The Long & Winding Road – Playing in the MUD

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Friday, March 26th – At its core, Vintage isn’t really different than other formats. You can exploit the metagame using deck choice and deck design; proper deck choice and design, and minimizing play mistakes, will lead to tournament results. If you build your deck to attack certain elements of the metagame, and face those elements, you’ll do well.

Another Saturday, another Vintage tournament in the books. 58 players battled it out in Blue Bell on 3/13, and I was ready with this:

This is identical to the deck I posted last week; after testing it for a good part of the day on March 6th, some further testing during the week revealed that my original build as posted was solid against Tezzeret, which is still the deck you need to have game against if you want to win a Vintage tournament.

Including this tournament, I’ve played six Vintage tournaments in 2010, with five different decks: Dredge, Oath of Druids, Two Card Monte, Noble Fish, and MUD.

I don’t have ADD, and I’m not choosing these decks randomly.

For 2010, I had two goals in mind related to Vintage:

1 — Experience more of Vintage by diversifying my deck choices to better my understanding of the format.
2 — Verify that Vintage is an open format with many viable decks.

At its core, Vintage isn’t really different than other formats. You can exploit the metagame using deck choice and deck design; proper deck choice and design, and minimizing play mistakes, will lead to tournament results. If you build your deck to attack certain elements of the metagame, and face those elements, you’ll do well.

On to the report…

Round 1 — Win 2-1 versus Mykie with Two Card Monte (1-0)

Mykie and I had just tested this match-up during the week before the tournament, and he’d soundly beaten me most of the games. Not an encouraging way to start off the day.

Game 1: Mykie is on the play, and kills me on turn two. He led out with a Welder and a Helm of Obedience off a Black Lotus. Turn 2 he drew Leyline of the Void, and was able to use Welder to recur Black Lotus and had enough mana to Helm me out.

Monte is a very difficult deck to beat with Workshops unless you have both Welder and Null Rod. My list has neither of those cards. I brought in three Pithing Needles and crossed my fingers.

Game 2: I have a very strong draw this game, with a Wasteland, a Strip Mine, and lots of resisters. Mykie plays a land and a Mox through a Sphere, and I destroy his land. We repeat this process a number of times, as I manage to draw two additional Wastelands. Additional Thorns and Spheres start to clog up the board, and when Lodestone Golem hits, followed by Tangle Wire, Mykie scoops.

Game 3: Mykie leads out with a Helm of Obedience, but no Leyline; my hand is very fast and immediately clogs the board with Thorns and Spheres. Karn hits the battlefield, blows up Mykie’s fast mana, and that’s that. Dodged a bullet.

Round 2 — Win 2-1 versus Brad with Oath (2-0)

I know Brad’s list from talking with him the week before the event; he has an updated version of Oath packing Bribery and Terastodon.

Game 1: I’m on the play, and my hand is very good. I lead with Mishra’s Workshop and a Thorn of Amethyst, which draws a Force of Will from Brad. I then misplay badly by not dropping a Chalice of the Void on 0; I was greedy and planned on playing it on 2 next turn to lock out Oath of Druids, but in hindsight Chalice also locks out turn 1 Oath, and I could’ve kept the pressure up by playing another lock piece. Instead, Brad drops a Mox, then another, and then an Orchard and Oath of Druids. With only one land in his hand (the Orchard), Chalice on 0 would’ve won me the game; instead I lose quickly.

For Oath, I’m packing another Duplicant in my sideboard to battle Tinker for Sphinx of the Steel Wind as well as a late-game Oath that aims to hold off an alpha strike. I also have three spicy Eon Hubs which shut off Oath completely.

Game 2: On the play again, I lead off with a Workshop into a Thorn of Amethyst, which resolves, and then a Chalice of the Void on 1. Tangle Wire follows, which lets me resolve Lodestone Golem, and this locks up the game.

Game 3: I take my first mulligan of the day into a strong six-card hand. Brad has a turn-two Oath, but has to tap out to do so, which lets me resolve a turn-two Eon Hub off a Mana Crypt. Free Mana Crypt and non-functional Oath of Druids? Like I said: spicy. I also resolve a Trinisphere, which forces Brad to use his Orchards to cast anything, but I don’t draw any more pressure after this; Eon Hubs number two and three aren’t quite as spicy as the first. Brad casts Merchant Scroll for Mystical Tutor one turn, then Mystical Tutor for Tinker, and finally Tinker for Sphinx of the Steel Wind while at 4 life thanks to Spirit Token beats. I have some outs in my deck: 3 Duplicant, 2 Karn (at this point I have all 3 Hubs in play…), and… well, that’s it, really, since Eon Hub locks out the few Tangle Wires I didn’t sideboard out. I draw for the turn, and flip over… Duplicant! And that’s game. I think this is the third tournament in a row I’ve faced Brad in round two, and I definitely dodged a bullet with that Duplicant, especially after punting game 1.

Round 3 — Lose 0-2 to Ashok with Mono-Red Stax (2-1)

Initially I’m afraid Ashok has his aggro MUD list that I covered briefly last week, which would be a tough match-up; his Razormane Masticores and Sculpting Steels would give him the advantage. Instead, Ashok has Mono-Red Stax, which presents a different set of problems…

Game 1: I’m on the play, and have to take a mulligan as my initial hand can only lead with Tangle Wire. I start out relatively comfortably, using resistors and Tangle Wire to slow down the game; unfortunately Ashok resolves a Welder, then another. The two Welders make it impossible for me to attack as I have a Tangle Wire in my graveyard, so my Juggernaut and Lodestone Golem keep turning sideways, and then turning into a Tangle Wire. I play out a Powder Keg to see if Ashok will make a misplay with his Welders, but he doesn’t. As he locks up the board, I scoop.

Playing Workshop versus Workshop is always interesting, as people use different strategies when approaching post-board games. I chose to sideboard out 4 Tangle Wire, 4 Sphere of Resistance, and 4 Chalice of the Void to bring in 3 Eon Hub, 3 Pithing Needle, 2 Relic of Progenitus, 2 Triskelion, 1 Duplicant, and 1 Tormod’s Crypt. The idea was to try to out-muscle Ashok’s Stax list, which runs very few creatures; Triskelion, Powder Keg, Pithing Needle, and Duplicant can combat his Welders, while Eon Hub can blank Smokestack and Tangle Wire.

Game 2: I have to mulligan again, and my six-card hand is reasonably aggressive. I drop a Sol Ring, a Pithing Needle naming Goblin Welder, and a Thorn of Amethyst. Ashok leads with a Powder Keg, while I respond with a Lodestone Golem. Ashok ramps the Keg, then blows up my Needle and Sol Ring. I keep getting in there with Lodestone Golem, but the game is obviously slipping away as Ashok sticks a Smokestack and a Crucible, and blows up my board while on 5 life. From there he sacrifices Smokestack and plays another, and I’m locked out of the game.

Round 4 — Win 2-1 versus Nathan with Tezzeret (3-1)

Game 1: I have no idea what Nathan’s playing, but my opening hand is strong and full of action, and I’m on the play. Unfortunately my initial mana is all the mana I hit for a while. I get Karn, Silver Golem into play, while Nathan resolves a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and bounces Karn back to my hand. I play a Lodestone Golem, which gets bounced; we repeat this again, except this time it’s an Echoing Truth. In the meantime Nate has developed plenty of mana on the board. Jace finally uses up its last token — only to see Karn die to a Nature’s Claim. Finally, I start to hit mana sources, and start dropping resistors into play turn after turn. Even with his manabase established, with every spell costing three extra, then four extra, then five extra, the game was slipping away. A second Karn arrives and turns that army of resistors into an immediate alpha strike.

Game 2: I open on an interesting hand this game. Strip Mine, Sol Ring, Lodestone Golem, Lodestone Golem, Crucible of Worlds, Crucible of Worlds, Thorn of Amethyst. I agonize over this one for a while before deciding to keep.

The strength of Crucible and Strip Mine is game-winning, and the 53 cards left in my library included 26 more mana sources, making it highly likely that I could play those Lodestone Golems on turn two. Unfortunately, on turn six, I still haven’t hit another mana source, and a combination of Spell Pierces, Nature’s Claims, and Forces of Will keep my board clear. One of MUD’s strengths in the early game is its ability to deploy multiple threats quickly, and denied that advantage, I can’t get anywhere. Nathan plays a Dark Confidant and then another, and rides those to the win.

Game 3: This game was a simple battle of attrition. I’m able to force Nathan into using a Force of Will to defend himself, and then another; when he plays Dark Confidant, I’m ready with a Duplicant. Denied of his draw engine and behind on cards, MUD does its thing and takes over the game.

Round 5 — Win 2-0 versus Matthew with Tezzeret (4-1)

Game 1: Matthew is on the play, but my hand is really strong with a ton of acceleration. Matthew plays a Dark Confidant while I start stacking up Spheres and Thorns. Matthew’s Dark Confidant provides him with cards, but not mana, and with resistors piling up, those cards can’t get into play; Chalice on 1 locks up some of the cards he could have cast. Tangle Wire arrives to lock out Force of Will, which lets the Robots arrive, and do their Robot thing. The humans are dead, indeed.

Game 2: Matthew has to mulligan this game, while I keep a very good hand, and play a first-turn Lodestone Golem, followed by a second-turn Lodestone Golem. This was a quick one. While I don’t play them, this hand shows why some people are tempted by Sculpting Steel, as Lodestone into Lodestone really is tough to beat.

Round 6 — Win 2-1 versus Joe with Tezzeret (5-1)

I’m hoping to draw this round, but I’m sitting in 7th place while Joe is in 8th.

Game 1: Joe’s on the play, and both of our hands are quite good. Joe plays a quick Fact or Fiction while I have a Thorn in play, and reveals Mana Drain, Ancestral Recall, Polluted Delta, Jace the Mind Sculptor, and Lotus Petal. I split this out as Ancestral Recall and Mana Drain versus the other cards. With a Thorn in play, even with Lotus Petal, I have him one mana short of Jace, and I have the ability to play Karn and another Thorn the following turn. If he takes Ancestral Recall, I should have enough action in my hand to make those cards irrelevant. Joe takes the Jace + mana pile; unfortunately for Team Robot, Joe’s been sandbagging a Mana Crypt and resolves the Jace immediately! In a flashback to round 4, I’m quickly staring down a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I play a Karn, which Jace bounces; Joe plays out a Dark Confidant as well, while I keep trying to stick creatures to attack into Jace. Joe eventually expends a turn using “Brainstorm” which allows me to run Jace out of counters… which becomes irrelevant as Dark Confidant reveals a SECOND Jace.

Who am I facing, Patrick Chapin?

Critically, I’ve developed a board this time around and have plenty of mana, including two Mishra’s Workshops. With my mana, I play a Tangle Wire, which Joe counters, followed by another Tangle Wire and a Crucible of Worlds. The Tangle Wire will tap down Joe’s mana, which will allow me to resolve Karn. This is critical, because it will sweep the second Jace off the board, as I’m able to use Karn’s ability to animate the Tangle Wire and Crucible. Unlike an actual creature that Jace can bounce, these “creatures” give me an out to Jace the 2nd, killing him again and leaving me with one mana up. This is critical, because Joe has Voltaic Key in play and the way he’s sculpted the game state leads me to believe a Time Vault is in my future.

This is exactly the case, as with his Voltaic Key and Dark Confidant in play, Joe tutors into Time Vault and plays it out with one mana available. He puts a Voltaic Key activation on the stack… and then I win.

Do you see the play?

Remember, I have Karn, Silver Golem in play.

With Voltaic Key on the stack, I use my last mana to activate Karn’s ability, targeting Time Vault. Time Vault then untaps… but it’s now a creature. One that came into play this turn. You know what that means?

Time Vault… suddenly feels sick… can’t… tap… for infinite… turns…

With only one mana left, Joe can’t cast anything, and I untap and use Karn and his army of Robot minions to win the game.

This was one of my favorite Vintage games in recent memory. Somehow, with a deck of only artifacts, I’m able to beat two resolved Jace, the Mind Sculptors; a Dark Confidant; and the combination of Voltaic Key and Time Vault.

Game 2: We both take mulligans to six. On turn 2, Joe plays Tinker into Inkwell Leviathan, smashing me senseless.

This game wasn’t as memorable as the previous game.

Game 3: This game is a blowout the other way. I take no damage, while Joe’s life column says 19, 18, 16, 14, 5, dead. Karn and a Lodestone Golem provide both a clock and board control. If Lodestone Golem is Optimus Prime, then Karn has to be Megatron, because that guy just doesn’t fight fair.

After the Swiss rounds, I’m sitting at 5-1 and am in second place.

I’ve been on quite a run in my Vintage tournaments so far this year — but I keep stalling out in the Top 8 or Top 4. I’m hoping to change that this time around, as I’ve had some very strong draws with this deck and my play got better as the day went on. Waiting for me in the Top 8 was Kyle, playing Noble Fish.

Quarterfinals — Lose 1-2 versus Kyle with Noble Fish (5-2)

Game 1: I’m on the play, and have to mulligan to six. I lead out with a Chalice of the Void on 2, which Kyle counters with Force of Will. He then plays Black Lotus into Noble Hierarch and Tarmogoyf. From there, I do an admirable job locking up the board, but keep eating 4 damage a turn from the Goyf. A Tangle Wire buys me some more time, but I can’t find any creature — no Juggernauts, no Golems, no Duplicants, nothing that will stop the Goyf (which, as a 4/5 with Exalted, is still vulnerable). With a string of Chalice of the Voids and mana sources on top of my deck, I lose.

Game 2: On the play again, I keep this time, and Kyle again counters my initial resistor with Force of Will into Noble Hierarch. I slow down the game and get a Juggernaut into play, followed by a Tangle Wire, while Kyle resolves a Qasali Pridemage; he’s in a position to race until I play a Lodestone Golem. I attack with both, at which point Kyle has to chump with the Hierarch and then destroy the Lodestone Golem. His library doesn’t give him the goods he needs to stay in the game, and… nothing can stop the Juggernaut!

Game 3: I mulligan again this game into a VERY good hand. Unfortunately, Kyle’s is better.

In fact, I think this might be the nut-high hand for Noble Fish against MUD. Here’s Kyle’s turn:

1. Black Lotus
2. Mox Pearl
3. Mox Sapphire
4. Tropical Island
5. Meddling Mage, naming Tangle Wire (which is in my hand)
6. Trygon Predator
7. Noble Hierarch

At this point, Kyle is forced to pass, because he has no more cards in his hand.

I’m still in the game, as I have a Triskelion in my hand and plenty of mana, but it wasn’t to be, as Kyle’s three draw steps yielded him Daze, Wasteland, and Strip Mine.

Another Top 8, another quick exit.

Let’s review the tournament:

Rd 1 — Win 2-1 versus Monte
Rd 2 — Win 2-1 versus Oath of Druids
Rd 3 — Lose 0-2 versus Mono-Red Stax
Rd 4 — Win 2-1 versus Tezzeret
Rd 5 — Win 2-0 versus Tezzeret
Rd 6 — Win 2-1 versus Tezzeret
Quarters — Lose 1-2 versus Noble Fish

Matches: 5-2
Games: 11-8
On the play: 8-4
On the draw: 3-4
Versus Tezzeret: 3-0, 6-2

MUD isn’t a deck that overwhelms you with its power, but it is nevertheless a solid performer that does an admirable job locking up games, especially on the play. I tried to use Powder Keg, Karn, and Duplicant to give the deck resistance for games on the draw, and overall this was reasonably effective; I lost two games on the draw to opponent’s having explosive starts (turn 2 Tinker / Inkwell, and Kyle dropping his whole hand into play), but the other games were much closer.

I never faced Dredge, but still used the majority of my sideboard; I think this 75 has solid match-ups against Oath, Tezzeret, Dredge, and TPS. Powder Keg was underwhelming on the day, but I like what the card can do in a number of match-ups. Juggernaut is probably the weakest card in the deck but is still a solid role-player; that said, I’ve considered cutting the three Juggernauts for a second Metalworker and two Triskelion. This also opens up two sideboard slots, where another Powder Keg and Duplicant or Trisk would help balance the Fish match-up. Karn was also amazing all day and I can see why people run three, but in testing with three I kept drawing duplicates; this may have been a small sample size and three Karns might be correct. That guy is one of the most powerful cards in the deck at pretty much every stage of the game.

Perhaps most interesting is the Top 8 from this tournament, which was as follows:

Drain Tendrils def. Noble Fish
TPS def. Mono-Red Stax
Noble Fish def. MUD
Noble Fish def. MUD

Noble Fish def. Noble Fish
Drain Tendrils def. TPS

Noble Fish def. Drain Tendrils

Despite having the MOST players in the field, at 13, Tezzeret was shut out of the Top 8 completely. Also unusual was the total lack of Dredge at the top tables all day. There were only 4 Dredge players in this field. Unexpectedly, the second most popular deck was Noble Fish, with 3 of 11 players reaching the Top 8, including the eventual winner.

I should also note the number of Time Vaults in this Top 8: ZERO.

Jace made his presence felt throughout the day — check out Jeremy Beaver’s Drain Tendrils deck, which was good for second place:

This is an innovative look at Jace in Vintage, and might be more aptly called JaceStorm. I got to watch this deck in action and it is capable of some truly insane plays, as they say. I suspect we’re going to see more of this style of deck, and Jace, in Vintage’s future.

Matt Elias
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Voltron00x on SCG, TMD, and The Source