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Vintage 101: Out of the Cellar

Pack Rat – Kev Walker

Rat Scratch Fever

One of my favorite aspects of Vintage is how the format blends the very old with the very new. Whenever a rising star in Standard finds a home in Vintage, it always makes me smile. There's something about seeing a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy flash back an Ancestral Recall that gets me very excited. 

I took a Rather large break from Magic some years ago, and when I returned the current Standard format was being dominated by this inconspicuous fellow. 

Pack Rat was a card that was tried in Vintage, but it never really caught on. As far as generating tokens was concerned, Talrand, the Sky Summoner, Young Pyromancer, and now Monastery Mentor have always outshined poor little Pack Rat. Generating a token as an incidental trigger from playing spells is usually much more appealing than spending mana and discarding cards to do the same thing. Most of the time you want to cast spells anyway, so it makes sense that you'd want a Mentor instead of a Rat. 

Even though Pack Rat doesn't get as much love as Mentor or Pyromancer, I think it's a deceptively powerful card. I don't think we'll see a Pack Rat infestation on the scale of the Eldrazi menace, but I think there are a few cards and strategies in Vintage that Pack Rat can exploit.

Make sure you've had your rabies shot, because today we're going to look at a few Vintage Rat decks!

Desolutionist, the creator of this particular "Bob Tendrils" deck has always played some interesting decks in Vintage dailies. I've chatted about Vintage strategy with him on TMD about his ideas, and he's given me some good advice. 

The impetus for creating this deck was to create a Storm deck that wouldn't just fold to a Thorn of Amethyst backed by quick pressure. Between White Eldrazi, Eldrazi Shops, and even Tribal Eldrazi there are a lot of "sphere effects" (or in some cases, Null Rods). Storm decks simply cannot cast a lethal Tendrils of Agony if they can't generate a large mana advantage. Just one Thorn of Amethyst or Sphere of Resistance can stop a Storm deck cold. Waiting to find and cast Hurkyl's Recall is a recipe for disaster these days. The onslaught of aggressive creatures from the Thorn of Amethyst decks will likely run you over before you can do anything. 

Pack Rat is a clever remedy to this "Thorny" situation. Pack Rat can be cast cheaply through a Thorn of Amethyst, and it can generate tokens without the need to cast more spells. All of a sudden each of the previously useless and uncastable cards in your hand can become more Rat tokens! Each Rat grows your entire team larger, and in only a few turns you can have a board of Rats large enough to trade with Lodestone Golem or Thought-Knot Seer

Pack Rat does have one glaring weakness though. Most of the Aggro/Prison decks in Vintage are packing Phyrexian Revoker. One Revoker can shut down your Rat farm, and you'll be in for a bad time. Luckily it's not that hard to kill a 2/1 artifact creature, so Revoker isn't the end of the world. 

Greatness, at any Cost

The other big difference between this deck and a normal Dark Petition Storm deck is Dark Confidant. "Bob"(Dark Confidant) is in this list to provide card advantage, replacing riskier cards like Wheel of Fortune or Yawgmoth's Bargain

Wheel of Fortune and Time Twister are cards that can be amazing game-winning bombs, but they can also be total duds. There is a ton of variance associated with casting a draw-seven effect, and many times I've cast one and lost the game shortly thereafter. The problem is that often times giving your opponent seven cards will put counters in their hand that can stop you from winning. Other times filling your opponent's hand will give them a Monastery Mentor and the spells to fuel it. There is still enough potential benefit from a draw-seven spell to warrant inclusion in someone's Storm deck, but in my opinion replacing them with other card advantage engines is an acceptable decision. 

Sui-Black in Vintage

Dark Petition has been the star of Storm decks since last year's Vintage championship, and this Bob Tendrils list still makes the card a focal point. Dark Petition gives the deck an incredible amount of consistency and redundancy, and the small creature package gives it resiliency to the tougher matchups. 

During the course of my research on this deck I came across an old Vintage deck by Vincent Forino called "Suicide Black". This Bob Tendrils deck is surely the spiritual ancestor of that strategy. The main difference is the addition of Pack Rat to the main deck, and a few blue cantrips. Grim Tutor has been replaced by Petition, but the core disruption package of Duress and Cabal Therapy remains the same. 

If I was expecting to play against a lot of Workshops or Eldrazi, this deck would be my Storm deck of choice. I've been testing Pack Rat in my DPS sideboard, and it was much better than I expected. 


BUG RatStill

Continuing with the Rat-based theme, here's another Pack Rat deck. This one is a Landstill deck featuring everyone's favorite plague-carrying critter. 

BUG Landstill has always interested me. I've played a BUG-colored Standstill deck with Oath of Druids before, so I know how controlling this color combination can be. Blue, as the base color, provides the usual countermagic that control decks are known for. Black and green add awesome cards like Abrupt Decay. Pernicious Deed, Toxic Deluge, and many more. Having access to sweeper effects and arguably the best spot-removal spell in Magic is a great thing for a control deck to have. 

The key to a Landstill deck is being able to take advantage of Standstill. You need to be able to get in a position where you don't need to cast a spell and then resolve a Standstill. Obviously, casting a Standstill while you're behind on board is about as smart as smearing dirt in your eye. Anyway, most of the time the Landstill player is looking to cast Standstill and hold up counters while applying pressure with creaturelands. Besides attacking with lands, these decks also like to hide behind  planeswalkers or take out their opponent's lands with Wasteland

Being in Sultai colors gives this deck access to Deathrite Shaman. Good old Doctor Shaman can help play Standstill on turn two with mana up for Flusterstorm, and it's abilities give the deck a way to win without casting a spell. Deathrite almost seems to have been made for such a strategy. 

Pack Rat gives this deck yet another way to win the game without casting spells. Unlike a Monastery Mentor, you can pump out tokens all day long without breaking a Standstill. But wait, there's more! Pack Rat has even more synergy with this deck!

Imagine you've got a Crucible of Worlds out. You can discard a land to make a Rat token and then play that same land! That interaction doesn't seem like much, but it is actually quite powerful. Any time you can use the cards you're discarding to Pack Rat it's essentially adding a point of card advantage. This list also plays Deep Analysis, which is another card that you can discard and still get value from. 

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Like all Landstill decks, there's the requisite creaturelands in this list. Instead of Mishra's Factory, this deck goes all-in on the Rat-tribal thing. There are three copies of Mutavault that can attack, block, and act like anthem effects for your swarm of Rats! 

Out of the Cellar

All in all I think RatStill is a really cool deck. There are a few cards that I feel like I would have tried to fit in but weren't included here. I'm sure that the deck's pilot (Kinny) picked his specific cards for a reason. I would likely play at least a few matches without making any changes to see how things went.

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If I was going to make some additions, I'd probably start by beefing up the countermagic in the deck. Mana Drain seems like a must-have in any Landstill list, even if it's only one or two copies. Since you can't play [[Standstill] unless your ahead or at parity, I think that the deck could really use a sweeper effect like Pernicious Deed or even Engineered Explosives. Popping a Deed or Explosives for zero would sweep away all tokens on the battlefield, except for your Pack Rat tokens as they have a converted mana cost of two. Engineered Explosives also pulls double duty as an answer to Thorn of Amethyst and similar artifacts. 

There's another card in the deck that's honestly a little bit of a mystery to me. The Tireless Tracker in the sideboard seems like it would be two slow and clunky for Vintage, but then again people have said the same thing about Pack Rat. I'm not sure which matchups the Tracker is for, so if you know please enlighten me in the comments. 

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I'm also not a big fan of Vampiric Tutor in a non-Oath, non-combo deck. Demonic Tutor is great in a fair deck because it replaces itself, but Vampiric Tutor costs you a card. If I'm going to spend a card on fixing my next draw step I'm going to make sure that card wins the game. I feel like I'd rather have another removal spell in that slot. If you can't draw into the proper answer, there's still a Demonic Tutor to grab that silver bullet. 

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Energy Flux is a card that seems like it should be great against Shops. In practice a three-mana, non-creature spell can be hard to resolve in the Shops matchup. Off the top of my head Trygon Predator seems to be a better choice as it is repeatable and can be played through Thorn of Amethyst. I really feel like Energy Flux is only truly devastating early in the game. If you can manage to pay for an Energy Flux late in the game, you're probably already in decent shape (or the Workshop deck drew bricks for five turns). 

RatStill in Vintage

Even though I'd likely build this deck slightly different than the way it is listed, I think it's a great concept, and I'd love to try it for myself. I think that BUG Landstill has a lot of potential in the current Vintage metagame for a few reasons. 

The robust mana base makes games against Workshops relatively easy to win. Workshop decks, and the various forms of Eldrazi in Vintage are very vulnerable to Wasteland and Crucible. Without Sol-Lands or Workshops, those decks are just a pile of expensive creatures and artifacts. 

Sultai decks have a lot of powerful answers to problematic cards. Monastery Mentor and similar cards flood the board with tokens and drown opponents in card advantage. Abrupt Decay is one of the better answers to the token generators. If you play carefully you can significantly reduce any tokens your opponents produce. Ideally you'd pick a fight over the Mentor, leaving your opponent with very little in their hand afterwards. If their Mentor is countered, that's great. If you're unable to stop the Mentor, hopefully your opponent will be drained of resources and have to pass the turn. If you're lucky, you can then Abrupt Decay the Mentor and not have to face as many tokens. This scenario also illustrates the need for at least one or two sweepers in the deck. If your opponent manages to make even one Monk token you are potentially in trouble. 

Gush is another reason that Mentor is so good. Standstill is one of the few spells that has a real possibility of keeping up with Gush. Landstill decks also can mess with a Gush deck's mana base, which can make casting Gush much more awkward. Casting Gush to avoid a Wasteland is an acceptable tactic, but you can force your opponent to Gush at less-than-optimal times. There's also a possibility that you've resolved a [[Standstill], and your opponent won't be able to Gush in response to your Wasteland activation.


The last Rat deck that I'll share is the Dark Petition Storm deck I've been building online and in paper. This isn't a dedicated Pack Rat Deck, but it's got three copies of the nasty little vermin in the sideboard. 

This is mostly a stock Petition Tendrils deck, but my list has a few differences that I will go over. 

I've taken to playing a single copy of Empty the Warrens in my main deck to give me a second win condition. I've also been playing more fetch lands and more basics for a couple reasons. More basic lands helps me be more resilient in the face of Wasteland. The additional fetch lands help power up Cabal Ritual, and they make Brainstorm and Ponder more effective. I do believe that ideally the deck should play one or two additional Underground Seas, but in all honesty I have not have any problems with the current configuration. 

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In the sideboard, there's the aforementioned Pack Rats. The plan against Workshop decks is to bring in the Rats, the Plague Spitter, both additional basic lands, and all of the blue bounce spells. I've found that the easiest way to beat Workshops is to either get a Pack Rat going as soon as possible, fetching basic lands to pay the activation cost. The main concern with that plan is Phyrexian Revoker, but that's where [[Plague Spitter] and the bounce spells come in. 

I've also got Empty the Warrens as another option. In games where I can't get my storm count up past four or five, Empty helps out a ton. If I'm able to cast [[Empty the Warrens] for four or five storm early on, it can be quite effective. Empty the Warrens is also a great way to beat a Leyline of Sanctity

Rebuild is a spell that I and many others play as a one-of, and I've had at least one person ask why someone would play it over Hurkyl's Recall. It is true that the vast majority of the time Hurkyl's is just better because it's cheaper at only two mana. Still, there are cases where having access to Rebuild will make the difference between winning and losing. [[Rebuild] doesn't target anyone, so it can be cast through Leyline of Sanctity, Witchbane Orb, or Orbs of Warding. You can also cycle Rebuild should the need arise.

Storming on a Budget

If you're looking to get into paper Vintage by attending a proxy-friendly event, my Storm list is a good choice. If you were to proxy the Power Nine,Library of Alexandria, Mana Crypt, and the three dual lands I'm using, you'd be at fourteen proxies (leaving you room for one more if need be). The remaining cards aren't all cheap, but many are in the five to ten dollar range. 

Storming for Newbs

I like to think of  piloting Petition Tendrils as a puzzle I'm solving, one that changes each time I play. It's fun to play matches, and I even enjoy just goldfishing the deck at times. If you've never tried Vintage Storm, but you think you'd like to try it, here's a few words of advice. 

Storm is a fairly hard deck to play on Magic Online, but it is even harder in paper. There's a lot of information to keep track of, and unlike Magic Online, nobody is tracking it for you. If you're the type of person to not keep a careful eye on your game state, then Storm might be a bad choice. However, if you enjoy a challenge then Vintage Storm might be the perfect deck for you. Good luck and happy storming! 

That's all the time I've got for this week, I'll see you in seven days. Stay tuned for more Vintage action coming up soon! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr – Islandswamp on Magic Online

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