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Vintage 101: Modal Magic

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to be looking at the burgeoning impact that the Modal DFC cards from Zendikar Rising are already having on fringe strategies in Vintage! In addition, we also have two Challenges worth of data to look at, and of course a Spice Corner!

Before we dive in, I just wanted to take a moment to comment on the announcement earlier this week in regards to a highly contentious Secret Lair product for The Walking Dead crossover, as I didn't get a chance to address it in my Legacy article. The fact that there are mechanically unique cards that are also black bordered and legal in these older formats is to me, a real issue and precedent that didn't need to be set. It's never a question of if any of the cards are playable, it's a matter of when there becomes one that is (much as we saw happen from Dominaria to Core Set 2019 with Nexus of Fate). I am worried that this sets a bad precedent down the line, and am concerned what will happen if there is a card that is playable.

But enough about that, let's get right into this week's topic.

Front Side, Back Side

Now that Zendikar Rising has been out for a little bit, we are starting to get an idea of just how these cards are being received in older formats. Thankfully for the most part there isn't too much that appears to be completely and utterly broken, which is a nice change of pace from the sets in the past two years that have done just that. However, one class of cards from this set has certainly allowed for a lot of discussion and interesting ways to approach deck building and that is the Modal DFC cards. We're going to look at the archetypes these cards have had an impact on.


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Shells running Goblin Charbelcher have pretty much existed in Vintage since the card's inception in either two variants: a blue variant relying on Tolarian Academy and the more traditional R/G builds such as Legacy had with cards like Land Grant and Tinder Wall. One of the major caveats of the blue builds was the necessary usage of cards like Expedition Map in order to be able to fetch Tolarian Academy out of the deck making it so that a Belcher activation was indeed a kill. Because of this necessity, Expedition Map was a genuine 4-of in the deck.

With the advent of Modal DFC lands, there is no need to play Map or even Academy. While Academy is an obviously powerful land, not having it in the deck at all increases the frequency of Belcher being able to simply kill the opponent by revealing the entire library by 1000%. This also allows the deck to play more fast mana effects, and more impactful spells.

The two primary cards that have affected this build so far are Silundi Vision and Sea Gate Restoration.

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One really interesting thing about Silundi Vision is that it is actually castable in the deck, and has a valid usage of being able to find impactful spells like Tinker or Ancestral Recall/Time Walk. Since blue versions of Belcher are more about setting up their critical turn than trying to immediately combo off Turn 1 (that is unless they just naturally have it) the land side coming into play tapped is typically not a huge deal. On the flip side Sea Gate Restoration's front half costs quite a bit and is likely not getting cast, but the upside is having an untapped blue source when needed. The downside is that the front half is typically dead on this card.

Oops! All Spells

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While mostly holding status as a Legacy deck, the deck Oops! All Spells is certainly a playable deck within Vintage as well, and the Modal DFC lands give this strategy a big boost as well. The major strategy of this deck is to cast either one of two creatures in Balustrade Spy or Undercity Informer (with enough mana to activate the latter for 1 mana). Generally, this is a straight 4-mana investment for both creatures. These cards both perform the same functionality in milling until a land is hit, which in the case of this deck's construction is never. At this point, the deck will likely mill all of its Narcomoeba, which will then give enough creatures to flashback Dread Return getting back Thassa's Oracle to win the game.

The biggest speed bump to a deck like this without lands is access to upfront black mana to be able to cast Spy or Informer with. In Legacy, they have access in addition to full four Lotus Petal, while Vintage only has one Restricted copy. Thus, adding cards like Agadeem's Awakening is very powerful in increasing the consistent access to the black mana needed to cast one of the deck's win conditions. Much like how Belcher has evolved to play a lot of restricted blue cards, this deck can also do the same and play Force of Will as a result, resulting in a bit of a far less glass cannon deck. However, this deck can still be susceptible to cards like Ravenous Trap which often see a fair amount of play in Vintage, and this current list's sideboard plans don't have a great plan for post board Leyline of the Void (unlike Legacy lists which gain access to Nature's Claim and Force of Vigor by playing Turntimber Symbiosis.

Regardless, it is super cool to see that these lands have invigorated this archetype and allowing it to exist, as it has also done with decks like Belcher. With there being rumors and possibilities of getting future Modal DFC cards in future sets (not just Zendikar Rising has been an ongoing rumor) these are good cards to look at for what they do to decks that want to have fewer lands in their deck. There might even be a potential Hermit Druid combo deck in the mix for a deck like this.

This mechanic is so utterly different that it's genuinely worth looking at every little piece of it to determine how it might impact this format, simply because of its uniqueness.

Vintage Challenge 9/26

Our first Challenge event of the weekend was the regular during the day Saturday Challenge which had roughly 74 players, so let's dive right into the Top 32 breakdown!

BUG Midrange was the talk of the town in this event it seemed, taking up a huge chunk of the overall meta game share. What's even more interesting here is just how far fallen off dedicated Breach combo decks have gone in the meta game. The deck is certainly still around, it just seems to have flipped back over to a lower meta share than it was trending towards. Very interesting stuff indeed.

Now let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
BUG Midrange 1st Jacobisboss
Jeskai Xerox 2nd ThePowerNine
BUG Midrange 3rd Clone9
4C Xerox 4th DancingJesus191
HollowVine 5th S_P_O
BUG Midrange 6th SpikedPunx
Dredge 7th PRGJJar
BUG Midrange 8th Kofurea

This Top 8 is sort of wild with half of it being BUG Midrange decks, and the other half being other Xerox and Bazaar decks, with nary a combo list to be seen. At the end of the event however, it was indeed BUG Midrange that took it down in the capable hands of Jacobisboss. I've talked about Jacob before on here, and not to give the kid too much of a big ego, but he is only 15 years old and crushing these events, which is incredibly solid.

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This is a pretty well-built list, focusing on great threats and disruption. I really dig the singleton copy of Brain Freeze in the sideboard, which can be utterly brutal against Doomsday when they go in on their game plan. Props to Jacob for doing well in this event!

In Second Place we have our good friend ThePowerNine on Jeskai Xerox.

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This is also a pretty solid and straightforward list without much chaff to it. Just simple and clean threats, powerful disruption, and of course... two Tabernacles.

Since Third Place was also BUG, let's move down to Fourth with 4C Xerox.

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This is like most of the common 4C lists we've seen in the past, focusing on being more of a midrangey pile with DRS and Goyf+Planeswalkers over the more Svaca-esque variants with Dark Confidant and Arcanist. Again we have two Tabernacles, which has seemingly become the norm in these Xerox decks to combat Hollow Vine/Hogaak.

In Fifth Place we have Hollow Vine.

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Speaking of Hollow Vine, we have this list, which is pretty interesting. The split between 3/1 Once Upon a Time in the main and sideboard is incredibly intriguing to say the least. The singleton Stonecoil Serpent is a nice mana sink too if you have Gaea's Cradle in play.

Since both Sixth and Eighth are also BUG Midrange, let's look at the Seventh Place list to round things out with our good friend PRGJJar on Dredge.

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Pretty sick list. I'm a real big fan of playing the restricted Chalice in the main deck of Dredge. The Game 1 cheese utility you get off the card when you do have it is so incredibly worth it.

Now let's take a look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event. As always we're looking at cards with 8 copies or more, with exceptions made for Companions and Modal DFCs.

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Vigor 42
Collector Ouphe 35
Force of Negation 27
Oko, Thief of Crowns 24
Narset, Parter of Veils 19
Soul-Guide Lantern 15
Stonecoil Serpent 13
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 11
Dreadhorde Arcanist 8
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim 8

All our usual 2019-2020 suspects are here, with no showings in great quantity yet from any Zendikar Rising but I know some occasional cards have shown up in smaller quantities than what we typically look for in this data. Still utterly interesting to see how 2019-2020 has shaped Vintage overall.

Vintage Challenge 9/27

Our second Challenge of the weekend was the early morning Sunday Challenge, which had 44 players. Let's dive right into the Top 32 breakdown.

I love how day and night the two Challenge events are for Vintage, to be honest. It keeps the differences between the two being at different time periods and appealing to different regions to a point where they're just incredibly interesting. In this case, it was Doomsday based decks that had a lot of meta share, followed by Golos Stax.

Now let's take a look at the Top 8 of this event.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Doomsday 1st DiscoverN
BUG Midrange 2nd 1Yo2Yo
Golos Stax 3rd Boin
Dredge 4th Ger5559
Dredge 5th PRGJJar
Golos Stax 6th Clockwork Dean
BUG Midrange 7th Burrarun
Doomsday 8th WamboCombo2020

Every deck here had two decks each, so that's sort of amusing as there are basically only four decks in the Top 8 total. Since that's the case we're only going to look specifically at the Top 4 decks. At the end of the event it was Doomsday that had its... day.

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Sideboard copy of restricted land Library of Alexandria is really interesting here, as is the main deck copy of Cling to Dust. Cling is a card with a ton of utility, so just seeing it makes a ton of sense for the deck's more Xerox-y game plans with a combo finish.

In Second Place we have BUG Midrange.

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This is pretty close to the winning list from the other Challenge, so we are definitely acknowledging how powerful that is. I do like the Tasigur, the Golden Fang in the sideboard. That's pretty cool.

In Third Place we have Golos Stax.

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Four main deck Relic of Progenitus is incredibly wild, but I guess you gotta do what you gotta do. I am more somewhat surprised to see less copies of Grafdigger's Cage overall as often times this deck has played up to three of that card in the main deck.

Rounding out the Top 4 we have a really solidly unique take on Dredge.

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Flayer of the Hatebound?! Void Winnower?!?!?! Noxious Revival?!?!?!? Yeah, this list is incredibly sweet. Also the sideboard Avacyn, Angel of Hope is an incredibly hilarious and sweet way of beating Tabernacle (since Tabernacle states 'destroy'). Wild deck overall.

Outside of the Top 8, there are two other lists I'd like to call attention to, the first of which is a sweet Hatebears list featuring Archon of Emeria.

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Another new card in this deck is Luminarch Aspirant, which is a pretty solid two-drop that pumps your creatures as time goes on, but also its cool to see Hushbringer here as well. Really solid and interesting deck.

The other list is a neat take on Oath of Druids with FOUR Managorger Hydra.

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This deck is pretty sweet, using Oath as more of an incidental value card than anything. This is more like a really sweet Simic Xerox build with Oath and all sorts of cool cards. Fnoop is well known for playing some sweet lists.

Now let's take a look at the 2019-2020 cards in this event.

Card Name Number of Copies
Force of Vigor 29
Force of Negation 24
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim 20
Stonecoil Serpent 20
Collector Ouphe 17
Narset, Parter of Veils 13
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis 10
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade 10
Oko, Thief of Crowns 10
Soul-Guide Lantern 9
Dreadhorde Arcanist 8
Agadeem's Awakening 4
Sea Gate Restoration 4

Some of the Modal DFC lands popped up here, in the Oops list that we talked about earlier. In addition to that all the usual suspects are here, as has been the norm for most of these events.

The Spice Corner

Matt Murray hits us yet again with some great spice. Ever wanted to play Omnath, Locus of Creation in Vintage? He's got you covered.

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thanks for your continued support of the column and join me next week as we continue our journey into Vintage!

As always you can reach me at Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! In addition you can always reach me on the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the Vintage Streamers Discord.

Until next time!

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