It’s interesting when newly printed Magic: The Gathering cards affect Vintage as much as Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time have. I’ve mentioned before that Vintage has high inertia: it goes through periods of very little change and then rolls through adjustments all at once when it’s pushed. That seems to be what’s happening now. Suddenly the format is in upheaval as players strive to play or beat delve, and the earth shakes with players crying out for other cards to be unrestricted, either to beat the new hotness or because they just don’t stack up anymore.
In my opinion, restriction for Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time would be jumping the gun. Cruise especially has proved itself a powerful addition to the Vintage metagame. It put Delver, an already good deck, to the upper echelons of power and helped make Jeskai Ascendancy Combo a thing. Dig Through Time has also put up results and may in the end prove to be more powerful than Cruise in Vintage, where cherry-picking the best spells is often better than simply drawing more of them.
However, there are still questions remaining. Are people playing them in disproportionate numbers? Has either of them unbalanced the metagame? Are opponents even attempting to beat the delve mechanic? Even more, do they feel compelled to really beat the delve mechanic with extra cards (like Rest in Peace or Spirit of the Labyrinth) specific to the matchup and few others?
I would answer “no” to all of these. That doesn’t mean Vintage won’t get to the point where Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time have to be restricted, but it isn’t here yet. Check again in the spring, after Dragons of Tarkir.
Another interesting point about these two delve spells is that they’re actually easier to combat unrestricted. Once they’re restricted, Cruise and Dig will likely join the ranks of blue and black draw spells that appear as one-ofs in all or nearly all decks that can play them. Who doesn’t want a second Ancestral Recall? Unrestricted, if people are playing them in significant amounts, they turn the graveyard into a legitimate resource that can be hated with good reason by appropriate removal. Take out delve decks along with Yawgmoth’s Will, Snapcaster Mage, and Dredge. The metagame would shift, for sure, but changes like these keep the format interesting.
We’ll see what happens, of course. Let’s see what’s in Fate Reforged!
Magic Made Manifest
The second set in Khans block again adds some new options for Vintage players, starting with the manifest mechanic. Manifest finally allows players to (legally) morph non-creatures into play and, if those cards happen to be creatures, they can be turned face up by paying their mana cost. This might remind some players of the old combination of Illusionary Mask and Phyrexian Dreadnought since the wall of teeny-tiny text on Mask basically says the same thing: put Dreadnought into play face down so you can avoid its enters-the-battlefield drawback and flip it into a 12/12. This combo has been used in various decks, often with Trinket Mage to find the Dreadnought and with Stifle, which can counter (and thereby avoid) Dreadnought’s triggered ability as well.
In Fate Reforged any of the manifest cards will work to put Phyrexian Dreadnought into play drawback free, as long as you can ensure it’s the top card in your library. Sensei’s Divining Top, Worldly Tutor, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, are all options for getting Dreadnought into the right place, so that’s doable. Cloudform and Write into Being seem like reasonable options for manifesting, then. Cloudform would be especially good since it gives Dreadnought flying and hexproof, a huge advantage in a format with other creatures and Abrupt Decay. Rageform is a fun option too, since a double-striking 12/12 wins in one swing.
Combos with Phyrexian Dreadnought haven’t been played much recently, probably because of Abrupt Decay and because Dreadnought stacks up poorly against Blightsteel Colossus (as opposed to Darksteel Colossus). It would be neat to see them come back.
Hey, Hey, We’re the Monks
When Young Pyromancer was printed, the Vintage community rapidly picked up on its potential as a card that gets better just by playing Magic. Now the community is comparing the merits of Young Pyromancer to Monastery Mentor, printed in Fate Reforged. Mentor compares favorably. Its only downside is a cost of one more mana. Beyond that it has higher toughness, triggers on more spells (any non-creature, not just instants and sorceries), and creates better tokens because they have prowess, helping them survive removal and opposing forces. Mentor will almost certainly be Vintage playable.
Prowess is the real difference-maker here since it means Mentor and its Monks become lethal much faster than Young Pyromancer and its Elementals. The list I played last weekend could be a good place to start:
Uw Delve Spells, by Nat Moes
Originally the list played red over white for Pyromancer and Lightning Bolts. The goal with this deck is to out-draw your opponents to always have counters for their threats. Of course, if you have Monastery Mentorin play, every draw spell and counter you play also becomes a creature as well. It’s a great way to combine control and combo.
There are a lot of directions to go with Mentor. Some are similar to those with Pyromancer, others will look more like new decks, if only because of the color difference.
Get off My Time Stream!
When Treasure Cruise was spoiled, players wondered what other Power Nine cards would be printed with delve. Then Temporal Trespass—delve Time Walk—was printed in Fate Reforged. We’ve seen other Time Walk effects at higher mana costs (Time Warp) and with miracle (Temporal Mastery) and others that are difficult to setup or have a significant drawback, like Seedtime, Final Fortune, or Savor the Moment.
Time Walk is so powerful because its mana cost is so cheap. In the early game against Workshops, for example, it can be played as an upgraded Explore just to get another land into play. In the later game, you can use it for a second chance to resolve a major spell, reloading mana if your first bomb gets countered. And Time Walk’s effectiveness only increases if you have creatures or planeswalkers in play who can attack or use abilities again.
Delve has shown itself to be not too difficult to set up, so I don’t expect that to be the problem (although Trespass won’t chain into future Trespasses like Treasure Cruises do). Instead, the required three blue mana are more likely to be the limiting factor on Trespass’s power. That makes it difficult to play alongside another big spell (at least without the help of Black Lotus), so the better uses are going to come from decks with creatures. Delver decks (or Monastery Mentor decks) would love to have an extra Time Walk effect to finish off opponents, for example.
I think Temporal Trespass will probably see some play and may even end up in some top-eight lists, but like other non-Time Walk cards that give an extra turn, its use will probably decrease as players discover it’s easier (and cheaper, mana-wise) just to find and play actual Time Walk.
Burning Down the House
It might not seem like an eight-mana, non-artifact planeswalker would be a candidate for play in Vintage, but there are some Mishra’s Workshopplayers who are very excited for Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. It probably won’t revolutionize the archetype, but it will probably see some play.
Ugin’s abilities affect the board as soon as they enter play and give the Workshop player answers to things like Trygon Predator and Null Rod. The ultimate ability is also a viable game winner that can bury your opponent in card and mana advantage. Truly, the issue is that eight non-Workshop mana can be difficult to come by. Workshop decks can certainly go back to using Metalworker, but they may also need to play Expedition Map for Tolarian Academy or add Grim Monolith to the mix to ensure that Ugin is playable as necessary.
Other New Toys in the Workshop
As with any new set, there are new artifact options for Workshop decks too. Most of them are passable, simply in comparison with previously printed pieces, but some see play as people test them or see the need for whatever they bring. Goblin Boom Keg and Ugin’s Construct all have some potential.
Goblin Boom Keg could be used with Goblin Welder or even Buried Ruin as a recurring source of player damage or creature removal. Unfortunately, timing the explosion—at the beginning of your next turn, whether you like it or not—makes using the goblin technology awkward. Still, opposing creatures like Delver of Secrets and even Lodestone Golems can be a problem for Workshop decks; having a non-creature answer that’s not affected by Stony Silence could be a boon.
Ugin’s Construct is a potential Workshop play as well, mostly because it doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt. Juggernaut, Precursor Golem, and Lodestone Golem have all been important parts of Workshop Aggro decks in the past, but they all fall victim to common red removal. As a four-drop with no drawback in a colorless deck, Ugin’s Construct dodges that particular bullet and survives a host of other problems as well. Other than being a body, though, it does nothing to affect the board, so it might not go far enough to see regular play.
Other Cards to Note…
As far as interesting cards go, I think Tasigur, the Golden Fang, is up there. He probably doesn’t make the cut in Vintage, but a 4/5 for one mana (with delve) is intriguing as an aggressive card, and his ability to “draw” cards and self mill could be part of a control package. He could fit into a BUG Control list alongside Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay as a finisher to replace Tarmogoyf. It’s a longshot, especially since he compares poorly to Lodestone Golem on the battlefield, but it could happen.
Frost Walker is another interesting aggressive creature. It may surprise some people that Dandan was played in Vintage for a while, since a two-drop four-power creature can end the game in a hurry, especially with a few friends to attack alongside. Walker is similarly aggressive, and its drawback is less severe. Most of the creature removal that could target it would kill or remove a 4/1 anyway.
Reality Shift could be a strong utility spell in Vintage. I don’t think it will make great waves in the format, but it does take any creature and turn it into a vanilla 2/2. This is obviously going to be more effective against Blightsteel Colossus and Griselbrand, for example, than an aggro-control deck’s suite of other 2/2s. Against decks with lots of creatures (including Workshops) the manifest ability could become a liability, as you could give your opponent something equally bad or worse and have made it uncounterable. Plus, when you really need to save yourself from damage, you’ll need something better than Reality Shift.
Abzan Beastmaster is a neat option for creature-based decks as either a substitute for Dark Confidant or as additional copies of it. And Beastmaster’s ability doesn’t deal damage! Unfortunately Beastmaster alone loses the toughness battle to a lot of commonly played cards, but playing Beastmaster alongside Tarmogoyf could help shore up that weakness. I’d be pretty excited to see if Beastmaster, Bob, Tarmogoyf, and Deathrite Shaman could keep up with current Delver decks. There might be something there.
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, has potential application in creature-based control decks that want to use their graveyard aggressively, perhaps with Dark Confidant and Bazaar of Baghdad as a draw engine. Not only can Alesha reuse creatures killed in combat or by removal, she can also turn any discarded or milled into a resource as well. Humans decks with Cavern of Souls can probably make good application of her, and we’re getting close to a Warriors deck as well, I think (cf. Mardu Woe-Reaper and others).
Of course Vintage is an great format in that any card printed in a new set is technically playable. Making it into a tournament list is a big step, making a top eight is even more impressive. I like when Wizards prints cards that deserve even the first level of consideration, and they’ve done that with good regularity recently.
Thanks for reading!
Trackback from your site.