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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Dec 12 2017 1:00pm
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Well, this is interesting: WotC pulled the Lorwyn Flashback Favorites and replaced it with a Vintage Masters Flashback with the unique hook of original-border Power. While I wish there was a bit more notice, I’m fine with this from a content perspective: I like Masters sets more than normal sets, a “first pass” of a set is much easier than a second pass (which is what Lorwyn would have been), and I wasn’t too far along with my Lorwyn article. Anyway, let’s get to Vintage Masters!


Vintage Masters is one of the strangest sets WotC has ever released, mostly because it has so many different goals. The set was an MTGO-exclusive set which meant it was free of a lot of restrictions a set normally has: the Reserve List was fair game, it doesn’t have to follow the normal restrictions of a sheet (the set has 105 rares and 30 mythics, both twice as many as a normal large/Masters set), and it includes a fifth ultra-rare rarity. Next, the set’s range limitation was everything not legal in Modern (everything pre-Mirrodin that hadn’t been reprinted, a couple supplemental sets, and a couple of cards banned in the format), and it’s a lot harder to make a good set out of older cards (simply because there is a lot of junk), so Vintage Masters makes a lot of rarity downgrades to compensate (notably 27 rares to uncommon). Finally, unlike every other Masters set, this one was introducing new cards: obviously the Power Nine isn’t going to affect Limited too much, but the Conspiracy cards (and other assorted new-to-MTGO cards that fill in some gaps like Predatory Nightstalker) add an interesting dimension to the set. As always, we’ll start with the mechanics (and there are a lot), then go over the archetypes.




The RW deck is a Cycling deck so you would expect a lot of Cycling in those colors, but it’s used liberally throughout the set to smooth it over, including all five Onslaught cycling lands and the non-Dimir Scourge landcyclers.



Dethrone would be an interesting combat mechanic even outside of a multiplayer context, but it’s only on three rares/mythics here.



Echo is in a weird place here, as it’s just on two commons and five rares and doesn’t really serve any other purpose—the rares are good, as is Simian Grunts.



Another “here are three generically good cards” mechanic, these cards are powerful even if you only get them for a limited time.



I’m surprised there wasn’t more Flanking in this set as it’s a good combat mechanic, but instead it’s only on three cards. Just note that Flanking doesn’t apply to other creatures with Flanking (though that will rarely matter, especially since the common with Flanking can’t block) and you’re good.



While Flashback is a build-around mechanic in most recent sets, here it’s just on good cards (other than Roar of the Wurm, which is tied to GU Madness). Notably it’s in all five colors, and most of the cards are common, including the insane Battle Screech.



Only four cards here, but moving Arrogant Wurm to common alongside the other three cards means it can serve as its own archetype—we’ll get to that shortly, but be careful against a Simic deck.



Deathreap Ritual is a good card for a controlling deck, and that’s the only Morbid card in the set.



Provoke only appears on two cards, and is one of the many attempts to make a “fight” card work (though there actually is a Fight card in the set—Triangle of War is one of the more unfortunate Reserve List members alongside Thunder Spirit). The two cards are common and work well in GW Auras.



Shadow is one of the most unique mechanics, as it creates a third plane of combat that only affects itself. However, that isn’t shown here as much, as there are only four cards with the mechanic (alongside Wall of Diffusion) and two of the four gain Shadow with an activated ability (so it mostly serves as unblockable there). The cards are individually powerful though, and are mostly downgrades (three of the four were downgraded, and two of them were rares including Soltari Emissary, the original rare to common downgrade).



Unlike its recent appearance in Iconic Masters, Storm is an actual deck here with Temporal Fissure, Tendrils of Agony, and Brain Freeze all below rare (and (Mind’s Desire) as a bonus). Of course, the Storm deck is only as good as its support, and we’ll see how viable UB Storm is when we get to the archetypes.



Surprisingly there’s almost no overlap between the Madness deck and the four Threshold cards, as they’re just generically good (Mystic Zealot) or for other archetypes (Cabal Ritual).


Will of the Council:

Will of the Council is a voting mechanic, which is interesting in multiplayer but the default “tied” choice means these cards generally only have one function. They’re mostly rares and mythics, though (Tyrant’s Choice) is a common one-sided Flame Rift.



Before we get into the archetypes, just a note: while each color pair has a plan (and a gold uncommon that generally fits in that plan), it’s not nearly as cleanly defined in most cases (as it’s harder to get clear archetypes with pre-Modern cards), so your decks are generally going to look like generic limited decks more than a clear archetype.


White/Blue: Control

We’re starting with a traditional archetype/color pair pairing, which makes sense since control is one of the few things early Magic did well (too well, to be honest). The signpost uncommon Reviving Vapors does well at showing the direction as it gains life and gives you card selection. That’s just one of the many sources of incidental lifegain in the set, as Teroh's Faithful, Renewed Faith, and Exile are all decent cards, and Ivory Tower (downshifted to uncommon now that everyone realizes lifegain isn’t overpowered) might just be good enough if you’re keeping your hand stocked with cards like Deep Analysis and Fact or Fiction. Cycling also helps a lot, as this deck is much more likely to run extra lands if it’s playing lots of Secluded Steppes and Lonely Sandbars, as well as all the other random cycling cards like Choking Tethers. It won’t shock you that there are good counterspells in this set, but surprisingly there are only three non-rares: Counterspell, Power Sink, and Circular Logic. To make up for that, white has a shocking amount of removal: Benalish Trapper and Radiant's Judgment might seem underpowered in a Masters set, but Exile, Afterlife, and Swords to Plowshares certainly aren’t. Finally, you get Cloud Djinn at uncommon as a finisher, and of course there are all kinds of broken rares and mythics you can open, from classic unkillable cards like Ephemeron, Morphling, and Eternal Dragon to Jace, the Mind Sculptor himself. The only question is if it’s good enough to stop all the hyper-aggro decks, and I feel like it’ll be a meta call—the two most-played decks are probably going to be Storm and RW Token Aggro (both of which we’ll get to), and control is good against combo but not aggro.


Blue/Black: Storm

Storm is one of the hardest decks to make work, especially when you want it like the Constructed deck with rituals and card draw, but Vintage Masters attempts it to reasonable success. On the mana production side, black gives you Nightscape Familiar alongside the pair of Dark Ritual and Cabal Ritual (though the latter is uncommon now, probably to avoid the overlap with the former), while blue brings back the classic combo of High Tide and Turnabout. There’s also a ton of filtering: Brainstorm (with Mirage fetchlands), Obsessive Search, and Frantic Search are there for the combo turn, while Owl Familiar and Krovikan Sorcerer (a great pull for the archetype) let you filter beforehand, alongside bigger card drawers like Fact or Fiction, Deep Analysis, and Gush. Your non-rare payoffs are the trio of Temporal Fissure, Brain Freeze, and Tendrils of Agony obviously, though signpost Psychatog isn’t an awful backup plan. Overall the Storm deck is close, but more so than any other deck this needs a broken rare to make it good. Thankfully there are plenty of options (Mind's Desire, Palinchron, Timetwister, Necropotence, Yawgmoth's Will, and Yawgmoth's Bargain 'alongside the typical broken tutors, mana sources, and Power), but I wouldn’t go into this deck unless I take one of those early and see the enablers going late.


Black/Red: “Reach” Aggro

If you’re unfamiliar with Magic slang, by “reach” I don’t mean blocking fliers, I mean the ability to finish off an opponent without having to wait for creatures to attack. Traditionally that means burn, and Vintage Masters has plenty of it, whether it’s purely burn like Tyrant's Choice, Chain Lightning, and Fireblast or added damage with effects like Choking Sands (remember: cycling lands and ten dual lands mean there are plenty of targets) and Famine. Haste also helps with the unexpected damage part, and the set has cards like Flowstone Hellion, Reckless Charge, and signpost uncommon Blazing Specter to provide that dimension. There also is a “suicide aggro” side of this deck with cards like Fledgling Djinn, Lurking Evil, and Aftershock. Finally the removal is good as always with Chain Lightning, Expunge, and plenty of expensive two-for-ones. Overall it’s a good aggro deck, but the lack of evasion in most cases may be its downfall.


Red/Green: Ramp

This deck is very strange: it’s classified as ramp, but there aren’t many ramps spells below rare (just Fyndhorn Elves, Nature's Lore, Orcish Lumberjack, and Mana Prism, though they are all common). Instead, there are a lot of cards to get lands into your hand like Yavimaya Elder, Krosan Tusker, and the other landcyclers. Instead, you’ll be focusing on midrange fatties like Erhnam Djinn, Blastoderm, and Beetleback Chief and using Fires of Yavimaya to get them fighting more quickly. However, there isn’t much else without a rare to kick the deck into overdrive like Fastbond or Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary. Maybe all the color fixing makes this a five-color deck that plays whatever good rares get opened? Or maybe you should just avoid this color combination—I’m unfortunately thinking the latter.


Green/White: Auras/“Little Kid”

This isn’t a pure “enchantments” deck like many of my designs, but instead something where you put good Auras on good creatures and just attack—the slightly derogatory “Little Kid” designation comes from how simple that strategy is. However, when your Aura is Armadillo Cloak and you’re putting it on a Dreampod Druid or Phantom Nomad, it doesn’t seem that bad. Unfortunately, all the Auras aren’t Armadillo Cloak, but they are close: Elephant Guide is a nice downgrade and Armor of Thorns is efficient enough, while Empyrial Armor was actually upshifted to uncommon. The creatures are interesting though, as putting Auras on a shadow creature seems good enough, and a card like Brindle Shoat helps mitigate the two-for-one potential. The removal is good in this set though, and an Aura-based strategy doesn’t seem great against it, and Benevolent Bodyguard and Akroma's Blessing can only do so much.


White/Black: Attrition/Reanimator

This is one of the less well-defined archetypes, but “value creatures” can certainly be good enough. There’s a small reanimator theme in the color pair, with Mistmoon Griffin (a rare graveyard order-matters card) at common and the trio of Breath of Life, Animate Dead, and Reanimate at uncommon. Otherwise, these are some of the best removal colors and there are efficient creatures, so this is a reasonable “generic” limited deck.


Blue/Red: Counter-Burn

Of all the color pairs, this is the one that doesn’t really work. Both blue and red have no good creatures pre-Modern, so the archetype is based around spells, but there aren’t payoffs for committing to spells. Even the idea of holding up counterspells all the time, then playing threats if you don’t need to counter anything since there’s virtually no Flash in the set (the two cards with it are green). Stay far away and stick to splashing Prophetic Bolt in your other decks.


Black/Green: Rock (Midrange)

Deathreap Ritual is a great value card even in a two-player game, and there are plenty of other value outlets in this color pair, whether it’s the 3-for-1’s Urborg Uprising and Yavimaya Elder, the great removal spell Dark Hatchling, or the resilient pair of downshifted wurms Penumbra Wurm and Symbiotic Wurm. You also have a lot of decent midrange creatures like Erhnam Djinn and Kezzerdrix, combined with the removal spells and ramp, so your card quality is one of the highest of any color pair. The one problem is that it’s a little slow, but it should be able to stabilize quickly enough.


Red/White: Tokens/Cycling

I’ll be honest, someone clearly messed up the balance of the Boros cards in Vintage Masters, as there are two distinct decks that can be built from those colors. Let’s start with the obvious deck WotC was planning: RW Cycling. Both Astral Slide and (Lighting Rift) are in the set (and forgotten siblings Stoic Champion and Spirit Cairn), as well as a lot of cycling cards that are either great on their face (the landcyclers, cycling lands, and removal) or are the conditional cards cycling is great on (Spark Spray, Gilded Light). In addition, note that all of those enablers trigger when both players cycle, so they’re stronger than it seems when everyone has at least cycling lands.


However, that’s not the real reason why RW is broken in this set. That reason goes to the token strategy, and in particular Battle Screech—yes, that is four power worth of flying for four mana if you have a single white creature you’re willing to tap, and it was downshifted to common for some reason. Another crazy downgrade is Goblin Trenches, which is a near-endless source of creatures in the late game—there’s a reason it was moved back to rare for its appearance in Eternal Masters. The final piece of the puzzle is Rites of Initiation, which was actually upshifted in Vintage Masters but it’s still an instant-speed Overrun when most of your creatures have evasion or you have a bunch of tokens. When you combine that with all of white’s efficient evasive creatures and red’s burn, you have a powerful deck that most decks don’t have answers to.


Green/Blue: Madness

As I mentioned in the mechanic section, there are only four Madness cards in the set, but they’re all common so the as-fan is still great, and all four cards are strong. What’s more important is the discard enablers, and they’re good as well: the classics Wild Mongrel, Aquamoeba, and Skywing Aven are here from Torment, while other sets add Owl Familiar, Waterfront Bouncer, and Thalakos Drifters. That last one is more important than it seems, as signpost Aether Mutation points to the deck being focused on tempo—this is probably a good place for Serendib Efreet and Man-o'-War. The most important part of this deck is that unlike most of the other decks I’ve talked about it relies on low-rarity cards and specifically no rares (I mean, it likes Survival of the Fittest, but certainly doesn’t need it), which makes it a lot more consistent. One problem is that it has a high skill cap (and ideally having played back when these cards were new), so this might not be the best deck for a newer player to the format.


Goblin Tribal:

One theme that doesn’t fit neatly into any of the archetypes (other than maybe RW) is the Goblin tribal synergies sprinkled throughout red. The downgrades of Goblin General and Skirk Drill Sergeant may be the flashy ones, but Beetleback Chief is the powerful card that makes this deck possible (otherwise you’re relying on cards like Goblin Patrol and Hulking Goblin to go with your lords). The problem is that Beetleback Chief is so good compared to all the other red creatures that you aren’t likely to get that many. By all means, run a Goblin Warchief if you get a couple of Chiefs and have other filler goblins, and Goblin General is probably good enough as a marginal playable in the average RW deck (remember, Goblin Trenches produces Goblin tokens), but don’t go mono-Goblins unless no one is in red, which isn’t likely.


Other Important Cards:

Fixing is always important in Masters sets, and while Mana Prism is where no one wants to end up, there are ten dual lands at uncommon. Of course, they aren’t great (Mirage fetches want Brainstorm and/or original duals to be more than bad Terramorphic Expanses, while the Tempest tapped enemy painlands just look awful), but they serve enough of a purpose. The other colorless cards are good though, as the trio of Su-Chi, Chimeric Idol, and Thopter Squadron are all efficient creatures. Going backwards this time for variety, green has a surprising weakness as it’s lacking a good Naturalize effect—WotC had to pull the awful Tribute to the Wild from Commander to give the color something, though I guess Desert Twister technically counts. Red has so much removal I didn’t even cover all of it in the archetypes, as both Kindle and Flametongue Kavu got overlooked. Black’s main role is the “Pyroclasm” color with both Famine and Death's-Head Buzzard, which is important when Battle Screech is one of the best commons in the set. I covered most of blue through the archetypes, though Killer Whale is a nice creature downshift. Finally white has a lot of protection with Shelter, Benevolent Bodyguard, and Akroma's Blessing, which makes up for the lack of a pump spell.



Vintage Masters is an interesting format. The design is very constrained by the non-Modern limiter, but WotC managed to make an interesting format besides that. However, the biggest question is how to draft it. The whole point of this Flashback Favorites run is to give people the opportunity to open original border/art Power, but the set has almost nothing otherwise since it was overprinted—some of the cards like the blue dual lands have rebounded somewhat, but remember that there are twice as many rares and mythics so they’re even less common (and the most valuable non-rare is the fifty-cent Fireblast). As such, I’d recommend going phantom and just buying old-school power if you really want it (and hope enough gets opened). As for me, I still want to get my Masters 25 design out, though that’s becoming less and less likely by the day—again, I’m close (there are under 30 empty slots, and a lot of the articles are done), but time is short and I’m busier (and Rivals of Ixalan season starts soon after the new year). I still think I’ll get it done before Rivals, so until then.



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