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Vintage 101: Combo Heavy

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're diving into metagame breakdowns and discussing the printings that have impacted the state of combo in Vintage and has led to a great increase in various combo archetypes within the format.

In addition we do have Challenge data from last weekend to talk about as well as our ever present Spice Corner.

Let's dive right in!

Combo Heavy, Combo Ready

2019-2020 Vintage has certainly been an interesting time and one of the big trends that has been continuing throughout the past two years is the increase in the general level of Combo archetypes in the format overall. Combo has long been a part of the Vintage format, and it is often one of the things that most people think of when talking about the format. Combo is a popular thing for Vintage, and has been for as long as cards like Tendrils of Agony have existed.

However, the past few years have increased the power of combo decks substantially through numerous key printings and changes in the format. We're going to look at these printings and how the metagame has slowly shaped itself around them over time.

Paradoxical Outome - Printed in 2016

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It is sort of hard to believe that Kaladesh block was four years ago, but prior to the printing of Paradoxical Outcome, combo decks in the format largely relied on cards like Dark Ritual and  Necropotence / Yawgmoth's Bargain or Doomsday (which had to win typically through cards like Laboratory Maniac). At this time, the format was in the mire of coming off the restrictions of Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Chalice of the VoidKaladesh's release also came after the restriction of Lodestone Golem.

Paradoxical Outcome represented a colossal shift in how combo decks were built in Vintage, creating a combo deck that is quite possibly one of the most polarizing archetypes in the entire format for the player base, as many have clamored over time for PO to be restricted in the format, despite the massive up and down shifts in the deck's overall playability and win rates. The deck has since settled into its place in the format over the past four years, with numerous revisions made to the deck. It has largely taken up the pillar represented by Dark Ritual based decks.

During its initial year of 2017, PO would take a back seat to the power houses of Thorn of Amethyst and Monastery Mentor based decks as the format devolved into Mentor vs Shops. It was after the restriction of these two cards that PO really started to come into its own and flourish. As such, there wasn't much in 2017 that was printed in either Amonkhet or Ixalan blocks that impacted combo decks in the format. Even the unrestriction of Yawgmoth's Bargain would not unseat PO from its throne as one of the best combo decks in the format during this time.

Bolas's Citadel - Printed in 2019

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If ever there was a printing to supercharge combo decks in Vintage, Bolas's Citadel was certainly that card. Upon its initial release, there was some concern as to whether the card was simply better than Yawgmoth's Bargain, which was unrestricted in 2017, but players testing both cards in PO and DPS decks quickly ascertained how much more powerful Citadel was by the sheer virtue of being an artifact and being able to Tinker for it.

Citadel acted as a boost card for existing combo variants as opposed to creating a new type of combo deck like PO had done, and is the sort of card that is essentially impossible to restrict by normal Vintage standards, as pretty much every deck that plays the card only plays one copy in order to be able to tutor the card directly into play via Tinker, as tutoring for instants and sorceries is incredibly easy in Vintage between the various tutors that exist.

Furthermore, Citadel represented a massive shift due to the 2019 design era that it was printed in, accelerating combo into a new age.

Karn, the Great Creator - Printed in 2019

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Despite being a Shops card, Karn was at his heart, a combo card. It created a type of combo deck where Mishra's Workshop, Grim Monolith, and Ancient Tomb were the central pieces over cards like Dark Ritual simply by the sheer virtue of Karn being able to tutor up both halves of the Time Vault + Voltaic Key combo.

Karn's dominance as a combo archetype wouldn't last long however as the card was restricted later that year and now the card is essentially fringe, only showing up in certain Shops lists and occasionally PO.

Mystic Forge - Printed in 2019

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A card that not only worked great with our previous entry in Karn, the Great Creator but also an insane combo piece in its own right, Mystic Forge added to the combo heavy aspect of the Combo Shops variants, and even created a subset of combo solely devoted to being able to stick a Forge into play and be able to essentially play your entire deck via cost reducers like Foundry Inspector and card draw with Sensei's Divining Top.

Forge was restricted alongside Karn in the same update, but its impact on the format was very keenly felt as it helped challenge players to consider different ways to continually approach combo. Forge now sits as a restricted 1-of in pretty much every Mishra's Workshop based deck in the format.

Wishclaw Talisman - Printed in 2019

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

It took a while for this card to get fully tested, but it is starting to pick up a lot more in various combo variants, namely in Dark Petition Storm. The power level of this card is definitely intriguing, as it presents a way for combo decks to slow down when need be and have a way to pick up quickly when the going is good. Generally when this card is activated, the game is ending and the opponent is losing, but there is a failure rate for the card that makes it interesting.

Suffice to say, Talisman has certainly found a home, but only as a minor role player in the grand scheme of things.

Thassa's Oracle - Printed in 2020

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Out of the cards in 2020, no other card has been more singularly responsible for reviving dead archetypes than Thassa's Oracle, which was 100% the main reason for the resurgence in Doomsday based decks in Vintage. Oracle revolutionized the archetype by giving it an exceptionally clean win condition, one that was difficult to interact with well in a positive fashion. Oracle requires a lot of specific narrow hate to interact with more than Laboratory Maniac did, simply because mere removal generally did nothing to the card due to how its condition is worded.

Oracle also ended up creating a deck based on utilizing the card with Demonic Consultation and Divining Witch, so this card absolutely had a massive impact in the state of combo in 2020.

Underworld Breach - Printed in 2020

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Banned quickly in Legacy after only a month and a half of existing in the format, Breach was an exceptionally polarizing card for many, and quickly settled into a position of role player or support card much like how Yawgmoth's Will was in black based Xerox lists but in a space that allowed decks like Jeskai access to that kind of effect. However, it was clear that the card was very powerful in many ways, and it was only a matter of time before players figured out the power level of the card.

The Lurrus Era of the metagame is what really gave players the incentive to figure out how to build the Breach deck, and since even the banning of Lurrus the deck has become a much greater portion of the metagame as both its popularity and power level have shown how good the deck really is.

Breach is much like a card like PO, in that it created a brand new archetype of combo deck that functions on a specific axis.

The Effect of Combo

The past four years of printings have continued to have such an effect on Vintage overall to the point where combo has become an incredible portion of the overall metagame. Both Breach and PO vie for the top spot, each dipping up and down from week to week, while Doomsday also continues to do just as well. Despite all of this as well, old school DPS has adapted well and is now also present in the format once more.

It seems as if combo has definitely improved to the point where it has taken a central role in the format. Whether this is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen, and furthmore with the printings that have occurred there aren't many cards that could actually be restricted to do anything about these decks outside of centralized key cards like PO or even Doomsday, but these would not exactly be super to have to restrict unless one of them broke out and became excessively problematic. Combo simply seems to be a bigger part of the format now and is most assuredly something that needs to be kept in mind when approaching building for the format. Furthermore, fair decks would need future tools printed that can help attack combo, which would help this balance.

Community Vintage Update - NYSE Online Date Confirmed

Good news! Our good buddy Nick Detwiler finally posted an update with an entry link and confirmed date for NYSE Online! It will be taking place on September 19th, and you can find all of the information on Nick's Twitter post here. I'm sad to say that I can't participate in this event, as I will be out of town, but I am working with Nick to provide follow up coverage for this column. It should be an exciting event! For those unaware of how Nick tends to run NYSE events, he really puts his heart and soul in every event he runs and I expect this will be no different.

Vintage Challenge 8/29

Our first Challenge event of the weekend is the normal Saturday Challenge. This event had approximately 64 players in it, so let's dive right into the Top 32 breakdown.

There was quite a bit of Breach in this event, one of the combo decks we talked about earlier that has grown in popularity since its creation during the Lurrus Era of the format. Breach did convert reasonably well to the Top 8 of this event, which we will now take a look at.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Doomsday 1st Bullwinkkle6705
Jeskai Xerox 2nd Thiim
Jeskai Xerox 3rd DiscoverN
BUG Midrange 4th Clone9
Hollow Vine 5th R3troSp3ct
PO Storm 6th ThePowerNine
Breach 7th Ecobaronen
Breach 8th Michelino

There was quite a bit of combo in the Top 8 here in this event, which generally tends to be the case with the Saturday events. And it was a combo deck that took it all down in the form of Doomsday.

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This version takes on an alternate way of winning by having a restricted copy of Demonic Consultation to combo with the Oracle. There's also a Mystical Dispute in the main, which is pretty cool.

In Second Place we have Jeskai Xerox.

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This is a pretty standard Jeskai list with Arcanist involved, but it is neat to see both Dovin, Hand of Control and Ashiok, Dream Render in the sideboard.

As Third Place also had a Jeskai Xerox deck, let's move down to Fourth Place with a unique take on BUG Midrange.

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This is a neat deck with main deck copies of both Null Rod and Collector Ouphe, in addition to Necropotence which is pretty cool. Also there's a Vraska, Golgari Queen!

In Fifth Place we have Hollow Vine.

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There are THREE TABERNACLE in this sideboard. Just saying.

In Sixth Place we have our good friend Justin Franks on PO Storm.

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This is a powerful list and Justin is certainly a powerful PO player, and it's great to see him back in the Challenges killing it.

Both Seventh and Eighth place had Breach decks, so let's look at the Seventh Place list by our good friend Andreas Petersen.

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This is what we've come to expect out of this deck and its construction, however one thing that is super interesting the usage of Young Pyromancer in the sideboard over like Sprite Dragon, which is pretty cool, and also a copy of Eliminate in the sideboard which is sweet.

Now let's look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event. As always we're only looking at the cards that have 8 copies or more.

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Vigor 31
Force of Negation 23
Underworld Breach 21
Once Upon a Time 20
Sprite Dragon 19
Narset, Parter of Veils 17
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 13
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis 12
Mystic Sanctuary 12
Collector Ouphe 9
Soul-Guide Lantern 9
Deafening Silence 8

Most of the usual suspects are present, and continue to be a big part of the Vintage metagame, but it's definitely the two Forces at the top really shaping things up.

Vintage Challenge 8/30

Our second Challenge of the weekend was the early morning Sunday Challenge, and while we had no data collection for this event it seems but these events typically don't draw that many people due to the time slot it takes place. Let's take a look at the Top 32 breakdown!

This event took a big swing in the Bazaar direction, with Hogaak and Dredge eating up a ton of the Top 32 space. It's always intriguing to see the differences in metagame between the Saturday and Sunday events, as it really is a regional difference between the two due to the time slot.

Now let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
BUG Midrange 1st Yoshiwata
Hogaak Bazaar 2nd _Joseph_
Dredge 3rd SingPanMan
Oath of Druids 4th Yamaro
Hogaak Bazaar 5th MadMaxerNST
Jeskai Xerox 6th AlbertoSD
Golos Shops 7th FistFullOfMetal
Jeskai Xerox 8th DiscoverN

Bazaar decks took up a chunk of the Top 8, but it was also mostly fair decks in this Top 8, with BUG Midrange taking the First Place spot.

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This is a pretty typical stock BUG Midrange list, with cards we expect to see like Brazen Borrower and Leovold, Emissary of Trest. It's also cool seeing copies of Trickbind in the sideboard.

In Second Place we have Hogaak Bazaar.

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These lists have pretty much solidified into their current incarnations, and have proven to be incredibly strong with only some minor variations in sideboard slots.

In Third Place we have Dredge.

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Dredge also hasn't had much innovation in some time, but occasionally variants like this with four main Creeping Chill appear and that is super cool.

In Fourth Place we have Oath.

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It's interesting to see a variant with less than four Oko, but both Dack and Wrenn and Six are very strong and definitely work with the deck. Also cool to see Sphinx of the Steel Wind in the sideboard.

Since Fifth Place also had Hogaak, let's move down to Sixth with Jeskai Xerox.

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This is a pretty stock list for Jeskai, although we only have one of each creature, but that is fine. There's not much to say about this, but it's pretty strong.

In Seventh Place we have Golos Shops.

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This is not quite a Stax list since its missing a Smokestack, but there is definitely a lot of prison elements in this list which is pretty cool.

Now let's look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event.

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Vigor 59
Once Upon a Time 32
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis 31
Collector Ouphe 27
Wrenn and Six 14
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 13
Narset, Parter of Veils 12
Force of Negation 11
Oko, Thief of Crowns 11
Deafening Silence 9
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim 8
Soul-Guide Lantern 8

HOLY Force of Vigor, Batman! This card was everywhere in this Top 32, mainly due to the large presence of Hogaak but just also quite a bit of other green based decks as well. Crazy to consider, but definitely a wild event.

The Spice Corner

Neat take on a Maverick-esque style of deck here, with Knight of the Reliquary.

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

Until next time!

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