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Vintage 101: Eternally Extravagant

It's the Eldrazis' World; We Just Live in It.

Did you think we'd seen the last of the Eldrazi in Vintage? I thought not. Seriously though, these things are like an escaped laboratory experiment let loose on an unsuspecting ecosystem. Eldrazi decks ranging from Workshops with Eldrazi, to Eldrazi Hatebears, to tribal Eldrazi have been terrorizing Vintage players and haunting our collective nightmares for weeks. I really wonder if people would rather have Lodestone Golem back instead. At least Ol' Lodestone dies to Lightning Bolt. The last Power Nine Challenge on MTGO was all about the spaghetti monsters, as were the top eight at the NYSE. This past weekend, the Eldrazi struck yet again, contaminating a large Vintage event. 

Eternal Magic was being played all weekend long at Eternal Extravaganza 4. This event, run by Tales of Adventure in Coopersburg, PA, featured a weekend full of high-stakes Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. The Vintage event was on Sunday, and the scourge of Zendikar wrought destruction on the masses in attendance. 

The finals featured a whole heck of a lot of Eldrazi creatures. There were an astounding twenty copies of Thought-Knot Seer in the Top 8 of the event! 

Eternal Extravaganza 4—Top 8

1. Ben Williams

White Eldrazi

2. Mark Hornung

Eldrazi Tribal

3. Nick Dijohn

TKS Shops

4. Joe Graff 

UW Standstill

5. Roland Chang 

TKS Shops

6. Jonathan Suarez

Jeskai Mentor

7. Sam Castrucci

5C Humans

8. Kenan Diab

Ravager (Non-Eldrazi) Shops

The finals was an all-Eldrazi faceoff, with Ben Williams's White Eldrazi eventually overcoming the non-powered Eldrazi Tribal deck piloted by 2011 Vintage Champion Mark Hornung. 

Mark's deck was an updated take on the deck that Jason Jaco played to a fantastic finish at NYSE IV.

No Moxen? No Problem!

Mark's deck featured the powerless mana base and Null Rods that Jaco's deck had utilized, but the creature package was changed slightly. Mark chose to run two copies of World Breaker and added a Corrupted Crossroads to support the Green mana requirement. With four Cavern of Souls plus the Crossroads, there were five sources with which to cast the two copies of World Breaker

Adding World Breaker may not seem like a huge deal, but it actually adds a lot to the deck. Tribal Eldrazi can deal with many creatures using Dismember, but it can't take out Wurmcoil Engine or Batterskull (although it could kill a Germ token). World Breaker gives the Eldrazi deck a clean way to answer a Wurmcoil, and it can also take out problematic enchantments and artifacts. Moat can shut down an Eldrazi Tribal deck cold, and Ensnaring Bridge can also negate each attack phase. Even in games where there are no good artifacts or enchantments to exile, World Breaker can still exile a land. With all of the land destruction built into these decks, exiling a land simply adds to the resource-denial plan. 

People were impressed when Jason Jaco did well with unpowered Eldrazi at the NYSE, but nobody knew for sure if it was a fluke or not. With Mark Hornung's second-place finish in Eternal Extravaganza, I think it's safe to say that this deck is the real deal. 

White Eldrazi Strikes Back

Ben Williams stole the show with this White Eldrazi deck, taking first place and cementing Thought-Knot Seer as the new boogeyman of Vintage. White Eldrazi is a hybridization of Eldrazi Tribal and White Hatebears. White Hatebears has always been right on the fringes of playability. At certain times, Hatebears could be a great choice, but the overall power level of a weenie deck is low. Adding Eldrazi creatures to a Hatebears deck raises the power level by giving the deck its own kind of haymaker play. Reality Smashers and Thought-Knots might not be as flashy as a Yawgmoth's Will, but they're just as deadly. Congratulations to Ben Williams for winning Eternal Extravaganza 4!

Smashing Realities

The third-place deck also featured Eldrazi, but not quite as many. This deck only had seven of these colorless creatures, including the required four Thought-Knot Seers. Nick Dijohn's deck blends the more aggressive Arcbound Ravager lists with the heavy-Eldrazi Shops lists that have been played recently. The Shops decks sporting four Ravagers and zero Reality Smashers have been the most popular builds as of late, but Nick's third-place finish shows that the Smasher / TKS duo has game. 

Rise of the Nightmare Creatures

Why is it that these Standard-legal creatures are so dominating in Vintage these days? The reasons for the Eldrazi's success are varied, but one of the main issues is that many traditional Vintage tactics don't work against the Eldrazi. Cards like Hurkyl's Recall can't touch the spaghetti monsters, and Lightning Bolt can only kill the small ones. Sweeper effects can be good against the Eldrazi menace, but the best sweepers cost 3 to 4 mana. It can be hard to cast a 3- or 4-mana sorcery when your mana base is strained under Thorn of Amethysts, Null Rods, and Wastelands. Your life total will diminish rapidly while you're sitting there trying to build up enough mana to cast your Supreme Verdict

Each Eldrazi creature is aggressively costed, and they're also aggressive on the battlefield. Four- and five-damage creatures, sometimes with Haste, really keep the pressure up. There's usually a flood of creatures, so spot removal isn't enough, and your counterspells are useless once Cavern of Souls comes into play.

Playing with Eldrazi also means that you get to play with a ton of lands that tap for 2 mana. Magic players have known for years that "Sol lands" and Mishra's Workshops are very powerful. Eldrazi decks utilize Sol lands better than almost any deck that's ever existed, with only Workshop decks really being comparable. 

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The final piece of the puzzle regarding the dominance of Eldrazi is Gush. All of the various Eldrazi decks occupy the same design space as Workshop decks (and some are Workshop decks). Shops decks have always been good against decks with smaller mana bases. The prison element of Eldrazi lists also hurts cantrip-heavy token strategies, which are what most Gush decks are. 

Gush hasn't been the best-performing deck recently, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that everyone is gunning for it. Everyone who builds a deck is very much concerned with their Gush / Mentor matchup. One could say that if you're not playing Gush, you're building a deck to beat it. The natural foil to Gush has been to play decks with prison elements. It's hard to stay at card parity with a Gush deck if you're playing a different unrestricted draw spell.

The one draw spell in Vintage that is positioned well against Gush did end up making an appearance in the top eight. 

UW Landstill

Joe Graff made fourth place with a Landstill deck. Standstill is one of the few draw spells in Vintage that can draw more cards than Gush and be played quicker. Gush is a Turn 3 (or later) card under optimal conditions. Standstill can come online on Turn 2, or even Turn 1 with the aid of a Mox. Once the Standstill enters the battlefield, it will put three cards in your hand, or your opponent will refuse to play anything. Drawing three cards and playing "draw, go" with an opponent are equally favorable situations for a Landstill pilot. Eventually, a stalemate will be broken with Mishra's Factory, and the game will end in short order. 

The only caveat with Standstill is that it can't just go into any deck. To play a Standstill effectively, one must follow certain deck-building rules. First of all, most of your mana sources should be lands. Landstill needs to keep up its mana production like any other deck, but it can't afford to draw too many artifact mana sources because they conflict with Standstill. Since you want to be able to make plays with a Standstill on the battlefield, you'll need to use lands that can fill the role of spells. This means using creaturelands like Mishra's Factory and lands that cripple opposing mana bases, like Strip Mine and Wasteland

Even though it takes special deck-construction techniques, Standstill offers an overwhelming card advantage. The ability to draw three cards for two mana makes it a formidable draw spell. Very few decks can stay at card parity when you've got four extra copies of Ancestral Recall in your deck. Playing Standstill also gives you access to the rest of the awesome card-drawing spells, so you're usually playing with a full grip.

Landstill decks can also be built in many different ways, and they're always built with specific metagame considerations in mind. Blue and White offer some of the best countermagic and removal spells that Vintage has to offer. Joe Graff's deck also included Moat, which is an all-star against Mentor and Eldrazi decks. 

Moat is probably better right now than it has been in years. There was one Moat in the top eight of last year's Vintage Championships, but for the most part, it has mostly been on the fringes of the format. I think that moving forward, Moat will continue to be a card to watch, and indeed the price on it has spiked on Magic Online and in paper recently. 

Most of the top threats in Vintage can't win through a Moat, so the Legends enchantment buys a control deck a lot of time to take over a game. Tribal Eldrazi doesn't have much to deal with enchantments other than World Breaker, and Workshop decks don't have any ways to stop it either. 

UW Landstill gets to utilize some of the best sideboard cards as well. White gives the deck Containment Priest, Ethersworn Canonist, Stony Silence, and Rest in Peace. This list also had an extra copy of Supreme Verdict in the sideboard to go with the main-deck copy.

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Supreme Verdict is quietly one of the best sweepers in Vintage. This former Standard-format star is a little on the expensive side at four mana, but the fact that it can't be countered is amazing. Verdict can act as a trump in Mentor or Pyromancer matchups, and it's fantastic against Shops or Eldrazi if you're able to resolve it there as well. Hatebears decks also hate to fall victim to this updated Wrath of God

Is Standstill the Answer?

Joe Graff went into the Top 8 as the number-two seed and finished in fourth place overall. That's a fantastic finish, and I think it's indicative of the fact that this is a very strong deck choice. I do think UW Landstill is a solid choice moving forward in this Eldrazi-infested Vintage metagame, but it is also a tough deck to pilot. Even with all of the card advantage, permission spells, and creature removal, control decks can be weak to a powerful draw or lucky top-deck by a combo player. Landstill decks win their games slowly, so there can be windows where a combo or control / combo deck can steal a game. 

I do think that if Landstill is tuned correctly, it always has the potential to be a contender. I'd even say that UW is probably the best combination of colors to use with Standstill these days. With a seasoned pilot playing the right list, Landstill would be a good option to bring to an event. 

The Rest of the Top 8

I'm not suprised to see Roland Chang in the Top 8, since he's a perenial Top 8 contestant in Vintage events. Playing Workshops is what Roland is known for, and he did not disappoint. Roland was one of three Workshops players at the top tables, along with Nick Dijohn and Kenan Diab. Kenan was the only Workshops player of those three to not include any Thought-Knot Seers in his deck. 

There was also a Humans deck in the finals. This was a five-color list similar to the one that won the Bazaar of Moxen. It seems that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has been getting a lot of play in Vintage lately. 

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The most surprising thing about the event is that only one Gush deck made it to the Top 8. Monastery Mentor has had a target on its head for a long time now. I guess everyone found solutions to defeat it. I think that Gush Mentor is still one of the best decks in Vintage right now, but it really looks like a dog against Eldrazi. Mentor players are going to have to start looking for better answers if they want to compete. 

If you're interested in reading a full breakdown of the metagame for Eternal Extravaganza 4, Ryan Eberhart made a great post on TMD about it. 


Even More Extravagance!

Eternal Extravaganza has had four weekend-long events so far, and they've each been well-received. This latest event broadcasted all of the events on Twitch, with coverage by Reuben Bresler. The Vintage finals even had guest commentary by Christian Calcano and 2015 Vintage Champion Brian Kelly. 

There's going to be even more eternal Magic to come, though. The dates haven't been set yet, but there should be another Eternal Extravaganza this fall. I'm personally excited about it, and I'm hoping to be able to attend the Vintage event. The Modern and Legacy events are normal sanctioned events, but the Vintage event is run much the same as other Vintage events. Fifteen "play-test" cards are allowed in each Vintage deck, so the tournament is actually a lot more accessible than you might think. 

That's all the time I have for this week. I'll see you in seven days. In the meantime, keep on cracking those Eternal Masters packs looking for that foil Mana Crypt!

You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr—Islandswamp on Magic Online

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