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Vintage 101: A New Year of Vintage

Party Like it's 2016

Last week I mentioned that it was my opinion that Mishra's Workshop-based decks were poised for a comeback. As of this writing, you can plainly see Workshop decks now rank in the top five most played decks online. In fact, decks running four Workshops have been classified into different groups. Together, all of the groups of Workshop-based decks total over 19% of the metagame. If you count the entire spectrum of Mishra's Workshop decks together, they're once again the most popular deck online. I fully expect this trend to continue and I suggest that anyone tuning a deck to play in a Magic Online event take this into consideration. 

When Chalice of the Void was restricted many folks acted as if it was the death knell for the Workshops pillar. I know that Chalice of the Void was a very important part of those decks, but I always felt as if Workshop decks were strong enough to persevere. Thirst for Knowledge was released from solitary confinement as part of the same Restricted List announcement, so people were naturally drawn to play it. Immediately following the victory of a Tezzcast deck at OvinoX (the first major event with Chalice restricted) there were worried posts on The Mana Drain questioning if we were headed into a new Time Vault-fueled "combo winter." It's less than four months after the last Restricted List update, and Thirst for Knowledge isn't seen all that much — more decks are using Gush as their unrestricted Blue draw engine. 2016 is starting off looking like it's going to be a good year for Lodestone Golem and friends. 

Island Swamp and Forest

It's no secret that I love Oath decks. I've been championing Oath of Druids decks for a few weeks because I've always felt confident with Griselbrand at my side. When an Oath deck won the Power Nine Challenge it made me want to get in the action myself. I made it a point to clear my schedule so I could play in a Daily Event, and I managed to squeeze one in last weekend.

The Main Deck

When I started working on this updated Griselbrand Oath deck, I set out to make it the fasted version possible. Throughout all the times I've played this style of deck I've noticed that the first few turns were critical. Resolving an Oath of Druids or Show and Tell is easier earlier on in a game. On the play, Force of Will or Flusterstorm is very likely to make your bomb resolve. It usually would require your opponent to have two Force of Wills to stop you. This scenario also works against tapped out opponents, and early on players are more likely to be tapped out from playing one mana card-manipulation spells like Ponder, Preordain, or even Sensei's Divining Top. The basic goal became to play a list with as many opening hands that contained Oath of Druids, any zero-cost mana artifact, and Forbidden Orchard (preferably with Force or a live Flusterstorm for protection). Every card added or omitted was selected based on this criteria. 

My build is light on lands compared to most Oath decks being played online. This is intentional, albeit risky. There are twenty-two mana sources in the main deck, and an extra one in the sideboard. Against decks with Wasteland the basic Forest comes to aid in the casting of Oath of Druids or Nature's Claim. This mana base has been perfectly adequate for me, but a case can be made for including more mana sources if Shops decks continue to rise in popularity. The reason that I'm only running fourteen lands in this list is that the deck lacks cards like Gush or [Thirst for Knowledge]]. Fewer lands mean there are less dead draws and more gas. Ideally this helps our early game stay on par with the blue decks packing an expansive card draw suite. Each turn has the potential of causing the deck to fall behind on card advantage. The longer the game goes the more our opponent ends up having extra untapped mana and live counterspells. Instead of trying to make my list have more late-game power, I instead focused on maximizing the early turns. 

The mana artifacts in my list are slightly different than what other decks run. I've chosen not to play Sol Ring and I have done so for two reasons. First of all, Sol Ring can get hit by Mental Misstep. This isn't a huge problem, but in the event that your opponent could sense you are reliant on it, it is very relevant. The second reason is that Sol Ring doesn't allow you to play a turn-one Oath. You'd still need a land and a zero-cost artifact to play the Oath, and the Sol Ring isn't helping in that situation. I decided that what I really wanted was more Moxen. Since I can't play more Moxen when I'm already playing them all, I went with the next best thing: Lotus Petal.

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Lotus Petal has the disadvantage of putting you down a card as it is not reusable like a land or Mox. However, the advantage that Lotus Petal offers outweighs the negative aspects. Lotus Petal acts as my eighth zero-mana artifact. This card gives me a slight increase in the "nut draws" that I tuned this list to maximize. Beyond making for some insane opening hands, Lotus Petal plays very well with Yawgmoth's Will, fuels Dig Through Time. and helps fix my mana. Using a Lotus Petal to help cast Abrupt Decay is a play that happens quite often, and this is something Sol Ring was never be able to do. 

I'm running three copies of Show and Tell and three Griselbrands as another way to increase my odds of ending the game quickly. Combined with all of the cantrips, tutors, and card-draw, this deck is very good at putting together its combo in a hurry. Sometimes it's possible to surprise a deck that's normally faster than you with a turn two or three win. That makes for a good time. 

I kept the Blue-card count as high as possible to increase the chances that I can protect my early combo play by having Force of Will and a Blue card to pitch it to. I've been playing three copies of Flusterstorm as combo protection as well. Flusterstorm is the cheapest way to protect the Oath or Show and Tell other than Force itself. It's often impossible to beat a Flusterstorm, especially when the opposition is tapped out. Thoughtseize is also great at protecting the combo, albeit in a proactive manner. The added bonus of perfect information makes Thoughtseize a spectacular addition to this list. It also doesn't hurt that you can snipe a Monastery Mentor or Containment Priest in a pinch! 

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Continuing with the theme of living fast and dangerously, there are no cards in my list to recycle my graveyard. I've played Gaea's Blessing and Memory's Journey in the past, but I've cut all such cards in this list. Every now and then this makes for some difficult games or decisions, but in the vast majority of games it isn't a problem. I also cut Jace, the Mind Sculptor from the deck, so the only way to restock an Oath target in the deck is Brainstorm. Jace was hard for me to cast due to the lower land count, no Mana Drains, no Sol Ring, and no Tolarian Academy.

Jace is great against other Oath decks, and he is undoubtedly a fantastic planeswalker. Unfortunately for Jace my deck isn't built to get to four mana as fast as other decks, and he just didn't fit into what I was going for. I've played the Blue planeswalker in my Oath decks before and I'm sure I'll do it again someday, but in this particular list he got the axe. I found myself sideboarding Jace out in almost every single match up, and I decided to see how my games went with him gone altogether. I never once felt like removing him from my deck was a mistake. 

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I play a full playset of Mental Misstep because Nature's Claim and Pyroblast are two powerful targets that would otherwise impede my game plan. I have the requisite Brainstorm and four Preordains but no Ponder. I needed room so I cut a cantrip. Ponder was what I chose to remove. It's a fine card, but I dislike the times where the cards I see with Ponder are so bad that I have to shuffle. I'd rather scry all the junk to the bottom and keep digging. My list only has four fetch lands so the maneuver of drawing one card with a Ponder and shuffling the rest away isn't a reliable plan. 

I omitted Library of Alexandria, which was a tough decision. Library is one of my all-time favorite cards, but I decided it was too slow for what my list is trying to do. In a three-color deck, too many colorless mana sources can be a problem. I already play a main-deck Strip Mine to answer Karakas or other troublesome lands, so I felt I couldn't afford another land that won't help cast Abrupt Decay

The main deck doesn't have a ton of answers for resolved threats, but there is a copy of Abrupt Decay and Echoing Truth. Those two cards give the deck an out to things like Time Vault or Monastery Mentor. Echoing Truth is a catch-all for anything that Abrupt Decay can't hit like Blightsteel Colossus or a Marit Lage token. If things go according to plan this deck will ignore what the opponent is doing, get out a Griselbrand, and then Time Walk or put together Time Vault and Voltaic Key. Every now and then the plan takes a little detour and when it does, having a few outs to some problematic permanents is key. 

The rest of the main deck is essentially the same as most other Griselbrand Oath decks. There are the usual tutors, Time Vault and Voltaic Key, and Yawgmoth's Will. With space being at a premium, many cards were considered but ultimately cut. I considered cards like Sylvan LibrarySensei's Divining Top, Mana Drain, and more. All of those cards felt like they'd be a better fit in a slightly slower Oath deck so they didn't make the team this round. 

The Sideboard

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Much of the sideboard plan is standard issue. There's Leyline of the Void for Dredge and sometimes Storm. Nature's Claim comes in for Workshop decks, Time Vault decks, and even the mirror match. As an anti-shops card, Hurkyl's Recall is a great answer to Ravager and Hangarback. Then there are extra copies of Abrupt Decay, which come in against many decks. Any time I'm anticipating that my opponent will play Grafdigger's Cage or Containment Priest, I side in Decay. Toxic Deluge comes in against token decks or hatebears-style decks. 

Pithing Needle is actually very important in this sideboard. Karakas is an uncounterable hoser for our main strategy, and it is one of the most difficult cards for this deck to deal with. Pithing Needle can shut down the activated ability of a Karakas for only one mana. Combined with the main deck Strip Mine, Pithing Needle gives this deck two outs to Karakas. You can also bring Pithing Needle in against a variety of decks. I bring it in against Dredge and name Bazaar of Bagdhad, and I've brought it in against Workshop decks that run Kuldotha Forgemaster. Jace, the Mind Sculptor can be a pain in the neck when he bounces our Oath targets; luckily he quiets down when you stick him with a Pithing Needle.

The Creature Tool Box

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The two cards in the sideboard that are the most unusual are the two creatures: Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Iona, Shield of Emeria. Elesh Norn is a creature that I've been running in my sideboard for quite a while. The White praetor puts in serious works against any deck running Monastery Mentor or Young Pyromancer and it kills every creature in a hatebears deck. The other awesome thing is that Elesh Norn acts as an additional card to bring in against Dredge. Many Dredge decks lack a way to kill an Elesh Norn, and Elesh destroys just about every creature and zombie token that Dredge can play. 

I was given the idea to play Iona by Vintage veteran Mike Solymossy. and I was reluctant at first to try her out. So far Iona has been a great addition to the deck. Using Oath or Show and Tell to get out an early Iona can stop a Storm deck until it can find an answer for the legendary creature. Iona also provides a clock, so the time to find an answer for her is limited. Storm decks are still going to be a difficult match up for Oath, but having an effective countermeasure that you can cheat into play goes a long way towards making it less difficult.

Playing multiple Oath targets in your list cuts both ways. It can allow you to get additional Oath activations, but it can also be inconvenient if you end up finding a target other than the one you want at the time. The key is to only bring in each sideboard creature only in matchups where you would always benefit from having that creature come into play. 

If you get an Elesh Norn from an Oath activation you won't likely be able to activate your Oath again as all of the Spirit Tokens from Forbidden Orchard will be killed. If you're attacking with an Elesh Norn each turn and your opponent has no creatures that can survive her -2/-2 static effect you're in a winning position anyway, so not being able to activate Oath isn't really an issue.

If you bring in Iona against Storm you're going to name Black as the color of spell that can't be cast so that they won't be able to cast Tendrils of Agony. The only downside is that you can't draw cards with Iona, so you'll have to activate Oath a second time to do so. This window may be enough time for your opponent to cast a Blue bounce spell on Iona and resolve their combo kill, so be vigilant. 

Going Forward

This particular evolution of my Oath deck has been tuned with Storm, Grixis Time Vault decks, and Gush-based token decks like Mentor and Delver in mind. Those decks had been the most widely-played since September. Workshop decks were much less popular in the last few months, so I opted for a greedier mana base and slightly less anti-artifact cards in my decks. In the past I had run Hurkyl's Recall in the main deck and fewer Mental Missteps to make the Shops matchup better. My play testing in the last few days has caused me to hedge against Workshops again.

I've spent time looking at Workshop lists from recent Daily Events, and it is clear to me that the Workshop pilots are taking their matches against Oath seriously. I've seen more copies of Karakas, Leyline of Sanctity, and Witchbane Orb than I ever seen before. If the Workshop decks have adapted this much and are playing such effective countermeasures, then my old plan of "play an Oath of Druids and hope it gets me there" isn't going to cut it anymore. I'll need to make adjustments, and I think that all of the other decks might have to as well. Lodestone Golem is here to stay, and he's hungry. 

Adventure Time!

In keeping with my promise to showcase unique, interesting, or rogue Vintage decks, I have a bonus deck for your viewing pleasure. Here's a spicy little number from a recent Vintage Daily Event:

There's a whole lot of stuff going on here! Stoneforge Mystic and Goblin Welder in the same list? Main deck Aethersworn Cannonist? This list looks like a wonderfully strange rainbow-colored prison deck. In fact, if I was in charge of names, Rainbow Prison would get my nomination. 

Nether Void and Trinisphere are fantastic at shutting people down, and in the case of Trinisphere you can Tinker for it to catch someone off guard. Imagine allowing a Tinker to resolve because you have a Steel Sabotage in hand to bounce the TinkerBot you're expecting. Trinisphere will ruin that strategy. I've played with Tezzcast before, and Tinkering out a three-ball is one of the most backbreaking plays you can make. 

I've actually played against this deck in the tournament practice room and it certainly kept me guessing. I honestly had no idea what was going on, as I had not seen the Daily Event that this list was taken from at the time. I'll bet that happens to a lot of this deck's opponents! This really is one of the most interesting decks I have seen in a long time, and if I had a trophy to give out, this dude would get it! 

If you want to see your crazy deck in one of my articles  keep working on it until you win a Magic Online event! 2016 is upon us. Let's make this the year of Vintage! See you in seven days. You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on MTGO

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