This week I will take a look at some lessons learned from tournament action. This is not a tournament report about how I took down a field of 64 players and won a Beta Black Lotus, but I definitely believe you can learn something and take away knowledge even from a less than stellar showing with a poopdeck.
I cannot help but think that the Vintage Mill poopdeck I wrote about a few weeks ago would have been much better before the release Khans of Tarkir. I brought the deck to a small Vintage tournament in Columbus, Ohio last Saturday and found myself shoveling grain into the trough, so to speak. There is a report on the top four and the turnout here. My games were kind of like my high school prom dates: close, but no cigar. I played the day out to an unsatisfying 1-3 finish and here’s what I arrived with:
Vintage Poopdeck Mill
This list is pretty close to the one I cooked up previously and the deck felt great. I ran two Watery Graves maindeck in place of the basic Swamp and Chrome Mox to give myself Underground Seas number five and six. I am fairly certain I was the only person on the planet who was returning Water Grave to his hand while casting Gush.
Looking at the sideboard, I expected the usual Workshop decks in our meta at the tournament, but not a single one showed up. That made nine of my sideboard cards look just a little useless.
I brought in the Grafdigger’s Cages often during the day, especially in the Oath/Show and Tell matchup. Engineered Explosives was also useful throughout the day against Insectile Aberrations and tokens created by Young Pyromancers. I never ran into any monk tokens from Monastery Mentor, even with a handful in the room.
The one card I did not get to bring in was this fellow:
The legendary, rampaging elf warrior was not needed, or castable for that matter. He was simply occupying a slot in homage to the late Leonard Nimoy.
The strongest features of the deck were the milling capability and the card advantage engine. Having Ancestral Recalls numbers two, three, and four in this deck via Visions of Beyond was always amazing.
The first round I was matched up with eventual top four player Ben with URg Delver:
Judging by his maindeck Trygon Predators, Ancient Grudge, and Dack Fayden, along with a sideboard including Nature’s Claim, Mountain, another Ancient Grudge, and four copies of Ingot Chewer, I was not the only one who had expected to battle Workshop decks. This theme would continue throughout the day.
In game one, I was able to mill Ben down to just seven cards remaining in his library, but in the end, I was one spell short of racing the Young Pyromancer and his tokens. In game two it was a very similar story. Even after I took out some of offense with Engineered Explosives, a Delver of Secrets and an Insectile Aberration still did the damage. I milled Ben down to the last two cards in his deck, but again fell short.
This match made me question my choice to leave Time Walk out of the deck. During testing, It seemed too often to just be a cantrip allowing an extra land drop and a card. Sometimes, that tiny bit of tempo can make a big difference.
Ben also seemed to just draw lands that produced mana, rather than the seven fetchlands in his deck. I recall having an Archive Trap at the ready more than once and not being able to drop it.
My other take away from this match: Dig Through Time is is an extraordinary card. When your opponent is running four delve cards (3 X Dig Through Time, 1 X Treasure Cruise), they do not mind so much being milled. With Glimpse the Unthinkable and Mind Funeral being sorceries, it can be slightly painful watching your opponent fire off a turn two Dig Through time during your end step that you helped fuel. On a brighter note, my first two Mind Funerals of the round hit 21 and 13 cards respectively.
In round two, my opponent Joe was playing a deck featuring Oath of Druids and Show and Tell. His Oath targets were Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. He also maindecked Omniscience as another Show and Tell permanent, which gave him the ability to cast either of those creatures. It was very similar, if not identical, to the list Luis Scott-Vargas played most recently in the Vintage Super League.
In game one, I recall fueling at least one of his Dig Through Times on the way to Oathing Griselbrand into play via spirit token. The one benefit of the Oath trigger was that it shrank his library to a very short stack. I was able to mill him out while taking two beats to face from Griselbrand. It was interesting to see my opponent hesitant to use Griselbrand’s draw ability because he had to consider how many cards remained in his library. What I did not know at the time was that he also did not want to draw his Emrakul so that his graveyard could still shuffle back into his library.
During the second game of this match, my opponent cast Dig Through Time a whopping four times! And those were individually cast and not re-cast via Snapcaster Mage or Yawgmoth’s Will. It was pretty impressive. Not only did he get to look at 15% or more of his deck with each consecutive Dig Through Time and grab two awesome cards, but that delving also kept turning off my Visions of Beyond.
He resolved a Show and Tell using Boseiju, Who Shelters All and dropped an Omniscience into play. He did not have anything broken to cast with it, but one of the Dig Through Times fixed that problem quickly. I was unable to race Griselbrand in the second game.
The third game was one of those broken Vintage plays where a first turn Oath of Druids faced me with an Emrakul on turn two. After that fatty came into play, it was over quickly.
In round three I was matched up with Kevin with a mono-blue Delver of Secrets deck heavily laden with counterspells. It looked a little something like this:
Mono Blue Delver
Even though I began the match on the play, this one was not even close. With 15 maindeck counterspells and three delve spells, Kevin rolled me like a taquito.
Facing a mono-blue Vintage deck was definitely a throwback. My first venture into the format was with a mono-blue deck back in the day. I think it was somewhere around 2005 that I began playing this deck:
Apparently, I did not find Brainstorm good enough to play four copies? Perhaps I was dodging Chalice of the Void at one and playing the two copies of Impulse for that reason? It can be interesting to look back at the relevant decks in the format ten years ago and scan those lists. Often you will see questionable choices and occasionally you might see some tech that worked great back then and might even be worth dusting off today.
The singleton Stifle in the above list was there to keep people honest, so to speak. Stifle saw a lot more play in the format back then and could be crippling at times. Players had to learn to play around it if they suspected or saw its presence.
Whenever this little fella landed in play, it was practically game over:
Morphling arrived on the scene with Urza’s Saga in 1998. With its plethora of innate abilities, Morphling could be seen as a precursor to the modern planeswalkers which first appeared in Lorwyn in 2007. Jace Beleren came on the scene at 1UU with some interesting abilities. The very next year, Tezzeret the Seeker was released in Shards of Alara and could set up a win in a single turn by fetching up Time Vault. Those ten years between Morphling and Tezzeret represent quite a change in the power level of what you can do with 3UU. In 2010 another planeswalker arrived: Jace, the Mind Sculptor became an option for one mana less than Morphling and was off the charts in playability. Farewell sweet Morphling…
Let’s head back nearly to the present day for the fourth and final round of that tournament. Have you ever gone 0-3 (or Phyrexian Walker as the kids like to say) and had just one round remaining? You are pretty much just hoping for even numbers in the tournament so that you do not get the bye.
Luckily, I had an opponent! We all came here to play, after all, didn’t we? I was matched up with Rick and his 2015 Keeper list:
Rick and I test together on a regular basis. This meant that Rick probably had the most games under his belt ON THE PLANET against a Vintage mill deck. He had three copies of Dig Through Time maindeck, along with Yawgmoth’s Will and Timetwister.
Perhaps it was the practice, perhaps it was variance, perhaps it was Rick being land-locked and then having my Glimpse hit six lands…whatever the causes, I was able to defeat Rick in two games. The Mind Funeral that landed after that Glimpse was brutal, milling over twenty cards. I think Rick was also the only player of the day that I double Archive Trapped on the same turn. For the first time in an actual tournament, I won a game by casting Ancestral Recall targeting my opponent.
For those keeping score at home, here is a list of problematic cards in the mill matchups each round:
The prevalence of Dig Through Time in blue decks in Vintage today is substantial. When Vintage players sit down to brew and they have decided blue will be one of their colors, there are certain cards that almost always make the cut. After the printing of Khans of Tarkir, that list nearly always begins with these:
After facing an average of three Dig Through Times in each match during that tournament, it is no surprise that facing a mill deck brought a smile to the hearts of my opponents.
Take a look at the current Vintage Super League deck lists here. Budde’s Omni Oath list plays four copies of Dig Through Time, Maher’s Mentor Control list has two, Menendian’s Mentor Control has four, LSV’s Omni Oath list also plays four, Shay’s Delver list has three, and Williams’ Mentor Control list has three. What does that add up to? Well in those six decks there are twenty copies of Dig Through Time! Of the blue decks, Only Martell’s Gifts list and Buehler’s Merfolk list eschewed the monster delve card. Four of those lists also ran the already restricted Treasure Cruise.
Was the DCI on target with its restriction of Treasure Cruise on January 19, 2015? They were probably right to restrict the sorcery speed Ancestral Recall. Should they have also restricted Dig Through Time?
This much better version of Ancestral Memories has certainly shown how powerful it can be, even when not facing a mill deck. When Khans of Tarkir was released, most players immediately keyed in on Treasure Cruise and as a result, it was playtested very thoroughly. It found its way into nearly every deck playing blue in all formats. As a result of it being omnipresent, it was banned in Modern and Legacy and restricted in Vintage.
Spellslingers did not test Dig Through Time quite so thoroughly as Treasure cruise when it first appeared, even though it had the benefit of being an Instant. The single colorless/delve difference was not much of a factor, but needing two blue mana presented a challenge. Perhaps these factors, along with Treasure Cruise being so easy to use first, contributed to Dig Through Time not appearing broken right away.
Cards are banned or restricted for a few reasons. To quote Wizards of the Coast:
“Cards are usually banned from play if they enable a deck or play style that heavily skews the play environment. What does that mean? If the card were legal, a competitive player either must be playing it, or must be specifically targeting it with his or her own strategies.
Some cards are banned because they have proven to simply be too powerful in their respective format. While hundreds of hours are spent rigorously playtesting sets before their release, the complexity of Magic makes it nearly impossible to accurately predict all the ways the new cards interact with older ones.”
Does Dig Through Time heavily skew the Vintage play environment? It may do that. And no, I am definitely not stepping onto a soapbox to call for the restriction of Dig Through Time because it kicked my poopdeck’s ass at a tournament. I am merely using some observations from the tournament as a lens to look at this powerful card. Does its skewing of the format and prevalence mirror that of previously restricted cards? Take a look at this list and judge for yourself. Prior to Treasure Cruise, the last card delivering card draw and/or card advantage to be restricted in Vintage was Thirst for Knowledge in 2009. Is Dig Through Time worse or better than Thirst for Knowledge?
We will know the answer to this question shortly (before Eternal Poopdeck Challenge #5!) when the next Banned and Restricted Announcement is released on March 23rd, the Monday after the Dragons of Tarkir pre-release. Until next time, good luck and have fun #inVintage!
Trackback from your site.