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Vintage 101: Tales of a Bygone Era, Part 6


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 on our journey through historical Vintage eras with a focus on 2018 - 2020! In addition to that we've got two Challenge events to look at.

Without further ado, let's dive right in!

Tales of a Bygone Era, Part 6: 2018 - 2020 - The Wrath of Karn

We're continuing our series into the look at historical Vintage with the years of 2018 - 2020. Before we get into that though, there was a single card that I actually forgot to mention, and it's quite hilarious because it came out in Kaladesh from last week's article, but in all fairness the card itself didn't really start popping off as a larger portion of the metagame until Monastery Mentor and Thorn of Amethyst was restricted. How in the world did I forget to mention Paradoxical Outcome?!

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This card definitely created an entire archetype all by itself and that archetype definitely began to pick up steam once cards like Thorn were gone. One of the truly long mainstays of Vintage even to this day, PO has been a card that at one point drew ire for people asking for it to be restricted even. PO has definitely become a fair part of the format, ranging across typical PO Storm decks in its early infancy to Mentor decks to now Tinker decks. Much of its early inception came about as an answer to Workshops decks, as PO could very easily outpace these decks with a combination of cards like Hurkyl's Recall into winning the game with PO.

Another thing worth mentioning through the course of these past eras of Vintage is that starting in 2016 was the inception of the Vintage Super League. Concepted by Athena Froehlich and Randy Buehler, the VSL was a way for players to engage with many of the personalities of the Vintage format (folks such as Kevin Cron, Stephen Menendian, Brian Kelly, Rich Shay, etc.) in an entertaining way of having a streamed live show. The VSL closed its doors during this era in 2019 with its final season 8 and has yet to return since, primarily due in part to the departure of Athena to a position at Wizards of the Coast and the mostly retirement of Randy Buehler. No one yet has picked up the torch of these events.

It's with this in mind that we jump right into 2018.

2018: The Year of PO

The very beginning of 2018 was actually exceptionally lackluster in regards to Vintage sets. This year also didn't produce any banned and restricted updates specifically for Vintage.

The first set of the year was Rivals of Ixalan, which was widely regarded as a highly underpowered set and didn't actually produce anything that was Vintage playable.

Jumping forward a few months we saw the release of Dominaria in April of that year. Out of the cards in the set, cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Mox Amber were fairly powerful cards, and Teferi definitely saw play in Vintage for a period of time here. Long term that didn't hold out, but it was an interesting card for some time.

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Throughout 2018 here we saw the rise of Paradoxical Outcome as noted earlier, as that deck began to pick up a lot of steam on Magic Online. Two months after Dominaria we saw the release of the supplemental set Battlebond, which also didn't provide too much in the way of cards for Vintage outside of one card that would actually see some play down the line.

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Rector + Flash was a pretty cool strategy, especially when the deck was able to just cheat into play Planeswalkers like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on Turn 1. Battlebond also saw the printing of Spellseeker, which would show up later on in the format once cards like Ephemerate became available.

Core Set 2019 would come next with the printing of Nexus of Fate, but a card that did a lot of damage to eventual formats like Pioneer would not do much to Vintage. Commander 2018 additionally had very little for Vintage, even with cards like Magus of the Mind, Magus of the Wheel, and Magus of the Will available.

The set of the year that would introduce more long-term stuff to Vintage is the start of the Ravnica blocks with Guilds of Ravnica. One of the biggest cards of this set was Creeping Chill, which would become a stapel in Dredge lists through today, but it would definitely take a while to get there. Also this set would introduce BUG staple Assassin's Trophy, which was very good versus Bazaar and Workshops decks as land destruction.

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This year also marks a weirdly special occasion for me in the historical aspect of Vintage, because it marks the first Vintage 101 written by myself! Crazy how time has flown.

Eternal Weekend that year was again back in Pittsburgh, PA. The North America Championship had 381 players in it, and the event was won by Brian Coval on Paradoxical Outcome.

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PO was still very much a Storm deck at this juncture, its kill condition primarily being either Mentor or Tendrils of Agony. Between both Justin Gennari and Brian Coval this year, PO definitely got put on the map in a big way, and was one of the most interesting decks of the year.

2019: WAR OF THE SPARK

2019 began one of Vintage's most tumultuous eras. This began right off the bat in January with the release of Ravnica Allegiance as that set introduced one of the format's most interesting additions in Lavinia, Azorius Renegade.

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The amount of discussion on whether Lavinia would be restricted at the time was exceptionally high. The amount of buzz over the card was all over the place in fact to the point where it showed up a bunch on Vintage Super League when it released on Magic Online which allowed the card to receive a ton of visibility. Of course, long term we know that Lavinia didn't break the format and it was a reasonable card to have exist in the format in the first place. Especially since what happened next for Vintage as a format.

That's right. Just a few months later we got our first look at War of the Spark.

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The laundry list of things that came out of War of the Spark is simply too insane to think about. From Planeswalkers with static abilities to the format defining Bolas's Citadel functionally changing the entire landscape of decks playing the card Tinker, everything about this set had a structural impact on Vintage from the ground up. The two largest structural hits from this set were Karn, the Great Creator and Narset, Parter of Veils. Karn alone was a massive power boost in preventing decks from being able to play things like Moxen and the like, and it allowed decks to bypass a functional restriction on Time Vault by allowing Karn to go find the card out of the sideboard in games.

Furthermore, Dreadhorde Arcanist created a new avenue for Jeskai based decks to approach, allowing decks to abuse casting cards like Ancestral Recall multiple times. So much of this set created an impact on Vintage that the format still feels its repercussions to this day.

Of course, the very next month also introduced a SECOND SET that had a very large impact on Vintage in the form of Modern Horizons.

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Modern Horizons also added a bunch of cards that impacted the format, and a good majority of them actually boosted non-Workshops decks like BUG Midrange more. Cards like Force of Vigor, Collector Ouphe, and Force of Negation had a huge impact on the format, which at the time was quickly devolving into Karn, the Great Creator decks. The counterweight to this was BUG Midrange as one of the few decks that could go toe to toe with Karn thanks to Force of Vigor and Collector Ouphe being able to demolish the Shops decks while having Deathrite Shaman to counteract Bazaar decks like Dredge. Dredge in part also received cards like the Force cycle and Pitch Dredge variants would become the norm at this time.

Other cards from this set that would be highly played longer term are cards like Wrenn and Six (which sees play primarily in RUG DRS strategies) and Hogaak, which became the backbone of various Dredge and Bazaar aggro variants.

The hits didn't stop with Modern Horizons though, as out of all places Core Set 2020 would create some more friction in the format.

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Mystic Forge was spoiled in 2019 by the Serious Vintage Podcast alongside Andy "Brass Man" Probasco, and it was quickly called out as a card that was absolutely insane in Vintage. I definitely found a lot of power in this card myself at this time and it definitely seemed restriction-worthy. The format quickly became one of Karn-Forge decks versus BUG Midrange piles, and Challenge events would show up with over 80% of the events being BUG Midrange decks to counteract Karn.

Eventually things would come to a head in August of 2019 with another massive structural set of restrictions. Karn, the Great Creator and Mystic Forge were rightfully restricted. However, in addition to those cards Mental Misstep and Golgari Grave-Troll were also restricted. Grave-Troll as a green card source for cards like Force of Vigor was very huge and Dredge definitely continued to be a powerful deck despite its restriction. In the same breath of this announcement though, Wizards also unrestricted Fastbond! This is one of my favorite cards that doesn't see a ton of play in the current format, but it definitely saw a big upswing while people experimented with it.

The next set in October of 2019 would release the story card of the year for Eternal Weekend. Oko, Thief of Crowns appeared on the scene as did cards like Once Upon a Time and Mystic Sanctuary. Oko especially was quite powerful in a lot of other formats, but in Vintage the card was actually (and still is) just a fair card.

It would be responsible though for one of the most amusing stories of the year from Eternal Weekend 2019. Held again in Pittsburgh, the winner of the event that year was Joe Brennan on BUG Midrange.

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The highlight of this event on coverage was Joe making his Alpha Black Lotus a 3/3 Elk and swinging in for the kill. Good, clean Magic right there.

All in all. Throne of Eldraine did actually have a reasonable impact on the format in a much more positive fashion than other sets did this year. Still, Wizards definitely decided a further change was needed to the format's Restricted list. They finally restricted Narset, Parter of Veils that same month after Eternal Weekend due to how omni-present the card had become since the restrictions earlier in the year.

2020: The Year a Cat Broke Magic

After such an insane year of broken cards, Vintage players were defnitely feeling it going into 2020. In addition to the fact that 2020 gave us the COVID-19 Pandemic, things going right into the beginning of 2020 with the first set of the year Theros Beyond Death gave the format two cards that still impact the format three years later.

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Breach giving decks a new combo angle was quite huge for sure, but it was the printing of Thassa's Oracle that really cemented Doomsday back as a realistic deck in Vintage. In simplifying the win condition so much the deck gained so much breathing room to play more interaction.

The next few months were a real whirlwind as much of the world shut down for the COVID-19 Pandemic and in the midst of that... a cat broke Vintage. I'm speaking of course about Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths in April of 2020.

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Lurrus was structurally the most divisive card of 2020 and possibly one of the most divisive decisions of all time in regards to the management of the Banned and Restricted list. Some players fervently loved Lurrus, some (like myself) absolutely hated the card and how it took over the entire format. The format very much became "Play a Lurrus version of this deck" and it really showed. Of course, Wizards saw the best approach out of this at the time and in May of 2020 (only a month later) banned Lurrus in Vintage. It was the first power level ban in Vintage since 1996, and primarily was due in part to the fact that restricting Lurrus would have zero change due to how the Companion mechanic worked.

Of course, just another month later in June the Companion mechanic would be entirely reworked with errata, but it would remain all the way until 2021 when Lurrus was reintroduced to the format with its new rules text for how Companion functioned.

Lurrus was a true shake-up to Vintage of a massive structural sense and the impact it had was simply and utterly profound.

That being said, it was a very solid breath of fresh air that the next set in Core Set 2021 would not be nearly as broken, however both it and Jumpstart would introduce some really fun new toys to the format.

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Snoop offered up a brand new angle to a Goblins deck by allowing a combo kill utilizing Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Goblin Recruiter to make infinite copies of Snoop and then kill them with Sling-Gang Lieutenant, while Muxus offered Goblin Lackey an absurd deep dive into the deck that could just kill an opponent on the spot. These allowed Goblins to find purchase once again as a Vintage strategy with a true Vintage kill. Jumpstart especially also introduced cards like Allosaurus Shepherd which was very powerful, but not as widely played.

The very next set did also introduce a Vintage playable, but it was one that has been a solid part of the overall metagame and arguably quite good to have around in Archon of Emeria.

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Having such a powerful effect on a flying creature allowed some new decks to exist, especially those utilizing other cards from Zendikar Rising such as Luminarch Aspirant. In the same breath, the Modal DFC lands from this set had a greater impact on the format, allowing decks like Oops! All Spells and Belcher to play lands in their decks that weren't lands on the front face.

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, there was no in-person Eternal Weekend event in 2020. In lieu of this, Wizards opted to give players an online weekend of events with three different events in different time zones across the weekend. You can read all about these events in my article here.

As Zendikar Rising was the final Standard product of the year, all eyes turned to the supplemental product of 2020 in Commander Legends. Of course, this set brought to the format two cards that were very infamous in Hullbreacher and Opposition Agent.

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Both of these cards punished opponents greatly for various aspects, with Hullbreacher functioning very well with cards like Timetwister and Wheel of Fortune, while Agent became a generically powerful card in the format. Outside of these cards, not much saw play but these two alone were very impactful and still continue to see play especially considering that more cards have been released that Wheel effects are good with.

Vintage Challenge 7/8

The first Challenge event of the weekend was the mid-afternoon Saturday event. This event had 67 players in it thanks to the data collected by the Vintage Streamers Discord.

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

Combo Shops was the most popular deck here, and despite having a top finish the average weight of players on it dragged down its win rate a tad. Initiative was also popular and had a great win rate. Doomsday did very well overall and Prison Shops/CounterVine both had less than 50% win rates.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Combo Shops 1st Miharu_Fuyumiya
Initiative 2nd Sommertroll
Doomsday 3rd discoverN
Initiative 4th boin
Dredge 5th Lord_Beerus
Scam 6th Talisker
Combo Shops 7th Parrotlet
Ring Shops 8th desolutionist

Very interesting Top 8 here. Lot of Shops and Initiative, plus some Doomsday. At the end of the event though it was Combo Shops that won.

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The One Ring definitely feels like a really solid card in this deck. I feel like this pushes the deck much higher in popularity and playability for sure.

In Second Place we had Initiative.

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Very stock-looking list here. This is very much a good place to starting point of where to go for Initiative these days.

Also in this Top 8 we had DRS Grixis Scam.

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Bowmasters and Grief seems like a very powerful combination and this deck looks super good. Wheel of Fortune and Bowmasters is very goofy and powerful.

Vintage Challenge 7/9

The second Challenge event of the weekend was the early morning Sunday event. This event had 57 players in it thanks to the data collected by the Vintage Streamers Discord.

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

Combo Shops had the most presence here, and despite a Top 8 finish it had a dragged down below 50% win rate overall. Initiative Tinker and Dredge did very well here as did BUG. Mono White Initiative itself did rather poorly here.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
Hermit Druid Combo 1st Sprouts
Initiative Tinker 2nd Solidsnake408
Dredge 3rd AlpInco
Initiative Tinker 4th Tunaktunak
BUG Midrange 5th FedericollMadao
Doomsday 6th Tsubasa_Cat
Combo Shops 7th Cherryxman
Lurrus Vault Key 8th shir kahn

Pretty interesting Top 8 here. Some Tinker, some Shops, even some BUG. At the end of the event, it was a split finals with the officially recorded winner being Hermit Druid Combo.

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This list is super cool. I love the tension here of having the combo and also just having Lurrus as a backup plan.

The official Second Place list was Initiative Tinker.

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This list is very powerful for sure. I find it interesting how these decks went down to just White Plume Adventurer and no Dungeoneers. Looks really strong still.

Also in this Top 8 we had BUG Midrange.

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Very straightforward BUG list here. No super amount of frills, but sometimes what works works.

Around the Web

  • Phil Gallagher has a fun video on Grixis Wheels. Check it out here.
  • Justin Gennari has some great videos for us this week!
  • Noprops has a video on One Ring Shops. Check it out here.

The Spice Corner

You can find this past week's 5-0 lists here.

We've got a pair of Esper Tinker variants featuring The One Ring and Relic of Sauron.

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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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