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Vintage 101: Anything But Gush...


Time for a Change

This week on Vintage 101 the theme will be "anything but Gush." Don't get me wrong, I love Gush. I think it's the best unrestricted blue draw spell in Vintage by a wide margin, and that leads to the metagame being filled with very similar decks. Entire books have been written about Gush at this point, so I think it's fine to look at the rest of what Vintage has to offer instead of telling you which Gush deck is currently king of the hill.

Today I'm going to look at people who are winning with a different set of cards. I love seeing an obscure card do well, and you don't get much more obscure than Helm of Obedience. I wrote about Ben Perry's Two-Card Monte a few weeks ago, and I'm now starting to see more Helms in the Vintage rooms on Magic Online! On that note, our first deck is a novel list that combines half of the Two-Card Monte combo with an Oath deck.

 

Monte's Oath

If I gave out prizes for interesting decks, I'd owe this person a prize or two by now. For reference, this individual is the same mad scientist who cooked up Landstill Oath list several months ago. 

I had the good fortune of playing against this deck the other day, and it took until game two for me to truly realize what was happening. I saw Chalice of the Void, Defense Grid, Mishra's Workshop, and Oath of Druids over the course of the match, and it was a sight to behold. 

The deck essentially trades the Painter's Servant and Grindstone portion of Two-Card Monte with Oath of Druids and the associated creatures. Adding Oath gives the deck a few advantages. 

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First of all, the Oath package gives the decks strengths against different things. Oath works through Null Rod. Second, if people are sideboarding in Grafdigger's Cages or Containment Priests in addition to Null Rod or Stony Silence, they're having to dilute their own plan significantly. 

Oath of Druids is amazing against Workshops, Eldrazi, and it can even be very good against White Eldrazi if you're playing the correct Oath targets. Against Gush decks, Oath is just another card that your opponent has to burn a Force of Will on. When you factor in the four Defense Grids, the four Helm of Obediences, and the four Oaths, that ends up being a lot of work for a playset of Forces to deal with. 

The deck also plays Show and Tell, which obviously helps a ton in the games where an Oath target is drawn. In this list though, Show and Tell can do even more. You can play either half of your Helm/Leyline combo with Show and Tell, which saves you a little mana and can negate the need for two black sources. You can also play Show and Tell as a bait spell because it's generally too powerful to ignore. 

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I wrote about the Helm/Leyline combo before, and I've since played with those cards quite a bit myself. Leyline of the Void and Helm of Obedience seem like they're useless unless they're combined, but that's not really true in practice. I have had times where I wasn't able to do much with a lame-duck Helm of Obedience, but I have managed to win games by stealing my opponent's creatures with it. I've also had an opponent cast Vampiric Tutor when I had an untapped Helm out, it did not end well for them. 

Going through all of the cards in this list, there's one diamond in the rough that stood out to me. The modern-day Aeolipile from Lorwyn makes an appearance here. 

I never would have imagined that this card would be Vintage-playable, but a quick internet search revealed that indeed people have played this card in Mishra's Workshop decks before. Three mana to do two damage isn't a great rate, but the artifact can be played with Workshop mana, and it kills a few important creatures. Phyrexian Revoker can shut down your Helm combo, and Containment Priest makes a mockery of Oath of Druids. Moonglove Extract can answer both of those cards, and is simple for this deck to cast. With the rainbow mana base you could make an argument for replacing this card with Abrupt Decay instead, but I think it's a reasonable consideration. 

Oath Targets

Many Oath decks are content to spit out a Griselbrand and call it a day. This deck can activate Oath multiple times, which proves problematic for opposing hate cards. Often people will plan on dealing with an Oath deck using Swords to Plowshares or Karakas. This deck can tutor up Inkwell Leviathan, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or even Iona, Shield of Emeria in addition to Griselbrand. These creatures provide viable answers to Karakas, Swords to Plowshares, and several other popular countermeasures. 

Iona can end games against a Storm deck, and she's pretty good against most blue decks if she comes into play early on in a game. Inkwell can be fetched with Oath, Tinker, or even put into play via Show and Tell. Inkwell makes spot removal useless and is all but unblockable in a format with so many Islands. Of course Emrakul is hard to kill and supremely deadly. 

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Helm Oath in Vintage

This deck might look like a jumbled pile of powerful cards, and in some aspects that is exactly what it is. The list is still in its development stage, but it looks like a viable (but fringe) strategy. The thing about Vintage is that, if your cards are powerful enough, and you play them skillfully, you can wreck someone. If you're in doubt of where to be in terms of strategy, playing a deck with a lot of raw power is probably better than the alternative. 

Whatever anyone's opinion of this type of deck is, as far as I'm concerned it is a breath of fresh air. I'm excited to see someone win with something creative, and I can't wait to see the next incarnation. 

Rhyming and Stealing with Grixis Thieves

Grixis Thieves was a pretty popular deck last year, and it took second in the Vintage Championships in the hands of Robert Greene. In the time since Robert's second place finish, Dig Through Time was restricted, along with Chalice of the Void and Lodestone Golem. Vintage players were also given back Thirst for Knowledge, a card that is a perfect fit for a Grixis combo/control deck.

i_b_TRUE played this Grixis list to a Top Eight finish in the last Power Nine Challenge, proving that there's still life in this beast of a deck. 

The Dynamic Duo

For those of you not in the know, the name "Grixis Thieves" comes from Notion Thief and Dack Fayden, the greatest thief in the multiverse.

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Notion Thief is mostly unknown in other Magic formats, but he has immense blowout potential in this format. Flashing in a Thief to steal someone's draw spell is brutal, especially when you're stealing a Brainstorm or similar effect. Your opponent will end up spending a card from their hand, then putting two cards on top of their library. It's almost like an instant-speed Mind Twist

Dack Fayden's first loyalty ability can target any player, so in conjunction with Notion Thief, it draws you two cards while your opponent discards two cards. This combo creates a soft lock that is very difficult to come back from. 

This deck also contains a card that isn't usually seen in this type of deck, Timetwister. Draw-seven spells like Timetwister are unpredictable and typically reserved for dedicated combo decks like Storm or Belcher. Even though it probably isn't necessary, including Twister in this list opens up the possibility of using it with Notion Thief for the most insane blowout possible. Twister plus Notion Thief draws you a staggering fourteen cards, and leaves your opponent without a hand. If you can't win after resolving that combo, you're probably the unluckiest person on earth. 

I mentioned Thirst for Knowledge at the beginning of this section, and I think it's worth noting that although Thirst is unrestricted, this deck still only has one copy in it. In my somewhat limited experience playing this archetype I always played three or four, but it's possible I was incorrect. It's hard to argue with results, and this list did do very well with just one. Thirst is a very powerful card, but many other draw spells take priority over it in deck construction. The delve-based draw spells, Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, are just better after all. 

The majority of the main deck is what you'd expect to see. There is a innovation in the sideboard that I think is worth mentioning. 

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Mystic Remora isn't typically played in sideboards, and I haven't seen the card played in Grixis Thieves before either. These days Mystic Remora is primarily used in Monastery Mentor decks in the slots typically given to Preordain. Remora is a card that can be devastating, but it is also very possible to play around. It's almost like a one-sided Standstill as it typically forces opponents to stop playing spells, or at least slow down. 

Most blue decks in Vintage play a lot of cantrips, and indeed their early turns are sculpted with Preordains and Gitaxian Probes. If you can land an early Mystic Remora against a cantrip-fuelled Gush deck, you can force them to slow down long enough to get your Mana Drains online. If you've got a hand with several bombs to play and a Remora on the battlefield, your opponent will have to let you draw cards if they attempt to play their counterspells. 

 

 

In last week's Vintage 101 I wrote about a few of the decks from the Top Eight of the Magic Online Power Nine Challenge. I received a reader comment asking if I'd feature the Dark Petition Storm deck from that same event in an upcoming article. So here it is!

DPS (Dark Petition Storm) decks are all pretty well-defined at this point. Each list has its own personal touches and innovations, but the core of the deck is basically the same. There are discard effects and Defense Grids for protection, Dark Petition to find bombs or start Storm chains, and a lack of blue counterspells like Force of Will. This type of deck is the great grand-child of Long.Dec and Grim Long, and it stands apart from The Perfect Storm or Pitch Long, which utilize Force of Will

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Tinkering Around

Most of the card choices in this list are the same as other people's builds of Dark Petition Storm. I'm going to focus on the few small differences here. Changing just a few cards might not seem like much, but in Vintage even minute changes can have an enormous impact.

Usually these Storm decks will run six or seven slots for disruption, split up between Duress, Cabal Therapy, and sometimes main deck Defense Grid. It's also somewhat common to use two win conditions—usually two copies of Tendrils of Agony. This list only runs six discard spells and relegates Defense Grid to the sideboard. There is also only one Tendrils in the deck. Leaving out one Tendrils and one discard spell leaves room for an alternate win-condition combo. 

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Tinker and Blightsteel Colossus were once common in Vintage Storm decks, but they've seen a dramatic reduction in play both in Storm decks and Vintage in general. The combo is undeniably powerful, but it is also easily disrupted. Blightsteel can kill in one swing, but it is vulnerable to bounce spells, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and is a prime target for Dack Fayden to steal. 

 

There are a lot of cards you can play in Vintage that give you a wonderful feeling, but not much else compares to the rush I get every time I steal a Blightsteel Colossus with Dack Fayden. Usually a skilled Vintage mage will go to great lengths to combine their Tinker with a Time Walk so they can get that lethal one-two punch. Casting Time Walk is certainly very possible in a Storm deck, but it can also be difficult to play both Tinker and Time Walk on the same turn. Most of the time Tinker is a secondary plan for a Storm deck, cast when their mana is constrained or they're being clocked by their opponent. 

Blightsteel Colossus also represents a dead card in your deck. There is no point in a game where you'd want to draw your Blightsteel, and the only way to put it back into your deck is the single Brainstorm. Once you've got a Blightsteel rotting in your hand, the Tinker left in your deck becomes nearly a dead card. 

Tinker other primary use isn't found in this list. Most of the time people would choose to Tinker for Memory Jar, which is essentially another copy of Wheel of Fortune. If you're not searching for Jar or Blightsteel, the main use of Tinker would be to generate Storm by turning an artifact into a Black Lotus. Post sideboarding you could also fetch up a Defense Grid

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After naming all of the reasons you wouldn't want Tinker in your deck, I should probably mention why it could be a good choice. Playing Tinker and Blightsteel Colossus gives the deck a way to win when generating lethal Storm isn't a viable option. There are plenty of Thorn of Amethysts and Thalia, Guardian of Thrabens in Vintage these days, so having a single-card win condition can be a boon to a Storm deck.

There's also the surprise factor for games two or three of a match. Most of the time people will sideboard out their removal against a Storm deck and instead bring in some hate cards. Blightsteel Colossus can win through Leyline of Sanctity, graveyard hate, and Mindbreak Trap

Most of the time I wouldn't choose to run Tinker and Blightsteel in my Storm deck, but it's a valid inclusion. This deck went undefeated in the Swiss portion of the event against a field of great Vintage players, so there's ample proof that this list is a good build. 

The Mana Drain Open

I've been doing this column for a while now, and most of that time I've been experiencing the Vintage format on Magic Online. The weekend after this article is published, I'll be headed out to Oakville, Connecticut for the TMD Open. The Open will be my first paper Vintage event in this century, and I'm very excited about it. 

I had initially planned on doing an entire article on the rich history of this tournament series. I've spoken to a great deal of people who have played in these events in the past, and they all regard this tournament as being very important to the development of Vintage over the years. I decided that if I was going to write about this event (commonly referred to as "the Waterbury" by attendees), I should wait until after I'd experienced it myself. 

I'm still debating on what I'll play exactly, but I'm certain that whatever I choose it will contain Underground Seas. Grixis Pyromancer is possibly the best deck in Vintage right now, so that's something I'd consider playing. I'm also a fan of Oath of Druids decks, although I don't consider them to be positioned very well currently. The most likely candidate for me to play would be Dark Petition Storm because I own all of the cards (minus the fifteen play-test cards allowed). Whatever I end up playing, and however good or poor my results may be, I'm just happy that I'm able to play at all. It's a luxury to be able to play the greatest game ever, in the greatest format ever, with the greatest community of Magic players I've ever known. 

If you're going to be attending the event, look for me wearing an MTGGoldfish shirt and playing on a matching play mat. Feel free to say hello. I'm quite friendly in person! 

See you next week! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on Magic Online

 


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