A Fine Vintage, Indeed

Posted in The Week That Was on August 26, 2004

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Worlds preview
The 2004 Magic World Championships are just around the corner, with opening ceremonies kicking off the event Wednesday, Sept. 1 in San Francisco. Randy Buehler sets the stage with this video preview (Windows Media Player, 20 MB).

Vintage is a tricky format.

I am not talking about the vast card pool and complex card interactions or even the steep supply-and-demand curve that pushes the prices of the most desirable cards ever higher. What's truly tough to gauge is the popularity of the format. Wizards of the Coast relies on tracking sanctioned events to take the temperature of a format, but there has been a thriving Vintage tournament scene that eschews sanctioning to allow competitors to play with up to five proxies in a deck.

On one hand, it has been great for the Vintage community. Not only are there more tournaments every weekend at which for them to sling their oh-so-expensive-spells, but there are bigger and better prizes being given away as well. Star City Games recently ran a proxy tournament and gave away the Power Nine for the Top 8 competitors to divvy up as the prize. It was a smash success and it seems to have inspired other organizers to join in the fun.

The increase in tournament activity has also led to a more vociferous dialogue about the format on various websites. A batch of new writers has sprouted up talking about cards and decks that make Standard and Block players just scratch their heads. There was even a terrific article on this very site by Steve Menendian, one of the new breed of Vintage writers.

I was very curious to find out how the recent popularity of the format would translate to last weekend's Vintage Championships that Wizards held at Gen Con Indy. The Championships meant that players would need to have all the cards -- no proxies allowed in a sanctioned event -- and that could have been a barrier for players who play in unsanctioned events. Of course, the exclusive piece of Mark Tedin's Timetwister artwork produced specifically for the winner was quite a draw.

More than 150 players decked out with their Vintage best showed up to play. In the end, Mark Biller hoisted the trophy and is currently looking for a nice spot on his wall to hang his own private version of Timetwister. Biller's Control Slaver (or Drain Slaver) deck took down David Allen's Aggro Workshop deck in two games. Allen did manage to get Biller down to one life in the second game but could not draw the crucial Fire/Ice he needed to force a rubber game.

Mark Biller

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David Allen

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Biller's deck abuses Goblin Welder and tries to either set up a board position where he can “tinker” away a Pentavite token each turn to take his opponent's turn with Mindslaver. With so many broken cards flitting about the Vintage metagame, why shouldn't he get to play with all of them -- regardless of whose deck they are in?

Biller had fought his way past another Aggro Workshop deck played by Giovanni Conedera while Allen had made it past one of the more exciting decks to make the elimination rounds. Michael Simester's Goblin Charbelcher deck featured only two lands and was a dedicated combo deck. While most Vintage decks have some combo features, it is rare to see a deck with only one route to victory. In this case, Simester relied on getting out a Charbelcher and activating it to win. His only other option was to attack with Elvish Spirit Guides.

Giovanni Conedera

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Michael Simester

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The rest of the Top 8 was rounded out by Nick Trudeau (lost to Simester in the quarterfinals), Stephen Menendian (lost to Allen), Tom Rotchadl (lost to Conedera), and Kevin Cron (lost by Biller). Trudeau's match with Simester was lightning fast -- it took a total of five turns (three in game one and two in the second). Trudeau conceded to Simester's Land Grant in one game when he revealed the combo to pay the alternate casting cost.

Simester claims his deck kills 30 percent of the time on turn one and 70-80 percent of the time on turn two if his opponent is not playing counters. He playtested 100+ hours with hundreds of goldfish hands. He only played two lands in his main deck, but the basic lands in his sideboard were there to get around Trinisphere. His secondary kill condition was Tendrils, and he described his deck as being like a puzzle -- every game is different and you have to put the right pieces together to win.

One example of such problem solving saw Simester with an active Welder and an unimprinted Chrome Mox in play. In his hand he had Lion's Eye Diamond, Charbelcher, and some nonessential cards. He played Lion's Eye Diamond and discarded the Belcher for three mana from the pseudo-Lotus. He welded the Mox for the Belcher and belched his opponent for the win. Fun stuff.

Menendian played a monoblue deck that was designed to foil the metagame. With so many Crucible decks running around to abuse Strip Mine and Wasteland, Menendian tried to give those decks no targets while denying them mana with Back to Basics and Energy Flux. Menendian's metagaming seemed prescient since he went 6-0 in the Swiss before conceding to his teammate Kevin Cron to ensure Cron back-to-back Top 8 appearances in this event (Allen also went back to back this year).

Stephen Menendian

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Cron played a Smokestack control deck that he described as the "fastest chronological combo concession" deck. Some decks have combos that kill in the first two turns but they take a long time to play the cards and actually "go off." His deck draws a concession with only a few cards in play -- Cron showed off his ideal turn-three board position as an example. He did not mulligan throughout the Swiss and he modestly gave that credit for his repeat visit to the Top 8. Matches where he played a turn-one Trinisphere against Affinity, followed by a Smokestack on the next turn, probably had more to do with it, though.

Kevin Cron

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Rotchadl and Trudeau provided two different examples of how you can approach the format. Rotchadl's blue-red Fish deck is relatively inexpensive to build and sports none of the flash that the other decks were bringing to the table. Trudeau took pride in his unique foil and Asian cards residing alongside his power cards. Even without a Black Lotus -- he calls his Mana Vault the poor man's Lotus -- he estimated his deck's value to be over $3,000!

Nick Trudeau

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Tom Rotchadl

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Rotchadl's deck is one of the most popular decks in the format because you can probably build it for less than it costs for any one of the power cards. Yet it is still a potent enough force in the metagame that the winner's deck was sporting Old Man of the Sea in his sideboard to stem the rising tide of Fish decks (they are also pretty good against opposing Welders). With so many cards to choose from, anything is possible in this format. In round two, Rotchadl had an opponent go infinite against him with a Fastbond, Crucible of Worlds, and Barbarian Ring with Glacial Chasm to prevent the damage.

One of the big surprises in the Top 8 was the absence of Hulk Smash, Carl Winter's winning Psychatog deck from last year. It was handicapped as one of the best decks coming into the event but neither it nor Winter could repeat last year's performance. Also absent was the four-color control deck that won a recent Star City event. With the increasing schedule of Vintage tournaments over the coming year, these players will have ample opportunity to avenge their poor showing in the Championships.

For those Vintage players out there interested in slinging against a Wizards of the Coast R&D member, mark your calendars for Oct. 23 in Richmond, Va. That's when Star City's Power Nine Tournament will feature guest player Aaron Forsythe! StarCityGames.com president Pete Hoefling said that anyone who defeats Forsythe in Swiss will receive an Italian Legends booster pack, courtesy of StarCityGames.com.

Play of the Week

This week's play comes from the PTQ for Columbus in Berlin. Top-8 competitor Lukas Rohland was playing his Big Red deck (with a little black -- see Swimming with Sharks for the decklist) in the semifinals. He attacked with a Megatog on his fourth turn, backed up by two artifact lands and a Talisman. His opponent chose not to block and Rohland floated four mana and ate his artifacts to boost his 'Tog to 12 power. He finished his opponent off when he "flung" the Tog for another 12 points with an nonentwined Grab the Reins.

Setting up Nagoya

This past weekend was also the 2004 Japan Junior Championship. The event was held at the Character Hobby Festa in Chiba, Japan. There were 39 competitors -- all aged 15 and younger -- for this Standard event. The Japan Junior Championship invites players who win an in-store qualifier tournament (held between April and August), as well as the top players from the Japan Junior Ranking. Prizes were as follows:

1st: Box each of Mirrodin, Darksteel, Fifth Dawn; ¥30,000 in book coupons
2nd: 18 packs each of Mirrodin, Darksteel, Fifth Dawn; ¥20,000 in book coupons
3rd-4th: Box of Fifth Dawn; ¥10,000 in book coupons
5th-8th: 18 packs of Fifth Dawn; ¥5,000 in book coupons
9th-16th: 9 packs of Fifth Dawn; ¥3,000 in book coupons
17th-32nd: 6 packs of Fifth Dawn; ¥1,000 in book coupons

Here's a look at the Top 8 decklists:

Takayuki Koike

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Akihiro Kawamura

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Kouei Itou

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