Ray Robillard’s proxy TMD Open tournaments in Waterbury, CT are some of the, if not the most, anticipated events of the year. StarCityGames.com has also stepped up to the plate and the effects of their results are already evident in tournaments all over the Vintage playing world. Doomsday, Meandeck Oath, 3c Oath along with others have been set out into the world and other established archetypes that were considered dead or outdated such as Tog of the three- and four- colored varieties, along with the much maligned Fish have gotten the attention of the Vintage community again.
Ever since StarCityGames began their Pro-Tour/Grand Prix-ish Power 9 series of events, the rate of serious play testing and solid debating has risen to levels unprecedented since the first Vintage Championships in 2003. Personally, I know it spurred Meandeck to test like madmen, trying out everything under the sun in an attempt to break the format. I’m sure Short Bus and the other less prominent teams in Vintage have done the same, if not even more. Of late, I’ve noticed people trying harder than ever to become noticed, along with winning themselves some pieces of the coveted Power 9.
Now, with Waterbury fast approaching, I’ve decided to try and give you, the people, my views on the format. I’m fairly narrow minded, so I’ve spent the past four months exclusively playing combo of various flavors and Stax. Player interaction is for the weak. My Mana Drains, dual lands, Library of Alexandria, and to a lesser extent Force of Wills have lain idle, only to see play when I want to test against them. These changes came after my unexpected success in the last TMD Open with Meandeath, leaving many players in shock and completely off guard in the face of a non-Worldgorger Dragon combo deck winning in the Northeast. I like to believe that this had a larger effect on the Vintage metagame as a whole than it probably has, but it’s something that needs to be taken into consideration when play testing.
Combo and prison are the extremes of Magic. Combo is the ultimate incarnation of aggression, with prison being the embodiment of inaction and reaction. Lately TPS has taken the reins as the combo deck of choice, and the only prison deck in the metagame (well, at least successful prison deck) is Stax. The goal of all good decks is to ultimately eliminate any player interaction whatsoever, allowing the player to move in for the kill unbridled. The problem with this plan is the sheer number of reactive cards in the environment that try to counteract this strategy, some examples being Fire / Ice, Oxidize, and most importantly, Force of Will.
Now more than ever, Force of Will is the glue that keeps Vintage from spiraling out of control, making cards like Tendrils of Agony and Trinisphere nigh unstoppable. This would be a “bad thing”. Thus, I predict a triumphant return of Psychatog, along with Fish and pretty much any non-TPS decks running Force of Will hopping back in the ring with horseshoes in their boxing gloves. There’s a problem with this though. The math has been done countless times, and the odds of getting a Force of Will, let alone a Force of Will and a Blue card to fuel it, is a mere 40%. With most of the current builds (I’ll get to this later) of decks running Trinisphere, the odds are about the same, though the “Force of Will decks” also run Brainstorm and other cheap search spells to help them raise the odds of seeing the all important Force of Will. If they get a turn before Trinisphere hits, or Xantid Swarm resolves.
Things are basically a giant mess, many times coming down to the die roll/coin toss, with Trinisphere generally winning out over Force of Will due to it’s much more powerful effect. And no it should not be restricted. No, stop. I don’t want to hear any more of it. Same goes for Crucible of Worlds, only more so.
For this reason I expect a surprising number of Mishra’s Workshop-based decks, Stax, aggro or otherwise, mainly because Magic players are antisocial bastards.* Workshop decks traditionally have a very strong matchup against combo decks, giving potential Workshop players the tools needed to combat the much-hyped dominance of combo, at the same time frustrating players constantly with the silly Mishra’s Workshop-> Trinisphere-> go, turn 1. TPS combats this with basic lands and the underrated Rebuild, along with Duress and Force of Will. Meandeath has a much harder time, generally relying on a land-land-pitch ESG-Hurkyl’s Recall play to get out of the Trinisphere lock. I’ll admit TPS has a much easier time dealing with Workshop decks, but it’s still slower, just as vulnerable to hate, and harder to go off with early on without the aid of Necropotence or a lucky Yawgmoth’s Bargain or Mind’s Desire.
Speaking of combo, I love combo. I love it a lot. Unfortunately the metagame has shifted to the point where my deck of choice, Meandeath, is very difficult to win with. That makes me very sad, because I’ve had to completely change my playstyle to be able to play other types of decks. Getting used to casting Mana Drain, Force of Will, or even attacking with large brown men is pretty difficult. I complain about a stagnant metagame, but that just isn’t the case.
There are lots of other decks you need to keep a lookout for, two of the better ones being the innocuous Food Chain Goblins and all-but-dead-Psychatog. Both are very difficult to hate out and have got the goods to take you out before you can get up your defenses. I don’t expect to see much of either, which is a shame because they’re so cool, but they’ll be there.
Bazaar of Baghdad-based decks, namely Dragon and Madness, along with Team Hadley’s wonky Cerebral Assassin, have been on the decline as of late. I don’t expect much of them for the few that show up, but one may pull through, but only in the hands of a skilled player. While Dragon can go “oops, I played terribly but still mised, you’re dead”, but is vulnerable to so much hate it’s not even funny.
As for the Mana Drain-based control decks, I expect to see much more 4CC than there should be (i.e. People actually playing it). Again, I believe Psychatog will be able to make a comeback because of its versatile kill card and highly customizable sideboard. Sideboarding is really, really, really, really important. Like, a lot more important than I can stress. Make sure to have your sideboarding plans set before the event so that you use up as little time as possible.
I’m not very experienced with Control Slaver, but it’ll be there, and in numbers. It’s ridiculously powerful and has so much draw that it’s very appealing to those who prefer to play control decks. Sort of like all of New England. They’ll do well, but I don’t see them standing up to Stax without some heavy sideboard hate.
One deck that hasn’t gotten a lot of love recently is Grow-A-Tog. I don’t see it doing well, but if Scott Limoges or Steve Houdlette are there, you never know… I remember working on the deck with Aaron Kerzner at Origins, but we just couldn’t get it to work, which is a shame because I really want to play my Scott Limoges-signed Quirion Dryads. It’s got access to the same sideboarding options as pure Psychatog, but for some reason or another, it just doesn’t have the goods.
I’d like to talk about CAB’s new Gifts Ungiven list, but I had helped out on a similar list late last year and was unimpressed. They took it to the next level and added a lot of cards that my group hadn’t thought of, so maybe it’ll get the job done.
That said, what are some techy, hot sideboard cards you can use to combat a diverse metagame?
Seal of Cleansing
I can’t say enough good things about this card. It’s seen play in Stax and Workshop Aggro to good effect. It not only works wonders in the Workshop mirrors, but it’s pretty good against Oath. It’s passable against Fish, one of the decks I earlier said I expect) killing Null Rod, Blood Moon, Curiosity, Mishra’s Factory, and Standstill. That’s pretty much all of its card draw and nukes their most powerful hate cards. If you’re maindecking them, they’re still a fine card, taking out a Mox or Sol Ring, which can be crippling at times.
<3omgstifle<3 I pioneered this card shortly after Scourge came out in an awesome three-olor control deck, featuring such hits as: 3 Gorilla Shaman, Deep Analysis, Plaguebearer, Isochron Scepter, and of course, Stifle. It’s good against the Tendrils combo decks, but not game over as you might have been expecting. It’s probably worth the slot, but don’t depend on it completely. It’s also decent against Stax, stopping a Tangle Wire or Smokestack trigger for a turn. Then there’s always the ability to Stifle fetch lands and Strip effects.
Samurai of the Pale Curtain
Ok, this one is sort of out there, but I know people running them and they’re ridiculous, so I figured I’d spread the love.
This is a staple of TPS, but anyone can share in on the fun, though it might not work as well for them. In many cases Hurkyl’s Recall will serve people better, but both are an answer to Pentavus and are useful against Transmute Artifact. If your lands haven’t been Titaned away.
Sorry, I’m not too in to the sideboard thing. Look at Psychatog lists from a few months ago, their sideboards were, for the most part, solid as a rock. Firestorm in particular is pretty hot. Engineered Explosives, popularized by the Italians, are really, really good. I have played with them a few times when testing and they’re amazing against pretty much everything. Swords to Plowshares is still really good, but unfortunately it has that little White mana symbol in the top right hand corner, making it uncastable by most of the good decks. Red Elemental Blast is solid too, but it’s fallen out of style, making way mostly for better hate cards such as Blood Moon or more card drawing spells.
Most of the discussion I’ve seen on the Open Vintage forums on www.TheManaDrain.com deal with either a) Psychatog or b) Transmute Artifact. The newbie forum is also putzing around with Parfait. I’m not going to deny it, I think Parfait is really good right now. If you’ve never cast Orim’s Chant or Abeyance against a combo player after his ninth spell, you haven’t lived.
So to sum everything up, here’s my list of what I expect. The top being the most played and bottom being the least played.
Revenge (At least in a perfect world…)
Food Chain Joblins
With the rest consisting of Life.dec, random R/G, U/G/R, and the like. TnT and 7/10 may even poke their heads out to try and step on some skulls. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of the more quiet non-Meandeck/Short Bus teams bring out something new to shake things up a bit.
This TMD Open, being 10 proxies, will see a far higher concentration of optimized decks played. Powered players will be able to play nearly anything, and whilst un-powered players will have a more limited selection, there are viable decks out there. The purchase of even a few cards can push a deck to be able to reach the power level necessary to compete. Unfortunately, my plug for buying singles from StarCityGames.com is a bit late for you to get things, you may still be able to if you order like, right now. There is no excuse to not be ready for at least one of SCG’s Power 9 events.
I want to take the opportunity to plug hardcore for the events being run on Sunday. There will be many events ranging from a Second-Chance Mox Tourney to a [censored for the good of the people] tournament. There will also be a good amount of Type 4 players, so make sure your hands are clean and you don’t snap/bend cards, and you’ll be able to get in a lot of play**.
With all of that said, I wish most of you the best of luck and look forward to some good competition***!
Member of Team Meandeck
Um… I think I’m a moderator on TMD? I could be wrong
Guy Who Doesn’t Write Enough
* That’s not true. They converse a great deal, but most of what they say is complete bulls**t.
** I’m really anal about the condition of the stuff in my Type 4 deck :x.
*** Make sure to keep an eye out for my report of the entire weekend! It’ll be chock full of fun and action!