The One Where Hornung Battles DeMars

Mark Hornung plays in The Mana Drain Open 15, putting down his usual Dredge deck and picking up something new. If you like a good Vintage, perhaps this deck is for you.

TMD Open 15 – Round 3

Round three pairings were going up; I was sitting at 2-1 when I was informed that Brian DeMars was also 2-1 as well.

“You should have played Dredge.”

“You should have played Oath.”

Just some of the jibber-jabber that my friends kept telling me in hopes I would be playing him. Something in the back of my mind just told me that this was who I was going to be paired against. Lo and behold, I find my name on the pairings; my opponent…Mr. DeMars.

I shuffled up wondering if he would put me on Dredge, Oath, or something absurd like Stoneforge Mystic. However for this tournament, I wasn’t playing anything from my usual repertoire of decks. I was battling with something different.

My weapon of choice…

…None other than Matt Elias Gro deck (slightly modified).

Matt explains the deck here, but I will discuss some of the changes I made.

I really wanted Flusterstorm in the deck because I felt that there may be an abundance of Snapcaster Mages running around at this tournament (TMD Open 15), being the first major Vintage tournament for which it was legal. There are just too many instances against blue decks where Flusterstorm is an uncounterable counterspell, which really pushed it ahead of Mindbreak Trap for me.

I was really partial to the interaction between Mystical Tutor and Mystic Remora. Your opponent plays a critical spell, Remora triggers, and you can respond with Mystical Tutor for the counterspell. I felt fine cutting the fourth Mental Misstep that Matt had been running for it. I am not 100% that I missed having that Misstep, but I am 100% sure I enjoyed having the Mystical Tutor.

The final change I made to Matt’s list was with the sideboard. I hate playing against Dredge just as much as the next person…when I am not actually playing Dredge myself. Leyline of the Void provides the strongest effect against Dredge decks you can have. This led to my decision of wanting a pseudo fifth Leyline of the Void, so I decided to play Planar Void instead of the more flexible sideboard cards that blue decks traditionally use (Pithing Needle or Nihil Spellbomb).  

The Mana Drain Open

The majority of Vintage players in the US have played in this tournament at one time or another. It’s generally the second biggest Vintage tournament in the US behind Vintage Champs held at Gen Con, although I believe attendance for one of these may have eclipsed Vintage Champs before…

The maestro of this party is none other than Ray Robillard, who throws one heck of a tournament every year. Anyone who plays Vintage should try to make it to one of these events sometime; not only is it an amazing event, but they even have free side events with one of them being Magic Trivia.


Weeks before the event, I knew I wasn’t going to pilot any of my usual deck choices. I turned to none other than Matt Elias for inspiration for what I should play. He told me he had this Gro deck that appeared to be crushing Gush decks. Despite the list looking like a pile on paper to me, I decided it was always a good idea to play/test any list Matt Elias ships you. I tested the list pretty heavily, and thanks to Elias’s work with the deck as well, I felt comfortable enough with it to finally sleeve it up with my pink Dragon Shields (support Breast Cancer Awareness; October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month).

Any deck that makes it into my pink Dragon Shields makes it official, much like relationship statuses on Facebook.

Admittedly in the beginning stages of testing this deck, I had to learn a thing or two about playing the deck and playtesting the hard way. I was keeping biased opening hands, which obviously skewed results for the entire process. I was also unsure of which lines of play I should be making with the deck, which obviously continued to skew my results. I also introduced what I believed were tweaks for the deck, which were only effective due to the nature of the decks we were testing—essentially inbred testing.

The process as a whole really taught me a lot about playtesting new brews moving forward in a much more effective way. Playtesting is a different beast in itself, and the toughest thing is to make sure your results aren’t skewed for some of the reasons I listed. One of the most effective ways to insure against skewed testing results is to make sure you have a diverse group of people you can test with. The different insight and play styles can really help differentiate the results of testing as to not skew any of the results of it a particular way.

I decided that Gro was going to be my weapon of choice for TMD Open, and I was going to give it a spin at my local mock tournament. Nick O’Connor has been gracious enough to host small mock Vintage tournaments in my area on Sundays for a few weeks now (What’s better than football and Vintage?!?). It has been great in drumming up local interest in the area for the format, often drawing anywhere from 6-8 people each Sunday. It’s a great way to get some serious testing in while potentially winning some basic format staples for those newer to the format. Prizes included such staples as Force of Wills and Wastelands. After taking down one of these mock Vintage tournaments, I was pleased with the deck’s performance thus far and was definitely going to be piloting it in a couple weeks.

The Mark Hornung Audible

The Mark Hornung Audible is my notorious ability to constantly juggle two or more deck choices before the week of and up to the night of a tournament. I am no Peyton Manning, so obviously these audible calls never turn out very well for me…

Some of my more regrettable times I audibled include:

GP Columbus 2010- Not playing a Survival of the Fittest with Vengevine list I had because the deck was an unknown at the time

Shards Standard- Constantly audibling off Bloodbraid Elf decks because I always thought I had something better

GP Columbus 2007- Not playing the Flash list I had because the deck was an unknown at the time

Affinity Standard- Constantly audibling off Ravager Affinity because I always thought I had something better

Sometimes it is better to play the brew…and sometimes it’s better to play the best deck.

Doubt began to creep in as always, and two days before the tournament, I sleeved up Dredge. Friday before the tournament, I had to fight the strong urge to audible to Dredge.

I was too busy getting ready to jump off of my hotel window because of my Phillies losing to actually make the audible.

Battle Report

Round 1 – BYE

Round 2- Brian Swatkins, Blue ?

Game one: My first game on the day with the deck. I keep a hand with turn one Dark Confidant on the draw. He mulls to six and has a turn one Jace, the Mind Sculptor. My Confidant doesn’t get there, and I get buried by Jace and the card advantage from it.

Game two: Once again I have a turn one Dark Confidant, but this time with Force of Will backup. He unfortunately has Tinker with Force of Will backup early to seal it.


Round 3- John Longo, Gush

Game one: I don’t have good notes for this one, but I lost this game. As an aside, I did not win a game one the entire day…

Game two: I mull to six on the play and get to live the dream with Mox Jet, Sol Ring, Underground Sea, Tinker, Force of Will, and Gush.

Game three: This game goes very long. So long in fact that I topdeck a Dark Confidant, and on my upkeep I reveal a Vampiric Tutor. I Tutor before my draw step, taking my life to six. My option at this point is to get Jace and try to hold out three turns or to get Blightteel and hardcast it to put a one-turn clock on him. I go with the Blightteel and slam it down for the win.


Round 4- Brian DeMars, Snapcaster Mage Blue

I haven’t actually played any of the Meandeck team members except Paul Mastriano on multiple occasions, so I am pretty excited to get a chance to play one and see what Brian is playing. I heard that he might be on a DoomsdayLaboratory Maniac list, which I saw Paul and Steve Menendian rocking. I quickly find out that he is on something that will provide me a far tougher matchup.

Both games are pretty unexciting in terms of plays. I go down rather quickly on cards, so much so that he is tutoring for counterspells and Snapcaster Mages to further control the game. My Dark Confidants run into Fire / Ice each time I run them out. Any other advantage I would begin to get once I have a Quirion Dryad on board is quickly negated when he hits his Riptide Laboratory. He is able to block my Dryad indefinitely and bury me in card advantage via Snapcaster Mage and Fact or Fiction. Needless to say, both games are total blowouts that I would rather erase from memory.


Round 5- William Winger, Reanimator

Game one: I lead with a Mystic Remora, which swiftly runs into a Mental Misstep. I then play Mox Sapphire and play another one, which gets through. He then plays a Bazaar of Baghdad and then passes. I am put to the test on my upkeep; is he playing Dredge with Mental Missteps or is he actually on a deck that relies on playing spells…? I decide I have nothing to lose this game if he is on Dredge and pay for my Remora and then pass back the turn. EOT he activates his Bazaar and discards some fatties, which tips me that keeping Remora around was the play. Unfortunately I don’t draw much off of it, and he is able to reanimate a Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

Game two: Leyline of the Void and Planar Void are able to lock him out before he can get any business. I am able to ride my Tinker-Blightteel plan to victory.

Game three: Midway into the game he lands a Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. I am able to build up a Quirion Dryad to successfully fight his creature and essentially reset the board states. We get to turns, and I am able to rip a Tinker off the top on turn three, which leads to a turn-four handshake.


Round 6- Daniel Gacioch, Cobra Gush

Game one: I lose to an early Lotus Cobra into a Yawgmoth’s Bargain.

Game two: I am able to set up a quick Mystic Remora followed by early pressure from Quirion Dryad, which ends the game rather quickly.

Game three: I apply early pressure on him with a big Dryad, which forces him to use his Lotus Cobras as blockers. I am then able to hit Tinker into Blightteel to really ramp up the clock. He attempts to Ancestral Recall for answers, but I have the Mental Misstep in hand.


Round 7- Joseph Canada, MUD

Game one: He wins the die roll, which leads to the pretty standard me gtting demolished game one (so many dead cards in this matchup game one).

Game two: I have Force of Will online paired with a turn-two Trygon Predator, which I am able to ride to victory.

Game three: I keep a really greedy hand and get punished for it…


Not quite how I wanted to finish, but looking back on the day, I had a ton of fun and definitely do not regret my deck choice. Moving forward with the deck, I would look to move the Forest in the main deck to the sideboard, leaving only one Forest in the 75. It was easily the worst card in the deck all day and maybe one of the worst cards in Vintage.

I would also change the Mindbreak Trap in the sideboard to Flusterstorm; it was just that good every time I used it on the day. Finally, I would make the Planar Void a Nihil Spellbomb; it’s just better to have that extra value in other matchups. Other than that, I was very pleased with Mystical Tutor in the deck but only had the Remora into a Mystical for a counterspell situation come up once.

Props and Slops


  • Ray Robillard and everyone else who continue to make The Mana Drain Open such an amazing tournament experience. 
  • Ryan Glackin for providing the transportation and finding a Playboy magazine for sixty cents in a random Sheetz, which he obviously purchased…
  • Joe Brown for being an awesome hotel roommate
  • Nick Coss for being a Baller as always
  • Chris Pikula and Nick Detwiler for helping me take down Brian DeMars, Paul Mastriano, and JP Kohler in some overtime Vintage battling…
  • Brain Carey for correctly choosing to audible off his Hermit Blaster deck after I proceeded to manhandle him the night before the tournament in testing it
  • Matt Elias for shipping me a good deck
  • Everyone in Harrisburg who helped me test this deck
  • Anthony Scalzo- Despite having his Vintage Dredge deck stolen (Real Bazaar of Baghdads and all) at PT Philly, he kept his head up and remained strong en-route to  winning TMD Open 15 with obviously Dredge.


  • Joe Canada beating me in the tournament but failing at Catch Phrase…

Me-“A basketball team from Texas, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming used to play for them!”
Joe Canada- “The Orlando Pacers!”

  • Attendance not breaking even 80- Ray runs an amazing event each year for us Vintage players. Outside of Vintage Champs, it is the premier Vintage tournament in the US, and hopefully next year we can get more people.
  • Obviously variance.

Till next time, may your greedy seven-card keeps get there…

Mark Hornung

@Womba_ on Twitter