The Beautiful Struggle: Fun With Vintage 2

The dealer flipped over a king on the river, and that was how my bankroll excluded any other card game but Magic on the Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend. A local store was holding a 10-proxy Vintage tournament and promised a Mana Drain as the prize if 16 people showed up…

I was in the big blind, and took a peek at black aces. Four people had tried to just limp behind the $3 blind, but I made it $15 to play and they all called. The flop came king-nine-four of three different suits, and I bet out $40. The table’s loosest player, who had already won a pot with eight-deuce, was alone in calling me.

The turn came a six and put two hearts on board; I checked. My opponent bet $50, I raised it to $150, and he thought for almost three minutes about his decision. Knowing this person from previous sessions, I figured that he would not have thought that long with any hand that was beating me. So, when he decided to go all-in I happily put in my last $150. I showed my aces, and he revealed … king-five offsuit. I swear this hand happened exactly as I have described.

The dealer flipped over a king on the river, and that was how my bankroll excluded any other card game but Magic on the Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend. A local store was holding a 10-proxy Vintage tournament and promised a Mana Drain as the prize if 16 people showed up. I took a shot with the following deck:

Yeah, you read it right. Hallowed Fountain got in there, because I was unable to find sufficient copies of Tundra or Wasteland (that’s not to say I wasn’t grateful for the help of Chris Jordan and Jacob Burns in assembling my deck, but they could only do so much). Surprisingly, Fountain damage was never relevant; either I was able to get them into play at such times that they could be safely tapped, or I took the damage but the game was a blowout. I was also unimpressed with Shadow of Doubt, which I ran because I was unable to borrow two Misdirections or the fourth Stifle.

With all of these odd choices due to card availability, I should note that having Damping Matrix over Null Rod was intentional – I wanted to stop Goblin Welder and Ninja of the Deep Hours in addition to other dangerous artifacts. The Azorius Guildmage in the sideboard was also on purpose, because I wanted a creature that was less one-dimensional than, say, Stormscape Apprentice. Although I did not counter any activated abilities, I did pitch it to Force of Will and use it to attack for two while tapping down a potential blocker.

Sixteen players exactly were registered, giving four rounds with a cut to Top 4. Another store regular gave his opinion of the skill level of the tournament by asking me before round 1, "so you’re gonna get a Drain, right?" However, I was doubtful because (a) I’m not as good he thinks I am, and (b) I don’t know d*ck about Vintage. There were more than a few people who seemed to understand the Vintage metagame and who talked as though they had read a few articles from Stephen Menendian. Of course, things are not always what they seem…

Round 1: Alan, with Mono-Red Burn
Not gonna lie: I was pretty confident about my chances when he burned a Lotus on turn 2 to play Chain Lightning and Incinerate targeting me. He had Plateau in his deck, but I never saw any White cards from him. Just burn spells, Ball Lightning, and Blood Moon in sideboarded games. My deck did its thing, Grunts got in there, Wastelands destroyed Rishadan Port, and that was that. 1-0

Round 2: Chris, with Confidant Tendrils
Chris works for the store, but he was allowed to enter so that we’d have enough players to get the Mana Drain into the prize pool. Thus he was ineligible for prize, so being paired with him was unfortunate as only I had anything to lose. It was a doubly bad beat because I was pretty sure I had zero shot against Tendrils Combo. Game 1 was a good example; Chris won the roll, played Brainstorm and Vampiric Tutor on turn 1, Ritual-Necropotence on turn 2, and I conceded on turn 3 when he played a non-lethal Tendrils to get himself up to 34 and followed with Timetwister (You may wonder why I kept the hand if I was unable to Force his turn 2 Necro. The reason was because I had a pair of Stifles, which I never got to use, alongside Isamaru).

Game 2 was more competitive. Although I over-extended into a Massacre, I followed with a True Believer that Chris had trouble dealing with, and I drew into some friends to join the Believer in combat. Chris eventually played Yawgmoth’s Bargain but he did not have a lot of life to play with due to my beatdown and his Mana Crypt. A turn later he hardcast Memory Jar and had Force of Will for my Stifle on the Jar activation; even then, my Jar hand included seven Blue cards, three of which were Force of Will (!) and one of which was a second Stifle. He had no shot at his combo and my beatdown carried the day.

In game 3 I had Lotus and double Wasteland in the opening hand, so despite going second I had a great beatdown draw. Chris had an early Dark Confidant, which flipped over Mystical Tutor, which fetched Massacre, but I had been holding back on Kataki and I topdecked a Factory. The Kataki made life difficult for Chris, but while facing lethal damage he was able to Tinker a Mana Crypt into a Jar, and I was sure I was dead. Chris’s first post-Jar play was a Massacre, which I read as weakness in his Jar hand; if he had the gas to Tendrils me, he would just do that rather than blow away my team. Thus, I answered with a Force of Will, and Chris revealed that he had just had the worst Jar ever, with nothing but mana and a useless Necropotence. Somehow I squeaked out a win. 2-0

Round 3: Paul, with U/W/B aggro
Well, I assume it was aggro. I didn’t actually see a lot of beatdown from him in this match, but earlier in the tournament I watched him stomp someone with a Psychatog wielding Umezawa’s Jitte. He also played Dark Confidant and pitched Dimir Cutpurse to a Force at one point, so I figured he was playing some bastardized version of Sullivan’s Solution.

The games were actually not that interesting. He didn’t rip much countermagic, and when he did Damping Matrix was pretty close to a must-counter card due to his dependence on Tog and Jitte. Thus I was able to resolve creatures and save my Forces for his creatures. In post-sideboard games, Azorius Guildmage tapped down Dark Confidant and cleared a path for beatdown. Afterwards, Paul complained about his draws and I wondered if maybe I had dodged another luck bullet. 3-0

Round 4: Hans, with Life From the Loam.dec
Hans and I intentionally drew into the top 4. Late last Extended season, Hans had Top 8’ed a PTQ with a deck that he described as "the AL" – the CAL but without Solitary Confinement. He had decided to simply add some power to that deck for this tournament, and learning five minutes before the event about the restriction of Burning Wish did not deter him:

Actually, the Badlands was a Blood Crypt in Hans’ deck, but as in my case that was simply due to proxy limits and card availability.

Now, do not confuse my giving you the decklist as an endorsement of this deck; in fact, when I first gave him the sarcastic "nice deck" after round 2, Hans laughed and agreed, "my deck is soooo bad!" Hans smashed what he described as "another bad deck" in round 1, used his discard spells to overwhelm a Vintage version of Solidarity in round 2, and blew away Food Chain Goblins with Seismic Assault in round 3. Had he played my matchups in rounds 2 and 3 instead, he could easily have been 1-2. However, I offer you his deck as food for thought. 3-0-1

Forum posters to my last Fun With Vintage article will be glad to notice that I didn’t have any rules disputes with anyone and was asked only once to shuffle someone’s deck more gently. See, I listened to you! Of course, the fact that I played against only one person with non-proxy power cards might have had something to do with it…

Anyway, the Top 8 was myself, Hans, the Food Chain Goblins deck that Hans beat in round 3, and a kid who I was told was playing Meandeck Gifts. Other decks that lost in round 4 to miss the Top 8 included another U/W Fish deck and a second Gifts deck. We were informed that second prize was the equivalent of two draft sets’ worth of store credit; third and fourth place received jack squat.

Top 4: John, with Meandeck Gifts
I feel a little dirty for winning this match, because I did everything I could to punt game 1. My opponent drew a bunch of cards and Tinkered for Darksteel Colossus at 15 life; I took a Colossus hit and desperately played Ancestral Recall into Brainstorm, topdecking Swords to Plowshares on the last possible draw. Soon I had six points of beatdown per turn, when I played a Meddling Mage naming Mana Drain. My opponent tapped out to play Gifts Ungiven in his next main phase, offering me the set of Time Walk, Demonic Tutor, Black Lotus, Mox Ruby… and I gave him the artifact mana!

Obviously those are the two worst plays you can imagine. I have no excuse and am not even sure what I was thinking. The Mage probably should have named Gifts Ungiven, although Yawgmoth’s Will or Burning Wish would also have been reasonable choices – with the DSC removed from game, Wishing for Tendrils is really his only out. Even with the Mage naming the wrong card, I could have put the artifact mana into the graveyard on his Gifts, taking a risk with his Tutor and Time Walk on the following turn.

As it was, the artifacts I gave him allowed him to play a seemingly crushing Yawgmoth’s Will. However, he miscounted his available mana and after he turned Demonic Tutor into Burning Wish into Tendrils of Agony, he had only BB available. He manaburned and two turns later I pulled out a much-undeserved win.

Game 2 was kind of an anticlimax after that…

John: Mox Emerald, Mox Ruby, Tolarian Academy, go.
Me: Wasteland your Academy.
J: Draw, go.
M: Tundra, go.
J: Play and activate Flooded Str-
Me: Stifle.
J: <slumps in seat>

A Factory followed soon after, and I Brainstormed into another Wasteland and topdecked a Strip Mine to keep him under my heel. Plus, I had Swords and Stifle to neuter his possible wins. I had also figured out what cards needed to be named by Mr. Pikula. Soon I was on to the finals. 4-0-1

Those of you with deductive skills have already figured out that I was paired against Hans and his crazy land deck, who had faced the nigh-unloseable Goblin matchup again in the semifinals. Because they were doing pairings by hand, I had been in the store almost as long as I would have been for a PTQ, and I really didn’t want to continue playing. Plus, I was pretty sure I had zero shot against Hans’ deck – Force of Will is useless against Life From the Loam, and Damping Matrix doesn’t stop his cards in the least. Maybe I could have given it a go, hoping for a hot Grunt draw … hell, the bottom line was that I was no longer as excited about the prospect of winning a Mana Drain as at the beginning of the day, and I was ready to negotiate.

Since the event was unsanctioned, the judges allowed me to make a deal with Hans where he gave me some rares from his collection and the second-place prize in exchange for the Mana Drain. Note to all you tournament newbies out there: don’t make deals like these in sanctioned events ever, and you shouldn’t try it in non-sanctioned events without your judge’s permission. 4-0-2

So, what lessons can you take from my misadventures?

* My modifications to your typical U/W Fish deck, such as this one are probably not too hot. Shadow of Doubt didn’t do too much for me and it would have been nice to have Ninja of the Deep Hours for extra card-drawing (which, in turn, means you have to go back to Null Rod or else the Ninjutsu activated ability cannot be used). If I had it to do over again with unlimited card availability, I would take Mr. Steffens’ decklist and make the following changes:

-2 Stormscape Apprentice
-1 Swords to Plowshares
+3 Isamaru, Hound of Konda

-2 Sideboard Stormscape Apprentice
-2 Sideboard Magus of the Unseen
+1 Sideboard Swords to Plowshares
+3 Sideboard Umezawa’s Jitte (if you expect the mirror; otherwise I would probably hate on Workshop decks with Magus or Energy Flux or something else)

*I also dislike the Pithing Needles in Steffens’ sideboard, for the same reason that Mike Flores dislikes them in Standard: they’re permanents that don’t deal damage. However, I grudgingly accept that they are probably your best out against Bazaar of Baghdad. Tormod’s Crypt might also be a worthwhile choice in this slot, since I imagine most decks that use Bazaar utilize the graveyard.

*Jotun Grunt is gas. In most of my games I could play him safely on turn 2, and even if not, playing him on turn 3 after a Fetchland and Wasteland is just crushing. Your next Legacy and Extended deckbuilding effort should give him some serious consideration, considering how important the graveyard is in those formats.

*Even more gassy is Ninja of the Deep Hours. I cut it from my deck because I am used to playing in formats where there is more blocking. That was a mistake; as I mentioned above, I really wanted another way to draw more cards because Brainstorms and Ancestral don’t cut it by themselves. Plus, the synergy you get by "resetting" your Meddling Mages and Jotun Grunts is just crazy. He’s so good that the Fish decks don’t even need Standstill anymore. Accept no substitutes.

*King-five offsuit is a good hand, at least against me.

This article written while listening to the new album from The Roots, "Game Theory."

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