The Vintage Advantage: Magic Origins and the NYSE Open

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08_12 The Vintage Advantage

I’m back from several weeks of vacation and ready to dive into the crucible of Vintage again! As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it will be a busy summer with a Team Serious Invitational, Gen Con, and Eternal Weekend, as well as a few local Vintage events. On top of it all, Magic Origins is being released and has some mammoth printings to look at for potential playability.

From a bird’s-eye view, I like the feel of Magic Origins. I’ve always appreciated the simplicity and frankness of base sets and will be sorry to see them go. Since the cards are generally simpler for newer players, they can end up with some lower-costed basic effects, which are great in Vintage where efficiency is so important. I also like some of the throwback ideas and references, even if they just mean reprints or name drops. Nostalgia is fun, and with a game that’s more than 20 years old, there’s a lot of fond memories to reminisce about.

Obviously we’ll start with some of that…

Day’s Undoing

Draw-sevens are splashy and fun effects. Everybody loves them and they’re completely balanced because all players go to the same number of cards in hand. Right? In all seriousness, Day’s Undoing—a revamped Timetwister (already a restricted member of the Power 9)—will almost certainly see Vintage play at some level. The drawback of ending the turn when you play it is significant but not crippling at that cost. In most uses of the original draw sevens, the idea was to empty your hand, refill it with mana available, and continue playing spells afterward—potentially ending with a game-winning Tendrils of Agony (or Goblin Charbelcher). On turn one this had the side effect of forcing a mulligan on your opponent, maybe leaving them with too much or too little mana. This gained spell advantage, doing more than your opponent.

With the “end the turn” clause, Day’s Undoing’s potential for spell advantage is limited. What you end up getting is relative card advantage: you might go from two cards in hand to seven, netting five; your opponent goes from seven cards to seven, netting zero. Let’s face it: that’s still pretty good.

Day’s Undoing has gotten a lot of attention in the Vintage community, and opinions are all over the map. Some see it as an amazing new piece for combo, generally fitting into something like Academy Belcher or Storm. Maybe it will be combined with Quicken or Leyline of Anticipation to overcome the turn-ending drawback. Other players think it’s going to be part of a more controlling deck, where it can refill a hand with cheap and free counters and then win at its leisure with a well-timed Tinker or Time Vault. And where some people think of it as amazing (potentially restrictable!) new technology, others see it as unplayable, another “fixed” piece of Power 9 that’s nerfed beyond its usefulness.

Personally, I’d say I fall in the middle. Day’s Undoing will be played in Vintage, but it won’t be restricted. Anyone keen on sleeving up Academy Belcher will almost certainly include some number of these. Using it with enablers like Leyline or Quicken is probably going to be too “cute” for consistent play, but people will try that too. Notion Thief is a powerful option, but the sequencing is a little off with the three-mana sorcery you want to cast after the four-mana creature. At the same time, a control deck that makes up for the drawback with lots of instants could do well, and would make an interesting addition to the format. Another interesting addition, similar to some of the ideas that have been suggested for Modern, would be to put Day’s Undoing into Affinity. That’s a reasonably fast aggro deck already thanks to Mishra’s Workshop, and being able to refill the hand and mess with people’s mulligans might push it just a little further.

Overall, I’m excited to see where this Day ends up. Despite its major limitation, it draws a lot of cards for a mana cost that Vintage players know is right.

Dark Petition

On the other hand, I’m not as excited about Dark Petition. It may be a Demonic Tutor with a built in Dark Ritual, but the initial cost is just too high to be reliable.

Most of the time, the spell mastery mechanic will be automatic in Vintage. It’s simple to build a deck with enough cantrips, acceleration, and cheap counters that there will be two instants and/or sorceries in the graveyard. This is partly why Dig Through Time is so good and Treasure Cruise was restricted. However, there are some important cases where spell mastery just won’t work. For example, in Vintage decks like Grim Long and TPS, one of the classic turn-one wins goes something like land, Mox, Mox, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Demonic Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will, replay Dark Ritual, replay Dark Ritual, replay Demonic Tutor for Tendrils of Agony. Dark Petition fits perfectly into this hand in place of the Demonic Tutor… for the first use. After the Yawgmoth’s Will and replaying the Dark Rituals (exiling them), there aren’t enough instants or sorceries in the graveyard to trigger spell mastery. Awkward.

Ultimately, while the effects of Dark Petition are very powerful (you could get Necropotence instead of Yawgmoth’s Will in the previous example), I think there are enough cases like that where Dark Petition will cost too much or not have spell mastery that it lacks the reliability necessary for popular Vintage play, especially in faster combo decks.

Worse still, it has a base cost of five, putting it way out of range against most Mishra’s Workshop opponents and their Sphere of Resistance effects, as well as any aggro decks playing Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and mana denial. Demonic Tutor is a powerful, low-investment spell, but Dark Petition takes a lot more effort to play and resolve to full effect.

I will also point out that as far as five-mana game-winning black spells go in Vintage, Ad Nauseam still exists and is mostly unplayed. Unlike Dark Petition, AdNaus has no restrictions on how it resolves and gets more cards when it does. If your Vintage deck wants to win the game with five black mana, Ad Nauseam might be the better way to go.

Et Cetera

Day’s Undoing and Dark Petition both have the pedigree to see play in Vintage, and they have the power to make some waves if they catch on. However, there is a surprising number of other cards with Vintage applications. Their addition probably won’t change the look of the format, but they’ll add a little to certain decks.

White Trash is one scary deck that uses the consistent power of white disruptive creatures and Cavern of Souls to stop a typical Vintage gameplan, hindering artifacts (Kataki, War’s Wage and Leonin Relic-Warder), spells (Thalia, Guardian of Thraben), drawing (Spirit of the Labyrinth), and tutoring (Aven Mindcensor, Leonin Arbiter). It can be a powerful deck if the right effects come together in the right amount. Magic Origins’ Vryn Wingmare adds another potential taxing effect to Thalia (along with Glowrider). The three-mana cost isn’t particularly exciting and it shares a creature type with nothing relevant for Cavern of Souls purposes, but flying is still relevant in the format, especially when it could be combined with equipment (especially Umezawa’s Jitte) and Stoneforge Mystic.

Personally, I’d like to see someone build a deck that starts with 4 Thalia, 4 Glowrider, 4 Vryn Wingmare, 4 Thorn of Amethyst, 4 Lodestone Golem, and 1 Trinisphere. All sphere effects all the time.

Elves! can be an exciting combo deck that overwhelms its opponent with creatures and tokens and a large amount of green mana. (Incidentally, the permanents and the mana make it somewhat resilient against Workshops.) Recent finishers in the deck—beyond attacking with 1/1 green guys, that is—have included Craterhoof Behemoth (attacking with 15/15 green guys) and Grapeshot, made lethal thanks to Glimpse of Nature and more elves. Shaman of the Pack is a new potential game-winner in Elves!, encouraging the use of Thoughtseize for disruption and providing a new way to win outside the combat phase. Green Sun’s Zenith finds it, and Wirewood Symbiote bounces it for additional uses.

Finally, I’m not sure if the Leyline Deck has a name, but the idea is to play plenty of the format’s decent Leylines (starting with Leyline of the Void, Leyline of Sanctity, and Leyline of Singularity), then use Serra’s Sanctum to make enough mana to put Opalescence into play and attack with free 4/4s, potentially killing on turn one. It’s a fun novelty deck, but it lacks some consistency since the animation effect won’t be in every opener. New in Magic Origins, Starfield of Nyx will add some consistency to the deck, acting as Opalescence five through eight, as necessary. It will still be a novelty deck because of the amount of room the Leylines take up, but it might see some new action.

Et Cetera, Et Cetera…

There are a few other cards that might have some applications but that likely won’t see a significant amount of play. They’ll show up in sideboards and as one-ofs in some player’s experimental lists, but not enough to take notice of. I’ll list them (in my opinion) in some kind of order.

Liliana, Heretical Healer, is easy to transform into Liliana, Defiant Necromancer. Her initial stats aren’t bad; she comes with a free 2/2 zombie to protect herself; and her first planeswalker ability (a +2!) has already proved valuable on other Liliana of the Veil. Unfortunately, her other abilities, while valuable, are not going to be inherently powerful in Vintage without a creature-based deck built around them. Black creature-based decks haven’t been in vogue recently, so there’s not an immediate home for the card. A creative brewer should be able to put something together that uses the Heretical Healing abilities well, but in most Vintage-ready black decks I think Liliana of the Veil is going to be the go-to.

Molten Vortex has good text and a reasonable mana cost, compared to Seismic Assault’s three red. Repeatable damage is certainly a benefit, and the cards goes well with things like Gush and Life from the Loam, as well as in land-heavy decks like Landstill. The biggest problem with the Vortex is that it can’t one-hit kill a Lodestone Golem and won’t always kill a Monastery Mentor, thanks to prowess. Three damage at the printed costs would be too good, but as is, I think the card is a little too weak for Vintage.

Hangarback Walker is interesting for an aggressive Workshop deck, mostly thanks to its scalability, resiliency, and interactions with Arcbound Ravager and other creatures with +1/+1 counters. Sharing a creature type with Metalworker and Kuldotha Forgemaster for Cavern of Souls purposes won’t hurt either. The issue of course is that there are bigger, badder artifact creatures (hello, Wurmcoil Engine) and Walker doesn’t provide any disruption. Maybe we’ll finally see a proliferate based deck with Thrumming Bird, Tezzeret’s Gambit, Smokestack, Tangle Wire, Chalice of the Void, Ravager, Triskelion, and this.

A few people asked about some other cards. Deathblade Predator has a powerful effect, and its mana cost is reasonable, but there are easier hoops to jump through for creature-based combos. There’s also less chance of it connecting because of the format’s other creatures. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, is easy to flip but won’t be as good as Snapcaster Mage for the planeswalker ability you really want to use. And, while flexible, Displacement Wave is an expensive answer, especially against Workshops where it would be most needed. Hurkyl’s Recall is still going to be tops in that category, and Toxic Deluge is better against creatures.

Results from the NYSE Vintage Open 3

Last weekend (27 June), more than 150 players gathered in Plainview, New York outside the City for a 15-proxy, $100-entry Vintage tournament. The top eight finishers would draft Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and the Moxes; places 9 through 12 would receive a Mishra’s Workshop each; and 13 through 16 would get a Bazaar of Baghdad. Nick Detwiler hosted the event with the other members of the New York Stax Exchange, and Card Titan (host of Vintage Champs) provided streaming services. The archived video is available already, if you’re interested.

The size of the event and its timing—along with the proxies that open the metagame to the perceived best decks rather than those concerned with budget—position it as a benchmark for the format right before the July restricted restricted list update alongside Magic Origins.

When the dust had settled, the top eight denoted a format that is surprisingly healthy: two different Workshops decks (Arcbound Ravagers and Kuldotha Forgemasters), two Landstill control decks, Tasigur Bomberman, Dredge, BUG Fish, and a UR Magus of the Moon control deck called “The Answer.” The blue decks all had strong control elements, but couldn’t get past the more linear artifact and graveyard based foes. Ravager Shops and Dredge made it to the finals, and Dredge won in decisive fashion with multiple Bazaar of Baghdad in game two.

It is surprising that Monastery Mentor, Young Pyromancer, and Oath of Druids were missing from the elimination rounds despite their popularity, but that’s indicative of a predicted environment. The control decks knew what they were going to face and were successful in their preparations to beat it.

It is likewise encouraging that, while Mishra’s Workshop decks were also popular at the event (35 out of 150 players), their presence in the field and in the top eight wasn’t overwhelming. Ravagers and Forgemasters won their quarterfinal matches and faced each other in the semis, at that point guaranteeing at least one Workshop deck would be in the finals. Artifacts are allowed to win games too, and 25% representation at the end is acceptable, especially considering that five of the other decks would have been playing four Force of Wills each.

And Dredge, piloted by a competent player like tournament winner Sullivan Brophy, who was able to navigate not only his own deck’s intricacies but the wrenches and bricks thrown by opponents’ hate cards, is a constant threat to go deep and win events.

So, looking ahead to the coming week’s restricted list update, I expect that something from the Best Draw Engine in Vintage will be restricted, likely Dig Through Time or Gush. I would hate to see the whole thing (Dig, Gush, and Preordain) get nuked, as sweeping changes like that don’t make very useful gauges on the effects of individual cards. That much would throw the format into complete disarray and leave players wondering if individual cards would still be okay for the format. It would be similar to when Brainstorm, Ponder, Merchant Scroll, Gush, and Flash were restricted simultaneously in 2008.

Restricting Gush and leaving Dig Through Time would take Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor decks down a peg (they would still exist), but leave intact several other decks that are using Dig as a two- or three-of without Gush. Dig Through Time is exceptionally powerful, but it might slow down enough without Gush. Restricting Gush also discourages small (18- and 19-card) manabases that are weak to Workshops and other mana disruption, perhaps pushing Workshop decks back a little.

Restricting Dig Through Time leaving Gush would let Pyromancer and Mentor continue in their dominant position, where they had been before the delve spells were printed, except with the added one-of Dig and Treasure Cruise. Also, I’m fairly certain every blue deck would add restricted Dig Through Time to the growing ranks of blue spells that everyone plays as a one-of because why wouldn’t you?

As such, my instinct would be to restrict Gush (again, for the third time) and see where things go. If Dig Through Time continues to be absurd, restrict it in a few months.

I also don’t think Workshop decks need restriction currently. There are multiple calls for Lodestone Golem and Chalice of the Void to be restricted, but I just can’t agree. (Danny Batterman wrote a well-reasoned consideration of all of these changes on his blog, so you can get more than just my opinions.) Chalice of the Void is easy enough to dodge with varied deck construction and hate cards that don’t all share a casting cost, and the best spells right now are all over, starting with mana costs of eight and five. Chalice also appears frequently enough in non-Workshop decks like The Answer and Merfolk that restricting it goes beyond punishing Workshops. Likewise, Lodestone Golem is a creature, easily answered by Modern removal.

Workshops plays challenging cards and changes the nature of the game, but its artifact-based strategies are not unbeatable. Honestly, if the Jeskai Ascendancy deck I’ve been playing recently has a positive record against Workshops, trying to resolve a three-mana, three-color enchantment, the deck must be beatable. Chalice is pretty weak when your best cards cost two, three, five, and eight. Obviously that’s a miniscule sample size, but putting in the work to test the matchup and the sideboard makes a big difference in results.

It will be interesting to see where Wizards goes with this announcement since it will have direct effect on any sanctioned events at Gen Con as well as the sooner-than-usual Vintage Championship in August.

Lots more Vintage news on the horizon too since, as I’m writing this, new mulligan rules have been proposed that might affect how Workshops, Dredge, combo, and other decks that can’t easily manipulate their draws might play out. Thanks for reading!

Nat Moes

@GrandpaBelcher

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