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Vintage 101: Tricks are for Kids


Howdy folks! Welcome to another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to class. It's schooling time now that we're out of the shadow of Eternal Weekend, and we can really start to dig into some of the most common tips and tricks to approach the Vintage format. Whether you're old hat or a beginner, I hope you'll find something to learn out of this.

I comprised a lot of this with a little assistance from the very helpful community on The Mana Drain! Much thanks to everyone over there who offered to me some helpful tips and little bits of Vintage knowledge. Vintage as a format can often be very complex in its interactions due to the high power level.

Without further ado, let's dive right into our session and learn some stuff, shall we?

Baby, You're the (Divining) Top

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As one of Vintage's top tier decks, Paradoxical Outcome makes use of one of Magic's more complicated cards in the form of Sensei's Divining Top. Top is a very nuanced card, as having to make decisions on the fly on the top three cards of your library can be very difficult for players not used to playing with the card. If you've ever played around with Top in Commander or Legacy (R.I.P. Top), you might know some of these tips.

Tip # 1 - Drawing with Top and Spinning

This one is fairly straightforward. Let's say you want to draw with Top but you don't want Top to be the next card you draw. Activate Top's ability to look at the top three cards, and then hold priority. Then tap Top to draw and put it on top of your library. You'll draw a card and put back Top, and then the initial Top activation can resolve, letting you rearrange the top three cards of your library. You can then move the Top to a different position so that you can draw a different card instead.

Tip # 2 - Top and Voltaic Key

This one is a little tricky and some folks can get it wrong sometimes. If you have Top and Voltaic Key, you can get really creative with your activations. Tap Top to draw, holding priority and activate Key in response to untap the Top. Then, re-tap Top to draw again. You'll end up with a stack that looks like this:

> Top Draw activation # 2

> Top Draw activation #1

Where some people might get this wrong is at this point you might think that you're just drawing two cards. You are technically drawing two cards, however when the Top #2 activation resolves, you'll draw a card and then put the Top back on top of the library. At this point, when Top #1 activation resolves, the ability will do as much as it can, re-drawing the Top that you just put back. If you want to get fancy, you can filter in a little bit of Tip #1 by activating Top's ability to search after untapping it, and then re-tapping to draw again. At that juncture, you can draw two fresh cards instead of re-drawing the Top again.

Tip # 3 - Drawing Even More Cards with PO

Paradoxical Outcome is a pretty powerful card, and Top can allow you to draw even more cards with it. By activating Top to draw, then holding priority and casting Paradoxical Outcome in response (targeting whatever is available including the Top), you can dig one card deeper when the Top's draw activation resolves. The Top won't be present to place back on top of your library, but as noted in Tip #2, the ability will try to do as much as it can by drawing the new card. The Top can then be recast to further fuel another Paradoxical.

I'm a Survivor, I'm Not Gonna Give Up

Survival is fairly new on the scene, but it has its own complexity to the various lines available to it. As a toolbox hybrid combo deck, these lines are not always apparent.

Tip # 1 - Activating Bazaar in Upkeep phase

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There are a myriad of things you can do with Bazaar of Baghdad with Survival, and one of the most common ones is using it during your Upkeep phase in order to possibly turn on casting Hollow One for free that turn. This also has the opportunity to turn on Vengevine and even possibly dump a Wonder in the graveyard for flying. Another thing you can do with this is getting back a creature such as Squee, Goblin Nabob to hand, activating Survival of the Fittest and pitching it, holding priority to activate Bazaar in response to dump three cards into the graveyard, and then finally resolving the Survival activation to get a free Hollow One.

Tip # 2 - Pitching Extra Creatures for Elvish Spirit Guide

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One of the most common (and strangely relevant) constraints is that Survival can often be choked on green mana. If you have some spare creatures in hand to pitch to Survival, you can turn on cards like Hollow One even if you only have one green mana to start with by using Survival to hunt down Elvish Spirit Guide. Exile the Guide for green mana and pitch the next creature in hand to get another and so forth until you can cast a free Hollow One.

Tip # 3 - Basking Rootwalla and How Madness Works

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Madness is a very interesting ability. Due to how its worded, when you discard a card with Madness (such as Basking Rootwalla), the card never actually goes into the graveyard. Instead, the card is exiled until the player makes the decision to cast the spell for its Madness cost or not. This is relevant and important for getting around cards like Containment Priest and common graveyard hate such as Tormod's Crypt or even Leyline of the Void. In addition, Madness casts the spell, which will then trigger any Vengevines in the graveyard.

Tip # 4 - Containment Priest Casts Too!

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Casting Containment Priest works exactly as it sounds. Since Priest is cast, if it's the second creature spell you've cast, it will trigger your Vengevines, and since Priest isn't actually in play yet you can return your Vines at your leisure.

Oath of... Wait... Why am I taking an Oath again?

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At first glance, Oath of Druids seems like a relatively straightforward interaction, your opponent has more creatures than you do, so you get to flip your library into your yard until you get a big game-ending fattie. Simple, right? Well, there are still rules situations that come up with this card that should be mentioned.

Tip # 1 - Oath of Druids and how the trigger/resolution works

Oath of Druids' trigger is a very interesting one, because the trigger only goes on the stack in the first place if the initial condition of the opponent having more creatures is true. If both players control the same number of creatures, Oath will not trigger to begin with, meaning the only opportunity to give your opponent another creature (through a card like Forbidden Orchard) would be during their end step. The same holds true of when Oath's trigger goes to resolve. If the condition being requested is no longer true (i.e. the opponent no longer controls more creatures than you do) when the trigger goes to resolve, the trigger will do nothing and be countered. So... if your opponent blows up one of their own creatures to put you at creature neutral in response to the trigger, you will not get to dig into your library for a creature as the condition is no longer true.

Furthermore, Oath of Druids contains an "intervening if" clause on it, which is one of those fancy "that player may" and "if he or she does" type wordings. Oath's is a little easier to understand and handle than most of these, because it's trigger is so contingent on the opponent having more creatures, but the long and short of it is that this is simply a fancy way of asking you the question of "Do you want to use this triggered ability?" and your answer being Yes or No.

Tip # 2 - Multiple Oath of Druids

When you have multiple copies of Oath in play, things can get fairly interesting. For example, if both copies were to trigger on your Upkeep because your opponent has one more creature than you, both triggers would go on the stack, but normally only one of the triggers would actually resolve, because by the time you get to the second trigger, you have the same number of creatures as your opponent. However, because the stack doesn't resolve all at once, you can in between each trigger use Forbidden Orchards to give your opponent another creature to keep them above yours so you can continue to use your Oath triggers.

Tip # 3 - Don't Forget that Grafdigger's Cage Exists!

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Because of how Oath of Druids is worded, the creature entering the battlefield is actually entering from your library, so Grafdigger's Cage shuts it down hard. Pretty basic to remember, I know, but occasionally you run into a situation where you might forget this, and it's important to remember given how played Cage is in Vintage.

I'm Feeling a Little Blue

Your typical Xerox blue deck comes with their own challenges, learning how to handle cards like Flusterstorm (especially when you have to play the dreaded Flusterstorm mini game that is called "resolving this card properly on Magic Online"), Mindbreak Trap, and of course cards like Gush. Let's talk about some fun things you can do and some basic sequencing. This isn't very specific to just one list, but more of a guide to many different Xerox style blue decks.

Tip # 1 - Gush

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There isn't much I'm going to say on this topic, because quite frankly, the book has been written on this card. Literally. Check out Stephen Menendian's book about this card, as it greatly explains how to play with and interact with Gush in a far greater capacity than I could cover here. Even with the card's restriction, this is still the best resource that exists on understanding how to use this very nuanced card. Something someone did point out to me though that I thought was fun was using Gush to draw cards by paying its alternate cost in response to a spell like Balance if it would put your opponent in a position to have to sacrifice lands to Balance.

Tip # 2 - Pyroblast, Not Just for Countering Things Anymore!

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One of the most common things to know, especially if you're playing a deck that plays Monastery Mentor and Pyroblast together is that Pyro can be cast whenever, at whatever target you please. The way the card is worded is very particular in that it only cares about its target being blue when the spell actually goes to resolve, but doesn't care for the purposes of targeting. This can be helpful and important to changing up combat math for Monastery Mentor as the free spell not only gives your team another Prowess trigger,but also gives you another token. Also, Pyroblast can be randomly useful if your opponent is playing Two-Card Monte and they have Painter's Servant out, which usually names Blue, so you can use your Pyroblasts to blow up things like lands.

Tip # 3 - Library of Alexandria

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Often referred to as the Tenth piece of Power, Library is again, a very nuanced card. The card advantage it can bring to your game is pretty insane. This card is even more powerful when you're on the draw, because you can play Library and have seven cards in hand to activate it immediately if you have the ability to play out a zero drop like a Mox. Not only does this put you up on cards over your opponent, but on parity with your plays.

That being said, once you fall off the Library train, it's pretty impossible to get back on it, and at some point during a game you do have to decide when to jump off in order to start actively closing out a game.

Tip # 4 - Sequencing Around Mindbreak Trap

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While Mindbreak Trap doesn't see an insane amount of play in the format anymore (because of Paradoxical Outcome I feel) the card does rear its ugly head on rare occasions. Playing around Trap is fairly simple by making sure that the spell you really want to resolve falls in the first two spells of a turn you cast. Example: If you need to resolve a Dark Confidant, and you have two Mox in hand, you're probably not going to play Land, Mox, Mox, Confidant because then Trap will be live. Instead you play Land, Mox, Confidant, and then run out the final Mox. This ensures the likelihood of your Confidant resolving, and also makes your third spell seem fairly unattractive to spend a Mindbreak Trap on, which deadens the card in their hand.

Things get a little more interesting when you start throwing around a blue deck like Landstill into the mix.

Tip # 1 - Breaking the Standstill

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Standstill is a very powerful card, given that it is capable of allowing you to draw three cards at no downside if your opponent casts a spell into it. The trick to beating Standstill is to know when to crack it. Generally the best time is during your opponent's end step, where the extra cards may end up putting them above hand size where they would have to discard some of them. One further way to beat Standstill is to just get it over with and crack it early, and then try to keep up with your opponent's extra cards. This can be hard to do, but sometimes getting it out of the way can end up in your favor.

In addition, an amusing interaction that I found while researching Standstill was that if you are casting a creature such Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre at flash speed somehow (Leyline of Anticipation?! Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir?!?!?!) on your opponent's turn, because your opponent is the active player their Standstill trigger will go on the stack before Ulamog's destruction trigger. Ulamog's trigger will resolve, and then Standstill's will do nothing because your opponent can't sacrifice the card to fulfill the condition. Not quite Vintage related here, but hey... maybe someone will come up with a flash speed Eldrazi deck or something. I've seen crazier.

Tip # 2 - Mana Drain and Uncounterable Spells

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Mana Drain is a fairly interesting and powerful card. For UU you get the strength of Counterspell with an added boost of colorless mana on your next main phase. But what happens if you try to counter and uncounterable spell with it? Well, the answer is.... the spell still doesn't get countered, but as it turns out, the addition of the colorless mana is not contingent at all on the spell being countered in the first place, so you would still get an amount of colorless mana equal to the spell's converted mana cost on your next upkeep.

That Dredge Life

Despite being a fairly straightforward deck to pick up, Dredge does have its share of little tips and things you can do to up your game. Dredge's primary skill lies in the management of its multitude of triggered abilities, from cards like Bridge from Below to Ichorid and even Narcomoeba.

Tip #1 - Learn How Bridge from Below works

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Bridge from Below is a card that requires some attention to how the triggers actually work. One of the most important things about Bridge is that both triggers listed on the card are owned by you, despite the fact that the second trigger occurs when an opponent's creature hits the yard. This is very important in terms of combat situations where creatures are trading in combat. Because both triggers are owned/controlled by you (our wonderful little Dredge player you), you can place the triggers on the stack however you like, ensuring that you get your Zombie tokens before your Bridges are exiled.

In addition, if Bridge is not in your graveyard at the time the first trigger resolves, you won't get a 2/2 Zombie. Do not pass Go, do not collect $100.

And finally, things get a little weird when you're playing Leyline of the Void, because while Leyline of the Void says that if a card would be put into an opponent's graveyard from anywhere, it doesn't specify anything about tokens like Rest in Peace does. This means that you have to be careful because if your opponent does somehow manage to get any tokens in play, those can be used to eat your Bridges.

Tip # 2 - Using Bazaar in your Upkeep, just like Survival!

This should come as no surprise that using Bazaar of Baghdad in your Upkeep in Dredge works just about as well as it does for Survival. Not only does it give you the potential to turn on Hollow One if you're digging for that, but also gives you the ability to dredge deep into your library before your actual draw step, where you can then dredge even more.

Tip # 3 - Beating Containment Priest without an Answer

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Containment Priest can be a bit of a bummer, but it's not unbeatable. While the good common answers to a resolved Priest are typically cards like Barbarian Ring and Cabal Pit, if you don't have those cards, you can easily be shut out of a game. However, Golgari Thug can often be a powerful way of dealing with the Priest. The reason? Bridge from Below. With access to cards like Riftstone Portal, it's not uncommon to end up with two mana and the ability to make black, and because Priest doesn't shut off access to cards like Cabal Therapy, you can flashback Therapy with Thug (and use its trigger to put the Thug back on top so you just re-draw it next turn) and make some 2/2 Zombie tokens. Eventually if you can just keep doing this without losing your Bridges, your opponent's Priest will look pretty poor in comparison to your army.

Some More Helpful Tips and Tricks

Now that we've got some of our more deck-specific stuff out of the way, let's talk about some other popular cards and situations that pop up from time to time.

Tip # 1 - Engineered Explosives + Tax Effects

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Engineered Explosives is a very flexible Magic card, and can be used in various numbers of ways to get rid of problematic permanents. However, Sunburst is a tricky mechanic to understand in regards to a spell that has X in its mana cost. This complexity gets even more interesting when you start throwing around cards like Chalice of the Void and Sphere of Resistance into the mix.

One of the most common interactions is needing to possibly get rid of some converted mana cost two cards in play (such as an aforementioned number of Sphere of Resistance or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben) but the tax makes things relatively difficult. Well, one of the things you can do with Sunburst is a lot of fun, by either declaring X at a lower number, or declaring X at a higher number and only paying the requisite number of colors for what you need. For example, Two Sphere of Resistance in play and you want to get Explosives out on 2 counters. You can declare X at Zero and pay two different colors and your end result is an Explosives with 2 charge counters. Alternatively, you could also declare X at Two, and pay four mana, but only pay two different colors to achieve the same goal.

Chalice of the Void always presents a unique challenge to resolving Explosives, as a Chalice on Zero counters can essentially mean that casting Explosives for Zero means it will get countered. If you have access to colorless mana, you can declare X at a value greater than Zero (such as One or Two), and pay only colorless mana in order to get an Explosives with Zero counters on it. Alternatively, a Chalice on One counter is easier to deal with, since you can declare X for Explosives at Two or Three and only pay one color of mana to get Explosives out on one counter.

Tip # 2 - When Not to Cast a Mox

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This seems like basic Boot camp kinda stuff, but there is a real science on occasionally holding back a Zero drop mana source such as a Mox or Mana Crypt. Mana Crypt especially is very useful to hold onto until its mana is immediately useful or necessary to win the game due to the fact that Crypt can actually just kill you if you lose too many flips for it. One of the biggest things to think about is whether or not you plan to use the mana that turn or not, and if not, often times its correct to sit on the Mox/Mana Rock until you actually will. With cards such as Monastery Mentor for example, holding back a Mana Rock or two is the difference between a few tokens you might otherwise not have. It's also helpful if you're playing around cards like Null Rod or Stony Silence to just hang onto the Moxen until you find an answer for one of those hate cards.

Tip # 3 - Untapping Time Vault

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So many are used to seeing the card Time Vault in situations where the card is paired with Voltaic Key in order to take infinite turns, but there is a very real intrigue to naturally untapping Time Vault by skipping your turn. This is a very niche situation to wander into, but occasionally just untapping and skipping your turn is correct. Either you have reactive capability to deal with whatever your opponent is doing, or by giving your opponent a turn you are able to set up the next extra turn to just win the game, or your opponent has a punisher effect such as Smokestack in play and by untapping the Vault you skip having to deal with it for one turn. (If you wanna see this practice in action in a real blowout game, check out Team Vintage Super League from this last season. It happens.) So don't always discount that having a Key is tantamount to making Time Vault work for you, it can be made to work in normal ways as well.

Moving On - Some More Eternal Weekend Wrap-Up

Although Eternal Weekend was two weekends back, we are blessed by the Eternal and Vintage community that Eternal Central and The Mana Drain were able to not only provide a very thorough and strong Meta game analysis of the event, but also provided every scanned decklist from the event as well. Check out the two following links to check this information out, as it's very useful to look through.

North American Eternal Weekend 2018 Tournament Breakdown

North American Vintage Champs 2018 Decklists / Coverage

Huge props to users diophan and ChubbyRain for their excellent Meta game knowledge and also to Jason Jaco for dealing with scanning all those decklists in! That had to be a chore!

The Mega Spice Corner

This week I have a few spice lists to share, because spice is awesome.

First off, shared to me from a user on TMD by the name of Griselbrother, we have an Abzan Midrange type list playing several Hate bear effects.

Whew! Spicy! I especially enjoy the sideboard Thrun, the Last Troll here.

Moving on, thelastgnu has given us a fun list that's playing FOUR Baral, Chief of Compliance. Oh, also? Burning Wish.

Storm! I love it. Especially since it plays Burning Wish. I love Burning Wishlot.

Do you like Thief of Sanity? What about Titania, Protector of Argoth? Well, Gernardi has you covered.

And finally, our last list coming from the decklist dump from Eternal Weekend, we have Gene Brumby on Rector Omnisicence!

This deck is sweet, because not only are we sacrificing Academy Rector, but we also get to play Flash and Spellseeker! Pretty cool deck!

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! If you think I've missed something that should be pointed out, or you think I got something wrong, please feel free to let me know! I always appreciate people keeping me honest!

Don't forget that I am running a contest this month to help people get into Vintage through Magic Online! Check out the Twitter post for more information!

Looking ahead towards the end of the year here, there isn't a lot going on event-wise, so we're going to do our best to keep digging into the format as we go forward and look hard at the weekly Vintage challenges that take place on Magic Online. And of course, next month I will start planning out a "grab bag" style article, where you send me questions and I'll do the best to answer them!

As always, hit me up on Twitter or Twitch and let me know what you'd like to see here! I have really enjoyed all the great, positive comments and the awesome discussion that the readers bring to the table. I appreciate each and every one of you guys, because you're all fairly super awesome people.

Until next time folks, keep all your Magic on the Vintage side!


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