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Vintage 101: Hello From the Otter Side

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're talking more about Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths as we analyze the first week of the set being live on Magic Online and just how Companions have affected the format already. In addition, thanks to Season 2 Magic Online events, we have TWO Vintage Challenges to cover, as well as our Spice Corner. Also, because we love fun, Otter puns.

Let's dive right into the otter thick of things, shall we?

Prepare for Otter Anihilation!

Earlier this year, I wrote an article talking about the concepts of Format Identity and the concept of whether or not Wizards would ever ban a card in Vintage for a reason other than what is actually banned in the format (dexterity, conspiracies, ante, etc). The idea of this was that at some point Wizards could potentially print something that is impossible to restrict, that restricting it would have zero effect on the playability of that card. At the time, responses to this idea were met with resistance by some. "We should never ban cards in Vintage because then it wouldn't be Vintage", etc.

Flash forward a few months to the release of Ikoria.

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Companion has the potential to have the first cards ever in the history of the Vintage format to be banned on the basis of a power / structural level reasoning. And quite frankly, that scares me. As we have noted, restricting Companions means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. These cards are played in your sideboard as a 1-of anyways, especially Lurrus, which can't even play additional copies in its main deck construction anyways.

This past week saw the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths on Magic Online, and from Day Zero the buzz was out on Companions. People were immediately picking these cards up, playing with them, and showcasing decks abusing them. Lutri decks popped up on Twitter, even acknowledging that Wizards could have a tough time dealing with this kind of mechanic under the current BnR Philosophy for Vintage. Furthermore, Lurrus decks showed up en masse, from Xerox builds to even Ravager Shops decks playing the card, and not only that, doing well in large events with it.

This kind of format penetration has rarely happened, outside of a few rare instances, such as the releases of War of the Spark and Modern Horizons last year, where cards like Karn, Narset, etc all were picked up and figured out rather quickly thanks to the relative speed of the MTGO metagame. But even Theros: Beyond Death seems to have had very little effect on Vintage, as cards that proved broken in Legacy such as Underworld Breach have proved to just be fine in Vintage. The major difference with the shifts in the past year of 2019 and now have been separated by one important notion: that Wizards was able to restrict cards that were too powerful. Narset, Karn, Mystic Forge all saw restrictions last year, and have proven to just be fine additions as 1-ofs, even if that 1-of Narset tends to wreck your day when it does happen.

With Companion, that safety net of restricting cards does not currently exist. At least Wizards has given no indication as to whether or not they could have a plan in place to deal with one of these cards if they prove to be too strong down the line. These cards present not just a real concern now as to how Wizards could deal with them, but also present a concern about what is to come in the future. Will more of these cards be printed? Will F.I.R.E. design philosophy continually print cards that continue to push on eternal formats such as Vintage/Legacy, and how does that affect those formats? These are indeed important considerations to think about, as this trend can lead to further shakeups of older formats and gets to the point where nearly every set is capable of providing some sort of shakeup like this. This is frankly scary to think about.

That being said, it has only been a week, and we should keep an eye on things going forward. Allow the metagame some time to adjust, and with two Challenges every weekend for a while there are plenty more opportunities and data to tell what the trend is on these cards. It is possible that these cards are just fine for Vintage, which tends to be a haven for absurdly broken things, but there is also the chance that they are so broken that they are irreparable to deal with outside of actually banning them. I am generally a wait and see kind of person when it comes to these things, always willing to give the benefit of the doubt on these kinds of potential changes to the format, but I can also foresee the possibility that these cards will be banned.

One thing that's come up in discussion on this is whether Wizards would preserve the ability to play these cards main deck such as banning them as "Companions" such as how Commander once had a Banned as Commander list. I actually do not foresee Wizards ever doing this sort of thing personally, and I mainly stick this in the realm of Wizards not wanting to put much effort into coding this into Magic Online for a single format to have this separate Companion banned list. Maybe if at some point Wizards decides to print more of these cards I could maybe see it, but if the 10 companions in Ikoria are the only ones forever, then I highly doubt Wizards would put the effort into making this a reality. Instead, they will take the easier route of dealing with the situation and just outright banning the card.

Companions are definitely powerful cards, but the only two we've really seen pop up in Vintage is Lurrus and Lutri, and of the two I find Lutri to be at least the one that has an interesting deckbuilding restriction that plays to the nature of Vintage having a Restricted List in the first place, and thus its ability and power level seem to be just fine. Lurrus on the other hand, is frankly concerning because its ability is incredibly pushed, and its deckbuilding restriction is so utterly minimal to many decks. Lurrus instantly makes any hand that has a Turn 1 Black Lotus even better, by being able to cast Lurrus off the Lotus and then immediately recur Lotus and then have access to that ability every turn from that point as long as Lurrus stays in play. Some of these decks with this card don't even have creatures in them, or the creatures they do have are very specific hatebear effects (such as Lavinia) or are one shot uses (Snapcaster) to where having removal vs Lurrus seems incredibly poor in the first place. You could get stuck with removal in hand while your opponent simply executes their game plan without Lurrus because you were boarding in removal for it.

Only time will tell, but to me it seems as though we're entering a new world for Vintage, one where you're either playing a Companion... or you're not.

Vintage Challenge 4/18 - Come On In, the Otter's Fine!

We had two Challenges this past weekend, so let's dive into the results of Challenge #1. This was the first Challenge with Ikoria legal, and we definitely saw some sparks from Companion here. First, let's take a look at the Top 32 of this event.

It is worth noting that both Challenges this weekend operated under a pretty severe bug with the card Lurrus of the Dream Den and X spells cast from the graveyard. Normally, Lurrus is supposed to prevent casting X spells from the graveyard if the CMC of the spell on the stack would be greater than two, since Lurrus' ability states that you can only cast a permanent spell with CMC two, but the card on Magic Online appears to be bugged to the point where it allows you to cast X spells with X as any number. Whether or not this contributed (either unknowingly or knowingly) to the success of Lurrus in the Shops builds especially (where cards like Walking Ballista and Stonecoil Serpent matter) is unknown, so we don't know how well this deck will do once that bug has been fixed. As a side note, don't exploit this on Magic Online please until it is fixed. It's pretty obnoxious and knowingly exploiting a bug can get you banned.

That being said, let's take a look at the Top 8 of this event.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
PO Storm 1st Fnoop
Lutri Xerox 2nd Dazai
Lurrus Breach 3rd ChubbyRain
Lurrus PO 4th ThePowerNine
BUG Lurrus 5th Svaca
Lurrus Ravager 6th Kanister
Blue Xerox 7th GnorilGrande
Lurrus Ravager 8th Gyba

This definitely seems interesting and definitely showed off how absolutely insane Companion really is to put 6/8 of a Top 8 having a Companion. However, strangely enough it was a non companion deck that took the day as Fnoop swooped in with good old PO Storm and blew things up.

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This is another variant that's straight Blue/White outside of Citadel, and is definitely still a very powerful way to approach PO.

In Second Place, our first Companion deck pops up in Lutri Xerox, featuring everyone's favorite Commander banned Otter.

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Having to be completely singleton is an interesting take on a Vintage deck, especially losing out on multiple Force of Will. Whether this is really good or not does remain to be seen, but it does look powerful.

In Third Place we have our good friend Matt Murray (ChubbyRain) on Lurrus Breach!

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This is one of the decks I definitely pegged Lurrus being good in, where you could potentially buy back Breach if you needed to. However, Lurrus seems to be legitimately pushed in several builds as our good friend Justin Franks (ThePowerNine) shows us in Fourth Place.

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Operating without things like Narset or Citadel does indeed look strange, and especially operating without Mentor feels even more strange, but it seems this deck is quite powerful indeed.

In Fifth Place we have another Lurrus deck with BUG Lurrus.

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This deck is certainly intriguing and continues to show off the power level of Lurrus. In fact, Lurrus shows up in our very next deck as well in Lurrus Ravager, piloted by MPL member Kanister.

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Lurrus seems suited to a deck playing X spells and things like Arcbound Ravager, however as noted before that Lurrus was indeed bugged for all these events, so who's to say whether this deck could stick out if Lurrus gets fixed down the road.

In Seventh Place we have the other non-Companion deck of the T8 with Andrea Mengucci (GnorilGrande) and a straight Blue Xerox build.

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This is a pretty cut and dry Grixis Xerox list, not much going on here that's very crazy.

We round out the Top 8 with yet another Lurrus Ravager list.

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Again, I find myself curious as to whether or not these decks will continue to be good without the software bug, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they will continue to be pretty solid.

Now let's take a look at the major 2019-2020 cards in the Top 32 of this event. These are now combined because we're only looking at the major players now and cards that only exceed 10 copies for 2019 cards.

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Negation 27
Stonecoil Serpent 19
Narset, Parter of Veils 15
Force of Vigor 14
Lurrus of the Dream Den 14
Dreadhorde Arcanist 12
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim 12
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 12
Mystic Sanctuary 11
Oko, Thief of Crowns 11
Underworld Breach 8
Lutri, the Spellchaser 1
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath 1
Zirda, the Dawnwaker 1

This marks the first time that I have truly ever seen Collector Ouphe not crack above 10 copies in an event. This seems strange and insane to me, given how good the card is. Seeing Lurrus at 14 copies overall is completely and utterly wild, considering that it only sees play as a 1-of in decks, which means that 14 separate decks were playing it in their sideboard.

Vintage Challenge 4/19 - Otterly Adorable

Challenge #2 of the weekend was the first Sunday Challenge, and the results of it were even more interesting from the standpoint of seeing new cards affect the format (i.e. Companion).

Let's take a look at the Top 32.

There was again a lot of Companion in this event, as we had a lot of Lurrus and Lutri, but there was also a decent amount of Doomsday as well! Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Lurrus PO 1st Treno
Lurrus PO 2nd KillerSUV
Doomsday 3rd NoProps
PO Storm 4th Negusen
Lutri Xerox 5th Condescend
Lurrus Ravager 6th SkaraBrae1
Dredge 7th Furyure
Lurrus PO 8th IamActuallyLvl1

This event had 5/8 of the Top 8 as Companion decks, but had a lot more Lurrus overall in the event. At the top end of the event was two Lurrus PO decks, so let's take a look at them.

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These lists are pretty much the same, and there's not much to tell here. Lurrus replacing cards like Citadel/Mentor/etc still feels fairly wrong to me, but the results are here sofar in that the decks appear to be very strong.

In Third Place we have Doomsday!

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This is pretty common to Doomsday these days, but I do like the addition of Soul-Guide Lantern in the sideboard for sure.

In Fourth Place, our second Non-Companion deck in PO Storm.

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This is more the red splash version with Pyroblast/Abrade out of the sideboard, but it does look pretty strong as always.

In Fifth Place we've got adorable Otters yet again with Lutri Xerox.

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Lutri might be the only companion I find legitimately interesting for this format because the deck building restriction is actually pretty intriguing.

In Sixth Place we have Lurrus Ravager.

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In Seventh Place we have our final Non-Companion deck with Dredge.

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Again there isn't much to say about Dredge builds lately either, they haven't really utterly innovated, but they seem to be a bit of a dog to the deck playing a card that can recur graveyard hate every turn thanks to Lurrus. However, there's Surgical Extraction here and I can imagine that really helps with Lurrus.

Rounding out the Top 8 we've got our good friend Justin Gennari with Lurrus PO.

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Again this is pretty similar to the other lists around, utilizing things like Mystic Remora and sideboard options like Seal of Cleansing.

Now let's take a look at this Challenge's 2019-2020 cards.

Card Name Number of Copies
Stonecoil Serpent 27
Soul-Guide Lantern 22
Force of Negation 16
Lurrus of the Dream Den 16
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 15
Oko, Thief of Crowns 14
Thassa's Oracle 13
Narset, Parter of Veils 11
Lutri, the Spellchaser 4
Underworld Breach 3

This is legitimately the first time I've ever seen Narset at lower than 15 copies ever in an event. This is as close to non played as possible since its release and even since its restriction where it still saw a crazy amount of play as a one of. Furthermore, I have to wonder if we will only ever see Lurrus rise in the number of copies played from here on.

The Spice Corner - Get Otter Here!

Do you miss Miracles in Legacy? Counterbalance + Sensei's Divining Top? Saturn's got you covered.

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Wrapping Up - I'm Otterly Exhausted!

That's all the time we've got this week Otter afficionados! Join us next week for more Otter puns and more Vintage! (Although probably slightly less Otter puns)

As always you can find me on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! You can also find me on the MTGGoldfish Discord Server as well as the Vintage Streamers Discord Server.

Until next time, see you on the Otter side!

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