We’re coming up on six months since Treasure Cruise and Gifts Ungiven switched their respective places on the Vintage restricted list, and we’re now just a few months away from the next restricted list announcement, scheduled for July with the release of Magic Origins. This next announcement falls at a critical time for the format, just weeks before Gen Con and Eternal Weekend. If anything changes immediately before those events, the format could be in quite a state right before the two largest sanctioned events in the U.S. I love it!
If you’re interested in getting into Vintage, I recommend it. I always recommend it. The format is always changing and there are many viable decks, no doubt including some that haven’t yet been uncovered or finely tuned. Also, if you’ll be at Gen Con, it turns out that the three Vintage events there (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) will serve as trials for the Vintage Championship. First place at Gen Con means a first-round bye at Champs. It’s great they’re connecting Gen Con with Champs again.
So let’s look at what’s new!
Actually, let’s start with what’s old. Monastery Mentor has solidified its place in the metagame. Mentor, Delver of Secrets, and Young Pyromancer have moved about and traded places and roles, all being part of several decks that range from being more tempo-oriented (usually with Delver and Pyromancer) to more controlling (usually with Mentor). The creatures are supported by some, most, or all of the best draw engine in Vintage. For the most part, these decks are going to thrive on the consistency that the draw engine brings, sometimes augmenting it with Mystic Remora, Sensei’s Divining Top, Dack Fayden, or Jace, The Mind Sculptor.
Mishra’s Workshop decks are still the best at fighting these menaces, and their powerful suite of Sphere of Resistance effects combined with mana denial and powerful artifact creatures is good against everything else too. There are multiple Shops builds, though, including the more prison-like Terra Nova and Martello Shops, which can win quickly using Kuldotha Forgemaster to get Blightsteel Colossus or Sundering Titan. Lodestone Golem is, of course, the anchorman for these builds.
However, as if in response to my article last week touting the use of colored spells in Shops decks, Roland Chang split the finals of the Vintage event at Grand Prix Atlantic City with Five-Color Stax. What goes around comes around!
5C Stax, by Roland Chang
First, let me point out the pedigree of this deck. Ten years ago, Chang won the 2005 Vintage Championship with 5C Stax. He played Stax expertly for years until he was forced into an unwanted hiatus when his collection was stolen. When he returned a few years ago, he continued playing the usually colorless Shops decks of the time, working with Nick Detwiler and the Forino Brothers at the New York Stax Exchange. (If you saw the Vice documentary on Magic, this group featured prominently as ambassadors to the Vintage community.) Chang’s report from this event makes it clear, however, that 5C Stax is his true love.
This deck builds on the synergies available in previous 5C Stax builds: Smokestack and Tangle Wire manage permanents; Goblin Welder renews those and fights counterspells; and Spheres, Wasteland, and Crucible of Worlds limit mana. Working together these cards will lock out the opponent completely. The colored spells give the player access to a toolbox of broken cards, including Crop Rotation for Strip Mine and Tinker for Sundering Titan. Sequencing these plays, managing triggered abilities, and balancing artifact locks with colored spells takes great skill, but it’s worth it.
The biggest innovation for this list is the addition of Dack Fayden. By himself, Dack works with Welder and Crucible to filter cards into the graveyard to be recurred. He also steals opposing artifact mana sources (hence no maindeck Chalice of the Void or Null Rod), and critically counters opposing Dack activations. It’s both a creative solution to one of the deck’s greatest threats and a good fit into the deck’s main ideas. When I tested it, I wanted to add a Bazaar of Baghdad to tutor for, to further support many of Dack’s interactions.
Chang’s report doesn’t really tell the story of a format dominator, but many Vintage players were excited to see the return of a favorite deck. I expect to see this deck and variations pop up frequently over the next weeks and months.
“The Answer,” by Alex Delgado
Some might consider it hubris to call a Magic: The Gathering deck “The Answer,” but Alex Delgado and Miquel Alcoriza put up top-four results at the 35-player April LCV in Barcelona, and Matt Mercer did similarly at the 32-player Black Magic event in Pennsylvania a week later. The deck has some proven results against the heavy hitters of the format.
The Answer is a strong counterspell control deck (including three Mana Drains) that also has a mana disruption plan using Magus of the Moon. Once the opponent is under your thumb, you can cast Consecrated Sphinx and put the game away. Mana Drains help tie the deck together by paying colorless costs and are perfect against the format’s current spate of discounted big-mana draw spells. If you’ve never Drained a Dig Through Time and put the mana into one of your own, I highly recommend it.
Here again, Dack Fayden shows his power, working against Shops to steal their threats and keeping the hand full of counters and draw against everyone else. With Consecrated Sphinx, it means four cards for the caster and a net zero for the opponent. Also, Sulfur Elemental is a fun answer out of the board against Monastery Mentor and its Monk buddies. The important thing to remember for many players will be that this is a control deck; it’s not meant to win fast.
Bazaar TPS, by Andy Probasco
This deck, on the other hand, is designed to win fast, hopefully before the opponent’s defenses come fully online. “BrassMan” Andy Probasco used it to top-eight the recent Ham on Wry MTGO tournament. His assertion is that, after multiple rounds of testing, this is the Dark Ritual combo list that has the best matchup against Workshops. The trick was adding the Bazaar of Baghdad as a way to continue drawing and filtering cards even if locked under Sphere effects. That makes it faster to find more mana and Hurkyl’s Recall, as well as potentially filling the graveyard for Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, or Yawgmoth’s Will.
Defense Grid serves as a trump against blue-based decks. It can’t be countered by Mental Misstep or Flusterstorm, and it can be played off a Mox and still get through Mindbreak Trap. If Defense Grid resolves, it makes the deck’s Duresses and sideboard Force of Wills that much better at helping force bombs into play. Once the combo is safe, all that’s left is to make mana, drop bombs, count to 10, and win the game.
If you’re looking for a taste of classic Vintage storm combo, this is a good list to start with. It has enough protection to win through hate but still has enough big spells to be a threat every turn until it wins. Old TPS players and anyone thinking that Dark Rituals aren’t relevant in the format should sleeve this up and see how it runs. It may just end up being The Perfect Storm.
UWB Bomberman, by Tommy Kolowith
This deck is notable for a few things: first, it marks the return of Champs top-fourer and multiple SCG Power 9 top-eighter Tommy Kolowith to competitive Vintage after a break; second, it has zero Preordains, Gushes, or Dig Through Times; third, it has Remand.
Modern players won’t need any introduction to Remand. It’s good as a tempo counter that doesn’t cost a card; it helps save important spells from your opponent’s counters; and it has great tricks with Flusterstorm (putting the copies on the stack, then Remanding the original to your hand to be used again). Currently in Vintage, Remand is the biggest coup against opposing Gushes and delve spells. Your opponent conveniently removes their graveyard for Dig Through Time, and you kindly put the Dig back in their hand until they can get six more cards in the yard again. And you draw a card.
The rest of the deck is UWB Bomberman, built around Cavern of Souls for humans. (Cavern also explains the deck not running Mana Drain; it’s harder to get double blue to support it.) Bomberman traditionally has answers for everything, accessed using Trinket Mage for things like Aether Spellbomb, Nihil Spellbomb, and Engineered Explosives. Of course, the best trinket is Black Lotus, with combines with Auriok Salvagers to make infinite mana, which draws all the cards with a Spellbomb.
There are a lot of good points about this deck. I’m personally looking forward to trying it out.
Jeskai Ascendancy, by Nat Moes
In the meantime, though, I’ve been playing around with this and top-eighted with it at a small tournament in northern Ohio. It’s based on a list that Jimmy “Sprinkes” McCarthy played at the Team Serious Invitational last November, though Treasure Cruise was restricted between then and now. You can see videos of him playing here and here (versus me!).
The important thing to take from the video is that the deck seems to beat Workshops, and that trend seems to continue. I played three matches versus Shops and won two of them. I also split matches with Dredge, another tough opponent. Blue decks, I simply outdrew and won. Also, I got to say the word “trigger” about 200 times.
For the unfamiliar, the combo is complex but powerful. With Jeskai Ascendancy and an unearthed Fatestitcher in play, any spell played will loot with Ascendancy and untap Fatestitcher,which can untap a land to pay for the next spell. With Young Pyromancer in play, you also get an Elemental token. And all your creatures get +1/+1 (including the token if you stack the triggers to do so)! You can net mana by playing free spells or by having more Fatestitchers or Ascendancies, and all the looting makes delving easier. Eventually either your Fatestitchers (which have haste, and +1/+1 from Ascendancy triggers) attack to win, or you find Time Walk or Anger to attack with Elementals.
Having such a strong draw engine, and one that doesn’t fall apart to Mental Misstep or Chalice of the Void for one, means that even without having Jeskai Ascendancy the deck can win using the usual Young Pyromancer deck strategy of making tokens and backing them up with counterspells. You get to say “trigger” only one-third as frequently, but that’s usually worth it as long as you’re going to win.
This is going to be a big summer for Vintage, and I’m eager to see what new decks develop in Magic’s oldest and grandest format. When Champs comes around, you’ll want to be prepared.
Thanks for reading!
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