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Vintage 101: Power Trip!


Power Trip!

Beyond being a reference to my favorite Monster Magnet album, this article's title is referencing the trip many folks will be making to win some Power Nine cards this summer. If you haven't heard yet, Star City Games (SCG) is bringing back their old "Power Nine Series" for at least one big two-day event this June 8th through 10th at SCG Con

The original SCG P9 Series went on during a time in which I was on hiatus from Magic altogether, so I don't have any firsthand information about them. However, I know from the fond reminiscing of many older players that the SCG tournaments were instrumental in keeping the Vintage format alive during that time. Just like SCG has its popular Standard/Modern writers/grinders working and writing today, in days of yore there were multiple people writing about Vintage for Star City and playing in the event series back then. These event are remembered longingly by veteran Vintage enthusiasts as folks were sad to see them end. The tournament series was popular and influential enough that Steve Menendian has chronicled the history of these events in a recent article

As of this writing, there are some details about the upcoming Power Nine event that have not yet been released. What I do know for certain is that the event will give out a complete set of Unlimited Power Nine as part of its prize pool. Also, this is going to be a sanctioned event, so no play-test cards will be allowed. According to what I've seen on Twitter, this event will not have a separate prize pool for unpowered decks. A prize for the best unpowered decks is a big part of the reason that people without power will still sometimes play in the yearly Vintage Championship. I very much hope that SCG changes this policy for the event as I feel it would help to increase participation. 

Because this is a sanctioned tournament, you can expect to see a lot of people that own or that can borrow sets of Power, and some folks who play Dredge or JacoDrazi. There may also be some fringe budget decks in the room, but for the most part, only Dredge and Eldrazi are able to seriously compete in the format without the Power Nine.  

"Budget" Vintage Decks

Dredge has been a presence in Vintage ever since its key cards were printed in the Time Spiral block, and this archetype has won and made top eight in multiple Vintage Championships. If there was ever an event where skimping on Dredge hate was a good idea, surely this tournament would not be it. The chances are quite good that you'll get paired against Dredge if you survive in the event long enough. 

In paper Vintage, the predominant Dredge builds do not utilize Force of Will. There are exceptions of course, but the majority of finishes are from traditional Dredge decks. Whether or not Dredge players will choose to stick with the anti-hate sideboards or choose to employ the semi-transformation plan of Gurmag Angler and Hollow One remains to be seen. I feel like Magic Online has enough of an influence nowadays that the Angler/Hollow One plan will be popular, but it's tough to say for sure.

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I haven't seen many people playing Tribal Eldrazi lately, but I still think some people would choose to play it (perhaps out of necessity if nothing else). This deck isn't cheap in paper when compared to Standard and Modern, but it's right in line with the price of some cheaper Legacy decks. Tribal Eldrazi is also much cheaper to build than Dredge, as Bazaar of Baghdad is an expensive reserved list staple from a very small set. 

This style of Eldrazi deck could be very soft to Oath as it relies on creatures as a win condition.  With some tinkering there may be a way to fix that issue somewhat. Jester's Cap isn't terribly expensive, and one activation of a Jester's Cap can cripple an Oath deck far worse than Grafdigger's Cage ever could. 

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Some builds of Tribal Eldrazi play Leyline of Sanctity, which is a valid strategy against Oath. However, there's no way to cast a Leyline with these decks, and mulliganing to oblivion searching for a Leyline is an awful experience (and a common one for myself). Personally I would rather play with sideboard cards that I can cast, that way they don't need to be in my opening hand to be effective. 

 

Top Tier

At the top of the heap lies Ravager Shops. This is a well-known deck, and the Workshop archetype has coalesced to the point where Ravager is far and away the most popular build. 

Since Arcbound Ravager Workshop builds are so popular there may be some people trying to play Null Rod shops to next-level the competition. I still predict that Ravager will be far and away the most popular Workshop archetype though. Null Rod Shops loses the best non-land cards in the deck, namely Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista

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Oath of Druids decks are probably the second-most popular deck in the format right now, but paper Vintage and Magic Online have some major differences. Most importantly, on Magic Online the metagame can shift much more quickly. Players are able to switch entire decks in minutes, and this leads to some sharp metagame shifts. Regardless of the differences, I would expect to see a fair number of players packing Oaths. The Oath plan is basically the best thing you can do to defeat a Prison deck, and Griselbrand is powerful enough to win games without much else helping him. 

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Online, the majority of people have been playing whatever Oath deck Brian Kelly has been beating people with. In paper, this trend might not appear and there could be folks playing older Oath lists with things like Tinker and Time Vault

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Metagaming Vintage

If you have the choice to play any deck you want in a tournament, I would use the following criteria to make that choice. First of all, I'd attempt to pick something that has a good matchup against both Oath and Ravager. Those two decks have been big for quite a while, and playing a deck that can't beat either one is just a bad idea. Secondly, I would make sure I had a good plan for the Dredge matchup. Despite what some people may think, in the hands of a skilled pilot, Vintage Dredge suddenly becomes a top tier deck. 

One deck that comes to mind is BUG Fish. With its Abrupt Decays and solid counterspell package it's a nightmare for Oath decks. The Wastelands and mana production from Deathrite Shaman help against Workshops. Since the deck is based in black it also has access to Leyline of the Void, Ravenous Trap, and even Yixlid Jailer. Those sideboard cards should help tremendously against Dredge.

BUG decks aren't limited to creature beats either; I've seen BUG Landstill decks in the past that performed well. I wouldn't be surprised if someone could brew up a successful Combo/Control deck that utilized black and green to access Abrupt Decay and other key cards. 

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Now, if I found myself playing in this event, I'd play Oath of Druids. I think it's a solid choice, and it's the deck that I have the most experience with. One of the things I like about eternal formats is that it's possible (barring unforeseen restrictions) to stick with one deck for a long time. Playing the same deck repeatedly does come at the cost of losing the element of surprise, but if it means that you're able to make tighter plays I think it's still beneficial. 

Wrap-Up

There's still a lot of time between now and this new Star City Vintage event. That means that new cards could change the metagame, and some of the event details could change as well. I'm hoping that we get some new cards in the interim as this would help to shake up the format in a positive direction. Regarding the event itself, I hope that Star City decides to do what the Vintage Championships does and adds prize support for decks without the Power Nine or Bazaar of Bagdad. Having an unpowered prize gives those without a huge budget the incentive to try out the tournament, which increases attendance.

I'm out of time for this week, but I'll be back soon with more Vintage for y'all! You can find me on Magic Online, TMD, and Twitter @Islandswamp


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