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Vintage 101: Power Nine 2K16

This past weekend featured the fourth installment of the monthly "Power Nine Challenge" tournament. Over one hundred people took part in the high-level Vintage action and when the dust settled there were a wide variety of decks at the top of the standings. The Dark Petition Storm decks and Workshop decks were well represented, but there was a whole lot more as well. Today we're going to take a look at a few decks that did well in the tournament. 

The top spot went to a tried-and-true strategy, Jeskai Mentor

Princess_Power has been playing versions of this list for some time now, and the deck has some interesting card choices that aren't seen in most Gush-based Monastery Mentor decks. The card that sticks out to me the most is Wasteland.

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It is common for Delver and Mentor decks to run a Strip Mine to deal with problematic lands, but running Gush usually means the deck chooses to not run more than one or two non-Island lands in their lists. After all, it is very important to have Gush online as early as possible. Gush is how these decks stay ahead of their opponents. Gush provides delve fuel for future draw spells like Dig Through Time, and the card also helps get immediate value out of the token-generating creatures. Wasteland can create some conflict with casting Gush, so it's important to know when to play another Island or go to the mana-denial plan. 

I like that the list only plays two "Strip Mines" in the main deck (one Strip Mine and one Wasteland).  In game one the deck has a second shot at having the lucky Wasteland opener that can sometimes steal a game. Two non-Islands are less likely to cause a problem with casting Gush than a full playset would be, but in matches against decks where Wasteland really shines, this Mentor deck can sideboard in three more copies! Wasteland is a great card in Vintage, and I'm surprised it doesn't see more play than it does. In Legacy, Wasteland is widely played in cantrip-heavy decks centered around Young Pyromancer. Gush is probably the main reason that Wasteland isn't played in more of these Delver/Mentor/Pyromancer decks, but it certainly looks like playing all five "Strip Mine" effects worked for Princess_Power. 

I think it's important to note that you can bring in Wasteland against a variety of decks and have it be quite effective. I talked last week about how the card is good against Workshops, but it's also great at taking out Bazaar of Baghdad, Dark Depths, and Thespian's Stage. The ability of Wasteland and Strip Mine to steal free wins cannot be underestimated. Sometimes people are forced to keep a one-land opening hand, and all it takes is one Strip Mine or Wasteland to shut them out of the game forever. Against other Gush decks it might be possible to stop someone from free-casting a Gush for multiple turns. 

Another aspect to this list that is much different than the other Mentor decks in the format is the complete lack of planeswalkers. Technically there is one planeswalker, a Jace, Telepath Unbound hiding behind his creature form, but there's only one JVP and zero copies of Dack Fayden or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Instead, this list is full of cantrips, counters, removal, and card draw.

With four Monastery Mentors and two Young Pyromancers this deck is likely to plop out a creature and flood the board with tokens in no time at all. Instead of spending the early game casting planeswalkers, this deck will most likely be creating an overwhelming and aggressive board position. 

The removal suite of four Lightning Bolts is adequate, but in all honesty I'm very surprised to see zero copies of Swords to Plowshares. Swords is so good in the format right now as it exiles virtually any creature for one mana. There are many times where a Bolt simply cannot kill what you need it to. Bolt does have the added bonus of taking out planeswalkers, so many times I see people use a split of Bolts and Plows. 

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There are also zero "Blasts" in the entire list, even in the sideboard. That's not something I see very often; most decks play at least one or two Pyroblasts. The large number of Blue decks in Vintage causes people to include multiple anti-Blue spells in the main deck and more in the sideboard. Instead of "Blasts" the deck has a full four copies of one of my favorite cards, Flusterstorm

Flusterstorm is better than Pyroblast at winning a stack battle, but it is much more narrow. In the event that your opponent manages to resolve a Consecrated Sphinx, you'll end up wishing that your Bolts were Plows or your Flusterstorm was Red Elemental Blast. The same goes for other Blue permanents like Jace and Dack Fayden

Even though some of the card choices are slightly different than what I might play in a similar deck, there's no arguing with success. Congrats to Princes_Power on winning the fourth Power Nine Challenge! 


Nose to the Grindstone 

Another Top Eight competitor for this event was UnrestrictGifts, which is the screen name of Vintage streamer Andrew "Brass Man" Probasco. I'm glad to see he did well in the event, and he did so piloting his favorite Vintage deck. Painter is a fringe strategy, but not for any reason other than people don't choose to play it much. There was a brief time period a few months ago where Painter was widely played, but now it seems the bandwagon has turned its attention elsewhere. No longer the flavor-of-the-week, Painter is only played by those who truly love the archetype. 

This list was one of six decks with a 6-1 record to make top eight. 6-1 is a very good record. Looking at the deck it appears quite well adapted for the expected metagame. In large events like this, there's going to be a fair amount of Dredge and Storm. The main deck Nihil Spellbomb is quite disruptive to both strategies. Dredge obviously needs its graveyard to win, especially in game one. Storm decks in their current incarnations rely heavily on their graveyards for Cabal Ritual, Yawgmoth's Will, and Dark Petition. Ideally you can sit on your Spellbomb and wait until a Dark Petition is cast to activiate it. The Storm deck will no longer have Spell Mastery and they won't get the three Black mana added to their mana pool. That mana-denial can potentially derail the Storm deck for an entire turn, which opens a window for the opposing deck to take control of the game. 

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For a long time six "blasts" was the common number of Pyroblasts and Red Elemental Blasts that Painter decks played. This list has only four Pyroblasts, but there are two copies of Duress in the main deck. I think that's a smart move in the current Vintage meta. Duress is extremely strong against almost every deck, except for Workshops and Dredge. In my time playing with Storm and against Storm, I have found that cards like Duress and Thoughtseize to be very well-positioned. Duress is very good at picking off key cards in a Storm deck and each one cast has the potential to destroy an entire turn. Along with Mental Misstep and Force of Will, Duress is probably the best main deck card you can play against Storm.

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The sideboard of this list contains a third copy of Duress to come in against Storm and other decks where it's needed. There's Leyline of the Void and another Nihil Spellbomb for Dredge decks. For Workshops there's a second copy of Dack FaydenIngot ChewerShattering Spree, and a basic Mountain. Sulfur Elemental is in the sideboard for the Monastery Mentor decks, but I suppose you could bring them in against Mono-White Hatebears as well. 

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The Perfect Storm 

Storm decks and Workshop decks have been the subject of much talk recently, so I've made it a point to shy away from those decks and focus on the many other successful archetypes in Vintage. This particular Storm deck did very well, so I decided that I'd make an exception and feature it in my article this week.

The reason I'm excited by this list is that it went undefeated in the Swiss rounds of a rather large tournament. Winning seven consecutive rounds with Dark Petition Storm is no small feat, especially considering the fact that the odds of hitting bad matchups along the way are very high. 

There are a few small changes that JDPhoenix made that I like a lot. For starters, instead of seven "Duress" effects, there are only six. The deck cuts the third Cabal Therapy for a second copy of Hurkyl's Recall. With Workshop decks taking up a full 25% of the online metagame, playing more artifact bounce is a smart move. After sidebording, this deck can bring in another two copies of Hurkyl's which makes the Workshop matchup winnable. The only thing that I would do differently is to find room for at least one copy of Rebuild. Rebuild costs one more than Hurkyl's Recall, but it bounces all artifacts in play instead of targeting your opponent. This text is very relevant as some Workshop decks will bring in Leyline of Sanctity or Witchbane Orb. It won't always come up, but when it does you'll be happy that you had the miser's copy of Rebuild.

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Another feature of this deck that I like is that instead of four copies of Ancient Tomb, there are only three copies and the fourth is replaced with a basic Island. Blue is often the secondary color in a Storm deck, and traditionally Vintage decks play at least one basic land from whichever support color they have. This is why you see basic Mountains next to Ingot Chewers or a Forest in the same sideboard as Nature's Claim. If you don't have the proper basic land, a Workshop deck can use one of their Wastelands to prevent you from being able to make use of your sideboard cards. In contemporary Storm decks the anti-Shops cards are Blue (i.e. Hurkyl's Recall). Having a basic Island to fetch makes a ton of sense. Since I published my article about the history of Ritual-based Storm decks I've been playing a lot of Dark Petition Storm. Many times I wanted to fetch a basic Island, and I really think that including one Island will go a long way towards surviving against Wasteland

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The Dreaded Return of Dredge

I'm featuring this Dredge list for two reasons. The obvious reason is that it reached the Top Eight of a one hundred person Vintage tournament. The second and less obvious reason is this list is actually a budget version of Dredge. An optimal list would contain Undiscovered Paradise and possibly a few other more expensive cards. 

Not playing Undiscovered Paradise is not ideal, but it does save you almost eighty dollars. The core of the Dredge deck is so powerful and consistent that even this sub-optimal build did well. The pilot, tsoatt, earned sixth place with this deck. The prize for Top Eight'ing is probably enough to complete the deck or get very close. If you're someone looking to break into Vintage and haven't done so yet, playing Dredge might be a good route to take. Dredge is always a threat to take down an event and is the most budget-friendly deck on Magic Online.

Power Nine and Beyond

This last Power Nine Challenge tournament was over 100 players, and prior events have been averaging around that size. I'm glad that the Magic Online team took the suggestion to create these tournaments, and I'm glad the original prize structure was changed along the way. With the tournaments drawing in so many players each time, I certainly hope that the value of the prizes for a Top Eight finish are continuously monitored and adjusted. These events will always draw a good sized crowd so it's important that the prizes reflect that.

If you're interested in finding more Vintage Magic to play, I have a few links for you. First of all, a reader let me know about his sanctioned Vintage tournament in Prague. If you're a European player and you're interested in attending, information can be found here

For my American readers, one of the biggest Vintage events of the year is coming up in June. The tournament, run by VSL Contender Nick Detwiler, is called "NYSE." The acronym stands for New York Stax Exchange (I love that name by the way). This tournament is a non-sanctioned event that permits the use of 15 "play test cards." If you're interested in paper Vintage but can't afford the Power Nine, this event is perfect for you. The coolest thing about these tournaments is that the prizes are fantastic. Last year's top prize was none other than the greatest Magic card one can own, a Black Lotus. This year the prize is the same. The Top Eight players will draft the piece of power they choose, in order of finish. You can find more information about the NYSE here.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to attend the NYSE, but I'd very much like to make it to the event. From what I've read it seems like a great time, and the Vintage community is a fantastic group of people to hang out with. If I am lucky enough to be able to attend, I'd love to see you there. 


I've posted questions on Twitter about what kind of things people would like to see in upcoming articles, and I've gotten a good amount of responses. Information from social media and comments on my articles help inform me of what people like best, so keep the feedback coming! I usually respond to people in a timely matter, so feel free to hit me up with any burning questions you may have. 

I'll see you in seven days! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on MTGO 

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