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Vintage 101: The Ultimate Paradox!

The Ultimate Paradox

For quite some time combo decks have not been all that great in Vintage, even though they never completely went away. Occasionally combo decks would get a boost in playability from a new printing like Dark Petition, but that never seemed to be enough. Even with four Dark Petitions, the newest incarnations of Dark Ritual Storm never dominated that much. It is true that there has been a few notable tournament victories or solid finishes by Dark Petition Storm but the archetype never saw the success that the other forces in the format did. Even after the restrictions of Chalice of the Void and Lodestone Golem supposedly meant that combo would take over, the biggest winners seemed to be Monastery Mentor and Gush. This dynamic has continued to evolve though and that is largely due to the development of a new breed of combo deck. 

Paradoxical Outcome has changed the way combo decks are built. I hardly see anyone working on the usual Dark Petition Storm decks anymore and instead there are multiple flavors of the Paradoxical variety. The Storm-focused builds are very popular due to the notoriety of Reid Duke's Paradoxical Storm deck from the Vintage Championships. 

Paradoxical Storm

This list is the stock version of Paradoxical Storm. There are only nine lands and just one win condition in Tendrils of Agony. This configuration leaves room for a ton of fast mana, broken spells, and draw seven effects. There are a few distinct advantages to this approach, and I'll quickly go over them. 

The Pros

  • Paradoxical Outcome Storm is very fast. Turn one kills are not just possible; in my play experience they are likely to occur fairly often. I remember testing a match against Dredge where I won turn one on the draw in both games, and that is something I had never done with a Dark Ritual-based Storm deck before. 

  • Paradoxical Storm is much more immune to Mental Misstep than Dark Petition Tendrils. There are far fewer cards with a converted mana cost of one and those cards aren't nearly as important as the many one drops in a DPS deck. Dark Ritual and Duress are key spells for the Dark Petition decks, and they're giant Misstep targets. 

  • The Storm versions of Paradoxical Outcome have fewer dedicated slots for win conditions than decks built to win with Monastery Mentor or Time Vault. This frees up a lot of space for other important cards.
  • Since the deck can often win very quickly people who play it are often afforded extra time between tournament rounds to find food or use the restroom. 

The Cons

  • Paradoxical Storm has a substantial weakness to Null Rods and Stony Silence. Null Rod is slightly less painful as it can be bounced with Hurkyl's Recall, but Stony Silence is much harder to remove. Without the abundant mana that the nineteen mana artifacts provide, these decks cannot chain together their Paradoxical Outcomes and it becomes nearly impossible to win via Tendrils. The decks only have nine mana sources that will function with a Null Rod on the battlefield, so it can be difficult to even get enough mana to cast Hurkyl's Recall in the first place. 
  • Although there is an abnormally large amount of card-drawing spells in Paradoxical Storm, there is even more mana in the deck. This isn't always a problem, but every now and then the deck can get stuck drawing something situationally worthless like one more Chrome Mox instead of gas.


Adapting to the (Stony) Silence

I went looking for a Paradoxical Outcome deck that could deal with the prevalent hate cards and I found my starting point on The Mana Drain. A player named Guillem Ragull played a four-color Paradoxical Storm deck to an 11th place finish in the LCV Vintage League. I liked a lot of what the deck was doing, and it reminded me somewhat of Preston Cordy's Paradoxical Combo deck from Vintage Champs. Both Ragull and Cordy had been running Oath of Druids in their sideboards as a way to win in the face of Null Rod or Thorn of Amethyst effects.

I took Guillem's list and made a few small modifications and proceeded to test with the deck. Here's what I've been working with:

Most of the core cards from the stock Paradoxical Storm decks are here. The big difference in this version is that there is one more land and Abrupt Decay in the main deck. Also there are two copies of Hurkyl's Recall as well. 

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Abrupt Decay might seem somewhat odd as previous incarnations of this deck didn't play any removal spells other than one Chain of Vapor and a single Hurkyl's. Abrupt Decay is here because it kills Stony Silence (something Hurkyl's can't do), and it can't be countered. If the only thing stopping you from trying to go off is a Stony Silence you're probably going to be happy to draw an Abrupt Decay

Doubling up on Hurkyl's Recall is a smart idea as well. This bounce spell is your best bet for beating a Workshop deck, and it doubles as a Storm enabler and color fixer. Hurkyl's has always been good at generating Storm, but in this deck being able to bounce a Mox Opal and replay it to get access to one of the three tertiary colors is huge. In my experience issues with finding the right color mana at the right time can be a bit of a problem, so this is a nice option to have. 

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The source list I started with when brewing used a second Storm card as a win condition; Brain Freeze. Having a second win condition does offer a bit of safety as it makes it harder for someone to remove all of your paths to victory. Brain Freeze is also blue, so it's easier to cast and can be pitched to Force of Will. I decided to swap Brain Freeze out for Empty the Warrens though. Empty the Warrens can win a game where you're only able to generate a relatively small Storm count, whereas Brain Freeze requires a substantially larger amount of spells to be cast in order to win. In this way you could say that Brain Freeze is a win-more card, and Empty is better against decks where you need to do something fast before you're stuck under a Thorn of Amethyst.

Fast Mana

Paradoxical Storm plays more cards with the word "Mox" in the title than any deck in Vintage, with the exception of Mono Blue Belcher. The classic Moxen, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, and Lotus Petal are all very important to the deck, but Chrome Mox and Mox Opal also have an importance that cannot be understated. Before playing this deck for myself I understood that the Opal and Chrome Moxen were needed, but it took actually testing with the deck to see just how important they are. 

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Mox Opal is like a better version of Lotus Petal in this deck (and Petal is restricted, go figure!). The first Opal that gets played is like a Lotus Petal that sticks around to be bounced with Outcome. Each Opal played after the first is kind of like a Lotus Petal, only you're forced to sacrifice the copy you've already used. 

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Chrome Mox is probably the weakest of the Moxen in the deck, but it is still quite good. Often times it's fine to simply play a Chrome Mox without imprinting it so you can power up a Tolarian Academy, create more Storm, or just to add to the number of cards that Paradoxical Outcome draws. When you really need a color of mana Chrome Mox will often be your saving grace. 

Opals and Chrome Moxen create a critical mass of zero cost mana artifacts which help to fuel the deck, but the color fixing they provide is just as crucial. On turn one or two if you're attempting to resolve your first or second copy of Outcome it is easy to run into trouble getting the right color of mana if you only have colorless artifact mana producers or off-color Moxen. Once you've been comboing out for a bit you're usually able to make whatever color you want, but you'll need to make sure you're planning ahead and floating some black mana for Tendrils of Agony

Going Off

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Tolarian Academy and cards like Mana Vault and Grim Monolith are important to the deck and they're a big part of what can allow this deck to win on the first turn. Basically if your opening hand can make four mana and put three or four artifacts into play and has a Paradoxical Outcome, you stand a good chance of winning that turn. 

While all of the Moxen make more mana than they cost to play, it is the big boost that Sol Ring, Mana Vault, or Mana Crypt gives that ends up being the most important to an early win. Grim Monolith somewhat falls into this category as well, although it isn't nearly as efficient as either Mana Crypt or Mana Vault. Once you get things rolling these "Artifact Rituals" will be able to be reused again and again, so you will start to accumulate floating mana. 

It's very possible to cast a turn one Paradoxical Outcome for three or four and not draw the right cards to continue comboing out, so it's important to be aware of that. The two things that will cause you to fizzle out are a lack of the proper mana after Outcome or a lack of follow-up card drawing.  Because of this fact, there are times it may be better to try to wait a turn before going off, perhaps after dropping a Defense Grid. As a general rule I will not attempt to cast an Outcome for less than three cards, and I will not blindly cast a bomb if I'm not holding more in my hand. 

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If I find myself facing a deck that is packing Null Rods or Sphere of Resistance effects, I will absolutely take bigger risks in trying to go off quickly. Frankly this deck really does not have the luxury to wait in those situations, save for some rare times where you're already holding a Hurkyl's that can save you. Mind's Desire and Empty the Warrens are two cards that can win the game with a mid-sized Storm count so I would go for those if I felt I had to. Just remember that the six mana for Mind's Desire makes it a liability against mana taxing decks in post-sideboard games. 

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The Sideboard Plan

The big difference between this four-color Outcome deck and the stock lists is the Oath of Druids plan. Oath makes it so this deck can win through a Null Rod or a battlefield full of Sphere of Resistances. 

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I chose Griselbrand as one of my Oath targets because it can often beat a Workshop deck all by itself. Also, if you manage to Oath up Griselbrand when you're not being suffocated by Spheres, the draw-seven ability plays well with the rest of the Paradoxical Outcome plan. Sphinx of the Steel Wind was chosen because it can't be bounced with Karakas and it can be Tinkered into play. With four Oaths and a Tinker there's a decent chance that the deck will get to play either one of those cards on turn one or two before it gets locked out of the game.

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The sideboard also contains an extra Abrupt Decay and a Toxic Deluge. The third Decay gives the deck some additional spot removal, and the Deluge can hopefully deal with hatebears, tokens, or other random creatures like Merfolk. 

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The anti-Dredge tech in the sideboard is just two copies of Tormod's Crypt. The matchup against Dredge decks is pretty good so it's not a problem to only have two hate cards. I've even tested against Dredge decks with four Mindbreak Traps and it wasn't enough to stop me. Dredge can consistently win on turn three, but Paradoxical Outcome Storm is a turn faster at least. I thought about brining in Ravenous Traps instead of Tormod's Crypts, but the synergy between zero-cost artifacts and Paradoxical Outcome is too good to warrant playing anything else. 

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Mindbreak Trap is here to give me something to bring in in a mirror match. I have tried other stuff in this slot but ultimately I always went back to the Trap. It's just one more free counterspell to draw if your opponent casts a draw-seven effect. 


The Opposition

Some of the best performing decks in the current metagame have been adapted in such a way as to make life difficult for the Paradoxical Outcome players of the world. Let's take a look at a few of the most dangerous matchups. 


Workshop decks in general have the potential to make life tough for combo players due to the large amount of lock pieces they use. Even so, it's possible to deal with a board full of Sphere of Resistances with Hurkyl's Recall. Unlike the Arcbound Ravager-wielding Workshop Aggro decks, the contemporary crop of Stax decks are packing Null Rods and Smokestack. Null Rod makes the plan of building up to play Hurkyl's very unreliable. 

Hopefully the combination of Force of Will and Hurkyl's Recall is enough to create a window to go off in game one. If you're on the play there's at least a decent chance that you could get a good enough hand to win on turn one. In game two Oath of Druids comes in and most of the expensive combo pieces come out and that should help considerably. 

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Silent Mentor

Here we have the best Mentor list that is currently being played. Monastery Mentor provides a clock nearly as fast as any combo deck, and Gush ensures that the Mentor player always has a full grip of cards. Stony Silence backs up the pressure from Mentor by turning all artifact mana in to bricks. 

The important cards for navigating this matchup are Abrupt Decay, Force of Will, and Defense Grid. Decay takes out Stony Silence so you can combo off. Force and Grid are your way of dealing with the Mindbreak Traps and Flusterstorm the Mentor decks will use against you. 

White Eldrazi

White Eldrazi is possibly one of the best positioned decks in Vintage right now. The aggravation that Hatebears cause mixed with Workshop-like mana denial makes life tough for many decks, and Paradoxical Storm is certainly no exception. 

This is possibly the toughest matchup for my build of Paradoxical Storm for a few reasons. The most obvious issues stem from Thorn of Amethyst and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Hurkyl's Recall alone can't reliably sweep the board of mana-taxing effects, and Abrupt Decay is tough to cast against Thorns and Wastelands. The Oath transformation plan that is great against Workshops has some serious problems here.

In my testing the Oath plan worked very well the first time I tried it against White Eldrazi, but afterwards my opponent realized what was happening and they sideboarded the Containment Priests back in. It's probably still worth it to bring in the Oath package against White Eldrazi, but this matchup is likely to remain the most difficult to navigate. 


Final Thoughts on Paradoxical Outcome

Until about a week ago I had only played against the various Outcome decks, and I had never piloted them myself. These decks always seemed decent when I was playing against them, but I wasn't sure if they were really that good. Once I played a few games with the deck I was pleasantly surprised. I felt like I was playing a deck that was as explosive as Blue Belcher but much more consistent. I didn't have to mulligan as many hands as I thought I would, and I got way more turn one kills than I thought possible. I definitely think that Paradoxical Outcome is a card that all Vintage players should keep an eye on as it is extremely potent. 

I still think that the "best" Outcome deck hasn't been found yet though. The list that I've been working on has quite a few things about it that I really like, but I readily admit that it still needs work. The bad matchups are very difficult for the deck and no matter what the list is. The simple fact is that Null Rod and Stony Silence are a beating. The weakness that this archetype has to Null Rod is actually a good thing though; I am legitimately concerned that the deck could be too powerful if there was nothing keeping it in line. If it wasn't for the few bad matchups I wouldn't be surprised to see Mox Opal or Paradoxical Outcome itself restricted. Right now these decks aren't putting up enough positive results to warrant any action by the DCI, but I'm sure they're keeping tabs on the deck's successes. 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days! You can follow me on Twitter, TMD, and Magic Online @Islandswamp 

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