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The Vintage Advantage: Cruising Toward Victory!

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

08_12 The Vintage Advantage
I may have been wrong about Treasure Cruise.

Two weekends ago, Bob Huang played a UR Delver deck featuring Treasure Cruise to first place at an SCG Open in Legacy.

Spurred by that list and receiving my Khans of Tarkir cards in the mail, I put together a Vintage deck with Treasure Cruise in it and have been impressed with the results. There are still some challenges to overcome, but my theory is that, if I can just draw more cards, I’ll overcome them.

First, let’s take a look at Huang’s list and just how close it is to Vintage. Honestly, you could probably take this to your local Vintage event and do pretty well with it. Add a maindeck bounce spell like Steel Sabotage for an opponent’s Blightsteel Colossus, maybe a Merchant Scroll and Mystical Tutor to find it, and you’re ready to go. If anyone tries to call you out for playing four copies of Brainstorm and Ponder, which are restricted in the format, just kick them under the table.

In all seriousness, Huang’s list is very close to the UR and RUG Delver and Pyromancer lists that have been played in Vintage for the past couple years: efficient creatures come into play early and then get backed up by cheap, effective counterspells and removal. You can remove three Brainstorm and three Ponder and add four Gush, Ancestral Recall, and Time Walk, and you’ll be ready to go.

Compare Huang’s list to the RUG Delver list that Stephen Menendian is playing in the second set of rounds of the Vintage Super League and you’ll see what I mean:

Menendian’s deck uses green for Ancient Grudge and Trygon Predator to answer threats from Workshop decks, but again, it’s made of cheap creatures, effective answers, and efficient draw spells. It wouldn’t take a mental leap to fit the Treasure Cruises from Huang’s deck into Menendian’s.

Both decks, however, harken back to the old Grow-style lists first imagined by Alan Comer in Extended in 1997. The idea was to overwhelm your opponent with card advantage both real and virtual, using your cantrips and draw spells. With enough cards to rip through your deck quickly, you could also remove lands from your list, leaving you with more “real” cards to draw as a result. Comer’s initial list had 10 lands(!), plus Land Grants and all his draw spells.

This theory and similar lists made it to Vintage as well and were fueled by unrestricted Gush, Brainstorm, and Merchant Scroll, along with Fastbond and the tutors to find it. Fastbond and Gush together made a powerful card-drawing and mana-making engine that won through Psychatog and Quirion Dryad. The deck was called GAT, short for Gro-a-Tog. Dryad grew as players chained draw spells and cheap counters, and Psychatog could eat the graveyard and excess cards in hand to put the game away with Berserk. The draw engine’s dominance led to Gush’s restriction in 2003; nothing could outdraw that card.

Wizards decided to give Gush another chance in 2007 (probably partly in appeasement for simultaneously restricting Gifts Ungiven), and the Grow decks returned. Development proceeded rapidly, and the tempo-based GAT decks were joined by Gush Tendrils combo decks and a Gush Oath deck that won with Tidespout Tyrant. (Tyrant let you make infinite mana and storm with Moxes and then win with Brain Freeze.) Vintage players were saddened but unsurprised when Gush was restricted again a year later. Wizards further upended the format by restricting Brainstorm, Merchant Scroll, and the recently printed Ponder along with it.

That wasn’t the end for Gush, though. Workshops had always been a natural predator for the Grow-style Gush-based decks, so when Lodestone Golem was printed in 2010 and Workshops dominated, Wizards decided Gush was once again safe and unrestricted it. Now in its third age, Gush has been good but safe, again used in combo decks (now with Talrand and Tendrils) and tempo decks (like the various colors of Delver).

So what does Treasure Cruise have to do with all of this? Well, based on Huang’s deck from the SCG Open, Treasure Cruise should fit right into these Grow-style decks, functioning as a second, powerful draw spell, essentially replacing the restricted Ponder and Brainstorm. I started with something closer to the four-color GAT lists, but, as I mentioned, you could add Treasure Cruise to UR Delver or RUG Delver and have similar results, perhaps with a better manabase. Here’s what I’m looking at:

I’m still testing, so I’m not saying this is the hot new thing yet, but here’s what I’ve noticed so far.

It’s easy to fill your graveyard to cast Treasure Cruise. This list can regularly Cruise on turn three, which is usually right on time to refill your hand, similar to working with Gush. After that, if things are going well and you’re drawing cards and making mana steadily, you’ll be able to play additional Cruises on turns five and six. Cruise and Gush work well together, so it’s not out of the ordinary to draw five or seven or eight extra cards in a turn. If you draw more cards than you can play, discarding at end of turn just fuels the next Cruise.

It’s a huge benefit that both Treasure Cruise and Gush avoid Mental Misstep (and Spell Snare and Misdirection, I suppose). Being able to cast your big draw spells without worrying about annoying counterspells like that is comforting. It also allows you to draw and save your counters for bigger fish. You still have to watch out for Mana Drain of course, but that can be managed.

The deck uses its graveyard aggressively, so I don’t think Tarmogoyf will be as good a win condition as it was for the previous round of GAT decks. The opponent’s graveyard might not be enough to grow Goyf, especially in the Workshop match where it needs to tangle with Lodestone Golems. Young Pyromancer grows horizontally to fill the board, and its Elementals help make it less susceptible to spot removal. Quirion Dryad grows vertically, so it can dodge damage and fight opposing creatures, but it is weak against Jace, the Mind Sculptor. This happens automatically; all you have to do is play Magic cards.

Other options for win conditions would include Delver of Secrets, Empty the Warrens, and Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus or Time Vault. All of these merit testing. I like the Monastery Swiftspears’ haste from Huang’s list, but it seems like it dies to a lot of removal and has trouble protecting itself. Another possibility, Chasm Skulker probably costs one too many, since playing one after your first Gush or Cruise seems like a missed opportunity. Mental Misstep and Misdirection (especially for Abrupt Decay) will do their best to protect any of your creatures, as well as otherwise disrupting your opponent.

Going back to the graveyard issue, Treasure Cruise and Yawgmoth’s Will have so far not collided too heavily. GAT liked Yawgmoth’s Will plenty, but Will was more frequently used to gain advantage than as a game-winning spell. (Time Walk was often a better restricted spell for the deck.) In this deck, resolving Yawgmoth’s Will or Treasure Cruise with a sizable graveyard has a similar effect: you bury your opponent.

Challenges this deck will face include BUG Fish’s Deathrite Shamans and Abrupt Decays and, as with all Grow decks, Workshops. Deathrite should be too slow to keep up with your graveyard filling ability, and it’s important to remember that Treasure Cruise can be cast without delving completely. As I mentioned, the two Misdirections are specifically for Abrupt Decay. You can also bring the Tinker and Inkwell Leviathan in from the board (Leviathan for shroud and because it can be pitched to Force or Misdirection if you draw it).

Workshops are a more difficult problem, necessitating multiple answers in the board as well as an additional basic land to dodge Wasteland. Treasure Cruise helps in that delve can help pay through Sphere of Resistance effects, but you will still have to deal with multiple threats and a primary plan that really hurts yours. I’ve tried to spread things out across colors and casting costs. The sideboard I’ve listed, which will bring in 12 cards against many Workshop decks, will still not be enough in some games. Hurkyl’s Recall and something reusable, like Viashino Heretic, might also deserve consideration.

Another significant threat, for obvious reasons, is Notion Thief, which will have to be countered immediately. If that card gains more popularity than it currently has, a build that splashes red for a quartet of Lightning Bolts might be in order.

I’m planning on working on this list more in the next few weeks, and I imagine other Vintage mages will be working on similar lists that combine Gush and Treasure Cruise. They fit naturally together, and Gush decks will benefit from a powerful mid-game draw spell that essentially lets them run five Ancestral Recalls. I’m excited to see where this ends up.

Draw more cards!
Nat Moes

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