So Many Insane Plays – 1st Place With Baleful Strix Control: A Vintage Tournament Report

I’ve played a ton of Magic lately, surprising given how crazy busy my professional life has been recently, and the ideas have been flowing as if by divine inspiration. Perhaps that’s a consequence of playing Doomsday over and over again in both Vintage and Legacy: my neural pathways have been taxed to the limit, and I’m creating new Magical branches in my brain.

When Kevin Cron and I podcasted So Many Insane Plays #15 – Doomsday Scenarios recently, our goal was to cover the Bazaar of Moxen results and to present some Vintage and Legacy Doomsday scenarios. Yet, in covering Planechase 2012, I was struck by how insane Baleful Strix seemed, especially in light of the metagame we had just covered from the Bazaar of Moxen 2012 Vintage tournament.

The second place deck was MUD. Baleful Strix is pretty much exactly what you want against Workshops: it’s an artifact creature, which means it can be played under Lodestone Golem and Thorn of Amethyst without any problem, and trades with a Lodestone Golem while also netting you a card in the process. In other words, it’s a 2-for-1 there. With Goblin Welder, it’s almost impossible to deal with, and things can quickly spiral out of control for the opponent.

Dredge won the Bazaar of Moxen 2012 Vintage tournament. If you run Goblin Welder, your Dredge matchup improves dramatically because you can recur Nihil Spellbomb or a destroyed or countered Grafdigger’s Cage.

With the turn towards board control decks featuring an increasing number of creatures, Baleful Strix can function as both removal and a recurring and long-term source of card advantage with Goblin Welder.

In short, Strix can trade with both Tarmogoyf and Golem while getting you a 2-for-1 in the process. Then, you recur it with Welder to start pulling even further ahead.

I quickly brewed up a list, and posted to my team forums. I didn’t have any time to test it before the Team Serious open, so I spent most my time on the car ride up tweaking the list. Here’s what I played:

Vintage Baleful Strix Control, by Stephen Menendian

Business (36)
Force of Will
Mental Misstep
Nihil Spellbomb
Mana Drain
Goblin Welder
Baleful Strix
Dark Confidant
Sensei’s Divining Top
Ancestral Recall
Time Walk
Thirst for Knowledge
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Vampiric Tutor
Demonic Tutor
Blightsteel Colossus
Time Vault
Voltaic Key
Yawgmoth’s Will

Mana Sources (24)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Tolarian Academy
Scalding Tarn
Polluted Delta
Misty Rainforest
Underground Sea
Volcanic Island
Sideboard (15)
Nihil Spellbomb
Grafdigger's Cage
Lightning Bolt
Ingot Chewer

Now let me explain my other card choices.

Dark Confidant
If you are playing with heavy Black to cast an early Strix, you might as well be playing this guy. Confidant is strongest in a Workshop environment, and that appears to be what we are in at the moment. I included him as a 4-of, and never looked back.

Goblin Welder
Goblin Welder is the key combo card with Strix. It’s also very strong against Workshops. Right up until the tournament, I had 3 maindeck, and I wouldn’t hesitate to run 3 again. I only cut the third in order to find room for a maindeck Nihil Spellbomb.

Mana Drain
Force of Will needs no explanation, nor does Mental Misstep really. Mana Drain fills a gap: it protects you when you need a hard counter against decks like MUD or Oath of Druids. I wouldn’t run more than 2 because you never want to draw two in your hand at once. Two seems like the perfect amount, and it worked very well in the tournament.

Flusterstorm is best against Gush decks, then other Blue decks, and Dredge. You want 4 post-board against Gush decks, and that’s why I have 2 maindeck, and 2 in the sideboard.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
You want at least two Jace. One of the things that Baleful Strix does best is protect Jace. An argument could be made for more, and I could see cutting the perfunctory Thirst for Knowledge for an additional copy, but unlike some of my teammates (perhaps ironically so given my penchant for maxing out great cards like Gifts and Merchant Scroll), I’m not an advocate of 4 Jace.

0 Merchant Scroll and 0 Mystical Tutor
Both are excellent cards that I ultimately cut to make room for my two Drains. Neither card directly finds part of the Time Vault combo, which is why they were cut. The core of this deck is obviously comboing out with Time Vault. I also preferred to have a Sensei’s Divining Top over either one, since Top is important not only with Dark Confidant, but synergizes with Welder and Voltaic Key as well.

0 Hurkyl’s Recall
This may look strange to many of you at first glance, but remember that my deck has Goblin Welder as an answer to opposing artifacts. This is my go-to answer to Tinker for Blightsteel as well as to Workshop decks. I also have Jace to protect against Blightsteel.

You may find it puzzling that I ran Ponder, but not Scroll or Mystical. The answer is simple: Ponder is an important way to keep land light hands and to find more mana sources. This is vital to combating Workshops. Ponder can also help mitigate life loss with Dark Confidant.

Tolarian Academy
Perhaps one of the best parts of playing a deck like this is getting to abuse Tolarian. Strix is an artifact creature that boosts the Academy’s performance. This thing not only can tap to play Mana Drain, but will often tap to be able to play Jace.

Sideboarding Plans

Below you can find a handy sideboarding chart for common matchups.

You probably just bring in two Bolts for two Drains against Fish or Beats decks.

All you need to do against Landstill is hit a creature. A Strix, Welder, or Bob will prevent them from playing Standstill optimally. Welder is the best of all because you can then discard a Strix and Weld it in eventually, or potentially Weld out an opposing Mishra’s Factory.

Team Serious Open Tournament 06-09-2012

Round 1 vs. Jerry Yang (playing Dredge)
Round one I was very pleased to be paired against Dredge. I wasn’t expecting to win game 1, but I did.

Game 1: My opening hand didn’t seem that great, but I did win the roll. I played turn one Mox, Land, Time Walk, which allowed me a second land drop to cast Tinker. He drew a card, and scooped, hoping to conceal what he had.

See the sideboard chart above for my sideboard plan.

Game 2: My opening hand had Underground Sea, Black Lotus, Nihil Spellbomb, and Tinker. I strongly debated just playing turn one Tinker, but felt that wasn’t going to ‘get there.’ So, instead, I played Nihil Spellbomb, and turn two Goblin Welder, which basically won the game by itself. Within a few turns, I drew the Time Vault, so I just Tinkered for Voltaic Key to take the rest of the turns.

Games 2-0, Matches 1-0

Round 2 vs. Randal Witherell (playing Aggro MUD)
I won round 1 so quickly I had a chance to scout and see what others were playing, and knew Randall was on Shops.

Game 1: I kept a greedy hand that had 3 lands, Jace, Force of Will, and Time Vault. I let him resolve a turn one Su-chi, but was forced to Force of Will his second turn Lodestone Golem, leaving me with no business. I drew another Force and a Lotus, which I used to counter a Phyrexian Metamorph, but his Su-Chi ultimately ended the game. I had no business keeping that hand. My deck is too good to keep such a weak draw.

Game 2: This game was brought to you by Baleful Strix. I played turn one Mox Jet and Tolarian Academy into Baleful Strix, drawing another card. Randall led with a turn one Metalworker, and I seriously contemplated just hitting it with Ingot Chewer, but my hand had Force and a Ponder to pitch, and it had Academy, Mox Jet, and a Mountain for mana. I played Mountain and Voltaic Key and passed the turn.

On his second turn, he activated Metalworker, and revealed: Lodestone Golem, Pithing Needle, Metamorph, Arcbound Ravager, Lightning Greaves, and Mox Emerald.

The only card that concerned me was Arcbound Ravager. The Ravager could not only attack for like 8 damage right now, but then trade its counters to the Metalworker if I blocked with Strix. I decided the card I needed to stop was the Ravager. Strix would easily trade with Golem.

Randal played Golem, which I let resolve, Pithing Needle naming Time Vault, Greaves, and then cast Ravager, which I Forced. He finally played Metamorph, and surprisingly named Baleful Strix, which drew him a second Lightning Greaves, which he played. He equipped both his Golem and his Strix with Greaves.

We had a stalemate for a few turns, with my Strix holding back his cards. I finally drew a tutor, which I used to find Time Vault. I Ingot Chewered his Pithing Needle, and won the game by taking the rest of the turns.

Game 3: Randal mulliganed to 6, and decided – reluctantly I could tell – to keep his hand. I played turn one Dark Confidant, and he then attempted to copy it with Phyrexian Metamorph, and I Forced it. The next turn he played another Metamorph, and this one resolved. It mattered little though because I got the Baleful Strix + Welder combo going before too long and ultimately won the game with Time Vault.

Games: 4-1, Matches 2-0

Round 3 vs. Charles Rolko (playing Dredge)
I was extremely excited to be playing against Dredge again.

Game 1: This was awesome. He Serum Powdered, then mulliganed, then Serum Powdered again, then mulliganed again, and kept his 5 card hand. My opening hand was not that exciting: I played turn one Top. However, somehow I was able to play turn two or three Tinker. The best part, however, was that I had Time Walk in hand. So he thought he had another turn to attack, but when I untapped, I Time Walked and won the game.

I sideboarded per my sideboard chart above.

Game 2: My opening hand had both Spellbomb and Cage. I used my Spellbomb at the wrong time, and the problem this game is that he worked my Cage by using his Wispmares to generate Bridge tokens. I was unprepared for this eventuality, and got slowly overrun by Zombies. I wasn’t gonna let that happen again. My own Cage also prevented me from using Yawgmoth’s Will.

Game 3: I brought in Trinisphere, per my sideboard chart, and I kept him bottled up quickly. The problem is that his Leyline prevented me from recurring Spellbomb. On the penultimate turn, I Vampiric Tutored for Trinisphere to ensure that I’d win this game. I would have gotten Tinker, except the Blightsteel was stuck in my hand. From this point I took complete control over the game, but time was running very short. On turn 1 of extra turns, I was 1 mana short of being able to hard cast Blightsteel Colossus even with Key and Sol Ring in play. On turn 3 of turns I drew Ponder instead of a mana source, which guaranteed a draw.

Games: 5-2-1, Matches 2-0-1

Round 4 vs. Nat Moes (playing LabMan Oath)
Game 1: I knew he was on Oath, but I had a quandary. My opening hand had Mox, Land, Land, Dark Confidant, Baleful Strix, Flusterstorm, Mental Misstep, and Voltaic Key. If I don’t play turn one Bob, I’m just sitting dead. I cast Mox, Land, Bob.

Unfortunately he leads off with Misty Rainforest plus a Mox into Oath of Druids. Of course.

On my second turn, I play Strix, drawing a card, attack with Confidant, and pass the turn. Nat activates Oath and reveals Laboratory Maniac. Crap! I do some really cool stuff on my third turn, including trying to play Time Vault, but he is able to stop it with Steel Sabotage, and I can’t protect it. He untaps, activates Oath again to mill the rest of his library away, and wins on his draw step with the Laboratory Maniac trigger.

I sideboarded per my sideboard chart above.

Game 2: I have turn one Mox Jet into land into Ponder, putting Force of Will into my hand. He plays land, go. On turn two, I decide to gamble with Tinker for Black Lotus for Will, then replay my Mox and Lotus to cast Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus with Flusterstorm protection, which I end up not needing and so just cast Ponder again. Nat untaps, draws and scoops.

Game 3: I keep the risky hand of Jace, Force, Force, and 4 lands, which I soon regret. He plays a turn two Jace which he protects with Force. He starts fatesealing me, and just before he can ultimate, I top deck Tinker, and Tinker for Time Vault to win the game. To my credit, I did strategically use fetchlands to ensure that his fateseal wasn’t keeping bad cards on top of my library, and played to my outs (one of which hit!).

Games 7-3-1, Matches 3-0-1

Round 5 ID into Top 8
Games 7-3-2, Matches 3-0-2

Top 8 Quarterfinals vs. Randal Witherell (playing Aggro MUD)
It was amusing to me that all of my opponents except for Jerry Yang made Top 8. That was encouraging to me.

Game 1: My opening hand had Force of Will, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Brainstorm, Baleful Strix, fetchland, fetchland, and Ancestral Recall.

I played turn one fetchland, and passed. During Randal’s his first turn upkeep I broke my fetchland for Island, and cast Ancestral, drawing Ponder, another Force, and an off color Mox.

He played Strip Mine on my Island. He then played Black Lotus and a Mox into Lodestone Golem, which I Force of Willed, pitching Baleful Strix. Had he not Strip Mined my Island, I may not have done this. I might have just cast Strix next turn to thwart his Lodestone.

I untapped and drew Vampiric Tutor. I played another fetchland and a Mox, and then went into the tank. I could either Ponder here or play Vampiric on his end step. If I wait to Vamp, and he has double Sphere, I could be in trouble, even though his hand is depleted. I decide to sac my fetchland and cast Ponder. Unfortunately, the Ponder doesn’t reveal me a land. He has another Wasteland, which leaves me landless. The good news is that I draw another land next turn. However, I’m forced to Force his next threat. I cast Vamp end of turn for Lotus and untap and play Lotus into Jace. I Jace-storm and pass the turn back. He does nothing.

I untap and Jacestorm again, putting back Blightsteel Colossus and Flusterstorm, and play a fetchland. On his turn he played Triskelion, which I Main Drain. I untap and Demonic Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will, and cast it for the win.

Game 2: Randal mulliganed to 6, and lamely played Urborg, Mox, Mox, Staff of Domination. I played turn one fetchland. He played no spell on turn two, and I cast turn two Dark Confidant. He Wastelanded my Sea, and Metamorphed the Confidant. I battled back by landing a Goblin Welder, which helped turn the tide and I took over the game, and the match.

Games 9-3-2, Matches 4-0-2

Top 4 Semifinals vs. Kevin Poenisch (playing Dredge)
I was willing to conduct a Top 4 split, except that my next opponent was a Dredge pilot, and I really wanted to play this out, as my Dredge matchup is ridiculous. However, other folks in the Top 4 really wanted to split and then take off, so I sacrificed some additional money to convenience the other folks. We split, and as I was first in the Swiss at the end of the Swiss rounds, was also the de facto tournament winner with 1st place.


I had a blast playing this deck, and would play it again in that kind of metagame in a heartbeat. I would definitely try to play the third Welder maindeck, however, over the Nihil Spellbomb. This deck is insane in certain environments, and weaker in others. Your mileage may vary, but I had a blast and was successful with the deck.

Until Next Time,
Stephen Menendian