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Vintage 101: Gush Therapy


1000% Serious

I strive to highlight new or different decks as often as possible because I like to present all that Vintage has to offer. There's nothing wrong with netdecking a 4-0 list from a Magic Online Daily Event, but it always makes me smile when someone plays something a little more daring. 

In last week's article, I talked mostly about how Gush is dominating the format (even more so online). As a contrast to my usual diatribe on why Gush decks are so good right now, I highlighted a deck from the Team Serious Invitational tournament. There were many great players in that event, and a lot of the decks were pretty sweet. 

The first deck I'm going to highlight came from the Top Eight of the event, and it included a few cards from Eldritch Moon!

Tamiyo's Angels is a blue and white midrange control deck. The list has classic Vintage staples like the ubiquitous power nine, Mana Drain, and Moat, but there's also a few lesser-played cards like Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull. The thing I find most interesting about this list is that it includes a few cards that are hot off the presses. 

Playing the Field Researcher

The first thing I noticed when looking at this list was the Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Magic players get treated to new planeswalkers in nearly every set, but it isn't often that these cards make their way to the eldest of eternal formats. 

Tamiyo is an interesting card, and I've seen quite a few people debating whether or not it would be good enough to see eternal play. I anticipated that it could be good in Legacy, but I wasn't sure it would make the cut in Vintage. Time will tell if Tamiyo sticks around, but the preliminary results are very positive.

Throughout the history of Magic, cards like Ophidian and its descendants have allowed you to draw cards when they dealt damage to opponents while attacking. The new Tamiyo is templated much differently. When using Tamiyo's first loyalty ability, any creature it targets will cause you to draw a card when it deals damage. You can make a chump attack just to draw a card if you so desire. You can also target your opponent's creatures with Tamiyo and they'll have to decide if attacking you is worth letting you draw another card. Tamiyo can target "up to" two creatures, so you can still activate her on an empty board, and you can even split target creatures between players. 

In this deck Tamiyo represents card advantage, but there is also a real possibility that you could activate her ultimate ability. The deck plays Moat to stall the opposition forces, which in turn protects your planeswalker. If you do end up activating her ultimate ability, it pretty much ends the game. Drawing three cards is great, and Tamiyo's emblem is insane. The only thing better than playing a lot of cards is casting them for free! 

A side note on Tamiyo. Right now the card is sitting at a relatively low price. If she does prove to be playable in Vintage (and beyond), the price will likely go much higher. When a card is good in non-rotating formats it creates a lasting demand. I am definitely keeping my eye on Tamiyo, Field Researcher so I don't end up missing out on getting her at a low price. 

Spell Queller

The other new recruit from Eldritch Moon is Spell Queller. Cards like Spell Queller are usually very powerful, and they're a good example of how much better creatures are in this day and age. When I first started playing Magic, creatures didn't always come with a spell attached! When cards like Man-o'-War and Nekrataal were printed they blew our minds. Spell Queller is on a whole new power level.

Spell Queller acts as a threat and a control element in one card. Space is always tight when building a deck, and when you have a 2/3 Flash Flyer that also doubles as a counterspell, it's amazing. Spell Queller exiles the spell, so it can stop things that are uncounterable. When Spell Queller dies, your opponent will be able to cast that card for free. Of course, your opponent won't always be able to take advantage of casting the spell for free. If your Spell Queller exiled a Mana Drain and then dies in combat, the Mana Drain will probably end up wasted. 

There are few spells in Vintage that you would like to counter but cost more than five. The most important and popular card that Spell Queller can't touch would probably be Force of Will. Force is played in nearly every blue deck as a four-of, and you will have to rely on something else to deal with it. 

Stoneforge and Batterskull

Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull are fairly popular in Legacy, but they're not played nearly as often in Vintage. Even though the Stoneforge Mystic/Batterskull combo isn't seen often, it is still quite good and adds a unique angle to a deck. Creature threats are usually better against Mishra's Workshop and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben decks because they can be played tax-free through Thorn of Amethyst or Thalia herself. Stoneforge represents a cheap threat that can turn into a 4/4 creature with Lifelink.

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 Batterskull is good at stabilizing some board positions, and it's a decent-sized clock on an empty board. It's also possible to bounce and replay Batterskull to gain an advantage, and these abilities can function on a battlefield littered with Thorn of Amethysts.

Stoneforge Mystic acts as card advantage, as she essentially draws you a card when you search up your equipment. Once your Stoneforge has summoned a Batterskull you've got two creatures to combo with your Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Normally attacking with a Squire isn't something to call home about, but if it draws you an extra card it's pretty sweet. 

Since Batterskull has the living weapon keyword ability, it is somewhat resilient to removal, and it's not quite as dangerous when it get's stolen by Dack Fayden

The Weissman School

One of the things about this list that I particularly enjoy is that it seems to be influenced in part by "The Deck" by Brian Weissman. "The Deck" was one of the earliest control decks, and it was built around different forms of card advantage and control. Moat was a classic Weissman card, as was Swords to Plowshares and Mana Drain. All of those spells are featured in this list, and they're put to good use. 

 

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With all of the control elements in this deck, it's easy to keep an opponent from doing anything meaningful in a game. Moat creates a sort of virtual card advantage by making most of your opponent's creatures blanks. Moat isn't good against every deck and the effect doesn't stack with multiples, so a single copy is all you need. 

Mana Drain is the best two-mana unconditional counter in the game, and it's great at powering out your expensive spells. The one thing a blue mage doesn't want to do is tap all of their mana on their own turn. Mana Drain allows you to cast a large spell on your next main phase without needing to tap all of your lands. 

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One of the most dangerous creatures the deck plays has synergy with Mana Drain. Consecrated Sphinx isn't the fastest clock in Vintage, but it flat-out wins games if it survives for more than a turn. It's nearly impossible to fall behind when you're drawing two cards for each card your opponent draws. In a normal turn cycle without any extra card-draw spells cast, a Consecrated Sphinx's controller will draw three cards, while their opponent will get only one. Sphinx also has six toughness, so it is resilient in combat and doesn't die to Lightning Bolt

Vintage's Angels 

I think there is a lot of room to explore this archetype further. Moat is better now than it has ever been before and is definitely capable of spiking an event. There was a different Moat deck in the Top Eight of the Vintage Championships last year, so there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that decks like this can work. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this deck pop up on Magic Online in the near future, 

Painting a Red Moon

Up next I'd like to showcase another deck from the Team Serious Top Eight. This is Vintage Painter's Servant/Grindstone deck, but it's unusual compared to the Painter decks seen online. 

The heart of this deck is the good ol' deck-milling combo of Painter's Servant and Grindstone. You simply play both combo pieces, activate your Grindstone, and watch your opponent flip cards into their graveyard until they realize they've lost. Most Vintage Painter decks have a lot in common with other Grixis-colored combo/control decks, and this list does share some similarities with those decks as well. There are a few significant deviations from the norm to be found here though. 

Taking a page out of Imperial Painter decks from Legacy, this list has included Magus of the Moon to disrupt its opposition. 

Magus of the Moon gives this list a few important advantages. First of all, your opponents are going to hate having their dual lands messed with, so they're probably going to want to burn a removal spell on your Magus. Until your opponent manages to find and cast a removal spell, they can't cast Gush. If your opponent is playing Mishra's Workshop, they've now got a ton of spells clogging up their hand. Eldrazi creatures also hate Blood Moon effects. 

If your opponent does manage to hit a removal spell, that's one less removal spell to take out Painter's Servant. Magus will either act as disruption or a lightning rod. The deck doesn't lean too hard on Magus of the Moon though, and it's a good thing. A lot of decks in Vintage play moxen, so it's rarely possible for a Magus to shut players out of the game entirely. 

There's a pair of Gorilla Shamans in this list, so you can blow up your opponent's moxen to make Magus of the Moon even more potent. There are a few Wastelands and a Strip Mine for mana denial as well. 

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Adding all of these red cards has come at the cost of cutting black from the deck entirely. This change means there's no Yawgmoth's Will or Demonic Tutor. You still get to play Tinker though, and your mana base requires fewer dual lands. 

Being Aggressive

Beyond all the counterspells and mana-disruption, the deck has a healthy amount of card draw and combo pieces. There's the aforementioned Painter combo, but there's also a Time Vault and Voltaic Key as an alternate win condition. Tezzeret the Seeker acts as a tutor for your combo pieces, but it can also outright win a game when it combos with Time Vault.

 

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Blood Moons in Vintage

Having a Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon on the battlefield isn't quite as disruptive in Vintage as it is in other formats, but when you combine it with powerful combo pieces I think it's a good fit. Magus of the Moon might only buy you a few turns, but when you're playing a game-winning, two-card combo, two turns might be all you need. 

Netdeck Therapy

Although I do thoroughly enjoy it when people play new and interesting decks, there's absolutely nothing wrong with picking a deck because you think it's the best one in the current metagame. Gush Mentor/Pyromancer decks aren't necessarily the best decks in Vintage, but they're definitely a top-tier choice. In particular, there's one type of Gush deck that I think is very good right now. 

Grixis Therapy has been one of my favorite decks for a long time, and I've recently reassembled the deck to start playing it. Footemanchu swept through a daily event with this list, which is almost exactly the same as the one that Diophan won the last Power Nine Challenge with. 

Grixis Therapy has evolved a lot over the past year, so I'll go over a few of the current card choices. 

Pyromancer Versus Mentor

Young Pyromancer isn't as flashy and exciting as Monastery Mentor, but there are perfectly valid reasons to play it instead of it's more expensive counterpart. A Young Pyromancer deck can function with fewer moxen because the Pyromancer itself costs less to play. With Monastery Mentor you're pushed into playing more artifact mana because it helps you cast your Mentor sooner and trigger prowess. 

By playing fewer mana artifacts, Grixis Pyromancer can make better use of Null Rod in the sideboard. Sideboarding in a Null Rod against the unfair decks is fantastic. Null Rod is also decent against the best-performing Workshop deck of the format, Ravager Shops. With Null Rod around, Arcbound Ravager is just a 1/1 for two mana. Triskelion is pretty bad as a vanilla 4/4. 

Having fewer mana sources also creates an advantage by creating more room for counterspells and other important non-land cards. Once you get your Gush engine chugging along your deck has cheaper threats, and they're backed up by more control cards. 

Playing with Pyromancer isn't perfect. The Elemental tokens are easily outclassed by Monk tokens. Luckily you've got cards like Sulfur Elemental to even the odds a bit. Grixis Therapy also has more room for counters and removal, so if you play your cards right you won't have to worry much about Monastery Mentor

Snapcaster Versus Tiny Jace

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The original lists of Grixis Pyromancer that I played with all used Snapcaster Mage. In this list Snapcaster has been replaced with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Overall I like Jace better than Snapcaster because you can use it to replay Gush. Against some decks the 2/1 body with flash is very useful, so if the meta switched I could see playing one or two Snapcaster Mages. 

It's worth noting that Jace, Vryn's Prodigy also gives the deck another potential win condition, which is something Snapcaster really can't do. It isn't often that I have been able to ultimate a Jace, but when you do it ends a game quickly. 

Snuff Out Versus Lightning Bolt

In the past the primary removal spell for the deck was Lightning Bolt. The problem with Bolt these days is that it does nothing against most Eldrazi creatures. Bolt used to be good enough because the scariest creature was usually a Lodestone Golem. Nowadays we have Thought-Knot Seers to worry about. 

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Snuff Out kills pretty much anything you need to kill. There just aren't that many black creatures seeing play in Vintage right now. Snuff Out can also be cast with no mana, so it's great against Thalia and Sphere of Resistance

Grixis Pyro in Vintage

I believe very strongly that Grixis Pyro is one of the best decks in Vintage right now. I believe in it so much that I'm going to be playing it in the future. The deck has a few things that make it a strong choice. 

Gush decks can sometimes lose games and matches to combo decks because a combo deck might draw one more bomb than the Gush deck haw answers for. Cabal Therapy and Gitaxian Probe are brutal to a Storm deck. DPS decks don't play any counterspells, and your Cabal Therapys are even more potent. Most of the time you can rip the Storm deck's hand apart before they do anything. 

Against Oath, Cabal Therapy is really interesting. For starters, you can strip an Oath of Druids away when you need to. Secondly, you can often times buy yourself several turns by sacrificing Forbidden Orchard tokens to flash back a Therapy! This might not seem like a big deal, but often times setting your opponent back a turn is enough to create an advantage they can't come back from.

Young Pyromancer is better against Workshop decks than Mentor because it's cheaper. This deck also has Dack Fayden which is a total house against Shops. Null Rod from the sideboard helps to further improve the Shops matchup as well. 

Baleful Strix is essentially a cantripping removal spell, and it can block a Thought-Knot Seer all day long. Strix is also helpful against hatebears because it's not taxed by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and trades with their best attacker. 

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In the later turns of a game, Grixis Therapy has Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Dack Fayden. Jace represents just one small part of an expansive card-drawing package. Gush combined with the best cantrips, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time means that this deck plays the best draw engine in Vintage. 

I would recommend this list to anyone looking for something good to play in Vintage, but you don't have to take my word for it.

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

 


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