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Vintage 101: Mana Drain Returns!

Mana Drain - Mike Bierek

The Triumphant Return of Mana Drain

A few articles ago, in the wake of the third and most recent Gush restriction, I posited that perhaps we might see a resurgence of Mana Drain in contemporary Vintage. It appears that is exactly what is happening, although I certainly wouldn't say that Mana Drain is overly dominant. We went from a situation where very few successful decks wielded Mana Drain to one where several different kinds of Drain decks have had breakout performances. A few weeks ago Grixis Thieves won the Power Nine Challenge (although the top-performing Shops deck from the Swiss portion dropped from the event early). Now, this past Saturday we had another Drain deck take down the event as well as a second deck featuring Drains and Gifts Ungiven in the Top Eight. 

Magic Online user and Vintage ringer ChubbyRain took down the Vintage Challenge with his Paradoxical Drain deck. This list is reminiscent of the Drain/Tendrils decks of the past, as well as the European Gifts Ungiven deck known as Supremacy. The main difference here is the addition of Paradoxical Outcome, a choice that is probably a strict upgrade much of the time. Let's take a look!

This deck is a prime example big blue combo/control. I've mentioned the combo/control spectrum before, and this is a good example of that deck concept. On one hand it leans significantly towards the combo side with its Paradoxical Outcome draw engine. On the other hand, if we compare this list to Reid Duke's initial Paradoxical Storm deck from last year's Vintage Championships it's easy to see that this deck is much less of a "glass cannon" type all-in combo deck, 

There are twelve counterspells and fourteen lands in the main deck, so this deck isn't just going to fold to a turn one Thorn of Amethyst or Stony Silence. The counters and extra lands should make it so this deck can bide its time if it needs to. There's also a play set of Thirst for Knowledge to compliment the Paradoxical Outcomes, and that makes for a substantial draw package. 

Another aspect of this list that I absolutely love is the streamlined and highly efficient win conditions. There are only three slots dedicated to actually winning the game; Tinker and Blightsteel Colossus and Tendrils of Agony. This is how ChubbyRain was able to find so much room for all those counterspells and other important cards. 

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Tendrils of Agony has proven itself to be a highly effective win condition in Paradoxical Outcome decks. Utilizing the Outcome/artifact mana engine means that you're incidentally generating a lethal Storm count simply by drawing a few extra cards. There are really only two issues with this approach to Paradoxical Combo. Firstly, the double black mana requirement can be tricky. As luck would have it Chrome Mox and Mox Opal do a good job of fixing that. The other potential problem is much more serious. Using a Storm card as a win condition means that you are highly susceptible to the "Sphere effects" that prison decks use. 

The additional lands, sideboard Hurkyl's Recall, and Mana Drains help in the battle against the mana-taxing archetypes. The secondary win condition that this deck employs helps against prison decks as well. Blightsteel Colossus is tough for Shops decks to deal with. Tinker is a relatively cheap spell so it's very possible to build up enough mana to cast it through a Sphere of Resistance

My Thoughts on Paradoxical Drain Combo

While I'm impressed with this deck due to its fantastic finish in this event, I am even more excited by the way its been built. I love playing Paradoxical Outcome, and this seems like one of the best (if not the absolute best) version of Paradoxical Outcome that is currently available. Outcome is just about the most absurdly powerful thing you can do in Vintage these days, but it has traditionally had problems with the hate cards that exist. ChubbyRain built a deck that seems to answer all of the shortcomings that have plagued Paradoxical Outcome since the beginning. I would definitely recommend this deck to anyone looking for something to play, and I plan on trying it out for myself as soon as I can put the deck together


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The Gifts that keep Ungiving

Desolutionist ended up in seventh place with this Gifts Ungiven deck featuring three Mana Drains. This is another combo/control deck with Tendrils of Agony as a finisher, but it's very different than ChubbyRain's deck. Many of the cards in this list are taken from the Dark Ritual Storm decks, but there's also a few creatures and planeswalkers for playing longer games.  

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There is only one of each ritual and Yawgmoth's Bargain is restricted, but people might still be wondering why the deck isn't running four of these cards. My assumption is that (beyond spatial considerations) these cards are included as one-ofs to combo with Gifts Ungiven.

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It's very common to make Gifts piles that are entirely composed of one type of card. For instance, if you desperately need to get to six mana on your next turn you might cast an end step Gifts for Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Mana Vault, and Black Lotus. Gifts is also incredibly powerful with recursion cards like Snapcaster Mage, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Yawgmoth's Will

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My Thoughts on Gifts Control

I like this deck a lot because Gifts Ungiven is a blast to play with. I also like that this deck has an ample mana base and robust counterspell package. That said, if you're going to play with a four-mana draw spell I think that Paradoxical Outcome is better than Gifts Ungiven

Gifts is much harder to play with than Outcome. If you make incorrect or substandard piles with Gifts you're probably going to lose. The advantage of drawing specific cards doesn't outweigh the raw power of Paradoxical Outcome in my opinion. I think the success of this particular list owes more to the high skill level of the pilot than anything else. Still, the deck does very powerful things and it has some unique and challenging game play decisions built into it. 


The Wireless Revolution

Mishra's Workshop decks are still very good these days, although they now have to contend with decks that run 24 or more mana sources on a regular basis. Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista are still the dynamic duo of destruction, but the successful Shops decks of late have been evolving. The biggest change seems to be that Shops pilots are eschewing Tangle Wire altogether.

Tangle Wire used to be one of the most expensive cards that you had to own to play Shops on Magic Online. Now that people have started shaving this card from their decks the price has dropped significantly. I do not claim to be an expert on the archetype, but I am fairly certain that people will eventually try playing Tangle Wire again, so right now is a good time to buy for the future! 

Anyway, here's what the best-performing Workshop deck from the last Vintage Challenge looked like:

These decks basically swap Tangle Wire out and slap Precursor Golem in its place. This jacks up the creature count to twenty-four and four Mishra's Factories. Precursor Golem is nine power for only five mana, so it adds a lot of aggression to the deck. This in turn allows the deck to capitalize on the tempo it gains from the sphere effects. The Golem and it's two tokens do have a drawback built into them, but it's alleviated somewhat by the inclusion of Arcbound Ravager

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It's very common for these decks to run Foundry Inspector now as well. Inspector creates many broken starts that are reminiscent of the Workshop Affinity decks of old. Foundry Inspector also stops your Sphere of Resistances from slowing you down at all. 

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My Thoughts on Wireless Shops

I haven't played Workshops in quite some time and I'm not an expert on the archetype either. Tangle Wire used to be one of my favorite cards in Shops because it often won the the game in one or two turns. Even so, I will default to the judgment of the current crop of Workshop pilots and give this method for building Workshop Aggro two thumbs up.

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Even though I have a soft spot for Tangle Wire I can admit that I've had games where it didn't work out well. It's generally best when you're ahead, and not as good when you're behind. The fading ability also means that Tangle Wire isn't a "permanent" permanent; it has a shelf life. In an archetype that lacks a true draw engine it's easy to fall behind on cards and a self-destructing card is just more card disadvantage. 

Precursor Golem has seen play in Shops for a long time, but I mostly saw them in people's sideboards. I think that the card was always good, but it just didn't make the cut in people's main decks. Now that Stony Silence and Null Rod are more common I imagine that Precursor Golem becomes even more attractive. Nine power for five mana is a fantastic rate, the Golems can go wide around blockers, and they function perfectly in the face of a Null Rod effect. If someone does try to kill all three Golems with a removal spell you can often just sacrifice them to Arcbound Ravager


That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days! You can read a full breakdown of the last Vintage Challenge on The Mana DrainFollow me on Twitter @Islandswamp

Underground Sea [ME4]




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