Things are starting to pan out in Vintage Magic: The Gathering, now a few weeks after Treasure Cruise was restricted, Gifts Ungiven was unrestricted, and Fate Reforged entered the format. More changes are still to come, no doubt, but we can look at what’s winning now to see where things might be headed.
Restrictions are usually easier for the format to adjust to than unrestrictions. Often restrictions simply drive a deck out of existence. How do you deal? You find a new deck! In the case of Treasure Cruise, which was most frequently used in Delver, however, that deck will probably survive. It was around before Treasure Cruise, used the spell well while it lasted, and will continue on now with one copy instead of four. They may also add Dig Through Times to make up the difference.
Gifts Ungiven’s unrestriction will take a lot more effort. It has been used before, but a lot has changed in the eight years since it was restricted, so there are new combinations to look at. Eternal Central had a series of articles from Jason Jaco, Jamie Cano, Stephen Menendian, and Guillem Ragull, all part of #GiftsWeek, looking at potential new decks. My cohorts and I on “Serious Vintage” also looked at Gifts past and future with Andy “Brassman” Probasco, one of the great abusers of the card from its previous heyday. And at Star City Games, Carsten Kotter put together a great Gifts overview, along with some of the decks he’s looking at to use it in as a four-of. Definitely check these out if you’re interested in playing the card because, as is appropriate for a shiny, wrapped present, Gifts Ungiven could turn out to be anything!
Kotter’s article posits that “Whoever thinks Jace, the Mind Sculptor, is even close to Gifts Ungiven in power level is kidding themselves,” and he’s almost certainly right. In my testing with the card, resolving Gifts Ungiven in a deck designed to abuse it leads directly to victory. Resolving Jace regularly leads to several Brainstorms, which is also very good, but less certain.
Gifts Ungiven is great for putting combinations of cards together, a trait that Adam Subirana recognized when he used it as a four-of in his Tezzeret Control list to make top eight out of 37 players at the inaugural event of the 2015 Liga Catalana de Vintage in Barcelona, Spain.
Adam Subirana – Tezzeret Control “Tezzeret Pipa”
The deck is focused and chock full of some of the best spells in Vintage. In this case, Adam looks to use Gifts to set up Time Vault with either Voltaic Key or Tezzeret, the Seeker, to take the remaining turns and win with Blightsteel Colossus, planeswalker activations, or Snapcaster Mage. Snapcaster, Noxious Revival, and of course Yawgmoth’s Will help set up game-winning Gifts piles, since their ability to recur critical spells and permanents puts opponents into a no-outs situation. Tezzeret himself allows a Gifts pile that includes Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, that can always find Time Vault and establish the combo.
Postboard, Adam has access to the obvious and necessary cards against Dredge and Workshops. The Thoughtseizes and Flusterstorm are strong ways to fight through opposing counters, especially alongside Notion Thief against Gushes and combo decks armed with draw sevens. I’m a little surprised to see Rebuild in a deck without a storm win condition and no Helm of Obedience to go along with Leyline of the Void and Tezzeret, but that’s okay. The deck looks solid.
Vasu Balakrishan put Gifts Ungiven into the top four of the 62-player Black Magic Invitational, 31 January, in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. There’s a lot going on in this decklist.
Vasu Balakrishnan – Tasigur Bomber Gifts
This list has everything! The Bomberman combo of Auriok Salvagers and Black Lotus, one of the first big appearances of Tasigur in Vintage, Unburial Rites, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, four Containment Priest and two True-Name Nemesis in the board—it’s great. Tying it all together is Gifts Ungiven, again with a one-of Noxious Revival. Revival and Unburial Rites can put Salvagers and Lotus together, and with the limitless mana, Tasigur can combo to “draw” all the non-lands in your deck. You can then take all the turns with Time Walk and deck your opponent with Ancestral Recall.
I said in my Fate Reforged review that I didn’t think Tasigur would quite make the cut in Vintage, but he’s definitely worthwhile here. He gives Bomberman a legitimate aggro plan beyond attacking with Trinket Mage and Salvagers. Post-board, the Containment Priests and True-Name Nemeses accentuate that plan, as well as provide answers to Dredge, Oath, Tinker, and opposing creatures. This looks like a fun deck to play, if only because the Gifts piles would be so varied situationally. Vasu also wrote a tournament report that’s worth checking out.
When Fate Reforged released, Monastery Mentor was the card that got immediate attention as a potential Vintage playable. Young Pyromancer had already made its presence known, and Mentor had some notable upgrades to go along with its slightly higher cost. Importantly, because of prowess, the Monk tokens it makes are legitimate threats in their own right, even if Mentor gets removed. Depending on player preference, white also offers some sideboard advantages over red, able to hit graveyards and enchantments like Oath of Druids. Monastery Mentor decks were quick to appear, constructed similarly to the UR Pyromancer Delver decks that had been popular.
Kevin Cron, co-host of the “So Many Insane Plays” podcast with Stephen Menendian, put a new twist on the previous Delver decks by adding Mystic Remora along with Monastery Mentor. His first iteration of this deck was played at an unsanctioned tournament before Treasure Cruise’s restriction but after Mentor was spoiled, so he played four of each, making him the only person to win a tournament with that configuration. His later build, played to the finals of a Team Serious event in Norwalk, Ohio, followed the new restrictions:
Kevin Cron – Mentor Control
Mystic Remora is a strong control option that will either fill your hand with spells to trigger Monastery Mentor or discourage your opponent from doing anything so that you can progress your plan at your own pace. Remora shows up in Vintage when opponents are playing lots of non-creatures: Gush-based cantrip decks and storm decks, for example. Against Kevin’s deck, of course, opponents won’t have time to wait for Remora go away. Kevin can keep drawing cards and playing control, triggering Mentor with free spells like Gush and Gitaxian Probe, as well as things like Sensei’s Divining Top that get replayed every turn and Hurkyl’s Recall, which allows a mass triggering from returned Moxes.
Postboard, the red splash for Red Elemental Blast lends a really efficient hard counter for bombs like Tinker, Gifts Ungiven, or Dig Through Time, as well as an edge in counterwars. Engineered Explosives and Hurkyl’s Recall are both good against Workshop decks, especially as Explosives can get played around Sphere of Resistance effects, thanks to sunburst. Grafdigger’s Cage and Containment Priest do double duty against Oath and Dredge, so the sideboard looks balanced overall.
Speaking of… I rarely feature Dredge decks because they often look pretty much the same. Game one do the Bazaar of Baghdad thing, make some tokens with Bridge from Below, and win either with the Zombie horde or a Dread Return target that puts the game away. Games two and three, come up with a plan to win against your opponent’s six or more anti-Dredge cards. Of course, Dredge is a viable and important part of the metagame, so it deserves some love too.
Lance Ballester played a somewhat unconventional list, also to the top four of the Black Magic Invitational.
Lance Ballester – Dr. Edge’s Lab
Game one looks pretty typical, except that it has 10 free counterspells, which along with Cabal Therapy would give this deck a legitimate control game. The deck drops to two Bridge from Below, looking to win with Dread Returns for Griselbrand and Laboratory Maniac rather than with Zombie tokens necessarily.
Postboard, rather than worrying about graveyard hate at all, Lance’s deck transformed into aggro-combo. Adding four Divining Witch allows an easy combo with Laboratory Maniac, first helping find LabMan and then helping trigger it with a search for a nonexistent card. Mental Misstep now helps protect LabMan from Lightning Bolts and Swords to Plowshares. Adding Mayor of Avabruk powers up the other humans, making them into red-zone threats. Cards like Rest in Peace and Grafdigger’s Cage won’t even be a concern at this point.
Across the world, at CanCon in Canberra, Australia, Adam Douglas unleashed this deck. The sideboard is pretty typical anti-Dredge-hate cards, but the maindeck kill using Sharuum the Hegemon is uncommon.
Adam Douglas – Portal Dredge
The combo works as normal in Dredge, but it allows a player to win without attacking. When it comes time to Dread Return, Sharuum the Hegemon can either get Possessed Portal to soft-lock the opponent without hindering the dredge ability, or it can get Altar of Dementia. With the Altar in play, a second Dread Return (sacrificing the first Sharuum in response) for a second Sharuum allows a player to chain Sharuum through the Altar to mill the opponent (or dump more cards in the graveyard) and to make limitless Zombie tokens. Sharuum can also get Lion’s Eye Diamondor Seat of the Synod to fuel Fatestitcher and more dredging.
So, Where Are the Workshops?
Mishra’s Workshop decks are still very much alive and well, but as it turns out, I can only make room for so many decklists. Prison strategies are still the most common, aiming to lock the opponent out of doing anything relevant, usually by hindering mana. If fully powered Gifts decks do make a complete comeback, Shops will have to deal with that, including a potential return for Null Rod. Small creatures like Monastery Mentor will also continue to be an issue as well, perhaps meriting answers like Triskelion and Duplicant. As it is now, Martello Shops—with Kuldotha Forgemaster for specific answers and sometimes Blightsteel Colossus—is still the most popular and best performing, but Terra Nova—with Mishra’s Factory, Mutavault, and Dismember—has had some high finishes as well. Multiple examples of both lists made the elimination rounds of the Black Magic Invitational and can be seen here (along with the other top performers).
Watching Vintage change and adjust itself to cards’ entering and exiting is generally exciting. There are plenty of options available and more to be uncovered as players develop decks and react to opponents.
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