The Vintage Championship Wrap-Up

Last week, Stephen shared his preparation and deck choice for the “upcoming” Vintage Championship – Five-Color Pitch Long. Today’s article sees him share his views on the tournament. He discusses the current Vintage metagame, tells us where he thought things went right – and wrong – for him, and speculates on the future of Vintage Magic.

The Metagame

The Fourth Annual Vintage Championship was an unqualified success. Throughout the last four years, the attendance has slowly dropped from 185 to 151 to 127. This year that trend was reversed and tournament attendance rose above the eight-round swiss cutoff of 128. Although there may not have been a large bump in attendance this year, this reversal signals a stability in the Vintage format that suggests the Vintage Championships will continue to be a well attended, and hence well supported, event. The Mox Pearl painting was truly a spectacular prize.

When the dust cleared, Travis Spero playing Meandeck Gifts took home that gorgeous piece of art. (For more information on Meandeck Gifts, check out my article from two weeks ago). Last week, I wrote about Pitch Long and predicted that Pitch Long would perform well. Travis faced Pitch Long in the finals. Both Pitch Long decks in the Top 8 had gone undefeated in the swiss.

The Top 8 reflects a great diversity and balance in the Vintage format with a well-rounded mix of combo, Stax, Fish, and Control. The notable feature of this Vintage Top 8 is that combo finally has found a niche in Vintage once more. It has been nearly three years since Combo comprised any significant part of the Vintage upper tier, and at that time the DCI restricted the components of Long.dec, killing off the deck. This is one of the most diverse Top 8s we have seen, and it reflects a redirection of the metagame that existed since last year, which consisted of Control Slaver, Gifts, and Stax. Combo has finally broken into the upper tier.

The Vintage prelims on Friday night gave us a hint of this metagame change that suggested we were moving from a Control and Stax metagame to a Combo versus Stax metagame. The winner of the Vintage prelim tournament was awarded a two round bye in the Vintage Championship. The winner was Stax, but two Worldgorger Dragon combo decks made Top 4, including the finals. The rest of the Top 8 included Pitch Long, Staxless Stax, and GWS Oath. Control Slaver was being squeezed out of the metagame by well-designed Stax lists, and – most importantly – by Combo. However, as I indicated in my article on Meandeck Gifts – Meandeck Gifts is the one control deck that combo fears. Meandeck Gifts has a high density of pitch counterspells, speed, and the ability to find countermagic with Merchant Scroll. This gives it the edge against Combo. Its resilient mana base and plethora of tutors also gives it the edge against Stax. Thus, Meandeck Gifts was a fantastic deck once you make top 8. It is the favorite in the challenge matches. The trick with Meandeck Gifts, however, is actually making top 8. Thus, in Meandeck Gifts, control has a savoir that cleared out Stax and combo. The metagame is the better for it.

The first lesson from Gencon is that we have witnessed a clear metagame shift. Combo has definitely joined the Vintage Tier 1. The second lesson is that Vintage is still well balanced. In my article last week I discussed how Fish is generally underrepresented at the Vintage Champs. This year was no exception. However, it is worth noting that the expert Fish players are the ones who break into the Top 8. This year, upcoming Vintage notable Paul Nicolo had that distinction. However, he ran into the fearsome Robert Vroman in the quarterfinals, and could not survive the threat of Granite Shard.

The Future

At this point, we won’t really see many metagame shifts until probably early next year. Although Time Spiral will be printed, it will come out after the last major StarCityGames P9 event of the year and probably won’t be legal for the fall Waterbury. Thus, the first definitive evidence we will have of major metagame shift will be in the first Waterbury of the year, and the earliest SCG P9 events of 2007.

However, Coldsnap is virtually guaranteed to throw a monkey wrench into these metagame patterns. The printing of Jotun Grunt is certain to make waves in Vintage. It will be extremely powerful against both combo and Meandeck Gifts, and it also presents a solid threat for Stax lists. Jotun Grunt may prove to be a format-defining card in the next five months. Andy Probasco, of Thirst Gifts fame, has devised a FishStax list that runs Grunt, Dark Confidant, and Workshop prison components like Null Rod, Tangle Wire, and Crucible of Worlds, along with fast beaters like Juggernaut.

Fish is already strong in the current metagame, with bombs like True Believer (try to resolve Gifts or Tendrils now!), Meddling Mage, and even cards like Kataki, War’s Wage. Yet, with Jotun Grunt, it’s not inconceivable that Fish could be the deck to beat in this format.

I also think that Cron Style Stax is poised to be, along with Fish, the strongest threat to Pitch Long. In The Eye of Chaos is a major bomb. Some combo players seem obsessed with relying on Rebuild. Rebuild is impossible to pull off with In The Eye of Chaos in play. The only thing that can remove that is something like Chain of Vapor.

Throughout all these uncertainties one thing is clear: the future of Vintage is exciting. We may not know exactly what’s going to happen, but we can be assured that Vintage will chug along just fine.

My Performance

I played Two-Color Pitch Long on Friday night during the Vintage prelims, and then instead of playing Five-Color Pitch Long as I indicated last week, I decided to stick with the deck that I had performed so well with during the SCG events: regular Grim Long. Unfortunately, Ray Robillard knocked me out of the Friday prelim tournament, and I got 19th place in the Vintage Championship after having to play my teammate Roland Chang in the swiss. A great deal of my poor performance had to do with the vast quantity of mistakes I made with both decks. I wish I had stuck with my original plan of playing Five-Color Pitch Long. I have a feeling I would have done better. The sideboard and maindeck list I ran Friday night was the same one that my teammate Paul Mastriano (Mr. Type 4) made Top 8 with at the Vintage Champs.

After a lot of thought and some testing, I decided that Duress was the best anti-Combo card for the sideboard. I discovered that although Orim’s Chant was a total bomb if it resolved at the right time, it had the Stifle flaw. The Stifle flaw is this: the best anti-combo cards in the Long mirror are cards that both protect your bombs and stop your opponent. Only Force of Will and Duress really fit this mold. Both Orim’s Chant and Stifle are only capable of stopping your opponent. In contrast, Xantid Swarm is the opposite: it can only protect your threats. However, since Control doesn’t combo out faster than you, that’s an acceptable flaw in the Control match. Combo can combo out before you. You need to able to protect your combo as well as stop them.

The Vintage Tour 2006

With so few major Vintage events remaining this year, it looks like smaller, more regional events are going to be important to fill the void. The Midwest scene has the RIW tournament, and California has featured regular tournaments with a strong metagame. We will want to pay closer attention to these events to see what people are trying and see what is working. All that remains, otherwise, is SCG Boston at the end of September and the Waterbury in October. I only hope that SCG is quick to announce some early SCG P9 events for 2007. Vintage is doing well and the players can’t wait to hear about more tournaments!

Judging in Vintage

A major issue has sent shockwaves throughout the Vintage community: the issue of judging. In the past, there have always been complaints about poor rulings in Vintage – an inevitable consequence of the unusual card pool and often confusing card interactions, as well as poorly worded printed wordings from early sets.

Recently, a major debate erupted in the SCG forums about the philosophy of slow play. While I won’t enter the thicket, I will say that this event posed a major test for the newfound emphasis on reasonable play standards in Vintage. A very high proportion of Vintage matches go to time relative to other formats. This has spurred complaints that judging slow play is too lax. The Vintage community really wants greater judge experience in Vintage so that judges will be able to understand exactly what a reasonable time means.

I want to deeply congratulate the Pastimes judging staff for getting it right during the Vintage Championship. The judges made a clear effort to build relationships with the Vintage community and yet clearly and forcefully enforced slow play when appropriate. Knowing when it is appropriate and when it is not is a very difficult question, but the judging staff acted exemplary in this regard.

Before I leave, I want to congratulate Travis Spero for becoming our new Vintage Champion. Well done. I also want to give mad props to my teammate Roland Chang for wining the Legacy Championship and becoming the “eternal champion” for 24 hours. In addition, Paul Mastriano and Mike Bombholt deserve congratulations for making Top 8 at the Vintage and Legacy Championships respectively. Well done, boys!

Stephen Menendian