Vintage Avant-Garde – 8th At Meandeck Open With Bant Midrange Stoneblade

Brian DeMars makes Top 8 of the Meandeck Open with a Bant deck in Vintage. Find out the thought process behind the deck, how it performed overall, and how it can be improved.

Last weekend’s Meandeck open in Columbus, Ohio was the largest to date, fetching an impressive 34 players to compete for Vintage glory; it was
also the first Vintage tournament since I split the finals of SCG P9 Chicago in 2004 with Ben Kowal where I didn’t sleeve up Yawgmoth’s
Will in my deck (with me playing Chalice Oath with the newly printed Forbidden Orchard and him playing the first iteration of Gifts Ungiven)…

I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up and start at the beginning:

Ari Lax and John Johnson asked me earlier in the week if I wanted to go to the Meandeck Open and play Vintage this weekend. I had been loosely
considering attending the event, but the logistics of gas and travel to Columbus by myself had me leaning toward likely not attending. Now, with a
troop to travel with, I was easily persuaded to make the trip and set about figuring out what I wanted to play at the tournament. Since I hadn’t
played a single game of Vintage since the Waterbury open a few months ago, figuring out the right deck was not a simple task.

I set myself to the task of information gathering to try and figure out what was going on in Vintage.

The first person I talked to was Mark Hornung, who shared an important insight into the format that shaped my understanding of it and ultimately was
confirmed by my tournament experience:

Mystic Remora is really good right now.”

At the start of my preparation for the Meandeck Open, I initially wanted to play a disruptive Gush deck.

Mark’s suggestion was to play a Gush deck with Tarmogoyfs and Delver of Secrets, and while I think such a choice would be pretty well positioned,
I am strongly opposed to playing too many “do-nothings” in Vintage. I like having creatures to beat down with, and Tarmogoyf is a great
card; however I don’t like having too many one-dimensional cards in a Vintage deck; most Vintage decks have the ability to lock you out, kill
you, or combo you out faster than Tarmogoyfs and Delvers can inflict 20 points of damage. With that being said, having one Tarmogoyf taking out big
chunks of my opponent’s hit points every turn, backed up by all counters, business, and answers seem really desirable.

“Blue-Green Beatdown Crew”

Mark’s assertion was that a creature-based deck with Mystic Remora would allow the creature deck to draw into counters while applying incremental
pressure with creatures, with Gushbond, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Tinker to fall back on.

More than anything, the information I got from Mark, while ultimately and eventually really useful, was immediately disappointing and discouraging. I
certainly didn’t want to play a deck full of “do-nothing” creatures; I’ve never been a huge fan of playing with Mystic Remora;
and more than anything, I really didn’t want to play a Gush deck against of field full of Mystic Remoras!

From Mark’s perspective, the deck to play was the deck that crushed what I “wanted” to play and also was the deck I specifically
didn’t want to play—and that is not a good situation to find oneself in.

After looking at a bunch of different Gush lists online, the one I felt was closest to something I’d actually want to play in a tournament was
Rich’s Gush Tendrils deck from Vintage champs. The only difference being that instead of playing Tendrils of Agony, I wanted to play Time Vault
and Voltaic Key, since if there were going to be decks packing Remora, Flusterstorm, and Mindbreak Trap floating around, comboing with Jace, the Mind
Sculptor and Key-Vault would probably be tactically much easier to execute than ten spells and Tendrils.


The other thing that I was thinking was that Thoughtseize would probably be pretty awesome in a Gush list if people are trying to Flusterstorm and
Mindbreak Trap and should be especially nifty at knocking Mystic Remora out of one’s hand on the play. Sure, Mental Misstep can hit Mystic
Remora, but they have their own Missteps to counter back. From my perspective, if I were going to play Gush, the more answers to Remora the better.

Rich was also big on Delver of Secrets in a Gush shell as a possibly well-positioned deck in the Vintage metagame. We also considered the possibility
of using Mystic Remora in his Champ’s list with Key-Vault as a way to protect our own Gushes from opposing permission, using Thoughtseize to
clear away Flusterstorms and Mindbreak Traps.

After talking to Rich, here is the list I had settled on as a possible Vintage deck for the Meandeck Open:

To be perfectly honest, I still feel pretty good about this list and wouldn’t have minded in the slightest playing it at the Meandeck Open; in
addition, I am strongly inclined to believe it probably would have done better for me than the deck I actually did play!

I gave this deck list to Ari Lax, who I traveled with to the tournament, in hopes that it would at least see some play, but he last-minute audibled to
Lotus Cobras. So, I am left to wonder about the deck that got no play…

Lastly, I talked with Mastriano, who had actually brewed up a monster of a deck on his own that he ended up playing and top 8ing with last weekend at
Nick’s tournament.

Oooh, Piece of Candy!

Oooh, Piece of Candy!

Paul’s deck basically just uses Oath of Druids and Forbidden Orchard to bring out a Rune-Scarred Demon, which can get Time Walk either from
Library or the deck, and then the second Oath trigger on the extra taken turn gets the second Demon, which sets up Yawgmoth’s Will and Key-Vault.

It’s a pretty sweet concept, and I will say that Oathing up a 6/6, flying Demonic Tutor is actually something that I could get behind, since it
does something right away—and something awesome at that!—by allowing its Oather-upper to immediately earn a free Demonic Tutor effect.

I was pretty sure that I was going to play this deck, especially considering Mark and Rich’s assumption that creatures, Remoras, and
Flusterstorms were king, until I goldfished it the night before and drew Rune-Scarred Demon in my opening hand eight consecutive times and remembered:
“Ah, this is why I don’t ever play Oath!” and scrapped the idea entirely.

I think that the deck is pretty clearly insane, but my experience with Oath is that if it can go wrong, at least for me, it will always go wrong under
tournament conditions. As I pointed out earlier, I split the finals of a SCG P9 tournament with Chalice Oath in 2004, and I’m pretty sure I used
up all of my Oath “run goods” on that day: I’m pretty sure I won every die roll and started 75% of my games with Forbidden Orchard,
Mox, Oath, Force of Will your Force of Will, Chalice of the Void for zero go…

So, 100% convinced that I was destined to never draw another good Oath opening hand ever again, I had an epiphany: it was time for yet another
all-night Vintage brew session.

Vintage Brew Session, defined: When Brian DeMars stays up all night trying to figure out a way to play with white cards and then around 6 in the
morning realizes he has a deck with white cards in it, plays it anyway, and gets promptly crushed.

However, this time was going to be different because it seemed to me that white cards (and by white cards I mean Swords to Plowshares) were well
positioned if there were going to be a bunch of Delvers, Goyfs, and Blightsteel Colossus.

One of the biggest ‘mistakes’ ever printed

First of all, I really liked playing this deck at the tournament and felt that it exceeded my expectations as far as being a competitive deck. Finally,
Swords to Plowshares lived up to what I hoped it would be, and many of the role players stepped up big for me during the tournament.

First of all:

This is a really, really, powerful interaction…

Being able to untap all of one’s lands after paying the upkeep on Mystic Remora was a really amazing interaction for me and one of the reasons
that I opted to have the Sword as my Stoneforge Mystic target instead of Batterskull.

This card SUCKED in my deck.

Blighty was a mistake that had I of actually played ten games with my deck before the tournament would have been easily cut for the Batterskull.

Number of times I put a Blightsteel Colossus into play in 7 rounds = 0.

Number of times I mulliganed with Blightsteel Colossus in my opening hand = 6.

It is funny that I didn’t learn my lesson after playing Vintage Snapcaster Control at Waterbury and specifically complained about how bad BSC was
and how I shouldn’t have played it there either, hated it, and boarded it out all the time.

I’m not sure about Tinker in this deck, since unlike typical control decks, I don’t have a lot of ways to Tinker for it in a pinch. It is
possible that playing the Tinker for Batterskull would be good enough, but I’m not completely sure it is worth playing the Tinker just to find
Sword of Feast and Famine or Batterskull.

Best unrestricted draw spell in Vintage?

Sylvan Library was an experiment in my deck, but whenever I drew it while I was goldfishing the night before, it always looked pretty good. However, I
can honestly say that it far exceeded my expectation and was a big part of several of my game wins. The ability to manipulate draw steps (not to
mention blatantly draw several extra cards against control decks who can’t deal damage) was amazing, and I could easily see playing a second copy
of the card in the maindeck. I would much rather have had a Sylvan Library every time I drew Blightteel…

The other thing that is kind of cute about cutting BSC and Tinker for Batterskull and a second Tinker is that every time you hit somebody with a
Batterskull, you can draw an extra card from the Sylvan Library!!!

Build your own Archivist kit.

Green Sun’s Tinker for Tarmosteel Colossus?

Oh my god this card was awesome as a one-of in my deck; I would go so far as to say that having one copy of Green Sun’s Zenith was as good in my
deck as Demonic Tutor is in other people’s decks! Of course, that is a lie—however, I cannot stress how important this card was to my
strategy. Like Tinker I can Mystical Tutor for it to produce a threat; however, unlike Tinker I don’t have just one threat that is a blank
whenever I draw it, and unlike Tinker if I draw a green creature, my Zenith is STILL awesome.

It was actually hilarious because in one game against Mishra’s Workshop, I Mystical Tutored for Green Sun’s Zenith INSTEAD of Tinker and
then Zenithed for Trygon Predator which was better than Blightsteel Colossus for like 17 different reasons, including: If he has Phyrexian Metamorph, I
can Nature’s Claim it, unlike an indestructible BSC. I don’t even have to Nature’s Claim it because I can simply attack with my it,
get the exalted bonus from my Noble Hierarch, and either he chumps or I straight Vindicate it. Lastly, what if he has two Metamorphs? I would have lost
with a dumb Blightteel idiot.

Green Sun’s Zenith for Gaddock Teeg against Gush is also a pretty awesome tactic, since in many lists it shuts down almost every relevant card in
their deck besides Tinker—which is intentionally easily dealt with by Swords to Plowshares!

The only unfortunate thing about this deck was that because I didn’t get a chance to playtest it beforehand, I feel that I was ill-equipped to
play against Dredge after sideboard. For certain, my matchup game one is 0% unless they mulligan to one and don’t find a Bazaar of Baghdad. If
they keep a hand of seven and discard on their first turn, I am certain I still cannot win!

The fact that a U/W/G deck bringing in five Tormod’s Crypts, Batterskull, and Scavenging Ooze (which I can Mystical, Green Sun’s Zenith
for) is still a decided underdog against Dredge only furthers my belief that Dredge is an extremely unhealthy and degenerate strategy to exist in
Vintage—but I digress. My lifetime undefeated streak against Dredge is over, as I lost to it in the Swiss and then again to the same guy in top

In round one I played against a Mud deck and made pretty easy work of him; although he did get me in the second game, which was the only time I lost to
Workshop in the tournament despite playing against it three times!

The combination of Noble Hierarchs, Swords to Plowshares, Snapcaster Mage, and Trygon Predator was simply too much action for him to handle. In the
second game I was able to fire off an Ancestral Recall, which bricked on drawing me a land, and then I never drew another land and died.

In game three I cast Stoneforge Mystic and got a Batterskull, and let me tell you something: Mud decks do not like it when you Stoneforge for
Batterskull because they CANNOT beat it.

Round two I played against local Workshop Adept Twuan and once again proved that my hate bears had the good stuff against Workshops. In both games I
was able to Swords his Goblin Welder and stick a Trygon Predator, and from there Jace made sure it was smooth sailing.

In round three I played against Dredge and quickly realized how completely soft I was to that strategy. Game one despite having an excellent quality
starting hand, once he played a Bazaar of Baghdad I realized that I had no outs. It didn’t matter much because he killed me on the second turn,
so at least I didn’t have to wait too long knowing I was dead before I actually got killed.

In the second game I mulliganed to four before settling on a miserable (but acceptable) hand of Mox Emerald, Misty Rainforest, Tarmogoyf, and Mental
Misstep, but then he went and killed me on the second turn anyway. The most frustrating part was that my mulligan to six was drawn in this order:
Tinker, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Flooded Strand, Mental Misstep, and Blightsteel Colossus.

Round four found me paired off once again against a Mishra’s Workshop deck, and turn-one Sylvan Library gave me basically everything I could ever
want. Notable plays from this match include me playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor and fatesealing my empty-handed opponent, him attacking my Jace with a
Phyrexian Revoker (naming Mox Jet) and a Mishra’s Factory down to one loyalty and then playing the Phyrexian Metamorph I left on top of his deck,
and then me untapping, playing Serenity and Time Walk. BA-ZING!

Then Trygon, then game over.

In round five I played against a Mono-Blue Standstill deck where I am pretty sure that the fates just didn’t want me to win the match. In the
first game he mulliganed down to six and played Mox Sapphire and passed. I played a land and passed. On his upkeep I played Ancestral Recall; he Spell
Pierced; I Misstepped his Spell Pierce; he Force of Willed my Misstep; I played Force of Will, and he Mindbreak Trapped the whole stack! Yikes. I
didn’t draw any creatures, and his eventual Standstills crushed me.

The second game I stuck a turn-one Trygon Predator and then wound up in a situation where despite the fact that I beat him down to six with it over the
next million turns, I didn’t draw any spells. I had all of my mana-producing lands in play, three fetchlands in my hand, and nothing else…
He eventually played Psionic Blast on my Trygon Predator, cast Standstill, and that was the ball game.

The last round I played against Jonathan Medina playing Bomberman. In the first game I was able to stick a Tarmogoyf and attack with it six times while
countering a bunch of his spells. The big play in the game was when I Swords to Plowshares-ed his CONSECRATED SPHINX!?

Calmly Swords To Plowshares-ed this critter at a Vintage Tournament.

Game two I got Mystic Remora on the first turn with Sol Ring and a Mox. Needless to say Mystic Remora went all the way to nine counters and drew
approximately ten cards.

I played against Dredge again in the top eight and mulliganed down to three in the first game trying to find a turn-one or two Tinker for Colossus. I
didn’t win.

In game two I mulligan-ed down to four and actually got there. My four-card hand was two lands, Tormod’s Crypt, and Relic of Progenitus, which is
about as good as it gets.

Unfortunately, in game three I mulliganed down to two. Yes, folks, two cards, and almost won. My two—Snapcaster Mage, Mox Jet.

My opponent kept a hand without a Bazaar and went Black Lotus, Bloodghast, Cabal Therapy, name Tormod’s Crypt, flashback Cabal Therapy
sacrificing Bloodghast naming Snapcaster, City of Brass get back Bloodghast, and go.

I drew Ancestral Recall but missed on drawing a land for several turns. I did manage to get a Relic into play with my Jet, but my opponent was able to
cast a bunch of Nether Shadows and beat me to a low life total. On the last turn of the game, I had already resolved Jace, the Mind Sculptor and ended
up in a situation where after Brainstorming I could Tinker for Batterskull but only play one other blocker at one life. He could make a Marit Lage
token by sacrificing Vampire Hexmage on Dark Depths, which I could Swords to Plowshares, but unfortunately he could also make two Ichorids, which along
with his already in-play guys I couldn’t beat by Tinkering for a Batterskull.

All in all, I really liked my deck, but I found it really disconcerting that despite bringing in eight cards I was still like sub 20% to beat Dredge.
When I was building and tuning the deck the night before, I was really curious to see if it was possible to play a controlling deck without black
cards: Yawgmoth’s Will, Demonic Tutor, and Vampiric tutor and be competitive.

The answer to that question was that ‘yes,’ it was possible, and my Bant deck could hang with Gush, could hang with Workshops, could hang
with Key-Vault and do pretty well in the process. Unfortunately, what I also discovered is that while Yawgmoth’s Will, Demonic Tutor, and
Vampiric Tutor are cute, perhaps the biggest incentive to be black is ‘none of the above.’ I think it is actually reasonable to say that
the biggest incentive to be black is Leyline of the Void, Nihil Spellbomb, and Yixlid Jailer!

A realization that I think is actually really scary…

It is plausible that I could have just played Leyline of the Void without being able to cast it (aside from Black Lotus), but that seems really risky.
My starting post-board hand sizes against Dredge were 4, 2, and 2, mulliganing trying to find one of my six cards—so, especially when one is in a
position where they MUST win the second and third game, I feel that such an option is basically a prayer in the wind at best. Although, a prayer in the
wind is possibly better than what I had before.

Nonetheless, it saddens me that the realization I came to after building such a cool new deck was that ultimately, despite the fact that it was pretty
good and competitive against a lot of different things and had a bunch of graveyard hate in the sideboard, ultimately it had no shot at beating a
Dredge deck in two consecutive sideboard games of Magic.

Is this card and the strategy it enables more degenerate and broken than Lion’s Eye Diamond in Long.dec?

If I were to play the deck again, I would probably cut the Serenities from the sideboard and simply play two more cards in my sideboard to beat Dredge.
Personally, I don’t like the Leyline of the Void gambit in a deck that can’t cast it. One of the big draws of playing with Leyline and
Spellbomb or Jailer is that even if you don’t have the Leyline in your starting hand, the other cards help you live long enough that you can draw
a Leyline and then hard-cast it. If you just ran Leyline without a way to cast it, even if you started with a Tormod’s Crypt or something to help
you survive instead of drawing into Leylines and casting them, you would essentially be drawing into bricks that you sideboarded in. Awkward…

If I were to play the deck again tomorrow, I would make the following changes:


-1 Tinker
-1 Blightsteel Colossus
+1 Batterskull
+1 Green Sun’s Zenith


-2 Serenity
+2 Relic of Progenitus

Thanks for reading!

Brian DeMars