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Vintage 101: Survivor - Amonkhet Edition


Howdy folks! It's time for yet another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host Joe Dyer, and we are here yet again to dive deep into the current Vintage format with the eye at preparing you to understand the waves and motions of Vintage. With Vintage as a method of being able to queue for Mythic Championships and the MOCS this coming year, it's an exciting time to dive in and start learning about the format!

This week we're looking at a deck we've focused on before on this column, but has seen some vast improvements in the time since we last looked at it. It's Vintage's newest combo deck: Survival!

When We Last Left Our Heroes...

We've talked about the history of this deck before (via this article), but the deck has changed greatly since we last visited it. As users on The Mana Drain continue to develop and tune the decklists, the deck continues to undergo iterations to attack the Vintage Meta game. As of late, some Survival players have trimmed the fat and also the color White as a primary focus in the deck (while still having access to some White sideboard cards like Containment Priest) and have instead focused primarily on a Sultai-splash Red base (and even then not really splashing Red because Squee is only a Survival discard effect) because of one singular card:

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Leovold's power is undeniable versus decks like Paradoxical Outcome. While Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can be played out of if the Paradoxical player can resolve even one Paradoxical and find a bounce or kill spell, Leovold ensures that it's not possible for them to even resolve a single Outcome unless they are capable of dealing with it, and also shuts down the usage of Sensei's Divining Top during the Paradoxical player's turn to find an answer and draw it. All in all, this is a very powerful card. What this also does for the deck is that it ups the number of blue spells along with the Power in the deck to play Force of Will as a way to also beat some of these other more powerful decks.

In addition, being more on a Sultai base makes Assasin's Trophy a much more interesting card to play in the sideboard. Suffice to say, with this new change and shift in technology the deck is doing very well and is very powerful, while also dropping to very cheap levels of card prices thanks to dropping Noble Hierarch completely for Deathrite Shaman.

The Deconstruction of Survival

To get an understanding of how this deck functions, let's take a look at the list and deconstruct things into categories.

Mana

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Amusingly enough, since dropping the white out of the list and moving into a primary Sultai based build, the deck has opted to drop to only the on-color Moxen and Lotus for its artifact mana. The deck no longer needs those mana sources when it's trying to resolve things like Leovold. This shift has caused the deck's mana dorks to drop Noble Hierarch entirely for the much more utility focused Deathrite Shaman (who can also close out games if need be). In addition, Elvish Spirit Guide is a mainstay of the deck, being a mana source that can actually be tutored for by a Survival activation.

The Survival Engine

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At its heart, this deck is a Bazaar of Baghdad deck, with the raw engine power of Survival of the Fittest backing it. However, this deck's strongest plays often come from the next category of cards, fueled by a Bazaar activation.

Free Creatures

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The backbone of the creatures in this deck, these guys all synergize well with each other. Bazaar can help pitch Vengevines to the graveyard, in addition to dumping a few Basking Rootwalla for free casts to get back Vengevine to play. In addition, Hollow One is completely free with a single Bazaar activation, making the potential for multiples on Turn 1 a very strong and sometimes unbeatable start.

Silver Bullets / Utility

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We've already covered the relative strengths of Leovold in this deck, so we won't waste more time on talking about him. The rest of the creatures here can be very specific in their purpose. Phantasmal Image is a strong way to copy any creature from Blightsteel Colossus to Griselbrand, while Squee, Goblin Nabob is a free creature that can be pitched to Survival and recurred to hand to be used again. Trygon Predator is a powerful way of getting rid of artifacts in either the Shops matchup or even Paradoxical Outcome. Wonder is a fun card that turns on fliers for your team as long as you remembered to fetch your Tropical Island (you did remember to fetch the Tropical Island, right?) and gives the deck ways to get over and above other creatures in the format.

Blue Spells

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While this deck has always ran cards like Ancestral Recall and Time Walk, an increased blue count in creatures and renewed focus on blue means that cards like Mental Misstep, Flusterstorm, and Force of Will are on the table for matchups where that countermagic matters. In addition, Deep Analysis makes for a nice draw two spell that can be pitched to the graveyard and cast later if need be.

Survival - Playing Out the Lines

On paper, Survival can seem a little daunting. Most people look at this deck and wonder "What does this deck even do?" at first, but playing the deck is generally what will present to you the best of what this deck is capable of. As with many Vintage decks, this deck is very opening hand dependent, and it's deep lines can not always be fully seen at first. Thankfully for the most part this is a deck that you can reasonably goldfish your opening hands to get a feel for how the deck plays.

Typically you are going to be looking for ways to get a fast start on the board, either through Bazaar of Baghdad into multiple Hollow One or Vengevine or through a fast Survival of the Fittest into chaining creatures out with it. If Survival can come down as quickly as Turn 1-2, you can play off tricks such as using Survival to fetch Elvish Spirit Guide as a mana source to pitch another creature to play into Hollow One+Vengevine. It's also important to note that information about your opponent can often color the kinds of hands you wish to keep versus them, as you will want to keep hands that can deploy whatever is needed to win the matchup. The matchups where this can really matter are Paradoxical and Ravager Shops, since specific Main deck cards can be tutored up with Survival to fight them (such as Leovold and Trygon Predator). Other matchups, such as fair blue decks and even matchups like Dredge can be dealt with by aiming for a fast hand that presents a lot of action and damage very early. Deathrite Shaman hands are also going to be good versus Dredge depending on if you know what to hit with it.

All in all, this deck is fun and rewarding while being reasonably difficult to get into the swing with, but it's a powerful deck if you're looking for something interesting that's different than other Vintage decks in the format.

Sideboarding with Survival

Now let's take a look at some of the sideboarding options of this deck and how they break down.

Graveyard Hate

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As is typical of most Vintage decks, there are generally around 7-8 slots devoted purely to Graveyard hate versus decks like Dredge. In Survival's case, this often lends itself to cards like Ravenous Trap and Containment Priest. Priest pulls double duty in that it also beats up on Oath of Druids and a timely one versus a Tinker can end a Blightsteel Colossus. Both Trap and Priest are also strong in the mirror match, since Priest can be used to trigger a Vengevine in your graveyard upon casting as the second creature spell for the turn while also shutting your opponent off access to theirs and Trap can also hit their graveyard to stop any Vengevine or things like Deep Analysis there as well.

Artifact Hate

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Another mainstay of most Vintage decks is the fact that you need abilities to hate out artifacts. In this deck, we see cards like Null Rod and Energy Flux to handle that duty. Null Rod is great at shutting down not only Ravager Shops but also Paradoxical Outcome, and so is Energy Flux (by attaching an upkeep cost to their artifacts making it hard to float mana for Outcome if they can't find an Outcome in time to keep paying for it. However your mileage may vary since they can also float mana in response to the triggers and cast Outcome at instant speed).

Other Utility / Permanent Hate

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The other cards in this sideboard are Mindbreak Trap and Assassin's Trophy. Trap is powerful for hating out Storm combo, especially now that Paradoxical is back on Tendrils of Agony kills, while Assassin's Trophy is a generally powerful catch-all answer to various problem permanents that may show up during a game. Occasionally you may see cards like Nature's Claim or Abrupt Decay as additional permanent based hate, but Trophy being able to catch lands in some cases can be very strong. I very much like the card in a shell like this where it feels reasonably castable out of the sideboard.

Survival Resources - How to Survive in an Unforgiving Wasteland of Vintage

Here are a few good resources on Survival to take a look at for game play and deck tech information. You might even spot a familiar face amongst these!

The Spice Corner

Brian Kelly brings the spice yet again with Grixis Control featuring such hits as Tasigur, the Golden Fang (now with less Banana)!

Ravnica Allegiance

Ravnica Allegiance is right around the corner, and while we don't have a lot of spoilers yet, one spoiler did pop up this week that looks pretty awesome for Vintage playability.

This is a really sweet hate bear effect, and I am looking forward to talking about it more in my Vintage review of Ravnica Allegiance next month. Suffice to say this is a neat card, and very strong.

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Hope you guys have been enjoying this little jaunt into the various decks in the Vintage format. Next week is our final article of 2018 and marks my third month writing this column, so let's end the year out with a bang! I'm currently running a mailbag form via Google Docs with plans to feature your burning questions about Vintage (or y'know, whatever else you want to ask me about). Please check it out over here! I'm leaving this up over the weekend so that people can get their questions in before I compile everything for next week's article. I hope to see some sweet questions from you fine folks. In addition, if anyone wants to send me some truly spicy deck lists for next week's article, please feel free to hit me up on Twitter!

In addition next week we'll also be talking about another deck in the Vintage format, as we'll be doing a deeper dive into the world of Paradoxical Outcome!

Until next time, keep your gameplay frosty and your games of Magic old school!


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