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Vintage 101: The Wrath of Marit Lage

"Marit Lage lies frozen in a glacier's heart. Still her dreams take form in our world, stealing the heat from our souls."
—Halvor Arenson, Kjeldoran priest

The Wrath of Marit Lage

Mishra's artifact army stood at attention while the mighty Mentors of the Jeskai Monastery prepared for a fierce battle. The world made sense, and everyone knew their role. The tides can change in an instant though, and soon a cemetery wind blew across the planes... Just when everyone thought it was safe to smash their machines into monks all day, the Zombies showed up and ate everyone's brains... 

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This past weekend was the monthly Power Nine Challenge event on Magic Online, and through the dominance of Gush and Mishra's Workshop came a marauding horde of Zombies from the darkest of depths. Pitch Dredge took down the entire event and made everyone wish they had packed more sideboard hate! 

Considering that the current Vintage metagame is chock-full of Wastelands (Shops, Eldrazi) and Swords to Plowshares (Mentor) I'm actually somewhat surprised to see Pitch Dredge performing this well. That isn't to say that it is a bad deck, because I certainly don't feel that way. However, the format does seem quite hostile towards Dredge right now, and in particular the Pitch version. 

The Dredge concept is so strong in Vintage that game one is nearly guaranteed to end in victory for the zombie horde. In post-sideboard games things get tricky. Traditional Dredge decks bring in cards like Nature's Claim to take out the Rest in Peace's and Grafdigger's Cages their opponents bring in. Pitch Dredge skips this process and instead switches into a Dark Depths deck with a few Dredge cards leftover as well. 

The Top Eight

March 2017 Power 9 Challenge Top Eight
Ravager101 Pitch Dredge
wappla Jeskai Mentor
Zebra Unicorn Jeskai Mentor
Iamfarnung Grixis Therapy
perdroj Ravager Shops
J.A.Eliso Ravager Shops
kyle1022 Sylvan Mentor

It's always nice to see something besides Shops and Mentor winning events, especially since those two archetypes make up such a large portion of the metagame. Decks like Dredge and Oath tend to keep the other archetypes on their toes by demanding several sideboard slots be dedicated to combating them. 

Walking the Planes

Wappla's second place Mentor deck was full of a lot of cards that you'd expect to see, but there were some really interesting inclusions as well. The only copies of Jace in the deck were Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and instead of Mind Sculptors there was the latest incarnations of Nahiri and Chandra.

When you're running four copies of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy it can be tricky to have Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the same deck. It's not impossible to manage, but sometimes you'll find yourself in a situation where you can't play one or the other because one is already on the battlefield. Nahiri, the Harbinger and Chandra, Torch of Defiance aren't as good as Jace, the Mind Sculptor at drawing cards, but they do offer other handy abilities. 

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Nahiri's -2 ability is quite good, although I may be a little biased as I have lost my Oath of Druids this way many times. In any case there's a lot of different cards that her exile ability can target and I think it's comparable to Jace's Unsummon in overall efficacy. 

Chandra, Torch of Defiance was once touted as the "Red Jace" because of her four abilities. While I don't think that's exactly an accurate assessment, I still see a lot of potential there. Of all her abilities I would assume that the mana-producing one would be the least useful, but the other three are good enough anyway. Using the first ability to pick away at a planeswalker's loyalty or create virtual card advantage is probably a good enough reason to play her. 

Cabal Therapy Session

The top eight contained another deck that got me a little excited. I was glad to see the third place finish by Grixis Therapy. It's been a while since the Cabal Therapy/Young Pyromancer/Gush decks were a prevalent force in the metagame, but I've always liked seeing them do well. Cabal Therapy is one of my favorite cards and I love how well it synergizes with Pyromancer. It's not hard to decimate an opponent's hand with the combination of Therapy, Gitaxian Probe, and the elemental tokens from Young Pyromancer

This build of Grixis Therapy strays from the norm in a few ways. There is no Null Rod in the main deck or sideboard, and frankly that seems a little off to me. Null Rod is one of the things that makes this type of deck so good. The deck doesn't need much mana to operate and Gush lets you replay lands to squeeze more mana out of them with otherwise unused land drops. This makes Grixis Therapy a great candidate for Null Rods, even if it is just one or two in the sideboard. 

The other thing I noticed is that there's a main deck Wasteland and Library of Alexandria. Strip Mine is common is these decks, and I think playing Wasteland is a decent option too. Library of Alexandria isn't seen very often in non-Mentor Gush decks, but in my experience it was quite good in the more controlling Young Pyromancer builds. 

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I have always felt that Grixis Therapy was more of a control deck than a tempo deck, especially compared to Vintage Delver. It is certainly possible to play an early Pyromancer and counter all your opponent's spells while you chip away at their life total, but this deck also plays well in longer games. Library of Alexandria makes your deck more powerful the longer you keep it active, and with Gush it's easy to always have seven cards in your hand. Wasteland adds another dimension of control to the list, although I feel it would be even more effective in conjunction with Null Rod

Most Interesting Deck of the Event Award

I don't actually give out awards for things, but if I was trying to find the most unique list in the event (to place in the top 16 or better), this list would win hands down. 

Gush is the best unrestricted draw spell in the format, so it's common to see. Beyond Gush though, this deck contains a lot of stuff you don't usually see in Vintage. Managorger Hydra is pretty unusual (barring Jeremy Beaver's decks), and I've never seen anyone play Sylvan Caryatid or Green Sun's Zenith in this format. 

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Green Sun's Zenith can only fetch a few cards in this list, but they're all very good targets for it. Leovold, Emissary of Trest and Managorger Hydra are both key pieces of the deck and finding them is important. Sylvan Caryatid hasn't seen the light of day since Theros rotated out of Standard so it gets my vote for most unusual inclusion. Trying new things is important sometime though, and you'll never get anywhere as a deck brewer if you're afraid to take risks. 


Amonkhet Calling

Amonkhet is right around the corner, and I'm quite excited. Kaladesh block was centered on artifacts, and I knew that would probably make waves in an artifact-heavy format like Vintage. Well Amonkhet will have a strong graveyard theme, and Vintage is notorious for having a lot of graveyard interactions. Everything from Dredge decks to Flashback cards to things like Yawgmoth's Will are commonplace in Vintage. If tournament-caliber cards that interact with the graveyard see print in Amonkhet there is a great chance that some of those will break into the format. 

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Cycling is also making a comeback. The first thing I thought about when I saw Archfiend of Ilfir was that people used to play Slice and Dice as a way to kill Young Pyromancer and its tokens. Cycling is hard to counter since it's not a spell (you'd need something like Stifle) and it doesn't cost you a card as you replace the cycled card with a freshly-drawn one.

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At first I thought that the Archfiend here could be good against token strategies, but I realized it doesn't function exactly like Slice and Dice. The ability on Archfiend is more powerful but it requires that you play with other cards that cycle (or get discarded) to make it work. This doesn't mean that it absolutely won't see play, but it is a big strike against it. Still, if the right mix of cards is printed I could see Archfiend of Ilfir seeing play. A 5/4 flying for five mana is relatively easy to cast. You can still Oath into it, and it turns Dack Fayden into a Wrath of God for monk tokens.

And then there's this thing...

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Nothing says Vintage like playing with ultra-rare copies of cards. The new Masterpiece Series from Amonkhet is called "Invocations" and they look like they were inscribed on a pyramid wall. They're a little confusing to look at in a picture, but I'm sure they look amazing in person. Force of Will looks to be the most Vintage-worthy from this latest group of Masterpieces. and I think they'll be coveted by those that love foils. 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll be back soon with MOAR VINTAGE! You can find me on Magic Online, Twitter, and TMD @Islandswamp

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