Combating Painter's Servant In Vintage
By JACO on May 29th, 2008 · Filed in Vintage (Type 1) · Comments not available just now
In our last article, we examined the rash of new decks enabled by the printing of a card in Shadowmoor called Painter's Servant. Deckbuilders have already begun to channel their newest toy into tournament success. To briefly review, here are some of the newest successes and links to lists that have already been reported in Top 8s around the globe in the first two weeks of Painter’s legality:
- 05/03/2008 ICBM Open 4 (35 people, Wiconsin, USA) – Chris Nighbor, 1st place, playing Scarecrow, with 8 Red Blast plan
- 05/03/2008 Liga Vasca de Vintage #5 (36 people, Bilbao, Spain) – Mario Lopez, 6th place, playing Painter + Grindstone combo in a Trinket Mage shell with no Red Blasts (but more Duress/Thoughtseize/Mana Drain components)
- 05/04/2008 TPC#9 (42 people, Roma, Italy) – Roberto Maffei, 1st place, playing Painter + Grindstone combo in a blue shell, with Red Blasts, Fabricate, and Gush
- 05/10/2008 SCG Richmond Day 1 (83 people, Virginia, USA) – Andy Probasco, 1st place playing MSPaint, with Red Blasts and Drains
- 05/11/2008 SCG Richmond Day 2 (60 people, Virginia, USA) – Stefan Ellsworth, 4th place, playing MSPaint, with Red Blasts and Drains
- 05/11/2008 The Council Prime Tournament (Albacete, Spain) – 4 different/unique Painter's Servant combo decks made Top 8, but all decklists have not been published yet; the 'Gush Painters' version created by César Fernández (aka CHaPuZaS) is included in my previous article, courtesy of Jordi Amat (aka piZZero) and Team Pataners.
While some people are using Painter to supplement an existing deck, most of the new Painter's Servant variants being played are heavily seeking to abuse the synergy of 5-8 Red Elemental Blasts/Pyroblasts with Painter's ability. They are able to do this because so much of the Vintage format is dominated by undercosted blue spells, and they are seeking to capitalize on this.
Playing Less Blue in Vintage
So how do people combat a deck that targets blue with pinpoint accuracy? By playing less blue, of course! Some people might think that's a joke, but the actual logic behind this strategy is that if you have less blue spells to play (such as Mana Drain or Merchant Scroll), and more proactive answers to deal with what's in your opponent’s hand (such as Thoughtseize and Duress), your opponent who has a deck full of Pyroblasts will lose some of their competitive advantage as they now have fewer targets for their 'Red Blasts.' One such player who utilized this tactic at SCG Richmond Day 2 was Stephen Menendian, the 2007 Vintage World Champion.
Menendian saw Andy Probasco’s win with MSPaint (Merchant Scroll Painter) on SCG Richmond Day 1, and could probably estimate that in order to effectively combat a potential field full of Painter and Oath decks, he would have to force through his deck's most important spells (Yawgmoth's Will, Fastbond, Quirion Dyrad, Empty the Warrens) with a more proactive approach, and sought to do so by playing eight pinpoint hand-destruction spells in the form of 4 Thoughtseize and 4 Duress. You'll notice that none of the aforementioned spells are counterable by Red Elemental Blast or by Pyroblast, and this is one of the factors that helped Menendian cut through the Swiss en route to a Top 8 finish at SCG Richmond Day 2.
Another deck that can natively incorporate the black protection suite of Thoughtseize and Duress, and still put constant pressure on the opponent, is Next Level Doomsday. With the help of resident NorCal genius David Ochoa, I bring you this list as an example of another strong choice for upcoming Vintage tournaments this summer:
This deck packs six Thoughtseize/Duress effects and has the ability to flat-out explode in a single turn in the first couple turns of the game if left unchecked. It incorporates the Gushbond shell with the ability to play the traditional Tendrils game plan, or the combo win using different Doomsday stacks if the opponent's defenses are down and the coast is clear. When combating Painter control decks, there are a couple of different routes to go with sideboarding options. One option is to sideboard more heavily, taking out the Doomsday combo, and instead playing a more methodical storm-based approach on the back of a Dark Confidant/Tendrils of Agony game plan:
-1 Merchant Scroll
-1 Mystical Tutor
+4 Dark Confidant
+1 Gaea's Blessing
Dark Confidant is used to put the opponent on a clock, shorten their lifespan in the face of a potentially lethal Tendrils and to continuously refill your hand with threats and Duress effects. You can use Extirpate to attack their Gush engine, their Force of Wills (or Red Blasts), or their Painter's Servants if you manage to get one in the graveyard via Thoughtseize or Force of Will. Gaea's Blessing is present to negate their Painter/Grindstone combo in the event they pull ahead and manage to get their combo off.
The other sideboard approach would be to leave the Doomsday package in, and then not worry about their draw or counter effects if you have confidence that they won't play a great role in how the matchup plays out. This sideboarding strategy would look more like this:
-1 Merchant Scroll
-1 Mystical Tutor
+3 Dark Confidant
+1 Gaea's Blessing
Dark Confidant would again be used to refuel the hand with potential bombs and to put the opponent on a clock. The Blessing would again be present to combat the Painter/Grindstone combo. We will talk more about this specific tactic later, after reviewing some other strategies.
Manaless Dredge is also an interesting choice for players in a heavily Blue- and Painter's-Servant-infested metagame. Dredge traditionally enjoys a whopping 70%+ win rate in game 1 of nearly every match, as so many decks are ill equipped to deal with the method of Dredge's attack in game 1. Games 2 and 3 are often decided by mulliganing, sideboards, the skill of the players, and the luck of the draw. Nearly everybody is packing Leyline of the Void in their sideboards in Vintage now because of the threat of Flash and Dredge, so you'll notice that this sideboard is heavily tuned in preparation for that. Lou Christopher piloted this version of Manaless Dredge to a Top 8 finish at SCG Richmond Day 2 recently.
Looking at the construction of this deck, you can see there are absolutely zero cards that would be affected by Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast unless Painter's Servant makes it into play and is able to then change the color of everything to blue. Dredge will often use Unmask and Cabal Therapy to clear an opponent's hand of problematic spells very early in the game and then attempt to simply dump most of their deck in the graveyard and win with a quick Dread Return on Flame-Kin Zealot. It can also play a game of attrition against many decks by simply attacking with Narcomoebas or recurring Ichorids turn after turn. This deck seems perfectly positioned to combat Painter's Servant decks as it often seeks to win in the first two turns of the game, many times before a Painter can even be found or played.
Combating Painter's Servant Itself
At a recent 78-man Vintage tournament in Albacete, Spain on May 11, 2008, the Top 8 included four Painter's Servant variants. One such variant was piloted by César Fernández (aka CHaPuZaS), who used an eight-blast configuration, along with the Fastbond + Gush (Gushbond) shell. I featured this deck in my last article, but one of the most interesting things about Fernández' deck was his sideboard for the tournament:
The interesting thing about this sideboard is that Fernández could perhaps be willing and content to let his opponent resolve a Painter's Servant, and then he would be happy to simply obliterate the permanent with a dizzying array of artifact destruction, including everyone's favorite card from Extended, Ancient Grudge. Battling against a full playset of opposing Grudges (not to mention Shattering Spree and/or Rack and Ruin) will make it nearly impossible to keep a Painter on the table, and this sideboard seemed to serve Fernández well that day.
By punishing players whose decks clearly revolve around keeping a Painter in play, we can learn by this example the power of simply overloading an opponent with artifact destruction as they will only have so many counterspells while you have only four Painters to worry about. Ancient Grudge and Shattering Spree seem like very efficient and cost-effective ways to combat the Painter itself and help to limit its interactivity with any possible Red Blasts the opponent may be saving up.
The other possible benefit of loading up on artifact destruction like Ancient Grudge is that the destruction should also prove useful against Mishra's-Workshop-based Prison decks. Workshop decks are often dealt a crippling blow by a single timely Rack and Ruin or Shattering Spree. Having to battle against a playset of Ancient Grudges would be absolutely agonizing for a MUD or Workshop Aggro player.
Dealing With the Grindstone Milling Combo
As mentioned briefly above, one way to help combat the opponent milling your deck is by having effects that will re-shuffle your deck if it is milled. The most common way to do this is with Gaea's Blessing. By sideboarding in 1 or 2 copies of Blessing, you can often prevent being immediately decked from Grindstone. Many of the current decks are already splashing green for Fastbond, so the card would usually never be unplayable if you drew it. But it does provide insurance against being milled by Grindstone, or potentially the single copy of Brain Freeze in the Tyrant Oath decks running around.
Another option that I have only seen written about, but which may be a viable sideboard strategy against the Painter + Grindstone combo, is employing the services of two or more copies of Darksteel Colossus. If an opponent manages to get off the combo to mill your entire deck, each Colossus will shuffle back in because of the Colossus' replacement effect. However, when the deck is narrowed down to the final two cards (both being Darksteel Colossus), the Grindstone will keep checking and milling the final two cards, and the Colossus' will keep shuffling back in. The game will enter a state of an infinite loop with neither playing receiving priority, and will be a draw.
Strategically this may not seem like the best sideboard option to combat the deck, but it may actually be very effective. If you are at a point where your opponent has assembled their combo, your were probably facing an uphill battle, and it is much better to simply draw and move onto the next game, than to take a game (or ultimately match) loss. This is a similar approach to how old Worldgorger Dragon decks would often just force a game to draw if they were in a losing position (by creating a loop with Animate Dead and Worldgorger Dragon, with no other targets), and then hope to win the next game or two. Aside from the time constraint of matches in tournament play and obscure tiebreaker differences, a game drawn is essentially a game not played as far as the record is concerned. So avoid losing by drawing when you're in a losing position, and hope to deliver a game win or two when you are in a winning position.
Attacking Mana Sources and Mana Bottlenecks
Another possible way to attack the new Painter decks is by punishing them for playing a very streamlined yet thin manabase with a very low mana curve. Similar to how Workshop decks would punish GroATog for usually playing 18-20 mana sources, most of the new Painter decks are in the realm of 19-21 mana sources, typically with only one or two basic (i.e. non-Wasteland-able) lands and plenty of fetchlands (usually six) to possibly Stifle. The combination of Stifle and Wasteland, found in decks such as Deez Noughts and numerous Fish variations, can be potentially crippling to the new Painter decks as most of them are only running 2-4 Volcanic Islands. If an opponent has one or no red mana sources in play, this will create a mana bottleneck and they will be unable to cast their 6-8 Red Blasts, rendering much of their protection suite null and void.
Along the same lines of preventing an opponent from even casting his spells, Chalice of the Void may be regaining some of its former power and usefulness. With so many copies of Grindstone, Ponder, Brainstorm, Duress, Thoughtseize, Fastbond, Red Elemental Blast, and Pyroblast floating around, Chalice of the Void set to 1 becomes extremely attractive. Let's examine how Chalice of the Void would fare against some of the decks mentioned in this article and our last:
As a small bonus, here is a look at how Chalice of the Void would affect a small sampling of other commonly played decks:
- Chalice would cut off 21 maindeck spells if set to 1 against Deez Noughts, 11 if set to 2, 6 if set to 0
- Chalice would cut off 14 maindeck spells if set to 1 against Reveillark Flash, 9 if set to 2, 12 if set to 0
- Chalice would cut off 12 maindeck spells if set to 1 against Sliver Flash, 11 if set to 2, 15 if set to 0
- Chalice would cut off 18 maindeck spells if set to 1 against Gush Tendrils, 8 if set to 2, 7 if set to 0
- Chalice would cut off 22 maindeck spells if set to 1 against Next Level Doomsday (NLD), 7 if set to 2, 4 if set to 0
Chalice of the Void can potentially be a great way to fight off Painter decks and limit their potential interactivity by crippling what an opponent can play. In Mishra's-Workshop-based decks, there are a great many tools to fight the Painter decks such as Chalice of the Void, Wasteland (with Crucible of Worlds), and Goblin Welder (to potentially Weld out an opposing Painter’s Servant or Grindstone), as well as attempting to punish the opponent's limited manabase by playing Sphere (Sphere of Resistance) after Sphere (Thorn of Amethyst) after Sphere (Trinisphere).
Similar to TnT, GroATog, Meandeck Gifts, Ichorid, Flash, and countless others before it, Painter's Servant decks appear to be momentarily throwing the Vintage world back on its heels. But like any other deck, proper metagame and deckbuilding adjustments can help to stabilize matchups and balance the playing field. Hopefully the examples above will provide you with a few ideas when building your deck for tournaments this year as we move into yet another new chapter in the growing history of Vintage Magic.
By JACO on May 29th, 2008 · Filed in Vintage (Type 1) · Comments not available just now