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Vintage 101: Citadellic


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 be talking all about the card Bolas's Citadel and the long term impact the card has had on the Vintage format, and how the issues presented by the card may be addressed. In addition to that we've got two Challenges to talk about from this past weekend.

Next week we'll be diving into Dominaria United so get ready! If there are any cards from that set you'd like me to review please let me know down in the comments!

Without further ado, let's dive right in!

The Citadel of Bolas

In early 2020, I wrote an article called "Alternative Thinking" that discussed the concepts of Wizards utilizing more than just restrictions to help balance the Vintage format. At the time it was considered to be a bit crazy that Wizards could consider utilizing bans to leverage balance within the Vintage format.

Then 2020 happened.

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The ban of Lurrus was quite an interesting thing, and at the time before the ban, much of the community was utterly divided on how to address this card. I wrote a similar article talking about the usage of bans in relation to Lurrus called "The Format Conundrum" that sparked a lot of interesting discussions.

The concept here was the fact that bans can in fact be used in Vintage if the need arises. While Lurrus was eventually unbanned after the Companion mechanics change and has been more than fine in the format, the fact that bans can be used to address concerns where restrictions would be useless has always been interesting to me. Surely there could not be a card like that in Vintage right now, right?

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Oh.

Since the printing of this card in War of the Spark, Bolas's Citadel has consistently proven that it meets many of the same aspects of functionality that a card like Lurrus did in that it is a card where restrictions would prove completely and utterly useless to fixing the problem with the card. The subtle effect that this card has had on the format over time has steadily grown as a singular set of archetypes surrounding the usage of Tinker as a card with Citadel has become a large portion of the format and has been the subject of much debate and discussion over the effects on game play that Tinker strategies have had on the format.

Much of that discussion has also come along with another card, Urza's Saga. I'm mentioning it because if I don't other folks will.

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While restricting Citadel would have no functional effect on the card's play in the format, Saga is a card that can be restricted and thus leads to a lot of discussion as to why Saga would be preferred to be restricted. I think that's a separate topic because the restriction of a card like Saga likely would have no real effect on the combination of Tinker and Citadel. I plan to probably address this in a future article.

One of the things about Citadel based decks is the fact while Tinker is itself a restricted card, the aspect of the decks geared to play it are all full of various restricted cards that provide redundancy. Tutor effects and cantrips allow the deck to locate Tinker, and Citadel being a 1-of in the deck means it is less likely to actually be drawn so that it can be tutored into play.

Now, Citadel itself has its up and downsides. It's not always an automatic win. There are many times where Citadel maybe hits a land and the player has played a land for turn already right off the bat, giving the opponent some form of counterplay. There are other times where the life loss is too great to find a way to win. But I suspect there are many more times where the card simply wins the game when it comes down and presents a fairly powerful win condition. The amount of counterplay to this is very minimal at best. While cards like Sphere effect and Thalia can impact the deck's ability to simply go off with Citadel, quite often these cards can either be dealt with prior to a turn where they are able to go off or Citadel can come down way before those cards can hit the board making their impact minimal. The only other major counterplay here is cards like Grafdigger's Cage which prevents the casting off the top of the library. At the very least Cage is not so narrow that it can't be used for other things.

The long-term effects of Citadel on the format have been pushing decks further and further towards these big blue shells and I'm not sure of the best way to address this. It's possible that one of the best ways to actually address Citadel's effects is to leverage a similar aspect of what happened with Lurrus and simply ban Citadel. While this does go against slightly one of the core tenets of the format addressed by Wizards in the unbanning of Lurrus that Vintage should exist as a format where most cards are legal in some capacity, we have firm precedent that they will take action to correct the format's health if need be, and I suspect that the format's health may be in a problematic place with these Tinker strategies. Much of the discussion around these decks have led to understandings that play patterns are homogenizing and stale.

The other option here is to potentially print more powerful cards that are capable of actively attacking Citadel at a solid rate. We've seen a number of these show up in various sets such as Rug of Smothering from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate, but alas that card is not actually available on MTGO where many of the events take place. If we had a solid number of hate cards versus some of these decks its possible that it could help balance things out.

Only time will tell, but as of right now, I definitely think the Tinker decks have proven that there is an issue with the current format that may need to be addressed at some point. We will only see how Wizards may choose to address it.

Vintage Challenge 8/20

The first Challenge of the weekend was the mid-afternoon Saturday event, which had 49 players thanks to the data collected by the Vintage Streamer's Discord.

You can find all of the Top 32 decklists for this event here and the data sheet here.

There was a reasonable spread of decks in this event at the top, with nothing very clearly standing over the top. Breach and Oops did quite well as did Dredge and Doomsday.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Doomsday 1st MaxMagicer
Jeskai Control 2nd Magicverse
Breach 3rd handsomePPZ
Oops! All Spells 4th sandydogmtg
Hogaak 5th Sarlanga
Oath of Druids 6th parkss
Mono White Aggro 7th xfile
Grixis Tinker 8th ReneRandrup

Quite a bit going on here with some combo, control, and even Bazaar decks. At the end of the event though it was Doomsday that took it all down.

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Definitely continuing to be one of the format's more powerful combat decks, Doomsday has proven time and time again just how good it really is, but I expect much of this deck is kept down by the fact that very few people are actively playing it to a large extent and that those players tend to be very good at the deck overall. The deck does have a pretty steep learning curve, so this is not at all surprising.

The Second Place finalist was on Jeskai.

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This is the more low to the ground version of Jeskai so that the deck can fit in Wasteland to deal with various problem lands of the format. Compressing the mana requirements for the deck down with Lurrus helps make a lot of sense in that regards.

Down at the bottom of the Top 8 we had a showing by Mono White Aggro.

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Another Lurrus build here, but it definitely looks to be a very aggressively slanted one that tries to lock an opponent out with Thalia and Spirit of the Labyrinth while making things like Leonin Arbiter and Kataki work for it. Very solid build for sure.

Vintage Challenge 8/21

The second Challenge event of the weekend was the early morning Sunday event, which ad 43 players in it thanks to the data collected by the Vintage Streamer's Discord.

You can find all of the Top 32 decklists for this event here and the data sheet here.

Tinker decks were massively overrepresented here with both a gross metagame percentage and a solid win rate as well. With a much smaller field, 30% of decks being Tinker decks of some variety is a bit much.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Esper Tinker 1st abr_
Esper Tinker 2nd Elfkid
Esper Tinker 3rd Slasher21
Combo Shops 4th adm29
BUG Midrange 5th lordoflifegain
Esper Tinker 6th Cherryxman
Oops! All Spells 7th sandydogmtg
Oops! All Spells 8th medvedev

As noted, this Top 8 had a lot of Tinker decks in it, as even the Oops decks play Tinker in some capacity. At the end of the event it was a pair of Esper Tinker decks that fought in the finals.

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These lists are so very similar in main deck construction that many of the differences occur in the sideboard. The differences are very slight there, with one having Karn and Blightsteel over additional copies of Prismatic Ending and Opposition Agent.

Also in this Top 8 we had a pretty cool Combo Shops deck.

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Painter Combo is Shops is super interesting. I love it. Very cool idea for sure. If the Painter combo goes sideways this deck can also aggro out with Nettlecyst!

Around the Web

The Spice Corner

You can find this past week's 5-0 lists here.

Kaheera Ziasbond-type deck is pretty sweet.

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And then there's Justin.

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thanks for your continued support of the column and join me next week as we continue our journey into Vintage!

As always you can reach me at my Link Tree! In addition you can always reach me on the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the Vintage Streamers Discord.

Until next time!



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