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The Vintage Advantage: What’s New in Vintage IV: Delve

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

08_12 The Vintage Advantage

I had planned on doing another What’s New in Vintage article a few months ago, but with the release of Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, as well as the recent Vintage Championship, I figured it would be safer to wait a couple of weeks and see how the format would develop.

So far I’m surprised; neither spell is quite as pervasive as I expected. Anyone calling for the restriction of one or both is off base at this point. They’re showing up with a frequency similar to cards like Gush and Mana Drain—that is, they’re powerful and playable but not overwhelming. Something new will have to break for either Dig or Cruise to get restricted in the next few months. As for me, I prefer a smaller restricted list wherever possible, and think the format can correct itself in most cases.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

Treasure Cruise definitely made its presence felt at Champs, putting 14 copies into the top eight, among four decks. Most builds Cruising in great numbers are similar, running UR Delver or URg Delver to splash for Ancient Grudge and Trygon Predator (that is, Workshop hate). Many of these lists are running three or four copies of Cruise, and it’s rare to see decks running it as a two-of. It seems that, if your plan is to draw a lot of cards, you’re going to go at it with gusto and not skimp on the Cruises.

If you’re interested in the Delver lists, I can’t blame you. They’re very consistent and should be familiar to anyone who plays a similar build in Legacy. With them, you’ll draw a lot of cards, counter a lot of spells, and make a lot of Elementals thanks to Young Pyromancer. You can look at the Champs results  for different ways to build the list.

Going beyond Champs, a few decklists stand out from the crowd of Delvers, however:

Andrew Blackwell played this list into second place at a tournament in Glen Burnie, Maryland, on 11 November. It is a straightforward aggro-combo list based around the infect mechanic and the multitude of efficient and free pump spells printed over the years. The deck would aim to play one of it’s infect creatures and then pump it to 10/10 over the next turn or two to win in the attack phase. Gitaxian Probe makes sure the coast is clear, and there are enough counters to disrupt the opponent and deal with limited removal.

Since the pump spells, counters, and fetchlands all go to the graveyard, Treasure Cruise seems like a natural fit. Drawing three cards will push the deck over the top with the last few creature buffs, or it can help reload if something goes wrong.

Several commenters on The Mana Drain asked why Treasure Cruise over Become Immense and its delve for +6/+6. Basically, I think Cruise plays more roles. It serves as fodder for Force of Will early on but allows the deck to play a slightly longer control game if necessary. The counter package isn’t much smaller than some used in the UR Delver decks and can be augmented by the additional Dazes in the sideboard. Would pump spells 13–16 really be better, especially with the restriction on how early they can be cast?

This deck from Europe, played by Amadeus Kurz in Mühltal, Germany, on 26 October, brings back a lot of cards we haven’t seen regularly in Vintage in a while. Magus of the Moon is an infrequent player recently, especially because there have been more Lightning Bolts in the format, which makes turning lands into Mountains with a 2/2 in play a liability. Meloku, the Clouded Mirror, is a powerful finisher that has up till now been outgunned by recent creature printings.

The free counterspells—Force of Will, Misdirection, and Mental Misstep—along with the efficient removal (including Pyroblast!) make returning lands with Meloku a relatively painless process. This deck can probably run efficiently on two mana especially once Dack Fayden and Meloku are in play. Dack, of course, is a legitimate control piece in the Workshops matchup, is an answer to Blightsteel Colossus, and helps fuel delve. My one fault with him is that, unlike Jace, the Mind Sculptor, he can’t win the game on his own.

Part of this deck’s appeal is it’s red versus blue gameplan. Pyroblast is strong against some of Vintage’s best spells, including high-investment delve spells, and Magus of the Moon can be exceptionally disruptive to a Vintage manabase, no matter the deck. Played early it can shut down Mishra’s Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad, neutering artifact and Dredge decks. Against blue decks it forces them to find their often one-of island or be stuck with nothing but red mana from fetchlands and duals.

Digging for Wins

Moving on to Dig Through Time, we should look at two lists from the recent event in Columbus, 8 November.

Jake Hilty split the top four with this list, the same he used to get ninth place at Champs. Carsten Kotter wrote about this deck and the rest of the Champs T8, if you’re interested in his take.

It’s notable for a few reasons. First, this is one of the few lists in Vintage with a maindeck plan that’s not based on creatures. That blanks many opposing cards like Lightning Bolt, Dismember, and Toxic Deluge, and it allows more room to run more broken cards. There is enough card drawing, discard, and counter power to play the control role, but Dig Through Time, Gifts Ungiven, Tinker, and other great cards let you just win when necessary.

Second, check out that sideboard. I should have included this deck in my last article as an example of how the Oath of Druids package is compact enough to fit into the board. The transformation will be unexpected in many matchups and is especially strong versus opposing creatures and Workshop decks, where it should be easy to resolve a two-drop enchantment and the additional lands give you some resilience against Sphere of Resistance and other mana denial effects.

I played a similar list to the top four of that tournament, maxing out on Dig Through Time because I think it’s really good at putting Vintage cards together.

An end-of-turn Dig Through Time in this could put together:
Time Vault + Key
Gush + Fastbond
Jace + Force of Will
Tinker + Time Walk
Yawgmoth’s Will + Black Lotus

And so on, including tutors and other draw spells.

I’ll say that four Dig Through Time did not seem like too many, as there were several times where I Merchant Scrolled to find one or used the first one to get the second. I used them in several roles to put combos together as above and to find more counters or discard to protect a win I already had. It also didn’t conflict with Yawgmoth’s Will as bad as I expected, since I could delve selectively and draw past Will when necessary with Preordain or Dig itself.

I had trouble beating faster combo decks (Burning Oath) and Workshops, but both of those matchups could be corrected in the sideboard. The Oath of Druids plan might just be the way to go.

My prediction is that these Dig Through Time decks will become more popular as people look for ways to fight the Treasure Cruise-Gush engine with more powerful cards.

The Anti-Delve Route

Looking at other ways to beat delve, there is probably room in the format for decks that run maindeck graveyard hate.

Tom Dixon’s list from Wantagh, New York on 1 November showcases the Rest in PeaceHelm of Obedience combo in Vintage. Similar lists have been played before, but they could become more popular because of the power of graveyard hate in a strong control shell. Just imagine being able to Mana Drain a Treasure Cruise and funnel that power into your own great spells!

This list has several ways to deal with creature threats, including Balance and Toxic Deluge. The maindeck Moat can spell game over for many players if they weren’t planning on dealing with enchantments beyond Abrupt Decay for Oath of Druids. The Tinker target of Sphinx of the Steel Wind is also a great addition. Its laundry list of abilities helps it dodge many removal spells (namely Ancient Grudge, Nature’s Claim, and Ingot Chewer) and provides a powerful answer to Young Pyromancer, in addition to flying over Moat. I’m excited to see Sphinx return to the format.

My question is whether this deck can keep up with the delve and Gush based draw engines in the long run, however. Resolved Rest in Peace is certainly good, but you’re then reliant on finding and resolving Helm of Obedience or Tinker before your opponent just outdraws you with Gush and runs you over anyway. I’d also question whether maindeck Helm and RIP are better than a set of Dig Through Times. I’m interested in testing this to find out, though.


Nam Tran, who finished in the top eight at Champs, played Workshops with a twist at the recent Columbus event. Two-Card Monte has been around for a few years as a Workshop combo list. Instead of using artifact lock pieces to limit your opponent’s spellcasting capabilities and grind them out of the game, you try to put together Leyline of the Void and Helm of Obedience or Painter’s Servant and Grindstone. (The two-card combos are the origin of the deck’s name.) These combos are easy to fuel into play with Mishra’s Workshop (considering that Leyline is often free), and they’re quick and deadly once they resolve.

Tran’s list uses all five colors to support tutors and Ancestral Recall to find the pieces, as well as Goblin Welder and Red Elemental Blast to help fight through counterspells. Between mana ramp, Tinker, Welder, and Workshop, it would also be easy enough to get Sphinx of the Steel Wind into play as an alternate win condition. Postboard, you can bring in Defense Grid against blue decks or just use the giant monsters and Goblin Welders to dodge combo hate and help beat opposing Shops.

Two-Card Monte should attack delve-based decks in two ways: first, it’s got Leyline of the Void to shut off the delve plan (as well as Dredge and any other graveyard tricks); second, it should be fast and resilient enough to plow through counters before a draw engine comes online. The biggest issue—beyond trying to construct two-card combos—would be that the deck has a weakness to Mental Misstep (Welder and Grindstone) that other Workshop decks avoid.

Lots of good ways to use and abuse delve spells. I’m sure we’re just scratching the surface as the format develops around these new toys.

Commanding Presents 2014

Speaking of new toys, the Commander 2014 sets were released 7 November and have some neat new cards in them. Only Containment Priest has obvious, long-term playability in Vintage, but Daretti, Scrap Savant; Loreseeker’s Stone; Unstable Obelisk; Dualcaster Mage; Hallowed Spiritkeeper (in Dredge); and Titania, Protector of Argoth all have some potential and might be worth some testing by creative geniuses.

Containment Priest has gotten attention for both Legacy and Vintage. It stops Tinker, Oath of Druids, Show and Tell (if played in response), reanimation, the blink ability of Restoration Angel, and Kuldotha Forgemaster. It’s particularly devastating because of flash, which potentially makes it a two-for-one against Tinker and a three-for-one against Forgemaster. (Against Oath, you can flash it in response, but the Oath player can elect to not reveal cards into the graveyard.) Combined with an affordable mana cost and a solid aggro-control body, Priest’s ability will have it in Humans and similar aggro-control decks for a while.

The other cards I want to talk about would all be for Workshops. Daretti, Scrap Savant, is basically a planeswalker Welder. This comes with some significant drawbacks—namely a high mana cost and sorcery speed abilities—but it could be useful as a fifth copy of the ability, and one that plays through Mental Misstep and Chalice of the Void. Loreseeker’s Stone might fulfill a dream of every Shops player: a draw engine. Unfortunately both it and its ability are on the pricy side, especially since Workshop can’t pay for the ability. It’s probably easier and more effective to just play more lock pieces. Similarly, Unstable Obelisk is spot-removal playable off of Workshop, but a seven-mana activation is a lot to pay even for that flexibility. Spine of Ish Sah is probably better, and that doesn’t see a ton of play in Vintage either.

In the meantime, the winter Vintage season is upon us. It’s a great time for deckbuilding and theorizing. Tournaments can be frequent as players’ time isn’t taken up by summer travel and, like, spending time outside in the sun or whatever. Unfortunately, especially in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes, the weather can be unforgiving to travel. Either way, I hope you find something fun to play and a good place to play it!

Good luck at your next event!

Nat Moes

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