For those who don’t know me, I’m a long time Vintage player and gamer. I don’t write very often, or post on the Internet, or even play Magic all that much anymore. As Jimmy McCarthy often says, we are now proud members of “Team Vintage Has Been.” I could probably sit here and tell you of the glory days, the SCG Power 9 days, the RIW tournaments, and splitting the same Mox Pearl at the Soldiery like 30 times so that we could all eat at Thurman’s. That would be fun for me, because if there is anything Vintage players have in common, it’s that they love talking about their moments in the sun. But I know you all, and if you’ve ever talked to me, you’ve probably already heard all my tired ass stories.
I think my career in Vintage has been better than most. The one thing that I’ve always wanted to do, the one thing I feel as though I have left to do, is Top 8 a Vintage Champs. No matter how confident I am going in to it, something always seems to happen. Okay, I lied, I’m totally going to talk about my glory days (and bad beats – always bad beats). I remember in 2006, I had won three Moxen in three weeks leading up to Champs, and went an amazing 1-2. One year I was 6-1 and I didn’t force a first turn Black Lotus against a Wizards deck, and they played a Meddling Mage and Voidmage Prodigy and blew me out real hard. So things don’t seem to work out for me (at Champs, at least).
So back to today, I actually felt pretty good in the weeks leading up to the event. I got the chance to play Vintage at NYSE III, and at a Grand Prix Atlantic City Vintage side event, and felt the rust falling off a little bit. I had a bunch of nights to myself to do some two-fisted testing, which was actually really helpful. Well, kind of helpful. It helped me weed out some truly terrible ideas at least. Hey did you guys know that a deck with 4 Gifts Ungiven and Mana Drains can’t beat Workshops in game one? You did? Well, I discovered that over the course of an evening. I discovered a lot of things. You probably already know most of them, because you play more Magic than me. I really thought I was making progress, and in some ways I was. I was certainly feeling like my play skill was coming back, and I was starting to get why some decks were good, and what was important for various archetypes. I was warming up to a few control decks, and I made a Landstill list that I was really high on. In my head, it was bonkers. I didn’t see what the bad matchups were. It even had things that I thought could get there against Dredge. I sat down for another marathon testing session against Workshops, because I wasn’t going to go in blind. I’m gonna be honest, Shops just kicked the shit out of the Landstill deck. I could’ve made more tweaks, but I think I was just sort of crestfallen about the whole thing, and I wanted to go back to the drawing board. I had about a week before Champs, and I was still without a deck.
At NYSE III I had played UR Control. I’m not calling it The Answer; that name is stupid. I went 5-3, and the deck felt really underpowered, but it was back and looming as a possibility all of a sudden. I knew it needed some extra gas, and earlier while testing other insane piles of shit, I had sort of fallen in love with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. This is a terrible analogy, but I sort of thought of him as the best Ophidian ever printed. He costs one less, and he is basically a pretty solid advantage machine once he flips. The problem was finding a shell in which I could take advantage of the flip abilities. A lot of times when flipping him in a control heavy shell, he just sort of sat there, staring up at me and saying “You know that Snapcaster Mage is better for this, right?” I was quickly running out of time, and I was getting desperate, so I went to my last resort for inspiration: The Mana Drain.
As an aside: how depressing is the logged in time counter at the top of TMD?
Anyway I wasn’t expecting much. I think over the years, it’s become apparent to me that I have pretty different opinions on Vintage theory than the average TMD poster. I still go there every once in a while, but I no longer take what I read as gospel, or feel the need to get in to conversations. Luckily for me, some dude named Matt Murray doesn’t share that sentiment with me, and was posting all about JVP. In fact, he had just put up some results with it that previous weekend. In fact, he had done so with a deck that is near and dear to my heart: Worldgorger Dragon Combo.
WGDX is probably one of my favorite decks of all time. It was a deck I got some of my first Top 8s with, it’s the deck I was working on and writing about when I got asked to join Team Reflection, and it’s a deck that I keep going back to whenever I get a rare opportunity to play Vintage. In fact, I had done pretty well with it just a few months prior at the Tales of Adventure Vintage tournament. The wheels fell off towards the end, but it was fun anyway. I figured it was worth a shot, so I sent Matt a PM asking for the list he ran that weekend, and he was gracious enough to respond. We went back and forth on Thursday and Friday morning and I started to really think he had made some solid choices, and come at the deck from angles I never would have thought of.
Friday afternoon, Mike Solymossy and Jimmy McCarthy arrived in Philly, and I told them that I was going to Dragon some people during the Vintage Prelim, but I wanted to get some reps in that night against Workshops. I guess a small history lesson for people who maybe weren’t around back when Dragon was an actual deck – it was always really good against Workshops. All you needed to do in order to win was resolve a two mana spell on your turn, or a three mana spell at instant speed. They have no countermagic or ways to reliably disrupt the combo. If things look bad, you can always just draw the game (with an animate enchantment repeatedly targeting your Worldgorger Dragon in an endless loop). We get home after a nice dinner, and immediately got to work on figuring this deck out. I played probably around fifteen games or so, with five being against Soly and ten being against Jimmy, after Soly tagged out so he could work on the Moat Control deck that he was locked in on. We played all game ones, and it wasn’t quite as easy as I remembered. It seemed like I won every game they opened on Ancient Tomb or worse and lost every game that they opened on Mishra’s Workshop. You guys will never believe this, but the deck is way better when they draw the best cards. I know that’s the kind of cutting edge analysis you’ve come to expect from Eternal Central. Anyway, I was sort of expecting the matchup to be a little better, so I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t worried. The games are a bit blurry, and I got a little looser than I normally am. At about 1:30am or so, Jimmy said “I hope you’re drunk, because if you play like this tomorrow, you’re gonna have a long day.” He was right.
Okay, so you can finally stop skimming because we’ve gotten to the part where I reveal the hot 75:
Worldgorger Dragon Combo, by JR Goldberg
The deck works because Animate Dead, Dance of the Dead, and Necromancy all create infinite mana when targeting Worldgorger Dragon. His ability removes all permanents you control, including the enchantment. When the enchantment leaves play, WGD goes back to the graveyard, triggering his leaves play ability and causing all of your stuff to come back untapped. You can then target the Dragon again when the enchantment comes back in to play, and make mana or cast spells in response to the comes in to play trigger. If you have Bazaar, you can mill your entire deck. Eventually, you can target Tasigur, the Golden Fang with the animate spell, and use your infinite mana to activate him a bunch, putting all your spells in to your hand, at which point you cast Ancestral Recall over and over on your opponent until they are dead.
This list is pretty unique in that it does not have a draw engine per say. Historically, Dragon has used Squee or Deep Analysis in conjunction with Intuition in order to offset the inherent disadvantage of Bazaar of Baghdad. This allowed you to outdraw the control decks of yesteryear like Slaver, until you were sure you could safely combo. Unfortunately, the days of patience beating blue decks are in the past. Creatures are too good now, and so is Gush. So card selection is a more important thing, which is where JVP comes in to play. Not only is he a mini-Bazaar for a turn or two, he allows you to recast spells to achieve the combo. Because you run Bazaar, your mana can be bottlenecked at times, which makes Jace better in this particular deck than Snapcaster Mage or a card like Regrowth. Also, because it actually gives a card the flashback ability, it allows you to use Force of Will’s alternate cost from the graveyard, which makes the combo very easy to protect.
The other card that draws some quizzical looks is Timetwister. I must admit that even Matt Murray had to explain this one to me, because it seems so out of place in a deck that needs cards in the graveyard. Not only is Timetwister an immensely powerful card, but it allows you to go off with Tasigur without using Ancestral Recall, if you have to remove it to Force of Will or Delve it away. Instead, you can cast Time Walk a few hundred times and then cast Timetwister to replenish your library. You can swing in with Tasigur, or you can hardcast Dragon and swing in the air if you need to get over Moat or something like that. It’s probably a corner case, but it’s great to have options considering how inherently fragile the combo and associated pieces are.
Speaking of that inherent fragility, I guess I should probably talk about the sideboard a bit. Except in a few notable metagames, Dragon has always been bolstered by having the ability to run a transformational sideboard. This allows you to win without utilizing the graveyard in game two, and keep your opponent guessing in game three. Historically, Oath was always a strong option to bring in, but the two most popular graveyard hate cards, Grafdigger’s Cage and Containment Priest, also demolish Oath, so that option was out. Matt was running something closer to the Minus Six board that Team Reflection came up with (a transformational Time Vault + Voltaic Key plan), but splashing some Monastery Mentors as well. I started with this, but after talking with Mike Solymossy, I didn’t think it was especially well positioned. Truthfully, the reason Minus Six was so strong was because you could surprise people with Mana Drain, which I couldn’t make room for. Without Drain, cards like Tezzeret and Tinker lose a bit of their luster. I think they are quite powerful, just not maximized with the current configuration. I had played around with Auriok Salvagers a little bit, as he also combos with Tasigur, and decided to have a small Bomberman package, in which I could bring in the Salvagers, a second Tasigur, and the Mentors, alongwith Cavern of Souls to make all the humans (including Jace) uncounterable. It was less reliant on the graveyard, but was still able to end games quickly if people didn’t see it coming. Best of all, it dodged the hate that people would be bringing in most often. It was small enough that I could also run cards to combat Workshops and Dredge, and even add a Flusterstorm to bring in against blue. The sideboard was finalized the morning of the tournament right before we got in the car.
Anyway, for those of you that have figured out all this on your own, you probably just want to see how the games played out. Full disclosure time: I never take notes during a tournament. Really, I can barely be trusted to write down my life total most days. I find it distracting. I have a pretty good memory for this sort of thing, but if I’ve screwed up something it’s not intentional, and please feel free to correct me. If something is vague, it’s because I don’t really remember and I’m just trying to bullshit my way through this.
Round 1 vs. William “Not the guy who wrote Neuromancer” Gibson with Show and Oath
William was a cool dude that I had never met before. He was wearing a Channel Fireball t-shirt, so I didn’t have any read on what he would be playing, but I was pretty sure he would be a better Magic player than me.
Game 1: I think we both mull to six and I keep a pretty slow hand that has Force of Will. I Vampiric Tutor for Ancestral, Force of Will his, and then resolve mine. He has a couple cards left in his hand, and I Duress him and he responds with a Vampiric of his own. He reveals a hand of Show and Tell, Omniscience, and land. I figure he has tutored for one of those two cards, and I take the Show and Tell. This was wrong, because he probably wouldn’t tutor for a second Omniscience there. He proves me right, untaps, and all his stuff is free from then on. I put in a Bazaar, for the record. I go off on the next turn, and we talk through if I can win even when all his counterspells are free. He seems dubious, but I walk him through the Time Walk plus Timetwister kill, which would have worked because he only had land in his hand at the time. He says he doesn’t want to argue in the first round of a Vintage tournament and scoops.
I hadn’t really thought about how to board against Show and Oath. I was sure he’d bring in some graveyard hate, but bringing in more creatures seemed less than ideal. I ended up bringing in the full Bomberman package and boarding out all the Dragons and Animates.
Game 2: I have a Cavern of Souls, a Jace, and a Mentor in my opener, and after casting a Mentor, I Gitaxian Probe a couple of times, and tutor up Time Walk, and it’s over pretty quickly. I think I got an Orchard token along the way. It seemed like he kept a more control oriented hand, which was trumped by Cavern.
1-0 in matches, 2-0 in games
Round 2 vs. Evan “Rampage: 2” Husney with UR Control
Evan is one of the coolest dudes in Magic. He helps run the “Tournament of Professionals” Magic ’95 format in Brooklyn, which is an absolute blast. There aren’t many dudes in Vintage that I enjoy shooting the shit with more than Evan. He played Allen Iverson’s favorite Vintage deck at NYSE III, and I was pretty sure he was running it back for this trial.
Game 1: Evan opens with a Chalice of the Void on zero, which I have a Force of Will for, but let resolve as I only have an off color Mox in my hand, and a bunch of other things to do. Unfortunately, my first three draws are Mox Jet, Black Lotus, and Mox Sapphire and I don’t really gain any traction. I Force his Blood Moon, but he lands a few more Chalices. I get a plan together to stabilize that involves casting Timetwister. The turn before I do so he plays a Consecrated Sphinx, and I scoop.
I sideboard the same as I did in round one, although I think I took out a couple Bazaars, and I may have brought in a Steel Sabotage or two.
Game 2: I have Mox Pearl, a fetchland, and a basic swamp in my hand, so I think I can get around an early Blood Moon. He does land one, but I’m able to Demonic for a basic Island and then draw a second one off the top a turn later. I land a Monastery Mentor and make some bros. Jace lets me flash back some good cards. Evan scoops to a second Mentor.
I board back in some Dragons and Animates, giving me some weird hybrid deck. I used to do this all the time with the Oath transformational sideboard, where I’d bring in Tinker, Sphinx, and control cards, and leave in the Animates and Dragons, and become a bad reanimator deck. I did this a lot as the day went on, actually. I think some people would not keep graveyard hate heavy hands because they felt as though they could fight on the stack just as easily.
Game 3: I win pretty quickly with Dragon. I don’t remember much about this game, but I’m pretty sure my opener had Bazaar and some jewelry, which generally gets there.
2-0 in matches, 4-1 in games
Round 3 vs. David “I can’t think of a clever nickname” Kaplan with Grixis Delver
Dave was an awesome guy and a great player. I’m pretty sure he Top 8’ed Legacy Champs last year, and he won the Tales of Adventure tournament a couple months ago for that beautiful Klug-altered Lotus. He was playing with it in his deck like a true champion.
Game 1: Dave really gets on the offensive early with a couple Gitaxian Probes and a few quick Cabal Therapies, which tear apart my hand. He Gushes on turn three and I think I’m absolutely buried. I start digging for anything, and I top deck a Probe, which I fire off just to see what I’m up against. Turns out his hand is mostly lands and a guy or two. I cast the lone Animate in my hand and take him through the loop.
I board the same as I have for game twos previously.
Game 2: This one goes long, and I eventually succumb to pressure from Delvers and Pyromancers. I have a late Intuition which I squander. My memory is fuzzy, but after I cast it, I couldn’t think of the cards I needed, and I ended up turning a 2-outter into a 0-outter. I had mana to cast Salvagers, but I was on a one turn clock, and I needed to Bazaar in to Black Lotus or Demonic Tutor. Instead, I put them and a Tasigur in the pile and cut myself off from mana.
Game 3: I have a hand with two lands, Salvagers, Vampiric Tutor, Intuition, and Misstep. I play a Sea and end of turn Vamp with Misstep backup to get Lotus, and play the Salvagers. I start the loop on turn three and Intuition for Tasigur, Tasigur, and Animate Dead because, I boarded out Nihil Spellbomb like a novice. It still gets there even if I lose some style points.
3-0 in matches, 6-2 in games
At this point I start to get a little worried about my chances, because I see a lot of bad matchups in the same bracket as me. There is a dude playing GW Hate Bears next to me one round. Jimmy is 3-0 with BUG, which is a total nightmare. Mith is also undefeated with Dredge, which I don’t really want to see either. Maybe I’ll dodge them all and get lucky, right?
Round 4 vs. “Mith Realized” with Dredge
Mith is awesome. We got drinks on Thursday night, along with Jaco, the proprietor of this fine website. He is always a pleasure to see at tournaments and grab a drink with on the rare occasion we are able to.
Game 1: I guess I should mention that Mith has Leyline of the Void in his main deck. Seems pretty shitty for me, especially because I have no outs to it in the 75. Hard casting Dragon does not seem like a reasonable out. I kept a workable seven and waited for Mith to resolve his mulligans. He keeps a five-carder with Leyline and double Bazaar. Oh well. I’m supposed to lose that one.
I bring in Mentors, Tasigur, Salvagers, and Priests. I figure maybe I can man plan it even with Leyline out there.
Game 2: Mith again has a turn zero effect. I play a land and pass, and he plays a Bazaar. I play a second land and he Bazaars on my end step. He untaps and dredges twice on his upkeep with Bazaar, putting a Narcomoeba trigger on the stack, and discarding the rest of his hand to Bazaar. I flash in Containment Priest to exile his guy. He passes back to me but scoops in pretty short order as he is really far behind at that point. I should note that he scooped before I had a chance to cast Animate Dead on the Elesh Norn in his yard, which I was looking forward to doing.
Game 3: I mulliganed to six, with one of those hands that is awesome but has no dredge hate. I sort of felt like I should just try and race in game three, and if he has Leyline all three games so be it. Fortunately for me, Mith mulls to oblivion and finds no Bazaar. I play a turn one Ancestral Recall and a turn two Animate spell. The magic Gods were kind to me in this one. When I played Dragon at Tales of Adventure, I got absolutely smoked by Dredge, although I had no sideboard for it. I was sort of expecting the same thing to happen here.
4-0 in matches, 8-3 in games
In the past couple tournaments I played prior to this I had lost my win-and-in rounds, and that was weighing pretty heavily on my mind. I find that the hardest part of playing sporadically is not the technical aspects or sideboarding, which I think is pretty natural for most players. It’s running in to mental fatigue for important matches. When you aren’t used to tournament conditions, it’s so tough to find that extra gear a lot of the time.
Round 5 vs. John “Maybe his name was actually something else” Summercorn with Merfolk
This happens once a tournament or so, and if you’re reading this, I’m deeply sorry, but I have no idea what this dude’s name was. It could be Ryan? John? I’m going with John. I’m sure if you slide in to the comments or something we can edit this embarrassment.
Game 1: I have zero idea what my opponent is on, but I get a spell Dazed on turn one. He plays a Wasteland and eventually a Cursecatcher, and maybe a Silvergill Adept. I spend a few turns cut off from Bazaar, but I’m able to resolve a couple spells with Delve, which is a stupid ability. I find another Bazaar and go off. I get to walk him through the loop a little bit, which is always fun.
I board in Mentors, Caverns, and Salvagers. I think about bringing in Priest as a blocker, but I think better of it because my life total doesn’t really matter in this match, and his dudes will probably Islandwalk by turn three anyway. I keep all the Dragon stuff in, and I board out permission because I assume he is Mono Blue, and therefore doesn’t have things like Swords to Plowshares that I really need to worry about.
Game 2: I think my opponent gets a little tunnel vision in this game, and decides to only worry about countering Animate effects. I land a turn one Jace with Cavern, which he casts Phantasmal Image on. I Ancestral, which resolves, and then I Bazaar and flip Jace. The next turn I Ancestral again, which he lets resolve. By this point I am way ahead on cards, and I combo through a Force of Will. I explain how I would go off with Time Walks, Tasigur, and Timetwister.
5-0 in matches, 10-3 in games
Rounds 6 and 7 vs. d00ds
I’m luckily able to draw the next two rounds. There are only three undefeated players, so poor Adrian Becker gets the pair down. I’m in first place in the Swiss going in to the final round, and fifth place after the win and in players finish up in round seven. I get paired against Danny Friedman playing some sort of Moat-based concoction. I don’t know where he got the decklist, to be honest. It was pretty original looking. Maybe I should ask Mike Solymossy if he knows anything about it.
Top 8 Quarterfinals vs. Danny “I like Slint way too much” Friedman playing Moat Control
I played against a lot of people I know in this tournament. Danny is a good friend who lives in Chicago, and is an excellent ambassador for Old School Magic. I don’t think I know anyone that enjoys playing Magic as much as Danny does. I’m always envious.
Game 1: Danny lands an early Sensei’s Divining Top, and Mana Drains a couple of spells. I try to go off, and Danny tries to Flusterstorm an enchantment, but eventually he is able to find a Swords that he had floating on top of his deck. I still had business in my hand, and it was early in the game, so I kept playing, but soon Danny resolved Jace and fatesealed me to death.
Game 2: I have a turn one Jace that gets forced. I play a second Jace. Danny casts Impulse in response, but he resolves, only to get Karakas’d back to my hand the following turn. I play a Mentor that eats a Swords to Plowshares. Danny had a perfect hand to respond to mine, which makes sense because his deck was all answers. I think he wins with another planeswalker of some sort.
5-1 in matches played, 10-5 in games played
So that was my tournament! This marks the third Vintage Champs Prelim that I have Top 8’ed. I have always played terribly the next day. It seems like there is a lesson in there somewhere. I actually played pretty well in the main event this year. I went 4-0 again before the wheels fell off, beating Oath, Dredge, Shop Aggro, and Grixis Delver along the way (David Kaplan again, poor guy). I played against unpowered Merfolk in the 4-0 bracket and he had replaced the Power with Stifles. So that sucked. I’m not sure if there was a worse matchup on paper in the entire room. I lost to Justin Kohler the round after that, who like Danny had Mana Drains and main deck Swords to Plowshares. I played one more for glory to go 5-2, but my heart wasn’t in it and I scooped. The list was pretty similar for the main event. I cut the two Gitaxian Probes and a Mental Misstep for an Echoing Truth, a Flusterstorm, and the third Thoughtseize. In the sideboard I cut Serenity, Flusterstorm, and the second Cavern of Souls for Engineered Explosives, the fourth Containment Priest, and an Energy Flux. I have no idea if these changes were correct or not. I missed Probe, but liked everything else. I’d probably try to find a happy medium going forward.
Overall I think the deck is pretty powerful, and well positioned right now. As long as the tempo decks continue to favor Lightning Bolt, there are a lot of decks that simply don’t interact with you in a meaningful way for game one, which allows you to really be aggressive in choosing your role. I’m sure there are a ton of interesting sideboard options that people way better at Magic than me will test and decide upon. Overall, I guess I’m just happy that both my performance and Matt’s the weekend prior have proven that Dragon can in fact win. There have been many times where I thought the emergence of Dredge killed it completely as an archetype. I’m looking forward to seeing if other people can put up results with the deck moving forward. Feel free to comment on the deck with questions, or hit me up on the Twitter machine @wrestlingbubble.
Lastly, I want to personally thank Matt Murray for being so forthcoming with the decklist to someone he didn’t know except as a name on Morphling.de. When I was playing a lot of Vintage years ago, the rule of the day was team secrecy and guarding decklists with your life. While I loved the fervor and competition that era produced, I think the new Vintage atmosphere that seems way more encouraging and social is a great thing, and can only help grow the format in ways that those of us from the Shortbus/MeanDeck/Reflection days could only dream of. I mean, we all just got finished playing in a Vintage Champs that had close to 500 people! The future looks bright, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.