I want to start this report by thanking Nick Coss, the Card Titan staff, and all the judges for running an exceptional tournament at a great venue. It is a great idea having to wear wrist band with a number that matches a wrist band on your bag checked when you enter and leave, especially with such expensive cards out and about. I wish it was something done at larger events too, but I think the logistics of doing it at a 1500-person Grand Prix is prohibitive. The tournament ran smoothly thanks to staff and judges, and it felt like rounds were starting as quickly as possible.
Figure 1: Entrance to the hall; bags and wristbands are checked as you enter and leave
Next, I wanted to tell everyone a little about myself. I love Magic, and I have since I was 9. I’ve written some articles that were posted on Vintagemagic.com back in 2015, but haven’t been doing any writing since October 2015. Ironically enough, I even wrote an article back in 2015 before Vintage Champs last year saying “I’d be playing Landstill if I could make it to Champs”. But for those who haven’t heard of me or about me; I’m 28 years old and I am a dual degree MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago in my final year before graduation. I did my Thesis work in Neuroscience and Ophthalmology, where I worked on doing drug discovery, intelligent drug design, and pre-clinical trial testing to develop new treatments for varying causes of blindness. I’m on the interview trail right now, bouncing between interviews for Ophthalmology residency (years 2-4 of residency) and my preliminary year of residency (year 1, also called “intern” year). Thursday night, I flew into Columbus after driving 2 hours from Wisconsin to O’Hare to catch a late flight and landed about 11:30pm.
The last time I played paper magic was a smallish legacy event at a local store several months ago. Before that, the tournament I played in was the 2011 Vintage World Championships where I lost in quarter finals to Steve Menendian. I’ve gotten in maybe half a dozen vintage events over the last 3 years on Magic Online playing Dredge (and only dredge); plus, I try to get a cube draft or two in each time it pops up on Magic Online. Other than that, all I have had time for is thinking about Magic, reading about it, and watching a few rounds of the Pro Tours.
I figured out about a week and a half before the event that I’d be able to squeeze it in between interviews, and started trying to put together everything I’d need. Fortunately, I have some great friends who are more active in Magic than me, and I was able to borrow what I was missing. For those that haven’t seen my deck, here is a picture, and a list of what I was playing.
If you look at my article from a year ago, a lot of it is pretty similar to what I recommended playing then; with some obvious updating. I think how you build Landstill is entirely metagame dependent; and what I expected to face was a lot of Workshop decks, a lot of White Eldrazi, and very little Mentor. I thought I’d see more of the blue decks that were either combo, leaning on the new Kaladesh card [Paradoxical Outcome], or that were Oath. Finally, because there was a ‘budget’ category, I thought it was possible to hit some random decks that were chocked full of hateful cards preying on Moxen and the bad mana bases of Vintage.
So based on that metagame – one of the first things I changed was moving the 22nd land into the maindeck. Most decks I saw, including Rich Shay’s VSL deck were running 21 lands main, and usually had an extra basic in the sideboard, but I wanted 3 Plains, 1 Island, 4 Wastelands, 1 Strip, and 3 Factories, plus at least 6 fetch lands. Unfortunately, the math just doesn’t work without 22 lands, or having only 2 tundra’s which was unacceptable to me. Only once in the entire tournament (in the finals) did I feel like I was “flooding out” and obviously having so many spell like lands contributes to that. I never boarded out a land, but had I played dredge, or combo I probably would have.
Figure 2: These lands are pretty good!
Next up for me was the Emrakul question – how many, if any? First of all she is, in my opinion, the real deal. Taking your opponents turn is downright dirty and with almost every deck in the metagame having several cards that cost 5+ mana in their deck, I think she is very castable. She ends games, period. Sometimes that is just what you need.
Figure 3: She ended a lot of games, including the final one of the day!
I don’t have any hard evidence, but my gut told me 2 Emrakul’s was too many in a field without a lot of Blue decks. She is great when your mana isn’t pressured, and only good against Eldrazi and Workshops. In the deck it’s easy to end up with her at 10 mana (land, instant, enchantment), and there are 3 sorceries, 2 other creatures, and 2 planeswalkers and several artifacts so she can go as low as costing only 6. So I decided to play 1 of her. Part of the decision was because she is a very important 3rd win condition when Moat is out, which is something I don’t think a lot of people considered.
Figure 4: It’s a Trap! Just say no.
I did consider Faerie Conclave to fill the “win through your own Moat” role, but it’s just such a bad land. Against the decks you need Moat the most like Workshop’s and Eldrazi, they have their own Wasteland to destroy it. This means it is basically only a win condition in conjunction with Crucible; so now you’re trying to find 2 different 1-of’s to finish off a game.
Figure 5: It’s been a long time, but this card is still amazing!
To help support her, I decided to play 3 Mana Drains. I have loved playing with Mana Drain’s since back in the Gifts Ungiven era, and the card didn’t disappoint this weekend. Being able to counter any type of spell was always great, and the colorless mana was often useful and relevant, especially against what I expected to be the two most popular decks (Shops and Eldrazi). Draining a Gush, Force of Will, or Delve card would have also been a great way to cast Emrakul early, but the play never came up. With a more Blue heavy metagame and the second Emrakul, I would have expected to cheat her out fast.
With my expected metagame heavy on Shops and Eldrazi, trimming to just 3 Mental Misstep and 1 Flusterstorm was an easy call. I kept the 1 Mindbreak Trap to hedge against Combo, the Gush decks, and I would leave it in on the draw against Workshops because some of their best starts involve them casting 3 spells on turn 1.
Figure 6: The countermagic – I boarded these out almost every round.
I decided to play 2 Snapcaster Mages because I liked being able to recycle the best spells. I also cast it as straight Ambush Viper several times against Eldrazi and Shops, and it was a big plus that way that Jace, Vrynn’s Prodigy isn’t. Further testing may show that Jace is just better, but I was happy with the Snapcasters overall.
Figure 7: Snapcaster Mage flashed back a lot of Swords to Plowshares. Image courtesy of user “sandreline” on www.mtgthesource.com
The rest of the choices all flowed out of trying to find the right balance of good anti Mentor cards vs anti Shops/Eldrazi cards. I was really impressed with the flexibility of Engineered Explosives being good against Shops, Eldrazi, and the Blue decks that playing 1 was easy. Moat is very tough to impossible for Eldrazi and Shops to beat, and can give Mentor decks a hard time as well. Supreme Verdict is clearly better against Blue decks, but if you have the mana to cast it vs Shops or Eldrazi it still does what you need it to do. The last choice came down to where the 4th Swords to Plowshares belonged. I finally settled on having it in the sideboard and playing the Sensei’s Divining Top because of how good it is as smoothing out draws and helping you find individual cards late game with the help of fetch lands.
I played 2 Grafdigger’s Cage, 2 Rest in Peace, and 3 Containment Priest because I really thought I’d hit at least 1-2 Dredge or Oath opponents. As you’ll see I never did, but I wasn’t happy that I never needed to board in any of those cards. I would have boarded in Rest in Peace versus a Dark Petition based storm deck as well, but again, never saw one.
The other big chunk of my sideboard was devoted to cards to bring in against Workshops and/or Eldrazi – 2 Energy Flux, 1 Kataki, War’s Wage, 1 Disenchant, 1 Hurkyl’s Recall, and 1 Swords to Plowshares. I felt like my maindeck versus Eldrazi is much better than Shops, so I chose to play more powerful anti-Shops cards rather than some of the more general cards like a second Moat and a second Supreme Verdict. Versus Eldrazi my plan was to bring in the extra Swords, usually the Disenchant, and Containment Priest just to play as Ambush Viper. Finally, last two cards were Ethersworn Canonist, which I really liked as anti-Storm cards and anti-Mentor cards.
Onto the Tournament!
Figure 8: The tournament hall and playing area
Round 1: My first opponent of the day was a no-show. I can only assume he entered for the playmat, or he pre-registered and was unable to make the event due to unforeseen circumstances. (1-0)
Round 2: I don’t remember much about this match; but I lost the die roll playing in the UW Landstill Mirror. Game 1 I attacked him down to 5 by 4’s from 17 before he was able to stabilize temporarily. He slowly fetched and force of willed his way down to 1 life before succumbing. Game 2 I had a Library at Alexandria on the draw and my opponent was unable to find a way to destroy it. I eventually buried him in cards before he conceded despite being at 16 life. (2-0)
Round 3: My opponent was a nice guy from New Zealand, Gene Brumby who was playing an interesting looking UBGR Gush Pyromancer deck that had at least one copy of Leovold, Emissary of Trest. Unfortunately, he was also about 6 minutes tardy and got a game loss. Game 2 was pretty back and forth, but eventually he stuck a Pyromancer and made several tokens. Game 3 is fuzzy, but I remember countering his Pyromancer followed by his Leovold. In combination with destroying a few lands he had a hard time finding and casting another threat. I proceeded to attack him with a Factory 6 turns in a row before drawing a second Factory to speed up the clock by a turn. (3-0)
Round 4: I lost the die roll to Joaquin Solis who was on White Eldrazi. Again, I don’t remember much about this match, but Game 1 my opponent had new Thalia early, and I screwed up playing the wrong land into her. Because of that I was a turn too late with my Swords and couldn’t Mana Drain a Thought-Knot Seer. Instead I had to use a Swords that was meant for the Thalia and never stabilized. I don’t remember anything about game 2, and my life total notes were totally unhelpful, so I think I won with Jace. Game 3 was back and forth but I eventually stabilized before attacking with a Snapcaster and a Factory several times. (4-0)
Round 5: I lost another die roll to Joe Brennan, who made top 8 was on Jeskai Mentor. Game 1 I started with Library at Alexandria on the draw, but eventually Joe stuck a Dack Fayden I was unable to deal with. He parley’ed that advantage into a Jace the Mind Sculptor into more cards into a Monestary Mentor that finally stuck. I was actually able to cast an Emrakul at the end of the game, killing the mentor and leaving only 2 tokens. On my opponents real turn he drew Ancestral Recall after I left him empty handed and resolved 2 more spells to have 2 4 power mentor tokens and I was at 4 life. Game 2 was much less close, and he found and protected a Mentor which ended the game. I sideboarded poorly this round, and didn’t bring in the Canonists, but fortunately I learned from my mistakes for the semifinals. (5-1)
Round 6: I finally won a die roll, against Allen Shank who was on a Mono Blue Charbelcher deck. Game 1 my opponents draw was weak and he couldn’t put anything together before Jace finished him off. Game 2 I brought in a lot of artifact hate as well as the Canonists. I Force of Willed a Expedition Map when he had 2 mana floating. He had a second one but was unable to activate it which bought me a turn. I used that turn to untap and buy a turn to have Mana Drain up. My opponent cast a Mind’s Desire with storm 2 (3 total copies). He flipped something, Windfall, and Goblin Charbelcher without enough mana to activate it. I countered the Windfall, untapped and cast Energy Flux. My opponent didn’t have enough mana to activate Charbelcher during his upkeep and conceded to Energy Flux. (6-1)
Round 7: This was one of the worst matches of Magic I’ve ever played. I made my share of play mistakes on and off camera. Some I saw seconds, minutes, or turns later; other mistakes people had to point out to me that there was a better way I never saw. But my round 7 match was one of the worst matches I played, from start to finish. I was so nervous at one point I turned my own hand face up! I didn’t use a dice for Mana Drain mana like I did game 1 to help me remember and announce it. I was already flustered, and the Mana Drain and the land had me even more flustered. I didn’t want to be the guy who was so bad on stream he forgot to activate his Jace or play a land for turn, and it affected the rest of my game. I was nervous and it followed me into every match I played after that because I was so worried about not repeating my mistakes and trying to be careful I end up making different ones. Either way, I was fortunate that I had a good matchup vs. a hateful Red deck and continued at X-1 (7-1).
Joe playing at the feature match
Round 8: What I thought would be a win and in versus Charlie Krug on Shops. I won the die roll and game 1 my opponent mulliganed to 5. I was able to stabilize down at 6 life, but eventually my opponent found a creature to crew his Skysoverign and I died. I don’t remember what happened game 2, but I swords a Thought-knot Seer at one point and attacked several times with a Factory before we moved onto game 3. Game three it was my turn to mulligan to 5 cards on the draw. He opened with a turn 1 Lodestone Golem off not a Workshop or Ancient Tomb, and things looked bad; I had shuffled and cut my opponent to a near nut draw. Fortunately, my opponent had shuffled and cut me a pretty good 5 card hand. Tundra, Black Lotus, Swords to Plowshares, Kataki, War’s Wage, and a 5th card. So I played Tundra, Lotus, Sacc’ed lotus for White, Cast Swords on his Lodestone Golem (paying 2 for the Swords) then Tapped Tundra and used the 1 floating from Lotus to cast a turn 1 Kataki. I was able to close the game out several turns later between what look like Mana Crypt flips and some attacks.
Round 9: I was pretty disappointed when I saw standings and realized that with X-1s all the way down to 12th we were unable to draw. I was 8th in standings, and my opponent was 7th. Game 1 was played in the feature match but not on camera. It was a tough game and I eventually stabilized down at 3 life, eventually going to 1 before finally attacking my opponent for his last 4 life points. After stabilizing though, I had an interesting decision about whether or not I cast the Moat I had drawn. I decided not to for 2 reasons; 1 – because I was attacking and that would end the game faster than Jace, 2 – I wanted to hide Moat from my opponent. Moat obviously ended up being important in Game 2 and even though he brought in ways to deal with it I was glad I didn’t show it to him.
Another feature match shot with Joe making his next move
And with that I was in the top 8. Words couldn’t describe how excited I was, but also how nervous and terrified I was about having to play 3 more matches on Sunday. Looking at top 8, I thought my semifinals opponent would be the toughest match if I got there, no matter which Mentor deck it was; but the rest of the bracket felt right in the deck’s wheelhouse.
I’d like to spend some more time reviewing the Top 8 matches, because they really feel like a blur; other than Emrakul ending Game 3 of the finals. It was so much fun having her in the deck and I felt like that was a great way to end the weekend. Thanks again to all the friends who lent me cards, let me bounce idea’s off them, and sat me down and told me I was crazy when I suggested things that were ‘too crazy’. Finally, I wanted to thank Daniel Chang for keeping me around on Vintage Magic.com even though I don’t have the opportunity to play much. I’m hoping that will change and that I’ll be able to start doing regular Magic Online Eternal videos, and maybe some cube drafts.
As I said before, I had a lot of fun, despite how nervous I was. I thought the tournament was well run and thank everyone who put so much time and effort to make it go so well. I am looking forward to the opportunity to play again next year, hopefully with more practice and fewer mistakes.
Next time, I’ll look at my top 8 experience.
Thanks for reading,
Coming Monday 11/14/16 –
Read North American Vintage Championship Tournament Report (Part 2) by Joseph Bogaard
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