With Vintage Champs no longer held at Gen Con, the ancestral birthplace of Magic no longer plays host to the most high-profile paper Vintage tournament in America. However, they did hold a large-ish 65-person tournament on Friday of the convention. Unofficial hero of this column, Steve Stierman, was back again with his 5-color Humans list, but this time failed to Top 8.
The Top 8 decklists were interesting, despite the absence of anything truly surprising. As an enthusiast of the Fish archetype, I enjoyed seeing two BUG Aggro-Control decks and a 4-Color Delver player make the elimination rounds. Blue-White Stoneblade also made the cut. Past that, there were a pair of Shops decks, one UR Landstill, and the Oath Storm hybrid deck which has been popular online since the format’s inception here.
The real story of the weekend was the performance of Vintage legend Sean O’Brien. If you’ve never heard of O’Brien, allow me to introduce you to one of the nastiest decks of 1994:
1994 Mana Denial by Sean O'Brien
This is O’Brien’s own recollection of his trademark deck’s configuration at the peak of its power, minus the full sideboard. This deck is in many ways the progenitor of the black-based Stax lists that were still played over a dozen years later, as well as contemporary decks such as Landstill and most Workshop decks.
At the Friday event, O’Brien made Top 4 with Workshops, opting for the Kuldotha Forgemaster variant. The real head-turner came on Saturday, in a smaller 26-man tournament, when O’Brien reached the finals with this concoction:
Dega Hatebears by Sean O'Brien
I tip my hat to the fine folks at Eternal Central for putting up the decklists from this event. When I saw the pictures on Twitter from this weekend, I knew I wanted to feature this. It seems common for hatebear decks to include green, for mana acceleration if nothing else. But O’Brien’s deck bucks the trend, instead playing a Dega deck heavy on hand-disruption, backed up by the most efficient creature removal and some outstanding 2-drops. This is somewhat similar to the Team Italia deck in these same colors that pops up in Legacy on occasion.
Without manadorks, a Mox-less hand will lean on Thoughtseize for Turn 1 disruption. Both SFM and Bob are capable of carrying a game on their own, and Spirit of the Labyrinth is of course among my favorites, a card I’ve featured here multiple times. I particularly like seeing Aven Mindcensor, a card that seems like it should see more play than it does in this format.
The sideboard looks a bit light on Dredge-hate, with only Rakdos Charm, Rest in Peace and Grafdigger’s Cage. The black tutors do help out, of course, and clearly it was enough for this tournament. The playset of Leyline of Sanctity is likely the best solution to Oath of Druids if you are not playing green, as he has no 1-mana answers in the event that an Oath opponent plays first and leads with Forbidden Orchard, Mox, Oath.
I have no idea if O’Brien designed this deck himself, or put any thought into it, or if it’s all an elaborate joke at our expense. But I intend to find out, and you can expect me to feature gameplay video of this deck right here in Eternal Warrior next month.
The prize support was reportedly quite disappointing. For the larger Friday event, O’Brien claimed on The Mana Drain forums that his take was a handful of booster packs for 4th place. He also wrote that he opened an M15 Garruk, Apex Predator from a prize pack and proceeded to rip it in half in front of a “casual player”. Now, Vintage is a format for elitists and ballers, and I can imagine that somebody playing with a full set of Beta Moxen and black border dual lands would have little use for M15 packs and kitchen-table planeswalkers. But if his story is not just hyperbole — and it may well be — that verges on “cartoonish robber baron” territory. Perhaps O’Brien also lights his cigars with $50 bills while strutting down the street in a top hat and monocle, carrying a giant bag with a dollar sign on it. I’d at least carry the Garruk 20 feet over to the dealer table and snag some extra beer money. But hey, while I would never plead poverty, I do work for the government and have six-figure law school debt, so I can’t completely roll with the Vintage life.
I last played a paper Vintage tournament when it was still called Type 1, all the way back in 1997. I haven’t played in one since then, and this year will be no different. But next year, next year…
I’ve been looking back at where I was in my life when I re-entered this game. The specific incident prompting my decision to get back in was playing the first Duels of the Planeswalkers. Not because I liked it, but because I was frustrated with it. I hated the fact that I was stuck with a crappy Stream of Life in my deck and couldn’t remove it. I just wanted to build decks like the old days, with the old cards. I guess I wanted to re-live my teenage years, or at least one of the few parts of them I actually enjoyed. So I came back.
When I returned to Magic, it became a perfect intersection of my love for the old and my never-ending quest for the new. For the first couple of years, there was something new around every corner. New to me, anyhow. Coming back after 12 years, I found the game and its players had taken enormous leaps in deckbuilding theory and gameplay. I had a decade’s worth of historical strategies from which to learn. Not only that, but new sets seemed full of possibilities.
It took a few years, but the novelty eventually wore off. New sets began to look exactly like the last set, the same mechanics being recycled endlessly with minor tweaks and a new name slapped on them. As time went by, when I looked to the game’s horizon, it wasn’t new spoilers just over that hill, it was the cards I wanted to acquire. Growing my collection, adding a new suite of Legacy staples to my digital binder or my cardboard equivalent, became the way I marked progress. And so long as Vintage was the Magic equivalent of Unobtainium, there was always a reason to climb the next hill.
The arrival of Vintage to MTGO has been both a joy and a curse for me. I’m sitting here staring at a set of Power Nine on the computer screen, and it’s like I hit the level cap in World of Warcraft. Sure I missed a few side quests along the way — Rishadan Port, I’m looking at you — but I’ve more or less accessed the endgame. The endgame, like with WoW in the old days, is where all the high-level play occurs. Reaching the endgame should be a reward, but there’s a sense of pressure that comes with that prize. If you run high-level raids in WoW, you meticulously manage your gear to maximize your damage/healing/whatever, and you certainly don’t walk into a raid dungeon with a sentimental attachment for some Epic dagger that dropped 20 levels ago from that one awesome fight you’ll never forget. And if you’re going to play money tournaments in Magic, you don’t bring pet decks, you bring a carefully-tuned version of a top tier list.
So I have to find my endgame. I can’t be Montolio and play Mishra’s Workshops forever and become the best player online for a single deck. For one thing, I’ll never be as good a player as he is, lacking both the time and the natural ability. For another, it would make this a very boring column if every episode was me cutting two cards from the last episode’s list and adding two others. I like to spice things up, and I hope my readers like that too. But I can’t be Conley Woods either. There’s only one Conley Woods. Although, come to think of it, sometimes Travis Woo is Conley Woods, so I guess they take turns at it.
There’s still a ton of Vintage for me to explore. But I need to face the fact that I’m handicapping myself by not devoting the time to perfect a top tier deck, and that’s okay for me. I see a bunch of super-charged decks, and I immediately latch on to the deck playing Tidehollow Scullers. I’ve acquired the Magic equivalent to a high-end sports car, but I just want to paint wicked stripes on it, do donuts in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and then drive below the speed limit the whole way home.
As for paper Magic, I’ve decided to take a real run at getting a Vintage deck assembled and playing at least one last paper Vintage tournament before my life rushes past the point where I can expend time on nostalgic pursuits. If all goes well, I’ll be dropping Moxen at Gen Con next year, and maybe ripping up a copy of “Chandra, Badass Firechick” out of an M16 booster. Vintage life, baby.