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Vintage 101: Looking Forward

Counterspell - Mark Poole

Looking Forward

Lately I have found myself wondering about how the Vintage metagame will evolve in 2018. Last year we had quite a few restrictions and it took a while before the meta settled down from those changes. However, Mishra's Workshop decks have remained at or near the top of the format despite losing staples like Chalice of the Void, Lodestone Golem, and Thorn of Amethyst

The biggest change in my opinion is that Oath of Druids decks have risen up to become a challenger to Mishra's throne. Oath was always well-positioned against Workshop prison, but Oath's natural predators were such a large and dominating force in the field that they held Oath decks down. Gush decks, especially Monastery Mentor Gush, was just too much for Oath to handle on a consistent basis. 

Unfortunately, the top decks in the metagame seems to have stagnated once again. Workshop is almost always on top, followed by Oath, with the occasional Dredge or blue control deck coming in just after those. 

I don't think that these results are a bad thing. While some folks might think that this means there aren't a lot of playable decks in Vintage, I disagree. I think that people gravitate towards decks with proven successes, so once a deck starts winning more and more people play it. The higher number of people playing a deck means that it will appear higher up in these result pages. A lot of people end up choosing to play the "top deck" in the format, and the cycle continues. 

Despite the apparent domination of Walking Ballista and Griselbrand decks there are many more playable archetypes in the format. Brewing can be a time-consuming and challenging endeavor though, so I certainly do not blame people for taking the easy path. Still, its nice to see different decks pop up on the metagame results page! This week I decided to try and dig a little deeper to see if I could find examples of outlier decks performing well. Here are a few examples.


Shardless Humans

Fewer Monastery Mentors in the format should, in theory, make things easier for creature swarm decks like Five Color Humans (or similar archetypes).  When Mentor was in full swing, if a an aggro deck couldn't somehow stop the cantrip engine of Gush/Mentor they had little chance of being able to eke out a victory. Mentor can clog a battlefield and create a board stall in short order, and since the monk tokens have prowess they all have built-in combat tricks.

Five-Color Humans also has access to some great sideboard cards like Containment Priest, Aegis of the Gods, and Yixlid Jailer. The five-color mana base allows the deck to play some of the best answers and value creatures available. With proper tuning and metagame foreknowledge this archetype has some serious potential. 

Here's an interesting take on the Humans archetype that uses Shardless Agent as a value creature. 


Rhymin' and Stealin' with Grixis Theives!

Grixis Time Vault decks have been around since Time Vault was restored to its current functionality. The deck has seen many iterations and just as many name changes, and the planeswalker at its core has evolved over time as well. Originally, the 'walker to be feared was Tezzeret the Seeker. Then came Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and most recently Dack Fayden. It's the combination of Dack "The Greatest Thief in the Multiverse" Fayden and Notion Thief that gave this version of the archetype the name "Grixis Thieves". 

Tezzeret the Seeker [ALA]Jace, the Mind Sculptor [WWK]Dack Fayden [CNS]


If we look at moatzu's list here, we can see that there's one copy of each of the big three Grixis planeswalkers: one Dack, one Tezzeret, and one copy of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. From experience I can tell you that Jace and Dack are the better planeswalker most of the time, except for the occasions where you're able to win immediately with Tezzeret the Seeker's artifact tutoring ability. The Mind Sculptor will bury your opponent in card advantage in short order, and Dack's efficiency (at only three mana) and card selection are also tough to overcome. In mirror matches Dack Fayden is particularly brutal as he can cast Steal Artifact on valuable targets like Blightsteel Colossus and Time Vault

Grixis Thieves in Vintage

I haven't seen a lot of Grixis Thieves lists popping up recently, but I think that it could be a very good choice right now (provided you tune the list properly). Oath decks are very popular right now, and Grixis Thieves has a good Oath matchup in my opinion. Grixis Thieves doesn't have many creatures, so it's not turning an opponent's Oath of Druids on all the time, and the deck can win without using any creatures if it needs to. Both Oath and the Thieves deck use a similar combo to win games as Oath of Druids cheats broken cards into play much like Tinker does. However, the Oath deck has much less room for counterspells as its combo pieces take up a considerable amount of room. 

Grixis Thieves isn't as good against Workshop decks as Oath is, but I think that is an issue that can be mitigated. If you build a Grixis Thieves list with Workshop decks in mind you can make a list that will have a good matchup against the artifact menace. Hurkyl's Recall comes to mind as a card that is very good against Workshop Aggro, but there are many more choices to be made. You can also build a mana base that has more basic lands to protect against Wasteland

It might even make sense to drop some of the sacred cows from Grixis Thieves. I wouldn't be afraid to experiment with cutting Notion Thief just to see if it helps the deck. Cards like Sorcerous Spyglass could also be interesting in the deck as it can shut down many problematic cards ranging from Walking Ballista to Bazaar of Baghdad


Back to the Stax

This last deck is a Mishra's Workshop list, but at least it's a different archetype! The vast majority of contemporary Workshop decks are Ravager/Ballista Workshop Aggro decks. In fact, Ravager Shops has become so popular and homogenized that it has pushed every other previous incarnation of Workshops to the brink of extinction! Some people aren't content to follow the herd though, so they're trying to take their own path. Here's gunmaster7's Stax list.

Right off the bat I'd like to say that I'm not sure I agree with all these card choices. However, I say this having not played this exact list myself so I might be wrong. The main thing that seems wrong to me is the inclusion of both Walking Ballista and Null Rod. I imagine that this would make for some bad opening hands at times. 

Null Rod [WL]Walking Ballista [AER]

There are several other artifacts with activated abilities in this list. I suppose that since most of the Null Rods are in the sideboard this isn't that much of a conflict, but it still seems somewhat odd to me. Regardless of the tension between some of the card choices, there is still a really cool deck here. Smokestack decks are very powerful, and they're hard to defeat once they get going. It's utterly demoralizing to have your side of the battlefield slowly eaten away by an opponent's Smokestack.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 Crucible of Worlds [MS2]

Gunmaster7 makes up for the restricted Lodestone Golems, Chalices, and Thorns by running Phyrexian Metamorph. Metamorph gives the deck extra copies of key cards, and it's vital to creating and maintaining the Smokestack lock. The singleton Hangarback Walker gives the deck extra permanents to sacrifice to Smokestack for the times that Crucible of Worlds isn't available. It's worth nothing that this deck is also running Tangle Wire, a card that has fallen out of favor in Workshop aggro decks. Wire acts as a lock piece of sorts, and it can also be sacrificed to Smokestack when the need arises. 

Smokestack in Vintage

I'm not certain of the long-term viability of Stax in Vintage, but there are a few important points to remember. First of all, Workshop decks seem to be doing well still, so that indicates that the metagame is steal easily exploitable by Workshop decks. Secondly, Stax decks don't have to deal with as many token-generating decks. In the past, that white three-drop boogeyman (Monastery Mentor) was everywhere! 

Workshop Prison is probably better against Oath than Workshop Aggro simply because a Prison deck can win with Mishra's Factory beats if it has to. Also, the Workshop Prison pilot can play things like Witchbane Orb to stop their opponent's Hurkl's Recall or Oath of Druids.

I'd like to see one of the better Workshop players develop a Stax list and take down an event with it. I think it's a cool archetype and I'd like to see more of it in the near future! 


That's all the time I have for this week, I'll be back soon with more Vintage! Follow me on Twitter @Islandswamp - Islandswamp on Magic Online

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