Vintage is a game of division. Its players and proponents see it as the grand dame of Magic the Gathering formats: exciting, challenging, and rife with the history of the game. The format’s detractors say it’s too luck based and expensive, and the player base isn’t large enough to make it worthwhile.
I’ll be writing a series of articles over the next few weeks to try to dispel some negative impressions of the format. Here, I’ll begin by giving you some resources to look at and some advice on getting others into Vintage. In upcoming weeks I’ll guide you through common Vintage decks, show you how experience in other formats translates to Vintage, and point out some ways to attack the metagame. By the time that’s done, we’ll have decks from GenCon to look at and can begin preparing for the Vintage Championships, held this November in Philadelphia.
I’ve been playing Vintage almost exclusively for eight years now—not nearly as long as some veterans but long enough to have gotten an understanding for the format and its players. To the detractors I would argue that “luck-based” really means “exciting.” Most Vintage games have at least as many plays and choices as younger formats, but Vintage’s mana development and powerful cards compress those choices into fewer turns. There’s less room for error, and you get to make bigger plays sooner, which is fun! You see things happen in Vintage games that you won’t ever see in other formats.
Expense is a tougher nut to crack. Obviously Vintage has several staple cards—the Power 9, Mishras Workshops, Bazaar of Baghdads, Time Vault, and Library of Alexandria—that regularly retail over $200 per card. These are in addition to many expensive Legacy playables that appear in Vintage like dual lands, Force of Wills, Wastelands and more. However, Vintage has the benefit that most tournaments in the United States and elsewhere allow proxies to stand in for some of the costlier cards. Proxies can greatly reduce the cost of entry, especially for Legacy and Commander players who own some of the more expensive components and can use any limited proxy slots on Power.
From my experience, most people are interested enough in Vintage that they’re willing to give it a chance despite the common complaints. (And it’s totally worth it!) Others won’t get beyond the format’s reputation without convincing from friends.
Learning the ins and outs of Vintage can be somewhat daunting because everything, especially in the U.S., is so spread out. There aren’t a lot of big tournaments, so there aren’t a lot of tournament reports, so there’s not a lot of additional content generated. Still, there’s stuff out there; I’ll try to give you the basics.
As with any hobby, the most useful and up-to-date content will be online.
The Mana Drain: The “official” home of Vintage, TMD is the most populated Vintage forum. It can be difficult to find reliable information on popular decks and is not necessarily the best place for beginners to jump into Vintage discussion, but it remains the best place to make connections and find tournaments. I recommend checking out the tournament boards, making an introductory post, and posting that you’re looking for players. After that, check out the Vintage Encyclopedia, which has links to older decks and articles.
Morphling.de: For years, Morphling has been the best place to find Vintage decks, as evidenced by their archives. There you can find recent top eights to see what decks are winning all over the world. They list the most popular cards and archetypes. If you’re trying to decide what to play, I’d start here.
Eternal Central: EC is the best site for articles on Vintage. The editing team there is made of Eternal players, so they know what they’re talking about. Plus, EC is the current home of Vintage’s most notable player and mouthpiece, Steven Menendian, whose insight alone is worth the time.
MTGCast: Many of you are probably already familiar with MTGCast, but did you know it also hosts Vintage podcasts? Serious Vintage (hosted by Geoff Moes, Josh Chapple and me) and So Many Insane Plays (hosted by Menendian and Kevin Cron) both allow you to experience Vintage in the car, at the gym, or wherever you want to listen to audio content. Serious Vintage is more casual than SMIP and may be more relatable for new players, but both provide valuable information.
Star City Games: Additional Vintage articles are available at SCG, though there are fewer recent regulars. Contributions from Vintage experts Brian Demars, Matt Elias, and Menendian, and going back to Darren Di Battista and Oscar Tan, present the format in the context of its metagame at the time. Plus, since the Vintage metagame changes slowly in comparison to other formats, you can still learn how to play cards and strategies from articles that are a few years old.
There are other Vintage sources, of course. Other websites have articles periodically, though there are few regulars. LSV and David Ochoa, both of whom enjoy the format and demonstrate their abilities at tournaments when they can, have some Vintage content at ChannelFireball. Heather Lafferty (@Revisedangel on Twitter) has also written columns at LegitMTG about her forays into the format and may continue doing so at Gathering Magic. She will be great to follow as she learns many of the tricks of the trade, starting with the basics.
Finally, amongst a surprisingly large Magic the Gathering community, there is a lot of Vintage chatter on Twitter. Check for the #inVintage and #VintageMTG hashtags. Besides myself (@GrandpaBelcher), you can also follow Menendian (@SMenendian), the other podcast hosts, and a number of others, whom I’ve put on a Twitter list so they’re easy to find. These gamers are, for the most part, ready and willing to talk about Vintage and should be able to help new players find their way when asked nicely.
Once you’ve learned about Vintage and integrated somewhat to its online community, you’ll be ready to start playing in real life. Hopefully, you already have some Magic-playing friends whom you can convince to proxy up a deck and join you. That makes things easier not only because you have someone to play against immediately, but also because it’s easier to draw additional interest if you can show off some cards in action at your local game store.
Magic players are drawn to Vintage games, especially if they involve some real Power, foil staples, or some well-done proxies. As I mentioned before, things happen in Vintage that don’t happen in any other format, thanks in part to the restricted list and no bans, thanks also to fast mana that makes more powerful spells playable earlier. Vintage games are fast-paced but aren’t decided by the coin flip; they’re interactive, and non-Vintage players will see that if they’re able to watch.
Other places to find Vintage online might surprise you. After I left an active Vintage community in Ohio for the Washington D.C. area in 2008, I quickly realized how much I missed playing regularly. I found players (and friends) by posting on TMD and SCG’s forum that I was looking to meet other Vintage players in the area for testing and going to tournaments. Wizards’ forums, MTG Salvation, and MTG the Source might work just as well.
Also, though I don’t know how common it would be, I’ve also found players on Craigslist and on Meetup.com. Try searching under the Community header for Magic the Gathering. If there’s nothing there, post up and see what happens! Players interested in Vintage may not realize there are others out there who also want to play. This happens especially with older and casual players who don’t frequent in-store tournaments. (Normal online-meetup warnings still apply: don’t give up too much personal information; meet at a neutral public location a few times; and keep an eye on your cards.)
There are small vintage communities with lots of potential all around the U.S., beyond the obvious population center in the Northeast and on the west coast. There are good scenes in Midwest, between Cleveland, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And you might be surprised to learn there are groups Vintage players in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Colorado, and Nevada. Anywhere enough Magic players convene, Vintage is possible, really!
The most important thing to remember is that Magic players are interested in Vintage, but many of them don’t see it as a viable format simply because they haven’t had an opportunity to try it. If you have an interest in Vintage, find others and encourage them to give it a shot. I guarantee you’ll find a vibrant format that’s deeper than you would have expected, with new challenges to overcome and skills to learn.
I have used all of these resources (or they’ve been used on me) at some point in my Vintage career, as ways to find other players and build local communities. Part of the process is to remain positive and active: find and make connections, attend and schedule events, and don’t be afraid to be excited about Vintage. It’s a definite grassroots effort, and it can take some time to get rolling, but it can be done. Eventually, you’ll make new friends and play more Magic the Gathering. Good luck, and have fun!
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