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The Vintage Advantage: What’s New in Vintage II

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

08_12 The Vintage Advantage

Vintage as a format is positioned at a unique crossroads, compared to other formats. Many Vintage players have played Magic: the Gathering for several years and have developed attachments to pet cards and strategies that cause them to find ways to force those into Vintage decks. These old decks (and players) then run into newer lists and cards with basically the same idea. What you end up with is a format where decks like Affinity from the Mirrodin era can square off against Pack Rats and Snapcaster Mages, and Delver of Secrets or Restoration Angel can test their mettle against what is essentially Keeper from 15 years ago.

This makes Vintage an interesting experiment. The most powerful decks and cards from throughout Magic’s long history can come together to really see who’s the best. Those that win rise to the top and become long-term players in the game’s oldest format. Those that lose fall out of favor until some brave or foolish soul decides to experiment with them again. Maybe the metagame changed, getting faster or slower or too focused on some other strategy. Maybe there was a new printing that’s just what a particular deck or card is looking for. Maybe the player is just feeling lucky.

Anyway, it’s interesting to see what new decks pop up in Vintage. Here are a few recent top-eight lists that caught my eye. (Note, these may not be the first lists of their kind; I’m just highlighting the recent versions I found.)

Banded together from Remote Planes

Planeswalkers are powerful cards because every time you use one of their abilities it’s like creating card advantage out of thin air. Nothing could be more Vintage—instead of having to play the card Brainstorm like a peasant, you just have your minion, Jace, do it for you. The “Super Friends” decks from Standard and other formats put this together, trying to get several planeswalkers into play at once to overwhelm your opponent with useful, uncounterable pseudospells. Mike McGeachie put this concept to the test in Vintage at an NYSE II Qualifier with 43 players, held April 19 at Pandemonium Books and Games in Boston.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Tezzeret the Seeker, are both known quantities in Vintage. Jace’s powerful Brainstorm and fateseal abilities will grind your opponent into the ground with card advantage and quality, and Tezzeret finds you a game-winning Time Vault. Combining these effects with Liliana of the Veil as creature removal and hand control, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, to dig for artifacts and make 5/5 Baleful Strixes; and Ral Zarek as an additional combo piece and board control makes for a deck that has several distinct ways to put together a win.

The riskiest thing about this deck is that it will tap out frequently during its main phases for creatures or planeswalkers, but that risk can be mitigated with its seven free counterspells and the overall efficiency of a Grixis list. I imagine the Trinket Mages are frequently used for color-fixing and acceleration—get Black Lotus, play Liliana, for example—and once you start resolving planeswalkers, you should be able to gain control quickly.

This should be a flexible and fun deck to experiment with, as the framework is there to combat most expected metagames. You could add more or different hate to the Trinket Mage toolbox, for example, and other planeswalkers like Chandra, Pyromaster or Firebrand, or Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver could have additional uses against aggro. Even little Jace Beleren can act as a stepping-stone to the Mind Sculptor. And when Dack Fayden is released this summer, I would definitely expect to see him in similar lists.

Those Who Can Best Manage Change

Adrian Becker has come up with some great new Vintage lists in the past couple of years, including opening up the Affinity builds to include Genesis Chamber. At the same NYSE II Qualifier mentioned above, he unleashed Survival of the Fittest to a spot in the top eight:

I have to admit, there were a lot of cards here that I had to look up, starting with Stormbreath Dragon, Kalonian Hydra, and Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs. The card that caught my eye, though, was Survival of the Fittest.

Survival is powerful enough to be banned in Legacy, but it hasn’t seen a lot of play in Vintage since it was paired with Goblin Welder to return things like Sundering Titan and Juggernaut to play in the Tools and Tubbies list more than a decade ago. The “fetch out a beatstick and win” mentality is still there, but instead of Welding discarded cards into play you just hardcast them with Orcish Lumberjack, Noble Hierarch, and Birds of Paradise. If anyone was interested in playing a mana ramp deck in Vintage, this is definitely a deck to try.

This deck puts together a toolbox of answers like Scavenging Ooze (or Kazuul) for Dredge, Trygon Predator and Hammer Mage for Workshops, and Mistcutter Hydra for opposing Jaces into a disruptive red-green shell based around Magus of the Moon. Against most aggro lists, you should just be able to crush their creatures under yours, and any one of your monsters paired with a good piece of disruption should be enough to win games with some regularity.

The options for customization and metagaming here are even better, as evidenced by the sideboard of mostly one-ofs. You can pick the most devastating answers for any deck and find them with Survival.

Here Comes the Sun King

A couple of years ago, J.R. Goldman, a friend and teammate of mine, played an Oath of Druids deck that found Sun Titan to recur Time Vault, Pernicious Deed, and Necropotence to a top-eight at a large event in New England. I figured that deck was probably never going to appear again, especially as Oath’s creature options have improved, but Ryan Reynolds played a similar Sun Titan-based list to the final rounds at Eudemonia in Berkeley, California, on April 20.

Most of this deck is a standard-looking Oath of Druids build; there are some counterspells, some draw spells and tutors, four Oath of Druids and their accompanying Forbidden Orchards. The standout card here is Sun Titan.

This deck puts the debate between Demonic Tutor (get the card you want now) and Ancestral Recall (get three random cards) into a new framework. Oath decks today usually find Griselbrand to draw seven cards, either control or combo oriented, and use them to win the game. With Titan, however, you can use the Oath mechanic itself to tutor from your graveyard directly onto the battlefield. You can recur Time Vault combo pieces, Pernicious Deed to clear the board, or Scroll Rack if you still want new cards in hand. (Scroll Rack also helps put Sun Titan back into your library if you draw it.)

So, would you rather have seven random cards or the card you want right now, in play?

Certainly there are many options for permanents to get back with Titan. Those here are good, though you might want a maindeck Pithing Needle to help deal with onboard Jace, among other things. The one card that really seems to be missing from this build, and which J.R. used to good effect, is Necropotence. Not only will it refill your hand, but it also prevents you from losing to Oath of Druids putting your library into your graveyard.

The Ultimate Camping Trip

Vintage Workshop decks can be an interesting challenge since they make up for in raw power what they lack in card drawing and tutoring finesse. Kuldotha Forgemaster changed some of that, as did Staff of Nin in some cases, but the card I like to see in this role is actually Expedition Map. Jeff Warwick played four Maps to the top eight of a tournament at Games and Stuff in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 29.

Lands are a critical part of a Workshop decks gameplan. Having the right ones (Mishra’s Workshop and Wastelands to press your advantage) at the right times makes your day easy; having the wrong ones (turn-one City of Traitors) can ruin you. Lands are also free and uncounterable, so you can always play them through your own lock pieces and not have to worry about them getting shot down by pesky blue mages.

Jeff’s deck plays four of the typical Workshop lands—Ancient Tomb, Wasteland, and Workshop itself—but augments those with Expedition Map and Thespian’s Stage to find and copy a suite of powerful utility lands. Stage works as additional copies of Workshop and Wasteland, as well as combines with Dark Depths to make a 20/20 Marit Lage token, thanks to the recent legend rule change. Map makes sure the necessary four-ofs are in hand, and can also find the one-ofs as they’re needed.

Even a single Wasteland or Strip Mine activation would make sure that the big creatures have enough time to do their work. Good news because this deck is aggressive all the time. Your few control pieces are either really good (Trinisphere), won’t interfere with casting creatures (Chalice of the Void for zero), help make sure your creatures deal damage (Tangle Wire), or are creatures themselves (Phyrexian Revoker). If you’re ever at a loss for what to do, attack.

Looking at new and unique decks that pop up in Vintage is exciting because almost anything is possible. The breadth and depth of the cardpool is enormous, and the tournaments are generally small while still being competitive, so there are opportunities for unknown decks to appear and win, seemingly from nowhere. I always look forward to finding something new that catches my eye.

Thanks for reading!
Nat Moes

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