The Vintage Friggorid Explosion – A Report *T8*

Stephen brings us a detailed report of his recent Top 8 performance on Day 1 of the SCG P9 Richmond. With extensive information on the testing process, coupled with play-by-play roundups of each match, Stephen’s report is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Vintage Magic.

Life is completely unpredictable and always interesting. 2005 was a real downer for me in terms of my interest in the magical cards. Last Spring I graduated from law school, met the girl of my dreams, took the bar exam, and was hired as a research associate at a think tank at Ohio State University. Between my job, friends, and my love life, the cards and all other relatively trivial hobbies came dead last.

I managed to get away for StarCityGames P9 Chicago (I couldn’t resist not playing with Grim Tutor the moment it became legal), but I had to put Magic and all other hobbies aside to concentrate my work and my relationship. In fact, by late summer, I was considering quitting Magic entirely. As far as hobbies go, I don’t have many. I play Go and Magic, and I am a big movie buff, but I don’t really like video games much. I like sports but I don’t really have time to golf. With my fiancé’s daughter moving in, I was going to be focusing on helping to raise her and I didn’t want Magic or anything else to interfere.

My girlfriend became my fiancé, and she and her wonderful daughter were on the verge of moving in with me… when disaster struck, and our relationship ended sadly. Suddenly, I found myself needing an escape that my work did not, and could not, provide. I told my team that there was probably no chance that I’d be going to Richmond because my fiancé was going to be moving into my condo with me in March, and my roommate had just left in February for Atlanta. I repainted my living room and cleaned out the whole place, making it suitable for my girl. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, and I found myself remaking my condo into a bachelor pad.

I had to go to Richmond. I needed to go to Richmond. I needed to get my head out of Columbus and all the misery I was still experiencing from such a terrible breakup.

The question was: what should I play?

I had no clue. My team is known for trying to push the format. I believe there is a huge advantage in playing new decks. You are far more likely to induce a single play mistake by your opponent. Said play mistakes produce match wins in Vintage.

Two weeks before the tournament, I decide I’m going to play Grim Long on Day 2… but Day 1, I wanted to play a new deck. We canvassed our development boards and some of the concept decks we were working on seemed either too timid or too hard to work on. In January, one of our teammates (Godot) tried hard to make Friggorid work, but gave up by mid-February. I had a busy January and February and didn’t get to work much on Vintage. My good friend Paul Mastriano, a.k.a. the creator of Type 4, called me up one day while I was at the gym and told me this goldfish he had with the Friggorid deck:

Turn 1:
Bazaar of Baghdad and Mox Sapphire. Activate Bazaar discarding Golgari Grave Troll. Tap Mox Sapphire and play Careful Study, dredging twelve this turn.

Turn 2:
Upkeep, activate Bazaar and dredge twelve. Swing with Ichorids, and play Cabal Therapy.


I have come up with a number of good deck designs (I am most proud of Meandeck Gifts and Meandeck Tendrils) and I’m known as deck designer (I think… otherwise why ask me to design for the Invitational?). But my biggest strength in Magic in terms of anything — in terms of playskill, design, whatever – is my ability to tune decks. I don’t know why or how I developed it, but I’m able to hone a deck and get every card just right. That’s how I took the GroAtog list and got Gush restricted. Same with Long.dec… two decks I didn’t create, but I perfected.

As much as I respected my teammates and their opinion that the deck should be abandoned, I wanted to take a crack at it.

I think this goes not just for my teammates, but all Vintage players in general: they give up on a concept too early, just because it doesn’t beat Control Slaver, Gifts, Stax, or whatever Tier 1 decks you’re throwing it up against in the first dozen games. Of course they aren’t going to beat the Tier 1 decks. Even original Long.dec split with Tog in our testing (don’t believe me? You can read about my games here — in an article from 2003).

You can’t evaluate a deck based upon how well it does in the first round of testing against Control Slaver and Gifts. You have to keep pushing and tuning until you’ve got every last bit of juice you can squeeze from the deck. People give up far too easily.

Day 1 of tuning with it was the Monday two weeks before the StarCityGames Richmond Power 9 events. Within a day or so, I had made huge strides. By Thursday of that week, the maindeck was virtually finished and I was gushing on and on about how savage the deck was. (Speaking of Gush, I was really disappointed that Gush didn’t make the cut). The deck really is an objectively broken deck. It feels in many ways like original GroAtog. The only problem was that this deck had some issues with narrow hate cards, and that it had no countermagic to control a broken start from the opponent.

Although some teammates had strongly dismissed the deck out of the gate, everyone on my team was getting really excited about the deck because it was so fun and so broken by the end of the week. I’ve noticed that when I get excited about a deck and start to talk it up, people begin to listen. I started up a “GroDredging” thread on the Team Meandeck boards, and by Richmond it was 256 posts and nine pages long. That is longer than 99% of the threads on TheManaDrain.com, in a forum with only a dozen active members.

The week before Richmond I had a number of teammates over at my house, and I spent the evening of Wednesday and Thursday of last week — about seven hours both nights — working on cracking the Control Slaver and Gifts matchups. I wanted to make sure I had them down. If I couldn’t get them to 50-50 pre- and post-board, then I didn’t want to play the deck. I figured that if I could get the deck to split evenly with Control Slaver and Needle Gifts pre- and post-board, then I would be winning those matchups since I would have the advantage of surprise.

About a week and a half before Richmond, Tom Lapille pops out of nowhere and expresses interest in attending. Tom made top 4 at Grand Prix Richmond with Friggorid in Extended, so it makes a lot of sense to bring him on board. He can pilot the deck well and help us tune our monster.

Tom isn’t just a good Pro Player; he is also a long time acquaintance and good friend to the team.

In 2006, I’m the last of the “old guard.” Carl Winter, JP Meyer and Zherbus (Steve O'Connell), all teammates, have finally ended their card-playing days. None of them play Magic anymore. They were the final players from the 2000-2001 early days of competitive Vintage, from the old Paragons list, that still played. Shane Stoots also sold his cards last year.

I’m the only one left that remembers the days of BBS and Keeper mirrors. I bring this up because of a little irony. Tom Lapille – now in college – was a middle schooler at the time, but he was there at Vintage’s inception.

There was a time when Vintage was defined by two things:

1) The online metagame.
2) the Neutral Ground metagame.

Those two things were not entirely distinct. The online metagame was Apprentice “Tournament of Champions” events run off the website “Beyond Dominia,” where Oscar Tan was the moderator and chief architect.

Tom Lapille piloted a four Fact or Fiction Mono Blue deck to Top 4 in the second Tournament of Champions on that website when he was just a kid. He hadn’t played competitive Vintage since. It was a bit ironic that just as the old guard had completely retired, Tom returns after playing on the Pro Tour (Top 128 in Honolulu) to have some fun in what is essentially a Vintage Grand Prix. With two tournaments featuring prizes worth from $250 to $600 for top 8, it’s Grand Prix money. I always run into Tom at local PTQs, or see him online, so it was fun to see how much his skills have blossomed.

StarCityGames Richmond was a defining event for Vintage for a number of reasons. Thanks to Ray Robillard who runs his Waterbury events, and Pete Hoefling running the StarCityGames P9 circuit, Vintage actually has a real power circuit with relevant prizes rather than being a lame duck format like it was in the Beyond Dominia days. With a huge P9 circuit last year, it was unclear whether Vintage would be heading downhill — whether its best days were once again behind it.

This was the first StarCityGames event of the year, and it would be a barometer of things to come. I was very happy that 150 players showed up for Day 1, and about 120 for Day 2. Similarly, the Waterbury this year had almost 190 players in January. Vintage is off to a good start. Vintage owes a lot to StarCityGames at the moment. I’m glad that the Vintage community returned the favor.

I think that the double-header events are definitely the way to go. For some reason, monthly events are too close together to really maintain a heightened interest in the format. Putting two tournaments in one weekend on a quarterly schedule is smart for a number of reasons. First, it really makes it worthwhile to attend. You get two tournaments in one weekend of traveling and double your chances of winning a Mox. Second, the quarterly system makes these events special. It’s easier to justify to significant others and the like. I think it was a smart move, and I think StarCityGames will be successful running off this model.

So, Friday. I get off of work at noon and Matt Hazard drives me to Richmond. On the way down there I call up Randy Buehler and we talk about the Control Slaver and Gifts matchup testing from the night before. We talk about sideboard plans. At this point, I knew that I wanted to sideboard in four Null Rods and four Chain of Vapor in the Gifts match, and that I wanted to take out four Careful Study, one Time Walk, one Crop Rotation, and two Thugs in the Control Slaver match, but we hadn’t figured out the reverse side of those equations. I gave that task to Randy to figure out before I got to Richmond.

Kevin Cron had flown in as well and so he and Randy met up. Matt and I arrived at the Marriot around 8pm and we walked into the Monroe room in the basement to find Randy and a number of other Meandeckers playing Friggorid. On Thursday, most of my team wasn’t sure what to play. Paul, Kevin, Randy, Jacob, and myself were definitely playing Friggorid, but Tom and others were not so thrilled with the deck… until they saw Randy playing it, evidently. That night, half the team decided to pilot the deck.

Over dinner, Randy and Tom convince me that the deck should have nine color-producing lands. They argue that you will only see the first nine cards of your deck in any given game and you’ll never draw again. Therefore, if you want to sure to be able to activate Ashen Ghoul, you’ll need more lands. I argue the point, but can’t really find any logical reason to disagree aside from the fact that the math didn’t seem to support one view more than another. They also all agree to run Darkblast over the two Golgari Thugs.

Sometimes it lasts longer

Tom had been against Golgari Thug since day one. But testing had shown a) that ten dredgers was the correct number in the maindeck and b) that the four dredge on Thug actually made a difference in a number of test games. Nonetheless, I was struck by the way that the Control Slaver match played out. Testing against Brian DeMars‘ list, I observed how powerful Shaman and Goblin Welder were. They would come down and control the flow of the game. But when I switched in a Darkblast, suddenly my test partners (thanks Joe Bushman) would stop playing them simply because they knew they were going to die. Thus, the mere knowledge of Darkblast in the deck caused the Control Slaver player to change the course of their decision trees. I reasoned that one Darkblast and one Thug was the correct configuration. The one Darkblast would put the Slaver player on notice that you have them and make them assume you run more than one. But you’d still get the benefit of Thug’s dredging four and being able to feed him to Ichorid.

The thing that swayed me to two Darkblasts was the argument that why risk game 1 against Control Slaver? If it’s our worst match (and it is), then just run the bloody Darkblasts and be done with it. Fine. I think in retrospect, I would have preferred the 1/1 configuration.

I was also the only one on the team to run the five-color manabase. Everyone else except Paul preferred the three Delta, two Watery Grave, four Underground Sea manabase to support Wonder.

On Wednesdays or Thursday night I was suddenly discovering how Careful Study was the crappiest card in the deck. I was bringing it out against Slaver but keeping it in against Gifts with Needles. Thus, I cut two Studies for the fourth Ghoul and the ninth land.

So I ran this decklist:

I was very clear to teammates that they should not be playing this deck unless they were 100% confident in it. It is a ballsy deck that is a lot of fun, but a big risk. You can’t control the flow of the game as well as you can with some decks, but the reward is great. You get to play the deck at its breakout event and have a memorable time with fascinating matches.

I took no notes from either tournament, so this is all from my own fallible memory. Any errors are my own.

SCG P9 Richmond, Day 1

Before the round 1 pairings go up, I sit down across from a man I discover is Travis Laplante. Travis warmly introduces himself, and we chit-chat for a while before pairings go up. Travis is an interesting character with a lively personality. He spent some time in Vegas living the gambler’s life. He’s lived more in a few years than most live in a lifetime. It makes me feel good that such people enjoy the format I enjoy.

Round 1:

My opponent strikes me as a bit unawares. I don’t recognize his face and he seems to be new to Vintage. Worst of all, he arrives at the table and sleeves his sideboard face up. I see that he has Shrapnel Blast, Disciple of the Vault and some other affinity cards. My fear drops away and is replaced by another fear: losing to scrubs. I have all these doubts racing through my mind. What if I lose? He wins the die roll and elects to play.

Game 1
He drops Great Furnace, Ornithopter, and Cranial Plating.

I play turn 1 Bazaar of Baghdad and discard Ichorid.

He equips Cranial Plating and plays another Artifact land and another Cranial plating. He also plays a Frogmite. He attacks me to fourteen.

I dredge twelve on my upkeep and return Ichorid into play. I swing in and then Cabal Therapy him naming Myr Enforcer, which he has in hand. I see Skullclamp. I have lethal damage next turn because I’m holding Time Walk, but I don’t get another turn.

He equips Ornithopter with the second Plating and swings for fourteen-plus damage. That’s game, boys.

I lose game 1 to a turn 3 kill from Standard Affinity. Not a good start.

I think about the matchup and realize that I should probably keep my Chalices in when on the play. However, I don’t really want to cut anything else. I didn’t see any power and I realize that he is probably playing a straight block deck. Thus, I think I ended up cutting Chalices and bringing in four Null Rods.

Game 2
I am on the play and I have turn 1 City of Brass, and Imperial Seal for Null Rod. He plays turn 1 Artifact Land, Myr Servitor. I play turn 2 Null Rod. He tries many more times throughout the course of the game to tap Ancient Den and Great Furnace, but I have to explain how Rod works. He does manage to drop a Frogmite into play, but my Ichorids smash him good as I topdecked Bazaar after drawing the Rod.

Game 3
I have turn 1 Land, Mox Sapphire, Time Walk, Bazaar, use it, Null Rod after he played Great Furnace on turn 1. This game plays out much like game 2.

I almost lost to Affinity.  I feel like this is going to be a tough day.

Round 2

I sit down across from a nice guy who repeated several times throughout the course of the match that he had only been playing Magic for 9 months. If he’s reading this, I apologize to him. I play pretty quickly and I was doing all kinds of dredging and crazy rules interactions on upkeep with Ichorid triggers on the stack. I can’t even imagine how weird my deck must have seemed, and I didn’t do the best job helping you follow it all.

Game 1
This guy plays turn 1 Mountain and I figure I’m either playing against Goblins or burn. The card that enters my mind’s eye is Wasteland. I have the god draw of double Bazaar. I drop turn 1 Bazaar, and turn 2 I dredge a bunch. I play another Bazaar. On turn 3 I return 2 Ichorids and swing, and he burns one with Incinerate. I Cabal Therapy him naming Fireblast and see Artifact Blast, Rolling Thunder, and Rolling Earthquake…. Wow…

I return Ashen Ghoul into play on turn 4 and I Therapy out the Rolling Earthquake. I win next turn.

Game 2
My guess is that he’s going to bring in some Tormod’s Crypts, so I sideboard out the four Chalices for four Pithing Needles. He drops turn 1 Mountain and Tormod’s Crypt. Now I have to deal with the Crypt. I play turn 1 Cabal Therapy naming Tormod’s Crypt. I see Artifact Blast as well as a card that says “counter target sorcery unless its caster pays 4 life.” I have to Therapy him again and take the Blast in order to resolve my Pithing Needle. I do just that, and I win the game without too much delay.

I figure I can’t really complain about having to play two byes, although it has been some time since I’ve seen that low quality sort of deck in round 2 of a major proxy vintage event. What is this, 2001? You see tournament reports in Europe with that kind of deck in the later rounds, but very rarely in American Vintage anymore.

Round 3: Uba Stax

Evidently, this guy’s name is Adam O’Brien. I knew he was playing Uba Stax because I saw him playing near my table in an earlier round. I piled his deck and counted 61 cards. I made an offhanded comment in bemusement, but it was interpreted as an insult to him for playing 61 cards. It was not intended as such.

Game 1:
I look at my hand:

Golgari Grave-Troll,
Golgari Grave-Troll,
Ashen Ghoul,
And two irrelevant non-mana cards

I consider my test games against Stax. In testing, this deck beat Stax pretty sounded except for those lame games where I’d have to Therapy myself for double Troll and then I’d lose in an extremely slow game. This hand was different in one critical way: I already had two of the four Ichorids in hand. I was weighing in my mind how fast this would be. I figure that I have, at most, ten turns against Uba Stax, and more probably, seven or eight turns before they start dropping annoying blockers or recurring Duplicant. Thus, I figure that if I discard turn 1 Golgari Troll (since I’m on the draw), I’ll discard Ichorid on turn 2, and swing on turn 3 for three, and turn 4 for six, and probably turn 5 for lethal. I reason that this is fast enough and go for it. It plays out precisely as I foresaw.

On turn 1, I discard troll at my endstep. I dredge six and then discard Ichorid.  I swing in, and dredge six, and discard Ichorid.  I win the following turn.

Game 2
I make two really annoying play mistakes this game. He is on the play. He plays something innocuous on turn 1, I think Mountain. It’s possible he dropped some artifact acceleration as well, but I can’t recall. My hand has Gemstone Mine, Crop Rotation. I play the Gemstone Mine and immediately Rotate into Bazaar. This is a huge mistake.

With Long.dec, one of the key plays you learn is to bait your lands as Wasteland targets and then Crop Rotate in response. I figure that he must have kept this hand in part because of his ability to rip my lands. Thus, I definitely should have just waited. Too late, I Bazaar and pass the turn. He drops Wasteland. Fortunately for me, he passes the turn. Thus, I get to activate the Bazaar on my upkeep and dredge twelve. He promptly Wastelands the Bazaar, having learned his lesson.

I reveal a number of cards, including Darkblast, but no Ichorids are in sight.

He plays Uba Mask and Bazaar of Baghdad and starts to milk that engine.

I finally see some Ichorids after dredging about thirty-five cards or so. I swing at him several times and start returning in Ashen Ghouls.

On a critical turn, I make a huge mistake. The third Ashen Ghoul comes up and I have the mana to return it except that on the dredge, I was careless and put the Ghoul on top of a Stinkweed Imp, leaving only two men on top of it at a time (since I could only find two Ichorids in my first 45+ cards). This misplay costs me the game. He drops Karn and Gorilla Shaman and I am forced to swing in, but he has too many artifacts. The one turn I could kill him was the turn he played Karn, but the Ashen Ghoul mistake eliminated that opportunity. Thus, I had to wait until I could get more Ichorids up, but his Bazaar plus Uba Mask gave him more and more blockers. Eventually, I just couldn’t get through and he won the game I should have won.

Game 3:
At this point, there are about four minutes left in the round. I am under the belief that I need to aggressively mulligan in order to win. I keep a five card hand with turn 1 Pithing Needle on Tormod’s Crypt. He drops turn 1 Mana Crypt, Workshop, Karn. This game already has gone downhill for me. I drop turn 2 Putrid Imp and start dredging. Unfortunately, he follows up Karn with Trike and Welder. I’m about to die when we both run out of turns and the game is a draw.

The match is a draw. I’m fairly pissed at myself for making such a simple and obvious misplay. But I make a conscious effort to not let the mistake “get to me” and affect the remaining matches.


Round 4: 13nova playing Team GWS “Intuition Tendrils”

This Intuition Tendrils deck has been spoken about in hushed tones and in fevered whispers over the last couple of weeks… just kidding…. My team had the decklist and although we never tested against it, we talked about how we should be handling it. It was part of the reason that I had Tormod’s Crypts in my sideboard.

I can’t remember who won the die roll.

Game 1:
I turn 1 Cabal Therapy off a Mox Jet, naming Dark Ritual. I see Grim Tutor, Intuition, etc. and I’m a bit concerned. I cast Vampiric Tutor for Bazaar.

At this point, I can honestly say that I don’t remember the rest of the game. I can speculate that I think I dropped a Chalice for zero followed by Strip Mine, but I would have to have 13Nova fill in the gaps. I know that I did win the game, however. I think that the trick was that Bazaar led to three Therapies on turn 3 or 4 — the turn I returned a number of Ichorids and an Ashen Ghoul into play. Those Therapies completely took him out of the game as I emptied his hand.

Game 2:
I sideboarded in Null Rods in addition to some Tormod’s Crypts. Unfortunately for my opponent, he is totally manascrewed on one land. He drops a land in a desperation move, he plays Timetwister since I’ve just set up an insane dredge with multiple Ichorids and Cabal Therapies in my graveyard. Since he already played a land he is forced to pass the turn. My Timetwister hand is quite broken. I play Time Walk plus Bazaar. On my Time Walk turn I drop Null Rod, which resolves. This game is over shortly thereafter.


Round 5: Flame Vault Gifts

In this round I play against one of the nicest guys I meet all weekend. He came all the way from Sasquatchan, Canada to play some competitive Vintage. He was a meticulous player who made few mistakes.

My memory of this match is a little sketchy, but I think I remember the broad strokes.

Game 1:
I believe that I lost the roll. He played turn 1 Island and Mox Jet and then passed the turn. I played turn 1 Bazaar of Baghdad and used it. He played Brainstorm and then turn 2 Pithing Needle naming Bazaar of Baghdad. However, it was too late. In testing I discovered that Pithing Needle, as amazing as it is, is much, much less effective if you’ve already had the opportunity to use the Bazaar at least once. Since there are generally only three Needles in these Gifts decks, they are more likely to have to Brainstorm for it and drop it on turn 2 then they are to have it in their opening hand. This is why this deck can claim to be able to beat Pithing Needle. His Needle was strong, but it was too late. I Brainstormed and dredged a ton, and then Therapied nearly his whole hand away. I raced in the red zone quickly and nothing he tried could pull him out.

I sideboard:

+ 4 Chain of Vapor
+ 4 Null Rod
-2 Darkblast
-2 Careful Study
-1 Crop Rotation
-1 Time Walk
-2 other cards I can’t remember

Game 2:
He played turn 1 Mana Crypt, Land, Thirst for Knowledge and I already am thinking that he’s won this game. Unfortunately for him, he only drops Mox Emerald and then passes the turn.

I play turn 1 Chalice for zero, and he misses land drops. I also play Cabal Therapy and name Brainstorm. I look at his hand and it’s utterly juiced: Thirst for Knowledge, Gifts Ungiven, Mana Drain, etc. with no Brainstorm. Unfortunately, he can’t find a second land.

The general rule of thumb with Therapy is that if you are using it blind on turn 1, you name Brainstorm. However, if they’ve played a Brainstorm or if it is later than turn 1, then the general rule is to name Thirst. If it is near the endgame, then you always name Yawgmoth’s Will.

He plays a Gifts off the Mana Crypt, the Mox, and the land, for Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Tolarian Academy, and a fourth card I can’t remember. I gave him Mystical Tutor and Vampiric Tutor simply because he couldn’t use those two tutors in conjunction with each other. After that, I was holding Chain of Vapor. I knew that I wanted to Chain the Mana Crypt to his hand so he would be mana light and unable to resolve it past Chalice, but I didn’t know exactly when to do it. I waited until his upkeep to see if he Vamped. If he did, then I’d know to use the Chain immediately. I also wanted him to take damage from the Crypt. He did not vamp, but I bounced the Mana Crypt to his hand. He could have sacrificed his only land to bounce my Chalice, but he elected not to do so. At this point, he was in serious trouble. I win.

He later told me that he expected me to give him Academy, although I’m not sure why.


Round 6: Eric Becker playing GWS Tendrils

Eric Becker is a warrior. I believe he has the best record against me of anyone in Vintage, having beaten me twice with no wins against him.

This round was not pretty.

Game 1:
I win the die roll and fire off a turn 1 Cabal Therapy for Intuition, since my Therapy for Dark Ritual didn’t work out so well in my previous match against this deck. I see Dark Ritual, Tendrils of Agony, Grim Tutor, Chain of Vapor, and some other cards. This match isn’t going to be nice…

He Duresses me on turn 1 to stop a Chalice, but is forced to take Darkblast. I dredge the Darkblast and play Bazaar. I could have played Strip Mine, but I figured I’d get one more turn. On his upkeep, Eric Vamps for Black Lotus and does the math, and kills me on his second turn.

Game 2:
I keep a solid hand with Bazaar, Tormod’s Crypt, Null Rod, and mana. I trop turn 1 Crypt and City of Brass so that I can play turn 2 Null Rod. He saw the Strip Mine last game and learned his lesson. He plays a fetchland and passes while I’m holding Strip Mine.

I play Null Rod on turn 2. My Rod resolves. Eric draws a card and plays another fetchland.

On turn 3 I play Bazaar and get my combo on. However, on his turn, Eric draws a card and thinks. I was at eighteen life, and Eric does some math and then he breaks his fetchlands for Swamp and Island.

He taps the Swamp and plays Dark Ritual. He plays Demonic Tutor for something and then taps the Island. He plays a Mox and a Mana Crypt. He then plays Chain of Vapor on his own Mox, and then sacrificed a land to bounce his Mana Crypt, and then sacrificed his other land to bounce my Null Rod. He then replays the Mox and the Mana Crypt and announces Cabal Ritual with Threshold (which I should have Tormod’s Crypted in response), Mana Crypt, Tendrils for eighteen damage. If I had Crypted him, it wouldn’t have made a difference. He had enough mana to play the Tendrils he was holding and kill me, since I was only at eighteen life.


Round 7: Fish

This guy is from Ohio and he beat Kowal earlier in the tournament, giving Kowal his first loss (and Kevin Cron handing Ben his second). This guy is probably the highest Fish player left in the tournament.

Game 1:
He wins the die roll and plays turn 1 Mishra’s Factory. At this point I begin to assume that he’s playing Fish, but I am open to the possibility that he’s playing Workshops or Landstill. Either way, I should roll this match. I do, however, anticipate that my Bazaar will be Wastelanded shortly after hitting the table. I drop turn 1 Mox Jet and play Cabal Therapy naming Force of Will. I see that he has Swords to Plowshares in hand. I play Bazaar of Baghdad. He plays a Tundra and drops Kataki War’s Rage. On my upkeep I dredge back Darkblast and blast Kataki with the Mox Jet that is headed to the graveyard. He drops another Mishra’s Factory and attacks me for three. I dredge on turn 3 and bring Ichorid into play, and he Plows one. Pretty soon I’ve dredged all by ten or so cards from my deck and I’m returning three Ichorids and multiple Ashen Ghouls into play for the win. He manages to stall the game out for a few turns in the midgame by blocking with a Mishra’s Factory and using itself and the other Factory to make it a 4/4 blocker. That doesn’t last too long.

I sideboard in Chain of Vapor and Pithing Needle.

Game 2:
Game 2 he is on the play. He drops Tundra and passes the turn. I play turn 1 Cabal Therapy, which resolves. I think for a while and decide to just name the only card that remotely threatens me: Tormod’s Crypt, despite the fact that you’d think he would have played it on turn 1. He reveals his hand and I see Moat, Swords to Plowshares, Swords to Plowshares, Tormod’s Crypt, Force of Will, and two Polluted Deltas. I know that he is a few turns off from playing the Moat, so I’m not that concerned.

This is just one more time during the course of the tournament that Wonder would have made things easier, although it never proved strictly necessary. My argument against Wonder was that although it did enable game wins, those game wins would have occurred if that spot had been Crop Rotation, using the five-color mana base. Almost all of my teammates preferred Wonder.

I nabbed the Tormod’s Crypt with a lucky Therapy guess. His hand is pretty damned good. I have plenty of Chain of Vapors in my deck, so I’m not that concerned about his ability to play Moat, but it would make it possible for him to win. I do my best to dredge as quickly as possible so that I can Therapy out those Swords to Plowshares. I can’t remember if he tapped down to play something, but I managed to Therapy both Swords out of his hand. On turn 3 or 4 I finally flashback Therapy pulling the Moat from his hand. The next turn he topdecked Black Lotus. Wow! A turn later and I would have had to deal with Moat. Pretty soon I’m in the red zone and we shake hands.


I have to play next round in order to make top 8.

Round 8: Tog

My opponent is Cody. The last time I played Cody was round 1 of the very first StarCityGames Richmond in July of 2004. He was playing Suicide Black back then and I was playing Tog. In this match, I was a bit rude. I apologize to Cody if he is reading this.

I confer with teammates before this round and although we know he is playing Tog, we also think he is using Thirst for Knowledge. If that is true, it’s a good bet he has Pithing Needles as well to support Thirst. Thus, I just need to be cognizant of that. Most importantly, he is playing UBw, which means I do not have to fear Berserk. My teammates do warn me of Swords to Plowshares, however. I decide this is going to be a tough match, possibly disadvantageous, and I decide to ramp up my psychological game. At this point, I was playing not just for myself or my team, but for this deck. I wanted this deck to make top 8 so that it could actually make an impact in the metagame and offer players an aggro alternative. In the course of pursuing that noble end, I probably went over the line with my banter and psychological game.

Inherently, I have an intense psychological presence in the game simply because of the force of personality and expressiveness I bring to the table when playing magic. Most of the time, this is merely natural or unreflective psychological presence. However, when I feel a lot of pressure to win, I tend to ramp it up and goes way over the top. This was the case here. I was saying all sorts of things like “Why did you decide to play Tog?” and “Isn’t it ironic that I played Tog last time we played… in 2004?” It was not in good spirit, but I got caught up in the moment. By the end of game 1, he is just completely ignoring me and not responding to anything I say. Again, I apologize to Cody if he is reading this.

Game 1:
My opening hand was exceedingly broken with a number of fantastic turn 1 plays. However, he wins the die roll. He drops a dual land of some sort and passes the turn. I have turn 1 Ancestral Recall and, I think, Mox Jet and Putrid Imp. I am hesitant to play Ancestral simply because I think that he is running Misdirection from what I saw earlier in the tournament. I go for it anyway. He Brainstorms and then lets it resolve. I discard either a Dredger or an Ichorid. On turn 2 or so I Therapy him to see Duress and pretty much nothing but Lands, maybe a Mana Drain. I think he found Pithing Needle on turn 2 and played it naming Putrid Imp. I believe I tried to discard in response, but he reminded me that I could not. I honestly can’t remember too many of the details of this game except that he did Plow one of my Ichorids before I finally did him in. We start to shuffle up for game 2 with about 30 minutes left in the round.

DING! Gratz.

Game 2:
This game is memorable. During the course of the tournament I could feel my skill with the deck increasing, as if I were levelling up in some sort of virtual role-playing game as I gained experience points. There is no substitute for the focus and intensity of a tournament. By this point, a good portion of my teammates straggle over to the table to watch me battle for a slot in the top 8. Afterwards they remark that they doubted I was playing at this level of skill in round one, a comment I wholeheartedly agree with. Cody had a pretty lackluster opening, once again, and I opened with turn 1 Bazaar of Baghdad, I think, and Chalice of the Void. That Chalice was crucial in this game. When Cody hit two mana he played Time Walk and dropped a third land. At this point I was fearing his Togs. However, he simply held them up to play Thirst. He was digging as deep as he could in order to find Pithing Needle. I Therapy him and whiff, but I saw a number of Thirsts and other broken cards. He continues to make land drops, but he is obviously precluded from dropping Moxen because of my Chalice. He Thirsts and Thirsts and finally finds Pithing Needle for Bazaar.

The game proceeds and I am about to win the game in the next turn. He has four lands in play and a land in hand, a Polluted Delta. His life is pretty low. I have the chance to flashback two Therapies this turn. I flashback the first and he pitches Psychatog to Force of Will. I flashback the second and it resolves.

In testing Joe Bushman and I learned a crucial lesson. The turn before you are about to win, no matter what, you name Yawgmoth’s Will. If they have no Black mana in play, you name Yawgmoth’s Will. If they have one card in hand, you name Yawgmoth’s Will. Yawgmoth’s Will is the only card that can turn the game around for most decks if you are about to kill them next turn. Tinker for Colossus is generally not enough to stop you in this scenario. Joe tried to teach me this lesson several times. But I must be a slow learner. I Therapy for something else and I see his hand… that, of course, has Yawgmoth’s Will and Skeletal Scrying. I look at the time remaining and begin to fear a loss this game and consider if I should scoop. I look at his graveyard with Ancestral Recall and Time Walk and the only reason I stay in the game is because of my Chalice. He’ll have to tap three lands and then play a land from his graveyard to play both pieces of power Blue. What he does after that will determine the course of this game.

He plays Ancestral Recall and then Time Walk. He untaps and plays two Psychatogs. I sigh.

I look at my graveyard. He is at five or so life, and I can only return two Ichorids and an Ashen Ghoul into play. If I swing in I won’t be able to get three men on the board again for some time because of his Pithing Needle. I need to wait a few more turns to build up.

Time is called as he is about to pass the turn. I am on turn 1. At this point, I am honestly hoping that this game just draws so that I win the match. I decide to just hold back Ashen Ghoul and block a Tog. He is at one life so he can’t use the Scrying in his hand, or even crack a fetchland. He goes for the win though. He attacks with a Psychatog. I do a number of calculations and let him swing in to me. He plays Tinker on his Pithing Needle and finds Darksteel Colossus. He attacked me knowing that I wouldn’t block so that his Colossus would be lethal. This was a mistake on both our parts.

The Needle kept my Bazaar at bay. I immediately use Bazaar and discard at least two Ichorids/Ghouls. I dredge on my upkeep. I make a number of calculations and what I end up doing leaves me with exactly zero cards left in my library, but precisely enough damage to win. I swing in and that is game. A round of applause ripples around me, and we shake hands.


Top 8: Jeff Anand with Control Slaver

I’ve known Jeff for some time. When I first met him he was just another cool guy we hung out with a primarily a dealer/trader with an amazing collection. Over time his skills grew and he is one of the fiercest competitors in Vintage, despite the fact that he probably hadn’t actually played Magic in six months. I knew from observation during the course of the tournament that he was playing Brian DeMars Control Slaver list card for card. Some teammates overheard their sideboard discussion and told me to anticipate Echoing Truth, Echoing Ruin, and that they told him to Mindslaver me as quickly as possible.

The bulk of my testing over the last week was focused on Slaver and Gifts, particularly DeMars Slaver list and Brassman’s Gift list. Consequently, I knew that I had the informational advantage in this match. I would nonetheless have to play tightly, hope to draw and use Chalices, and hope that Jeff didn’t explode on me in the first two turns.

This is a good time for me to discuss some of the nuances of the Slaver match. The number one rule is that you want to Chalice them on turn 1 unless you have a really busted hand. The problem is that DeMars Slaver list has both Shamans and Welders. If they drop Welder or Shaman, they can remove the Chalice after a dredge or two. The hope is that you are fast enough so that the Chalice slowed them from playing their Thirsts so that they couldn’t get their snowball of a game plan rolling before you win. This is where Darkblast becomes valuable. When making play decisions, if they see Darkblast, the Welder play appears more futile with a higher opportunity cost, making other plays seem better. In general, Tinker for Colossus is too slow unless it is a) on turn 1 or b) accompanied by Time Walk. However, Slaver is quite capable of generating plenty of mana, particularly with Yawgmoth’s Will. So the two cards I fear most are Yawgmoth’s Will followed by Tinker.

In general, the Ichorid deck has an objectively advantageous match, particularly game 1. Your deck is just faster and not affected by their countermagic. They don’t have Pithing Needles and they can’t do much to stop you. However, they do have Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will and plenty of tutors to find them. Thus, in many ways the match feels like a really powerful deck versus a plethora of restricted cards. Although you have a strategically superior game plan, the matchup evens simply because of the strength of their restricted cards. The match is probably two to one in favor of Ichorid, but the Slaver deck is so packed with good cards that it will draw at least one of those relevant break-out-of-the box singletons a sufficient amount of the time that the game one match is actually even when played optimally by both players. I knew that my experience would give me an advantage such that any Slaver player I played would probably have a slightly unfavorable match rather than the even match they would have after this tournament.

I win the die roll and elect to play.

Game 1:
I mulligan a hand that has Jet and Vampiric Tutor but no other usable spells.

I keep a six card hand of:

Careful Study
Time Walk
Chrome Mox
Imperial Seal
Mox Jet

In all honesty, this is quite solid opening hand. Darkblast has great utility against Slaver, even if I can never cast it. Its mere presence is enough to change the way they play the game. The question was: should I Time Walk or Careful Study? I play the Jet and cast Imperial Seal. It resolves. I play Chrome Mox imprinting the Time Walk. I play Careful Study, which also resolves. I draw Bazaar and an irrelevant card and discard the latter and Darkblast and play Bazaar. I dredge and the third card is Golgari Grave-Troll.

My fears are realized when Jeff drops turn 1 Mox, Land, Gorilla Shaman and eats my Mox Jet, leaving me with Chrome Mox and unable to Darkblast. DeMars list has two Shamans and now I won’t be able to Darkblast, possibly for the rest of the game.

Jeff plays Black Lotus and passes the turn. For some reason, Jeff only had two or three cards left in his hand early in the game. Thus, I believe that he is out of gas. I just need to win fast enough so that he can’t topdeck a bomb and win.

I dredge repeatedly and quickly but fail to see an Ichorid in my first 25 cards. Jeff drops lands on turns 2 and 3 and does nothing relevant. However, I can’t use Ghouls sine I have no mana or lands other than Bazaar. I finally find myself in a position to Therapy him and I do so. I take anything relevant out of his hand and his life drops quickly and steadily. I have dredged most of my deck and I stop dredging when I hit 7 cards left in my library and having seen three of the four Ichorids. In testing, dredging too much leaves you open to getting Ancestral Recalled with insufficient cards in your deck. I stopped dredging on turn 4 and I have an untapped and unused Bazaar. On about turn 5, I return three Ichorids into play, draw the 6th card from the bottom of my deck (which is Ichorid) and swing. He blocks one with Shaman and the other two come through sending him to four.

I therapy him one last time to see the last card he drew and he plays Vampiric Tutor going to two life. Immediately I know the game is over. He has precisely 3 lands in play, a Mox, and Black Lotus. He can Tinker up Slaver, Slave me and kill me with my own Bazaar. As soon as that occurs I realize my error.

I could have used the Bazaar on the turn before and would have drawn and discarded the final Ichorid. I would have been able to swing him down to 3 life and he would not have been able to play Vampiric Tutor. I would have easily won that game. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have realized that using the Bazaar to get exactly five cards left in my library would have increased my chances of seeing and discarding the fourth Ichorid quite dramatically without leaving myself exposed to Ancestral Recall. It was a completely safe play that I simply missed and it cost me a game that I should have won. If only I played Limited more than once every two months. No limited player worth his salt would have made this mistake. I suppose that’s what happens when you play too much of a format where damage doesn’t really matter. I overvalued the danger of being decked and undervalued the importance of dealing damage as quickly as possible and made an illogical decision.

Sideboarding is quite difficult here. I sideboarded roughly as follows:

+ 3 Null Rod
+ 1 Chain of Vapor
+ 3 Pithing Needle
– 2 Careful Study
– 1 Crop Rotation
– 1 Time Walk
– 1 Land
– 1 Putrid Imp
– 1 Brainstorm

We had discovered in testing that Chalice of the Void was still really good even on the draw against Slaver since Tormod’s Crypt and Yawgmoth’s Will are such a huge part of their game plan.

Game 2:
My opening hand is:

Black Lotus
Cabal Therapy
Putrid Imp
Imperial Seal
Three irrelevant cards

I am on the play, obviously. I drop Black Lotus with a snap and some conviction. I watch Jeff’s face. He twitches slightly as if he is going to Force of Will but then remembers that I only played three spells last game. His brief hesitation followed by a nod indicates to me that he either has Force of Will in hand or is the best bluffer I’ve ever seen. As a consequence, I break the Lotus and play Cabal Therapy naming Force of Will. The Therapy resolves. I peek as his hand and see:

Force of Will
Mana Drain
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Sol Ring
Thirst for Knowledge
One other card that I can’t remember

This is the second game he’s drawn Black Lotus! He decided not to Force of Will the Therapy presumably because it seemed smarter to simply give me the knowledge and retain the card advantage. Unfortunately, his tell informed me to name Force of Will and that made the following play possible: I dropped Putrid Imp and discarded something and then I flashbacked Cabal Therapy naming Black Lotus.

I played Imperial Seal for Bazaar and passed the turn.

Jeff played Mox Emerald and Sol Ring and passed the turn back.

His game didn’t go so well. I played tightly and I won very quickly. No mistakes this time.

I adjust my board and bring out the second Darkblast and at least one Chalice for the fourth Rod and Needle.

As we were shuffling up for game 3, I knew this was going to be an epic.

Game 3:
Jeff opens turn 1 with Lotus and he breaks it for blue and plays Sol Ring and Thirst for Knowledge discarding Mox Emerald. He then drops Pyrite Spellbomb with the last mana finally Tormod’s Crypt and Mox Jet. This leaves him with three cards in hand.

I play Chalice of the Void for zero. I figure this will still prevent him from Yawgmoth’s Willing in the near future to take advantage of his Lotus being in the graveyard. He agrees apparently and Force of Wills the Chalice pitching Force of Will. He has one card in hand. I play a land and Imperial Seal for Null Rod.

He draws a card and passes the turn. He missed his land drop.

I draw the Null Rod, play a second land and play Null Rod believing the way is clear. He plays Vampiric Tutor leaving one card in his hand. He then Vamps for a card and breaks the spellbomb to draw it. He plays Force of Will on my Null Rod and pitches the last card in his hand. He has no hand and only Mox Jet and Sol Ring in play. And it is only my second turn. This game is looking good for me although I thought I’d have this game locked up with my Rod. He plays draw go for a single turn.

I draw and finally see an opportunity play Putrid Imp and drop Bazaar. I have Troll and two Ichorids in play, but the trick is how do I beat his Tormod’s Crypt. I pass the turn.

He smacks his library and orally prays for Yawgmoth’s Will. His prayers are answered as he indeed topdecks Yawgmoth’s Will.

He thinks for a while. He uses the Tormod’s Crypt on my graveyard removing the Chalice and Null Rod. He then plays Yawgmoth’s Will in order to replay the Thirst, the Emerald, the Spellbomb. He sees a land and plays it to play Vampiric Tutor. I know he’s getting Tinker. The question is: is he going to try to Slaver me or drop a Colossus into play? I need to decide on his endstep whether to try to dredge and force him to break his Crypt. I end up concluding that he is going to Tinker up the Slaver. The trick is that next turn he’ll be able to cast Tinker, but won’t be able to activate it. Thus, I’ll have at least two turns to swing in and he’s already Forced twice and played Vamp twice and he’ll take at least two swings from Putrid Imp. This is tough play for a player who isn’t used to winning with creatures. If I discard Troll and dredge, I can have threshold and return at least one Ichorid into play getting five damage in next turn and then possibly more in the turn later unless he Crypts me. Should I go “all in”?

I decide, rightly or wrongly, against it. Instead, I just discard two Ichorids and remove one to return the other into play leaving the Troll in my hand. He debates whether to Crypt me but decides against it. I swing at him for four. He Tinkers up Slaver and passes.

I swing at him for one, bringing him to five life or so. I still haven’t dredged but I’ve been using the Bazaar to search for Rod or Chain of Vapor, which I have yet to see. For some reason I play another Bazaar. He Slaves me and despite having not dredged at all, he untaps and during my upkeep he discards the Troll. He then uses Bazaar to dredge the Troll into another Troll. He uses the other Bazaar to dredge me some more and the my drawstep. He then flashes back Cabal Therapy, sacrificing the Imp, naming Troll and making me discard it. By the end of the turn I have 16 cards left in my library and he removes my graveyard from game taking all of my Ichorids, three of my Ashen Ghouls and leaving me with only two Stinkweed Imps and one Ghoul to kill him.

I count up my mana and conclude that I will be able to hardcast a Ghoul, eventually. I topdeck a stinkweed imp and play it. It resolves. I swing at him for two turns drawing Gemstone Mine and Imperial Seal in those turns. The turn after I draw Seal and pass, he topdecks Welder and plays it. If he gets to Slave me, that will be game. I have to resolve Rod. I count up two Rods left in my deck as well as Ancestral and two Brainstorms in 14 cards. That gives me a great shot at finding it.

However, there is another possibility. He can only Slave me three times with Sol Ring, Mox, Mox. With two Bazaars, no dredgers, and a draw step, he can make me die on the third Slave. So I must find Rod now.

I swing him to one life. I then tap a Bazaar and draw a card. No Rod. I draw a second card and gasp that it is Null Rod. I discard the Seal, Mine, and irrelevant card and drop Null Rod into play. Unfortunately, he floats a mana and plays Echoing Truth on Rod. He Welds in Slaver, Slaves me and easily kills me.

The big play mistake I made this game was dropping the second Bazaar. If I had discarded the Bazaar to the first Bazaar, he wouldn’t have been able to dig through my deck so deeply in the first run and I would have had Ichorids and Ashen Ghouls to kill him in those two turns that he was topdecking before he found Welder. He ended the game at one life.

In sum, I made a subtle play mistake and Jeff had to rip several particular cards in a row in addition to having the black Mox in order to pull this out. He played Lotus, Tormod’s Crypt, Tinker, Yawg Will and Slaved me and I still almost pulled out the game. Dem’s da beats.

All in all, playing Ichorid was a lot of fun. I had never played an Aggro deck Vintage before so it was memorable for that alone. Bazaar of Baghdad is one of my favorite cards. There is nothing quite like dredging up half your deck on turn 2.

I think this deck is more than just a metagame grenade. It’s an objectively powerful deck that trumps a number of prevalent strategies. The trick is finding the right build and piloting it efficiently.

If I were to take this deck to another tournament, here is what I’d run:

It’s actually ironic. Ancestral Recall feels like Brainstorm number five. Once you have started to dredge, Brainstorm is as effective as Ancestral Recall — there is no functional difference between the two because all that matters is the words “draw three cards.”

I think this deck could be made even better with a little bit of focus and a little bit of determination. This is one deck that I think people will be able to play for some time. It isn’t that difficult (although let’s face it, all good Vintage decks are puzzle decks), and it uses these things called creatures, which lots of players enjoy playing with. I wish you the best of luck and good beats.

If you want me to go into more detail in the Slaver or Gifts matchup, speak up in our forums.

Stephen Menendian