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Vintage 101: Pyromania

It's a Young Pyromancer's Game

This past weekend featured the latest Magic Online Power Nine Challenge, and it was taken down by Diophan on an updated Grixis Pyromancer list. People often debate which deck in Vintage is the best, and the answers can vary wildly. I'm not comfortable saying that any one deck is the absolute best, but if I was forced to pick I would pick whatever deck Diophan is currently playing. Seriously though, Grixis Therapy is stone cold insane.  

I've been giving Grixis Pyromancer a lot of airtime lately, including featuring the deck in my article last week. I've gone back and forth from Monastery Mentor decks to Young Pyromancer decks proclaiming one to be superior to the other, but currently all signs are pointing to Young Peezy being the people's champ. 

For a long time Young Pyromancer was always paired with Delver of Secrets in decks that were more focused on tempo and speed. Vintage RUG Delver and U/R Delver played mostly burn spells for removal, which allowed them to close out games rather quickly. In Grixis Pyromancer there are no Delvers, and lately the Lightning Bolts have been replaced by Snuff Out or Dismember. Some of the lists have only run three copies of Young Pyromancer, which leaves more room for control elements at the cost of speed. 

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Playing more creatures really isn't necessary, and I haven't been a fan of Delver of Secrets in Vintage for a while now. A turn-one Delver is good against Workshops, but it's relatively easy to remove for other mana-taxing decks like Hatebears or White Eldrazi. The best way to think of Grixis Pyromancer versus a Delver deck is that you're swapping Delvers for Cabal Therapy. Delver is pretty laughable against Oath of Druids or Dark Petition Storm, whereas Cabal Therapy is just brutal. 

Playing Grixis colors has a few drawbacks of course. Mostly the problems stem from the fact that the color combination is not very good at dealing with enchantments. There aren't a ton of enchantments that you have to worry about—Moat is one that comes to mind as annoying to deal with. Luckily you can just counter a Moat, and it comes down slowly enough to get picked off by Cabal Therapy fairly often. 

In the event that your opponent was able to resolve a Moat, you've still got a substantial chance to win via one of your planeswalkers. I have even found that you can win quite easily with the emblem from a Jace, Telepath Unbound. You can generally deck someone with tiny Jace by playing as little as six or seven cantrips over the course of a few turns. 

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Grixis Pyromaniacs

Grixis Therapy is probably the best deck of its kind in the current Vintage metagame. Esper Mentor with Cabal Therapy and Jeskai Mentor are pretty close in power, but I think the cheaper threats and ability to use Null Rod effectively put Grixis over the top. Grixis Young Pyromancer decks have placed highly in several recent events, taking second at the NYSE and winning the last two Power Nine Challenges on Magic Online

It's probably a good time to consider finding one or two trump cards for mirror matches because I expect the popularity of this deck will continue to grow. I wouldn't sacrifice too much to the other matchups though, One of the strengths of the current incarnation of this deck is that it has cards that are good against Eldrazi and Storm, and losing ground in those matchups would be detrimental. 

Thought-Knot Gifts

When Oath of the Gatewatch was new, I remember thinking about the new Eldrazi creatures like Thought-Knot Seer and wondering what I could do with them. I realized then that Mana Drain could be used to cast a colorless Eldrazi creature, and I seriously contemplated making a deck based on these cards. I never ended up going any farther than thinking about that deck idea, but it appears Desolutionist is much more clever and innovative than I. Here's another Top Eight deck from the Power Nine Challenge, Thought-Knot Gifts!

A few weeks ago I wrote about how Gush is the best and most dominant draw spell in Vintage, and I named Gifts Ungiven as an example of a spell that is currently outclassed. I wrote then, and still believe now, that Gifts Ungiven is a powerful card in the right deck. This Thought-Knot Gifts deck might just be the thing that Gifts needed to stage a comeback. 

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Big Blue and Colorless

Vintage players often speak of "Big Blue" decks when talking about different styles and archetypes in the format. Big Blue does cover a wide swath of divergent deck types, but the main difference is that these decks stand in stark contrast to Gush decks. Big Blue decks are more likely to contain Tolarian Academy, all five moxen. and the restricted sources of artifact mana like Mana Vault or Mana Crypt. All these extra mana sources help power out expensive and powerful spells early enough to be relevant. 

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Another defining feature of Big Blue is Mana Drain. It's possible to play Mana Drain in other types of decks, but this type of mana-hungry deck is more likely to benefit from the extra mana production that Drain brings. 

The normal use of all that extra mana is to cast bombs like Gifts Ungiven or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Since much of that extra mana being produced is colorless, it is also a way to cast Eldrazi creatures in a blue deck! 

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Much of this deck is based on the classic U/b/x Vintage shell. There's a long list of restricted staples, and the game is often won with Tinker, Time Vault, or Blightsteel Colossus. Thought-Knot Seer gives this deck an extra disruptive and controlling element, and it provides a body to attack with too. It's entirely possible to play a controlling game where you're countering your opponents threats and attacking with Thought-Knot Seers. You can also use the Thought-Knot Seer to get rid of a counterspell or piece of removal that would otherwise stop you from resolving one of your game-winning bombs. 

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Since this deck isn't playing Gush, it has to rely on other cards to keep up with opponents. Dark Confidant is a reasonably-priced body that provides card advantage over time. When combined with Sensei's Divining Top, Dark Confidant can draw cards selectively and while minimizing life loss. In ideal situations Dark Confidant can come down early, or in some cases cause opponents to burn a Force of Will.

Gifts Ungiven is another major player on this list, even though there are only two copies. The deck doesn't need to rely on Gifts in order to win, but the two copies provide the deck with more options with which to win a game. Sometimes casting Gifts for pure value is enough to win. Selecting four draw spells with Gifts is likely to create a large amount of card advantage which can be difficult for opponents to overcome. It's also possible to select a pile of four cards that forces your opponent to give you a clear shot at winning on the spot.

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Here's one quick and simple example of a Gifts Ungiven pile. Thought-Knot Gifts plays cards like Snapcaster Mage and Yawgmoth's Will, so it's possible to make a pile containing both of those cards and Time Vault/Voltaic Key. Your opponent can't give you Vault and Key, and they don't want to give you Yawgmoth's Will either. They'd have to give you Snapcaster Mage and half of the Time Vault combo. With enough mana, you could cast Snapcaster, flashing back Yawgmoth's Will to let you play whichever piece of the combo you're missing. There's an entire range of possible game-winning plays that could be made with Gifts, and each situation will be different based on the exact game state. As long as you resolve your Gifts correctly, you'll be in good shape. 

Opening up Gifts in Vintage

Gifts Ungiven has a storied history in Vintage, but it has been consistently overshadowed by Gush since it was unrestricted. Lately I've noticed that Gifts has been popping up in some European Top Eight deck lists, and it also has a few finishes on Magic Online as well. I'm not sure if this means that Gifts is making a comeback, but I certainly would be glad if that was the case. I've played a few Gifts Ungiven decks in the past and the card is extremely fun to play. 

This Thought-Knot Gifts deck is still early in development, but I'm excited to see where it goes from here. I love the combination of Eldrazi and combo/control elements, and it's nice to see a blue deck do well without having to play Gush

Mentor-less Jeskai Mentor

We've got one more deck from the Power Nine Challenge to look at, and it is quite interesting to say the least. ChubbyRain was tired of debating which creature is the best in a Gush deck, Young Pyromancer or Monastery Mentor. Instead, he decided to skip playing either of the token-generating creatures. 

This deck eschews the usual compliment of Monastery Mentors, and instead it loads up on planeswalkers and control elements. Moat does a fine job of playing defense for you, and it helps to protect your flashy new cards like Nahiri, the Harbinger

Just like the Modern Jeskai Control decks, this list plays the combo of Nahiri, the Harbinger and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Most of the time you'll probably win by concession before achieving Nahiri's ultimate, but it's a nice trick to have access to. When you're not threatening to win with Nahiri, you can also ultimate your Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Dack Fayden. Jace is a little better at winning a game than Dack, but Dack's emblem is also quite powerful. As long as you can prevent your Moat from being destroyed, games can go extremely long. It's even possible to hard-cast your Emrakul once in a blue moon. 

Jeskai without Mentors

Gush is a powerful enough card to carry a skilled pilot to a decent finish, regardless of what the win condition actually is. However, I wouldn't suggest that anyone simply copy Chubby's list. It's usually going to be easier to win with a Monastery Mentor or [[Young Pyromancer] than to rely on holding a game down long enough to win with planeswalkers. This deck is a testament to the power of Gush and the skill of the pilot, so you shouldn't feel bad about choosing to play a similar deck with a more traditional win condition. 

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Magic Online Vintage Event PSA

Attendance in Vintage Daily Events has dropped significantly in the past few weeks due to a programming bug that has been causing the Vintage Dailies to not appear in the play lobby. In some cases the events weren't listed in the home screen either. It appears that not every player experienced this problem, but I've collected enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that many folks simply did not realize there were events to play in, so the tournaments did not end up firing. The stop-gap solution was (or is) to reset the client and log back in until the events appear in the schedule. Once enough of the regular Vintage players discussed the issue with each other, things seem to have gone back to normal.  Quite a few folks were concerned that the bug would hurt the attendance for the The Power Nine Challenge, but it appears to have gone well. 

If you're a Vintage player on Magic Online and were unaware of the issue, the Dailies will appear on the schedule if you reset the client. Some folks have had to log out more than once, but the events appear eventually. Most formats on Magic Online have switched to Leagues instead of Daily Events, and several people thought that the Vintage events had been canceled when they didn't see them on the schedule. The Vintage Dailies are still happening at the same times as they were before; it just might take a few tries to make them appear in the schedule. 


The TMD Open 17 is rapidly approaching. This event is being held in Oakville Connecticut and it features fifteen-proxy Vintage, as well as a range of side events. For more information you can check out the official announcement. I'm planning on being in attendance, and I'm beyond excited for it. 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days. You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on Magic Online

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