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 [card]Auriok Salvagers[/card] to make infinite mana with [card]Black Lotus[/card] and draw infinite cards with [card]Aether Spellbomb[/card]. UW Flash is also a cousin to the similar decks played in Modern, though it skips the red splash and the addition of burn.

[deck title=UW Flash – Rich Shay et al.]
[Mana]
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Karakas
3 Island
4 Flooded Strand
2 Polluted Delta
3 Tundra
1 Plains
2 Cavern of Souls
[/Mana]
[Creatures]
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Vendilion Clique
4 Restoration Angel
3 Spirit of the Labyrinth
[/Creatures]
[Control Spells]
3 Swords to Plowshares
3 Mana Drain
4 Force of Will
1 Disenchant
3 Mental Misstep
1 Spell Snare
[/Control Spells]
[Draw Spells]
4 Fact or Fiction
1 Brainstorm
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Time Walk
1 Ancestral Recall
[/Draw Spells]
[Sideboard]
1 Flusterstorm
3 Rest in Peace
4 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Disenchant
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Path to Exile
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Devout Witness
1 Aven Mindcensor
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

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 [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], in favor of [card]Fact or Fiction[/card]. Dropping Jace also allows it to abuse [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card], one of several recently printed efficient white creatures with a disruptive ability in Vintage. Spirit dominates the Jace game, as well as knocking down [card]Brainstorm[/card], draw-sevens like [card]Timetwister[/card], and [card]Ancestral Recall[/card]. 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 [card]Timetwister[/card] alongside other draw spells, tutors, and mana acceleration to play a lethal [card]Tendrils of Agony[/card] or [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] in a hurry. This strategy puts [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] to good use: drawing cards for free (twice with [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card]) 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.

[deck title=GitLong – Isaac Foote]
[Mana]
1 Black Lotus
1 Lion’s Eye Diamond
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Memory Jar
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Opal
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
4 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Swamp
1 Tolarian Academy
2 Underground Sea
1 Volcanic Island
[/Mana]
[Spells]
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Sol Ring
1 Cabal Ritual
4 Dark Ritual
1 Demonic Tutor
4 Duress
1 Grim Tutor
1 Imperial Seal
1 Necropotence
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Brainstorm
1 Chain of Vapor
4 Gitaxian Probe
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Mind’s Desire
1 Mystical Tutor
2 Repeal
1 Time Walk
1 Timetwister
1 Tinker
1 Windfall
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Wheel of Fortune
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
1 Blightsteel Colossus
2 Extirpate
2 Flusterstorm
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
2 Island
1 Pithing Needle
2 Ravenous Trap
2 Rebuild
1 Swamp
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

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 [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] and [card]Burning Wish[/card]. 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 [card]Force of Will[/card]. 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 [card]Mental Misstep[/card] and leaving [card]Disenchant[/card], [card]Tolarian Academy[/card], [card]Mox Emerald[/card], and two [card]Flooded Strand[/card]s. 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 [card]Mana Vault[/card], [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card], and [card]Hurkyl’s Recall[/card], hoping to replay the artifacts for storm and mana for [card]Memory Jar[/card]. Hazard took his opportunity to [card]Disenchant[/card] the Diamond. Nat replayed the Vault and emptied his hand for [card]Memory Jar[/card], cracking it immediately with seven storm.

Nat’s Jar hand had [card]Tendrils of Agony[/card] (placed there earlier by [card]Brainstorm[/card]) and Duress. [card]Mental Misstep[/card] countered Duress, but that left the door open for [card]Dark Ritual[/card] and [card]Sol Ring[/card] 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 [card]Mental Misstep[/card] 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 [card]Disenchant[/card], being able to take out a big colorless source in [card]Mana Vault[/card] or the powerful [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card]. With one card in hand, the only thing Vault would really help with was Jar, while LED would have made any draw seven, [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card], or Tinker more powerful. Based on those numbers, LED was probably the right choice!

After his defeat, Hazard brought in four [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], three [card]Rest in Peace[/card], [card]Flusterstorm[/card] and [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]. He took out less-useful one-shot cards like [card]Spell Snare[/card], [card]Disenchant[/card] and Karakas, as well as more expensive plays like two [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. The Cages, RIPs, and Mindcensor would all be able to combine with [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card] 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 [card]Blightsteel Colossus[/card], Hazard returned [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] to the maindeck over two [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s.

Nat brought in two [card]Flusterstorm[/card]s, an [card]Extirpate[/card], and [card]Blightsteel Colossus[/card]. The instants should help play through counterspells in a longer game, and [card]Blightsteel Colossus[/card] improves Tinker against [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card], as long as there’s no [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] in play. He boarded out [card]Mox Opal[/card], [card]Cabal Ritual[/card], [card]Wheel of Fortune[/card], and [card]Windfall[/card], two weaker acceleration spells and two spells that are less effective against Spirit. Unfortunately the [card]Hurkyl’s Recall[/card]s 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, [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card], and [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]. This is a brutal opening, shutting off all of Nat’s draw spells as well as [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card]. 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 [card]Force of Will[/card]. 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 [card]Imperial Seal[/card] (going to 14 life), getting his last most powerful card that would work through [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card]: [card]Necropotence[/card].

[card]Necropotence[/card] 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 [card]Chain of Vapor[/card] on Hazard’s end step, targeting his own [card]Necropotence[/card] and using the copy ability to target Hazard’s offending Spirit. Hazard played [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] in response, taking [card]Timetwister[/card], 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 [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card] and [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] that shuts off so many of its avenues that early. Finding and resolving a big threat like [card]Necropotence[/card] was important, but Spirit’s attacks limited its effectiveness. [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] was just the final kick in the junk. A more rounded sideboard that includes answers like [card]Toxic Deluge[/card] or [card]Dread of Night[/card] would help.

Game 3 – Finding Your [card]Mind’s Desire[/card]s

Nat, on the play again in game three, opened with Duress, which Hazard countered with [card]Mental Misstep[/card]. Hazard played Tundra and [card]Mox Pearl[/card], dropping [card]Rest in Peace[/card] on the table. Nat Brainstormed on his turn and put [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card] back into his library, shuffling it away with a fetchland. He played [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] and a [card]Mox Ruby[/card] to use it and passed.

Hazard added [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] and [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card] to the board, shutting off more doors. Nat spun the Top and aimed to set up a reasonable storm count for the [card]Mind’s Desire[/card] that was sitting there. He emptied Hazard’s hand with Duress, clearing a path, then, next turn he set up a sequence of Mox, [card]Mana Vault[/card], and Tinker for [card]Black Lotus[/card] into [card]Mind’s Desire[/card]. Desire revealed a dominant set: [card]Time Walk[/card], [card]Necropotence[/card], [card]Blightsteel Colossus[/card], and [card]Tolarian Academy[/card]. Nat played all four cards, refilled his hand, and bounced a flashed-in [card]Restoration Angel[/card] to win.

GitLong 2 – 1 UW Flash

“Not bad,” said Hazard.

Game 4 – *Clique*

Hazard opened with [card]Black Lotus[/card] and [card]Mox Sapphire[/card], passing the turn. That sort of opening almost certainly spells [card]Vendilion Clique[/card], 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 [card]Necropotence[/card], two [card]Dark Ritual[/card]s, [card]Brainstorm[/card], Duress, [card]Timetwister[/card], [card]Mox Pearl[/card], and Swamp. Hazard wisely sent [card]Necropotence[/card] packing.

Nat played Duresses on turns one and two, leaving Hazard with unplayable four drops. On turn three, Nat topdecked and resolved [card]Memory Jar[/card], 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 [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]) and of cards (thanks to the failed [card]Memory Jar[/card] gambit) but with plenty of mana, Nat tried [card]Timetwister[/card] and drew nothing but mana, [card]Extirpate[/card], and a [card]Vampiric Tutor[/card] 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 [card]Underground Sea[/card] in game five and Duressed into [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card], [card]Black Lotus[/card], Island, [card]Mana Crypt[/card], [card]Mox Sapphire[/card], and [card]Black Lotus[/card]. He took the Lotus, that being Hazard’s only white mana source for now. Hazard topdecked [card]Mox Pearl[/card] and played Spirit and Cage anyway. [card]Restoration Angel[/card] joined the team next turn, followed by [card]Rest in Peace[/card]. The [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card] 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 [card]Mind’s Desire[/card] on his turn. Instead, he played [card]Timetwister[/card], at least shuffling the Spirit away. “It’s amazing. If you have [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] and [card]Rest in Peace[/card], it is impossible for me to get rid of [card]Yawgmoth’s Will[/card],” said Nat, drawing the useless card again.

Nat paid mana for [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] and noted that his Twister had provided Hazard with double [card]Force of Will[/card]. [card]Demonic Tutor[/card] drew one of them. Hazard attacked and passed, and there was a scuffle over [card]Yawgmoth’s Bargain[/card] on Nat’s turn. Hazard refilled his hand with [card]Fact or Fiction[/card] and [card]Ancestral Recall[/card], 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 [card]Memory Jar[/card]. Unfortunately the Jar held only [card]Empty the Warrens[/card], mana, and protection. Though Nat could have made 20 goblins, none of them would have been able to block the [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. Hazard attacked for three in the air and won.

GitLong 2 – 3 UW Flash

Conclusion

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 [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card], however, creates a roadblock that many combo lists will find difficult to overcome. So many plays are shut off, especially if [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] limits options on Tinker as well. The GitLong deck was forced to find [card]Necropotence[/card], [card]Mind’s Desire[/card], 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 [card]Chain of Vapor[/card], [card]Echoing Truth[/card], or even [card]Rushing River[/card] 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!

Matt Hazard
@winedope

Nat Moes
@GrandpaBelcher