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!

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