Tasting a Fine Vintage – A Top 4 Tournament Report and Metagame Analysis

Hi all,

Welcome back for this month’s metagame article. Today, I’ll be talking about the gentleman’s format, Vintage. Vintage has seen little to no coverage until recently, but has exploded in popularity due to the availability of power on Magic Online. People who have never played Vintage before can now play it at approximately 1/10th the cost. Hardcore Vintage specialists like Stephen Menendian have bought in online and commented on how great it is to be able to play a Vintage match, on demand, with someone from across the ocean. I haven’t heard a single complaint from anybody who has played the format, and that’s because Vintage is truly unique. In the words of Reid Duke: “I personally had never bought into the old roleplay of Magic players being planeswalkers battling one another for supremacy. That said, playing Vintage genuinely does give you the feeling of being a powerful wizard!”

I’ve also found Vintage to be incredibly skill-testing and rarely about turn-one busted draws. The three most powerful tutors of all-time (Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, and Mystical Tutor) are legal in this format, and although the default play is often to search for Ancestral Recall, it’s not always correct. Every single tutor effect gives you a large degree of control over how games play out. Furthermore, the availability of these tutors means that deck construction is paramount all the way down to the 60th card.

More turn one wins happen in Vintage than any other format, but they are far from the norm. Force of Will is even more important in Vintage than Legacy, and it’s boarded out far less often because even the “fair” decks of Vintage generally have threats that demand an immediate answer. I’ve found that the most important part about Vintage is to understand the paths to victory of your deck and your opponent’s deck. When there are so many things going on, you need to have a clear plan to focus each and every single one of your plays. The difficulty of finding a coherent plan is compounded by the fact that most decks have multiple avenues to victory. Both players have far more resources than they would in a normal game of Magic, and choosing the incorrect resource to fight over can easily spell GG.

Vintage is the hardest Constructed format to play perfectly. At the same time, because some cards are so much more powerful than others, it’s not hard for a less skilled player to beat a more skilled player in any given game. I can keep gushing about how interesting and fun I find Vintage, but I think it’s time we took a walk and delved into some data.

I will be looking at both paper and Magic Online results. Because tournaments are sparser, I will be including all Top 8 decks from tournaments with 33 or more people. Here are the top performing decks since the release of Journey into Nyx.

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I’ve never felt less confident about my deck classifications, let alone macro-archetype classifications. Vintage decks often have multiple avenues of attack, and changing even 6 or 7 cards in a list has dramatic implications for how the deck plays out. Still, I had to classify decks somewhere and I put in my best effort. MUD is an aggro-prison strategy, and I just called it control. Funny enough, “Oath Control” also felt more combo-ish than a control-ish deck to me (it’s the Vintage equivalent of Sneak and Show), so I put it under combo. Sue me.

As you can see, the top archetypes are MUD and Oath Control. Jace control decks, Tendrils decks, and blue-based aggro decks are also well represented. In many ways, Vintage today is like the Wild West that was Legacy 7 or 8 years ago. It’ll be interesting to see how things shape up as Vintage develops and more people play the format.

Vintage is also known as a format with five pillars: Mishra’s Workshop, Mana Drain, Dark Ritual, Null Rod, and Bazaar of Baghdad. While these have changed somewhat (i.e. not all “Fish”-type decks run maindeck Null Rod), I think it’s a fine start for analysis. I won’t delve into specific archetypes because I don’t have enough experience with the format to give an informed opinion on a lot of decks. Hopefully as I play this format more, I’ll be able to go into more detail for my next article. For those who are new to Vintage, this is a fine introduction to the major strategies of the format.

MUD, or “Shop,” Variants (30%)

Black Lotus is the most iconic card in all of Magic, and this deck gets to play 5 of them. Mishra’s Workshop and the Moxen turn its Legacy cousin from a fairly inconsistent clunker to an efficient and deadly machine. On the play, Sphere effects make opposing Moxen weaker, and Chalice on 0 negates them completely. Out of the MUD variants, Forgemaster MUD has performed the best as it’s able to quickly finish locked out opponents with a Blightsteel Colossus. Forgemaster MUD is also the best deck for the mirror as it has more must-answer threats.

Mana Drain Control (30%)

These decks are all very different from one another, but essentially they all play Force of Will and most of them run Jace. At the risk of overgeneralizing, this is the most popular pillar for experienced Vintage players because it affords them a lot of control over the game. Mana Drain decks can do very powerful proactive things with a large degree of consistency, while also having game against the other four pillars.

Dark Ritual (5%)

I lumped Gush Tendrils decks in here even though they don’t technically run Dark Ritual. These decks generally have a plan A of drawing a lot of cards and casting a lethal Tendrils, but often have a back-up plan like Jace or Talrand.

Null Rod (30%)

These are all the fish/hatebear decks. Instead of trying to do something inherently broken, these decks try to fight fair and play cards that are extremely effective against the broken decks. Of these, I think BUG Fish is the best as it also gets to play the broken black tutors and Abrupt Decay.

Bazaar of Baghdad (3%)

Essentially just Dredge in today’s metagame. Vintage Dredge is much faster and more consistent than Legacy Dredge as you can usually Dredge 14-18 cards a turn instead of 5 or 6. Vintage Dredge runs Serum Powder to consistently find Bazaar of Baghdad, the true engine for the deck. There has been a recent innovation of running Force of Will in Dredge and siding into Thespian’s StageDark Depths combo. That’s a fantastic sideboard plan as most decks will pack a metric ton of hate to beat the Dredge menace. Here’s a list by Adam Pierce:

Other (2%)

There are other random decks viable in Vintage, such as Show and Tell or Infect. Here’s an Infect list that took down a 44-person monthly Vintage tournament in Spain:

Those that say innovation is dead in Vintage are wrong. I believe that all the decks that have done well attack the format in powerful and unique ways. Yet, I do think that as more people play Vintage, decks will become more refined. One particular card that does not see enough play is Gitaxian Probe. Information is almost always relevant, whereas life often is not. Probe might not be good to play in decks like Oath where your life is a relevant resource with Griselbrand, but I do think it’s quite underplayed. Before I move on to the tournament report, here’s the breakdown for decks that have gone 4-0 on Magic Online.

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Vintage at Tales of Adventure

For those that don’t know, Tales of Adventure is a store located in Coopersburg, PA that has been running large-scale eternal events for a while now. This August, they decided to run a 2k Vintage event that attracted 68 players, which is quite large for Vintage. I went up to sling some spells with the following deck, courtesy of Rich Shay:

Dubbed “NWCS,” or Night’s Whisper Control Slaver, this Grixis deck is a new spin on the old Control Slaver archetype. When I first saw the list myself, I was skeptical about how good Night’s Whisper was. William “Huey” Jensen dismissed Sign in Blood as bad in Standard; how good could Night’s Whisper be in Vintage? Well, Night’s Whisper was bonkers. The fact that it costs 1 colorless mana means that it’s easily castable off random Moxen, and being able to 2-for-1 and out grind opponents is huge. The deck runs 23 mana sources, and being able to turn those mana sources into cards while also presenting must-answer threats makes the deck very powerful.

As it was my very first Vintage event, I had no expectations going in. I knew the deck was very powerful, but I figured that my inexperience with Vintage would nullify that advantage. I sat down round 1 against AJ, a well-respected Vintage player who has been around for years.

Round 2 – Sullivan with Dredge

Game 1:

He quickly shuffles away his seven and I keep. When he continues to do so, I have a sinking feeling that he’s on Dredge. He finds his Bazaar with four cards in hand, and I’m annihilated despite having a hand with double Force and Library of Alexandria.

Game 2:

He mulls down to 1 and misses finding the Bazaar. That happens one in every seventeen games, so I’m just glad to be on the receiving end. Battlebots get there.

Game 3:

I assemble a turn 1 Grafdigger’s Cage against his Bazaar of Baghdad, and he looks at three cards a turn to try and find his Nature’s Claims and Ingot Chewers. Each time he does, I have an answer ready. Eventually, I draw Tinker. At this point, I have no artifacts other than Grafdigger’s Cage, and I’m tempted to cast Tinker. Still, his graveyard is pretty full at this point and I’d risk losing so I decide to gamble on him not drawing a Nature’s Claim/Ingot Chewer before I draw an artifact. The gamble pays off and I’m 2-0 to start my first Vintage tournament.

Round 3 – Bobby with TPS

Game 1:

I lead off with Mox, land, Night’s Whisper, and he attempts an Ancestral Recall which gets Misstepped. We play draw go for a bit as he attempts to sculpt a hand to fight through my countermagic. Eventually, we have a fight and we both end up with nearly empty hands. I Tinker for Battlebots to put him on a one turn clock, but he ends up tutoring for Hurkyl’s Recall. Eventually I draw Yawgmoth’s Will off Sensei’s Divining Top and win off Battlebots into Time Walk.

Game 2:

Bobby leads off with a turn 1 Gitaxian Probe and sees my hand of Flusterstorm, Ancestral Recall, Sol Ring, Mental Misstep, Island, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Goblin Welder. He tanks for a bit and fires off 2 more Probes and a Brainstorm. I tank on the Brainstorm and I figure that I should save Misstep for a Dark Ritual or an Ancestral Recall. Unfortunately, he plays a Mana Crypt and goes off with Yawgmoth’s Will. There’s not much else I can do, but his flashbacked Probes brick and he ends up passing the turn at a measly 7 life. For the rest of the game, I just hold up countermagic and he dies to his own Mana Crypt.

That’s two games I’ve won now off of my opponent’s decks killing themselves. Wunderbar.


Round 4 – Paul with Deathrite Talrand Gush Storm

Game 1:

An unchecked Deathrite Shaman goes to town on my graveyard as we trade countermagic, and he eventually comes out on top because his Ancestral Recall resolved. He quickly finishes me off with Tendrils once he gets me down to ten life.

Game 2:

This time, I manage to resolve more card draw spells than he does. After both of our resources are depleted, I tutor for a Tinker and cast it when he has a single card in hand. He Gushes into Mental Misstep + Force of Will and blows me out. He untaps and draws Talrand, summoner of swan-sized Drakes and goes to town.

Variance hitting the other way definitely hurt, but I guess that’s one reason people play Vintage. Games that seem won can be lost in a blink of an eye.


Round 5 – Darrell with Affinity

Game 1:

I was sitting next to Darrell last round, so I put him on MUD. Little did I know, he was on the hyper-aggressive Affinity build of MUD. He opens by putting 5 power onto the field on turn one. I untap and play a Mox Emerald and a fetchland. I have Fire // Ice in my hand at this point, but I want to play around Wasteland effects as my plan is to untap and Tinker for Battlebots. He does have a Strip Mine, but he ends up tapping out for a Phyrexian Revoker. So, I float mana off the Emerald in response to the Revoker, let it resolve (naming Emerald), and then cast a 2-for-1 Fire. I get to untap with three mana sources and that’s the end of it.

Game 2:

He leads with a turn one Grafdigger’s Cage and I look at the Mental Misstep and Yawgmoth’s Will which are both sitting in my hand. I look at him right in the eye and tell him it resolves. He ends up playing just one dork and then passing. I untap and play land, Goblin Welder. For those of you who don’t know how it works, Goblin Welder + Grafdigger’s Cage is a fairly insane interaction. As long as my opponent has an artifact creature in his graveyard, Goblin Welder taps to destroy any artifact. I Bolt a creature and then start going to town with S-Class Assassin Goblin Welder, who has a kill count of 2 Lodestone Golems, 2 Phyrexian Revokers, and 1 Memnite.


Round 6 – Justin with UW Control

Game 2:

He puts up some beats with a Trinket Mage, and my Battlesphere is sent to the farm. Eventually the tokens get there as he is unable to find an answer with his limited mana development. Dack Fayden, the dirty thief managed to steal his Mox Pearl during the game, and didn’t seem to want to return him. Luckily though, I caught the dastardly thief as I was putting my deck into my box, and noticed an off-color sleeve. I graciously returned the altered Beta Mox Pearl and scolded Dack for treating an awesome opponent this way.


Round 7 – Steve with MUD

I’m third in the standings, so we ID into Top 8. I like the match-up because of how great Dack is, but I didn’t want to get greedy and risk missing Top 8.


Top 8 – Brian with NWCS

Game 1:

We had talked earlier in the day about sideboarding, and we were both friends of Rich and on his exact same 75. Luckily, I was the higher seed and started off with turn 1 triple Mox, land, double Night’s Whisper. His turn 1 just includes a land and he passes. I cast a third Night’s Whisper and a Thirst for Knowledge, so I’m way ahead on cards and mana at this point. Yet, despite drawing nine extra cards, all I saw were random mana sources. He manages to resolve a Dack Fayden and steals a mana source, but eventually I resolve a Yawgmoth’s Will and bury him after seeing >9,000 more cards.

Game 2:

Brian seemed to like what I did last game, and his first few turns are spent whispering into the night on three separate occasions. But, I have Library on the draw and manage to keep up. He eventually is able to resolve a Jace, but I untap and Tinker for to Mindslaver his next turn. Here, I make plenty of mistakes due to my inexperience with Mindslavery. Instead of using his Jace to Brainstorm and shuffling away his good cards, I let him play a Dack and a Goblin Welder which I Fire away. I also end up fatesealing to the bottom a worthless Goblin Welder (I had Nihil Spellbomb in play). In the end, he passes the turn with a Jace at 5. I manage to Pyroblast his Jace and hardcast Battlesphere, but he returns with a topdecked Demonic Tutor for the greatest Thief in the multiverse, who steals my Battlestation. Not to be outdone, I cast my own Jace and return the mothership to my hand. I play around Fire//Ice by attacking Dack with three Myrs, and my recast Battlesphere gets me the game.

Top 4 – Mark with UR Landstill

Game 1:

I mulligan to five looking for mana sources while he opens with turn 1 Jace. His deck is full of Standstills and Mana Drains and I shuffle them up as I’m unable to gain any traction. It turns out that Standstill beats Night’s Whisper.

Game 2:

I keep my seven, play a land and pass. He returns with yet another turn 1 Jace. This time, I have Force of Will at the ready, but he does too. I EOT tutor for a Pyroblast, which miraculously resolves. I kid myself into thinking I might be in it, but he lands another Jace and several more Standstills and I’m done for the day.

Overall, I had a great time slinging Vintage, and I highly, highly recommend this format for those who are unsure. You get to do ridiculous things in a very skill-intensive format, while also kicking back and putting thousand dollar pieces of cardboard onto the table. What more could you ask for on a Sunday afternoon?

As always, let me know what you thought in the comments below. Until next time!

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