Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Eternally Yours

Another Eternal Weekend come and gone, and as usual I have some thoughts about it.

The location: Columbus, I have to admit, mildly exceeded my (breathtakingly low) expectations. Minus points for the convention center being under so much construction, but plus points for: North Market, chicken & Li├Ęge waffles at North Market, cheeseburgers with pirogi on them, and a con center food court with surprisingly good Indian food. Worse hotels, but eh, can't have everything.

The event itself: in past years, the main events have been one-day affairs, with Legacy on Saturday (with some portion of the top 8 being played out Sunday morning), then Vintage on Sunday. Growth has made that a little bit awkward, which is a good problem to have, and the way it was run this year was with Vintage swiss rounds on Friday, Legacy swiss on Saturday, and both top 8s playing out on Sunday. This is one solution, I guess, but hopefully they iterate on it next year. It's a little awkward that unless you made top cut, Sunday is kind of a dead day. Especially weird was the timing of the bigger side events; Legacy and Vintage both had a 25K Showdown, but on Friday and Saturday mornings, opposite the main event (so Legacy Showdown on Friday vs Vintage Champs and vice versa). If you wanted to play in both Champs events and made top-cut in neither, the big Showdown event on Sunday was… EMA Sealed 15.

I dunno. That seems wrong to me.

I also really missed the chance to warm up with a Vintage side event before Champs without arriving another full day early. I got in Thursday night and it's almost impossible to arrive early enough to play anything when flying from the west coast, and I'd have benefited from having a few rounds to settle into things before a cold start Friday morning. This isn't a reason to change anything – cross-country logistics are what they are. Just something I personally missed a little.

Anyway, Vintage champs. I was going back and forth a lot on my deck selection the week before Champs. I'd seen Rich Shay stream a Stax list the week before and played it at a Knight Ware event:

- Creatures 3 Phyrexian Revoker 1 Lodestone Golem - Artifacts 4 Sphere of Resistance 4 Thorn of Amethyst 4 Tangle Wire 3 Smokestack 3 Ensnaring Bridge 3 Null Rod 3 Crucible of Worlds 1 Trinisphere 1 Chalice of the Void 1 Bottled Cloister 1 Ghirapur Orrery 1 Mox Emerald 1 Mox Jet 1 Mox Pearl 1 Mox Ruby 1 Mox Sapphire - Lands 4 Mishra's Workshop 4 Wasteland 4 Ancient Tomb 3 Mishra's Factory 2 Inventors' Fair 2 Bazaar of Baghdad 1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth 1 Tolarian Academy 1 Strip Mine
2 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale 4 Leyline of the Voiddef 4 Grafdigger's Cage 3 Dismember 1 Karakas 1 Null Rod

(Sideboard may be off a few cards from the original.) I fundamentally love the list. Inventors' Fair is the real deal (check the actual Champs finals to see it do its thing), it and Bazaar give you far more card selection than Shops usually has access to, and Smokestack is just an utter delight. I did have some real concerns about piloting it though: primarily time. In the KW event, I had a game draw vs a Monastery Mentor deck where game one went on for 35+ minutes during which I kept my hand empty to lock out his board full of tokens under a Bridge but nonetheless needed a long time to Smokestack away his entire force to start swinging in. Game two he blew me out with a Vintage Mentor draw, and time was called before we'd even presented for game 3. I really, really didn't want that to happen again, especially early on: it would guarantee ending up in the "slow players who don't scoop to unwinnable board states" bracket all day.

As an additional note, I spoke to Dr. Shay at the event and asked him why no Sol Ring. He said it was to make Mental Misstep completely blank, but also that he'd been wishing he had it all day. I'd probably play it over Ghirapur Orrery which, while an extremely hilarious card, has some flaws. My chief fear is that letting opponents play two lands in their can give them an opportunity to present an explosive turn that breaks out of a multiple-Sphere lock, particularly if they have access to Gush to tap and replay lands. That's a situation Stax must avoid at all costs: once opponents break out of the box it's very hard to get them back in.

So ultimately I went the other direction and ran an Esper Mentor list taken from one Brian Kelly played in Season 5 of the Vintage Super League, with only a few tweaks to increase the amount of main-deck removal.

- Creatures 3 Dark Confidant 2 Monastery Mentor 1 Snapcaster Mage - Planeswalkers 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor - Spells 4 Force of Will 3 Mental Misstep 3 Gitaxian Probe 3 Gush 3 Preordain 2 Swords to Plowshares 1 Ancestral Recall 1 Brainstorm 1 Demonic Tutor 1 Flusterstorm 1 Merchant Scroll 1 Ponder 1 Spell Snare 1 Tendrils of Agony 1 Time Walk 1 Yawgmoth's Will - Artifacts 1 Sensei's Divining Top 1 Black Lotus 1 Lotus Petal 1 Mana Crypt 1 Mox Emerald 1 Mox Jet 1 Mox Pearl 1 Mox Ruby 1 Mox Sapphire - Lands 4 Flooded Strand 1 Misty Rainforest 1 Scalding Tarn 1 Marsh Flats 3 Tundra 3 Underground Sea 1 Island 1 Library of Alexandria
3 Containment Priest 2 Disenchant 2 Rest in Peace 2 Tormod's Crypt 1 Ceremonious Rejection 1 Declaration in Stone 1 Devout Witness 1 Steel Sabotage 1 Swords to Plowshares 1 Plains

The deck was damn fun and quite powerful, and also quite hard to play. In addition to the usual challenges in sequencing Gush and blue cards, you also have to be constantly aware that you only have two Mentors and one Yawg Will, and when those are gone, your backup plans are not great. This is emphatically not a deck that's set up to go for a full Tendrils for 20, nor is it well-equipped to hold down the board while you tick up for a Jace ultimate. It has neither the aggressive combo potential of a Fastbond or Dark Ritual list nor enough countermagic and removal to play the Jace game. I went 4-5 on the day, and several of my games were lost to one of the oldest rules of Magic: "Mis-evaluation of role = game loss". Either I played out my limited Mentors too aggressively and lost them, or I held back too long trying to set up a combo-control gameplan only to have it disassembled by a Cavern of Souls-powered Thought-Knot Seer.

The most common kills with the deck once you factor out "lol Vintage" starts like T1 Mentor + Time Walk nonsense was probably a short Tendrils for half their life followed by Mentor beats for the other half. This plan does an excellent job of punishing opponents who think they have 2-3 more turns and highlights Mentor's role as "the white Tendrils of Agony". I got a fair number of incremental Bob beats in too.

Of course, Bob has risks in a deck with 4 Force, 3 Gush, 2 Jace, and a Tendrils, but they're probably overstated. I took, I think, five Gush/FoW hits to the face all day, and only once did it matter in terms of giving the opponent the win. Three were utterly irrelevant, one I was dead anyway, and one just made me fire off a short Tendrils for 12 to give me some buffer that I Willed back later. I mean, if Bob flips a Gush, the upside is now you have a Gush. Life could be worse.

Obviously I'd have loved it if my record had been better, but in contrast to last year, where I was frustrated and angry with myself for some bad decisions made in deckbuilding that haunted me all day, this time I felt like I had a strong 75 and my failures were primarily from needing more prep time with the deck: a perennial problem I have given how often I change decks in various formats, compounded by losing access to a convenient LGS and the inability to tolerate Magic Online.

In a side event on Sunday I tried it with a few modifications: maindeck -Library, +Tolarian Academy and sideboard -Steel Sab, -Declaration, -Rejection, +Jace, the Mind Sculptor, +Moat, +Balance. The maindeck change was an attempt to make Tendrils mana easier to assemble. Library is disgustingly powerful, no question, but as a deck with Gush but no Fastbond, I often struggled to get to 4 for Tendrils even if I had the BB color requirement. This met with some success on Sunday, but I'm far from 100% sure it's worth losing Library. In the board, the idea is to improve the Eldrazi matchup by turning into a board control Jace deck post-board rather than continuing to fight them on the ground. Moat is a deck that aggro decks in the format have almost always struggled to beat, even if they have a flier or two. A third Jace gives you an additional way to win over your own Moat, and Balance is just the most efficient Wrath in the format. Alas, I didn't really have the chance to try out this plan in the small side event, but I do think it has potential.

On the whole, the Vintage event was a blast. I saw many archetypes, played nine rounds of great Vintage, and like I said, while I wouldn't have turned down a better record, I'm not nearly as frustrated by my results as I was last year.

And in Legacy… well, what can I say. I played the Ben Perry Special:

Though I did run a Trash for Treasure in the flex board slot over Ben's Tendrils. Won one game with it, lost one game Tendrils would have won, so I'll call it a wash. It's a fun card though. Put up a 6-4, including a memorably nasty loss to a RB Reanimator player taking out some tilt on me by reanimating two Chancellor of the Annex, which I think was slightly uncalled for, but in talking with him, he had excellent reason to tilt, and a very tense game of Rocket Launcher Tag with an Omni-Show deck, putting in a Goblin Charbelcher off his Show and Tell vs his Omniscience and trying to kill him in response to his cast Griselbrand via two Simian Spirit Guides and a Pyretic Ritual. He went desperation Brainstorm and, alas, managed to find Cunning Wish for Wipe Away with Ritual on the stack, but… almost had him. That match also featured the only time I've ever actually spliced Desperate Ritual with a second copy for extra mana, and I owe three months of drafting 5-Color Arcane in Modern Masters and a few tournaments with the Grishoalbrand Modern deck for teaching me how that mechanic actually works.

For once, I managed to avoid paying actual factual cash for any really outrageous purchases. Just did some trading and turned a good-sized stack of random foils and spare Khans fetchlands into a smaller stack of other random foils I wanted more, plus a graded Moat I liberated for the good of the game.

Great event overall, and it's time to start preparing for next year: starting with the Vintage Control Restoration Project. Watch this space.

Updated: FORGOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. I FOUND ONE:

Or, really, my friend Post found one, at a booth while I was in round. He correctly picked it up immediately before the waveform collapsed and it ceased to exist. So that's awesome too.