Wow I had a good MtG time at my first ever tourney this weekend. What follows is my rambling account. (Fair warning, it’s long… if too long, don’t read it?)
My wife Kari and I play Vintage all the time. No, really. We play every single evening after dinner. (Loser washes dishes.) It’s probably been more than a month since we haven’t played at least one match in any 48 hour period. We see decks that look interesting online - we sleeve up some laserjet special editions and go to work. (Not to brag, but I’ve probably played more Vintage decks badly, than anyone around. In fact, since anyone else who’s playing this many decks is probably a good player… I’d be willing to put money on it.)
So Kari’s been on me to play in a tourney. I’ve been playing kitchen table vintage for well over a decade now. I’ve followed the game, read a ton of articles, played a fair amount on Cockatrice and the like, but I’ve never been able to summon the guts to play for real. Basically, I got a domestic ultimatum to get my butt to an actual tourney. So when the Team Serious open was announced on the MD, we decided to drive over. Three hours.
Kidforce games is off the hook if you’ve never been there. The staff is knowlegable, and the look of the store is just amazing. Stacks of dual lands, thinker than a hamburger. Stacks of Jaces. Stacks of Forces... The walls are lined with vintage comics, to say nothing of the dozen or so pinball tables in multiple rooms. This place is a real comic shop. I highly recommend it.
So Kari is playing a Sylvan Gush Mentor list with some small tweaks, and I’m on Oath/Standstill hybrid. (The decklists are on the tourney results so I’ll save space here.) We sign up, and while filling out my sideboard (which I was honestly still unsure about) I right away do the first of several stupid things.
There are very few players in the store when noon start time rolls around, and I’m an overthinker by my nature anyway. So I start thinking. I’ve watched one of the players buy some Sudden Shocks from the counter. (I later learn that was Max Gibbson, who ended up splitting first place.) Another guy is obviously on Storm Combo from how he’s talking (not sure his name, but I’m sure someone does… easily the best dressed Vintage player I’ve ever seen… tie pin? Are you serious? Well done Sir.) I already know what Kari’s on… so I’m thinking, really, with about half the apparent field accounted for, what are the odds I actually see dredge… and I start cutting dredge hate from my board.
CHAPT. 1. IN WHICH I LOSE TO DREDGE
Eventually 17 players show up (which was awesome), the pairings come up and I draw Frank Singel in round 1. He mulls once, keeps, and drops Bazaar of Baghdad on the draw. Blerg. This isn’t even a match. He mows me in 2 games like I’m a lawn.
It turned out to be a blessing though, because Frank is a super nice guy. It’s actually good that I didn’t have any interaction for match 1 because the adrenaline was insane. I felt calm, and at one point I look down at my worthless hand and see that I’m shaking uncontrollably. (I’ve played a ton of poker, so this isn’t new for me… but that doesn’t make one immune.) It’s lucky there weren’t any real decisions to be made in Match 1.
We finish the match and chat and I casually watch Kevin Cron at the next table (who I’ve been reading for years) piloting Cronastary Mentor. Awesome. It’s like watching Arnold Palmer drinking and actual Arnold Palmer.
Then I remember! Kari!
CHAPT. 2. I WHICH MY WIFE LOSES AND IS AWESOME
By the time I get over to her table, a crowd of kibitzers is standing around watching game 3 between Nam Tran on 5 color Shops and her Mentor Build which I happen to know is pretty well set up to handle Shops. It’s got mainboard Dack and Ancient Grudge, plus several Chewers and Claims in the board. Nam gets up to over thirty life via Wormcoil. Kari is very low on life, but even as the match goes to time, she’s insanely attacking in with hoards of Monks. She could get a draw if she wanted one, and I’m trying to will her to just strip Nam’s Tolarian and play defense… but that’s not happening. She gets him down to about 10, but on the last turn he tutors for Triskelion and unloads the counters for direct damage and kills her exacta. Too bad…
CHAPT. 3. I WHICH I GET SCHOOLED BY THE MASTER
Then Round 2 I draw Kevin Cron. Oh boy, I’m thinking to myself. Game one I mulligan, stupidly tutor for a card not named Oath of Druids, then die to Mentor very fast. Game 2 I have a great Standstill hand minus Standstill, I tutor for it, then he drops Meddling Mage and names Oath. I take an ill advised risk at this point, probably influenced by who I’m playing, which is a bad excuse for playing badly… I play Standstill anyway.
In my defense, while this looks totally stupid, it’s probably only a little stupid. I play the Standstill at 17 life, so that’s 8 turns to do something against a 2/2 creature. Any of 4 Mishra’s Factories solves this problem. With 50 cards left in my deck, each draw is an 8% chance of hitting, with the odds getting slightly better as I go. So the odds are better than 50/50 I hit before I die. Add to that that I could run into Library of Alexandria that would help a lot… and, believe it or not, I’m holding Decree of Pain and three mana sources one of which is black. (Tech against Mentor and Landstill). So another out is just drawing two other lands, one of which is a black source so I can cycle under the Standstill. So if in eight cards I can also find a black land and any other land, I can force him to crack my Standstill. (I have 9 total black lands in deck, so 8 left.)... I draw nothing but Counters and Abrupt Decays, end up having to shoot the Mage at three life, then I’m way behind and end up dead to Mentor again, a few Crony Crony turns later. (I mean, he goes off on me… Remoras, Tops, Tokens… the works. So that was cool to watch.)
I sit there talking to him about magic for a bit, which is just great. Worth the entry fee alone.... Wait! Kari!
CHAPT. 4. I WHICH KARI WINS HER FIRST EVER GAME OF FOR REAL MAGIC
By the time I get up, she’s already finished polishing off the well dressed Storm player I mentioned earlier. Apparently she lost game one, but she’s got this book we made up of what to board in given the archetype she’s facing. So she’s very organized. DPS she brings in Eidolon of Rhetoric, Aegis of the Gods, and importantly, Rest in Peace to shut off Yawg Will and to neuter Dark Petition. She wins game 2 on Mentor speed, then game 3 by landing Rest in Peace then Jace and fate-sealing the opponent to ultimate. So good, we won a match… well she won a match at least. (We stepped outside for a minute so she could jump up and down she was so excited.)
CHAPT. 5. I WHICH I TECHNICALLY WIN AND KARI REALLY WINS
I get a bye next round, which is a win I suppose. (It doesn’t feel like one though.) And Kari draws, guess who, Kevin Cron. And she wins. (Part of me still can’t believe this happened… Now I don’t want to turn this into bragfest at all about Kari beating a famous player. That has got to be the absolute worst part about being someone like Kevin. There’s probably this tacit expectation to be awesome all the time, so I really don’t mean to be putting the rub-ins at all. Exactly the opposite. Plus as I said, Kevin was just incredibly gracious winning and losing the entire day. I know he knew he could have played sharper, but he never once got salty with anyone. He answered questions and just generally looked and behaved like Gandolf’s friendly nephew. This guy is pure class.
I am really proud of Kari though. She is a three time state champion runner, and has huge guts. This reminded me of that.) Long story long, after some little mistakes by each player, game 3 saw Kari’s Mentor and Jace face down Kevin’s Mentor and Remora. Kari’s idea was to play right into the teeth of Remora and make as many Monks as possible despite all the cards Kevin was drawing. She didn’t even brainstorm with Jace. She bounced Mentor making him replay it. I asked her about this later and she basically said three things: She figures that Monk Tokens are cards too, and in a battle like that, they are probably pretty good ones anyway. Plus Kevin was a little pinched on mana paying for Remora, so she figured he would have a hard time making use of all those cards while under a clock, which I think turned out to be true. A lastly, she figured against a really good player she didn’t want to be in a long game. “Just go right at his face and put the pressure on,” She said. I was some real Admiral Nelson stuff. It was pretty cool.
As he’s packing up his deck after the loss, I say to Kevin, “Looks like my wife’s better at magic than me,” which I didn’t mean to sound nearly as dumb as it probably did. Kevin shrugs and smooth as you like says, “What are you gonna do?” Classy guy.
CHAPT. 6. IN WHICH I ACTUALLY WIN
She was pretty much in the top 8 at this point, and ended up drawing her way in pretty easily. I on the other hand, just wanted to actually beat a real player. I got Gilberto River next, who was on Eldrazi Shops. Shops tends to be one of my better matchups, so I was pretty happy when he rolled out turn one Thorn against me. I didn’t even force it. I played mana. He Thoughknotted my Ancestral, but I resolved Oath and found Emrakul and blew up his world. Game two was tighter but the same. He plays lock pieces, I find Oath and hit Emrakul again. He drops a Metamorph copying my Cthulu, but I have just enough. I swing in, he has to sac everything but his Emrakul copy, which includes his lock pieces, then I drop Jace and bounce the Metamorph back to his hand for the win.
CHAPT. 7. IN WHICH I ACTUALLY SORT OF PLAY WELL
Turns out by mostly good luck I’m 2-2 with a bye, (which somehow is a good tie-breaker they tell me… It isn’t in volleyball, but I take their word for it) and I find myself sitting down across from (medium)Steve for a match that will put one of us in the top 8. (I ask him if there are larger or smaller versions of Steve, but he is in the zone and dosen’t seem to want to mess around.)
He’s playing a cool sort of Neo-Delver deck with Pyromancer, (actual) Delver, and Scab-Clan Berserker, and I am just an idiot. I tutor again for something else not named Oath and lose game 1 again… why am I doing that? He likely has no Oath hate on game 1… dumb. Then I’m even more stupid. I fear he might be on creature heavy Humans since I’ve seen a Cavern of Souls, and I board out Jace, Mana Drain, Channel, and 1 Oath. Not good choices. Thank goodness I do board in some things, Dragonlord Ojitai, Balance, Pernicious Deed, and Decree of Pain. I get the drop on him in the early game, countering some key spells, and it feels like he’s out of stuff. The last cards in my hand are Time Walk and Dig and Land, plus I know Land is on top of the library. I have it all worked out so that I can fetch, walk, play more land and then Dig… and I am super surprised and sad when he Flusterstorms it. Now we are both at the mercy of our decks and I feel like I’m going to lose to something small like a Delver.
We draw what feels like junk forever. I am bluffing having disruption for a while, but really just holding mana, and cursing myself for removing Jace and the Channel (I draw Emrakul and have plenty of life.) Finally I draw Dragonlord. I wait until he taps his red to play around Pyroblast (which he has alter-arted and is gorgeous) then stick Ojutai on the board. I also already have Decree of Pain, and I can begin to see the path to the win. Steve carefully reads the Ojutai, then does basically nothing on his turn. I’m pretty sure he’s hoping I’ll attack so that he can aim Pyroblast at my it, so I just play a Standstill and get it countered and pass without attacking, signalling I’m fine with the long long game. I have Library of Alexandria going now and that would almost certainly go well for me. So on his next turn he’s all but forced to try to go wide and kill me. He drops his whole hand on the table, uncounterable via Caverns - a second Pyromancer, a Delver, and makes some tokens. Then on the end of his turn I give him 2 more tokens off Orchards and Cycle Decree of Pain. He reads the card and says very calmly, “So that’s a thing that happened.” Then scoops em up declaring like a gangster, “Ties don’t get either of us into the top 8.”
Too true. We have 5 mins to get this done. I make my first sound decision of the day and board back in as much business as I can. Two quick mulligans find a hand with Oath, Tutor, and Orchard. I play land and say go. He’s hitting me with things. I tutor, which he might think is for Oath, but is actually for Abrupt Decay. He drops the Containment Priest I expected. I Drop Oath. He has me down under 10 life. I put Oath on the stack and shoot his Priestess in the face, then find Emrakul. (I swear I also run Grisselbrand in this deck). He attacks and I’m at 6. (I screw up blocking with a Factory) I hit him and blow up his whole board, then go in the tank about weather to crack a fetch to play Standstill. Times up now so I just have 1 turn to kill him. I decide I should play Standstill. I have a Misstep that I can pay 2 life for against a Bolt, but the cost of cracking the fetch to go to 5 is that my hand then loses to him having exactly Black Lotus + Blue Land + Misstep + Sudden Shock + Lightning Bolt. (He’s at 2 life and can’t pay life to Misstep back so needs the blue land.) But Standstill gives me a fair chance of finding Force, (3 still in my deck with about 30 cards left. So I find it about ⅓ of the time?) and that would help against anything involving a Snapcaster Mage for the Timewalk in his yard. I’m not even sure if he runs Snapcaster, but even that possibility seems more likely than the exact 5 cards I calc he needs to beat my play. He’s holding 4 cards so with the draw step the perfect winning hand becomes possible. I crack the fetch and I’m sure I hear Kevin Cron roll his eyes behind me. (This is the sort of thing you can actually hear at tourneys I guess).
But none of this matters. He draws and concedes. He even gives me his left-over pizza even though I can tell he hates losing. ‘Cause… classy.
SO THAT WAS A THING THAT HAPPENED
I slink into the top 8, rediculously. I draw, of course, Frank on Dredge again and get housed yet again. But I have a lot of fun chatting with him while his zombies devour my brains (BTW I get Oath on the table in every single game that I lose against him both matches, but he deftly plays around it and kills me all on a single turn each game… that turn being turn 3.)
Kari loses two grindy games to Max on U/R Landstill, and is pissed-off for exactly 90 seconds. Then we are too tired and happy to be anything else. We return our islands too our hands and stand around in a daze for a few minutes chewing on (medium sized)hand-me-down pizza. I collect some contact info, and we decide to leave and go get real food.
The takeaway for me was two-fold. Firstly, My wife is awesome. In the hotel the morning of the tourney, she said her goal was to win a single game. She ended up literally making top 8 having never played vintage against anyone but me in her entire life… wow. In the end I got nervous and played pretty badly at times. She was steady and played great. I am really really proud of her.
Secondly, I remember reading a Kevin Cron interview where he replied that the best thing about Vintage was the Vintage community. I completely get what you’re saying Kevin. To a man, everyone we met was generous and kind and just really great to be around. I am competitive to a point approaching psychosis. I could get involved in something like who can eat the most mustard packets and still in it for blood, so I really know that I love a game when I can lose and still enjoy it. Losing to Kevin and Frank… I enjoyed every minute of it. Nam and Gilberto and (medium)Steve, Max and Aaron… it was a great experience just being in the same tourney with you guys. Very very classy folks.
That was really a blast everyone, let’s do it again sometime.