In brainstorming for this article, I asked my wife whether she thought a “What Am I Thankful” for topic would be too cheesy, even for the just passed Thanksgiving season. She laughed and said, “Probably.” I asked if that should keep me from writing it, and we decided together that cheesiness should only serve as encouragement. I love Vintage. You’re just going to have to deal with it. Let’s do this.
There are plenty of reasons for me to be thankful for Vintage. It has long been my favorite format for so many reasons. Thankfully for you, I was able to narrow it down to six related and relatable categories, which, coincidentally, is just about right to cover in one article.
Vintage Magic: The Gathering allows the best cards. Players can choose from the best single-card powerhouses ever printed, and of course the game offers near limitless combo potential if you’re willing to experiment. Painter’s Servant-Grindstone and Metalworker-Staff of Domination look pretty pedestrian when you’ve lost to Grim Monolith-Power Artifact-Stroke of Genius and Barren Glory before, like I have.
If you’ve never played Time Walk with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Dark Confidant in play, you’re missing out. Likewise if you’ve never played Black Lotus into Ancestral Recall and followed it up with Forbidden Orchard into Oath of Druids. Or if you’ve never played a Mox and Mishra’s Workshop into Chalice of the Void and Lodestone Golem. They’re all powerful plays, and in Vintage, none of them are guaranteed to win you the game.
Because the card pool for Vintage takes in 20 years of the game’s history—the highs, lows, and all the corner cases—there are answers available to everything. Yes, a lot of those answers are going to start with Force of Will, which is why so many decks in the format start with blue cards, but there are other cards to be explored too. There are efficient and powerful answers galore; the interesting challenge is picking out which ones will be right for your deck in the environment you’ll be playing in.
The bottom line is that, whatever your interest in the format—or in Magic in general for that matter—the Vintage card pool will have you covered.
The Restricted List
After all that gushing over the depth and breadth of the Vintage card pool, I’m also thankful for the Restricted List. I’m glad it’s just restrictions rather than bannings (excepting a few oddball cards and categories I can live with), and I think the management of the list by Wizards of the Coast and the DCI has been pretty good over the past few years.
Some players never seem to come to terms with the Restricted List: it’s too big or too small or the wrong cards are or or aren’t restricted. With every new set that comes out, and sometimes in between, lengthy threads are created on The Mana Drain to discuss which cards should be added to or removed from the list and why. Sometimes the arguments have some validity and discussion is relevant. Sometimes the arguments devolve into complaining about one deck or another, without the real support of metagame numbers or win percentages to make a strong claim.
Discussions have been especially prominent lately with the printing and subsequent use of Treasure Cruise. Treasure Cruise is very good, and it definitely pushes UR Delver and similar decks to the upper echelons of the format. However, part of the Restricted List’s management that I appreciate is that new cards are given a chance to prove themselves and become part of the metagame, with other decks evolving to beat them, before they’re restricted. It would be far too soon to make any moves in the near future, probably before spring 2015.
Regardless, I’m glad the list exists in its current state, and I’ll be glad to ride the waves of any forthcoming changes, whatever they are. Anything going on or coming off the list is sure to be a fun challenge to adjust to.
This is another contentious one. I am thankful that the Vintage community adopted proxies for its local, and even some regional, events. Thanks to the combined monetary and game play value of the Power Nine and other Reserved List cards (dual lands, Mishra’s Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad, and so on), Vintage is notoriously expensive to get into. There’s plenty of crossover between Legacy and even Modern now, but those formats are getting more expensive too. It’s a positive sign for the formats’ popularity, and likely a bad sign for their accessibility and longevity.
I would not have gotten started in Vintage had it not been for proxies. They made the format not only less costly but also less intimidating. With proxies, everyone starts on a similar footing, with the same possibilities. There are fewer issues with card availability, so players can play what they want, whether that’s a perceived best deck or a pet project. Even in environments where only five or ten proxies are allowed, the competition is fiercer and more reflective of what Power can do.
Proxies also give players an opportunity to express themselves. Most tournament proxy rules are flexible when it comes to what’s actually on the card beyond card name, rules text, mana cost, and any relevant creature information, so the door is wide open for recreations, modifications, and custom art in whatever style you choose. Having a personal set of custom proxies that you enjoy using can make the game special, even if you can’t afford to spend several thousand dollars on real Power.
The Short Games
As someone who goes by the online handle Grandpa Belcher, I clearly like the short games. Broken things happen in Vintage and I love it.
From 2005 through 2008, I played Belcher almost exclusively. Partly this was because its linear game play and all combo nature made it easy to play without much testing, and I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to test during those years. But partly it was because I love playing Belcher. I like watching unsuspecting opponents dig for an answer to 14 Empty the Warrens tokens on turn one or shrug helplessly and nod as Goblin Charbelcher resolves. It’s fun to navigate through counters and removal, and it’s even more fun knowing they have nothing for you. Belcher placed me in the final rounds of several events this way.
Of course, opponents did have answers many times, and that was okay too. Playing a fragile deck like Belcher or a storm combo deck or even Workshops versus an opening Tinker or Oath of Druids is all part of Vintage. Sometimes your opponent has the answer, or they have an unstoppable threat that ends the game on turn one or two or three. It keeps things exciting; you really never know when your opponent will find a way to win the game, so be on your toes.
Playing shorter games also has the benefit of being able to watch other games, browse vendors, talk to friends, and refresh yourself with food and drink between matches. It’s a surprisingly relaxing way to spend an event.
The Long Games
That said, I’ve also seen some incredible long games play out in Vintage. When both players have tired themselves throwing and dodging hay-maker after hay-maker, games frequently come down to the best management of resources. The less powerful cards (relatively speaking) become even more important. How does one make the best use of Brainstorm or Ponder when there’s only one in the deck and you’re beating down with Snapcaster Mage, for example. Should you play the Duplicant in your hand as a two-power beatstick or save it to remove a creature later? You’ve got Tendrils of Agony in hand and a couple of draw spells; your opponent is at 12 with three cards in hand—should you go for it?
I’m thankful that these skill-testing long games happen regularly in Vintage. The format has a reputation of being a meaningless, turn-one format, where the real skill is knowing when to mulligan your insane opening hand for an even more insane one. Consider that now players are trying to fill their graveyards so they can play Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time; those aren’t turn-one plays. Other decks like Landstill and Shops really try to push the game longer, where their advantage engines can take over and grind opponents out.
Showing these kinds of games and this level of interaction is important. It’s attractive to players who look for that kind of tactical and strategic superiority. Players interested in but unfamiliar with the format are finally starting to see this through venues like the Vintage Super League and the coverage at the Vintage Championship, which showed that high-level play is possible even when degenerate cards are involved. There’s a lot to keep in mind when potentially any card from the 20-year history of MTG could see play.
Last but not least, I’m thankful that the Vintage community is just so dang great. I’ve met lots of friends, acquaintances, and generally cool people through tournaments, I think because the format tends to attract a different kind of Magic player. The vibe that permeates Vintage events is a friendly one of casual competitiveness, more laid-back than at other events I’ve been to. Perhaps it’s because Vintage players tend to be a few years older than the average Magic player, so they’re more comfortable with who they are, what they’re doing, and what Magic means to them. Perhaps it’s just because the format is smaller, so people are more likely to run into each other multiple times and share experiences.
Vintage players are also very passionate about the format. Many of them play Vintage almost exclusively, often because they’re too busy to focus on others, so they’re always excited to get new people. As such, the Vintage community is, on the whole, very welcoming. Seriously, you don’t even need to own Magic cards to play with us! We’ve all had to go through the trials of learning which cards do what they say and which cards do something different and how they interact, so it’s a regular occurrence to hear someone explain some nuance of Vintage game play or arcane ruling to an interested opponent.
Vintage also has an excellent tradition of post-tournament meals. Also pre-tournament meals and sometimes mid-tournament meals. Everyone’s already driven all that way, they might as well sit down together and enjoy themselves, right?
I’m thankful that these elements all help make Vintage what it is. In my 10-year experience (which isn’t all that long compared to some), I’ve had a great time with friends, exploring the format’s quirks, nuances, and potential for fun, broken plays. As evidence, this weekend, I’ll be playing in an invitational tournament hosted by one of my Team Serious teammates. Perhaps next time I’ll have a great report to share!
Thanks for reading.
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