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Browse > Home / Strategy / Articles / Vintage 101: Tales of a Bygone Era, Part 5

Vintage 101: Tales of a Bygone Era, Part 5

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're continuing our look back historically in Vintage with a look at 2015-2017. In addition to that we've got two Challenges to look at.

Without further ado, let's dive right in!

Tales of a Bygone Era, Part 5: 2015 - 2017

We continue this ongoing series from last time looking at the years of 2012 - 2014. Before we get started looking at 2015 - 2017, I will note again how insane the last three months of 2014 looked due to the printings of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time so we'll be focusing primarily on that first.

2015 - The Year of the Dragonlord

2015's immediate impact on the format came in the form of not only a Banned and Restricted update but also the printing of a new set in Fate Reforged. For the past three months since October 2014, we saw the power level of the two Delve spells and in January of 2015 one of those spells was restricted in the form of Treasure Cruise. The card's power level was incredibly strong, giving decks in the format a way to cast multiple Ancestral Recalls due to how trivial it was to fill the graveyard for these spells. At the same time, Gifts Ungiven was actually unrestricted and has since proven itself to just be a part of the format that eventually disappeared in more current times.

The release of Fate Reforged had some notable cards in it, primarily Ugin, the Spirit Dragon which would later be a solid target for Arena Rector / Flash decks, but the real powerhouse of the format was Monastery Mentor.

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One of the Vintage format's most infamous Quirion Dryad effects, Mentor shook the format to its very core, providing a threat that not only went wide but went large as well. It was an exceptionally powerful finisher, one we'll talk about going forward into 2016 and 2017 later on here, but the sheer power of Mentor is still so good in the format that even though it's restricted today it still sees play as a finisher.

Pushing forward to March of 2015 saw the release of Dragons of Tarkir, the final set in the Tarkir trilogy. This set didn't have a ton for Vintage overall, however it did have something that at least one player out there by the name of Brian Kelly would pick up on in the form of Dragonlord Dromoka.

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Dromoka was a pretty powerful take on Oath of Druids targets, earning Brian Kelly the nickname of "The Dragonlord." Restricting the opponent to only casting spells during their own turn was pretty strong. In addition to the Dragonlord, Dragons of Tarkir also had cards like Kolaghan's Command, which was a fairly powerful modal spell.

July brought about Magic Origins, the return of Magic to Core Sets, but the set was fairly underpowered overall and didn't have all that much to offer to the format outside of one card that did see some play in the form of Hangarback Walker.

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Hangarback proved to be an effective card with Arcbound Ravager and Steel Overseer over a long time in Workshops decks. Being able to put a lot of counters on it and then sacrifice it to Ravager would really push damage through in mid-combat and it could generate a bunch of evasive tokens at the same time.

Eternal Weekend was again in Pennsylvania, hosted by Card Titan, in August of 2015. This 484 player event had a lot of interesting decks in it, but the winner was the aforementioned "Dragonlord" himself Brian Kelly on Oath.

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Dromoka's power level here was primarily due in part that the deck was not only an Oath deck but it was a Bomberman combo deck as well, utilizing Auriok Salvagers and Black Lotus to make a bunch of mana and then win the game with something like Pyrite Spellbomb to deal a bunch of damage to the opponent.

Other notable strategies among this event's top tables was decks like Jeskai Mentor (running only three Mentors which was interesting enough), Grixis Thieves, Workshops, and even Dredge. We also saw some Delver strategies alongside Young Pyromancer.

The changes to Vintage's Banned and Restricted list would come to a head in September of 2015 as Dig Through Time was finally restricted alongside another card that had been part of the format for quite a long time in the form of Chalice of the Void. Chalice had become very much recognized as a prison piece that functionally prevented one of the core reasons to play Vintage in the first place which was to be able to cast cards like Black Lotus and Moxen. The ease of having four Chalices had proven to be very powerful in the format. I'm still a little torn on this decision, but I get that wanting to allow people to play with the core tenets of the format makes a lot of sense. In that same announcement we also saw Thirst for Knowledge become unrestricted, and since then it did very little if anything despite being the powerhouse of the format it once was.

The final Standard release of 2015 was Battle for Zendikar, a revisit to the world of Zendikar and the ongoing war with the Eldrazi. There wasn't much of this set that really proved to be Vintage playable, but the set did have cards like Retreat to Hagra which would become interesting cards in Fastbond shells later on in the format's life.

2016 - The Oath of the Gatewatch and More

2016 kicked off with a real bang primarily due in part with the release of Oath of the Gatewatch in January of 2016. This set introduced Colorless as a concept of mana payment, providing the new "C" symbol that became commonly associated with the Eldrazi creatures of the set. Speaking of Eldrazi though, this set was famous for printing the most undercosted and aggressively powerful Eldrazi cards of all time.

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The Eldrazi in Oath were so incredibly powerful with the already in print Eye of Ugin that it gave decks a way to leverage these aggressive threats. In fact, the very existence of these cards actually created a new deck that did well in Eternal Weekend events that was fully unpowered (meaning it had no cards like Black Lotus or Moxen in it) and that deck was made popular by Jason Jaco, coming to be known as "Jaco-Drazi". This deck had some exceptionally solid records, proving that there was a strategy in the format that could be built cheaply and still be competitive.

This set also gave prison decks a new and interesting tool in the form of Eldrazi Displacer. When combined with Containment Priest, the Displacer could straight up exile other creatures for 2C and it could also protect other creatures in play if it had to, while also using its ability to abuse Thought-Knot Seer and it's ETB trigger.

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We move forward a few months to the next Standard release in Shadows over Innistrad. For the most part this set didn't actually do too much in terms of Vintage competitiveness, but it did give the Vintage Humans decks of the era a new toy in Thalia's Lieutenant to play around with. Dredge decks also gained a new powerful recursive threat in the form of Prized Amalgam.

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Outside of these cards, not much caught the eye of Vintage players not named Brian Kelly, who proceeded to absolutely demolish people with the Planeswalker Arlinn Kord in Oath decks.

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Brian Kelly. Never change!

In the same month that Shadows over Innistrad released, we also got an update to the Vintage Banned and Restricted list with the final restriction of Lodestone Golem, having proven to be exceptionally strong in Mishra's Workshop based decks.

The next Standard release was in July with the set Eldritch Moon, the finale of the Innistrad two-set block. This set had some interesting cards in it, including the final Eldrazi Titan in a new form with Emrakul, the Promised End.

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Emrakul having to be cast to achieve its effect was very interesting in of itself, and the card did actually see play in Vintage because of how incredibly powerful controlling the other player's turn was. Mindslaver was a staple of the format for a long time and sometimes cost more than Emrakul to recur turn by turn. Emrakul could do that and be a 13/13 flier that couldn't be hit by Swords to Plowshares.

This set also saw the printing of cards like Thalia, Heretic Cathar and Collective Brutality, both very interesting cards to have around.

Immediately after Eldritch Moon we saw a new supplementary product called Conspiracy: Take the Crown. This set was a sequel follow-up to Conspiracy and it introduced a new mechanic that proved to be very interesting in the form of Monarch.

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Monarch was an interesting mechanic for multiplayer games, but it's snowball effect in 1v1 Magic was quite powerful. In addition to card giving the Monarch, of which Palace Jailer was the most imminently playable card in older formats, we also got a powerful card for BUG based decks in Leovold, Emissary of Trest.

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Leovold proved to be quite powerful in Vintage, punishing draw effects while also punishing players for attempting to interact with the card as well. Leovold sees very little play these days, but this being the start of three mana draw punisher effects was quite interesting at its time.

With Eternal Weekend pushed later in the year to October/November and also in a different locale (Columbus, OH), we had one more Standard set with Kaladesh. While Kaladesh certainly had some interesting cards in it, especially with the powerful Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo that would appear with the next set release of Aether Revolt, the best card for Vintage out of this set was actually Skysovereign, Consul Flagship.

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A beefy effect that could kill another creature or Planeswalker and then turn into a 6/5 with flying was really good. This card still sees a bit of play today, most especially as a possible target in the sideboard for Karn, the Great Creator, and it's still quite good.

As noted, Eternal Weekend made a move to Columbus, Ohio that year and the event definitely was interesting. We still saw a lot of decks not fully adopting Mentor's power level and how strong that card really was. The event itself was won by Joseph Bogaard on Landstill utilizing Emrakul, the Promised End.

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This is a pretty solidly built list, abusing Standstill and Emrakul to great effect. Standstill itself has not been an incredibly strong part of the current format although it occasionally crops up here or there.

This event also saw a Top 8 appearance of the aforementioned Jaco-Drazi list featuring no copies of Power 9 cards.

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What really made this deck tick I feel was Thorn of Amethyst being unrestricted. Once Thorn was restricted I think this deck lost a lot of power to it.

2017 - The Year Mentor Attacked

2017 really opened up on a set that introduced another truly powerful card to Vintage with the release of Aether Revolt. Widely considered to be one of the best Workshops creatures ever printed in its time, and also a powerful win condition for Bomberman decks we had Walking Ballista.

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Ballista pushed Workshops decks over the top in a big way. It interacted insanely well with Arcbound Ravager and could even just kill an opponent out of nowhere in combat with Ravager activations. Using combat damage and then sacrificing a bunch of artifacts to kill the opponent with a lethal Ballista was fairly common in this deck and to this day we often refer to that as "Ravager Math" because of having to figure out how to properly navigate those situations. To this day, we still occasionally see Ballista but the rise of cards like Collector Ouphe and more Null Rod seeing play in conjunction with threats that don't care about those cards have mostly obsoleted this card outside of very specialized situations.

Moving ahead to April of 2017 we saw a very important set of changes to Vintage in the form of Banned and Restricted updates. In an effort to curb the power of Mentor in the format, Wizards chose to finally restrict both Gush and also Gitaxian Probe, recognizing that the latter's ability to generate free informational advantage for a cheap cost (2 life is super cheap) worked incredibly well with Mentor and gave those decks ways to work around various problematic strategies. Gush also rightfully saw a final return to the Restricted spot, where it has been since.

April also saw the release of Amonkhet from a set perspective. Amonkhet didn't have a lot for Vintage overall, despite providing an incredibly interesting Academy Rector target with Cruel Reality, the set simply didn't have a lot of cards that were playable from in the format.

Not much else occurred in the format at large through into July with the release of Hour of Devastation. As was the case with Amonkhet, this set didn't really provide a lot for Vintage overall. I will note that Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh did become another fun Arena Rector target.

Things came to a head in August of 2017 when finally players had figured out how powerful Monastery Mentor really was and Wizards decided it was time to intervene and intervene they did. They hit both Mentor and Thorn of Amethyst with restrictions, understanding that restricting just Mentor would increase the power of Workshops decks much more and choosing to hit Thorn as a way to curb that. In addition, they also unrestricted Yawgmoth's Bargain, which proved to be quite a safe restriction overall.

Prior to Eternal Weekend that year there was another Standard release, the final one of the year in Ixalan. This set introduced one very interesting rules change in that it changed Planeswalkers to be Legendary permanents following the Legendary rule. Outside of that rules change there wasn't much for Vintage, but there was a new Pithing Needle-like effect in Sorcerous Spyglass.

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Spyglass's playability has dropped a ton in past years mainly and primarily due to how powerful the printing of Urza's Saga was, being able to find Needle, but for a time this card did see play.

Eternal Weekend that year was back in Pittsburgh, PA, and it was actually the first Eternal Weekend I ever attended! This event was highly notable as being heavily populated by Ravager Shops, with the Top 8 of the event being 5/8 Shops decks. The finals match was also one to behold as it was between Vintage stalwarts Andy Markiton and Rich Shay, with Andy taking it down.

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Ravager Shops at this time was exceptionally strong and it had so much gameplay to it that it really seemed like more of the deck was going to need restricted after this event. Thankfully more printings combined with deckbuilding decisions and metagame knowledge prevented any changes needing to be made to the deck during this time and even through up to 2019 (2019 was a special year for sure).

Wrapping Up

Next time we will be looking at the years 2018 - 2020, with some incredibly insane things that happen in those years. As always hope you're enjoying this series!

Vintage Challenge 7/1

The first Challenge event of the weekend was the mid afternoon event. This event had 48 players in it thanks to the data collected by the Vintage Streamer's Discord.

You can find all of the Top 32 decklists for this event here and the data sheet here.

Initiative was quite popular here and it had a really good win rate, as did Combo Shops and Doomsday. Oath also performed quite well. BUG and Prison Shops performed poorly as did other DRS variants.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Initiative 1st ClubFlamingo
Initiative Tinker 2nd Shadowz2005
Doomsday 3rd sixmp
Oath of Druids 4th ecobaronen
CounterVine 5th magicofplayer1
Oath of Druids 6th Musasabi
Reanimator 7th s063
Dredge 8th RogeDeckWins

Interesting Top 8 here. Some Oath, some Initiative based decks, and a smattering of others. At the end of the event it was Initiative that won the event.

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Very stock looking list here. Lot of strength in this deck for sure. This deck continues to be a really interesting part of the overall metagame.

In Second Place we've got Initiative Tinker.

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Solid list here. No Seasoned Dungeoneer, but I don't think the deck specifically needs it. White Plume Adventurer is definitely strong enough on its own.

Further down the list we had Doomsday.

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Great looking list. I like the sideboard jukes and the addition of Subtlety in the sideboard to deal with the Initiative decks. Doomsday is definitely quite strong for sure.

Near the bottom of the Top 8 we had a really sweet Reanimator Dragon Combo list.

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Orcish Bowmasters as a payoff for Worldgorger Dragon is incredibly sweet. Super cool list. I could definitely dig playing something like this.

Vintage Challenge 7/2

The second Challenge event of the weekend was the early morning Sunday event. There was no data for this event so we don't know exactly how many players there were for this one so we only have Top 32 to go off of.

You can find all of the Top 32 decklists for this event here.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
CounterVine 1st 416FrowningTable
Combo Shops 2nd Cherryxman
Initiative 3rd MadMaxErnst
Initiative 4th J0SE
Doomsday 5th TunnelGaan
CounterVine 6th magicofplayer1
Oath of Druids 7th Musasabi
Prison Shops 8th xfile

Solid Top 8 here. Lot of interesting decks for sure. At the end of the event it was CounterVine that won it all.

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This deck definitely continues to jockey for position but I think it's one of the best Bazaar decks in the format right now. If you're looking for something incredibly aggressive, this is worth checking out.

In Second Place we've got Combo Shops.

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This is definitely a deck where The One Ring feels incredibly powerful, given that you can bounce it with cards like Paradoxical Outcome and then recast it to regain the protection effect, but also draw a bunch of cards. Very strong card here.

Further down the Top 8 we had Oath of Druids.

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I really enjoy these Show and Tell variants of the Oath deck with Atraxa. Having player around with them, they feel incredibly strong.

At the bottom of the Top 8 we had a sweet Prison Shops list.

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Definitely a solidly cool list here. The One Ring seems powerful here as well to draw a bunch of cards. Super strong for sure.

Around the Web

The Spice Corner

You can find this past weeks 5-0 lists here.


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Sauron's Ransom!

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thanks for your continued support of the column and join me next week as we continue our journey into Vintage!

As always you can reach me at my Link Tree! In addition you can always reach me on the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the Vintage Streamers Discord.

Until next time!

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