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Vintage 101: Power Nine Challenge 2.0


The Power Nine Challenge

On Saturday, November 28th, the second large-scale Magic Online Vintage tournament since the restriction of Chalice of the Void took place. This tournament of over 90 players had four decks in the Top Eight that played Tendrils of Agony as one of their win conditions. Four Storm decks in the Top Eight of a large event is nuts considering that just a few short months ago Storm was seemingly extinct on Magic Online. This article will cover the top-performing decks of the Power Nine Challenge and delve into some of the reasons why things have played out the way they have. 

The final eight decks consisted of two Doomsday decks, one Dark Petition / Tendrils-style TPS deck, one Gush Storm deck, Bant Mentor, Jeskai Mentor, Grixis Painter's Servant, and one Merfolk deck. In the end it was Eric Froehlich (Efro) and Rich Shay (The Atog Lord) battling for first place. Efro ended up defeating The Atog Lord, becoming the second Power Nine Challenge champion. Here's what they played:

 

The Atog Lord's Bant Mentor deck has its roots in a deck conceived by 2015 Vintage Champion Brian Kelly. If you follow Vintage Daily Event results you've probably noticed that the Atog Lord has been on a tear with this spicy Mentor brew. Brian Kelly is known for brewing up some very potent lists, especially ones that showcase the power of Dragonlord Dromoka in Vintage. This decklist is no exception, and I think Rich's second-place finish provides clear evidence for the deck's viability. 

Some of the card choices may seem a bit contradictory at first, such as Stony Silence coupled with a full load of Moxen, but every card choice in this deck was planned out thoroughly. This deck has powerful threats, and it has answers for almost anything. The list also has the card-drawing power of four copies of Gush, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and the rest of the restricted draw spells. 

Monastery Mentor decks are the most brutal of all the fair decks I've ever seen. Decks like this aren't putting together infinite combos, but Mentor provides an extremely fast clock and it gets out of hand quickly. Still, not everyone is content to play a fair game of Magic, and Eric Froehlich's list is just about as unfair as a deck can get.

 

Efro was playing a Storm deck with four copies of Dark Petition. The Magic Origins pseudo-Demonic Tutor is a potent inclusion in this evolution of the classic "Long.Dec" archetype. One of the fastest and most consistent ways to generate a lethal storm count has been to chain Dark Rituals into Demonic Tutor, searching up Yawgmoth's Will to play all of those cards again, and finally replaying Demonic Tutor from the graveyard to tutor for a deadly Tendrils of Agony. Dark Petition cast with Spell Mastery has the same net mana cost, so it's almost if the deck is playing five copies of Demonic Tutor. Previously this deck might have run some number of Grim Tutors, which costs one more mana and three life points. 

Dark Petition is also terrific at tutoring for Necropotence, one of the most potent draw-engines ever devised. An early Necro usually ends up in a win for a Storm deck, and this list has six different tutors with which to find it. 

The Perfect Storm Returns

Considering the multitude of bombs, card draw, and tutors this TPS deck has access to, it might seem strange that similar decks have been mostly absent from Magic Online and Vintage in general for so long. The reality is that this stern-looking fellow and his cup full of emptiness had been raining on Storm's parade for a long time ...

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Mishra's Workshop decks have been the bane of Storm decks everywhere for quite some time. With the recent restriction of Chalice, Shops have become drastically under-played. This relatively Chalice-free environment has led people to play greedier decks like Tezzcast and Storm in greater numbers. The various flavors of Monastery Mentor decks have also been posting positive results. Mentor decks need extra mana in the form of Moxen to function, and they also need a sizeable suite of one-mana cantrips, both of which are things that Chalice of the Void was phenomenal at punishing. It only makes sense that, with fewer copies of Chalice floating around, decks like Storm, Mentor, and even Time Vault decks have been putting up great finishes. The Top Eight decks in the Power Nine Challenge bears that out; look and you will see two copies of Mentor and four Storm decks in the final standings. Doomsday isn't the same as a TPS deck, but it had an unfavorable Workshop match-up for the same reasons. 

Power Nine Challenge: Top Sixteen Decks

If we take a moment to view the Top Sixteen decks, we do find two Mishra's Workshop decks. Those decks had 5-1 records, so with better tie-breakers either of those decks could have made the Top Eight. Still, two Shops decks out of sixteen is a drastically smaller representation than what you would have seen before September 2015. 

Filling out the rest of the top of the field are two Tezzcast decks, one Dredge deck, another TPS deck, and two more Monastery Mentor builds. One of the Mentor decks played by jsiri84 appears to be a brew. Instead of running the Jeskai colors that are the usual choice, this deck played every color other than Red. 

Dark Confidant and Abrupt Decay are two cards that are great in BUG Fish, and apparently they were good in this list too. Sensei's Divining Top is also included. Spinning the Top helps fix draws and helps avoid losing too much life to Dark Confidant. In a deck with nine spells with a converted mana cost of five or more, playing Dark Confidant can be risky. Sensei's Diving Top mitigates that risk. 

 

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Half of the Top Sixteen decks in this tournament can be classified as "unfair" decks. That is to say they're either combo decks, or decks like Dredge. Mentor decks are also pretty unfair to sit across from at times, but none of these Mentor decks were built around a combo like Time Vault or Tinker. Most of these decks would have had trouble in a four-Chalice field, so it makes perfect sense that they're coming out to play in the current Vintage metagame. 

Next-Level Metagaming

When I look at the results from the last month or so of Vintage events, I see a metagame that is primed for a Workshop resurgence. I do think that losing Chalice of the Void had a real impact on the various Workshop archetypes, but I also feel that many decks were only able to succeed due to the relative scarcity of Lodestone Golem in the format. If the people are playing greedier decks due to them not worrying about Mishra's Menace, sleeving up some Workshops is probably a good idea.

I've played Workshop decks, but I am certainly no expert on the archetype. If I was going to next-level everyone and bring Shops into the fray, I'd turn to a list that was designed by a Workshops expert. This list is where I would start:

When I was playing Workshop decks, the most popular and ostensibly "best" build was Martello Shops. Martello Shops is a Kuldotha Forgemaster deck that plays large tutor targets like Wurmcoil Engine or Steel Hellkite. There were even decks online that were using Blighsteel Colossus as a Forgemaster target, and they did indeed have some success.

Nick Detwiler's deck is also a Workshop-aggro deck, but his build is closer to the Hangarback MUD decks that finished well at the 2015 Vintage Championships. Instead of a glut of high mana cost threats, this deck has cheap, efficient, and resilient threats. Hangarback Walker is hard to deal with, and it can provide card-advantage in the form of tokens. Arcbound Ravager helps mitigate the effects that Dack Fayden can have on these artifact decks. 

There are also many insane plays that this deck can make by combining the abilities of Triskelion, Hangarback Walker, and Arcbound Ravager. Simply attack with Ravager, then sacrifice most of your artifacts (including the Hangarback tokens) to the Ravager. At that point you can sacrifice Arcbound Ravager to itself, putting all of its +1/+1 counters on Triskelion, which has the ability to shoot your opponent for damage equal to the number of counters. This play is a bit dramatic and over-the-top and it won't come up all that often, but I have had someone take me from 12 to zero in one turn using that interaction. 

The other piece of tech in this list that I love is Sword of Fire and Ice. "SoFI" can turn a lowly Phyrexian Revoker into a six-damage threat that draws a card! Shops decks have historically been unable to have real draw engines. Cards like Staff of Nin and Coercive Portal have been used in the past, but those cards don't do nearly as good of a job of playing into the aggro strategy that this style of Workshop deck employs. 

It's important to consider the fact that Detwiler used this list to beat Sam Black's Jeskai Mentor deck in the first day of the Vintage Super League play-in tournament. In the past, people would play a minimum of four anti-Workshop cards (usually Ingot Chewer for decks splashing Red), and most decks played five to six anti-Shops sideboard cards. These days many decks on Magic Online seem to be shaving a sideboard card or two as if they don't anticipate facing Shops. It might just be a good time to punish greedy mana-bases and make people respect Shops again.

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Crashing the Bandwagon

When people have success with a deck, other people tend to copy that deck. This is the often-maligned practice of "net-decking." If you're a true spike, you know there is nothing wrong with playing someone else's list. I expect to see a lot of people picking up Storm decks, Mentor decks, and Grixis Time Vault decks, because those decks are flashy and have performed well recently. 

There's also something to be said for taking the next logical step and choosing a different deck to play, a deck that preys on the bandwagon. That could be a deck that runs Null Rod like BUG Fish, or even a Workshop deck like Mr. Detwiler's. Whatever deck you pick, make sure that it is powerful on its own merit. Playing a deck full of all answers without ample threats is a recipe for disaster. Always consider my favorite saying; "In Magic there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers!" Until next time, follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr, or Islandswamp on MTGO.


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