The Journey into Nyx is upon us, so it’s time to pack up Magic the Gathering’s new releases and get on the road. This set has gotten some positive attention, compared to the other sets in its block. Speculation is hopping even on The Mana Drain, to the tune of 17 single-card discussion threads, a surprising number considering how good a card has to be to make its presence known in Vintage.
That maybe demonstrates excitement and enthusiasm more than playability, though. I’m not sure all 17 of those cards deserve discussion (or consideration, much lest testing), but there are some interesting new possibilities. You can read through the first part of my Theros review to see what I’m looking for especially.
Disciple of Deceit – Learning to Fly
At the top of the heap for Vintage is Disciple of Deceit. Tutors are an integral part of blue and black’s strategy in the format, and Disciple happens to be a blue and black creature that allows its controller to tutor every time it untaps. Having ready access to Ancestral Recall, Time Vault, and Tinker makes a pretty clear path to victory, and since Vintage decks skew toward the lower end of casting costs anyway, players shouldn’t have too much trouble finding cards to throw to the Disciple’s ability. It gets even more interesting if you take madness and flashback cards into consideration. Basking Rootwalla for Ancestral? Deep Analysis for Jace?
As a creature, Disciple will die to all of the removal spells commonly used in Vintage. It survives combat with creatures like Dark Confidant and Snapcaster Mage, but if the opponent has Lodestone Golem, Tarmogoyf, or Vintage’s other large fauna, Disciple will be useless without another way to tap and untap it.
So let’s talk a bit about the inspired mechanic a bit. I mentioned in my Born of the Gods review that Pain Seer is weak in Vintage because it takes so long to come online by itself: one turn to cast, one to attack, and you draw the card at the beginning of your third turn. Disciple has a similar lag, except that it’s also going to be harder to play on turn one because of its double-colored cost. Drawing a card isn’t worth putting extra effort into, but tutoring might be. As such, there might room for a deck that uses Disciple of Deceit (and Pain Seer?) with Springleaf Drum, Aura of Dominion, or Hidden Strings to trigger inspired sooner or more reliably. Even something like Maze of Ith could have a bit of a resurgence to attack with Disciple, deal damage, and untap before the second main phase.
Mana Confluence – Come Together
City of Brass has been an important part of many Vintage mana bases over the years: Five-Color Stax, four- and five-color control decks, and Dredge, among others. Mana Confluence is a near functional reprint to City of Brass and will almost certainly see play in that regard. There will be decks that want more than four reliable fixers, and some will want all eight.
Other five-color lands—Undiscovered Paradise, Gemstone Mine, Cavern of Souls, and Forbidden Orchard—have different drawbacks and upsides. Undiscovered Paradise is perfect for triggering and re-triggering Bloodghast in Dredge, but it can set you back if you need to use frequently over several turns; Gemstone Mine is great for three uses but can die at critical times; and Cavern is brilliant in creature decks but is still colorless for counterspells and other important spells. Forbidden Orchard is already a necessary part of Oath of Druids decks, but spirit tokens add up quickly.
The reliability tax for City of Brass and Mana Confluence merely means that your life drops by one, but the mechanism is slightly different. City of Brass has a triggered damage when ever it taps for any reason. That means City will deal damage if you tap it to a Workshop player’s Tangle Wire; you can be at one life and still use it to cast a lethal Lightning Bolt at your opponent; and you can tap it for mana under Platinum Angel, even with no life. All of these are opposite for Mana Confluence. So there are differences in very specific instances, and decisions need to be made when you’re choosing how many and what kinds of five-color lands to play.
Aegis and Eidolon – A Whiter Shade of Pale
White creatures have good playability in Vintage; they’re frequently efficient and have disruptive abilities that fit the format. Spirit of the Labyrinth was printed in Born of the Gods and has made a few top eight appearances as four-ofs in mono-white, Junk, and Esper aggro control decks. Likewise Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, from Dark Ascension. Journey into Nyx presents two similar disruptive dudes, Aegis of the Gods and Eidolon of Rhetoric.
Aegis of the Gods is almost certainly an improvement on True Believer, which has been used in Vintage as a creature-based answer to Oath of Druids and Tendrils of Agony. One drawback on True Believer, beyond its double-white casting cost, is that it also prevents you from casting Ancestral Recall on yourself. Aegis improves on both of these, being easily played off a land and a mox and preventing only your opponent from targeting you.
Eidolon is Rule of Law on legs. The enchantment doesn’t really see too much play in Vintage, but giving it a power and toughness might change that. Attacking for one isn’t impressive, but four toughness can block a lot of things in the format and won’t die to Lightning Bolt. The Rule of Law effect is big in Vintage since so many decks want to chain spells and tutors, whether storming or not. It also combos with Erayo’s Essence to lock out any opponent who doesn’t have Abrupt Decay. This card gives Rule of Law a 12-card redundancy, along with Arcane Laboratory—definitely to the point where one could build around that effect alone.
Another interesting thing to note about these creatures is that they’re also enchantments. This makes them slightly more vulnerable to removal since Nature’s Claim is a commonly played sideboard card against Oath of Druids. The real threats are still going to be board wipers like Toxic Deluge. In the end, I expect Aegis of the Gods to see more play than Eidolon of Rhetoric, but the important thing to remember overall is that the number of creatures in Vintage is on the rise, so you’ll want to have appropriate sideboard cards available.
Flamespeaker and Eidolon II – Light My Fire
Flamespeaker provides a source of card advantage as soon as it can start attacking (no waiting for inspired to trigger), and with double strike, if it connects, it’s effectively drawing two cards a turn. In an aggro-control deck built around two-drops, that will mean drawing two playables after attacking. Double strike also makes it effective in combat, even as a 1/3, though it still fails the Lodestone Golem test. The real danger is that, as a three-drop it’s a mid-game play that does nothing tangible to slow down the opponent that turn. You’ll have to use turns one and two to do that.
Eidolon of the Great Revel is a revamped Pyrostatic Pillar, which has been used in Vintage as a tool against combo and the format’s blue decks full of cantrips. Pillar is a difficult card to capitalize on since the opponent can just wait for removal or a plan that doesn’t rely on cheaper spells. Eidolon, on the other hand, brings a clock along with its deterrent ability. The opponent can’t wait forever to try to play through it; in fact it just gets more difficult.
A few other cards warrant attention, but they might be destined for the truly mad Vintage scientist to build around.
Kruphix’s Insight – Six Silver Strings
If you’ve played Ancient Stirrings in Modern, you know how powerful looking five cards deep can be, and Kruphix’s Insight digs six cards. John “serracollector” Knight proposed an Oath of Druids-Animate Dead shell on The Mana Drain, based around the card. His list started with this:
This looks like a good plan. Kruphix’s Insight works here to find Oath or Animate and to dump any Griselbrands in the graveyard for reanimation. Once you get the 7/7 flying, lifelinking demon into play, you can probably win at your leisure, either by drawing control pieces or by drawing into a combo. He also suggested Pernicious Deed and Seal of Primordium as enchantments to dig for; Fastbond and Necropotence are already good Vintage plays as well. Beyond the incentive to play a bunch of enchantments, which is a challenge, the big drawback is Kruphix’s Insight being a sorcery.
Athreos – Paint It Black
We’ve also seen the full series of God enchantment creatures. Devotion is not a great mechanic in Vintage. Most decks are built around spells rather than permanents, and many of those built around permanents are built around artifacts (i.e. Workshop decks) or they use the best creatures from several colors. So looking at the gods means looking at them almost solely for their enchantment ability compared to their mana cost.
Most of the gods, from this set and the others, are going to be out of the question. Keranos, God of Storms, for example, has a great Vintage ability that will either draw an additional card or cast a Lightning Bolt. Unfortunately, it’s a five-drop. That’s a hefty cost for a card that won’t win the game quickly and will be almost impossible to resolve quickly against Dredge or Combo or at all against Workshop decks.
The one god that intrigues me is Athreos, God of Passage, which is a three-drop. In a white-and-black-based aggro-control deck, with the help of Deathrite Shaman, Dark Confidant, Leonin Relic-Warder, and Tidehollow Sculler, Athreos would have a chance to become a creature, as well as making your creatures more difficult to deal with. This probably wouldn’t be a maindeck card, but it might make a good sideboard against opposing creature decks and those with a lot of removal. Bringing in a potential 5/4 against those opponents is potentially strong.
Draka Mystic – Shot through the Heart
The last card I want to mention is Draka Mystic. The mana cost is right; the creature types are already used; and it’s got a reusable ability that’s disruptive if used in the right way. Unfortunately, I also think it’s resource intensive and will rarely be disruptive enough. Having your opponent draw cards in Vintage is incredibly dangerous. Even if you’re drawing Tinker and they’re drawing some apparently useless card, you’re still digging them further into a deck filled with really good Vintage-playable cards and answers. Your other option is to have them discard a card in a format that has Snapcaster Mage and Yawgmoth’s Will. Yes, you control the choice, but I think your blue mana might be better spent elsewhere.
So that’s my roadmap for the Journey into Nyx via Vintage. Other cards might see play as role-players or sideboard cards, but these could have a place in some maindecks, potentially even in new constructions. Even though Vintage might have a demanding list of needs for a card to be playable, it’s always exciting going through spoilers, guessing what will be good, and seeing what actually makes it into a top-eight list.
Thanks for reading!
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