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Vintage 101: Dealing with Variance


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 stepping back to a higher level overview of one thing that affects all Vintage players - the nature of variance. In addition to that topic, we also have two Challenge events to talk about, as well as our Spice Corner!

I also want to point out that next week we will be getting to take a look at another Vintage Unleashed (Vintage-UX) event that is taking place this weekend within the Team Serious crew, so be on the lookout for that!

Without further ado, let's dive right in!

Variance in Vintage

As we are coming off of the month with one of the biggest Vintage events this year in Eternal Weekend, plenty of people are bound to be trying out the format more and getting into Vintage. Whether you're a veteran player of the format or brand new to it, one of the things that you will inevitably come across is the inherent nature of the format's variance. Variance is a lot more prevalent in Vintage due to one singular fact: the presence of restricted cards.

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Vintage as a format is inherent to the concepts of variance, because of the fact that restricted cards make up the basis of many of the decks in the format. In many ways, most of the format revolves around these cards. One of the most polarizing cards of this nature is the card Ancestral Recall, as drawing three cards for a single blue mana is exceptionally powerful. Most decks in the format play Moxen or Lotus for mana acceleration, and other restricted cards like Sol Ring and Mana Crypt allow for broken starts.

The Mental Aspect of Variance

How we as players deal with this variance in regards to restricted cards is exceptionally important from a mental standpoint. Often times it can be incredibly frustrating for players newer to the format to understand situations where variance occurs with restricted cards. An opponent may seem to always have the Ancestral Recall in their opening hand, but the reality of the situation is that these situations stand out to us because they do come with variance. For every few games that you or your opponent don't have Ancestral, there will be a game where you distinctly remember Ancestral being a part of the game. This is just how our brains process this kind of information. It was like this a lot with the Narset restriction as well. Post restriction, games where Narset was involved were distinct in being remembered simply because Narset was restricted and shouldn't come up that often, so any amount of positive variance in that direction would be remembered.

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It's important to recognize these situations as simple deckbuilding and gameplay variance and to not get too hung up about it. Vintage is a format where powerful things occur on the regular, and restricted cards are a huge part of that. Learning to manage this variance and understand when it occurs is a good way to bring your mental health and game back into a more positive light, as often these kinds of games can lead to negative emotion and even worse - tilt and salt. Learning to identify and embrace when variance occurs and how it occurs can help manage those emotions more positively. I myself have had these issues but it is something that I'm continually working on as a player and learning how to handle these situations in a more positive manner.

One thing that I recommend in this regards is to focus on the gameplay and the process, and what decisions you could have made differently in a game, and not focus on the "bad beats." Focusing on "bad beats" only ever puts the focus on the opponent as the source of your problems, that they were "lucky" or that they just "had it all" when they were in reality simply going by the variance that was presenting itself to them. You can have plenty of games where you end up doing the same kinds of powerful things, so having it happen every so often to you is not really so bad. It's bound to occur. By putting your focus on the process and instead of the results, you can identify potential things that could have been done in these situations. Analyzing these lines and your play can lead to more productive thought processes and keeps your focus away from blaming your opponent and tilting off.

Variance Mitigation Through Deckbuilding

There are a number of ways to also mitigate variance within your own deck, which often starts at the deckbuilding stage of things. Blue decks mitigate variance by playing a lot of redundant restricted cards as well as things like tutor effects, for example cards like Mystical Tutor and Merchant Scroll. Furthermore, decks like Jeskai and RUG can abuse these restricted card effects through the use of cards like Dreadhorde Arcanist or Mystic Sanctuary, further mitigating the variance of seeing and casting powerful cards. Decks that play Mishra's Workshop mitigate by playing a solid number of redundant effects and also having redundant mana artifacts to cast those effects with (driven by the fact that the most powerful mana in the deck is Workshop itself which is a four-of).

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Another way to mitigate is to play a deck that relies on a lot more redundant effects, of which the most consistent of these in the format right now is Bazaar of Baghdad shells. These decks get to play a lot of four-of cards, from decks like HollowVine that play four-ofs of both Hollow One and Vengevine to decks like Hogaak that play Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis along with cards like Stitcher's Supplier and Basking Rootwalla. These decks play a lot like decks like Tempo Delver decks in Legacy, with consistent threats and consistent countermagic backup.

The Art of the Mulligan

One further thing to consider is the art of Mulligan decisions. Proper Mulligan decisions are much more important in a format such as Vintage than they are in a format like Legacy. Legacy, for example, has a fundamental notion of the card Brainstorm and how good it is at allowing you to keep loose hands with a Brainstorm to fix mana and put back dead cards. In Vintage, Brainstorm is restricted, and this means that Mulligans matter a whole lot more, even in blue Xerox type shells.

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What this means is that if you are just learning the format and you think you aren't mulligan'ing enough, you probably aren't. Learning to be more aggressive with mulligan decisions is a hard skill to learn, especially when coming from the world of Legacy, but it is doable. Learning what to mulligan and when is down to a deck case-by-case basis and can be ascertained by simply discussing with other players on the deck and learning from them on how best to approach mulligan decisions with a specific deck. For example, the easiest case of mulligan decisions in the format is down to Dredge, simply because it's primary mulligan usage is in hunting for a hand with Bazaar of Baghdad in it, whereas a deck like Workshops is looking for a specific plan of attack, typically reliant on either having multiple Turn 1-2 plays like lock pieces and mana or something incredibly powerful to put out on Turn 1.

Learning to Mulligan and make those decisions well is just one of the ways to approach leveling up and better decision making in general within the format, and it's a good skill that translates well across a lot of different formats in the game.

Vintage Challenge 11/14

We had two Challenges this weekend, the first of which was our normal during the day Saturday event. Thanks to data collected by the Vintage Streamers Discord we know this event had 85 players, and we have a full picture of the metagame in this event as well! Let's take a look at the breakdown.

PO had a big showing all over this event as one of the most popular combo decks in this metagame, but the overall win rates of the deck are recorded as being around 44% (thanks again to data by the Discord) and only a fair few copies of the deck made it into the Top 32. The real story of this event was the big presence of the Hatebears decks. There were quite a few of these strategies in this event overall and they did very very well indeed. Still, there was quite a bit of variety in this event, and it looked like a solid metagame really. This definitely seems to be a pretty good place for the current Vintage metagame. Nothing seems incredibly overpowered or insane right now.

That being said, the Top 8 of this event was interesting for sure. Let's take a look.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Golos Stax 1st Loriwwa
Golos Stax 2nd Patxi
RUG Xerox 3rd Michelino
BUG Midrange 4th 1Yo2Yo
PO Storm 5th ThePowerNine
Doomsday 6th XShockWaveX
Grixis Urza 7th Kenzaburo
Dredge 8th Vwxyza648204

Despite PO's relative popularity, only one pilot cracked into the Top 8 of this event, but it was none other than repeat Top 8 performer ThePowerNine. However, at the end of the event it was a Golos Stax mirror that decided the finals.

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The big differences between these two lists lie a lot in the main deck setups, where Loriwwa's list has fewer creatures like Stonecoil in the main (saving those for the sideboard) for more cards like Grafdigger's Cage in the main. The usage of Mystic Forge in the sideboard of the first list is also incredibly interesting as well.

Regardless, both of these decks are powerful and have a lot of play. The mirror match for this deck is extremely interesting because it's all about sequencing and mulligan decisions. Getting above the other player is important in the mirror match.

Also in the Top 8 we have RUG Xerox.

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The strength of this deck is largely on the back of cards like Wrenn and Six and Mystic Sanctuary. One of the cool things this deck can do is to basically build its own Time Vault combo via being able to activate Wrenn and Six's ultimate and then continually casting Time Walk. The deck gets to this by recurring Time Walk with Sanctuary while continually activating W6 to get to that ultimate ability. Otherwise, this deck can close games out quickly via Tarmogoyf and Oko, Thief of Crowns.

Further down in the Top 8 we have Grixis Urza.

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This deck is pretty cool, utilizing the power of both Urza and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, but also functions largely as a Tinker and Bolas's Citadel deck as well. This deck definitely has a lot of power behind it, and it's cool to see other people picking up on it.

Outside of the Top 8 the big talk of the town this weekend was a fair number of Hatebears and Humans lists. Two of these lists appeared in 12th and 14th in this event.

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The biggest thing about these lists is the sheer amount of hate effects they're playing, as there is a huge amount of them available now, which I think is what generally has led to the existence and prevalence of these decks in the format. The biggest effects recently have been Archon of Emeria and haymaker threats like Luminarch Aspirant and Rick, Steadfast Leader. This definitely led to a very interesting set of decks doing well this weekend, and these builds are so varied and capable of splashing into different colors for different threats as well.

Vintage Challenge 11/15

Our second Challenge event of the weekend was the early morning Sunday Challenge, which had 54 players in it. Lets take a look at the metagame breakdown!

Golos Stax was exceptionally popular in this event, along with Jeskai and Doomsday, and we even had another showing of Hatebears decks. The rest of this metagame looks great though, just like the first Challenge event. Vintage seems to be in a very strong place right now and both Challenge events have a natural back and forth that seems extremely healthy.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
BUG Midrange 1st Zyuryo
Golos Stax 2nd Loriwwa
Doomsday 3rd TieMuuu
Jeskai Xerox 4th GutoCmtt
Golos Stax 5th Mei0024
RUG Xerox 6th Phil_Hellmuth
Hogaak Bazaar 7th BennyBo
White Eldrazi 8th BGV1989

There were a lot of different things in this Top 8, and generally seems pretty great. At the end of the event however, it was BUG Midrange that took it all down.

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BUG is a pretty powerful deck right now, as it has a lot of answers to various other strategies in the format and plenty of removal. One great thing about this list is the sideboard copy of Legion's End, which is a great way of dealing with other copies of Deathrite Shaman, but also is really great at dealing with Dreadhorde Arcanist for good as well.

The other finalist in this event was actually the winner of the Saturday Challenge.

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This is the same 75 that Loriwwa ran back for this event, and it seems to be performing well, so good for them! Great run back for this pilot!

Further down the Top 8 we have a showing by the Hogaak Bazaar deck.

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Hogaak is yet another one of the powerful Bazaar variants in the format, that can also play like a normal aggressive strategy outside of having Bazaar. One of the big strengths of the deck is that it doesn't absolutely have to mulligan to Bazaar to win the game, but those hands are exceptionally powerful.

Also in the Top 8 was a showing by White Eldrazi.

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This is a deck that's been off the radar for a while, so it's cool to see it doing well. Eldrazi is a very aggressive prison strategy, backing up its lock pieces with powerful threats like Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher. Beyond that, there isn't much to this deck. It's incredibly linear and strong.

Outside of the Top 8 we had another showing of the Mono Blue Merfolk deck.

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This deck is super cool. I think what really makes this deck tick is the presence of Thieving Skydiver, and I expect that it's possible that Hullbreacher will impact this kind of strategy as well. Not only this list placed in Tenth, so that in of itself is really super cool, given our first big look at this deck was in a Top 8. This kind of performance really says something about this list, and it's exciting to see.

The Spice Corner

This week's Spice comes from our good friend Justin Gennari. This is certainly a deck.

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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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