The Long & Winding Road – The Philly Open 3

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Monday, May 11th – The Philly Open 3 is in the books, and it was another awesome event. In addition to a Standard event with nearly 80 players, there was also a Vintage event with nearly 60 players battling for a Mox Sapphire for first and a Mox Emerald for second. I’m going to recap the top 8 of both events, starting with Standard as that is most relevant for the majority of players.

The Philly Open 3 is in the books, and it was another awesome event. Thanks to Nick Coss and everyone else who helped make this tournament possible. Those of you in the tri-state area that chose not to attend really missed out, as this was another well-run event and a great preview of what to expect next week at Regionals. In addition to a Standard event with nearly 80 players, there was also a Vintage event with nearly 60 players battling for a Mox Sapphire for first and a Mox Emerald for second. I’m going to recap the top 8 of both events, starting with Standard as that is most relevant for the majority of players. I’d hoped to have deck-lists but I didn’t get them in time, so I’ll post in the forums when I get them.

After seven rounds of play in the Standard event, the top 8 was reflective of what I think will play out this upcoming weekend: a good (dare I even say “healthy”…?) variety of archetypes, many of which make great use of Alara Reborn. The top 8 played out as follows:

Black/White Tokens defeats Black/White Tokens
Black/White/Green Tokens (more on this below) defeats G/W Aggro
R/B Anathemancer Aggro defeats Five-Color Control
Boat Brew defeats Boat Brew splashing Black

R/B Anathemancer Aggro defeats Black/White/Green Tokens
Black/White Tokens defeats Boat Brew

R/B Anathemancer splits with Black/White Tokens

Let’s discuss at Peter Grube’s interesting update of Black/White Tokens first. Peter splashed Green by way of Vivid lands (over Arcane Sanctum) and Wooded Bastion so that he could run Sigil Captain in place of Tidehollow Sculler. No, that isn’t a typo. Essentially, rather than relying on Sculler and Thoughtseize for disruption, Peter packed his deck with excellent synergy. Sigil Captain is actually an interesting choice: Bitterblossom tokens come in as 3/3 creatures, and Spectral Procession and Marsh Flitter add 9/9 worth of creatures to the board. Furthermore, this creates an interesting interaction with Murderous Redcap, to say the least. Although this build takes a somewhat slow deck and slows it down even more, the power level goes up as the creatures created with Sigil Captain live through Infest and Volcanic Fallout, creating a tokens deck that has more beef in the mirror and quasi-mirror matches while being even more resistant to traditional sideboard maneuvers.

The other deck that stood out to me was the Red/Black Anathemancer Aggro that split in the finals. Spurning the current “it” card, Bloodbraid Elf, the list is build to be resilient and capable of playing the long game against control while still playing a perfectly competent aggro game. This deck packs in the most powerful creatures available in this color combination, including Figure of Destiny, Shambling Remains (a terrific card that has been somewhat overlooked to date), Hellspark Elemental, Boggart Ram-Gang, and Anathemancer. He combines these creatures with burn (Flame Javelin, Volcanic Fallout) and removal (Terminate and Bituminous Blast). The end result is a deck that attacks quickly and relentlessly while ramping into an end-game involving uncounterable Unearth creatures.

As exciting as Blightning seems on paper, ditching it for this type of build seems like an upgrade in this metagame. The combination of Terminate with Death Mark in the sideboard gives this list flexibility even against Green decks, traditionally a weak point for this type of build. Anathemancer seemed really exciting in the games that I watched, as Black/White Tokens, Faeries, and Five Color Control are extremely vulnerable to this card. Also interesting is the fact that Anathemancer comes into play against other aggro decks, particularly Jund aggro which relies on heavy use of non-basics and pain-lands. Before I leave this deck, in the sideboard was the sometimes-maligned Everlasting Torment, which I’m told was terrific all day against Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender (see also: Death Spark) and the Persist creatures in Black/White Tokens.

I tried to watch the Standard event as best as I could in between rounds of Vintage, and I saw a lot of various Five-Color Control builds battling it out in the x-1 and x-2 brackets throughout the event. The Vivid land control archetype continues to be popular, even if Anathemancer finally gives Red decks a legitimate path to victory. Although a lot of people continue to test Bloodbraid Aggro, it seems like early returns show that Black is a necessary inclusion to combat Forge-Tender and to beat Black/White Tokens and Five-Color with Anathemancer. The Green/White decks, suddenly popular in online events, showed up and were running a sliding scale of tokens versus fatties (for example, the top 8 deck was slinging the seemingly forgotten Oversoul of Dusk). Personally, I still think these decks are just lower on the power scale than Black/White Tokens, which can effectively turn into a control deck after sideboard.

With Regionals only six days away as I write this, Black/White Tokens has to be considered the front-runner, specifically the Persist-heavy build playing Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap. Flexible and disruptive, this deck is capable of building an insurmountable advantage with surprising regularity and speed. Zealous Persecution is the card that really pushes this deck into the front-runner as it gives it game against Faeries and other tokens decks. The real loser now that Alara Reborn has been released is Red/White aggro, which seemed so well positioned at the last Pro Tour. I still haven’t decided which deck I’ll be running, and although I’ve grown fond of Elves (and particularly Putrid Leech, who is awesome); however, I’ll probably end up with B/W Tokens or Anathemancer Aggro.

Turning to Vintage, we see a six-round tournament playing out basically as Stephen Menendian recent metagame analysis would predict. The top 8 looked like this:

1 — Stax
2 – Tezzeret
3 – Tezzeret
4 – Tezzeret
5 – Mana Ichorid
6 – Mana Ichorid
7 – Tezzeret
8 – Mono-Red Aggro

Stax defeats Mono-Red Aggro
Tezzeret defeats Tezzeret
Mana Ichorid defeats Tezzeret
Tezzeret Defeats Mana Ichorid

Stax defeats Tezzeret
Tezzeret defeats Mana Ichorid

Tezzeret defeats Stax

Winner (and still champion?) of this event: Paul Mastriano, running Tezzeret with Dark Confidant. In my opinion, this is the sole inhabitant of Vintage’s Tier 1. Utilizing Confidant as another draw engine in an already broken Mana Drain deck, this type of Tezzeret build defines the current pinnacle of Vintage. Tezzeret not only made up 50% of the top 8, but 75% of the top 4. There is quite a buzz building about what the response from Wizards is going to entail, if there is any change at all. I suspect we’ll see quite a bit of conversation on this topic continuing on the Mana Drain forums and probably from Mr. Menendian. [Yup… Stephen states his case in his article today — Craig.]

As expected, the Mana Ichorid decks are beginning to show up as a foil to the massive surge in Tezzeret decks. Based on the Waterbury list and running Fatestitcher and Sadistic Hypnotist as a Dread Return target, this list is less explosive than in other formats but far more resilient. For those not familiar with the list, this deck runs play-sets of Gemstone Mine and City of Brass along with the Bazaars of Baghdad. This allows the deck to utilize Fatestitcher, which significantly speeds up the deck by allowing a turn-two Unearth, untapping Bazaar, and then can be sacrificed to Cabal Therapy or Dread Return. Vintage Ichorid is more disruptive than its Legacy and Extended versions, by necessity, and runs Chalice of the Void and Unmask (which also help protect it from hate). The manabase in this deck also allows for a flexible set of answers from the sideboard, typically some mix of Pithing Needle, Ingot Chewer, Wispmare, Emerald Charm, Darkblast, Chain of Vapor, and Contagion. This mix gives the deck the ability to beat nearly any form of individual hate in games two and three.

Sadistic Hypnotist is a pretty spicy piece of technology compared to traditional Dread Return targets like Angel of Despair, Woodfall Primus, and Akroma. Once Hypnotist comes into play, it is nearly impossible for Ichorid to lose, as the Dread Return flashback cost provides the deck with the fuel (from Bridge from Below) to clear the opponent’s entire hand, sometimes as quickly as turn two. Honestly, I see no reason why this tech shouldn’t be ported over to Legacy as well. I also saw a Realm Razer in the graveyard of the Mana Ichorid deck that lost in the quarterfinals, which is an interesting choice that also offers a potentially game-ending Dread Return target as well as a 4/2 beater. Finally, Steve Silverman’s list that lost a very tight game three in the semi-finals against Paul Mastriano was running two Force of Will in the main. Despite minimal supporting blue cards, Steve said this card was one of his MVPs on the day, and in game three he was able to Force of Will Paul’s turn-one Tormod’s Crypt. It’s really to Paul’s credit as a player that he didn’t tilt himself out of the tournament immediately.

I chose to run Oath again, with minimal changes to my previous list. I expected the surge in Ichorid decks after its strong performance at the Waterbury, so I beefed up my sideboard by running three Tormod’s Crypts and three Leyline of the Void to go along with two Pithing Needle and a second Echoing Truth. I also replaced the Progenitus with a second Hellkite Overlord. I’ve argued on behalf of Progenitus in the past, but several factors convinced me that it might be time for a change. First, the decks that Progenitus excels against are making up an ever-decreasing percentage of the meta-game (particularly Workshop and Fish). Second, the decks that are on the rise as a foil to Tezzeret, notably Storm and Ichorid, require as fast a clock as possible, which Hellkite provides. Third, the printing of Inkwell Leviathan has led to an increase in non-targeted removal such as Diabolic Edict, which actually affects Progenitus. This isn’t to say that I’ll never run Progenitus again, because I do think the card is fantastic, but for the time being it is probably wise to run two Hellkites instead.

In round 1, I was paired up against 2008 Vintage champ Paul Mastriano, so I knew I was going to be tested right off the bat. I expected him to be running some version of Tezzeret. Our first game was very close – I had a chance to resolve both Tinker and tutor up Time Walk and resolve that as well, and I took it and was able to get Paul down to two life with double Force of Will in hand (but those were my only blue cards). Paul had Confidant and Top in play, and Ancestral Recall and Time Walk in his graveyard, and was able to Duress one of my Force of Wills, then get Yawgmoth’s Will. From there he was able to replay Recall and Walk and set up Vault + Key. In game two, I had a terrific opening seven while Paul had to mulligan. My turn one Thoughtseize revealed his hand to be two land, Mystic Remora, Merchant Scroll, and two Mox. I took the Merchant Scroll, and dropped a Chalice for zero. He untapped, drew, played a land and Remora, and passed. On my turn I played Strip Mine, and that was basically game. I don’t really remember the third game except Paul again had to mulligan and my hand was terrific. So far, so good.

In round 2, I was paired up against Josh in a revenge match from the finals of the last Blue Bell Vintage. This time, Josh was running a Tendrils deck. The first game started out relatively close, but I had to expend too much time playing a control role and eventually I again lost the first game to Yawgmoth’s Will. In game two, I led out with a first-turn Oath, which Josh countered with Force of Will, and then I dropped Chalice for zero. This was an interesting hand because I wasn’t sure whether to lead out with Oath or Chalice – Chalice obviously being devastating against his deck, but a resolved first-turn Oath gave me a chance to race. In the end, the fact that I didn’t have Force of Will led me to lead with Oath. This ended up being a decent choice, as Josh had no land and failed to draw any while I found another Oath. Again, I don’t really recall the third game but it was something similar in that Josh’s deck refused to give him a fighting chance.

In round 3 I played against a Remora deck, which I have struggled against in the past. Game one, he resolved a first-turn Remora. When it dropped, he resolved a Lorescale Coatl. I let this resolve so that I could fight a battle over Oath, and this may have been a mistake. I was able to resolve the Oath, by using double Force of Will, but my opponent snuck in a Brainstorm. He untapped with a 6/6 Coatl and then bounced my Oath with Repeal. I replayed it and he countered it, and that was game. The second game my hand was terrific, and I resolved a first-turn Oath and rode it to a quick win. The third game was similar to the first, as he again had a turn-one Remora. This time when it dropped I played Thoughtseize and saw Force of Will, Force of Will, Force of Will, Vampiric Tutor, and Telemin Performance. I drew quite a few lands in a row in this game (I believe five out of six at one point), but it didn’t really matter as his sideboard was extensive against me (Krosan Grip, Diabolic Edict, Performance) and I don’t think there was any way I was winning through that hand.

In the fourth round, I played against Sean Lind running an updated and interesting Fish list. Again, his deck had an extremely powerful mix of cards against me: Spell Snare, Meddling Mage, Stifle, discard, and counter-magic. The first game he was able to disrupt me long enough to bash me to death with his creatures. The second game, I had to mulligan to six, and kept a hand with only a basic Island for mana. I played turn-one Ponder, and saw no lands. I shuffled and drew… Polluted Delta. I played a second-turn Oath of Druids, which he countered with Force of Will. I drew… Oath of Druids! This resolved, but I had no Orchard and he had a Mishra’s Factory in play to put me on a clock. I drew… Forbidden Orchard! Sean was a remarkably good sport about all of this. Game three, Sean had a hand full of hate (Spell Snare, Duress, Extirpate, double Meddling Mage) but only two lands. I played Strip Mine and destroyed his Tundra, leaving him with only Swamp. I then tried to Tinker into Inkwell, but he had a Force of Will. He then untapped and Duressed my Oath of Druids, and then played Extirpate. At this point the only way I could win was by hard-casting a creature, but unfortunately for me, Sean hit lands and that was it.

At x-2 I was eliminated, and dropped to get some food from Reading Terminal Market and to watch the Standard event. I wasn’t all that upset with the short day, as I played against very strong players and had some terrific games. Paul went on to rattle off eight consecutive match wins to take down the event. My real takeaway from this event is that Vintage players of all stripes are beginning realize that the metagame is devolving into Tezzeret versus anti-Tezzeret, and the decks at tier 1.5 or tier 2.0 are struggling to remain viable. At this point, I’m not sure that any deck has a reasonable claim to being as good as Tezzeret with a solid anti-Ichorid sideboard. Vintage players are going to find themselves struggling to justify any reason to not play either Tezzeret or a dedicated anti-Tezzeret deck. This is not good for the health of the format and while I’m not sure what should be done, it is becoming clear that Wizards needs to take action at some point in the near future. Vintage players in close proximity to Philadelphia have another event in Blue Bell on 5/23 (including a side event dedicated to Dan Herd) as well as the Dan Herd Memorial Tournament in Philadelphia on 6/6.

Best of luck to all the Regionals competitors this weekend – I can’t wait to see what sick technology these tournaments reveal…

Matt Elias
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