Tinker for Sundering Titan, nuking my land.

I play Volcanic Island, tapped, and pass the turn.

He attacks me to 13 life. I untap, play Tropical Island, and pass the turn.

He attacks me to 4, thinking he’s got it in the bag. On his end step, I Vampiric Tutor for Rack and Ruin. I untap and blow up Trinisphere and Sundering Titan.

In retrospect, I probably should have killed Orb of Dreams instead. We play draw go for a long time. I Scroll for Force and Force his key threats, such as Chalice on two. I do it again. I can do it one more time, but decide to get Ancestral instead this time. It costs me. He finally plays Goblin Welder. Soon he has Crucible + Strip Mine lock with Orb of Dreams and I can’t draw another Mox in order to play spells around Trinisphere.

I almost won a game in which I faced turn 1 Trinisphere and Ancestral and turn 2 Tinker. Pretty impressive.

Game 3:

My hand is mediocre, but definitely keepable. I have Fastbond on turn 1, but no really good follow-ups. He drops Powder Keg and I drop Pithing Needle to stop it. He also plays early Sphere of Resistance and Sensei’s Divining Top. My Dryad cannot Gro, for some time. My board is something like Tropical Island, Library of Alexandria, Volcanic Island for many turns. I am cut off from Black, holding Vamp in hand. I don’t want to attack with my 1/1 Dryad into his Welder. He deals a substantial amount of damage to himself from City of Brass, going to 13 from that and other miscellaneous ways you hurt yourself in Vintage. My turns are only a few seconds while he takes these enormous turns that grows to 3 Welders + Top insanity with much Welder, much looking at the top of his deck, and much stacking and Welding to draw free cards without having to put Top on the top of his library. Eventually, he plays Mana Crypt and can’t keep it Welded out indefinitely. It sends him from 11 to 7 to 4 to 1. Meanwhile, I’m attacking with Dryad and he’s forced to chump, one Welder at a Time. Finally, when he has just one Welder out and is at one life, I play a second Dryad and he untaps, draws a card and scoops.

At this point, I am mentally wiped. I go to the rest room, wash my face and head back out for the semifinals match.

To give the semifinals greater visibility, the judges have erected a playing area with a feature table and a circle of tables fenced around it so that everyone can watch from all angles.

A crowd of probably 40 people gathers, taking up every major open area near the table/fence.

Semifinals: Vincent Forino

Vincent Forino has slowly been making a name for himself, most recently by Top 8ing at SCG Boston.

I faced Vincent last Spring at SCG Rochester in the final round of Swiss. You can see my report here. He was playing the same deck he played this weekend. Unfortunately for Vincent, I killed him twice on turn 1 at the SCG event. Fortunately for him now, I wasn’t playing Grim Long.

Vincent also just knocked Scott Limoges out of the tournament, so I know that Vincent’s deck is capable of beating GAT. On the other hand, I know that his major surprise is Tendrils. I realize that he is a real threat, but I am not afraid to face him. I foresee myself winning this matchup.

Game 1:

I can’t remember for sure, but I think I won the die roll.

I Duress and see: Cabal Pit, Swamp, Bazaar of Baghdad, Dark Confidant, Ancestral Recall, Dark Ritual, and Dark Ritual.

I believe I took Ancestral Recall. Vincent plays Dark Ritual, Duress (taking my Force of Will), and Dark Confidant.

The Dark Confidant reveals a Dark Confidant and then a Tendrils of Agony. However, on my second turn I make a big mistake. I Mystical on my upkeep for Force of Will (with Merchant Scroll in hand). Instead I shouldn’t have cast Mystical at all, saving it for later or Mystical for Demonic Tutor. He uses the Bazaar and attacks me with Confidants. My life goes quickly from 18, to 16, to 14 with two swings of Bob. If I had gotten Mystical into DT, and then DTed for Black Lotus or Fastbond, I would have won the game. I couldn’t go off with Yawgmoth’s Will because I had no way to generate enough mana to make use of my Yawgmoth’s Will, nor could I seem to find any creatures to block with. I manage to keep him off Tendrils though, with Duresses and well-timed Force of Wills, but it doesn’t matter. He wins game 1.

Game 2:

I sideboard in only Fire/Ice.

He mulligans to six and plays Fetchland, go.

I Duress him and see:

Dark Confidant
Cabal Pit
Night’s Whisper
Tendrils of Agony
Cabal Ritual

I take the Tendrils, I think.

This time, his hand is too slow to do anything. Although I don’t draw Dryads, I play Tog and Tog does go all the way. It just takes a few turns.

Game 3:

This game was a nail-biter. I put all my eggs in the Yawgmoth’s Will basket. Let’s walk through it.

Vincent opens with Swamp, go. I Duress him and see: Night’s Whisper, Wasteland, Dark Confidant, Cabal Ritual, Tendrils of Agony, Tendrils of Agony, Necropotence. The obvious card to take is Necropotence, although I’m tempted to take Cabal Ritual. I don’t want him to risk topdecking a Dark Ritual.

On turn 2 he plays Dark Confidant. He doesn’t Wasteland my land, so the Gush in hand to answer that isn’t really getting used at the moment. For the next few turns he just attacks with Confidant. I Drain another Confidant and untap and Brainstorm. My plan was just to play Tog, but the cards I now see force me to think about how I can just win the game.

At the crucial point in the game, when I have fallen to 12 life, I have two options with Vampiric Tutor: I can just drop Psychatog to stop the bleeding and turn the beatdown on him, or I can just go for Yawgmoth’s Will. If I play Tog, the multiple Tendrils he’s revealed off Dark Confidant (he’s at 10 life) have the potential to just kill him in an unstoppable manner. After all, he’s got three lands in play too. However, if I Vamp for Will, I’ll Will, and have to Vamp for Fastbond. At that point I’ll be at 8 life and can only play a few more lands. I have two Fetchlands in my graveyard and playing and breaking each one will cost me two life. Both lines of play entail great risk. I decide to bank on a card that hasn’t failed me yet.

I Vamp for Yawgmoth’s Will. I play it. I Vamp again for Fastbond and I Gush into it. I’m at 8 life. I play Trop for the turn and play Fastbond. I Gush again. I replay those lands. I’m at 5. Eventually, a more coherent plan forms. He’s at 10 life with a tapped Confidant. If he gets to untap, I die. All I need to do is to get a Dryad into play with only a few counters, and Time Walk, and find a way from there to Berserk it. I Brainstorm, play a Fetchland from my graveyard and break it. I play three lands (sending myself to two) and a Mox I drew and play Dryad + Time Walk. I untap, Scroll for Cunning Wish, Cunning Wish, and Berserk for exactly 10 damage.

Finals: Rich Shay, the Atog Lord

Here is the play by play of the match.

I will follow that grid and try and unpack what was going on, tactically and strategically.

I win the die roll.

My opening hand is:

Ancestral Recall
Merchant Scroll
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Polluted Delta
7th card I don’t remember.

My plan is clear: To resolve Ancestral, I’ll need to Scroll up a Force of Will. However, turn 1 Merchant Scroll is the wrong play. If I Brainstorm, there is a chance I’ll see a Duress on turn 1. Then on turn 2 I can Scroll for Force and Ancestral.

I play Delta and break it for Volcanic Island and Brainstorm into Duress. I hide the Ancestral on top and play Mox Jet, Duress.

I see:

Underground Sea
Ancestral Recall
2 Quirion Dryad

I am incredibly surprised. By taking the Ancestral, I have the possibility of just knocking Rich out right now. Missing a land drop would be huge.

I take Ancestral.

As anticipated, he plays Sea, Duress, taking my Merchant Scroll.

I untap and draw Ancestral and play it. I play Flooded Strand, break it for Underground Sea and cast Brainstorm. Then I played Mox Emerald and cast Quirion Dryad.

Rich played Tropical Island and his own Quirion Dryad.

On my third turn, I played a third fetchland and found a Polluted Delta. I need to play Merchant Scroll here, but for what? I have five mana on the table, it’s time to go for the gusto. I get Mystical Tutor and play it for Yawgmoth’s Will.

I attack with Quirion Dryad (3/3). At this point I’m holding Red Elemental Blast in hand. I know that he has Regrowth. I expect that if he draws a third land, he has two additional options to playing a second Dryad: 1) He can Regrowth Ancestral and play it or 2) play Psychatog. Both options are answered by my REB.

He plays Flooded Strand, breaks it for Underground Sea and plays Regrowth on Ancestral. Unfortunately, and frustratingly, he waits until I am going to put Yawgmoth’s Will on the stack to play it. He attacks with Dryad and passes.

I untap, draw and cast Yawgmoth’s Will. In response, he plays Ancestral Recall. Since I’ve seen every card in his hand except for one, I think there is almost no chance he has Force or Misdirection. He does. I Red Elemental Blast his Ancestral and he Force of Wills my Yawgmoth’s Will. I attack with a 5/5 Dryad.

Rich attacks me with his 3/3 and passes the turn.

I draw and play Vampiric Tutor. This is difficult. To kill Rich I need to Berserk over his Dryads. Alternatively, if he continues to attack me, Time Walk should do the trick. I make a quick mana count and realize that if I Vamp for Demonic Tutor, I can still DT for Cunning Wish for Berserk with the mana on board. Alternatively, if this option is better, I can DT for Time Walk.

I attack for 6.

Rich untaps and swings back for 3.

I untap and draw Demonic Tutor.

Rich asks the judge for the text on Berserk and I quickly realize that he wants to know if it is Misdirectable. It is. Instead of getting Cunning Wish for Berserk, I instead get Time Walk.

Jokingly, Rich says: “Well, this is GenCon. Judge, is Time Walk target player?” Of course, the judge says “no.”

Rich scoops.

Game 2:

My opening hand is:

Tropical Island
Black Lotus
Quirion Dryad

This hand is solid.

Turn 1:

Rich opens with Land, Mox, Merchant Scroll for Ancestral. That seems like it may be a mistake to me, but I can’t complain. It does signal, however, that he probably is holding Force of Will.

I think about what to do. I could Brainstorm again, or just drop Fastbond trying to bait his Force. The most attractive line of play, however, is definitely Dryad + double Duress. This depends upon the resolution of Lotus, however.

I play Tropical Island and Black Lotus. When Black Lotus resolves, I am confident that my Dryad will as well. I sacrifice Black Lotus for BBB. I tap the Trop and play Dryad. I cast Duress.

I see:

Ancestral Recall
Force of Will
Mana Drain

I think. And think.

Rich is wondering what the heck I’m thinking about. What he doesn’t realize is that I have another Duress in hand. If I Duress the Ancestral, he can just Force my second Duress and then Smother the Dryad on his second turn and prevent me from winning the game quickly. He’ll negate the tremendous tempo advantage I’ve gained by creating a 3/3 on turn 1 that will surely attack for at least four on turn 2.

I entertain the notion of taking Force and then Smother. Eventually, I decide that if his Ancestral resolves, he can probably create a Dryad that is bigger. So I take the Ancestral and he says “It took you that long to figure out to take Ancestral?” Rather than respond and let him think about it, I just say: “Hold on, I have another Duress.” He doesn’t even pick up his hand. He lets me take Smother.

I pass the turn.

Rich plays Brainstorm and another Merchant Scroll for Mystical Tutor. I comment that that is the card I’d get too.

I untap, draw, and play Brainstorm. I see another land and play it. I also see another Duress, so I cast Duress seeing: Gush, Force of Will, Mystical Tutor. Rich obviously shuffled away the Mana Drain. I take Mystical Tutor.

I swing with a 5/5 Dryad.

Rich untaps and floats a Black mana, and a Blue. He then casts Gush returning his lands to hand. He plays Underground Sea, Quirion Dryad, and Time Walk. He untaps and attacks me with a 2/2.

On my third turn, I untap and draw Merchant Scroll. I Scroll up Gush and Gush. Note that I’ve been holding Fastbond since turn 1. My hand is: Tropical Island, Underground Sea, Mox Sapphire, Fastbond, Merchant Scroll, and Force of Will. I replay Tropical Island and cast Fastbond.

Rich plays Force of Will, pitching Gush, I think.

At this point I can Force of Will back up the Fastbond. However, it’s irrelevant. I have a 7/7 Dryad on the table. If he didn’t have Force I could Scroll for another Gush, but it’s unnecessary. If he Forces he has no cards in hand and a 3/3 Dryad. I let his Force resolve.

He untaps, draws and says: “I think you’re bluffing Force of Will.”

He casts Yawgmoth’s Will. I obviously Force of Will it, pitching my Scroll. Good thing I decide not to protect the Fastbond! Knowing what’s important, not just what’s good, is critical to winning in Vintage.

I untap and attack with an 8/8 Dryad. He is forced to chump with his.

He untaps and floats mana, Gushes, and casts Opt, which fails to find to yield a solution.

I untap, draw, and attack. Rich extends his hand and offers his congratulations.

Feelings Upon Winning the Vintage Championship

I urge you to read in the Wizards Coverage.

I’ve been writing and working on Vintage for so long, and to be honest, I never expected this. In previous years, I have expected to make Top 8. The first year I was in Europe. We had an insane Psychatog deck and my fellow teammate, Carl Winter, took home the Black Lotus painting. The next year I had a perfect metagame deck for the Workshop metagame. I crushed the swiss. However, I lost in the quarterfinals to David Allen’s Strip Mine, the one card in his deck that could have stopped me.

In 2005, I had developed what I thought was one of the most impressive decks ever to appear in modern Vintage, Meandeck Gifts. I lost to a surprise Oath deck piloted by GWS and an unlucky match against Fish, despite having two byes. Then last year, I played the deck that had won me multiple power in SCG events: Grim Long. I got knocked out.

I knew going in that I would probably not have a bigger advantage at a Vintage Worlds, having helped develop GroAtog back in 2003 to make it what it was (along with Roland Bode and the predecessor deck credited to Patrick Chapin). But I honestly never entertained the idea that I’d win the whole event. After my loss to Scott Limoges, I didn’t even think my chances for making Top 8 were strong.

On Thursday, during the 1pm Vintage event and in between rounds, I saw Rich and we talked for a while. I told him that I was really looking forward to playing him this weekend. That was the truth, too. He explained that he historically has not performed well at GenCon. This is his third GenCon and in the previous two he did not make Top 8. But, he acknowledged, if there was a year to do it, it was this one. GAT is a monster. I agreed. I told him that I would love to play him in the finals. He nodded, with a subtle twitch. In the five games we played over the course of our two matches last year, I had three turn 1 kills and a turn 2 kill, and one loss. Of course, I always felt good about playing Grim Long against Control Slaver. Similarly, I felt I had a strong edge over Rich in the GAT mirror. He asked me several times what I like about the Red splash. On Thursday I told him that I didn’t want to convince him that Red was good. If he didn’t like it, then I didn’t want him to play it. I believe Red gives you a significant edge in the GAT mirror.

The other thing about playing in the Vintage champs is that you can’t allow yourself to dream about winning it all. After Top 8ing in 2004, I really wanted it last year and the year before, but it was not to be. I couldn’t allow myself to daydream about winning it. It was a futile distraction.

Before our match, as described in the coverage, Rich explained that the one thing that mattered to him was the title. I was more concerned that we wouldn’t be playing a match of Magic over a painting that I felt was so valuable. I cared about the title, but had long resigned myself to never getting there.

But once it happened, when Rich extended his hand and the crowd began clapping, I could feel my tear ducts fire. I titled my head down just a bit, willed myself into composure, stood up, cracked a joke about being truly insufferable now, and then felt the pull of my teammates reaching across to grab my arm. From there I just began walking around the interior of the feature match fence of tables, shaking hands with everyone who extended a hand across the partition. One after another, more and more people offering congratulations, extended their hands. My field of view was full of the sight of so many familiar faces, friends, and competitors I have played against and with for years. Others wanted a photograph of the painting, so we let them get those shots. Still others asked me to sign Gushes and Merchant Scrolls, and I happily did so.

While the accomplishment matters, what I feel now is so much more profound. Years ago, Ed Palzik called me an “ambassador” for the format, a title I was never comfortable with. But with the incredible support from the Eternal community in the Invitational balloting, and now with this, I feel more and more like a representative of an incredible, vibrant, and brilliant community of players who share the same adoration for this format that I do. I feel as if a weight has been lifted. No matter what happens, no matter what’s next, I feel as if I can be proud of this. But I also feel the responsibility all the more to truly live up to the role of ambassador. I hope I am up the challenge.

Thoughts on Quirion Dryad

There has recently been a lot of debate about the validity of Quirion Dryad in optimal Gush lists. When it was announced that Gush would be unrestricted, my immediate impulse was to build a Gush Tendrils deck. After all, Storm became legal the minute that Gush was restricted — they never existed together. It would seem like a natural fit. After some testing, I realized that I was wrong. GroAtog was still better.

People who dismiss Dryad I think miss some important elements of the card. One element they miss is that it gives you an amazing tempo option to go into the beatdown role with Duress and Force protection. See my match against Shay. It gives you role option that no other card except perhaps Tarmogoyf can provide. But it is also an amazing mid-game drop. In fact, the only really suboptimal time to drop Dryad is on turn 2.

The most important thing that people miss is that Quirion Dryad is really “Storm Man.” He is Storm Entity in reverse. He was Storm before they printed the Storm mechanic.

Quirion Dryad holds and accumulates all of the Storm you play over the course of not just a turn, but of the game. Since Vintage decks play so many spells, that makes him an absolutely amazing creature. One of my initial ideas for Meandeck Tendrils was to also run Quirion Dryad, since the goal was simply to play ten spells every game.

Quirion Dryad is Storm, but just for your spells. The trade off is that he keeps the storm you play the entire game.

DCI Action?

One of the challenges the DCI has now is to consider what to restrict, unrestrict, or whether to do anything at all. Part of the mess in the Vintage metagame is a consequence of previous interventions by the DCI. If the DCI had not unrestricted Gush and restricted Gifts, I seriously doubt the metagame would look like this. Flash would be good, but GroAtog would not exist and Gifts and Pitch Long would be the other top two decks.

This is part of what I was getting at in a previous article this year when I said that DCI intervention has the potential to do as much harm as good. This is why, with respect to the DCI and Vintage, I’m pretty much a libertarian. Let the free market have its way. It is far more able to find solutions than the DCI is. Worse yet, when players see frequent and aggressive DCI intervention, they come to expect it. Equally troublesome, there is essentially no uniformity of opinion as to what should be done right now. Every person has their own opinion, which probably differs in some important respects from the next person.

Let me lay out the basic (relevant) options and walk you through them.

1 – The DCI does nothing
2 – The DCI restricts Brainstorm
3 – The DCI restricts Gush
4 – The DCI restricts Merchant Scroll
5 – The DCI restricts Flash
6 – The DCI restricts Gush and Flash
7 – The DCI restricts Flash and unrestricts Fact or Fiction

Concurrent with each of these options, the DCI should unrestrict Dream Halls, which is unplayable.

Just as a starting point, it seems to me that the DCI is probably least inclined to reverse decisions most recently made. That is, it would seem to me that if there is a tie between re-restricting Gush and restricting something else in its stead, I would see them doing the latter.

Let’s begin with Option 4: The most elegant and simple solution is to restrict Merchant Scroll. I can’t deny that. Restricting Merchant Scroll significantly slows GAT and Flash, addressing both decks with a single answer. It was probably the card that should have been restricted instead of Gifts Ungiven, since Merchant Scroll is the superior card and the better tutor.

Unfortunately, there are important consequences that flow from this possible decision. First of all, had the DCI not unrestricted Gush, it is far from clear that this would have been necessary. The DCI may be trying to clean up a mistake by making a potentially worse one with unknown consequences. One of those consequences may be the fact that you are creating a critical mass of restrictions in Vintage. It is certainly foreseeable that every Blue deck would then begin deck design as: 1 Ancestral Recall, 1 Time Walk, 1 Merchant Scroll, etc. As you restrict key components in Vintage, especially design components, decks become less consistent, internally synergistic, and more random and less fun to build and play with. They become less internally coherent.

With respect to GroAtog, it isn’t clear to me how effective restricting Merchant Scroll will be. I think it would probably take GAT off the uber-power tier, but GAT could theoretically remain the best deck. After all, GAT in 2003 basically ran 1-2 Merchant Scroll, a design error almost certainly, but that deck was even more dominant in 2003 than GAT is now.

If Merchant Scroll were restricted, here’s the changes I would make to my GAT list:

– 3 Merchant Scroll
+ 1 Imperial Seal
+ 1 Regrowth
+ (unsure of what the third card would be)

From a consideration of those changes, it isn’t at all clear that restricting Merchant Scroll actually addressing GroAtog. It will undoubtedly make it less explosive, but by a margin that is not readily knowable.

Option 2 is actually the most logical, from a perspective of pure logic. Brainstorm is the best unrestricted card in Vintage. It is, tempo-wise, Ancestral Recall. It says “draw three cards for one Blue mana.” Sometimes, it is actually better (when you need to hide or shuffle back cards — which many, if not most Vintage decks, seek to do from time to time). Brainstorm helps make GAT and Flash what they are. Without Brainstorm, I’m not sure how viable a deck with the light manabase of GAT would become. You’d have to play probably four Opts, at a minimum. Without Brainstorm, Flash loses its best card drawer. I was talking with Patrick Chapin and we discussed what decks would take if they had the option of playing either four Brainstorms or one Ancestral Recall, but not both. Flash would play three Brainstorms over one Ancestral, that’s how good Brainstorm is in Flash. In fact, I imagine Patrick might even take two Brainstorms over one Ancestral, if push came to shove. Brainstorm, theoretically, could have been restricted and should have been restricted years ago. It would have crippled the Grim Long and Pitch Long decks from last year’s Vintage champs and actually probably just transformed the Vintage metagame, making Gifts not really a problem.

The problem is that Brainstorm is viewed as a “nuts and bolts” card. Without it, deck construction in Vintage changes dramatically. Much as I was saying with the restriction of Scroll — Vintage decks become less “coherent” and we lead to a restricted list that essentially becomes the backbone of deck design more than it should be.

With respect to option 3, the restriction of Gush kills GroAtog and leaves the rest of the format undisturbed. While I do not think Gush should have been unrestricted, I think re-restricting it is the wrong move. Here’s why: first of all, it isn’t even clear that GAT is dominant, yet. That may change with the results of this tournament. But there weren’t very many GAT decks in the Champs. I’d like for the DCI to count them up, but I’m betting that it was probably less than 10 total decks in a field of 130, and probably closer to 8 or so. I’m also willing to bet that only the most expert GAT players did well. TK, myself, Scott Limoges, and Rich Shay were all in contention in the final rounds with GAT (although TK didn’t run Dryads, he had Empty the Warrens and Togs only). Scott beat me in the mirror in the swiss and, after going 5-0, lost the next two matches. I took TK out of the tournament and then Rich. By some measure, you have to wonder if this isn’t the very definition of fair: the very best players seem to be performing the very best, while everyone else who plays GAT seems to falter badly. I admit that I am surprised by this. I find GAT much easier to play than essentially any top Vintage deck… well, basically ever. Keeper, BBS, Long, TriniStax, Control Slaver, and especially Gifts and Grim/Pitch Long, are all more difficult decks to pilot. The only trick with GAT is knowing which role to adopt, which is essentially a hand-by-hand and matchup by matchup decision. Everything is not a skill that is GAT specific (for example, knowing how to use Mana Drain, knowing when to Brainstorm, which lands to fetch, how to use Yawgmoth’s Will effectively, etc). The fact that Gush rewarded the best players seems to be, from the view of some players (especially Rich), a good thing.

Related to that point, Gush didn’t really “dominate” the tournament in any sense except that two Gush decks made the finals. By my estimation, this was the most diverse Vintage Worlds Top 8 ever. Generally the breakdown is 3-5 major archetypes. This time it was six. In addition, the unrestriction of Gush actually helped bring other decks back into the metagame, specifically Stax. If GAT decks actually begin to dominate, then I think some specific action should be taken.

Finally, I think that unrestricting Fact or Fiction could help produce a natural metagame competitor for GAT. In my battle of the banned article (The Banned Played On), GAT and BBS (the 4 Fact or Fiction deck) were essentially evenly matched. Fact or Fiction would open a huge hole in the Vintage metagame and lessen the influence of GAT. I think we’d see BBS return and perhaps Control Slaver with Facts as well. I think this would actually strengthen the hand of Stax and make Aggro Workshop better.

With respect to options 5, 6, and 7, the restriction of Flash is something I reluctantly endorse on the Trinisphere principle. I do not think Flash would ever really dominate Vintage, as people will get better at handling it. The first reason is that there is going to be a large portion of the field that would refuse to play it, for good and bad reasons. The second reason is that Flash isn’t actually a doing that well in tournaments. It’s doing well enough, but not good enough to even remotely justify restriction. Flash was probably the most popular deck at the Vintage Champs with Patrick Chapin, Gadiel Szliefer, and other excellent players piloting it. Yet not a single one made Top 8. They could have, had things gone just a bit differently. But once there, I wouldn’t put them on having favorable matchup odds against either Rich or myself, let alone the Ichorid deck which had maindeck Leyline of the Void, Chalice, and Unmask (see my article on Flash versus Ichorid (the Leyline Wars)).

On the other hand, I want Vintage to get good turnouts in tournaments. I think Flash is worse than Trinisphere. It’s even harder to beat. It wins games on turn 1 with an astonishing degree of frequency and with multiple counter-backup. It’s the most powerful deck in Vintage. To make matters worse, it’s incredibly hard to play at an expert level, so it’s not a deck that people can just pick up and win with.

I hate to advocate restrictions based upon the Trinisphere principle, because it is a principle I did not really like to see emerge, but it is, upon careful reflection of the health and growth of this format, a necessity. Flash must be dealt with. Winning on turn 1 should be a part of Vintage, but it should be something that happens infrequently and only after great energy and effort has been put into pulling it off, as is the case with most Grim Long turn 1 kills. Flash makes it far too easy to do.

So, after all of that, here is my preference for DCI action, in order:

Restrict Flash and Unrestrict Fact or Fiction
Restrict Flash
Unrestrict Fact or Fiction
Do Nothing
Restrict Merchant Scroll and Unrestrict Fact or Fiction
Restrict Merchant Scroll

Concurrent with each of these options, the DCI must unrestrict Dream Halls. I have articulated, as best I can, the reasons why these options are the best options and this is my order of preference. I believe that despite my clear bias in favor of GAT, this is an objective evaluation of the format.


I have so many people I want to thank.

First of all, I want to thank Paul Mastriano. He brought me back into Magic in 2001. I formed a strategy games club in college and Paul walked in one day with his Magic cards. We broke GroAtog on the American metagame back in 2003. Too intimidated to write for this website, my first two articles were co-written with Paul. (Go look at my Mask article from 2002 and GAT article from 2003). Paul took a long hiatus from Magic for a few years, but came back in 2005. Paul has become, once again, an integral part of my Magic experience, having created Type Four, and been one of the most fun people to be with. He has been a teammate, playtest partner, but most of all, good friend.

I want to thank all of Mean Deck: each and every one of my teammates has been integral to our development and success. I am glad that I was able to bring this trophy back to this team for the third time in five years. I know Roland is proud, and I hope that the retired Carl Winter hears about this.

I want to thank those of you that regularly play in my metagame: Mark Trogdon and Jerry Yang in particular.

I want to thank Patrick Chapin for bringing his passion for Magic and for sharing his love of Vintage with me. We are kindred spirits.

I want to thank my opponents for being who they are. You guys were all very tough but very sportsmanlike. Ray Robillard deserves special mention.

I want to also single out for special appreciation Rich Shay, for being not only an incredible human being (which he truly is), but also a gracious and brilliant opponent. He is one of the biggest reasons I play Magic at all. It is my games against competitors like Rich Shay that make this format what it is.

I want to thank the GenCon judging staff for their tireless effort and precise judging.

I want to thank the DCI for unrestricting Gush. I probably wouldn’t have been there without that decision, even if I think it was a mistake.

But most of all, I want to thank the Vintage community. You guys rock. All of you.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian