The 2015 Vintage Championship was one of the more difficult Vintage events to
prepare for. First, it was likely to be one of the largest events of all time,
and turned out to smash even the most optimistic predictions. Second, metagame
and tournament data was severely lacking. Only a smattering of 25+ player
tournament results were reported or available in the last few months. Third,
Workshops and Dredge were among the two rising archetypes in the format, and
they sharply constrain the strategic possibilities in the format even more than
counter-magic heavy decks. A deck without a strong plan against Workshops was
not likely to survive for long.

Unlike most years, my deck selection process had not resolved until late the
night before the event. In the previous weeks, I had been testing three
different decks roughly equally, and remained uncertain about all of them. I
resolved to play one in the Vintage preliminary event, and assess the metagame
and my performance before settling on a final choice. But rather than clarify,
my experience in the preliminary tournament only deepened my uncertainty.

Since it's printing, I had been on the Monastery Mentor bandwagon, with sharply
disappointing results throughout that period. I went 1-5 in the Vintage Super
League Season 2 final two trimesters with Mentor decks, and 4-4 at the NYSE Open
III, my worst performance in that tournament. True, I did win or top 4 split
several local events with Mentor, but I could not reconcile them with my
miserable showings in larger or more visible events. I decided, after the NYSE
Open tournament, that I would shelve Mentor.

My basic problem with Mentor is that it was a huge trump against Young
Pyromancer, but was seemingly weaker against everything else - rendering it a
seductive, but dangerous trap.

I decided that any deck meriting serious consideration needed to meet a few
basic criteria:

    It had to have a competitive game against Workshops. This meant both having
access to a good deal of the best anti-artifact spells as well as being
strategically strong against Shops.
    It had to have an excellent plan against Dredge. Similarly, this meant both
having access to excellent anti-Dredge tactics as well as a potentially strong
strategic orientation, like a fast clock or a potential combo finish,
    It had to be a deck that was strategically flexible - meaning that it could
play different games in different matchups. I didn't want to play a linear
    Finally - and this was something I decided only after learning how big this
event would be - I wanted to have, if possible, a deck with a possible combo
finish that could win the game in a turn or two. One such combo finish is Time
Vault & Voltaic Key. Another is Gush, Fastbond, and Yawgmoth's Will. I decided
that in a field this large, it would be important to have a deck that could just
race, if pressed, many of the budget and slower decks in the field.

That ultimately led me to a strategy that I have played for many, many years:
Grow. When Young Pyromancer was first printed, this was the first deck I
developed for it:
Grow 2013 By Stephen Menendian

4 Force of Will
3 Mental Misstep
3 Flusterstorm
1 Hurkyl's Recall
2 Ancient Grudge
4 Gush
4 Preordain
1 Ponder
1 Brainstorm
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Fastbond
3 Regrowth
1 Yawgmoth's Will
3 Young Pyromancer
1 Tendrils of Agony

Mana Sources:
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
1 Flooded Strand
2 Volcanic Island
2 Underground Sea
2 Tropical Island
1 Island

4 Leyline of the Void
2 Yixlid Jailer
1 Mountain
3 Ingot Chewer
3 Nature's Claim
2 Thoughtseize

After doing extremely well in a local event, and crushing all of the opposition
in testing, I published a primer on this deck in 2013, eventually switching to
U/R Delver once BUG rose to the top of the metagame.

With Mentor having marginalized Delver, now was a good time to reconsider my
previous deck choices. I decided that this deck met all of my criteria, and gave
me the best chance to win the Vintage Championship. Here is what I played:
Grow 2015 By Stephen Menendian

4 Force of Will
3 Mental Misstep
2 Flusterstorm
2 Cabal Therapy
1 Hurkyl's Recall
4 Gush
4 Preordain
3 Gitaxian Probe
1 Ponder
1 Brainstorm
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
2 Dack Fayden
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Fastbond
2 Regrowth
1 Yawgmoth's Will
3 Young Pyromancer
1 Tendrils of Agony

Mana Sources:
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
1 Flooded Strand
2 Volcanic Island
2 Underground Sea
2 Tropical Island
1 Island

4 Leyline of the Void
1 Yixlid Jailer
1 Mountain
4 Ingot Chewer
1 Nature's Claim
2 Lightning Bolt
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Hurkyl's Recall

In the weeks before the event, I had been testing with a pair of Ancient
Grudge's maindeck, but as I circled around and focused on the Probe/Therapy
package, it became clear that I simply lacked room. Moreover, the shift in the
Workshop archetype to the Hangerback Walker tactic, and associated elements,
really weakened Ancient Grudge while dramatically enhancing Hurkyl's Recall.
Hurkyl's Recall is prominent and enjoys pride of place in my deck, both with a
maindeck and a sideboard slot.

For a full explication of how this deck operates, you can read my primer here
(insert link). Suffice to say, it is a Gushbond deck, meaning that it can win
the game in a single turn. In fact, that is how the deck is designed. Much like
the Gushbond decks of yore, the deck is designed to be able to win the game in a
single turn after resolve Fastbond because of the critical mass of cantrips and
draw. Although Ponder, Brainstorm and Merchant Scroll are all now restricted,
Probe, Preordain and Regrowth help pick up the slack. It is not uncommon to be
able to win the game on turn one with Fastbond. In fact, that happened both
times I resolved Turn 1 Fastbond in this tournament, giving me the combo finish
I sought.

My sideboard plans were simple.

Against Workshops:

+4 Ingot Chewer
+1 Mountain
+2 Lightning Bolt
+1 Hurkyl's Recall
+1 Ancient Grudge
+1 Nature's Claim

-3 Mental Misstep
-2 Flusterstorm
-3 Gitaxian Probe
-2 Cabal Therapy

Against Dredge:

+4 Leyline of the Void
+1 Yixlid Jailer

-1-2 Dack Fayden
-1 Hurkyl's Recall
-1-2 Cabal Therapy

Against Pyromancer or Mentor decks:
+ 2 Bolts

-1 Hurkyl's Recall
-1 Mystical Tutor

Round 1: Matt Klinkhammer on UR Pyromancer (Unpowered)

Facing this match made me appreciate, even more, the value of winning byes for
this event. My opponent was completely unpowered, but was perhaps one of the
hardest matchups of the entire day. My opponent was playing a Pyromancer deck,
and he generated 6 or so tokens before I resolved my first Pyromancer. An early
Ancestral, replayed with Regrowth, kept me in the game, but he had turn two
Pyromancer and a Strip Mine on top of a few burn spells. I stabilized, with no
coutermagic, at 2 life, but eventually got there.

In the second game, I Probed my opponent seeing both Gush and Treasure Cruise,
and a Therapy a turn later stripped it out. I then Flusterstormed the Treasure
Cruise (fueled by Lotus Petal), and took complete control over the game,
eventually winning on my own terms.

My opponent was a very good player and technically excellent.

Round 2: Ryan Forest on Blue Belcher

This is a terrifying match for any blue pilot, but I am one of the few players
who is actually strategically prepared with a ton of artifact hate.

In the first game, I drew double Force of Will, which I used to counter his
first Belcher and Pact of Negation. I then kept the pressure on with my draw
engine, and maintained control for the rest of the game.

In the second game, he mulliganed to 5!, and I kept a hand with Force of Will
and Ancient Grudge. He played Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, pass.

I drew and played a land, and cast Probe, seeing Belcher and two Pacts. I knew I
was in trouble. He untapped, cast Belcher, and passed the turn.

I played a land on my second turn, and cast Ancient Grudge, but he Pacted it. I
Forced, and he Pacted again. In his upkeep, with the Pact triggers on the stack,
he activated Belcher, and Academy was about 30 cards deep.

In the third game, I made a key blunder. I cast Cabal Therapy, which resolved,
but named Force of Will. His hand had both Tinker and Belcher!  I should have
named Belcher. I Forced his Belcher, and then Therapied the Tinker, but this
left me vulnerable to topdecks on his part. I tutored for Ancestral, drew some
cards, but not enough countermagic. He resolved Belcher, and activated it, but I
was fortunate that the Academy was the 13th card down. I Ingot Chewered his
Belcher, and then began picking off his other artifact mana. I maintained a
tenuous control until I could tutor for Yawmgoth's Will, and he scooped.

Round 3: Brian Pallas on Tezzeret Mentor

This was one of the more interesting matches I played on the day. In the first
game, I drew Therapy, two Gitaxian Probes, and Force of Will. I cast Probe, and
saw Brian's hand, which was roughly:

Tolarian Academy
Sol Ring
Mana Vault
Sensei's Divining Top
Force of Will

I would love to have cast my Cabal Therapy, but I had no black mana, and I was
afraid that if I cast my second Probe, not only would I not find a black mana,
but I wouldn't draw a second blue spell.

Brian played land, Sol Ring, Top, and activated it.

On my second turn, I didn't draw a black mana source, so I played a land and

Brian tapped the Sol Ring for Mana Vault, played a Mox Pearl, played Academy,
and tapped it for UUUU. He tapped the Mana Vault and cast Timetwister. I cast
Force, pitching Probe. He activated the Top to draw a card, and Forced my Force.

We shuffled up and drew new cards, and he cast a Monastery Mentor, which I
Forced. He then cast Time Walk, and untapped. He played a Mox Jet, and cast
Repeal targeting it. He didn't tap the Mox, but said, after returning it to his
hand and pausing, that he was floating a black mana. I called the judge, who,
after quite a bit of discussion, ruled that this was permissible. I appealed to
the head judge, who affirmed this ruling. He replayed the Jet, and then Repealed
it again. Then, he cast Yawgmoth's Will, and then replayed both Repeals, cast
Demonic Tutor for Tendrils, and killed me with exactly enough mana.

I have no memory of game 2, but I won handily.

In game 3, I had a strong hand, but we were running out of time. I wanted to
avoid a draw, and we started this game with under 2 minutes to go. I was looking
for a quick win. My opening hand had two Gush but no Fastbond.

He opened with Lotus and a land, and cast Repeal on the Lotus. On my turn, I
Probed him, and saw Notion Thief but no lands. I played Ancient Grudge on his
Lotus, so he couldn't pay Thief, and then I flashed it back on his Pearl, after
Scrolling for Ancestral, to keep him from casting it with a topdecked land. Then
I resolved a Dack, and took a Seat of the Synod when time was called.

I decided to try to win on turn 5 of turns. I Time Walked to steal one of the
turns, and assembled an insane hand that I hoped would win the entire game in a
single turn. On turn 3 of Turns, however, I Gushed just to get some value, and a
land drop. I had 4 lands in play, including his Seat of Synod.

By this point, I had Dack in play, two Gush in hand, Tendrils, and Yawgmoth's
Will. On turn five, I went for it. I cast Gush, then activated Dack, then cast
Yawgmoth's Will. With plenty of mana available, I replayed Lotus, Ancestral,
Brainstorm, Ponder, Gush, and could not find a tutor for Fastbond.

He had Misstep in hand. I could have Missteped my Ponder, and Forced my Misstep,
to try to ramp Storm and cast a 16 point Tendrils, but he was at 17 life. If he
played Misstep at any point, which was the only card in his hand, I win the
game. But he steadfastly refused to do so.

I was one storm away from winning, and likely would have won had I not played
that turn 3 Gush, and certainly, had I found Fastbond. We drew.

Round 4: Matthew Bliffert with Merfolk

I Probed Matthew on turn one of the first game, and saw Chalice of the Void,
Phantasmal Image, and Lord of Atlantis, among other cards. I don't remember the
details, but I think I Therapied out the Lord a turn or two later, before he
could cast it, and quickly over-ran him with Pyromancer tokens. I asked if he
was playing Chris Pikula's Merfolk deck from the VSL, and Matthew explained that
he was friends with Joel Lim, and actually one of the designers of this
archetype in Vintage.

I won the second game on turn 1 with Fastbond. He played turn one Cursecatcher,
which I Missteped. My hand was Gush, Gush, Underground Sea, Misstep, Fastbond,
and Force. And my draw for the turn?  Polluted Delta. I found Tropical Island,
cast Fastbond, and combed out that turn. I Gushed into Regrowth, which I used to
replay a Gush, and the two Gushes found me Demonic Tutor and Preordain into
Merchant Scroll, and so on, until I played Yawgmoth's Will.

Record: 3-0-1

Round 5: Justin Parnell with UW Control

Justin was playing one of the cool new Jace, Vryn Prodigy decks. He had Cabal
Therapy, Gush, Dig Through Time, and Snapcaster Mage as complements.

Our first game was long and bizarre. Our Therapies stripped each other of our
hands, and we both resolved big draw spells, but drew poorly. Because this game
took so long for me to win, we had under 15 minutes for the rest of our match.

In game 2, I brought in Bolts, but he resolved a turn 1 Mentor off of a land and
a Mana Crypt, and was able to kill me. I was able to Bolt his Mentor, but his
two tokens eventually killed me. I should have scooped this game earlier, but I
was still in the game for far too long.

We started resolving mulligans when time was called, but the judge let us play
out 5 turns. I kept a hand with the potential to win in turns, but I didn't have
enough time to pull it off because he was able to Misstep my Ancestral after he
failed to take the bait on my Fastbond, despite me having Yawgmoth's Will in
hand. Had this game gone longer, I would easily won this game.

Round 6: Josh Ravitz with Grixis Thieves

The first game was hilarious. Josh won the die roll, and played Volcanic Island,
go. I untapped, cast Fastbond, which resolved, and did exactly what I did in the
second game of Round 4: combed out on turn one. Richard from Gathering Magic
recorded the entire game, but suffice to say, Josh scooped when I cast
Yawgmoth's Will.

The second game was much closer. Josh had a turn one Thirst For Knowledge, and
my hand was heavy on tutors, and probably too slow. I should have mulliganed it.
But I dutifully played the cards I had, and eventually lost to a turn three
Yawgmoth's Will on his part, which he followed up with the Dack, Jace, and
Notion Thief combo.

In the third game, I baited out a first turn Pyroblast with a Brainstorm, so I
could Vamp for Ancestral and resolve it. I resolved a turn two Pyromancer, and
started applying pressure. On turn two, he played Library of Alexandria, Sol
Ring, and Black Lotus with three cards in hand.

On my third turn, I had a very difficult decision to make. My hand had Gush,
Force, Misstep, and Probe. It may have had one or two other non-blue card. In
any case, I decided lead with Probe, my big mistake of the game, if not the
tournament. I cast Probe, and he revealed Notion Thief, Pyroblast, and Dig
Through Time. I drew a land. I cast Gush, and he played Pyroblast. I Missteped
it. I drew two weak cards, and attacked with some tokens. I Forced his Dig
pitching another Force I drew, which he played on his turn.

Had I not cast Probe, I would have been able to Force pitching Probe. I should
have realized that he couldn't cast both a Pyroblast and a Notion Thief with
Lotus, Sol Ring, and a Volcanic. I lost two Forces on his Dig when I didn't have

I drew Flusterstorm and a land the turn after, attacking him to 1 life. On his
final turn, he drew, paused, and cast Time Vault and Voltaic Key. My
Flusterstorm never looked so helpless. I made it him play it out until he found
Tinker for Colossus, and I scooped.

My only loss of the day.

Round 7: Simon Hale with Dredge

I knew Simon was on Dredge before the match began, and probably kept a game 1
hand that was too weak.

In both games 2 and 3 I opened with Leyline of the Void. In the second game, he
couldn't find a rainbow land until turn 8 or so, and it was far too late. In
game 3, he was able to eventually destroy the Leyline, but I played another,
which he also destroyed, and then, finally, a Yixlid Jailer. I won the game by
casting Ancestral Recall on him to deck him.

Round 8: Sam Castrucci UW Control w/ Jace Vryn Prodigy

I corrected the mistake I made in round 5 with a whooping. I handily won this

Round 9: Vincent Pau with Forgemaster Workshops

Vinny Pau was one of the old school Keeper pilots from Neutral Ground circa 2001
that I wrote about in my History of Vintage series. This was the first time I
met him. We chatted about old school Magic for a bit, and reminisced about the
old days.

When we got down to business, I discovered he was playing Workshops.
Unfortunately, he won the die roll. I suspected he might be on Shops, but I kept
a subpar hand, again, with a bunch of tutors (DT, Vamp and, I think, Scroll). It
had only two lands.

His opening was simply: Mox, Mox, Mox, Trinisphere, and no land drops. I played
both of my lands, beginning my deck to produce a third land drop so I could
handily win this game, but it was not complying. After about 5 turns, he found
an Ancient Tomb, and played Golem and Forgemaster, and I scooped.

I brought in all of my hate, and won both games 2 and 3 in the fashion you would
expect: destroying all of his key threats, playing a Pyromancer, and so forth.
In the final game, I won with a Tendrils for 8 under a Sphere of Resistance the
turn before he could cast a Sundering Titan with Cavern.

Round 10: Tim Stone on Time Vault Control

This was perhaps the simplest match of the entire day. In the first game, he
Missteped every Cabal Therapy I played, trying to prevent me from seeing his
deck. In the second game, I resolved a Therapy, but only saw Snapcaster Mage,
Time Vault, and a few lands. I don't even know what he was playing.


My final record was 7-1-2, good enough for 22nd place, not bad out of a field of

Of course, I wish I had not drawn those two matches, as I could have been in
contention for top 8 with a deck like mine. I was very pleased, and had no
regrets, about my deck choice. I think I would have done very well in the
eventual Top 8, but there is always next year!

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian