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Vintage 101: Extravagant Tech


2015 Vintage Championship MVP Dragonlord Dromoka

Extravagant Tech

It's a busy time for Vintage players right now. Conspiracy 2 brought a few cards into the format for people to get excited about, and Kaladesh looks like it's going to have some interesting inclusions as well. Eternal Weekend and the corresponding Vintage and Legacy championships are also approaching, so people are diligently working on new ideas. Eternal Extravaganza Five is also coming up soon, on October fifteenth. EE5 should be the last big Vintage event before the championship tournament, so that's something to keep an eye on. 

This past weekend there was also a 1k satellite tournament for Eternal Extravaganza, with a first round bye awarded to the top finisher. There were some really interesting decks in that Top Eight, so I'd like to share a few of them. 

Dungeons, Dragons, and Druids

2015 Vintage Champ Brian Kelly finished in first place in the swiss rounds with his innovative Oath deck. 

Anyone who has followed this series knows that I love Oath of Druids, so it's no surprise that this deck makes me very excited. Oath is one of the most powerful unrestricted cards in Vintage, but it has always been plagued with certain issues that have held it back somewhat. 

Oath decks used to be generally favored against Delver decks, which were the predominant Gush deck of the Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time era. Back then, just as today, the Gush decks could out-draw an Oath deck if a game went past the first few turns. Still, the Gush decks had only Force of Will and maybe Trygon Predator to deal with Oath and Grafdigger's Cage post-sideboarding. In the time since then Vintage players have gained access to Containment Priest, which is much tougher for Oath decks to beat, and the average Gush deck now plays more Cabal Therapys and Swords to Plowshares.

The only way for an Oath deck to really keep up with a Gush deck is to find a way to fit a larger draw engine into their list somewhere. Griselbrand just can't be counted on to fill the card-drawing role in contemporary Vintage. Brian Kelly decided to fight that battle with his own copies of Gush.

If we take a look at the list, we can see that the package of card-drawing spells and cantrips is very close to what a stock Mentor or Pyromancer deck would have. To make room for all those extra spells a few concessions had to be made. 

Who's Got Spirit?

The mana base has only two Forbidden Orchards. Orchard is easily the worst card in an Oath deck, except for the few occasions where it's needed to force an Oath activation. Any Oath player can tell you stories of dying to Spirit token beats, and these tokens also make life hazardous for the deck's planeswalkers. Gush decks also need to run a lot of Islands, otherwise they can't reliably cast Gush by turn three.

Playing with four Orchards also means that there is less room for fetch lands in a typical Oath deck. Playing with six or more fetch lands might not seem like it's that important, but they do much more than just fix mana. Fetches are actually critical for casting Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, which is why you don't usually see many delve spells in an Oath deck. Fetch lands turn your Brainstorm and Jace, the Mind Sculptor into great cards, instead of merely mediocre. Last but not least, Fetches help fight against Wasteland decks by remaining unused or by fetching the appropriate basic lands.

Dragonlord Salvagers

Most Oath decks run somewhere between two and four Oath targets, with three a pretty common average. For a long time the majority of Oath decks would run just three copies of Griselbrand as their fatties of choice. Running three Griselbrands is nice for the consistency and power it provides, but it also opens up the deck to some weaknesses as well. Griselbrand is a nightmare to play if you're forced to cast it. I've managed to hardcast a Griselbrand before, but it is not easy. I've died a few mana short of casting my Oath creature far more often than I've actually resolved it. 

Instead of Griselbrand, Brian chose to utilize just two main-deck Oath targets, which helps a make one more slot for other important spells. Auriok Salvagers and Dragonlord Dromoka were both part of his championship-winning deck list from 2015, and they're in this deck for similar reasons. Both Salvagers and Dromoka are easy to hard cast, so if you end up drawing them (a high likelihood considering the three Gushes), you'll be able to play them with ease. If you manage to Oath into either one of the creatures, they also have the potential to win the game on their own.

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Auriok Salvagers can combine with Black Lotus to make infinite mana, and if you throw a Pyrite Spellbomb into the mix you have infinite damage as well. There's a good chance that you'll be able to find one of those cards in your graveyard once you've activated Oath once or twice. The Salvagers combo lets the deck win through the typical hate cards an Oath deck will face, even in game one of a match. 

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Dragonlord Dromoka is a beast against other blue decks. The Dragonlord can't be countered, and it stops your opponent from playing anything during your turn. You can potentially use Dromoka to protect yourself on your turn, which means that you could combo out with Salvagers unimpeded. Even in situations where you're not able to make any insane combo plays, a 5/7 Flying, Lifelink creature is quite tough for many decks to deal with. 

Versatility 

Besides the usual card-drawing and counterspells that this list has, there are also a few powerful singletons to give the deck options in most matchups.

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There's a single Balance, which acts as a two-mana Wrath of God. Being at two mana makes Balance relatively easy to resolve against the Thalia and Thorn decks of the field, and it can also sweep up after a Monastery Mentor. Balance can also be a brutal discard spell against someone who has out-drawn you, and with Dromoka on the battlefield your opponent wouldn't be able to counter it!

Playing a miser's Ancient Grudge is surprisingly effective in Vintage, even when you're not playing against Workshops. You never know when you'll need to take out a random Time Vault or Null Rod, and in the event it isn't needed you can always side it out. 

Engineered Explosives is a great sweeper, and you can get some extra use out of it with Auriok Salvagers. Coincidentally. Engineered Explosives is also great against Containment Priests and Grafdigger's Cages, so it has uses throughout an entire match against most decks. 

With only two Forbidden Orchards in the deck, there is a possibility that your opponent can avoid triggering your Oath. Luckily for us, there's a great way to give your opponent a creature: Beast Within. In this list, Beast Within is part Vindicate and part combo piece. In the Oath mirror, Beast Within is particularly good at taking out opposing Forbidden Orchards, which should make triggering an Oath much easier. 

Some people might question running removal in slots that would normally be used to expand the countermagic suite, but the logic behind it is sound. Countering spells is great, but it's also nice when you can deal with the cards your opponent resolves as well. There are a lot of copies of Cavern of Souls these days, so having access to a miser's Beast Within or Balance gives the deck a way to win against a variety of decks and board states. 

The Sideboard

There are a few pieces of sweet tech in the sideboard that I very much like. Magus of the Moat and Blazing Archon might seem a little odd, but they're actually great at what they do. Magus is a Moat that you can cast through a Thorn of Amethyst or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Workshops, Eldrazi, and White Eldrazi usually can't attack through a Magus. 

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Blazing Archon is a personal favorite of mine as well. Archon performs the same type of duties as Magus of the Moat, but it can act as a win condition as well. Attacking for five is a decent clock, and it doesn't die to a single Dismember

Gush Oath in Vintage

Last year nobody played Salvagers Oath besides Brian Kelly. After Vintage Champs, the world took notice and people started playing the deck. I know that this Gush Oath deck is a relatively new idea, but I think it has a lot of potential, and I'm very interested in seeing how it develops. One tournament finish isn't necessarily enough to establish a deck, but I am very optimistic about this concept. 

 

Legion of DoomBots

Also in the Top Eight of the event was an interesting mono-red Workshop deck played by JP Kohler.

The core of this deck is very similar to the preeminent Workshop deck, Ravager/Thought-Knot Shops. The difference is that this deck eschews the Eldrazi creatures in favor of a few colored spells, Solemn Simulacrum, and Scuttling Doom Engine

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Scuttling Doom Engine is an interesting card that never really found a home anywhere in any format. Workshop decks, Legacy MUD, or Modern Tron would be the likeliest home for the Doom machine, but the card never caught on. If we honestly evaluate the card in the current Vintage climate though, it has a few positive traits. Vintage is filled with token creatures, and very few of those tokens can block a Doom Engine. A Monk token could potentially block Scuttling Doom Engine if it gets Prowess triggers before blockers are declared, but that isn't always easy when you're under pressure from Thorn of Amethyst effects. Doom Engine is also larger than many threats, including Thought-Knot Seer.

Scuttling Doom Engine also combos with another card unique to this deck, Shrapnel Blast. Using Doom Engine to Shrapnel Blast something causes a brutal eleven points of damage. Vintage decks usually do two or three points of damage to themselves in the first few turns, so one attack from a Doom Engine combined with some Shrapnel just might be enough to kill someone. The five damage from Shrapnel Blast is also enough to kill most creatures, so it's a serviceable form of removal as well. 

Solemn Simulacrum is a nice little card advantage machine. When it comes into play, you can fetch out your basic Mountain, and when it dies you get to draw a card. Simulacrum plays well with Shrapnel Blast, but it also seems pretty good with Arcbound Ravager as well. 

Ravager/Trike/Walker

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The popular combination of Arcbound Ravager, Triskelion, and Hangarback Walker is in full effect in this deck. There are some crazy scenarios that can occur when you're running all of these. Ravager can eat all of your artifacts then transfer all those counters to Triskelion for a metric ton of damage. Hangarback Walker can turn your mana into more Thopter tokens, which in turn can be converted into more damage through Triskelion as well. 

The triple threat of these three artifact creatures is a proven strategy, and a very aggressive one at that. The Ravager trio plays well with the Scuttling Doom Engine/Shrapnel Blast portion of the deck. To make room for all of these aggressive cards, the deck cuts a few of the lock pieces. 

Spheres and Thorns

Aggressive Workshop decks play prison elements, but they are not true prison decks. Ravager Shops uses the mana production and lock pieces as a series of tempo plays. Even though there are fewer total Thorns and Spheres, the additional aggression should allow the deck to win before the opposition can deal with all the prison elements. 

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While there are only three copies of Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst, there are four copies of Tangle Wire. Wire is a card that is extremely powerful in the short term, but it gets increasingly worse as time goes on. In a slower Shops deck, the inherent card loss from Tangle Wire makes it much weaker, but in this deck the turn or two it takes away from your opponent is probably enough to win you the game. 

Scuttling in Vintage

I think that this deck is potentially a viable alternative to the status quo of Ravager/Thought-Knot Shops. Colored Workshop decks aren't played much, but they intermittently do well in tournaments. There was a Red Shops deck with Goblin Welders that did well in last year's Vintage Championships, and there have even been a few rogue blue Shops decks that saw some play. Adding a little color splash to a Shops deck can detract from the consistency somewhat, but it's really not any worse than running Thought-Knot Seer (another card that can't be cast with Workshop mana). 

 

Breaking the Academy

Once upon a time I wrote an article about some of the early combo decks in Magic's history. There was a time period where every format, Standard included, was completely warped around combo decks based on this little gem. 

Tolarian Academy was immediately found to be a broken card, and combo decks built around it were played in Vintage until Tendrils of Agony stole the show. Even though Storm decks get more action these days, the legendary Academy is still a potent weapon for the Vintage mage to wield. In the northeastern United States Vintage scene, the Academy deck has been resurrected by some combo aficionados. 

If you recall seeing a very similar deck in last week's article, that's because this Neo-Academy deck seems to have inspired the U/R Welder decks that see play on Magic Online. The main difference is that the U/R Welder deck is all-in on the Time Vault plan, whereas this deck loves to win without Vault. 

Just like the Academy decks of combo winter, this list abuses Tolarian Academy with Time Spiral and Mind over Matter. The deck is filled with so many artifacts that Time Spiral usually acts as a ritual effect in addition to a draw-seven, floating copious amounts of mana in your pool. Mind over Matter can turn each unneeded card in your hand into more mana, and that mana can be converted back into additional cards. The end result is that this deck can deck its opponent by casting a lethal Blue Sun's Zenith.

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The deck finds what it needs through tutors, or Thoughtcast, but there's also Expedition Map to find Tolarian Academy. Sensei's Divining Top helps the deck fix its draws, and it also helps to power up Academy and Thoughtcast

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Tezzeret. the Seeker and Dack Fayden can assist in finding combo pieces, but they also give the deck alternate ways to win. Tezzeret's ultimate ability is actually quite dangerous in a deck like this, as you're likely to have a large volume of attacking artifact creatures. Dack can steal Lodestones and Blightsteels if the need should arise. 

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Academy Combo in Vintage

Artifact/Academy-based combo decks like Steel City Vault, U/R Welder, Tezzcast, and Academy Combo are undeniably powerful and exciting to play.  Academy Combo in particular does some really crazy stuff, and the amount of mana that this deck can produce is absurd. I've heard stories of people using Mind over Matter and Academy to pay for a rather large Flusterstorm, and that is no easy feat. 

Decks like Academy Combo do have some weaknesses of course. Null Rod is a beating for such a deck, especially since this archetype relies on Seat of the Synod. Workshop decks, or lists that play Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can be a rough matchup as well. The good news is that this particular list can switch roles and play out like a big-mana control deck, with plenty of artifact removal in the form of  Ingot Chewers and Viashino Heretics. There's also Scalding Tarns and a basic Mountain in the sideboard, which I totally agree with. I really feel that Workshops are still very good, and people should be playing basics in their sideboards. 

The Best Deck in Vintage

I don't really like to proclaim any one deck as the best one in the format, but Ravager Shops really does seem like it could be a good candidate. The dynamic duo of Ravager and Thought-Knot Seer don't take home every trophy, but even when the deck doesn't win it generally has a great showing. I'm glad that Mishra's Workshop and Ancient Tomb are still very important cards in Vintage because the restriction of Lodestone Golem was a bitter pill to swallow for devotees of the MUD archetype. 

The last deck we'll be taking a look at is Keith Grim's Ravager Shops deck. This list has placed very well at a number of recent events, including a tenth place finish at the recent TMD Open

Mishra's Workshop decks have been a dominant force in Vintage for a long time, but the restrictions of Chalice of the Void and Lodestone Golem have changed the pillar dramatically. A few years ago, people played many different variations of Shops. There were Null Rod builds, Smokestack decks, as well as versions with Metalworker and Kuldotha Forgemaster. Since Lodestone left the deck, the types of lists that people will play have almost entirely coalesced around Arcbound Ravager. The replacement for Lodestone in nearly every one of those decks is Thought-Knot Seer. People have said that Lodestone warped the Workshop archetype, but it seems to me that the absence of the card has warped the MUD decks even more.  

Even though the variations from the norm in this deck are small, each card choice does provide more for the deck than you'd imagine. Phyrexian Metamorph is a card that has been cut from quite a few lists, but I think it's a very valuable card to have. 

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Metamorph does a lot of work in a deck like this. It's an extra lock piece when you need one, and copying a Thought-Knot Seer is simply amazing. In a pinch you can even copy a Sol Ring to make more mana on a following turn. Vintage is a crazy format at times, and you never know when you might be staring down a Griselbrand or Blightsteel Colossus. Copying your opponent's creature to save yourself from impending doom is a worthwhile reason to include a few Metamorphs. The only real downside to Metamorph is that the Phyrexian mana cost can add up in a deck with Ancient Tomb and Mana Crypt

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I like the Steel Hellkite in this list because it gives the deck a way to deal with permanents. In particular it seems good at taking out moxen and token creatures. Hatebears decks also play a large number of cheap creatures, and Hellkite can sweep them all away. The ability to fly is also very relevant. People have been using Moat a lot more in recent months, so it's a smart idea to have a way to attack through the skies. 

Ravaging Thoughts in Vintage

Ravager is definitely one of the top decks in Vintage right now, and I am particularly fond of this list. The few small changes and singletons really give the list some versatility that other lists seem to lack. I especially like the Wurmcoil Engine in the sideboard. These decks can do a lot of damage to themselves, so having something with Lifelink is nice. If I was entering an event with Workshops, I'd play this list or something extremely close. 

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 MTGO


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