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Vintage 101: Survival of the Sickest


Howdy folks! It's time for yet another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your hostest with the mostest, Joe Dyer, and this week we're continuing our prep work for US Eternal Weekend on November 1st-4th. This week we're gonna be talking about the newest kid on the Vintage block! We'll also be talking about Unpowered Vintage lists for Eternal Weekend! Without further ado, let's dive right into the meat of this article and talk about SURVIVAL!

Surviving in the Free World

The deck is of course, Survival (otherwise known as "Survival Salad" on The Mana Drain). The deck was originally posted to TMD on May 22, 2018 and has seen lots of development since its inception, and was even featured in the hands of Athena Froehlich on Team Vintage Super League. Survival is a toolbox style combo deck, leaning on the strength of its namesake card: Survival of the Fittest.

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Creature tutor and combo piece all in one, Survival is capable of some pretty impressive things. Being able to pitch cards like Basking Rootwalla for free creatures and generating discard count for cards like Hollow One, while being able to hunt down silver bullet cards that answer specific matchups, Survival can do all of that for the low, low cost of a single green mana per activation. Only a few activations are generally needed to develop a board state, and more often than not you're going to get value out of whatever you are discarding, whether it's your Rootwallas or a Wonder. The deck is able to do this not only through the use of the Moxen/fast mana in the deck, but also extra mana sources like Noble Hierarch or Elvish Spirit Guide.

Since this deck is also partially a Hollow One / Vengevine combo deck, it is also a four-of Bazaar of Baghdad deck. Bazaar is capable of turning on Hollow One with a single activation, which can lead to some very fast and powerful starts. This tech has been adopted in Dredge sideboards, but Survival takes this a step further by building its deck on that interaction as well.

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In addition to the combo heavy starts, Survival runs a general plethora of silver bullet creatures. Often you'll see cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, but occasionally you'll also see hate bear effects like Gaddock Teeg, Kambal, Consul of Allocation, Containment Priest, and even cards like Manglehorn.

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Let's take a look at a few of the more recent lists from Magic Online so that we can get a feel for how this deck is constructed.

Beyond the typical additions of the Power in these lists, Survival lists can fluctuate in regards to which additional creatures it runs, but most of the deck's pilots have settled on slot numbers for things such as Thalia, Wonder over cards like Anger, and the inclusion of stuff such as Squee, Goblin Nabob (who is a free creature pitch to Survival since he just comes back to hand next upkeep). Often times this deck will also run cards such as Deathrite Shaman, for the mana acceleration and reach that the card provides, as well as occasional Delve creatures like Tasigur, the Golden Fang.

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One other noteworthy inclusion in the Main deck is Stony Silence over Null Rod. Dealing with enchantments is often a little more difficult for certain decks like Paradoxical Outcome or Ravager Shops, so Stony Silence has become a go-to in shutting down those kinds of strategies.

Sideboard-wise, Survival is capable of packing in a few more silver bullet style cards (usually in the form of cards like Containment Priest to shut down Dredge strategies) as well as hate cards for Shops/Outcome in the forms of additional Manglehorn and even Energy Flux or Kataki, War's Wage. Aditional anti-artifact/enchantment cards such as Nature's Claim or Wispmare often make it into the sideboards to combat the mirror match as well as decks like Oath of Druids.

Losing a Survival Battle

So now that we know a little bit about how this deck works and how it can win games, how do we dismantle it? Because this deck often has prison elements and potential fast clocks (as well as multiple threats), being able to cut off Survival of the Fittest is going to be important, but also dealing with silver bullets is necessary as well. Blue control decks fair well here, because they have counter magic to deal with cards like Survival, however those same decks can often struggle versus Survival since the deck has such a variety of threats. Oath of Druids and Dredge are tough matchups depending on the list and whether the Survival player is capable of hunting out their win conditions / silver bullet cards before losing the game. Again this is highly dependent on the opposing players draws and how fast they're able to assemble a kill before Survival can get online.

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Because Survival is a non-Blue deck in the sense that it isn't running cantrips like the singleton Brainstorm or Preordain, it has to rely solely on Bazaar of Baghdad and Ancestral Recall to draw cards, so sometimes the deck can stumble and lose to its own draws if it doesn't see the appropriate cards or the correct engine it needs for the matchup at hand. Survival is a deck that requires a lot of mental math and play time to understand how to fit its plan to the opponent, so this can often lead to stumbles as well. Capitalizing on those stumbles is a good way to beat this kind of deck.

Paradoxical Outcome is also very good against this type of deck, having evolved its sideboard to deal with threats such as Thalia and the prison elements the deck already runs. This often comes up in the form of cards like Fatal Push to deal with the creatures that provide hate effects as well as the existing cards like Hurkyl's Recall.

Another card that would prove great against this sort of deck is The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, given that more often than not the deck can't keep up mana payment for all of the creatures it spits onto the board.

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Survival Thoughts

Survival is a very fun and interesting deck, and I feel like it would also be a very solid deck to take to an event such as US Eternal Weekend, despite being on the radar of many of the online player base. The deck has game against pretty much every archetype in the format. This deck is a solid choice and I hope to see it in some capacity at Eternal Weekend on coverage.

The Walk into the Unpowered

One of the coolest things about US Eternal Weekend is that they offer a very specific prize to those people who dare bring the spice. That's right, Card Titan has a Budget Prize setup for the top three highest placing Vintage lists that do not contain any of the Power Nine, Bazaar of Baghdad, Mishra's Workshop, or Library of Alexandria.

So then, what kind of decks can we build if we don't have access to these cards? Turns out, it can be pretty solid.

With these set of restrictions, it's only natural to look to other fast mana strategies that are available to other formats such as Legacy. One such strategy that's proven tried and true thanks to one Jason Jaco is the use of the Eldrazi cards from Oath of the Gatewatch. Eldrazi is a very linear strategy, but what makes it work in Vintage is access to being able to slam down a Turn 1 Null Rod off the back of fast mana like Ancient Tomb or City of Traitors. Thus I give you the deck Jaco-Drazi, so named after Jason himself for his tireless effort in making this sort of list work.

Between the ability to get that Null Rod down (and turn your opponent's Moxen into fancy paperweights), this deck is easily one of the best unpowered lists that exists. Thanks to the power level of Sol lands like Tomb, Eldrazi Temple, and Eye of Ugin, not only can this deck disrupt your opponent's mana but it can also disrupt their hand while presenting a clock in the form of cards such as Eldrazi Mimic and Thought-Knot Seer. Throw in a dash of Reality Smasher and you have a deck that can pummel. While this deck doesn't have full access to the range of lock pieces like regular Legacy Eldrazi does (because of the restrictions on cards like Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere), it does at least get to run cards like Phyrexian Metamorph to double the fun with its disruptive creatures.

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Eldrazi's power level is not to be denied. This deck can quickly run away with a game if you're not on a fast combo variant, as the use of Cavern of Souls can muscle through countermagic like it's butter. This is something I would definitely expect those enterprising folks seeking that Budget prize at Eternal Weekend will be playing.

Another deck that has the potential to perform is a variant on the Modern deck Humans. Powered Humans has existed for some time in the Vintage format, but what if we tried to depower it and play cards like Null Rod instead? It's worth noting that we still get access to singletons of cards like Lotus Petal, so the potential for a Turn 1 Hate bear or Null Rod is actually decent still. This is just spitballing of course, I have not tested this list, but it looks decent enough on paper.

What I like about this list is between cards like Lotus Petal and Simian Spirit Guide, we have a really decent shot at opening up on a Turn 1 effect such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or even a truly hateful effect like Kambal, Consul of Allocation or Scab-Clan Berserker. With access to twelve multicolored lands that can cast creatures, this deck never struggles with mana, and even has Wasteland and Strip Mine to deal with opposing lands like Bazaar, Workshop, etc.

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One of the better cards in this list is Kitesail Freebooter. This card presents a decent enough clock on its own by the sheer fact of being a flying creature (which happens very rarely in Vintage outside of cards like Wonder in Survival and Hangarback Walker in Shops) that also provides a measure of disruption to your opponent's hand. It's a powerful effect all around.

Speaking of Hate bears, what would happen if we just threw some of the better Mono-White Hate bears into one deck and ran with it? Well, you'd probably get something that looks a little bit like this:

Mana denial, library searching denial, even access to Main deck graveyard disruption and artifact disruption in the forms of Grafdigger's Cage and Stony Silence. Without any fast mana at all, this deck can obviously struggle in a game where fast mana determines the course of the game, but if left unchecked... cards like Leonin Arbiter and Ghost Quarter seem pretty good.

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The final unpowered list I'd like to share should be pretty familiar to a lot of people, since it's not really that far off from its Legacy counterpart (with the exception of the lack of Aether Vial). This is another deck with very little access to fast mana, but once its train gets rolling it can steamroll its opponents with a bevy of large creatures. I'm talking of course, about Merfolk!

With access to Cavern of Souls as well, Merfolk can push its creatures through counter magic very easily, and those creatures quickly can become gigantic thanks to lord effects from Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl Trident. One other fun part of these effects is that they also grant Islandwalk, giving this deck a severe leg up on opposing blue decks in the format by being able to just walk right up and say hello. This deck also plays Null Rod (shocker, I know, right?) to try to disrupt decks that rely on a lot of the fast mana like Moxen. This is still a very viable and powerful option, but I suspect that when it comes to decks that want to present a clock while being able to disrupt, Humans and Eldrazi would be the best bets for a budget minded list.

The Spice Corner

Speaking of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale... it's Vintage Lands! This deck is sweet.

Wrapping Up

I'm definitely looking forward to the coverage this weekend for US Eternal Weekend. It should prove to be a very exciting time, and I hope you guys will find the time to tune in and check out all the awesome Vintage action, I know I will be. I wish I could be there this weekend, but alas, things just didn't line up for me in that regards. I am hopeful to be there next year. Whether I will be playing Vintage there or not next year will depend upon a lot of things lining up for me, but I would definitely love to make that happen.

So, good luck this weekend to all of the North American Vintage Championships competitors. It's gonna be one heck of a ride!

Next week we'll be jumping into how to get into Magic Online with Vintage, and then we'll be taking a look at the Metagame of Eternal Weekend the following week. Look forward to it!

My props this week goes out to the man himself, Andy Markiton, otherwise known as Montolio. Probably one of the most stellar Vintage players that exists, and one of the nicest players of the game that I've ever met personally. Go follow him on Twitter!

As always, don't forget to hit me up on Twitter or Twitch. Once this month settles down we'll be working our way back into a more regular streaming schedule than I have been (lot of real life stuff has crept up on me which has prevented my streaming efforts). If you manage to stop by on a stream night, I greatly appreciate the support and hope that I can provide some quality content for you. Furthermore, I've been looking at the possibility of just straight recording some Vintage leagues for a future article on getting into the format on Magic Online, so hopefully we will be able to find the time to do this as well. The life of a content creator is never boring!

Until next time folks!


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