So Many Insane Plays – Trends & Predictions for 2012 & A Vintage Tournament Report

(Editor’s Note: This former Downloadable Product has now been made free to all customers. Enjoy!)

Welcome Vintage addict, and happy holidays. In this article, I will present my final tournament report of the year, in which I narrowly missed Top 8 on account of a few critical play errors. I took more detailed post-match notes than in recent tournaments, so I may delve more deeply into game states. This kind of analysis is among the most pedagogically helpful for Vintage readers, and will hopefully be entertaining as well. But perhaps just as important is my analysis of the trends of the format and my predictions for 2012.

Readers note: If you are reading a hard copy of this article, have a pen or pencil available. I recommend that you print out a copy of this article to get the most out it. Throughout this article I’m going to ask you to examine lines of play, commit to one of several options, and then analyze them.

Last month I published what I thought might be the final evolution of Gush for 2011. Mystic Remora is excellent in an environment accelerating with the contours predicted by Brian DeMars. It functions like a more efficient, and Blue, Dark Confidant, while also shielding your spells in stack wars. However, the environment lurched sharply in the other direction.

Landstill ascended the Vintage metagame like a rocket, and the fallout has been a spate of creature-based strategies, culminating in Team R&D’s Delver Tempo deck. Others have split the difference. Paul Mastriano played Tarmogoyfs in a Mystic Remora/Gush shell in order to defeat Landstill, and I came to a similar conclusion that week. I played three Green creatures maindeck in my Remora Gush deck.

Here is what I played at the Sandusky event now known for R&D’s Delver Tempo deck:

RemoraGush with Goyfs, by Stephen Menendian

Business (40)
Force of Will
Mental Misstep
Mindbreak Trap
Mystic Remora
Quirion Dryad
Trygon Predator
Blightsteel Colosssus
Demonic Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Mystical Tutor
Merchant Scroll
Ancestral Recall
Time Walk
Yawgmoth's Will
Hurkyl’s Recall

Mana Sources (20)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mana Crypt
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Underground Sea
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island
Sideboard (15)
Trygon Predator
Ingot Chewer
Volcanic Island
Lightning Bolt
Leyline of the Void
Yixlid Jailer
Tormod’s Crypt
Red Elemental Blast

This is essentially the Remora Control deck I ran in November, but having succumbed in the finals to Landstill, I added Green creatures to combat that menace. For specifics on the card selection in Remora Control, please check out my article from last month. I explain in more detail there the theory and practice of Remora Gush.

I was uncertain about the creature configuration. Tarmogoyf is simply the best creature against Landstill. But Goyf seems markedly worse in an environment with lots of creatures. I anticipated more Fish decks than in recent months. The appearance of Delver justified those concerns and proved my expectations. If my opponent has a Tarmogoyf, I’d rather have a Dryad in most cases. Tarmogoyfs are symmetrical, and in a creature stand-off, your Goyfs are generally weaker than the opponents if they have Exalted triggers. For these reasons, I settled on a 2/1 split. The idea is that I could have a Goyf and a Dryad in play against my opponent’s pair of Goyfs. My Dryad will eventually reach critical mass, while the Goyf holds the other Goyfs at bay. I hoped that having 1 Dryad wouldn’t decide any critical Landstill games.

I cut the two Jaces and the Sol Ring from my Remora Control deck to make room for these three Green creatures. This is a marginal change in terms of the body of the deck, but a dramatic change in terms of the strategic focus. I also corrected the previous error of having 1 Flusterstorm and 3 Preordain instead of just 4 Preordain (which I mentioned in my previous article).

Since it appeared that Landstill was the only bad matchup in the field, I felt that this version of my Remora Gush deck would shore up that matchup, giving me universally favorable pairings (or, at a minimum, no truly bad matchup).

For reference, my sideboard plans were as follows:

Sideboarding Against Workshops:
+1 Trygon Predator
+2 Lightning Bolt
+1 Volcanic Island
+2 Ingot Chewer
-4 Mental Misstep
-2 Mindbreak Trap

Sideboarding Against Dredge:
+4 Leyline of the Void
+1 Yixlid Jailer
+1 Tormod’s Crypt
-2 Tarmogoyf
-2 Trygon Predator
-2 Mindbreak Trap

Sideboarding Against Blue Control:
+2 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Pyroblast
-2 Trygon Predator
-1 Mana Crypt

Sideboarding Against Fish/Beats:
+2 Lightning Bolt
-2 Mindbreak Trap

Sandusky Tournament 12-03-2011

We arrived on site just before the tournament was to begin with a rather strong turnout of around 30 players for a Saturday afternoon in Sandusky in December. The space was incredible. Each tournament table was stocked with a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, a box of Kleenex, paper and pens for note taking and life totals. The room was spacious (enormous, really) and well lit. This was one of the most impressive stores I had ever seen in the United States hosting Vintage tournaments.

Round 1 vs. Gush Control
Game 1:
I won the die roll, and elected to play first.

My opening hand is:

Would you keep this hand? (Yes/No) (Circle one)

The merits of this hand are undeniable: it has neither too few mana nor too few spells. It has a healthy mixture of both. It has a sequence of plays that synergize, and it can meld them together. It may be, however, too vulnerable to Mental Misstep.

My opponent announced that he’d mulligan to 6.

What is your plan? What is your opening play? How do you sequence the rest of your hand?

* Think about it for a moment *

The goal with any hand is to maximize your chances for resolving the most important spells. Baiting and information manipulation is a critical part of accomplishing that goal. If you were, for example, to deploy all of your artifact acceleration, and then play Fastbond, Fastbond would be a less threatening play. With only 2 cards left it hand, it is unlikely that you have both another land and the Gush that would make Fastbond immediately useful and deadly.

Which spell is more important to resolve here? Fastbond or Mystic Remora (circle one).

Fastbond is a scary turn one play to face. But the real threat of turn one Fastbond is the possibility that a player has two Gushes in hand, and a second land to bring them online. Those are the hands that can potentially win on turn one, or create immediate, overwhelming card advantage.

The ultimate question with this hand is sequencing. Do you lead with Mystic Remora or Fastbond? But the decision of which is more important will determine the sequencing of your artifact acceleration as well, for reasons just explained. Deploying all of that jewelry will make Fastbond less effective bait.

Fastbond is an amazing card, but it does little in a situation like this. Not only are there no Gush in hand, but we don’t even have a second land. Mystic Remora, on the other hand, can be paid for many turns, and will protect any spell gotten with Vampiric Tutor. The goal, then, is to resolve Mystic Remora, and then use the Remora to shield the spell that is gotten with Vampiric Tutor. So, the two questions that remain for this hand are: 1) what should you tutor with Vampiric Tutor (and when)?, and 2) how do you sequence the artifact acceleration with Fastbond and Mystic Remora?

The opponent is unknown at this point. But the main possibilities in terms of them interacting now are: 1) Force of Will, 2) Mental Misstep, and 3) Mindbreak Trap. Interfacing each possibility, and weighing the probability of each, is what makes Vintage so difficult.

Mindbreak Trap is yet another reason not to lead with artifact accelerants. Yet, it is the least likely possibility. Most players may or may not Force of Will a turn one Fastbond or Mystic Remora, but they will almost certainly Mental Misstep either, if given a chance. Fastbond, here, must serve as bait for Mystic Remora. Sequencing it so, however, will expose Mystic Remora to a possible Mindbreak Trap. This is a risk that must be accepted, given that it is a lower risk.

The more marginal question is whether to play another Mox before Fastbond, to allow the opponent to Trap it. I did not feel the need to resolve that question.

Turn 1:
I played Underground Sea, Mox Emerald, and cast Fastbond. My opponent played Mental Misstep. I tapped the Underground Sea, and cast Mystic Remora. It resolved, and my plan succeeded. I successfully baited a Mental Misstep with Fastbond in order to resolve Mystic Remora. I played my other Mox, and my Lotus, and passed the turn.

My opponent played a Blue fetchland, and passed the turn.

Turn 2:
On my upkeep, I faced a difficult choice: do I Vampiric Tutor? And, if so, what for? One of the most difficult decisions for new Vintage players is manipulating tutors effectively. These two questions are critical. What would you do?

1) Would you cast Vampiric Tutor here? (Yes/No)
2) If, so, what would you get? (Tinker/Ancestral Recall/Other) (circle one)

My first idea was to Vamp for Tinker. I can pay for Remora, then cast Tinker with Lotus, sacrificing the other Mox. However, if my opponent plays Force of Will, and counters my Tinker, then I will only be able to pay for the Remora for one more turn, and get one Remora draw out of the unfavorable exchange.

The other possibility is to simply Vampiric Tutor for Ancestral Recall. However, that play is inferior to doing nothing. This is the reason: if you play Vamp for Ancestral, you can’t play it now anyway, since your only source of Blue mana is Underground Sea (aside from breaking Black Lotus). It makes more sense to wait, then play Vamp on the opponent’s turn. Then, you will be able to play Ancestral Recall on your third turn. Alternatively, if you need to find something else, waiting will give you more information to make a more informed decision.

Turn one Mystic Remora, turn two topdeck tutor is one of the ideal sequences of a Mystic Remora deck. Tutor targets are generally ‘must-counter’ spells, and they playing them under a Remora will compel the opponent to walk into the Remora. I talked about this in my Remora Gush primer.

I decided not to Tutor here. I simply paid for the Remora with the Ruby, and moved to my draw step, where I drew a Quirion Dryad. Now I confronted a fourth major decision in this game: do I play the Dryad here off of my Emerald/Sea, or do I hold the Sea up for Vampiric Tutor?

What would you do? Cast Dryad or hold Sea up for Vampiric Tutor? (Circle one)

One of the disadvantages of Dryad relative to a card like Tarmogoyf is that it only reaches maximum power when played before other spells. Tarmogoyf is the same power and toughness regardless of sequencing. In addition, if I play Dryad, and then Vamp for Ancestral, each of these moves will grow the Dryad. These facts incline the pilot to leading with Dryad. But if I lead with Dryad, how will I play Vampiric Tutor for a threat? The answer is simple: I’ll pay for the Remora on turn three, and then have an open Sea. I can then Vamp on my opponent’s third turn end step, and then cast Ancestral on turn four with Remora triggers on the stack, and then let Remora pass to the graveyard at the end of the phase or break the Lotus to pay for the Remora. Either option should be available to me. Based on these facts, I decide to play the Dryad.

I tap the Emerald and the Sea, and cast Quirion Dryad, which resolves.

My opponent draws a card, and plays an Underground Sea. He then passes the turn.

Turn 3:
On my upkeep, I abruptly change plans. Although I want to Vamp on my opponent’s end step, I decide that playing Vamp now will give me an additional point of damage with Dryad, and is probably worth it. I pay for the Remora with both Moxen, and then Vamp for Ancestral with the Sea. I draw Ancestral Recall in my draw step.

I attack my opponent for 2, and pass the turn.

On his third turn, I feel my opponent is fortunate to make yet another land drop. He plays a Fetchland, then contemplates his next move. He decides to do nothing, and passes the turn. Remora is kept my opponent from doing anything but playing lands this game.

Turn 4:
On my upkeep, I stack the Remora triggers, and think. I can play Ancestral here, or I can wait. If I draw a land here, I can play Ancestral Recall immediately. If I don’t, I can play it next turn with my Lotus and pay for the Remora for another turn at the same time.

I decide to play Ancestral here. It’s a big risk, but if it works, I can win now. My opponent lets it resolve after some difficult internal deliberation. I draw Gush, Tinker, and a land. Having drawn this, I use the Lotus to pay for the Remora, although I could have used the Lotus to play Tinker. In my draw step, I draw another land.

I play a land, attack for 3, and pass the turn.

My opponent plays Library of Alexandria, and passes the turn.

Turn 5:
On my upkeep, I need to decide whether to continue to pay for Remora, or try to resolve Tinker. Which would you do?

If I pay for Remora here, then I can use the Remora to shield Gush. If I don’t pay for the Remora, I can attempt to resolve Tinker, and end the game. I don’t think there is a clear answer to which play is superior, but Gushing seems to give me more options.

I pay four mana for Remora, and draw Tarmogoyf in my draw step. Then I play Gush, drawing Time Walk and Force of Will. I replay a land, then attack for 4, sending my opponent to 9 life. Next turn I can attack, and then Time Walk for the win.

My opponent perhaps senses that his window of opportunity is closing.

He plays Black Lotus (drawing me a Force of Will), then casts Jace (drawing me a land).

I am confronted with yet another difficult decision. Do I Force it? And, if so, what do I pitch? What would you do?

Would you Force of Will Jace? (Yes/No) (Circle one)

If Yes, would you pitch Tinker or Time Walk? (circle one)

If I let Jace resolve, then he will likely bounce the Dryad. If he does, then next turn I can play Dryad + Time Walk or Goyf + Time Walk. If I play Dryad, and Time Walk, I likely won’t be able to kill him, but should be able to kill the Jace (assuming those spells resolve). However, that will give him another turn to live. If I can counter the Jace, then I can play Time Walk and just attack once more for the win.

I decide that countering Jace here is the right tempo call, despite the mixture of tools I have in hand for handling Jace. The question then becomes: what do I pitch? If I pitch Time Walk, then I lose the best tool I have for ending the game now. However, if my Force is countered, then I’ll need to play two threats next turn that can kill Jace, and potentially another threat the following turn. Time Walk allows me to do that, but so does Tinker.

I play Force, pitching Tinker. My opponent taps his lands and casts Mana Drain. Remora triggers, and I draw another Force of Will! I play Force, and pitch Time Walk. My opponent scoops up his cards to move on to the next game.

This game featured a number of critical decisions, and many of those decisions lacked clear answers.

The first question was which spell to lead with: Mystic Remora or Fastbond. An assessment of the situation led to the conclusion that Remora was the bigger threat, and Fastbond served as excellent bait in that respect. The second critical question was when to Vamp Tutor. I didn’t end up Vamping until the third turn. My decision to defer that play allowed me to draw a threat, and play it.

The third critical question, which recurred on turn four and five, was whether to pay for Remora. At this point in the game, there were competing resources, and good reasons to let Remora expire. The fourth and final question was what to pitch with Force of Will in the 5th turn.

None of the answers to these questions were easy, but each set me on a course toward victory. Answering any one of these questions differently could have easily led to defeat. These weren’t the only decisions I faced, but they were the decisive ones.

Game 2:
I sideboarded as follows:
+2 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Pyroblast
-1 Mana Crypt
-2 Trygon Predator

My opening hand is:

Would you keep this hand? Yes/No (Circle one)

Any hand with Blightsteel Colossus is automatically worthy of mulligan consideration, even if the hand would not otherwise be a mulligan because it features a healthy mix of mana and spells. A Blightsteel Colossus in hand with a decent six card hand is arguably worse than a slightly worse 6 card hand without it, simply because it prevents you from using Tinker in the near term. Of course, a hand with Brainstorm is an exception to this rule.

This hand is not an automatic mulligan because it features mana and spells. With Mox Ruby and Volcanic Island, I can play both Preordain and Red Elemental Blast on the first turn. The Mindbreak Trap also offers some measures of security against a broken opening, or an early counter war. The Goyf is a threat that can be deployed early in the game should I dig up another land, and an answer to opposing Jaces. The main concern with this hand is the awkward combination of mana and spells. Goyf can’t be played immediately, although Preordain offers a good chance of finding a Tropical Island or fetchland.

I tried to envision whether another six card hand would be as strong, and decided that what I had would be comparable to any other random six card hand I could draw. At least this hand offered the possibility of immediate interaction. A Force of Will would eat up two spells in hand. I decided to keep this hand, but not without some reservations. The fact that I was up a game probably inclined me to keeping this hand, as illogical as that may seem.

Turn 1:
My opponent did not begin the game with a broken start, but instead initiated a sequence that resembled the previous game. He merely played a land, and passed the turn.

On my turn, I drew Black Lotus. Based upon this draw, what is your plan? What is your preferred line of play? Make a note of your preferred line of play here: ________________________________________.

Black Lotus reconfigures the possibilities offered by this hand. I can now hard cast Red Elemental Blast and Mindbreak Trap to maximize my hand’s counterpower. Alternatively, I could use the Lotus to deploy Goyf, while incidentally powering up Goyf. These aren’t the only options available. They do, however, demarcate the two extremes offered by the role metaphor.

In my book Understanding Gush, I spent a good deal of time discussing the importance of “Role” in Magic. “Role” is a metaphor that refers to the strategic and tactical orientation a player has to any given game or situation. Traditionally, we define the role metaphor – or its basic elaboration – in terms of “beatdown” or “control.” If you are ‘the beatdown’ your role is to play Goyf, and execute a tempo game. If you are playing the ‘control role,’ your game plan here is to play Lotus, and hold up Red Blast and Mindbreak Trap.

In my Gush book, I develop a new “role” metaphor in terms of transmission: high and low gear. High gear refers to decisions made to advance your strategic objectives (playing Goyf here). Low gear refers to decisions made to maximize your ability to thwart the opponent’s strategic objectives (holding up Red Blast and Mindbreak Trap here). High gear correlates to the beatdown role, and low gear to the control role. I prefer the transmission metaphor because it brings into focus the question of when you shift gears. The traditional “Who’s the Beatdown?” framework is too rigid and static, in that each player is assigned a role and then maintains that role throughout the game. In reality, both players compete for roles, and shift roles from turn to turn and even play to play. The transition metaphor better maps and represents this dynamic.

In my book I also assert that the most important skill a Gush player can develop is learning to navigate between gears (i.e. learning when and how to switch roles). This hand directly poses just such a question. In Understanding Gush, I assert that moving from low to high gear requires you to ask two questions: 1) Do you have the resources and capacity to achieve a strategic objective? 2) Does pursing a strategic objective impair your to stop your opponent from achieving their strategic objectives? If the answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second question is no, then I maintain that the player should move into a higher gear.

The answer to the first question here is: yes. The answer to the second question here is: yes or possibly, depending on what you do. This is easy to see: If you sacrifice the Lotus to play Tarmogoyf, you will not be able to hard cast Mindbreak Trap. Similarly, if you tap your land to play Preordain, you will be cutting yourself off from being able to hard cast both REB and Mindbreak Trap this turn.

That’s not the end of the discussion, however. Sometimes maximizing your ability to stop your opponent long term requires moving into a higher gear in the near term. This is typically known as development. Not playing Preordain here will impair your own game plan development. However, you could wait until next turn to Preordain, since if you see another land, you can play it, and maintain maximum counterspell protection.

Which line of play do you prefer (circle or check one):

1) Play Volcanic Island, play Mox Ruby, play Black Lotus, pass the turn.
2) Play Volcanic Island, play Mox Ruby, play Black Lotus, cast Tarmogoyf & Preordain this turn.
3) Play Volcanic Island, play Mox Ruby, play Black Lotus, cast Preordain, then decide what to do, but do NOT play Tarmogoyf this turn.
4) Other (Insert your own answer here).

These options are basically a choice among gears. Option 1 is the lowest gear play. Option 2 is the highest gear play. Option 3 is a higher gear than option 1 (since you can’t hard cast both counters), but not quite as aggressive as playing Goyf.

If you tap the Volcanic Island to play Preordain, you will not be cutting yourself off from Red Elemental Blast, but you won’t be able to hard cast Mindbreak Trap. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t cast Mindbreak Trap. If your opponent plays Mana Crypt or Mox and then Tinker, your REB will counter their Tinker, and then your Mindbreak Trap will counter whatever they use to stop your REB. Mindbreak Trap should be playable if they do anything broken this turn.

On balance, I don’t know if there is a definitive ‘correct’ play here. You have to a balance competing concerns: the need to maximize counterspell protection while maximizing your game development. The cost of playing Preordain is small, and the benefit is potentially large. I think the correct play here, then, is to play Preordain, and then decide what to do next based upon what is revealed with Preordain.

There is also some question as to whether you should even play Black Lotus before Preordain, since it could expose the Preordain to a Mindbreak Trap, but that is a relatively minor consideration here. I raise it just to be comprehensive.

I led with Volcanic Island, Mox Ruby, and Black Lotus. I then played Preordain, and saw: Time Walk and Mental Misstep.

What should you do? (Circle or check one)

1) Put Mental Misstep in hand, and keep Time Walk on top of your library.
2) Put Time Walk into hand, and keep Mental Misstep on top of your library.
3) Put Mental Misstep in hand, and put Time Walk on the bottom of your library.
4) Put Time Walk in hand, and put Mental Misstep on the bottom of your library.
5) Put both Time Walk and Mental Misstep on the bottom of your library, and draw an unknown card.

The Preordain question is a microcosm of the initial issue posed in this turn: high or low gear?

Putting Mental Misstep into hand would give you maximum counter protection. But is Mental Misstep the best card to put into hand? The answer to that question depends on what you plan to do next, and what you plan to do with Time Walk.

This question also brings into focus the question of what to do with Time Walk. What advantage is there to keeping Time Walk on top of your library or putting it into your hand? After all, doesn’t Time Walk largely replace itself? The downside to keeping Time Walk on top is that it becomes a potential Mana Drain target. You can get to the next card by simply putting Walk onto the bottom. But the upsides are more important. If you keep Time Walk on top, you can 1) gain an additional attack step with Tarmogoyf, 2) potentially gain an additional land drop, and 3) will have Time Walk in your graveyard for Yawgmoth’s Will.

Keeping with the spirit of maximizing my ability to win on the stack, I put Mental Misstep in my hand, and kept Time Walk on top of my library. Now I am confronted with one more choice: 1) play Tarmogoyf or 2) simply pass the turn. What would you do? (circle one).

If I play Goyf, I can Time Walk next turn and attack for at least 2 damage each turn, but possibly more if I can play Red Blast, Mindbreak Trap, or Mental Misstep. It’s also possible that he (or I) will break a fetchland, making Goyf even larger. If I don’t play Goyf, I can hard cast Mindbreak Trap with Lotus. Now that I have already tapped my Volcanic Island, I cannot cannot hard cast both Red Elemental Blast and Mindbreak Trap. If I don’t play Goyf and am not forced to hard cast MBT, I can sacrifice Lotus next turn to play both Goyf and Lotus with maximum counter protection, overwhelming any Mana Drain he may have rather than simply dodging it by playing Goyf now.

This is not a cut and dried decision, but I decided to move into high gear, given the tempo situation. I sacrificed Lotus to cast Goyf, which resolved, and then passed the turn.

Turn 2:
My opponent played another land, and passed the turn.

I drew Time Walk for the turn. Should I play it?

What would you do? (circle or check one)

1) Play Time Walk
2) Wait a turn to try to draw another land, then play Time Walk – especially when Goyf is larger.

Both plays have merit. If I play Time Walk now, I dig deeper into my deck now, and gain small advantages. If I don’t play Time Walk, I can play Red Blast. Continuing with my high gear plan, I elect to play Time Walk. My opponent makes a costly decision to break his fetchlands and play Mana Drain. My Goyf rises to 4 power, and I attack.

Turn 3:
My opponent untaps, and taps one of his lands to cast Merchant Scroll, drawing from his Mana Drain mana. Predictably, he tutors up Ancestral Recall. He taps his other land to cast it. I respond with Mental Misstep. He plays Red Elemental Blast on my Mental Misstep. This brings my Mindbreak Trap online. I cast Mindbreak Trap targeting his Ancestral Recall and his Red Elemental Blast, exiling them both. He passes the turn.

I draw Yawgmoth’s Will in my draw step. My hand is now Blightsteel Colossus, Red Elemental Blast, and Yawgmoth’s Will. I attack him for 4, and pass the turn.

Turn 4:
My opponent plays a land and a Mox, and casts Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I respond to Jace with Red Elemental Blast (growing Tarmogoyf to 5/6 in the process).

On my turn, I draw Flooded Strand. I attack him for 5, sending him to 6 life. I play Yawgmoth’s Will, which resolves, and replay Lotus and Time Walk. I untap and attack, sending him to 1 life.

Turn 5:
He draws a card, and then scoops. Fascinating.

This game was full of daring plays, and calculated risks. The decisions I faced: whether to play turn one Goyf, whether to play turn one Preordain, how to Preordain (which cards to keep), whether to play Time Walk, and whether to keep my hand in the first place, all proved decisive.

It’s arguable that I could have waited to play Time Walk until Goyf was larger or more threatening without losing much of anything in the process. However, forgoing playing Time Walk in Vintage is a huge risk indeed. Your opponent could very well win the next turn!

It’s also arguable that I should have waited to play Goyf until turn two, and then engaged a massive battle on the stack then, rather than later. He would have Drained my Walk or Goyf, and I would have Red Blasted it. I think the of play I made was superior at stopping him. The lesson here is that sometimes picking a fight isn’t the best move. By playing Goyf on turn one, I dodged Drain. This question was a role question, and it helped resolve all of my subsequent decisions: once I committed to moving into high gear (beatdown role), most of the decisions I made afterward followed from that initial commitment.

This match, broken down into its constituent parts, is a good example of how complex Vintage can be even in simple games, and how nuanced the decision making must be even under ordinary circumstances. Vintage players must confront and resolve a variety of related high-impact decisions every turn. It is this fact which makes Vintage so exciting, but also so challenging.

Round 2 vs. URB Landstill
I’m glad this game was captured on video. This game was probably the second most frustrating match of tournament Magic I played all year (the first being my match against Paul Mastriano in the Vintage Championship semi-finals). In my match against Paul Mastriano in the Vintage Champs semi-finals, I played well until the penultimate turn of the game, where I walked into a Force of Will instead of playing Vendilion Clique + Red Blast protection, the safest line of play. That would have bought me a turn to survive his Blightsteel Colossus attack (I also had Dark Confidant in play to soak up the poison trample damage).

In this match, the errors I made were subtle and recurring. Identifying the errors and learning from them is as important as analyzing them.

Game 1:
I won the die roll, and elected to play. Unfortunately, I drew a hand of seven Blue spells, and was compelled to mulligan into this hand:


Would you keep this hand? Yes/No (Circle one)

I wasn’t certain what I was facing, but I knew if I was sitting against anything with Wasteland, this is a risky keep. Yet, would a five card hand on the play produce anything better? A mulligan to five would seem to incur a roughly even chance of drawing a one land hand. This hand not only has a cantrip, but it has a Mystic Remora, which is most potent on the play. With Mox Jet, I can pay for the Remora for more than a turn.

This hand also features the plan of turn one Remora, turn two Ponder (hopefully, finding another land), from which I can play Mystical Tutor for Ancestral, protected by Remora! In fact, this is a potentially strong hand of six cards on the play. It’s a highly synergistic mix. I saw little reason to throw this hand back, and elected to keep it.

Turn 1:
I led with Sea, Mox Jet, and Mystic Remora, all of which resolved. I passed the turn and hoped my opponent would be bold enough to allow me to draw cards.

Unfortunately, my opponent had no turn one plays, and would only play Island, pass.

Turn 2:
I had the option of playing Mystical Tutor here, but what purpose would that serve? I couldn’t cast Ancestral Recall this turn anyway. I tapped Mox Jet to pay for Remora, and then drew Force of Will for my turn.

I tapped the Sea and cast Ponder, revealing:
Mana Crypt

What would you do? (circle or check one)

1) Shuffle and draw a random card
2) Draw Mana Crypt
3) Draw Preordain
4) Draw Tarmogoyf

I spent about 15 seconds thinking about this decision, but elected to shuffle. My goal here was to find a land. Mana Crypt could pay for Remora for a few more turns, but if my opponent had a Wasteland, I would be in serious trouble. I couldn’t risk my opponent having a Wasteland here, once he realized my predicament. I felt compelled to shuffle to search for land. I shuffled, and drew Tinker.

My opponent played an Underground Sea, and cast Standstill on his second turn. Of course, this triggered my Remora, drawing me a Tropical Island (much to my delight).

I knew I must counter Standstill, but the question was what to pitch?

What would you pitch to Force of Will? (check one)

1) Mystical Tutor
2) Mindbreak Trap
3) Tinker

It’s not that close of a question. Tinker here is clearly a major trump. Mystical Tutor can find me Ancestral Recall. The weakest link if Mindbreak Trap, which rarely does me much good against Landstill except in a large counter war, which I probably can’t win in the first place, given the situation.

I played Force, pitching Mindbreak Trap, and countered the Standstill.

Turn 3:
According to the video, I quickly untapped my permanents, paid for Remora, and then drew a card. However, I had a major choice, which apparently, did not occur to me.

I could either pay for the Remora, as I opted to do, or I could let Remora expire, and attempt Tinker this turn. What would you have done?

Deciding whether to Tinker or not depends on the likelihood of success and the soundness of the alternative plan. Every major decision in Magic is a cost/benefit or risk/reward decision. You have to weigh the risks of a line of play against the benefits, and that against the opportunity cost of an alternative line of play.

If I keep Remora around, I can play Mystical Tutor with the Tropical Island, and have Remora around for one more turn to attempt to draw a card should he play something else. But next turn, I will have to use all of my mana to keep Remora in play.

The reasons to let Remora expire are as follows:

1) Remora prevents you from casting Tinker this turn, and the opponent is tapped out.
2) Not only is the opponent tapped out, but his failure to protect his Standstill suggests that he may not have a Force of Will. Otherwise, he might have Forced my Force.
3) If I pay for Remora, I can’t use the Remora to shield whatever I do next, unless I draw something amazing this turn.

If I had a Gush in hand, I could see merit in letting Remora stick around. Next turn, I could pay for Remora, then Gush, and then replay a land. As it stood, this window of opportunity is probably my best chance to resolve Tinker and end this game. My greed for cards with Remora cost me, and I unthinkingly advanced to my draw step and main phase.

In my draw step I drew Fastbond. I elected not to play it, in order to cast Mystical Tutor. I passed the turn.

On his third turn, my opponent played a Flooded Strand, and then broke it to cast Standstill. This triggered my Remora. This time, however, I didn’t have a counterspell for it. If I wanted to resolve a spell, it would have to be through Standstill drawing my opponent three cards.

I considered playing Mystical in response to the Remora trigger. What would you do? Play Mystical Tutor in response to the Remora Trigger or just draw a card? If you play Mystical, what do you get? Make a note in the margin of your line of play.

I elected to do nothing. I drew Demonic Tutor off of Remora. Then, with Standstill still on the stack, I cast Mystical Tutor. Otherwise, I’d have to break Standstill to resolve Mystical. What should Mystical Tutor find?

I initially pull Ancestral Recall, then hesitate. What if he is holding Misdirection? What if he is holding Mental Misstep? I switch it out for Gush. After all, I have Fastbond in hand. Standstill resolves, and my opponent passes the turn.

I made arguably two play mistakes here. First and foremost, if I’m going to play Mystical Tutor, it makes far more sense to play it in response to the Remora trigger. But not just so that Ancestral is in my hand. No, there is a far more specific reason to do it now: so that I can play Ancestral Recall in my upkeep with Remora on the stack.

Secondly, if my opponent had either Misdirection or Mental Misstep, he probably would have played the latter on my Remora or Ponder, and the former on my Force of Will. Still, he might draw one off of Standstill. Finding Gush is not as serious as not using Mystical Tutor with Remora on the stack.

To make matters worse, I am only inchoately aware of the errors I’m making in this game. At this point, I sense something has gone wrong, but I can’t pinpoint the mistakes. I’m glad that there is video, so I might go back and review my mistakes.

Despite general awareness that something has gone wrong, I persevere, hoping to salvage this game.

Turn 4:
In my upkeep, I pay for Remora by tapping both lands and my Mox. I then draw Gush in my draw step and proceed to my main phase.

I cast Gush, returning both lands to my hand (and trigger Standstill in the process). Gush resolves. I draw Scalding Tarn and another Mystic Remora. My hand was now Tropical Island, Underground Sea, Scalding Tarn, Mystic Remora, Demonic Tutor, Tinker, and Fastbond.

What would you do here? Make a note here.

I had to formulate a plan. At this point in the game and in the video stream, I am seen reassessing my options. I fan my hand open before the camera for ex post facto analysis.

I was roughly even in terms of card advantage, but at this point my opponent was going to untap with a full hand, play a fourth land, and probably take irrevocable control over this game. However, in my mind I was locked into a control role – low gear.

Each of the errors in this game were a function of role mis-assignment. My greed for Remora caused me to forgo a golden opportunity on turn three to resolve Tinker. My stubborn refusal to move into a higher gear continued to put me further and further behind.

I believed, foolishly, that I could continue to match my opponent, and even surpass him in card advantage. Yes, my Remora would expire, but I could play another here, and then next turn, I could tap the Mox to pay for Remora, and then use all three lands to cast Tinker. If my opponent countered my Tinker, then my plan was to Demonic Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will, and win the game.

That was my plan. Now think about your plan again. Was your plan a high or low gear plan?

I played Underground Sea, and cast Mystic Remora. This is a low gear, control role decision. And it is a play that makes little sense.

First of all, if my plan is simply to play Remora, and pass, I would be far better off playing Scalding Tarn into Island, in order to insulate my plan from Wasteland attack. Secondly, I could also just play Fastbond here. Next turn, I won’t be able to cast Tinker at all unless I can play two lands – so I need to play Fastbond now regardless.

This was a blunder, and it cost me.

On my opponent’s turn, he predictably Wastelanded my Underground Sea, and then cast a Dark Confidant, which doesn’t trigger either Remora. I felt like a fool.

Turn 5:
Would you pay for the Remora here? Yes/No (Circle one).

If you pay for the Remora, then you can’t play Demonic Tutor this turn unless you draw another mana source or a Gush. If you don’t pay for the Remora, then it’s more likely that the opponent will counter the Fastbond, and you won’t get a card out of it if they do.

I paid for the Remora. Having paid for the Remora, there was little I could do. I drew Vampiric Tutor on my draw step, then I played Tropical Island, and cast Fastbond, which resolved, and then played Scalding Tarn, and passed the turn. Vampiric Tutor gives me more options, and more lines of play open up.

On my opponent’s upkeep, he flipped Force of Will, and drew a card. He played a land, and how had four lands in play. I could hardly believe my fortune when he played Jace into my Remora, allowing to draw another card, a Gush. I was still in this game.

With Jace on the stack, I sacrificed my Tarn for an Underground Sea, and floated a Black mana. I cast Gush, which resolved and drew Time Walk and another land. I then cast Vampiric Tutor, but he responded with Mental Misstep.

With his Mental Misstep triggering my Remora, I draw a Tarmogoyf. His Jace resolves, and he Jacestorms, attacks me for 2 with Confidant, and passes the turn.

Turn 6:
My hand now has three lands, Tinker, Goyf, Time Walk, and Demonic Tutor, and I am struggling to focus and formulate a workable plan. I know my opponent has Force, and possibly multiples at this point.

What are my options? Should I pay for Remora? What is the best plan? Here are my options:

With the three lands in play, I can play Goyf + Time Walk, hoping to draw out a counter with Goyf, but only if I don’t pay for Remora. Alternatively, I could cast Demonic first, possibly for Gush, and then Gush, Time Walk + Goyf, a very similar plan. Or, I could pay for the Remora, play all three lands, and cast Tinker. That last option seems terrible, since he has Jace in play (and Force in hand). I need to both Tinker and resolve Goyf, but the chances for doing both seem slim. What would you do?

(Write your plan here)

The first question you have to decide is whether to let Remora stay in play or not.

I decided to let Remora die. I knew I would play at least two of these three spells: Goyf, Time Walk, and Demonic. Unless I Tutor for Gush, and resolve Gush and draw another land, I would need the Mox in play and the three lands in play to play two of those three spells. Although between my draw step and drawing two more cards off of Gush, keeping Remora around, since I know he has Force, may actually be the right play.

After all, if I pay for Remora, I can play two lands, and the Demonic for Gush, and cast Gush. If he Forces my Gush, then I can still replay both lands, and cast Time Walk. Then I can untap and play Goyf either this turn as well or Goyf and Tinker next turn, depending on what I draw.

I ultimately decide to let Remora expire, and drew another Mystic Remora in my draw step. Does the drawn Remora chance your plan? What would you do now? (Think about it for a minute)

If you had decided to let Remora expire, then it makes no sense to play a Remora here. After all, it takes up the same mana you would have used to pay for Remora on upkeep. However, if you decided to let Remora remain in play, then playing Remora here may make some sense. You could, for example, play the Remora, then cast Demonic for Gush, with the notion of using the Remoras to shield the Goyf. However, that plan isn’t all that great, since your opponent can simply bounce the Goyf, and you are stuck with two Remoras in play. Time Walk doesn’t help you much either, since you’ll be paying for two Remoras.

In retrospect, I think the correct play may be simply to keep the first Remora around, then Tutor for Gush, and try to resolve Gush. Then, replay both lands, and then, hopefully – if we’ve drawn just one more land – cast both Time Walk and Goyf. I would probably lead with Time Walk, and then follow it with Goyf. If the Goyf resolves, your opponent will need to use his Jace to bounce it. Next turn, you can let the first Remora expire, then play Remora and Goyf again. If the Time Walk resolves, then you may actually be in a position to Tinker for Black Lotus, and cast Demonic for Yawgmoth’s Will, and cast Will. If that resolves, you likely win the game. But that will require a total of five mana, and you only have 4 available at the moment. You’ll need to draw a land in the Time Walk turn (or a Gush).

This situation – in its full scope – the formulating of a plan, calculating how to win, and the navigating against the opponent’s countermagic – is enormously complex. I seriously doubt this kind of complexity is found in other formats.

Having committed to letting my Remora expire, I was not inclined to play the new one. Instead, I led with Goyf, which he Forced, despite having Jace in play.

I played Delta and Sea, and fetched a Tropical island. At this point my hand is Time Walk, Mystic Remora, Demonic Tutor and Tinker. My plan is to use Demonic to find Yawgmoth’s Will, which is why I am ignoring the possibility of using it to play Gush here.

I play Time Walk, which he lets resolve, and I realize that my Tinker is now a dead card except as a glorified Black Lotus tutor.

I draw Mox Pearl in my Time Walk turn, and cast Mystic Remora. He Forces the Remora, which really surprises me. This is a turn in my favor. Having pulled two Forces out of his hand since his last turn, I’m hopeful that I can resolve a Yawgmoth’s Will soon. Unfortunately, I remain one mana short from Tinkering for Black Lotus and then Tutoring for Yawg Will, and casting it. I feel compelled to do something, as the opponent sits with an active Jace and Confidant staring me down.

I play Demonic Tutor and find Ancestral Recall. I put Ancestral on the stack, and he responds with Mindbreak Trap. He had three counters in hand. Had I waited until his upkeep to play Ancestral, I would have had to deal with a hard cast Mindbreak Trap anyway.

I pass the turn holding a lame Tinker.

I utterly mismanaged my sixth turn, and my Time Walk turn. In retrospect, I should have probably used Demonic Tutor to find Gush in this turn. Had I done so, I might not only have drawn more mana to execute the Time Walk + Tinker play, but I may have also found more threats – like Goyf – to keep applying pressure. Instead, I backed myself into a corner and literally walked into a Trap.

On his turn, he flips a Mox to Dark Confidant, then Jacestorms, plays a Mishra’s Factory, attacks for 2, and passes the turn. He is drawing three cards a turn to my one card per turn. This game is virtually over, but I play to my remaining outs.

Turn 7:
I draw a Trygon Predator, which is at least some measure of a threat. He Mana Drains it.

On his turn, he flips Mox Ruby to Confidant again, and Jacestorms again. He attacks me with Dark Confidant and Mishra’s Factory, and casts Standstill.

Turn 8:
I draw another Trygon Predator, and cast it (breaking Standstill). This time, he Forces it pitching Jace.

He attacks me with both his creatures, and Fires me on his turn to win the game.

This was a miserable game. Here is a list of Possible Mistakes in this game:

1) Paying for Remora on turn three so that I couldn’t play Tinker (i.e. not playing turn three Tinker).
2) Not Mystical Tutoring in response to Remora trigger on his turn three.
3) Mystical Tutoring for Gush instead of Ancestral on his turn three.
4) Playing Underground Sea instead of Scalding Tarn on turn four.
5) Not playing Fastbond on turn four.
6) Paying for Remora instead of playing Tinker on turn four.
7) Paying for Remora on turn five instead of playing Trop, Fastbond, Sea, and then Demonic for Gush or Black Lotus (likely Gush) to cast Tinker. Granted, my opponent had Mindbreak Trap, but had I played Fastbond on turn four, then he wouldn’t have been able to counter Gush here.
8) Letting Remora expire on turn 6.
9) Not playing Remora before Goyf on turn 6.
10) Not playing Demonic for Gush on turn 6 before Goyf.
11) Tutoring for Ancestral on turn 6A (Time Walk turn).

The fourth mistake is the most egregious because there is no reason whatsoever to make that play instead of the secure play of Tarn into Island into Remora. The first mistake is probably the most costly in terms of a play that would have led to a surest victory. But there were at least reasons to pay for Remora, since I could draw more cards.

What’s most troubling about this game is my utter bewilderment during it. It’s not simply that I made these mistakes, it’s that (aside from the 4th mistake), I was unaware of them. I was so locked into playing the control role that I was blind to more optimal plays. I let my role determination guide my play, to my folly.

This game might well be subtitled “how not to play Vintage.” This game is a master class on how to repeatedly mess up. Yet, what’s so incredible is that almost every one of these mistake are common place among Vintage players. Misassignment of role is a common error, as are playing the wrong lands at the wrong time.

This game is a window into shifting and confused planning, a lack of clear vision, and willful blindness into a full range of possibilities. The truth is that role assignment fosters blindness: by directing you into plays that align with your chosen role. But the problem is that selecting the wrong role will kill you.

The problems in this game, however, go far beyond role misassignment. I mismanaged my mana, I mis-sequenced critical spells (like leading with Goyf in turn 6), and I tutored at the wrong time and for the wrong card in nearly every instance. This game features or highlights just about every major mistake one can make in Vintage. It’s a master class in error. What’s remarkable is that had I only made 3-4 mistakes this game, I likely could have pulled it out.

I sideboarded as follows:
+2 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Pyroblast
-2 Trygon Predator
-1 Hurkyl’s Recall

Game 2:
Given that my opponent was playing the Black version of Landstill, I sideboarded in Red Blasts, but sideboarded out Trygon Predators and Hurkyl’s. Since he had Dark Confidants, I thought it was less likely that he’d also have Tinker.

Unfortunately, I was forced to mulligan again. Great – two mulligans on the play against Landstill. Given how critical card advantage is in this matchup, this is a tremendous disadvantage.

My opening hand was:


Again, I’m disappointed to mulligan into a one land hand against Landstill.

Turn 1:
I open the game with Scalding Tarn, which I break for an Island to cast Preordain. My Preordain sees Red Elemental Blast, and another non-land card. I put both cards on the bottom, and draw Quirion Dryad.

My opponent opens the game with Polluted Delta, pass.

Turn 2:
I draw a third Gush, and pass the turn.

My opponent plays Strip Mine, and suddenly the three Gushes in hand look pretty useless. I hate losing to Strip Mine more than any other card, because it is the one card that can’t be planned around or stopped.

Turn 3:
I draw Yawgmoth’s Will for the turn, and pass.

He plays a Volcanic Island, and passes.

Turn 4:
On my upkeep, he casts Ancestral. I Force, pitching Gush. He breaks his Delta, and fetches an Underground Sea, and casts Flusterstorm, and draws three cards off Ancestral.

I draw an Underground Sea, play it, and pass the turn.

My hand is Yawgmoth’s Will, Quirion Dryad, Gush, Gush, and Red Elemental Blast.

On his turn, he plays Flooded Strand, and casts Dark Confidant.

Turn 5:
I draw Mystical Tutor, and pass the turn.

He reveals a Standstill to his Dark Confidant, and he plays it. He attacks for two, but at the end of his turn, he has to discard a Dark Confidant.

QuirionDryadSmallTurn 6:

Finally, I draw a third land this game. I peel Misty Rainforest, and break it for Tropical Island to cast Quirion Dryad. He lets it resolve. But he then targets it with a Lightning Bolt once he has priority.

I respond with Gush, hoping to draw a Mental Misstep, but I do not. Instead I draw Volcanic Island and Mystic Remora. The Dryad grows to 2 toughness, but then dies to the Bolt.

Immediately, I regret running the one Dryad over a Goyf. Goyf would have been enormous here, and he didn’t have a Force to counter it. In fact, Goyf here, instead of Dryad, may have just won the game.

On his turn, he plays a Factory, and attacks me for 2 with Confidant.

Turn 7:
I draw Mox Sapphire, play it and Volcanic Island, and cast Mystic Remora. He plays Mana Drain, which I Red Elemental Blast, and which he Mindbreak Traps. Then, on my end step, he plays Vampiric Tutor for Tinker.

He plays Tinker on his turn, and I am toast. I have no answer. Had I kept in Hurkyl’s, I could have searched it up with Mystical. Instead, I lose.

Round 3 vs. Forgemaster MUD
As you can imagine, I was fairly demoralized after the previous match, so my notes on this match are a lot spottier.

Game 1:
I wasn’t sure what my opponent was playing. My opening hand was pretty good:

Would you keep this hand?

This is a difficult hand to throw back. It has tools, action, and answers, so I decided to keep it.

Turn 1:
I opened the game with Mox Sapphire, Lotus, Delta, Mystic Remora.

My opponent refused to be bowed or intimidated by Remora. He played Mishra’s Workshop, Metalworker on his first turn. I let it resolve, with some reservations.

Turn 2:
I paid for the Remora, and drew Quirion Dryad, which I elected to play.

On his turn, he activated Metalworker, revealing: Chalice of the Void, Tangle Wire, Tangle Wire. He then used his pooled mana to cast Kuldotha Forgemaster. That was a card I did not and could not let resolve, and I Forced it.

Turn 3:
I paid of the Remora, tapping my Mox and my Tropical Island, and attacked him for 2. I had drawn a Demonic Tutor that turn and began to contemplate my options…Should I play it now? What would I get? The timing seemed bad, so I passed the turn. What would you have done?

He complicated matters by deciding to play all of his artifact spells that turn. He pooled mana with Metalworker, then cast Tangle Wire (which resolved) (but drew me Hurkyl’s Recall off the Remora trigger), Chalice of the Void at 3 (which I Forced, but drew me Mindbreak Trap off Remora), and another Tangle Wire, which I then Mindbreak Trapped.

On my turn, I tapped down four for his Tangle Wire, and passed the turn.

On his turn, he Duplicanted my rather large Dryad. I was upset with myself for Forcing his Chalice at 3, since I had Hurkyl’s Recall in hand. On his end step (or the next turn end step), I Hurkyl’s him.

I played Demonic for Ancestral Recall, and cast it. Then, I played Brainstorm the same turn. Then, I tapped out to cast Yawgmoth’s Will, when the last card in my hand was Gush (which I forgot to play).

I replayed Lotus and broke it for BBB. I cast Demonic Tutor for Fastbond, and played a land, and cast Fastbond. I then cast the Gush from my hand, and then the Ancestral and Brainstorm from my graveyard. From there, my hand grew enormous. However, I couldn’t find another Gush! I played a land, and cast Preordain, then another land, and cast another Preordain – but no more Gushes were revealed!

With my last mana, I played Vampiric Tutor for Trygon Predator (rather than Tinker, since I didn’t want my Blightsteel copied or removed). He played some spells, and I Forced his Duplicant on my Trygon next turn, but I couldn’t stop his Steel Hellkite, which not only killed my Trygon Predator, but won him the game.

Had I played Gush before Yawgmoth’s Will or with Yawgmoth’s Will on the stack, I would have probably won this game.

Game 2:
My opening hand was:

Would you keep this hand? Yes/No (circle one).

Turn 1:
This hand seemed keepable. This hand has a mixture of mana and spells, answers and threats. I was on the play, and could lead with Preordain, and had a Force in hand to protect myself from an opening turn Lodestone Golem. Well, he indeed had a turn one Golem.

I played Sea, Preordain (seeing a Mox Emerald, which I put into hand), and played Mox Emerald.

KuldothaForgemastersmallHe played turn one Workshop, Mox, Golem, and I Forced it pitching the second Preordain. I played a turn two Dryad (wishing, for like the tenth time this tournament that it was a Goyf), and passed the turn. He played a Forgemaster. I Evoked Ingot Chewer to destroy it.

Then, he played another Forgemaster. This time, it resolved. In a short time, he was able to Duplicant my Dryad, and I lost the game.

What I discovered in this match is the trump of Forgemaster. Forgemaster need not do anything. It’s the mere threat of what Forgemaster might do that dominates the game. It’s like a shadowy, but real, presence. It’s half illusion, half monster, all winner.

Still, I could only blame myself for losing this match, after my game one blunder. I was now out of the tournament, and had no one to blame but myself. Winning game one of this match, which I surely would have done, had I not blundered my Yawgmoth’s Will turn, was no guarantee that I would have won this match, but it would have given me a great shot. Being on the play in game 3 is pretty favorable for me.

Round 4 vs. Aggro MUD
My opponent won the die roll, and elected to play.

Game 1:
My opening hand was:

Turn 1:
My opponent opened with Mishra’s Workshop, pass, and I was flabbergasted. That is an opening you almost never see from a Workshop player.

I untapped, and drew a fetchland. I then considered my options. Playing Fastbond seemed like a no-brainer. But should I Scroll for Ancestral Recall or Gush? With Fastbond in play, Scrolling for Gush seemed like the better play.

Exactly how would you sequence the cards in your hand? (Think about it for a moment)

I played Tropical Island into Fastbond, and then fetchland into Underground Sea. You probably have the same plan so far. What then?

I played Preordain, and saw Tarmogoyf, which I put to the bottom of my library. I cast and broke the Lotus for UUU, and cast Merchant Scroll for Gush. I played Gush, and replayed both lands and cast Preordain, a Mox, another land, and then Trygon Predator.

I felt like this line of play was secure enough to probably win me the game, especially with Force of Will in hand. In fact, resolving and protecting Trygon is the game plan against Workshops. I passed.

Turn 2:
My opponent played another Workshop, and hard cast Triskelion, which I Forced.

I drew nothing of consequence, attacked for 2, and passed the turn.

Turn 3:
My opponent played a third Mishra’s Workshop and a Mox, and he cast:

Lodestone Golem, Smokestack, and Sphere of Resistance.

Well, I certainly wasn’t expected all of that! How odd that my opponent had all of those cards but no turn one play!

I untapped with some serious options. What card would you kill with Trygon Predator? (circle or check one)

1) Smokestack
2) Lodestone Golem
3) Sphere of Resistance

Attacking Sphere instead of Golem makes little sense, since they are both Sphere effects. That leaves Golem or Smokestack. I didn’t deliberate on the issue much, and promptly killed his Golem. This decision turns out to matter tremendously. The main reason to kill the Golem is in case he has a more Golem and Metamorph.

I played a third land and a Mox Ruby and passed the turn.

Turn 4:
He ramped his Smokestack to 1, and played a Thorn of Amethyst, Wastelanded me, and passed the turn.

I sacrificed my Mox Ruby to Smokestack, and then played another land. I attacked him, killing his Smokestack with Trygon Predator, and passed the turn back.

Turn 5:
My opponent topdecked another Triskelion (since I don’t think he had any cards left in hand), and killed my Trygon Predator. Ouch. Who wins this game now?

This is the kind of excellent Workshop game where both players have a precarious hold on the game, neither in control and both with potential to win. This is also what makes Vintage so special, and interesting.

I untapped and drew a Ponder. I tapped three lands and cast Ponder. I had a Force of Will in my hand, but no other Blue spell.

My board was: Volcanic Island, Tropical Island, Tropical Island, Underground Sea, and a Mox Pearl.

My Ponder revealed: Island, Mental Misstep, and Yawgmoth’s Will.

What would you have done?

1) Shuffle
2) Put Island in hand
3) Put Mental Misstep in hand
4) Put Yawgmoth’s Will in hand

More critically, if you choose option 2, 3, or 4, how do you order the rest of your Ponder stack? (Think about it for a moment)

If I put Mental Misstep into my hand, in order to be able to Force, then I can put Island next, and then untap, play an Island, and then the following turn, I will be able to cast Yawgmoth’s Will with one mana up. I can replay the land from my graveyard, and then cast Lotus or Gush.

However, if you want to be more aggressive, you can put the Island into hand, and the Yawgmoth’s Will on top, and Yawgmoth’s Will next turn for the same effect. Which play is better?

I decide to go the more aggressive route. I put Island into hand and then onto the board, and Yawgmoth’s Will on top. Unfortunately, my opponent topdecks a Tangle Wire. The Wire shuts me down, and he continues to topdeck threats while I have locked myself out of the game with my own Ponder.

I promptly lose.

After the game, I eventually realize that had I attacked the Smokestack on turn three instead of the Lodestone Golem, I would have won this game. I would have been able to pop Mental Misstep into my hand, Force his Tangle Wire, and then Yawgmoth’s Will the next turn to replay Trygon Predator. Sometimes, just one mana can make the difference between winning and losing.

Game 2:
See my sideboard plan at the beginning of this article. I execute it between games as quickly as possible, and then shuffle up. I can tell that I am refocused and energized. Typically, after getting statistically eliminated from winning a tournament, I lose focus and enthusiasm. Such was not the case on this day. I was determined to win my remaining matches!

I opened with a turn one Mystic Remora, and he opened with turn one Metalworker. I played turn two Fastbond, and then Gush and Trygon Predator, but he played turn two Triskelion and Lodestone Golem! His Trike murdered my Trygon Predator, and I was left defenseless again. Fortunately, I had a narrow window of opportunity to Mystical Tutor for Tinker, and resolved it. He failed to draw a Tangle Wire, Duplicant, or Phyrexian Metamorph effect, and I won on the next turn!

Game 3:
My opening hand was:

I had the good fortune of my opponent being forced to mulligan to 5. One of the problems with Workshop decks relative to Blue decks is that they are generally less consistent. Workshop players mitigate for this fact by generally playing mono brown builds, which are more consistent than builds that splash for secondary or tertiary colors. But it remains true that Workshop decks have few ways to reduce variance compared to Blue decks, and must mulligan more frequently than other decks. I’ve often won a Workshop match because the Workshop player was forced to mulligan to 5 in one of the three games.

Turn 1:
My opponent led with Ancient Tomb, Null Rod. Normally I would ignore Null Rod, but Null Rod was somewhat annoying in this particular scenario. Look at my hand again.

I drew Gush in my draw step, and then played Underground Sea, Mox Sapphire, and passed.

Turn 2:
On my opponent’s upkeep I cast Ancestral Recall, drawing Mox Jet, Mystical Tutor, and Trygon Predator.

I was fairly annoyed at seeing no lands.

My opponent drew for the turn and passed.

What would you do? This is a pivotal turn in the game.

My hand is: Gush, Mystic Remora, Ingot Chewer, Mox Jet, Time Walk, Mystical Tutor, and Vampiric Tutor. What is your game plan? Do you Mystical Tutor or Vampiric Tutor in your upkeep? If so, for what?

Think about it for a moment, and indicate what you would do here.

It turns out that there is a deterministic line of play that wins the game from this position. I’m hoping you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, take another look for it.

The main irritant at the moment is Null Rod. It’s shutting off both on color Moxen. Is there a solution to it? Fortunately, there is. One is already in hand. There is a way to get it online immediately, expand your mana base, and bring Gush online: Vampiric Tutor for a land. That’s exactly what I did.

In my upkeep, I tapped Underground Sea and cast Vampiric Tutor for Volcanic Island. I drew and played the Volcanic Island, and then Evoked Ingot Chewer targeting his Null Rod. I then dropped Mox Jet on the table, and cast Time Walk (with the Mox Sapphire already in play).

In my upkeep, I Mystical Tutored for Tinker, and cast it. I won the following turn. I even had an additional land drop if need be from Gush. Sometimes, Vamping for a land is the right play. That play led directly to a swift victory.

Round 5 vs. Snapcaster Control
My opponent was playing a Snapcaster Control deck with Mana Drains. These games were very interesting, but decidedly lopsided. After each match, I typically take voice notes, but either I failed to do that here or accidentally deleted the voice memo because I have no notes on this match. I apologize for that. I won this match quickly, 2-0.

After our match, my opponent mentioned that he felt my deck was not such a bad matchup for him. I sensed a challenge. I offered to return to play more games, as soon I made a few phone calls. Both of the players I rode up to Sandusky with were in Top 8 (Kevin Cron and Theo Limber), so we could play while the Top 8 played out.

When I returned, we sat down and played a 12 game set (not intending to hit 12 games, we just did by happenstance), and I won the set 9-3. I was, however, devastated to lose the final game in which I literally decked.

My opponent had managed to resolve a Yawgmoth’s Will, but had limited resources due to my interference. Time Vault was exiled, and I was able to counter Tinker. By the critical turn of the game, I had used all four Force of Wills, all four Mental Missteps, and 1 of my Mindbreak Traps. I had four cards left in my library, and I was able to calculate what they were based upon what was removed and in my graveyard. I stopped drawing cards with Remora once I had drawn the final Mindbreak Trap. However, I couldn’t punch through my Yawgmoth’s Will (since he had two counters in hand), nor put enough pressure on with a single Tarmogoyf to prevent myself from decking. I could continue to discard Blightsteel every turn to not deck, but I had no plays while my opponent could easily win.

I finished the tournament 3-2, and ended up in 10th place. Jimmy McCarthy, my finalist opponent at the previous Sandusky tournament, went onto victory with a Delver Tempo Gush deck.

Trends and Predictions for 2012

Vintage in 2012 is poised to be as exciting and dynamic as it was in 2011. The top decks in Vintage right now are Gush decks, Snapcaster Control, Dredge, and Workshop Aggro. Landstill shook up this metagame, but retooled decks using Goyf and more creatures are pushing Landstill back, such as Grow and Delver. The rise of the Goyf/Delver decks in a metagame influenced by Landstill is a critical entre into the new format.

Fact or Fiction has been tried, and found wanting. As predicted, it is not consistently strong enough in the current Vintage metagame.

If you haven’t already read my 2011 Vintage Year in Review, I would encourage you to do so now. Don’t worry, it’s free! That review sets the stage for what we can expect going forward. Imagine, if you will, what the 2012 Year in Review might say for the months of January and February.

I believe that Team R&D’s Delver deck is just the beginning of a new round of Delver decks that will emerge in the next few months. A new brand of Fish is on the rise. I think we can expect some Delver/Goyf victories in the month of January.

How does one combat Delver/Goyf decks, or just Goyf decks?

Time Vault – I believe the answer is simple: Time Vault. Time Vault has reached its nadir in 2011. The rise of Ancient Grudge and the printing of cards like Phyrexian Revoker made Time Vault a less effective combo than it has been in years. Ancient Grudge has largely disappeared, and Revoker has fallen out of favor with Workshop players.

If an opponent has a Tarmogoyf in play, one of the best cards you can possibly have in play is Time Vault. You will have 3-5 turns to suck up Tarmogoyf attacks while you dig for the other half of the combo. As players switch to more creature based strategies, Time Vault’s value goes way up.

Oath of Druids – As creature decks continue to ascend, Oath of Druids may appear to be an attractive deck choice. Oath may have a small opening in this metagame, especially as many Blue decks rely on Snapcaster Mage or Dark Confidant. Oath is not only strong against Workshops, but may indeed have the ability to beat Landstill decks and the new breed of Goyf decks. Oath may see a minor revival in the first six months of 2012.

MisdirectionMisdirectionMisdirection is a card that has seen little play in recent years. One of the main reasons for that is that Dark Confidant took over Blue control decks from 2009-2010, and Misdirection can’t reliably be played in Dark Confidant decks without risking too many high casting cost flips.

I’ve often wondered if Misdirection was heading for extinction. I believe Misdirection is about to enjoy a revival, and here’s why. First of all, more and more decks emphasize Ancestral Recall. The printing of Snapcaster Mage means that Ancestral Recall is not only likely to hit the stack multiple times from each player, but that players will cast Ancestral Recall more aggressively, knowing they can replay it sooner.

Secondly, with Mental Misstep running around, players are confident in their ability to resolve Ancestral with just Mental Misstep protection (to counter opposing Missteps). Using Misdirection to snatch an Ancestral Recall away when the opponent has Mental Misstep is likely consequence.

Third, players have generally forgotten or new players are generally unaware of the threat of Misdirection, and will play Ancestral less conservatively than players of years past.

Finally, Misdirection is the anti-Mindbreak Trap. As players learn to combat Mindbreak Trap – or avoid walking into one – Misdirection becomes a stronger play. Mindbreak Trap is largely a control card – countering opponent’s threats, while Misdirections functions in the opposite way: It protects your own threats. Misdirection becomes better in more aggressive Blue decks, protecting Jace and the like. Misdirection even gains some usage in fighting Lightning Bolts or Ancient Grudge (should it return).

Misdirection is going to be a major tool for combating the Snapcaster metagame, and excellent at shielding one’s own threats. This card is red hot right now in the Vintage metagame.

Ancient Grudge – Finally, I believe Ancient Grudge may also be poised to return. Workshop decks have been focusing their attention on combating Trygon Predator, opening the door once more to Ancient Grudge. One of the reasons that Ancient Grudge has disappeared is that Blue decks have been cutting Red. Snapcaster decks already have a natural flashback spell, so Ancient Grudge is also superfluous in those decks. Yet, Ancient Grudge punishes the Kuldotha decks that are currently on the rise, as well as the other Metalworker and big Monster Workshop decks.

The Vintage metagame rarely shifts quickly. It will take a month or so until we have a clear sense of the direction of the current metagame. But the openings for spells like Oath of Druids, Ancient Grudge, and Misdirection are clear. What’s less clear is how the metagame – the aggregation of archetypes – will shift in response to these tactical choices.

I look forward to seeing what Dark Ascension brings to Vintage.

Until then,
Stephen Menendian