I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday.
– W.C. Fields
By the time this goes live, some Vintage mages will already be en route to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love despite Mr. Fields’s misgivings, for Eternal Weekend. I, unfortunately, again, will not be able to make it because of work commitments, but that won’t keep me from speculating on the event.
First, check out the website. The logistics of the event are all there.
A Gamer’s Guide to Philly
It all starts with the Philadelphia Convention Center. When I lived in Virginia, Philly was one of my favorite tournament locations. The city has some neat sights, is very walkable in many areas, and is a lot of fun if you get the chance to leave the tournament venue. Beyond the allure of Vintage Magic: The Gathering, the king of all formats, there’s the allure of historic sites and delicious food that goes well beyond the cheesesteak.
Scrubbing out at Eternal Weekend is a secret benefit because it affords time to see the Cruiser Olympia at the Independence Seaport Museum, “Scarface” Al Capone’s cell at Eastern State Penitentiary, the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians, or even just the throngs of tourists crowding through Independence Hall to see the Liberty Bell. I’ll note that at the Mütter Museum you can see the tumor my great-great-grandfather William Williams Keen removed from President Grover Cleveland’s jaw in a secret operation on a boat off Long Island in 1893. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing. It would be very Halloween appropriate.
I’ve mentioned before that a big part of Vintage tournaments is, in fact, the food—especially the pre- and post-tournament meals. As such, the most important draw for the Philadelphia Convention Center is that it is very close to Reading Terminal Market, which has several fantastic places to get breakfast, lunch, or a snack. In fact, if you sign up for VIP treatment at the event you can get lunch delivered from the market. I’d still try to get over there in person, especially if you haven’t been before, and give yourself some time to look around and sample things.
The Convention Center also borders Philadelphia’s Chinatown. There are plenty of good restaurants there. My teammate Jerry Yang would recommend Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, but don’t everyone go at once and overcrowd the place. One trip to Chinatown also yielded the absolute worst counterfeit Magic cards I’ve ever seen, sold at a two-level bazaar among some other cheap knick knacks. They were laminated posterboard, cut too small. Obviously we bought some.
If you’re going to Philadelphia simply for the cheesesteak, Pat’s and Geno’s are the two most famous locations. They’re across the street from each other, a short drive from the convention center. Most of the cheesesteaks throughout the city are the essentially the same, though, so don’t get railroaded just because you’re in Philly. For example, if you’re driving over that way, I’d recommend the Crêperie Beau Monde instead. Go hungry so you can eat savory crêpes for dinner and then have a sweet crêpe for dessert.
If you’re going to Eternal Weekend for both Legacy and Vintage, of course, you should have plenty of time to dine and sightsee as you please.
What to Expect at Vintage Champs
But you’re going to Philadelphia to play some Magic: The Gathering, right? It’s useful to look ahead to what can be expected of the Vintage Champs metagame.
Delving the Depths
As it turns out, there are a lot of questions surrounding the metagame at Champs, and many come thanks to Khans of Tarkir. Delve has taken Vintage by storm—sometimes literally as some players are testing Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise alongside Tendrils of Agony and Empty the Warrens. The Treasure GAT decklist I presented last time is a rudimentary attempt to use delve in the format, and several of the Vintage Super League competitors are using Dig and Cruise in their decks for weeks 7, 8, and 9. So far, results have been very impressive.
I would expect delve-based decks to show up in significant numbers at Champs as not only the hot new thing, but also as a functional addition to familiar decks. For example, I know several players are having good results with Dig Through Time in Bomberman decks, where it serves as both card advantage and a tutor in a deck that doesn’t aim for Yawgmoth’s Will. Regardless, both Dig and Cruise are liable to show up in almost any deck playing blue. The benefactors will be those players who have had time to build, test, and adjust their decks, figuring out how best to use and abuse delve.
Hassling the Dead
The question I’d be asking myself is whether it’s worth combating the delve mechanic with graveyard hate. There are plenty of decks in Vintage that lean on the graveyard to various degrees. Dredge is obviously at the top of the list followed closely by Yawgmoth’s Will, but there are also decks with Snapcaster Mage, Tarmogoyf, Goblin Welder, and now Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. Except for Dredge, none of these decks is so reliant on the graveyard or so frail to graveyard hate, but you can cripple some of their game if you maindeck Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace.
Consider BUG Fish, which has been at or near the top of many large tournaments recently and which I expect to continue to be popular at Champs. The cards are accessible to many Legacy and Modern players, as is the strategy; plus it’s very good, so no shame in picking it up. BUG Fish’s gameplan is to control the game with efficient counters and removal, namely Abrupt Decay. They then win the game with Snapcaster Mage, Deathrite Shaman, and Tarmogoyf, all of which are graveyard cards. Play Rest in Peace and invite them to win with their 2/1, 1/2, and 0/1 do-nothings. Just watch out for the Abrupt Decay.
My prediction is that there will be some players who try to leapfrog the metagame and play the graveyard hate strategy. Maybe a UW Control deck with Spirit of the Labyrinth will play a couple of Rest in Peace maindeck. Two-Card Monte, a Mishra’s Workshop combo deck that pairs both Painter’s Servant with Grindstone and Leyline of the Void with Helm of Obedience, could be another interesting option, as would be a mono-black Dark Times deck with maindeck Leylines and the Dark Depths combo. However, it’s more likely that the metagame will largely be blue-based control as usual, so delve decks should be mostly free to do their thing.
What about Workshops?
Of course, the apex predator in a field of low-mana blue decks with lots of draw spells and few lands is going to be a deck with Mishra’s Workshops.
Many people think that Workshops turn out in lower numbers at sanctioned Vintage tournaments because playsets of the namesake card are difficult to come by. However, I’ve found this to be as off-target as the idea that Dredge is more common in sanctioned Vintage because, beyond the playset of Bazaar of Baghdad, the deck is very affordable. The truth in either case is that players will get access to the cards they want to play, and the better players naturally rise to the top. As such, after round two, the sanctioned metagame of Champs will look much like a proxy metagame, with the typical 50% Blue; 30% Workshop; 10% Dredge; 10% Other breakdown.
Also important to note is that many of the Workshops players are, in fact, Workshop fanatics who work the metal and make the artifacts to the exclusion of all else. In short, they’re experts. (It’s what comes of investing in an expensive playset of powerful cards.) Expect Workshops to be a factor throughout the tournament and well into the top eight.
There are many incarnations of Workshops, ranging from prison to aggro to combo, but I expect the Terra Nova and Martello versions to be the more popular choices. Terra Nova is a heavy mana-denial prison deck that will punish an opponent’s manabase with a full complement of Sphere of Resistance effects, Phyrexian Revoker, and Wastelands. It runs multiple copies of Mishra’s Factory and Mutavault, which are also effective against Oath of Druids and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Recently it has also added Darksteel Juggernaut, which gives it a quick finish; Karn, Silver Golem, has played a similar role too.
Martello Shops has an effective prison game too, but it uses that to provide disruption until it can resolve Kuldotha Forgemaster. Forgemaster gives Workshops a long-needed tutor ability, allowing the deck to find answers like Duplicant or to find a game-winning thumper like Sundering Titan, Steel Hellkite, or even Blightsteel Colossus. With Ol’ Blighty, Martello can win on turn three with a first-turn Forgemaster. More aggressive Forgemaster lists might even include Lightning Greaves for a turn-one or -two possibility.
Workshops decks with Metalworker are less likely to show up at this event thanks to the proliferation of Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt. I also don’t think we’ll see many of Workshop’s colored versions appear. Mono-Red Stax with Goblin Welder and perhaps Magus of the Moon is just not as fast or consistent as the mono-brown versions.
Champs happens every year, but every tournament is different. This is the first time Champs will take place in Philadelphia that was scheduled well in advance. What this means is that many of the players who ended up at Gen Con last year—having bought their tickets before the change was made—will make it to Philly this time around. I’m thinking especially of players from Europe, Asia, and the western U.S.
The overseas arenas more frequently hold sanctioned tournaments, so these players are generally more practiced in that style of Vintage than their American counterparts. If you’re looking for a budget deck, for example, I might check out some of the European lists, since they’ll have put more time and energy into testing them.
However, Americans (especially those on the east coast) should have a better knowledge of the greater part of the metagame, since they’ll make up a large percentage of the field at Champs. The two largest metagames of Europe and the U.S. are obviously related—it’s still Vintage after all—but there are some interesting quirks that appear in European top eights. It would be difficult to list all the differences (especially because most are subtle), but you’re likely to see things like Pack Rat and Talrand, Sky Summoner, in a European list than an American one. Not bad, just different, something to watch out for.
Looking toward the Finals
I asked a few of my Team Serious teammates to come up with some predictions about the makeup of the Champs top eight. Vintage is a communal format (or a communicable format—it’s hard to tell the difference), so why should I have all the fun of forecasting?
We were split on the opinion of turnout, trying to decide over or under 200 players. I chose to be bullish and say more than 200. As I mentioned, this is the first year that players knew in advance the event would be held in Philadelphia, so there should be a bump there from people who picked Champs as their go-to event over Gen Con. Add to this some of the excitement from the release, however rocky, of Vintage on MTGO and the publicity of the Vintage Super League, and more players than ever are interested in Vintage and willing to try it out. So 200+ players: this is one prediction I’m really hoping I’m right about.
Most of the top eight predictions were similar: delve decks (mostly UR Delver-Pyromancer), BUG Fish, UW control in various shapes, Grixis Control or Slaver, Oath, and Workshops, with one or two outliers thrown in like combo, Merfolk, and Dredge. That all seems reasonable. Any of those could make it with proper play.
One teammate, Jake Hilty, predicted that at least one of the top eight finishers will play a “weird, out of nowhere deck.” There’s some credence to this: delve cards (and other Khans goodies) are largely untested, and there are still plenty of other options in the oceanic Vintage cardpool. Maybe someone will figure out how to make Bazaar Trader and Immortal Coil work together, finally. Actually, Elves might be a good choice for the out-of-nowhere position, if it can figure out how to beat (or avoid) faster combos throughout the day. Regardless it’s always fun to see what people come up with.
As for the finals, predictions were across the board. Two people predicted Workshops (a reasonable expectation if Gush decks are very popular); Paul Blakeley thought the finals would come down to UR Delver and BUG Oath but didn’t say which would win; Josh McCurley suggested that 2014 would see the first repeat Vintage Champion; and my Serious Vintage cohost Josh Chapple straight-up predicted that Jimmy McCarthy would take down the whole thing and that Mike Solymossy would get 53rd.
While I like the idea of a two-time Champ, I don’t think this is the year. There are too many good players to make anyone a lock. I do think that a known pro player will make top eight again, similar to Reid Duke’s top-four in 2013. I also think the top eight will have at least three players who live outside the U.S. At least one UW deck will make the elimination rounds with maindeck Rest in Peace and Helm of Obedience. My prediction is that it comes down to Terra Nova Shops versus a Young Pyromancer deck with Treasure Cruise, and the Cruises never leave port. Workshops will have its second Championship in 2014.
Good luck and have fun!
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