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Vintage 101: A Thorny Situation

A Thorny Situation

As with any metagame in Magic, the Vintage meta has a constant ebb and flow. There are many consistent forces in the metagame but the archetypes that prevail tend to shift back and forth. On one hand we have the very powerful new combo decks that I wrote about last week, and on the opposite end of the spectrum we have archetypes like the various Mishra's Workshop and White Eldrazi decks. 

The strength of Workshops and White Eldrazi is predicated on how well-positioned cards like Thorn of Amethyst and Wasteland are at any given point. Each of those decks have plenty of similar and redundant cards that they play, but the point remains: when decks are greedy, the mana-taxing cards will take advantage of them. Paradoxical Outcome and Gush decks are both fairly greedy decks. Gush decks don't run all that many mana sources, and the majority of mana sources in a Paradoxical Outcome deck aren't lands at all. When you're bouncing your lands for Gush, Thorn effects are very problematic. If, in the case of the combo decks, the majority of your mana comes from spells (usually artifacts), paying even more more mana to utilize them is a nightmare. 

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The Thorn of Amethyst decks are always very good, but they've been performing especially well lately. There was even one Magic Online Vintage Daily Event that I saw where every deck that managed a 3-1 or better finish was either Workshops or White Eldrazi. I took a snapshot of the statistics for that event that shows which cards were the most-played and it is quite telling. 

Vintage Daily Event #10373300 on 1/22/2017

The latest Vintage results I have access to show that the metagame is made up of approximately 26% "Thorn decks" (all Workshop and White Eldrazi combined). This tells me that Workshops and Eldrazi are in a good spot strategically, and that is likely to only get better. Most of the decks in my sample were from Magic Online and as such they didn't have access to Aether Revolt yet. Workshop pilots who play Paper Vintage have gained access to a potent new weapon from the latest Magic release!

Walking Ballista is the real deal. It's already up to fourteen dollars in paper, so it must have some potential in Standard. In Vintage the Ballista is an upgrade to Triskelion and it has already won a Vintage tournament. Workshop virtuoso Nicholas DiJohn predicted that Walking Ballista would make a Vintage Top Eight soon after release, and it appears he was correct!

DiJohn was the first person that I saw playing Fleetwheel Cruiser in what would eventually come to be known as "Car Shops". The Cruiser-based Workshop aggro decks have been on the radar for some time and they've been one of the top performing Workshop decks since the release of Kaladesh. This updated take on the archetype is running the full four copies of Walking Ballista.

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Walking Ballista has the same combo potential with Arcbound Ravager that Triskelion does, but it offers much more flexibility. Late in the game Ballista is a mana sink, and it can also be a clutch early play as well. In the first few turns of a game it is possible for an opponent to sneak a dangerous creature into play before a Workshop deck can get a lock piece down. In the past if an opponent was able to stick an early Delver of Secrets or Young Pyromancer it often created a big problem. In these situations the Workshop pilot has the possibility of answering that threat immediately with a Walking Ballista for two to four mana. 

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Triskelion always acted like removal in the same way that Walking Ballista does, but with a non-flexible six mana casting cost it is plain to see how inferior Trike is in comparison. I fully expect to see Workshop decks abandoning Triskelion in favor of Ballista, and I think this latest Workshop build sets proves it. 

There's another Aether Revolt card included in this deck that I find interesting and that is the singleton copy of Scrap Trawler. I'm not sure how well it worked out in this instance and I haven't seen the Trawler in action myself, but I always think it's neat when new cards see play in Vintage. 

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There are a lot of neat interactions that might come up if you're playing Scrap Trawler. It could be something as simple as sacrificing an artifact to Arcbound Ravager to get back a Mox Jet, or simply letting a Tangle Wire fade away to get back a Ravager. At the very least Scrap Trawler can negate one removal spell (barring exiling effects), and that's possibly enough to make it worth it. 

Pushing Back against Thorn.Dec

With all of the success that the Thorn of Amethyst decks have had one might wonder what deck they should play if they're not interested in playing Shops or Eldrazi Hatebears. Life can be tough for combo players with all of these Thorns, Thalia's, and Trinisphere's running around. Gush decks are always good, and they can have solid plans against the mana-taxing strategies, but they're still not a great matchup. With these facts in mind I found two new and interesting deck lists that could have a decent shot against Eldrazi and Shops. Let's take a look! 


Blue-Red Landstill

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Landstill decks have always been noted for their generally positive matchups against Shops. The most common form of Landstill that people play in contemporary Vintage is the Blue-White list popularized on the Vintage Super League. Once upon a time though, Blue-Red Landstill was quite popular. It looks like Magic Online user Tattoocek is on a mission to bring good old U/R Landstill back!

U/R Landstill doesn't get to play cards like Supreme Verdict and Swords to Plowshares, but it still has plenty of clutch cards to take down opposing strategies. There's Sudden Shock to take out Monastery Mentor or Young Pyromancer, and Rolling Earthquake to sweep away multiple creatures. 

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This list also plays Sulfur Elemental in the starting sixty. The Elemental is great at sweeping away tokens from Monastery Mentor, but it's also serviceable against cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Since Sulfur Elemental has flash and split second it can be cast during an opponent's end step to assassinate opposing planeswalkers. 

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If you're piloting this list and you find yourself facing down a Paradoxical Outcome deck you have a few sweet cards to help you out. There's three main-deck copies of Mindbreak Trap to stop a combo deck in their tracks. There's also a Null Rod in the main deck and two more in the sideboard. In addition, the three copies of Mana Drain and singleton Ceremonious Rejection provide four more ways to stop a combo deck's Defense Grid.

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Beyond all the cards for dealing with Mentor and Paradoxical Outcome there lies a deck with a rock-solid mana base. Playing a healthy amount of lands is one of the best things you can do if you're trying to not lose to a Sphere of Resistance. Within the 22-land mana base there are Wastelands and a Strip Mine. Waste and Strip are great against Mishra's Workshop and Ancient Tomb. Destroying a Workshop or Tomb reverts the one-sided effect of a card like Trinisphere, often leaving the Prison deck unable to cast spells. 

Landstill in Vintage

Landstill decks can be as tough to design as they are to pilot. Like all hard control decks, Landstill lists are full of answers and they play very few threats. If you don't properly anticipate the metagame you'll be face you might show up with the wrong answers, or worse yet, not enough of them. For this reason I don't ever suggest that someone copy a Landstill list for play in an unknown metagame as it is a recipe for disaster. However, if you do know the meta well enough to make good card choices, Landstill can be a very solid option. 


Punishing Oath

The only certain things in life are death, taxes, and my love for Oath of Druids. If you've ever felt frustrated by Prison strategies I humbly suggest you try letting Oath of Druids be your cheat code. Just tap two mana, then set it and forget it.

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I spend a lot of time going through Vintage tournament results looking for interesting decks and I've seen Magic Online user k_f_chicken play quite a few unique Oath lists. This one in particular was from a recent Daily Event, and it seemed really cool to me.

The deck is entirely composed of RUG colors, which is fairly unusual. The Brian Kelly Oath decks run a somewhat similar mana base but with Tundras as well. The colors of mana aren't the only interesting thing about the deck though; the real innovation here is the inclusion of Grove of the Burnwillows and Punishing Fire

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Unless you're familiar with Legacy you may have never heard of the Punishing/Grove combo as Punishing Fire is banned in Modern. The idea is that with Grove and Punishing Fire you gain a repeatable direct damage spell. Repeatedly casting Punishing Fire is often enough to keep most creature-based strategies at bay, although in Vintage this is likely much harder to accomplish. The thing that makes this combo have potential in this deck is that it has synergy with a few other cards. 

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This list plays three copies of Dack Fayden as it is very powerful with Punishing Fire and Life from the Loam. Both Loam and Fire keep your hand full of extra cards to discard with Dack's loot ability. Having extra cards to discard effectively turns Dack's first ability in to a draw two, and that creates an incredible amount of card advantage. Life from the Loam can also be used to repeatedly hit an opponent with Strip Mine or to ensure there's always a Grove of the Burnwillows on the battlefield for Punishing Fire

The Dredge ability of Life from the Loam also plays well with the "Golden-Gun" Oath package that the deck employs. Emrakul ensures that the deck will likely never mill itself out, and Loam can also put Dragon Breath in the graveyard before Oath is activated. Dredging a Punishing Fire into the graveyard is almost like drawing a card when you've got a Grove in play. 

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Walking the Planes

This Punishing Oath list has five total planeswalkers. In addition to the three copies of Dack Fayden there are two copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Jace and Dack aren't as mana efficient as Gush but they still comprise a very powerful draw engine. After a few turns with one of these planeswalkers in play the card advantage they provide can prove to be insurmountable for opponents. 

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Having this many planeswalkers in the deck turn it into a much more controlling build than many Oath lists. These permanent sources of card advantage provide a lot of utility and they give the deck an alternate path to victory should the Oath of Druids plan fail. Having extra 'walkers is also great in Oath mirrors. Jace, the Mind Sculptor's creature-bouncing ability is both loved and feared by Oath pilots as it is a common answer to a resolved Griselbrand, Jace is also one of the only viable answers to Emrakul, the Aeons Torn


Punishing Oath in Vintage

This deck has a solid mana base to help against Prison strategies, and it employs Oath of Druids, which is one of the classic answers to Mishra's Workshop decks. Against White Eldrazi the deck has removal spells for Containment Priest, and there's a Inferno Titan in the sideboard to counteract Karakas. I haven't been able to play with or against this deck yet, but I've built it on Magic Online because it seems like it has real potential. I'm not sure how well this list will perform against Mentor or Paradoxical Outcome, but I think that those matchups could be handled by making some tweaks to the list. 


Power Nine Time!

Just a quick heads up to anyone who plays Vintage on Magic Online; this coming weekend is the monthly Power Nine Challenge tournament. For more details you can check the official Magic Online schedule webpage here. No matter what you're playing you should probably make sure you have a good matchup against White Eldrazi and Workshops. White Eldrazi is especially dangerous as it seems to fly under the radar even though it has an incredible win rate. I expect that there will be plenty of Paradoxical Outcome as well, but that deck will likely have a hard time fighting through six or more rounds of Thorns and Thalia's. 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days. You can chat with me about Vintage or astrology on Twitter, Magic Online, or TMD @Islandswamp







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