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The Vintage Advantage – Using the Best Cards Best

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

08_12 The Vintage Advantage

One thing that’s been interesting for my Vintage-playing friends and me, especially with the release of the cards on MTGO and the subsequent online streaming, has been watching previously non-Vintage players taking up our favorite format. Longtime followers of Magic the Gathering will have noticed that different players make different plays in similar situations. Some are more aggressive, spending resources now, trying to narrow the opponent’s options sooner at the cost of their own board. Others play more reservedly, waiting for the perfect moment, sometimes missing that moment entirely as the game changes around them. Vintage, because of the Restricted List and the power inherent in the cards, has some unique tricks to it, and it’s interesting to see Legacy, Modern, and Standard players negotiate some of these situations as they experience them for the first time.

This isn’t to say that these players are wrong. The new perspective or novel sequence of play can have benefits and still often results in victory. However, Vintage often presents branching lines of play thanks to the tutors, draw spells, and mana acceleration available. Increased decisions mean potential mistakes can trip up a player at every fork in the road.

I’ve already written some about general Vintage tactics, playing control, and playing Mishra’s Workshop decks, but I thought it might be helpful to look at some individual cards and mid- to high-level strategies for them. Obviously the best way to get experience will be to start resolving these plays yourself, but this should get you started.

Yawgmoth’s Will – Bring out Your Dead

Let’s start with a big one, right? Longtime Vintage master Andy “BrassMan” Probasco said that he often sees newer players tutor for answer cards (say, to bounce Blightsteel Colossus) when they could just go for the win with Yawgmoth’s Will. Basically, Will should always be a consideration any time you tutor, simply because it can so easily put a game away by overwhelming your opponent with recurred resources, even if it doesn’t outright combo for the win.

Yawgmoth’s Will is best as a mid- or late-game card: the more mana and cards you have available when you resolve it, the better it will be. At the same time, early in the game or in a deck without a clear combo win it can be right to play Yawgmoth’s Will simply for value. A smaller Will is more likely to resolve, for one, so you can save counterspells for your opponent’s plays. In the meantime, replaying a fetchland and a Preordain, maybe a useful piece of hate or a killed creature, might be just what you need to pull ahead in a close game. Your opponent already spent cards and mana dealing with these things the first time, yet here they come again—how demoralizing!

The takeaway here is that, like other cards, Yawgmoth’s Will is a tool. Don’t get into the habit of thinking of it as one-dimensional. Sometimes you need a hammer that drives a nail and wins the game; sometimes you need a claw that lets you get back into a game by prying a nail out to unstick the game.

Brainstorm – 99% Perspiration

This one comes up a lot with Legacy players because they’re so used to the luxury of four Brainstorms that they tend to use them very aggressively. In Vintage, you get one (okay, two with Snapcaster Mage or Yawgmoth’s Will) so make it count! Except for emergency, about-to-lose situations, Brainstorm should act more as a second Ancestral Recall. Ideally you’ll cast it with plenty of mana available and a shuffle effect nearby. After you draw three cards and put two back, the mana will help you play what you drew, and the shuffle effect will make sure you don’t draw your rejected cards again. It serves to refuel your hand rather than just cantrip. Brainstorm is also obviously good with topdeck tutors like Vampiric Tutor, essentially turning them into modified Demonic Tutors.

Brainstorm works as an early-game card, fixing mana too, but it’s important to recognize its limitations. First, Mental Misstep exists in Vintage as a four-of, so you might end up eating that one-land, one-Brainstorm opener. Not to mention that if your Brainstorm misses a second land and you have no shuffle effect or second draw spell, you’ve likely just given your opponent two Time Walks as you slog through your next two known draws. My recommendation when you keep that risky hand (and sometimes you do) is to wait to Brainstorm until at least your second mainphase. You get an extra draw for turn, so you’ll dig one card deeper.

Also note that Brainstorm is at a premium in Oath of Druids decks and those with Tinker since it can put any creatures you draw back into your library where they can be brought into play more easily. It also gets rid of an otherwise dead 12-drop in your hand. Jace, the Mind Sculptor, helps carry some of this burden in games that go long enough, but Brainstorm is cheaper and easier to resolve.

Fetchlands – Don’t Fence Me In

Speaking of shuffle effects for Brainstorm, by far the most efficient of these are going to be fetchlands. They’re cheap to use, mostly uncounterable, and fix your mana to boot. Any time you play Brainstorm or Ponder or are facing down Jace’s fateseal ability will be that much better with a fetchland in play.

Fetchlands have other nuances as well. For one, they act as insurance against Wasteland, which is prevalent in Mishra’s Workshop and aggro-control decks. Going down a land in those matchups can be crippling, more so in Vintage than in other formats. Assuming there’s no Pithing Needle, Aven Mindcensor, or other hindrance, fetchlands cannot be Wasted. You can simply sacrifice them in response, leaving the Wasteland without a target. When you need to play a spell, fetchlands also help protect your lands by being able to get basics of the appropriate color. This also works under Tangle Wire. If you’re in a position where your fetchland is going to be tapped and thus Wastable, you can use it in response to safely get a basic.

Overall, the deck-thinning properties of fetchlands are negligible unless you’re playing a deck that draws a lot of cards and has very few lands to begin with—a Gush Tendrils list, perhaps, or RUG Delver. In general, it’s better to keep one or two fetchlands around for their other benefits until you need the mana.

Oath of Druids – I Solemnly Swear

Most of understanding Oath of Druids means understanding how the card works rules-wise:

1. It triggers at the beginning of the upkeep and checks twice to compare the number of creatures. You have to have fewer creatures than your opponent for the ability to go on the stack, then Oath checks again that this is still true before it resolves. This means that you need to use Forbidden Orchard (or whatever) on their end step to give them more creatures for Oath to trigger at all. This also means they can remove creatures on your upkeep to prevent Oath from resolving.

2. Once Oath starts resolving and flipping cards into the graveyard, it will complete that action before anything else happens. Gaea’s Blessing will trigger and go on the stack for all cards revealed, for example. In response, your opponent can remove everything with Ravenous Trap or something similar.

3. Oath has the active player target a non-active player to compare the number of creatures. (Usually the Oath player targets the opponent, but stranger things have happened.) Because it targets, cards like Leyline of Sanctity or Aegis of the Gods will prevent Oath from resolving against that player.

4. Oath triggers on both players’ turns, so you have to be careful if the creature advantage swings the other way. Most decks aren’t really built to take advantage of Oath, but Oath mirrors make this especially interesting. Many players will board out multiple Oaths, focus on winning the Forbidden Orchard war, and try to win using the opponent’s Oath or through other means like Show and Tell or Jace.

Necropotence – Digging for Treasure

Recently Necropotence has been significantly better online than off. Online, a bug causes the cards set aside to be visible to you; you can literally draw until you find only the cards you need to put together a win. In real life, the cards are set aside face down. I recommend playing Necro online all the time.

In any case, the goal with any Necropotence activation (or activations) is to draw just enough cards to ensure a win on the next turn. This number is different for different decks. And remember what cards you might want to play after Necro; for example, if you might draw Vampiric Tutor and need to use a fetchland, you won’t want to go below four life. Very aggressive decks with high threat density might need to draw fewer cards than decks that rely more on simple cantrips. Ideally you just want to put together a difficult-to-disrupt hand: one or two legitimate threats, enough mana, and disruption for your opponent. This will help play through any countermagic or discard your opponent might have that wouldn’t work on Necropotence itself. Against Workshop decks or other mana denial, you want to have a counter for anything relevant plus enough mana to play your threats.

Keep in mind that Necropotence sets up a delayed trigger once you set cards aside; once you activate it, you get the cards even if Necro isn’t there on your endstep. You can also play instants after drawing the set-aside cards and having to discard. That lets you play Brainstorm or Ancestral Recall to give yourself more options. In a mini-Necro, where you put yourself just to seven cards to further build resources before landing the killing blow, you can also play a topdeck tutor and set yourself up for the ideal draw for next turn.

Memory Jar – Put a Cork in It

In many Tendrils of Agony-based combo decks, Memory Jar serves as a primary Tinker target, since it’s a draw-seven that doesn’t refill the opponent’s hand for his or her next turn. Seven cards is frequently better as a Tinker target than Black Lotus, which mostly fuels storm and Yawgmoth’s Will, and Jar can be faster than Blightsteel Colossus, which might be relegated to the sideboard anyway. It’s often easier to win with the big robot, but Jar has the benefit of setting up a win in the same turn with Tendrils.

There are a few tricks with Jar to keep in mind. First, if you cast it one turn then crack it the next, you not only have the benefit of untapped mana, you’ll effectively draw eight cards to your opponent’s seven. (You just run the risk of artifact removal or bounce in the meantime.) Second, anything that fixes the top of your library—topdeck tutors and Brainstorm especially—are useful going into Jar as well as coming out of it. It can even be useful to help fill the Jar with a Force of Will or other disruption, so that your bigger, better spells will resolve.

If Jar doesn’t lead you to victory, consider its effect on your opponent as you end the Jar turn. Playing Hurkyl’s Recall, for example, will send all of their artifacts away, first back to their hand and then into the graveyard. This can be devastating to a Workshop player, or even against a blue player leaning hard on Moxes. Even simple bounce like Repeal or Chain of Vapor can send troublesome cards away forever and make things awkward for their targets’ controllers.

Every card in Magic is an opportunity to make a mistake or find success. You might play it at the wrong time or evaluate a threat incorrectly. You might put too many resources into a variable or too few. Even tapping the wrong lands could leave you without the color or amount you need to play all the spells you want to. All of this is especially true in Vintage, where individual plays mean so much. Even here, looking at individual cards and tactics barely scratches the surface of possibilities.

As I mentioned, the best way to learn Vintage cards in Vintage situations is to use them. Unique contingencies come up all the time in Magic, and it would be impossible to account for all of the interactions, especially among different decklists, where changing one utility card could change how an entire sequence plays out.

You can find Vintage events online using MTGO and offline on the tournament boards on The Mana Drain. (Conveniently organized by region!) Thanks again for reading. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if you have any questions.

Good luck!
Nat Moes

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