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Vintage 101: Getting Started


Welcome to part two of my introduction to the finest of eternal formats, Vintage 101. Last week, I went over a brief history of Vintage and discussed the five "pillars" of the format. Today I will discuss some tips for getting started on Vintage on Magic Online

Vintage decks can be some of the priciest decks to own on Magic Online, but the costs aren't as far off from other formats as you might think. The G/B/x decks from Modern and Legacy actually cost more than some of the top decks in Vintage, and at least one Standard deck costs more than a few tier one Vintage decks. When you consider the fact that most of the cards you will need have a multitude of uses and never rotate, the cost starts to appear more manageable.

Getting started in any format takes consideration beyond just what deck to play. Not everyone has the means to shell out top-dollar right away, and that is understandable. Here are a few tips and ideas that might help ease the transition into owning a Vintage deck.

Tip #1: Investing in Real Estate

If you own a Modern fetch land mana base, you're already a lot closer to having what you need for Vintage than you probably realize. Cards like Scalding Tarn, Misty Rainforest, and Polluted Delta are widely used in Vintage. In Modern, having the proper fetch lands enables a deck to play around Blood Moon by fetching the appropriate basic lands. In Vintage, Blood Moon only sees some fringe play, but basic lands are still very important. Wasteland can wreck a greedy mana base, so fetch accordingly! 

Scalding Tarn is likely the most widely-played of the fetch lands due to Red being one of the best support colors in the format. Red gives Blue decks a great way to answer creatures with Lightning Bolt, a trump against other Blue decks in Pyroblast, and a ton of great anti-artifact cards as well. Many decks will play with one basic Mountain in the sideboard too, which further illustrates how important Scalding Tarn is. If you don't have these and you're able to afford them, you should pick them up right away.

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The most common lands other than fetch lands are the original dual lands. While these were printed in Masters Edition sets, they were also released as Magic Online Champion Series promos and Vintage Masters. If you seek out the Vintage Masters versions of dual lands (and other staples), you can save a decent amount of money.

Back in the good old days, Blue had some of the best cards in Magic. Because of this oversight, many multicolored Vintage decks have a core of Blue cards in them. That makes Blue-based dual lands and fetches the most desirable. If you're trying to collect cards that will go the distance, Blue duals are the way to go. Some base Blue decks might use a single non-blue dual land with their support colors, like a Badlands in a Grixis deck, but for the most part those aren't widely used.

 

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Tip #2: Vintage Masters (VMA) is your Friend

When Vintage Masters was released, it was heavily drafted. Many players were hoping to win the "Power Nine lottery", but many others just enjoyed the nostalgic feel of the draft format. Add in the fact that Vintage Masters ended up being available for longer than Wizards had initially planned, and the result is that most chase Rares and Mythics have a lower price tag than cards released previously in other sets. What this means for you is that you can save a lot of money if you go for VMA copies of Force of Will, dual lands, and planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Personally, I prefer the original card frames found in the older Masters Edition sets, but when I started I was content playing with the cheapest versions I could get. As time went on, I traded in my modern-framed cards for classic ones, but I was perfectly content playing with what I could afford at first. 

When I made my first Vintage deck, I scoured Vintage Daily Event results found on MTGGoldfish. I downloaded one that seemed fun and in my price range, and I was almost ready to go. You can use Magic Online's wish list function to see what you need, and MTGGoldfish has handy tools for making purchases a simple endeavor. 

Once you're ready to choose a deck, I have a couple of ideas you can consider:

Choose your weapon!

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When it comes to selecting your first deck, things get a little more complicated than just searching for the best price. Right now the format is in the midst of a shakeup, due to a recent DCI announcement regarding the banned and restricted list. There is no defacto "best" deck in the format right now, but there are some decks that are very good. Here's a few decks that are a good place to start:

As I mentioned last week, Dredge is the most budget-friendly tier one deck in Vintage. This deck utilizes Bazaar of Bagdhad to rapidly fill the graveyard with cards that have the "Dredge" mechanic, which in turn puts even more cards in the graveyard. Most of the deck's spells and creatures can be played with no mana, and they can usually be played from the graveyard or put into play directly from the library. The entire deck has synergies with itself, and its most common path to victory is generating a horde of Zombie tokens with Bridge from Below

Dredge is extremely powerful and consistent. In fact, I can count the number of times I've won game one of a match against Dredge on one hand. This deck wins game one of its matches about 75% of the time. Most decks can't beat Dredge without digging out some sideboard tech because Dredge fights on a completely different axis than nearly every other deck out there. Cards that are good against most of the field are bad against Dredge, and the cards that are good against it are usually too narrow to be played in the main deck. 

Here's some pros and cons of playing Dredge you should consider:

The deck is very affordable on Magic Online. There are some corners you could cut to make the deck slightly cheaper and still have a beast of a deck. An optimal Dredge list is still cheaper than some Standard decks, so cutting costs may not even be necessary. If you put in the time to become proficient with Dredge, you can win packs to build up your collection and buy another deck. You might just find that you really enjoy the deck though. I've been told by Dredge players that attacking for lethal with a horde of Zombie tokens is quite enjoyable. 

You'll have to fight through a lot of hate. Cards like Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, Grafdigger's Cage, and Containment Priest are widely played and designed to give Dredge players a headache. Then there's a ton of other anti-graveyard cards you might be faced with. A good Dredge player can beat those "hate" cards though. It usually takes more than one sideboard card to beat a Dredge deck, and the opponent must apply sufficient pressure. Otherwise, the Dredge deck can find a way to win. I've lost games to Narcomoeba just because I didn't draw a threat to go with Grafdigger's Cage.

Dredge has a "broken" feel to it. To many people, Vintage is all about playing with degenerate cards and trying to do flashy, broken things. Dredge has that in spades, but if it is forced to play fair, things aren't nearly as exciting. If you want to do broken things on a budget, this is your best bet. It's important to remember Dredge isn't just for people without means to buy something else. Some people learn this deck and get incredibly skilled with it. Lately Dredge has had some high-profile tournament finishes, and the deck has won the annual Vintage Championship. 

If you do choose Dredge as your first deck, I suggest trying the list above. The list is current and doesn't have any wacky inclusions like Force of Will or Dark Depths. Besides saving you money, I think it's best to learn the core strategy behind the deck before you play the other gimmicks. 

This list, usually referred to as "Tezzcast," was taken from the winner of the Ovino X, a recent paper Vintage tournament. Thirst for Knowledge has recently been unrestricted, so people have been brewing with it. This list takes advantage of the four copies of Thirst, as well as a playset of Thoughtcast. Eight high-powered and efficient draw spells combined with powerful restricted cards makes for a very aggressive combo / control deck.

The primary win-conditions here are Time Vault and Blightsteel Colossus. Tinker can find either Blightsteel or Time Vault, depending on what is needed. Time Vault combines with either Voltaic Key or Tezzeret the Seeker for infinite turns. Tezzeret in particular is insane in a deck like this. His -X loyalty ability can find Time Vault, and his first ability can untap it each turn. Tezzeret the Seeker is a self-contained infinite combo in Vintage, and at one time Tezzeret was the most popular, powerful planeswalker in the format. 

This deck shares many similarities with a deck called "Grixis Thieves." Tezzcast is slightly less controlling, and more focused on quickly overpowering opponents and forcing through one of their broken "finishing moves." 

Here's some advantages and disadvantages to playing Tezzcast:

The deck is pretty easy to play. If you like "nut draws," this deck has more broken plays than you can shake a stick at. Playing and activating Time Vault and Voltaic Key takes four mana. In Vintage, you can have four mana on turn one quite often. Then there's the chance you can Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus on turn one, or cast a turn one Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Tezzeret the Seeker. Crafting a win without a strong hand is a lot more difficult, but many times the deck will have a game-winning bomb early on.

This deck is moderately priced. As I sit here typing, this deck is around two-hundred tickets less than Modern Jund, and it's less expensive than several of the top decks in Vintage. This list is about at the mid-range as price goes. Many of the cards in the deck (the Power Nine, lands, Force of Will) are widely used staples. If this is your first deck, you can switch to a similar list or change a few cards to make another deck with very little effort. Speaking of which:  

Tezzcast and Grixis Control share many of the same cards. Once you own Tezzcast, with a few minor changes you could be playing Grixis Thieves, or even a Control Slaver deck (a Grixis deck based on the power of Goblin Welder).

Tezzcast is soft to Null Rod. Last week, I mentioned Null Rod-based decks make up one of the pillars of Vintage. These days Null Rod is played in an even wider variety of lists. Null Rod is a counter for Time Vault decks like this one. Because this deck plays more artifact mana (including four Seat of the Synod) than most, Tezzcast is more hurt by Null Rod and Stony Silence

The recent restriction of Chalice of the Void and un-restriction of Thirst for Knowledge has caused many people to play decks like this one. Savvy players have been playing more artifact hate to counteract this trend, which is why there are more copies of Null Rod being played. All of this adds up to a metagame that can be hostile for the Tezzcast deck. 

Delver of Secrets has been a good card in every format it's been played in. Vintage is no different. Just like in Modern and Legacy, Vintage Delver is an aggro / control and tempo deck. The card-drawing power of Gush combined with efficient threats and countermagic makes Delver-based strategies highly effective. Vintage RUG Delver performed well in the years following Innistrad. A few subsequent printings pushed the deck further into the upper echelons of the format. First was Young Pyromancer. This Red two-drop eventually pushed Tarmogoyf out of the deck due to being more efficient and harder to deal with. In fact, these decks are really Young Pyromancer decks. Delver is just the guest-star. Both creatures have strong synergies with the many cantrips and card-draw spells the deck plays. 

Khans of Tarkir brought us the infamous delve-enabled draw engines: Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. Both cards are now restricted and the deck just plays one of each. Formerly, Delver decks played four 4 Cruise or 1 Cruise + 4 Dig. The two missing delve spells have been replaced with multi-format all-star, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy.

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Baby Jace is a perfect fit in a deck like this. If you decide to make this deck and you don't have access to Vryn's Prodigy, you can always play with the far cheaper Dack Fayden. Prior to Jace being widely adopted by Delver players, Dack was played in higher numbers. In fact, until Magic Origins, Dack Fayden was the undisputed best planeswalker in the format. The "loot" ability on both Jace and Dack is incredibly potent in this format due to the power level of restricted cards. Many decks can function on only two lands, so trading in useless lands for cards like Time Walk or Ancestral Recall can create a significant advantage. 

Blue / Red Delver decks are still a force to be reckoned with in Vintage, and this list is extremely well-tuned and potent. If you're interested in becoming a Delver pilot, here's a few points to consider:

Delver/Pyromancer strategies are fair, consistent decks. The number of restricted cards in the deck is fairly low, and many cards are played in sets of four. This means the games play out in a more predictable manner. That's great when you're trying to win a tournament. While you're opponent might be durdling around trying to assemble their combo, you get to attack with an ever-growing horde of creatures.

Fair decks don't really get "free wins." Other than the occasional Time Walk or Ancestral Recall, this deck has to earn its victories through skill. "Unfair" decks can sometimes peel a Yawgmoth's Will off the top of their deck and win out of nowhere, or cast a turn-one Show and Tell for Griselbrand. Both approaches have merit, but it is important to know what each deck is capable of. 

When I started playing Vintage, I went for flashy, broken decks. Soon after I switched to decks like Delver and experienced a lot of success. There are still many exciting plays you can make with Delver once you become proficient with the deck. 

Vintage Delver has a similar core to other "Gush" decks. Just like the Tezzcast deck, this Delver list has a lot of cards similar to other decks. Most decks based on Monastery Mentor or Young Pyromancer use Dack Fayden and Gush, so owning this deck will bring you very close to being able to assemble a few other lists.

This beast of a deck is a Mishra's Workshop list. Workshop decks are typically prison decks, although some lean more towards the aggressive spectrum. I chose this list to highlight for a few reasons. First of all, this deck managed to cash a Daily Event. Secondly, this list is easier on the wallet. Looking at the list you can see that there is no Black Lotus. I'm not sure if that is a strategic decision or financial one, but either way the deck was still successful without it. I have seen Workshop decks without Lotus in the past, so this is not entirely unheard of. 

Recently Chalice of the Void was added to the Vintage restricted list, so Workshop pilots have had to retool their lists. Most decks now run some number of Null Rods which hurts both players (unlike Chalice, a card Shops decks could ignore). Workshop decks are still very powerful and must be respected, even without four Chalices in their 75.

If you like to stop your opponent from playing spells, this is right up your alley. Here's a few considerations:

Workshop decks are easy to learn and very difficult to master. The main point of the deck is to quickly drop as many "lock pieces" into play as you can. Then you'll follow up with a threat or more lock pieces. The hard part comes in knowing what the best possible sequence is. Playing a game of Magic with a prison deck is a game of inches. One mana could make the difference between winning a match or losing to an end-step Hurkyl's Recall. Many new players will try to play a Lodestone Golem on turn one because it's the best threat in the deck. A turn-one Golem is much easier to answer than a turn-two Golem following a Thorn of Amethyst. There's a reason why veteran Workshop pilots consistently put up results.

Workshop decks do not play Counterspells. The vast majority of Workshop-based decks do not play reactive control cards. These decks are prison decks, and as I mentioned last week, they seek to control the game proactively by deploying lock pieces. I've heard a famous Workshop player refer to his deck as a boa constrictor, slowly squeezing the life out of an opponent. That analogy is an apt description of a game that's gone to plan. A strong opening hand from a Workshop player will prevent the opponent from playing spells for several turns, and it's possible to lock someone out for the duration of a game. 

The downside to this playstyle is that if a Workshop pilot faces an opponent who draws a game-winning opening hand, they can't stop it unless they take the first turn. In the time that I played Workshop decks, I lost to a turn-one Blightsteel Colossus on more than one occasion. Winning on turn one isn't very common, but a Workshop deck has no Force of Will when such a play does occur.

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This deck is based around Oath of Druids, and it is usually referred to as Griselbrand Oath or Fenton Oath (after pioneering Oath player, Greg Fenton). This deck is both immensely powerful and extremely fun to play. It's one of the easiest decks to pick up for beginners, but there are many opportunities to leverage your play skill into a victory.

An Oath of Druids deck has won the Vintage Championship in each of the last two years. In 2014, Mark Tocco won with a list similar to the one pictured above. In 2015 Brian Kelly won with a unique take on an Oath deck. Both of those lists used Oath of Druids to cheat a game-winning creature into play.

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Oath decks are able to cheat creatures into play by playing their namesake enchantment while they have no creatures in play and their opponent has one or more. This position allows Oath of Druids to trigger, putting cards from the top of the library into the graveyard until a creature is revealed. Forbidden Orchard is used for mana fixing, but also as a method for ensuring the opponent always has more creatures in play. 

It's not uncommon for an Oath player to play a Forbidden Orchard, a Mox Sapphire (or similar artifact), and a Oath of Druids on turn one. Oath decks always play blue, so they have Force of Will, Misdirection, and Flusterstorm to ensure Oath resolves. Once they get to activate Oath, the chances of winning the game grow very large. Griselbrand is a tough creature to beat, and his "draw seven" ability ensures that they stay in control of the game from then on.

Most Oath decks also play Time Vault and Voltaic Key to take infinite turns. Finding and assembling the secondary combo is easy with the card drawing power of Griselbrand. Besides the Vault / Key combo, there are Oath decks that run Auriok Salvagers to recur Black Lotus for infinite mana. 

Oath is a strong deck and it has a good matchup against creature-based strategies. If you do decide to play Oath, here are a few points to consider:

Oath of Druids affects both players. This clause makes mirror matches a real drag. Much of the game will revolve around trying to give your opponent more creatures than you with Forbidden Orchard. Oath isn't widely-played on Magic Online right now, so you might not face many mirror matches anyway, but it is important to at least have an idea how those matches play out. Playing an Oath against an unknown opponent could result in you losing to your own enchantment.

Oath is a high-variance strategy. While there are many strategies in Vintage that can be considered high-variance, Oath has three copies of Griselbrand you don't really want to draw. This awkwardness is mitigated somewhat by playing cards like Brainstorm or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. This type of Oath deck also plays Show and Tell which can make use of a Griselbrand that's stuck in your hand.

On the positive end, it's not uncommon to land a Griselbrand on turn one or two with either Show and Tell or Oath of Druids. But you're going to have to roll with the punches and accept the fact that sometimes the deck loses to itself.

Hate cards can stop the deck cold. It used to be that Graffdigger's Cage was the major concern for Oath players. Since then Abrupt Decay and Containment Priest have been printed. Cage and Priest make Oath not work. Abrupt Decay is a cheap, uncounterable answer to Oath itself. There are ways to beat those cards. For instance, I like running Hurkyl's Recall in the main deck as a card against Workshop decks, and it sweeps away any copies of Grafdigger's Cage that might be lying around. 

At this year's Vintage Championship, the eventual champion Brian Kelly pioneered the use of Dragonlord Dromoka in his innovative Oath list. Dromoka is more readily cast from the hand and can't be countered. There are some mana base considerations required to utilize Dromoka, but she is a surprisingly effective option for Oath players. 

Fenton Oath is a relatively expensive deck on Magic Online. Griselbrand and Show and Tell make the deck expensive. As does Misdirection. There are cheaper ways to use Oath of Druids, but many of those builds are considered substandard compared to Fenton Oath or Dragonlord Oath.

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If Fenton Oath is within your budget, it is a good list to start with. It's fun to play and powerful. There's a combo feel to the deck, but also plenty of control-type cards to please any Blue mage. I did well in my first Vintage event with Fenton Oath, and that was largely due to the power level of the deck. It's a great confidence booster to get a few free wins with Griselbrand

Conclusion

Any of the decks I covered today could make a good first Vintage deck. That doesn't mean these are the only decks that would be good for you if you're making the leap into the format. Before you decide which deck to build, ask yourself what it is that you want from the game.

Vintage is a competitive format, but it is still a game, and we play games to have fun. Some people might have fun with whatever deck is considered the best in the format. For many players, certain cards or strategies are more enjoyable. I was personally told by players far more skilled than I that I should play the deck that I like the most and play it until I become highly skilled. It's much better to play something you will enjoy, rather than a deck you find boring.  

The best deck in Vintage is really anyone's guess. The results from tournaments since the last DCI restricted list announcement have been varied. Grixis-colored Time Vault decks have been doing well, but the bane of those decks, BUG Fish, just won the Magic Online Vintage Power Nine Challenge. That tournament had over 100 players, and it was won by a fair deck packing multiple Null Rods and Abrupt Decays. I'm interested in rebuilding BUG Fish myself because it has a solid game against many of the top decks in the format. Null Rod is really good against Grixis Thieves and Tezzcast. One deck that had game against BUG Fish was Delver, and that deck just lost Dig Through Time to restriction. 

No matter which deck you end up adopting, I sincerely hope you enjoy yourself. The recent Power Nine Challenge tournament on Magic Online really seems to have inspired people to pick up the format. I've heard from fellow players that the turnouts in the Daily Events have increased, which is great news. The price of the Power Nine has started to increase as well, which indicates people are buying in. If you're still on the fence, you should pick up some pieces now while they're still relatively cheap! 

You can reach me on Magic Online (Islandswamp) or on Twitter @josephfiorinijr. See you next week!


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