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Vintage 101: Eldritch Moon in Vintage!

The Promised End is Just the Beginning

Normal folks get one holiday season a year. Magic players like you and I get that same feeling of excitement multiple times a year when a new set's spoiler season begins. The combination of anticipation and rumors floating around the web makes for a grand old time for us all. Purveyors of eternal Magic formats don't usually get as many goodies as Standard players because the formats are harder for new cards to break into. The newest Standard set is, by definition, filled with Standard staples. Even so, I feel like there are folks at Wizard's who are planting little seeds for us Vintage players to find. The past few years have brought us Dack Fayden, Monastery Mentor, Dig Through Time, and everyone's favorite card, Treasure Cruise

Today I'm going to take a look at a few cards from Eldritch Moon and talk about how they might find homes in Vintage. Eldritch Moon has begun its spoiler season, and right off the bat players were treated to an updated classic:

When I first saw the new Emrakul I was honestly not impressed. The Oath of Druids player in me screamed that this iteration was just not as good as Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The original Emrakul has evasion, it was hard to kill, and it wiped your opponent's board every time you attacked with it. Fifteen power is enormous, and I guess I wasn't impressed with only thirteen power and toughness. I imagined situations where I'd Oath or Show and Tell an Emrakul, the Promised End into play, and it really didn't impress me.

After chatting about Emrakul on social media with some experienced Vintage players, I'm coming around on the new Eldrazi Titan. Thinking about Emrakul, the Promised End as a creature for an Oath deck is not the way to go about it. The best way to think about Emrakul is to think of it on it's own, without comparing it to the Aeons Torn. New Emmy just isn't the same kind of creature at all.

The big selling point of the new Titan is that it is much easier to hard cast. New Emmy costs one generic mana less for each card type among cards in your graveyard. This cost reduction makes Emrakul, the Promised End a better fit in a deck that can make a lot of mana or prolong a game many turns while feeding a graveyard. Once you manage to cast the new Emrakul it will likely end the game, but in a slightly different way than the old Titan would have. Emrakul, the Promised End has a built-in ability much like a powerful artifact from days of Vintage past. 

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Mindslaver was once a key part of a top Vintage deck. Control Slaver was a Grixis-colored control deck with deadly combos built into it. The deck abused Goblin Welder, large artifact creatures, and the namesake artifact to control the game, ultimately stealing control of the opponent's turns. Imagine stealing a Storm deck's turn and wasting their only Tendrils of Agony. You could even activate your opponent's Oath of Druids and make them die drawing cards with Griselbrand. The scenarios where stealing an opponent's turn end up in victory are large in number and very entertaining. 

Let's take a look at an updated version of Control Slaver. This list plays its 'Slaver in the sideboard, but it still has the big mana base and plenty of Welder tricks to go around. I could see Emrakul finding a home in a deck like this some day. 

I wouldn't suggest simply slotting Emrakul, the Promised End directly into the deck, but I could see a big-mana deck like this wanting such a creature. If we imagine adding Mana Drains to the deck to power out an Emrakul in the mid-game it starts to make a lot of sense. It's easy to get the cost of Emrakul reduced by four or five mana, and it could potentially go even lower. Dack Fayden is often played in Grixis control decks, and you could selectively discard certain cards to increase the number of different card types in your graveyard. 

Goblin Welder can generate extra mana by recycling cards such as Mana Vault and Black LotusTolarian Academy can boost your mana production considerably, and all of that mana can be used to cast Emrakul. Unlike some of the other Eldrazi running through Vintage, Emrakul doesn't require colorless mana to cast. The combination of mana accelerants, Mana Drain, and Tolarian Academy will likely make it possible to cast the flying Mindslaver much earlier than it seems. 

Emrakul in Other Decks

I'm not sure if the new Emrakul will be a hit or not, but I could potentially see it having applications in other decks. Most Eldrazi decks in Vintage aren't in the market for a thirteen mana creature, but I have seen some lists run one expensive Eldrazi Titan in their sideboards. Any deck that would want an enormous Eldrazi in their sideboard could consider trying out Emrakul. 

Control decks like Landstill could potentially want a large finisher as well. These decks tend to draw games out longer than most other decks, and they're likely to have a variety of cards in their graveyards as well. Standstill is a key part of these decks, and it can now also act as yet another card type for Emrakul's cost-reduction clause. 

I don't think that Emrakul is likely to become a part of an Oath of Druids deck in the future, but it did occur to me that it might not be as bad in that style of deck as I initially thought. If you did Oath into an Emrakul, it would be hard to kill and would provide a quick clock. Most Oath targets are weak to Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Karakas and this Emrakul can be bounced just the same. It occurs to me though that after Oathing up an Emrakul, the Promised End, you probably will have a very stocked graveyard. Having a full graveyard means that you can likely hard-cast Emrakul after it was bounced back into your hand. Then, since you'd be casting it naturally, the Mindslaver ability would trigger. I'm not sure if this is better than just drawing seven cards with Griselbrand, but it is something to consider. 

Thalia's Back!

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has been a Vintage staple since it was printed, but it's been even more prominent lately. Thalia received a reboot in Eldritch Moon, and fans of the hatebears strategy have begun to take notice. 

Thalia, Heretic Cathar is a card that I think will end up being better in Legacy and Vintage than it is in Standard. I'm sure it's going to be great in Standard, but I've played with similar cards in Standard before and they were good, but not amazing. 

The new Thalia provides tempo by taxing your opponent's land drops. Vintage decks typically run only one or two basic lands, so most of the time Thalia will make your opponent's lands have a pseudo-summoning sickness. Playing a fetch land and waiting to crack it has always been a reliable method for playing around Wasteland, but Thalia makes that play no longer work. The fetches your opponent plays will now come into play tapped, leaving them vulnerable to Strip Mine effects. 

Your opponent's creatures will come into play tapped as well, which means that your team will get extra chances to attack unimpeded. Your opponent won't be able to block with surprise tokens generated on your turn, and racing situations become much more difficult for them as well. 

Thalia, Heretic Cathar can also be played side by side with Thalia. Guardian of Thraben. The two creatures in combination put a ton of pressure on opposing mana bases. In all likelihood, the heretical Thalia will be yet another tool in the Vintage Hatebears arsenal. This creature has implications in White Weenie decks, Five-Color Humans, Junk Hatebears, and even White Eldrazi. With all of the Sol-Lands that White Eldrazi plays I imagine Thalia, Heretic Cathar would fit in perfectly. 

Let's take a look at a Thalia brew, courtesy of Vintage Hatebears aficionado Noah Smith.


The base of the deck is Junk Hatebears, a style of deck that's been around for a while. This brew adds the tag-team of Thalia and Thalia to make opponents' lives miserable.  The key to this deck's success lies in its ability to disrupt opponents while providing pressure. The onslaught of weenie creatures can be hard for many decks to deal with.

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Deathrite Shaman and Noble Hierarch help pump out creatures and spells, but they can both increase your damage clock. Playing a second turn Thalia, Heretic Cathar should be fairly easy, making the deck's Wastelands even more crippling. 

Besides the twin Thalia's messing with your opponent's mana, there's also Stony Silence. Enchantment removal is less common than other kinds of removal making the pseudo-Null Rod even harder to deal with. Imagine a Storm deck trying to cast its spells when they cost more mana, all the while their lands come into play tapped and their artifact mana doesn't work. By the time the Storm deck draws an answer, they're already dead on board to a horde of hatebears! 

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Knight of the Reliquary gives the deck a toolbox angle. Using the Knight to fetch up a Wastelands or Karakas helps to stymie opponents. Knight of the Reliquary can get big in a hurry too. 

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There are even utility lands in the sideboard that can come in as needed. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale makes it extremely difficult for Mentor players to keep many tokens around, especially under the pressure of Wasteland and Stony Silence. Vault of the Archangel is a bit mana intensive, but giving your entire team Lifelink is a huge trump against other creature-based strategies. If you're facing an opponent that is pressuring your mana base, Gaea's Cradle could potentially come in and provide an important boost in mana production.

The great thing about the deck is that it has main deck removal for a variety of permanents. Abrupt Decay takes care of a huge swath of hazardous cards, and Quasali Pridemage acts as a Disenchant on legs. Unlike Disenchant though, Quasali Pridemage has utility in any matchup. Sometimes attacking for two, and providing an Exhalted bonus is all the deck needs. 

Vintage for Humans

I definitely think that Hatebears are very good Vintage deck as of late. Whether your Humans deck is mono-White, five color, or splashing Eldrazi creatures, it can be built to be extremely competitive. These decks can also be a great starting point for a Vintage novice as they share much in common with similar decks in other formats. Sometimes Vintage players get so hung up on complex stack interactions that they focus less of the attack step. If you bring Hatebears to a tournament, you can remind people what a weenie horde can do!

I think that the new Thalia is a card to watch. I really feel that she will find a home in Vintage. She just might be great in other formats as well. One of the top decks in Vintage right now is White Eldrazi. White Eldrazi is already half-full of hatebears, and the Heretic Cathar fits perfectly. White Eldrazi is already playing Ancient Tombs to power out creatures ahead of the curve, so providing the one White and two colorless mana is easy. White Eldrazi is a deck that wants to be disruptive, but it only runs Thorn of Amethyst as a resistor effect because it prefers to play more threats. Thalia, Heretic Cathar is yet another threat that acts as a powerful piece of disruption. 

Canadian Thresh 2016

Once upon a time, there was a Legacy deck called "Canadian Threshold". This tempo deck used cards like Nimble Mongoose and Werebear in combination with cheap cantrips and counterspells. Eventually, following subsequent printings, the Threshold deck grew into RUG Delver. 

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Tarmogoyf replaced Werebear as the "growing" two-drop. Nimble Mongoose was kept in the deck, and Delver was added as a second powerful one drop. These creatures were all very efficient as their true size during gameplay was much larger than the mana invested in them. To this day Tarmogoyf is played in Modern and Legacy, and it once saw substantial Vintage play as well. Eldritch Moon has brought us a new creature reminiscent of these RUG Delver all-stars. 

Gnarlwood Dryad is much like a cross between Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose. With proper deck construction this little guy will consistently be a 3/3 Deathtouch for one green mana. Three power one-drops are potentially Vintage playable; we can cite Delver of Secrets as a good example of this trait. Deathtouch is a great ability to have as well, and this little guy can automatically trade with any creature in a White Eldrazi deck! Considering how prevalent Thought-Knot Seer and friends are these days, Deathtouch is preferable to Shroud in a majority of situations. 

The thing is, Gnarlwood Dryad is essentially a miniature Tarmogoyf, and 'Goyf sees almost no Vintage play these days. Also, a casting cost of one mana can be both a blessing and a curse in Vintage because of Mental Misstep. Chances are if your deck is looking for a Deathtouch creature to combat Eldrazi creatures, you're probably going to want Baleful Strix instead. Strix replaces itself, so it acts as a two-mana cantrip removal spell. Gnarlwood Dryad is a much better attacker, but it's also Green. Green is arguably the weakest color in Vintage. The type of decks that would facilitate Delirium quickly are usually Blue-based, with perhaps a Red or White splash. 

My final verdict is that Gnarlwood Dryad won't make the cut in Vintage. I could see it being used in Legacy, as that format also has an Eldrazi problem. Having a cheap creature that can trade for an Eldrazi deck's four-drop is a desirable feature. 

Stay Tuned for More! 

So far only a few cards from the upcoming set have caught my eye as far as Vintage is concerned. Eldritch Moon has just begun its spoiler season, so there may be more things to talk about in the future. Even though the set isn't likely to have all that many Vintage-playable cards in it, I can say that the set looks very exciting. There are several creatures in the set that have abilities similar to that of Young Pyromancer, but they cost four or more mana which makes them too slow for Vintage. Cards that generate tokens when you cast spells are usually very good, and I expect that the ones from Eldritch Moon will be players in Standard and Modern. 

An honorable mention also goes to Brisela. Voice of Nightmares. This creature is so incredibly cool. I just can't imagine ever getting this thing into play in Vintage. If you did manage to Meld this thing into play, it would make life miserable for your opponent. 

Power Nine Time!

The Magic Online Power Nine Challenge happened again last weekend. I usually write about what decks were played, but this week I'm just going to feature the winning deck. A couple of paper/Magic Online Vintage players (Chubby Rain and Diophan on TMD) do an incredible job breaking down the event each month, and I strongly urge you to check it out here.

The amazing thing about the winner of the latest Power Nine Challenge is that this person is also one of the two people who break down all of the data for the event. It's hard to battle through seven or more rounds of Vintage, and it's equally hard to catalog all of the data from such an event. Congrats to Diophan for winning the Power Nine Challenge with Grixis Pyromancer! 

I must admit that I truly love this deck. I love playing with Gush and Young Pyromancer, and throwing an Underground Sea in the list makes it all the better. This style of deck first rose to prominence on Magic Online after Randy Buehler introduced the deck through the VSL. The deck exploits the synergies between Young Pyromancer, Gitaxian Probe, and Cabal Therapy

Grixis Pyromancer decks like this one fell off the map in Vintage for a while, even though they were immensely popular on Magic Online at one point. Recently the rise of the Eldrazi in Vintage has made people reexamine this strategy. Baleful Strix has been incorporated into the Grixis shell, and it helps win grindy matchups against Eldrazi decks. Baleful Strix acts as a removal spell that doesn't get touched by Thalia or Thorn of Amethyst. Trading a Strix for an opponent's creature adds another point of card advantage because it already replaced itself. Most of the commonly-played Eldrazi simply trade with Baleful Strix without gaining much of an advantage. 

Grixis Therapy is definitely a deck to watch right now. I'd feel confident playing it in an event as it has had a second and first place finish in large events recently. This list in particular should be very good in the current metagame. As a matter of fact, Diophan didn't drop a match in the entire Power Nine Challenge event! Going undefeated through an entire tournament is not something that happens by accident. 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll be back in seven days with more Vintage action! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on Magic Online.

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