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Vintage 101: The Original Super League

The League of Extraordinary Magic Players

On June 16th, 2014 Vintage Masters was released on Magic Online and the response was overwhelmingly positive. There was excitement in the air as people played in the many release events offered. Some people loved participating in the digital trip down memory lane, casting Psychatogs and Upheavals, and others enjoyed the limited environment for the many archetypes that could be drafted. Of course, some folks just hoped to crack that premium Black Lotus and sell it to pay for their next six months of drafting. Whatever their particular interest was, the simple fact is that many people fell in love with Vintage Masters.

The other major change at that time was that the "Classic" format was officially retired and replaced with Vintage. Classic, for those of you that don't remember, was as close to Vintage as you could get without the Power Nine. Some Vintage staples had been released in the first three Masters Edition sets, but the true nine pieces of power had yet to see a Magic Online release. Once Vintage was officially a format, the Vintage queues began to fire. 

There was one more interesting development around that time; the Vintage Super League was born. The VSL was the brainchild of Magic Pro Tour Hall-of-Famer Randy Buehler. The round-robin tournament featured many Magic celebrities and promised to deliver high-caliber Vintage action. Deliver it did, and the Vintage Super League proved to be popular enough to spawn several spin-offs, like the Standard Super League and the Modern Super League. Standard and Modern are wonderful in their own right, and each had its own interesting "Super League" tournament. However, this is a Vintage column and we're here to discuss the Elder Dragon of eternal Magic formats. 

The Vintage Super League had a great influence on the Vintage metagame, especially on Magic Online. Randy Buehler and Chris Pikula's Blue Goblin Charbelcher deck recieved a lot of attention from the screen time it got from the VSL, and many people picked up the deck to play in various Magic Online events. The League also influence many non-Vintage players and led them to become interested in the format. I've spoken with quite a few Magic Online Vintage players who became interested in the format from watching the VSL. 

Today we're going to take a quick look at the three complete seasons of the League, and preview the brand-new fourth season. As luck would have it, I've been granted a brief interview with Vintage Veteran and four-time VSL League member, Dr. Rich Shay. I'll share that with you as well. 


Season One

Season one of the VSL included Magic Pros and Vintage legends alike. Stephen Menendian and Dr. Rich Shay are two well-known Vintage players from the roster, and there were even some of the most talented professional players like Josh Utter-Leyton and Luis Scott Vargas in the league. In the end, Josh Utter-Leyton would finish last and be eliminated from the league for the next season. The finals came down to a real clash of the titans; Luis Scott Vargas faced off against Stephen Menendian.

Stephen Menendian is a prolific Vintage writer and podcaster and very well-known in the Vintage community. Luis Scott Vargas is a Hall of Fame member and Pro Tour champion with a passion for Vintage. The match drew a wide audience and the Youtube videos have been watched by many as well.

In the end, Menendian added the Vintage Super League champion to his already impressive list of achievements. Stephen was playing a RUG Delver deck, complete with three copies of Treasure Cruise, which happened to be unrestricted at the time.


Luis Scott-Vargas faced off against Menendian, and he played a combo-oriented deck built around Gush and Fastbond. Here's what LSV used to play for the championship:



The main game plan of LSV's deck is casting a lethal Tendrils of Agony. This is achieved by repeatedly casting spells, drawing cards, and making mana with the combination of Gush and Fastbond. Simply "float" mana from two Islands and cast Gush with its alternate casting cost, pepper in some cantrips, artifact mana, add a Yawgmoth's Will, lather, rinse and repeat. Lethal Storm is usually reached rather quickly using that method. 

There's also the back-up plan of Tinkering for a Blightsteel Colossus. The sideboard is yet another surprise; it's a transformational sideboard! With this deck, LSV had the option of turning into an Oath of Druids deck any time after game one. It's a brilliant deck design, and it is very hard to sideboard against a deck like this as you don't ever know exactly what to expect. 


Season Two

The second season of the VSL replaced Josh Utter-Leyton (who had been eliminated for finishing in last place) with another Hall of Famer, Kai Budde. The German Juggernaut is well-known as one of the best players to ever play the game, with only Jon Finkel rivaling his success at the professional level.

The finals came down to Duelist Invitational winner, the Meddling Mage, Chris Pikula playing against recent Hall of Fame inductee Eric Froehlich. In the end the Hall of Fame member triumphed over the Duelist Invitational winner. 

Here's one of the three decks that Eric played:



Here we have a very difficult deck to play, Doomsday. This deck has multiple paths to victory, including Gush/Fastbond/Tendrils of Agony, as well as the namesake card Doomsday.

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Playing Doomsday requires a complete knowledge of all the proper ways to make a "Doomsday pile". If you've resolved Doomsday and made the proper pile of five cards, you'll cast Laboratory Maniac and draw the rest of your library. The trigger on Laboratory Maniac causes you to win with the game once you've attempted to draw off of an empty library. It sounds simple enough, but I suggest anyone attempting to play this deck to research it thoroughly and get lots of practice. 


Season Three

The third season was a bit shorter than the others, and the eventual champion was VSL creator Randy Buehler. Randy played a deck that he called "Grixis Therapy," a Grixis-colored Young Pyromancer deck with Gush, Snapcaster Mage, and the eponymous Cabal Therapy



After the season ended, Grixis Therapy went on to be widely played on Magic Online. Randy had put together a list that did remarkably well against the Kuldotha Forgemaster-based Mishra's Workshop decks that represented nearly half of the Magic Online metagame at the time. The two copies of Pulverize in the sideboard with a main-deck Demonic Tutor to find it gave the deck a way to Shatter all of the Workshop deck's lock pieces. 

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One of the draws to this deck, besides a healthy match up against the Mishra's Workshop decks of the day, is the interaction between Gitaxian Probe, Cabal Therapy, and Young Pyromancer. Probe gives you 100% accuracy with Cabal Therapy and both make tokens with Young Pyromancer. The tokens generated by Young Pyromancer can be used to flashback Cabal Therapy to strip even more cards from an opponent's hand, and of course this generates yet another elemental token. This process grinds opponents down rather quickly, and Cabal Therapy destroys hands that are holding multiple copies of a card. 


Season Four

Season four begins on November 24th, 2015 with a match between 2005 Vintage Champion Roland Chang, and Professional Poker/Magic player David Williams. The first series of matches are part of a "play-in" event to determine the new tenth player for the regular part of season four. After the tenth player is selected, the usual round-robin tournament and finals will be played.

The other players competing for the tenth spot are Olle Rade, David Ochoa. Gerard Fabiano, Sam Black, Reid Duke, and Nick Detwiler. These eight players are some of the best players in the game, and several have high-profile finishes in Vintage events under their belts. 

The rest of the league will be filled out with the current VSL mainstays. All of those that started in the first season will be there, except for those that were eliminated due to finishing in last place. That means you'll be seeing epic matches with stars like LSV, Menendian, Efro, as well as the currently unknown winner of the play-in tournament. 

One of my favorite Magic players will be making his fourth appearance in the league, Dr. Rich Shay. Rich is one of the hardest-working players I know of. Part way through the VSL he earned his PhD, an impressive feat on multiple levels. Rich took a break from winning Magic Online Daily Events to answer a few of my questions, and I'd like to share his answers with all of you. 

A Chat with the Atog Lord, Dr. Rich Shay

Islandswamp: How long have you been playing Magic, and when did you become involved in competitive Vintage?

Dr. Shay: I started playing Magic in Unlimited. It isn't that I chose to start playing Vintage. Vintage is just what they called the format I had been playing.

Islandswamp: Of all the decks that you've ever played, which one(s) are your favorites?

Dr. Shay: Control Slaver is probably my favorite deck of all time. It was a deck based on the synergy between Thirst for Knowledge, Goblin Welder, and giant robots. The deck had both a robust draw engine in Thirst, as well as a quick combo finish. It emerged in an era of Psychatog decks and pushed that deck out of the format. I also had a fair amount of success with the deck, winning a Waterbury. I wrote a primer on the deck in 2004.

IslandswampYou've been a part of the Vintage Super League since season one, how did you become involved in it?

Dr. Shay: Randy asked. I was honored and accepted. It was an extremely busy time for me — finishing my thesis — but I wanted to participate because I thought it could really help show people how great a format Vintage is.

Islandswamp: How would you describe the experience of playing in the VSL? Do you treat it like any other match, or does playing in front of an audience affect you in any way?

Dr. Shay: Participating in the VSL has been a fantastic experience and a true honor. The experience is interesting, because if I make a poor-quality play, there are thousands of people to watch it and remind me about it. Honestly, it's intense, in a good way. I often have a lot of trouble falling asleep afterward.

Islandswamp: How do you prepare for a VSL season and does it differ from the way you'd prepare for a paper Vintage event?

Dr. Shay: Well, in a paper Vintage event, I don't know whom I will be facing. In the VSL, we know our opponents but not their decks. So, I try to take that into account when selecting a deck. In addition, there are always considerations for Magic: the Gathering Online compared to real-life Magic, such as being unable to play Dragon or Salvagers as effectively.

Islandswamp: This year at the Vintage Championships you made Top Eight with a Mishra's Workshop deck. Since that event Chalice of the Void has been restricted. Do you feel that Workshop decks still have what it takes to be a tier-one deck?

Dr. Shay: Yes, I do think the deck has what it takes. Last weekend, Brian Schlossberg made Top Eight of a paper Vintage event for a Mox Pearl with a similar deck. This weekend, Joel Lim made Top Eight of another Vintage event with a similar deck. The deck remains quite strong. I think that the restriction of Chalice is bad for the lock-based Workshop decks, but I don't think those were the correct approach for Workshops before the restriction anyway.

Islandswamp: Thirst for Knowledge has been the topic of much discussion since it was taken off the restricted list. Do you think that Thirst is safe as a four-of?

Dr. Shay: Thirst is absolutely safe as a four-of. I am very happy to have Thirst for Knowledge back in the format. So far, Thirst has seen some play, but not unhealthy amounts. And both Null Rod and Stony Silence exist to keep in check the artifact-based decks where Thirst for Knowledge thrives. I don't think Thirst should have been restricted in the first place.

Islandswamp: Do you feel that Vintage is a healthy format in it's current state?

Dr. Shay: Yes, absolutely. Just look at recent Top Eights and see how diverse the format is. The format has a number of powerful, viable strategies. We are approaching a point where Monastery Mentor may be over-powered. That's the only strategy that I am concerned about right now. But so far, I think the format is just very healthy.

IslandswampThe yearly Vintage Championships have been steadily growing in attendance in recent years. Is this something that you expected to happen and how do you feel about it?

Dr. Shay: Did I expect this to happen? I hoped that this would happen. I think it is great that Vintage is growing and thriving. I hope that Vintage being played on Magic: the Gathering Online and the Vintage Super League have helped show people what a great format Vintage is.

Islandswamp: Do you have any advice for aspiring Vintage players, either paper players or those on Magic Online?

Dr. Shay: As we were taught on The Dojo many years ago, "Study and Grow Strong." Read The Mana Drain. Follow Vintage results. Read Vintage articles. Talk with people about the format and participate in the dialog. Most of all, enjoy the format and have fun.


If you'd like to watch The Atog Lord stream some exciting games of Vintage with a variety of decks, you can check out his Twitch Channel. For more information on the Vintage Super League, there's plenty of links and information at their official website. There's a lot you can learn about how to navigate a Vintage match by watching the greats play, so make sure to check it out!

Thank you very much for joining me this week. I'll see you in seven days. You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on MTGO

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