Unlocking the Vault #84: Playing with Fire and Getting Paper Cuts

In the build-up to Vintage Masters’ release on MTGO, there was considerable talk about how many paper players would make the jump to digital in order to play more Vintage than they could in paper alone. Amongst that chatter was some thought that Vintage on MTGO might help the paper game, too. It was easy to dismiss such a notion simply due to the incredible cost of paper cards. Little did I know at that time that I would end up being one of those converts!

Fast forward several months to the Fall of 2014 and I had started to sell off a lot of my foils on MTGO. I was doing this not solely due to the state of V4 (although it did play a small part in my decision), but mostly because I had been unemployed for many months with no end in sight and it just didn’t feel right to have such a large investment into MTGO. Slowly, I started to swap out foils for non-foils (+ tix), but I struggled to find a reasonable way to convert those tix into actual cash. Once I heard that the allied fetch lands were going to be reprinted in Khans of Tarkir I figured the best way to use my tix would be to acquire a foil set and redeem it. I did this for a few other sets on MTGO as well while waiting for Khans to be released.

The initial plan was to sell them on eBay, but I couldn’t find a market for the cards at the prices I was looking for. After several weeks of having the sets sit unsold on eBay, I started to get some movement on the job front. I had a few interviews that were, in my opinion, quite positive, and I felt that I would find a new job in short order (which eliminated the urgent need for me to turn the tix into cash; it also didn’t hurt that the market for tix on MTGO had bottomed out in early Fall 2014). At this point in time, GP New Jersey was just a couple weeks away and seeing that it was only about a 15 minute drive from where I live, I could trade my redeemed sets and get paper cards in return. Initially, my goal was to get Legacy cards to play at a local game store in my town that hosted weekly Legacy tournaments on Wednesday evenings, but after giving it some thought, I also grabbed a bunch of the necessary Vintage cards like Yawgmoth’s Will, Tinker, and misc. Workshop cards, etc. With the help of proxies, I could play Vintage at many events without the need to buy the ridiculously priced Power 9. If I can’t play sanctioned Vintage when the major tournaments are held later this year, so be it.

I showed up to GP New Jersey with the mindset of trading with other players to give me the most optimal return. I wandered around the huge venue and was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people there. The tournament itself had roughly 4,000 players. I’d be willing to bet there were another several hundred players there that didn’t play in the main event. Finding someone to trade should have been easy, but the logistics of wading through thousands of players was quite daunting. I found one table with a couple of people trading, offered to join them and quickly realized it was going to be an impossible task of trading away my foil cards for eternal staples. Trading for things like dual lands, which were my priority, was going to be nearly impossible. Add in the fact that I’m a very inexperienced trader, and it was likely that I would end up as shark bait.

Prior to the GP, I did look at some of the vendor’s buylists online. I knew several vendors offered a trade in bonus if you took credit instead of cash. Most vendors would also take the untradeable bulk foils that I would never have a use for and wouldn’t be able to trade away for anything substantial, so I determined that my best course of action to save my time and sanity would be to trade the cards. While waiting in line for one of the larger vendors took some time, in the end I generated some incredible value with which to use to buy into Legacy/Vintage. I walked away with nearly a complete manabase and tons of format staples. I still have a long way to go to build a collection that rivals my MTGO account, but I’m able to play several different Legacy/Vintage events with the cards I already have.

The end of the year is always busy for me between family and other events. It would not be until January 24th that I could coordinate a free Saturday with a Vintage event within driving distance! [Note: I still have not attended a Wednesday evening Legacy event, yet... maybe sometime soon.] The timing of the event was quite interesting as it was the first weekend with Fate Reforged cards, unrestricted Gifts Ungiven, and restricted Treasure Cruise. The initial reaction to the B&R announcement was that Delver would be knocked down a notch, but as you might recall from my last article, I was skeptical of how much worse Delver would be. Considering I have very little experience playing Gifts and I had not obtained Monastery Mentors yet, I decided to give Delver a fair chance in a post-restricted Treasure Cruise world to see just how much the deck changed. While most Delver lists were fairly homogenized toward the end of the unrestricted Cruise-era, there were a few interchangeable slots. Some players liked Snapcaster Mage or Trygon Predator; others liked more maindeck Pyroblasts and/or Dack Faydens. I was on the side of playing Trygon to fight Oath and Workshop, but that’s just personal preference. So to fill out the 3 empty slots that were vacated by cruise, I elected to play 1 Dig Through Time, 1 extra Gush, and something a little different: Null Rod. Here is the decklist that I piloted at Top Deck Games on the 24th:

Due to the inclement weather in the Northeast that morning [Editor’s Note: Screw you; it’s worse in the Boston area! --PlanetWalls], only 17 players chose to brave the elements to play in the tournament. Not knowing anyone going into the event was a little nerve-wracking. A couple people recognized me from posting on www.themanadrain.com, but in general I found everyone to be polite. A couple of my opponents were quite engaging, and it was an experience that I missed from my early years of playing kitchen table Magic, and one that isn’t replicated on MTGO.

I attempted to take notes to write up a full report on the event, but the speed with which the games progressed were more than what I was used to playing MTGO. It’s not that the games were blisteringly fast, but rather the pace of the game was such that taking a few moments to write things down on a piece of paper really took too long and distracted me from the focus of the next play. I’m not really sure how people really do this. Maybe they have uncanny photographic memories? Hopefully with more “practice” I can balance this a little better in the future. Nonetheless, here is a brief account of how the games played out:

Round 1: Andrew on Merfolk

Game 1 I won the die roll and kept what I thought was a reasonable 1-lander (don’t recall the specifics). Ultimately, I was run over by a quick onslaught of Merfolk that I couldn’t answer. I swap out the Null Rod and a Mental Misstep to bring in 2 Sudden Demise.

Game 2 I kept what I thought was another reasonable 1 lander, though not as good as the previous hand (2x Bolt, Misstep, Delver, Strand, Gush, and Cruise). For fear of getting Wastelanded, I fetch out a basic Island and never find another land to get going. Had I grabbed a Volcanic Island I might have been OK, but if he had Wasteland (he didn’t) I would’ve had no chance, so I suspect it was the right play, though mulliganning probably was the best option.

Round 2: Nick on Forgemaster Workshop

Game 1 I lost the die roll, but was fortunate to be able to thwart Trinisphere, Sphere of Resistance, and Lodestone Golem over the first couple of turns with 3x Force of Will. I was also aided by a Turn 1 Ancestral Recall to fill my hand back up and eventually won with a Trygon and single Pyromancer. I boarded out Missteps, Flusterstorm, and Pyroblasts and brought in Grudges, Chewers, Mountain, and a Rod.

Game 2 I also started with Force of Will into Recall and eventually locked the game up with a Dack Fayden after I stole his Batterskull and equipped it to a flipped Delver. I was quite fortunate both games as my opponent had some decent draws.

Round 3: Brad on Gifts

Game 1 was pretty uneventful as I landed a Turn 1 Pyromancer and followed that up with a Delver that soon after flipped. I countered his first attempt to cast Gifts Ungiven and my clock was simply faster than he could get another Gifts online. I boarded out Bolts and brought in Flusterstorm, Rod, and a Pyroblast.

Game 2 I rode a Turn 2 Delver to victory with the help of Null Rod which completely shut off his manabase on Moxes and a single land.

Round 4: David on Forgemaster Workshops

Game 1 I lost the die roll and I didn’t have the same fortune as I did in Match 2. I was quickly overrun by some Spheres and a Kuldotha Forgemaster that searched up a Sundering Titan that wiped out my manabase. I boarded the same as Match 2.

Game 2 I didn’t have an early threat, but did have decent mana… that was until Turn 1 David played a Chalice of the Void for zero counters and a Phyrexian Revoker naming my Mox Sapphire. After Wastelanding a couple of my lands and choking me on mana, David managed to land a Hellkite, Titan, and Golem in back to back turns and easily won.

Round 5: Ralph on UR Delver

At this point I was in 9th place on breakers and even a win wouldn’t guarantee a Top 8 spot. My memory/notes for this match are quite hazy, so I apologize for the lack of details. Game 1 I landed a Pyromancer and built a small army of Elemental tokens and cruised to victory. I boarded out 1 Dack, Rod, Spell Pierce, and 1 Probe and boarded in Pyroblast, Flusterstorm, and 2 Sudden Demise.

Game 2 was incredibly close as we were both trading creatures and damage for several turns until we were both in top deck mode. He Electrickery’ed my board and I managed to wipe his small Pyromancer army with a Sudden Demise. After Ralph landed a Delver and quickly flipped it, he attacked for several turns, knocking me to 2 life (he was on 1 life). Then I had one last chance to dig for an answer and chained several Gushes, cantrips, and a Dig Through Time in order to find just a single Lightning Bolt. I think I ended up with about 10 or 11 cards in hand, but none was the Bolt I needed.

Game 3 was one for the ages. Ralph managed to get 3 Delvers on the board very early. It was definitely at least Turn 3, but might’ve been Turn 4. Nonetheless, he had an early overwhelming board that was going to be difficult to fight through. I was very fortunate to find the one trump card that I needed: Sudden Demise. Lacking any way to counter it, I wiped his board and then managed to build up an army of Pyromancer plus tokens to take the game and match. With some tie breaker magic, I squeaked into the Top 8 as the 8th seed!

Quarterfinals: Andrew on Merfolk

A Round 1 rematch pitted me against Andrew and his Merfolk again. Andrew was the top seed and I wasn’t too confident about my chances again. As the top seed, the store abided by the Play/Draw rule and he elected to play first. We both mulled to 6, but Andrew got stuck on one land and I was eventually able to ride Pyromancer and some token to victory. I boarded the same as Round 1.

Game 2 I mulled again and was quickly overrun by some quick Merfolk. I had a chance to stabilize with Sudden Demise but I lost the counter war and we were on to Game 3.

In Game 3 Andrew got stuck on 2 lands, but 1 was a Strip Mine preventing him from playing several of his Merfolk. After stabilizing and getting a couple of Merfolk out, I was able to land a Sudden Demise to wipe his board. I made a grave error by not playing my 5th land prior to casting Demise for X = 3 as I was walking into a Daze which probably would have lost me the game. I was very fortunate that this colossal blunder did not cost me the match! Again, I rode a Pyromancer to victory.

At this point, it was quite late in the evening (close to 7pm, if I recall correctly) and the remaining four players agreed to split the Semi-finals to take home $200 in store credit. The Top 4 consisted of myself on Delver as well as a Monastery Mentor deck, Dredge, and a Gifts deck.

Overall, I had a blast. I made several blunders along the way, such as missing Pyromancer triggers, fetching the wrong land, not playing around Daze, and not mulliganning properly. I’ll have to learn from these mistakes, however I was not as experienced playing Delver as most of the unrestricted Cruise-era I avoided playing the deck due to how prevalent it was on MTGO and how fluky the mirror match was.

In general, I don’t feel like Delver has lost much with the restriction of Treasure Cruise. Gush, even without Fastbond is a pretty decent draw engine and the cantrips smooth out even the worst draws. The entire synergy of a critical mass of instants/sorceries to flip Delver and power out tokens with Pyromancer is still very much there. If results over the past weekend on MTGO are any indication, then Delver is still a force to be reckoned with. We’ll see if more people start switching to and/or adopting Monastery Mentor once the price of that card reaches equilibrium. I have a feeling that Mentor will have much more of a say in bringing Delver down a peg than the restriction of Cruise will. In all seriousness, Sudden Demise is one of, if not the only, card that I think Delver can use to fight Mentor. Without such a trump card, Mentor does the same thing as Pyromancer, but ten times better!

I walked away from the event with much more than the prize money: I gained a much higher respect for playing paper Magic. With all of the dexterity factors involved in playing paper Vintage that I wasn’t accustomed to (such as shuffling as well as keeping track of triggers and mana floated in the mana pool), I found myself thinking of many things other than the match at hand. Perhaps the most non-game-related thought processes that I invested in during the day included watching my opponent’s actions to make sure they were playing correctly. For that matter, I also spent a considerable amount of brain power on making sure I wasn’t doing anything that might be looked at as “irregular”, especially when it came to shuffling. Now, I’m not saying that any one of my opponents did anything shady (in fact, I’m 99% sure they weren’t); it’s just that I really have very little idea what I should be looking for. If someone had been pulling some sleight of hand, I’m not entirely sure I could’ve recognized it. I imagine this is how most cheaters expect to get away with their actions as there are likely many people like me that probably wouldn’t know they were ever cheated in the first place.

Again, I want to stress that I don’t believe anything was done wrong by any player, but this is probably the biggest leap for someone like myself to make when transitioning from MTGO to paper Magic. I’m going to have to read up on some articles about common tricks players can make to help me decrease the amount of mental power that I have to spend each and every match that I play in paper. I guess the take away is that being good at MTGO is not necessarily easy to replicate in paper. For that, I have a deep respect for paper players that consistently win Vintage tournaments.

If anyone who has exclusively played MTGO Vintage is thinking about considering paper Vintage, I would highly recommend it. If you can find a regular Vintage scene within a reasonable distance (not easy, by any stretch of the imagination) and can afford to build some proxy decks (Workshop, Merfolk, and a few others are particularly cheap if you can grab a set of Wastelands).

Clan Magic Eternal
Follow me on Twitter @enderfall


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