The Long & Winding Road – The Philly Open IV

SCG 10k St. Louis Offers First Chances to Qualify for the 2010 StarCityGames.com Invitational!
Thursday, December 3rd – Before we get to the Vintage half of the Philly Open IV and some thoughts about Time Vault, there’s a news item I wanted to make sure you read – and note that if you’re looking for Standard tech for States, the Top 8 of the Philly Open IV is at the very bottom of this article.

SCG 2010 – $10K Announcement

Before we get to the Vintage half of the Philly Open IV and some thoughts about Time Vault, there’s a news item I wanted to make sure you read — and note that if you’re looking for Standard tech for States, the Top 8 of the Philly Open IV is at the very bottom of this article.

I’m assuming that everyone caught the announcement about the StarCityGames.com $10Ks scheduled for 2010 at this point, but if not, make sure you check it out.

One of the main differences about tournament Magic between my initial time playing in 1994-1997 and my time back in the game from 2007-current is the much larger emphasis on the Pro circuit instead of smaller, regional cash tournaments (or cash-equivalent Power tournaments). In fact, if not for the fact that I live in an area with significant Vintage activity, my entire tournament landscape would be centered on Wizards OP events: Regionals, States, Grand Prix, PTQs, Prereleases, and so on. I honestly believe that this is not good for the long-term health of tournament Magic.

The reduction in Pro Tours each year has helped magnify the gap in tournament circuits that exists between large PTQs (that are as top-heavy and low-EV as a tournament can come for the majority of entrants) and local, open-entry events. Essentially, most people are forced to grind it out in low-EV PTQs where they eventually burn out. As many of you know from first-hand experience, the human spirit can only take so many close calls, Top 8 pins, and boxes of product.

Tournaments that are open entry that offer significant prize payout are an important bridge between FNM level players and aspiring Pro players, and I realize that the majority of interest in organized play does not center on Vintage, so while I wish that people would pick up Vintage to fill that gap, I’m aware that isn’t an option most Magic players will consider.

The tournament circuit announced by SCG last week really goes beyond any expectations I might have had for what would fill this gap in our tournament landscape.

For people who are aspiring Pros, this circuit gives them a steady flow of non-PTQ tournaments to practice and experience the pressure of a large tournament, but it does so in a way that is far less top-heavy in its prize payouts, so that close calls actually result in immediate gratification. It also guarantees a steady supply of metagame results and analysis to help high-level players prepare adequately for Standard events throughout 2010, as well as a constant supply of events people can use to prop up their rating to gain byes for Grand Prix tournaments.

For Legacy players, the fact that every one of these events has an accompanying Legacy tournament is a huge deal. This should help Legacy further expand its boundaries beyond its current pockets of Regional interest and into a full-blown National format. As I saw first-hand with the AU Legacy Showdown in the Philly suburbs (just after the StarCityGames.com $5K), local TOs can piggy-back on expanding interest in Legacy — both before and after the $5Ks — and use it to help create sustained interest in the format. It also suggests that players who have already invested in Legacy staples should continue to see the value of their collections increase. Even if the result is only high interest in Legacy staples, this is still good for everyone — stores can move inventory, and people with stockpiles of Legacy cards in their trade binders can start to move that stuff more easily.

The other massive benefit to the Legacy community will be, again, the consistent posting and analysis of large-scale Legacy tournaments on sites like SCG and on The Source. This should continue to shake out and define the metagame, and help drive it forward, sustaining interest and keeping the format from growing stagnant.

I love that the top prize in the points system is a set of the Power 9, and the payouts for the invitational are insane. Everything about this announcement is awesome sauce.

For Vintage players and TOs, it is now more important than ever that you begin to view interest in Legacy as a potential bridge to new Vintage players. Get to know the Legacy format and the decks, and talk about the connections between top tier decks in both formats. Most competitive Legacy players should be able to adapt easily to a 15 proxy Vintage structure, if they choose to do so. I would strongly suggest that Vintage TOs get to know Legacy and consider adding Legacy events to their tournament calendars.

Year 1, After Time Vault

I believe that Vintage is moving into a post-Time Vault era.

What I mean by this is simple — the format has shown that it is able to diversify and flourish with Time Vault in the format, and so it’s time now for the Vintage-playing community to move on. Get over it. No more open letters to the DCI. No more adding “Ban Time Vault!” to your forum signatures. No more threads designing elegantly narrow and unprintable “solutions” to Time Vault. No more proclamations that the death of Vintage is nigh, or that players are leaving the format in droves.

The energy that’s expended in these endeavors just takes your focus off the ball and is preventing you from actually winning Vintage tournaments. You’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy for casual observers — who is going to pick up Vintage if the community is constantly proclaiming that Time Vault is a death-sentence for Vintage?

For anyone that cares to pay attention and look at the data, the format itself has shifted, and has evolved and adapted to the presence of Time Vault (just as it has warped, shifted, and evolved around Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker). Yes, Time Vault is a factor in the format. A big factor, and a limiting factor — but EVERY format operates with limiting factors. That’s a reality of Magic, ESPECIALLY in a format like Vintage. Tinker is a limiting factor. Ancestral Recall is a limiting factor. Formats are defined by their best cards, and Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker continue to define Vintage as much as Time Vault does.

Those that want to put Time Vault on trial tend to have a few key arguments:

1. Vintage tournament attendance is down, and / or players are quitting the format, due to Time Vault.

I would contend that this charge is blatantly false, at least for the PA / NJ / NY community. The Blue Bell tournaments this year have fluctuated between 32 and 52 players, which is typical — attendance has been based far more on the prize offered and conflicts with other events as compared to any sort of steady decline. Nick Detwiler has been running NYSE events in Long Island to steadily increasing attendance (each time, an increased prize resulting in correspondingly increased attendance), and attendance has increased in each of the last three Vintage tournaments run by Nick Coss.

Unfortunately, Vintage is a regional format, so it is quite possible that while the format is healthy and even growing in some areas, it may be dying in others where the loss of one group or team leads to a TO unable to sustain recurring events. While Time Vault may play a role in this, regional formats will always be vulnerable, and any number of factors may play a role in the reason why a player or group of players quits a format. For Vintage, Time Vault is just an easy scapegoat.

2. Time Vault is overpowered.

Time Vault is insanely good. That is undeniable. The decisions of the DCI in June 2008 directly led to a format that was going to be dominated by Mana Drain decks unless Vintage players adapted. Rather than adapt, they took to playing Tezzeret in droves — this is partially due to the ease of which previously diverse Drain archetypes like Painter and Slaver were able to coalesce into an optimal Tezzeret list. Regardless, the restriction of Thirst for Knowledge has been surprisingly effective in balancing Vintage, because Mana Drain pilots no longer have a good place to “sink” their Mana Drain mana.

We no longer have a format where Drain pilots are able to play Thirst for Knowledge for one blue, and then play a free Painter, or to use Drain mana to power through a Slaver activation. Mana Drain has become eerily similar in actual function to Counterspell in today’s Vintage.

This line of thought has become so prevalent that some players have discussed replacing Mana Drain with Spell Pierce, because the key to winning Mana Drain mirrors begins to focus on cards like Ancestral Recall or Tinker, and Spell Pierce makes it easier to back those cards up against opposing counterspells.

Many in the Vintage community long for the golden era of Gush, and recreate the Banned & Restricted list with the goal of returning to that version of Vintage. It is entirely possible that there is an alternate reality Vintage out there, where only Merchant Scroll was restricted, and Time Vault decks are balanced in a Blue-heavy metagame where decks like Gush, Gro, and Flash are more viable than they are today.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that reality. The restriction of Thirst for Knowledge has put an interesting limiting factor on the draw engines available to today’s Tezzeret decks. The de facto standard, Dark Confidant, opens up the draw engine to easy answers like Fire/Ice and Darkblast, and helps account for some of the success of current Oath strategies. Similarly, the use of Time Vault as a primary win condition leaves Tezzeret vulnerable to cards like Null Rod and Ancient Grudge.

Much of the concept of Time Vault being overpowered came from tournament data, showing the dominance of Tezzeret — yet metagame analysis post-TFK’s restriction show that Tezzeret, while still the most popular archetype, is struggling to win larger events and is certainly not dominating top 8s the way it was in the first half of 2009. This can be attributed to a number of factors, the most important of which are metagame adjustments and the printing of cards that have helped make additional archetypes viable (such as Qasali Pridemage and Verdant Catacombs for Meandeck beats, and Iona, Misty Rainforest, and Spell Pierce for Iona Oath).

With these thoughts in mind, let’s look at the metagame from the Philly Open IV.

The Philly Open IV — Metagame Analysis

If you live anywhere near Edison, NJ and didn’t attend the Philly Open IV on 11/21 — well, I don’t know what to say. A whopping 177 Standard players showed up to battle for play-sets of the hottest Standard foils. Not surprisingly, the foil Baneslayer Angel play-set went first. Alongside the Standard event was one of the largest Vintage tournaments in the US this year. 68 players came to battle for a Black Lotus, Mox Jet, and two Libraries of Alexandria, and that number would have been higher if not for the need for additional staff (due to the huge turnout — obviously a good problem to have) and some unfortunate driving and travel mishaps.

While I wasn’t able to play in the event, it was great to see everyone there, and with two Vintage Champs and name players like Rich Shay and Nick Detwiler in the field, this was one impressive Vintage tournament. Most importantly, it’s a tournament that helps cement the point that Vintage is healthy and the format is more wide open than it’s been in years. Here’s how the tournament broke down (note that one decklist is MIA):

By archetype:

1. Tezzeret (includes Key/Vault without Tezzeret): 19 (28.4%)
2. Other” (Detailed below): 16 (23.9%)
3. 5c Stax: 8 (11.9%)
4. Oath of Druids: 7 (10.4%)
5. TPS: 4 (6.0%)
6. Dredge: 4 (6.0%)
7. Noble Fish: 3 (4.5%)
8. BUG Fish: 2 (3.0%)
9. CB Top: 2 (3.0%)
10. GW Beats: 2 (3.0%)

By pillar:

• Force of Will / Mana Drain: 20 (29.9%)
• Workshop: 11 (16.4%)
• Null Rod: 8 (11.9%)
• Dark Ritual: 5 (7.5%)
• Bazaar: 4 (6.0%)

Breakdown of “Other”:

Workshop Aggro
Drain Tendrils
Mono Red Blood Moon
Mono Red Stax
UBr Brew
RGb Beatz
UB Rootwater Thief Aggro
Hexmage Depths
Confidant Control

Top 8:

1. Mark Hornung — Dredge
2. Stephen Houdlette — Tezzeret
3. Sam Best — Tezzeret
4. Mike Noble — Workshop Aggro
5. Paul MastrianoOath of Druids
6. Jeff Folinus — Tezzeret
7. Sam Berse — Dredge
8. Steve Nowakowski – TPS


Mykie Noble (Shop Aggro) defeated Paul Mastriano (Oath)
Mark Hornung (Dredge) defeated Jeff Folinus (Tezzeret)
Sam Best (ETW Tez) defeated Sam Berse (Dredge)
Stephen Houdlette (Tez) defeated Stephen Nowakowski (TPS)


Mark Hornung defeated Mykie Noble
Stephen Houdlette defeated Sam Best


Mark Hornung defeated Stephen Houdlette

Top 8 Penetration:

Tezzeret — 3 of 19 (15.8%)
Dredge — 2 of 4 (50%)
TPS — 1 of 4 (25%)
Workshop Aggro — 1 of 1 (100%)
Oath of Druids — 1 of 7 (14.3%)

Deck Analysis — Top 8:


Two of the three Tezzeret decks were quite similar — both Jeff Folinus and Stephen Houdlette utilized Dark Confidant as a draw engine, and both played three instead of a full play-set. Stephen has two Tops main, Sphinx of the Steel Wind as his Tinker target, and included Fire/Ice and Rebuild, but no Misdirection. He also ran a 2/2 split of Duress and Thoughtseize, and one Repeal; the most unorthodox choice is probably a singleton Annul main. Jeff has Inkwell Leviathan as his Tinker target, and has Hurkyl’s Recall in place of Rebuild, and a 3/1 Duress / Thoughtseize split. The sideboards are quite different, with Stephen running three Mystic Remora and Ingot Chewer with minimal Ichorid hate, whereas Jeff has additional hate for Ichorid and Oath.

Sam’s list is quite different from the other two, and has some card choices that are reminiscent of Steel City Vault. He only ran two Duress, and included Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister, Recoup, and two Repeal with no Dark Confidants. He also has significantly more bounce and removal options — besides those Repeals, he has Rebuild and Chain of Vapor plus Fire/Ice. These additional draw seven and bounce spells are supported with a singleton Empty the Warrens. He also has no “robot” main to support Tinker, but has Sphinx in his sideboard.


I chose to call these decks “Dredge” instead of Ichorid deliberately, because we’re definitely seeing some changes to the Bazaar pillar due to the printing of Bloodghast.

Sam Berse ran the interesting Bloodghast Dredge list advocated by Meadbert on the Mana Drain. It includes a different combo kill with Sharuum, and plays Bloodghast instead of Ichorid; it is basically a speed-kill Serum Powder Dredge deck. One benefit to this list: it’s probably the easiest deck to register in all of Vintage.

Mark eschewed the Mana Ichorid deck with Force of Wills that won him a Blue Bell a few months back, and instead played an interesting list also from The Mana Drain which plays eleven “free” creatures: 4 Narcomoeba, 4 Bloodghast, and 3 Ichorid. In a different way, this also serves to speed up the deck by providing considerably more fuel for Cabal Therapy and Dread Return. Mark also played an Iona as a Dread Return target, which seemed extremely effective every time I walked by one of his games.


Paul Mastriano ran a version of Vroman Oath that included Ancient Grudge. He went 6-0-1 and demolished the Swiss rounds. The remaining Oath players that failed to make top eight were mostly split between Vroman Oath and my build that includes some number of Hellkites in the main.


Another day, another Top 8 for Steve Nowakowski with TPS. I believe TPS is significantly under-played in this metagame. Note that there were zero copies of Mindbreak trap in the top 8, including main and sideboard. Across the entire field, eleven players ran a total of 28 copies of Mindbreak Trap. I suspect that as we get farther from the release date of Zendikar, this number will continue to drop unless TPS makes a sudden resurgence.

Workshop Aggro:

This is a style of Shop deck that has fallen somewhat by the wayside, but it did dominate one of this year’s larger Blue Bell events in June (with three WS Aggro players in the Top 9 of the standings after the Swiss rounds), and again had a solid showing at this tournament with the lone pilot making the semi-finals.

Next Week

With full access to the Vintage deck registration forms from this tournament and the final standings, I’ll look a deeper look at the results from this tournament, as well as recapping the Legacy Mox tournament in Bethlehem on 11/29.

Full Top 8 Decks from the Philly Open IV:

Standard Top 8 Decks:

Matt Elias
[email protected]
Voltron00x on SCG, TMD, and The Source