The Fantasy Sports of Magic: The Gathering: Vintage Rotisserie Draft

I know I usually write about Commander, but last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in something very exciting–a Vintage Rotisserie Draft. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the format, let me explain: Rotisserie Draft is a format borrowed from fantasy sports. Instead of opening booster packs, in a Rotisserie Draft, a specific set of cards (one of each) is made available to all players. In this case, that set was all Vintage-legal cards (so, restricted list cards were available, but banned cards were not) including cards from Modern Horizons. A draft order for all 8 players is established randomly, and players draft one card at a time in order. Once the player who has 8th pick makes their choice, they draft a second card, and then the draft proceeds back in reverse order to the player who had the first pick, who will make two picks in a row, and so on. Once everyone has drafted 45 cards, the draft ends, and the battle can begin.

Vintage Rotisserie Draft was made popular online by the old Northwest Vintage Rotisserie Draft Series that Shotgun Lotus put on, and my friend Mark Katerberg, who loves the format, is trying to revive the format here in St. Louis. This is the second one he has run in our local area, and based on how they’ve gone, it looks like there will be many more. I’m going to run you through my experience, from prep all the way to play, so you can understand what you’re getting into if you decide to run your own, which I strongly recommend–it’s a ton of fun!

Preparing for Vintage Rotisserie Draft

I watched the Vintage Rotisserie Drafts back in their day, so I have a decent idea of how the format looked in 2014, but obviously that doesn’t account for the five years’ worth of cards that have been released since then. With that in mind, I reviewed:

  • The spreadsheet for the previous STL Vintage Rotisserie Draft, which I didn’t get a chance to participate in
  • A few scattered reports on Reddit of Vintage Rotisserie Drafts around the world over the past few years
  • Various Vintage Cube Drafts by LSV as well as his articles about Mastering Vintage Cube
  • Actual Vintage decklists from recent tournaments, to get an idea of what new cards are showing up in Vintage
  • Articles about how Modern Horizons cards will play in Vintage specifically
  • The old VRD spreadsheets and streams from Shotgun Lotus, partially for entertainment

Then I prepared some notes about different archetypes that included key cards that drive the archetype, redundant cards that augment the archetype but aren’t dealbreakers, additional cards that fill it out, and hate cards to slot into the sideboard. Those archetypes included:

  • Time Vault/Artifact Combos
  • UR Tempo/Twin
  • UB / UW Control
  • Burn
  • Storm
  • Reanimator
  • Green (okay, this one wasn’t super fleshed-out)

I also established an idea of what I might pick in the first round based on the seat I was in, and I locked in on this order of priority:

1) Black Lotus

2) Ancestral Recall

3) Time Vault

4) Mox Sapphire

5) Mox Jet

6) Mox Ruby

7) Time Walk

8) Mox Emerald/Pearl (8th seed being the wheel, I just shoved both remaining Moxen in here)

The placement of Time Vault in this list is, to say the least, controversial. Time Vault moved all over the place in the Northwest VRD pick order, from 14th in their VRD1 to 3rd in their VRD8, with a lot of picks in the 5-7 range. However, I believed that taking Vault 3rd and Tinker, or if that’s not available, the most powerful remaining piece of artifact mana 14th could push the Lotus player into Storm or a non-artifact focused archetype, leaving me alone in the 3rd seat to enjoy the benefits of an artifact-heavy strategy.

Finally, I made sure I reviewed cards printed since the last VRD here in St. Louis, which were Ravnica Allegiance and War of the Spark, as well as cards from Modern Horizons, for each of my archetypes. I identified Narset, Parter of Veils and Karn, the Great Creator as huge players, while my list from MH1 included cards like Prismatic Vista, Planebound Accomplice, Urza, Lord High Artificer, Force of Negation, Shenanigans, and very importantly, Goblin Engineer. Ravnica Allegiance didn’t have anything that really stood out to me.

The Draft

On the day of the draft, Mark told us we would be drafting draft positions. He randomized the order of the players and let us choose our seats in order, which ended up like this:

Stephen Hagan: 1

Vincent Brown: 8

Dan Zielinski: 2

Eric Levine: 3

John Koines: 7

Brent Yard: 5

Naveen Balaji: 4

Elaine Cao: 6

I was obviously excited to lock in 3rd pick after the inordinate amount of time I’d spent thinking about Time Vault, and I sat down ready to execute my artifact combo strategy.

You can watch the entire draft (and all the games) here, or see the final list of picks here. Our stream isn’t the highest quality (yet) given that we’re literally streaming out of someone’s house, but it’s a decent start, and we’re hoping to improve the quality every time we do this (which will be about once a quarter.)

Overall, I feel like I executed my strategy decently well. However, Stephen Hagan was on a very similar page, which explains the back-and-forth between our picks over the course of the draft. I want to highlight a few picks of my own that I think are worth discussing (other than Time Vault, which I mentioned earlier):

2nd Pick: Sol Ring

Sol Ring

Both Mana Vault and Mana Crypt were still available when I picked Sol Ring here. It’s quite possible I should have taken Mana Vault, as it provides more mana on its first use. However, being able to reuse Sol Ring over multiple turns had a lot of value the course of the draft and allowed me to shave a land out of my final decklist, so I think I’d take Sol Ring here again given that Tinker was unavailable. Mana Crypt was ruled out because it disrupts the whole “guaranteed kill in infinite turns” thing.

6th Pick: Voltaic Key

Voltaic Key

This was far too early to take Voltaic Key. Given how many enablers there are for Time Vault (Galvanic Key, Voltaic Servant, Ral Zarek, Mirage Mirror, and more) I could easily have waited and taken something much later in the draft. This is the kind of mistake that I hoped to avoid, but expected to make in my first Vintage Rotisserie Draft, and I’ll be keeping this in mind for the future. If I had this pick back, I’d take Tezzeret the Seeker here to make sure it stayed out of Stephen’s hands, and I’d take a land–possibly Volcanic Island, to signal my intent to take red cards–with my 7th pick.

8th Pick: Tolarian Academy

Tolarian Academy

This was a speculative pick, as well as one I took in order to try to fight Stephen off. In the end, it didn’t pan out; my deck didn’t have enough early-game artifacts in it so Tolarian Academy was going to be approximately the worst Island ever. I don’t think I’d change this pick if I had the chance, but I would work harder to take artifact lands, cards like Mox Diamond and the totally unpicked Chrome Mox. If I did change this pick, I’d probably snap up Muddle the Mixture here, both as a tutor for Time Vault and as a counterspell.

15th Pick: Power Artifact

Power Artifact

I didn’t end up having much of a use for Power Artifact. The infinite mana wasn’t something that I had a use for, not having access to Urza or any sink for it. I suppose I could have picked up Rocket Launcher or a similar artifact, but I decided to hone in on Time Vault combos. This could have been a land, a piece of artifact mana, a counterspell… the list goes on.

18th Pick: Reshape

Reshape

When you forget Transmute Artifact exists, sometimes you make bad decisions.

20th Pick: Goblin Engineer

Goblin Engineer

We were coming up on a break in the draft, and I thought it would be fun to make a statement here. I also knew Stephen was like to make a statement with his pick, especially given that the chat was voting on who to interview during the lunch break. This meant he was likely to take Goblin Engineer, given that he had clearly done his research on new cards, which meant I had to snap it up right away. Goblin Engineer, on its face, looks like a bad discount Welder, but the ability to tutor an artifact into your graveyard turns it into much more in a format like this. Combined with Trash for Treasure, which I picked up much later, the risk of putting Time Vault into my graveyard was reduced significantly. Goblin Engineer ended up winning me lots of games that Welder simply couldn’t.

42nd Pick: Extract

Extract

I should have picked Bitter Ordeal here, as no deck in the format could really be beaten by Extract alone–even I was smart enough to draft some backup wincons like Karn, Scion of Urza, and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, both of which did their job more than once. This led to Stephen taking Bitter Ordeal, a card he had forgotten about. Oops.

My main deck ended up looking like this:

 

Round-Robin Competition

We played full round-robin, so each of us played against every other player, for a total of seven matches each. As you might expect, this took quite a while. We used the London Mulligan for this event.

Round 1 vs. Brent Yard (Bolas’s Citadel Combo)

Brent’s deck had a really cool plan, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like he got to spend much time executing it over the course of the day, as he went 0-7 overall. Our match was incredibly quick–in game 1, I assembled Tezzeret the Seeker and Time Vault before he could resolve a relevant spell, and game 2 was even more of a one-sided affair.

1-0 / 2-0

Round 2 vs. Dan Zielinski (Infect)

Dan played us all like a fiddle during the draft–he started out with a fairly generic suite of blue cards before slamming Tropical Island with his 11th pick followed by Misty Rainforest with his 12th pick. By then, there was going to be no stopping the infect train. I mean, what are we going to do, spend a round of picks taking cards like Blight Mamba and Necropede? I think not. He had the counterspells, he had the fast mana, and worst of all, he had Ancestral Recall to reload.

You can watch my match against Dan here.

Game 1 was a blowout. Dan opened with a turn 1 Blighted Agent off a Mox Diamond, whereas I only had a Voltaic Key. On his turn 2, Dan played a Glistener Elf and a Serum Visions, and he Spell Snared my Talisman of Creativity. Then he cast Might of Old Krosa and Invigorate on his own turn, which was more than enough for a turn 3 kill.

Before Game 2, I boarded in Chain Lightning, Diabolic Edict, Pyroclasm, Pyroblast, and Divert.

In Game 2, I had difficulties with finding black mana. Dan cast Mystical Tutor early for Scale Up, not Ancestral Recall, which made me think he had Ancestral in his hand, leading me to spend some resources on turn 3 using my Strip Mine on his Tropical Island. I Mana Leaked the Scale Up when Dan tried to cast it on Necropede, but I had to discard Diabolic Edict when I flashed back my Faithless Looting due to a total lack of black mana–my only possible play was to focus on trying to make Time Vault happen if I wasn’t getting any ways to kill Dan’s creatures. The following turn, Dan used Invigorate to put me to 6 poison and blew up my Sol Ring with Viridian Corrupter. I cast Goblin Engineer, hoping to use Vedalken Shackles to play defense until I could cast my Tezzeret the Seeker, but Rancor on the Corruptor and a Vines of Vastwood meant the match was over for me on Dan’s turn.

1-1 / 2-2

Round 3 vs. Stephen Hagan (2-card Monte/Artifacts)

Stephen was my main rival for cards during the draft, but I was confident that my deck was faster than his, and I felt favored in the matchup.

You can watch my match against Stephen here.

Stephen mulliganed to 6 in Game 1, which made me feel even more confident. However, despite my turn 3 Karn, Scion of Urza, I didn’t get there. I lost my True-Name Nemesis to a Mana Drain, and Stephen used Fabricate on the following turn to assemble Painter/Grindstone, which I didn’t have a direct answer to. I used Sundering Titan to double Stone Rain, but he had another land in hand the following turn, which he played to activate Grindstone.

For Game 2, I brought in Hurkyl’s Recall, Steel Sabotage, Vandalblast, Shenanigans, and Pyroblast.

I thought for sure I was going to win Game 2 when I used Grim Monolith to slam a turn 3 Tezzeret the Seeker and tutored up Time Vault. Unfortunately, Karn, the Great Creator came down immediately afterward and locked out my Time Vault. He tutored up Mycosynth Lattice from his sideboard, and while I tried to keep him off mana by killing his Talisman of Curiosity with Shenanigans, he had another land, and I lost to the powerful combo we all know and love from modern Tron these days.

1-2 / 2-4

Round 4 vs. Naveen Balaji (Reanimator)

Both games were remarkably similar: Naveen ripped apart my hand. In Game 1, he reanimated Griselbrand and beat me to death, and in Game 2, he played a Leyline of the Void in pregame and got Helm online fairly quickly to take my whole library out of action. Between Thoughtseize, Mind Twist, Brain Maggot, Mesmeric Fiend, and Hymn to Tourach, I didn’t have much of a chance, and without some of the counterspells that got taken from me early, I couldn’t protect my game plan.

1-3 / 2-6

Round 5 vs. John Koines (Grixis Hate)

John’s deck had a lot of powerful cards but lacked the singular focus mine had, so I hoped for an easy recovery. Instead, this matchup was a lot tougher than I believed it would be. In game 1, I was able to scrape a win together by making some large Karn, Scion of Urza tokens, but game 2 was made very complicated by a turn 2 Bitterblossom. I played Goblin Engineer for Vedalken Shackles, since my Time Vault had been exiled by Force of Negation already, and used it briefly to steal a Faerie token before it got shut off by Null Rod. I was ahead on life, so John was forced to block Goblin Engineer with Faerie tokens for a few turns, but a well-placed Time Walk turned the tide of combat in his favor.

Game 3 was also exciting, as John threatened to combo off with Ral, Storm Conduit and Chain of Smog, but I managed to counter the Ral, and John couldn’t counter back with Force of Negation on his own turn. I ended up winning by making some 5/5s with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and crashing in for lethal damage.

2-3 / 4-7

Round 6 vs. Elaine Cao (Grixis Control)

I was pretty worried about this matchup, but I managed to go off very quickly in Game 1 (turn 1 Sol Ring, Key, turn 2 Vault) before Elaine could get set up. Game 2 was much worse, as a turn 2 Dark Confidant followed up very quickly by Kess, Dissident Mage represented a fast clock, and with Kess casting spells out of the graveyard, Elaine generated too much value for me to manage. Game 3 was very close, with Angrath’s Rampage cast and then re-cast by Kess keeping my artifact mana in check, but with a timely draw of Tezzeret the Seeker, I was able to assemble exactly enough mana and combo pieces to combo off the turn before I would have died. Honorable mention to Dack Fayden for getting me the cards I needed to do all this stuff (and stealing an artifact to protect some other artifacts from Angrath’s Rampage.)

Shoutout to Divert, which I used to redirect Elaine’s Divest to herself. You haven’t lived until you’ve beaten a card using a card whose name is different by only one letter.

3-3 / 6-8

Round 7: Vincent Brown (G/W Hatebears)

You can watch my match against Vincent here.

Vincent’s deck packed some serious hate for me, including cards like Collector Ouphe and Beast Within/Generous Gift. Starting with a Sol Ring against Vincent’s Hexdrinker in Game 1 was key, as it enabled me to drop Vault into my graveyard via a turn 2 Goblin Engineer. A turn 3 Tezzeret, the Seeker grabbed my Key, which led to turn 4 being the first of my infinite turns.

For game 2, I boarded in Chain Lightning, Perish, Diabolic Edict, and Pyroclasm.

In game 2, Vincent mulliganed to 6 but dropped Dryad Militant on turn 1 to start the clock. I didn’t have a play, but Vincent didn’t have another threat on turn 2 or turn 3. Depending on how you view things, I either played into Mana Tithe or baited it out with an Impulse, then resolved Dack and stole Vincent’s Emerald. Unfortunately, Vincent dropped Aura Shards, making that play look much worse. Faithless Looting got sent straight to exile by Dryad Militant, and I discarded two mana-generating artifacts in favor of casting True-Name Nemesis. Vince made a 3/3, which I Chain Lightninged, and tutored up Collector Ouphe, but I simply spent the rest of the game beating down with True-Name Nemesis and countering Vincent’s relevant threats.

4-3 / 8-8

Overall my 4-3 record put me in a tie in the middle of the standings, leaving me at 5th place, which means I’m not necessarily guaranteed to play in the next one of these. However, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be involved in some capacity, so if I’m not battling next time, I’ll likely be in the commentary booth and answering judge calls.

Big shoutouts to everyone involved, especially Mark for his organization of the event. I’ll be back next time, and I’ll have some sweet Commander thoughts when I return!

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