Welcome back to our introduction to the Vintage Magic the Gathering metagame, as examined through the five pillar structure. Last week, we looked at the two most popular pillars: Drains and Workshops. This week, we’ll look at the remaining three: Bazaars, Rituals, and Null Rods. Remember that these pillars don’t create a typical rock-paper-scissors metagame where one type beats one subset of the others and loses to the remainder. All of these pillars exist together, and though strengths and weaknesses apply, each one has to be ready to compete with any and all of the others.
If you haven’t yet, I recommend starting with the introduction from last week’s article (you can catch up on the other two pillars later), but I’m going to jump right in here!
Bazaar of Baghdads have long been the most powerful part of decks that use the graveyard beyond Yawgmoth’s Will, but they didn’t really reach their full potential until the advent of the dredge mechanic in Ravnica. Now the Dredge deck is notorious for requiring that players be prepared to hate or race entirely graveyard-based decks. Dredge has an advantage against many strategies because it doesn’t have to play spells to win thanks to Bridge from Below, Ichorid, and Bloodghast; thus, it avoids counterspells and Sphere of Resistance effects entirely. As a result, Dredge will almost certainly win game one against most decks. The challenge comes in winning game two or three through hate.
Dredge comes in many forms, but the most common plays five colors; Narcomoebas, Bloodghasts, and Ichorids as free, uncounterable creatures; Bridge from Belows; and a Dread Return package. Other versions might cut some of the aggressive cards for more defense, including Mental Missteps. Fatestitchers might also make an appearance as they can be returned for one blue mana to untap Bazaar and double the dredge opportunities. Sun Titans sometimes show up in this build as well, since they can return a Bazaar if they get Dread Returned (which triggers Bloodghasts to play another Dread Return and so on).
Bazaar Dredge by Oscar Merino
Game one, Oscar’s deck has one gameplan: use Serum Powder to find and play first-turn Bazaar of Baghdad, dredge a bunch of cards into the ‘yard, and put together a win with recurring creatures. Sacrificing Narcomoebas and Bloodghasts to replay Cabal Therapy and Dread Return puts zombie tokens into play for each Bridge from Below, so Dread Returning Flame-Kin Zealot usually means a kill that turn if it resolves. Chalice of the Void, Leyline of the Void, and Unmask keep your opponent from overpowering you, as does Nature’s Claim, which is also a hedge against opposing game-one Leylines, Rest in Peace, or other troublesome permanents.
Postboard, Dredge doesn’t play as much against particular archetypes as it does against expected hate cards. Chain of Vapor is a catch-all and probably comes in for every game two when you’re not sure what your opponent will have. Nature’s Claim is also flexible in this way, answering Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace, as well as artifacts. Ancient Grudge and Ingot Chewer work against anti-graveyard artifacts like Tormod’s Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, and Nihil Spellbomb and aggro hate like Ensnaring Bridge and Ratchet Bomb. Darkblast is perfect for Yixlid Jailer, which is frequently played by non-Workshop decks playing a full set of Moxen.
Many decks will bring in seven or eight cards against Dredge in the post-board matchup, but playing around them can be an interesting challenge. Games will turn into struggles over resources, and the Dredge player may end up winning on the back of one or two hardcast creatures, ignoring the graveyard hate entirely.
Bazaars are also complementary to other strategies. Bazaars with Drains facilitate a Worldgorger Dragon combo-control deck. In Workshops, Bazaars and Goblin Welders are best friends. And every once in a while, someone puts Bazaars in a Null Rod aggro deck and remakes a Vintage Madness deck, including Basking Rootwallas and Squee, Goblin Nabob, as a draw engine. Still, the current bread and butter of Bazaar decks is Dredge in its various forms.
The Calm Before the Storm
Even though black is no longer Wizards of the Coast’s color choice for non-permanent mana acceleration, because of the original Dark Ritual, it’s still the most common choice for combo decks in Vintage. Dark Rituals accelerate into some of the most powerful cards in the format: Necropotence, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Griselbrand, Yawgmoth’s Will, Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, draw-sevens like Wheel of Fortune and Timetwister, and the game-ending Tendrils of Agony.
Decks with these cards are why Vintage has a reputation for being a turn-one format. However, combo decks in Vintage are a challenge to play; they have so many in-game choices to make thanks to tutors, draw spells, and opposing counterspells that the path to victory is rarely simple. They can also be relatively fragile, hinging on the resolution of one powerful spell. Learning the tricks to playing combo takes many hours of practice, usually goldfishing through particular situations, but its worthwhile, and even the goldfishing can be a fun puzzle!
Ritual decks have their ups and downs in popularity as the metagame prepares for and then forgets about them. Currently they’re in an upswing, thanks to the Burning Oath deck developed since Burning Wish was unrestricted in September 2012.
Burning Oath by Matt Elias
The Burning Oath deck usually wins the game by resolving Oath of Druids and triggering it with Forbidden Orchard. Oath brings Griselbrand into play, making it easy to draw additional spells and acceleration to find and play Burning Wish for a lethal Tendrils of Agony. If the storm plan is stopped, you still have Griselbrand in play, and if Oath doesn’t make an appearance, the deck has enough draw, tutors, and mana to storm up in the traditional way.
As with Bazaars, the postboard plan generally focuses on making sure the Rituals deck can still complete its game-one plan; however, we’re also dealing with a Burning Wish sideboard. Any of the sorceries is a potential target the entire match for any problems you might run into: Balance gets rid of creatures and cripples hands; Show and Tell puts Griselbrand, Bargain, or Jar into play from your hand; Thoughtseize helps you play through counters; Maelstrom Pulse answers any troublesome permanents (like Leyline of Sanctity); and Empty the Warrens, Tendrils of Agony, and Yawgmoth’s Will win the game.
Against most decks you’ll win simply by dropping bombs until you get to one your opponent can’t deal with. Decks with counterspells will be hard pressed to meet each of your threats with an answer. The trouble will come on the draw against Workshop decks, whose answers are cumulative and will eventually prevent you from casting threats entirely. Having extra permanent mana in play will help, so the additional moxes get bolstered by Ancient Tombs from the board, since one Tomb counteracts two Sphere effects. The trio of Nature’s Claims and additional Hurkyl’s Recall will also help escape from a board overwhelmed with artifacts.
Boarding in Laboratory Maniac is another way to win without having to worry about casting spells against Workshops. With LabMan in the deck, the process simplifies to resolving and triggering Oath of Druids, Oathing LabMan into play, then triggering Oath again on your next upkeep to empty your library and win the game when you can’t draw.
Other combo decks exist as well. Belcher is a surprisingly popular deck in the Midwest and still performs well at tournaments. Similar to the Legacy version the goal is to accelerate into Goblin Charbelcher or Empty the Warrens on turn one. Other Tendrils of Agony combo decks might play Ad Nauseam to fill the hand or Doomsday to set up the perfect winning scenario. The Fastbond-Gush combination is also a potential combo enabler, since it fills the hand and replenishes mana. It can also be combined with Lotus Cobras for even more mana potential.
When it comes to aggro-control decks in Vintage, the options are myriad. Almost any color or combination of colors is possible. Many include blue for Force of Will, but it’s not always necessary unless there’s a big combo presence in the metagame. (Right now, with Burning Long being such a presence, I would probably include blue.) The primary goal with these decks is to prevent your opponent from fulfilling their gameplan long enough for your efficient, disruptive creatures to get in for 20 damage.
The construction of these decks is ultimately dependent on the expected metagame. Aggro-control decks can be built to fight combo decks by including more free and cheap disruption like Force of Will, Mental Misstep, Chalice of the Void, and Leyline of Sanctity. They can fight Workshops using red, white, and green cards that destroy artifacts, and playing Aether Vial makes any creature playable through the thickest prison walls. Beating Drain decks is largely a matter of answering their biggest threats, Tinker, Time Vault, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, so artifact hate is again a plus, as are things like Lightning Bolts and Phyrexian Revoker against Jace.
Null Rod Aggro by Amadeus Kurz
Amadeus’s BUG Fish deck is just one way to go. His build was heavily metagamed against Workshop decks with two Steel Sabotage, four Abrupt Decay, and two Trygon Predators maindeck. The Deathrite Shaman’s mana ability would also help pay for spells through Sphere effects, and the Wasteland package negates the advantage of Mishra’s Workshops. Postboard, he could bring in more of the same, as well as four Snuff Out to remove Lodestone Golems and other problem creatures.
The maindeck removal package should work as well against Drain decks, being able to Steel Sabotage any Tinker target (except for Inkwell Leviathan) and Abrupt Decay anything else. Having Snapcaster Mage and Dark Confidant keeps the Null Rod deck ahead on cards, providing enough threats and answers to overcome any normal blue opening in the long game. Postboard bringing in additional mana hate like Null Rod and Wasteland will help win the tempo game as well.
Against Rituals (at least against the Burning Long deck), this deck looks a little weak. It will have to rely on its cheap counterspells hitting critical targets and mana disruption. Against a resolved Oath of Druids, this deck will have to play Abrupt Decay, which is admittedly a great answer. Otherwise, there’s really no way to avoid triggering Oath when your win condition is creature based.
This deck is really well suited to beat Dredge and other Bazaar-based decks, however. The maindeck Deathrite Shamans and Scavenging Oozes won’t beat a fast Dredge opener, but their effects will add up quickly if given enough time. Wasteland hitting a Bazaar of Baghdad might buy that time. In games two and three, this deck can try to mulligan into Leyline of the Void or play Yixlid Jailer to shut off the opponent’s graveyard effects.
Other common aggro-control decks include almost direct ports from Legacy: RUG Delver, Merfolk, and Wizards are all possible. Noble Fish is another common deck, backing up Force of Wills with Noble Hierarch and Qasali Pridemage to make an exalted attack force (with or without Tarmogoyf). As I mentioned before, non-blue Null Rod decks often employ some combination of red, white, and green so they can combat artifacts efficiently; however, black is not a color to ignore, especially for discard effects. Mono-Black Dark Times actually combines discard-based aggro control with two Dark Ritual-fueled combos: Leyline of the Void-Helm of Obedience and Dark Depths.
I hope this introduction to the pillars of Vintage has been enlightening and encouraging. Vintage is not nearly as one sided as its reputation often suggests. In fact, the current Vintage metagame is very balanced now among the five pillars, and within each pillar there are several different options that are not only playable, but also capable of winning tournaments. I heartily encourage you to put together one or two of these decks (with proxies, as you please) and use them for gunslinging at your next MtG event. Vintage frequently draws an interested crowd, so you’ll be able to get opponents if you ask around. Who knows, you might even be able to build a Vintage community.
Thanks very much to Morphling.de, a great online source for Vintage decklists and tournament results. As a disclaimer, the decks posted here are meant mostly as examples and suggestions; they may not be the best or newest available, and they are almost certainly not tuned for any metagame other than their own. Feel free to edit, combine, and rebuild decks as you like. Also, check out The Mana Drain and Eternal Central if you’re interested in more Vintage content.
Thanks for reading!
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