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The Vintage Advantage: Digging Up Wins

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Vintage

08_12 The Vintage Advantage

In my last article I shared my favorite reasons for playing and loving Vintage, including especially the Vintage community. As evidence of that, this week I’ll share my experience at the event I also alluded to: The Team Serious Holiday Invitational.

I should back up.

Vintage has a long history of “teams,” groups of players who work together on developing and testing decks. A decade ago, being on a team (usually with a limited-access forum or email list) meant that players could improve their signal to noise ratio when dealing with online deckbuilding and theorizing. Rather than having to filter every idea that came by, they could focus on those coming from other players who were more knowledgeable about a card, deck, or strategy. Some of these teams came with rules and stipulations: teammates weren’t allowed to share new decks outside the group, for example. Vintage was bigger then— thanks to the Star City Power Nine Tournament Series, Vintage Championships at Gen Con, and other large regional tournaments, like the Waterbury Opens—so there was some value and legitimacy in keeping technology safe until a large event.

Older players will remember team names like Meandeck, Reflection, Shortbus, ICBM, and GWS, as well as some of the players and decks that went with them. (The oldest players will remember the Paragons, but this isn’t a history lesson.) Rivalries were fierce but friendly, with plenty of trash talk before an event and crowing afterward from the victors.

That mentality still exists to some degree, but it’s less formal today. The ubiquity of internet communications means that previously secret decklists played locally are now widely available a day or two after an event. Players on a “team” are more likely to be friends who find the limited-access forum or email chain a better way to communicate about tournament organization, ride sharing, and pie recipes in between talking about new Magic-related developments.

For me, this is what Team Serious is all about. Our team is Ohio-based, but we have members elsewhere in the Midwest, Virginia, and Texas, among others. We have a team charter, which gives our mission statement: “We just need to be the best that we can to get better, dominate Vintage tournaments, and represent the Cleveland area. Yeah, man! Yeah!” However, despite that, we’re very much more about the extra-gaming activities like the post-tournament meal.

As such, when friend and teammate Paul Blakeley pointed out that we didn’t have any Ohio tournaments scheduled between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, we were quick to spring into action.

The last Vintage tournament we had as a team, the TwaunSerious Invitational in May 2013, was a great experience. Eighteen players showed up to game, some from out of state and most following the requested dress code of semi-formal or better. They enjoyed some good food and drink, had a great shared experience, and gave out several awesome prizes. We were looking to recreate that, to a degree.

My cousin Geoff and his wife bought a spectacular house over the summer, the most notable feature of which is a sizable indoor pool. This is the kind of event they were looking for to show off their new abode. We came up with some parameters—date, entry fee, dress code, and so on—and sent out the invitations. Everyone on our forums was invited, though attendance was capped at 20 for space allowances.

All told, everything went great. There was plenty of room for Vintage, people were chatting and hanging out between rounds, and food breaks (supplied by Jimmy John’s and Chipotle) were tasty and convenient. The $50 entry everyone paid helped paid for the food and also helped supply some excellent dual lands and fetch lands as prizes, courtesy of Eternal Games in Warren, Michigan. (One of the proprietors of Eternal Games, Paul Kim, is also a Team Serious teammate.) Afterward, we got to swim in the pool!

Kevin Cron, one of the invitees said afterward of the event: “This event could only have gone better if I had won it. Thanks, all. I hope this happens many more times.” He’s absolutely right, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

And based on that, for me, the event could not have gone better.

I played the same 75 as last time, the same Dig Through Time Combo deck I discussed in an earlier article. The deck remains very powerful and performed well against every blue deck with fewer than 16 counters. I did have to play all 21 games in the seven combined five rounds of swiss, semi-finals, and finals, but that all turned out okay. Unfortunately I lost my notes, but I’ll try to recreate a tournament report as best I can.

Round 1 – Nam Q. Tran – Metalworker MUD

A good way to begin a tournament: play someone who top eighted the most recent Vintage Championship, a Workshops expert playing Workshops, Nam Q. Tran. This was the only match I lost all day. Workshop decks are traditionally good against Gush decks since they prevent the cantrips and card-advantage spells that allow the miniscule manabases to function properly. This is also effective against delve spells. It turns out not being able to cast spells means they don’t fill the graveyard to get delved.

I got game one easily by playing Black Lotus into Jace, the Mind Sculptor, on turn one, and then using his Brainstorm ability to find Force of Will. I stopped Nam’s opening threat, and won the rest of the game with Jace, fatesealing away serious problems.

Games two and three, were similar. I brought in nine cards: Forest, Nature’s Claim, Trygon Predator, Abrupt Decay, and Hurkyl’s Recall. I mulliganed and kept hands with counters but that needed to draw mana to be competitive. When I didn’t draw additional mana and couldn’t dig to it, I lost.

This matchup isn’t unwinnable, but it does mean having a good mix of mana and spells. Jake Hilty’s deck (also mentioned in my previous article) has Oath of Druids and three Forbidden Orchards in the sideboard to help with the Shops matchup. That might be something I will look into for future events. It would at least help to bring the land count up.

Round 2 – Kevin Cron – BUG Oath

My second-round opponent, Kevin Cron, made the quarter finals of last year’s Vintage Championship. He’s also one of the hosts of the So Many Insane Plays podcast, so my day wasn’t getting any easier.

I won games one and three, basically by having a superior draw engine and counters or Thoughtseize at the right time to stop his more efficient threat, Oath of Druids. Between Gush, Dig Through Time, Jace, and the restricted cards, I should be able to find answers or put together a win quickly. He wins if he gets an Oath into play early. As such, Kevin scooped in game one to an obviously lethal Yawgmoth’s Will, and lost to Time Vault combo and Jace in game three.

I brought in Abrupt Decays, two Grafdigger’s Cages, and Surgical Extraction for games two and three. I cut Gifts Ungiven, Ponder, Hurkyl’s Recall, and a Preordain. Those of you counting will note that I had 61 cards postboard. I’ve been trying that against blue decks recently with no real results to report. I like Surgical Extraction against control decks and decks with linear gameplans, like Oath. If I hit Oath, great; if I hit Forces before a critical play; great; if I disrupt a topdeck tutor, great.

In game two, my Gush-fueled draw engine had been working fine, but petered out as I drew several lands in a row, leaving me with not much to do. Griselbrand entered the game and took over from there. Kevin used the demon’s ability to refill his hand then won the long way, by attacking rather than finishing with a combo.

Round 3 – Eric Butler – Grixis Control

I play against Eric every week in testing, so I was fairly sure I knew what he was playing. His preference is for control decks, the more counterspells the better, so I expected a fight similar to the previous round. As long as the Preordain into Gush into Dig Through Time engine kicked in, I would probably win. If he snuck one of his big cards through—namely Jace, Time Vault, or Tinker—I would probably lose.

Again, I won games one and three because my deck outdrew my opponent. Eric won game two because he had a turn-two Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus that I couldn’t answer.

Postboard I brought in the Surgical Extraction and both Trygon Predators. I like the predators as an additional win condition, especially if my graveyard gets shut off.

I should note that game three took forever. Eric had nothing all game (which I knew from playing Thoughtseize early and often), but I could only draw cards that drew more cards rather than cards that could end the game. The situation is well worth the risk, of course. In most cases you see enough cards to either maintain or improve your gamestate. Consider that a mainphase Preordain and end-of-turn Dig could let you see 11 cards before your next draw step.

Round 4 – Riley Curran – URg Landstill

At this point, I was 2-1 but hadn’t yet realized that I was still in line for elimination rounds because I was coming out of the losers’ bracket. Still, good players abounded, and I faced off against Legacy expert Riley Curran. I expected him to be on either Elves Combo or Landstill and was hoping for the former. When he led with a Scalding Tarn, I knew I was in for a battle.

Landstill has a huge amount of counters and a draw engine that is also discouraging, if not outright disruptive, to spell playing. Gush and Dig Through Time are both instants, which are good for playing through Standstill, but they’re also going to be the front-lines of spells I really want to resolve. My goal in this match was to win games early, before my opponent could start sculpting a defensive hand.

In game one, I snuck Tinker through on turn two or three and won with Blighsteel Colossus over a couple of turns through a couple of blockers. Riley dug for answers but couldn’t find one in time. (Many Landstill decks run multiple Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but Riley’s had only one as a metagame hedge against Lightning Bolt’s popularity.)

I brought in Trygon Predators (thinking I might get in past removal), one or two Nature’s Claims (for Mishra’s Factories), and the Surgical Extraction. I took out Fastbond, Gifts Ungiven, Hurkyl’s Recall, Tendrils of Agony, and Ponder. I didn’t anticipate winning with Tendrils through disruption, and a long game makes Fastbond less effective. Dropping Fastbond did hurt me at one point; I might have been able to win game two with it by chaining Gushes.

Game two took a long time, partly by my design. The longer the game took, the less likely I was going to be to win, so I refused to scoop despite my opponent’s clear advantage. My thinking was that, after game two, with a time-shortened game three on deck, the match outcome would either be a draw or a win for me. Between Landstill and my combo deck, mine was the only one that could win in a hurry. I boarded out Trygons and removal for my combo cards.

I lost a 30-minute game two, and with just a few minutes left for game three, we shuffled up and drew.

Round 5 – Gilberto “G” Rivera – Grixis Combo-Control

From this point on, you can watch the games on YouTube as well. Round five against G is here.

G’s deck was a Gush-based Grixis deck. Our decks were similar except that I had Fastbond, Tendrils of Agony, and more Dig Through Times where he had a small Welder package (Myr Battlesphere) and Dack Fayden. For me, the goal was to find and resolve more Dig Through Times, which I think are more powerful than the combination of Dack and Welder here.

I did have some excellent topdecks in game one, finding three strong control spells in a row to shut down his offense, much to G’s surprise. Once he was out of cards, I stayed ahead easily.

Again, I boarded in Trygon Predators and Surgical Extraction.

In game two, I probably should not have Mystical Tutored for Force of Will in the first place since that’s double card disadvantage. And I definitely should not have left Force on top of my library with a fetchland that I’d have to crack to get to it. Luckily G “only” resolved Dack and not something worse like Tinker. Still, it was pretty much the point of no return for me. I had a hard time catching up without drawing some significant gas.

With time running low in game three, I saw my opening and chaining draw spells, holding Tendrils in my hand. Unfortunately I was only able to get to eight (albeit with Jace in play), which was not lethal. Thankfully I topdecked Trygon Predator to win the game in turns.

Top 4 – Jimmy McCarthy – Jeskai Ascendancy

Jimmy drove all the way from Wisconsin to play in this tournament. He doesn’t play as often as he used to but is still an excellent player. This usually results in him showing up once every six months or so and making top four of an event, just as he did here.

And, yes, Jeskai Ascendancy made it to Vintage. The three-drop enchantment might be questionable against Workshops, but it’s great against much of the remaining metagame, turning the jets on for an already powerful draw engine. I’ll have more on the list in a future article, but Jimmy built his based on one Rich Shay had success with in Legacy. Basically it meant dropping restricted cards and adding Gushes and Power, and it carried a 5-0 record in the Swiss, even beating Workshops.

Jimmy and I played three games, and I really had no idea what to expect from them, since I had only the most rudimentary knowledge of the Ascendancy combo. My goal, since Jimmy’s deck could keep up with mine in the draw-engine department, was to try to put together a broken play as early as possible. Tinker and Time Vault should race Young Pyromancer, and they did in games one and three.

When I was sideboarding, I tried to keep things light. I wanted to remove Pyromancer or Ascendancy if they hit play, but I mostly wanted to stay aggressive and avoid drawing removal when I needed to draw bombs. I brought in two Abrupt Decays and the Surgical Extraction, but they didn’t come up when they were relevant.

In game two, where I drew cards and dug, all I needed was to find Black Lotus or an Underground Sea to be able to play Tendrils (or a tutor for Lotus). It was a long way to go for that mana, which is another way that Dig Through Time is powerful, it moves seven unnecessary cards out of the way if you’re digging for something specific. In this case, I missed and lost to Elemental tokens.

But I still won game three.

Finals – Ben Perry – BUG Oath

Ben is a fellow Belcher player notorious for his repeated success at SCG Legacy events so we joked at the beginning of the match about both switching to Belcher and really letting the coinflip decide. Of course that wasn’t going to happen. We played it out for the glory.

The matchup here is similar to the one I played against Kevin in round two, with my superior draw engine serving as the key to my success. The surprise came postboard when Ben brought in the Leyline of the Void and Helm of Obedience combo to change the dynamic. Suddenly he had an additional way to win the game (including with Tinker) and a way to disrupt my Dig Through Times and Yawgmoth’s Will.

When he resolved a late-game hardcast Leyline in game two, I should have suspected the Helm followup next turn. Instead I played poorly and tapped out with Nature’s Claim in hand to play Time Vault and Voltaic Key without activation mana. If I had survived that turn, I would have won in two games.

As it was, I was fortunate enough to open game three with two Force of Wills and a Flusterstorm, expecting to lengthen the game enough to draw into more powerful cards. When Ben had turn-one Leyline-Helm with Force backup, I was prepared. I countered an Oath of Druids as well and was thrilled to resolve a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, since my draw-engine was still hampered by the Leyline and I planned on using Jace to win. I switched from Brainstorming to fatesealing and was able to carry the game on that.

In the end, I played all 21 games in the seven-round event, including the finals. All of my win conditions got used. It wasn’t the most decisive victory, but it was a victory nonetheless, and I left with an Underground Sea and a Scrubland more than I arrived with. I’m going to continue playing the Dig Through Gush deck for a while. It’s too good and too much fun to put down, and its weaknesses to Shops, heavy control, and faster combos can be adjusted for.

Thanks for reading! And let me know if you have any questions about playing the deck.

Nat Moes

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