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Vintage 101: Changes


 

Chaos Orb - Mark Tedin

Changes

As of the time of this writing it has been fifty-one days since the restriction of Gush and Gitaxian Probe. Since then we've had another restricted list update that has been posted with no further changes. The community has also gained three extra large Vintage events every month, as the Power Nine Challenge has been expanded into a weekly occurrence. With all of these added events and apparent increase in online event participation there comes additional data points to observe. All of these factors should contribute to a better understanding of the impact that certain contentious cards have on the format 

However, it is important to remember that fifty-one days isn't all that long of a time. Even with the additional data coming in things can move slowly in Vintage. This is an eternal format and people often tend to stick with one type of deck due to economic factors (this is especially true in paper, but much less so on Magic Online).

The reason that I'm bringing this up in the first place is because the Vintage restricted list is probably the single most contentious issue associated with the format. I haven't lived through as many restricted list changes as most of the Vintage veterans have, but I have definitely seen the effect that restrictions have on the community. When Chalice of the Void was restricted some Mishra's Workshop pilots were worried that their deck was finished. When Lodestone Golem was restricted the forecast was substantially more grim. As luck would have it neither of those restrictions were enough to stop Workshops from being a tier one deck, and that is a very good thing. Vintage is a format where we're supposed to be able to play with the biggest, baddest, most insane cards ever printed. 

The format needs different archetypes in order to have enough variety to please a large cross section of Magic players. For the most part we don't want an archetype to go extinct because one of its cards was added to the restricted list. Although not everyone is happy that Gush received its third strike I think that the restriction has benefited the format. Monastery Mentor is still a very dangerous threat, but the vastly superior draw engine of Gush/Mentor is no more. 

Strong Finishes by Something Different

Recently I spent some time reading a thread on The Mana Drain about the recent Vintage Challenge event. The opinions on what the event data means tends to vary somewhat from person to person. Some people are unhappy with the Gush restriction, and some people wanted more than just Gush to be restricted. I also noticed that some people were pointing to recent successes of Workshop decks as evidence that the Gush restriction was an incorrect move. Personally I don't agree that the success of Workshops indicates anything negative for Vintage, but I respect people's opinion. 

While combing through recent deck lists from the last Vintage Challenge I noticed that I have been seeing a lot of archetypes that had not performed well for some time. To me this is a very good sign. I think that the format is far from a vicious cycle of Shops, Mentor, and Paradoxical Outcome. Today I want to look at a few lists that I cherry-picked from the last premier event. I picked these lists not because their archetype was dominant but because they're something different. The fact that people are trying new things (or trying old things again) and performing well is a very good sign in my humble opinion. 

The first deck I want to take a look at today is technically a "Mentor deck," but it's absolutely not the same deck that we used to see in every Top Eight of every event. 

 

Egget's deck won the last Vintage Challenge event without dropping a single match. Some people might see that a deck with Monastery Mentor won the event and wonder what good the Gush restriction actually did. Unfortunately for the naysayers this particular list is almost nothing like the Mentor decks we used to see. 

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First of all the deck is using only two Mentors as well as two Stoneforge Mystics and two Snapcaster Mages. Snapcaster isn't likely to win a game on it's own, but Stoneforge and Batterskull are most definitely a reliable win condition. If it's fair to say "Mentor won another event," it's equally fair to say that "a Stoneblade deck won the latest Vintage event."

 

Twenty-Three Mana Sources

There are fifteen lands and eight sources of artifact mana for twenty-three total sources. Twenty-three is a respectable number for a blue Vintage deck and it should be a great help in fighting against prison decks. That's not all though; Egget also has an extra Wasteland and a Plains in the sideboard. When you're facing a prison deck it's awesome when you can sideboard out some worthless Mental Missteps for more lands. 

 

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The basic Plains is a great tool for fighting Workshops or White Eldrazi because it offers protection against Wasteland. A Smart Workshop pilot will identify your "anti-Shops color" (typically white or red, but sometimes green) and they'll attempt to keep you off of that color. Fetching a Plains ensures that there will be white mana to cast Fragmentize or Kataki War's Wage.

This robust style of mana base was much less popular during the reign of Gush. When Gush was unrestricted there were many Mentor or Delver/Pyromancer decks that only played on-color Moxen and/or cut lands. This wasn't true of all of those decks, but it is true that cutting mana sources in a Gush deck was an approach many people took for better results in mirror matches. Without Gush in the format people aren't being pressured to run skimpy, easily-disruptable mana bases anymore.

The Stoneblade  

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The Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull package is another aspect of this deck that assists greatly in the fight against Workshops and White Eldrazi. Creature-based threats like Stoneforge Mystic are advantageous against prison decks because they aren't inhibited by Thorn of Amethyst. Stoneforge is cheap to cast and activate, and it ends up putting a 4/4 creature with lifelink and vigilance on the battlefield. The 4/4 germ token goes a long way towards stabilizing the board, and the longer you can survive against a prison deck the better your chances are of finding a way to win.

Removal

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The amount of removal in this deck is consistent with the numbers we used to see, but it's still very important that it's there. Swords to Plowshares is great here because it's goes a long way towards defeating Workshops or White Eldrazi. The main-deck copy of Fragmentize provides the same benefit, albeit in a slightly different way.

Among the potential threats that this deck might need to dispatch is Phyrexian Revoker. Revoker is a four-of in Workshops and White Eldrazi and it answers Stoneforge Mystic very effectively. 

There's nothing ground-breaking or amazing about the fact that this deck is playing these removal spells, but I think it's important to point out that Egget obviously took the prison decks seriously and made sure there were effective answers to those matchups.

Stoneblade Mentor in Vintage

A few years ago I met a Vintage player with the Magic Online handle Niffiwan. We chatted and became friends, and Niffiwan shared his Mentor deck with me. The list he created was very similar to Egget's deck, albeit with Gushes, red for Dack Fayden and Pyroblast, and a few other changes. That Stoneforge Mentor deck that Niffiwan was piloting was doing quite well in Daily Events and it was particularly strong against Workshops. The only problem that I came across while playing the list was that it wasn't as good of a Gush deck as the other Gush decks were. Most of the cards that made the list strong against Workshops weren't very good in blue mirror matches. 

When you're building a deck and you're not worried about keeping up with other Gush pilots you suddenly find yourself able to get away with running more lands. When you're able to play spells like Mana Drain it's beneficial because it's not dead against a prison deck like Mental Misstep, Pyroblast, or Flusterstorm are. 

With Gush restricted the Stoneforge Mystic/Monastery Mentor archetype gets much better than it was before. Workshops is still at the top of the Vintage food chain and because of that fact I think that this is an archetype worth exploring. 

 

Third-Place Sultai Oath

In the last Vintage Challenge Egget took first with Stoneforge Mentor as I mentioned above. Second place was indeed Workshops, an archetype which is still kicking a lot of butt these days. In third place was my favorite archetype; Oath of Druids! Let's take a look at Jose Ortiz's BUG Oath deck...

 

The traditional blue, black, and green Griselbrand Oath deck has not been very popular lately. Since 2015 the majority of players were sporting Salvager's Oath, likely inspired by the phenomenal Brian Kelly's Vintage Championship victory. Other than Salvager's Oath people have played Saheeli Rai Oath, Standstill Oath, and even Paradoxical Outcome Oath. The one thing that all of those decks share is that they abuse Oath of Druids to do amazing things. 

Jose Ortiz's list is closer to Mark Tocco's 2014 Vintage Championship deck than anything else. There's no Time Vault/Voltaic Key combo here and instead the deck relies on cheating a creature into play as its main win condition. The big difference between Tocco's "Fenton Oath" and this list is that Ortiz went with a different creature package. 

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With three different creatures, this deck can activate Oath more than once and still get value from it. The extra creatures help give the deck a different angle of attack. Iona is fantastic against other control decks, and she can shut down many combo decks as well. Rune-Scarred Demon can tutor for a Time Walk or any other key spell, and it's immune to Karakas.

The Painful Truth

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Jose's deck plays Painful Truths to supplement the card-advantage that Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Griselbrand normally provide. This is a card that saw only a little bit of fringe play during the four Gush era because it was just not nearly as good of a card. Painful Truths works very well with a BUG Oath deck because it's easily supported with the full load of Moxen and the three-color dual land mana base. 

Mana Drain had become an anachronism in Vintage for a long time, only mattering in a handful of decks at best. Now that Mana Drain is viable again Oath decks like this one have a new way to pump out their Jace, the Mind Sculptors or hard-cast their Oath targets.

Oath of Druids in a Post-Gush Environment

If an Oath deck won the Vintage Championships in 2015 and 2015 why did this strategy see such a decline in play in 2016 to now? In my opinion the answer to that is a four-letter word; Gush

Gush was a contender in 2014 and 2015, but Monastery Mentor and Containment Priest weren't as prevalent until after the 2015 Vintage Championships. Before Gush/Mentor the Oath decks still had much poorer card-draw than the competition, but the threats and hate cards weren't as effective. Once  Mentor became the main win condition for Gush the inferior draw engines of Oath decks meant that you might land an Oath, pass the turn, and die to a horde of monk tokens before you untapped. In post sideboard games things got worse because Containment Priest was a beating against Oath itself and their "Plan B," Show and Tell

In an environment where Gush isn't oppressing every other blue strategy and Workshops is still a top-tier deck, Oath of Druids is a solid choice. BUG Oath can still have problems with fast combo, but no strategy is absolutely perfect. This is solely my opinion, but the restriction of Gush is a good thing for Oath of Druids and format diversity. 

 

Aquaman's Revenge!

 

Merfolk hasn't been tearing it up lately, but this list took seventh place in the Vintage Challenge. This is a prime example of a deck that had a good matchup against Prison decks but couldn't consistently beat Gush/Mentor. Without Gush to bury it under a pile of monk tokens the environment seems like it would be much less hostile to the 'folk. 

Wastelands and a solid mana base give Merfolk an advantage against prison decks. This is an archetype that works very well with Null Rod so it can easily take down a combo deck if it needs to. Finally there's Cavern of Souls, a card that laughs in the face of other control decks. 

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Merfolk don't grow quite as fast as a Monastery Mentor and it's tokens, but they do get quite large and they've often unblockable. Many decks in Vintage run blue-based dual lands which makes the multiple fish lords especially dangerous. 

The Future of the 'Folk

 

I don't anticipate that Vintage will be overrun with Merfolk decks anytime soon (or possibly ever), but I definitely feel that the restriction of Gush was good for the archetype. Plenty of decks can still out-draw a Merfolk deck, but they're going to have to spend mana on their draw spells in order to do so. 

Even if only a handful of people choose to play a fringe deck like this in the near future it will still contribute to the diversity of the format. In all formats, from Standard to Vintage, players often complain about having to face the same decks again and again. The occasional Top Eight finish by something like Merfolk will go a long way towards breaking up the monotony..

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days! For more info on the latest Vintage Challenge, click here. You can follow me on TMD and Twitter @Islandswamp

 

 


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