When I, not 15 miles from home, earned my first (and hopefully last) Gen Con speeding ticket, I was worried a shadow might be cast on the rest of the weekend, but “The Best Four Days in Gaming” lived up to its name as always. From Wednesday night until Sunday, life was all about hanging out with friends, playing board and card games of all kinds, eating and drinking, and having a great time. For many Vintage Magic: The Gathering players, this was also the last big opportunity to get some tournament testing in before Eternal Weekend , coming up 21 August in Philadelphia.
For my part, though, there’s always too much interesting stuff going on at Gen Con to sequester myself in the Magic hall for four days.
Vintage at Gen Con
I played only one Vintage event at Gen Con, going 3-2 with a Day’s Undoing Belcher list similar to the one I talked about in my previous article. My sideboard was a more straightforward blue one with lots of answers to artifacts, but I didn’t play against Workshops so I don’t have a verdict there.
The event started with a bang as my opening hand of Tolarian Academy, Mox, Mox, Sol Ring, Goblin Charbelcher, Tezzeret, Ponder turned into an easy turn-one win when Belcher resolved and the first card on Ponder was Black Lotus. Things were up and down from there, though, as I lost that match, got the bye, won the next two matches in dramatic fashion (including two turn-two wins versus Burning Oath), and then barely missed a 4-1 performance in game three of round five.
That last was an exciting match. In game one, I was able to play Mind’s Desire for eight on turn two, easily winning with a free Charbelcher at that point. Game two I mulled to five and was close to winning except that my opponent managed to have three counters in his five-card hand to stop my final assault before he established Time Vault and Voltaic Key with my Time Vault. Had I thought about it, I would not have played my own Time Vault into his Dack Fayden. It’s unwise to tempt the Greatest Thief in the Multiverse.
In game three, I opened with Leyline of Anticipation, and my opponent played turn-one Tinker. The race was on. I had a couple of Moxes and Expedition Map, but could also have played Day’s Undoing. I went with Expedition Map, hoping to get Tolarian and win on my next turn without giving my opponent more cards, but in retrospect, I think Day’s Undoing was the better play.
By playing Day’s Undoing with my opponent’s Tinker on the stack, I put him in a tricky situation. If he attempts to counter Undoing, I can play a sideboarded Mindbreak Trap and potentially blow him out right there. (At the time, I wasn’t even considering trying to turn the Trap on.) If he doesn’t counter, he might draw his Tinker target, or I might draw a different counter for his Tinker. He might also draw half of Vault-Key and put me away even faster. I put a higher priority on putting Academy into play, but the aggressive play of trying to draw more cards was probably the better choice here, as is often the way with combo decks like Belcher.
As it was, he resolved Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus. I got Academy on my turn and played Day’s Undoing on his upkeep. He countered, and I played Ancestral Recall into Black Lotus and Mox Pearl to hardcast the Mindbreak Trap. If I had been able to make one more mana there, I could have played Mind’s Desire instead of the Trap. Ah, well. The Undoing resolved, thanks to the Trap, but my new seven cards weren’t good enough to prevent him from attacking.
Still, the Vintage Magic: The Gathering environment at Gen Con is always a great time. The events were smaller this year, around 30 players each, but the players are fun and dedicated to the format. I talked to people from around the U.S. and around the world, including Karl Reeves, who came all the way from Australia for the events.
The big development on the weekend seemed to be Brian Demars’s use of Hangarback Walker in Forgemaster MUD, which won him and Paul Mastriano byes for the Vintage Championship. Hangarback is difficult to remove using something like Ingot Chewer, Pulverize, or combat damage since it leaves a bunch of harder-to-remove Thopters in its place. It also fuels Kuldotha Forgemaster for multiple activations and is a scalable threat against other attackers and blockers. It seems like a hedge for the Workshop mirror, but Hangarback is equally effective on a stalled prison board against blue. For non-Workshop players without creatures, though, it’s should be fairly easy to race and puts no additional strain on the mana. I’m interested to see how it plays out over time.
Vintage Artist Constructed
A couple of months ago I shared an excited conversation with Mike Linnemann about which artist’s cards would combine to make the best Vintage deck. He, along with Josh Krauser of Original Magic Art, had conceived of the Vintage Artist Constructed format and was looking for some input from a Vintage player. At the time, though, he could only find me. I initially thought the format wouldn’t amount to much since I’m mostly unfamiliar with the art and artists of the game beyond a few favorites and recognizable pieces.
I followed up on some hunches, based mostly on some of Vintage’s powerful plays. Mark Poole has Ancestral Recall (and Ancestral Visions), Balance (and Restore Balance), Birds of Paradise, Tropical Island, and Island. Terese Nielsen has a lot of great cards, including Force of Will and some efficient creatures. In one of Josh’s introductory articles to the format, he suggested a green-white aggro deck for her, but one could do blue-white or Bant probably too. Ron Spencer’s deck has some neat synergies (Endless Cockroaches and Cabal Therapy) and Yawgmoth’s Will. There are also several solid aggro decks in the format, including Christopher Moeller, Greg Staples, and Steve Prescott, as well as some combo (Chippy Scepter-Chant or John Avon Mono-Brown), and some control (Kev Walker Rock and Mono Black).
The deck I immediately hit on and liked, though, was Dan Frazier. Frazier did all five original Moxes, which seemed like a great place to start. He also did Mox Diamond—more acceleration and some color fixing, necessary because his only basic land is a Swamp. Fortunately, going with mono-black provides some solid removal in Vendetta and Death Bomb, tutoring in Rhystic Tutor, and an artifact enabler in Xenic Poltergeist. There are plenty of good artifacts too, starting with Juggernaut, Forcefield, and Powder Keg, and including offbeat hits like Aladdin’s Ring, Ring of Ma’ruf, Jester’s Cap, Jester’s Mask, and the surprisingly good Whirling Catapult. Off-color splashes, enabled by Moxes, allow Earthquake and Berserk.
My plan was to drop turn-two Juggernauts and just go to town. As it turned out, there was a lot more nuance to the deck.
Smokin’ Dan Frazier, by Nat Moes
I was quickly dispatched in my first game versus Sam, who was playing WR Greg Staples Aggro. I was able to find Powder Keg, but it was far too late to make a difference. Juggernauts were merely speedbumps. Once I brought in Glooms from the board, however, everything was different. I played a turn-two Gloom in game two and completely shut my opponent out. It was a Berserked Soldevi Simulacrum and a Grapeshot Catapult that finished the game. Game three played out similarly, with Gloom being the ultimate decider and Juggernaut as the finisher.
— Grandpappy Belcher (@GrandpaBelcher) August 1, 2015
My second round was against Drew playing Chippy Scepter Chant, which, before the tournament, I had no idea would be a deck in the format. Drew’s build was aggressive, using cycling, cantrips, and Mishra’s Bauble to dig for the combo. There were a few neat options for him to put on an Isochron Scepter, including Doom Blade. As it turned out, despite having no artifact removal, I could still answer the combo using Xenic Poltergeist and Vendetta, animating the Scepter and then removing it. Who knew?! That’s essentially how each game ended; I broke out of Scepter lock and ended the game with creatures. In one game, Xenic Poltergeist dealt the final point of damage.
Vintage Artist Constructed is off the hook. This is Dan Frazier vs. Chippy! pic.twitter.com/723kTupURu
— ThallidTosser (@ThallidTosser) August 1, 2015
After a quick 2-0, though, my day would go downhill quickly. I played against Josh and his Mono-Blue Mark Tedin Control next and did not have good games. Mana Drain and Memory Lapse both came online before most of my threats, and Nevinyrral’s Disk and Mind Control could clean up the rest. By the time Braingeyser and Draining Whelk showed up, I was very much done for. I’m not sure there’s a good way for me to build Dan Frazier to beat Mark Tedin, but both decks have a great old-school feel to them.
The final deck I faced, featuring an artist I had never heard of, was RB Dave Kendall Aggro. There are quite a few good creature and removal spells here, and the deck has a reasonable combo in Goblin Bombardment, Gravecrawler, and a zombie (in my case it was Diregraf Ghoul). Most of my deck was too slow; his permanents were too varied for Powder Keg to be effective; and Vendetta and Death Bomb, with their “non-black” clauses, were right out. Without a sufficiently broken opener, I wouldn’t stand a chance.
Overall, the field felt balanced, and it’s a unique experience—fun and kinda goofy. The decks fall somewhere below Legacy in power level, considering that restricted cards are spread out and many are going to be playing creatures on some level. I don’t believe any deck went undefeated in the five-player, round-robin event, but Dave Kendall may have.
I could have built my deck with more consistency in mind, had I known the metagame a little better. More maindeck Powder Kegs should have helped some against the aggro rush, and things like Walking Dead or more Earthquakes could have helped there as well. The Juggernaut plan was effective (especially with early multiples), but it definitely can’t be relied upon to win. Whirling Catapult was surprisingly good, and I would definitely play more of those. Likewise, I never thought I would say, “This deck needs more Xenic Poltergeists,” in seriousness, but I did and would play all four in the future.
Mox Diamond and Death Bomb were both too taxing to use. I’d cut at least one, maybe two Diamonds, and relegate one or two Death Bombs to the board. Storm Cauldron I question a little (I resolved it twice), but it seemed effective with multiple moxes in play to mitigate its drawbacks. I’d keep it as a one of. Aladdin’s Ring and Ring of Ma’ruf were too expensive, even as one-ofs. Aladdin’s Ring is at least strong removal, though, if it does hit play, and it works with Poltergeist. Overall, cutting some of the “fun” cards for more effective ones would make for a stronger deck.
This will be my final article for LegitMTG. I thought a Gen Con wrapup would tie nicely with a column wrapup. Starting in a week, I will have a similar Vintage-focused column at Gathering Magic, beginning with an Eternal Weekend preview and retrospective. I’ll have updates on Twitter for when the first article goes live, or you can check in on Gathering Magic.
Thanks to LegitMTG for all the great readership and support they’ve provided to Vintage over the past two years. Legit has a pretty good lineup of eternal and non-rotation format writers, and I’m confident that Justin Waller, Matt Hazard, and other Vintage writers will continue here when I leave off.
Thanks for reading!
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