Chasing Victory: A Meditation on Vintage in Kyoto

While the Pro Tour didn’t go quite according to plan for me, the PT wasn’t an entire bust. LSV was certain that his hot streak was going to end at any moment, so he came prepared to play side events with a sleeved up Vintage deck. Naturally, after going 7-0 on day one, Luis wanted someone to make good use of his deck and I was more than happy to oblige. I haven’t played the format in quite some time and was pretty excited to battle with some powerful cards, especially after playing Standard with a bunch of Grizzly Bears in my deck.

The deck that Luis built is basically my dream deck. All you do is sit there and draw some cards, while eventually killing your opponent with whatever threats you have left in your deck. Here’s the list, created by Rich Shay and company:

Remora Tog


Initially, LSV had a second Thirst instead of a Meditate, but Meditate just seems too absurd in this deck to cut. While I understand his apprehensiveness playing a card that gives your opponent a turn, it has a ton of synergy with Mystic Remora and Commandeer.

I was going to run three Energy Flux so that I could have game against the entire field, but there didn’t seem to be any Stax in the room at all. In the end, I decide to just play an extra Smother and Thoughtseize to help with the Fish matchup.

The tournament is sanctioned swiss plus one with 33 entrants. First place gets their choice of Ancestral Recall or Mox Jet, both unlimited and in pretty good condition. The winner also gets an entry into the Beta/Italian Revised/Portal Three Kingdoms draft the next day.

My round one opponent is of the typical gracious Japanese variety, as were all of my Japanese opponents. Before we begin game one, he counts out his sideboard for me, which is completely unnecessary. It just goes to show how amazing the Japanese culture is and how polite they all are. I feel bad that my sideboard is hidden away in my deckbox, but have no idea what the correct procedure is.

He starts off with an Island, while my turn is a little better. I play Island, Mox Ruby, Ancestral Recall that resolves, and then Sol Ring, Mox Sapphire, Mystic Remora, and finally Time Vault. When I also Force of Willed his second turn Null Rod, he concedes. Granted, I did have three sick cards in my hand, but they could have been anything and he still certainly has a shot that game. His concession is somewhat premature, but that would become somewhat of a trend throughout the day.

I board as if he’s playing Fish, which usually involves cutting Mystic Remora and Commandeer for Smothers, Thoughtseizes, and the Sower.

I mulligan to five in the second game and just sit there while he draws a bunch of cards with Dark Confidant. If I have a black mana source, I can probably make a game of it, as I have some uncastable Smothers and even Sowers in my hand. However, the mulligans were crippling and I didn’t have enough of an explosive draw to offset it.

I kind of want to board back in some Remoras now that I have seen a bigger portion of his deck. His only creatures seem to be Cursecatcher, Confidant, and Tarmogoyf, so Remora is probably decent against his deck. However, I figure that I can probably use Meditate in more situations and I don’t want to cut anything else so I stay Remora-less.

Third game is looking a bit like the second. This game I have naturally drawn Ancestral and am banking on it resolving, but he has the Force. The rest of my hand is insane if I draw a fetchland, but I continue to be stuck on two Islands and can only watch as he plays out a Confidant and then a Bitterblossom.

I am thinking of what cards I can draw to turn the game around, and Black Lotus is certainly one of them. I play the Lotus, Demonic, then Yawgmoth’s Will, then replayed Lotus, Ancestral, Demonic and finally Psychatog, which is kind of awkward.

When I draw the Lotus, I calculate exactly what I’m going to be able to do. It’s pretty embarrassing to start going through an insane Will turn when you start doing stuff because you assume you can do it all, only to end up a mana short to cast your game winning Tinker or whatever. I know that I am going to Demonic for something sweet and end up casting Psychatog, but I don’t know what the “something sweet” is. I just figure it will be a Force of Will if the Ancestral doesn’t get me to a counterspell, but it can also end up being a card drawing spell.

Due to my overall unfamiliarity with the deck, I forget the something sweet can be Tinker, which is obviously much better than Psychatog – especially with his Bitterblossom in play. I end up casting Demonic, seeing Tinker and deciding it is the best target, but then cast Psychatog because that was part of my plan all along, even though the plan has obviously changed.

It doesn’t end up mattering, as the Tog holds the fort and Tinker for Leviathan makes his eyes go wide, he laughs for a while, and then concedes.

1-0 in matches, 2-1 in games

David Ochoa is supposed to be my partner in crime for this Vintage adventure, but he barely defeats an unpowered Dream Halls/Conflux/Cruel Ultimatum deck round one. While Ocho is a Vintage master (and overall master in general), if he can only barely take down a deck with 20 dead cards, he probably isn’t going to have a great day.

Second round I play against a Welder/Tezzeret hybrid. He could be a Control Slaver deck with the Time Vault combo, as I don’t get to see his entire deck. He wins the die roll and plays a turn one Library. My hand, while solid, doesn’t have anything resembling an engine so we play draw go for a few turns, which is obviously in his favor.

When he finally goes for Ancestral, I try to Commandeer it, which will put me back in the game, but he has a Force of Will, and a Force for my Force so that’s basically game. My deck is powerful enough that I still have a series of draws that can allow me to win, which actually kind of sucks. I prefer having a clear conscience when I concede to save time, but when I know that I can still win; there is no reason for me to concede. Sometimes you absolutely need to save time as your odds of wining certain games (like the one I was in) are much lower than just conceding and having enough time to play games two and three.

My matchup against his deck is extremely good, so I should probably just concede immediately. But I also don’t know what exactly is in his deck and whether or not I need stuff like Pithing Needle for Goblin Welder or how many Sowers I should keep in, and so on. Once he assembles Vault and Key, it is kind of obvious what is going on, I ask him to show me his win condition. He is skeptical, which is obviously reasonable, because if he picks up his deck and starts looking through it I can call a judge. I just want to save time, and try to convey that to him, but he is still leery of my intentions. I finally ask if I concede, will he be honorable enough to show me his win condition, he says yes and upholds the agreement, showing me a Colossus. The lack of Leviathans in this tournament definitely makes me happy about having Sowers in my deck.

I board out the two Psychatogs, Vampiric Tutor, and the Echoing Truth for two Thoughtseize, Relic, and Pithing Needle. The Togs are mostly there to be giant walls against aggro decks, not as win conditions, either way you don’t need them against other control decks. The Vampiric Tutor is a mulligan and not blue, so it kind of sucks, and I no longer need the Echoing Truth to bounce annoying permanents as I know what I’m dealing with here, and have more specific answers to his threats. I probably don’t need the Relic or Pithing Needle and should have the third Thoughtseize instead, but the third Thoughtseize isn’t even supposed to be in the deck in the first place and I don’t know what to cut for it. I just feel that I want the utility of Relic and Needle, so that I will be able to stop his most powerful cards. Without those, I would probably just outdraw him and therefore crush him.

Luis was watching me draw my opening hand, and it started out great:

Force of Will
Polluted Delta
Mox Emerald

And then finally, the Inkwell Leviathan making the hand terrible. Now I have nothing good to Tinker for and my hand doesn’t really do anything. I mulligan that into a no lander, and also mulligan that into a no lander, but keep my four card hand. My opponent mulliganns once but keeps his next hand.

Thankfully, my four card hand is the stone blade:

Ancestral Recall
Polluted Delta


I crack a Delta for an Underground Sea and Thoughtseizing him. I see

Thirst for Knowledge
Ancestral Recall
Shattering Pulse
Goblin Welder

I obviously take his Ancestral, and then cast my own on my turn. From there I ramp up to three mana and cast Meditate for maximum value, as he spends his extra turn discarding. When I have six mana, I let his Sol Ring resolve. I know I will have seven mana next turn, and know that he will probably cast his Thirst mainphase if he misses his land drop. He misses, casts it, and I hard cast Commandeer it, at which point his eyes go wide. Much like my last opponent, he also laughs and says ok.

I hard cast Commandeer on another card drawing spell and though the game goes on for a while longer, he is never really in it. I discard the Inkwell to an earlier Thirst, so I only have the two Sowers and a Yawgmoth’s Will to kill him with, but eventually assemble Vault/Key to go infinite. I make a pretty big mistake at this point, as he has two cards, one of which I know is the Pulse from earlier, but he doesn’t have any red. I play Vault and Key, and then tap down to one mana for Sower, and THEN Key the Vault, which he Echoing Truths.

I can’t counter it as my only permission is Mana Drain and I foolishly played the Sower first. I’m pretty nervous as there are a ton of cards he can draw here to punish me, but thankfully most of them are in his graveyard. He ends up drawing Tinker, but doesn’t have anything sweet in his deck to get. He gets a Platinum Angel, I untap and Sower and that’s game.

For the final game, Mystic Remora finally shows its true power. I use it to absolutely destroy him, despite somehow forgetting two Remora triggers during a mini counterwar. It gets so bad that he uses Echoing Truth to bounce it, I draw a card, and then he uses his last card to Duress it, even though it leaves me with Tinker, Leviathan, and Brainstorm.

2-0, 4-2

Third round I keep Remora, Commandeer, Time Vault, and lands after winning the die roll. I play Remora and he picks it up to read it. I can tell that he has just read the “whenever your opponent plays a non creature spell, you may draw a card” part, because he gives me the same eyes-go-wide reaction.

On his turn he fetches a Volcanic and passes. I upkeep the Remora, play another land, and pass. He plays Academy, sighs and lapses into thought, and passes. I draw a “crappy” Mox, play it and Time Vault, he wants to discard, and I’m getting pretty excited to charge up Time Vault, but he just concedes instead.

Obviously this is another preemptive concession, as my hand is simply Commandeer and lands, but to be honest, the game probably isn’t getting much better for him, or so I think. Apparently, his hand contained two Moxes, Vampiric Tutor, Gifts Ungiven, and a Red Blast. He could have just Blasted my Remora, cast Gifts, and destroyed me, but he is probably just too concerned with the thought of me drawing cards off all his spells.

I do the standard sideboarding plan against control decks.

On turn one, he plays two Moxes, a Lotus, a land, and passes. Second turn he playes a Tolarian Academy and a Sensei’s Divining Top. I have a strong urge to Force it, as I am consistently becoming impressed by Top’s power, even in Eternal formats, but I just can’t bring myself to do it when he has things like Tinker and Will in his deck. The problem with that logic is that Top finds those cards and backup, while my draw is another one of those do nothing draws with a bunch of counterspells.

He starts Topping and presenting threats. Once I run out of counters, I cast a Meditate, but draw Sower, Time Vault, and two mana sources. On his Meditate turn, he uses all of his cards and mana to Tinker for Slaver and play a Welder. I can Sower the Welder, but if he knows he can use my Welder to keep his Slaver around I could be in trouble. He doesn’t have too many artifacts and my hand sucks, so I wasn’t in that much trouble.

But I just draw Key and kill him, so it doesn’t matter.

3-0, 6-2

Round four I play against an older gentleman who also counts out his sideboard for me. He has an interesting Trinket Mage/Counterbalance list that plays with Vault and Key.

Game one he has a Trinket Mage beating me down for a while, but I have the Standstill-esque Mystic Remora in play, so he doesn’t really want to cast anything else. Eventually he goes for it with a Tinker, but I win the counterwar over my Commandeer on it. I stupidly go to sacrifice an artifact, just on impulse, but once one of the spectators points it out, I know that it’s wrong. It caused some confusion for my opponent though, and we needed to call over some judges to translate and sort it out. The Leviathan comes into play, his eyes go wide, and he scoops up his stuff.

Second game, Remora makes another appearance. He plays a Trinket Mage that I Sower. After that, I play another Remora and attack for a bit while replacing an old Remora with a new one. Eventually, he goes for a huge Skeletal Scrying, but he can’t actually do it for that much because he doesn’t have enough cards in his graveyard. He can’t really remove the Lotus in his yard since he needs it for the Will he is going to try to force through. His Scrying isn’t going to be for very much and I would draw two cards, so he just preemptively concedes.

4-0, 8-2

Fifth round I play against a UWG Fish deck with Glen Elendra Archmage, Vendilion Clique, Ethersworn Canonist, Meddling Mage, Tarmogoyf, Swords to Plowshares, Pithing Needle, Force of Will, and Sensei’s Divining Top.

First game is difficult as he has two lands, a Mox Sapphire, and all spells for quite some time. A midgame Top certainly helps his situation. I play out a couple of Sowers that get Plowed and end up with Tinker and Psychatog in hand to his three lands, all tapped, Top, two Canonists, and his two cards. He plays a Top and I don’t want him digging for a Force of Will. He already used one Force and two Swords, so I figure he has more answers to Tog than Tinker, and Tinker just gets him dead whereas Tog prolongs the game and I still need to resolve Tinker to win. He will have a turn or more to Top into some more Force of Wills, Meddling Mages, or even Glen Elendra Archmages if he can get enough mana. I decide to cast Tinker which he uses his two cards to Force, and then my Psychatog gets Plowed and I die.

Turns out he played the game extremely well. He had cast a Ponder a few turns earlier and kept Swords and two lands on top, despite it being kind of crappy, as he knew the Swords was that important.

Luis said that when I Force of Willed his Meddling Mage the turn earlier, it was painfully obvious that he wanted to Force my Force, but then remembered his own Canonist. I certainly should have picked up on that and tried to use Psychatog as bait instead of Tinker, although in the end it wouldn’t have changed things due to my opponent’s play.

Game two is over quickly. I Thoughtseize him and take his Top, leaving him with a bunch of two and three drops. On turn two, he thinks for a bit, but eventually plays a Goyf into my Mana Drain. Sitting there doesn’t allow him to accomplish anything, as he needs to beat me down. The waiting game doesn’t favor him at all. On my turn, I use my Drain mana well, as I am able to Demonic for Force and then Tinker for Inkwell.

Eyes go wide, and then it’s over.

For the final game I’m stuck on three lands with two Sowers and two Forces, while he has a Canonist. I consider Forcing his second Canonist, as it ups his clock significantly, but that seems kind of foolish. If I draw a land, those Sowers will be insane, although I’d never be able to protect them with Force of Will, so it’s possible that I should have Forced the second Canonist.

I end up drawing a Tog instead of a land, which is more than fine. He taps a white and I go to remove some cards, but it turns out it was a Path to Exile, which may have been better for me. Instead of gaining some life and getting an extra turn to draw some land, I just get the land right away. He doesn’t have any more removal and the Sowers go all the way.

5-0, 10-3

Sixth round I play against a frenchman with a deck resembling Drain TPS.

First game is amazing. He has Library of Alexandria on the draw turn one, but is missing land drops and I start skipping turns with Time Vault to give him less value out of his Library. He discards, I use the Vault and he can’t use his Library until his turn, where he draws some cards and then discards again. I take my extra turn and make some land drops while he is discarding draw spells on his turn. Eventually, I win a counterwar over a mini Yawgmoth’s Will, find Key, and kill him.

Game two is a little fuzzy, although I know I Thoughtseize him on turn one, leaving him with Mana Drain, Confidant, and Black Lotus after he Brainstorms. I Force his Confidant even though I have Sower in my hand, which may or may not be wrong. I fully expect him to Drain my Force, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, he wears me down and eventually tutors up Yawgmoth’s Will. He makes some mistakes during his Will turn and isn’t able to kill me until he Brainstorms into Chain of Vapor, which is the perfect card, as it gives him enough mana and storm to kill me with Tendrils.

In the decider my opener is:

Mox Ruby
Sol Ring
Black Lotus
Mana Drain
Underground Sea

I lead with Thoughtseize and see:

Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Emerald
Dark Confidant
Force of Will

I figure that if I take Jet, I blank two of his cards, so taking a black card over the card that makes his black cards useless doesn’t make much sense. Yes, he has a reasonable chance to draw a black source, but at least I get a bunch of turns to develop while he does nothing. I just make the play that I think has a positive expected value, but he draws a fetchland and Thoughtseizes me. I Drain it off the Lotus and Meditate when he passes the turn, which he lets resolve, despite it being my last card.

I draw into Island, Remora, Meditate, and Demonic Tutor. He plays a Confidant and Top on his Meditate turn and passes it back. I play Island, Remora, Demonic for Force of Will, and ship it back. He reveals Ancestral off Confidant and tries to Tinker. I draw a card off Remora, then try to cast Meditate. For some reason, he Forces the Meditate removing Ancestral, I draw a card, and then Force Tinker removing Leviathan, which resolves.

On my turn, I cast Brainstorm and draw into Sower, a fetchland, a Commandeer and a Meditate. Sadly, I put back the spells and Sower his Confidant. While I have a few higher casting cost spells in my deck, I’m not too worried. He plays another Confidant and draws a few cards off that, but I Sower it a few turns later and bury him under card advantage.

6-0, 12-4

I’m the only undefeated player even before the last round begins, but there is still an outside shot that I will miss first place if I lose because my tiebreakers keep having to play each other while I am helping my opponents’ tiebreakers by winning. Even though my opponent is 3-2-1 and I’m 6-0, I can’t scoop him into prizes. He is also none other than Japanese master, Akira Asahara, with Tezzeret.

Game one I have a Remora out and he’s obviously very upset about it. He knows I have a Drain in my hand from an earlier Duress, but as a last ditch, runs a Tezzeret out there. I untap with Psychatog in play, cast Meditate three times in addition to Scrolling for Force in case there are any shenanigans, and Psychatog HAUMPHED him.

Second game is more of the same. I have a Remora, so he can’t really grind me out, but he concedes once I cast Meditate and then Tinker for Voltaic Key with Time Vault in play, despite the fact that he still gets a Meditate turn. Granted, his hand is nothing and he knows his top three cards, but he still has a draw step to maybe draw an out.

7-0, 14-4

After the match, Keita Mori takes me aside to do some coverage on my deck and is even more excited once I tell him it is actually LSV’s deck. For reference, you can check it out HERE, although it’s in Japanese. I mention that Rich Shay built the deck and even spell it out for him, but there doesn’t seem to be any mention of it in the article.

Sadly, the Ocho is out of the tournament by round four or so, as he had a pretty bad day. He even sits down across from a European opponent one round with the Euro immediately trying to riffle shuffle Ochoa’s deck. Why would you ever think something like that is ok to do in a sanctioned Vintage tournament? Please – just have some class.

The deck is absolutely awesome and I loved playing every second of it. My failed search for Energy Fluxes didn’t end up mattering, as there wasn’t a Stax deck in the room. Having exactly seven cards to bring in against Fish helped tremendously, although Remora doesn’t seem like it’s the worst against some versions, so maybe you don’t need the full seven.

Fact or Fiction was slow the times I drew it and didn’t interact with Remora very well. The deck could benefit from having a cheaper card drawing spell. Thirst for Knowledge fits the curve better and ditches your semi dead artifacts like Vault and Key. When you are ready to win, you can usually just do it via Yawgmoth’s Will anyway, so even though I used Time Vault on its own to good use, I would much rather discard it to draw three cards the majority of the time.

I know that Fact is an absolute bomb and even cast it a few times, but I would prefer to have the less flashy, consistent card, especially in a deck like this where instead of just getting big, you have a solid, smooth operation. For that, I want the cheaper card, even if it is slightly worse in a vacuum.

I would consider cutting the lone Swamp for a Library of Alexandria and possibly upping the fetchland count to compensate for the loss of a black source. Library absolutely destroyed me one game and should have gotten me another, so it seems foolish not to run one. Meditate is pretty awesome at getting Library active also.

I was a little short on black sources a few times, so you probably want a couple extra fetches regardless. LSV loves basic lands at the moment as he hates losing to things like Wasteland and Stax decks in general. I also share that love for basics but at the same time, I believe being able to cast my spells is a higher priority.

Depending on how infested your metagame is with Fish, you can tone down or up the maindeck. Stax and Fish are two of the hardest matchups, but you have the tools to defeat both if you want. Smother and Sower seem like the right cards against Fish, especially after playing the tournament, and Thoughtseize doubles as a reasonable card against Fish and other archetypes as well.

As I note a few times in the report, Inkwell Leviathan is insane. It is much better than Colossus in this deck, as being blue and therefore pitchable is a huge asset. All of the various win conditions are ridiculously powerful and deserve to be played. I would definitely play Tinker, Leviathan, Vault, and Key again. As I said earlier, Psychatog is basically a wall and killing them with it is an afterthought. Stabilizing is what matters and Psychatog is a versatile (and blue!) card that can play both roles.

Some people run Old Man of the Sea instead of Sowers, but that just seems wrong to me. Having to untap with an Old Man can be tough at times, especially considering the threats in this format are creatures like Dark Confidant or Goblin Welder that can be very risky to leave unmolested, even for a turn. You want to be able to take that stuff immediately.

Sower also does things Old Man can’t do, like steal Darksteel Colossus or Tarmogoyf. The overall utility is what keeps me happy, even if it does cost me an extra mana. I never sided them out, as everyone I played against had a reasonable amount of creatures, even if they were just Confidants or Welders. Against Akira, I definitely sided down to one Sower to bring in the third Thoughtseize, but that was it. Sower was spectacular against all of my opponents.

Obviously this deck is amazing against other blue decks. Mystic Remora is a huge bomb that is nearly unbeatable. Good players like to play blue decks most of the time and this deck is fairly easy to play and even translates quite well into a ten proxy event. If that is something you might be interested in, I definitely recommend you give this deck a try.


5 thoughts on “Chasing Victory: A Meditation on Vintage in Kyoto”

  1. Excellent report! It’s great to see you writing about Vintage and hope you and LSV find occasional time to do so in you Starcity content. How did the Beta draft go? Any good stories?

  2. Gerry,

    Thank you for that excellent report. It was well-written and I enjoyed reading about how you cut through the tournament with the deck. Also, thanks for spelling out my name to the reporter, even if my name wasn’t actually mentioned in Wizard’s article 🙂

    A few thoughts on building the deck:

    Personally, I really like Library in this deck. Against Fish, having that extra swamp is perhaps more useful. But at the same time, the deck isn’t terribly effective should you be stuck with only a Swamp and no blue sources anyway. Meanwhile, even against Fish, grabbing one extra card off Library before watching it die to a Wasteland can be quite useful. In addition, this deck excels at going up to seven cards in the mid or late game, meaning that Library is of even greater value here than in more traditional blue-based control decks.

    On the matter of Old Man of the Sea versus Sower of Temptation. I agree entirely that in the majority of metagames, Sower is the stronger card. There are, however, factors which can cause Old Man of the Sea to be the superior choice — the very factors which compelled me to use Old Man in my New England metagame. First, should Fish decks run a full set of Stifles, Old Man of the Sea may be stronger. A single Stifle is enough to make Sower fairly ineffective; while Old Man is still able to be effective in subsequent turns. In addition, given that Fish decks tend to consist in large part of 2/2 creatures, should the ability somehow be countered, having a 2/3 body is far better than having a 2/2 body. In addition, there was for a time a considerable number of red Workshop-based decks using a full set each of Goblin Welder and Barbarian Ring. Against those decks, Sower of Temptation is easily removed, while Old Man tends to remain on board.

    The final point to address is the colors to be run beyond the two obvious ones, if any. Blue and Black provide everything the deck needs per se; however, each of the other colors has at least an argument in its favor. Ancient Grudge and Red Blast are both options worthy of including, for example. Ultimately, which other colors to be run is a function of the expected metagame.

    Rich Shay

  3. Pingback: Initial Technology - Drafting Saga and Playing Vintage | ChannelFireball.com

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