The Long & Winding Road – Vintage Double-Shot

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Monday, October 12th – Matt Elias brings us 5,000 words of tournament Vintage action! He takes two decks to two separate tournaments, with mixed results…

Part I: Vintage at Alternate Universe: Blue Bell (10/3/09)

I’ve had a lot of success with Oath the last six weeks, making top 8 in two of three events, so on 10/3 I was obviously playing the following:

This is what we in the biz call putting your money where your mouth is. I’ve written about Elves and tested this deck pretty extensively, but the best way to see if it is still a viable Vintage deck is to test it in an actual tournament.

Round 1 – Andy Talaga with Tezz – Win, 2-0 (1-0)

Game 1: I’m on the draw, and we both take mulligans to six. Andy’s hand is decent, but slow. He uses a Vampiric Tutor to find Ancestral Recall, and then plays Sensei’s Divining Top. On my first few turns I dump out a bunch of Elves, and then press my advantage by using Summoner’s Pact to find and play Regal Force; I figure if he counters it with Force of Will, I still have an aggro squad, and if it resolves, I’m probably going to win the next turn. Andy peeks at the top 3 with his Top, but has no Force of Will, and the card draw provided by the Regal Force gives me enough fuel to combo out the next turn.

Sideboard vs Tezz:

Out: -1 Gaea’s Cradle, -2 Wirewood Symbiote, -1 Viridian Shaman, -1 Fastbond

In: +4 Xantid Swarm, +1 Regal Force

Notes: The Swarms are basically for this match-up. Swarm is the best option available to help this deck resolve its spells, because Swarm is a green creature that you can play mid-combo to untap Nettle Sentinel and draw off Glimpse of Nature, plus extra copies can be Clamped. The extra Regal Force is used in place of something like Demonic Tutor to give the deck additional draw capabilities.

Game 2: My opening hand has only a Mox Emerald for mana, so I ship it back. The six card hand looks pretty good, with two Xantid Swarms. I resolve a Swarm, and he tutors up Fire/Ice. I attack with it to draw out the Fire/Ice, and he kills it pre-combat. I play the second Swarm and some additional guys. In the meantime, I keep drawing action, and when I draw Lotus and clear the way with Swarm, I blow the game open and combo out; I hit Fastbond as I was running out of mana and that carried me the rest of the way.

Round 2 – Steve Nowakowski with TPS – Win 2-0 (2-0)

Game 1: Steve’s hot off 3 consecutive finals appearances, and smashed me when we play-tested Oath vs TPS a couple weeks back, so I’m not excited for this match. I’m even less excited when he wins the die roll and is on the play for game 1. The first game starts off in my favor, though, as Steve has to mulligan all the way down to 4. His four-card hand has only Lotus for mana, but he knows I can’t counter it. He lays out the Lotus and passes. I have a turn-three win, but on Steve’s third turn he hits a land, sacrifices Lotus for Black and plays Dark Ritual, and then plays Gifts Ungiven with two black mana floating. His Gifts choice is Timetwister, Vampiric Tutor, Dark Ritual, and Demonic Tutor. I give him the Dark Ritual and Timetwister. He passes the turn back. I dump some more guys, and only have to worry about Steve winning immediately off his Twister, but he doesn’t and I win.

Sideboard vs TPS:

Out: -1 Viridian Shaman, -1 Gaea’s Cradle

In: +1 Elvish Champion, +1 Ravenous Trap

Notes: This match-up is more even than people believe. TPS has some disruption and runs Force of Will, but on balance Elves is the faster deck, and has a legit back-up plan of sending the beats; this is sometimes because relevant because TPS often needs to pitch an action card (like Desire, Gifts, or Twister) to Force of Will so that it doesn’t lose.

Game 2: Steve has more sideboard action for me than I have for him, as I know he’s bringing in Extirpates and an Engineered Plague. The Plague is meant for the Oath match-up but is sadly devastating against me. Thankfully we discussed our decks before the tournament, and I had access to the Elvish Champion, for whatever that’s worth. Steve led off with a Ritual into Thoughtseize and Mana Vault. I played an Elf. On turn 2, he played Timetwister with BBBC floating. Post Twister, he Thoughtseized me and then Extirpated Summoner’s Pact. I played some more Elves and passed back the turn. Steve Brainstormed, and passed the turn back, and then I was able to combo out on my turn, having drawn Skullclamp.

Round 3 – Mykie Noble with Noble Fish – Lose 1-2 (2-1)

Game 1: The previous time I played Mykie in tournament Vintage was last December, when he knocked me out of contention in the last round at Blue Bell and went on to win a play-set of Duals. I hoped this time would go better. Mykie was on the play, and led out with a few guys. He countered my Glimpse of Nature, and then played Null Rod after I played a Skullclamp. I played Pact for Viridian Shaman and destroyed Null Rod. Mykie played a second Null Rod, but I was able to destroy that one as well after bouncing the Shaman with a Symbiote I drew for the turn (how lucky!). The Skullclamp was enough to combo out for the win.

Sideboard vs Fish:

Out: -1 Eternal Witness, -1 Wirewood Symbiote, -1 Gaea’s Cradle

In: +1 Elvish Champion, +1 Regal Force, +1 Xantid Swarm

Notes: Sideboarding for this match was deceptively difficult. Most of my testing against Fish with Elves was BUG Fish, which is a better match-up. Noble Fish is better suited for this match-up, with more effective answers for Skullclamp. I didn’t want to cut Shaman, and considered adding more, because Null Rod shuts off one of my combo enablers. Similarly, Noble Fish runs a lot of counter-magic I could try to trump with Xantid Swarm. I was pretty sure Mykie did not run Stifle, so I boarded out Eternal Witness, but this was also a mistake. I’m still not sure what the correct sideboard move is here. His 4x Swords to Plowshares out of the board would prove to be devastating.

Game 2: Mykie led off with a Noble Hierarch. I played Llanowar Elves. He then dropped a Pridemage and attacked for four. He kept the beats coming with another Pridemage and a Goyf. He countered my Glimpse and used Pridemage to stop my Skullclamp. I drew Elvish Champion, but that didn’t really accomplish much because Mykie was the beatdown. He kept sending his Goyf at me. I played Pact with six mana and it resolved, but I had no good target because I was one mana short of Regal Force, and had boarded out the Eternal Witness. This lost me the game. I should have waited a turn to play Pact, or not sideboarded out the Witness.

Game 3: This was an extremely frustrating game. I kept a hand with four lands, a couple Elves and a Pact. Shipping this hand was probably correct in hindsight, but I underestimated the explosiveness of Noble Fish. I led off with Llanowar Elves and Mykie countered it with Force of Will. His hand was very fast with some Moxen, Noble Hierarch, and Pridemage. I drew some more mana, and was able to Clamp one creature, drawing more mana and another Skullclamp. Mykie had two Swords, though, and kept me off my game by using Swords to stop my attempts at Clamping. His beats went the distance. I was frustrated here because I only drew four creatures during the entire game, one of which I had to Pact up. I think this is a challenging but very winnable match-up. Mykie went on to win the tournament.

Round 4 – Dave with Tezzeret – Lose 1-2 (2-2)

Game 1: Dave’s hot off a finals appearance in NJ the previous weekend. After Dave takes a mulligan, I keep. I’m on the draw again; 0-4 today. Note to self: practice rolling dice. He plays a Top and passes. I play a Fastbond and a few more lands, and am in position to win on turn 2 unless he has a Force of Will, which he doesn’t. This was a very quick and brutal game. Interestingly, I’m now 4-0 in game 1s with Elves (against Tezz, TPS, Noble Fish, and Tezz), despite being on the draw in every game.

Sideboard vs Tezz:
(See above, Round 1)

Game 2: I have to mulligan to 5, and the hand isn’t that impressive. It has a Taiga, a Glimpse, a Skullclamp, and two Xantid Swarms. Dave gets out a quick Confidant, and then Vamps for a Fire/Ice, which he reveals with Bob. The next turn, he flips a Force of Will, putting him at 6. My best chance to win is probably his own Bob, but he plays Tinker for Sphinx of the Steel Wind, and that plan is pretty much over. I never get any mana Elves or land, so I just can’t do much of anything.

Game 3: I lead off with Llanowar Elves, while Dave leads off with Mox, Mox, land, Tinker for Sphinx of the Steel Wind. Whatever, apparently there are better opening plays in Vintage than Forest, Llanowar Elves, pass. Who knew? I’m actually not that concerned yet, because my hand is very good and can potentially win on turn 2 or 3 using Skullclamp. I drop a bunch of Elves and then play the Clamp, but Dave’s got the Force of Will. Not good. I have a couple of turns to hit a Regal Force or Skullclamp, but I don’t hit anything until a Pact of Summoning when I’m at 1. The cards I draw aren’t enough to win that turn, so I’m eliminated from contention. I actually think Dave was a little nervous for this match-up, especially after game one, but I’ve found it to be very close to even; Tezz with Darkblast and/or Fire/Ice is much tougher than the lists that were popular earlier in the year.

Round 5 – Mark Hornung with Mana Ichorid – Win 2-1 (3-2)

Game 1: Mark is playing a similar build to the one he used to win the last Blue Bell, based on the Force of Will list that won the N.Y.S.E. II. Although I’m not running that much Ichorid hate, I think this is a winnable match-up, because my deck is faster (as they don’t play Dread Return for Flame-Kin Zealot or Sadistic Hypnotist). I’m actually on the play this game, and my hand is pretty good, while Mark’s is pretty slow. He has double Force of Will, however, and counters my Glimpse and my Skullclamp. Eventually he finds a Bazaar and gets his Dredge on. The turn before I’m going to lose, I finally get some action with a Glimpse. I hit multiple Wirewood Symbiotes and draw a significant number of cards while building mana with a Quirion Ranger and Llanowar Elves, but I can’t find another Glimpse, Pact, Regal Force, or Skullclamp, so I run out of gas with a build-up of mana in my pool and lands in my hand.

Sideboard vs Ichorid:

Out: -1 Viridian Shaman, -1 Gaea’s Cradle, -3 Wirewood Symbiote

In: +1 Ravenous Trap, +3 Tormod’s Crypt, +1 Regal Force

Notes: Nothing earth-shattering here.

Game 2: I mulligan to six, while Mark keeps. My hand is very fast but has no Ichorid hate. Luckily Mark’s keep is relatively loose. I lead out with a Fyndhorn Elf, while Mark has Gemstone Mine into Careful Study. He alternates between slow-dredging and drawing to look for some better action, and Forces my first draw spell. My second, a Skullclamp, resolves, and I break his Bridges and start drawing and set-up for the win the following turn. I purposefully draw my entire deck before I play the Grapeshot, so that I can reveal a Ravenous Trap from my hand, hoping that will pay dividends in game 3.

Game 3: We both keep this game, and Mark’s hand is much better, with multiple Bazaars. He digs for and then finds Dredgers, but seems concerned that I’m holding Ravenous Trap. It looks like he’s digging for a Force of Will or Misdirection to get around my Trap, but eventually just settles for a Cabal Therapy off a City of Brass. The last card in my hand is a land. The whole exercise buys me a few extra turns. I do have a lot of creatures in play, and absorb some Ichorid and token beats, before finally drawing a Regal Force and dropping some more blockers to stay alive. Combat that turn breaks the Bridges, and I dump the rest of my hand and Clamp to refuel. I’m able to hold off his creatures for one more turn, and then combo out with the second Regal Force.

Post-tournament Thoughts:

I ended up in 9th (out of 31), with a match record of 3-2 and a game record of 8-5. I played against five established decks and felt like the deck held its own; three of my five opponents made the T8. I’ll play this deck again – I think a few people were genuinely surprised at how powerful Elves really is.

There were some things that I’ll change for the next time around. In the end, I think the Gaea’s Cradle can get cut. I sort of like it as a random one-of, because it’s such a powerful second-turn play, but more than anything I feel like the deck wants more solid card draw, because its already so good at generating mana. There may be a good build out there with Cradle(s) and Crop Rotation(s), but I think it’s mostly extraneous. I’m probably going to try out running the 2nd Regal Force main and see how that goes, in place of the Cradle. Another option would be to run a tutor like Demonic Tutor, but that would mean running black in place of, or in addition to, Red, and I really like having Ancient Grudge against Shop decks. I also want to cut a fetch and add another Forest. My original list always ran a 7/6 split, but that was mainly because one of the fetches was in an EDH deck (silly, I know). The list from TMD ran an 8/5 split, so I switched to that configuration for the tournament. What I didn’t realize was how good Fastbond was going to be when comboing, so several times I had Fastbond with dead fetches because I only had 5 mana-producing lands (Fastbond not being in the list from TMD).

In the SB, I’ll cut the Elvish Champion, and the Regal Force is moving maindeck, so that frees up two slots. I’ll probably run a 2nd Ravenous Trap so that I have 5 board cards against Ichorid, but I’m not sure what else to run. A one-of Mindbreak Trap actually is slightly appealing as TPS seems to be on the rise.

As I write this, the Phillies are tied 1-1 with the Colorado Rockies in the opening round of the 2009 MLB Playoffs. It’s easy to understand why this city cares so much about this team: they’re the exact opposite of every team we despise. They lack the flash, excess, drugs, and hookers of the Dallas Cowboys. They don’t have the highest payroll in MLB, and no one on the team is bedding Madonna. None of the players are out in the club, shooting themselves. Nobody on this team got here by refusing to play somewhere else. Some of the guys, like Jayson Werth, are actually cast-offs from other teams that are proving how good they can be, while others were actually acquired by competent GM’s or developed by a surprisingly good farm system. These are not things one normally associates with Philadelphia sports teams.

On a completely unrelated note, here’s the Noble Fish deck that Mike Noble used to win the last Blue Bell:

Part II: Vintage at GameCore in Oaks, PA (9/12/09)

This was a bonus event run by Mike Smith, the TO who runs the Blue Bell tournaments, and took place nearby in Oaks at the Greater Philly Expo Center. There were 32 players in the tournament. I played the following:

Round 1 – Josh Barkon with Oath – Win 2-0 (1-0)

Game 1: I keep and Josh mulls to 6; Josh is on the play. My hand is decent enough. He leads with Orchard and passes. On my turn, I Strip it. He responds with a Vamp, and I let it resolve (I have Force of Will in hand). On his turn, Josh plays Lotus before playing a land. I think for a long time, and then let it resolve. He cracks it for green and plays Oath, and I Force it. He has no Force back, so the game is effectively over, because he has no land. He does get some artifact mana out after a few turns, with a Scroll Rack, and conveniently I draw the 1 Ancient Grudge I threw in and destroy the Sol Ring and Rack. Eventually I get some action and Key/Vault him.

Sideboard vs Oath:

Out: -1 Ancient Grudge, -1 Thirst for Knowledge

In: +1 Echoing Truth, +1 Krosan Grip

Notes: Grudge isn’t particularly relevant in this match-up, while Echoing Truth and Krosan Grip are extremely good. I would probably suggest siding out either Regrowth, Merchant Scroll, or TFK as well. I consider bringing in REB against counter-heavy builds, but Josh’s isn’t among those.

Game 2: We both keep. During the early game, I Duress, then Demonic Tutor for Lotus, play Lotus and Yawgmoth’s Will, replay Lotus, replay Demonic Tutor for Recall, play Recall and Duress again. With my hand still full and his shredded, I dig a little and try to assemble Key/Vault. The Key resolves, but he counters Time Vault, then Extirpates it in response to my Regrowth. I follow that up with Oath and Orchard, and end up winning with Dragons. Note that in an Oath-heavy environment, Extirpate is extremely good; it also shows the value of having a second win condition, like Key/Vault or Tinker.

Round 2 – U/W Fish – Win 2-0 (2-0)

Game 1: He mulls to 6, and I keep. I’m on the draw this game. He plays a Mishra’s Factory and then Standstill. I let him bash me a bit with the Factory, then EOT I play an Impulse and break the Standstill, so he ends up just discarding two cards. I find Oath and force it through off an Orchard, Duress, and Force of Will back-up. He dumps his hand, which turns out to be mostly guys, like Jotun Grunt, but can’t race me effectively. I Oath into Hellkite, then tutor up Yawgmoth’s Willl, and play Time Walk, and then play Will and Time Walk again, prompting a concession.

Sideboard vs U/W Fish:

Out: -1 Ancient Grudge, -1 Karrthus Tyrant of Jund, -1 Regrowth

In: +2 Red Elemental Blast, +1 Empyrial Archangel

Notes: I assume he’s running Meddling Mage and know he has counters, so the REBs are obvious. He has no Dragons that I know of, so Karrthus can swap into Archangel, since his clock also isn’t that good (no Goyfs).

Game 2: We both keep. Turn one, he plays Mishra’s Factory and passes. I draw, and play Mox, Orchard, and Oath of Druids with Force of Will back-up. With Oath resolved, the game ends very quickly.

Round 3 – Oath – Lose 0-2 (2-1)

Game 1: We both keep, and I’m on the play. I lead out with a Recall, which resolves. He plays his own Recall, and I Force it. So far, so good. I had no idea what he was playing, but I find out after the game that he knows I’m on Oath. Apparently he was playing next to me in round one, and I totally failed to notice. Note to self: Pay better attention to surrounding players. Anyway, I resolve an Oath. He plays a land, and I Strip it. I regret that later when I realize what he’s playing, and especially as he continues to keep playing Orchards. We both have 2 Orchards for a long time, as we’re basically just digging for them, when he rips the 3rd off the top, and I lose.

Sideboard vs Oath:

Out: -1 Thirst for Knowledge, -1 Thoughtseize, -1 Ancient Grudge, -1 Regrowth

In: +1 Echoing Truth, +1 Krosan Grip, +2 Red Elemental Blast

Notes: Against this build, I very much want access to the REBs, because he’s running a set of Mana Leak in addition to Force of Will.

Game 2: My opening hand is very good. I play Orchard, Duress and take his Force of Will. On my second turn, I play a second Orchard and cast Oath, which resolves. He untaps and plays Time Walk with 1 Orchard, and then plays Ancestral Recall into another Orchard, matching my two. Shortly thereafter he draws the 3rd Orchard. I am almost able to steal this game in the most epic way, as the turn before I lose, I hit my 7th mana and have Karrthus in hand. I have a feeling he has two counters, which is problematic – I have Force back-up, and a Duress, but I can’t wait or I’ll lose, so I go for it, and indeed he has a Mana Leak plus a Force of Will.

Round 4 – BUG Fish – Win 2-0 (3-1)

Game 1: I’m on the draw, and we both keep. The hand he keeps isn’t very good, in the abstract, but it’s ok against me, because it has Echoing Truth and Diabolic Edict. A few turns in, he has a 3/4 Goyf, but that isn’t too fast a clock. Eventually I clear out his counters with Thoughtseize, and I play Oath; he bounces the Oath with Echoing Truth. I replay it and during the next Upkeep, Oath while on 5 life. Dragon comes into play, and he plays Edict on me. I Misdirection it back and that’s game, because I have Wipe Away for his Goyf even if he has Time Walk (which he didn’t).

Sideboard vs BUG Fish:

Out: -1 Ancient Grudge, -1 Regrowth, -1 Karrthus, -1 Merchant Scroll

In: +2 Red Elemental Blast, +1 Smother, +1 Empyrial Archangel

Notes: I’m noticing a trend here as far as Grudge and Regrowth, although with respect to Grudge, it’s more a function of the decks I’m playing against. I want Red Elemental Blast because it kills Trygon Predator (which I don’t believe he actually had), and Smother as it does the same and kills Bob or Goyf in a pinch. Angel is better than Karrthus in this match-up.

Game 2: We both keep, although he seems reluctant to do so. He plays a land and passes. I play Thoughtseize, seeing two Bobs, a Force of Will, and land. I take the Force of Will, and run out Orchard and Oath and win the game.

Round 5: I’m in 5th with awesome breakers, so I draw with my opponent. I end up in 6th after the Swiss.

Quarterfinals – Bobby Gildea with TPS – Win 2-1 (4-1)

Game 1: I actually win an important die roll. GREAT SUCCESS! I keep my awesome hand, which has such hits as Oath, Orchard, Mox, Force of Will, and a blue card. I play the Mox and Orchard, and then play Oath, and he Forces, and I Force back. It resolves. He asks how many turns it takes me to win, and I say he has two turns unopposed. In response, he concedes and we head to game 2. This may have been to prevent me from knowing what he was playing, but I was aware he was on TPS.

Sideboard vs TPS:

Out: -1 Ancient Grudge, -1 Merchant Scroll

In: +2 Red Elemental Blast

Notes: I was kind of hoping not to play this match-up. My previous build of Oath was running 4 Chalice of the Void main with 3 Null Rod in the sideboard, so I normally have considerable mana disruption for this match-up. My other option might’ve been to bring in Leyline of the Void, but it’s relatively marginal and he’s going to keep in his bounce spells for my dragons, so I don’t see much point. REBs will let me counter draw spells or Force of Will so I can resolve key spells, and seem worthwhile. I act like I have more cards to sideboard in, to the extent that I can.

Game 2: We both keep. My hand has no Force of Will, but it has Jet, Orchard, Sea, Ponder, Duress, Impulse, and REB. That seems pretty good to me, unless he has a first-turn Necro or Bargain, so I don’t ship it. It doesn’t seem so good anymore when Bobby plays land, Mox, Time Walk, untap, play Bargain, and win. I thought this deck wasn’t designed to win that fast anymore? I feel like he wasn’t sure he had the game in the bag until he was down to 3 life – my teammate Steve often comments that Bargain gets there by the slimmest of margins. That seemed to be the case here.

Game 3: Bobby mulls twice and I keep. I lead off with Duress, and his hand has mana but only one action card, and I take it. I’m able to resolve Oath pretty easily and win. He said in hindsight his opening seven was probably good enough, but because I opened so fast in the first game, he seemed very concerned about having a hand with either Force of Will or the ability to race. I don’t believe Bobby plays much Vintage (although I could be way off base), but he is an excellent player and has competed on the Pro Tour.

Semi-finals – Oath (from rd 3) – Win 2-0 (5-1)

Game 1: He’s on the play this time, and mulls to six. I keep my opener, as it’s very good. This time, I out-Orchard him, with a hand that included a few tutors, Strip Mine, and two Orchards. He played the Oath for me. This was a funny game in that my opening 7 was only good in the mirror match.

Sideboard vs Oath:
(See round 3, above)

Game 2: We both keep. My hand is awesome, while his has 2 Moxes and an Orchard with some blue spells. I Strip the Orchard, and he is stuck with Mox Emerald and Ruby in play, unable to play anything. I Lim-Dul’s Vault with Key in play, and find a block of five cards with Time Vault with a Duress . I untap and draw, playing Duress and he has no Force of Will, and one counterspell that I take, so he must draw Force of Will off the top to win. I untap and play Time Vault, and he hadn’t drawn Force of Will.

Finals: I have to wait around forever while teammate Chas Hinkle slogs through an epic match against Eric with Tezz, after God-drawing his way past a shell-shocked Ryan Glackin in the quarters. I scoop to Chas, and we win a Mox Emerald and Grim Tutor.

Post-Tournament Thoughts: I was very happy with the deck, but this was a strange tournament. After having a mulligan rate of nearly 50% of my opening hands in the last three tournaments, I didn’t have to mulligan a single hand in this tournament. Further, even if I had played out the finals, I dodged Tezzeret, Steel City Vault, Workshops, and Ichorid throughout the tournament (and all of them were represented in the field). I sided out Ancient Grudge repeatedly, but I feel like it is excellent against the top-tier decks. I also loved having the singleton Top. The sideboard felt pretty good, although I ended up being over-prepared for Ichorid (although it takes a full 7-8 cards for the match-up to feel comfortable at all); I also think I want another card that deals with Sphinx of the Steel Wind. As I discussed in my article last week, Zendikar provides plenty of new options for Oath, including Spell Pierce, Iona, and the opportunity for a new land configuration.

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