Vintage Super League Season 2 came to a thrilling end on Sunday with Eric Froehlich fending off a valiant charge by Chris Pikula. Chris almost clawed all the way back from an 0-2 hole when he switched to his Delver deck, but Eric won the mirror match in game 3 of match number 5 and the No. 1-ranked player in the world claimed his first Vintage Super League title. With VSL headed into the off-season for the next few months (and Standard Super League taking over the “Super Tuesdays” timeslot on twitch.tv/magic), now seems like the perfect time to look back on the VSL season that was.
First, for the uninitiated, Vintage Super League is a weekly competition between Magic celebrities played out through Magic Online and streamed on twitch.tv/magic on Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (UTC-7). The ten competitors are a mix of Platinum pros, members of the Magic Hall of Fame, Vintage celebrities, and Vintage celebrities who also do the commentary when they aren’t playing their own matches. The league uses the Vintage Constructed format, which is the only place all of the most powerful (and, sure, completely unfair and broken) cards in the history of Magic are legal (although many of the most powerful cards are “restricted” to just one per deck instead of four).
The big story of Week 1 was definitely the Blue Belcher deck piloted by Chris Pikula and Randy Buehler. Unlike previous Belcher decks, which tended to be red-green and use Land Grant, this one has Tolarian Academy as its only land (with 4 Expedition Maps to go get it) and every possible Mox (including the unrestricted Opal and Chrome varieties). This is probably the best example of VSL driving the real-world metagame as the deck was essentially invisible before but is now a thing that shows up regularly (though only when there aren’t a lot of Workshop decks around as that matchup destroys it). The deck won 3 of the 5 games played in week 1 as Randy played twice to make up for Kai Budde missing his first match due to internet issues. In his match against fellow Magic Hall of Fame member Luis Scott-Vargas, Randy actually pulled off the first turn one kill in league history.
It only took one week before we had our second turn 1 kill, although this time Luis was on the winning side with his Doomsday deck.
While the possibility of turn 1 kills is definitely part of the allure and mystique of Vintage, these remain the only two in the now 200+ game history of the Vintage Super League. It turns out that all the free countermagic that’s omnipresent in the format (especially Force of Will and Mental Misstep) keeps the combo decks more or less in check and the games are rarely decided on turn 1.
The rematch of the Season 1 finals between Luis and Steve happened in Week 4 and it lived up to all the hype and all the history. In other words, just like last year Steve accumulated a hand full of so much permission he had to start discarding it and Luis just waited for a better moment and managed to win what looked like an unwinnable game.
Kai lost his first nine games and found himself 0-4 and down a game against David Williams when Williams gambled on a high-risk, high-reward opening hand:
Kai went on to win game 3 and three of his last four matches to finish at 4-5 and safely into Season 3. David wound up 2-7 and all alone in last place. Change this one result, though, and we could have had a three-way tie for last between David, Steve, and Kai.
“The heater is real”
The other big match in week 5 was between the last two undefeated players, and this one turned out to be a finals preview. Chris and Eric were each on variants of the Mishra's Workshop archetype. Eric won, and then ran his record to 6-0 the following week, clinching at worst a tie for a playoff spot before he even submitted a third deck. (In parallel with Season 2 of Vintage Super League, by the way, Eric also won a Grand Prix, made the Top 8 in a Pro Tour, and almost made the Top 8 in another Pro Tour to move from No. 12-ranked in the world all the way up to No. 1.)
The standings separated into “haves” and “have nots” about halfway through the season and we knew who our four playoff competitors would be by early in Week 8. However, there was still plenty of drama as the fight to avoid last place is probably the most important battle of the regular season since the 10th place player is “relegated”—that is, they are not invited back to play the next season.
David Williams was the man on that hot seat and things were not looking good when he was down a game in Week 8 and his opponent resolved a turn 1 Griselbrand. But … well, just watch:
David went on to win that match but, unfortunately for him, he lost in week 9 and found himself alone in last place when all the dust from the regular season settled.
The other crazy storyline down the stretch was the Curse of the Dredge deck. Despite being a fixture in Vintage tournaments, no one could seem to win even a single match with Dredge in VSL. The deck went 0-6 in the first trimester and then went 0-3 in the last trimester despite being piloted into some extremely favorable situations by Eric Froehlich. Here’s one example of the savage top-decks that were required to keep Dredge winless:
Eric demonstrated that he doesn’t actually believe in curses as he ran back Dredge for the tiebreaker match versus Luis (required to determine which of them would get the second seed). However, all three of LSV’s trademarks of Luck, Skill, and Victory were on display in game 3:
By the end of the game, Luis also drew all four of his sideboard cards against Dredge and won himself the bye into the semifinals.
Eric did not run Dredge as one of his three decks for the first round of playoffs, opting instead for Doomsday, Shops, and a new-ish take on Mentor. He won a close, interesting mirror match against Randy’s own version of Doomsday, and then he took care of business in the very lopsided Belcher vs Shops matchup. Match 3 seemed to favor Oath on paper, but in practice both games were blowouts and Eric’s turn 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor (off of Black Lotus) found Randy with no Force of Will and no hope to win even a single match in the best of 5 matches series.
That set up the rematch between Eric and Luis in the semis, which Eric once again won in a 3 matches to zero demolition. Eric proceeded to crush Chris in the first two matches of the final and he even managed a turn 1 Doomsday with Force of Will and Mental Misstep back-up that he thought would win him the first game of match 3, but Chris had other ideas, top-decking a Force of Will that got him on the board and continuing to fight valiantly with his Delver deck all the way into the last possible game before Eric finally closed the deal.
All the playlists for the playoffs (and the regular season) can be seen here.
It’s been a great season and we can only hope that Season 3 is this much fun as well. For more information on the league (including recaps of all the matchups), check out vintagesuperleague.com.