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Vintage 101: Three Sixty-Five


The Ultimate Paradox

When Saffron Olive first spoiled Paradoxical Outcome, I thought it was a pretty interesting card. I remember reading about the Modern deck he imagined it might go in, and I realized that Vintage has more zero-cost permanents than any other format. I knew at that point that the card had massive potential, but I still wasn't sure how well Paradoxical Outcome would perform. Sure, the spell is quite powerful and the first copy helps chain draw spells until you find another, but the mana base you'd be required to run has some serious liabilities attached to it. 

Still, if you look at recent Daily Event results on Magic Online, you'll notice that people suddenly seem much more comfortable running a small number of lands. The eleven land Mentor/Thoughtcast deck has seen some additional play after winning the most recent Power Nine event. I've also noticed that some folks have adapted the "Steel City Vault" archetype to include fewer lands along with Paradoxical Outcome. Some of these decks have been putting up 3-1 finishes, so it is likely that there's a viable deck here. I'm not sure if the increased number of these decks points to them being a top tier competitor, or if this is just a result of people trying to test out crazy new ideas before Eternal Extravaganza 5 and the Vintage Championships

I'm always interested in showcasing the most insane Vintage decks I can find, especially if they're way outside the ordinary. Some people are risk-takers when it comes to Magic, and Vintage players often brew some crazy lists! Speaking of crazy brews, let's take a look at a deck that's aggressively dedicated to achieving a Paradoxical Outcome

Iamfishman, Hear me Roar!

 

This deck is an extreme example of what a Paradoxical Outcome deck can be. There are only four lands in the main deck, which is nearly unheard of. You could almost get away with playing a Goblin Charbelcher in the list because it would activate for lethal damage quite often. 

Just like the U/R Welder deck I wrote about in one of my Kaladesh articles, this deck is all in on assembling Time Vault and Voltaic Key. The big difference here is that this list eschews most of the cards that would work better in a longer game, like Goblin WelderMyr Battlesphere or Blightsteel Colossus. This build is hyper-aggressive instead and plays Street Wraith and Gitaxian Probe to cycle through cards as fast as possible, along with Thoughtcast and Paradoxical Outcome to draw a truly epic amount of cards. There's even a Mind's Desire, which should end the game most of the time when it resolves. 

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Once you've assembled Time Vault and either Voltaic Key or Tezzeret the Seeker you can take turns until you're able to use the ultimate ability on Tezzeret himself. Generally speaking people pay so much attention to Tezzeret's interaction with Time Vault that they forget about his ultimate ability, but in a deck like this it is game ending. 

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There are thirty artifacts in this deck, and the majority of them cost zero or one mana to play. Each of those artifacts becomes a 5/5 creature when you pop your Tezzeret, so you can easily kill your opponent in one swing. Even without having infinite turns you can easily kill someone with your Tezzeret, so be vigilant if you find yourself facing a deck like this. 

 

Spare the Null Rod, Spoil the Vintage Player

Playing a deck like the one iamfishman played is fun, and it makes for some explosive games. Even so, it's not all sunshine and roses. There is a real danger in playing a deck with only four real lands, and zero basics. The forces in the metagame that give a deck with a Seat of the Synod/Tolarian Academy/Mox Opal mana base (henceforth to be referred to as an "Affinity mana base") the most trouble are Workshop decks, Thalia, and Thorn of Amethyst decks, and of course anything with Null Rod or Stony Silence.

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Workshop decks are still prevalent in the online and paper metagame, but few Workshop/Eldrazi/hatebears decks are running Null Rod and I haven't seen many copies of Stony Silence lately either. Null Rod has fallen out of favor in Shops because it is wretched in a deck with Arcbound Ravager and Triskelion. Stony Silence hasn't really seen play in White Eldrazi, but it can be found in a normal Hatebears deck as well as some Mentor builds.

The most common place that I've noticed Null Rod lately is in the sideboard of Grixis Pyromancer, as a hedge against the ubiquitous Ravager MUD decks. Grixis Pyromaster is currently listed as 5.63% of the metagame, and Jeskai Mentor makes up over 12% itself. Not all of the Mentor decks are packing Stony Silence, but perhaps they all should at this point. I think that the decline in Grixis Pyromancer is probably due to its perceived weakness to the Eldrazi/Ravager Workshop decks. 

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Grixis Pyro could be poised for a comeback however. Of all decks that I've played, Grixis Pyromancer made the best use out of Null Rod. Since these are Gush/Young Pyromancer decks they function very well without the use of their moxen, and they only play the on-color ones anyway. These lists already want to utilize Null Rod to force their MUD opponents to play fair, so they're pre-tuned to fight the Affinity mana base of the Paradoxical Outcome decks. 

Before deciding to play a Paradoxical Outcome deck, I would strongly take into account how much Tribal Eldrazi you expect to see. If the event you're preparing for allows proxies, then Jason Jaco's Tribal Eldrazi deck should take up a reasonably small percentage of the metagame. But, as someone pointed out to me recently, the Vintage Championships at Eternal Weekend is likely to have a very high representation of these non-Powered Eldrazi decks. 

Vintage Champs is a sanctioned event, so all of the people who want to play but don't own the Power Nine might end up playing Tribal Eldrazi as it is the most powerful but budget-friendly deck in the format. Also, the deck ports easily from Legacy to Vintage as it shares most of the same cards. People who have registered Eldrazi Stompy for Legacy Champs can easily play a great deck in the Vintage event as well. 

If there do end up being a lot of Eldrazi decks at Vintage Champs, then you can bet you're going to end up playing against Null Rod quite a bit. Null Rod is essentially the backbone of Vintage Tribal Eldrazi and it's the best tool the deck has to ensure its opponents are playing a fair game of Magic

Totally Bazaar Perspectives

After the TMD Open in August, I realized that I had spent more time playing Oath of Druids than any other type of Vintage deck. I still have my deck together in paper, and I would likely play it if I were going to an event tomorrow. However, I decided that I've pretty much learned as much as I can about that type of deck, so I have sought out other archetypes or pillars to work on. 

I once wrote an article about Modern where I advocated for learning one deck until you could qualify as an expert with it. I still think that's a fine idea, but there's also plenty to be learned from playing something that's outside your usual realm of experience. With that in mind I recently spent some time working on MUD variants, and lately I've been playing around with Bazaar of Baghdad too. 

Dredge is a deck that I've always found very interesting, but I have limited experience with it. The first time I tried the deck I gave up rather quickly because of some bad beats, but I've made it a point to abandon that fear and to keep pressing forward. The Dredge lists that appealed to me the most were the versions that play Force of Will, as I am a blue mage at heart. 

The Pitch Dredge deck was originally developed on Magic Online by Adam Pierce, also known online as Kingneckbeard. I started with a recent list by Oddseidank and I made a few small adaptations after testing it. 

 

 

 

The thing about this version of Dredge is the transformational sideboard. I like that you could potentially negate your opponent's countermeasures by changing your angle of attack in post-sideboard games. I'm also fond of playing with counterspells and Cabal Therapy, and this deck utilizes those cards very well. 

Matches with Pitch Dredge start much like they do with traditional Dredge. You will simply mulligan aggressively to find Bazaar of Baghdad and proceed to win the game in a few turns by creating an undead army of zombie tokens. If your opponent manages to have a faster kill than you do, you've got Force of Will and your other counterspells to slow them down, hopefully buying you enough time to steal the game. 

Once game one is over things get a little more complicated. The deck can transform into a Dark Depths deck by bringing in the entire sideboard. To make room for these cards many of the graveyard-based cards and Dredgers have to be sided out. Generally I leave enough of the Dredge plan intact that I am still able to win with my graveyard if I'm able, but I also can create a Marit Lage token and claim victory that way. 

Experiment Zero: Tuning Pitch Dredge

Once I constructed the initial Pitch Dredge list, I began to play matches with it to see how it went. I've been testing different cards and configurations, and most of the choices I've made seem correct at this point. The list I've included in this article is merely a snapshot in the evolution of the deck, and the contents are definitely not set in stone. I'll go over a few of the choices I've made and explain why I've been playing them (or in some cases, not playing them). 

Leyline of the Void

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One of the changes that I've been trying out is that I've cut the playset of Leyline of the Void that most Dredge decks play. Cutting this card was a tough choice, and I'm sure some people would suggest that it's a foolish decision, but I do have reasons for it. The  main reason that you would want or need to play Leylines are that it helps protect your Bridge from Belows from being exiled, as your opponent's creatures never hit the graveyard. Other than that, the main point of Leyline is that it's very good in a Dredge mirror match. 

The reason that I've chosen to not run Leylines are as follows. First of all, in order to play the card you have to play four, so it takes up a lot of space in the deck. In addition, when making mulligan decisions you have to be concerned with finding Bazaar of Bagdhad above all else. You can't really afford to keep a hand with Leyline but no Bazaar, so the chances of even utilizing the card is rather low. There's no way to cast a Leyline in game one, and in post-sideboard games versus many decks Leylines are going to be sideboarded out. 

I still have lists saved that do contain a set of Leylines, just in case I end up deciding that I'm better off running them than not. So far I haven't felt like I missed them in most of my matches. 

Prized Amalgam

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I chose to include Prized Amalgam in my deck mainly because it is blue for Force of Will. Luckily, it's also black so it has synergy with Ichorid. You can exile Amalgam to bring Ichorid into play from your graveyard, and Ichorid being reanimated also triggers any Prized Amalgams that are lying around. This type of Dredge deck doesn't play enough lands to make Bloodghast viable, so it's nice to have another "free" creature you can lean on in grindy games. 

Force of Will, Mindbreak Trap, and Mental Misstep

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This iteration of the deck has twenty blue cards, so Force of Will ends up being live in your opening hand quite often. I've seen people play this deck with around sixteen blue cards, so having four more is definitely plenty. Force of Will is great in this deck, but it doesn't quite work out the same way it would in a traditional blue Vintage deck. Your hand gets emptied quite fast by Bazaar of Baghdad, so you may only get to play one or two of your Forces in any given game. There's no way to refill your hand without stopping your use of the Bazaar/Dredge engine, so I have found it's extra important to play these spells wisely. 

Mindbreak Trap has been regarded as the worst of the "free" counterspells in Pitch Dredge because it is much more conditional than the other counters in the deck. The biggest draw to Mindbreak Trap was always that it pitches to Force of Will, but with all of the Paradoxical Outcome decks being played lately this card's stock may have risen. 

Mental Misstep is the counterspell that everyone loves to hate. I agree that it is a format-warping card, but I am also glad I get to play with it. Misstep is exceptional in Dredge, and I'd say it's almost better than Force of Will. Misstep hits a lot of the cards that this deck wants to deal with, everything from Grafdigger's Cage to Pithing Needle, or even Swords to Plowshares

Contagion

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I admittedly have not had enough testing to decide whether or not it's worth playing Contagion. but theoretically it can be very important. In the past Dredge decks never had to care about removing a creature in game one of a match, but these days things have changed. There are decks that are playing Containment Priest in the main, and I don't want to get shut out by one of those annoying things. Sure, you might be able to just counter the Containment Priest with Force of Will, but the decks running it are also playing Cavern of Souls

Besides Containment Priest, there are a few creatures that you might want to kill. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Thalia, Heretic Cathar come to mind, but I'm sure there are other good targets. Besides the potential opportunity cost of running removal in a Dredge deck, it's also important to remember that using a Contagion could cost you all the Bridge from Belows currently in your graveyard. 

At one point my list looked a little different and I was running two Contagions, but I ended up trimming them down to just one copy. I'll have to keep playing with the card to find out whether or not I really need it. 

Dread Return Targets

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I've tested out a couple different creatures to reanimate with Dread Return, and I'm honestly still deciding which one to use. Once I removed Leylines from my list I started playing Elesh Norn because it's good in a mirror match. With all of the tokens and extra creatures like Prized Amalgam in the deck, Elesh is likely to end the game very quickly. Elesh can also sweep up Monastery Mentor tokens, which is a nice little bonus. 

The other creature that I would play instead of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is Dragonlord Kolaghan. Dragonlord is basically the updated and improved version of the classic Dredge combo kill of Flamekin Zealot. By the time you cast Dread Return you should have a sizeable army on the battlefield, and both Dragonlord and Zealot give your army haste. Dragonlord Kolaghan is considered to be the better choice for contemporary Vintage for several reasons. 

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Kolaghan is a black creature, so it can be pitched to Unmask or Ichorid. It flies, so it can win through Moat. If you're unable to make a large army of creatures for some reason, Dragonlord is still a 6/6 on his own so it can win rather quickly. Truth be told, Dragonlord Kolaghan is so good that I'm likely to start playing it again, either replacing Elesh Norn or just accompanying it. 

I did have a version of my deck that was running both Elesh Norn and Dragonlord, but I decided that I'd stick to one Dread Return target. The proper choice of which creature to play will change with the anticipated metagame. 

Riftstone Portal

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Riftstone Portal might seem like an odd choice for inclusion in my main deck, but I felt that it was ultimately worth it. In game one, this deck never wants to pay mana for any spells, so you would think that this card is unneeded. I decided to play the card after testing against MUD many times, and the reason it's in here is so that your Bazaars can tap for mana if need be. Most of the time Bazaar will be your only land, but you might need to cast a Dread Return through a Sphere of Resistance. Riftstone Portal makes paying for a Sphere effect much easier, as you would otherwise rely solely on Petrified Field as a mana producer. 

Pithing Needle

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The only adaption I made to the sideboard of my list is that I added two Pithing Needles. This may not seem like a huge deal, but I assure you that every single time I drew one of these it was extremely advantageous.

Pitch Dredge is well-known enough that people will be somewhat prepared for Marit Lage. This means that you may have to deal with Wastelands or Karakas, especially when facing a Mishra's Workshop deck. Pithing Needle is a dirt-cheap way to answer both of those cards, and it can punish a player who kept a hand based on multiple copies of Wasteland

Other than shutting down Wastelands and Karakas, there are plenty of uses for Pithing Needle. Tormod's Crypt and Relic of Progenitus are common sideboard tactics, especially from MUD decks. I have used a Needle to shut down a Tormod's Crypt before, and it allowed me to win using my Dredge cards instead of having to rely on Dark Depths. I found myself staring at a Scavenging Ooze while playing against BUG Fish, and Pithing Needle helped me not lose all of my Bridge from Belows. 

Occasionally you'll find random uses for Pithing Needle that you hadn't thought of at first. The card gives the deck a lot of versatility in sideboarded games and after testing with it I would never want to play a match without it. 

Pitch Dredge in Vintage

In all honesty, I am really enjoying playing Pitch Dredge right now. I don't think it's the best deck in the format or anything, but I think it has several things going for it. Dredge is always a powerful strategy, so you will get a decent amount of free wins pre-sideboard. Transforming into a Depths deck also makes your opponent have to make tough sideboarding and mulligan choices. To top it off, Pitch Dredge gets to play some very strong counterspells so you're less likely to have someone combo you out before you can win with your Dredge cards. 

Mindbreak Trap feels like it might be in a good spot right now as long as Paradoxical Outcome stays relevant. If you can manage to snag a Time Vault with your trap, your opponent will have just lost their primary win condition. 

The deck has a few blind spots that stop it from being even more well-positioned than it already is. Traditional Dredge decks bring in anti-hate cards in the form of permanent-removal spells (or evoke creatures). Pitch Dredge relies almost exclusively on using Force of Will and friends to stop nasty stuff like Rest in Peace or Containment Priest. To try to mitigate these issues I have been playing cards like Contagion and Pithing Needle, so I am at least able to deal with some of the cards that have been a detriment to my success. 

I'm not expecting to see a lot of players suddenly pick up this deck, but I suggest people get familiar with this style of deck anyway. If you find yourself paired against Pitch Dredge you'll have to remember that it's a much harder deck to combat. For instance, Swords to Plowshares is garbage against traditional Dredge, but against this deck it might just save your life! 

That's it for this week folks! I'll see you in seven days. Don't forget that Eternal Extravaganza Five is coming up, as is Eternal Weekend! You can chat with me about #VintageMTG on Twitter @josephfiorinijr -- Islandswamp on Magic Online and TMD

 


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