Vintage Decksmashing #6 – GitLong vs. UW Flash
Hi, and welcome back to Vintage Decksmashing, where we take two Vintage Magic the Gathering decks and smash them together. We’ll analyze the matchup and look at how things should play out, including the most important cards, winning strategies, and how to sideboard.
If you’re interested in getting into Vintage, feel free to proxy decks to test against friends. You might even be able to play them in a nearby proxy tournament. Visit www.themanadrain.com for tournament information as well as other Vintage resources.
In this chapter of Decksmashing, we’ll be looking at UW Flash and GitLong, new variations on decks that have existed in Vintage for a while. In fact, this article could be considered a recap of the one we wrote up in February.
The UW Flash list, developed by Rich Shay and Craig Berry for the MVPLS Vintage Invitational, a 50-player event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is a direct descendent of the Blue Angels list that made top eight at Vintage Champs last year. And it’s the grandson of Bomberman, a combo-control deck that uses Auriok Salvagers to make infinite mana with Black Lotus and draw infinite cards with Aether Spellbomb. UW Flash is also a cousin to the similar decks played in Modern, though it skips the red splash and the addition of burn.
UW Flash – Rich Shay et al.
The idea behind UW Flash-what it’s trying to improve on over Blue Angels and Bomberman-is to play even more of its spells at end of turn, so that it can hold up counters for its opponent’s spells. As such, it even skips Jace, the Mind Sculptor, in favor of Fact or Fiction. Dropping Jace also allows it to abuse Spirit of the Labyrinth, one of several recently printed efficient white creatures with a disruptive ability in Vintage. Spirit dominates the Jace game, as well as knocking down Brainstorm, draw-sevens like Timetwister, and Ancestral Recall. With a bunch of creatures that attack for three, the deck can win in a hurry, but getting aggressive is rarely going to be the right strategy.
GitLong (short for Gitaxian Long), on the other hand, is an aggressive storm deck. It wants to use draw-sevens like Timetwister alongside other draw spells, tutors, and mana acceleration to play a lethal Tendrils of Agony or Empty the Warrens in a hurry. This strategy puts Gitaxian Probe to good use: drawing cards for free (twice with Yawgmoth’s Will) and looking at the opponent’s hand to check if the coast is clear of counterspells. If there is a counterspell, four Duresses can pluck them out, but players may also have to figure out how to sequence their powerful threats to ensure the proper ones resolve.
GitLong – Isaac Foote
Isaac Foote played this version of GitLong at a 40-player event in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The deck can trace its lineage to another Vintage Champs deck, the storm deck played by Reid Duke to the top four. Before that, PitchLong and TPS (The Perfect Storm) used similar deck construction. The Long name itself comes from Mike Long, who popularized the most notable early storm deck in 2003 using Lion’s Eye Diamond and Burning Wish. This led to those cards’ restriction when Wizards tested the deck and found it could win on turn one 60% of the time, even through Force of Will. GitLong is aiming for similar results but will usually be a second-turn goldfish or longer.
This week, Matt Hazard will be flexing the iron fist of control, using UW Flash, and Nat Moes will put on his racing shoes and run with GitLong. It should be an even fight. Flash will have the advantage if it gets its permanent hate pieces (especially postboard) and can take advantage of delays by attacking quickly and decisively. Long will win the shorter games, where its threats punch through defenses early.
Hazard and Nat played one preboard and four postboard games.
Game 1 – Under Duress
Nat won the roll and Duressed Hazard’s six-card keep, taking Mental Misstep and leaving Disenchant, Tolarian Academy, Mox Emerald, and two Flooded Strands. It was a weak hand, but it did have mana, an early counter, and a second piece of disruption on a mull to six.
Both players had some setup turns for mana. Then, deciding to test the waters, Nat played Mana Vault, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Hurkyl’s Recall, hoping to replay the artifacts for storm and mana for Memory Jar. Hazard took his opportunity to Disenchant the Diamond. Nat replayed the Vault and emptied his hand for Memory Jar, cracking it immediately with seven storm.
Nat’s Jar hand had Tendrils of Agony (placed there earlier by Brainstorm) and Duress. Mental Misstep countered Duress, but that left the door open for Dark Ritual and Sol Ring to resolve for a lethal Tendrils.
GitLong 1 – 0 UW Flash
It was a quick, turn-three storm win through a disruption-light hand, but there were some interesting plays nonetheless. Hazard might have opted to use his Mental Misstep on the turn one Duress, hiding his relatively weak hand and perhaps psyching Nat into delaying his storm turn. He also made a difficult choice with the Disenchant, being able to take out a big colorless source in Mana Vault or the powerful Lion’s Eye Diamond. With one card in hand, the only thing Vault would really help with was Jar, while LED would have made any draw seven, Yawgmoth’s Will, or Tinker more powerful. Based on those numbers, LED was probably the right choice!
After his defeat, Hazard brought in four Grafdigger’s Cage, three Rest in Peace, Flusterstorm and Aven Mindcensor. He took out less-useful one-shot cards like Spell Snare, Disenchant and Karakas, as well as more expensive plays like two Restoration Angel. The Cages, RIPs, and Mindcensor would all be able to combine with Spirit of the Labyrinth to really cut off the combo deck’s options. GitLong needs to be able to draw cards, tutor, or access the graveyard for its easiest wins. Later, after Nat revealed he had brought in Blightsteel Colossus, Hazard returned Swords to Plowshares to the maindeck over two Snapcaster Mages.
Nat brought in two Flusterstorms, an Extirpate, and Blightsteel Colossus. The instants should help play through counterspells in a longer game, and Blightsteel Colossus improves Tinker against Spirit of the Labyrinth, as long as there’s no Grafdigger’s Cage in play. He boarded out Mox Opal, Cabal Ritual, Wheel of Fortune, and Windfall, two weaker acceleration spells and two spells that are less effective against Spirit. Unfortunately the Hurkyl’s Recalls and Rebuilds in his board won’t help against Spirit.
Game 2 – Tag Team: Spirit and Cage!
Hazard kept seven on the play and flooded the board with mana, Spirit of the Labyrinth, and Grafdigger’s Cage. This is a brutal opening, shutting off all of Nat’s draw spells as well as Yawgmoth’s Will. Having a creature that attacks for three is pretty good too!
Nat gratefully topdecked Sensei’s Divining Top-a way to fix his draws without drawing cards-but saw it get countered by Force of Will. Hazard emptied his hand but was doing everything he could to make sure his two permanent pieces of hate were going to remain effective. Hazard drew, attacked, and passed. Nat played Imperial Seal (going to 14 life), getting his last most powerful card that would work through Spirit of the Labyrinth: Necropotence.
Necropotence resolved on turn three and Nat set aside six cards, going to five life, two life after another Spirit attack. Nat was one mana short to do anything significant and played Chain of Vapor on Hazard’s end step, targeting his own Necropotence and using the copy ability to target Hazard’s offending Spirit. Hazard played Vendilion Clique in response, taking Timetwister, and leaving Nat with no option but to concede to damage on the board.
GitLong 1 – 1 UW Flash
The GitLong deck is going to be severely constrained when a combined attack like Spirit of the Labyrinth and Grafdigger’s Cage that shuts off so many of its avenues that early. Finding and resolving a big threat like Necropotence was important, but Spirit’s attacks limited its effectiveness. Vendilion Clique was just the final kick in the junk. A more rounded sideboard that includes answers like Toxic Deluge or Dread of Night would help.
Game 3 – Finding Your Mind’s Desires
Nat, on the play again in game three, opened with Duress, which Hazard countered with Mental Misstep. Hazard played Tundra and Mox Pearl, dropping Rest in Peace on the table. Nat Brainstormed on his turn and put Yawgmoth’s Will back into his library, shuffling it away with a fetchland. He played Sensei’s Divining Top and a Mox Ruby to use it and passed.
Hazard added Grafdigger’s Cage and Spirit of the Labyrinth to the board, shutting off more doors. Nat spun the Top and aimed to set up a reasonable storm count for the Mind’s Desire that was sitting there. He emptied Hazard’s hand with Duress, clearing a path, then, next turn he set up a sequence of Mox, Mana Vault, and Tinker for Black Lotus into Mind’s Desire. Desire revealed a dominant set: Time Walk, Necropotence, Blightsteel Colossus, and Tolarian Academy. Nat played all four cards, refilled his hand, and bounced a flashed-in Restoration Angel to win.
GitLong 2 – 1 UW Flash
“Not bad,” said Hazard.
Game 4 – *Clique*
Hazard opened with Black Lotus and Mox Sapphire, passing the turn. That sort of opening almost certainly spells Vendilion Clique, as it’s role as a disruptive threat is one of the few worth keeping a no-lander. Indeed Hazard played Clique after Nat’s opening draw, seeing Necropotence, two Dark Rituals, Brainstorm, Duress, Timetwister, Mox Pearl, and Swamp. Hazard wisely sent Necropotence packing.
Nat played Duresses on turns one and two, leaving Hazard with unplayable four drops. On turn three, Nat topdecked and resolved Memory Jar, cracking it with two black mana floating. Unfortunately, he could not draw a threat, and was limited to playing mana and shuffling away Hazard’s artifacts by Hurkyl’s Recalling them into the discarded Jar hand. Hazard had only Clique at this point.
Running out of time (thanks to Vendilion Clique) and of cards (thanks to the failed Memory Jar gambit) but with plenty of mana, Nat tried Timetwister and drew nothing but mana, Extirpate, and a Vampiric Tutor that was useless without life or a way to draw. Cards, cards everywhere, nor any way to win. Nat conceded, despite his opponent having only one permanent in play.
GitLong 2 – 2 UW Flash
Game 5 – More Bad News for GitLong
Nat opened with an Underground Sea in game five and Duressed into Spirit of the Labyrinth, Restoration Angel, Black Lotus, Island, Mana Crypt, Mox Sapphire, and Black Lotus. He took the Lotus, that being Hazard’s only white mana source for now. Hazard topdecked Mox Pearl and played Spirit and Cage anyway. Restoration Angel joined the team next turn, followed by Rest in Peace. The Yawgmoth’s Will in Nat’s hand silently laughed.
Nat Repealed Spirit on Hazard’s end step, needing some lucky draws so he could potentially play another spicy Mind’s Desire on his turn. Instead, he played Timetwister, at least shuffling the Spirit away. “It’s amazing. If you have Grafdigger’s Cage and Rest in Peace, it is impossible for me to get rid of Yawgmoth’s Will,” said Nat, drawing the useless card again.
Nat paid mana for Gitaxian Probe and noted that his Twister had provided Hazard with double Force of Will. Demonic Tutor drew one of them. Hazard attacked and passed, and there was a scuffle over Yawgmoth’s Bargain on Nat’s turn. Hazard refilled his hand with Fact or Fiction and Ancestral Recall, finally electing to counter the enchantment despite Nat having only five life. Hazard attacked and passed again, sending Nat to two.
A ray of hope washed over the scene as Nat topdecked Tinker and used it to get Memory Jar. Unfortunately the Jar held only Empty the Warrens, mana, and protection. Though Nat could have made 20 goblins, none of them would have been able to block the Restoration Angel. Hazard attacked for three in the air and won.
GitLong 2 – 3 UW Flash
The UW Flash deck skimps on some counters maindeck to play more creatures and removal, so there was some question of how well it would do against a storm combo deck like GitLong. Being able to bring in graveyard hate to go along with Spirit of the Labyrinth, however, creates a roadblock that many combo lists will find difficult to overcome. So many plays are shut off, especially if Grafdigger’s Cage limits options on Tinker as well. The GitLong deck was forced to find Necropotence, Mind’s Desire, or bounce spell to make its big plays.
Part of this could be solved by better preparation in the sideboard of GitLong. The artifact bounce will be important for beating Workshops, but room could probably be made for more general answers like more Chain of Vapor, Echoing Truth, or even Rushing River to get past creatures, enchantments, and artifacts alike. Many times Nat could have played through one piece and ignored the other, but multiple pieces of hate together were tough.
That’s it for this round of Vintage Decksmashing. We’ll be back soon with another great matchup. Let us know in the comments if there’s anything you want to see or have questions about, or get in touch with us on Twitter. Thanks for reading!