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Vintage 101: So Far, So Good!

So Far, So Good!

So far the Vintage leagues have been fantastic. There's an increased the amount of competitive Vintage matches being played on Magic Online. Additionally the methodology for reporting wining deck lists has changed. Wizards of the Coast is also only reporting selected decks from the leagues, and the result of all of this is that I've been seeing a lot of really interesting decks posted. As someone who has spent an enormous amount of time scouring the Vintage event results looking at deck lists this is a welcomed change!

A few months ago everything was "Monastery Mentor, Paradoxical Outcome, and Mishra's Workshop". Each of those cards and their associated archetypes are still present in the format, but a large space has opened up for other decks, cards, and concepts to thrive in. For instance, I've found winning decks that were running The Locust God, Smokestack, Hollow One, and even Life from the Loam. I really feel like the restrictions allowed for these new decks to stand a chance, so I view them as a good thing. 

Without wasting any more time, lets take a look at some of this new diversity in the Vintage format! 

Mr Goyf's Punishing Loam

Tarmogoyf is a format-defining all-star creature pretty much everywhere that it's legal except for Vintage. Even though it's not a popular choice, the two mana Lhurgoyf does see some fringe play in the eldest of eternal formats. Here's a deck by SeanOhh that combines good ol' Tarmogoyf with Life from the Loam and the Punishing/Grove combo. 


This deck has a whopping six planeswalkers, four [[Dack Fayden]s and two Jace, the Mind Sculptors. The two 'walkers work in tandem to build incremental value, which eventually creates an insurmountable advantage. The two planeswalkers compliment each other nicely, as Dack helps to loot through unwanted cards placed on top of your deck via Jace's Brainstorm ability. In turn Jace creates a plus one in card advantage each turn which keeps your hand full of discard fodder for Dack. 

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Additionally this deck gains a strategic advantage by using the interactions between Grove of the Burnwillows, and Punishing Fire. The Punishing/Grove combo can mow down creatures, possibly kill a planeswalker, and it can act as a finisher as well (albeit a rather slow one).

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Life from the Loam can recycle your Wastelands repeatedly, ultimately wearing down your opponent's mana base. Also, the simple act of returning any three random lands from your graveyard to your hand is beneficial. More lands in your hand allows you to effectively trade them for fresh cards with Dack Fayden or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. This deck can also make use of a little bit of "Dredging" as it plays two creatures that care about the graveyard; Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage

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When I look at this list I think to myself that this deck builder really wanted to avoid losing to Workshop decks! Beyond the aforementioned playset of Dack and the Wastelands, there's also two main deck copies of Ancient Grudge. Playing main deck Grudges is actually a really smart move right now because they're great against more than just Workshops. If you're facing combo, especially Paradoxical Outcome, Grudge smashes Defense Grids or just gets a two-for-one on their fragile mana base. 

There are plenty of cards in the deck that help against Workshops and prison decks, but there are still slots dedicated to fighting other blue decks. There's Flusterstorm, Forces, Pyroblast, and Mental Misstep. Those thirteen cards should be enough to slog through most control mirrors. 

Pondering What is Missing

I've spent a bunch of time talking about what is in the deck, now I'd like to point out what isn't in there. Browsing the deck list I noticed that there were no copies of Preordain. That was somewhat unusual, but certainly not unheard of. I continued to look and saw that the deck was constructed without any cantrips, and no Ponder or Brainstorm either!

I strongly suspect that the lack of these ubiquitous cards is due to the fact that there aren't many fetchlands in the deck. Brainstorm and Ponder are not nearly as good without a free way to shuffle away unwanted cards. Also, there are nineteen lands in the deck, so cantrips aren't generally going to be needed to find additional lands. 

The lack of Preordain frees up space for more impactful cards. With this strategy Mental Misstep can be used to stop an opponent's cards instead of trying to protect your own. Ultimately I'm still a bit wary of running a deck without any cheap, hand-sculpting cards, but this undefeated league run indicates that the idea had merit. 


Let's take a look at a big blue combo/control deck that uses The Locust God as one of its win conditions!

And Then the Locust' Came


This list is an updated take on the Paradoxical Outcome combo decks that are quite popular these days. The main difference is that this deck isn't all-in on the combo plan. Instead it leans more on Mana Drain and it has a very solid control plan. 

With four planeswalkers, a sizable suite of countermagic, and a large, flying finisher (The Locust God), it's quite possible to win a fair game with this deck. On the other hand it's also possible to tutor into Time Vault and Voltaic Key or to chain together two Paradoxical Outcomes with a Locust God in play. With multiple paths to victory and a relatively stable mana base this is a well-rounded concept. 

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I wrote about The Locust God a little bit when it was spoiled but I never thought anyone would actually be able to play it. Seeing as the tokens that the Locust God makes have haste though, it does seem rather deadly in combination with the massive card-drawing of Paradoxical Outcome. I'm not entirely sure that The Locust God will have continued success in Vintage, but this 5-0 list indicates that the Locust God is better than I initially gave it credit for. 


Hollow Man Dredge

Dredge decks have been popping up online again, and they're using a new kind of transformational sideboard. Hollow One and Gurmag Angler!

The basis for this deck is the "Pitch Dredge" deck that has seen so much success on Magic Online. The difference is that this deck runs a few colored mana sources in the main deck and it uses a completely different style of sideboard. 

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To support the four copies of Force of Will this deck plays as many blue cards as it reasonably can. Prized Amalgam helps in this regard considerably. Amalgam might not seem that impressive on the surface, but in practice it ends up being quite good. When the deck isn't in "combo mode" with Dread Return it relies on value creatures like Bloodghast and Ichorid to create a threatening board presence. Bloodghast and Ichorid both trigger Prized Amalgam, and this usually puts a lot of power on the battlefield in a hurry. 

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The Dread Return targets in this deck are Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Flame-Kin Zealot. Flame-Kin is generally more powerful in this list as it usually ends the game immediately if Dread Return resolves. Elesh Norn is here as a concession to the mirror matchup, although there are cases in other matchups where Elesh is important. 

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The sideboard of this deck is where the real magic is. In the past people would usually play a sideboard devoted entirely to assembling the Dark Depths combo. That meant running Depths, Thespian's Stage, and Vampire Hexmage. The number of cards devoted to that combo generally took up the entire sideboard, leaving no space for anti-hate cards. This deck also transforms into a configuration that doesn't need to rely on the graveyard, but it does it in a different way. 

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Gurmag Angler is a nearly free creature that can be played with impunity through both Grafdigger's Cage and Containment Priest. The one weakness with using Angler is that it's useless against Leyline of the Void and other similar graveyard nukes. Hollow One is unique in that it can play around every hate card in existence short of Wasteland and Pithing Needle. One Bazaar activation will let you cast every Hollow One in your hand, so as long as you start with Bazaar you have a shot at staying in the game. 

If your opponent has mulliganed to find Grafdigger's Cage and you lead with a turn one Hollow One, they're probably not going to be able to stop it. It only takes a few Bazaar activations to fill your graveyard up for Gurmag Angler too. The fact that this sideboard allows you to keep up the pressure even after your opponent has drawn their hate cards is what makes it work. 

Usually these new Dredge lists are only dedicating seven or eight sideboard slots to Angler/Hollow One. That leaves half of the sideboard space open for anti-hate cards! Because this deck isn't all-in on the transformation plan it can be hard for opponent's to deal with. 

Stax is Back!

Jp0822's Workshop deck found a way to deal with the loss of three copies of Thorn of Amethyst; bringing back Smokestack and Tangle Wire!

I'm not surprised to see Tangle Wire make a comeback as it is a very powerful card, but I didn't expect to see a Smokestack deck do so well. The token-generating creature decks were partly to blame for the demise of Smokestack decks, so with Mentor restricted it kind of makes sense to see a Stax deck being played again. 

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Smokestack is a painful card to play against. Turn after turn it eats away at your board, slowly choking the life out of you like a boa constrictor. Workshop decks are composed of more permanents than other archetypes. so eventually opponents get whittled down to just one or two lands in play with nothing else on board. There's also Crucible of Worlds in this (and most) Workshop decks which can keep Smokestack going indefinitely. 

Tangle Wire adds to the prison element of the deck, but it also acts as a pseudo Time Walk here as well. Even with all of the lock pieces this deck is an aggro deck at heart so it loves a card than can tap down all of an opponent's blockers. 

I'm sure that Thorn of Amethyst is missed, but Mishra's Workshop is powerful enough to keep the MUD archetype going for the foreseeable future. The format seems to have balanced itself out a little bit since Thorn and Mentor were restricted, so hopefully the current incarnations of Workshop Prison will be at a power level that the community is comfortable with. 

An Epilogue for the Monastery Mentor Era

Looking back at the history of Monastery Mentor in Vintage it occurs to me what a ride its been. When Fate Reforged was spoiled people thought of Mentor as a playable card, but few people seemed to grasp its true potential. I distinctly remember an episode of the "Serious Vintage" podcast where people were discussing the new token generator, and nobody seemed that high on the card. People often pointed to the fact that it was in "a bad color" compared to Young Pyromancer. Also the additional point of generic mana in Mentor's casting cost was cited as a major drawback. 

Eventually more and more people adopted Monastery Mentor and it became clear how ridiculous the card was in Vintage. Eventually people started grumbling about whether or not Mentor should be restricted. When it finally happened I was honestly a little shocked. I felt like it was a card that should be restricted, but I really didn't think they'd restrict another creature. I'm glad they did though, because it seems like the Vintage metagame is getting better.

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In the time since the restriction I've seen people playing stuff like Managorger Hydra and The Locust God, along with other random Prowess creatures like Seeker of the Way. All of those creatures are powerful in their own right, but they were rendered obsolete by Mentor. 

Thorn of Amethyst is a card that I didn't want to see restricted, but so far it seems to be going fine. I firmly believe that Workshop decks need to be a viable force at all times as they keep Vintage from devolving into a combo versus combo metagame. Cards like Wasteland and Thorn of Amethyst keep people honest and punish those who create unstable mana bases. Just think about it; if you knew you were going into a tournament where you knew there'd be no prison decks, you'd be free to cut lands, swap out basics for more dual lands, and so on. The mere presence of Workshop Prison in the format means that deck builders have to face consequences if they build haphazardly. 

In conjunction with these positive (in my opinion) changes we've had Vintage leagues added to Magic Online. Once the leagues went live our Vintage Facebook group started getting a marked increase in new membership requests. Now that people can play Vintage whenever they want and for far less than in paper we're seeing more and more folks take the plunge and buy into the format. I'm extremely happy to have played a small part in all of this, and I can't wait to see how this develops! 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll be back soon with more Vintage content. You can follow me on Twitter or Magic Online @Islandswamp


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