Vintage: TPS and Steel Sabotage

Wednesday, February 16 – Matt Sperling spent his time in Paris productively, playing in two twenty-player Vintage tournaments with a TPS deck, winning one. Check out why Matt recommends this deck when trying to win your next Mox!

This last weekend in Paris, I scrubbed out of the Pro Tour and barely made Day 2 of the Grand Prix, only to drop early on Day 2 after an additional two
losses. Not the best show for me, though my hotel room was well represented in both tournaments by the other occupant, Paul Rietzl. Congrats again to
Paul on a great weekend.

Having missed Day 2 of the Pro Tour, I was free to enter the Vintage tournament for two Moxes being held on Friday. First place was a Mox Sapphire, and
second place was a Mox Pearl. On Sunday, I was able to play another Vintage event; this time, first place was three packs of Italian Legends and two
packs of Portal Three Kingdoms. For both events, I sleeved up the following maindeck (sideboard discussion will come later):

The maindeck reads a lot like the restricted list, and I even pretend Jace is restricted. Actually, I didn’t play a second Jace because I wanted to see
how the Thirst for Knowledge would perform, and there isn’t really room for two Jaces and a Thirst for Knowledge. After having played the Thirst
for Knowledge a lot in testing and in these two tournaments, I think two Jaces is probably better. Thirst has its advantages; namely, it’s a cheaper
way to see three cards in a deck full of the best cards ever printed, and it’s also an instant. The one mana matters, but it turns out the instant
speed really doesn’t. This deck plays no Mana Drains and no Spell Pierces. It’s well equipped to be the “active” deck and so it doesn’t need an
instant-speed spell over a sorcery-speed one. Thirsting when they have Tangle Wire tapping your stuff comes up fairly frequently in the current
metagame, but having two Jaces in those matchups gives you more threats to stick turn 1 or after a Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild.

Myr Battlesphere is better than Blightsteel Colossus. If you have Drains or Rituals, you will hardcast the Battlesphere and win games with it; trust
me. Even if you don’t, Swords to Plowshares is really effective right now in the metagame. Why get blown out by it? (The four tokens you keep can
easily win the game and/or keep your opponent off Jace or keep them from attacking). A two-turn clock is worse than a one-turn clock, but the
advantages of the Battlesphere tip the scale in its favor.

The bounce suite opens up some room for debate. Repeal and Echoing Truth didn’t make my deck, as I chose to play Hurkyl’s Recall, Rebuild, and Chain of
Vapor. Mono-Brown Workshop (MUD) is probably the best deck right now. If it isn’t, it’s close. With that deck in mind, you need to have enough bounce
to come back if they stick one or more annoying artifacts, and you also need those cards to cost varying amounts so that Chalice of the Void can’t
wreck you. The problem with Repeal is that it sucks against Gaddock Teeg, and it’s just so expensive when it bounces non-Mox, non-Chalice cards.

Chain of Vapor really has been performing well for me. For example, my opponent in Sunday’s tournament fatesealed me with Jace, saw a Tendrils, and
Meddling Maged Tendrils on the same turn. I played a couple of mana artifacts, Chained one of them, copied it targeting the other one, then copied it
targeting the Mage (all of which you can do for just one blue mana if you have two lands to sac). This let me build a lethal storm while also bouncing
his hate bear. What other card does that for one mana?

The weakest cards in the main are probably Sensei’s Divining Top and Mystical Tutor. These cards aren’t bad, but in Vintage storm, it’s about doing the
most broken thing, not just something good. Gifts Ungiven is available as an alternative, as are Dark Confidant, Repeal, Misdirection, etc. The reason
I’ve chosen Top and Mystical is because the deck’s most frequent deficiency is a lack of “business” spells (spells can be thought of in the broad
categories “mana,” “disruption,” and “business,” with business spells being the active spells that threaten to win the game or gain a huge advantage
proactively). The deck plays a ton of mana. Top and Mystical grab those business spells for you, even if they’re slower than you’d prefer.

Mystical is awesome against non-control decks, and it’s weak against control. For Top, it’s just the opposite; it rocks against control and tends to be
slow elsewhere. There’s some balance provided by playing both I suppose, but if you’re looking for two cards to cut, try cutting these two first. Gifts
is a business spell, but you need cheap deck manipulation in addition to the expensive business spells, so that they don’t clog your hand too often.


In the first tournament, I ran the following sideboard:

4 Leyline of the Void

2 Yixlid Jailer

3 Steel Sabotage

1 Hurkyl’s Recall

1 Rebuild

2 Thoughtseize

1 Slaughter Pact

1 Misdirection

Steel Sabotage is really good. I think it’s a staple in the making. Against Shops, when you’re on the play, a one-mana counter-anything (like Annul) is
awesome; you get to play a land and just counter the first good thing they do. On the draw, this card shines where Annul doesn’t. When you’re behind,
now you’ve got a one-mana bounce spell to get you back in it.

Chalice of the Void for one is effective against you, as it often is post-board, but with two Hurkyl’s and two Rebuilds now in your deck, if they
Chalice for one and let you play your Moxes/Crypts/Lotuses, you’ve got a decent chance of blowing them out. The total package against Shops amounts to
a favorable matchup.

Slaughter Pact is also sweet and should be standard for a TPS board. Gaddock Teeg, Meddling Mage, Lodestone Golem, Aven Mindcensor, Cold-Eyed Selkie,
this card can kill any of them for zero mana. Next turn, you have to pay 2B, but often, there is no next turn with this deck. Killing Lodestone for
zero is especially nice, since post-board, they’re less likely to Chalice for zero (see above). Make sure you’re either in their end step or have all
basics or have lots of mana or are killing them now if you do decide to kill a Lodestone, as you don’t want to be wrecked by a Wasteland (and can often
play around Strip Mine as well).

Yixlid Jailer is the additional Dredge hate of choice for me because Pithing Needle, Leyline of Sanctity, and Nature’s Claim don’t affect it. It also
just does more to lock them out than removing their graveyard once. It dies to Darkblast and is bounced by Chain of Vapor, but nothing is invincible,
and this card is the most resilient of the choices.

So what’s the problem with this board? The control matchup. You just don’t have a good enough plan against Drain decks (or the mirror) with this
sideboard. For the second tournament, I revised the sideboard and used this:

4 Leyline of the Void

2 Yixlid Jailer

2 Steel Sabotage

1 Hurkyl’s Recall

1 Rebuild

1 Slaughter Pact

3 Dark Confidant

1 Duress

This board was really good for me. Being able to board into Bobs (Dark Confidant) lets you have a better game plan against control than simply moving
all-in and getting Spell Pierced and Mindbreak Trapped into the Stone Age. With Bobs and the fourth Duress effect, now you can just play the long con
and slowly chip away at them until they’re so depleted or you’ve assembled so much gas that they can’t stop you.

Is the converted mana cost in this deck too high for Bob? No, for two reasons. The first is that you can board out the Yawgmoth’s Bargain and even Myr
Battlesphere + Tinker against control to get the average cost lower. The second reason is “no gamble, no future.” You’ll occasionally die to Bob, but
far more often, you’ll kill them first. The reward outweighs the risk. More Duresses than Thoughtseizes is a concession to life being an important
resource with Bobs. Duress has been fine for me; I think the two life matters more often than being able to grab a creature, though certainly not

The Tournaments

On Friday, there were nineteen people vying for the two Moxes. Not bad.

In the five Swiss rounds, I defeated one Stax player, one Drain deck, one R/B Vampires (a rare port from Standard to Vintage with some Null Rods and
Cabal Therapies), and drew with W/G Bears (the eventual winner). I lost to BobTezz, finishing 3-1-1 and making Top 4. In the Top 4, I played against
Tezzeret. My opponent played decently (despite an attempt to Merchant Scroll for Time Walk in game two), and I lost a close three-game match. After the
match, I just felt like I needed to switch game plans against decks with Spell Pierce and Mana Drain. Trying to resolve a Bargain is miserable, and
unfortunately, Mind’s Desire is restricted — hence the Bobs in the board next time out.

On Sunday, there were again just fewer than twenty players, this time battling for three Legends packs and two P3K packs. I began the five-round Swiss
by defeating Dredge. I had a god draw both games, which is one thing I love about TPS over other blue decks — you have a chance to beat any deck game
one, even Dredge, without drawing Vault + Key. I just Ritual Necro’d and drew nine. Bricked those nine (no mana acceleration) and drew another eight,
Force of Willed a Dread Return, and killed him. Game two, I drew Leyline with a turn 1 Tinker, you know, an average draw against dredge.

My next opponent was playing G/W Fish featuring Meddling Mage, Aven Mindcensor, and Jace. As I mentioned above, Chain of Vapor was awesome game one,
and when he Meddling Maged Tendrils and Chain of Vapor game two, I just Mind’s Desired for infinite (approx.) and Jaced him before Tendrils got him.

In round three, I played against MUD and had good enough draws to win in the turn that Metalworker gives you and then in the turn Hurkyl’s Recall buys

Round four was MUD again; this time, I think he had a better list, and he won the die roll and took game one. In game two, I Mind’s Desired for seven
turn 1 (a classic “this is what Standard players think Vintage is” game) and then in game three, he mulliganed on the play to five and didn’t do
anything. My hand was Force and Bob, but he just went Mox Sapphire, land, go… The matchup is dependent on the draw and die roll, and though he won
the roll, I won the draw lottery.

In round five, it looked like I had to win the round to win the tourney since my opponent was 3-1 with better tiebreakers than mine. He was playing
Drains with a couple Welders maindeck. He was a guy from London, by way of Belgium, who also played in the Vintage tournament on Friday. He was good at
Vintage, enthusiastic about Vintage, and really nice, and he experimented with card choices between tournaments. All around, a good guy for the Vintage
scene, and he beat me this match. I stuck a Bob in game three, countered a Jace the following turn, only to have him untap and play Vault + Key the
next turn. The Bob meant that on the prior turn, I had two draws to find something like Duress, Force, or my own business to stop it, but I didn’t get

When final standings were posted (no Top 4 this tourney, just Swiss), I’d barely passed him on tiebreakers to remain in first place and to win the
boosters. I sold the Italian Legends packs, but the dealers were lowballing me on the P3K packs, so I just said “Eff it” and cracked them. I opened a
Loyal Retainers, which easily exceeds the value of the packs! The lesson, as always, is “no gamble, no future.” If everyone in Europe can smoke without
regard for their health, I can crack packs without regard for my expected value. Sometimes, it doesn’t catch up to you.