The Vintage Advantage: What’s New in Vintage

Written by Nat Moes on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Uncategorized, Vintage

The Vintage Advantage:  What’s New in Vintage

Nat Moes

Nat Moes lives in Columbus, Ohio, and plays Vintage and Legacy with a group of idiots with the audacity to call themselves Team Serious. He feels partly responsible for spreading the plague that is Goblin Charbelcher and has few Magic the Gathering accolades other than some Eternal Top 8s. He is a cohost of the Serious Vintage podcast and a constant evangelist for the Vintage format.

Vintage Magic the Gathering sometimes has the reputation of being stagnant and slow to change. That’s true to a degree. Once your card pool reaches the size of Vintage’s, any additions to it have to be particularly striking to make a splash. Many cards and combinations have already been tried and rejected for one reason or another. It’s surprisingly easy to pick out the best, most efficient, most powerful card for a particular application once you know what you’re looking for (particularly if you’re adept at Gatherer searches), and then you can stop looking. Right?

Just because the format is slow to move, though, doesn’t mean that there aren’t new developments. There are plenty of creative players putting together new ideas and innovative strategies. Many of these will still fall into familiar frameworks (when you start with a common set of cards from the Restricted List, that’s bound to happen), but it’s always good to experiment with cards that might find a home in the format.

I’ll take a look at a few lists that jumped out at me from January 2014 tournaments listed on Morphling.de. These particular lists might not be the first of their kind, but their recent performances make them worth looking at.

Jeff Nielsen, better known on The Mana Drain as LotusHead, is always good for an inventive decklist, and this one has some clever additions like Baleful Strix and Izzet Charm. These cards and their flexibility are emblematic of what this deck can do. Baleful Strix—especially combined with Goblin Welder—works as a draw engine, creature control card, and long-game win condition. It’s especially interesting against Workshop decks since it plays through both Thorn of Amethyst and Lodestone Golem without penalty. Izzet Charm’s three modes are also all useful in here, but the third—draw two and discard two—again synergizes with Goblin Welder, filtering cards and getting big artifacts into the graveyard to be Welded in.

Longtime Vintage players will be quick to compare this deck to incarnations of Control Slaver as it was played almost a decade ago. That deck could likewise play the control role and then transition quickly into a more aggressive combo strategy, usually by recurring Mindslaver to lock out the opponent. The same thing can happen here, but recurring Mindslaver is complemented by Time Vault and augmented by Myr Battlesphere making more fodder for Welding. Mana Drain mana helps tie everything together, answering a threat and helping fuel a big draw spell like Gifts Ungiven or a threat like Battlesphere or Sundering Titan.

Goblin Welder is one of my favorite cards in all formats and situations, so this deck has a lot of appeal for me.

One of my Team Serious teammates, Charles Rolko, played this list to a top-eight finish at the largest Vintage tournament in Ohio in two years. The strategy is straightforward for Vintage: start up the Gush engine, then play nine spells in one turn then cast a lethal Tendrils of Agony. Gush, Dark Ritual, and a critical mass of restricted spells is typical of the archetype; what’s new here is the use of the recently unrestricted Regrowth to help fuel that storm count.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Gush engine, it simply combines Fastbond with a series of Gushes to build storm, draw cards, and make mana. With Fastbond in play, you can return Islands to your hand with Gush’s alternate cost with almost no penalty, life being a mostly disposable resource in Vintage. Previous versions of the Gush engine were augmented by Brainstorm, Ponder, and Merchant Scroll, all now restricted and replaced by Preordain and Regrowth. Regrowth has other uses here as well: getting back Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall is pretty good, for example, and Regrowth is amazing with Gifts Ungiven.

At this same tournament, I played a similar list that splashed red (mainly for Ingot Chewer) because I was expecting a larger number of Workshop decks. That didn’t materialize, though, and my deck was under-prepared for the number of opposing combo and blue decks. Regardless, if you’re looking to try out Regrowth in Vintage, this is a great deck to do it.

Mishra’s Workshop is the most powerful unrestricted mana producer in Vintage, but it’s frequently used to build prisons of Sphere of Resistance effects. Here, in a Workshop Affinity list popularized by Adrian Becker and played by Forrest Ryan, we see Workshop used almost strictly for aggro. This list is all about playing free (or at least really efficient) creatures, getting more creatures with Genesis Chamber in play, and then getting even more creatures by chaining Skullclamp activations.

You can swarm an opponent with little mechanical men pretty easily by turn three. Seriously, if you haven’t played with Skullclamp, I highly recommend it. It’s banned in most formats because it’s that good. Additional insanity is added by the main deck Memory Jar (which can refill your hand on your turn without doing the same on your opponent’s) and the Tolarian Academy and pair of Gaea’s Cradles, any of which will make a ton of mana for more Skullclamp action.

If the swarm doesn’t come together, the deck has a great backup plan typical of most Workshop decks: lead with Lodestone Golem, follow up with Tangle Wire, and lock your opponent out long enough to win by attacking for four turns. Post board, against faster combo decks like Burning Long, where the aggro might not be enough, you can bolster this plan by adding in Thorn of Amethyst and Witchbane Orb to defend against Tendrils of Agony (or Hurkyl’s Recall).

Aside from a couple of cards, this is a pretty standard Vintage-style Grixis Control list. Plenty of counters, discard, tutors, card draw, and sundry answers to common problems. Without Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus or Time Vault, you’ll have to win either with creature attacks or Jace’s ultimate. Or you could win with Pack Rat.

Cards that make a splash in other formats are usually worth at least a look in Vintage. Pack Rat, as I’m sure many of you know, can take over a draft or Standard game in a hurry. It’s efficient, relentless, and can be surprisingly quick. In Vintage it has some additional benefits. First, despite the increasing number of creatures in the format, there are still decks happy to eschew removal, so the rats are likely to survive. Second, its casting and activation costs work well when they’re supplemented with Moxes; everything happens a turn sooner.

In this deck, it’s also worth noting that discarding to Pack Rat doesn’t necessarily mean a card lost. Discards can be reclaimed with Snapcaster Mage or, even better, Yawgmoth’s Will. Pack Rat is cheap enough to get in under a Workshop deck’s spheres and can potentially make blockers long enough to build mana and get out from under a lock. It should also stack up fairly well against other creature-based decks in the format.

Get Messy, Make Mistakes

So even in Magic’s oldest format, new things are happening. There are plenty of opportunities for Vintage players, new and old, to adopt new cards and invent new strategies. Even within the lists here, consider the synergy of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, in Jeff Neilson’s Slaver list; the potential for Regrowth in a more control-based list, bringing back counterspells; an even more aggressive Genesis Chamber list that drops Tangle Wire for mores speed; or Pack Rat in other Vintage shells, like aggro-control, or with Standstill. Vintage might be a little slow on the uptake, as far as “new” decks go, but don’t think that it can’t happen.

One other thing to note, tying in with my last two articles, is that (I’m pretty sure) all of these tournaments allowed proxies. Not only is the barrier for entry into Vintage reduced by proxies, but also the risk is decreased for putting together some new combo deck or experimenting with a card that hasn’t seen previous play in the format. No need to fill out a playset of Eureka (or whatever) when you can just proxy them! It also makes it easy for you to convert your favorite Legacy or Modern deck into something Vintage playable. Take a chance!

Good luck!
Nat Moes
@GrandpaBelcher

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