It’s Magic: The Gathering release season once again, so I’m sure everyone has been poring over spoilers lists for Khans of Tarkir. Unless you’re into the surprises that come with a new, of course, then you kept your eyes and ears shut until last weekend’s prerelease. Regardless of how you handle it, I hope you enjoyed it and are looking forward to another block filled with gold.
I mentioned during some of my Return to Ravnica block revues that heavily multiclored blocks present an interesting dilemma for Vintage. Gold cards are often relatively powerful for their converted mana costs; however, heavily colored cards (like the tri-color legends of Khans) are tricky to cast and can end up being a liability when there are other, more efficient, single-colored cards available. That doesn’t mean Khans will be a waste for Vintage, though. There are some cards with interesting potential that might see some play. Others, of course, will be there waiting for some future innovator to bring into the light of the game’s most powerful format.
The Fetchlands Return
I was gifted with fortunate foresight and secured a playset of the Onslaught fetchlands when they first rotated out of Standard in 2005. I’m glad to see them return, of course, since I know how happy it will make some people. Fetchlands are everywhere in Vintage. They were used when Brainstorm was a four-of, and now they’re good with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. They allow three- and four-color decks alongside dual lands, protect your mana sources, and provide valuable shuffle effects if you draw your Tinker or Oath of Druids target.
If you’re playing Vintage, I would definitely recommend picking up at least Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand. Having those along with Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn will ensure you have access to any blue dual lands and basic Islands you need as well as a secondary basic land that will help you play around Wastelands from Mishra’s Workshop decks. Being able to cast Dark Confidant or Disenchant without worrying about an Underground Sea or Tundra is a nice feeling.
Non-blue fetches you can pick up if you think you’ll play them—basically if you like hatebears of various colors or want to get creative. I’ve played Bloodstained Mire in Grixis combo decks before, especially those that lean more on black cards than blue. Likewise Mire and Wooded Foothills have been used in Jund and Goblin decks in the format, and Windswept Heath would be played in Junk and hatebears lists that want white for the disruptive creatures and removal that color brings to the table.
Morph in Vintage
Morph as an ability rarely appears in Vintage. A few morph creatures are played sporadically, but the mechanic is an afterthought to what they actually do. For example, I’ve played Voidmage Prodigy in UWB Wizards, but that’s because I could Aether Vial it into play and counter Tinker without worrying about Force of Will or Flusterstorm. I suppose if I were desperate for a 2/2 instead of a 2/1 I’d play it as a morph, but those times would be few.
For a morph creature to see play in Vintage, it would have to trigger cheaply to do something expensive. Fathom Seer (from Time Spiral) is intriguing for that reason, but it hasn’t been played either, largely because you have to play a three-drop 2/2 before you can Gush. Gush is good because it can be free! Likewise, the small creatures in Khans that morph by revealing a card aren’t going to cut it. None of the morphs in this set will affect Vintage. If any morph in Khans block does, it will be playable primarily without morph.
Charmed, I’m Sure
Modal spells (and split cards and so on) present the promise of options to deckbuilders, so a cycle of Charms usually draws some interest during spoiler season, even for Vintage. Izzet Charm from Return to Ravnica for example has been tested in UR Landstill and Slaver builds, filling removal, counter, and card-draw roles. And I can recall a few instances of a Dredge deck’s Emerald Charms (from Visions) destroying a Leyline of the Void on one turn and grounding a Platinum Angel on another, crashing it into a horde of hungry zombies.
For Vintage, though, it often turns out that the quest for efficiency rules and the presence of tutors obviates the need for the Charms’ flexibility. That is: why play Izzet Charm when you can tutor for Lightning Bolt, Spell Pierce, or Brainstorm easily enough?
The previous cycle of three-mana Charms have seen little play, mostly because they end up being too expensive for what they offer. Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will cost three mana and are both easier to cast, for example, so there’s obvious competition in that slot. In Vintage, Abzan Charm and Sultai Charm present strong options and could slot into existing decks neatly; unfortunately, they’re competing with Abrupt Decay, which is uncounterable and one less mana. Mardu Charm’s instant-speed Duress mode is interesting, but I’m not sure it’s what that underplayed color combination is looking for.
Digging for Playability
Dig through Time and Treasure Cruise are the most notable new cards. In all formats, delve is an interesting ability that helps regulate when a high casting-cost spell can be played. The normal progression in Magic is to play lands then cast the spell on or around the turn corresponding to its casting cost (i.e. turn four for a four-drop). Delve lets you skip some of that development and play a more powerful spell earlier, as long as you’ve been doing other things—playing cantrips or counterspells or trading creatures—in the meantime.
Vintage is better than some formats at filling its graveyard for delve, thanks to its numerous decks built around fetchlands, cantrips, counterspells, and tutors, but it often wants access to cards in the graveyard later for Yawgmoth’s Will and Snapcaster Mage. There’s a tension there, but not one that can’t be overcome. You could even build your deck with Bazaar of Baghdad, Dack Fayden, and similar cards to accelerate the dig. Note also that delve can help you play around sphere effects.
If you want to try these (and they could be worth some time), I think that Dig through Time is a better card compared to Treasure Cruise. Assuming you delve the whole way and we’re just looking at colored mana costs, paying one extra blue to see seven cards and pick the two best at instant speed seems like a better deal. As a mid-game play, it can upend a stalemate, set up a combo, or solidify a winning position. It gets around Spirit of the Labyrinth and Notion Thief too.
Treasure Cruise could get tried in some blue-based Dredge lists where the draw works with dredge. Drawing three cards isn’t going to be bad in other decks either, but it comes down to the Demonic Tutor versus Ancestral Recall argument: would you rather have the one card you need or three random cards? I tend to prefer the specifics.
Junking up the Graveyard
Anafenza, the Foremost, could be an effective, one-of maindeck card in Junk or Humans decks. As a three-drop, she can be played on turn two in a format with moxes, Elvish Spirit Guide, Deathrite Shaman, and Noble Hierarch. The graveyard hating replacement effect is more relevant in Vintage simply because of Dredge. Dredge will find it very difficult to win against a 4/4 with their primary plan of Narcomoebas and Bloodghasts into Dread Return and Bridge from Below is shut off. This card would be better if it hindered Yawgmoth’s Will more, but I expect to see Anafenza make it into some lists.
Brooding New Wins
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, could be a game winner in BUG decks since she will take over a game on her own, without playing another spell. Free 2/2s will be threatening, and filling the graveyard makes more fodder for Snapcaster Mage, Deathrite Shaman, and Yawgmoth’s Will, all of which would fit naturally into the deck.
The bigger issue would be that Sidisi’s ability on its own is slow and it pushes an already graveyard-reliant deck like BUG Control further down that path. Opponents might not think to bring Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void in against Deathrithe and Snapcaster by themselves, but Sidisi, Deathrite, and Snapcaster almost certainly warrant that sideboard. And everyone has graveyard hate because of Dredge. It’s a strong card, but that strength might make it a liability.
Narsetting an Example
Any time Wizards prints a restricted card’s text on a creature, it’s worth considering that creature for Vintage. Griselbrand is a reasonable facsimile of Yawgmoth’s Bargain, for example, and has made its mark in various Oath of Druids, Dark Ritual, and Show and Tell decks. Mind’s Desire is similarly powerful, being worthy of emergency restriction in 2003 even before it was legal in the format. Narset, Enlightened Master, is similar to Desire, but her version has the benefit of not needing storm, so it’s considerably better with an empty hand.
Unfortunately, Narset herself is expensive and the Jeskai wedge doesn’t really have a home. A tempo or control deck could make the blue-white-red color combination work, similar to the UWR Control decks in Modern. However, Narset also loses some of her luster if she’s exiling counterspells and removal (and unplayable creatures) rather than the more powerful cards that Vintage is known for. It might be more promising in a combo deck: Auriok Salvagers-Black Lotus, Rest in Peace-Helm of Obedience, Kiki-Jiki, and Brain Freeze might be possibilities in those colors.
Ugin and Tonic
Ugin’s Nexus has good abilities but I don’t think it will see long-term play in Vintage. It would almost certainly be paired with Mishra’s Workshop, and Workshops has more reliable ways to take and stop extra turns than this. For one, they can play four Voltaic Keys and Time Vault, with Kuldotha Forgemaster to find them. For another, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Wasteland, and Tangle Wire are all great at buying “virtual turns” by setting the opponent back. Comparatively, Ugin’s Nexus for extra turns means jumping through extra hoops. And if you want to prevent your opponent’s Time Vault turns, Null Rod, Pithing Needle, and Phyrexian Revoker don’t cost five.
Still, this could be used profitably with Shrapnel Blast and Goblin Welder in a deck like the Legion of Doom list I talked about in What’s New in Vintage III. This will get played early on, but I don’t think it will last unless someone does something spectacular.
Shut it Down Hard
I like the idea of Stubborn Denial, but there are a lot of strong, efficient counterspells already in Vintage. Force Spike isn’t played but would still catch unsuspecting players and anyone short on mana. A hard counter for noncreature spells is definitely a consideration, though, and I think there might be enough powerful creatures in Vintage to try building a deck around it. Tarmogoyf is the obvious choice, and maybe Quirion Dryad will reappear since Young Pyromancer and Vendilion Clique don’t do anything with Stubborn Denial. Some combination of Illusory Angel, Esperzoa, Sea Drake, and Ensoul Artifact could show up in a mono-blue aggro control deck too.
Cutting to the Quick
Similar to Stubborn Denial, Murderous Cut is a potentially efficient and effective card that will compete with similar cards, each of which has its own benefits and drawbacks. I always look at black removal spells in Vintage for how they work alongside Dark Confidant, and at five converted mana, Murderous Cut doesn’t start out well, though it beats the limits on Dismember (only -5/-5) and Snuff Out (non-black).
The problem holding Murderous Cut back is that most of the creatures in Vintage need to be killed right away, before they overwhelm you with their ability or damage. If you have to wait to delve or make the mana naturally, it might be too late. Dead Drop and Set Adrift have similar issues as delve-based removal.
And the Rest
As always, plenty of cards are worth considering in Vintage. Often they would be situational or part of an experimental new deck, but it’s helpful to keep them in mind. I won’t write about them all in detail, but here’s what might be worth a second look:
- Suspension Field is a new way to deal with Tarmogoyf, Lodestone Golem, and Blightsteel Colossus.
- Clever Impersonator could have had great potential in Dark Depths decks if it could copy lands. Otherwise it competes with Sower of Temptation and Phyrexian Metamorph.
- Jeskai Elder is the best of the prowess creatures. It has the right price and color, as well as a strong digging ability. It would have been more exciting as a 2/1 or a flyer, though.
- That said, Jeskai Windscout costs too much.
- Pearl Lake Ancient has the right abilities to be a finisher in mono-blue decks, but Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, has similar abilities, costs less, and falls in line with what mono-blue wants to do.
- Bitter Revelation is close. If only it were one less mana or an instant, it would be playable in Vintage and broken elsewhere.
- Bloodsoaked Champion and Grim Haruspex have some good combo potential in various shells, together or separately. Haruspex can serve as insurance against removal, but I’m not sure that carries it far enough.
- Empty the Pits might see play for end-of-turn zombies.
- Necropolis Fiend has a good ability to go along with a Tombstalker-like frame. I like this card a lot against Delver of Secrets.
- Goblinslide is a fun card, but it won’t compare well to Empty the Warrens or Young Pyromancer.
- Howl of the Horde copying a Vintage-level spell seems awesome, but similar effects haven’t been played, mostly because adding to the cost removes from the power.
- Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, is a potential alternate win condition for Belcher in matches where you want more than Goblin Charbelcher and Empty the Warrens. It gets around some removal as well as Null Rod.
- The Tormenting Voice ability is close to playable on the right card. If only it were an instant or cost one less.
- Hardened Scales has some interesting combo potential alongside Arcbound Ravager and friends. I don’t know if all the cards exist yet to make a brand new deck, though. Keep an eye out for future cards.
- Rattleclaw Mystic is too much investment for the return.
- Savage Knuckleblade is aggressive and resilient, but three mana is a lot to keep open for that resiliency.
- Surrak Dragonclaw would be playable if he could be cast before your other creatures, when making them uncounterable would be better.
- Utter End is too expensive for removal, especially since Vindicate doesn’t see much play either.
- Zurgo Helmsmasher has a good suite of abilities and is big for his cost; the Mardu colors are little-played, however, outside of hate decks that might not want a non-disruptive five-drop.
- Altar of the Brood is a potential tutorable instant-win in Bomberman and other decks with a permanent generating combo.
That’s about it—plenty of potential Vintage fun, but nothing that will greatly upset the format. I look forward to seeing some of these cards popping up in tournaments as people try them out.
Thanks for reading!
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