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Vintage 101: Emrakul, the Promised Champ


The Promised Champ

Columbus, Ohio needed a hero, but instead they got a villain. Emrakul, the Promised End has been a big player in Standard for a while, and like the other Eldrazi, this titan seems destined to crash the party in Vintage as well. The North American Vintage Championships at Eternal Weekend are over, and Joseph Bogaard beat out over 300 other players and took home the Mox Sapphire painting. Bogaard played his version of Rich Shay's EmraStill list from the Vintage Super League, and he had to beat out a field of Gush and Thorn decks to do so. 

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The Top Eight

To the untrained eye the Top Eight of this tournament might look as if there wasn't a lot of variety. Ancient Tomb and Thorn of Amethyst were featured in several decks, and Monastery Mentor and Force of Will also appeared a few times. If you understand the subtle differences between Vintage decks though, you can recognize eight distinct archetypes within this Top Eight. 

2016 North American Vintage Champs - Top Eight
Pilot Deck
1st Joseph Bogaard EmraStill
2nd Jacob Kory Stax
3rd Hiromichi Ito Car Shops
4th Joseph Brennan Jeskai Mentor
5th Michael VanDyke White Eldrazi
6th Brian Pallas Esper Thoughtcast Mentor
7th Derek Gallacher JacoDrazi
8th Andrew Markiton TKS/Ravager Shops

 

Thorn of Amethyst Decks

Workshop decks have been the source of many complaints by a vocal segment of the Vintage community, and this pillar has been hit with two major restrictions since 2015. Unfortunately for those who dislike the mana-taxing effects of Thorn of Amethyst, this type of deck simply is not going anywhere. There will always be decks that play mana acceleration and Sol-Lands, and often times those decks will utilize Thorn of Amethyst and other analogous cards. As long as there are decks in the meta that are weak to this type of mana denial strategy we will see people playing them. 

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Workshop decks did get weaker with the loss of Lodestone Golem, and new decks cropped up in the format to compensate. White Eldrazi and Eldrazi-based Workshop decks asserted themselves as top-tier contenders in the wake of the lastest restricted list changes, and the metagame is still easily exploited by them. Most of the blue decks in Vintage have weaknesses to Thorns and Thalias, so it's really not a surprise that these decks are doing well. The Car Shops decks are mostly just an evolution of the Thought-Knot/Ravager decks, and other than Hiromichi Ito's Top Eight list, many Car Shops pilots still utilized a few Thought-Knot Seers in their lists. 

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The three Workshop decks in the Top Eight all have a similar core, but each one is very different. TKS/Ravager Shops and the Fleetwheel Cruiser build are the most similar as they are both aggro/tempo-based decks. These decks are utilizing their lock pieces to buy some turns while their aggressive creature base can steal the game. I think Fleetwheel Cruiser is probably going to have a bright future in Workshop Aggro because having haste is brutal when your opponent is bogged down under a Trinisphere

Jacob Kory's deck was a true Workshop Prison deck complete with Smokestack. This type of deck will put you in a sleeper hold and suck the life out of you. Each turn Smokestack eats away at your board, slowly making your escape impossible. 

It's been some time since Workshop Prison was a dominant force in the metagame, and I'm somewhat surprised to see it making an apparent comeback. I'm not surprised because I think the cards in the deck are substandard; they're actually insanely powerful. The reason I'm surprised to see Smokestack doing well is that for a long time the prevailing wisdom has stated that the Gush token decks were too good for Smokestack to be viable. Without four Lodestone Golems and Chalices, I would have thought that Stax couldn't possibly be that good. Well it looks like Jacob Kory and Rich Shay (who also had a great finish with Stax) have proved the deck has legs. 

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I love that Kaladesh has so many playable Vintage cards! I feel like it helps Vintage stay relevant to the broader community when a new Standard printing has applications in the eternal formats. There's something truly special about seeing a card from 1998 (Smokestack) being played alongside a brand-new card like Inventors' Fair. I wasn't sure that Inventors' Fair would find a home in Vintage, but it happens to be very good as a late-game mana sink in Workshop decks. It also doesn't hurt that the interaction between Crucible of Worlds and Inventors' Fair is quite strong. 

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The Tribal Eldrazi decks are one of the newer features of the current metagame, but the most of them don't play the Power Nine. Without power, these decks rely on Null Rod to even the odds against their more degenerate opponents.  These decks also play Ancient Tomb and similar lands, but many of the lists don't even use any Thorn of Amethysts. Derek Gallacher did include Thorns in his Top Eight Eldrazi list. 

All those Modern players that bought the Eldrazi after they demolished Pro Tour: Oath of the Gatewatch can now show up to a sanctioned Vintage event with a real chance at success! The entire deck costs less than a set of Bazaars, and a lot less than a Black Lotus! Finishing in the Top Eight of the largest Vintage tournament in the world is the ultimate seal of approval. Eldrazi is here to stay, and I think that's great news for Vintage.  I'm very grateful that Jason Jaco developed this deck because it really has changed the accessibility of the format. 

The Mentors

There were two Mentor decks in the Top Eight, but both of them were very different decks. Most of the time when Vintage players speak of "Mentor decks" they're referring to Gush decks that happen to include Monastery Mentor as a win condition. Joe Brennan's Jeskai Mentor deck was a controlling version of this archetype, and it is within a few cards of what most people would expect to see in such a list. 

Joe Brennan recently used this deck to win Eternal Extravaganza five, so it's even more impressive that he finished in the Top Eight of Champs as well. This build of Mentor is more controlling than most, so mirror matches are likely much easier than they would otherwise be. 

Brennan's list had four planeswalkers—seven if you count the three copies of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Dack Fayden, and Narset Transcendent all make an appearance, and there's plenty of removal to protect them. Narset isn't seen that often in Vintage because Jace is usually just better, but when you're already playing tiny Jace and big daddy Mindsculptor, you'll need to look at Narset if you're in the market for one more four-drop. 

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Vintage Superfriends!

Brian Pallas made Top Eight with a very different type of Monastery Mentor deck. Last year Brian had a good run with a Thoughtcast-Mentor deck, and this year it looks like he showed up with an updated list. It's very important to separate this Thoughtcast deck from a Gush Mentor list for a variety of reasons. Brennan's and Pallas' decks are both blue-based, but other than that they share very few similarities. Thoughtcast requires a completely different mana base and deck construction than Gush, and the way these decks play out is very different from each other. 

The mana base in this deck had to include cards like Mox Opal and Seat of the Synod in order to make Thoughtcast work efficiently. Unless you're drawing your two cards for one or two mana, Thoughtcast isn't very good. There's a reason nobody plays Divination in Vintage. 

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All of the extra mana sources mean that this type of Mentor deck can sometimes flood out, but Time Twister and other powerful cards can sometimes make up for this factor. One of the best uses for Time Twister is to drop a hand of Moxen onto the battlefield first, putting you several permanents ahead of your opponent. Pallas' deck also contains combo cards like Tinker, Time Vault, and Voltaic Key to try to win through sheer power. 

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Tezzeret the Seeker also gives this deck sudden victories in certain board states. Tezzeret sets up and maintains the Time Vault path to victory, and with all of the artifacts in the deck he easily has a lethal ultimate after one turn. 

I wouldn't call this particular Esper Mentor deck a true combo deck, but it is clearly the most combo-oriented deck in the Top Eight. Often times Monastery Mentor is just more consistent than most Vintage combos, so it's not uncommon for people to completely forego the Tinker/Time Vault package. The benefit of having the broken blue and black spells is that they allow you to suddenly win out of nowhere. It's entirely possible to win a game after having all of your key spells countered simply by  resolving a Yawgmoth's Will

The Antidote

The Vintage metagame is defined by cards like Gush and Thorn of Amethyst. With those two cards being central to a large portion of the field, playing Landstill isn't a bad place to be. Wasteland and Strip Mine are central to Landstill strategies, and they're also great at taking out Ancient Tombs and Mishra's Workshops. Casting Gush is also quite difficult if you can never keep two Islands in play. 

 

Standstill decks can often stay at parity or even pull ahead on cards when fighting a Gush deck. Many of the counterspells in the Gush player's repertoire can't stop a Standstill from resolving. Gush decks (and most other blue decks) shy away from counters like Mana Drain, Spell Pierce, and Spell Snare because they don't match up well against Mental Misstep and Flusterstorm. Mental Misstep has homogonized deck construction to the point that good answers (Counterspells) for enchantments like Standstill or Oath of Druids are few and far between. 

If the Landstill player falls behind, or can't stop an early threat, things can get a little tricky. Landstill decks like this are constructed to deal with opposing threats though, and through methodical and tight play a path to victory can be found. 

This blue and white Landstill deck follows in the footsteps of Brian Weisman's "The Deck." The goal is to trade resources in the early game, then to pull ahead with card advantage, and eventually find a win condition to end the game. White offers superior removal in the form of Swords to Plowshares and Supreme Verdict and blue provides counterspells and card advantage. The deck is composed primarily of these control elements and very little space is given to its win conditions.

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The single copy of Emrakul, the Promised End is the primary path to victory, but there's also the creaturelands and planeswalkers that can finish out a game if needed. Depending on how games progress, Emrakul may become the best bet to close out a game due to the conflict between Mishra's Factory and Moat. I've seen many Landstill decks use a Faerie Conclave when they include Moat in their list so they'll have a flying creatureland, but it obviously isn't absolutely necessary to do so. Once Moat resolves, the Landstill pilot probably has plenty of time to win with either a Jace ultimate or the flying Eldrazi titan. 

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This will always be a "Wrath" to me...

Supreme Verdict is another format Standard staple that has migrated into Vintage. "Wrath effects" have been a central part of control decks since the beginning of the game, and in recent years they've become relevant in Vintage again. There are more creatures now in Vintage than ever before, and Supreme Verdict does a fantastic job at sweeping them off the table. The mana cost is a little tough, but the fact that it can't be countered is incredible. 

Landstill decks have always been decent, but this is the best finish that this archetype has had in quite a while. I expect to see a lot more people pick up this list, so be on the lookout for it the next time you play Magic Online or paper Vintage. Landstill has the tools to beat all the best decks in Vintage, but it isn't an easy deck to play. You can't just jam Standstill any time you want; the card needs a lot of setup. However, if you do take the time to become skilled with this archetype it can win you a Vintage Championship! 

Wrap-Up

The 2016 Vintage Championship was a spectacular event, and I'm excited by the way things turned out. Un-powered Tribal Eldrazi decks have officially proven themselves to be competitive decks. All those people who have wanted to try sanctioned Vintage but don't have access to the Power Nine or Bazaar of Baghdads finally have a real deck they can play. 

Even though Vintage often revolves around twenty year old cards, there were brand-new printings that were important to several top decks. Paradoxical Outcome combo decks didn't crack the Top Eight, but the crazy new card-drawing spell pulled off some amazing plays! Reid Duke showed up to Vintage Champs with a Paradoxical Outcome Storm deck and turned a few heads during the Swiss rounds. Emrakul, the Promised End proved that it is more than just a Standard-format star. Whenever a Standard card performs well in an Eternal format it bodes well for the lasting value of that card!

Another cool thing about Emrakul Landstill winning the Vintage Championships is that it offers proof that Vintage is not a turn one format. Some tiny fraction of the time a Landstill deck might have first turn Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but most of the time the deck plays draw-go control for many turns. The second place deck also happened to be incapable of killing their opponent on turn one. Jacob Kory's Stax list had only seven creatures in the main deck! To outsiders Vintage is known as this crazy format full of combos, yet none of those decks could crack the Top Eight of the largest tournament this year. 

From all the reports that I've seen, Card Titan put on another successful and enjoyable Eternal Weekend. I wasn't able to attend, but I sincerely enjoyed seeing all the pictures and coverage, and listening to everyone's stories. As great as this year's event was, I hope it's even better next time! 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll be back in seven days. You can chat with me about #VintageMTG on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on Magic Online and TMD

 


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