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Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever


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 talk about the giant cat in the room, Lurrus of the Dream Den and all the various decks that have popped utilizing the card. We've also got two Vintage Challenges to talk about, and of course our Spice Corner.

Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty

We're now two weeks into Ikoria and by now we all know that there is one thing going on in Vintage: Lurrus of the Dream Den. This card and conversely the Companion mechanic in general has pervaded Vintage rather quickly, much more than other mechanics that I know of in recent times. The best example I could consider was the printing of Delve cards in Khans of Tarkir. Regardless, Lurrus has bared its teeth and proven its good enough to completely warp deck construction around its existence, and while this is the case, there are certainly quite a few different Lurrus shells that exist. There's so many different shells of this it reminds me of this scene:

Hilarity aside, this week we're going to take a look at these Lurrus shells and the game plans each one is trying to accomplish with Lurrus.

Lurrus Shops

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Lurrus Shops is giving up some of the bigger hallmarks of regular Shops lists in cards like Foundry Inspector, Trinisphere, and Lodestone Golem in order to play a mess of X cost creatures and cards like Steel Overseer. In return it also gains cards like Nihil Spellbomb to recur card draw with Lurrus. As I've noted before with how Lurrus interacts with X spells from the graveyard, you can't actually cast X spells for greater that CMC 2 with Lurrus' ability. This means if you were to cast Walking Ballista from the graveyard you can only cast it for X=1 (because of the XX cost). In the longer game it makes more sense to recur Arcbound Ravager with Lurrus, and some builds of this deck you can also find copies of The Ozolith to interact with this ability to continually generate advantage with Ravager.

This deck can put a lot of power on board and its game plan is pretty similar to regular Shops decks, by placing disruption plus a clock on the opponent. Lurrus gives the deck a ton of staying power to the deck simply because of being able to rebuy permanents to grind out the long game.

Lurrus Breach

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Dedicated Underworld Breach shells are where Lurrus can really shine. This deck's game plan is essentially similar to the Legacy variants prior to the banning of the card there, where it is seeking to resolve Breach with an accelerant like Black Lotus or Lion's Eye Diamond with Brain Freeze to mill themselves until they can eventually escape a spell like Freeze itself or to recur Lightning Bolt over and over.

This deck meets the requirements of Lurrus so very well and I expect it to be one of the more interesting Lurrus decks going forward.

Lurrus PO

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PO gives up quite a bit to play this card, namely Bolas's Citadel, Narset, Parter of Veils, etc. The major tradeoff however is that it gets to play main deck Mystic Remora, which can be relatively insane when you can allow it to fall off and not pay the upkeep and then rebuy it with Lurrus. In addition the game plan of this deck is leaning closer on the Storm kills with Tendrils of Agony over having access to a card like Monastery Mentor. Some of these builds go on to include new cards like Sprite Dragon as a replacement for Mentor, which essentially can fulfill the same role.

Whether or not PO is the best place for this card is interesting. While its relatively easy to meet the restriction, having to give up some of the more powerful cards that have traditionally seen play is definitely intriguing.

Lurrus BUG

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BUG variants earn a lot from being able to play Lurrus. Cards like Dark Confidant are insane in these lists, when most of your deck is extremely cheap. Being able to rebuy cards like Jace, Snapcaster, Goyf, etc are very strong. Some of these lists are even playing cards like Unearth to rebuy a Lurrus that dies late game, but also occasionally playing cards like Living Wish to be able to fetch CMC three creatures like Leovold, Emissary of Trest (which is one of the things the deck does lose out on).

These lists are still in flux, but I expect this to be one of the strongest Lurrus shells outside of the Breach deck.

Lurrus Esper

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The Esper variants of this deck are essentially just like the BUG deck, but without Deathrite Shaman essentially. It plays a lot of the similar cards, but in white gains access to things like Lavinia, Azorius Renegade to be able to shut off opposing coutnermagic. White also gives access to Swords to Plowshares which can be great for dealing with opposing Lurrus decks by removing their access to Lurrus.

This is another Xeroxy shell I expect to also be good going forward and worth playing if you like playing with Lurrus.

Lurrus Jeskai

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The last of the variants we're talking about this week, Jeskai gains access to Plow just like Esper does, but it also gains access to Dreadhorde Arcanist and Lightning Bolt / Pyroblast. Combined with the typical Jeskai Xerox spells and Mystic Sanctuary, this is a really powerful way to approach playing with Lurrus. Being able to rebuy an Arcanist is excessively powerful, and Mishra's Bauble is incredibly strong to rebuy.

Vintage Challenge 4/25

We have the results of the first Challenge of the weekend, so let's dive right in to the Top 32 Metagame Breakdown.

Lurrus, Lurrus, Lurrus! (Cue the Brady Bunch music) The Cat was everywhere in this event all throughout in various configurations, and especially all over the Top 8 of this event as well. As expected however, Lurrus Shops dropped out a bunch in this event with the advent of the X spell bug being fixed on Magic Online. I expect that this deck is still powerful, but it loses a lot from having that bug be fixed. It's also worth noting that there was zero Dredge / Hollow Vine decks in the Top 32, which feels relatively insane to me. No primary Bazaar strategies honestly feels sort of wrong. I do know a few people that played Dredge in the event though that didn't make it into Top 32, so pour one out for my graveyard homies.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Lurrus BUG 1st Clone9
Lurrus Breach 2nd Alpha_Omega
4C Walkers 3rd Pun1sher
Lurrus Jeskai 4th Atlante
Lurrus PO 5th ThePowerNine
Lurrus Shops 6th Team5C
Grixis Xerox 7th TheDeck84
Oath of Druids 8th Pohlman

In First Place of this event at the end of the day we have BUG Lurrus by Clone9.

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This list leans hard on the spell suite of BUG, along with the power of Deathrite Shaman and Tarmogoyf. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is pretty ridiculous in this deck, since it can flip into a walker, and then be recurred if it dies thanks to Lurrus.

In Second Place, we have Lurrus Breach.

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This is a deck that absolutely leverages the power level of Underworld Breach, since that deck didn't really need to run anything above CMC 2 anyways. Being able to recur Breach with Lurrus feels pretty insane, and being able to utilize Lurrus to replay a Black Lotus from graveyard without having to Escape it first to get an extra Storm count for Brain Freeze is also pretty gross.

In Third Place, we have a Non Companion deck in 4C Walkers.

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This is very much a classic Tomas Mar inspired 4C Walkers list, with some notable things such as 4x Leyline of the Void in the sideboard, which I imagine comes in frequently in some capacity since that cuts off the Lurrus decks from the insane T1 Lotus hands.

In Fourth Place we have Lurrus Jeskai.

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The big things this kind of list gives up to play Lurrus is the Planeswalkers in Dack Fayden / Narset, Parter of Veils, but also Monastery Mentor as well. It does not seem to hurt these decks that much when you have the kind of recursive engine provided by Lurrus.

In Fifth Place we have our good friend Justin Franks (ThePowerNine) on Lurrus PO.

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If someone had told me Dead Weight would be a Vintage playable in 2020, I'd probably laugh a lot and then cry myself to sleep, but here we are.

In Sixth Place we have the Lurrus Shops deck.

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The power level of this deck still seems pretty okay even with Lurrus being fixed now on Magic Online as noted before. It can still develop quite a board state quickly and Stonecoil Serpent is still pretty insane. Rebuying Ravagers also seems gross as well.

In Seventh Place we have Grixis Xerox (and yes, I'm aware that the naming conventions are a little off on some of these like this one, it's going through some growing pains!)

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This deck is pretty much just Xeroxy things and a Time Vault + Key combo. Pretty cool overall.

Rounding out the Top 8 we have Oath of Druids.

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This is pretty classic Miharu Oath, but holy crap the Fire Prophecy in the main deck.

Now let's take a look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event. The criteria for 2019 cards is that there had to have been at least 10 copies of the card in the event.

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Negation 29
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 28
Lurrus of the Dream Den 22
Soul-Guide Lantern 22
Dreadhorde Arcanist 19
Mystic Sanctuary 16
Underworld Breach 15
Stonecoil Serpent 12
Lutri, the Spellchaser 3
Thassa's Oracle 3
Fire Prophecy 1

This is the first Challenge (and not the only Challenge this weekend) that I have ever witnessed Narset see play less than 10 copies. I counted 9 actually, putting right out of the criteria. Simply insane for a card that had pretty much settled into the blue Restricted suite of cards to now see very little play overall. Now, I know this is quite possibly a good thing for some since there is less Oko/Dack/Narset overall, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward.

Let's also look at the Companions in this event and see how things stacked up.

Lurrus based decks absolutely overwhelmed decks without Companions, now however there were many different variations in the Top 32 as noted above, but it's clear that Companion has definitely had a pervasive impact on the format.

Vintage Challenge 4/26

Our second Challenge of the weekend proved as well to be pretty interesting as well, and even more infused with Lurrus decks. Let's take a look at the Top 32 Metagame breakdown.

Again a fair amount of Lurrus, and a mixture of Doomsday (both with Lurrus and without) in this Top 32. There was also far less Lutri in this event, but the Lutri decks are also doing fairly well (since the only Lutri pilot made it into Top 8).

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Lurrus Breach 1st Aigis
Lurrus BUG 2nd CherryXMan
Lurrus Rainbow Shops 3rd Shir Kahn
Lurrus PO 4th TKC55
Lurrus PO 5th Treno
Lutri Xerox 6th GGoggles
PO Storm 7th CNewman
Lurrus BUG 8th ABR_

This Top 8 had one Non Companion deck convert to Top 8 as opposed to the three from the day before. The spread of Lurrus in this event is certainly interesting as it distills mainly to four distinct archetypes. Again this was an event where there basically no Bazaar shells to be found in the entire Top 32, neither HollowVine nor Dredge.

At the end of the day however, it was Aigis who took down the event on Lurrus Breach. In truth however, this was a victory for Delver Chat, that most powerful of Chats. Shout out to Aigis for winning this event because it was great to hear about from their end.

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This list is pretty streamlined. I especially do enjoy the tech of the four Sprite Dragon in the sideboard for those matchups where you can just transform into a U/R Xerox build with Breach as a value card to get around focused graveyard hate.

In Second Place we have Lurrus BUG.

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Dark Confidant I would expect to show up a lot more in these lists for sure, as it does seem to be incredibly good when a very minimal amount of your spells costs more than two CMC (Force of Will and Treasure Cruise mainly). Of course that means that you're essentially priced into randomly taking eight damage when you flip your Cruise, but you know what they say: Greatness. At any cost.

In Third Place we have a really sweet looking list from our good friend Nico Bohny (Shir Kahn). Ever seen Shops play Ancestral Recall? Well you have now.

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This deck is pretty cool and some of the things that Nico chose to play is pretty amazing. Deafening Silence and his own By Force out of the sideboard is really cool. This is really stepping outside of the box and I might have to try this list at some point for sure.

Fourth and Fifth Place are both Lurrus PO lists, so let's look at both.

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Both of these decks have a slightly different slant to them which is pretty cool. The Fourth Place list essentially replaces Monastery Mentor with Sprite Dragon, which can functionally fill a similar role, while the Fifth Place list leans harder on the Storm kill with Tendrils of Agony. Nice to see some variety in this archetype for sure.

In Sixth Place, we have Lutri Xerox.

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These Lutri decks are actually pretty scary. While you're giving up 4x Force of Will, the deck more than makes up for it by playing a ton of situational counters and individually powerful spells plus tutors to be extra redundant. If you ever wondered what a fully singleton Vintage might look like this is a good indicator and it does seem strong.

In Seventh Place we have normal PO Storm (w/o Companion).

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There's nothing really new here as this is the similar builds of PO prior to Companions existing that we've come to know. Nice to see that it can hang with the Kitty Kats for sure.

Rounding out the Top 8 we have another BUG Lurrus build.

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Dead Weight. That is all.

Now let's take a look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event and the Companion to Non Companions in this event. Again we're only looking at copies higher than 10 for 2019 cards (otherwise we'd be here all day).

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Negation 22
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 21
Lurrus of the Dream Den 20
Soul-Guide Lantern 18
Sprite Dragon 17
Underworld Breach 14
Stonecoil Serpent 10
Thassa's Oracle 6
Lutri, the Spellchaser 1

This was the second event of the weekend where Narset did not register above 10 copies (again at 9), and there was also a lot less Stonecoil Serpent in this event (due to the popularity of other Lurrus shells maybe?) than before. One card that is definitely seeing a lot of play however that is intriguing because it works so well with Lurrus is Soul-Guide Lantern. That being able to bypass a lot of the Dredge shells having Leyline of Sanctity is incredibly powerful since it exiles each opponent's graveyard, and then being able to simply rebuy it with Lurrus, or even just cash it in to draw a card, then rebuy it to hold it up for a graveyard activation seems incredibly strong.

There was a bit less Lurrus in this event (by two decks total) and less Lutri (only one deck) so there were a few more Non Companion decks in this data, but Lurrus was still the most played of the new cards.

Companion Watch - Weekend of 4/25

Since we only have two Challenges to talk about every weekend, I'm going to also be keeping a rolling tally of the number of Companions showing up in the format week to week and post the chart. Basically I am looking to see what the ratio of Companion vs Non Companion decks are over time and also see which Companions see play from Week 1 on. This is only including Challenge data because these are the most competitive events that exist.

The current big winner of the Companion Watch is most assuredly Lurrus, as we talked about earlier in this article. Again, there is a wide variety of decks this card fits in, so is it possible that this is just the new normal for Vintage? I'm not sure. My own thoughts on the mechanic are pretty well known, and I find that Lurrus pushes even further the notion of the game being over on Turn 1 much like how it existed in the Karn era, as Lurrus makes Lotus openers so incredibly strong that the game could essentially be over for the other player on that turn. At the very least it minimally puts the Lurrus player so far ahead on resources that the advantage gained from playing the card is so very minimal.

Time will tell whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for the format most certainly, but I would not be surprised to see at least Lurrus go.

The Spice Corner

Our Spice Corner comes from Twitter this week actually and the venerable Miharu_Fuyumiya, well known for piloting various Oath strategies. This deck is sweet. Oath of Druids? Check. Standstill? CHECK. Shin Godzilla alt art Yidaro, Wandering Monster?! TRIPLE CHECK.

The other Spice list this week is a cool take on Lurrus by utilizing it in a Jund shell!

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What I'm Playing This Week

I had given some thought to non Companion decks this week and was playing around with Vintage Elementals. I'm not sure how I feel about it however yet. More time needed to tune!

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week! Join us next week as we continue to dive into the Vintage format!

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

Until next time, keep on scratching those flea bites!


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