From The Vault: Twenty Answers

Written by Trevor Holness on . Posted in Magic Culture

From The Vault: Twenty Answers

Trevor Holness

Trevor has been playing Magic poorly since 1994. His lifetime Magic achievement is beating Gary Wise in a Type One tournament. Outside of Magic, Trevor is a Public Utilities professional who currently lives in Oakville, Ontario, with his wife.

Last weekend’s Pro Tour was interesting for a number of reasons: the first major event to feature Gatecrash, Melissa De Tora’s historic run to the Top 8, Tom Martell’s winning deck named after the world’s dirtiest joke, and the announcement of a fourth Pro Tour next year. But what got me really excited was the announcement of From the Vaults: Twenty.

This is Magic’s 20th year and From the Vaults: Twenty is designed as a celebration of the best cards seen in the game’s lifetime. We know a little bit from the official announcement of the product, which will be released in August:

  • 20 premium foils, all black-bordered, some with new art
  • Each card has been a key part of a premier winning deck in the past 20 years

Read that second part carefully. In order for the card to be eligible, the card has to be a key part of a premier winning deck. Although not defined on the product page, the Pro Tour coverage team specifically mentioned the eligible cards would be from decks that won a Pro Tour or World Championship. (They also clarified that Zak Dolan’s 1994 Gen Con deck is eligible; the tournament is widely recognized as a World Championship before they officially began.)

So, what does one do when they don’t have to work the next day and they are slightly obsessed with this kind of thing? Yeah, I started to compile a likely candidates list.

First thing I did was compile the card pool — all cards in the winning decklist of a Pro Tour or World Championships. Now what about limited and team events? My ultimate decision was to include them because Wizards hasn’t explicitly excluded them. I followed some simple rules: If Wizards listed the card as part of the Top 8 deck list (or finals deck list, in the event of teams), then it was included in the pool. This meant some really sketchy cards are included, but that’s fine.

Then, I started to work on exclusions.

The first round of exclusions were simple. A long time ago, in order to appease collectors who had a heart attack each time a new set was released, Wizards came up with a list of cards they would never print again. The Reserved List includes rares from Alpha through Mercadian Masques that will never see the light of day. It was easy enough to go through and mark those off the list. Hoping to see the Power Nine reprinted? Cursed Scroll? Intuition? Not going to happen.

The second exclusions were a simple deduction. If it was already reprinted in a previous From the Vaults (or Commander’s Arsenal), it won’t get printed again. So cards like Sol Ring, Scroll Rack, Sylvan Library and Dragonstorm were omitted.

The third exclusions are logical guesses. I’m guessing certain non-basic lands won’t reprinted because they won’t be considered “key cards.” So no shocklands, painlands, fetchlands, sac lands or Vivids. But manlands like Creeping Tar Pit and Treetop Village are still eligible. Sideboard cards, like Circles of Protection and Elemental Blasts, were also eliminated. If they were key cards, they would be in the main deck instead of the sideboard.

Now this is where things got tough. What should I do about other promotional cards? There are a ton of them, and eliminating them from contention might leave us with From the Vaults: Underwhelmed! We also saw a card like Command Tower get released as a judge foil, only to be reprinted in Commander’s Arsenal a few months later. So I decided these cards would still be eligible, with ones printed recently with new art less likely to be printed again.

That left me with this spreadsheet. Here’s the legend:

  • Red – Reserved List
  • Yellow – Printed in Commander’s Arsenal or previous From the Vaults
  • Pink – Confirmed in Modern Masters
  • Blue – Judge promo
  • Purple – Land or sideboard card
  • Bright green – Likely inclusion
  • Darker green – Unsure, but definite candidate for inclusion

So I scoured that list, scratched my head, and used my knowledge of old decks to come up with the likely candidate for each year in Magic’s history. I’ve been playing since 1994 and know a lot about the older decks, but I stopped playing between 2001 and 2010, so there were a number of years where I used text coverage and hearsay from others.

How did I make my selections? It came down to finding one card in one deck that was key to it’s success. It could have been a win condition (Millstone), a combo piece (Astral Slide), or the one card that just was the best that day (Venser, Shaper Savant). I didn’t try to balance the colors. The card pool is limited already, and you’d really have to stretch to balance things out.

1993 — ???

[Editor’s note: There aren’t any publicly available decklists from the 1993 Gen Con tournament, so we’re not going to guess. This finals recap provides some possibilities, including Stone Rain and Dark Ritual.]

1994 – Stasis

If you look at Zak Dolan’s list, you’ll come to realize his deck is fairly big on resource denial. Armageddon, Meekstone, Mana Drain, Power Sink, Wrath of God, Winter Orb — they all prevent your opponent from executing their gameplan. But Stasis was the key to the deck. Anyone who has played against it knows the power and frustration of being under a Stasis lock. Dolan used this to perfection, using Serra Angel and Time Elemental to get past the Stasis restriction. As a result, he became Magic’s first World Champion.

I didn’t pick Mana Drain for three reasons:

  • Mana Drain is not as key to the deck as Stasis. Dolan did use Mana Drain to counter his opponent’s spell before dropping Stasis and utilizing the floating mana. But it’s Stasis that made the deck.
  • I don’t see Wizards reprinting a card that is only Vintage playable. The company barely supports Legacy as a format, and has gone so far as to create another format that allows players to play with old cards while still being accessible to the masses (a.k.a. Modern). Vintage gets no love in the paper format. That being the case, why reprint it?
  • There are secondary market concerns. I believe Wizards typically doesn’t care about the secondary market, but look at Mana Drain in light of the Reserved List. The Reserved List was designed specifically to give collectors certainty that their collections wouldn’t devalue significantly. I think Wizards would think long and hard about reprinting Mana Drain and potentially devaluing a more iconic older card.

Last printed: Fifth Edition, 1997

1995 – Hymn to Tourach

Another oldie but goodie. From Alexander Blumke’s Rack Control deck, Hymn to Tourach allowed him to establish early control by knocking key cards out of his opponent’s hand. A Turn 1 Ritual/Rack/Hymn opening was completely possible and utterly devastating. The deck utilizes other discard outlets like Hypnotic Specter, Mind Twist and Disrupting Scepter to do damage with The Rack, but it’s the hyper-efficient Hymn to Tourach that is the key card in this deck.

Last printed: Anthologies, 1998

1996 – Millstone

I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to make a mill deck and never had it work quite as I expected. But in 1996, this alternate win condition won the first Pro Tour. And Millstone is the card of choice from Mike Loconto’s U/W Prison deck. His deck played wraths, Icy Manipulator and Winter Orb while grinding you away with Millstone. Winter Orb would be an appropriate inclusion, but you have to hand it to the win condition and the only mill deck to win a Pro Tour.

Last printed: Tenth Edition, 2007

1997 – Drain Life

Drain Life? But that was Black Summer! You’re right, but Drain Life is the key card to not one, but two winning decks in 1997. Randy Buehler won PT Chicago with Lauerpotence, Necropotence running red for Firestorm with Drain Life used as a pseudo-Braingeyser to fuel large card draws. And then there is ProsBloom, the first combo deck to have any form of success, winning Pro Tour Paris as the legend of Mike Long really began. ProsBloom was a combo deck with an engine of Cadaverous Bloom and Squandered Resources fueling large Prosperitys, which led to a Drain Life for the win. And Drain Life was part of one of the biggest mind tricks in Magic history. Long needed to exile his only Drain Life to keep his combo going, but Mark Justice didn’t know that Long only ran one copy in the deck. After exiling the Drain Life, Long kept executing the combo and Justice conceded because of “inevitability.”

Last printed: FNM promo, 2002

1998 – Stroke of Genius

If 1996/1997 was Black Summer, 1998 was combo winter. And nothing said combo more than Tolarian Academy decks. Most of the cards in Academy are not eligible for this set, but Stroke of Genius is. Tommi Hovi won PT Rome on the back of a deck that ran Tolarian Academy, Time Spiral, Lotus Petals, Mind Over Matter, Mana Vault, Mox Diamond, Windfall and Voltaic Key. Notice anything? Most of those cards are insanely broken! They fueled these insane Stroke of Geniuses, which you used to deck your opponent. Because Tolarian Academy isn’t eligible thanks to the Reserved List, this spot goes to Stroke of Genius.

Last printed: Urza’s Saga/Judge promo, 1998

1999 – Oath of Druids

I remember playing Oath of Druids in a PTQ, running Spike Feeders and an Italian Triskelion, grinding people out game after game. Anyways, this guy named Bob Maher played it a lot better than I did, beating Brian Davis in the finals of Pro Tour Chicago. Look it up on YouTube and marvel in the greatness of the Dark Confidant.

Last printed: Judge promo, 2001

2000 – Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero

In Mercadian Masques Block Constructed, Rebels was a completely dominant — if not broken — deck. The one and only Kai Budde took down Pro Tour Chicago with Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero and she’ll likely get included as a result. It would be great to choose something out of Jon Finkel’s World Championships deck like Grim Monolith or Metalworker, but they’re both on the Reserved List.

Last printed: Nemesis, 2000

2001 – Force of Will

This is the point in my life where I stopped playing Magic, so I probably won’t get this one right. I would love to see Force of Will reprinted and it’s the only card that pops out at me. But I don’t think you can honestly say it was a key card to any deck; rather it was a strong role player. So I reserve the right to be wrong.

Last printed: Alliances, 1996

2002 – Psychatog

If you take even a quick glance at the 2002 World Championships, the most dominant card in the format is pretty clear. Six of the top eight decks were Psychatog decks. This one is a no-brainer.

Last printed: Player Rewards promo, 2004

2003 – Astral Slide

Simply put, the key card to Osyp Lebedowicz’s winning deck at Pro Tour Venice.

Last printed: FNM promo, 2006

2004 – Disciple of the Vault

Affinity was a boogeyman, causing many players to leave the game. One of the key cards to its power was Disciple of the Vault, which helped carry Pierre Canali to victory at Pro Tour Columbus. Arcbound Ravager was another key card to this deck, but I believe Arcbound Ravager will be part of Modern Masters and therefore not part of this set.

Last printed: Mirrodin, 2003

2005 – Congregation at Dawn

I had to read up on this before making a choice, but I went with Congregation at Dawn from the 2005 World Championships. After reading the text coverage of the final match, it’s clear this card was the key to victory.

Last printed: Ravnica: City of Guilds, 2005

2006 – Umezawa’s Jitte

This one is tough because it doesn’t look like there was one dominant card. Oddly enough, Umezawa’s Jitte was a sideboard card in Mark Herberholz’s winning deck at Pro Tour Honolulu. But in the days when Jitte was in pretty much everything specifically to beat other Jittes, then it’s considered a key card in the deck.

Last printed: Grand Prix promo, 2010

2007 – Venser, Shaper Savant

If I simply looked at the decklist from Pro Tour Valencia, I would say this card should be Counterbalance But looks can be deceiving, and it appears that Venser was the MVP for Remi Fortier. Thoughtseize was also considered but not selected because of the potential of a Modern Masters reprint.

Last printed: Future Sight, 2007

2008 – Bitterblossom

Faeries was dominant and featured Vendilion Clique, Mistbind Clique, Spellstutter Sprite and Thoughtseize. But when I think of Faeries, I think of Bitterblossom.

Last printed: Judge promo, 2011

2009 – Cruel Ultimatum

This is Gabriel Nassif’s called shot. He needed the Cruel Ultimatum to win the match and ripped it off the top. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch and listen to everyone just lose their minds! It doesn’t get much more key than that, and will likely get included solely because of that one match at Pro Tour Kyoto.

Last printed: Duel Decks: Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas, 2011

2010 – Bloodbraid Elf

Who knew this card would cause so much grief. This was when I got back into Magic, and I kept hearing about Bloodbraid Elf being such a dominant card. I didn’t understand until someone cascaded into Blightning or Putrid Leech. Then I saw the power and understood why Jund was the deck to beat in Standard.

Last printed: Planechase 2012

2011 – Stoneforge Mystic

This will all come down to if Wizards has the balls to reprint Jace, the Mind Sculptor. These were the first cards banned in Standard in seven years, and rightfully so because of the dominance of Caw-Blade, a variant of which Ben Stark used to win Pro Tour Paris. Reprinting Jace is a little different than printing Mana Drain because of its vintage. With Mana Drain, you can always fall back on the “it’s old” excuse. At the same time, Wizards may be conscious of the secondary market value of Jace and what impact this would have.

Last printed: Worldwake, 2010

2012 – Entreat the Angels

Kessig Wolf Run saw play in Brian Kibler’s Pro Tour Dark Ascension deck and the World Champion deck, playing the key role in both of them. It’s hard to argue against a card that basically helped win two Pro Tours in the same year. But Entreat the Angels was the card in Alexander Hayne’s Miracles deck at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. Much like Cruel Ultimatum, Entreat the Angels may be included because it was so exciting to watch him rip it off the top. It should be Kessig Wolf Run, but you’ll likely see Entreat the Angels.

Last printed: Avacyn Restored, 2012

There’s still a lot of time between now and when FTV: Twenty is released, and I’m sure more information will come to light. But these are my picks right now. Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree!

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