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Vintage 101: Something Old, and Something New


Dominarian Domination

Commander 2017 is coming out soon, so I figured that I'd start this week's article by taking a look at a few of the more interesting cards in the set. From what I've seen so far the new Commander set doesn't have much that appears to be Vintage relevant, but taken at face value the cards are very cool. Wizards of the Coast has announced that they will be returning to Dominaria (the original Magic: the Gathering storyline locale) soon. In preparation for this return to Dominaria Wizards has peppered this new Commander set with some old fan-favorite characters from days of Magic past. 

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Mairsil was a character only mentioned in flavor text before, but it's still neat to see the same printed on a legendary creature card. Mirri was a fan-favorite character for a long time, and she's had a few different incarnations over the years. Teferi has been part of the Magic zeitgeist ever since Teferi's Puzzlebox and the character has been printed as a creature and a planeswalker. So far I've only noticed a few of these Dominarian inclusions, but I definitely appreciate this little nostalgic nod to the olden times. None of the above mentioned cards are good enough for competitive Vintage though, so let's move on to a few cards from the "maybe pile". 

Magus of the Mind Freak

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Mind's Desire is an absurdly broken card. In fact, it's so powerful that it was banned and restricted shortly after it was initially printed. Oddly enough, even though I wasn't playing Magic during Scourge, I did happen to play against a Mind's Desire combo deck back when it was legal in the old Classic (basically Vintage without the Power Nine) format on Magic Online. One Desire is highly degenerate, but multiples just get silly. When you have more than one copy of this spell in your deck the chances of the first Desire revealing a second copy are very high. If you manage to flip two copies, you're probably going to get enough of a storm count to cast Mind's Desire for every card in your deck. This is why nowadays Mind's Desire is restricted in Vintage and banned in Legacy. 

With Magus of the Mind from Commander 2017 we have a sort-of Mind's Desire on legs. It also happens to be allowed as a four-of in Vintage and Legacy. Whether or not this new Magus is on par with Mind's Desire remains to be seen. I think the card is very neat, but ultimately I think that it will suffer from the same issues that Magus of the Will did.

The major strike against Magus of the Mind is that it is a creature and as such it has summoning sickness. The Magus requires one blue mana and tapping to activate, so it's more expensive than Mind's Desire and it has a delayed effect (unless it's combined with something else). Because of this fact I don't envision a world where Magus of the Mind becomes Vintage relevant. Legacy may be a different story, but I'm not sure. 

In Legacy players can't play Mind's Desire, so the fact that this new Magus gives Legacy players a way to use this effect is somewhat significant. Legacy also has a staple card that might make Magus of the Mind more interesting. Shallow Grave has been used in a Legacy deck called "Tin Fins" for some time. In Tin Fins the goal is to use Shallow Grave to turn Griselbrand into a Yawgmoth's Bargain and the deck can do some powerful stuff. Perhaps Magus of the Mind could be used in his fashion to create a crazy new storm deck. 

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Holy Shifting Shadow!

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Shifting Shadow is the latest in a long line of creature-cheating cards. This sort of reminds me of a red Polymorph or even Oath of Druids in some ways. The way I imagine a card like this being used would be to cast it on a token creature, from a Khalani Garden perhaps. Then during your next turn you could wind up with a hasty Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Griselbrand

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This interaction is certainly powerful. Any time you can wind up with a massive creature for such a small mana investment it's a good thing. There are just so many better, less costly, and more reliable ways to make this happen. In Vintage we have Oath of Druids and [[Show and Tell]. In Legacy there's Sneak and Show, Omniscience, and the various reanimation spells. Besides, people could have been playing Polymorph in Vintage and Legacy all along and nobody has done so. This tells me that we aren't going to see Shifting Shadow anywhere beyond the kitchen table.

If there's any card from the new Commander set that you think has potential in eternal formats let me know in the comments (just keep in mind, you're not the first one to jokingly say "basic Island"). These sets aren't technically designed for Vintage and Legacy anyway, so as long as they're fun for the dedicated Commander crowd they're doing their job. Still, these supplementary sets are the only way to get freshly printed, original cards into circulation without having to pass through Standard first. The fact that these sets don't have to be fair for Standard is a good thing, because new printings are important to Vintage. Perhaps we will get lucky some day and we'll see a Disenchant with delve or Phyrexian mana in its cost (seriously, Wizards, we need this). 

Let's Get Even Weirder!

In my article entitled "Vintage 101: Let's Get Weird!" I wrote about highlighting the wonderful and wacky world of interesting Vintage decks. This week I have another one, and it's from the Top Eight of the latest Power Nine Challenge! Let's take a look at Bazaar of Baghdad's Solemnity Mentor Remora Dark Depths!

If you're new to Vintage you might see this list and wonder why I'm including yet another "Mentor" deck here. That's because this list is very different than the Monastery Mentor decks that most people are playing. This lovely pile of jank is running Solemnity, Mystic Remora, and Dark Depths!

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With Solemnity on the battlefield Mystic Remora basically loses it's upkeep cost. Cumulative upkeep uses counters to track the accumulation of upkeep costs, so Solemnity is absolutely perfect here. If you've ever had to play against a Mystic Remora you know how powerful it can be, and the only reprieve is that it eventually becomes impossible to to pay the upkeep costs. 

With Solemnity on the battlefield Dark Depths becomes an uncounterable 20/20 flying creature. Since Dark Depths is a land and playing a land doesn't use the stack, an opponent can't respond to it being played. In order to stop Marit Lage from crashing the party an opponent will need to destroy or counter Solemnity before Dark Depths even enters the picture. 

 

Even though there are a lot of slots given to the few unusual inclusions there are still ten main-deck counterspells, a Gush, and Dig Through Time. Bazaar of Baghdad's deck also includes Demonic and Vampiric Tutor to find combo pieces, removal spells, or whatever else is deemed important at the time.  

The only planeswalkers in the deck are two copies of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. The flip-Jace is often found in Monastery Mentor decks because it's cheap, blue, and it replays your broken cards. Time Walk in particular is a broken card with Monastery Mentor, and casting two in the same game is a back-breaking play much of the time. 

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The strangest card in the deck beyond the combo cards is Pithing Needle. Needle is a great card and all, but players usually don't make room for it in their main decks. I'm not sure what specific card Bazaar of Baghdad hoped to counteract with Pithing Needle. but I assume Wasteland was one of the reasons. I guess the bonus here is that there are a lot of corner cases where Pithing Needle wrecks your opponent in an unexpected way. 

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Solemn Dark Mystic Mentor in Vintage

Beyond the slots given to Dark Depths and Solemnity this list is similar to the MentoRemora deck popularized by Kevin Cron (cohost of the So Many Insane Plays podcast). This isn't a bad thing though; the Mentor/Remora deck is a solid and proven concept. Adapting an existing and successful archetype by making your own changes is one of the best ways to brew a deck in my opinion. 

This concept probably doesn't represent the optimal Vintage Monastery Mentor deck, but it does contain some very powerful interactions. The Mentor plan is solid, and having access to the other angles of attack helps to keep the opposition on their toes. 

Congrats to Bazaar for making Top Eight with a deck that I've never seen before! Seeing something like this do well is a breath of fresh air. 

Big Blue

The Top Eight of the last Power Nine Challenge was pretty well dominated by Workshops. Beyond the Top Eight there were several decks from different archetypes including a pair of "Big Blue decks. The various Big Blue decks revolving around Gifts Ungiven, Mana Drain, Thirst for Knowledge, and Paradoxical Outcome haven't been wildly popular lately. Still, these decks are still quite good.

Here we have a fairly basic big blue deck with Thirst for Knowledge as a draw engine as well as the typical win conditions of a combo/control deck. The interesting innovations here are the main deck copy of Propaganda and the sideboard. 

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Propaganda is an underplayed card in Vintage. This is almost a three mana Moat, and it happens to be amazing against several archetypes. Dredge decks often can't beat a Propaganda in game one because they can't make enough mana to attack with more than one creature. Workshop decks can pay mana to attack, but only with non Mishra's Workshop mana sources. That usually means they are tapping Ancient Tomb to attack, and generally they'll be limited to one or two attackers. Against Mentor decks Propaganda negates a lot of the advantage that a monk horde brings. 

In the sideboard there are two more copies of Propaganda and enough Oath of Druids cards to turn this deck into a functioning Oath deck! This transformational sideboard is excellent against Workshops. Against White Eldrazi this plan doesn't work as well due to their Containment Priests, but there's a chance that the Oath plan will succeed anyway by being unexpected. 

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Gifts Ungiven Keeps on Giving

Desolutionist's Baral Gifts deck has remained a fringe deck with only a small number of players picking it up. Personally I chalk this up to the fact that Gifts Ungiven is a tough card to use properly. It takes a little time and effort to learn all of the Gifts piles that should be assembled, and many people seem like they'd rather play something more straightforward. This is simply my opinion, but it seems to be accurate. 

 

Rector-Omni-Flash!

I read a lot of the comment threads on The Mana Drain and the various Vintage Facebook groups looking for ideas about what people want to see. I've noticed at least one very vocal proponent of the Academy Rector/Omniscience deck and this person is always inquiring about the archetype. As luck would have it, someone recently played this deck in a Power Nine Challenge and did just well enough to have their list published. So, to that person, here you go!

Even though this is a fringe archetype it is exceptionally powerful strategy. Omniscience is incredibly strong, and Academy Rector is a relatively cheap way to cheat it into play. The Rector/Omni combo is also deadly with the card Flash thrown into the mix. It's a good thing that Flash is restricted, otherwise this deck could turn into a major problem.

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There are a lot of different lines that this deck can take, but the ultimate goal is to kill someone by casting an Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn with Omniscience in order to gain the "extra turn" trigger. If you don't have Emrakul in hand once you get Omniscience in play you use cards like Yawgmoth's Bargain, Griselbrand, Dig Through Time, or Demonic Tutor to find it. 

This list runs a singleton Gifts Ungiven, but I've seen people often run two or three copies. Frankly I feel that it's worth running more than one copy of Gifts in this archetype because it's basically an automatic win with Omniscience. If you cast Gifts for free and grab a pile that contains Emrakul, another Gifts Ungiven, Demonic Tutor, and another card, your opponent is left with no good option. The opponent can't give you Emrakul or you just win. They can't give you the tutor because you just tutor for Emrakul after your graveyard gets shuffled back into your deck. Chances are your opponent will have to give you Gifts and the other card, and in that case the Emrakul, Demonic Tutor, and the Gifts you just cast all get shuffled back into your deck. At this point you can either endlessly cycle copies of Gifts until you win, or your opponent just gives up and lets you have the Emrakul. 

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Beyond the Rector plan there's also a pair of Show and Tells in the list. Between Griselbrand, Emrakul, Omniscience, and Yawgmoth's Bargain there are four bombs to drop with Show and Tell. You can also use Show and Tell as a bluff and counterspell bait. If you've got a Rector in hand you can cast Show and Tell to try to absorb a counter. You'll either be able to Show your Rector into play or clear out a counterspell and pave the way to freely cast Rector afterwards. 

One of my favorite aspects of the Academy Rector strategy is that it turns Cabal Therapy into a combo piece as well as a discard spell. Cabal Therapy is a tricky card to play, but if you master its use it's better than Thoughtseize and Duress. Cabal Therapy was a little better before Gitaxian Probe was restricted, but was still very good before Probe ever saw print.

Sideboard of Druids

Oddly enough this is the second deck featured in this article to include Oath of Druids in the sideboard. This makes a lot of sense in my opinion because the biggest drawback to this deck is that it's much more mana-intensive than Vintage Oath is. Since this deck already contains target creatures for Oath all you have to do is bring in the four copies of Oath and you're good to go. There's no need for Forbidden Orchard in the sideboard because Workshop decks can't win without casting their creatures anyway. 

That's all the time I have for today. Until next time you can chat with me about Vintage (or whatever) on The Mana Drain, Facebook, and Twitter @Islandswamp 

 


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