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It’s always exciting when newer cards make it into Vintage decks. Since the format revolves around some of the most powerful cards and effects ever printed, the bar for entry is set high. Still, Wizards does a good job of throwing Vintage playables into modern sets, even without upsetting the balance of smaller formats. And when something gets printed that takes a format by storm, you’d better believe that Vintage mages are watching, waiting to try that technology in their own decks.
One of this year’s new flavors in Vintage has been the menace of many a draft and Standard match: Pack Rat. It’s aggressive and easy to play and activate, especially in Vintage, where artifact acceleration can help play it early and start activating it right away. It works well in a control deck, making rats at end of turn, and its discard cost pairs well with staples like Snapcaster Mage and Yawgmoth’s Will.
This week, Paul Blakeley and Nat Moes will test the infinite creature-making ability of Pack Rat against the engine of infinite sacrifice, Smokestack. Paul will pilot the Espresso Stax list that Anthony “Twaun” Michaels piloted to the final rounds of the most recent Team Serious Open in Columbus, Ohio, while Nat tries out Pack Rat, using the control list Jamie Cano and Sergio Matesanz played in February to the finals of the Lega Madrilena de Vintage in Spain.
Paul’s deck is a prison archetype that uses Mishra’s Workshop and Ancient Tomb to power out artifacts and create a mana and board advantage over its opponent. If you dislike interaction and want opportunities to make your opponent’s Power-filled Vintage deck play like a euchre deck in the same format, this might be the deck for you.
In Espresso Stax, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Chalice of the Void, Tangle Wire, and Wasteland are all there to hamstring the opponent’s mana. Once things are slowed down, the deck can win with Lodestone Golem (another sphere effect) or Karn, Silver Golem, (who can also use his ability to “eat” opposing Moxes) or it can lock the opponent out completely with Smokestack. Note that Crucible of Worlds pairs nicely with Stack, allowing you to recur lands to sac forever.
The interesting thing about Espresso Stax is its use of Serum Powder to find an effective opening hand. Many times this will just mean finding a hand with Mishra’s Workshop to function in the early game, but it also allows you to find key cards against certain opponents, like Grafdigger’s Cage against Dredge or Oath to play free, postboard Leylines. Usually artifact prison decks in Vintage are limited to one new card a turn and are very reliant on their opening hand to succeed, so having Powder as a personal draw-seven can be game changing.
The Pack Rat Control list Nat used is a standard-looking control list except that it eschews Tinker, Time Vault, and Blightsteel Colossus-which have huge targets on their heads-for the humble, less conventional Pack Rat. There are plenty of good cards here, and Snapcaster Mage helps make sure the best ones get used twice.
Pack Rat Control
This list has maindeck answers for many problems: Ancient Grudge for artifacts, Abrupt Decay for Oath of Druids and Time Vault, Lightning Bolt and Fire // Ice for creatures, and Red Elemental Blast against Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In addition, an extensive suite of counterspells and discard will let it sit back and ride its few win conditions-Pack Rat, Snapcaster Mage, and Jace-to victory over multiple turns. It might not win in a hurry, but it should win games that go long.
Against Stax in particular, however, many of the counters come out; Mental Misstep and Flusterstorm are nearly useless. The Espresso Stax list has two cards that cost one, and the only instants are the four Dismembers in the sideboard. Duresses are also weak against most Workshop decks, which tend to empty their hands quickly.
Paul and Nat played two preboard (one each on the play) and four postboard games (alternating two each on the play).
Game 1 – An Academy of Pain
Paul won the initial roll, electing to play, and both players commented on their opening hands being risky to keep but not bad enough to mulligan. Paul’s opener of Mox Pearl, Mox Emerald, Wasteland, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Smokestack, Duplicant was light on mana and led to a turn-one Sphere getting Force of Willed. Nat’s risky keep meant a one-lander and Brainstorm, walking right into Wasteland, but Brainstorm did find a second Force that countered Paul’s second-turn Thorn of Amethyst.
The tide really turned, though, when Paul topdecked Tolarian Academy for more, better artifacts. First Smokestack started polluting the world, diminishing the Rat population. One of the Rats turned out to be a Duplicant, and another got eaten by a Lodestone Golem. When Paul resolved Crucible of Worlds and started recurring Wasteland, the game was effectively over, and Nat conceded.
Game 2 – Jace > A Mull to Five
Paul mulliganed to five using Serum Powder once and kept Mishra’s Workshop, Wasteland, Sol Ring, Chalice of the Void, and Lodestone Golem. He led with Workshop and Sol Ring, giving Nat the dilemma of countering it with Misstep (one of the two maindeck targets!) or letting it resolve to pitch Misstep to Force of Will. Sol Ring resolved, and Nat countered Chalice of the Void on two with Force of Will. On turn two he played the second Mox and land and played Jace.
Jace fed Nat lands and kept Lodestone Golem at bay while Nat gained control. Snapcaster Mage stepped in front of a Mishra’s Factory attack, killing the land. Soon Nat played Demonic Tutor for Ancient Grudge, getting rid of two Lodestone Golems for good. Pack Rat reproduced quickly, and Smokestack showed up too late to make a difference.
Nat Jaced into Time Walk for the win.
“So all you had to do was mull to five,” said Nat. “I’m not sure I can win most normal games preboard. This deck has one basic land.” With the extensive mana denial inherent in Espresso Stax, Wasteland and Crucible were a constant threat.
Duresses, Mental Missteps, Flusterstorm, Fire // Ice, and Red Elemental Blast hit the bricks in favor of Ancient Grudges, Ingot Chewers, Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, Pack Rat, Rakdos Charm, and a Nihil Spellbomb. Charm and Spellbomb both help handle the Wasteland recursion, and Charm even blows up an artifact! Artifact removal takes the burden off of Nat’s Mana Drains and Force of Wills. It will be difficult to cast red removal spells if he can’t keep a red mana source on board, though.
Paul tried a couple of sideboard plans. First, he dropped both Thorn of Amethyst, a Sphere of Resistance, and a Crucible of Worlds for four Dismembers. He felt the biggest threat was Pack Rat; if he could keep that under control, the other elements of the deck shouldn’t be a problem.
Game 3 – Beyond Pack Rat Control
Paul, on the play again in a post-sideboard game three, took the gambit of a handful of mana and no turn-one threats. He led with Mishra’s Workshop, Mox Pearl, Sol Ring, and no action. Nat returned with Tropical Island and Mox Jet, playing Time Walk just to draw a card and get an important extra land into play against Paul’s mana-denial-heavy deck. Then he passed and Force of Willed Paul’s turn-two Tangle Wire.
Jace made an appearance on Nat’s side and immediately scried, building counters to answer more creatures. From there, Nat found Ancient Grudge to off an unimprinted Duplicant and Lightning Bolt to kill a Lodestone Golem. With Grudge in the yard and 11 counters on Jace, Paul conceded.
“I had Tangle Wire, Dups, and a Dismember and thought I’d be able to handle an early Pack Rat,” said Paul, justifying his decision. He switched up his sideboard, taking out the Serum Powders and a Thorn of Amethyst for Dismembers and a Grafdigger’s Cage. Again, the Dismembers were for Pack Rat, and an additional Cage would help turn Ancient Grudge into Shatter, as well as shut off Snapcaster Mage. Dropping Serum Powder simply means he’ll have to work a little harder to get a good opening hand.
Game 4 – Lodestone, Lodestone, Die
On the play again, Paul returned the favor of the blowout, leading with Ancient Tomb, Sol Ring, and Sphere of Resistance against Nat’s hand of two lands, artifact removal, Demonic Tutor, and Ancestral Recall.
Nat played a land and passed, unable to do anything, and soon he was buried as Lodestone Golems joined the board on turns two and three. A Strip Mine iced the game in Paul’s favor. These are the hands that make Workshops so frustrating to play against. Lodestone Golem synergizes really well with itself.
Game 5 – The Spirit of Smashitude
Nat opened with a Polluted Delta in game five, using his turn two to play Ancient Grudge on Paul’s Crucible of Worlds before he had time to find a Wasteland. Paul played a second Crucible on his next turn and backed it up with a Sphere of Resistance, which drew a Force of Will. With still no green mana in sight to flashback Grudge, Nat let the second Crucible stick around.
Paul attempted to play Chalice of the Void with two counters, a devastating play that would shut off not only Grudge, but also Pack Rat, Snapcaster, and several other cards. Nat dodged and threw a haymaker, countering Chalice with Mana Drain and collecting the four mana on his next main phase to hardcast Ingot Chewer, eating Crucible. Nat added Pack Rat to the mix and passed.
There was still life in Paul, however, and he resisted the aggressive creature plays with Smokestack and Tangle Wire on his turn. Nat shot Paul in the face with a Lightning Bolt (sending him to 6) and copied a Rat on his turn before tapping down and passing back. Paul ramped Smokestack and played a second one, passing back. Nat sacrificed a Rat and tapped, attacking Paul with Ingot Chewer to 3. Paul ramped aggressively to three soot counters and passed.
The best way to get advantage out of Smokestack and Tangle Wire (since the controller stacks triggers for their permanents) is to have opponents sacrifice to Smokestacks first, and then tap diminished permanents to Tangle Wire. Nat tapped two lands and sacrificed them along with a Pack Rat to Smokestack. Then he played Snapcaster Mage with Tangle Wire’s ability on the stack, tapping that and the remaining Rat. He drew his card for turn and attacked with his one remaining untapped permanent, the Ingot Chewer, for the win.
Whew. A close one at the finish, and Nat had to squeeze out every bit of damage, including that Lightning Bolt, which often would have been held onto for use on a Lodestone Golem. And Nat never did find a green mana to flashback Ancient Grudge.
Game 6 – Is That All You Got?
For the final game, Nat kept the play and was fortunate to open with Black Lotus and City of Brass into Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Vintage! He debated fatesealing, wanting to add counters to bounce Lodestone Golems but instead decided to Brainstorm, finding a Mox Emerald and a Force of Will. Paul used his turn to play Mox Jet, Tolarian Academy, Chalice of the Void for zero, and Tangle Wire, which finally drew the Force.
Nat played Underground Sea and fatesealed, letting Paul keep The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Unfortunately, Paul had Wasteland on this and the next turn thanks to Crucible of Worlds. Nat, not wanting to lose the potential to win, scried and then Brainstormed with Jace, looking for lands, but found none.
When Paul resolved Lodestone Golem, Nat was done, even with Jace’s help.
“I don’t think I can beat Wasteland with this deck. I have one basic Island, but all of my removal is not blue,” said Nat, revealing a final, unplayable hand of Mana Drain, Rakdos Charm, two Ingot Chewers, Lightning Bolt, Force of Will, and Abrupt Decay.
Many of these problems could have been solved by changing the manabase slightly. Fetchlands and basics are great for playing around Wasteland. City of Brass, despite its color flexibility, is not. Dropping the four Cities for four Scalding Tarns and adding a basic Mountain to the sideboard in place of, say, Rakdos Charm, would have helped immensely. The Tarns also provide extra shuffle effects for Jace.
Even with the mana problems, the matchup felt close. Each deck had its share of strong openers, and ways to counter the opponent’s plays. The rivalry between Pack Rat and Smokestack played out in a couple of games, and they split. Smokestack can keep up as long as the horde of Rat copies doesn’t get lethal, and the Rats can get lethal in a hurry.
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!