Congratulations, we did it… survived another winter! Winterfell would be proud! I’m stoked for this summer. I haven’t traveled or played in a big event in a while, but that is about to change as we head into “Magic season,” otherwise known as summer.
I decided to bite the bullet and buy the pricey plane ticket to attend the Mythic Championship in Barcelona in July. There’s a MagicFest in my backyard in July (MF Detroit is about two miles from my home in Windsor), but first comes the event I’m most excited for: The Vintage Power 9 in Roanoke. It’s no secret Vintage is my favorite format to play (especially in paper form) and I’m always excited to partake in a large Vintage event that draws the best of the best to compete. When I say the best, I mean it in every sense of the word, as I’ve always had the most fun hanging out with the Vintage crowd. I have made more lifelong friends playing Vintage than the rest of Magic combined. In fact, I’m taking the road trip down to Roanoke with my old pal, Kevin Cron, who I met back in 2005 at the second Vintage Championship at Gen Con.
Vintage has always felt a little more personal, and this event also has a personal agenda on the line: I’m currently second in all-time Power 9 Top 8s and a strong tournament would move me into a tie with Stephen Menendian for the most.
But enough waxing sentimental about how awesome the community is. Let’s talk strategy!
Vintage Has Been Shaken To Its Core
One of the characteristics of Vintage has been that the format changes slowly. New cards come and go (or get restricted), but for the most part the pillars have remained fairly constant since they were firmly established (Force of Will since Alliances, Workshop since Mirrodin block, and Dredge since Future Sight).
While you can always count on the format being defined by blue decks, Workshop decks, and graveyard decks, what each pillar does is a function of the cards that are left unrestricted to build around.
While it’s always a safe presumption that Vintage tends to warp around these three pillars, the way they are built or match up is always dynamic. The 2005 Vintage Championship is a great example. Heading into that event, the perception was that 4c Control, U/R Fish, and Smokestack decks were the best. After the event, it was clear that the format was actually about Control Slaver and Aggro MUD decks. Same pillars, but with a different look and feel.
The past year of Magic printings have been among the most transformative I’ve ever seen. WotC has been adamant about printing powerful and impactful cards, and even the slowest-evolving formats like Vintage are being shaken to their core.
The Emerging Vintage Metagame
War of the Spark and and this return to Ravnica have certainly left an impact on Vintage, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Modern Horizons will do the same.
Let’s take a look at the Vintage meta and some of the new trends:
|DECK NAME||MTGGOLDFISH % (Metagame %)||MTG TOP 8 %
This data isn’t an exact science, but it can still be extremely useful for understanding what a format looks like and what to prepare for. The first column is a strong predictor of how likely you are to face a specific deck in the predicted metagame, while the second informs us on the deck’s Top 8 representation. The truth about which are “the best” lies somewhere in the middle.
A deck like U/R Xerox makes up a fifth of our imagined field, but only represents 10% of the Top 8 metagame, which indicates a weak correlation between playing the deck and great results. On the other hand, a deck like Paradoxical Outcome represents only 10% of the metagame but a whopping 20% of the winner’s metagame, which indicates it’s an amazing choice right now. Remember, these results tell us about what happened in the past as a way to help us inform future decisions, but these numbers are always ebbing and flowing as players make adjustments and push the meta forward.
Retooling the Pillars with Awesome New Cards
The most interesting innovation I’ve seen thus far are the “new-look” Eldrazi decks. Three of the last four reported MTGO Vintage Leagues have been taken down by a 6-0 Eldrazi player.
Funnyman31399, 1st place at MTGO Vintage Challenge
4 Ancient Tomb 4 Cavern of Souls 4 Eldrazi Temple 4 Mutavault 1 Strip Mine 1 Tolarian Academy 4 Wasteland 2 Endless One 3 Walking Ballista 2 Phyrexian Revoker 1 Phyrexian Metamorph 4 Thought-Knot Seer 4 Reality Smasher 1 Karn, Scion of Urza 3 Karn, the Great Creator 1 Black Lotus 1 Chalice of the Void 1 Mox Emerald 1 Mox Jet 1 Mox Pearl 1 Mox Ruby 1 Mox Sapphire 1 Mana Vault 1 Sol Ring 2 Grim Monolith 4 Sphere of Resistance 1 Thorn of Amethyst 1 Trinisphere 1 Mana Crypt Sideboard 3 Tormod's Crypt 1 Walking Ballista 4 Grafdigger's Cage 1 Pithing Needle 1 Umezawa's Jitte 1 Crucible of Worlds 2 Dismember 1 Phyrexian Metamorph 1 Mycosynth Lattice
The Eldrazi deck has been around for for years now, but it has gotten an extremely nice new piece:
The Great Creator has already made a huge splash in Vintage across multiple archetypes, in large part because it facilitates a straightforward “win the game” combo with Mycosynth Lattice that essentially locks the opponent out of doing much of anything:
Even without the combo, Karn’s one-sided Null Rod is a huge game against opposing Workshop and Paradoxical decks.
While I believe it’s a huge loss to leave Mishra’s Workshop on the sideline in a colorless deck, there is some real upside. The first is that opposing artifact bounce and removal are downright embarrassing against Karn and non-artifact Eldrazi. Mishra’s Workshop doesn’t help cast Karn (whereas Eldrazi Temple does), which makes Shop decks with Karn even more reliant on their artifact mana and thus more vulnerable to an opponent casting Karn first.
WORDY333, 1st place at MTGO Vintage League
4 Ancient Tomb 1 Blast Zone 3 Inventors' Fair 4 Mishra's Workshop 1 Strip Mine 1 Tolarian Academy 4 Wasteland 1 Lodestone Golem 4 Phyrexian Revoker 4 Walking Ballista 1 Black Lotus 1 Chalice of the Void 1 Crucible of Worlds 4 Grim Monolith 3 Karn, Scion of Urza 4 Karn, the Great Creator 1 Mana Crypt - Book Promos 1 Mana Vault 1 Mox Emerald 1 Mox Jet 2 Mox Opal 1 Mox Pearl 1 Mox Ruby 1 Mox Sapphire 1 Sol Ring 4 Sphere of Resistance 1 Thorn of Amethyst 1 Trinisphere 3 Voltaic Key Sideboard 1 Batterskull 2 Dismember 1 Ensnaring Bridge 4 Grafdigger's Cage 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 Time Vault 2 Tormod's Crypt 1 Voltaic Key 1 Witchbane Orb 1 Wurmcoil Engine
Karn has put Workshop builders to the test. While I’ve noticed the majority of Aggro MUD decks look exactly the same as the one I played last year (indicating that strategy is still potent), many deck designers have been trying to get in on the Karn goodness.
While Karn feels like the perfect fit in an artifact deck, it’s also true that he’s hard to cast since he doesn’t interact favorably with Workshop. One way to make the mana for Karn is to play more mana rocks like Grim Monolith and Voltaic Key to cheat the drawback. While this strategy is clearly vulnerable to Null Rod, it is also extremely potent. The Monoliths facilitate broken starts and it’s pretty awesome that Karn can search up a sideboard Time Vault to establish a hard lock with the Keys that are already highly functional in the main deck.
The blue decks fall into two camps: Paradoxical (Big Blue) and Xerox (U/R or Jeskai). There are other options available that take blue down a different road such as Storm, Draw 7, and Oath, but they are a significantly smaller portion of the meta and along with U/R Xerox don’t boast a great conversion rate. If I were to play blue (which I might), chances are that I’d play either something I make up as a result of testing or Paradoxical Outcome.
Chubbyrain, 1st place at MTGO Vintage Challenge
2 Flooded Strand 1 Misty Rainforest 1 Polluted Delta 2 Scalding Tarn 1 Tolarian Academy 1 Tundra 2 Underground Sea 1 Volcanic Island 1 Island 1 Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 1 Ancestral Recall 1 Brainstorm 1 Chain of Vapor 1 Demonic Tutor 4 Force of Will 1 Gitaxian Probe 2 Hurkyl's Recall 1 Merchant Scroll 1 Mystical Tutor 4 Paradoxical Outcome 1 Ponder 1 Repeal 1 Tendrils of Agony 1 Time Walk 1 Timetwister 1 Tinker 1 Wheel of Fortune 1 Windfall 1 Yawgmoth's Will 1 Black Lotus 2 Defense Grid 1 Lotus Petal 1 Mana Vault 1 Memory Jar 1 Mox Emerald 1 Mox Jet 4 Mox Opal 1 Mox Pearl 1 Mox Ruby 1 Mox Sapphire 3 Sensei's Divining Top 1 Sol Ring 1 Mana Crypt Sideboard 1 Abrade 1 Blightsteel Colossus 1 Defense Grid 1 Disenchant 2 Hurkyl's Recall 1 Karakas 1 Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 2 Mindbreak Trap 1 Pyroblast 3 Tormod's Crypt 1 Island
The Paradoxical deck isn’t that much different than I remember from last year, with the exception of Lavinia, Azorius Renegade finding its way in.
Another card that I was expecting to see in more Paradoxical lists:
Ecobaronen, 6th place at MTGO Vintage Challenge
2 Flooded Strand 2 Misty Rainforest 1 Polluted Delta 2 Scalding Tarn 3 Tundra 4 Volcanic Island 1 Island 1 Monastery Mentor 3 Snapcaster Mage 2 Young Pyromancer 1 Ancestral Recall 1 Brainstorm 1 Dig Through Time 4 Force of Will 1 Gitaxian Probe 1 Gush 2 Lightning Bolt 4 Mental Misstep 1 Merchant Scroll 1 Ponder 4 Preordain 2 Pyroblast 2 Spell Pierce 1 Swords to Plowshares 1 Time Walk 1 Treasure Cruise 1 Black Lotus 3 Dack Fayden 1 Mox Emerald 1 Mox Jet 1 Mox Pearl 1 Mox Ruby 1 Mox Sapphire 2 Narset, Parter of Veils Sideboard 4 By Force 2 Grafdigger's Cage 4 Leyline of the Void 2 Pithing Needle 3 Swords to Plowshares
Narset is a great card and can punish a lot of hands that are “hoping to get there” by drawing cards. While I’m surprised to see few Narsets in Paradoxical, I’m not at all surprised to see it in Xerox where it can function as a “Null Rod against card draw.” It is also likely to immediately -2 to find cheap interaction such as Bolt, Force, and Flusterstorm to buy you enough time to close the game with creatures.
It’s ironic that the printing of an awesome blue card compels me to want to play Workshops.
Add it to the list of messed-up cards that blue mages play in the main deck to fight each other that are fairly dead draws against colorless decks. On the other hand, Hurkyl’s Recall on an opponent and then Twistering with Narset in play is pretty gross… but let’s be fair, it was already gross and Narset is kind of overkill.
It’s also worth noting that the presence of Narset as a fixture in U/R Xerox decks makes me want to start main decking Pyroblast in my Paradoxical lists to not get locked out by it. Ah, the blue arms race… always one of the most compelling reasons to play Workshops or Eldrazi.
Which brings us to the final pillar…. Dredge!
PPROTEUS, 6th place at MTGO Vintage Challenge
4 Bazaar of Baghdad 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite 1 Flame-Kin Zealot 4 Golgari Grave-Troll 3 Golgari Thug 4 Hollow One 3 Ichorid 4 Narcomoeba 4 Prized Amalgam 4 Stinkweed Imp 4 Cabal Therapy 2 Dread Return 4 Force of Will 4 Mental Misstep 2 Mindbreak Trap 4 Bridge from Below 4 Leyline of the Void 4 Serum Powder Sideboard 3 Chain of Vapor 1 Chalice of the Void 1 City of Brass 4 Mana Confluence 2 Mindbreak Trap 4 Nature's Claim
I don’t see a ton of innovation with Dredge, but the archetype has become highly customizable and is always a strong choice for an event.
While not a new concept, Survival Aggro is an innovation to the graveyard deck that continues to put up solid finishes. In fact, its meta percentage and conversion rate suggest it’s quietly one of the best-positioned decks in the format.
Thelastgnu, 7th place at MTGO Vintage Challenge
2 Bayou 4 Bazaar of Baghdad 4 Misty Rainforest 1 Savannah 3 Tropical Island 1 Windswept Heath 1 Wooded Foothills 1 Forest 4 Basking Rootwalla 4 Deathrite Shaman 1 Elvish Spirit Guide 4 Hollow One 2 Leovold, Emissary of Trest 1 Phantasmal Image 1 Squee, Goblin Nabob 1 Trygon Predator 4 Vengevine 1 Wonder 1 Ancestral Recall 1 Deep Analysis 1 Flusterstorm 4 Force of Will 4 Mental Misstep 1 Time Walk 1 Black Lotus 1 Mox Emerald 1 Mox Jet 1 Mox Sapphire 4 Survival of the Fittest Sideboard 2 Assassin's Trophy 3 Containment Priest 2 Energy Flux 4 Leyline of the Void 2 Mindbreak Trap 2 Null Rod
It’s a big old ball of synergy tied together with Bazaar of Baghdad. One of the reasons I chose to feature this deck, despite it being a much smaller percentage of the metagame, is that I think it has the greatest potential for a breakout performance moving forward because of a few Modern Horizons additions:
Both of these cards are insane in Vintage, but require the deckbuilder to jump through hoops to get value. Survival seems perfectly suited to take advantage of these cards in a way that no other established deck can. Survival can tutor up a singleton Collector Ouphe, something I imagine will be extremely good. The deck also plays a high threshold of green spells, which means there are plenty of cards to pitch for a free “double-Disenchant,” which is terrifying for a Workshop player.
Oath of Druids decks also have a head start on playing green, which makes that archetype another possible recipient of Force of Vigor. It’s clear that these new hate cards will put some pressure on Workshops, since I don’t know how the heck an artifact is supposed to deal with free dubs Disenchant. Many have already been compelled to “go Eldrazi” in order to dodge artifact hate, and I think these new cards will continue that trend.
It’s sweet that several new cards have made a huge impact on a format where change comes slowly but dramatically. Karn is a game changer. I think we’ve only scratched the surface on who can and should play Narset. The biggest changes are yet to be seen, as Collector Ouphe and Force of Vigor may put green onto the map as a Vintage powerhouse. How crazy is that?
All things considered, I’m looking forward to an amazing weekend of Vintage in Roanoke in a few weeks’ time. I hope to see some of the old guard (like me!) do well, as well as some new faces make deep runs. Even more important than the top tables, I want to see a huge group of Vintage fans gathered around the dinner table after the event! Last time we had a Vintage dinner party of about 30 and I hope it’s even bigger and better this year.
Whether you are on Force of Will, Workshop, or Bazaar, I hope you draw well and have a blast.