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Vintage 101: Alternative Thinking

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're getting a little analytical. We're going to take a step back from the overall metagame of Vintage and talk about the perspectives of managing the Banned and Restricted List for this format.

There's a lot to process here, but we'll also still be looking at this last weekend's Vintage Format Challenge and of course the Spice Corner.

The Concept of Format Identity

Format Identity is a unique concept to Magic, as it defines the set of standards that we think about when talk about a certain format within the game. Magic has this concept more than any other game as there are a multitude of ways to play and many, many different formats. When you think of a format such as Modern, what is the first thing that you think of? For some, it's things like the Tron lands and Turn 3 Karn Liberated, for others it's the concept of fast linear strategies and cards like Blood Moon or even Lightning Bolt (as a creature centric format where Bolt is legal). When you think of Legacy, you think of cards like Force of Will, Wasteland, and of course dual lands.

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When you think of a format such as Vintage however, the first thing that comes to mind is these 9 cards. The Power 9. Intrinsically linked to the history of the format. But that's not all we think about. To some, Vintage is a haven for cards that are just too broken and powerful to be played in other formats, a format where these broken things are the draw of playing the game. To others, it's a format where interaction is high and the gameplay is developed over the course of a match. To still others, it's a format where you can play 4x Mishra's Workshop and 4x Bazaar of Baghdad and alternative strategies those cards bring to the table. One thing I've found when talking about this subject to most Vintage players is that Vintage to them is a format where everything is playable.

However, on that notion, in Vintage there are certain cards that are not going to be playable, mainly on the back of the fact that the format is managed primarily through the Banned and Restricted List. Gameplay in the format is inevitably warped around the concept of restricted cards. Wizards has managed the format like this for a long time, since the format was once known as Type I, preferring to restrict cards as opposed to banning them in the format.

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The one intriguing exception to this notion is the card Shahrazad, which was banned in both Legacy and Vintage in 2007. The reasoning given for this ban was simply related to structural reasoning, as I will let Aaron Forsythe's words speak on the subject below:

Because of how much time Shahrazad can eat up, the card is ripe for abuse. The worst-case scenario involves a player winning the first game of a match and then sideboarding in some number of Shahrazads, launching subgames nested within subgames, each with copious and meticulous shuffling until time runs out. Or, faced with losing the first game or the match, a player could use a card like Burning Wish to fetch up a Shahrazad and attempt to stall the match into a draw right there. This behavior takes advantage of the structure of tournaments in a way that is both unfair and against the spirit of the game, so I have no problem endorsing the banning of the card.

In short, Shahrazad was simply a structural and logistical nightmare for events, but the thought of this occurring in a format which previously had been noted solely on the level of restrictions (outside of obvious things like banning Conspiracy card types) brings forth a thought experiment that is interesting to ponder.

What If Wizards Banned Other Cards in Vintage? At What Point Does the Format Stop Being Vintage?

This really says it all in regards to the real meat of this article. The idea that Wizards could eventually get to a point where it actually bans a card outright in the Vintage format instead of restricting it. Over the past year, Vintage has seen a reshaping as 2019 design era cards have become both important and also constricting on the format overall. Several of these cards even became restricted (Karn, Narset, Mystic Forge) due to how greatly they warped the format and metagame. Even now as a restricted card, Narset continues to show up in every blue deck in the format, having settled into its place as yet another restricted card that is played in the blue draw suite. One other card that has also grown up in the restricted suite of cards is Tinker, due to the fact that Bolas's Citadel is an insanely powerful card.

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Now, let's imagine for a moment that the card Bolas's Citadel didn't exist. Tinker is of course, restricted, but Wizards prints an artifact with a minimal condition of winning the game when it enters the battlefield. Imagine then that this artifact costs an appropriately large amount of mana to actually cast (or even has no mana cost at all and has something silly like Suspend). Now, granted, this is something that you'd never see Wizards print in a Standard legal product, but imagine something like it appearing in a Commander product. Alternate win conditions are quirky and amusing. Now imagine that this theoretical win the game deck becomes the best deck in Vintage. The deck is focused on utilizing cards like Tinker and of course the blue suite to locate certain cards necessary to put the card into play. What then, do you restrict? The win condition can't be easily restricted, people were likely only playing one in this deck anyways in order to have the room for all the cards that find it. And if you do end up restricting it, and the deck is still just that good, then what? Tinker is already restricted. But what about the blue draw suite? Well, that suite is already mostly restricted cards already (Dig, Cruise, Gush, Ancestral, Probe, Ponder, Brainstorm, etc) so the only logical hit there would be Preordain. Restricting that means that players would locate other sub optimal cantrips to fill that void (of which there are many) and then a real issue has been presented to the format. Here is a deck that is functionally unable to be affected by restrictions, what do we do?

The interesting thing to note at this juncture is that there are some that claim that we've already hit that threshold of card printings with the printing of Bolas's Citadel. Some can even further claim we hit that threshold with the printing of Blightsteel Colossus even. It's an interesting concept to consider that we are already living in a post 2019 era where we may be slowly approaching the point of no return where card printings will continue to impact the format in possibly negative ways enough to the point where we can't solve the issues with restrictions.

So then, what if Wizards opted to ban cards instead? What if, in the aforementioned example, Wizards took note that this card was ultimately problematic for Vintage, having been solely designed for Commander play, and just opted to remove it from the format instead? Does the format get worse at this card's removal? Does it get better? And of course, what requirements would exist for a card to meet to fit that criteria where it would need to be banned instead of restricted? There are different types of bans in other formats, some are for power level reasoning but some are for structural reasoning, much like how and why Wizards opted to ban Shahrazad in the format. Structural bans generally have some gameplay reasoning behind them, for example the banning of Sensei's Divining Top in Legacy was often considered somewhat of a structural banning due to the fact that it negatively impacted tournament gameplay and had logistical problems for the format.

Likewise, over in Vintage, the possibility of just simply removing cards from the format is an intriguing one, but it also raises the severe question of "when does it stop?" and "how long before it stops being Vintage?" Those are both very good questions for this thought experiment and that all ties back into the concepts of Format Identity and what Vintage means to a player. If you're a player that considers Vintage to be the place where every card is legal for ill or good, then banning cards out of the format might make the format feel less like Vintage for you.

I personally fall into the area where I recognize that there are definite aspects of the Vintage format that should remain intact in such an experiment. Things like the Moxen and the rest of the Power 9 are defining features of the format and nothing should ever take those away. In addition, things like Mishra's Workshop / Bazaar of Baghdad are also cards that, while are controversial, are also defining features of Vintage as a format and provide alternative strategies to blue decks in the format. Is it possible to take away cards from these features that leaves their identity within the format intact while also still feeling like Vintage? I do think there is a distinct possibility that this could be achieved, but it would need to be handled carefully.

As I noted before, this is merely a thought experiment on the future of the format and its health. I massively enjoy everything there is for Vintage and will follow the format for a long time to come, but it is interesting to theorize on ways that the quality of life within the format could be improved upon. I also still equally advocate for unrestrictions as I feel they provide more options within the format.

In addition to questions about format health and whatnot, our good friend Matt Murray has been posting some interesting poll questions on Twitter in that regards. Go check them out!

Are there any cards that you personally would see as a potential candidate for banning? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments below.

Vintage Challenge 1/25

We had yet another Challenge this past weekend, so let's dive right into it!

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Ravager Shops 1st Boin
Oath of Druids 2nd IamFishman (Raymond Robillard)
BUG Midrange 3rd Condescend
Jeskai Arcanist 4th Mannes
Oath of Druids 5th Miharu_Fuyumiya
Jeskai Arcanist 6th Thiim
DPS 7th Achilles27
Titan Breach Oath 8th Notmi

This was certainly an interesting Top 8, with nary a Paradoxical Outcome to be seen. Could it be that we are beginning to see another greater shift in the metagame with this card? It's interesting to see how things are adapting every week now it seems. Regardless, it was Boin in first place of this event with... RAVAGER SHOPS?!?!?!

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Again, this is a solid and clean list and represents another shift in how these decks are being approached in the deckbuilding stage. Gone are now the days of Steel Overseer and now are the days of Traxos, Scourge of Kroog and Stonecoil Serpent, making for a truly aggressive set of creatures overall.

In Second Place of this event we had Raymond Robillard (aka IamFishman on Magic Online) with Oath of Druids! Raymond is the TO for the Waterbury event (also known as The Mana Drain Open), so huge congrats on a stellar finish!

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This deck is pretty cool, falling more on the side of Emrakul + Griselbrand and less of a RUG focus like other lists have been lately. Solid finish and a neat list to boot! Congrats again to Raymond!

Further down this Top 8 at the very bottom we have a truly spicy entry, another Oath of Druids based list, this time featuring new Theros: Beyond Death card Underworld Breach!

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The basic idea of this is pretty simple, you hope to hit a Sun Titan off Oath and have Underworld Breach in the graveyard to gain value off whatever you have milled in the first place. It's an intriguing concept especially since it's mainly using Breach as a Yawgmoth's Will effect and not really as a Storm enabler.

Further down the Top 32 of this event revealed a lot of Dredge in the Top 32, and this jives a lot with what I've heard from other players at the presence of the deck. What is dead may never die, I suppose! Speaking of generally dead things, another list that caught my eye in this event was a genuine Landstill list, featuring Ugin, the Ineffable and even Drown in the Loch!

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As we like to do on here, let's see what new 2020 cards are showing up here, two weeks into the first set of the year!

Card Name Number of Copies
Underworld Breach 3
Thassa's Oracle 2
Heliod's Intervention 1
Soul-Guide Lantern 1

Very few new cards overall, but this is a good thing I feel. Of course, we will continue to keep track week to week on these stats because they provide an interesting look at how new cards are appearing in the format!

The Spice Corner

This list is pretty cool, owing similarly to Bant Eldrazi in Modern, it's Bant Eldrazi in Vintage!

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What I'm Playing This Week

I've been hinting about this on Twitter for a while with some screenshots, but I'm finally ready to show off the list to an extent. Still being massively tuned and nowhere near finished is Vintage Enchantress!

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! I hope you enjoyed this week's discourse on the current state of BnR in the Vintage format, it was an interesting topic to tackle for sure. Join us next week as we continue our journey into the post Theros: Beyond Death world of Vintage!

In addition, big shout out to So Many Insane Plays for their 2019 Year in Review episode. This was a great episode, so be sure to check it out here!

As always you can catch me on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! I'm also always around the MTGGoldfish Discord Server as well as the Vintage Streamers Discord Server!

Until next time, keep Elking Moxen!

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