Getting into Vintage can be intimidating without the right guide. For many new players, the recommendation is that they go with a Null Rod-pillar build of small creatures and counterspells. Frankly, this is a lousy way to get into the format.
Playing a Null Rod deck frequently puts new players on the back foot against powered decks, playing weaker cards trying to stop the opponent’s stronger ones. New players often don’t know how best to apply their highly-targeted tempo cards—when to pitch a card to Force of Will to counter Ancestral Recall versus letting Ancestral resolve to counter a more dangerous threat, for example, or when to use Wasteland for mana versus blowing up dual land. These are skills that can be learned, certainly, but it’s a frustrating introduction to a challenging format.
The other problem is that Null Rod decks undermine some of the mystique of Vintage: resolving powerful spells that result in exciting interactions! Why make a creature that attacks for two and blows up an artifact or something when you could Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus and play Time Walk, maybe after an extensive counter battle involving multiple Force of Wills, a Mana Drain, a Flusterstorm, and an Ancestral Recall for bait? Vintage is the only format that allows most of these powerful spells, so enjoy them early and often.
What are some better ways to get into Vintage? Well, you can learn a lot from decks you’ve played in other formats.
The Show Must Go On
Many Vintage decks have near direct analogues in Legacy. Dredge, RUG Delver, Ad Nauseam, Belcher, and Merfolk, for example, are almost unchanged in decklist and playstyle between the two formats. Various builds of Landstill are pretty much the same with some adjustments made for differences in metagame (more creatures in Legacy versus more artifacts in Vintage). There are some changes made to account for restricted and banned cards, but many of those are intuitive, and anyone familiar with the deck in Legacy should have no problem transporting their skills to Vintage.
Other decks play similarly but have some Vintage tweaks to them. The Legacy Sneak and Show deck is similar to Vintage Show and Oath, at least before Griselbrand was printed. Oath of Druids is banned in Legacy, but as a two-drop enchantment that combos with Forbidden Orchard to put giant creatures into play, it’s perfect for Vintage. The list below, played by C.J. Moritz, uses Show and Tell, Oath, or Channel to put Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Blightsteel Colossus into play and set up the win for next turn. There are plenty of tutors to find combo pieces and counters and discard for backup.
Show and Oath by C.J. Moritz
Oath of Druids also powers the Burning Long deck in Vintage, which is strategically similar to the Tin Fins combo list in Legacy. Both decks have a primary plan of putting Griselbrand into play (Burning Long from the library via Oath and Tin Fins from the graveyard via Reanimation), and both have a solid storm gameplan that can work even without the demon’s help. I discussed Burning Long in more detail previously, and Stephen Menendian has put together a thorough primer on the deck at Eternal Central, so I’ll let you refer to those rather than recopying the decklist.
The Gifts That Keep On Giving
Many Vintage decks are capable of switching roles very quickly. With the power level of cards being so high, it doesn’t take an opening hand filled with Force of Wills and Mana Drains long to draw into threats and turn from a defensive stance into an offensive one. One deck that was especially adept at this was the Gifts deck, played before Gifts Ungiven was restricted in June 2007. This change interestingly coincided with the development of the Mystical Teachings decks in Standard, and many Vintage players made comparisons between the two.
Both decks were happy drawing cards and playing the control role, and Gifts’ Force of Wills, Mana Drains, and Misdirections can be seen as the Vintage equivalent to Standard’s Rune Snags, Cryptic Commands, and Pact of Negations. The trick comes in knowing when and where to make aggressive moves.
The Mystical Teachings deck would use its namesake card to access its control toolbox in the early game and could then flash it back to find Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, or counter backup for another threat. Similarly, the Gifts deck would use tutors to find Ancestral Recall to keep cards in hand and then play Gifts Ungiven to create an overwhelming advantage. It might even play multiple Gifts Ungivens in a turn (or over two turns with Time Walk): first for mana or cards and second for a game-ending combo Yawgmoth’s Will and Recoup into Tendrils of Agony or Tinker-Time Walk. (Menendian has several articles from this era that lay out Vintage Gifts Ungiven puzzles.)
As I mentioned before, Gifts Ungiven is restricted in Vintage, but that doesn’t mean the strategy is gone. In addition to the singleton Gifts, Tezzeret, the Seeker, provides many of the same functions. Consider this list from Antoni Sanchez:
Tezzeret Control by Antoni Sanchez
Current-day Tezzeret lists like this one use their counters, draw, and mana to set up playing Tezzeret, the Seeker, to search for Time Vault and take infinite turns, using either Tezzeret’s +1 ability or Voltaic Key to untap the Vault. Other similarities to the old Gifts deck are still there: Tinker as an alternate win; flexible, one-of answers like Echoing Truth and Rebuild that can be searched for; even a one-of Noxious Revival that replicates the function of Recoup in a Gifts Ungiven pile.
Two decks that might not immediately draw comparisons are Vintage Workshop Aggro lists and the Standard Faeries lists from 2008 and 2009. The goal of both decks is to resolve a threat or series of threats and prevent its opponent from resolving much of anything in the time it takes to beat them down. Faeries gained tempo from its instant-speed spells and threats like Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command that tap out the opponent. Workshop Aggro, like the list below played by Raffaele Forino at last year’s Vintage Championship, gains advantage with Lodestone Golem, Tangle Wire, Chalice of the Void, and its powerful manabase.
Workshop Aggro is a fun deck and relatively simple for new players to pick up while they learn the format. Alongside the artifact lock pieces, Kuldotha Forgemaster gives you instant answers like Duplicant or a crippling Sundering Titan.
Players interested in artifact control based around Mishra’s Workshops may also have learned some tactics from playing Commander. Arcum Dagsson, Sharuum the Hegemon, and Karn, Silver Golem, all make excellent commanders for players interested in playing powerful artifacts to lock out their opponents or blow up permanents. Whereas in Commander you might be looking for your Mycosynth Lattice, Darksteel Forge, and Nevinyrral’s Disk, in Vintage you can play multiple copies of Smokestack, Crucible of Worlds, and Wasteland or just combo with Metalworker and Staff of Domination.
(Actually, in many cases, because of the restricted list and the plethora of tutors that allow singleton answers to be found, Vintage often plays like Commander with the safety off.)
Players of the UR Storm list from Modern might find interest and common bonds with Vintage Gush Storm decks. Both strategies play cheap cantrips and mana (sometimes more than once) as a path to a game-ending storm spell: Grapeshot in Modern; Empty the Warrensor Tendrils of Agony in Vintage. In Vintage, the combination of Fastbond and Gush can serve as both a draw and mana engine but is frequently augmented by additional draw (Preordain) and additional mana (Dark Ritual or Lotus Cobra). Gush also helps “accelerate” into spells like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, by ensuring you don’t miss land drops. The list below by Vito Picozzo is a good example.
Gush Storm by Vito Picozzo
Other formats’ storm decks also use skills that transfer to Vintage. Legacy Ad Nauseam Tendrils and Belcher can both be built similarly in the format, as I mentioned before. Even something like Standard Dragonstorm list could be likened to a Vintage Drain-Tendrils list, where the removal and efficient counters that keep you alive in Standard become Mana Drain in Vintage, where it keeps you alive and then fuels your eventual storm turn.
Regardless of what you enjoy doing when you play Magic the Gathering, there will be something for you in Vintage. The plays might be bigger and splashier, but the important setup and protection strategies that make for an interactive format still exist. Everything you know about baiting counters, reading your opponent, managing resources, attacking and blocking, identifying threats, and devising creative solutions to problems will be tested to their fullest. If you have a chance, proxy some of these decks up and test them against each other—you’ll see what I mean.
Thank you very much to the members of Team Serious who helped me think of and develop these comparisons, especially to Paul Blakeley whose Arcum Dagsson EDH deck inspired this article. Next week I’ll have my wrap-up of the two larger Vintage events at GenCon, including my impressions and tournament report, as well as a look at some of the top decks.
Thanks for reading!
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