The Vintage Advantage: Sins of the Past

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

08_12 The Vintage Advantage
Vintage Champs is here in four days, and even though I can’t make it myself, I’m still excited that everyone else will be able to have fun playing the grandest, most exciting format in Magic the Gathering.

Recent weeks have been important for Vintage, so much so that we might look back on the fall of 2013 as being a watershed period for the format. In addition to seeing how Vintage Champs handles the move from being part of GenCon to being part of Eternal Weekend, Wizards is also releasing Eternal-legal cards in Commander 2013 and has recently announced that Vintage will be supported online with the release of Power and Vintage Masters to MOTL next year.

I think this is all great news for Vintage. Eternal Weekend should help encourage people to play Vintage without the expense of going to GenCon, and it will give significantly better prizes, including ones for un-Powered “budget” decks. The continued release of Commander sets gives eternal formats access to cards that don’t have to be vetted for formats like Standard and draft, so additional design space is opened that Vintage can take advantage of. And online Vintage, which I will undoubtedly look at further in a future article, is exciting if simply because it will give players, new and old, access to a sanctioned version of the format that isn’t limited by geography and time.

Fortunately and unfortunately for me (and you readers), I haven’t had time to fully enjoy or wrap my head around these developments since my wife and I are in the process of buying a house and have also taken a recent vacation, gone to an out-of-state wedding, and are going to a work conference. Vintage and a lot of other things have taken a back seat to life in general, but I expect to be writing more, at least until the holidays.

And since I wasn’t really sure what I could write this week that would be especially useful to people four days before Champs (people who are going should already be prepared; people who aren’t going aren’t going), I thought I would just recount some of my favorite or interesting Vintage experiences.

I’ve played Vintage since 2004 when I graduated college. I had taken a break completely from Magic before that, but friends had gotten back into the game and were playing sanctioned Vintage at a local store. Since then, I’ve played Vintage almost exclusively, dabbling in Legacy periodically for Grands Prix and other large events, as well as some prerelease events when I had time.

Throughout my Vintage career, I’ve played many different decks, depending on what interests me and what I think is good. When I first started, in sanctioned and five-proxy events, I was limited by budget to various Fish decks, though I did play Helm of Awakening Eggs for many events as well. In 2007, when Rite of Flame, Simian Spirit Guide, and Empty the Warrens had been printed, I switched to various builds of RG Belcher (with and without lands, with and without other colors, trying different win conditions, and so on) and played those almost exclusively for several years. Part of this was because I didn’t always have a regular testing group, and Belcher was easy enough to goldfish, then take to a tournament and get lucky. Once I had a regular group to play with again, I started playing more varied decks and haven’t really stuck to any particular list or archetype for multiple tournaments since then. Every time I think I’ve found something good, a new card or strategy comes along that looks fun or powerful and makes me want to switch.

The games below are from throughout my Vintage career, at different points in the tournament, both winning and losing; I’ll try to give a sense of what was going on and what you might take away from the experience (or what I took away from it). Most of these were recorded in tournament reports either on my blog or on Vintage websites. I highly recommend writing about tournament experiences as a way to remember and rethink lessons learned from playing.

Finals – Dredge versus Paul Mastriano on Doomsday, Summer 2007

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve played Dredge at a tournament. I think it’s an interesting and challenging deck, especially before Dread Return and Bridge from Below kicked it into high gear in Time Spiral block, but it’s not a deck I pick up very often. This game would have been around the printing of Future Sight, since I remember having Bridges. Doomsday lists (which now win in Vintage with Laboratory Maniac) were playing a fragile win of Yawgmoth’s Will into a Research // Development combo with Tendrils at the time.

Paul and I had the usual games one and two: I took the first one by dredging and disrupting long enough to attack with Flame-Kin Zealot and some zombies; his hate beat me in game two and he combo’d. My sideboard unconventionally had some Duresses and Extirpates in it, and I planned on slowing the game down a bit in games two and three to overcome hate. My opening hand gave me a Duress and an Extirpate and not much else, so I used them.

I Duressed Paul on turn one to see a hand that had some graveyard hate, as well as a clear path to the Doomsday combo: a mox and land into Demonic Tutor and then Dark Ritual to play Doomsday next turn. I took the graveyard hate, expecting that Paul would then go for the combo. He set up with Demonic Tutor as expected, then on his turn two cast Dark Ritual into Doomsday and stacked his library:

Black Lotus
Ancestral Recall
Lotus Petal
Yawgmoth’s Will
Research//Development (to get back Lotus, Petal, and Tendrils of Agony from the sideboard).

He started his combo, cracking Lotus for three blue for Ancestral into his remaining cards, then using Petal for black to play Yawgmoth’s Will. This opened him up to my Extirpate, which I used on his Lotus, leaving him with no mana and no library. He was surprised, but realized almost immediately that was game.

It’s hard to suggest playing around unconventional traps, but surprising cards can be a boon for the player who has them. Paul really had no reason to expect Extirpate there since it’s never been a Vintage staple, especially out of the sideboard of a Dredge deck, so I just tried to set him on a path I could end. That unexpectedness definitely worked in my favor there, though, as did uncounterability and having the (fortunately) correct card for the situation.

Round 3 – LabMan Oath versus Mono-Red Burn, June 2012

This was the middle round of a lousy tournament for me. LabMan Oath was a good control deck before Lightning Bolts became popular and Griselbrand was printed as a superior Oath of Druids target. The idea was to Oath into Laboratory Maniac and then Oath again next turn to empty your library for the win; if that went wrong, you could play Memory’s Journey to get back Yawgmoth’s Will and win with Tendrils of Agony.

A week before this event, I had played LabMan Oath to a top-four finish and was feeling good about my chances here, but Mono-Red Burn is a nightmare of a matchup. It’s not a deck that gets prepared for in Vintage since its slow speed and poor disruption make it a walk for most decks, but a ton of Lightning Bolts and other red removal is perfect against a deck trying to win with a 2/2.

I held off my opponent in game one, even using Nature’s Claim on my own mox at one point to stay alive while the Maniac plan worked. In games two and three, knowing that I couldn’t just Oath into Maniac and expect to win, I was trying to build a hand of counters that would help play through burn. In the meantime, my opponent was attacking with Magus of the Moon and shooting fire at my head. I just couldn’t get anything going! He killed me in game three with a miracle Thunderous Wrath.

It may be infrequent and somewhat luck-based, but a properly built and metagamed budget deck really does stand a chance in Vintage. I don’t remember how this player’s tournament turned out, but I can definitely see a similar list doing well in a creature-heavy metagame without a lot of combo. Don’t underestimate your opponent or their deck.

Top Eight – Belcher versus Mono-Red Shop Aggro, February 2008

This is one from the high point of my Belcher days, when I went at least a year without playing anything else in Vintage, and most of my opponents knew that too. The list I was using here had just one land and could play Empty the Warrens, Goblin Charbelcher, or Living Wish into Storm Entity to win.

My opponent, a regular player whom I had faced numerous times, opened with his traditional turn-one play against me: Magus of the Moon. We had a bit of a struggle in game one since he played a Sphere of Resistance on turn two, but the Magus did nothing against me. Not only was I playing just the one Taiga, but Magus of the Moon still let it produce red mana! He cut himself off of Workshop and Ancient Tomb mana as well as Wastelands, to make a Gray Ogre. I played Belcher on turn and killed him once I found activation mana.

Game two, he opened with Magus again, and again I played Belcher on turn one and killed him.

This happened at several events against this player. It seemed like every time we’d met, I’d be on Belcher and he would be on Mono-Red Shops, leading with Magus of the Moon. I appreciated the free wins but found it hard to believe he never had better potential openers, at least in games two and three.

Anyway, learn from your mistakes. There’s no reason to continue banging your head against a wall. If your methods aren’t working, you’ll have to adjust.

Round 2 – Mono-Red Shops versus Kevin Cron on Snapcaster Control, October 2011

I had put together a bad Workshop control list, harkening back to the days when a Jester’s Cap activation was a game winner against many of the blue control lists. Basically, I wanted to play some of my favorite cards and included Caps alongside Goblin Welders and a host of more traditional lock pieces. I did not, for whatever reason, include Lodestone Golems; I was planning to win the long way, with Barbarian Ring and Crucible of Worlds.

Kevin won game one, beating me with Snapcaster Mage after I had Capped his bigger win conditions. In game two, I Capped him twice pretty early, taking Tinker, two Trygon Predators, two Snapcasters, and Time Vault. However, since he still had two Jaces and one or two Snapcasters we played on. He resolved Snapcaster, Yawgmoth’s Will and Gifts Ungiven, and we played on. He blew up Crucible and resolved Jace, and we played on. He hardcast Blightsteel Colossus, and we played on. He was at four life and I had active Barbarian Ring in play, waiting for him to play into it. Staring down Colossus, I topdecked a second Barbarian Ring. I played Phyrexian Metamorph, which he expected, knowing he had multiple ways to deal with the resolved creature (namely bouncing it with Jace).

He let it resolve.

I copied Mox Ruby and used my two Barbarian Rings to deal the final four damage.

This would be a lot more exciting story if I went on to win game three and took the match, but game two was long enough that we drew instead and I went on to finish the tournament poorly. Still, it was a lot of fun. Since the match went long, there were lots of people watching the conclusion. I always feel my heart rise in my chest when things are about to get rad.

The lesson here is two-fold: first, pet cards won’t often win you tournaments (but they can be fun); second, in Vintage, you can’t assume anything. The cardpool is broad and deep and you may get fooled if you don’t take all the variables into account.

Round 2 – Tidespout Tyrant Oath versus 5-Color Vial Fish, February 2011

Tidespout Tyrant worked in Oath of Druids lists with Gush since it had the ability to play the control role simply by playing spells and bouncing opposing permanents or to play combo by repeatedly bouncing your own moxes to make infinite mana and storm. When Jace, the Mind Sculptor, was printed, making infinite mana and then bouncing Jace repeatedly let you draw your deck with the Brainstorm ability.

My opponent and I had split the first two games. He dominated in game one; I dominated in game two; so we tried to have a real game three. He played a Tarmogoyf and passed, and I answered with Oath, which he blew up with Qasali Pridemage. My opponent got a good hit in with Goyf and Thoughtseized me. I Brainstormed in response and had a hand that looked like:

Mox Ruby
Land
Brainfreeze
Black Lotus
Vampiric Tutor
Tidespout Tyrant
Land

If I kept Ruby, Lotus, and Tyrant, I could hardcast the Tyrant next turn. I put Lotus on top with Brainfreeze under it, hoping he would take Vampiric. He did! I hardcast Tyrant into my opponent’s empty hand next turn, took one more hit from Goyf, and then combo’d out with infinite storm into Brainfreeze.

This was a fun finish to the game (for me), and I felt pleased with myself for getting my opponent to play that way. Having proprietary knowledge of the gamestate is especially useful in Vintage, when things can change so quickly because of tutors, card drawing, and fast mana. Of course, I don’t remember the gamestate entirely, but even if he had taken the Tyrant, having Vampiric Tutor would probably have been A-OK too.

Top Four – UBR Storm versus Tezzeret Control, May 2010

This was a fun event in Pennsylvania and the first one in some time that I had done well playing something other than Belcher. I was confident going into the top eight and dispatched my opponent there without trouble.

My deck was basically a Grixis combo list that used Dark Confidant to fuel either Empty the Warrens or Tendrils of Agony; it could also Tinker into the bot du jour, Sphinx of the Steel Wind. I was on the play in game one of top four. In the first dozen or so turns my opponent couldn’t do much of anything, since I often had triple counters for any business spells he would try thanks to Force and Drain.

Eventually out of control cards, I hardcast Sphinx, the first threat I had seen. My opponent played Lim-Dul’s Vault at the end of my turn and set himself up with Sower of Temptation, which resolved. I still had plenty of mana, and he was at 10 from Mana Crypt rolls. Since his hand was depleted, I doubted he had counters. I played Merchant Scroll on my turn. First, here’s what I should have done:

1. Merchant Scroll for Mystical Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will.
2. Brainstorm into Yawgmoth’s Will and play it.
3. Mystical Tutor (out of the graveyard) for Tendrils of Agony.
4. Ancestral Recall into Tendrils of Agony and win the game.

Here’s what I did instead:

1. Merchant Scroll for Repeal and Repeal Sower of Temptation.

He replayed Sower and I countered. Then he played Yawgmoth’s Will and I lost to Tezzeret, the Seeker, and Time Vault combo.

Yes, I saw the Mystical Tutor play while I was Scrolling. Why I didn’t do it, I don’t know. For some reason I wanted to continue the control role despite knowing that I was out of control spells. Going back through my tournament reports, there are a few instances like this where I simply overthink the situation and, instead of going for victory, go more for not losing. It’s something I’ve improved at, but it still happens. Remember that, for all the times they can, there are times when your opponent simply can’t stop you. When you have to win, go for it.

Reading through old reports to find these few (and there are so many more) was a lot of fun. Win or lose, I think of Vintage as a vibrant format with so many intricacies and opportunities to outplay opponents or change directions on the fly. I hope everyone who goes to Eternal Weekend has an awesome time and comes back with lots of Vintage and Legacy tales to tell. Good luck, have fun, and enjoy Philadelphia!

Nat Moes
@GrandpaBelcher

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