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The Vintage Advantage: The Best Draw Engine in Vintage

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Vintage

08_12 The Vintage Advantage

It seems rare, when considering Magic: The Gathering, that something should legitimately be called “the best.” Especially in Vintage there are corner cases where a purportedly ideal card is somehow wrong. Ancestral Recall is the most efficient card to draw three cards with, for example, except when your opponent has Misdirection. Jace, the Mind Sculptor, is the best planeswalker until your opponent responds to his 0 ability with Notion Thief. Lodestone Golem is the best spell in a Workshop deck until your opponents all run maindeck Lightning Bolts. You get the picture.

So it’s with this in mind and no attempt at hyperbole that I present the Best Draw Engine in Vintage (BDEV):

If you’re not running these 16 cards (or at least most of them) in your blue deck, your deck just isn’t doing enough to draw cards. You’ll likely get run over by someone who is running that engine.

That particular combination of cards is effective and reliable. The combination of Preordain, Gush, and the one-mana restricted cards allows you to run fewer mana and more spells, so you have more effective draws. A combination of fetchlands, cantrips, and cheap counterspells then fuels Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. From there, Dig Through Time’s instant speed helps conserve mana for end-of-turn action, not to mention some exciting counterspell stacks.

Uncastable early-game delve spells or Gushes that will put you too far back on mana can be pitched to Force of Will if necessary. Drawing too many cards (ppht, as though that’s a thing) is hardly a problem either, since discards (including Gushed lands) power future delving too. Gush and Preordain help play past graveyard removal, and Dig Through Time remains strong against Sphere of Resistance effects.

Situationally, the cards can be aggressive—digging for and assembling combo pieces—or they can be controlling, as they fill your hand with counters and further draw. Dig Through Time is particularly suited for both roles and can help change strategies quickly since it looks at a huge part of your library all at once.

The draw engine neatly runs on just two islands, despite containing full playsets of a five-drop and an eight-drop. It will find additional mana quickly and is well suited to support from free and one-mana counters like Force of Will, Mental Misstep, and Flusterstorm, as is usual for Vintage.

A few weeks before Treasure Cruise was restricted, I played a blue-red Young Pyromancer list that had Jaces in place of Delver of Secrets and ran four Treasure Cruise and two Dig Through Time. I had one match loss (to Shops—I misplayed game three and let a Trinisphere resolve that I should not have), but going through my notes indicated that I was far, far head on cards versus my blue-playing opponents all day. These matches were easy, and I immediately wanted to test a list with all eight delve spells.

I never had that opportunity, thanks to Treasure Cruise’s restriction.

However, I had already been playing the BDEV in the Gush Through Time combo-control list I had been having success with, replacing Treasure Cruise with Yawgmoth’s Will. Essentially the deck was blue and black with a green splash for Fastbond, Regrowth and some sideboard cards. It managed to play four win conditions: Time Vault, Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus, Jace, and Tendrils of Agony. I wrote about a couple of my tournament experiences here.

Along with the restriction of Treasure Cruise came the release of Monastery Mentor, and though there was some initial question whether the three-drop with some extra abilities would better than the proven Young Pyromancer, several players have already shown that, yes. The transition from Pyromancer to Mentor was also facilitated by the BDEV. In fact the creatures lend themselves to subtly different strategies, both of which can be based on those same 16 cards. This particular following list was played by a teammate to the top four of the Vintage side event at GP Cleveland.

Stephen Menendian’s UW Mentor list from the Vintage Super League also ran the BDEV.

At the same event, I cut the green from my earlier BUg Gush Through Time list and played blue and black to split the finals, beating Shops and a couple of Mentor and Pyromancer decks along the way. The Mentor and Pyromancer lists were playing a similar draw package to the BDEV but were a few cards off, cutting the last few Digs or Gushes for more counterspells or creatures. In both cases, I was able to out draw them and control the game with more cards in hand. Interestingly, since I was running the more powerful win conditions, I found the sideboard strategy against those decks was to race their creatures and leave the Engineered Explosives and Toxic Deluge in the board.

The following weekend, Jamie Cano took the same list with a few sideboard adjustments to the March Liga Madrileña Vintage in Madrid, Spain, and posted an 8-1 record, winning handily (except for one pesky Mono-Blue Belcher player). Also his deck is signed and Beta and looks incredible.

Those are fairly obvious applications of the BDEV. Other hypothetical decks might make a few slight adjustments but continue with largely the same plan. For example, in the Vintage Super League, Kai Budde and Luis Scott Vargas ran playsets of Dig Through Time and Preordain, but changed the four Gushes into to Gitaxian Probes to make up for their Omni Oath decks’ using non-Gushable Forbidden Orchards.

Here, Dig Through Time would help reload if a Show and Tell gets busted and helps before Other Oath lists could make similar adjustments and could probably find room for the other two Gitaxian Probes plus maybe Treasure Cruise. Oath of Druids helps fuel delve naturally when it resolves, though if that happens you’re probably at the point where Dig Through Time is incidental to winning.

There might also be room for a Tidespout Tyrant Oath list that uses the BDEV with Gushes.

This hypothetical maindeck is a bit light on control for what I would want, but it’s very close. Tidespout Tyrant is a board-controlling monster and can combo with Moxes to make limitless mana, adding Jace, the Mind Sculptor, to draw the deck and win with Brain Freeze. Gush functions as a Boomerang that draws two cards, and with limitless mana, Dig Through Time would be better than that. Maybe two Jaces aren’t necessary anymore. The number of creatures in the format plus the draw engine already lets us cut the number of Forbidden Orchards to three, helping our Gushes further.

One deck for which adding the BDEV was somewhat incidental is Doomsday, which already used the restricted list plus Gushes and Preordains. Sam Krohlow added three Dig Through Times and made top four at a recent Team Serious event in Columbus.

This deck can be terrifying since, with the proper knowledge of Doomsday piles, if the pilot can resolve the namesake spell they can win through almost any hate on board or in hand. Gush is often integral to getting into the Doomsday pile in the first place. Dig doesn’t help in the Doomsday stack at all (since you have no graveyard when Doomsday resolves), but it could provide a bait spell before Doomsday, add counterspell backup and fuel to the combo, or facilitate a natural Tendrils of Agony combo through storm without Doomsday.

In other decks that wouldn’t be suited for Gushes, thanks to a lack of Islands, adjustments could be made to the BDEV as appropriate. Worldgorger Dragon Combo, for example, could run Bazaar of Baghdad, which both supercharges delve and facilitates the reanimation strategy.

My teammate Jake Hilty theorized this list, and there’s a lot to like about it. Here, the tricky part is getting to the second blue mana for Dig Through Time while playing Bazaar of Baghdad, but the Preordains and other cantrips should help with that as usual. Dig can either set up the combo or find the finishing Tasigur with limitless mana. (Tasigur and mana can win the game by recurring Ancestral Recall targeting your opponent with the rest of your library in your hand as counter backup.)

The biggest issue with Dragon Combo lists is, of course, that they’re victims to Vintage’s myriad Dredge hate. Most lists will transform into a blue-black Time Vault or Tendrils combo deck, boarding out the graveyard cards entirely. The BDEV would work to support either of these too, putting the important combo cards together as it would with the sideboard listed here.

If artifacts are going to be more prevalent than Islands, you could also potentially replace Gushes with Thoughtcasts. This takes the BDEV more into the realm of Turbo-Tezz or Steel City Vault, where the goal is to establish Time Vault with either Voltaic Key or Tezzeret, the Seeker, as quickly as possible.

Compared to some of the Gush-based lists, this deck has a ton of mana, including Mox Opal and Mana Vault. It should have a great Workshops matchup as long as Null Rod doesn’t show up. A playset of Seat of the Synod powers up metalcraft for Mox Opal and affinity for Thoughtcast, allowing the player once again to go right into the BDEV plays. Thoughtcast shares the benefits of Gush, most importantly drawing two cards at a bargain rate and not being a Mental Misstep target.

I’m excited to test with all of these lists. The BDEV is exceptional not just as the anchor for powerful Vintage strategies, but also as a fun group of cards to play. While it overwhelms other blue decks with card advantage, matches between two BDEV decks are true dogfights—back and forth, trying to maximize options and gain the upper hand. I expect to see this group of cards, in these numbers or near to them, a lot in the coming months. Opponents should be playing them or playing against them…

At least as long as Dig Through Time is unrestricted.

Thanks for reading!
Nat Moes

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