Saturday morning January 23rd in the year of our Lord 2010.
I wake up. Need food and coffee.
My cards were already in the car and 100% ready to go. I must’ve read this article.
Here’s what I had packed:
As compared to the deck I discussed a few weeks ago this version replaces Vendilion Clique with Aven Mindcensor as some testing revealed it had more impact against Tezzeret. The revised sideboard adds more options against Workshop decks as those are generally popular with the New York crowd. I was banking on Oath of Druids being a popular deck choice and hoping that I’d spend most of the day battling against Oath Tezzeret and Workshops.
I stopped at Wawa and fueled myself up with coffee and a bagel sandwich. Feeling much better I set off on the forty-five minute drive to meet up with the carpool to New York.
During the drive I review my two-step process for deck construction:
1: Review cards in a deck and think “This seems good.”
2: Put cards in sleeves. Deck is ready! Time for battle!
I’m being slightly facetious – in this specific instance due to my lack of familiarity with the Fish archetype in Vintage I spent several days testing against the field with Jeff Folinus and Will Magran. Those testing sessions helped me identify the need for Aven Mindcensor and the additional sideboard flexibility against Workshop decks and probably helped account for my moderate success at this tournament.
Ryan Glackin was the last to arrive at Nick’s shocking absolutely no one. Nick’s mother asked for help taking some furniture out of the minivan we’re all going to pile into. Ryan supervised by which I mean ate donuts and offered donuts to people who were obviously uninterested in said donuts because they were busy carrying furniture. After another stop at Wawa we’re on our way to NY around 8:30 am. While at Wawa Glackin wondered if he should get a hotdog as he’d already eaten breakfast and apparently was morally obligated to purchase more food.
As we were crossing the Verrazano Bridge we got a call from Nick Detwiler. The Long Island Expressway was shut down due to a tanker fire. This was not good news and meant we’d probably have to listen to another two hours of Verizon sales pitches from one Ryan Q. Glackin.
Thanks to some ace navigation we arrived at the store with 30 minutes to spare and met up with the rest of the team. Ultimately there were 48 players in the tournament battling it out for a Black Lotus. Although some Vintage regulars didn’t make it some of New York’s Pro-level players decided to sling some Vintage cards with us. I informed a few select people that I was in fact playing a slightly updated Noble Fish deck. Mostly I get chastised for not playing Oath again. I decided to be “that guy” today and included a few Spirit Tokens in my deck box and pulled them out almost every round to see if it would have any effect on my day.
12pm: The Tournament
Round 1 – Win 2-0 versus Mike Bauer with U/R Fish (1-0)
These games were brutally fast and I didn’t sideboard. The first game I used a Wasteland on Mike’s Volcanic Island and then played a Null Rod that shut off his Mox. Unable to play anything he was beaten down by a Tarmogoyf. All I saw was two Mox Volcanic Island and a fetch that I Stifled.
Sideboard against ???
In: +2 Swords to Plowshares
In the dark I brought in two Swords to Plowshares. The second game Mike led out with a Mogg Fanatic. I attacked his mana again and he wasn’t able to draw into any more. After taking 9 damage from Mogg Fanatic I Plowed it at the end of the turn so I could play my Aven Mindcensor. The Mindcensor is joined by a Tarmogoyf and they end the game quickly.
Afterwards I found out that Mike was on U/R Fish basically an updated version of the deck I discussed two weeks ago. In the first game I was in danger of being blown out by Magus of the Moon had I not sufficiently shut off his mana.
Round 2 – Win 2-0 versus Austin Pollack with Hellkite Oath (2-0)
These games were also brutally fast. The first time I met Austin was when he bounced me from the top 8 of the NYSE II with Counterbalance Control. He’s since become a fan of Oath of Druids which is what I believe him to be playing today. He knows I’m playing Noble Fish.
Sideboard against Oath:
Out: -1 Aven Mindcensor -1 Stifle
Not too much needs to be done against Oath as the deck is already pretty stacked in the match-up.
We both keep our hands for game two. Austin kept a pretty loose hand with Mox Pearl and Top so my Null Rod blew him out. I started stacking creatures on the table – Meddling Mage on Oath Qasali Pridemage and so on and he scooped them up.
So far so good.
Round 3 – Win 2-1 versus Joe Davis (D3G) with UB Tezz (3-0)
For round three I have to battle teammate Joe Davis playing Tezzeret. I know that his list has no Red so I don’t have to fear Fire/Ice. I keep a decent hand and lead out with a land sitting on Stifle and Spell Pierce. Joe plays a Mox then another then Tolarian Academy then Sol Ring then Black Lotus then Ancestral Recall then Dark Confidant.
I get a Null Rod into play but Joe still has all the blue mana in the world thanks to Tolarian Academy and is drawing two cards a turn. I resolve a small-ish Tarmogoyf who gradually grows larger and just send him into the red zone each turn. Improbably Joe can’t really find any action and flipping a Force of Will with Bob doesn’t help. Somehow despite being out-drawn by what felt like 20 cards I steal game one.
Sideboard against Tezzeret (with Confidants):
In: 2 Swords to Plowshares 1 Kataki War’s Wage
I know that Joe’s familiar with this deck from my team boards so I decided to give Kataki a whirl. Joe kept his hand this game and led out with a first-turn Confidant again. I played a Noble Hierarch into Kataki to lock up his fast mana but Joe had an end-of-turn tutor for Darkblast that wrecks my board. Bob just kept getting in there and I couldn’t resolve anything in the face of Joe’s overwhelming card advantage.
For game three I took out the Kataki and added in another Swords. This game I basically went aggro throwing some guys out there and sending the beats. Joe got a Confidant into play and I Stifled the first trigger. The life loss started stacking up from the beats which Joe tried to fight off with a pair of Diabolic Edicts. Eventually he’s on 1 life with a Confidant in play while I have a Meddling Mage (naming Tinker) and a Noble Hierarch in play. I have to decide: attack into Confidant or see if he dies on Upkeep? Ultimately I sent the Mage and he blocked. He drew and then played another Confidant so we’re back in the same position. I again decided to attack. Joe blocked drew and finally ran out of Fog-by-way-of-Invitational-winners and I got there.
Round 4 – Lose 0-2 versus Mark Lepine with Manaless Ichorid (3-1)
This was a mentally devastating match.
Game 1 Mark mulliganed all the way down to 1 on the play and I started to think that I was going to steal game 1 from Dredge. In true zombie style Mark rose from the presumed-dead as his 1 card was a Bazaar of Baghdad. He used it immediately and hit Golgari Thug and Ichorid.
Sideboard against Dredge:
Out: -4 Null Rod -2 Aven Mindcensor
I’d wanted to run 3 Serum Powder but opted for more anti-Workshop cards instead. Game 2 my opening hand has no hate cards Stifle or Wasteland. I mulligan into Mox Pearl Daze Daze Spell Pierce Meddling Mage Leyline of the Void. I kept this hand which I think is correct; someone had mentioned earlier attacking a Jailer into a Dredge player with a fetch in play and getting blown out by the old Forest Dryad Ambush maneuver. If that Dredge player was Mark then he probably only has Reverant Silence to combat Leyline and might not even expect it from Noble Fish. In any case I never draw the single Island I need to lock up this game (as it gives me a stack of effectively hard-counters) and Mark digs into an Unmask Bayou and Reverent Silence to destroy the Leyline.
After this brutal beating I go outside to recoup mentally.
Round 5 – Win 2-1 versus Vinnie Forino with GW Beats (4-1)
I was worried about playing Vinnie in round 5 because I knew his deck was loaded with creatures. Noble Fish is meant to target certain decks and a Green / White deck full of creatures was not one of them.
Vinnie won the die roll and sure enough in game 1 he clogged the board with a variety of grizzly bears. Eventually he was able to get ahead using Whipcorder on my Goyf and smashing into me with a Samurai of the Pale Curtain (Bushido plus Exalted is hard to beat and yes this happened in a Vintage tournament).
Sideboard against Vinnie Forino:
Out: -3 Stifle -1 Null rod -1 Spell Pierce
In: +3 Swords to Plowshares +1 Kataki War’s Wage +1 Trygon Predator
Just to be clear I didn’t bring in Kataki or Trygon Predator because of the abilities but rather because they were creatures. For this match I needed bodies and this was a compulsory draft.
Your leader requires your service! To arms!
You get the picture.
Game 2 on the play I had initiative and led out with Noble Hierarch into a Qasalii Pridemage and sent the beats. I ended up drawing another two Pridemages so Vinnie was never able to keep up with the one giant creature I could send at him every turn. The game was effectively over when he double-blocked a 2/3 Tarmogoyf that was 4/5 from two Exalted triggers with a Jotun Grunt and a Ethersworn Canonist. After blocks I destroyed an Aether Vial with one of the Pridemages to smash the Goyf through both blockers. Double-blocks and combat tricks – yes this was a Vintage game.
In game 3 Vinnie agonized over his opening seven but ultimately kept. My opener was Mox Sapphire Black Lotus Tropical Island Tundra Flooded Strand Tarmogoyf Trygon Predator – a bit mana-heavy but probably faster than whatever Vinnie had. This was confirmed when Vinnie played a Savannah and passed the turn. I played land Mox Lotus Trygon Predator Tarmogoyf. Vinnie played a blocker while I cracked a fetch and smashed in for six damage. I’d successfully stolen the initiative using fast mana. This game was over when Vinnie double-blocked the Goyf and I top-decked another into his empty board.
These games had all kinds of non-Vintage stuff going on including double-blocking (he checked to make sure I assigned damage correctly on his Bushido creature) as well as mid-combat tricks; close games that were a lot of fun.
Good thing I’ve drafted with the post-M10 rules…
Round 6 – ID versus Tom Dixon with “The Deck” (4-1-1)
My Spirit Tokens guarantee my spot in the top 8. Let me explain.
Tom agonized over whether he should ID with me. I was in fourth place with very good breakers and a lock for the top 8 with a draw but Tom was in seventh place with poor breakers and in danger of drawing into 9th. Tom decided to play. I pulled out the Spirit tokens. Tom stopped me and thought some more and offered the ID because he “couldn’t beat” my deck. My deck as in Oath of Druids. Thankfully Tom ended up making it into the top 8.
Unfortunately he has his brains eaten by zombies in the quarterfinals.
Included in the Top 8 were a nice mix of decks:
2 Dredge (1 Manaless)
1 Iona Oath
1 Noble Fish
1 Mono-Red Stax
1 Keeper / “The Deck”
Note that in this top 8 only two decks utilized Time Vault. Percentage of overall players to top 8 looked like this (from best to worst):
Elves: 1 / 1 100%
Keeper / “The Deck”: 1 / 2 50%
Dredge: 2 / 5 40%
Oath: 1 / 4 25% (note: Oath broke out as: 2 Dragon Oath 1 Iona Oath 1 Tyrant Oath)
Fish: 1 / 4 25% (note: Fish broke out as: 2 Noble Fish 1 BUG Fish 1 UR Fish)
Stax: 1 / 5 20% (note: Stax broke out as: 3 5C Stax 2 Mono-Red Stax)
Tezzeret: 1 / 10 10%
Top 8 Quarterfinals – Win 2-1 versus Brad with Iona Oath (5-1-1)
Game 1 Brad won the die roll and we both kept. I felt like my hand was solid but it went south very quickly. Brad got a Sol Ring into play and resolved an Oath in the face of my Daze. I feel like the hand was decent but that I played my cards in the wrong order and left myself vulnerable to an early Oath. Brad Oathed into Iona and named white so if I had a grip full of counters I might’ve been able to counter Krosan Reclamation on Yawgmoth’s Will but I’m not that much of a gambler. I’d have just countered the Oath.
Sideboard against Oath: Same as round 2 above
Games 2 and 3 both went according to plan. For example the game two life reads like this:
Brad: 20 19 18 10 2
Brad had to mulligan game 2 and I spit out some Tarmogoyfs and countered his Oath of Druids.
Top 4 Semifinals – Lose 0-2 versus UBr Tezz (Jim Davis)
Jim’s a sometimes Pro player that doesn’t normally play Vintage. Jason Imperiale played Elves and scooped him into the top 4.
Game 1 my opener was mediocre – Meddling Mage Force of Will Wasteland Wasteland Trygon Predator Misty Rainforest Flooded Strand. I kept hoping Jim would keep a mana-light hand and give me an easy win but in hindsight I should’ve shipped this back. I ended up drawing 4 consecutive lands off the top two of which were Wasteland and Strip Mine so I was able to keep the board clear for a while as Jim didn’t have fast mana. Unfortunately all those lands meant I never had any pressure and Jim resolved a Top. He sat on a fetch for a turn against my board of two fetches and then called my Stifle bluff. From there he was able to find and resolve Tinker and blow me out.
Sideboard against Tezz:
Out: -1 Trygon Predator -1 Stifle -1 Daze
In: 3 Swords to Plowshares
For game 2 my opener is Spell Pierce Spell Pierce Time Walk Qasali Pridemage Force of Will Null Rod Tundra. I shipped this back because if I did’t draw land I’d be applying no pressure and probably lose. My 6-card hand is: Noble Hierarch Mox Emerald Qasali Pridemage Daze Spell Pierce Swords to Plowshares. This hand is actually pretty decent despite the lack of any Islands. I played Mox Emerald Noble Hierarch and passed the turn. Jim drew and played Volcanic Island Mox Pearl Black Lotus and Tezzeret tutored up Time Vault.
I actually had plenty of outs here so I wasn’t panicked yet. If Jim didn’t have Force of Will then drawing a Noble Hierarch or any mana source to allow me to play Pridemage and attack with Noble Hierarch for two damage into Tezzeret would’ve been sufficient; likewise if he doesn’t have Force of Will drawing Null Rod would be an out.
If he does have Force of Will then I need to draw any of the following: 5x Fetch 6x various Islands or Black Lotus (to hard-cast Daze through Force of Will). I drew Strip Mine so the play was Strip Mine cast Qasali Pridemage using Noble and Forest and destroy the Time Vault using the Strip Mine. Unfortunately for team Fish Jim has the Force so I lose. If I had drawn Misty Rainforest Flooded Strand Tropical Island Tundra or Island then I think this game is probably far in my favor as I could play the Pridemage he would play Force of Will in response (going down to 2 cards) and I would counter with Daze and then attack and destroy Tezz. I can then untap and Strip his land while having Spell Pierce mana and Pridemage on the board against his future plays.
Despite the beating I took in the semis the deck felt solid despite appearing “under-powered” on paper. I went 2-0 4-1 against other creature decks; 2-0 4-1 against Oath; 1-1 2-3 against Tezzeret; and 0-1 0-2 against Dredge.
Updating Noble Fish: Post-tournament
I would play this deck or something like it again in the future but this exact version may have a short shelf-life. The entry of Lodestone Golem into Vintage will require a Fish deck with a solid to favorable match-up against Workshop decks.
Trygon Predator and Spell Pierce were probably the two worst cards in the deck for me on the day although Trygon locked up some games against Oath… but those games were more or less already headed to the “W” column. Trygon also helped me win game 3 against Vinnie in round 5 but any creature with flying and two power would’ve done the same thing.
I believe my initial change would be to cut a Trygon Predator and a Spell Pierce for two Bant Charm. It might seem like a weird choice for Vintage but I think it might be what the deck is looking for. It counters Gifts Ungiven Fact or Fiction Vampiric Tutor Mystical Tutor Ancestral Recall Fire/Ice and so on; it can handle creatures like Dark Confidant and Welder; and it can destroy fast mana Time Vault and lock pieces out of Workshop Decks (including Lodestone Golem).
The sideboard felt all right and I brought in most of the cards (considering I didn’t play against Workshop decks all day) but there were a few non-Dredge Graveyard decks floating around (including Dragon Iona Oath and Rector combo) and that makes me wonder if perhaps the original Dredge plan was the right way to go (at least for this event). I’d probably pack 3 Ravenous Trap 2 Pithing Needle and 2 Tormod’s next time although I believe that 4 Leyline of the Void and 3 Serum Powder is the best way to beat Dredge consistently. 3 Swords to Plowshares are probably sufficient – I found myself bringing them in against Tezzeret to combat Bob especially in light of the fact that most Tezzeret players are using Sphinx of the Steel Wind as their Tinker target.
With 3 Swords 2 Needle 2 Crypt and 3 Ravenous Trap I’d still have 5 slots open. At least 1 should be another Trygon Predator if I’m down to 2 in the main and Krosan Grip was outstanding for me again so I want at least 1 of those. I’m thinking of finishing with 1 Oxidize and 2 Jotun Grunt. Grunt is excellent against other creature decks and is a 100% upgrade from Aven Mindcensor against Workshops being both cheaper and bigger and actually disruptive to their gameplan. They also give me another card that has at least some value in games against Dredge.
My final deck list and sideboard would be:
Another option for approaching this deck’s design would be to trim some cards to add in Brainstorm Ponder and maybe Fact or Fiction; some Fish players also include Mystical Tutor (and I’ve even seen Tinker included in the sideboard or main).
Fish decks have a potentially powerful new tool from Worldwake: Thada Adel Acquisitor.
For this style of deck we already have several terrific options competing at the three-cost slot: Trygon Predator Vendilion Clique Aven Mindcensor and Cold-Eyed Selkie. I’m not sure if Thada is an upgrade on any of these but it very well could be and seems especially well-suited to Noble Fish due to its ability to accelerate Thada into play with Noble Hierarch.
Thada is interesting because of its versatility. If you connect early against Workshops you could steal a Crucible of Worlds to combat Smokestack. Against Oath of Druids and Tezzeret you can attack Time Vault / Voltaic Key (and even assemble it on your side with just two hits); against The Deck and Tezzeret you can also remove Tinker targets from the game to cut off that avenue of attack.
All of this sounds terrific – but I wonder if Thada is really better than Cold-Eyed Selkie. If I’m connecting with Selkie and drawing one two or even three extra cards I’ve probably already won the game. Thada also doesn’t do as much to influence the board or game state as Trygon Predator or Vendilion Clique – even stealing Black Lotus is mediocre as Noble Fish plays Null Rod and doesn’t have much to accelerate into. I believe Thada has considerable promise but as always testing in actual game conditions is required to determine how valuable the card really is. I suspect it will at least be a sideboard role-player against Tezzeret – but with Tezzeret representing a declining percentage of the field I’m not sure Thada has enough value to fit into an already tight maindeck.
Concluding the Fishing Trip
After the tournament and a six-player EDH game we head to TGI Friday’s and invade the place with sixteen people from the event.
Vestal NY’s TGI Friday’s may never be the same.
I finally get home and make it to bed with the Underground Sea and Wolf T-Shirt I’d won (for the highest finish without proxies).
If I said my motivation for playing this deck wasn’t partially based on the fact that I just wrote about it I’d be lying. It is never my intention to claim any deck is viable for Vintage unless I’d be willing to play it myself in a tournament. While I didn’t make the finals fourth place is a decent finish for an archetype I have no experience with and one which many people consider unpowered to the point of non-viable (despite evidence to the contrary).
This is an easy deck to build for proxy tournaments and happens to be well-positioned in the metagame as it stands right now. If you’re looking for a gateway deck into tournament Vintage this one (and its Selkie variants) is a good choice.
As I said a few weeks ago: creatures are viable in Vintage.
Next week: I brought something new to a Vintage tournament on 1/31. By something new I don’t mean new to me but rather new to Vintage. Hopefully next week’s article ends up introducing a new archetype to Vintage but if it ends up in spectacular failure it should still be fun to read…
Voltron00x on SCG TMD and The Source