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Vintage 101: Back to Basics


Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to get down to the basics. That's right, we're going to be talking about some of the most important things to understand about playing Vintage and how best to learn the format. In addition we have some deck information from both the Deal Me in Games Chili Cookoff Tournament on March 8th, as well as the Terra Eternal Championship Qualifier event on February 29th.

Without further ado, let's dive right into this week's topic!

Getting Back to Basics

Vintage can be fairly daunting for those that are newer to the format, but it shouldn't be. There is generally a lot going on in the format, so this week we're going to be talking about some of the basic tenets of the format, and then over the next few weeks we'll talk about various archetypes and how best to approach playing those archetypes in the hope that it helps people understand the format a bit better. If you're a long time player of the format, this is going to be a class review as the idea here is to present the core tenets of the format in a manageable way.

Artifact Mana

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Artifact mana is one of the basic concepts of the format. Every deck in the format has access to fast artifact mana, and outside of certain decks, every deck wants to make use of it. Determining what kind of artifact mana to play in your deck is based on the deck and the strategy the deck is trying to play. For example, decks that seek to put a critical mass of permanents into play or have a combo generally will seek to play as much artifact mana as possible, including the full range of Moxen. For example, Ravager Shops approaches the mana by playing every Moxen, Lotus, Mana Crypt, and Sol Ring, whereas a deck like PO Storm wants to add-in cards like Mana Vault and Mox Opal because it wants to have a more critical mass of these cards. In contrast, decks like Jeskai and BUG Xerox tend to only run the on-color Moxen because there can be issues with the off-color Moxen making color requirements difficult.

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It is important to maintain the understanding that this one of the biggest things about Vintage that makes Vintage the format it is. Artifact mana truly defines the format, so it is important to keep these cards in mind when building a deck.

Restricted Cards

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Another basic tenet of the format is the presence of the Restricted List. The Restricted List defines much of the format because of the power level of these cards and how they interact with the rest of the format. As such, nearly every deck runs some number of restricted cards, with blue decks often taking the cake in regards to the sheer number of restricted cards that they run. A big part of learning to play Vintage is learning how to play with and around these kinds of cards. For example, Ancestral Recall has a lot of deep play to it, whether you are hoping to cast it Turn 1 after playing a few cards or casting it first to hopefully have or draw artifact mana, or if you're waiting until your opponent's Upkeep.

Because Restricted cards are so impactful, it can be important to analyze why they exist in a decklist. For example, Paradoxical Outcome based decks often tend to run the restricted Delve card Dig Through Time, but not the other restricted Delve card Treasure Cruise. This is mainly because the deck can have issues casting both within a game as it does not fill its graveyard well to support both cards. Because of Dig being the more impactful spell, the choice is made to play it over Cruise.

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On the reverse end of this, decks like Ravager Shops include the major restricted cards that have impacted the format in their entirety because those cards are either redundant or all provide a really impactful edge to the deck, such as Thorn of Amethyst, Trinisphere, and Lodestone Golem. In recent times, Mystic Forge has climbed into that list of cards because of just how powerful of a draw engine it is to resolve in Shops.

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Free Interaction

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Vintage is also a format full of free interaction spells, so it is important to keep these spells in mind. Force of Will and friends are big pieces of the format overall and should be expected to be seen in games within the format. In addition to these, cards like Mindbreak Trap and the restricted copy of Mental Misstep are very commonly played. While Missteps generally happen less frequently these days, it is still an impactful restricted card to be mindful and aware of.

Powerful Lands

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One of the other defining traits of the format is the format's ability to play with four copies of some of the most powerful lands in existence of the game. Mishra's Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad have long been considered to be pillars of the format overall, and provide a unique identity to the format by creating alternative playstyles than just simple blue deck mirrors by allowing decks like Shops and Dredge to exist. While this is contentious for some, these cards have been a part of the format for so very long that the consideration to ever restrict them has not been on the table for many years now. It is worth it if you're going to be playing Vintage to explore and understand the decks that play these cards so that you can understand how to play against these decks.

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Subtle Diversity and Room for Innovation

Despite the fact that there is a fair amount of overlap in many Vintage lists when it comes to the presence of restricted cards, there is actually a subtle diversity in archetypes in the format. For example, decks like Shops can be classified as a mixture of Prison/Aggro and even be called Tempo in a sense (a deck that deploys a threat or threats and then does everything it can to protect those threats) whereas decks like BUG are more midrange control as opposed to the pure Xerox type control that is Jeskai. There is a certain rock-paper-scissors nature to the format between these various archetypes currently, which allows just about anything within the context of the format to be successful.

In addition, there is a fair amount of room for innovation in the format still. Unrestrictions like Fastbond opened up some interesting space in the format, and some of the more prolific brewers are finding new and interesting things all the time, especially when it comes to 2019-2020 era cards. This makes the format very interesting from a brewing/deckbuilding perspective as long as you keep the core tenets of the format in mind.

High Power Level and High Variance Wrapped in One Cozy Little Package

Because of all these factors, the power level of Vintage is obviously fairly high. But so is the variance of the format as well. The very presence and nature of the Restricted List makes for games that can be down to simple variance. This kind of variance can often be hard to understand and deal with at first, as it is part of the fun of learning the ins and outs of the format. For newer Vintage players, the recommendation is to not get discouraged by the nature of the format, as occasionally you will run into a match where variance was a factor in the end result.

As with any format with a learning curve, finding resources online such as streamers and article content can help you get a good basis of what the format is about, but sitting down and playing games can help you ascertain whether you enjoy the format or not. The higher power level of the format overall means higher powered games, and sometimes people might find that it's not truly for them, so it is important to try out the format and get a feel for it first.

Pilot skill and metagame knowledge can make up for the variance aspect of the format however, by being flexible and carrying the ideas of the format across various decks, one can recognize trends within the metagame and adjust accordingly. Many of the core strategies of certain cards such as restricted cards are often the same across the many decks that play them, which makes it easier to learn the format overall and be able to switch decks.

Going forward in the weeks to come we will be taking a deeper look at one of the more common starting points for most players in the format, and that is of course Xerox variants (blue decks). These decks are common starting places because they play a large number of Vintage-esque cards and have a large amount of interaction. From there we will be moving onto pure combo and then onto decks like Shops/Dredge.

Community Vintage Update

I don't have a lot to talk about this week in this spot unfortunately. There are events coming up posted on The Mana Drain, but outside of the Terra Eternal Championships nothing major. If there happens to be an event you'd like to me to talk about, please feel free to reach out to me!

Deal Me in Games Chili Cookoff 3/8

Deal Me in Games hosted a Vintage event combined with a Chili Cookoff on 3/8 last weekend. Seems like a pretty cool idea overall! They posted the results of the 14 player event to The Mana Drain, so let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing Player Name
4C Breach 1st Josh Potucek
Jeskai Xerox 2nd Zach Dobbin
Breach Painter 3rd Evan Hundertmark
RUG Pyromancer 4th Dave Reitnauer
U/R Delver 5th Dean Harris
PO Storm 6th Steve Silverman
PO Storm 7th Nick DiJong
Jeskai Xerox 8th Alex Mathew

Seems like a pretty cool Top 8, if a little blue heavy overall. However, the coolness of this event came from none other than the winner, Josh Potucek on 4C Underworld Breach!

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This list is pretty sweet, utilizing more of Underworld Breach to kill the opponent with that combo than other decks have used the card in Vintage. I'm a big fan of this list, because it seems really cool and is a great way to approach Underworld Breach in the format. Congrats to Josh on their finish here with such a sweet build!

In Second Place of this event, we have Zach Dobbin on Jeskai Xerox!

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Zach's list is more in line with utilizing Dreadhorde Arcanist than Jeskai lists on Magic Online have been as of late, but the deck still looks really powerful. It's also cool to see Library of Alexandria because you don't really see that all that much anymore in a lot of the Xerox lists.

In Third Place we have that cool Painter list utilizing Emry, Lurker of the Loch and also Underworld Breach!

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This list is sweet, reminiscent of the Painter list that Justin Gennari won a Vintage Challenge with recently. Super cool to see this deck doing well.

In Fourth Place we have a sweet Young Pyromancer deck that's in RUG colors by Dave Reitnauer.

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This list is sweet and the singleton Underworld Breach here shows a lot of the versatility of the card in a format like Vintage, granting decks like this the ability to have a Yawgmoth's Will effect which can help them keep up with decks that have actual Yawgmoth's Will. This is an interesting addition to the format it actually seems.

If you'd like to see the rest of the Top 8 Decklists, you can find them on The Mana Drain!

Terra Eternal Championships Qualifier Event 2/29

There was also the Terra Eternal Championships Qualifier event on 2/29 two weeks back. The decklists for this event were finally posted to The Mana Drain this past week, so let's take a look at the Top 8!

Deck Name Placing Player Name
BUG Midrange 1st Roland Chang
PO Storm 2nd Ben Lukas
PO Storm 3rd Joe Brennan
Jeskai Xerox 4th Hank Zhong
Oracle Combo 5th Ken Loiterman
Jeskai Xerox 6th Amir Akhundzadeh
BUG Midrange 7th Benjamin Mason
Jeskai Xerox 8th David Kaplan

This Top 8 was also super blue heavy, which is really interesting. This event also drew some really strong Vintage players at the top tables.

Winning this event was none other than Roland Chang on BUG Midrange!

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This list feels pretty powerful and has a lot of game versus a lot of the format right now. This is still a deck to keep an eye on that offers pretty consistent play and power. Congrats to Roland on his finish!

In Second Place of the event, we have very powerful wizard Ben Lukas on PO Storm!

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This list has the focus of being able to kill with Tendrils as well as Mentor, which offers the deck additional ways to win the game outside of just creating an unanswerable Mentor board state. One cool thing to note is Sphinx of the Steel Wind in the sideboard, which can be a solid Tinker target that can't be hit by either Dack Fayden or Oko, Thief of Crowns. Pretty cool tech!

In Third Place we had another PO Storm deck, but this one was piloted by none other than Vintage Champion Joe Brennan!

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This list is closer to a lot of the Magic Online lists, with no Tendrils of Agony main and Blightsteel Colossus in the sideboard. Looks pretty solid still overall!

Down the Top 8 in Fifth Place is a Thassa's Oracle + Demonic Consultation Combo deck!

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This list is super cool, being Grixis over the other color splashes that exist for this deck. This gives the deck access to Pyroblast and cards like Dack Fayden which can be super powerful.

You can view all of the Top 8 lists over on The Mana Drain.

Vintage Challenge 3/7

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

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Ravager Shops 1st Oklahomigan
Golos Stax 2nd Mou
4C Control 3rd Frederusher
Golos Stax 4th Loriwwa
PO Storm 5th ThePowerNine
Golos Stax 6th Devouring Commander
Ravager Shops 7th Kanister
Ravager Shops 8th C_E.L

Wow. This Challenge boasted a massive ton of Mishra's Workshop this week in the Top 8, with only two blue decks out of the Top 8 overall. Not even that, the decks were split evenly between three Ravager Shops and three Golos Stax. These Challenges honestly continue to get more and more interesting each week because of these shifts in decks being good and then not good. It only gives me wonder to consider what will happen next week!

In First Place of the Challenge however was Ravager Shops by Oklahomigan!

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This is mainly what we've come to expect out of the deck at this point, with the exception of the sideboard The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. This seems like a pretty potent correction to beat up on Dredge and Hollow Vine decks, and is likely pretty powerful versus these decks overall. Congrats to Oklahomigan on their finish!

In Second Place was the OTHER Mishra's Workshop deck, Golos Stax!

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One telling thing here is the fact that this deck is running THREE Grafdigger's Cage main deck, which is the most insane course correction I've seen, but it makes sense. The card beats up on Dredge/Hollow Vine in Game 1, but also is good against Bolas's Citadel by shutting that off too.

In Third Place we have a 4C Control build playing new Theros: Beyond Death card Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath!

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This list seems pretty cool, shunting the splash color of red to the sideboard for things like Pyroblast and Ancient Grudge. I'd be really curious to hear how Uro played out in this deck. The card is definitely very strong overall.

Just outside of the Top 8, our good friend Andreas Petersen hit us with a solid Doomsday list!

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Now let's take a look at the 2020 cards that appeared in this event!

Card Name Number of Copies
Thassa's Oracle 6
Underworld Breach 6
Soul-Guide Lantern 4
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath 1

You can view all Top 32 decklists from this event over here!

The Spice Corner

Managorger Hydra!!!!

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thank you again for supporting my content! Join us next week as we continue our journey into the world of Vintage!

As always you can reach me on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! In addition, you can reach me on the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and also the Vintage Streamers Discord!

Until next time!


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