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Vintage 101: Climbing the Mystic Forge Mountain

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host with the most, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to talk about Vintage currently as a format, in addition to discussing the impact that the card Mystic Forge has had on the Vintage format overall, and we're also going to be discussing some event results including talking a little about NYSE and Magic Online event results.

Without further ado, let's get right into the thick of things!

The Power of the Forge

This year has been a stormy one for Vintage. Multiple sets have influenced the format and there are many who believe that it has not been influenced well in positive ways. The printings of cards like Karn, the Great Creator, Narset, Parter of Veils, and now Mystic Forge have certainly had an impact on the format, but has that impact been positive?  There are some who believe that while the format has a modicum of diversity, these new cards have warped the format so substantially that interaction isn't meaningful, that gameplay is not fun. Games are over quickly, decided not by any amount of interaction but by sideboard cards and how they affect the game.

Surprisingly to me, this sounds a fair amount like Modern as a format. I play Modern on rare occasions these days, but this past year and the year before I had played the format a little more seriously on a weekly basis, and quite often I find that I can draw parallels from the current state of Vintage to the Modern format. In Modern, sideboard cards tend to matter a lot more, but sideboard space is stretched thin. In Vintage, much of the sideboard space has to be devoted to beating two particular strategies quite often: decks that play Bazaar of Baghdad and decks that play Mishra's Workshop. This is comparable to Modern's current situation of needing to play vastly more graveyard hate than ever before thanks to decks like Dredge and Phoenix. The major difference here is that Vintage does have plenty of high level free interaction spells (Force of Will, Force of Negation, Force of Vigor, etc). 

The real question of whether or not Vintage is currently unhealthy has led to a great amount of debate amongst several of the more well known Vintage players in the format. I am still firmly in a camp of "wait and see", as I do believe that we have yet to fully see the solidified effects of the format as it changes week to week. However, I do also think that some of these new printings such as Karn and Narset are certainly very egregious, and even though cards like Force of Vigor exists to try to help balance the colorless decks a little, Karn itself is very excessively powerful now that Mystic Forge exists as a card. One of the bigger issues presented by Mystic Forge is that it allows decks that play Karn to dig and locate a way to keep the opponent from interacting at all, generally through the card Defense Grid. This has given the deck a way to fight through a free interaction spell in the form of Force of Vigor since the decks often playing that card are either manaless (Dredge), are mana-hungry (Survival), or are mana efficient (BUG).

The obvious side effect of Karn + Mystic Forge is that it has furthered the stigma that Vintage is essentially a Turn 1 format by creating games where that is happening more and more, and that in of itself is pretty unfortunate when the interaction to prevent this no longer matters. However, on the flip side of things, many of the Xerox builds in the format have begun adjusting to the format's newest predator, to the point of running main deck destruction effects like Ancient Grudge or By Force, and even Shattering Spree (which just so happens to work really well with Dreadhorde Arcanist).

There is certainly a lot going on in the format right now, and while there is certainly fun to be had with it, I can see both sides of the argument of Vintage's current health, and going forward it will be interesting to keep an eye on where things go with these Karn decks and Mystic Forge especially.

As we are want to do with this series, we're going to talk a bit more about the current versions of the Karn Mystic Forge decks and deconstruct them to help understand the deck better and how it works.


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Mana is among the most important thing to a Karn based deck, so it should be no surprise that it runs a lot of it. (And I mean a lot) This deck packs a full four Grim Monolith in addition to all the restricted artifact mana it plays, as well as Workshops, Tombs, and the restricted Tolarian Academy.

Lock Pieces

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Lock pieces are relatively important to protecting the combo, although it is worth noting that cards like Trinisphere and Sphere of Resistance can interact in a poor way with Mystic Forge. Defense Grid however, can be crucial to protecting against cards like Force of Vigor and Force of Negation. Phyrexian Revoker is mainly used to interact against cards like Dack Fayden, ensuring the payoff cards can't be stolen by the opponent.

Land Destruction

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As is often the case with Workshops based decks, land destruction is important to keeping the opponent off mana or otherwise being unable to cast spells to interact with the Workshop deck.

Payoff Cards

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These cards are the primary payoff cards that the deck is seeking to cast early and often to help win the game. Karn, TGC is a win condition unto itself, but Mystic Forge can allow the deck to dig through its deck, more often than not being able to utilize the draw functionality of Sensei's Divining Top to muscle through the deck. While Karn, Scion of Urza can sometimes be a blank, sometimes its presence early enough can push through a win on the back of construct token beats.

Win Conditions

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Innocuous as it may seem, the Keys are effectively the real win conditions of this deck. These cards enable busted artifact mana, enable double Top shenanigans, and of course combo with the Time Vault in the sideboard to take infinite turns to win the game. The power level of these cards should and can not be denied as the power they enable is worth every slot playing these.

Now let's move on to the sideboard of the deck and what it entails.

Win Conditions

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Because Karn can fetch artifacts from the sideboard, it only makes sense to put important game-winning cards in the sideboard where Karn can get them. Mycosynth Lattice plus Karn especially is a bit of a hard lock (outside of creatures being able to attack Karn), while Time Vault is obviously powerful to enable infinite turns.

Graveyard Hate

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Owing to the fact that Dredge is still popular, and to the fact tha Karn can fetch these cards game 1, it's no surprise that Crypt + Cage are the go-to pieces of graveyard hate in this variant. Leylines don't hold much utility in these variants, since they can interrupt Mystic Forge chains too easily and aren't fetchable by Karn.

Additional Utility

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These cards offer additional ways of dealing with various things, either activated abilities to have additional ways to combat cards like Dack Fayden or cards like Crucible of Worlds to lock the opponent out with land destruction. In addition, cards like Dismember are useful for killing things like Collector Ouphe, which can be a real issue for these kinds of decks that are reliant on artifact mana.


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An additional copy of Ballista, as well as a copy of Wurmcoil Engine can often help when under pressure to locate a win condition or in the case of Wurmcoil, a threat that is powerful in the face of another Null Rod-like effect such as Collector Ouphe.

Vintage Challenge 7/20

As always there was yet another Vintage Challenge on Magic Online! So let's take a look at the results and the Top 8!

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
PO Storm 1st Sandydogmtg
PO Storm 2nd Moatzu
Karn Forge 3rd Yamakiller
Karn Forge 4th JDPhoenix
Dredge 5th Eruxus
Dredge 6th Lord_Beerus
Dredge 7th Sti
Dredge 8th _Emmemoure_

It is worth noting that this event's challenge did take place on the same day as the NYSE Open (which I will be talking about shortly), so a vast majority of Vintage's most prolific online players (including folks such as Rich Shay, Matthew Murray, Justin Gennari, and Brian Kelly) were all attending the NYSE, which lead to the event we see above. This is probably one of the most unhealthy Top 8's I have seen in a while in one of these Challenges, with only three decks total being represented in the Top 8.

At the end of the event it was Sandydogmtg on none other than PO Storm that took down the event.

This list is pretty typical of PO lists in the world of the London Mulligan, playing Draw 7 effects such as Wheel of Fortune and Timetwister to help turn mulligans into better hands. Another fun item in this list is the copy of Bolas's Citadel which interacts super well with the fact that the deck is playing a ton of artifact mana in addition to four copies of Mox Opal.

Amusingly enough, none of the Dredge lists even played Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis this go around. It's almost as if Dredge pilots again still aren't utterly sure what the best configuration is, but the strength of Bazaar and free interaction is enough to make it possible to push through. Let's take a look at Eruxus' list.

In lieu of Hogaak, this deck is back on Dread Return, and honestly this comes down to a preference I feel. Both Hogaak and DR do slightly different of the same things, but Dread Return does have the ability to get cards into play like Ashen Rider, which can be really important to dealing with the Defense Grid based Shops strategies that are now starting to appear.

Further down the Top 32 of the event, there is a lot of Karn and a lot of Dredge, but also a smattering of Survival and even Storm, in addition to BUG Midrange. One list that caught my eye however was an Esper Doomsday based list, playing not only Narset but also Teferi, Time Raveler.

This seems pretty interesting, and Teferi seems like a pretty powerful card to help protect going off with Doomsday.

The last list that intrigued me was the return of Two-Card-Monte, in the form of... "Two Karn Monte"!

Karn makes finding the appropriate half of the combo much easier by being able to locate either Helm of Obedience, Painter's Servant, or Grindstone for maximum combo value. In addition, it gets access to all sorts of fun spells like main deck Pyroblast (because you always name blue for Painter) and Mycosynth Lattice out of the sideboard for Karn game ending value.

As is customary, let's take a look at the current roster of new set cards showing up in this Challenge.

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Vigor 58
Karn, the Great Creator 28
Mystic Forge 29
Manifold Key 22
Narset, Parter of Veils 20
Bolas's Citadel 3
Collector Ouphe 18
Ashiok, Dream Render 1
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim 1
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis 11
Blast Zone 1
Dreadhorde Arcanist 3
Force of Negation 5
Wrenn and Six 2
Teferi, Time Raveler 5
Nature's Chant 1

As is fairly expected, Force of Vigor surged back up to being the top played card of the event, given the amount of Dredge that was in this event makes this not super surprising. Numbers on Karn and cards associated with Karn continue to hold steady however.


NYSE (otherwise known as the New York Stax Exchange) is a large Vintage event held in Long Island, NY by TO Nick Detwiler. This year marked the 6th NYSE Open and was also unfortunately the last of the NYSE series. Despite not being able to make it, I would like to thank Nick for his tireless dedication to the community with these events, you are a true credit to Vintage. Long may NYSE reign in the annals of history!

With that being said, let's take a look at the results of the Top 8 of this event.

Deck Name Placing Player Name
BUG Control 1st Joe Brennan
Karn Forge 2nd Vasu Balakrishnan
Karn Forge 3rd JP Kohler
BUG Control 4th Brian Kelly
Karn Forge 5th Nick Kent
Karn Forge 6th Will Magrann
Ravager Shops 7th Amir Akhundzadeh
Karn Forge 8th Ryan Eberhart

There is obviously a lot of Karn Forge in these Top 8 results as well. However, at the end of the day it was Joe Brennan, the hero of the people, who accurately predicted the expected Metagame and took the trophy home for the final NYSE on BUG Control.

At the top end of the Karn Forge decks in 2nd place we have Vasu Balakrishnan who opted for a build with no other lock pieces other than four copies of Defense Grid, effectively turning the deck sheerly into a combo deck with Grid to protect the combo.

This list is very powerful and I can definitely see the trend of Karn Forge lists gravitating towards this after this event. Congrats to Vasu on his finish!

This sounded like a very fun event, and I am sad I couldn't make it out for what amounted to be the final NYSE. While it is sad that the series is no more, all good things must come to an end sometime. If you'd like to read more about this event, including photos and all the decklists from it, please take a moment to pop over to Eternal Central's writeup of the event, prepared by my good friend Jason Jaco. It's well worth it.

Fraudulent MTGO Results

If you've been around the Twitterverse this week, you may have seen my retweets of this situation. Seems there is some win trading going on in the Vintage leagues on Magic Online. A similar situation occurred earlier this year in the Pauper leagues prior to the consolidation of the league structure that occurred, wherein two accounts hop into the queue and become paired over and over due to low population times and essentially concede until the other goes 5-0. Inevitably, these lists do get posted and they're often lists that cost minimal amounts of tickets to make money off the prizing structure. This is frankly pretty cruddy stuff, but thankfully Magic Online team has replied on Twitter that it's being investigated. So if you see something in a league dump and it doesn't look quite right, it probably didn't actually go 5-0 without this tactic. Note that some of these lists are starting to try to get a little fancier by including some common low cost Vintage cards to try to make them look like a Vintage deck, but it's still very super obvious.

The Spice Corner

Our spice this week comes from MTGO user BadBrain, who has graced us with... RG Lands?!

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Things continue to be interesting in Vintage, and while we're still not sure whether this is all healthy or not, we're going to keep on covering the format as best as we can in order to keep a solid eye on how best the format can adjust and evolve. I am always an advocate for allowing for the format to correct itself, but in the long term if restrictions are needed then restrictions are needed.

As always, keep an eye on my Twitter, Twitch, and Patreon! I greatly appreciate everyone's support and just passed the 300 follower mark on Twitter (I was pretty hyped by this). I'm slowly working on trying to get back into a more regular streaming schedule, and your support and subscribing on Twitch/Patreon can really help with that.

In fact, our article next week is going to be about Vintage Streaming and we'll talk about those fine folks who you should take the time to watch and support via Twitch in regards to Vintage. It's an ode to "Don't Cross the Streams!"

Until next time folks, keep killing it out there! You peeps are awesome!

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