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The Vintage Advantage: Born of the Gods Review

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Vintage

08_12 The Vintage Advantage

During spoiler season (and, in fact, much of the time) Magic players seem to love two things: speculating baselessly and complaining about everything. In any new set, the highs are always the highest and the lows, the lowest. And here we are again, getting excited or disgusted by all the new cards. Born of the Gods has a surprisingly rich group of candidates for play in Vintage. I’ll try to temper some of the thoughts I’ve seen about the new cards and see where they’ll fit among Magic the Gathering’s elite printings.

I’ll jump right into these with some of the more notable cards because who wants to read through a bunch of long-shots?

One A-maze-ing Hatebear

One of the best ways for blue-based Vintage decks to beat aggro-control decks is simply to overwhelm them with card advantage: Ancestral Recall, Gush, Brainstorm, Jace, and so on.

Spirit of the Labyrinth is an obvious foil to this plan, and it has a 3/1 body that isn’t terrible against other aggro or Workshops, where it at least trades with Lodestone Golem. I don’t think Spirit will be quite the savior for aggro-control that some players suspect—there are still plenty of ways to remove it or ignore it—but it will definitely see play and will probably make some top eights.

Consider Spirit of the Labyrinth in a decklist like this, based on one played by Benjamin Crouzet to a top-four in a 58-player event:

The anti-tutoring abilities of Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor complement Spirit’s ability perfectly, forcing blue Vintage decks into one new card a turn to either find an answer or win the game. Having two creatures attack for five every turn will end the game quickly from there. In the meantime, there are plenty of other annoying, disruptive creatures and effects to lock out an opponent’s mana and their paths to victory.

It’s also worth noting that Spirit of the Labyrinth doesn’t stop Dark Confidant (yours or your opponent’s) or Necropotence, and that it won’t hurt Dredge at all unless you can force them to draw at some point. If they replace all their draws with dredges, Spirit never takes effect. Small tradeoffs.

Kiora’s Kombo Piece

In a format where Time Vault is a common win condition, Kiora’s Follower makes a lot of sense. It’s not as cheap as Vault’s little buddy, Voltaic Key, or as powerful as Tezzeret the Seeker, which gift-wraps the combo with a bow on top, but Follower has potential to work alongside a lot of things beyond Time Vault. It’s also better in general without Time Vault, acting as mana acceleration or swinging for two like a champ.

Consider that Tolarian Academy is already a powerful mana producer that could be used twice per turn with Kiora’s Follower, or that Gaea’s Cradle might similarly love to find a home in a blue-green creature-based control deck with a potential combo finish. Sensei’s Divining Top, Mana Vault, and Grim Monolith also appreciate free untaps and work well with Academy.  Bazaar of Baghdad draws and discards extra cards and could help fuel a threshold- or madness-based deck. Even Goblin Welder could potentially leave Mishra’s Workshop for a more colorful deck based on getting Time Vault into play or making a bunch of Wurmcoil Engine tokens.

There are a lot of options here, but nothing is immediately obvious. The important part is that Kiora’s Follower has some useful features on its own in addition to having some strong synergies with several cards and a direct combo with Time Vault.

Crashing the Format

New blue planeswalkers always get some thought in Vintage, and they’re always compared to either Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or Tezzeret the Seeker. Kiora, the Crashing Wave, is no different. Since she can’t win the game in one turn, like Tezz, most of her comparisons go to Jace. Notably, she costs four and draws cards; unfortunately, she also has one fewer ability, and none of her abilities is a could be restricted Vintage card. More importantly, where Jace can use his +2 fateseal ability to get out of range of many attacks (including Lightning Bolt), Kiora’s +1 still leaves her vulnerable, even in aggro-light Vintage. Worse still, her +1 is best against a lone creature, which will often be something like Blightsteel Colossus or Griselbrand. Good luck if something goes wrong in that situation.

Where Kiora might see play is in a Gush-based deck, possibly in combination with Lotus Cobra. Cobra has fallen out of vogue in the format recently, but it’s still got some play in it as a combo-facilitating mana accelerant, and Kiora helps take advantage of extra landfall triggers and Gushed lands with her Explore ability. Using her to prevent some damage, gain the upper hand, and then aid in a combo turn might make her playable, but she’ll be competing for spots against proven Vintage four-drops.

What About Bob?

Pain Seer also mimics, but doesn’t quite match, a current Vintage powerhouse. Dark Confidant is a cheap, efficient, reliable draw engine. It’s playable turn one off a Mox, and it draws an extra card every turn at the cost of a resource that’s mostly expendable. Pain Seer, on the other hand, requires its user to jump through some hoops to see some benefit. In this case, it has to untap, meaning that if you’re planning on just attacking to draw cards, you’ll get your first card two turns after it hits play. And you still lose the life.

Pain Seer isn’t quite as bad as Blood Scrivener in this regard, but there’s no instance where your deck doesn’t start with either four Dark Confidants for consistent drawing or four Ad Nauseams if you’re planning on putting some crazy untap-a-creature-draw-a-card engine together. That said, I have definitely played decks that cried out for more than the legal number of Dark Confidant (UWB Wizards! was one of them), and Pain Seer could fill that role as numbers five or six.

The inspired mechanic is weak in Vintage since, without help, it will naturally activate two turns after the creature enters play. This is slow in a format with Black Lotus; people lose games between casting Oath and triggering it next turn. None of the inspired creatures has an effect worth waiting that long for, and none is worth trying to facilitate with other questionably playable cards.

Waving Goodbye

When I reviewed Theros a few months ago, I mentioned Curse of the Swine as a potential playable because it was mass removal in blue. Whelming Wave is new blue mass removal, probably cheaper but definitely temporary. It bounces Blightsteel Colossus but costs a ton of mana against Workshops.  At least it has the benefit of not leaving a ton of 2/2s in play for your opponent to attack with.

Mono-blue decks are resilient against Wasteland and can play cards like Back to Basics along with a full suite of counterspells. Whelming Wave could fit right into a mono-blue build as a way to fight back against creatures. In the end, as usual, it’s easier to splash colors for actual removal like Toxic Deluge or Pyroclasm and get the other benefits of those colors, like tutors or burn.

Who knows, though? Maybe Wave encourages the use of Inkwell Leviathan as a Tinker target again.

And the Rest

There are other cards that could get tested in Vintage but that probably won’t ultimately make the cut. Courser of Kruphix and Oracle of Bones have powerful effects but don’t quite push the envelope enough, mana-wise. Brimaz, King of Oreskos, could be the finisher for a cat deck (or soldiers if you want to be boring), leading Qasali Pridemage, Leonin Relic-Warder, and Leonin Arbiter into battle, but that tribe probably isn’t deep enough, and Brimaz’s effect is only fair in Vintage. Sanguimancy would be neat in a Dark Times deck if it didn’t cost five. Hero of Iroas, Meletis Astronomer, and other heroic creatures could find a home in an Enchantress-style deck, but those have most often been about making lots of mana and drawing lots of cards, rather than buffing creatures for the win.

Another thing I find interesting about new releases is the attention that some cards get either as straight reprints or as very slight upgrades to cards that already exist. Most of these cards are going to be roleplayers or sideboard cards, but they’re easily exchanged with other options if they’re not available. These are cards like Revoke Existence (reprint), Reckless Reveler (rename of Torch Fiend), Unravel the Aether (rename of Deglamer), Bile Blight (harder to cast Echoing Decay that kills Lodestone Golems), and Drown in Sorrow (Infest with scry). Playable? Maybe.  If you like. There are benefits to exiling in a format with Yawgmoth’s Will, for example, and to killing Lodestones. You could also use more efficient cards like Nature’s Claim or Toxic Deluge instead, and if those are available options, I’d probably do that.

The one of these common card types that does hold some interest is Thassa’s Rebuff, a conditional counterspell that might find some use in blue-based Merfolk or Fish decks. Rebuff’s major benefit is that it can target anything, setting it apart from things like Spell Pierce or Flusterstorm, and Spell Snare, all of which see play currently. The drawbacks—needing one or more blue permanents in play and costing an extra mana—are things that can be overcome in deckbuilding. Perhaps Merfolk will play one or two as late-game counters, or maybe RUG Delver will include an additional True-Name Nemesis or Vendilion Clique over Tarmogoyf to demonstrate its devotion.

As with any new set, I look forward to Born of the God’s making its mark on the Magic the Gathering world. The flavor in Theros block runs high, so even without any cards that interest me as far as playability, I’d still have a ton of fun going through the set list to catch the references to Greek gods and heroes of old. And as usual, I hope I’ve grossly overlooked something that someone breaks Vintage wide open with.

Good luck!
Nat Moes
@GrandpaBelcher

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