What is a poopdeck? It might be easiest to explain what a poopdeck is by telling you what it isn’t. Most decks in Vintage are not poopdecks. If you take a look at the archetypes of decks that have placed in the top eight at the past few Vintage Champs or the Bazaar of Moxen vintage event, you probably will not see many poopdecks.
Let’s say you are heading to a tournament this weekend and have grown a little tired of your go-to, does-well-in-tournaments, usual deck. You have played well with that deck. You have won money with that deck. You know that deck like the back of your hand. That deck is within ten or fifteen cards of a deck that top-eighted at Champs. That deck is probably not a poopdeck.
The Vintage format is so expansive and explored that it normally takes a new set to bring new blood and cards to the format. New cards from new sets can make long-forgotten cards relevant again, and occasionally folks find forgotten cards and augment their existing powerhouses, but historically there is not much shifting in the viable card and deck pool.
Regardless, somewhere, somehow, since the last time you dusted off your cardboard, another card or combination of cards caught your eye. What if? What if you could take that card and shove it into a Vintage deck and make it work? And by “make it work,” I mean win the tournament. It can happen and it does happen, albeit rarely. Sometimes making it work can take on a different meaning. Sometimes you just want to have a blast slinging cardboard with good friends and if you happen to do well along the way, so be it! If this has ever happened to you, you could be a fan of playing a poopdeck.
I often see decks in other formats, usually Legacy or Modern, doing neat things that I would love to try in Vintage. The most difficult challenge in porting a deck from one of those formats is usually speed. (One anomaly would be Legacy Goblin Charbelcher decks which can actually be faster than the Vintage version with four each of Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond.) Vintage can occasionally be a “turn one” format as evidenced here.
You might be able to pull off that really cool trick, but not before your opponent assembles Time Vault-Voltaic Key or Tinkers for Blightsteel Colossus. The presence of cards from the restricted list can help out with this somewhat.
Let’s start this Poopdeck Challenge by stating our goal: we want to build a Vintage Lands deck centered around Dark Depths and we’re going to look into what has been done before for help. This journey will start by looking a couple years back at Gen Con: I got smoked in a Legacy side event by a deck playing Into the North, which of course I had to read. The deck took advantage of the legend rule change by playing four copies of Thespian’s Stage and Dark Depths to put a 20/20 flying, indestructible Marit Lage token into play very quickly—now that’s fun! The maindeck looked something like this:
Sample Legacy Lands
My playing experience (read: card knowledge) outside of the Vintage format is admittedly small. I had to read Sylvan Scrying, Ancient Stirrings, Expedition Map, and Into the North! They were all about finding one or both halves of the combo and getting them into play and activated quickly, usually by turn two or three. This list bears only some resemblance to the current and more resilient Legacy Lands decks that abuse Dark Depths as one of their win conditions, such as this list by David Long, which top-eighted an SCG Open this year:
David Long Lands
While the first list could create the 20/20 Marit Lage very quickly, it is definitely a glass cannon when compared to the second, more grindy list. The current Legacy Lands decks do have the ability to sometimes win quickly with the token, but they also have the capability to destroy or tap down your manabase and kill you slowly with the Punishing Fire-Grove of the Burnwillows combo.
Decks abusing Dark Depths in Vintage that have also done well, including this Dark Times list by Ryan Glackin that made the top eight at the Vintage World Championships at Gen Con in 2010:
This deck ran a pair of two-card combo kills in Vampire Hexmage-Dark Depths and Helm of Obedience-Leyline of the Void. With Vampire Hexmage and Dark Ritual, it was able to create the 20/20 bomb on turn one occasionally, without the benefit of the new legend rule. Another reason for its success was the lack of Mental Misstep, which wouldn’t enter the format until about a year later. When it did, no fewer than 16 of this deck’s maindeck spells became Misstep targets.
Paying homage to the above deck recently, an updated, nearly Power-less Dark Times list made top eight in a 43-person event in Australia last year:
Nearly Powerless Dark Times
This deck uses slightly different tools including Abrupt Decays and Liliana of the Veil to control the board state and can power out Marit Lage via Vampire Hexmage or the single Thespian’s Stage. The one-of Grim Discovery is particularly interesting here since it can get back both halves of the Hexmage-Depths combo (if it gets countered) or any number of other pairs of useful cards.
Finally, here is one last deck to check out in our examination of Land-based decks in Vintage. This brew was compiled by Anthony “Twaun” Michaels in 2013:
Lands in 2013
This list seemed to borrow ideas from the Legacy Lands lists but eschewed the Dark Depths combo and Punishing Fire combo for Mishra’s Factory beat down and Barbarian Ring. Riftstone Portal and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, give mana producing capabilities to those lands which normally would produce none, such as Dark Depths.
What can we make of all this? I think the glass cannon of a Vintage build can come together pretty easily around Dark Depths. Let’s make the goal solely to assemble the two card combo and create Marit Lage as quickly as possible:
This deck can possibly power out the fatty on turn one (10 to 15% of the time), but it will be vulnerable to some of the same obstacles any glass cannon deck faces. Any Sphere of Resistance effects or well-timed Mental Misstep or Force of Will can stop you dead in your tracks. Speed can be sacrificed for stability, and then you can create the token without casting a spell. Once the jig is up, your opponent must shift their focus to answering your threat or winning before the next attack. Let’s take a closer look at this pile.
One reason this deck can work so quickly is its redundancy. Your combo pieces are unrestricted and you have four each of Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage. You can even up their virtual count by adding Living Wish and placing one copy of each piece in the sideboard, but who wants to cast a spell when you can just play a land and win?
Next we have the dozen search spells and tutors:
Eleven out of the 12 cards listed above can locate either half of the combo. Into the North can only grab Dark Depths, but occasionally it is useful to find a Snow-Covered Forest. With combo pieces, tutors, and free draw cards we are already at 28 cards out of 60.
There are six cards that can enable a turn-one Marit Lage. These cards allow us to put two lands into play on the same turn, which is necessary for the combo:
The drawback of Into the North is that the land comes into play tapped, but our Thespian’s Stage doesn’t care if the land it’s copying is tapped or not. Exploration gives us the ability to drop two lands (or more with multiple Explorations) in one turn, and it can help you get the combo out on turn one when it’s cast with one of multiple free green mana. Fastbond is just nuts with this combo—no explanation needed. Burgeoning is similar but slightly slower. These land cheaters (not counting Into the North twice) put us at 33 out of 60 cards.
Our other lands are focused on getting us the green or double colorless activation mana we need:
And it wouldn’t be Vintage without playing some broken fast mana:
And for that extra boost of green mana:
In total, with the Spirit Guides, Black Lotus, Lotus Petal, Mox Emerald, Chrome Mox, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Mox Diamond, Verdant Catacombs, and Snow-Covered Forests, we have 17 opportunities to create green mana. If you choose to include the eight free draw, that ups the number to 25—just about a 42% chance.
While goldfishing a combo deck can be useful to help you learn any intricacies of the deck, testing versus live opponents is always the best way to get a feel for this beast. Even facing disruption in the form of Sphere effects, Force of Will, and Mental Misstep (which hits 16 of our spells—ouch!), you often can still steal a game one. Once your opponent sees what’s going on, how can we sideboard to survive and win the match?
The deck requires a combat phase to win, which does put it in a lonely category among Vintage combo decks. Can we speed the attack up with cards like Concordant Crossroads, Lightning Greaves, or Instill Energy? Possibly, but then we sacrifice speed while diluting the deck.
Can we protect our combo and the token it creates? There are means to do this, and you often start by looking at what stops the deck. Wasteland effects are painful, and Pithing Needle or Sylvan Safekeeper might help with that. Pithing Needle itself can stop Thespian’s Stage, so maybe we include Oxidize in the board. Nature’s Claim might also be useful if it were not for the lifegain; we want to kill with one swing! Folks will try to get rid of Marit Lage with Swords to Plowshares and other means, but there are ways to protect it. Spellskite and Avoid Fate can lend a hand here, but Not of This World is an all star. Noxious Revival can return our needed combo pieces to replay them the following turn. Here’s a possible sideboard:
If you are stuck with a Workshop matchup, then the Wastelands are your biggest enemy. You will want to bring in the three Pithing Needles and perhaps some number of Oxidize to neutralize threats. Hopefully any lock pieces can be made irrelevant with a lands-only win. Spells with higher casting costs like Sylvan Scrying and Into the North can be removed along with the Gitaxian Probes.
Against a blue-based control deck, their Force of Wills and Mental Missteps will be your worst enemies. Jace, the Mind Sculptor, can bounce your token if you’re forced to create it before end of turn. Decks splashing for white can send your token farming with Swords to Plowshares. In the control matchups, it can be useful to ditch the Gitaxian Probes for protection in the form of redundancy with Noxious Revival. This card can sculpt your next turn to overcome what has been countered.
Go ahead and check this list out and believe me when I say it is super fast. Watching your opponents try to work out of the jam of facing a 20/20 indestructible flyer on turn two can put a smile on your face, and if you happen to take down more than half your matches on the day, pat yourself on the back: you’ve completed the Poopdeck Challenge!
Thanks for reading, good luck, and have fun playing!
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