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Vintage 101: A State of Flux

A State of Flux

I've been looking at as many tournament results and deck lists as I can since last week's Power Nine Challenge, and right now it seems as though the only constant theme is change. The format looks far from solved at the moment. There are a few things that I can say with certainty however. 

  • Arcbound Ravager Workshop decks are still very good (and possibly the best deck).
  • Monastery Mentor is still the best compact win condition available to blue decks. 
  • Oath of Druids is making a comeback
  • The restriction of Gush has lead to an increase in new brews popping up on Magic Online.

According to the metagame page on this very website, Ravager Shops is the top-performing deck in Daily Events. "Ravager Shops" is listed as 25% of the reported decks (reported decks are the only ones which prized Daily Events or made top sixteen in the Power Nine events). This stat doesn't tell the entire story though; there are two other categories of Mishra's Workshop decks with 2.9% and 4.9% of the metagame. When I add those numbers up I find that Shops comprises about 33% of the reported decks. The other major category of Prison deck, White Eldrazi, makes up 8.7% of the metagame. All together that means that Prison decks make up 41.7% of the reported decks on Magic Online

Arcbound Ravager [MMA]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben [DKA]Thorn of Amethyst [LRW]

When 41% of successful decks online are broadly categorized as "Prison decks" it's no surprise that the second most successful deck right now (according to our metagame results) is Oath of Druids. Specifically the "Punishing Oath" deck has been performing well recently. 


Punishing Prison Decks

Punishing Oath benefits from having a strong matchup against both White Eldrazi and Ravager Shops. Punishing Fire is a decent removal spell and with Grove of the Burnwillows it can be replayed again and again. Generally speaking White Eldrazi decks have been able to stop Oath from comboing off by using Containment Priest and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to limit what the Oath deck could do. Since Punishing Oath can answer those white hatebears reliably and repeatedly it makes the matchup much more favorable.

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Beyond Punishing Oath there have been a few appearances by "Splinter-Titan" (Oath with Saheeli Rai and Sun Titan). In the past this version of Oath ran Gush, but it did so only to keep up with the rest of the Gush decks in the field. Since Gush is restricted there is no need for an Oath deck to include the spell themselves, and this allows them to play four Forbidden Orchards. One of the big draws to playing Oath is that there are many games that can start with a turn one Oath, Orchard, and Mox. Limiting yourself to less than four Forbidden Orchards just to facilitate Gush never felt great in my opinion. 

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My opinion on Oath is that whatever creatures I'm going to run, at least one of them should be Griselbrand. In the past I never ran anything besides Griselbrand as a main-deck Oath target, but I've found that it's acceptable to branch out to other targets. Playing with multiple targets makes it much harder for opponents to deal with your Oath activations at the cost of a little bit of consistency. 

The reason that I prefer having Griselbrand in my decks, with or without anything else, is that it almost always either wins the game or sets you up to win. Typically the worst-case with Griselbrand is that you Oath it into play and it gets answered immediately with Swords to Plowshares or Karakas and you respond by drawing at least seven cards. I find that having a full grip makes losing your creature sting less, and I'm often able to turn those cards into a win anyway.

Griselbrand can also stabilize your life total against many decks with his lifelink. The seven point life swing isn't as potent as it once was due to the obscene damage potential of Monastery Mentor, but it still acts as a nice little buffer. Other than Monastery Mentor a Griselbrand can be raced by Dredge or a fast combo deck if you're not able to Time Walk immediately after you activate Oath of Druids

For the time being I feel that  Oath of Druids is in a good spot right now. I'm not sure what the best Oath deck would be, but I do have some ideas. I haven't seen any Paradoxical Outcome/Oath of Druids hybrids lately, but I think there's something there. 


Creating a Monastery Monster


If you thought that the restriction of Gush would end the career of everyone's favorite token-spamming creature I have some bad news for you. Monastery Mentor is still an insane Magic card. Right now Mentor is on a downswing, only making up about 8% of the metagame, but I don't think that trend will last. I believe that the reason Mentor has dropped in popularity is that people are still searching for what the best Mentor deck will be. 

The first successful Mentor deck was replacing the missing copies of Gush with blue tutor spells like Merchant Scroll or Mystical Tutor. I've also seen people reverting to the Mentor decks fuelled by Thoughtcast and/or Paradoxical Outcome. Personally I have been Tinkering with a "Big Blue" Tinker/Time Vault/Thirst for Knowledge Mentor deck and I've had some promising results in testing. I also noticed a very interesting list by The Atog Lord that abuses As Foretold and Ancestral Vision

In the days where Treasure Cruise ruled the earth people often joked that Vintage decks were "playing five copies of Ancestral Recall". Eventually Cruise was added to the restricted list and people had to settle for one Cruise, one Dig Through Time. and four copies of Gush. Now that Gush is restricted again people are testing new ways to win the card advantage war. This particular Mentor list is trying to go back to the multiple-Ancestral Recall days by using As Foretold and Ancestral Vision

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Ancestral Vision has been abused in Legacy before, generally in combination with Shardless Agent. The Ancestral/Cascade archetype was never more than a fringe deck in Vintage though. Is the combo of As Foretold and Ancestral Vision strong enough to become an established force in the online meta? Only time will tell. 

Here we have a very interesting Trinket Mage Mentor deck. This is very reminiscent of the Big Blue Mana Drain combo/control decks of the past, except that there is no Time Vault package. Instead of the Tinker/Vault/Key package there's good old Monastery Mentor.  As I mentioned before Mentor is basically the best compact win condition available to blue decks. Mentor is harder to defeat than the Vault/Key combo and it's far easier to assemble.

Instead of trying to replace Gush with tutors or a different draw spell, Tattoocek is running three copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Jace is obviously more expensive than Gush or Thirst for Knowledge but it is a great mana sink for Mana Drain and it provides a ton of card advantage over a longer game. 

Working on Shops

Arcbound Ravager/Walking Ballista Workshops continues to be the best-performing and most popular Vintage deck on Magic Online, but there is more to the Workshop pillar than just Ravager aggro. Other than some people continuing the trend of cutting Tangle Wires from their Ravager Shops decks there isn't a lot of new stuff to talk about. However, If we look beyond Ravager there are some interesting Workshop brews popping up lately.


I like the looks of this Null Rod/Metalwork Colossus Workshop deck. Usually the Null Rod based Shops decks were grindy prison decks, and this one appears to be more aggressive with its 10/10 creatures and such. 

Here we have a more controlling version of Null Rod Shops with Thought-Knot Seers and Mutavaults. 

Playing Null Rod in a Workshop deck is obviously a metagame call. Right now Vintage is full of Arcbound Ravagers, Walking Ballistas, Paradoxical Outcomes, and many blue decks are playing all five Moxen (at least). It stands to reason that a Null Rod Workshop deck could be very potent in the current environment. 

Playing Null Rod does mean that you're sacrificing the ability to use Walking Ballista, and that card is the best answer to creature strategies that Workshop decks have. The main-deck Dismembers in the second Shops list are there to make up for the lack of Ballistas. 


Harsh Delver

It looks like Delver isn't dead after all...

When Gush was restricted I assumed that I wouldn't see Delver of Secrets in Vintage again. This list proved me wrong. Looking at this deck it is very similar to the Delver/Pyromancer Gush decks that saw play in the past few years, only it has replaced Young Pyromancer with Harsh Mentor

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The mana curve here is very small and the deck looks to play a tempo game. It actually reminds me of the Legacy U/R Delver deck in many ways. There's four Lightning Bolts and two Price of Progress to finish players off (just like in most Legacy U/R Delver decks). Lightning Bolt has waned in popularity since Mentor became such a large part of the format, but it's nice to have removal that can kill creatures. planeswalkers, and opponents alike. 

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I find myself wondering if Harsh Mentor is better than Young Pyromancer would be in this deck, but I suspect Mentor pulls its own weight. With all of the Bolts and other burn spells, the damage from  Harsh Mentor often puts opponents in a precarious position. The short-term (one or two turn cycles) damage potential of Harsh Mentor is possibly higher than that of Young Pyromancer and as such it fits the death-by-fire theme quite well. 

In addition to the quick and efficient creatures, Harsh Delver decks typically run tempo Counterspells like Daze or Spell Pierce. Some folks are including Wasteland in their Harsh Delver lists. This makes their copies of Daze and Spell Pierce even more effective. 

Within the Harsh Delver archetype there are answers to many of the popular decks in the format. Sulfur Elemental and Sudden Shock help against Mentor and White Eldrazi. Harsh Delver can also utilize Null Rod quite well as it doesn't really need its own Moxen anyway. 

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Null Rod also plays well with Daze and Wasteland, so I wouldn't be surprised to see more people picking up this deck and adding more Rods and Wasteland effects to the main deck. Without four Gushes in the environment people can feel safe running more non-Island lands in their decks, and that makes Wasteland even more attractive. 

This new archetype (or evolution of an old archetype, depending on your opinion) has popped up several times on Magic Online recently, and it looks as if the deck has the potential to be a contender in the metagame. This is a deck that I'm going to be watching out for in the future.

Opinion Section and Wrap-Up

Before I finish this article, I'd like to briefly get in to the subject of Magic Online and Vintage. Of all the formats online, Vintage is the only one that currently lacks a league. Our community still has Daily Events though. I know that there are some folks who really love the Daily Events and prefer them to leagues. I was once one of those people; I thought leagues sounded awful when I first heard of them. My opinion on the subject has evolved considerably since then.

Personally I have found it to be nearly impossible to play in Daily Events anymore. I have work and family commitments that make it tough. I know that there are a ton of people in the same position as I am. Several of the people that I used to join Dailies with also cannot carve out four hours on a weekday night to play Magic anymore. Most of the people that are in a similar situation to myself end up playing in the two-player queues or in the Tournament Practice room. 

I (and many, many others) play pick-up matches of Vintage on Magic Online every single day. I rarely have to wait for more than a minute in the Tournament Practice room, and two-player queues fire pretty much as fast. If there was a Vintage league I would be spending my limited Magic time playing league matches instead, and I firmly believe that I am not alone. 

There is some downside to leagues though; it means that we would lose our Daily Events and some prominent players happen to really enjoy those. Those players could still get the "big tournament feeling" from playing in the monthly Power Nine events though. Perhaps Wizards could even add a weekly or bi-monthly premier event (or Daily Event) to compensate those who prefer that style of play. I'm not sure what the perfect solution is, but I do believe our community would be better served with more access to competitive play. 

The good news about all of this is that Lee Sharpe of the Magic Online team has stated that they are looking at ways to make leagues for Vintage work. Lee even Tweeted the other day and said that he has an announcement for "non-rotating format players" on Magic Online. I certainly hope that his announcement has good news for the Vintage community! If you're on Twitter and have an opinion on Magic Online Vintage, feel free to let your voice be heard and Tweet, respectfully, to the Magic Online folks.

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days! You can find me on Twitter, TMD, and Magic Online @Islandswamp

Underground Sea [ME4]



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