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Vintage 101: Viva La Aether Revolution!

The Triumphant Return of the Spaghetti Hatebears

Early in the day of December 31st,  long before the ball dropped for New Year's Eve, was the Magic Online Vintage Power Nine Challenge event. Attendance was much lower than in the past, but that is to be expected when an event like this happens on a major holiday. Regardless of the fact that there were fewer players in this particular tournament, there still was some interesting Vintage action. The Top Eight slots were filled to the brim with Gush-fueled Monastery Mentor decks, and the remaining slots went to Paradoxical Storm, White Eldrazi, and a U/W Landstill list with Emrakul, the Promised End. In the end, The Atog Lord reigned supreme with his Gush deck he calls "Mentor Silence." 

While I think it's safe to say that The Atog Lord's winning Mentor deck is the star of the show, the fact that there was a small resurgence of White Eldrazi is also quite interesting. White Eldrazi was once one of the most widely-played and successful decks in the format, but it hasn't seen nearly as much play lately. There were only two White Eldrazi players in the entire event, but they had very strong showings with 6-0 and 5-1 records. Magic Online user wappla went undefeated in the Swiss portion of the event with his take on the Spaghetti Hatebears archetype. 

For the most part wappla's White Eldrazi deck is pretty normal, but there are a few inclusions that I think are particularly noteworthy. First of all, there's a single Trinisphere in the deck. Usually the White Eldrazi lists just play Thorn of Amethyst and eschew Sphere of Resistance. To obtain a higher number of mana-taxing effects, White Eldrazi relies on Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Thalia and Thorn allow the deck to be disruptive to opponents without impinging upon its own game plan as the vast majority of its cards are creatures anyway.

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Trinisphere has the potential to cause serious issues to the White Eldrazi deck as there aren't as many Sol Lands as a Workshop deck, but the upside is tremendous. No single mana taxing effect can do as much work as one Trinisphere can, and this deck does have a fairly high chance of being able to land one in the first few turns. Against Paradoxical Outcome or Gush, landing an early Three-Ball could easily steal a game. 

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This is the first time I've seen anyone play a main-deck Kataki, War's Wage in such a deck. I think Kataki is probably a really good one-of though, as it's great against Workshops and it's probably fantastic against the Paradoxical decks as well. A low-land combo deck will have to build up enough mana to play spells through Thalia, and Kataki makes that very difficult. 

Recruiter of the Guard also seems like a great singleton as well. It finds the proper hatebear when needed, helps assemble the Displacer/Priest combo, and it can be blinked for value with Eldrazi Displacer

The next big innovation is found in the sideboard. Like many successful decks these days, this deck has answers to the Paradoxical Outcome decks in the form of Null Rod. There are too many mana artifacts in White Eldrazi to make main-deck Null Rods viable, but they're good enough at what they do to warrant inclusion in the sideboard. Note that even though this deck has "white" in the name, it's not able to support Stony Silence. Although in effect Silence and Rod are functionally identical, Stony Silence's status as an enchantment makes it far more difficult for an opponent to remove.

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Paradoxical Outcome is a card that is as degenerate as it is fragile. It must be taken seriously, but it relies heavily on a greedy, artifact-based mana base. These decks are enough of a threat that they've made Null Rod effects far more relevant than they were before Kaladesh. In fact, some of the best-performing decks are taking advantage of either Null Rod or Stony Silence, and the deck that won the entire event showcases this nicely.

The Silence of the Mentors

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This Monastery Mentor deck represents a new design philosophy for Gush Mentor. While it may look very similar to Gush/Mentor of days past it has evolved to deal with the metagame in several ways. 

The mana base is smaller than previous incarnations with only sixteen lands and on-color Moxen. There's no Sol Ring or Mana Crypt either. There are also slightly more lands than some people have used in the past with sixteen total lands. In the past I have seen people run fifteen lands but utilize all the Moxen in addition to Sol Ring. The streamlined mana base is a tremendous boon when playing mirror matches (or pseudo-mirrors). 

The lowered number of artifact mana sources makes it so the deck can make better use of Stony Silence. The anti-artifact enchantment is great against combo decks, most Workshops decks, and it's even great against some types of blue decks as well. 

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There are two copies of Wasteland and a Strip Mine in the deck as well. This is an important innovation in my opinion. The land destruction effects are obviously good in conjunction with the mana denial aspect of Stony Silence, but it also helps in other ways. The lower number of mana artifacts could normally be a problem when playing against decks like Workshops or White Eldrazi, but Wasteland can help in both of those matchups. Sometimes Waste and Strip can steal a game one from Dredge, and that's never a bad thing. 

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The Atog Lord's deck also has two main deck copies of Mindbreak Trap and a third copy in the sideboard. Mindbreak is a phenomenal card against the combo decks of the format, but it has utility elsewhere as well. If you're able to bait your opponent into building up three cards on the stack, you can get a massive blowout with Mindbreak Trap. Sometimes your opponents will be forced to dig for a particular sideboard card with cantrips. Then, when they finally find the card they need, Mindbreak Trap ruins their day. 

Mentor in 2017

The Atog Lord's Mentor build has my vote for the current best deck in the format. It may not stay that way for long, but right now I think it has great answers to nearly every archetype in the format. Several other people played similar lists in the Power Nine event and did well and the deck has had several strong finishes in Daily Events too. I'm interested to see where things go from here! 

If you'd like to read more about Mentor Silence or the Power Nine Event, there are threads on The Mana Drain for both. 

Aether Revolt Spoilers!

Since the last time we met there have been several cards from Aether Revolt spoiled and I'm quite excited about them. I won't list every card that has been spoiled, but I think it's worth discussing a few of them that could see play in Vintage. The first one is a blue card, so we know there's always a chance it could do something in the format!

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Whir of Invention is pretty interesting. It has a powerful effect that is similar to Vintage-playable cards, it's an instant, and it has a cost-reduction ability. Cost-reduction abilities can make a card somewhat hard to judge. For instance, it took a while before people realized how insane Treasure Cruise was. I can also think of three cards that have similar effects, and two of those have seen extensive play in the format. 

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The first card that I saw people comparing Whir of Invention to was Tinker. Both are three-mana blue cards that let you tutor an artifact directly onto the battlefield, but that's where the similarities stop. Tinker lets you cheat on mana and Whir does not. With Tinker I can pay three mana and turn a Mox Sapphire into a Blightsteel Colossus if I want to. The only time that Tinker and Whir of Invention are even remotely similar in overall mana cost is when you're searching out a Black Lotus or other free spell. If you want to get a Time Vault to complete a combo, you'll be paying three with Tinker and five mana with Whir of Invention

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So, for five mana you can search up your Vault and take all the turns. How likely are you to be able to "improvise" the cost down to just three mana? I'm not sure of the exact answer, but I suspect it won't be often. The most common type of artifacts found in a Vintage deck are mana producers, so they either already reduce the cost by tapping them for mana or they make more than one mana in some cases. Sure, there will be some times where you can tap a Sensei's Divining Top or whatever to reduce the cost of Whir of Invention, but it won't be very often. So, does this mean that there's no point in playing Whir of Invention? I don't think so. 

Transmute Artifact isn't exactly a Vintage all-star, but it definitely has seen play before. There are all-in Time Vault combo decks that would want as many ways to tutor for a Vault or Key as possible. Those decks have often used Transmute Artifact as their second copy of Tinker. If we compare Whir of Invention to Transmute Artifact it starts to seem like a much better card. 

Transmute is a sorcery and Whir is an instant so that's a point for Whir of Invention. Transmute Artifact reduces the cost of the card a bit, but only in relation to the card you're sacrificing. If you sacrifice a Mox Sapphire to get a Time Vault you're paying four blue mana (one from the sacrificed Sapphire). That same play with Whir of Invention costs a bit more at five mana, but at least you can do it during your opponent's end step. As I mentioned before, the chances of using the cost-reduction clause of Whir of Invention isn't that likely to be relevant, but if you can tap at least one artifact it's at least as efficient as Transmute Artifact

Cards like Transmute Artifact (and Tinker for that matter) are card-disadvantage as they cost two cards to function. You don't have to sacrifice a card for Whir of Invention and that's a huge plus. If your Whir of Invention is countered or if the card you tutor for is destroyed, you're not out any extra cards. Transmute Artifact requires an artifact to be sacrificed upon resolution (not as an additional cost like Tinker though). If the card you tutor for with Transmute is destroyed after resolving, you're getting two-for-one'ed and that can be a real problem in a close game. Depending on the game state you may be able to bait out a Force of Will and end step Whir of Invention, leaving yourself open to cast another bomb on your own turn. 

My Verdict

I think that any deck that wanted a second copy of Tinker bad enough to play Transmute Artifact will choose to play Whir of Invention instead. I think that Whir is pretty much a strict upgrade in most practical applications. The thing is there aren't that many decks right now that want a second Tinker. Many contemporary combo decks would rather run Paradoxical Outcome and simply draw cards until they find Time Vault instead of using Whir of Invention

Even though I don't expect this card to be huge I will be keeping an eye on it. Whir of Invention has an effect that is very powerful and cards like this can sometimes be the missing piece for a currently nonexistent combo deck. 

Fatal Fury

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If you don't like a creature, give it a little shove. 

One mana removal is good. This card will see play in Vintage and probably other formats too. I've heard some people mention that it doesn't kill every creature the way Swords to Plowshares does, and while that's true it misses the point. People will still play Lightning Bolt even though it can't kill a lot of important threats. Fatal Push will kill a very large portion of problematic creatures including Lodestone Golem, Thought-Knot Seer, Monastery Mentor, and much more.

The card does have a small caveat regarding the size of creature it can kill. Normally Fatal Push will only kill a creature with mana cost two or less. To make it kill something at four mana or less you need to meet the Revolt keyword requirement. A card you control must leave the battlefield this turn for Fatal Push to kill a four-drop. This means that if you crack a fetch you can use this. If you Wasteland something it turns this on. The wording also doesn't mention the graveyard; you only need a card to leave the battlefield. That means that casting Gush or Paradoxical Outcome also turns this spell on. If someone exiles or bounces one of your cards this also works. I have yet to test with the spell, but I can't imagine it's very hard to achieve what revolt requires. 

Before this card if you wanted to kill something for one black mana (or less) you'd have to use Snuff Out, Dismember, or Disfigure. Of those three only Snuff Out and Dismember are Vintage-playable. Both cards are very good, but they have their own drawbacks. Both of those spells cost four life to play for one or less mana, and they can't kill just any creature. I think that Fatal Push provides a real option to replace those spells in decks that would want to do so. 

My Verdict

I think Fatal Push will join the ranks of Dismember and Snuff Out and be considered a tier one black spot removal. The amount of play this card will see depends entirely on the viability of the decks that would choose to use it. For example, if Grixis Pyromancer made a comeback this would be a great main-deck removal spell to use. Granted, it is vulnerable to Mental Misstep, unlike Snuff Out and Dismember, but it also doesn't chew up a fifth of your life total with each use. I've had matches with Grixis Pyromancer where I was using either Dismember or Snuff Out to take out my Workshop opponent's creatures but still died because my removal spells did a number on my life total. 

Renegades of Funk

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Renegade Rallier is a lot of value for a three mana 3/2 creature. Right away it reminds me of Eternal Witness, a card that is very playable in other formats. The kicker is that while you're limited to the recursion of permanents that cost two mana or less (as opposed to Witness that can grab any card), the card you get goes directly onto the battlefield. Also there is a conditionality associated with the ability. Renegade Rallier is yet another card that uses the new keyword "Revolt," so you'll need to make sure a card you control leaves the battlefield if you want to get the trigger. 

Revolt may be the easiest ability to trigger in Vintage since Delve. Between fetchlands, cards like Gush, and things like Black Lotus or Lotus Petal, the average Vintage deck is full of ways to achieve a "leaves the battlefield" trigger. Revolt also happens to play well with a card like Renegade Rallier and it's recursion ability. A simple value play might be to crack a fetch, play the Renegade, return the fetchland, and get another land out. Or you could really be mean and Wasteland an opponent's land, play this, and hit yet another land. If you're really lucky you might be able to play a Black Lotus, sacrifice it to power this out, then get your lotus back immediately (possibly playing a second card that turn). 

If Renegade Rallier does find a home in Vintage I imagine it would be in a deck similar to this Junk Hatebears list. 

Junk Hatebears decks have a ton of good targets for Renegade Rallier to return to play. Most of the creatures are cheap enough to get back, and these decks can support a small number of three drops. Plus there should be enough ways to trigger Revolt between the fetch lands, Strip Mine, and Wastelands. You could also use Qasali Pridemage to trigger Revolt, and conveniently enough get your Pridemage back immediately to destroy another target. 

My Verdict

I think Renegade Rallier is definitely a viable option for the disruptive aggro decks that can support the color requirements. I don't think it's a four-of kind of card, but I can see running one or two. If you've built your list with it in mind you could even try to maximize the Ralliers effectiveness, perhaps by including more copies of Wasteland. The body you get for three mana isn't terrible either, although that's not the primary reason to play this. 

The main issue with this card is that the type of decks that it would go in really aren't that popular. Hatebears decks seem to be less popular these days, and White Eldrazi has become the premier Thalia, Guardian of Thraben deck in Vintage. Still, some people really like playing this kind of deck so I wouldn't be surprised to see my opponent cast one of these against me in the near future. 

My Impressions of Aether Revolt

From the few cards that I've included in this article and the spoilers that I've looked at I can say that I am very excited for Aether Revolt. There are quite a few cards that look really interesting, and many of them will likely find homes in Legacy and Modern.

I also think the art in the set is just as amazing as Kaladesh if not more so! I noticed today that Ornithopter is getting another reprint in the main set (in addition to the Invention version). The art on the card is fantastic, and I'll leave you with that to look at.,,

That's all the time I have for this week! I'll be back with more Vintage and Aether Revolt in seven days! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr -- Islandswamp on MTGO and TMD



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