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The Vintage Advantage: Vintage Masters Review

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

08_12 The Vintage Advantage

After talking about the implications of Vintage Masters in my previous article, it seems fun now to talk about some of the cards in it. Most of them are reprints, of course, so their utility shouldn’t be much of a mystery. Players can easily check themselves whether the card has seen play in the past, whether in Vintage or some other Magic: the Gathering format. There are still some interesting discussions to be had, though, especially for the “established” players that Vintage Masters was aimed at.

I’m not going to cover the already known Vintage cards here. You can find plenty of lists and articles about them here in my archives and elsewhere. I’ll look at some of the new cards first, then some of the represented decks, then some of the reprinted cards and how they are or have been used in Vintage previously. It’s really a lot to look at. This is a fascinating set, both from a historical perspective and looking forward. I’m interested to see how it’s received as a draft format.

The New

Of the 325 cards released in Vintage Masters, several are from the upcoming Conspiracy set (which will not released online itself) and a few were created especially for Vintage Masters. As with any set, though, only very few deserve consideration in Vintage. This is the format of Yawgmoth and Mishra, after all.

Council’s Judgment – This got some attention as a sort of mono-white Vindicate. It exiles rather than destroying, so it deals with Blightsteel Colossus, and it doesn’t target, so it handles True-Name Nemesis. Unfortunately, it costs three and is double white. I don’t expect to see this in Vintage anytime soon, but it’s valuable to remember, especially if True-Name starts showing up in greater numbers.

Tyrant’s Choice – Another sorcery. The choice you can always have is to deal your opponent four damage for two mana, which could be playable in a Burn-style deck (which I’ll have more on later). The more important option, which will never happen when it matters, would be to have your opponent sacrifice their giant Vintage monster.

Muzzio, Visionary Architect – Muzzio’s ability looks playable in Vintage, and its casting and activation costs aren’t too heinous. Putting artifacts directly into play is powerful, but the setup is tricky. Most blue-based Vintage decks will have Moxes, a few one-drop artifacts, Time Vault, and then Blightsteel Colossus—not a lot of room to dig deep with Muzzio. Workshops could make the card work, but they’re not easily geared to play a card with two blue in the upper right. There’s probably a way to make one of these work, but it will take some effort.

Magister of Worth – Probably too expensive to hardcast regularly in Vintage, Magister makes an interesting Oath of Druids target against creature-based decks, even Workshops. The will of the council ability allows you to always wipe the board, leaving the 4/4 angel as the biggest thing out there. Terastodon is probably still the better option with a similar effect, but Magister flies and is slightly cheaper to hardcast.

Coercive Portal – Assuming you and your opponent don’t want to blow up the world, Portal is a one-sided, four-drop Howling Mine in a Workshop deck. Other similar cards—Bottled Cloister, Grafted Skullcap —are unplayed, but they have drawbacks. Staff of Nin sees some play at six mana, but with a second, relevant ability. I don’t see Portal taking off; I’d rather play another lock piece than wait a turn to draw a card.

Dack Fayden – Dack should be playable in Vintage; he’s blue with decent abilities at the right cost. He won’t be as universal as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but I think there could be a Dack-based deck (probably with Goblin Welders, similar to Control Slaver) and other decks would use him as a one- or two-of alongside Jace. His +1 ability is good for card filtering, and his -2 beats Workshops and Blightsteel without Time Walk. The Vintage Superfriends list I wrote about a couple of weeks ago definitely wants at least one Dack.

The Old

Looking through the list of Vintage Masters cards should be like a walk down Memory Lane for some players. Along with the new cards from Conspiracy and the utility cards that fill out the set and make it draftable, Wizards included the basics of several decks from Magic’s history. Marshall Sutcliffe wrote about some of the more generic ones, including Madness (which pops up periodically in paper Vintage still, powered by Bazaar of Baghdad) and The Rock, on the mothership.

Erhnamgeddon and Erhnam and Burn’em – Headlining two of the earliest well-known decks in the game, Erhnam Djinn proved to be an efficient beatstick when backed up by either heavy mana disruption like Armageddon or burn for board control and reach. The djinn’s drawback didn’t matter much when you didn’t have any forests to walk through or your opponent didn’t have any creatures.

Full English Breakfast – In the Eternal formats, unlike newer ones, graveyard order matters. Some early cards depended on it, so it’s important to know how spells stack and resolve to end up there. One of these cards is Volrath’s Shapeshifter, the key in Paul Barclay’s 1999 Full English Breakfast combo deck. The original combo was to play Shapeshifter, discard Flowstone Hellion to give it haste and attack, stack 11 instances of Hellion’s ability, then discard Phyrexian Dreadnaught (which I’m surprised isn’t in Vintage Masters). Shapeshifter, now a 12/12 Dreadnaught, had its Hellion abilities resolve 11 times and became a 23/1 with trample, mid combat. Vintage Masters provides plenty creatures worth copying and instant-speed discard abilities, including Psychatog and Survival of the Fittest, to help fuel the changes.

Rec-Sur – Survival of the Fittest was an important engine in another deck available in Vintage Masters, Rec-Sur, similar to that played to victory by Brian Selden in the 1998 World Championship. The idea is to discard creatures to Survival of the Fittest and then use Recurring Nightmare to reanimate the discards. With this, you have access to a toolbox of answers and threats as well as a way to cheat giant monsters into play.

Fires – An aggro-combo deck that appeared in 2000, Fires curved a turn-one mana maker into turn-two Fires of Yavimaya, turn-three Blastoderm, and turn four Saproling Burst. All three of these cards make the cut in Vintage Masters, as does Chimeric Idol, an interesting card in a deck that was so good at using all of its mana every turn.

Astral Slide – In 2002, Astral Slide and Lightning Rift combined with a bunch of utility spells with cycling to control the board and get extra uses from creatures with enters-the-battlefield effects. The tools are present in Vintage Masters, including all of the cycling lands and several spells like Solar Blast and Decree of Justice that have triggered effects on cycling. This deck should always hit its land drops and have no trouble finding important cards once it gets its cycling engine running.

Other decks are well represented too: Upheaval Tog, Draw-Go with Morphling, Academy decks with Stroke of Genius, Goblins, even the old classic Channel-Fireball (with Fireball upgraded to Kaervek’s Torch). Looking through the list of Vintage Masters cards it’s easy to see Card A and think, “I wonder if Card B is here too… There it is!” The set is a great opportunity to reflect on the Magic’s past or start learning about it now.

Individual Cards

Plenty of interesting cards in this set—some good inclusions and some strange exclusions. I’m most surprised Goblin Welder didn’t make the cut, but I know a lot of people were disappointed Wasteland wasn’t in. Part of that is because Wasteland is expensive on MTGO. Anyway, there are a bunch of these, so I’ll try to get through them quickly.

Decree of Justice – Worked great under Standstill as a non-spell win condition in Landstill decks with white. UR Landstill is more common now.

Devout Witness – Reusable artifact removal is great against Vintage Workshop decks. This shows up in sideboards for decks like Bomberman and Blue Angels.

Gilded Light – I didn’t realize this card existed. It could be playable against Tendrils of Agony, especially for surprise factor.

Karmic Guide – Part of one of the smaller Flash combos using Protean Hulk:

1. Flash in Hulk and let it go to the graveyard;
2. Get Karmic Guide and Carrion Feeder;
3. Get Hulk back with Guide and sac it to Feeder;
4. Get Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker with Hulk’s trigger;
5. Copy Karmic Guide with Kiki-Jiki;
6. Sac Kiki-Jiki to Feeder with Guide’s ability on the stack;
7. Guide’s ability gets back Kiki-Jiki;
8. Repeat from step 5.
9. Congratulations! You have an arbitrarily large Carrion Feeder and an army of hasty, pro-black Karmic Guides. Attack. Flash is now restricted, by the way.

Seal of Cleansing – Also good against Workshop decks or Oath of Druids as removal that can be played preemptively. You can open with  this on the play versus Shops and avoid their Sphere of Resistance effects.

Academy EliteCognivore was an early Oath of Druids target since you would dump a bunch of instants in the graveyard. Academy Elite could replicate that, though it lacks Cognivore’s evasion or the raw power of current Oath targets.

Brain Freeze – This storm win condition has been played in Vintage High Tide lists with Frantic Search, Time Spiral, and Mind’s Desire; as backup in Mono-Blue Belcher lists; and in Tidespout Tyrant Oath.

Cloud of Faeries – Played in early UR Fish decks as a way to make an attacker and hold up mana for disruption. Flying was great with Curiosity too.

Future Sight – Combos with Helm of Awakening and Sensei’s Divining Top to draw your deck and build storm.

Morphling – Does pretty much everything and is hard to kill or block, as long as you have blue mana available. The win condition of choice in blue control decks for years.

Ophidian – The one-eyed wonder snake was upgraded by Scroll Thief, but it was used in its day as a four-of in blue control to maintain card advantage over the opponent. Once you had counters for everything you could win at your leisure.

Power Sink – This card lost some oomph when interrupts were cut from the rules. Now opponents are free to respond with instants and abilities before Power Sink resolves.

Sea Drake – The ability targets, so if you can’t target and return two lands, you only return what you can. This is pretty handy in a format with Moxes and Black Lotus.

Waterfront Bouncer – Surprisingly good in a format with Tinker. It was good against Oath too until they started getting Griselbrand. Still played in some Merfolk and Fish decks.

Carnophage and Sarcomancy – These were both played in Mono-Black Aggro, commonly called Suicide Black. One-drop 2/2s were pretty slim pickings back then. Note that Sarcomancy requires any zombie, not just the one it creates.

Hymn to Tourach – Another piece of Suicide Black, Hymn isn’t much played in Vintage. The selected discard of Duress and Thoughtseize are more important for breaking up plays than the advantage two random discards provide.

Nature’s Ruin – When Noble Fish was more common, Nature’s Ruin could clear a board-full of Tarmogoyfs, Qasali Pridemages, and Noble Hierarchs. It’s still pretty useful in that regard. Virtue’s Ruin is probably more important now because of white’s disruptive creatures, and Toxic Deluge is more flexible than either of those.

Putrid ImpPutrid Imp was an enabler in the first Vintage Dredge decks, before Serum Powder was added for the sole purpose of getting Bazaar of Baghdad.

Chain Lightning and Fireblast – Burn gets tried in Vintage, especially by players on a budget. It’s basically a slow combo deck that’s easy to race, and the disruption it has (burning creatures) is frequently not useful in the format.

Gamble – This card always feels so close to being good. The problem is that you can’t rely on it to do anything; even with graveyard recursion, you know you’re going to discard the card you want to keep.

Goblin Lackey, Goblin Matron, and Goblin Ringleader – Goblins is frequently a playable archetype in Vintage since it can be fast (Goblin Piledriver) or disruptive (Earwig Squad). Matron acts as Demonic Tutor, and Ringleader as Fact or Fiction; Lackey makes them both uncounterable.

Orcish Lumberjack – A surprisingly powerful accelerant that hadn’t seen much play until the Survival of the Fittest deck I featured a few weeks ago.

Rorix Bladewing – Funny story: in 2005 or so, a friend of mine put together an Oath of Druids deck that skipped the more common targets at the time (Spirit of the Night and Akroma, Angel of Wrath) for two Rorix. He realized his mistake when he Oathed the second time in one game and sent two Rorix to the graveyard.

Worldgorger Dragon – The Worldgorger Dragon combo still shows up from time to time. Usually the deck uses Bazaar of Baghdad to dump Dragon into the graveyard, then brings it back using Animate Dead or a similar enchantment.

1. Animate Dead targets Worldgorger Dragon and brings it into play.
2. Dragon triggers and removes all permanents from play, including Animate Dead.
3. No longer animated, Dragon dies.
4. Dragon’s other trigger happens, returning all permanents to play untapped, including Animate Dead.
5. You can tap all your lands, draw and discard with Bazaar of Baghdad, and play other instants and abilities.
6. Start again from step 1, or choose a different target with Animate Dead, preferably one that can use infinite mana. Classically it was Ambassador Laquatus or Shivan Hellkite; today it’s usually Oona, Queen of the Fae.

Basking Rootwalla – I mentioned earlier that Madness still shows up in Vintage results periodically. Rootwalla is still part of the deck. Free 1/1s, man.

Berserk – The classic finisher in Vintage Psychatog decks, accessed from the sideboard using Cunning Wish.

Hermit Druid – Part of the Angry Ghoul deck, Druid was used in decks with one or zero basic lands to mill the library and find a lethal creature to reanimate. Frequently this creature was Sutured Ghoul, which I’m surprised isn’t in Vintage Masters. Today the same idea is used in Vintage (and in Legacy as Oops, All Spells) with Balustrade Spy and Undercity Informer.

Sylvan Library – Still a great draw engine and filter; cost effective and powerful. This doesn’t show up in Vintage much, probably because Oath of Druids shares its mana cost.

Wild Mongrel – My first Vintage deck used Wild Mongrel to put artifacts in the graveyard for Goblin Welder to put back into play. I could use Memory Jar multiple times in one turn to make Mongrel lethal in a hurry.

City in a Bottle – A surprisingly effective hate card against most Vintage Dredge lists since it hits not only Bazaar of Baghdad, but City of Brass as well.

Ring of Gix – When it was first released, foil Ring of Gix was a $75 card because Ring was replacing Icy Manipulator. I mention the price only because I opened one in a pack and held onto it until it was worth $1.

Su-Chi – Workshop Aggro decks used to use this card as second-best to Juggernaut. They’d regularly take four mana burn when it got killed. It might get new life combined with Kuldotha Forgemaster.

Mountain Valley et al. – It was only after the actual fetchlands were released that my friends and I even noticed this cycle from Mirage. We call them retchlands. So bad.

Overall Vintage Masters looks like a well-designed set, at least from an established player’s perspective. The cards selected for the set present some clever nods to the history of the game, as well as good utility and interesting options in Vintage, and they should come together well for a fun draft experience.

Thanks for reading!
Nat Moes

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