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Vintage 101: Going Ballistic!

Going Ballistic

This past weekend featured the first  Power Nine Challenge tournament since Walking Ballista entered the Vintage card pool on Magic Online. Ballista had already asserted itself as an important staple in the first paper Vintage tournament since the release of Aether Revolt so it was no surprise that the card performed well on Magic Online as well. The tournament ended up being full of Mishra's Workshop decks, and the eventual winner was on Shops.

The Atog Lord took down his second Power Nine event using Ravager Shops, a deck he knows quite well. This deck represents an evolution of the archetype though as it contains multiple new cards. There's the aforementioned Aether Revolt all-star Walking Ballista, and a lesser-known (but not unheard of) Kaladesh card: Foundry Inspector

Hiromichi Ito used Foundry Inspector in his Vintage Championships Top Eight MUD list, and people have been playing it off and on since then. The Inspector is essentially a personal "anti-Sphere" effect that makes all of your artifacts cheaper. When played early with proper sequencing, Foundry Inspector allows for some truly broken starts. There is also a lot of synergy between Walking Ballista or Hangarback Walker and Foundry Inspector

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With Foundry Inspector helping to make your spells cheaper it becomes much easier to create larger X values for Hangarback and Ballista. This in turn makes the dreaded combo-kills with Arcbound Ravager even more deadly! 

To make room for the Hangarbacks and Foundry Inspectors, The Atog Lord's deck eschews Fleetwheel Cruiser completely. Several of the top finishing decks utilized similar builds without any vehicles, but there were still a few players who opted to continue running the colorless Ball Lightning

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Paradoxical Storm

Since the second place deck was also a Workshop deck I figured I'd feature the third place list next as it is something completely different. Here's Niels Thiim's Paradoxical Outcome Storm deck.

Considering how prevalent Workshop decks were in this event (half of the Top Eight and just over 21% of the field overall), I'm somewhat surprised to see Paradoxical Outcome make it this far. Looking at the lists it seems that there weren't as many Null Rods present in the Workshop decks and that likely could have made things slightly easier for the artifact-mana filled Paradoxical archetype. 

Some notable choices in Thiim's list include the extra land and the lack of main deck Hurkyl's Recall. Most P.O.S. (Paradoxical Outcome Storm) decks only run nine true lands in the main deck and it looks like Thiim has opted for one additional fetch land. Additional lands are obviously helpful in avoiding some mulligans, and it's a boon in post-sideboard games against Prison strategies. 

The lack of Hurkyl's in the main is quite unusual, however there is a full playset of them in the sideboard. It's true that Hurkyl's Recall isn't mandatory when you're not worried about cards like Trinisphere or Null Rod, but I feel it's good enough at making mana and raising the Storm count that it's worth playing at least one in the main deck. Regardless of my opinion, either way Thiim managed to achieve a 5-1 record in the Swiss rounds so his approach obviously works! 

Dark Depths Dredge!

There were two Dredge decks in the Top Eight of the event including this fourth place list. Both the Dredge decks from the Top Eight were playing free countermagic like Force of Will and Mindbreak Trap. While there were some players playing traditional Dredge in the event, none of them cracked the top sixteen. 

Considering the presence of fast combo decks in Vintage it's not surprising that the Dredge decks with Force of Will and Mindbreak Trap have been doing well. All Dredge decks have the ability to consistently present a lethal clock by turn three, but that isn't quite fast enough to defeat Paradoxical Outcome. Beyond countering broken combo cards, the counters used in Pitch Dredge are also good at slowing down Mentor decks, defeating the first lock piece from a Workshop deck, and countering nasty things like Rest in Peace

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Pitch Dredge definitely seems to be a deck that sees more play on Magic Online than in paper events, but I'm sure that has more to do with it being a good fit for the metagame than anything else. Dredge is often cited as a deck choice people make for budgetary reasons, but in the online meta playing Force of Will makes the deck far more expensive than it's traditional counterpart. 



Vintage U/W Stoneblade

Magic Online user oRS managed a fifth-place finish with this unique-looking brew, but the truly impressive thing is that this deck managed to go undefeated in the Swiss rounds. While this deck does bear some resemblance to things I've seen in the past, it's rather unusual in several ways. 

Stoneblade decks are not very common in Vintage. Stoneforge Mystic is somewhat slow for the format, and Batterskull certainly isn't the fastest clock. The benefit that the Stoneforge/Equipment package brings to the deck is that it's fairly easy to resolve against Workshops. 

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Playing Batterskull for only two mana against a Prison deck is quite helpful. Stoneforge Mystic can be disrupted by a Phyrexian Revoker, but this list plays quite a bit of removal so your Mystic should be able to do its job eventually. I've had some experience playing with the Stoneforge package in a Mentor shell and it was indeed quite effective against Shops.

The remainder of the creature package in this deck consists of four Snapcaster Mages and four copies of Spell Queller. Snapcaster is an everyday Vintage card so it's not going to raise any eyebrows, but Spell Queller is much less common. 

I had the pleasure of being paired against a nearly identical deck this past weekend and I can say with certainty that Spell Queller was much more daunting to play against than I had anticipated. Queller acted much like four extra universal counterspells as it could counter basically anything worthwhile I tried to cast. It was hard to stop Spell Queller because the only answer I had to it while it was on the stack was Force of Will. Forcing a Queller can potentially set you up for a blowout with Flusterstorm too, which is exactly what happened to me. 

Taken solely as a creature, Spell Queller is still amazing. Two power isn't the fastest clock in the world but it can be easily Flashed into play to attack a planeswalker on the following turn. The card plays very well in a deck full of Mana Drains such as this one, and I think it's a creature that more people should explore. 

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Another aspect of this Stoneblade deck that is unusual is the full set of Mana Drains found within. Mana Drain was once the gold standard for counterspells in Magic, and it has even had entire websites named after it. These days very few decks are interested in Mana Drain and instead they opt for the one and zero mana situational counterspells instead. Even so, two mana for an unconditional counterspell is very good in the right deck. 

Mana Drain has spells to target in every single matchup whereas something like Spell Pierce or Flusterstorm do not. The mana bonus that Drain can provide is also useful for casting the Equipment cards in this deck, and in a pinch it can help cast Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time

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Between the main deck and sideboard, oRS' deck had eight one-mana creature removal spells! While I feel that eight such spells is a little much, I can agree that in some instances this strategy is quite effective. When facing Workshops and Eldrazi, the majority of threats you'll need to dispatch are creatures. Both of those decks play cards that make your spells more expensive so one mana answers are ideal, especially since Chalice of the Void is restricted. Typically though, control decks like this would choose to run some number of Supreme Verdict or something similar in order to deal with creature-heavy decks. After all, even in the best case scenario it can still be hard to consistently trade one card for one threat and still not fall behind. 

The deck is also notable for not having any planeswalkers. Usually contemporary control decks in these same colors would be running Jace, the Mind Sculptor. There are also no Preordains or Gitaxian Probes in the list. I assume that the reason this deck is not using any of those cards is that it wants to be played in a near-complete reactionary fashion. This deck does not wish to tap out on it's own turn, and instead it wants to keep mana up at all times for flash creatures or counterspells. 

Stoneforge Mystic is the only creature in the deck that doesn't have flash, but it's only two mana, Stoneforge probably comes down a few turns into a game with two blue mana untapped so that it can be protected with a counterspell. Snapcaster and Spell Queller both have Flash, and the majority of the spells in the deck are instants. As a matter of fact the only sorceries in the list are Treasure Cruise, Ponder, and Time Walk

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Blue decks in Vintage generally play potent draw engines. Commonly found draw packages in contemporary decks include Gush, the Delve spells (Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, the one-mana cantrip package (Preordain, Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Brainstorm), Paradoxical Outcome, or sometimes Standstill. This deck eschews almost all of those cards, and that's unheard of.

This deck relies completely on Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm and Ponder, and the two Delve spells. The only other way this list has to draw cards is Sword of Fire and Ice. Compared to most decks in the format, that is a draw package that is at least three or more cards light. For a deck like this to work it takes some seriously tight play, because I doubt that it's easy to come back once you've fallen behind. Regardless of what I think, the deck did sweep through the Swiss rounds of a Power Nine Challenge event, and that's no small feat. 



Walking Ballista White Eldrazi

The rest of the Top Eight was more or less comprised of different versions of the same decks. If we want to see a different archetype we have to look at the top sixteen lists. Still, there was only one different archetype to finish in the top sixteen and that was Smennen's White Eldrazi featuring Walking Ballista

It's not surprising to see Walking Ballista be so successful in the format. While there are a wide variety of decks that one can play in Vintage, two of the most dominant strategies are Prison (Workshops and Eldrazi) and Gush-based token strategies. Walking Ballista provides cover for a blind spot that the prison strategies once had. It happens quite often that the only way a Gush deck can defeat a prison deck involves resolving a Young Pyromancer or Monastery Mentor during a very small window of time. Walking Ballista has the ability to fit into nearly any spot in a Prison deck's curve due to its variable casting cost, and it provides removal and a threat in an efficient package.

If we take a look at Smennen's build of White Eldrazi we can see that Containment Priest has been relegated to the sideboard. This is purely a metagame call, and as long as you're not expecting a lot of Oath and Dredge it's probably the right call. When a White Eldrazi deck finds itself facing non-Dredge, non-Oath decks, Containment Priest is basically just a Grizzly Bears that has a cute combo with Eldrazi Displacer

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Eldrazi Displacer is so good that is can sometimes control a battlefield all by itself. It is even more powerful in combination with a Containment Priest, but it certainly doesn't need one. Displacer can also do crazy things like blinking your own Thought-Knot Seer during an opponent's draw step to take away key spells again and again. Displacer also protects your own creatures from targeted removal spells, and that's probably more relevant than it seems. 

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Another innovation I noticed in this list is the three copies of Mental Misstep in the sideboard. I have seen this tactic used in Hatebears decks before, but this is the first time I've seen a White Eldrazi list that included these. I'm not sure exactly what matchup these are for, but I strongly feel that Misstep is doing the work that Chalice of the Void would have done in the past. Chalice was previously the way decks like this dealt with one-mana spells, and since it's now restricted perhaps Misstep is a decent replacement. As a side note; if you've ever found yourself wondering why Mental Misstep is banned in literally every other format in Magic, this is why. Misstep can be played in any deck, and it breaks the color pie by letting non-blue decks perform a stereotypically blue action. 

White Eldrazi didn't perform as well in this event as is has been recently, but I'm convinced that it's still one of the best decks in the format. Strategically it occupies much of the same space in the format that Workshop decks do, but it has key differences that make it a viable choice. Workshop decks are typically bad at defeating Oath of Druids consistently whereas White Eldrazi is often built to annihilate Oath. White Eldrazi is also very aggressive, so it is good at taking advantage of the tempo it gains from its lock pieces. The one thing that probably keeps White Eldrazi down a little bit is that it is usually the underdog when facing the other prominent Prison strategy in Vintage. 

I'd like to thank Diophan for sorting the data from the event month after month. You can view more information on the latest Power Nine Challenge on TheManaDrain

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days! You can find me on Magic Online, TMD , and Twitter @Islandswamp



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