So Many Insane Plays – Vintage Masterclass

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Monday, July 7th – In Today’s ‘Insane Plays,’ Stephen faces Vintage master, Rich Shay, to test the Control Slaver mirror. Watch Stephen battle Rich Shay, play-by-play, through a set of five games as he learns the ins and outs of playing in the New Vintage. This is not to be missed!

As anticipated, my article last week generated a firestorm of forum activity. Although most posters expressed appreciation for the article and agreement, there were a few (3 or 4) people who repeatedly posted their disagreement.

My argument was fairly simple, especially considering the subject. My argument was a call for consistency in errata policy. In recent months, Wizards has pursued a clear errata policy of restoring original ruled functionality as closely as possible. The case of Mox Diamond is merely one example of many. In the article, I demonstrated that Time Vault had a well established ruled functionality before it received power errata, and that that functionality has yet to be restored. My argument was that the Mark Gottlieb and the rules team should therefore restore that functionality, just as they did with Mox Diamond and many other cards.

I tallied up all of the forum responses into categories, and the forum responses from people who disagreed broke down into three main lines of thought:

1) Why should Wizards care about consistency? / You are beating a dead horse / Wizards will do whatever they want.

2) A concern for the impact of such errata on Legacy and Vintage.

3) That the original ruled functionality was wrong because Time Vault was clearly not intended to be able to untap under any circumstances unless you skipped a turn.

I thought it might be worthwhile to briefly respond to these concerns, which were repeatedly raised in the forums. Granted, each of these arguments have subclaims that bleed into each other, but these core points can be separately addressed.

Forum Response 1: Why Should Wizards Care About Consistency?

I will acknowledge that if Wizards doesn’t want to be consistent, that is their decision and no outside force can change that. It is far beyond the scope of my abilities and the purpose of my article to argue that Wizards should implement policies consistently. Either one believes that or they don’t. For that, one should consult a priest, teacher, confidant, or friend.

On the other hand, one of the people involved in the forum debate did not feel so constrained. Angryshrub wrote:
I was particularly surprised by the comments questioning the value of consistency. Consistency IS a virtue in an ever-expanding game with complex interactions. Ignoring a consistency issue just because it isn’t a pressing Type II issue is no excuse – it simply sets a bad precedent. Loopholes, exceptions, and outdated rulings from the past are best dealt with – in any situation, whether in magic or the American legal system. Sure, the integrity of the system is only abstractly at stake, it isn’t a “great injustice,” but it wouldn’t be that hard to fix, either. If consistency isn’t a virtue, then neither is a cohesive system, either.”

Forum Response 2: The Potential Impact of the Errata on Eternal Formats

I am not unsympathetic to these concerns, which were raised by many forum responders. Although Mark Gottlieb has stressed that the Rules Team and the DCI are separate entities with distinct duties, and that power, popularity, and value of a particular card should have no influence on errata policy (“Are you arguing that in a case like that, I shouldn’t correct it because the card is now valuable, or powerful, or popular? If I find an error in Oracle, I’m going to correct it. My responsibility is to the integrity of the cards.”), reality requires some qualification. Aaron Forysthe’s article on Power-Errata-Be-Gone, first announcing the removal of power-level errata, explicitly suggested that the process of deciding the final text on Time Vault was a collective process, including the input of other persons at Wizards than simply the Rules Team.

The argument I advanced in my article last week was premised on the notion that rules consistency is a higher order value. If concerns about the potential impact of a card trump rules consistency, then my call to restore Time Vault’s functionality doesn’t logically follow.

On the other hand, I don’t think that Eternal players have anything to worry about. Although Time Vault could be a problem in Legacy, it could easily be addressed with a quick ban, just as Flash was. In Vintage, I can’t possibly see how it could have been more problematic than Flash, which ultimately, was not that much of a problem.

From June 20, 2007 through June 20, 2008, I have captured 90 tournaments in my tournament statistics with 33 or more players. Out of those 720 potential top 8 slots, Flash only managed to put up only 60 players, or a measly 8.33% of Top 8s, with a fear-inspiring 11.11% tournament wins. Even after Reveillark was printed, Flash’s tournament performance was well below that of the Gush decks and Workshop decks. It was hardly a metagame force. I doubt that Time Vault would be much more effective, especially with Ponder, Brainstorm, and Scroll restricted, and Null Rod, Pithing Needle, and plenty of artifact destruction around.

Forum Response 3: The Original Ruled Functionality Was Wrong or Should Not be Decisive

This is where the forum debates became most heated. Unfortunately, the discussion quickly degenerated in many cases because the respondents were talking past each other, operating from different starting assumptions. I will try and break down these arguments by class and then respond to each in turn.

The ‘Waylay and Sands of Time’ Arguments

Some of the people who argued that the original functionality was wrong didn’t seem to understand what original functionality meant. They seemed to equate it with cards Waylay, whose function changed because of a rules change, and hence whose abusive usage was not original ruled functionality at all. Others confused it with the text of cards like Sands of Time, a case that had nothing to do with original ruled functionality, but who received errata to clarify how it worked or so that it worked at all under the rules, similarly to the most recent errata on Uba Mask and Shared Fate, and before them Void Maw.

The ‘We Should Ignore Early Rules’ Argument

Some people who advanced this argument often talked about how irregular, confusing, or incoherent early Magic rulings might have been. The implication here is that we should not be bound by early Magic rulings. This argument stated a truism, but it is not one that has relevance here. The attempts to restore original functionality acknowledge rules changes, but strive to update the oracle to restore original ruled functionality in spite of those rules changes. Although there will be many instances in which original ruled functionality can therefore never be fully restored, such as the fact that interrupts used to be faster than instants, Time Vault is not such a case. Its original ruled functionality can and should be restored.

The ‘Time Vault Was Not Intended To Untap EVER Unless You Skipped a Turn’ Argument

The primary reason that people felt that the original ruled functionality was wrong was their belief that Time Vault was not intended to untap under any circumstances unless you skipped a turn.

The evidence they cite for this is the flavor and function of the card, and their own subjective reading. Specifically, people pointed out the fact that Time Vault is clearly a Vault that holds turns for future use. The idea, they asserted, was that you could only get an additional turn if you first stored a turn on the Vault.

In truth, this so-called ‘evidence’ is quite flimsy, and there is much stronger circumstantial evidence on the other side.

First of all, it is universally acknowledged that you may skip a turn to untap Time Vault, but it is altogether another thing to say that that is the only way you can untap Time Vault. The idea that Twiddle could untap Time Vault is not at all mutually exclusive with the flavor and function of Time Vault holding turns. After all, Mana Vault is also a “Vault” that holds mana, yet no one suggests that you can’t use a Twiddle to untap a tapped Mana Vault. And yet the wording on Mana Vault is nearly identical:

A/B/U Time Vault reads:

“Time Vault doesn’t untap normally during untap phase; to untap it, you must skip a turn.”

A/B/U Mana Vault reads:

“Mana Vault doesn’t untap normally during untap phase; to untap it, you must pay 4 mana.”

Does anyone think that back in Alpha Mana Vault couldn’t untap with Twiddle, or do you think that people are simply saying that about Time Vault because it is qualitatively different from Mana Vault, and people would simply prefer that it not interact with Twiddle in the same way? I suspect the latter.

In short, the only evidence that people really have in support of their claim that Time Vault cannot untap, ever, unless you skip a turn is their reading of the card, taken in isolation. But a particular reading when another is equally plausible, and even more likely when you read Mana Vault and consider the historical record, cannot possibly be said to “make a helluva lot of sense,” as one poster put it.

In any case, there is evidence and reason to suggest that Richard Garfield and the original Alpha designers thought that Time Vault could untap with Twiddle. For starters, the fact that Richard Garfield understood it to be a ‘spoiler’ is evidence on this point. Second, as a matter of common sense, it is hard to imagine that the Twiddle and Time Vault interaction was completely unforeseen, let alone a concern, given that Time Walk was in Alpha too. What seems far more likely and a lot more plausible is that the outcry came up after the Animate Artifact and Instill Energy combo became known.

Put another way, given that Mana Vault and Time Vault have nearly identical relevant text, what makes more sense: Richard Garfield & Co. developed a set with Twiddle and Time Vault and thought that they couldn’t interact or that he thought that they could combo together (just like Mana Vault and Twiddle)?

However, for the sake of argument we can assume that the original rules team got it wrong and that Time Vault was not intended to untap under any circumstances unless you skipped a turn. It’s irrelevant to my argument. The stated policy of the rules team is to restore original functionality, whether it was right or not. My argument is that, if they want that policy, they should apply it consistently to Time Vault.

Of course, that point was not persuasive to many people. Their obvious response is, well, maybe current Rules policy is wrong on that point, that perhaps the original ruled functionality shouldn’t be the touchstone for errata updates. Instead, they suggest, the original intent, as they see it, should be the standard for oracle updates.

If you don’t accept the premise that original ruled functionality should be the touchstone for errata policy or that the Rules Team should act consistently, then my article is not going to persuade you since it was premised on both notions. The debate over intent was a thicket I intentionally avoided and didn’t want to get into it. After all, how does one discern original intent? What does original intent even mean? Richard Garfield has stated that he doesn’t remember the original intent.

What if we were to discover the original playtest cards for Time Vault had a very different wording and that the wording changed only because someone set the template incorrectly at the printers? Or that someone edited the card at the last minute for grammar and inadvertently changed the syntax in a way that altered meaning of the card? Or that what if there were multiple people designing Time Vault, all with a different spin on the card? Or what if we were to discover that Richard Garfield didn’t intend for Time Vault to work with Twiddle, but people who he hired to test the game used that interaction without his knowledge, gave him feedback about Time Vault (such as: card is fine, send it to printer), and he used that feedback even though he didn’t intend that interaction?

Restoring to Original Intent is a terrible way to deal with older cards and it is criteria that should never be used to update oracle wordings. Why? It is completely subjective, speculative, secretive, ‘in that it defies logical reasoning and circumvents rational discussion.’ Trying to restore original intent is inevitably resorts to a subjective attempt to divine the authentic intent of the card.

In contrast, original ruled functionality is the gold standard. It is the objective, not subjective, citation of then contemporary rulings about and references to the function of Time Vault. It is well known how cards originally functioned. This is also the general understanding of how judges and players interpret the card. The problem with original functionality is that sometimes rules changes (notably the 6th edition rules change) completely destroys the original functionality. Under these circumstances, the DCI has correctly decided to get the card as close to original functionality as possible.

If we could reliably figure out the intent of the card (as in, if Garfield could remember), maybe that would trump function. But it’s a moot point; the intent is lost to time and all we have are old testimonials. Reliance on these testimonials, though imperfect, is far more reliable than an attempt to “unthink” 15 years and get back to the mindsets of the original developers.

Even these arguments will not be enough to persuade everyone. My goal is not to persuade everyone, since people will have different starting values.

If you:

1) feel that the impact on Vintage and Legacy outweighs errata consistency, then you can legitimately disagree.

2) feel that consistency is not a value that matters, then you can legitimately disagree.

3) feel that original design intent is more important than original ruled functionality and if you conclude that the original design intent was that Time Vault should never untap unless you skip a turn in spite of much stronger circumstantial evidence to the contrary, then you can legitimately disagree, so long as you are comfortable with inconsistent Rules Team policy.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

Vintage Master, Rich Shay, was in town for Origins. I got a call from him to stop by for testing. I found some free time on a Wednesday night and asked Rich if I could bring over some video recording equipment. I set up my camcorder in his hotel room and we played a set of five games.

Although Rich didn’t want me to publish the video, he did say I could publish a basic transcript of what happened with the understanding that Rich plays differently in testing than under tournament conditions. In testing, he is more likely (as am I) to make riskier lines of play to see how they develop. The primary objective here is not winning, but learning.

To that end, we spread open our decklists to make note of our differences. Because I am running Lotus Petal, a card Rich wants to test, he decides not to include it.

Here is what he played:

Here is what I played:

The key innovation I was testing was four Tops. Although initially I ran two Tops and a Ponder to replace the three Brainstorms that had been lost through restriction from the 2005/2006 Control Slaver lists, I had decided to experiment with four. They were so effective in testing that perhaps a full complement was warranted. To complement them, I added Imperial Seal. My deck was far more focused on finding and abusing Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker than the average Control Slaver deck.

Rich wins the die roll, with the tacit understanding that we will alternate play/draw.

Game 1

Rich fans open a hand of seven and announces that he’ll keep it.

I open an utterly busted hand of seven with no Blue mana or Top. I mulligan into:

Mox Pearl
Volcanic Island
Mox Emerald
Sensei’s Divining Top
Volcanic Island
Vampiric Tutor

Before the games begin, we discuss what we feel might be the keys to the matchup. I suggest that perhaps in this new Vintage, we might see a lot of Top Wars. Perhaps the player that finds and best utilizes Top will be the most likely victor.

Turn 1:

Fittingly, Rich Shay opens the game with Mana Crypt, Sensei’s Divining Top, and an Island. He activates Top and rearranges his top 3 cards. He then pays to look at his top 3 again, but this time responds by drawing a card so that he can bury the Top beneath something else. Cute trick.

I draw Demonic Tutor.

I play Mox, Mox, Top. I activate the Top seeing: Delta, Delta, and Force of Will.

This is the problem with Top. As you can see, there are many lines of play with no clear (at least to me) correct path to take. As a result, Top takes too damn long to decide what to do. It’s a time sink. Vintage already has problems going to time, and as a player, I personally do as well. The problem is that if the new Vintage is, in some measure, going to be defined by Top Wars, you can’t avoid being drawn into that battle.

I stack the top of my deck: Delta, Force, Delta. I play a Volcanic Island and pass the turn.

Mistake # 1

In retrospect, I think this may have been the wrong line of play. First of all, I’m holding both Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor. If I don’t get a Sea into play now, I won’t be able to use both Vamp and Demonic by my third turn’s draw step (barring Mox Jet, Lotus, Time Walk, etc). Although keeping the Top around makes sense, since the initial investment pays more dividends over time, an investment that will be quite bountiful with my multiple fetchlands and tutor hand. On the other hand, I think it is totally worth it here to have the Delta be the first land drop.

Here’s what I think I should have done. I think I should have activated the Top to draw the Delta, played the Delta and passed the turn. Then, on my second turn I could have redrawn the Top. Then I could have broken the Delta for a Sea, tapped the other Mox and cast Demonic Tutor for Ancestral Recall, then tap the Volcanic Island to play it. If he counters it, I could just Vamp on my next turns’ upkeep for something amazing like Tinker and try to Slave him the following turn.

Alternatively, if he does something threatening, like Tinker up Mindslaver on turn 2, I could always Vamp on his endstep with the Delta into Sea for something like Echoing Truth. I feel like I have more options with that line of play. With multiple tutors in hand that require Black mana, I think it would have been worth the mana investment with Top to simply get the Delta into play first.

On his second turn, Rich taps his Island to play Ponder. He replays the Top and activates it. Apparently, he has seen no new lands despite being two cards deeper. On his endstep, I Top one more time, but keep things as they are.

Turn 2:

On my second turn, I draw the Delta. I tap a Mox to activate Top again and see Brainstorm as the third card down.

Mistake #2 (?)

I’m not sure if it was worth the mana investment to pay to see one new card here, especially since there is another and more compelling line of play. If I Demonic Tutor with a Mox and then Delta into Sea, I can then use the Mox to see three new cards, as opposed to one new card. I think the lesson here is that seeing new cards isn’t always worth the mana, especially when you can see more cards for the same mana with a different play.

I put Brainstorm on top of my deck. Then I tapped the Top to draw the Brainstorm and cast it. I draw the Force of Will, the second Delta, and the Top, putting back a Volcanic Island and the Delta.

Mistake #3:

The Brainstorm there made very little sense, at least in the way I did it. I saw no new cards. I could have shuffled first and then saw three new cards. Worse, I now cut myself off from superior lines of play, like tutoring up Ancestral Recall and playing it this turn.

Even if I wanted that Brainstorm, that doesn’t mean I have to play it right now. I could have exchanged Top for Brainstorm and then Tutored for Ancestral and cast that first.

I play the Delta and break the Delta for Underground Sea. I tap Emerald and play Top. I pass the turn with one mana available, the Underground Sea untapped.

Although Rich Shay is mana screwed, my errors have, in my estimation, kept him in this game. I’ve wasted the mana I have pursuing bad lines of play.

Turn 3:

On his third turn, Rich draws a card and then taps Mana Crypt to activate Top. He taps Top to draw a card. He plays Mox Jet and casts Thirst For Knowledge.

I figure I have to stop this spell. I have Vampiric Tutor, which I could use to find a Blue spell which I could draw with Top to pitch cast Force of Will. Instead, I make a riskier but better play, and activate Top. I see:

Merchant Scroll
Thirst For Knowledge
Polluted Delta

I tap the Top to draw Scroll, which I use to pitch.

Mistake #4:

I’m not sure that pitching Scroll, rather than Thirst, makes much sense here. Scroll for Ancestral and Thirst both cost three mana, but one gets me three cards directly rather than only two. The Thirst, while quite good, requires a full mana investment, while Scroll for Ancestral can be spaced out over time.

I should have drawn the Thirst and pitched that instead. Once I knew that resolved, I would have had free reign to untap and just Scroll for Ancestral and pull it off.

He plays Tormod’s Crypt and passes. Now my tutors suddenly lose a lot of value. Yawgmoth’s Will is now, without a lot of finagling, a dead line of play. Being that it is my most powerful line of play, I think it just goes to show how the cumulative errors I’ve made so far have been piling up.

I draw the Top again and think. My hand is Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, and Top. I replay the Top and think. I activate and draw the Thirst. I play DT and then cast Ancestral Recall, which resolves, drawing me:

Sensei’s Divining Top
Mana Drain
Flooded Strand

I play Strand and break it for a Sea. I tap Sea and play Top.

Turn 4:

On his fourth turn Rich plays Top and uses it off the Mana Crypt. He tap-activates Top, plays a Fetchland, and activates it to find Volcanic Island and cast Goblin Welder.

On my upkeep, I decide to Top and see Volcanic Island, Force of Will, and another card that is obscured from view. I stack it so I draw the Force. I tap the Sea and play Vampiric Tutor, obviously for Tinker. My plan was obviously to tap Top to draw Tinker and cast Tinker. However, I’m holding Mana Drain with Force of Will backup. I re-think my plan. If he plays a spell next turn, I’ll be able to Drain it, still have Top available, and Tinker. If I can Drain something, then I can actually maybe Tinker up Slaver, Slave him, and use his Welder.

Mistake #5 (?):

Do you think this was a risky play? Should I have Tinkered here?

Turn 5:

On his fifth turn, Rich plays a mana source of some type, although from the video, I can’t quite tell what it is.

He orally announces his suspicion that I’m holding Mana Drain up and just passes the turn.

On his endstep, I tap a Mox and take a look at my top three cards with Top. I see:

Mana Drain
Mana Crypt

I move the Mana Crypt above the Mana Drain and leave Tinker on top.

Mistake #6:

This was obviously the wrong play. I had three mana available.

On board:

Volc, Sea, Sea (tapped), Mox Emerald (tapped), Mox Pearl (which I just tapped to look at my top three cards), and Top.

In hand: Drain, Thirst, Force.

On top: Tinker, Drain, and Mana Crypt.

The obvious correct play is to throw Thirst For Knowledge out there. If he counters it, good. I can untap and Tinker without having to Force. If he doesn’t counter it, I’m going to draw three new cards, which I’m paying to see with Top anyway.

On my fifth turn I draw the Tinker. I move to my second mainphase and I play Tinker, sacrificing Mox Emerald. He hard casts Force of Will and I Mana Drain his Force. Tinker resolves and I get Trike and pop his Welder. He responds by switching Trike and Mox. I respond by pinging him twice. Emerald comes in and I Top again, seeing:

Imperial Seal
Mana Vault
Goblin Welder

Turn 6:

Rich makes his final move. He hardcasts Mindslaver. I’m holding Force of Will and Thirst, but should I Force it? I actually talk myself out of doing so.

On top of my deck I have Mana Vault, Seal, and Welder. If I set up my top 3 so that I draw Vault, I can play Vault, then activate Top to draw the Seal. Then I can Thirst (using Mana Vault) into the Echoing Truth, and play it with the colorless floating and a land, bouncing his Slaver.

I decide to let it resolve.

Mistake #7:

Trying to be clever and let Slaver resolve.

I untap and draw Goblin Welder (which I had stacked on top).

Mistake #8:

What possible reason could I have had for putting Welder on top of Seal and Mana Vault? Was I thinking that I was going to force Thirst through? Maybe?

In my main phase, I Top again, seeing: Vault, Seal, and another Thirst.

I audibly mutter… my brain isn’t working very well tonight. My excuse: I had a long day at work, I just got back from the gym, spent an hour sleeving my deck and getting ready without dinner, and met Rich to play games.

Mistake #9:

It’s only now, in reviewing the video, that I realize the biggest mistake of all! I had five Mana Drain mana that both Rich and I forgot about! I Drained his Force on the previous turn in my second mainphase. I could have just Sealed for Slaver, Topped into it, and played it. Its Legendary status would kick in and both would die, except I’d be holding Force, Thirst, and have a Welder active.

I Thirsted into Tormod’s Crypt, Slaver, and the Echoing Truth, discarding Tormod’s Crypt. I bounced his Slaver and passed. I needed another Blue spell to pitch to Force.

Turn 7:

I bounced his Slaver, but he just untapped and replayed it on his seventh turn.

How can I not get Slavered? I need to draw one land. I have five available mana and Slaver in hand. Unfortunately, I do not draw a mana.

I untap and draw Top (I take one from the Mana Vault, which is tapped).

I play the Top and use it to see Thirst, Ponder, and Mox Sapphire. I needed to see Tolarian Academy here, or Black Lotus.

While doing this, Rich says: “do you have some insane plays for me?” I say, “no, I realize now I should have just Forced your Slaver.”

I tap-activate Top and then Thirst drawing: Ponder, Top and Sapphire, discarding Top. I play Mox Sapphire and Ponder into: Mana Drain, Welder, and Volcanic Island. I decide to put Volcanic Island on top and pass.

Turn 8:

Rich plays Vexing Shusher and Slaves me.

He has me play my Volcanic Island (which I draw), tap out, and pass.

Turn 9:

He attacks me with Shusher and he plays Mana Vault and passes. I play Slaver and he has Drain, but although I can Force it, he has Shusher on the table to protect his spell. He plays Trike and Pentavus. I draw the Welder and scoop.

In spite of all the mistakes I made, Rich comments that the MVP for him was Tormod’s Crypt.

Rich and I debate afterward how effective Shusher was. In my view, it didn’t matter as the damage was already done. Although I could have Forced any given card, he had Trike and Pantybus in hand and the ability to play them.

The Turning Point: Despite all of my mistakes, I think I could have pulled through them had I not let his Slaver resolve. I would have had an active Top, going and the top of my deck was stacked. I completely mismanaged my mana that game, often sucked into the lure of over-using Top.

Game 2

I open with:

Flooded Strand
Flooded Strand
Mana Drain
Sensei’s Divining Top

Turn 1:

I play Petal, Strand, Go

He opens, again, with Mana Crypt, Volcanic Island.

Turn 2:

I draw Welder.

I play Island and cast Top. In response, he plays Thirst, I break Strand for Sea and play Drain.

Mistake #1:

I should have moved to my second mainphase before playing Top. But it’s been some time since I’ve played with Drains.

At least I won’t mana burn with Drain.

I move to my second main and see: Sol Ring, Strand, and Demonic Tutor with Top.

I pause for a moment. I put a Top activation on the stack, and then tap-activate Top to draw Sol Ring. After drawing the Sol Ring, I re-arrange with DT on top while commenting “how absurd” with Rich finishing my thought… “how good top is.”
Then Rich Shay warns me that I may go to time too much playing this deck.

Rich play Tolarian Academy and casts Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall, which resolves off Volcanic Island. He has a colorless floating. He draws a Sol Ring and plays it.

Turn 3:

I untap and draw Demonic Tutor. I cast Brainstorm drawing: Force of Will, Top, and the Strand. I put back Welder and a Strand. I tap Sea and Sol Ring to play Top and DT. I find Ancestral and play it. Rich casts Force.

I’m holding Force. He plays Force. I draw Island with Top and can’t Force him back. My Ancestral is countered.

Mistake #2:

Why did I play Brainstorm? If I had just held Brainstorm, I could have Force-protected my Ancestral Recall. That play made very little sense there.

Rich untapped, and using Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, and Academy, cast Gifts Ungiven with 1U floating.

I remark that it seems like I have more lands, but he has more mana.

He gets Tormod’s Crypt, Black Lotus, Tinker, and Time Walk.

I give him Black Lotus and Tormod’s Crypt. He plays the Crypt and the Lotus and Goblin Welder and passes the turn, and burns.

Turn 4:

I draw the Top and play it off Sol Ring. Recall that all I’m holding at this point is Force of Will and Island.

I Top and see Thirst, Thirst, and another Top. I tap activate Top and play Thirst, which resolves, drawing Thirst, Top, Top discarding a Top. I play Island, Top, and pass.

Rich untaps, taps Academy for UUUU, and sacrifices Lotus for RRR to play Shusher. With a Red floating, he plays Thirst. He then plays another Thirst. He burned two mana and passed.

I upkeep Top and see: Time Walk, Yawgmoth’s Will, and a Thirst. I draw the Thirst. Now I’m holding double Thirst and a Force. I go to my second main, tap-activate Top (drawing Time Walk) and play Thirst. Thirst resolves. I discard Top. I play Time Walk, which resolves.

I draw Mox Pearl. I tap Island and Sol Ring to play another Thirst. I draw Volc, Imperial Seal, and Black Lotus.

I play Lotus and Volc. I cast Imperial Seal for Tinker and play Ponder. I see: Tinker, Mystical Tutor, and Mox Emerald. I pop the Tinker into my hand and play it. Rich only has two Volcanic Islands open and plays Drain. I can’t Force it anyway, because I’m holding Will. Rich could Weld in Lotus to Shush three times over.

Rich thinks that my deck is much more “all in” than his decklists.

The Turning Point: I think the key to this game was where his Ancestral resolved and mine didn’t. If I had played properly, I could have gotten my Ancestral to resolve and his Gifts would have been less important. I would have had more resources to combat it and stay in the game. Even after he resolved double Thirst, I had a lot of opportunities to make things happen, but I didn’t capitalize. Perhaps with those additional resources I could have.

Game 3

My opening hand (organized):

Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Mana Drain
Thirst For Knowledge

Turn 1:

Rich opens with Volcanic Island, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, and Gifts Ungiven.

This was the third game in a row that Mana Crypt was in his opening hand.

He finds: Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, Ponder, and Goblin Welder

I am not sure what the right split is here. I am very tempted to give him the spells, but I give him the lands instead.

He plays Tormod’s Crypt and passes the turn.

I topdeck Ancestral Recall. I play Delta into Sea and pass the turn.

Turn 2:

On Rich’s upkeep I announce my Ancestral Recall, which resolves.

I draw Thirst, Flooded Strand, Drain.

I am very disappointed to not draw a mana accelerant.

Rich plays a fetchland and casts Merchant Scroll for Ancestral, and plays his own.

I draw Triskelion. I play Brainstorm drawing: Force of Will, Force of Will, and Darksteel Colossus. I put back the two Robots and play a Fetchland, and break it for Volcanic Island.

I then play the final and third “U” casting cost spell. I play Ponder seeing: Polluted Delta, Tinker, and Lotus Petal. I pop the Lotus Petal to hand and play it. I have to discard an Island.

Turn 3:

Rich plays Brainstorm, which I let resolve. He plays a Fetchland and finds Volcanic Island. He casts Mox Sapphire and passes.

I draw the Tinker and play Flooded Strand and pass the turn.

Turn 4:

Rich drops Tolarian Academy. He has 12 mana he can generate. He just passes the turn.

On his endstep I break my Strand for a Sea and throw a Thirst on the stack. I draw Delta, Mox Sapphire, and a Mana Drain. Rich recognizes that I probably have more cards than I can deal with. I’m sort of miffed that I haven’t seen a Top at all after playing Ponder, Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, and Thirst. I discard Black Lotus to the Thirst.

That is probably a mistake.

I untap and draw Force of Will. I play Polluted Delta and move to my endstep. I discard a Mana Drain and pass.

Turn 5:

Rich topdecks the Shusher. He taps his two Volcs and casts Shusher. I respond by Thirsting. I draw: Gifts, DT, and Yawgmoth’s Will. I decide to discard Yawgmoth’s Will and Demonic Tutor.

He plays Mox Jet.

I untap and draw another Thirst. I have to Tinker away Lotus Petal with only a Delta untapped. Awful! I can’t even play a Drain to protect my Tinker! Of all the artifacts I could have!

He hard casts Force on my Tinker and I Force it back, pitching Gifts. He plays Mana Drain and I Force again. I get Trike and kill his Shusher. I consider getting DSC, but his life a little bit low thanks to Mana Crypt rolls.

Turn 6:

Rich plays Trike, which I Force. Taps Academy and a Volc and a Mox to Repeal my Trike.

My hand is then Trike and Mana Drain, and my board is two Seas, a Volc, and a Delta.

Guess what I topdeck? Mana Crypt. I could have used him five turns ago!

I play Trike. One swing and Rich will be dead.

Turn 7:

Rich wins his die roll and casts Thirst. He plays Time Walk and Demonic Tutor, and I know I’m toast. Rich isn’t finished, he plays Goblin Welder. I kill the Welder on Rich’s endstep. Rich takes his Time Walk turn, plays Mox Ruby casts Yawgmoth’s Will. I scoop.

I may have made a mistake playing Trike over Drain. If I could have kept him off Thirst, I may have been able to stop all of that from happening.

Turning Point: There were many things that could have been done differently in that game, but one thing stands out above all. If I had kept the Lotus, I could have Tinkered up Slaver and activated him with Slaver. The most important thing in that game was my inability to draw mana acceleration despite having all of the goods.

Game 4

My opening hand:

Polluted Delta
Underground Sea
Time Walk
Mana Crypt
Goblin Welder
Sensei’s Divining Top

I announce that I have an appropriately fast hand.

Rich announces that his hand is garbage, but he’ll keep it. I say, “don’t do that on my account.” He tells me that no, that is not the case. His threshold is that he won’t keep what he won’t keep in tournaments.

Rich is actually quite talkative throughout the games, and although I generally don’t pay attention to him when playing, when watching the video I’ve been struck by the interesting things he says that I generally ignore, and only a small portion of which I’ve transcribed here.

Turn 1:

I play Mana Crypt, Top, Sea, Time Walk.

I untap, and debate whether to use Top. I decide to and tap the Mana Crypt (Mistake #1) on upkeep top to see Thirst, Mana Vault, and Ponder. I draw the Thirst and then Top again in my draw step seeing Mana Drain as the third card down. I put Drain on top, play Island and pass. The idea here is to activate Top to get Drain up if I want.

Rich plays Volcanic Island, Goblin Welder. “Hmmm, not this time,” I say. I activate Top, get Drain, and Drain Welder. He passes the turn.

Turn 2:

I replay Top. Then I Thirst drawing: Ponder, Mana Vault, and Academy. (Mistake #2: wait to play Top!)

Play Academy, tap it and activate Top seeing: Slaver, Ancestral Recall, and Mana Drain. (Mistake #3: I tapped the wrong mana?)

I activate the Top to draw Ancestral Recall.

I played Ancestral Recall, which he Forced. I play Ponder and pop Top into my hand.

Rich fetches out another Volcanic Island. Rich says that the theory behind only one Top is that it is never superfluous. I say that Top is almost never superfluous because with Fetchlands you can shuffle them away. Rich plays Sol Ring and then what I think is Thirst, and passes.

Turn 3:

I draw Mana Drain, play Top and activate seeing: Slaver, Drain, and Mox Emerald.
I play Fetchland and pass.

Rich plays a Mox Emerald, another Volcanic Island, and casts Vexing Shusher! I think about it, and decide to Mana Drain Shusher just for the mana.

Rich passes the turn.

Turn 4:

I draw Mana Drain. I tap Academy, activate Top to draw Slaver, and hardcast Slaver. It resolves. I break my fetchland for Volcanic Island and cast Goblin Welder. It resolves.

Rich attacks me with Shusher. He plays Welder.

Turn 5:

I draw Mana Vault. I Slaver him.

He draws Gifts Ungiven and scoops.

Turning Point: Playing Slaver. Although Shusher is a trump card, Slaver trumps Shusher. Drawing and playing Slaver were both crucial.

The Top usage was high in this game, but I also drew the Mana Crypt. So far, whoever opens with Mana Crypt wins the game!

Rich opens up his binder and thinks about what may have been good in the four preceding games. His several pages of cards like Extirpate, Fire/Ice, Cap, Red Elemental Blast, and Future Sight. It’s his binder of Slaver options.

Game 5

My opening hand:

Ancestral Recall
Merchant Scroll
Flooded Strand
Volcanic Island

Turn 1:

Rich plays Volcanic Island, Ponder.

I draw Flooded Strand. I play a Strand and break it for Underground Sea.

Turn 2:

On Rich’s upkeep I play Ancestral Recall and draw:
Mana Drain

He plays Island, Mox Pearl, Thirst For Knowledge. It resolves.

I can’t tell from the video what he discards.

I draw Mana Drain on my turn. I tap Sea to play Ponder Force of Will into my hand. I play Strand and fetch out another Sea. I discard Trike and an Island.

Turn 3:

Rich draws a card and passes the turn.

I draw Thirst. I play Volcanic Island and pass.

On my endstep, Rich plays Brainstorm. I decide to Mana Drain it. He plays Mystical Tutor. I let it resolve. He finds Ancestral.

He says he feels like a scrub. I ask why. He says: “look at me, I’m building my own Inspiration.”

Turn 4:

He goes for the Ancestral Recall, and I Force it pitching Scroll.

I draw and play Island and cast Thirst, drawing Goblin Welder, Echoing Truth, and a Delta. I discard Echoing Truth and the Delta.

Turn 5:

Rich plays draw, go.

I draw Tormod’s Crypt. I play Goblin Welder. Rich thinks about it for a while. Second main, I play Tormod’s Crypt. In response to Crypt, He plays Thirst. I Drain it.

Turn 6:

Rich plays Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, and Mindslaver.

I draw Black Lotus. I am holding Tinker, Lotus and Thirst. What do you do? I use my Mana Drain mana to play Thirst, drawing Sol Ring, Imperial Seal, and Delta. I discard Black Lotus actually. I play Sol Ring and then cast Tinker on Tormod’s Crypt. He Forces it, and I realize that I lose. He claims to have been holding the Force all game.

I have to Weld his Slave into Trike. I play Delta, break it and cast Imperial Seal.

Turn 7:

He attacks me and shoots my Welder. He plays his own Welder.

I cast Yawgmoth’s Will. I replay Lotus, Tormod’s Crypt, Ancestral Recall, Ponder, a land, Time Walk, Tinker for Mana Vault.

Turn 8:

Rich actually thinks about Welding, but neither of us apparently realize that his Welder is still sick. He kills his Welder and shoots me, leaving a 1/1 Trike.

I Thirst into Top, play it, and see Demonic Tutor, which I play for Welder and play it. I am holding up Force, which I can hardcast. That is game, I win.

I could have won a turn earlier, within the Yawgmoth’s Will, if I had just Echoing Truthed his Trike from my graveyard, played the Welder instead of Tinker.


1) Top increases the complexity of the decision-trees by enormous amounts. I suspect that there may actually be diminishing returns as a result. I think that my experiments with 4 Top Slaver failed. Although sound in theory, I think there were a number of practical drawbacks, many of which are critically illustrated by the first game. I was drawn into using Top where I shouldn’t or where it wasn’t as productive as another line of play.

In my testing with Control Slaver before this four-Top build, using one Ponder, one Brainstorm, and two Tops, I had much less difficulty. I rarely faced Top situations where I wasn’t sure what to do and I made substantially fewer errors than were illustrated here.

Top has incredible synergies in the deck, not the least of which is the interaction with Welder and Thirst. The first two Tops have enough advantages that they actually make up for the loss of the other two Brainstorms (Ponder replacing the other). Although I’d like to always play turn 1 Top, other things being equal, other things are not equal.

I have not completely given up on a 3 Top or 4 Top list, but for now I want to revert back to the 4 Welder, 2 Slaver configuration for reasons explained in Bullet 3 below.

2) Perhaps the most important ingredient to the Slaver mirrors is mana acceleration. It seemed that the player who had the most explosive early mana had the best chance for winning. This seemed to trump card advantage most of the time. Where the mana was roughly equal, then skill was decisive.

3) The 4 Welders and double Mindslaver build definitely has an advantage in the mirror. Goblin Welder is an incredibly powerful effect. I had a phone conversation with The Innovator today, and he reminded me that that effect, properly priced, costs three mana at least. When you factor in the fact that it is a recurring effect, Goblin Welder is probably the most powerful creature ever printed in Vintage. That is an opinion I once firmly held, and am slowly coming around to see once more. Although Dark Confidant and Welder are probably the Top 2 Vintage creatures, both deserving a spot in the Top 10 unrestricted spells of New Vintage, Welder is particularly broken. Graveyard synergies are abundant in Vintage, and Welder is one of the best. Think about the fact that Regrowth and Entomb are both restricted, as is Gifts Ungiven, and then think about the fact that Welder is not. There was a point in Vintage history when I thought Welder might well have deserved the honor of being the only creature restricted in modern Vintage.

The reason that Welder is so potent in the mirror is that an early Welder becomes utterly devastating when Slaver mid-games unfold. Enough artifact cards come into the presence of one of two fields: the graveyard or the board, that Welders quickly become huge threats. Whether it is answering a DSC or a Sundering Titan, or recurring your own Black Lotus or Trike, or actually comboing with Mindslaver, having a Welder is, nine times out of ten, a tremendous advantage. Its turn 1 presence is probably not as potent as Top, but for a seemingly innocuous turn 1 play, he quickly becomes deadly. Even Welding in a Lotus Petal to support a Mana Drain can be a game changing play, especially if your opponent did not anticipate it.

The second Mindslaver’s inclusion is something that many top Slaver players have long pushed, but in my evaluation it seemed (and still seems) like an odd choice. Why two Slavers? Why not three or one? I could see why you wouldn’t run four. You really don’t want two Slavers in your hand at any point. But if it is good enough to run two, why not three? I’m afraid I don’t have a solid answer to that question, only bits and pieces of answers. One piece of that riddle is that Slaver often comes up in the middle of a Yawgmoth’s Will. Once it is activated or discarded to Thirst, it is gone forever. Having a second one ensures that you can get another activation.

Although you can often Time Walk out of the Will turn, I think it is often much easier to just not worry about that. In the Control Slaver mirror, simply having your Slaver show up first, as Rich’s did in game 1, is clearly key. At six, it is not so pricey that you can’t hard cast it on turn 3, 4, or 5, but once Slaver is placed on the stack, each of your Welders becomes Fort Knox valuable.

4) I think Lotus Petal is a must-run card. Acceleration is crucial not only in the Control Slaver mirror, but also when you face combo. If you run Gifts, which you definitely should, it will sometimes come up that you’ll want to get Lotus, Petal, Mox, and another card.

5) Imperial Seal was surprisingly solid, even when I didn’t have Tops. The Seal at the end of the last game illustrated its value.

There is much more that could be said, but I’m out of time. I’m sure you can scour through the games looking for alternative lines of play as well. Unfortunately, I’m a noobie with Control Slaver and Rich is a Control Slaver master. I learned a lot, and it only goes to show how much more I have to learn.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian