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By: Joe Fiorini, Joseph G Fiorini
Jul 31 2015 12:00pm
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 Underground Seas and Victory

The Original Islandswamp...

Welcome back to another fun-filled trek through the cosmos that is Vintage. Generally I begin my weekly article filling you all in about my recent run of bad-beats and epic punts. I'm afraid that I just can't do that this time. You see, things actually went well this weekend!

First of all, I managed to play in more than one Vintage Daily Event. That by itself is awesome, but it gets better. I managed to cash both of the events, and I feel great. I played relatively well, and the usual mulligan-fest did not occur, leaving me with a full hand of cards with which to battle.

Friday night, I decided to play in the evening Daily Event, and I brought my Grixis Therapy deck. I've told you about this deck, and the list was featured in last week's "State of the Program", as played by Randy Buehler in the Vintage Super League. Initially I was going to go back to a U/R/w Delver deck, then I thought about trying my Grixis Delver deck, and finally on a whim, I went with Grixis Pyromancer Therapy goodness.

Round one came, and I soon discovered that I was facing a deck with Mishra's Workshop. I knew that this had the potential to be a tough match-up, and I prepared to have a difficult game-one. In  the first several turns of the game, I saw unexpected cards like Goblin Welder and Bazaar of Baghdad. I realize that this deck must be modeled after the older, colored versions of Shops. Little did I know that I was facing a truly "vintage" deck.

After the game had progressed a bit, and I had landed a Young Pyromancer and created some elemental tokens, my opponent cast one of the most dangerous lock pieces that there is, a card that I'd never had to face in a Vintage match before...

Ensnaring Bridge

Ensnaring Bridge is one of the most annoying cards on the planet. I should know, I built a deck around the card way back in 1998/1999 and took it to the Vermont State Championships. My deck used Cursed Scroll as a win-condition, as well as Null Brooch as a control element, which also kept the hand empty for Ensnaring Bridge. Whereas my deck wasn't that good, people have since found similar but more powerful decks to make use of Ensnaring Bridge, and this was one of those. 

I had no Counterspell for Ensnaring Bridge, so it resolved. I would have needed a Force of Will, as the deck has no other card to counter an artifact. My opponent was fairly low at that point, but soon after playing the Bridge my opponent was able to start reducing their hand-size with Bazaar. 

At this point, I decided that since I had almost no answer to the Ensnaring Bridge, my best shot was to force my opponent to draw three cards with the Ancestral Recall I had in my hand. The three cards drawn would allow me one more attack step with my little army of tokens and bring my opponent down to six life. At that point, I could use my deck's Snapcaster Mages to replay either Ancestral Recall to allow one more attack, or to bolt my opponent and snap it back with Snapcaster Mage.

The Snapcaster plan soon Dissolved when my opponent was able to  resolve a Chalice of the Void on one. I got a bit nervous then, because I could only think of one more out. If I could draw and play the one Dack Fayden in my deck, I could steal the Ensnaring Bridge which would cause it to look at only cards in my hand and allow me to attack.

As the time on my clock winded down considerably, I began to worry about wasting my time. I was sure that the Dack line would work, so I chose not to concede. What seemed like an eternity passed by and finally I drew the one Dack Fayden. Dack cost seven mana to play at that point. My opponent had many sphere-effects on the battlefield. I had seven lands, but two or three were fetch lands. I cracked a fetch to start getting the lands  to cast Dack, and to my dismay there were no more lands left in my library to fetch. Needless to say, I was pretty tilted at that discovery. I conceded promptly as to finish the match in a timely fashion.

Game two involved a turn-one Trinisphere from my opponent. I lost only a few turns later, but I saw enough of  only opponent's deck to realize that they were playing Uba Stax. I didn't actually see a Smokestack, so it's possible that my opponent was running only Uba mask and not the other cards commonly employed by a Stax deck.

The next few matches went well, my Grixis deck kept doing what it's supposed to do, ripping apart people's hands and swarming with elemental tokens. By the time the last round rolled around, I started to think that I was finally going to get back to winning!

Sure enough, I won the last round in two games. The last game included me flashing back a Time Walk and attacking with a horde of elemental tokens. Once I realized that victory was imminent, I finally began to relax.

The following night, Saturday, I declined to play in the evening Daily Event. I checked to make sure that they had enough people first, as I will always join one to assure that it indeed fires as scheduled. I chose not to play because I was still tired from the night before and I wanted to get more sleep that night. I did end up streaming a few matches, and found out that I need to fix some technical issues with my stream before I permanently scare away viewers!

Sunday night, I also wanted to skip the Daily Event. I work Monday mornings like most people do, and sleep is at a premium for me. When I checked on the D.E., I saw that there weren't quite enough people signed up, so I clicked the button to enter and selected an updated build of Grixis Therapy. I read a thread on The Mana Drain that included a Grixis list designed by Rich Shay, and I wanted to try it out. The decks were almost the same, but Rich had improved the mana base and added a Kolaghan's Command to the main deck. 

Round one of the Daily started a little bit late, and I was paired with the same person who had beaten me with the red Uba Stax deck. I kept an opening hand that I thought would be good against Stax, but I soon found out via Gitaxian Probe that this time around he was on Landstill. 

Game one was a long affair, but I finally managed to pull ahead and win. The second game included some sweet value plays with Snapcaster Mage taking down man-lands with a flashed back Lightning Bolt. A little bit of Modern tech goes a long way!

Game two began with my opponent having to mulligan down to five cards. My adversary played well enough to stay in the game for quite some time, but I eventually pulled too far ahead and got the win.

Round two I faced a Shops deck and promptly got destroyed in game one. I said aloud that perhaps my winning streak was at an end, and I moved to the sideboarding screen and began to swap cards out. I brought in the Ingot Chewers and Pulverizes well as the basic Mountain and went to start the next game.

Game two saw a great opening hand for me, as it had a Pulverize in it.  I shifted my focus to only stopping cards that would either prevent me from casting Pulverize when I needed it or stopping things like Lodestone Golem. The plan is to cause your opponent to over-extend so that Pulverize puts the game out of reach for the Shops player. Shops decks can't lock you out with only one card, unless it's Trinisphere or in some cases Chalice of the Void. Suffice it to say that my strategy worked and I won the game. Game three went in the same fashion, and I found myself in the 2-0 bracket.

Round three started, and I won the die roll. I looked at my opponent's hand with Gitaxian Probe and realized that I was facing yet another Mishra's Workshop deck. I wondered if my good fortune would hold up, and ultimately it did.  

Here's the replay of round three:

Please note that an error with MTGO showed the games to me (in the replay tab) out of order, and I made comments erroneously due to that factor. The videos are presented in the proper order in this article. Sorry for any confusion the commentary may have caused.


Game one, my opponent never drew a true lock-piece. They did get a turn-one Steel Hellkite, and I had kept a hand without Force of Will. I lasted two turns before I conceded to the inevitable.

The following games were the same dance of trying to set up for a Pulverize. The card is a real beating for Shops decks, and if they aren't aggressive about Wastelanding your Mountains, then there isn't a lot that they can do to stop you. I cast Pulverize four times against shops pilots that night, and I won every time it resolved. Going forward, I plan on keeping a copy of Pulverize in my wallet at all times, it's just that good.

Looking back on those matches against the two Workshop prison decks, I think that I got somewhat lucky, My opponent's didn't have especially strong draws, barring the one turn-one Steel Hellkite. I wasn't under much pressure from taxing-effects or Tangle Wire, and those are the cards that really hinder any Opposition to the Shops pilot.

You only need to earn three match wins to earn six packs, so I had already cashed the Daily by round four. I noticed that Montolio was my opponent, and I wondered if I could beat Shops three times in one night. Montolio is really skilled with the archetype, so I would have had a difficult match ahead of me. It was almost midnight in Vermont as round four begun, so I asked my opponent about splitting the prize. We agreed that I'd get the extra pack, and he'd get the QP. I don't get enough play time to earn the QP's I'd need for a MOCS promo, so the pack seemed better, I would have loved to win and have a Vintage 4-0 under my belt, but I'm still very happy with my results that last weekend. 

Here's that list, based on Rich Shay's build:




Cabal TherapyYoung PyromancerGitaxian Probe

Grixis Therapy is the Truth.

Grixis Therapy is an interesting deck, because on one hand it is a "fair" deck like its Delver-based brethren. On the other hand, the interactions between cards like Demonic Tutor, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Snapcaster Mage and Young Pyromancer give the deck the feel of an "unfair" deck much of the time. It's not uncommon to flashback an Ancestral Recall or Time Walk, sometimes starting the chain of spells with a Demonic Tutor. All the while, Young Pyromancer is making tokens, Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy are ripping apart people's hands, and you're able to draw through the deck and fill the graveyard quickly due to cantrips and Probes. 

Control, Aggro, or Tempo?

Grixis Therapy is a deck that shares some qualities with Gush decks, that is to say the aggro/control decks that feature Delver of Secrets or occasionally Monastery Mentor. I think of the deck as more of a control deck that just happens to run Gush and a relatively low mana-count. The deck is very capable of making strong tempo plays, and shifting into an aggro role when necessary. That's the beauty of playing with Young Pyromancer, the elemental tokens allow for a wide variety of angles of attack or defense.

When you look at the deck, nothing really stands out as all that impressive; there are no explicitly broken combos and we're not packing a Tinker/bot package. The classic duo of Voltaic Key and Time Vault are notably absent, and the marquee back sorcery, Yawgmoth's Will is also not found in this Grixis Deck. Peel away a few layers, and we start to uncover how powerful all of the existing synergies are. 

First of all, the deck is great at grinding out incremental advantage with cards like Snapcaster Mage and Young Pyromancer. Snapcaster lets us play as if we have extra copies of all of our important spells, and Young Pyromancer is the quintessential army-in-a-can. These cards alone are capable of taking down an opponent, whether through combat or pure value.

Of course, like all good Vintage decks, Grixis Therapy plays the classic package of restricted blue goodness, the meat of the Power Nine (except for (Time Twister), because who runs that thing?). Casting Ancestral Recall twice in a game is a rare treat (except for when Treasure Cruise was un-restricted), and flashing back a Time Walk is feels so dirty. Time Walk is the embodiment of tempo, and although I wouldn't consider Grixis Therapy to be a true tempo deck, there certainly are many ways to create a tempo-swing in your favor.

Another card that this Grixis deck plays that puts it more in the control camp is Demonic Tutor. Normally I don't care for such cards in decks like this. Merchant Scroll into Ancestral Recall is a fine play, but it's narrow and your opponent will always see it coming. Mystical Tutor suffers from a similar problem, lacking the element of surprise and being very narrow comparatively. Demonic Tutor, however, is cheap and can get anything you need. I learned about how powerful tutoring for a Time Walk can be from playing my Monastery Mentor decks. Young Pyromancer might not make tokens that are as large as Mentor does, but Pyromancer is much more efficient and the tokens it produces from chaining a Demonic Tutor into a Time Walk will do a lot of heavy-lifting.

Demonic Tutor is restricted, but this deck has three Snapcaster Mages to play as if it wasn't. This is what I mean when I refer to the synergies between Pyromancer, Snapcaster, and all of the deck's spells. Cabal Therapy and Gitaxian Probe have a synergy that is as plain as day, but the entire deck works very well together and it's possible to make some remarkable plays. Taking three turns in a row while drawing six cards feels just as broken as anything you can do with a Grixis Thieves build, but in my opinion Grixis Therapy can pull it all off with more consistency. You may not be taking infinite turns, but three is still pretty good when it ends up killing your opponent.

Entering the Command Zone...

The astute observers out there may have noticed a card in the list that seems perhaps odd at first.  Kolaghan's Command has been a popular card in Modern since its introduction into the format. As far as Vintage is concerned, K Command has been ignored. I've been searching for a main-deck artifact removal spell for some time. The criteria that I've set is that the card needs to be versatile enough to warrant main-deck inclusion. Beyond that, it's important that the card be efficient and creates value.

Kolaghan's Command meets the benchmark for versatility being a modal spell. At three mana, though, it is somewhat expensive. I think that the fact that the card is a self-contained two-for-one  is what pushes it into playability in Grixis Therapy. Just as Modern Affinity will often lose two creatures to Kolaghan's Command, it's possible to kill two Phyrexian Revokers against Workshop decks. You could even destroy a Lodestone Golem and a Revoker with K Command, and at worst you can destroy an artifact and either make your opponent discard a card or return a Snapcaster Mage or Young Pyromancer to your hand from the graveyard. The discarding mode of K. Command is likely the weakest mode, but since Grixis Therapy also plays both Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy, so the odds are high that you'll know how effective the discard ability will be.

I can't accept full credit for the introduction of K. Command to this deck list, Rich Shay posted about a successful run with his Grixis Therapy build on The Mana Drain. Seeing that he had done well with the card in his list gave me the courage to try it, and I've been pleased with it so far. I had thought about trying the Command in my Vintage decks for some time. Vintage decks play powerful artifacts, and I wanted a main-deck answer that didn't make me feel silly against non-workshop opponents. Being relatively new to the format compared to my Vintage peers, I decided to not take the risk and I shelved the idea of running K. Command until last weekend.

So far, Command has been great for me. Having Dack as your only answer to artifacts can be risky, especially when you may need to grab one on your opponent's turn in order to not lose the game. Not every opponent is going to plop down a Time Vault and pass the turn to wait for a Voltaic Key to show up. I like that this deck has a split of one Dack and one Command. If space wasn't an issue, I could see running more Dack Faydens, but one Kolaghan's Command seems like enough.

Volcanic Island

Play more Mountains, dude.

In the Friday night Daily, I was living dangerously. That list had only thirteen lands in it. It's a miracle that I didn't get much mana-screw, because thirteen lands is cutting it very close. I know that the deck plays Gush, but this really is a control deck and the deck needs its lands. Beyond that, the plan that this deck relies on to win a Shops match-up is to play Pulverize. You need to run enough Mountains in your deck to ensure that you can still play your spells after blowing up all of the artifacts in play.

I've noticed that Workshop players have begun to aggressively go after my Mountains with Strip Mine and Wasteland. I'm sure that getting Pulverized isn't fun for them, and the Shops players are seeming to catch on quickly. This is why I try to play uncracked Scalding Tarns and wait as long as I can. 

The list that I ran Sunday night had fifteen lands and four mana artifacts, for a total of nineteen mana sources. The main deck had 4 Volcanic Island and a basic Mountain in the sideboard. This deck could, in theory, cast Pulverize twice and still have red sources in the deck. 

Final Verdict:

Grixis Therapy is an incredible deck, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a consistent deck that has some insanely busted lines of play built into it. I've heard some people complain that U/r Delver (which is an admittedly similar deck) isn't fun to play, but this deck has a lot of fun interactions that Delver does not. There's one more Mox, which adds to the random accelerated openings, and while there's no Yawgmoth's Will there is Snapcaster Mage to mimic some of the restricted-card recursion that YawgWin is famous for. Cabal Therapy does a remarkable Mind Twist impression when used in conjunction with Gitaxian Probe and Young Pyromancer. Nothing is sweeter than nuking the opponent's hand right before casting a Dig Through Time!

Grixis Therapy has been good to me, and I see no reason to switch decks in the near future. I'll Tinker with the deck, making adjustments as I see fit, but this is a tight list as it is. I hope more people try out this deck in the near future, and I hope to see you in the Vintage queues!


Belch-fest 2015!

Since the last two weeks featured very similar decks, I thought I'd at least provide you guys with something a little different. Here's a deck that I was messing around with, courtesy of Grandpa Belcher himself, Nat Moes:




This deck is highly aggressive! While I didn't get to play as many matches with it as I'd like to have, I did goldfish with it quite a bit and to be honest, it goes off on turn one more often than not. Sometimes you'll just be casting an Empty the Warrens for a game-winning amount of goblin tokens, other times you'll be flipping your entire deck and burning someone's face off. If those two scenarios don't occur, then you'll likely be casting either Wheel of Fortune or Memory Jar and the new hand of seven cards should do the trick.

Against a live opponent is where things get challenging. It takes a truly brave individual to sleeve this deck up, and it takes a hefty dose of skill AND luck to make it all work. At the end of the day, this is an entertaining and exciting deck to play, and I give it my endorsement. Furthermore, if anyone wants to take the Islandswamp Belcher Challenge, I'll put your name and deck list into one of my articles if you can cash a Vintage Daily with R/G Belcher. I'll also award six tix to the winner! Your deck doesn't have to be completely identical, but I'm not counting the mono-blue build from the VSL, as that is a well-established list in the online metagame.


That's all the time I have for this week folks. Thanks for tuning in. For this article. I've remained silent about the upcoming changes to constructed events on MTGO. Instead, I'll be leaving images of Gleemox everywhere as a symbolic gesture. That image pretty much sums up my feelings about the proposed changes. From now on, I'm going to focus on community-building in the Vintage format, and I'll try to look at the bright side of Magic Online. I'm able to play Vintage at any hour, on any day, and that's an awesome thing!

One more thing before I go, my friend and clan-mate No_Outs is working on a Vintage Player-Run Event. You can find the information here on the Mana Drain. We all still need to work out the best times and method for running the event (Swiss or single-elimination, free or donation based, and sponsors), so please give us some feedback! Several prominent members of the Online Vintage community have quit Magic Online over the whole play points announcement, and many more are considering it. To top it all off, the three-round Daily Events that Wizard's is giving us are not very popular amongst the players. In fact, many Vintage players have told me that they don't want to play them at all. So, let's all work together and not only preserve this format, let's make it grow and thrive!


I was watching you play by jay85 at Fri, 07/31/2015 - 23:34
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I was watching you play against Uba Stax and I was impressed when you targeted him with your Ancestral Recall. Such a good play, my friend! I was on the edge of my seat hoping you would draw Dack and when you finally did... yeah, I felt your pain. You were definitely robbed.
Keep up the streaming. You're a joy to watch. I just hope you can fix that echo when you talk. It's difficult to hear you a lot of the time because of it.

You have to set up the rest by Paul Leicht at Sat, 08/01/2015 - 00:50
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You have to set up the rest of the play if you are going to praise targeting your op with Ancestral. Don't leave us hanging...Oh nevermind I realized after you were referring to the point in the article where he was under the bridge.

Sorry 'bout that. I just by jay85 at Sat, 08/01/2015 - 03:59
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Sorry 'bout that. I just figured people would know what I was talking about. My bad.

I was groggy as I was reading by Paul Leicht at Sat, 08/01/2015 - 04:10
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I was groggy as I was reading it and didn't connect the two.

I'll have to go back and by Joe Fiorini at Sat, 08/01/2015 - 06:43
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I'll have to go back and watch it, but I think that I cast Dig Through Time twice and Gushed once before I hit the Dack.
That night I was running Lejay's list, he had only 13 lands and I don't think that was enough.
I'm upset with the fact that the Vintage Daily didn't fire last night. Both Rich Shay and Andy Probasco were streaming it too! A lot of people quit mtgo over play points.

This deck is comically weak by wappla at Tue, 08/04/2015 - 22:22
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This deck is comically weak to Oath. It's plan against Oath is hoping enough other people are playing Containment Priest.

I've beaten Oath quite a bit by Joe Fiorini at Tue, 08/04/2015 - 22:39
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I've beaten Oath quite a bit actually. Also, there's not a ton of it on Magic Online at the moment.

Sometimes Oath resolves an Oath, that's true. Otherwise, people wouldn't play it. They don't always though.

Sometimes, I strip their oath, Show and Tell, or Griselbrand out of their hand with Cabal Therapy. Sometimes I draw more Forces than they draw Oaths, and sometimes I don't.

I don't think it's as dire as you're making it out, and the deck is as good against Oath as RUG Delver, or any deck that doesn't play white for that matter.

Frankly, I've been really enjoying the deck, and it has performed well for me for the most part. I don't think that there is a deck that has a highly-favored match against everything anyway.

Anyway, are you going to want by Joe Fiorini at Tue, 08/04/2015 - 22:46
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Anyway, are you going to want to be good against the >30% deck or the deck that takes up 1% of the decks you'll face? I think it's an easy choice.

Now, if you've got a large paper event, then a different sideboard might be in order. I tested out a Slaughter Games for a while, but at four it's hard to cast quickly enough. It's pretty sweet when you nail all of the Oath targets though.