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Vintage 101: The Midrange Wars

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 diving into the various Midrange/Control variants of the format that have popped up over time and the subtle differences between each one of them. In addition, we've got two Challenges to discuss, and of course the Spice Corner.

Without further ado let's dive right in!

A World of Pure Midrangeination

As the Vintage format continues to evolve from set to set, it has become interesting to see how the various blue Midrange/Control variants of the format have evolved as well. Despite often sharing a lot of the same similar core of Restricted cards, these decks all have a diverse and interesting game plan. Selecting which one of these to play can be a real bear, so we're going to go over the various current offerings and what they aim to do.

The Midrange Wars have begun!

Bant Midrange

Bant Midrange-esque offerings utilizing Noble Hierarch are nothing new to the Vintage format, having been originally popularized under the name Noble Fish, as created by the GREAT AND POWERFUL (tm) Mike Noble. However, for a while those decks sort of dipped off the map, but thanks to some newer cards this deck has found new life and iterated once more by others within the Vintage community. This deck is also colloquially known as Bant Archon.

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Archon of Emeria is one of the big reasons to play this deck. Getting this card down early can be brutal versus any deck. While the symmetrical aspect of the card might seem like a bit of a downside, it's mostly pure upside for the Bant deck, as many of their threats are efficient and powerful. Hatebears like Lavinia, Azorius Renegade and Collector Ouphe help establish further locks on the opponent while Tarmogoyf represents the beat down aspect of the deck.

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What makes this deck fun and interesting is the fact that it really is a fair midrange control deck in a format full of other crazy stuff, but just having it backed up by the powerful restricted cards and fast mana is enough. This deck is certainly very powerful and worth a look right now in the metagame.

Other midrange or control variants can get under this deck however with various removal spells. Because most of the threats are low in toughness, cards like Lightning Bolt answers a number of the powerful pieces like Archon and Lavinia, while Swords to Plowshares can mop up Tarmogoyf. Pyroblast is also pretty effective against both Lavinia and Meddling Mage.

BUG Midrange

BUG Midrange variants all operate on the basis of the card Deathrite Shaman as the backbone of the deck. Like Noble Hierarch, DRS provides mana fixing and acceleration but also is a life gain outlet + win condition in one card.

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BUG is a deck full of answers to questions. While other decks may seek to proactively try to shut their opponent down via lock pieces or hatebear threats, BUG seeks to have the most answers backed up by their beat down plan at the same time. Quite often too it does seem like this deck always has the right answer for the question at hand, and that is due to the fact that the deck is simply built that way. Tarmogoyf is another common threat to this deck that is shared with other Midrange piles. In addition, these decks often tend to run more Planeswalker threats from Oko to cards like Narset and sometimes other Planeswalkers that are powerful. Leovold, Emissary of Trest is another common effect seen in these decks.

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What makes BUG fun is the reactive and powerful game play the deck gives incentive to. It has a powerful game plan against a fair number of decks and can seemingly answer anything. That isn't to say that the deck doesn't have weaknesses however. Traditionally Jeskai Control has been very good versus the BUG variants due to the fact that Jeskai's game plan these days is rooted in very raw card advantage by virtue of being able to cast Ancestral Recall a ton. BUG has definitely shifted to try to do this themselves however with the inclusion of Mystic Sanctuary. What also helps Jeskai here is the raw efficiency of its answers from Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt to main deck copies of Pyroblast.

RUG Midrange

The RUG Midrange variants came about primarily in 2019 around the time of Eternal Weekend, where several iterations of the decks made Top 8 of the event inspired by lists posted online by users such as Matt Murray (ChubbyRain).

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RUG is more of a Planeswalker heavy build on average, leaning on threats like Wrenn and Six and Oko, Thief of Crowns over a lot of creature threats. Creature threats are generally limited to either Goyf or in some cases Dreadhorde Arcanist such as the Jeskai decks. One of the cool and interesting things this deck can do is over-utilize the card Mystic Sanctuary by the way of things like Gush. Wrenn and Six can also build its own Time Vault combo via the ultimate and just re-pitching lands to recast Time Walk over and over. This is a fun deck if you're looking for something that doesn't play black, but still has interaction in red like Pyroblast.

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Decks playing Abrupt Decay can be rough for RUG to overcome, since it answers many of the deck's creature or Planeswalker threats. Most of the BUG decks currently play Assassin's Trophy for the raw versatility of being able to beat Shops with the card as well, so this is naturally good for RUG. 

4C Midrange

The 4C decks all operate on the back of Deathrite Shaman much like the BUG decks do, but in turn use that power to fuel being able to cast more than just BUG colored spells.

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4C is also a weird nomenclature, given that these decks are quite often base blue/black decks splashing into red and green for specific cards. This is yet another deck that utilizes both Wrenn and Six and Oko on occasion, and even has recently seen introductions of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath as well. The power of this deck comes from being able to pick a game plan and the cards to enact it, utilizing the array of fetch-dual manabases in addition to DRS to make them castable.

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The biggest downside of 4C is the sequencing aspect of the deck and needing to understand how best to sequence fetching duals. Not having access to Deathrite can exacerbate this sequencing, since it makes mana production and fixing so very easy. Once the play patterns are learned and established, however it's generally pretty easy to pick up and learn.

Choose Choose Choose!

Picking one of these decks can be a challenging thing when approaching the metagame currently. They all have different skill sets and powerful plays, and they all have a reasonable learning curve associated with them as would any blue deck in Vintage. Each of these decks are pretty strong in their own right and have all performed very well in Vintage right now.

I personally am excited about giving the Bant Midrange deck a go, because it looks to be very powerful and interesting to play, but I have played BUG in the past and also enjoyed it very much.

Vintage Challenge 1/30

We had two Challenge events this past weekend, the first of which was the mid-afternoon Saturday event.  This event had 81 players (thanks to the efforts of the Vintage Streamer's Discord), which was down a bit from last weekend, but last weekend also had the All Access Tokens in effect. It's also worth noting that this past weekend was riddled with several awkward bugs on Magic Online, some of which didn't really affect Vintage too much (such as Uro not losing its attack trigger when being Elk'ed) but still bugs nonetheless. These kinds of things tend to give people less incentive to play because then they have to contend with reimbursement if they run across a bug.

Let's take a look at the metagame breakdown.

We definitely picked our topic appropriately this week because this Challenge was definitely popular with the Midrange/Control pile variants, with 4C/Bant/BUG all picking up a huge amount of metagame share overall. Jeskai Control also continues to remain popular, as does combo decks like Breach and Bazaar decks like Dredge. All in all though this continues to look like a pretty healthy environment. There doesn't seem to be any one overpowering deck/strategy, and there is a lot of cool things you can do in the format currently.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
PO Storm 1st nathansteuer
Breach Oath 2nd DInglis
Grixis Tinker 3rd Kenzaburo
Golos Stax 4th pokerswizard
BUG Midrange 5th Sprouts
Bant Midrange 6th Montolio
4C Midrange 7th gottelicious
Oops! All Spells 8th AHammer

This is a fairly interesting Top 8. Lot of fair blue piles but also a good amount of combo. Surprisingly enough however, it was none other than PO Storm that won the entire event, on a very interesting BUG slanted list.

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Managorger Hydra is certainly a sweet and powerful card. I like this list a lot. Very interesting stuff all around here. Oko adds a very powerful dynamic to this deck and a solid backup plan if things go sideways. Also noticing the four Pithing Needle in the sideboard and that is wild. I get it for sure, since Bazaar of Baghdad is surely a card, but wow.

The Second Place finalist was a neat take on Oath and Breach by combining both into one deck.

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Memory's Journey is a fun an interesting card that lets you tuck part of the combo pieces back into the library should they get milled by Oath. There's no real need for additional Oath shenanigans here either. Griselbrand is all you need to win the game.

Also in the Top 8 we have our good friend Andy Markiton on the Bant Midrange deck we discussed earlier.

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As noted before, this deck has a lot of strong potential right now and is putting up the results to prove it. Andy is a well known Shops player, but even he can rock a blue pile from time to time, showing well his range of power and skill in the format.

At the bottom of the Top 8 we have Vintage Oops!

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This deck doubles as a Belcher variant as well, making good use of the land MDFCs from Zendikar Rising to not have to play any actual lands in the main deck (not even an Academy). On the flip side, it also is a Tinker deck so getting Bolas's Citadel into play can and always will be pretty back-breaking.

Outside of the Top 8, we had a showing by the Grixis Hullbreacher deck.

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Words of Wisdom is super amazing and I forgot the card even existed until I looked at this list. Draw two make a mana when Hullbreacher is in play is super amusing indeed. What a sweet and fun inclusion.

Vintage Challenge 1/31

Our second event of the weekend was the early morning Sunday event, which had 63 players overall! Let's take a look at the metagame breakdown.

The Sunday metagame always tends to differ pretty greatly from the Saturday one, and one of the big things I've found is that this crowd tends to really enjoy Doomsday a ton. There's always more than a few DD players in this event, and this event was no different. That being said, it was really Shops that had a huge presence in this smaller metagame, with two different Shops decks having 14 decks total out of 63, and that's just the Golos Stax and Ravager/Aggro lists.

Let's take a look at the Top 8.

Deck Name Placing MTGO Username
RUG Midrange 1st Beenew
Golos Stax 2nd hodortimebaby
BUG Midrange 3rd s063
Ravager Shops 4th bennybo
Death's Shadow 5th TrueHero
Doomsday 6th SingPanMan
4C Midrange 7th Dazai
Ravager Shops 8th unicornparadise

Fairly interesting Top 8, plenty of midrange piles but also plenty of Shops decks and at least one Doomsday player (a very good one at that). At the end of the event however, it was the RUG Planeswalker/Midrange variant that took down the whole event.

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The creature suite here has become pretty standard for this deck, but occasionally you'll see a mix-up in threats such as only Goyf or more Goyf, but Arcanist's value is too good to pass up in a format full of hyper-efficient one drop spells like Ancestral Recall.

The Second Place finalist was Golos Stax.

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This is more of the prison/aggro variant than the combo variant. The goal here is to generally lock your opponent under the lock pieces and prevent the casting of spells, while slamming threats like Stonecoil Serpent into play. Golos is primarily a silver bullet tutor + ramp card in this variety.

Further down the Top 8 we have TrueHero, a Death's Shadow afficionado on their signature deck.

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No bones about it, the threat suite here is super clean. Four Shadow and four Deathrite. The Street Wraiths count as draw spells that cost life, so those aren't really threats. There's no frills or cute stuff here, just a focused game plan and strong threats.

Also in the Top 8 we had another showing of the 4C Midrange deck with Uro.

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It's certainly interesting to see just how long it has taken Uro to actually find its way into Vintage. This is a card that people like Matt Murray have pushed to an extent and awkwardly never had their Challenge lists published by Wizards to show it off or otherwise we'd be talking about this months ago. Still, I am amused and enthused at this, and hope to see more from this archetype.

Outside of the Top 8, we had a showing by Humans!

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Main deck Leyline of the Void aside, we also have a showing by Rick here and a whole bunch of other powerful Humans. This is certainly a super strong deck and I'm impressed by the power behind it.

Around the Web

  • Wanna see the Spice Corner in action? Check out Justin Gennari's Birgi Combo deck in this video!

If you'd like to see more in the Around the Web section, please feel free to reach out to me! I like featuring new content from around the... well the web.

The Spice Corner

Welp, Justin made me do this yet again. Birgi, God of Storytelling is sweet.

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We also have a Monowhite variant of Two-Card Monte from the second Challenge this weekend!

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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 on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! In addition, you can always reach me on the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the Vintage Streamers Discord.

Until next time!

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