The Vintage Advantage: Vintage Mailbag

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08_12 The Vintage Advantage

Vintage is humming along right now. The first MTGO Premiere event for the format fired with 64 participants, players are looking forward to the Eternal Weekend and Vintage Championships at the end of October, and the banned and restricted update came back with “no changes,” highlighting once again that the format is healthy. With all this good news, I thought it might help to answer some readers’ questions.

I’ll be realistic: Vintage in recent years has been a tiny format, played regularly by maybe 1,000 players worldwide. More people were interested in it, almost as a novelty or curiosity. They might play an event now and again, maybe goldfish a deck at home or duel against a friend, but there weren’t always local events. Others might marvel at the format’s possibilities or take inspiration from some of its decks and strategies, but they saw Vintage as out of reach or not worth their time. Otherwise, this amazing format was mostly ignored. Online Vintage can only help real-life Vintage, as far as I’m concerned. The format is fun, interactive, and different from all the younger formats, and as new players experience that online and learn that events are available, my hope is that they will want to try it out offline as well. Current cardboard Vintage players should encourage this transition and especially point out that proxy events are common and accepted and drastically lower the barrier for entry to the format. Cardboard Vintage players take a lot of information about the format (like the existence of proxies) for granted.

Thanks for reading! This is a great question. Vintage has been called stagnant by some critics, and it’s true that, because of the format’s nature (older cards and busier players), it can seem to move slowly as many deckbuilding truths are held onto without testing long past their usefulness. We still get new decks and format adjustments as cards are printed, restricted, or unrestricted and combos are discovered, but these are gradual. More frequently, we see changes as a pendulum swing: combo goes up as Workshops go down; Dredge decreases as hate increases; Oath of Druids comes in to push creatures down, and so on. Many of these pendulums are working all the time. This effect can be even more pronounced in local metagames as players may have a tendency to play one deck or archetype to the exclusion of all others. If your eight-player weekly event always has a Dredge player, you’d best be prepared. Back to the question: will Vintage still evolve slowly? Probably, but entirely new decks should come about more often, even if briefly. The best cards in Magic have risen to the top of the Vintage cardpool over the years, so those should be fairly well known and continue to be used first without many surprises. However, new players will bring fresh eyes to the format. Players coming from Standard, Modern, and Legacy will bring their formats’ best cards and strategies with them and might try them in Vintage, with varying degrees of success. Winning an online tournament 4-0 will get noticed, so those decks will get more play online and in person to see whether they’re actually good or just a fluke.

Gush is always a powerful option. Gush decks (like the combo deck I wrote about a few weeks ago) tend to be very lean on mana, often running fewer than 20 sources and making up for it with efficient cantrips and powerful spells. They have a weakness to Workshop decks in general because of the manabase, but they make up for it with a stronger game against blue decks because they can usually draw more cards faster. Workshops are popular currently, as are hatebears-type decks with Spirit of the Labyrinth and other annoying cards, but Gush should have the tools to fight these. While not what some would consider a Gush deck, Delver is a strong deck in Vintage and capitalizes on its efficient creatures with Gush to keep its hand filled with counterspells. The simplest builds are blue-red, including Young Pyromancer and Lightning Bolt, but green adds Tarmogoyf, Trygon Predator, and Ancient Grudge, and black can add Deathrite Shaman and restricted tutors. You lose some of the raw power that Tinker or Tendrils of Agony might provide, but you gain a lot in consistency and resiliency. A.J. Grasso’s and Benjamin Donais’s lists from the Vintage Championship last year are a good place to start. So, while I wouldn’t necessarily be eager to take a Gush-based deck into a tournament where I would expect to play against Workshops three out of five rounds and again in the top eight, I’d be happy to play it elsewhere. Newer players should consider picking up a copy of Stephen Menendian’s Únderstanding Gush book (due soon for a third edition, I believe) before diving into their first event with Gush. The card has some nuanced interactions—dealing with Wastelands, managing mana in play and in the mana pool, and so on—that can be frustrating if you’re unfamiliar. I’m very much a fan of learning on the fly, so I wouldn’t recommend this if it weren’t worth the read.

 

For a long time, Cleveland, Ohio, was known as somewhat of a hub of Workshop development in Vintage. The Ohio metagame had Mark Trogdon, Jerry Yang, Nam Tran, and Twaun Michaels: all great Workshop players and innovators. People thought it was hilarious that Slash Panther got played in Vintage, but in Ohio we dealt with things like Wirecat and O-Naginata well before that.

Today, Kuldotha Forgemaster and Lodestone Golem have revolutionized the Workshop game. Decks are faster, more powerful, and more reactive. Though they’re still fairly linear—relying almost solely on artifacts—Workshops are finally giving blue decks consistent and challenging competition.

In a metagame where Workshops make up a significant portion, there are definite reasons to play an anti-artifact hate deck. Most blue decks also play plenty of artifacts: five Moxes, Black Lotus, Time Vault, Voltaic Key, and a Tinker target to start with, so artifact hate won’t be dead against them either. This MTGO Vintage metagame breakdown (taken with permission from the Yawgmoth’s Soap Opera podcast), with its wedge of MUD, suggests that the online environment might be ripe for artifact hate.

The cards are available; red, green, and white all provide plenty of options for artifact removal and disruption. Blue, of course, adds Force of Will, Hurkyl’s Recall, Energy Flux, Trygon Predator, and Magus of the Unseen, along with its restricted brokenness.

For a decklist that should soundly beat Workshops without being a dog to blue decks, Oath of Druids, and combo, I went to our team’s resident hatebears expert, Jake Hilty. He recommended this:

This list has plenty of extra mana to play through denial (Elvish Spirit Guide and Deathrite Shaman) as well as removal like Qasali Pridemage, Kataki and Swords to Plowshares. Postboard, even more can come in with Snuff Out and an additional Stony Silence for Kuldotha Forgemaster and Metalworker. Against blue, combo, and Oath of Druids, you can drop some of the artifact specific hate for Aegis of the Gods and counters. Rest in Peace could also be added (beyond the maindeck Grafdigger’s Cages) if you’re worried about Dredge.

If you’re looking for decks with more objectively powerful cards, a Grixis list with Force of Will, Goblin Welder, Gorilla Shaman, and Dack Fayden should have a strong game against shops as long as the mana is solid. You can maindeck Hurkyl’s Recall as well, since it answers Blightsteel Colossus as well as Workshops.

 

I’m glad I get to answer this question because it gives me an excuse to talk about M15 without doing a complete overview. There just isn’t much in this set that excites me. Usually I like Core Sets a lot because their cards’ simplicity belies their usefulness; spells with no frills can be aggressively costed. So, though there are some neat callbacks to other sets and cards, M15 seems over-designed and gimmicky.

Hushwing Gryff is this set’s best hatebear: a Torpor Orb with flash and wings. Unfortunately, Torpor Orb isn’t currently played since there aren’t that many enter the battlefield effects that matter beyond Snapcaster Mage. Worse still, the kind of deck that would play Hushwing Gryff would almost certainly want some creatures with enter the battlefield effects, especially Leonin Relic-Warder. The Gryff’s best chance is if someone builds an aggro-control deck with Stifles and Phyrexian Dreadnaught.

Chasm Skulker and Ensoul Artifact are both aggressive blue “creatures” that might see some play. Chasm Skulker can grow quickly in a Gush deck or alongside Jace, but it competes for space with things like the incredibly efficient Delver of Secrets and Tarmogoyf, which often starts bigger. I like that killing it still leaves you with Squid tokens, but lots of removal in Vintage will bounce or exile it, giving you nothing. Ensoul Artifact is useful just because of Moxes. A 5/5 on turn one or two is a big threat and probably faster than Tarmogoyf! It would be risky to build a deck entirely around Ensoul because of the artifact removal and bounce played with Workshops in the format, but the card does present some interesting options for Oath of Druids decks where creatures are otherwise no good. Ensoul Artifact might also be the card that makes Mono-Blue Shops viable.

Seeing new sliver cards is always interesting. I’ve pared my collection down to Vintage and Legacy playables and potential playables, and I’ve kept playsets of all the slivers I could. The cheaper slivers in M15, especially Diffusion Sliver, are all interesting, and Sliver Hive along with Cavern of Souls and five-color lands could auto-build an aggro-control deck similar to Merfolk, with all of the game’s best slivers. I definitely expect to see players experimenting with Slivers builds once the set is legal.

Void Snare, Reclamation Sage, and Ulcerate will likely all see play as role players at some point. These are the Core Set cards I look for; they’re efficient and effective. Void Snare and Reclamation Sage provide some benefits over similar cards, so players will make their selections based on their deck and what they need to do. Ulcerate kills Lodestone Golem (and other creatures) at instant speed for one mana. It might not be as good as Lightning Bolt, which can kill Jace or your opponent too, but Vintage decks are more likely to play black than red.

Other cards are interesting but cost too much to see play. Stain the Mind is an amazing effect (imagine taking all the Oath of Druids from an Oath deck), but five mana or creatures is a hefty price. Act on Impulse is slow, so unless a player is dead-set against playing blue or black, I don’t think it makes the cut. Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, and his ilk all have faster, better analogues in the format. Avarice Amulet compares unfavorably with Staff of Nin since it has a bizarre drawback and needs a creature to equip. And Chief Engineer puts you in the weird position of tapping creatures for mana instead of attacking with them.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions. I’ll do another mailbag again in a few months, and you can always as questions of me here in the comments or on Twitter.

Next article I’ll have some more of “What’s New in Vintage,” showcasing new and interesting decks from the format online and off. Thanks for reading!

Nat Moes
@GrandpaBelcher

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