Monday, June 16, 2014

How to 2-1 a VMA 8-4 with U/R control

Vintage masters is a very exciting format.  It has stirred the drafting juices like nothing I can think of since modern masters.  I think the largest reason is the sheer depth of the format.  For whatever reason, wotc seems to think that saddling expert and core set releases with unplayable garbage is a good thing for it is "skill testing." Balderdash.  While I understand that "these cards are not for me" (I'm looking at you, ephara's radiance!) the number of unplayables that each color gets in these more common sets is very dispiriting.  When you get the pack you cracked back and your faced with a complete sea of garbage, that feels bad, but for some reason WotC seems to care less about that feel bad moment than they do the feel bad amount of having your land destroyed, your creature killed, or your spell countered.

Tangent aside, I've been doing fairly well with vintage masters: certainly better than I have with traditional expansions.  I really relish the chance to play with powerful spells, and bringing decks with a few decent creatures and many very effective spells has been proving effective.  Presenting: u/r control:

Powerful removal spells, a busted card advantage engine, and a few powerful finishers: everything I want in a control deck.  I find myself taking the cycling lands higher and higher as the depth of the format allows me to more reasonably wheel playable cards.  Certainly the velocity afforded by the cycle lands helped me consistently draw into the action of my deck - a very low-cost flood insurance policy indeed.

Round 1 I played against a mono-black aggro deck, a challenge indeed.  A choking sands slowed me down sufficiently in round 1 that I just lost.  In game 2, I stabilized at 1 life, just barely.  At 1 life, he attacked me with a death's-head buzzard and putrid imp.  In response, I cast starstorm with x=1.  I thought I had made a terrible mistake as he proceeded to discard two or three cards to make putrid imp a 2/2.  However, I was saved as his death's head buzzard proceeded to finish the 2/2 off with it's death trigger!  I never expected that my own "misplay" would prompt my opponent to misplay so badly, but with this sudden turn of events I was able to turn the game around.  While at 1 life, I was able to play a thread and hold up counterspell in the event that he would draw a burn spell off the top, and removal in case he played anything else.

Round 2 I played against white weenie, and the true power of my deck emerged.  In the screenshot below I was able to get so much value off of starfall and rescind that I felt truly dirty.  Starfall managed to nab 4 creatures, spark spray nabbed a fifth, and then rescind bounced a mistmoon griffin that he had loaded up with first empyrial armor, then a brilliant halo.

In the next game he led off with skullclamp, a very scary card indeed.  I felt a pit in my stomach as I was certain it was the very skullclamp I had passed for a kindle. Would I be finished off by my failure to hatedraft?

No way!  Timely instant removal blunted the impact of skullclamp in the very early turns, leaving him with just a benalish trapper: a poor skullclamp target indeed.  Seeing that his one creature was defensive, I decided to turn the screws to him by becoming the beatdown.  Prophetic bolt turned the race in my favor in a very card-friendly way, and once I had him on the defensive a simple counterspell was all I needed to ensure victory.  The might FTK helped too, certainly.

Sadly, my opponent in round 3 declined the split, and I found myself getting out card-advantaged by a blue-green goodstuff deck.  While future sight is a powerful draw engine, it got countersinked while his own fact or fiction resolved while I hadn't yet drawn into my counterspells.  I perhaps made a too-clever play by using aftershock to remove what appeared to be his own red source, but it would have been better served smiting his 8/8 realm seekers that he laid down the following turn.  An 8/8 was simply too large to handle and I found myself chump-blocking to death.

Still, I was happy with the strategy, my only regret not playing 18 lands in the main.  With 3 actual counterspells, I wanted more blue mana in every game 1.  Adding an island after sideboarding while taking out something mediocre definitely helped my consistency while the lonely sandbars served to help with flood issues.  Another surprise hit was spark spray.  There are a surprisingly large number of x-1s in the format, and if you come up against a deck where it has no targets, you're not down all that much because it can help you find your actual answer cards.

Good luck to you in your own drafts, and let me know if you have had similar success with control in this format.  Aggro is currently the most popular strategy, it seems to me, and I'll be curious to see if the meta evolves such that it becomes less popular.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A vintage excursion

As I write, draft queues for vintage masters are firing at quite the rate, injecting power nine into the magic online economy, and cratering the price of force of will.  I can't say I'm too unhappy with the massive smash in prices that this set has brought, despite that diminishing the EV of vintage masters itself.  What I am happy about, however, is the chance to draft with fact or fiction as an uncommon.  Uncommon!  I've gotten a few drafts under my belt, and I have some first impressions of the format as a whole.  I'm not an amazing drafter; I'm no Ben Stark mastermind.  However, I try my best and I can definitely hold my own.

In my first draft, after cracking a mox emerald pack 1 pick 1, I decided to try and go green to take advantage of the sparkly piece of power.  While forcing green, I kept my eyes open for an auxiliary color, settling on blue when late men of war started floating my way.

I was quite happy to field this deck, as the combination of ramp, fatties, card draw and interaction seemed to be just the sort of midrange deck that would have play against a wide variety of decks.  In the swiss queue, I first faced an incredibly aggressive red black deck which demolished me in short order.  The madness value that I hoped to gain was too "cute" to weather the aggro storm I faced, by far.  Against red aggressive decks, cards like krosan tusker and ophidian seem like a sad joke.

I followed this up with an underwhelming performance against b/w value/grind.  With having mulligan issues, I was never able to gain traction against his plentiful removal spells, and creatures which entered the battlefield with strong effects.  By removing my key creatures, he was able to blank my less important ones.  Fyndhorn elves, while often strong against sacrifice effects, is less strong when you've mulliganed and need every ounce of mana you can get.  Third up in the swiss was a similar w/b control deck, splashing red for more removal.  This color combination seemed a bit awkward, and I was able to take the match down by getting my ophidian engine online.  It should come as no surprise that ophidian into man of war is a strong combination, and as my board built up steadily, simple one for one removal spells proved ineffective.

Next up was a sweet, sweet control list, featuring a grand total of 7 creatures, with a grand total of fourteen power.  And two of those wanted to be cycled for lightning rift shenanigans!  Where the r/w/b control deck I faced in the finals failed, this succeeded.  I attribute this to the two engines the deck contained of library of alexandria and lightning rift.  With a full eight ways to cycle, I found myself pinging the small threats and exiling the large ones.  White was cut off in pack 1, and I wasn't exactly sure where I was at, color wise, going into pack 2.  Pack 2 provided so much incredible white, however, that it was worth it do dive into it for a splash.  Indeed, taking as many white cards as I did proved invaluable in the draft, as I was able to win a match by siding into R/W splashing blue against fatty green monsters where the benalish trappers would shine.  One memorable game involved casting dack's duplicate on a symbiotic worm, and the swords to plowsharing the opponents worm.  This line did not lose.

I faced decks of varying aggression during each of the three rounds, and often I had my back up against the wall.  Sideboarding proved critical as memory jar would be replaced by something more relevant.  I knew that this draft hold a special place in my heart when pack 1 provided me not only with the library, but also memory jar and mind's desire.  Control in this environment is challenging, but with so many people deciding to hop on the red bandwagon, if you can preserve your life total and spend your removal spells wisely, it is possible to play the card advantage game to positive results.

After that, I felt confident enough to enter an 8-4.  I enjoy playing control; it is where my greatest strengths as a magic player lie.  With that in mind, I went in ready to play w/u control, as that seems the most effective control color combination.  At random times, I picked up very late salt flats, which meant that when a late magister of worth came along in pack three, I was able to snatch it up.  Again, I faced aggressive decks, although if anything these aggressive decks felt less powerful than those I had faced in the swiss queues!  Perhaps the growing popularity of aggro has made the card pool weaker.  In round one, I utterly crushed a red/green aggro deck with fatties.   To put it mildly, pillaging horde is not a good answer to control.  I was able to at first repel it, and then the turn after simply exile it, for a net of 2 for 5 card advantage, plus the lifegain from exile. He stole one game by killing almost my entire board with the card which deals three damage to all fliers and hitting me for exact lethal, and I sided out my fliers (magister excepted).

The next deck I saw was very interesting, a u/b build which utilized multiple clouds of faeries, thalakos drifters, and other evasive threats.  After I won game one, I found myself on the ropes in game 2, stabilizing at 1 life.  A timely swords to plowshares removed his thalakos drifters, and my thopter squadrons held off his pesky faeries.  While earlier he had used paralyze on on of my thopters, now I was able to simply let it erode away into 1/1 fliers, making his paralyze essentially a burn spell with no other value.  I decided to split in the finals, as hey, it's fathers day, and I'm going to go for a bike ride with my dad, and I wanted to get ready for that.

Vintage masters seems like quite a fun format, especially if you enjoy killing creatures.  That said, it is important to read signals and get a feel for the metagame.  Currently, aggro is enjoying a wave of popularity, but as people get a sense for how to beat them, this could change and the ability to create a killer control deck could dry up.  Staying in one color as long as possible, to both cut it off for pack 2, and to see what color is really open from the right, seems especially important.  Good luck all, and may you open a foil black lotus!