What to Expect at Waterbury

One of the hottest deck designers and most amusing Vintage writers around gives you a sneak peak at what decks to expect at this weekend’s Waterbury megatournament. As if that weren’t enough, he also provides decklists for players of all shapes, sizes, races, creeds, and budgets and tells you what he’s playing this weekend. How could you not read this?

April 30th is almost here, and the eyes of the Vintage community are fixed on Waterbury, Connecticut. Soon, teething unwashed masses will descend upon the town, hoping to take home a Lotus and fifteen minutes of fame. It’s been said before that it’s well worth going just to socialize, but if you want to earn your Waterbury Bingo square, it’s going to take some work. Luckily for you, I have generously decided to scrub out at power tournaments all across New England over the past two months, just to bring you a taste of what to expect in Connecticut this weekend.

Metagame aside, if you want to win this thing, you’re going to have to power through twelve or so matches without losing your head. Bigger events like this are as much endurance trials as they are skill testers, and some pretty big mistakes get made by otherwise solid players in the last few rounds. That means picking a deck that’s consistent, and one that you’re very familiar with. Failing that, play something a trained chimp could run. Right off the bat, this is going to rule out complex masturbatory decks like DeathLong. It’s a perfectly solid deck, but if you were comfortable enough with it to play flawlessly for eleven straight hours, you wouldn’t be reading an article to figure out what to bring.

If you’re not from New England or very familiar with its Type One history, it’s important to know that Drain-based decks are the weapon of choice for most of the field’s heavy hitters, so playing anything that has a tendency to walk into a Mana Drain probably isn’t your best bet. You want to build a deck that can handle a control matchup, but don’t overdo it. Maindeck something like 4 Red Elemental Blasts and you’re doomed to lose to consistency issues against decks that don’t care about your hate card.

What you’ll see this weekend:

Control Slaver

Control Slaver is king at Waterbury – it’s taken first more than once, and unhealthy portion of the field and Top 8 at the last event. If you plan on doing well, this is the matchup to prepare for. Builds vary a lot, with different players favoring different secondary draw engines and choices for big artifacts. Things get a little complicated if need to plan for an Accumulated Knowledge mirror or avoid scooping to a Tinkered Platinum Angel, but the basic theories of the deck apply across the board. Mana Drain and Goblin Welder let you cheat the casting cost on overpriced cards with game-ending rules text, like Mindslaver and Pentavus. Eight hard counters, an excellent draw engine, and room for Cunning Wish or maindeck answers make hating out the deck very difficult. Cards like Ground Seal, Chains of Mephistopheles, and Null Rod don’t make things any easier for a Slaver player, but they can all be dealt with, before or after they hit play, or even ignored altogether with a well timed Drain or Tinker. Your best bet is playing a deck that keeps pressure on, and sideboard cards that slip under or force through a counter wall.

What it doesn’t want to see: Tormod’s Crypt, Lava Dart


Probably not quite as popular as Control Slaver, SSB has picked up some players in the Northeast. After Ben Kowal performance with the deck in Chicago, the number of people running Recoup can only go up. The matchup is very similar to Control Slaver, but it’ll go for the kill if you give it a turn or two to draw cards and tutor, so keeping pressure on is key. SSB has a better matchup against Aggro and Fish-style Aggro Control decks, which have been gaining popularity in the region. This reason alone might make Goblin Charbelchers more common than Platinum Angels in the mid to late swiss rounds.

What it doesn’t want to see: Tormod’s Crypt, Null Rod


Oath is the Drain deck most forgiving of small play errors, which could give it a solid showing in the later rounds of the event, when mistakes become more prevalent. The most common creature configuration is still Akroma, Angel of Wrath/Spirit of the Night, but Ancient Hydra is gaining popularity in the Spirit slot. Some people are running Auriok Salvagers, which is often a full turn faster, and much easier to hardcast if it ends up in hand, but a lot more vulnerable to random hate cards. Many Oath decks run extra counters in the form of Mana Leak, so getting key spells to resolve before they build up a manabase can be key. Tempo stealing plays like countering Time Walks and Brainstorms are more effective in this matchup than usual, but only make those plays if you can capitalize on the tempo you’re getting. Post-board, creatureless decks can bring in techy ways to kill spirits like Goblin Bombardment or Claws of Gix. Those sorts of cards really aren’t that difficult to answer for the Oath player, but they could buy a few turns if you feel that’s all you need. Most decks would be better off running cards that handle the enchantment itself, or the creatures once they hit play. If you can’t run Swords to Plowshares, bounce is your next best bet, as once a creature gets there, it’s generally a pain to get it out again.

What it doesn’t want to see: Ray of Revelation, Rushing River

Sensei, Sensei

The Hadley born Future Sight deck released at SCG: Syracuse has picked up a number of players you’ll want to watch out for. While coming back from behind has been a trait of Vintage control since Yawgmoth’s Will was printed, no Drain deck right now has the ability to win out of nowhere like Sensei. It’s got more card drawing than Tog used to, and is probably more resistant to hate than any other one-turn win, with around three Cunning Wishes to make sure it stays that way. Low land count and running Sensei’s Divining Top over Brainstorm gives the deck some early game consistency issues, but it still performs well overall. If the game goes long, Sensei can draw a ton of cards, so ride any early game advantage you can steal. Cunning Wish can fetch an answer to just about any problem, but cards like Pyrostatic Pillar and Null Rod make it tougher to track that Wish down, and need answering before the Sensei player can win.

What it doesn’t want to see: Red Elemental Blast, Null Rod


If Control Slaver hadn’t already rendered Tog obsolete, Sensei put the nail in the coffin. Nevertheless, people love swinging with atogs, and someone will come with it. Chances are you’ll already be running cards in your board that do well in the matchup, don’t get too hung up on it.

What it doesn’t want to see: Red Elemental Blast, Duress


Dragon hasn’t seen the popularity it had about a year ago, but it has a dedicated following, ever patient for the right metagame conditions to bring it out. Chance enough it’ll see play at Waterbury, due to the arguable impression that it has a good matchup against Control Slaver. I’m not really sure where this impression comes from, as while Dragon is very resistant to countermagic, it’s very vulnerable to Mindslaver. Either way, expect to see a few there. You don’t skimp on the sideboard, but just about every board besides artifact removal hoses the deck, so I wouldn’t be that worried.

What it doesn’t want to see: Tormod’s Crypt, Stifle

Cerebral Assassin

Dragon’s cousin from Hadley, Massachusettes, Cerebral Assasin doesn’t get talked about a lot anymore, but it sees play in the Northeast. It’s not as fast, and can’t run redundant combo pieces, but the deck’s threat density is a lot heavier, and it gets to run some goodies that Dragon can’t, like Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will. The deck draws a lot of cards, and its threats come in a variety of card types, making most spot removal not universally useful against the deck. Different builds run different big artifacts main, but if they have an active Goblin Welder out, DON’T WALK INTO POSSESSED PORTAL. Brainstorm when you have to, but make sure you know what you’re doing. If that thing comes waltzing into play at the wrong time, you won’t recover.

What it doesn’t want to see: Tormod’s Crypt, Rack and Ruin


Trinisphere may be history at this point, but Kevin Cron’s Syracuse build showed the Vintage community that Sphere of Resistance is still a powerhouse. Stax hasn’t historically done well at Waterbury. It’s possible that the expensive threats are a liability against Drain decks, or just that it hasn’t had enough players pick it up. Though I can’t see any reason that trend won’t continue, there’s nothing wrong with the deck itself, and you don’t want to be unprepared. Most of the strategies for beating it will parallel with Workshop Aggro, with a heavier emphasis on tempo, and developing a manabase with as many basics as possible.

What it doesn’t want to see: Rack and Ruin, Rebuild

Workshop Aggro

Shop Aggro comes in whole variety of flavors, the most common being 5/3 and 7/10, with honorable mentions including TnT, Transmute.dec. and “The Gilded Claw”. The strategy for beating them is pretty similar across the board, varying based on their choice of hate card. Expect to see Chains of Mephistopholes, Pyrostatic Pillar, Hannah’s Custody, or Chalice of the Void. Until you’re sure how their list looks, try not to put yourself into a position where one of those cards resolving would cost you the game. Efficient artifact removal is going to be a solid plan no matter what, but you might need something that can handle enchantments, too.

What it doesn’t want to see: Rack and Ruin, Serenity


TPS has a solid history at Waterbury due to a better game against control than most combo. The deck generally runs around 4 basic lands, and maindecks versatile answers to most popular hate cards, like Rebuild and Chain of Vapor. A higher disruption count means the deck is more likely to swing and miss on a draw 7 or Mind’s Desire, but any good TPS player will tell you that’s all about timing.

What it doesn’t want to see: Arcane Laboratory, Duress

Death Long

Death Long is faster, and less likely to stall out than TPS, but more vulnerable to hate. The last time Death Long put up any solid finishes the environment was much different, but die-hard combo fans love to play this deck. Besides the more common lists you may have seen, a popular New England variant of the deck runs Oath of Druids and Academy Rector, with Cabal Therapy replacing Duress. If you see Forbidden Orchard in game one, and you’re playing anything that uses the combat step, make sure you have an answer for Platinum Angel in games two and three.

What it doesn’t want to see: Sphere of Resistance, Chalice of the Void


Whatever the correlation, since Trinisphere kicked the bucket, Fish variants have been picking up popularity and solid finishes in power tournaments near Waterbury. Classic U/R Fish is still out there, but is probably the least popular variant. U/W builds are probably going to be more popular, and should do well enough if metagamed properly. U/G/w “Birdshit” variants have a less user-friendly manabase, and no real draw engine, but bigger creatures, giving it a faster clock and an edge in the fish against fish matchup. The real issue from a deck construction standpoint is playing around their disruption. A maindeck that scoops to a single Null Rod or Meddling Mage is a huge liability, so make sure you’re packing answers or alternative win conditions. Failing that, have a very effective sideboard plan.

In playing against Fish, you’ll want to be mindful of the mana denial strategy at all times, but not to the detriment of your own gameplan. Break fetches when they have no mana available, and go for basic lands early. Alternatively, break them during their upkeep, if they have the Stifle, you’ll steal some tempo back by tapping them down. You may have to break some good playskill habits here, like holding back unneeded Moxen and Brainstorming before powerful shuffle effects like Demonic Tutor and Tinker. Do not, however, avoid playing spells altogether just because your opponent might have Daze in hand. Playing around a Daze the other player doesn’t have is much more dangerous than walking into one.

What it doesn’t want to see: Old Man of the Sea, Flametongue Kavu

Selecting a Deck

So what does all this mean? Your familiarity and skill with the deck you want to bring is way more important then the metagame. If you know something inside and out, just make sure it doesn’t have any auto-lose matchups, alter the maindeck to taste, build the right sideboard, and you’re good to go. If you’re still not sure what to run, here are my suggestions, based on your bankroll.

For the budget player:

U/W Fish

4 Cloud of Faeries

4 Spiketail Hatchling

4 Meddling Mage

2 Voidmage Prodigy

3 Curiosity

4 Standstill

1 Ancestral Recall

2 Daze

4 Force of Will

2 Swords to Plowshares

2 Stifle

1 Time Walk

3 Null Rod

1 Mox Sapphire

4 Flooded Strand

2 Polluted Delta

4 Tundra

3 Island

1 Library of Alexandria

4 Mishra’s Factory

1 Strip Mine

4 Wasteland


2 Aura Fracture

3 Serenity

3 Seasinger

2 Tormod’s Crypt

2 Rushing River

3 Chalice of the Void

U/W Fish has the tools to handle everything in the environment right now, despite being woefully underpowered. With 10 proxies, this deck should be a snap to assemble, with only four real power cards, you have room to proxy any mid-range cards you haven’t been able to pick up, like Meddling Mage and Force of Will. If you’re still in a bind, there’s plenty of room for customizing a fish deck. Switching out two Tundras for an Island and a Plains barely hurts the deck at all, and the Sapphire can go altogether if it needs to. You don’t want to drop below four Force of Will, but beyond that, feel free to make substitutes. One of the deck’s strong points is its versatility.

For the ten-proxy player:


4 Force of Will

4 Mana Drain

1 Ancestral Recall

4 Brainstorm

4 Accumulated Knowledge

2 Intuition

2 Deep Analysis

2 Skeletal Scrying

1 Time Walk

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Echoing Truth

4 Oath of Druids

1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

1 Ancient Hydra

1 Gaea’s Blessing

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Emerald

4 Forbidden Orchard

3 Polluted Delta

2 Flooded Strand

3 Island

2 Tropical Island

2 Underground Sea

2 Volcanic Island

1 Strip Mine

2 Wasteland


1 Platinum Angel

1 Woodripper

1 Pristine Angel

3 Red Elemental Blast

3 Rack and Ruin

2 Tormod’s Crypt

3 Chalice of the Void

1 “Rushing River

Oath has all the elements of interactive control deck, but a straightforward forgiving gameplan all-too reminiscent of four-gush GAT – Defend your two-drop, ride it to victory. When pairings for round seven go up, you’ll be glad to be playing something simple to pilot effectively. The list I gave has just enough room for someone with no power or drains, but if your heart’s set on Oath and you’re an Akroma short, there are options. Oath doesn’t need Drain mana as much as some decks, though this list is built to abuse it, with Skeletal Scrying and Deep Analysis. If you own a few Drains or pieces of Power, feel free to add a Library of Alexandria or some off-color Moxen for the ever popular “Orchard-Mox-Oath-Go.” Why else would you be playing Oath?

For the player who’s got it all:


4 Force of will

4 Mana Drain

2 Duress

1 Chain of Vapor

4 Brainstorm

4 Thirst for Knowledge

2 Gifts Ungiven

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Recoup

1 Tinker

1 Mana Severance

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mystical Tutor

3 Goblin Welder

1 Goblin Charbelcher

1 Mindslaver

1 Pentavus

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mana Crypt

1 Sol ring

1 Mana Vault

1 Lotus Petal

4 Polluted Delta

3 Volcanic Island

2 Underground Sea

2 Island

1 Strip Mine

1 Tolarian Academy

1 Library of Alexandria


3 Chalice of the Void

2 Rushing River

3 Rack and Ruin

2 Red Elemental Blast

1 Pyroblast

2 Coffin Purge

2 Flametongue Kavu

Alright, so I’m biased, but the deck is very solid, and I wouldn’t suggest that you play anything less than what I’m running myself (that’s right, get your sideboards ready, slackers). With proper boarding it has solid matches against everything in the field, but if you’re going to run this, prepare to play through plenty of splash damage from hate aimed at Control Slaver. It’s important to know that this really isn’t a deck you want to make budget substitutions with. Prefer Cunning Wish over Chain of Vapor? That’s fine, but if you cut back on the Power or Drains the deck will not perform the way it’s supposed to. You’re also not going to catch any breaks as far as tiring yourself out goes, and you’ve already been warned about that. If you have the cards and the inclination, however, and you think you can keep your head in the game all day, this deck can definitely do some damage.

No matter what deck you decide to go with, remember to relax and stay confident. I find that most players do exactly as well as they expect to (as long as they show up to all of their matches on time). If you don’t do so well, make sure you stick around, Waterburies and SCG events are always a blast, even in the Type 4 bracket. Playing it out is great, and what you came for, but if you’re really interested in improving your game, once you’ve hit X-2, you might want to consider dropping and checking out some of the players at the higher tables. The feature match area is a great place to start, but taking a look at all of the higher seated players should give you an idea of how they got there. Out of courtesy, it’s best not to talk to anyone playing out a match, whether you know them or not, but afterwards feel free to ask them about any unusual plays or card choices. Most people will be happy to talk to you about them.

Make sure you stay for Day 2, in which Ben Kowal and I will probably be performing boner songs and terrible acoustic covers for anyone foolish enough listen – and if you happen to see me, make sure I have you sign a Brass Man for the collection.

See you in the Finals,

Andy Probasco

TheBrassMan on TMD

aprobasco at gmail dot com