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Vintage 101: Zombies, Hermits, and Eldrazi!

Dredging for Glory

Hello and welcome, Vintage people! The annual Vintage Championship at Eternal Weekend is fast approaching, and everyone is paying close attention to how the metagame is shaping up. The results from recent paper events like the TMD Open, the NYSE, and Eternal Extravaganza have all shown somewhat similar results. Decks centered on Thorn of Amethyst (Workshops and White Eldrazi) are doing well, and Grixis Pyromancer is the defacto best Gush deck in the current meta. Magic Online results have been panning out in a similar fashion as well. 

Last weekend there was another Magic Online Vintage Power Nine Challenge, and it was won by thediabetical playing Ravager/Thought-Knot Workshops. In second place was Dredge, a deck that hasn't been doing that well recently. Dredge is the kind of deck that can sometimes just lose to hate cards, but if its opponents don't respect the deck it usually wins. Basically, if you choose to not respect the Dredge matchup and you end up paired against a turn one Bazaar of Baghdad you're gonna have a bad time. 

Kingneckbeard is the inventor of Pitch Dredge as far as I can tell, and he pilots the deck very well. If you're unfamiliar with Pitch Dredge, here's how this deck works. The basic idea is that Pitch Dredge has most of the traditional broken graveyard interactions of a normal Dredge deck, but it also gets to play some "free" counterspells like Force of Will (hence the  word "Pitch" in the title). Traditional Dredge decks run cards in their sideboard to counteract the opposition's graveyard hate, but Pitch Dredge employs a transformational sideboard to dodge its opponent's sideboard cards altogether.  

In game one, you can expect to face the usual onslaught of zombie tokens courtesy of Bridge from Below. The sick thing is that when you decide to try to ignore your Dredge opponent and play an Ancestral Recall or Dark Ritual, you get hit with Mental Misstep, Force of Will, or Mindbreak Trap. Typical Dredge decks interact with their opponent's through Cabal Therapy and sometimes Unmask. This deck has sixteen "free" counterspells in addition to the usual Cabal Therapys, so it has quite a bit of interaction. 

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Kingneckbeard has been an innovator for Dredge decks for a while now, and this list showcases a very interesting piece of tech unique to his builds. Vengeful Pharaoh is one of those forgotten rares from the core set Magic: 2012, most likely relegated to the battles of kitchen table mages. In a Dredge deck, Vengeful Pharaoh is essentially a free-to-cast, nearly indestructible version of No Mercy.

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No Mercy isn't the kind of card you'd put into a deck, but the effect is actually very powerful. Vengeful Pharaoh does the same thing (albeit better, as it includes damage to planeswalkers), but it doesn't cost any mana or even a card in your hand. The only real cost to Vengeful Pharaoh is the opportunity cost of sacrificing two slots to the card, and that's pretty close to absolutely free. With Bazaar of Baghdad you can keep the Pharaoh in your graveyard indefinitely, and your opponent will get exactly one attack out of all of their creatures. This effect does a good job of holding your opponents at bay, allowing the Dredge deck time to do its thing. 


In post-sideboarded games, Pitch Dredge is built to shine. The opposition will have to bring in some graveyard hate, otherwise they'll just lose to a horde of tokens. If they don't keep cards like Swords to Plowshares or other bounce spells in their list, they'll end up losing to one huge token instead! 

The Undead Horde Never Dies

Dredge is a deck that never stays down for long. Most decks in Vintage wax and wane, and many fall off the radar for long periods of time. Dredge sort of does this act too, but it always seems like it could rear its head at any moment, devouring unwary competitors. I tend to be cautious, and I always pack a lot of Dredge hate. Typically I play around six pieces of strong anti-Dredge sideboard cards, but if the deck I'm playing has a legitimate shot at closing out a game by turn three, I go with a smaller amount. It's rare for a Dredge deck to need more than three turns to goldfish a zombie kill, so any deck that can't also win that fast needs more than just a well-placed Ravenous Trap

Vintage Magic Offline

When the Power Nine Challenges occur each month, I generally write about the results and feature several of the decks. The types of decks that were successful in this most recent event have received more than their fair share of airtime in my articles. For example, thediabetical's Ravager Shops list that won the Power Nine Challenge is a great deck, but it's essentially identical to all the other Ravager Shops decks being played. In the interest of looking at new and different Vintage decks, I've gathered some lists from other sources. 

Ryan Eberhart and Matthew Murray both do an excellent job of breaking down the exact metagame for each of the Power Nine Challenges, and I highly recommend you take a look at the numbers they've put together if you're interested.

Luckily for me, MTGGoldfish is taking submitted tournament data now. This change means I've got easier access to paper Vintage results, and we should be getting a clearer picture of the entire metagame once paper and online results are mixed.  

Hermits and Eldrazi in New Zealand

New Zealand is a small country with a small Vintage scene, but the players seem to have some big ideas. The results of the New Zealand Vintage Championships were recently submitted to MTGGoldfish, and I found this interesting list that won the event. 

Have you ever looked at the Legacy Banned list and wondered why Hermit Druid is banned? If so, here's your answer. Hermit Druid can mill your entire deck in one turn if you're playing a deck with no basic lands, which enables a variety of instant kills. Take for example Angel of Glory's Rise, Azami, Lady of Scrolls, and Laboratory Maniac. This list basically wins in a similar way to Vintage Dredge's combo kill. The deck gets a bunch of Narcomoebas into play via self-milling their entire deck. They cast cards like Cabal Therapy and Dread Return from the graveyard, ultimately reanimating Flame-Kin Zealot. When the Flame-Kin Zealot comes into play, it gives all creatures a power and toughness buff as well as haste, and by that time you should have quite a few zombie tokens courtesy of Bridge from Below.

Basically, this deck is built to do a lot of what a Dredge deck does, albeit slower. The tradeoff here is that the deck also plays alternate win-conditions like Tinker, Time Vault, and Blightsteel Colossus. Dark Confidant keeps your hands full of cards, which is a sweet piece of tech provided you don't accidentally flip your Blightsteel! 

The deck has Force of Will, Thoughtseize, and Cabal Therapy for protection and disruption, along with a healthy amount of must-counter bombs. Having counterspells and discard effects is a must, but it often isn't enough to sidestep graveyard hate. The main reason that there isn't a lot of Hermit Druid combo decks in Vintage is that the strategy loses to most cards that hose a Dredge deck, and the deck is slower and less consistent than Dredge. 

The list does have a plan for post-sideboarded games, and it involves a bit of a transformation. After game one, the deck can bring in Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmage to give it an alternate combo kill. If you bring in Snapcaster Mage, Scavenging Ooze, and Trygon Predator, the deck starts to look a lot like a BUG Fish deck.

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Hermit Combo's Viability in Vintage

This deck did win an event, which shows that it does have some potential. I'm not sold on it being better than other available options, but I can't argue with tangible results. I don't expect to see this deck suddenly become widely-played, but I like the adventurous spirit. That said, I'd recommend playtesting this deck to see if you like it before investing a lot of money in it. If this type of deck really appeals to you, you might find that you like the consistency of Serum Powder-fuelled Dredge decks. 

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Bringing Power to the Powerless

This next deck is also taken from the New Zealand Vintage Championships. The event was small by American standards, and it was a sanctioned event as well. These two factors meant that card availability was more of a factor here than it usually is in America. When you're not able to purchase the Power Nine or Bazaar of Baghdad, Eldrazi is hands-down the best deck you can play. Eldrazi is the only deck that is designed to run optimally without the Power Nine, and indeed it's a strong enough deck that it put two copies in this particular Top Eight. 

This seventh-place Eldrazi list is very similar to the deck Mark Hornung played to a second-place finish at Eternal Extravaganza IV. The core of the deck uses the same "Sol-Lands and Spaghetti Monsters" formula first made popular during Pro Tour: Oath of the Gatewatch. Eschewing the ubiquitous fast mana found in most Vintage decks, this Tribal Eldrazi strategy instead chooses to harness the power of Null Rod. It's very tempting to add a Mana Crypt or Sol Ring, but such additions create potentially dead cards in the list. Without a real draw engine, Tribal Eldrazi (or JacoDrazi as it is often called) simply cannot afford to draw any dead spells. 

The sixth-place finisher was also on JacoDrazi, and their version strayed even further from the original incarnation. 

Again, most of the deck is the same as you would find in Modern or Legacy Eldrazi decks. There are a couple of additions that I think are pretty cool though. 

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A few all-star cards from Mishra's Workshop decks were included in this build of Eldrazi. I'm not entirely sure if it's right to play Trinisphere or Lodestone Golem in a deck like this, but I can imagine they're very good at least some of the time. Typical Legacy Eldrazi decks run Thorn of Amethyst, but that's not been adopted by most Vintage Tribal Eldrazi decks. However, if you've only got room for one Sphere in your deck, Trinisphere is the best one. 

Phyrexian Metamorph is extremely powerful in a deck that produced an abundance of mana, but I imagine it's better in a Workshop deck than anywhere else. That said, it's very handy to have a Clone effect in yout deck. The obvious uses include copying your own four and five-drop creatures, but Metamorph shines against other decks too. Normally an Eldrazi (or Workshop) deck would have a tough time beating a Blightsteel Colossus or Griselbrand. If you can Clone the behemoth that your opponent cheated into play, it can set you up to steal a game that would otherwise be lost. 

Budget Vintage with Eldrazi

I get asked about the high price of Vintage all the time. People get sticker shock when they see the cost of a Vintage deck in paper, but those decks can be less expensive if you aren't so picky about the condition of your cards. Even with heavily-played Power Nine, a sanctioned Vintage event is very pricey. In the past, people turned to Dredge as a cheap alternative, but key cards in that deck have exploded in price. Tribal Eldrazi is the absolute best option for someone looking to get into Vintage for less money, and I highly recommend this deck to anyone who is trying to break into the format. Jason Jaco's creation has taken on a life of its own, and it shows no signs of slowing down! It's only a matter of time before one of these decks takes down a large event. 

There's an added bonus to buying into Vintage Eldrazi, and that is the fact that the deck utilizes most of the same cards as the Legacy versions. With a few alterations, you could easily take your Eldrazi deck to Eternal Weekend and play in the Legacy and Vintage Championships with it! If you've already started playing this deck, or you're just considering it, the deck's creator did some fantastic writing on the subject of building and playing Vintage Eldrazi. I highly recommend these articles on Eldrazi, and they'll give you a keen insight into why the deck works. 

That's all the time I have for this week, I'll see you in seven days! You can follow me on Twitter @josephfiorinijr - Islandswamp on Magic Online

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