Vintage 101: Vintage on a Budget!
by Islandswamp // Feb 17, 2017
Getting into Vintage
Vintage has the smallest player base of all constructed formats for a few different reasons. There is an issue of underexposure. The Vintage format doesn't get nearly the amount of coverage or content dedicated to it that Standard or Limited does (although lucky for you, MTGGoldfish is cool like that). Beyond that, there is the $20,000 elephant in the room; the availability and cost of staple Vintage cards.
Many of the cards for sanctioned paper Vintage are outrageously priced (although you can get them for much less if you're willing to bend on condition considerably). In areas outside of the United States paper Vintage is played almost exclusively within the constraints of officially-sanctioned tournament rules. Inside the United States things are vastly different. Still, many people aren't aware that the U.S.A. has a sizeable non-sanctioned Vintage scene that allows anywhere from ten to an unlimited number of "play-test cards." Some of these non-sanctioned events like Eternal Extravaganza draw large crowds and have incredible prize pools too. Believe it or not I'm asked about paper Vintage on a weekly basis and I find myself explaining that there is a huge percentage of the paper Vintage community that utilizes these play-test cards to some extent. Of course some people aren't lucky enough to live in an area with a paper Vintage community, but those folks still have options.
For people who don't have local paper Vintage events to play in there's always Magic Online. The release of Vintage Masters on Magic Online has brought the masses a way to play officially-sanctioned Vintage for less than the cost of a water-damaged Mox Emerald. Even so, spending around one-thousand dollars on a digital deck isn't for everyone. There is good news on the digital front however; prices for Vintage on Magic Online have dropped dramatically recently. If you've been on the fence about beginning your Vintage journey online due to cost then this is probably the best time to take that plunge.
Today I'm going to look at a few decks Vintage decks for Magic Online that (hopefully) won't break the bank.. It's pretty hard to believe that someone could cash a Vintage Daily Event for under one hundred dollars, but Spartan117Gottshall did just that.
Traditional Dredge for $100
"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Or perhaps I should say, "when Modern hands you banned cards, play them in Vintage." Golgari Grave Troll was once one of the pricey cards in Vintage Dredge, and thanks to it being banned for a second time in Modern it's price has dropped like a tombstone.
To get Vintage Dredge to ring up at 100 tickets or less a few sacrifices have to be made. Typically these lists call for Undiscovered Paradise and that's a bit pricey.
The reason that Undiscovered Paradise is so important to this build is that it allows you to cast the few spells you play painlessly and it can be used to trigger Landfall again and again for Bloodghast. The thing is it's not absolutely needed; you'll have a lot of games where it won't matter or you're able to use Petrified Field to do similar things. The times where you'll really miss the Paradises are when you're playing slow-and-grindy games.
Serenity is another higher-priced card that a lot of traditional Dredge decks employ in their sideboards. The plus here is that it sweeps away multiple pieces of hate, which is indeed very important.
This list opts to run Abrupt Decay instead, and Decay has its own benefits which make it a viable choice. Both Serenity and Abrupt Decay have a converted mana cost of two so they're equally easy to cast with the rainbow land mana base. By playing with Decay you're gaining uncounterability but giving up the ability to hit multiple things. I think that Serenity is probably better overall because of the prevalence of Workshops in the format, but Abrupt Decay is still an amazing piece of tech.
Now that I've got the budgetary considerations out of the way let's take a look at a few of the cards in the deck that are pretty sweet. First up we have a draft-chaff Gruul Legend from Return to Ravnica named Ruic Thar.
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed seems like a very odd choice for a Vintage deck until you think about his ability. Against combo decks his ability is just insane as it stops them in their tracks. Normally fast combo decks have weak sideboard plans against Dredge and just hope to combo off before turn three (the magic Dredge goldfish turn). With Ruric in play a combo deck can't do anything without dealing with it first. Just think; if you had to tutor or Preordain into a Chain of Vapor to take out Ruric Thar that's a minimum of twelve damage. When you factor in damage from Phyrexian mana, fetchlands, plus a hasty Ichorid that twelve damage could be close to lethal.
This list also has Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite as a Dread Return target. Elesh is a beast in Dredge mirrors as she can basically win games on her own. Against Monastery Mentor or Young Pyromancer decks, Elesh is a permanent Wrath of God that turns your zombie tokens into 4/4 creatures.
Flame-Kin Zealot has been a part of Dredge decks for ages so its no surprise to see it here. In fact the only surprising thing is that the deck plays three creatures to reanimate with Dread Return. From what I've seen it is much more common to see just one, maybe two targets for reanimation in a Dredge deck. I suppose that the plan with this deck is to try to Dread Return something as quickly as possible. The three Dread Return targets provide somewhat of a toolbox effect as well.
Traditional Dredge in Vintage
Dredge is always a viable choice even if it isn't the most well-positioned deck at any given point. Vintage Dredge decks with their Serum Powders and Bazaars can win games by turn three the vast majority of the time. This makes Dredge the most consistently fast combo deck in the format, even if it isn't technically the absolute fastest deck.
The number one problem that these decks run into is that the sideboard hate they face can be daunting to play around. It takes practice and skill to learn how to play around the various counter-strategies, but a seasoned Dredge player can make it look easy.
One more thing, for people looking to get into Vintage for a hundred tickets or less, this list is your best bet. The great thing is that you can start with this, grind some matches and tournaments, and potentially prize your way into some upgrades for the deck along the way. There's a lot of innovations and sub-archetypes you can experiment with inside of a Dredge shell too, so you can get a lot of use out of these cards if you're industrious about it.
Pitch Dredge for under $300
If you're interested in these graveyard-based decks and have money to spend for Force of Wills, there's Pitch Dredge.
Playing Pitch Dredge in Vintage
Pitch Dredge and Traditional Dredge are both perfectly reasonable choices for online Vintage, but with all of the combo decks in the current meta Pitch Dredge probably has the upper hand. Pitch Dredge has the ability to interact with opponents on the stack and that's important in an environment that includes Paradoxical Outcome.
It's important to remember that although Pitch Dredge is more expensive than Traditional Dredge that doesn't mean it is a strict upgrade. There are times where the metagame will favor one deck over another, and both established builds are very good. In short, if you're interested in Dredge but can't afford to shell out for Force of Will and Dark Depths don't trick yourself into thinking you won't be able to win matches without them.
Budget Blue/Red Delver
If you're into drawing cards, countering spells, and playing a mean tempo game, U/R Delver is a great choice. Delver is low to the ground so its threats can be deployed before the battlefield becomes clogged with Sphere of Resistances and the like. The deck can take full advantage of Null Rod which helps against the likes of Walking Ballista and Paradoxical Outcome.
This deck isn't what I would consider fully optimal but it's rather close. I took a stock list and swapped out some expensive cards for cheaper ones. Ideally this deck would be built with a set of four Scalding Tarns to facilitate running a basic Mountain in the sideboard. Other potential upgrades include running an additional Volcanic Island for a total of five "Mountains" between the main deck and sideboard. Running the extra Mountains would allow this list to play Pulverize in the sideboard.
Pulverize isn't necessary, and it isn't quite as good now as it was in past metagames, but it still does some serious damage to Workshop decks. If you bring in Null Rod to shut off the Arcbound Ravager/Walking Ballista combo Pulverize gets even more disruptive. Workshop decks generally will be overextending and playing out all of their threats, so one board sweep sets them back to the stone age.
Another way to upgrade this deck over time would be to swap out the green cards for white ones. By utilizing white as your tertiary color you gain access to Containment Priest, Swords to Plowshares, and Kataki, War's Wage. Kataki and Plow make the Workshops matchup much easier to handle, and Containment Priest is a house against Oath of Druids.
Dark Petition Storm for under $400
If you've got a little bit more of a budget, there are a few interesting combo decks you can play as well. Dark Petition Storm is relatively inexpensive as it doesn't need Force of Will or an expensive set of Mox Opals.
Dark Petition Storm has fallen out of favor recently due to the flashier Paradoxical Outcome decks that have emerged. The list that is shown above is running one less Underground Sea than usual, and no Lion's Eye Diamond. This is primarily a budgetary consideration but the extra basic lands are actually quite helpful against Wasteland decks.,
Dark Rituals in Vintage
Ritual Storm isn't the best deck in Vintage, but it's a ton of fun to play. The deck has a lot of turn one or turn two kills built into it, and there are some really crazy lines of play during combo turns. If you're interested in having fun and playing something broken for your first Vintage deck then I think this is a great choice.
Tier One Vintage decks
If you're someone who isn't as concerned about cost, you can get any one of the best Vintage decks on Magic Online for cheaper than ever before. Tier one decks that used to be in the $800-$1,000 range can now be found for hundreds less. The number one most popular, and arguably "best" deck in the format is around six hundred tickets. The second-most popular deck is nearly as cheap too.
Magic Online and Vintage
I know that I have a lot of readers who don't play Magic Online, but I have to admit I hope that changes. I readily admit that the program isn't perfect, but it's amazing to be able to play Vintage at five in the morning with my first cup of coffee. If your primary concern is the ability to play more Vintage I'd say that Magic Online is quite helpful.
For those of you who are interested in trying Vintage but do not wish to do so on Magic Online, here are some helpful links.
- The Mana Drain - The premier website/message board for Vintage players and tournament organizers
- Vintage: Magic the Gathering - A casual Facebook group for discussing competitive Vintage
- Magic: the Gathering Vintage Players - Facebook group for Vintage/Old School, buying/selling Vintage staples
Each of the links above can connect you to people involved in the format. You'll also find tournament listings including events that allow play-test cards. Good luck, and may you win all your Mana Crypt flips!
That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days! You can find me on Twitter, TMD, and Magic Online @Islandswamp