Sunday, June 12, 2016

NYSE IV and NYC Old School

A Year on "teh Interwebs"
Understanding Ancestral Recall is officially a year old! The first post was on May 31, 2015, and since then, quite a bit has changed (mostly in a positive direction). I got a real domain name at some point, (but still have yet to master search engine optimization), I've hosted a guest tournament report, I can can finally build multiple Old School decks, the global community has dramatically grown, and the list goes on. The one major negative that continues to proliferate at an alarming rate is the increasing cost of Old School MTG staples. Take a good look at the cost of Unlimited Fork (using "staple" loosely here), Jayemdae Tome, and Winter Orb.

It's crazy to see just how much the Swedish B&R seems to affect these prices, but with the amount of format interest, speculation, and increased attention from the #mtgfinance community, I shouldn't be so surprised. I am happy that more people are discovering 93/94, I just wish it were a bit more affordable for the newcomers. This is one reason I love the inclusion of Revised, Chronicles, Fourth Edition, and CE/ICE (although I can't believe the prices of these either). Inclusion of these sets all depend on your local play groups' approach, but it definitely helps to grow your community. Also, now that WOTC doesn't print white-bordered cards, there is something definitively "Old School" about them.

Anyhow, It's been an eventful year, and I appreciate all of the interest in this blog and format growth!

I recently travelled to New York City to battle in the fourth "New York Stax Exchange" Open Vintage tournament. Unsurprisingly, I didn't test much and, rather than coming up with a new and interesting deck for the event, I just ran my Grixis Thieves list with a few minor updates (sorry, I had to cut the Impulse to make a 60-card deck 😔). Gush is clearly the most broken draw engine in Vintage, and I like playing an underdog. I also associate Thirst for Knowledge with my favorite time period in Vintage (who remembers the unchallenged dominance of Control Slaver???), so I feel at-home playing it. I suppose I'd prefer a four-Gifts kind of deck, but that seems even less competitive.

Grixis Thieves by Danny Friedman
Business (37)
Force of Will
Mana Drain
Mental Misstep
1 Pyroblast
Mind Twist
Treasure Cruise
Dig Through Time
Thirst for Knowledge
Time Walk
Ancestral Recall
Demonic Tutor
Yawgmoth's Will
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Dack Fayden
Notion Thief
Snapcaster Mage
Blightsteel Colossus
Voltaic Key
Time Vault
Sensei’s Divining Top
Mana Sources (23)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Tolarian Academy
4 Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
1 Misty Rainforest
Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
1 Snow-Covered Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Toxic Deluge
Ravenous Trap
Steel Sabotage
Ingot Chewer
Virulent Plague
Pithing Needle
Grafdigger’s Cage

If you've been reading this blog at all up until now, you probably know how much I love playing this deck. I've also done relatively well with it, so it seemed like a good choice for a large event. I felt that playing a deck that I was more comfortable with was more important than playing "the best deck" (something with Mentor and Gush). These days, there aren't many, if any, local Vintage tournaments, so I felt familiarity would be key to my success with this deck, as I have so little practice playing current tournament Vintage.

The small picture does not do these justice
I had been testing regularly with Jaco, prior to him moving to LA. Before the recent breakthrough of Eldrazi in Vintage (which unfortunately happened the week prior to NYSE), Jaco had been playing an un-powered Eldrazi list. He had been playing this for months since experiencing Eldrazi in Modern.

Jaco's un-powered Vintage Eldrazi from NYSE 4
I honestly feel that this was the most un-beatable deck I have played against in a long time. Unless I played a turn one Tinker for Blightsteel, or somehow Key-Vaulted Jaco before dying, this deck would just run me over. My counterspells were generally useless by turn three (often sooner, thanks to opening hands with Cavern of Souls), and if my hand, miraculously, was not destroyed by a Thought-Knot Seer, one of the eight Wasteland effects in tandem with Null Rod would surely stop any action on my part and lead to a quick Eldrazi-laden demise. I would not be surprised if I won one in thirty games against this deck, pre or post-board.

The craziest thing about this deck is that boarding in any of the usual anti-Workshop hate has almost no effect on this deck. It only deals with single Chalice of the Void/Crucible of Worlds, or the four Null Rods. Those aren't even the cards that win the game, they just slow it down! Most of the time, Toxic Deluge was not good enough because I couldn't afford to pay the life to use it. Really, only cards like Ensnaring Bridge or effects like Terror would have been good. I really should have added these to my board (and yes, I understand that Snuff Out exists, I don't think paying the life would have been possible most of the time when needed, Go for the Throat would have been the likely choice).

After both Workshop Eldrazi and Mono White Eldrazi had been unveiled in the MTGO Power Nine Challenge, Jaco tested the White Eldrazi list against me. That list put so much less pressure on than his un-powered list, that I was winning many more games. I think one of the major differences is that there are so many more spells that I could interact with compared to the un-powered version. For this reason, I feel that Jaco's un-powered Eldrazi is the superior Eldrazi-based aggro deck compared to the Shops variant (with only Thought-Knot Seer) and the white variant.

I mistakenly assumed that Eldrazi would only make up a minor part of the field at NYSE, and rather than pack my sideboard with hate, added an additional Toxic Deluge, and called it a day. This was a huge miss on my part.

I flew out for NYSE Friday, June third after work and met Jaco at LGA around 11:30PM. We were supposed to meet up with Twaun P. Pwnertown, but Twaun completely blew it, and mistakenly missed his 6:30AM flight out of Cleveland, thinking it left at 6:30PM (hats off to all you Europeans one-upping us with the 24-hour clock). This was the biggest slop of the trip, and Twaun was sorely missed. Jaco and I took a $108 Uber out to Long Island to meet Steve Menendian at our hotel. After many hours of back-and-forth conversation about old TV mystery series (I cannot believe how many esoteric mystery shows that both Steve and Jaco knew about), I finally fell asleep.

The next morning, all three of us were super tired, but ready to play. We took an overpriced taxi to the tournament site, which was a an intensely hot and humid (SWEATY) game store, to battle it out against 157 competitors for a Black Lotus and the best trophy in Vintage.

In honor of Twaun, Steve, Jaco, and I entered the team challenge as team "Straigh Merc'n Catz", which was the name of Twaun, Jaco, and my team the year we all drove to Waterbury on a whim (I think 2010 or 2011), where rather than us performing the merc'ing, were merc'd and drove the 19 hours home with minimal glory. I think Jaco won the second day with Two-Card Monty, so all may not have been lost.

Anyways, to make a long story short, my day started out, amazingly, with a 4-0 record. I cast Mind Twist three times, for 4, 1, and 4, and each time it single-handedly won me the game.

Fatal Mind Twist against the awesome David Nunez
I played against DPS, 2x blue-based control decks, and Jeskai Delver. All of the matches were close, and the games were great, although I suppose most winners would say something similar. My opponents were super awesome to play against, and top-notch players/individuals in general.

Then, I faced Andy "Brassman" Probasco on White Eldrazi. I lost in two quick games, and Andy kindly pointed out a huge error I made game one after the match:

I kept a great hand with Mox Jet, 2 lands, ForceMisstep, and Ancestral (and some other card I don't remember) on the draw. I knew Andy was on Eldrazi, and was extremely worried about an uncounterable turn one TKS. Andy lead JetLotus, into COTV at zero. I though about forcing it, thinking that he was likely to drop a Cavern of Souls afterward, invalidating my Force, but I let it through. Then, he played Cavern naming "Eldrazi", and broke Lotus for a TKS. My first thought was "Now that is the luckiest hand!", then revealed my hand for Andy to take the Recall. He took the Recall, and ended up killing me with just the TKS, never playing another valid threat.

What Andy pointed out was that since Lotus has to break for colored mana, and Jet also makes colored mana, the TKS must be cast off the Cavern, producing colorless mana. This means that I could have countered the TKS with Force, pitching Misstep, then gone for a turn one Ancestral to reload my hand on my turn. Since Andy never played another threat in our game, I likely would have won this game, if I had made the correct play. Who knows if I would have won the match, but this put me on serious tilt. This situation had never come up in testing against Jaco, as the bulk of our matches were with un-powered Eldrazi, which only contains colorless-producing lands. Live and learn.

I then faced two consecutive rounds of Eldrazi Shops and Mono White Eldrazi respectively, losing each match in two games. I made another massive play error in game two of my match with Mono White Eldrazi that definitely lost me the game (I forgot that Batterskull gives vigilance, and if I had blocked it with my BSC, rather than a larger creature, could have swung in for the win with it the following turn. The Eldrazi tilt was real.

I won my final round against Mentor for a lackluster 5-3 record, putting me at 29th place out of 157.

Every match I lost I can attribute to a combination of play error (the ones above, but hey, I suppose there could have been more 😉) and the raw power of Thought-Knot Seer. I spoke with many people after the tournament, and aside from matches in the top eight, I didn't talk to anyone who played against Eldrazi more than once in the swiss. Bad beats! That said, given my misplays, a 5-3 record is about what I deserve.

The top eight was stacked, and if you take a good look at the top 16, Thought-Knot Seer is clearly here to stay. Andy Markiton took down the tournament with TKS Shops, which is awesome, considering the only piece of Power he was missing was Lotus. It's also important to note that he consistently does well on MTGO (he won the recent Power Nine Challenge), and it's great to see that skill translate into paper MTG.

I think the major bummer about NYSE was that Jaco missed top eight on breakers. He drew with Brian Schlossberg in round eight, and due to some unlikely wins, was bumped to tenth place, good enough for a Workshop, but not a chance at the trophy. Given the decks that made top eight, I think Jaco's un-powered Eldrazi would have been a nightmare for his opponents. It would have been great to see an un-powered deck take down a 157-man tournament of the best Vintage players in the world.

Fortunately for me, Jaco did not need another Workshop, and agreed to sell me the one he won. This now makes the fourth Mishra's Workshop that Jaco has sold me, so now I can go and terrorize some blue decks!

Four is definitely better than three
And in celebration of my fourth Mishra's Workshop, here's a mono red artifact aggro/Atog deck that I have been playing with. I'll discuss more in a future post.

Mono Red Artifact Aggro
After the event, a bunch of us ended up going to out to a diner to celebrate another successful NYSE including Nick Detwiler, Rich Shay, Jaco, Tom Metelsky, Andy Markiton, Roland Chang, Brian Schlossberg, and many others. Despite my bad beats, it's the community that keeps me coming back. This community is made up of a great bunch of people, and I feel lucky to be a part of such an awesome group. I look forward to next year, and hopefully not slopping it up so much.

I wanted to give a special shoutout to Nick Detwiler for the important role he plays in this community and his dedication. Without him, this event would not be possible. He's a real mensch.

NYC Old School
The next morning, on a tiny amount of sleep, Jaco and I hitched a ride to The Comic Book Depot to battle some Old School (or if you're talking with Rich Shay, "Retro", never Old School). Steve could have played, but did not account for this and didn't have a deck. Our hotel room really brought the slops.

In my standard uncreative fashion, I didn't have time to come up with an interesting deck, so I brought my Millstone Deck variant "The Milling Factory". Here is a short synopsis of the tournament.

I win round one and round two of the strength of good top decks (sorry Evan). I ended up getting paired against Vinnie Forino's old friend, Brian Dougherty in round three, and he beat me in three games. This was Brain's old deck from back in the 90s, so it was awesome to get crushed by it.

I was then paired with David Nunez, who was currently 1-2. David is an extremely nice dude, and a very tight player. He offered to scoop to me before we started, since I was in prize contention. He's a total gentleman, and I took him up on his offer. We played our games and he demolished me in two games. We had a blast chatting, and I look forward to playing against him again and returning the favor if I can.

I ended up winning the final round again B/R burn/land destruction. This match was very difficult and Copper Tablet, Warp Artifact, and Underworld Dreams almost finished me. My opponent's Copper Tablet sealed his fate game three, and would have killed me, had we made it to my next upkeep.

I ended up getting third place, which was good for $50 in store credit. I picked up six Thing in the Ice, giving two to Jaco.

The event was fun, and it's always great to see the East Coast guys. Jaco and I loaned Nick Detwiler a deck and he was able to place the first couple of rounds. Being the infinitely generous person that he is, Nick bought Jaco and I some cannolis that made the day much more bearable on my minimal amount of sleep.

After the event, Jaco and I hitched a ride with John Grudzina, Maura, and Evan to Brooklyn to hang out before our 6AM flights the next morning (mainly avoiding another $100+ Uber). We went our for Thai food, then picked up some beers, and hung with Evan at his place. We left around midnight, slept (somewhat) in the airport, and both caught our flights that morning. I got off the plane, took the train, and went straight to work. What a crazy ass weekend.