The Vintage Advantage: Magic Origins and the NYSE Part 2

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08_12 The Vintage Advantage

This is just going to be a quick followup to my previous article, so if you didn’t get a chance to read that, you might want to take some time.

First, there were some Magic Origins cards spoiled after I wrote that first article that I think are worth talking about in a Vintage Magic: The Gathering context.

Artificer’s Epiphany

Artificer’s Epiphany is a spiritual successor to another member of the restricted list, Thirst for Knowledge.

When it was restricted in June 2009 (when Crop Rotation, Enlightened Tutor, Entomb, and Grim Monolith were unrestricted), Thirst was the draw engine for Tezzeret decks that tried to combo out with Time Vault and Voltaic Key; before that, it had anchored Control Slaver and Bomberman decks. All of these decks used full artifact acceleration (five Moxes plus Black Lotus, Sol Ring, and Mana Crypt at least), supplemented their artifact count, and ran some sort of recursion, making the “discard an artifact” drawback less painful. That meant running things like Mindslaver, Triskelion, and Pentavus in Slaver, or Pithing Needle, Tormod’s Crypt, and Aether Spellbomb in Bomberman. Thirst paired well with Goblin Welder and Mana Drain, making a reasonably priced draw engine for control decks.

However, in 2009, Thirst for Knowledge was one of many potential draw engines. It was great at finding Time Vault and establishing the combo in decks that were doing that and it helped propel through a deck in the absence of Fact or Fiction and Gush, but it wasn’t outstanding. Dark Confidant was around, providing long-game competition. Workshop decks had most of their current tools (though Lodestone Golem wouldn’t be printed until January 2010), so a three-drop draw engine was often quite a load to heft around. In other words, other than Tezzeret decks being popular, there wasn’t a lot of reason to restrict Thirst for Knowledge. And there wasn’t a noticeable corresponding shift in the metagame following its restriction.

Now, with Artificer’s Epiphany, Wizards has given the closest successor yet to Thirst for Knowledge. Namely, it’s a three-drop blue instant that relies somewhat on playing artifacts to be good. If Gush and Dig Through Time weren’t already in the format, it would almost certainly be played in a role similar to that formerly filled by Thirst. As things are now, however, there might be room for it anyway. Bomberman is still a deck, and some versions of The Answer (UR Magus of the Moon control) play additional artifacts and Trinket Mage to find them. These decks and others might relish an end-of turn draw engine that uses Mana Drain mana and off-color Moxes better than what’s currently available. Running more mana would also provide helpful against Workshops, where some 19-card mana bases currently suffer.

Obviously drawing through only two cards of a deck is worse than Thirst, and when things like Dig Through Time, Goblin Welder, and Yawgmoth’s Will are around, not always having the option to discard some chaff can be a drawback as well. There were times that it didn’t matter what you drew with Thirst, as long as you could discard the Sundering Titan from your hand and weld it in, for example.

I’m eager to see where Artificer’s Epiphany goes in the format, but I’ll admit that I’m not enthusiastic about testing it myself. Pending changes to the restricted list, Dig Through Time and Gush are simply more engaging (and almost certainly more powerful). Artificer’s Epiphany may also suggest that it’s time to unrestrict Thirst for Knowledge. Thirst was already losing ground when it was restricted in 2009, and it’s not particularly exciting with regard to the current environment either. In the same vein as the recently returned Gifts Ungiven, Vintage could get back a potential draw engine without really upsetting anything.

Magmatic Insight

Between Magmatic Insight, Artificer’s Epiphany, and Day’s Undoing, you might think that Vintage is all about drawing cards. Well, it is. Because of the powerful cards on the restricted list, having more draw spells and tutors lets players get to those more powerful cards faster, and resolving more powerful cards sooner usually leads to victory.

Magmatic Insight is an efficient draw spell in a color that doesn’t get it very often. Mark Trogdon would point out bitterly that if Magmatic Insight were blue it wouldn’t have the added cost of discarding a land, but since it’s red, we’ll take what we can get. The drawback can be mitigated by building a deck with low costs and lots of lands, but it’s still a hefty cost, mostly because the discard comes before the draw. You can’t discard a land you just drew with Magmatic Insight, for example.

I’d like to see Magmatic Insight in a non-blue hate deck, one that makes great use of the additional card advantage to better keep up with other advantage engines. I’d also like to see it in a red-based storm combo deck, but those don’t often play enough lands to make it reliable. Unfortunately, the card that works best with Magmatic Insight is Gush. After returning two lands to your hand to Gush, a player can easily follow up with Magmatic Insight. Paying one red mana to draw four cards and add a mana is a pretty good deal. It’s likely that, if this red card finds a home in Vintage, it will be alongside blue cards.

Caustic Caterpillar

First, I’m disappointed they didn’t tie this card more securely to Caustic Wasps, which would come from Caustic Larvae. However, I also hope this means we can look forward to a Caustic Butterfly at some point. Flying around spitting acid on the landscape is definitely a Magic adventure I want to be part of.

Anyway, Caustic Caterpillar has obvious applications against Workshop decks. It’s a one-mana, one-color Qasali Pridemage. It’s also smaller, lacks exalted, and has a higher activation cost. The flexibility of destroying both artifacts and enchantments is great, but there are overall cheaper more direct options (Ingot Chewer) even on color (Nature’s Claim).

Against Workshops and Oath of Druids, its biggest weakness, as well as its greatest strength, is its mana cost. Caterpillar is countered by the frequently played Chalice of the Void at one and by Mental Misstep. At the same time, it can be played turn one, and can stay in play until needed, getting in under lock pieces and before Oath itself. It also plays through Thorn of Amethyst. Caterpillar could be part of a well-rounded board plan against Workshops, one which also has applications against Oath without dipping into another color.

Overall, I’m thinking this is fine, but not great, and as a utility card it’s not especially exciting. I expect it to see play in some amount, especially if green splash decks come back into the metagame over UR and URW. Mostly it will compete with Nature’s Claim and lose to that card’s actual one-mana total cost.

Corrections Department

Also in my article last week I noted that the NYSE Vintage Open 3 was notable because its top eight decks contained zero Monastery Mentor. Now that lists are available, I can say that the seventh-place UW Landstill list, played by Chris Hanson, actually contained two Monastery Mentors. That doesn’t make it a Mentor deck per se, since Landstill would be much more controlling and less focused on the Mentors, but the card did make top eight. Thanks to tournament winner Sullivan Brophy for pointing that out to me on Reddit.

Take a look through the other decklists as well. Anything that went 6-2 or better is listed, and it’s a decent snapshot of the metagame at this time. Lots of Bomberman with Monastery Mentor, lots of Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer, lots of Tasigur, and lots of Shops. And then there’s Jeremy Beaver who made top 16 with Splinter Twin.

Thanks again for reading. I should be back next week with another full article, including any fiery reactions to any restrictions or unrestrictions that might happen next Monday.

Take care!

Nat Moes

@GrandpaBelcher

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