Lookin' for Vintage, are ye? Step inside, if ye dare...

So you want some Gen Con Vintage coverage, do ye? Alright then, I'll give ye just that. However, a warning before we get started – this here coverage is not for the faint of heart. In peaceful times, Vintage players had a gentlemen's agreement that they just don't play many combo archetypes against each other. At Gen Con, that agreement was broken, and subsequently very broken things did happen. Blood was spilled. Women went screamin' in the streets, and children who witnessed the carnage will have nightmares for years ta come.

If you are the type of player who likes your Magic delivered at a leisurely pace, with lots of attackin' and blockin' and "by your leave" polite interactivity between players – well this ain't the article for you. However, if you be the type of person that likes gruesome, kill-you-before-you've-laid-your-second-land action that leaves opponents gutted with their life and blood spillin' on the floor... well maybe we've got somethin' fer ye. Strap in my friends – it's goin' ta be a rough ride. C-c-combos a-comin'!

Introductions and Updates

Vintage has changed both a lot and practically not at all since my article about last year's championships. The explosive swell in popularity the format had experienced in recent years has died off, replaced in part by the Legacy groundswell, and also by a "been there, done had all my damned permanents eaten by Stax enough" feeling from the broader Magic community. Subsequently, prices on the Power 9 (The five Moxes, Black Lotus, Time Walk, Timetwister, and Ancestral Recall) have dropped fractionally, but not so much that you could just go buy a set of it without sacrificing part of your retirement fund.

Black Lotus

As for deck archetypes, much of what we covered last year remains the same as well. Stax, Gifts Control, Control Slaver, and Fish archetypes are all present, though some of the configurations and kill conditions may have changed slightly. This is what happens in the format when there have been no major restrictions in recent time. In fact, minus the immediate restriction of Imperial Seal and Personal Tutor on their introduction to the format in October of 2005, Vintage has gone without a major restriction since Trinisphere and its utter un-fun-ness got smacked down in March of last year.

One of the giant changes in the format itself was the removal of power-level errata from a vast swath of cards, a move applauded by the Vintage community at large. I was hoping to see an increase of new and crazy archetypes because of that, but this failed to materialize at the championship, meaning the un-errata'd cards either weren't so powerful, or Vintage players simply haven't had time to perfect new creations that abuse them. Maybe there will be some crazy Cloud of Faeries/Great Whale combo deck next year at this time to report about.

Aside from the Portal additions and the er... un-errataing, Vintage has also seen the entire Ravnica block introduced to the format since Roland Chang defeated Andy Probasco in last year's finals. Out of the entirety of that glorious block, only two cards have found any widespread acceptance in the format thus far: Repeal (which acts as a helpful bounce spell/combo enabler for dirty combo decks), and Dark Confidant, who abuses the lack of removal in the format to draw lots of cards, thus also helping to enable dirty combo decks. Oh fine, and he draws cards for Fish decks that splash for him too.

Terminator 3: The Rise of the Tendrils

I've predicted this would happen off and on for some time, but I didn't expect it to come at the Vintage Championship this year. Instead I expected it to wait in the weeds until it had taken over all of our computer systems and power grids, thereby leaving Vintage players completely and utterly helpless when they finally made their move. What I am talking about, my friends, is the long-awaited ascension of insidious combo decks to the head of Magic's most explosive format.

Tendrils of Agony

If you wanted to, you could probably rest the original blame for this on Mike Krzywicki, Mike Long (by proxy and because we can) and Stephen Menendian, though more recently Eric Becker (and Tommy Kolowith's performance at Waterbury) are actually to blame. Menendian and his Team Meandeck cohorts did much of the pioneering on Grim Long, and they have a long history with nasty combo decks in general (eventually getting Lion's Eye Diamond restricted through their displays of sordid, unstoppable kills on public Magic tables with no respect for the fact that children were watching). Grim Long laid low for some time before Becker's decision to throw counterspells and Misdirection into his Grim Long deck earned him third place at Star City Charlotte, and the deck started gaining steam. Kolowith did him two better at the end of July, taking home the title at Day 2 of the most recent Waterbury.

For those of you who have never seen this deck in action (or decks like it, since there's something different but similar in the Top 8), let me paint you a picture. Wait, that's too slow – you'll be dead before I even get the outline done. Let me type really fast and try to give you an image of how the deck works. You remember seeing science shows as a kid where they talked about getting to space via a series of miniscule nuclear chain reactions underneath some kind of giant platform that would then propel said platform from the Earth to the stars? No? It doesn't matter, because if you were to combine that image with a giant, semi-random jigsaw puzzle, you'd have the perfect explanation for what these decks do and how they do it.

First you start with mana acceleration in the form of Black Lotus and its naughty brethren. Then you add the black Rituals (of the Cabal and Dark variety), plus some tutors to help you draw Tinker (usually for Memory Jar), or Yawgmoth's Will, some minor card drawing, and finally Force of Will and Misdirection to protect your combo. Finally you toss in Tendrils of Agony as your kill condition. Wins come from casting a whole bunch of spells, doing it again via Yawgmoth's Will, and then tossing a giant Tendrils of Agony on the table to kill your opponent in uncounterable fashion. In Vintage, storm is probably the most unstoppable mechanic around, and no less than five of the Top 8 decks included a Tendrils kill in either their maindecks or their sideboard. It looks like Vintage players have finally accepted combo decks with open arms, and it yielded success for those players in a very big way.

Before I get started with the tournament recap, here's 2005 champion Roland Chang's decklist from the event.

Roland Chang - ChangStax

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Tournament Action

So, you think you're prepared to see these decks in action? Gird up your loins, we're diving in.

Round 5: Paul Mastriano vs. Mark Trogdon

Mark Trogdon, moments before the Tendrils got him.Mark Trogdon is a 51-year-old insulator from Lakewood, Ohio who says he plays a lot of Vintage in his spare time. His opponent for this round (at table 1, I might add) is the over-caffeinated, highly flamboyant creator of Type 4 , Paul Mastriano. Paul is 24 and currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a "Customer Service Dude."

Trogdon won the die roll and obviously chose to play, mulliganning his first hand, but keeping six. Trogdon cast Goblin Welder and Tormod's Crypt for his first turn, while Mastriano cracked a Polluted Delta for an Island, cast Black Lotus and then Mana Vault before saying, "Go."

Trogdon tried to cast a Gorilla Shaman on his turn only to see it Forced away. Mastriano cast Mystical Tutor during his upkeep for Tinker, sacrificed his Lotus for blue mana and then Tinkered for Memory Jar. Cracking the Memory Jar gave both players a fresh seven cards, but Mastriano did not find the mana sources he was looking for, and his combo fizzled away. Or so it appeared. Another Brainstorm dug him one card deeper, giving him the Underground Sea he was looking for, which let him then cast Cabal Ritual, chaining into another Ritual, Hurkyl's Recall, recast Mox Sapphire, Grim Tutor for Tendrils of Agony, and then Tendrils for 22, killing Trogdon on turn 2. Trogdon had his Crypt on the table, but chose not to use it in response to Mastriano's first Cabal Ritual, possibly costing himself the game at that point.

Mastriano 1, Trogdon 0

Paul Mastriano made short work of Trogdon.Trogdon chose to play with seven in Game 2, casting Mana Crypt, Mox Jet, Chalice of the Void for 0 and Wasteland. Mastriano merely played a Flooded Strand and then Force of Willed Trogdon's Pyrostatic Pillar a turn later. Gorilla Shaman resolved for Trogdon and then Trinisphere a turn later, sticking Mastriano's hasty boots firmly in the mud. Trogdon put Mastriano all the way down to 5 before Paul cast Rebuild, returning all artifacts to hands. This let Paul cast Black Lotus, Mox Jet, then Cabal Ritual times two (on a previously empty graveyard), then Yawgmoth's Will, recasting his Lotus, Ritual, Ritual, and finally a Tendrils of Agony for exactly twenty life, killing Trogdon dead.

Mastriano 2, Trogdon 0

Looking around the top tables as of Round 7 would have revealed the following metagame facing Top 8 contenders:

1) 2 Pitch Long
2) 2 EBA (U/B/W Fish)
3) UbaStax vs. Bomberman
4) Mishra's Workshop Aggro vs. EBA
5) Stax vs. BHMC Tendrils
6) Gifts Control vs. EBA
7) Long vs. Meandeck Gifts
8) Burning Slaver vs. DPS (Storm)
9) Dragon vs. Gifts Control
10) Pitch Long mirror

2005 Vintage champ and newly crowned 2006 Legacy champ Roland Chang was out after Round 5, having faced possibly the five toughest opponents in the room, and teammate Stephen Menendian quickly capitulated right behind him, as did giant walking brain and Purdue graduate student Rich Shay. Sadly, community leader and Waterbury organizer Ray Robillard also checked the X on the drop sheet. In fact, not a single one of last year's Top 8 members would make a repeat performance, though most of them were in attendance and battled in the main and side events throughout the weekend.

Round 8: Josh Meckes vs. Nick Trudeau
Josh Meckes is smiling now…will he be after Round 8?Josh Meckes is a 23-year-old Photographer from NYC. His opponent for this round, with both players fighting it out for one of the last Top 8 slots is Nick Trudeau, a 22-year-old student/poker player who came here all the way from San Diego, California. Trudeau already has one Top 8 under his belt this weekend from the Legacy Championship.

Meckes had to mulligan thrice before finding a keepable hand, but Trudeau went to five himself, an interesting variable in this match considering both are running storm-based combo decks. Meckes played Polluted Delta and Mox Jet for his first turn, while Trudeau sacrificed Black Lotus to Duress Meckes, getting Misdirection, then cast Dark Confidant and laid a Delta of his own. Let me tell you, Dark Confidant and Ancestral Recall (which Trudeau cast the next turn) are a helluva way to overcome a double mulligan. With Duresses ripping apart Meckes' hand, it was relatively simple for Trudeau to attack with Bob for a couple of turns before storming Josh out with Tendrils of Agony.

Trudeau 1, Meckes 0

Both players kept seven for Game 2, with Meckes leading with Library of Alexandria, while Trudeau went much more busty, playing Mox Jet, Duress, Mox Sapphire, Ancestral Recall, and then Tolarian Academy to cast Time Walk. Nice turn 1, buddy. Turn 2 went Brainstorm, Mox Pearl, 3 Dark Rituals and 2 Tendrils of Agony. This was all before Meckes had a chance at a second turn. That's it folks, the match was over. Nothing else to see here.

Trudeau 2, Meckes 0

Ritual Agony is all we see here.

top 8 bracket


Nick Trudeau (BHWC Tendrils)

Travis Spero (Meandeck Gifts)

Paul Nicolo (Blue-white-black Fish)

Robert Vroman (Uba Stax)

Paul Mastriano (Pitch Long)

Arend Kraehling (Control Slaver)

Tommy Kolowith (Pitch Long)

Davide Cohen (Dark Gifts)












Arend Kraehling - Control Slaver

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Deck Analysis: What started as some funky German creation has become one of the staples of the Vintage metagame. The deck is designed so that you can play control in the early game, turning in really well-played turns so that you can then activate a Mindslaver and play very badly. With your opponent's cards, of course. The deck is powerful enough to generally compete with the format's best, but that particular "fun" card interarction is what keeps players coming back for more.

Arend Kraehling

Paul Nicolo - Blue-white-black Fish

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Deck Analysis: Traditionally called EBA, this 3-color Fish archetype (yes, I know it doesn't have any merfolk in it - shhh) is designed to thoroughly disrupt opponents while laying a steady stream of two-power beaters. The addition of Bob helps this deck keep its hand stocked, an absolute necessity in order to overcome the flood of combo decks that were lurking at the top of the standings.

Paul Nicolo

Davide Cohen - Dark Gifts

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Deck Analysis: Cohen made the trip to Gen Con all the way from Italy and was rewarded with a Top 8 appearance for his intriguing Gifts Control variation. While it features the traditional Tinker-into-Darksteel Colossus kill, Cohen's deck can also deliver a kill via Tendrils of Agony and uses Dark Confidant as a card-drawing engine, while attacking with him to make his combo kill a bit easier. This is a clever bit of deckbuilding here and it will be interesting to see if it gains widespread acceptance in the community.

Davide Cohen

Travis Spero - Meandeck Gifts

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Deck Analysis: Another year, another Meandeck Gifts list. This is pretty standard stuff, with the deck playing the control role until it can blow and opponent out with counterspell backup. Spero's build also includes a Tendrils in the sideboard for matchups where he either a) needs to gain some life or b) needs it to provide an additional win condition against decks running Extract out of the sideboard.

Travis Spero

Robert Vroman - Uba Stax

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Deck Analysis: St. Lou's finest Vintage Magician rarely deviates from the deck he made famous, and he doesn't need to. Vroman's an Uba Stax expert and he posts result after result with the deck, in spite of the fact that almost everyone knows what he's playing before he even sits down. I hate Stax decks just because of what they do to game play, but you have to respect consistent excellence like this.

Robert Vroman

Nick Trudeau - BHWC Tendrils

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Deck Analysis: Another Tendrils deck, and even better, another Tendrils deck sporting Dark Confidant. This felt like the most unique deck in the Top 8, with card drawing coming from an unexpected angle, a full boat of Duress in the maindeck, and redundant Tendrils of Agony so that you don't have to scramble if your combo fizzles in the early turns. It lacks the counterspell suite of Pitch Long, but seems to make up for it in other areas. This deck is a spicy meatsaball.

Nick Trudeau

Paul Mastriano - Pitch Long

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Tommy Kolowith - Pitch Long

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Deck Analysis: A double dose of Pitch Long, which was covered above. The sideboards here are significantly different, but both were so good that they went undefeated in the Swiss rounds before drawing into the Top 8.