Vintage Decksmashing #3 – Blue Angels vs. Burning Oath


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. Along the way, you can learn about the great format of Vintage. Maybe we’ll dispel some of the myths that surround Vintage. You’ll see that Vintage is interactive and skill intensive, testing skills that go beyond those practiced in Standard, Modern, and even Legacy.

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 for tournament information as well as other Vintage resources.

We’ll go away from Workshops a moment and look at another dreaded Vintage opponent: combo. Eric Butler and Nat Moes smash the Blue Angels list against Burning Long. It’s the classic control versus combo matchup-plenty to learn from here, on both sides of the board.

Taylor Pratt played this Blue Angels to a top-eight finish at the 2013 Vintage Championships last November. He lost in dramatic fashion to Reid Duke [], who was playing an older-style storm list, similar to TPS (The Perfect Storm).

Taylor’s list, which will be played by Eric, is pretty typical of control lists in Vintage and other formats: plenty of counters, miscellaneous answers, and card advantage to find them. Beyond Force of Will, the premiere control card in Vintage is Mana Drain, a strictly-better Counterspell that also provides colorless mana “acceleration.” Blue Angels is able to take advantage of that mana by muscling out Trinket Mage, Restoration Angel, or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Trinket Mage, in turn, gets a toolbox of artifacts maindeck and sideboard, and can also just get Black Lotus to set up a bigger turn.

Restoration Angel has started to appear in Vintage but hasn’t really taken off yet. Angel works in this deck to re-trigger Trinket Mage and Vendilion Clique (great as disruption and in combat). It’s also great to flash in end of turn after holding up counters or during combat, since it’s big enough to tangle with many of the creatures in Vintage decks. One surprising thing about this list, though, is that it doesn’t include any Snapcaster Mages, which works well with Angel and efficient counters but is outstanding with Ancestral Recall and Time Walk.

Nat played a list from Vintage adept Stephen Menendian’s deckbox, Burning Long with maindeck Time Vault and Voltaic Key. It won an event in September 2013, though it has since largely been replaced by the “Pitch” version of the deck, which uses extra blue to pitch to Force of Will and Misdirection. The Time Vault version is still interesting since it has access to the format’s best two card combo.

Menendian developed this monster of a deck soon after Burning Wish was unrestricted in September 2012 and has been working on it since then. It has several different angles of attack, all of which it would like to apply in the first few turns of the game. Ultimately, it would like to play Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony with a lethal storm count. This frequently happens after playing Oath of Druids into Griselbrand and a handful of new cards, but there’s enough fast mana and broken draw spells in the deck that this can just happen by chaining spells. Burning Wish also provides access to a grab-bag of goodies in the sideboard: Show and Tell for an in-hand Griselbrand, Empty the Warrens for non-lethal storm, Thoughtseize and Shattering Spree for opposing disruption, and Yawgmoth’s Will, which will break the game wide open.

Burning Long can be fragile and difficult to play, though. For all the raw power inherent in its spells, a well-positioned counterspell or two can break a storm chain and leave the deck in topdeck mode. The best plan is to sequence its bombs and acceleration in the hope that the opponent either doesn’t have an answer or uses what they have incorrectly. However, the different kinds and costs of threats mean many lines of play are available, so sequencing is tricky. Duress is obviously going to be very important here to take counterspells and otherwise see that the coast is clear.

So we’ll attempt to answer the unanswerable: will the unstoppable force of Burning Long budge the immovable object of Blue Angels? The control deck’s counters are already well suited to answering multiple threats early and often, and Eric gets to bring more in postboard. Nat, piloting combo, will have to rely on the brute force of his spells (and the guile to apply them) to break through.

Game 1 – Ancestral Recall: The Unmulligan

Both players mulliganed to five, and Nat kept Demonic Tutor, Mox Jet, Gemstone Mine, and Griselbrand. He played the mana and Tutored for Black Lotus, assuming that the mana boost would put him in range of either a decently-stormed Mind’s Desire or Griselbrand in the not-too-distant future. Eric opened with a land and said, “Unmulliganed!” flashing Ancestral Recall and drawing three cards. Two of the cards were Mox Sapphire (which turned on additional counterspells) and Black Lotus, which Eric used on Nat’s draw step, playing Vendilion Clique to scope out his hand and return the Lotus to the bottom of the deck.

From there, Eric was able to take control easily. Nat Burning Wished for Show and Tell (which was countered) and drew Wheel of Fortune (which was countered) and was hindered by his Gemstone Mine rapidly running out of counters. Eric won with Vendilion Clique and a Trinket Mage, which had gotten Grafdigger’s Cage to shut down Oath of Druids and Yawgmoth’s Will shenanigans. It was decisive to say the least.

Game 2 – Griselbrand vs. Jace

Nat opened game two with Chrome Mox, Mox Pearl, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Memory Jar, Gemstone Mine, and Burning Wish, which he used to get Show and Tell, hoping to use it next turn for Memory Jar. Eric played Engineered Explosives with zero counters, threatening to take away most of Nat’s manabase if he could counter Show and Tell. As such, Nat waited a few turns, including one taken with Time Walk, waiting to develop more mana.

On turn four, Eric played Vendilion Clique on Nat’s draw step, taking Demonic Tutor, drawing Nat into Dark Ritual, and shutting himself off of Explosive activation for a turn. Nat took the opportunity to play Dark Ritual into Show and Tell for Memory Jar and cracked Jar into Oath of Druids and some other goodies. Ideally, he would have been able to play Oath and Hurkyl’s Recall, sending a Mox and the Engineered Explosives back to Eric’s hand (where they would get thrown away after the Jar turn), but the mana wasn’t there.

Eric used his turn to detonate the Explosives and passed back to Nat, who Oathed Griselbrand into play. Normally, this would be great, but here it left Nat with only 10 cards in his library. Some quick calculations told him that, without the extra mana from his Moxes, his opportunities to win using Griselbrand’s ability were slim. The only way (aside from attacking with Griselbrand) was to Burning Wish for Yawgmoth’s Will with Lion’s Eye Diamond available to play it. Eric took two hits from Griselbrand, using every resource to draw counters and find an answer. He blocked with Clique and used Oath to find another one, which also blocked; Oath then found Trinket Mage, which found Sensei’s Divining Top, which found Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which put Griselbrand back in Nat’s hand. Awkward.

Nat (thanks to Griselbrand’s lifelink) eventually lost to having no cards left to draw. As it turned out, the Burning Wish he needed was the last card in his library. There would have been no opportunity where he could have drawn cards with Griselbrand, played through counters, and won.

Here, the players went to the sideboard. Well, Eric did, anyway. Because of the Burning Wishes, Nat’s maindeck should be fairly well tuned to play against control decks. He could bring in the Thoughtseize, but that would mean sapping Burning Wish of some of its power, as well as removing either explosive mana or a huge threat.

Eric, on the other hand, sped up his disruption by dropping three- and four-drops (two Restoration Angels, two Jace, Aven Mindcensor, Sower of Temptation, and Trinket Mage) for turn-one plays: two Grafdigger’s Cage (which stops Oath of Druids and Yawgmoth’s Will), two Annul, Flusterstorm, Disenchant, and Pithing Needle. The idea is essentially that if he can stop Nat’s threats in the critical early turns, he can win at his leisure with whatever is available.

Game 3 – Demon ex Machina

Nat mulliganed into a hand of Lion’s Eye Diamond, Burning Wish, Griselbrand, Forbidden Orchard, Gemstone Mine, and Ponder and saw Lotus, Time Walk, and Tolarian Academy off of Ponder. Lotus is a huge boon at this point, so Nat drew that. He led with Lotus (hoping to parlay that and Diamond into Burning Wish and Empty the Warrens with Time Walk for the win next turn) but was quickly stumped when Eric used Force of Will on the Lotus. Eric played mana and passed, and Nat played Burning Wish for Show and Tell, which got countered by Flusterstorm on turn three.

Several turns passed as Nat rebuilt his hand and Eric (now light on threats) played draw-go. At last Nat mustered the mana to launch the im-Pierceable, un-Flusterable Griselbrand, which resolved, much to Eric’s chagrin. Nat cracked Diamond for black and drew 14 cards. He Duressed Eric several times and won easily on his next turn with a chain based on Burning Wish into Yawgmoth’s Will and another Wish for Tendrils of Agony.

It’s surprising in Vintage how often a giant creature can make it through a counterwall based on stopping instants, sorceries, and other narrow ranges.

Game 4 – Four Mana, Two Cards, One Win

On the draw, Nat kept Time Vault, Forbidden Orchard, City of Brass, Duress, Dark Ritual, Necropotence, Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Eric played land and passed, using Mental Misstep to counter Nat’s turn-one Duress. On Nat’s next draw step, Eric played Vendilion Clique and was dismayed to see that Nat could play Necropotence or Yawgmoth’s Bargain, no matter what he took. He Cliqued Necro and Forced Bargain, then used Trinket Mage to find and play Engineered Explosives for two (which would hit both Oath of Druids and Time Vault).

In another couple of turns, with Eric having tapped below Explosives activation, Nat topdecked Voltaic Key like a champ and combined it with Time Vault to take all the turns and assemble a win out of a near defeat.

Playing a strong combo deck like Burning Oath versus a strong control deck like Blue Angels is an interesting exercise in Vintage, much as it is in other formats. Both players benefit from being able to predict what the other is going to do: either what bombs the combo player is liable to throw or what counters the control player is likely to use. Duress and Vendilion Clique are, thus, important cards for their players, leading to respectively better sequences of threats and answers.

This is also a good example of how, despite the power inherent in a Vintage combo deck, the control decks that are built to defeat them can actually do so. The claims of Vintage being a turn-one format are, for the most part, untrue. It’s on par with Legacy in most players’ experience, and many of the cards that Vintage has that Legacy doesn’t (like Mana Drain and Mishra’s Workshop) are frequently used in control decks. Blue Angels and Burning Long are well matched simply because they’re both prepared for a Vintage metagame; this makes pitting them against each other fun, whether testing or in a tournament.

We’ll be back soon with other Decksmashing fun. If you have a matchup you’d like to see, let us know. You can get in touch with us here or through Twitter. Thanks for reading!

Eric Butler

Nat Moes