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Vintage 101: The Innovators


Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to be discussing the concept of innovation and how it applies to the Vintage format. In addition, we took the time to sit down and talk to two of the format's more prolific innovators and get their take on the subject as well as their thoughts on Vintage as a whole. We're also going to be discussing last weekend's Vintage Challenge on Magic Online as well as Vintage Super League Season 9 Week 7!

Before we get into the meat of what we're going to be talking about today there is a subject I would like to point out to keep in the back of your head.

The London Mulligan

Over this past weekend we have been inundated with analysis of the "London Mulligan," which was announced as a change to the Mulligan rules that was going to be tested at MC London (which is Modern format). The rule as stated on the Wizards website read as such:

When you mulligan for the Nth time, you draw seven cards, then put N cards on the bottom of your library in any order

In shortcut terms, this means that every time you would mulligan you instead draw 7 and then when you've decided you're keeping you put back on the bottom of your library a number of cards equal to the number of times you've mulliganed.

My stance on this test in regards to how this impacts Vintage is that I don't much care for the idea of it. I am not much of a great Math person, but even I am seeing that there are decks in the format that benefit greatly from this change (primarily Bazaar of Baghdad decks like Dredge) over other decks. I have never been a big fan of any rule that favors one deck type over another, especially considering that the Vancouver Mulligan (the current rules) seem to be operating just fine. I don't really think this rule works for formats like Legacy/Vintage personally.

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That being said, I do not believe that the rule will actually be changed, but I will be keeping a pretty close eye on the London Mythic Championship, in addition to trying to test the rule myself to see how I feel about it. I do wish that they would introduce the capability to create games with the rule on Magic Online so that people could see it in action. This would be a great place to get some real hard data on the rule.

My good friends over at MinMax wrote a nice article on this rule as well, and it's worth reading for some math based information on the rule. Make sure to check it out!

Vintage and Innovation - Is it possible?

When we talk about innovation, what exactly do we mean? Innovation is a process of change, of metamorphosis. More often than not, in Magic terminology, this relates to the concept of brewing, or rather coming up with a deck idea that can sometimes go against the grain of what is popularly acceptable in the format's context.

However, Vintage is often regarded as a format that's too old for this to actually occur. People believe the format is solved. However, I believe in the long run that this sentiment is actually untrue. In fact, I believe the format has been innovating for a fairly long time now, it's just taken this past year for many to realize and capitalize on it. There are some key factors I believe that prove this.

The Monastery Mentor Restriction

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In a way, I think things really kicked off with the restriction of Monastery Mentor. Mentor's presence in the format before its restriction was outright stifling to deck creativity and innovation since clearly the best strategy was either Mentor or Shops at the time. Restricting Mentor was ultimately an appropriate thing to happen, and it made people pair back a little and consider what deck construction looked like with it as a one-of.

The Rise of Survival

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One of the biggest stories of deck innovation in this past year was the rise of Survival of the Fittest as a viable and competitive strategy within the format. Despite most of its pieces having existed in the format for up to a year before, Survival's appearance on The Mana Drain and subsequent appearance on Team Vintage Super League last year cemented one very important concept that there is room in the format for brewing and innovation. I fervently attribute the rise of this deck to Magic Online most of all, since the platform is very good for allowing users to switch cards in and out as necessary and try different things. It allowed for Survival to be constantly tuned until the people working on the deck began posting actual results with the deck.

The Era of Innovation

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This is where I believe we are now. We are in an era of innovation, as newer sets in Magic are being released with cards that actually impact the Vintage format (such as Lavinia, Azorius Renegade) along with more and more people being willing to push the envelope of what is playable and what isn't. One thing that I feel has to do with this is being willing to push aside things that are generally considered "sacred" law about the format in lieu of just trying new things. One great example of this is the U/R Pyromancer Xerox list piloted by Matt Sperling at Eternal Weekend this past year. Matt did not adhere to common conventional norms of the format, and opted to play cards like Spell Pierce in his deck. Looking now, Spell Pierce has actually taken root amongst these decks, as many have figured out what Matt did, that the card is actually powerful and worth playing.

We have seen the rise of various decks within the format that I don't think would exist if not for people spending the time to approach the format with new eyes instead of just accepting the conventional norm. Decks like Eldrazi, Survival, even PO Storm are constantly and consistently tweaked and developed, while every so often someone comes up with something fresh and interesting.

In the long run, I think Vintage is less "solved" than most believe. There is still room to play around with context in this format, and decks are putting up results to show that.

Interviews with The Innovators

This week we've got not one, but two interviews with two of Vintage's prolific deckbuilders around Magic Online. They are Matthew Murray (ChubbyRain) and Justin Gennari (IAmActuallyLvl1) and each of them shares a distinct view on the Vintage format and how innovation plays into it. In addition, we asked each of them their thoughts on Vintage as a whole and also their thoughts on the London Mulligan rule.

Matthew Murray (ChubbyRain)

First things first, introduce yourself to the rest of the class who might not know who you are.

My name is Matthew Murray. I’m a member of the Vintage team, The Academy, which also includes Rich Shay, Brian Kelly, Andy Markiton, and many other excellent players and close friends. I also stream MTGO on Twitch under the account chubbyrain1, and play a mixture of established decks, rogue lists, and my own brews. 

How did you get into Vintage? What drove you to the format?

I stopped playing Magic when I went to college and got back into the game when Innistrad was released. A friend at the local game store would bring proxy Vintage decks to play and I found I enjoyed the draw-go style Mana Drain control decks. He offered to lend me enough cards to participate in local proxy events and I slowly worked my way into the format, using store credit and my own cash to assemble a collection of my own. Once I had experience with the format, I started to try more archetypes and begin trying different things. A lot of those failed, but you learn what works and what doesn’t and build off of that and eventually you fail less often. The same thing that drove me then continues to drive me know: Vintage has the largest card pool but the smallest number of players. This means a lot of interactions are unexplored and presents a tremendous opportunity for innovation and creativity. 

I’ve featured your lists a number of times through this series already, as your willingness and ability to innovate never cease to impress. What’s your process on coming up with new builds to test and try out? Are there any builds you’ve played that you think would actually become a regular part of the format?

Cindervines [RNA] Tarmogoyf [UMA]

I typically use several strategies. The most common for me (because I think it’s fun) is to pick a card that I think has potential for Vintage play and build around it. The Jund list from last week was built around Cindervines. Deathrite Shaman, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Lightning Bolt all augmented the damage-dealing abilities of Cindervines; Tarmogoyf took advantage of it being an enchantment; and the deck was able to leverage an impressive amount of artifact removal in the Shops matchup. Another strategy is to take a deck or concept and alter it in some way, adding or removing colors, porting established decks from another format, or streamlining one of Brian Kelly’s more ambitious creations. Take a Bant deck, add Black and see how it does, or take a Turbo Depths deck from Legacy and try it in Vintage (not my idea).  A third approach is to identify “packages”, or collections of cards that work really well together, and then trying them in different shells to see how they work in that shell. Team Snapcaster created the dominant Paradoxical Outcome variant by adding the Preordain - Delve Spell - Mentor package to the Paradoxical deck. And a fourth, but by no means final, approach is to work backwards from a established metagame. For instance, cards X, Y, and Z are good in this metagame, can I build a deck that uses X, Y, and Z effectively?

What are your thoughts on Vintage right now? Would you say it's healthy? Are there cards that actually need restricted/unrestricted? Do you think there is still room for innovation and brewing in the format?

I would say Vintage is healthy right now. I think the metagame is diverse, the archetypes are balanced, and the gameplay is interesting. ]]Lavinia, Azorius Renegade]] has promoted a fairer metagame that is less dependent on Force of Will to stop early broken plays (like those from Paradoxical Outcome), and that opens up the ability to explore unconventional strategies that don’t run Force of Will, Sphere effects, or combos. I feel there are a lot options for innovation. A Turbo Depths deck just top 8’d the most recent Vintage Challenge and a 5c Humans deck top 8’d the week before. 

Mishra's Workshop [ATQ] Mana Drain [IMA]

Some established Vintage players really don’t like the current format, and I think it is understandable. Historically, prison was the dominant Shops strategy and Mana Drain control decks were one of the premier archetypes. Now both are fringe, and the format has skewed heavily towards aggro, tempo, and combo decks. You have paper players who are heavily invested in the format because of the high cost of the cards but are no longer able to play the style of decks they enjoy, the style of decks that may have gotten them into the format in the first place. I think that’s why you are seeing many paper Vintage players turn to Old School. And it’s why you are seeing proposals to restrict several cards in major archetypes - there is a hope that doing so will reboot the format. 

Personally, I don’t think any restriction or unrestriction is needed. The metagame is healthy and most cards on the restricted list are there because they tend to promote uninteractive gameplay (like Flash, Fastbond, and Windfall). One change that could be considered is to restrict Preordain and unrestrict Gush. Preordain is the 3rd most played card in Vintage and enables Blue decks like Paradoxical Outcomes and RUG Pyromancer to consistently find their restricted cards quickly. I think restricting Preordain will make Blue decks less consistent/powerful on turns 1-2, leading to longer, more interesting games. At the same time, Gush provides a turn 3+ card advantage engine that would promote more controlling decks while imposing more significant deckbuilding constraints as not all Blue decks can run Gush

The big talk of the town is the new Mulligan Rule being tested at the London MC event. What are your thoughts on this rule as to how it relates to Vintage?

The obvious focus is on Dredge and how this increases the probability of finding Bazaar of Baghdad, but I think the implications are much more significant. Getting to see more cards off a mulligan means you can mulligan more aggressively for powerful opening hands. It increases the likelihood of finding hands with multiple pieces of fast mana and cards like Ancestral Recall, Balance, Draw 7s, and Orchard + Oath, that essentially eliminate the card disadvantage of having mulliganed. While it’s hard to know in a vacuum exactly how much these decks benefit, I’m concerned that Vintage will become more dependent on Power and the rest of the restricted list, which makes the format less skill-based and more variable. And unlike other formats, you can’t ban cards based on power levels. There is a limit to how much you change the format through the restricted list. Khans block altered Modern and Legacy for a year or so, but eventually Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise were banned and those formats moved on. That didn’t happen in Vintage, and Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise are pillars of the format, for good or worse. It’s just how it is. 

Anything else you’d like to share? Any advice for people getting into the format and how to learn it?

I think one of the best ways to get a feel for a format is to watch others play it if you can. The VSL is going on now and there are several quality Vintage streamers on Twitch that can provide a good picture of what the format entails and what decks might be interesting to you. I am always willing to answer questions on my stream and I will play decks like Shops, Dredge, or even Dredge Shops if it’s requested. Vintage is affordable on MTGO especially with Cardhoarders new rental program (I am not sponsored by them, I just think it’s an excellent idea and have previously sold cards to them), so if you like what you see on Twitch, MTGO is the place to get actual experience playing the format. Like any eternal format in Magic, it takes a while to get a feel for decks and match ups, so don’t get discouraged and don’t give up on decks you enjoy because you aren’t winning right away. In general, play experience trumps the matchups so switching decks frequently when you are a newer player isn’t necessarily going to help you win more.

Thanks for joining us for this interview, you are in fact awesome!

Thank you for the kind words and promoting the format!

Justin Gennari (IAmActuallyLvl1)

First things first, introduce yourself to the rest of the class who might not know who you are.

Hello all, my name is Justin Gennari, aka ‘IamActuallyLvL1’, I am a Vintage twitch streamer and competitive magic player. In the Vintage community I'm known for tuning and playing Paradoxical Outcome (PO) decks. I took my first real steps into the Vintage scene at TMD Open 19 where I won with PO. Since then I have streamed over 16 Vintage Challenges and 44 Vintage Leagues on Twitch and uploaded them to YouTube.

How did you get into Vintage? What drove you to the format?

Possessed Portal [5DN] Squee, Goblin Nabob [MM]

My intro to Vintage began on a car ride to Grand Prix Montreal where my friends and teammates were discussing a crazy Vintage deck from 2003 called ‘Cerebral Assassin’. The idea was to use Bazaar of Baghdad, Goblin Welder, and Animate Dead to reanimate some big fatties or in 2003s case sometimes Worldgorger Dragon combo. It also had the very ‘FUN’ combo of Possessed Portal and Squee Goblin Nabob to lock your opponents out of the game. This lead me to sleeving up Squees at TMD 17 and TMD 18 which hooked me into the format. From there I played lots and lots of Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO) under the handle ‘IamActuallyLvL1’. 

You have been playing PO for quite a while and are well known for it. How have you approached your refinement of the deck? What has worked and what hasn’t?

The coolest part of my PO adventure is that it is all recorded online. The earliest record I can find is from 5/4/17 and you can find almost every iteration since then here. The way I looked at it was in two steps. First, iterate to a stock list that is reasonable against the fields interaction and good at establishing its gameplan. On my way to finding the now stock Esper Vault/Key lists I tried almost every color combination imaginable. Green PO for Abrupt Decay and Sylvan Library. Red PO with Pyroblast and Dack Fayden. Mono blue PO with main deck Mystic Remora. What if we put Bomberman (Auriok Salvagers + Black Lotus into the list? These experiments changed the power and gameplan of the deck wildly but succeeded in helping to identify what types of cards interacted best with the PO shell of blue spells and artifacts. 

Auriok Salvagers [MMA] Black Lotus [VMA]

From there it was time to experiment. Identify the issues your deck has and seek solutions to those issues. Pyroblasts got you down? How about some Karns? Too many PO mirrors? Try out some Mystic Remoras? These small 3-5 card tunings can have a great impact on how your deck plays on an individual weekend. 

What are your thoughts on Vintage right now? Would you say it's healthy? Are there cards that actually need restricted/unrestricted? Do you think there is still room for innovation and brewing in the format?

Vintage is in the ‘healthiest’ state it has been in a long time. There are 5+ decks you can sleeve up to a competitive tournament and be confident in the decks ability to win the whole thing. Among these 5 decks, PO, Shops, Dredge, Survival, and Xerox there is no one dominant force. No single deck has unhealthy metagame numbers. Another big upside is that among the 5 archetypes there are still plenty of innovations and sub-archetypes emerging. Survival, Xerox and Dredge are still being iterated on and there is no one concrete stock list above the rest. So in terms of deck representation and power level it is clear to me that the format is ‘healthy’. 

This doesn’t address what people call ‘healthy gameplay’. This is a much more subjective metric than something statistical like metagame representation. Some people will argue that the games are too fast and aren’t as fun as before. I don't think I have the history to comment on that. Ive only been playing since 2017 and the only other metagame I've played in was the 4x Mentor one. These games in my opinion are a huge step up from then.

Bazaar of Baghdad [ARN] Mishra's Workshop [ATQ] Paradoxical Outcome [KLD]

My views on restrictions are quite radical and mostly based in my short Vintage life and overwhelming amount of MTGO matches. I think you need to restrict Mishra’s Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Paradoxical Outcome. These cards are all clearly too powerful to exist as 4 ofs and hit all the metrics for restrictions. The reason the first two are not restricted are because they are “pillars of the format” and cost a ton of money. As someone who looks purely from the competitive side I think these are not acceptable reasons to keep them unrestricted but I understand the community ramifications such restrictions would cause. 

The big talk of the town is the new Mulligan Rule being tested at the London MC event. What are your thoughts on this rule as to how it relates to Vintage?

My first thought was doesn’t that break Dredge even more? Early math estimates this will allow Dredge players to find Bazaar 99% of the time. I don’t think this mulligan rule is compatible with Vintage but I am also willing to say that I may be overdoing it and it could all work out fine. 

In regards to PO I think this rule will be a net positive but also not as good as people think. PO is a critical mass deck, it needs a quantity of cards (in this case mana rocks) in order to combo off. This new rule helps for card quality not card quantity. The big winners are two card combo decks like Legacy Reanimator.

Anything else you’d like to share? Any advice for people getting into the format and how to learn it?

Magic the Gathering Online. This is the single best way to get into Vintage. The format is the cheapest it has ever been and the weekly challenges are the highest level of Vintage competition you can have on a consistent basis. The best way to improve is to grind MTGO leagues and MTGO challenges.

To get a peek into how to play Vintage, I recommend doing some research. There are tons of primers on the web to help on your journey. This column provides deck techs on a weekly basis and there are plenty more Vintage primers if you go searching. I also highly recommend checking out Vintage streamers. This is an easy way to learn play patterns and gather insight on how to play new decks. Check out streamers like richshay, chubbyrain1, briba20, geekyjackson and many many more. 

Thanks for joining us for this interview, you are in fact awesome!

Thank you for having me! 

For Vintage readers looking for more of my content I will provide links below:

Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/iamactuallylvl1
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsozgtk-WCyOjSOK6mvs5lg
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Gennair

Vintage Challenge 2/23

We're going to be taking a look now at the Top 8 (and any other spice) from last weekend's Vintage Challenge on Magic Online. Let's take a look at the breakdown of the Top 8.

Deck Name MTGO Username Placing
Ravager Shops Boin 1
Ravager Shops diophan 2
Ravager Shops Montolio 3
U/R Xerox Discovern 4
Mentor Xerox Mannes 5
U/R Xerox Sti 6
Green/Black Fastbond Lain5893 7
U/R Xerox _Shatun_ 8

Despite the bug with Shops (a bug being potentially fixed this week), Shops pilots came out in force for this event, bringing 3 out of 8 decks in the Top 8 as Shops, along with 3 U/R Xerox lists. While this is somewhat expected of the big tier decks. It was the 7th place entry that turned some heads more than anything. You ever wanted to play Turbo Depths in Vintage?

I imagine this particular user took a look at Vintage and said "Mental Misstep sees play? Let's play discard and Crop Rotation and just make them have it." This list is actually just incredibly sweet. I can believe that Shops is pretty strong against this deck in general, thus the presence of sideboard OG artifact destruction Naturalize. Otherwise, this looks like a lot of fun and if you're looking for something interesting to take a spin on, this might be worth your while.

Also showing up in this Challenge at 5-2 record is Mono-Red Prison!

This list is also pretty fun, and looks really enjoyable (for the pilot) to play. May not be so enjoyable for their opponents.

VINTAGE SUPER LEAGUE SEASON 9 WEEK 7!

That's right folks we are getting closer to finishing out the second half of pods for this season, and this week was no exception to the crazy Vintage action. We had two of our 0-3 competitors this week, matched up against two still live for the playoffs.

Our competitors are:

  • Brian Coval (HE WHO PARADOXES TWICE)
  • Bob Maher (HE WHO DIGS FOR GREATNESS, AT ANY COST)
  • Rachel Agnes (SHE WHO LIVES FOR PHYREXIA)
  • Brian Kelly (HE WHO LORDS OVER DRAGONS)

Some incredibly awesome competition this week, and things are looking very exciting (and incredible spicy). Let's take a look at the decklists our competitors submitted:

This week's lists are spicy. Enchantress? Lands?! BELCHER?!?!?!?! Sign me up for this hype train, because it's never stopping.

Round 1 is Brian Coval vs Rachel Agnes! Game 1 sees Brian quickly taking over the game with Fastbond and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. However Rachel is able to stick a Mana Crypt and a Traxos, Scourge of Kroog to deal with Brian's life total directly at 7. Game is incredibly interesting with Brian trying to push through a Glacial Chasm and very nearly has it, but Rachel is able to push through as Brian is unable to find an Exploration effect through a Thorn of Amethyst.

Round 2 is Bob Maher vs Brian Kelly! Game 1 sees Bob trying to resolve Windfall and Tezzeret the Seeker into Brian's countermagic and Mindbreak Trap. However, Bob is able to push through with a Tinker for Goblin Charbelcher to take the game. Game 2 Bob mulligans quite a bit, but is able to stick an Expedition Map to find Tolarian Academy. He manages to die to a Pact of Negation trigger however. Game 3 almost sees Bob assemble Vault/Key combo into Brian Kelly being able to sneak through the window with Hurkyl's Recall into Lavinia, Azorius Renegade.

Round 3 is Bob Maher vs Rachel Agnes! Game 1 is insane with Bob manging to assemble a lot of mana but Rachel is able to pull through with a bunch of creature threats. Game 2 sees Bob ramping hard into several pieces of acceleration to make for a Belcher kill. Game 3 shows Rachel resolving a Null Rod with some major backup vs Bob through Lodestone Golem and Traxos, Scourge of Kroog. Rachel is now in the playoffs!

Round 4 is Brian Coval vs Brian Kelly! Game 1 sees Brian C make a 20/20 that gets Repeal'ed and then makes another 20/20 to win the game through Rest in Peace. Game 2 shows Brian Coval with a Manabond able to push through Brian Kelly attempting to use Nimble Obstructionist to Stifle the 20/20 but since Dark Depths is worded very specifically to re-trigger based on the board state, Brian C is able to make his 20/20 to get there.

Round 5 is Brian Coval vs Bob Maher! Game 1 shows Brian finding his combo early and a Null Rod to keep Bob off his plan to take the game. Game 2 sees Bob Maher assembling the People's Cannon to kill Brian with 35 cards deep. Game 3 shows Bob assembling the possibility of Tezzeret the Seeker ultimate, while Brian hunts for an answer with Life from the Loam. Bob makes the magic happen with Tezzeret and swings for 20, having one get blocked by Marit Lage, but it's not enough to stem the tide.

Round 6 is Rachel Agnes vs Brian Kelly! Game 1 shows Brian mull to 4 cards. Rachel opens on a Wasteland and lays down the beats to push through the game. Game 2 shows Brian with an early Time Walk to play some interesting cards like Mana Bloom and Argothian Enchantress. He manages to stick an Energy Field. Eventually he breaks his field but sticks a Moat into play, and finally manages to play a Worship to lock the game up. Game 3 shows Rachel open on Sphere or Resistance times two and a Phyrexian Revoker to shut off Brian's mana development. She slams through several combat steps to claim the victory!

Rachel Agnes 3-0's, putting her at 5-1 tied for 1st place! Bob Maher ends 1-2, Brian Kelly at 1-2, and Brian Coval at 1-2 for the night!

This was a crazy night of awesome gameplay. Super enjoyable evening!

The Spice Corner 

Our spice this week comes from our resident spice expert, ChubbyRain once more as we take a look at what can only be described as... Value.

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! I'd like to thank both Matthew Murrary and Justin Gennari for taking time out of their schedules to talk to me and provide their input on the Vintage format. It was certainly a lot of fun having them, and I hope you all will follow them and their amazing journey into this format.

I've been having a lot of fun myself on Magic Online, learning BUG Survival lists in order to do another deck tech/gameplay video for my YouTube channel series "The Vintage Series". I should be able to start recording some audio soon and piecing together everything, so it should be a fun video. As for the deck, Survival has been incredibly fun and is reasonably difficult to learn, so I'm really enjoying it. A huge thanks for Chris Ross in that regards for letting me borrow some pieces to make it happen.

As always make sure to hit me up on Twitter and talk at me about Vintage!

Until next time, keep cracking fetch lands!


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