The Vintage Advantage: Decks of the Team Serious Invitational

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08_12 The Vintage Advantage

On July 18, 21 members and guests of Team Serious convened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the home of Duane Haddix for an invitational tournament. We’ve been making it a point of hosting these events every few months now, since it’s a great way to get people together just to hang out, jam some Vintage, eat some food, and drink some drinks. I wrote a report about the last Team Serious Invitational, which I won with a Dig Through Time based combo deck. At this event I managed only a 2-3 finish with Jeskai Ascendancy. Disappointing, yes, but the losses were easily made up by the camaraderie.

I brought homemade mana-symbol cookies, and for lunch we had great coldcuts tray from Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. There was even a legal sandwich punch delivered on stream. After the Swiss, I talked about Belcher for an hour with fellow aficionado Ben Perry, then a group of us drafted the Onslaught Block Cube that Sam Krohlow assembled, and then, after the finals had been played out, 15 of us went to Tio’s Mexican Cafe in downtown Ann Arbor for some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. (Seriously, try the tres leches cake; it was fantastic.)

Winner! Monastery Mentors

This Invitational, Kevin Cron got the victory with a UWr Monastery Mentor deck that beats blue with Mystic Remora and Cavern of Souls and trounces Workshops with Dack Fayden and Ingot Chewer.

Check out that sideboard; that is literally 15 potential additional cards versus Shops! When I asked Kevin about it later he said that he usually only brings in two Containment Priests, except against Kuldotha Forgemaster where more are necessary. Priests are surprisingly flexible in the Shops matchup since they serve as surprise blockers against things like Phyrexian Revoker and Mishra’s Factory, make extra (instant-speed) permanents against Tangle Wire, and can attack once the game is under control.

Of course, bringing in a ton of cards versus Shops means that the maindeck anti-blue cards (playsets of Flusterstorm and Mental Misstep, among others) have to come out. The deck goes from high gear against blue to high gear against Shops and is able to keep up with other elements of the Vintage environment by virtue of the inherent power of its cards.

Kevin has been playing and this deck for months now and has had great success. If you’re still looking for something to play at Vintage Champs at the end of August, this would be a good choice with solid matchups across the board. Otherwise, definitely make sure you can beat this kind of deck.

Runner Up! Mishra’s Workshop

Justin Waller played his Swiss Army Shops list and took second. He has a comprehensive report [link to Justin’s article] on this site that I’ll suggest you read for yourself. I’ll say that our round-three match was pretty epic with a competitive game one, a 40-minute grindfest game two, and a three-turn blowout game three. In game two, my Preordains said, “Put two 1/1 Elemental tokens into play,” instead of their normal text, but that worked. Perhaps I should have played for the draw after game two took so long. Still, we both had equally broken openers in the last (mine had Black Lotus, Jeskai Ascendancy, and a Mox but no Force of Will); he just got to play his first.

Rounding out the top eight were two more very different Workshop decks. Our host, Duane, made top four with a Chris Pikula inspired list sporting 10 manlands and Arcbound Ravagers to help beat Dack Fayden, Ingot Chewer, and other spot removal. Five copy artifact effects—four Phrexian Metamorph and a Sculpting Steel—were also on hand to make sure that his best artifacts were plentiful as well. Interestingly he moved Sol Ring to the sideboard, knowing that it would be safe there from game-one Mental Missteps, which usually get taken out against Workshops.

Nam Tran was playing Metalworkers and had plenty of giant, aggressive monsters like Wurmcoil Engines and Steel Hellkites. He could also combine Metalworker (and three artifacts in hand) with Staff of Domination to make limitless mana, gain limitless life, draw most of his deck, and play all the cards he wanted. Postboard, Expedition Map provided access to Karakas against Oath of Druids and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale against Dredge and token decks.

These decks go to show that just because two or three decks start with four Mishra’s Workshops and four Lodestone Golems doesn’t mean they’re the same. The distinctions are difficult to define without more experience in each deck and its matchups, but I would generally classify Justin’s deck as combo-control, Duane’s as aggro-control, and Nam’s as aggro-combo, just based on how their games will most likely play out. Opponents shouldn’t necessarily have one, static “Workshops” plan for their sideboard, and players shouldn’t necessarily reject “Workshops” out of hand just because they don’t like how one deck plays. There’s variety.

The differences between these decks are similar to those found in blue decks. Consider how many decks start with four Force of Will, four Preordains, and some numbers of Gush and Dig Through Time, despite playing completely different games. Even Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor decks are built and played differently, despite centering around creatures that make tokens. However, players and decklist sites still tend to group Workshops together into broad categories and delineate blue decks into much narrower ones. It’s no wonder there’s a perception that Workshops hold a huge percentage of the metagame compared to blue decks.

Miss Congeniality! Nicol Bolas

Kevin Poenisch played a novel Dredge deck that took advantage of people’s anti-graveyard sideboards by sidestepping them entirely. Why continue worrying about the graveyard when you could just hardcast dragons and go to town?

In game one, this deck can play the typical Dredge gameplan, using Serum Powder to find Bazaar of Baghdad, combining Bazaar and the dredge mechanic to fill the graveyard, and winning with reanimated creatures and Zombie tokens created by Bridge from Below. In place of a faster win fueled by Dread Return (and sacrificing creatures to it), he plays more mana and the strange maindeck inclusion of Dack Fayden. Dack won’t do too much in most opening games, but if he does hit play, he could win a game locked up by Workshop or fuel dredge with his +1 ability.

Postboard, when opponents bring in things like Grafdigger’s Cage and Rest in Peace, or even token removal like Engineered Explosives, Kevin counters by dumping the dredge cards altogether and riding dragons into combat. Seriously, that is Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Ancient Tombs, artifact mana, and Chromatic Lanterns (which make Bazaars into mana producers) power out everything, and suddenly Dack and Bazaar are used primarily to dig for mana and giant threats.

If the match goes to game three, opponents will play the game of deciding whether they want to keep in graveyard hate or prepare to deal with the abilities of the various Khans dragonlords. If they try to do both, they may risk diluting their own plan too much to win either way. Dragonlord Dromoka is especially difficult for anyone wielding counterspells to deal with and will put the game out of reach quickly. Opponents playing token strategies—including, potentially opposing Dredgers—might have to figure out how to get past Elesh Norn. And anyone on Workshops has a full playset of Dack to deal with on either side of the coin. There’s a lot of awesome cards here.

I saw Kevin hardcast a Consecrated Sphinx against Anthony “Twaun” Michaels on turn two. Twaun’s only response was to laugh and say, “I guess I lose this game.”

Best Newcomer! Day’s Undoing

On the Friday before the tournament, Sam Krohlow and I were riding up to Northern Ohio from Columbus, hoping to avoid the larger part of the drive the next day. He was looking for something to play, and the subject of Academy Belcher came up. (Belcher is a frequent competitor at these invitational tournaments because it’s a good deck to play if you’re drinking—as long as you can count to four mana, you’re still pretty good to go.) I said I think the RG Belcher decks with Empty the Warrens would still be my choice but that Day’s Undoing adds some new possibilities, especially starting with this framework:

Serum Powder, which I have previously not liked in Belcher since it gets worse if the game goes long and tends to gum up any card drawing (like Gitaxian Probe or even Wheel), fills multiple roles here. Beyond allowing the pilot to more easily mulligan to a keepable opener with Charbelcher or another big spell, it also helps find Leyline of Anticipation. Leyline of Anticipation, then, obviates the drawback on Day’s Undoing while helping dodge lock pieces from Workshop decks and any counters with a mana cost from blue decks.

We had a few games to playtest (late) the night before, and Sam settled on the following list:

The maindeck is fairly straightforward Academy Belcher, except dropping the Gitaxian Probes and more expensive bombs for Serum Powders and Day’s Undoing. The list is full of powerful cards and powerful mana producers that play and activate them. You draw cards, you resolve Charbelcher, and you activate for the win.

In my Magic Origins review, I noted that Day’s Undoing had a high (“potentially restrictable”) top end and a low (“nerfed beyond its usefulness”) bottom end, as far as playability. In this deck it falls just about where it should: it won’t overturn the metagame, but it’s another strong, affordable bomb in a reasonable combo deck. The really interesting innovation is the emphasis on Leyline of Anticipation, a card that really changes the fundamentals of how the game is played and can do it for free.

The deck loves to have Leyline of Anticipation in play, and it’s not unthinkable to hardcast the enchantment if the game goes long. (It’s not what you want to be doing, no; you’re more likely to imprint it on Chrome Mox.) There are a few neat tricks that can be done with Leyline, but the biggest thing is just remembering that, yes, all your spells are instants. That means you can play things on your opponent’s end step, if necessary, or in response to them cracking a fetchland or playing a spell that taps them out. The end the turn clause on Day’s Undoing won’t have an effect on your opponent’s turn, so feel free to chain them and play as much mana and as many threats as you can. You can actually win the game on your opponent’s upkeep, before they even get to a main phase.

In most situations, this Day’s Undoing Belcher is about a turn slower than RG Belcher, as far as getting a threat into play. Whereas the Spirit Guide version is almost always going to drop Charbelcher or a horde of goblins into play turn one, this version is usually going to spend that turn finding Tolarian Academy or fixing a hand for mana or a threat. Still fast enough to get in under some Workshops hands and before the Dig Through Time draw engine comes online, but that turn makes a big difference, and Leyline can help make up for it since the first turn might be your opponent’s.

The Empty the Warrens in the sideboard were my suggestion, proposed to give an alternate (non-Belcher) way to win as well as using the uncounterable free mana of Simian Spirit Guide against decks like Shops. Sam said afterward that the sideboard didn’t seem right to him, mostly because the red package took up too much room. He usually brought in the four Spirit Guides and only two Empties. The obvious other plan would just bring in Ancient Tombs and Mishra’s Workshops to play through Sphere of Resistance effects. There’s more work to be done there, but I’m not ready to discount it entirely.

Sam played against Workshops multiple times, and his opponents suggested that the forced mulligan of a Day’s Undoing, along with the effect of Leyline of Anticipation, was a pretty frightening situation. Since Shops don’t have a draw engine and live or die based on the opening hand, taking away some of their control in that way can be surprisingly disruptive. Otherwise, without Leyline, something like Chalice of the Void for zero, or a Sphere of Resistance, or especially Null Rod can just be crippling.

At the same time, Dredge decks will have a hard time setting up a game against five maindeck cards (Day’s Undoing and Timetwister) that shuffle graveyards into libraries. Combining that effect, which sets them back a turn, with a deck that can win quickly is a decent way to get game one and the match.

Day’s Undoing Belcher seems like a pretty great Vintage deck. I’m pretty excited to run it through some trials.

By the time this article is up, I should be on my way to Gen Con for more games and Team Serious hijinks. There, I plan to play some Vintage (including some Vintage Artist Constructed) and try out some new games and classic favorites. I’ll have a full report on my return, leading up to next month’s Eternal Weekend and Vintage Championship.

Thanks for reading!
Nat Moes
@GrandpaBelcher

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