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Vintage 101: Let's Get Weird!

Let's Get Weird!

One of my favorite things about Vintage is researching old and obscure decks. I was on an extended hiatus from Magic starting shortly after the Mercadian Masques block so I missed a ton of really interesting decks. When I look at how things have evolved since Vintage came to Magic Online I can't help but feel that the metagame (at least online, that is) has become somewhat homogenized. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; the increased visibility and playability of the format has led people to figure out the "decks to beat" with greater ease. In proportion to the relatively small number of people playing Vintage there happen to be quite a few streamers too, as well as the Vintage Super League. All of this exposure tends to lead to less-experienced players jumping in to the format by choosing one of the top two or three most-played decks. The end result is that the best players in the format will play a ton of Workshop decks or Mentor, and once everyone else jumps on that deck they come up with something next level. It's an interesting cyclical development, albeit a bit of a vicious one. 

When I look through the reported Daily Events and see "Ravager Shops" and "Jeskai Mentor" taking up the bulk of the results it does get a tad tiresome. Luckily for me I occasionally run into something weird and it makes my day. I certainly do not fault anyone for playing something safe; as a matter of fact I think that playing the best deck is objectively the right decision in any competitive environment. Nobody gets any extra points for playing a rogue deck. Even so, for the sake of breaking up monotony I do very much appreciate people who buck trends. So, with that in mind, let's look at a few of the weirdest decks that I could scrounge up this week!

Royal Assassins

When I was at the TMD Open in August of last year I heard someone talking about "Cerebral Assassin". I honestly had no idea what they were talking about, and I pretty much forgot that phrase until about a week ago. Then, the other day, I notice that someone had revived Cerebral Assassin and cashed a Daily Event with it. Still, I had no idea what I was looking at. Thank goodness that I am able to use my Google Fu to come up with answers.

Cerebral Assassin was a graveyard-based sort-of reanimator like deck that used Bazaar of Baghdad and Squee, Goblin Nabob to create card advantage. The deck also used Goblin Welder as sort of a Recurring Nightmare for artifacts and artifact creatures. Some versions of the deck that I saw posted also used the Animate Dead/Worldgorger Dragon infinite mana combo, but this updated list does not contain the Dragon Loop

Believe it or not the big play in this deck is supposed to be the act of cheating a Possessed Portal into play. This is accomplished with Goblin Welder or in some cases Sharuum the Hegemon and Animate Dead

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In many ways this deck acts like a Reanimator deck. The main difference is that the plan here isn't just "jam a Griselbrand into play as fast as possible." Also this deck eschews Entomb (although some pre-Mental Misstep versions did run the card) and instead relies mostly on Bazzar activations to fill the graveyard. 

Possessed Portal is used as a lock piece to stop opponents from drawing any more cards. This is far from a hard lock though, and if you're far enough behind on board your opponent might not even need any more draw steps. Still the ability to deny your opponent any more cards is insanely powerful. The environment is much different than when the Cerebral Assassin "combo" was first played. This list has access to Dack Fayden which does a lot for this deck.

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In this shell Dack can be used as a Mind Rot with Possessed Portal. Dack also fills the graveyard for Goblin Welder, and of course he can steal any useful artifact you happen to see on the other side of the table. Much like Bazaar of Baghdad, Dack Fayden also has synergy with Squee, Goblin Nabob

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Squee is kind of an odd card. He was a pretty big player in the story line of several sets, but his card isn't one you will ever actually cast. The entire reason this is here is as discard fodder for Bazaar and Dack activations. Still, with one or more copies of Squee, Goblin Nabob to offset the discard from a Bazzar or Dack you are going to build up a massive card advantage. Both Dack and Bazaar allow you to see two extra cards each turn, so if you can mitigate or eliminate the drawback it becomes a significant advantage. 

Besides Possessed Portal this deck is running things like Inkwell Leviathan and Myr Battlesphere as Welder/Tinker targets. The Battlesphere is deceptively powerful as it adds a lot of power to the battlefield, and if it gets killed it still leaves you with value. Additionally you can use the Myr tokens from your Battlesphere to repeatedly "weld" other artifacts into play. Inkwell Leviathan isn't as scary as some other Tinker bots but it is difficult for many decks to block and it has Shroud so it's tough to defeat. 

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Cerebral Assassin in Vintage

Looking through this deck it actually reminds me of Control Slaver quite a bit, I think that the biggest overall difference between this deck and Control Slaver (or Slaver-less Welder Control) is that this deck is not a Mana Drain hard control deck. The only counterspell in this list is Force of Will, although I am not certain if this low number of counterspells was common amongst other decks in this archetype. Here's the most recent Control Slaver deck I could find for reference:

Control Slaver played Drains, and depending on the era other counters as well. From what I can see here it looks like this deck is relying on playing a large number of bombs to try to overwhelm their opponent's defenses. This tactic is not without merit; sometimes being as aggressive as possible with your deck and its combos turns out to be a winning strategy. Since this deck also gets to use a lot of recursion-enabling cards like Goblin Welder and Animate Dead it can often power through several counterspells without worrying too much. 

One of the main card advantage engines in this list also happens to be nearly counter-proof. If you have a Squee or two and a Bazzar on the table you're going to see a ton of cards. Other card advantage spells like Paradoxical Outcome are more explosive but they are soft to most counters in the format. 

Having a deck with a ton of bombs but only four Force of Wills as your defensive package does have some serious issues as well. If your opponent happens to be playing a deck that is faster than you, you might have a rough time with only four counters in your entire deck. If your opponent happens to be doing something a little quirky and has main-deck hate like Pithing Needle then you might have trouble with that as well. 

The other problem with strategies like this is that Dredge is a serious threat in Vintage. Dredge is extremely consistent, fast, and it can usually only be defeated with hate cards. Once "Manaless Ichorid" became "Dredge" and the deck showed it could win a Vintage World Championship people really packed their sideboards full of hate. The hate cards have also gotten much, much better. Soft but versatile hate like Graffdigger's Cage and Containment Priest see a lot of play these days. Hard-to-beat hate cards like Leyline of the Void, Ravenous Trap, and Rest in Peace are found in almost every sideboard. All of the nasty Dredge hate causes collateral damage to all types of graveyard strategies. This is one of the main reason why you don't see people playing Reanimator, Tin Fins, or (I assume) Cerebral Assassin very often in Vintage. 

I don't think that Cerebral Assassin is likely to be more than a fringe deck because of it's reliance on its reanimation spells. If the deck had more of a secondary plan that didn't rely on the graveyard I think that it might have a better chance. Goblin Welder is secretly one of the most broken one-drops ever printed, and if you've ever seen one in action you'll know what I mean. 

Bring Your Legacy Deck to a Vintage Tournament Day

Omniscience has arguably the most powerful effect ever printed on a card, but of course it costs a billion mana. Luckily for players of the eternal formats we have neat things like Eureka or Show and Tell that make casting costs irrelevant! 

When Dig Through Time got banned in Legacy OmniTell stopped being quite so insane, but for a time it was quite a force to be reckoned with. In Vintage this combo never really went any farther than the fringes of the format. People have tried a lot of different ways to cheat Omniscience into play too. Omni/Oath played the Omni/Show combo in an Oath Shell, and I've seen lists that ran Academy Rector in order to cheat Omniscience and/or Yawgmoth's Bargain into play. This deck represents a much more Legacy-like Omni build.

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I like how this deck doesn't feel the need to do anything too crazy with Release the Ants or anything. Omni plus Emrakul's Time Walk trigger are usually enough to win a game, especially when you're likely to have Griselbrand in play as well. Also, in Vintage we have Time Walk actually in our blue decks, so we could swing with Emmy twice if we had to! Griselbrand is a house here too because he acts as a Yagmoth's Bargain with Omniscience in play, enabling you to find Emrakul every time. 

The combo in this list does take up a fairly large number of slots so there's only eight counterspells. That isn't a tiny amount, but it isn't very much either. Usually I run ten or more in my Oath decks, or eight and some number of targeted discard spells like Thoughtseize

Even though players can't play four copies of Dig Through Time anymore, I think that Vintage has enough tutors to make the combo work with regularity. The main problem that I see with this strategy in Vintage is that it is much more mana-intensive than something like Oath of Druids, and this makes it a great liability against Mishra's Workshop decks. Also, the combo seems a lot less impressive when you consider the fact that people can often draw their entire deck with Paradoxical Outcome a turn or two sooner than this Omni deck is likely to go off.


Elvish Impersonators

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Here's another Legacy deck ported to Vintage. I've seen this players name in the Legacy listings too, so they definitely know their way around the Elves archetype. Does the army of little green men have what it takes to compete in Vintage? Let's take a look!

This deck is very close to the Legacy version. I have seen people play Vintage Elves with Skullclamp before, but Kaluma decided to keep the deck mostly the same. The major changes are all designed to counteract the more degenerate Vintage decks, and that shows some smart deck building. 

Kaluma has Leovold. Emissary of Trest in the deck to counteract all of the card-drawing and cantrips that the blue decks are running. There's also Null Rod here, and that hoses a large portion of the decks in the format (it also explains why there's no Skullclamp!). In the sideboard there's Dread of Night for battling against Monastery Mentor, and Mindbreak Trap for the combo matchup. 

This list managed to cash two different Daily Events at least, so I think that there's something here. Perhaps this isn't ever going to be a "Tier One" deck, but I like that it gives people who love green creatures a reason to play Vintage. The deck also has some built-in advantages against some of the best decks in the format. namely Workshop and Eldrazi Prison. Thorn of Amethyst is at the center of all prison decks in Vintage right now and it does almost nothing against Elves. In addition the Elves decks play a ton of mana sources in the form of mana dorks and that makes resistor effects much worse. Green has access to Nature's Claim too, and that's the best artifact/enchantment removal in the format. 

Of the three decks that I featured this week I feel that this one is probably the best overall. I'm basing that mostly on feeling, so I could be completely wrong, but I think Elves is different enough and strong enough to be a viable rogue strategy. 

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That's all the time I have for this week! Thanks to all my readers for making Vintage the best format I've ever played. You can follow me on Twitter @Islandswamp


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