A Tournament Report For An Unconventional Tournament: First Place at Saint Louis Vintage Rotisserie Draft IV

Elaine Cao
11 min readDec 3, 2019

On November 24, 2019, I had the distinct privilege of participating in the fourth iteration of the Saint Louis Vintage Rotisserie Draft. For those of you unfamiliar, a Vintage Rotisserie Draft is a draft, inspired by fantasy football, where players draft cards one at a time from the entire Vintage-legal card pool in a “snake draft” format. Then players participate in a round-robin event with 40-card decks with their drafted cards.

I strongly believe that Vintage Rotisserie Draft, or VRD for short, is the hardest format in Magic, and not just because I consider myself to be pretty good at it. It is certainly the most opaque to newer players, because of the deep card knowledge required to draft a good deck. But besides that, it requires knowing how to read your opponents, how to evaluate priorities, and, of course, play skill with unfamiliar draft decks with unknown play patterns.

Defending my title

I entered the fourth iteration of STLVRD as defending champion, after placing first at the third STLVRD a few months prior with a sweet blue-white control deck off of the back of a first pick Ancestral Recall.

My winning deck from STL VRD III

Obviously, there was quite a bit of pressure to defend my title, and I was eager to do so. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this, however, until I had a conversation with some people from Autumn Burchett’s discord. They brought this to my attention:

Breaking the format

Of course, knowing this, I wanted to find something more powerful than Regicide or Garbage Fire, and I almost immediately found Arcane Savant. There were many cards I looked at: Overwhelming Insight gives an insurmountable advantage. Biorhythm kills the opponent if they don’t have any creatures. I even considered a toolbox with cards like Decree of Pain, Planar Cleansing, and Cruel Ultimatum that would be swapped in the slot depending on the matchup and potentially play/draw considerations. But this all went to the side when I found Kindred Charge.

I settled on Kindred Charge instead of Heat Shimmer or Twinflame because it doesn’t target, so if they were to remove my creature in response I could potentially get other value out of it.

I went into the draft with the plan to play a control deck with an instant win button built into it; I figured it would be a powerful, one-card, game-winning combo without the potential to have you draw dead combo pieces in the cases where you fail to assume it. Basically, a fair five-mana card, if a bit on the strong side, given the power level of other cards in the format. However, this changed during the draft.

The draft

You can view the entire draft here. However, I want to highlight some of my picks.

Pick 1: Time Vault

Pick 2: Sol Ring

I was randomly given the fifth seat in this particular draft, which I was not very happy with. I strongly believe that fifth is the worst seat at the table. The first three picks get Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, and Time Vault, respectively. The last two seats get easy access to two pieces of fast artifact mana, and fourth through sixth are out of luck, though fourth and sixth have the potential to pick up some goodies. However, this is not how this draft went. Mox Sapphire was taken in the second seat, followed by Fastbond in the third seat- leaving Ancestral Recall for the fourth seat! As the fifth seat, I was very happy to pick up a Time Vault, though I hadn’t particularly prepared to play an artifact-based deck.

Pick 3: Narset, Parter of Veils

Pick 4: Dig Through Time

With these early picks, I wanted to signal my intention to play a heavy blue base. My signal went ignored, however, as many of the powerful blue cards were picked early: Force of Will, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Mystical Tutor, Mana Drain, Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain all were picked by the end of pick 4. None of the blue decks looked particularly frightening, however, so I ended up not starting Narset in my maindeck- and my cantrip base was bad so Dig Through Time was not as good as it could have been. Looking back, I’m quite unhappy with these picks, but I think they were correct at the time.

Pick 5: Prismatic Vista

This card is legit. It is absolutely the best land in the format and should be evaluated much higher by most players.

Pick 11: Tolarian Academy

Pick 12: Urza, Lord High Artificer

Pick 16: Tinker

Pick 23: Whir of Invention

Many people have asked why I was willing to float such important cards so late, especially considering that Mishra’s Workshop was picked fourth, Emry, Lurker of the Loch was picked fifth, Paradoxical Outcome went 11th, and Lion’s Eye Diamond went 12th. The answer is that I didn’t believe that there was another artifact deck I was particularly worried about fighting over. The cards mentioned did not end up in dedicated artifact decks; Emry was able to get back a Crucible of Worlds, and Lion’s Eye Diamond I don’t think was ever cast to do anything broken. I’m glad I was able to pick up utility blue cards, but I should have seen many of these cards about to go and evaluated them higher.

Pick 14: Aether Searcher

Pick 15: Arcane Savant

Pick 45: Kindred Charge

This is the combo! I realized that not only can I do the Arcane Savant shenanigans I mentioned earlier, I can get redundancy in the combo with Aether Searcher, and hope to pick up Tinker in pick 16 (which I did). In addition, I wanted to stay with my tradition of taking an eye-popping pick before the first draft break, and I most certainly believe I succeeded in this case.

Pick 18: Dovin, Hand of Control

Pick 20: Thada Adel, Acquisitor

One day, my fellow VRD players will evaluate these cards higher and stop letting me float them so late. Today, however, was not this day.

Pick 29: Bottled Cloister

Pick 30: Padeem, Consul of Innovation

Pick 32: Saheeli, Sublime Artificer

In pick 29, I realized that many of the players in the pod were skimping on artifact destruction, instead relying on other forms of disruption, and wanted to take advantage of that. However, as soon as I picked this card, I instantly saw a Council’s Judgment, Shenanigans and a Vandalblast, so I decided to pick another card that would be good against grindy decks with access to artifact destruction. Saheeli, similarly, is for the grindy matchups and is designed to clog up the board.

Pick 40: Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

I got a lot of flack for this, but it’s very justifiable. I figured I wanted another sideboard card for grindy matchups, and it fetches up Tolarian Academy.

Pick 41: Acid Rain

I don’t think I’ve ever not picked Acid Rain in VRD, and this time was no exception. It was particularly good in this case, however, because of the multiple green decks at the table, and I’m surprised it went so late.

With these cards, I was able to build a solid mono blue artifact deck, with the sideboard potential to splash either white for Teferi, or black for Baleful Strix and Toxic Deluge.

My deck!

Gameplay

Round 1: Brandon Curry (non blue control)

Brandon’s experience with Vintage Rotisserie Draft really showed in his ability to draft a deck with a lot of moving pieces. He picked up two actual moxes, a Jet and a Pearl, followed by an Opal and a Diamond. He used this to power out a frightening grindy deck with pieces like Thopter/Sword, Winter Orb, Mind Twist, and Balance. Unfortunately, this grindy deck didn’t really function against my fast combo deck, and I was able to quickly assemble a kill in two games.

However, Brandon was able to perform quite well against other players with less broken decks, and finished 5–2, right next to me.

Record: 1–0

Round 2: John Morris (storm?)

John looked like he was drafting a broken storm deck, picking up cards like Ancestral Recall, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Demonic and Vampiric Tutor, Yawgmoth’s Will, High Tide, Time Spiral… however, when I played against it, it didn’t seem that he was doing much of anything, and I quickly dispatched him 2–0. It seemed that the rest of his day went similarly, as he finished in last place at 0–7.

Record: 2–0

Round 3: Mike Viviano (Painter lands)

Mike Vivano’s deck was pretty sweet; it had a painter/grindstone package, a Lands package with Crop Rotation, Wrenn and Six, and Seismic Assault, a Dreadhorde Arcanist, and both Pyroblasts.

He started the match by casting Grindstone into Painter’s Servant and killing me on turn 3. I answered this in game 2 by casting a Turn 3 Tinker and killing him, and Mike turn 3’d me again in game 3 the same way he did in game 1. Interactive magic!

Mike finished the tournament at 4–3, good for fourth place. Not bad for his first time, and I’m quite impressed with how he navigated the draft.

Record: 2–1

Round 4: Kyle Ritcher (Mono green)

Kyle drafted a strange mono green deck, splashing for Emry, Force of Will, and Flusterstorm. It didn’t seem to perform too well for him over the course of the day, as he finished 3–4

However, he drew extremely well against me. In game 1, I kept a turn 3 Tinker hand, which lost to turn 2 Channel into Emrakul. In game 2, he had a Collector Oophe in his opening hand, which turned off my vault/key combo. I drew blanks for eight turns, failing to find my kill cards, while he slowly beat me down with some creatures. I was honestly feeling really bad about this loss, but sometimes you get hit with the variance stick.

Record: 2–2

Round 5: CJ Voege (Mono green)

CJ’s deck was the deck I was the most scared of, since it was the deck with the Lotus in it. He used this Lotus to power a pretty impressive mono green deck with frightening cards like Rofellos, Genesis Wave, Primeval Titan, Plow Under and Tooth and Nail. I had seen him use it to power out unbeatable threats on turn 2, and I was really hoping to not have that happen again. In his first VRD, he was able to finish third.

Unfortunately, CJ wasn’t really able to do any of that nonsense against me, and I Tinker killed him twice. Sometimes the opponent gets hit with the variance stick.

Record: 3–2

Round 6: Coty Gunnett (Aggro stax)

Coty drafted the other artifact deck at the table, which was very different from mine. He had cards like Arcbound Ravager, Traxos, Foundry Inspector, and Lodestone Golem which he used to try to beat his opponents down while locking them out. This strategy finished him at 4–3, but unfortunately he got fifth on tiebreakers.

In game 1, I was getting beaten down pretty solidly, and was about to lose in two attack steps pretty much regardless of what he was going to do. There was a key turn where I had a Tezzeret the Seeker in play and he cast a precombat Thought-Knot Seer, to which I responded with Dig Through Time, finding Tinker and Time Vault. My opponent took the Tinker and attacked all his creatures at me, ignoring my Tezzeret. Surprised, I took the damage and went infinite with Time Vault plus Tezzeret. I took advantage of this punt by quickly finishing game 2 with an early Tinker.

Record: 4–2

Round 7: Cody Owen (UG Flash)

Cody’s deck was the other deck at the table, other than CJ’s deck, that I was scared of. It started on Sapphire and Time Walk, and had a lot of counterspells and flash creatures that I thought would make difficutl to execute my game plan while also beating me down quickly. However, I was able to land an early Thada Adel in game 1, and after it attacked once and I looked through his deck, I had a pretty good sense of what was in his hand because of the open decklist nature of this format. I was able to use this information to slowly bait out countermagic with midrange threats, finally closing out the game with the Arcane Savant combo.

In game 2, I boarded in four Plains and my Teferi, Time Raveler, and was able to catch him with his proverbial pants down by casting it on curve. The static ability made Cody’s game plan very difficult and I was able to accrue significant advantage before he was able to answer it with a Brazen Borrower. Unfortunately, the turn I was about to close the game out with a Tinker, I naturally drew the Aether Searcher, so I had to hard-cast my seven-drop multiple turns later.

Cody finished at 3–4, though I want to stress that his deck was really good- the power of his deck was not reflected in his record.

Record: 5–2

Prizes!

Though I tied with Brandon Curry for first place, my tiebreakers, the game win percentage, were better, securing me first place.

Final results for STL VRD IV

As is tradition, each player brought in an expensive bottle of alcohol, to be drafted by the winners. However, as this was our fourth VRD, the rules were loosened and players were allowed to bring in food items of comparable value. Therefore, joining four bottles of alcohol was a set of mixers, a wheel of blue cheese, and two bundles of very nice steaks. As the first pick, I was entitled to picks number 1, 5, 7, and 8.

Prizes!

My roommate really wanted me to bring home the Woodfield Reserve, but as a non-alcohol drinker, I was eyeing one of the food prizes. I was reasonably confident that the Woodfield would come back, so I picked the steaks first. Luckily, the Woodfield came back.

My haul

Retrospective

I’m honestly not too happy with the deck I drafted. Though I obviously came in with an ace in my pocket, and the ace was deployed with great success, I believe I could have drafted a stronger deck around it. I perhaps shouldn’t have floated artifact pieces so late, losing Emry, Mox Opal, Foundry Inspector, Thirst for Knowledge, and most of all Mishra’s Workshop. I could have found a splash color for stronger cards, perhaps red for cards like Goblin Engineer, Goblin Welder, Dack Fayden, and Daretti, instead of ending up mono-color.

Next VRD, I expect that Arcane Savant will be picked up at the same power level as cards just outside the Power Nine; it should be gone within the first three picks. I don’t think I’ll be able to break the format again, at least not at the same level that I did this time.

Regardless, I’m obviously happy with my finish at this event, and I had a lot of fun. The format is amazing and feels fresh every time, and if I wasn’t able to make mistakes, it wouldn’t be an interesting game.

If you’re interested in participating in a future STLVRD in Saint Louis, feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @Oritart, or the organizer at @stlvrd. And if you’re hosting your own Vintage Rotisserie Draft, please let me know!

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Elaine Cao

I’m a Level 2 Magic judge who plays a lot of blue cards. she/her/hers, www.twitter.com/Oritart