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Vintage 101: Fresh off the Moat!


Moat - Jeff Menges

Supply and Demand

Usually in my articles I don't deal with many of the financial aspects of Magic. Sanctioned paper Vintage is notoriously expensive, and frankly I'm a player first and foremost. One of the most common types of questions I get about Vintage relate to costs, so I usually just mention the abundance of non-sanctioned, play-test card friendly Vintage events in the United States. Besides non-sanctioned paper Vintage, I often suggest Magic Online as an alternative for people. Magic Online is much cheaper than sanctioned paper Vintage, but the cost can still certainly be prohibitive to some folks. I prefer to write about the aspects of Vintage that are fun for me and related to playing the game, but sometimes things happen regarding the Vintage card pool that are hard to ignore. 

If you pay attention to Vintage or Legacy prices you have undoubtedly noticed an upward trend for a certain few staples. Namely Lion's Eye Diamond, Moat, and Library of Alexandria have all spiked recently. According to everything I have read, these price jumps are due to buyouts. Someone with a large bankroll bought up most available copies of these particular cards. 

Moat is a great card, although in the past it has been somewhat of a fringe player in Vintage. I have been told by some Legacy players that it is considered as an option in Miracles, but it still isn't being played enough in either format to justify the price hike. Someone out there in the community has taken credit for buying a very large quantity of these enchantments, and the result is that they are now very expensive. The same holds true for Lion's Eye Diamond, which is a four-of in Legacy Storm, and often played in Vintage Storm as well. 

 

When prices explode it's partially due to the fact that nobody fears a reprint. All of the recent buyouts targeted Reserve List cards, which are a safe bet if you're looking to manipulate the price of a staple card. I won't discuss the ethics of the issue, because it's not my place to do so. I will say that when prices go up, it can make things difficult for people starting to get into a format. One of the main ways many people find value in their Magic collections is their ability to play with the cards. If less people are able to play, and less events fire because of that, perhaps much of the intrinsic value in these cards diminishes. 

Legacy is a format that is basically only played in sanctioned events. I'm not aware of any non-sanctioned Legacy events that allow play-test cards, so price hikes hit prospective Legacy players the hardest. Vintage players are slightly more fortunate in this regard, but players are still expected to own at least sixty of their seventy-five cards. Each non-Power Nine card that creeps into the several-hundred dollar range can put a strain on some people's ability to play. Plus, I don't know anyone who doesn't dream of replacing their proxies with beautiful, black-bordered original printings.

The only advice I can give to anyone regarding the cost of playing paper Vintage or Legacy is that you shouldn't expect that prices will stay where they are. The cards that spiked aren't likely to ever come down in price, so you probably missed out if you didn't get pick any of these cards up yet. If there's a card that's on the Reserve List that you need, but haven't obtained yet, it might be a good idea to buy it if you can afford it. The last time Library of Alexandria was "cheap" (as far as Arabian Nights cards are concerned), I wasn't yet in the market to purchase one. In the future I'll be sure to avoid that same mistake. For the time being, I'll have to settle for my digital copies of Moat and Library of Alexandria. At least I can take solace in the fact that they cost less than the Revised Edition Badlands I picked up the other day. 

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Good Moats Make Good Neighbors

The main reason that the buyout of Moat has been on my mind lately is that I've been brewing with it in preparation for an upcoming paper Vintage event. I've got a few decks that I've been working on in digital form, and I've got the majority of those cards in my paper collection as well (with Moat being an expensive exception]]). Moat is better now than it has been in a long time due to the increased importance of creatures in Vintage, so trying to find a good deck for the enchantment seemed like a good idea.

I once saw an Oath of Druids deck that included Moat, and I was intrigued. That Moat/Oath list was credited to Greg Fenton, designer of the Griselbrand Oath deck that won the Vintage Championships in 2014. I borrowed a few ideas from that list and set to work brewing up a deck. 

I've played a lot of Oath decks in the past year, and my love for the namesake enchantment runs deep. Lately, my Oath lists have felt lackluster. I did fairly well with OmniOath several weeks ago, but when I ran the deck again last weekend things didn't go well, and I decided I needed to change. The metagame has bounced around a lot lately, and the only constant thing seems to be Gush and Eldrazi creatures.

Gush decks can win games if they stay ahead on cards, which they often do because of Gush itself. The Workshop Eldrazi decks are not much of a problem because they're mainly the same Shops decks that I'm used to beating. White Eldrazi doesn't play counterspells, so it is a very winnable matchup. In practice White Eldrazi ended up being tough for my older lists because they have main-deck Containment Priests and Eldrazi Displacers. I made the decision to rebuild an Oath deck from scratch instead of trying to change just one or two cards from an older list.

When I was brewing this deck, I had a few things in mind. I knew that I wanted to play more removal in the main deck, because relying on Oath or Show and Tell to provide a single-creature trump card was no longer cutting it. Monastery Mentor can race Griselbrand, Karakas can bounce your Oath target, and Containment Priest/Displacer can stop you from doing anything at all. Displacer is a massive pain even without Containment Priest; it can hold down nearly any card you Oath into. All of these factors made for an environment that is largely hostile to the way I have always constructed my Oath decks. 

Playing Defense

Normally, I build my Oath decks to try to spit out a Griselbrand as fast as possible, without much concern for longer games. In creating this deck I knew that I needed to find room for more removal. I needed more resiliency to Karakas, and I needed to not get run over by Monk tokens. Moat doesn't answer all of those questions, but it does help with much of what was problematic for me. 

Moat means that you can't get attacked by most of the creatures in the format, and it is especially good against Mentor and Young Pyromancer. Grixis Pyromancer decks are becoming much more popular lately as they have good answers to White Eldrazi decks, and Grixis colors are pretty bad at dealing with enchantments. White Eldrazi decks can pack Disenchant, but that just means you have a good use for your Force of Wills and Mana Drains. 

Moat is a great control card, but it doesn't actually win games. Luckily I found a card to act as a Moat with a clock. 

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Blazing Archon might not seem like that great of a card to Oath into, but it is actually quite good against a lot of decks. Dredge decks can't attack you, so they would have to kill Archon before they can win. Eldrazi decks need to Swords to Plowershares your Archon before they can win. Decks in Vintage that don't have access to Swords to Plowshares probably use Dismember or Lightning Bolt for removal, and neither card will kill an Archon. In the past Workshop decks often relied on Phyrexian Metamorph to copy a Griselbrand, but copying an Archon doesn't help all that much either. The icing on the cake is that Blazing Archon is Karakas-proof. There are a few cards in the format that will adequately deal with Archon. I've already mentioned Swords to Plowshares, but Snuff Out has been seeing some play in Grixis Pyromancer decks lately, so that is an answer you should be aware of. 

Blazing Archon is only one of three Oath targets in the deck, which occasionally causes problems with consistency. There are times where Oathing up Archon might not be the best, but you can take some steps to mitigate this. Against fair decks, Archon is perfectly fine to Oath into. The only problem comes when you Oath into Archon without any counterspells in hand. If you can't protect your Archon, it will die and you'll have to rely on whatever your deck spits up next turn. Luckily you can activate Oath as many times as you want in this deck, because my list plays three different creatures and Gaea's Blessing

In games where I don't want to Oath into an Archon, I can hopefully manipulate which card I hit with cards like Dig Through Time, Sensei's Divining Top, and Brainstorm. This manipulation isn't a fool-proof method, but it does come up fairly often. 

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Other than the standard-issue Griselbrand, I also have Dragonlord Dromoka in the deck. I chose Dromoka as one of my creatures for a few reasons. At six mana, Dromoka is easy to hard-cast. Dromoka can't be countered, which is huge against other control decks. Dromoka also has flying and lifelink, so it works well with Moat, and it helps the deck race other creature strategies. Dromoka also stops your opponent from casting spells during your turn, which means you're free to cast your Time Walk and Ancestral Recall with impunity. 

Dragonlord Dromoka and Blazing Archon both suffer from the drawback of not being able to protect themselves. Griselbrand can draw you seven cards when he shows up, which often puts cards in your hand to stop it from being Plowed. I have put some thought into testing Dragonlord Ojutai in Dromoka's spot because it can protect itself or create card advantage. The original Greg Fenton deck that inspired my list used Ojutai, so I definitely think it's worth testing. 

Control 

In the process of testing and tuning this deck, I dropped black entirely and kept the deck a Bant Oath list. It was tough for me to cut black and the associated Tutors, Thoughtseizes, and Yawgmoth's Will, but ultimately I felt that it was the right decision. 

Cutting black left room for more blue cards, namely Mana Drains and Mindbreak Trap. There are thirteen counters in total, giving the deck quite the defensive repertoire. In the past I mainly used my counters to resolve Oath of Druids, but with this deck the idea is that you can play defense much better. Mana Drain costs two mana, so it's best used to stop your opponent's spells from resolving. If you find yourself in a stack battle, this deck has Flusterstorm and Mindbreak Trap to help you win those fights. The relatively large amount of counters means that sitting back and drawing extra cards with Library of Alexandria is even more effective than it was in my older versions of Oath. 

Since I don't have any Tutors in the deck, I've made sure to include the full amount of cantrips (four Preordains, Ponder and Brainstorm) as well as Sensei's Divining Top. These seven cards in conjunction with Ancestral Recall and Library of Alexandria are all the deck has to dig up an Oath in the early turns of the game. Fortunately, all the defensive cards mean that prolonging a game is often a good thing. 

Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time aren't likely to be castable until the midgame because there aren't as many fetch lands as other decks. The deck relies on its cantrips to fill the graveyard, so Cruise and Dig might not be live until after an Oath activation. 

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In my older Oath decks, I got to a point where I was sideboarding in removal more and more. I soon started raising the number of main-deck copies of whatever creature removal spell I was running. With this Bant-colored list I'm no longer able to support Abrupt Decay, so I've opted to run Swords to Plowshares instead. Creature removal is much more important to an Oath deck now than it has been in the past for a few reasons. Obviously, Monastery Mentor needs to be dealt with quickly, but there's also Containment Priest and Eldrazi creatures. The White Eldrazi decks have several creatures that can stop this deck from winning, so removal is all the more critical. 

Sideboarding

Sideboarding with this deck is a little trickier than sideboarding with a BUG Oath deck. Abrupt Decay was always my go-to spell because it dealt with such a large swath of problematic permanents. Since this deck doesn't have Decay to fall back on, you'll have to bring in a wider variety of cards. Nature's Claim and Swords to Plowshares are very efficient cards, but neither one can remove both a Grafdigger's Cage and a Containment Priest.

Here's a few guidelines I use when I'm playing the deck. 

Workshops

Like all Vintage sideboards, the usual anti-Shops cards have been included. Hurkyl's Recall and Nature's Claim are two important anti-Workshop cards I generally like to employ. The Workshop matchup is already pretty good and thusly more emphasis is placed on cards to aid against other decks. 

Storm

I have chosen to include some powerful anti-Storm cards because this deck is much slower than my older BUG Oath decks. Storm can simply kill an Oath deck after it plays an Oath and passes the turn. I've included Arcane Laboratorys and Iona, Shield of Emeria to help combat Dark Petition Storm. There's also a Mindbreak Trap in the main deck, and a Sensei's Divining Top to hopefully keep that Trap hidden from Duress until it's needed. 

Dredge

In the past my plan against Dredge was to slow them down with a Ravenous Trap or two, then use Griselbrand to assemble Time Vault and Voltaic Key. There's no Vault/Key combo here, and there's only one Show and Tell. With this deck, the plan is to either Show or Oath into Blazing Archon or Magus of the Moat, or to use Rest in Peace to buy yourself some time. Pithing Needle can also come in against Dredge as it can shut off Bazaar and force them into slow Dredge mode. 

Rest in Peace is a great anti-Dredge card, but it also makes the Gaea's Blessing useless. I would side out Blessing, Treasure Cruise, Dromoka, and both Mana Drains to bring in Magus of the Moat, two Rest in Peace, and two Pithing Needles. I'd still leave in Dig Through Time as the deck can eventually make enough mana to cast it, and you can prevent yourself from decking by putting the proper cards on the bottom of your library. 

Hatebears and White Eldrazi

Against Hatebears or White Eldrazi my plan is to bring in Balance and more copies of Swords to Plowshares. I also would side in Nature's Claims to deal with Grafdigger's Cages. You could also make a case to bring in Pithing Needle in these matchups as it deals with Wasteland, Karakas, and Eldrazi Displacer. The deck can win through a Karakas, but it is enough of a pain to warrant bringing in a card to stop it. Against these decks I'm likely to sideboard out a Jace, as it's hard to protect. Counterspells aren't quite as good here because of Cavern of Souls, so I'd trim Mana Drains and Mindbreak Trap. I would also take out Dragonlord Dromoka for Magus of the Moat as Magus can be cast through Thorn of Amethyst and is immune to Karakas.  

Shaving a Preordain is also fine against either of these decks. Thorn of Amethyst makes Preordain expensive, and you better off leaving a fetch land untapped in the early turns. Leaving your fetches unused allows you to protect yourself against Wasteland temporarily, and you can wait to fetch Green duals lands for Nature's Claim or White duals for Swords to Plowshares

Gush Mentor/Pyromancer

These decks can out-draw you, and all those extra cards will make it very hard to play your removal. Dragonlord Dromoka is your friend in this match up. Dromoka can be hard cast, but it opens your turns to do whatever you can to get ahead on cards. Moat is also very good in this matchup, especially since Grixis decks lack proper enchantment removal. 

I'd bring in Balance, Swords, and Nature's Claim in this matchup. Swords and Claim can deal with their anti-Oath cards (Cage and Priest), and Balance can sweep away tokens. I would consider swapping out Blazing Archon for Iona in this matchup, but ultimately that's a tough call. Archon is great against their tokens, but Iona can shut off one third of their deck by naming "Blue."

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I usually sideboard out one Jace against decks with a large number of creatures because he becomes very difficult to protect. I'd rather not have too many four-mana Brainstorms in my deck, especially when I'm being smashed with Monk tokens. I sideboard out one basic land against Gush decks as well to decrease my chances of flooding. Gaea's Blessing will need to be cut because it is essentially the worst card in the deck. I'd also shave one Preordain and one Mana Drain, which will leave room for the Nature's Claims, Swords to Plowshares, and Balance.

Against a competent opponent, the Gush-based creature token strategies are likely your hardest matchups. Before the printing of Mentor, I would think that Oath was mostly favored, but the card-drawing and fast clock are often too much for the deck. Hopefully you can resolve an Oath, cast a Moat, and ride a fattie to victory. 

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The Darkest of Rituals

Besides a few different Oath lists, I've also been working on Dark Petition Storm (DPS). Storm is one of my favorite decks. It's always powerful and fun to play, and a lot of the key cards were relatively inexpensive. On Magic Online, DPS is one of the cheaper decks you can make. The paper costs of DPS are much higher, but fifteen play-test cards lighten the financial load. 

I've experimented with several different configurations of the Petition Storm deck, and I've been wanting to try this list that won a recent paper Vintage event.

Most of this deck is made up of stock card choices for the archetype, but there are a few stand-out card selections to talk about. First of all, there are only three Dark Petitions instead of four. I'm not sure three is the right call, but having four copies of Dark Petition could be a problem if you draw too many. 

I've been choosing to play with more than one win condition in my Storm decks to protect against opponent's discard effects, and usually that means playing two copies of Tendrils of Agony. Instead of having two Tendrils, Andrew Walker has gone with Empty the Warrens as his second win condition. Empty may not be as powerful as Tendrils, but it is still very deadly. And much like Mind's Desire, Empty the Warrens can win the game with a much lower Storm count. I've had many matches where I cast a Gitaxian Probe on turn one, only to see that my opponent's hand wouldn't allow me to play a long game. Empty is perfect in those situations because simply playing four or five spells will flood the board with Goblin tokens. 

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Empty the Warrens also gives the deck a way to win through cards like Leyline of Sanctity and Witchbane Orb. Leyline and Witchbane Orb aren't the most widely-played sideboard cards, but they are a royal pain to deal with. Besides shutting off Tendrils, Leyline also makes your discard effects and Gitaxian Probes dead. 

The sideboard for this particular list is rather unconventional. The Dread of Nights, Propagandas, and Mystic Remoras seem like hedges against Mentor decks. I'm not sure I'd choose to play Propaganda in one of my sideboards, but Dread of Night is good against both Mentors and Mono White Hatebears decks. Killing Thalia is important, and Dread can do that very well. 

Thrashing Wumpus seems like an odd choice for a Storm deck, but it's actually very good. Most of the time people will sideboard out removal against a Storm deck, so your Wumpus is likely to survive on the battlefield. The Pestilence ability that Thrashing Wumpus has is great against token strategies, as well as Hatebear decks. A repeatable sweeper that can be played through Thorn of Amethyst is a nice thing to have. 

DPS in (Paper) Vintage

I've been building my Magic Online Dark Petition Storm deck in paper, and I've collected sixty of the seventy-five cards so far. I'll probably choose to play the deck in an upcoming paper event, and I'm doing so because I enjoy the deck. Storm isn't the best deck in Vintage, but it feels great when you can cast a huge Tendrils of Agony within the first few turns of a game. 

I've played Vintage on Magic Online almost as long as it's been available as a playable format. Magic Online is convenient and easy to play because it tracks all of the relevant game information. When I started play-testing sessions using DPS I quickly realized how much harder Storm is to play in real life compared to Magic Online. I have a newfound respect for anyone who's ever piloted a Storm or Doomsday deck to a Top Eight finish in a paper Vintage event. In paper it's easy to miscount one little thing and it can cost you a game or an entire match. 

The Waterbury

The paper event that I'm preparing for is the TMD Open 17 in Oakville, Connecticut. The tournament date is set for Saturday, August 13th. It is an open event and allows fifteen play-test cards. This tournament series, commonly referred to as "the Waterbury" is regarded as the greatest Vintage events ever by many former attendees. I'll have more information about this event as the time grows closer, but for now if you're interested in attending, there's a thread on TMD about the tournament. 

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

 


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