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By: Joe Fiorini, Joseph G Fiorini
Aug 21 2015 11:00am
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Eternal Weekend at Bernie's

Welcome back everyone! This is an exciting week, as Vintage Champs is right around the corner. All of the top players are tuning and testing, looking to break the meta and slay public enemy number one. Which deck is public enemy number one? That is an answer that seems to differ depending on who's answering the question. Let's take a quick look at a few decks/archetypes and see a quick who's who of the Vintage landscape.

Mishra's Workshop

Mishra's Workshop decks taken as a whole account for a large percentage of the field. Although the archetype is likely over-represented on Magic Online, nobody will tell you that it isn't a deck to be prepared for. The predominant version of Shops right now is Martello Shops, the Kuldotha Forgemaster-based Workshop Aggro deck.

Although other types of Shops exist, Forgemaster lists are the ones that always seem to pop up online. I'm sure that it's a combination of the deck's success and the fact that people tend to copy each other's lists.

Some people claim that these decks are the best in the format, and others disagree vehemently. I think that no matter what your opinion is, the deck is very powerful and very consistent. The number of on-the-play hands that are nearly unbeatable is fairly high. I distinctly remember seeing a video of Roland Chang playing a turn-one Trinisphere against Ari Lax in last year's Championships, and the commentator said something to the effect of "That's as close to a turn-one win as a Shops deck gets". The point is that although these lists don't "win" on turn one, they often can effectively win the game and lock people on turn one. This is especially true on the play and if the opposing deck has no Force of WIll in hand. 

Lately, people have been talking up (and even winning with) Hangarback Walker. This card could show up in MUD lists, so be aware.

Usually, I'm more concerned with Tangle Wire, Trinisphere, and Chalice of the Void, but this new card from Magic Origins could be a difficult threat to remove. Pulverize has become a popular sideboard card against MUD decks, and the Walker will leave behind a whole mess of tokens. Much like Wurmcoil Engine, Hangarback is a card that can't be answered with only one card (most of the time). This makes it a potentially dangerous threat to have to deal with.

Here's Roland Chang's Martello Shops list from last year's champs:



Changster's list is pretty much what you'd see if you faced a Martello deck today, save maybe a few small tweaks. Martello Shops is very popular amongst the different versions (Terra Nova, Stax, FroBots, Affinity), and it's likely a deck you'll see widely represented at Vintage Champs.

Another likely contender this year comes to us from beyond the grave...

Dredge is an ever-present part of Vintage. It's powerful, consistent, and degenerate enough to please the most competitive players out there. Some people like to bring up all of the powerful sideboard cards that answer strategies like Dredge, and I always mention the fact that if a deck is so powerful that Wizard's has to print such powerful hate cards, then the underlying strategy must be extremely dangerous. 

The old adage of "they have to have it" applies here. Many times I've sideboarded in seven cards against Dredge and still not managed to win. These decks are built to beat the hate, so drawing one Containment Priest often isn't enough. The Dredge deck can just keep digging away until they can take care of the Grafdigger's Cage or Containment Priest and do their thing.

I've sung the praises of Containment Priest before, and I still think it's great, but people better than I at this game have suggested that I should include at least one card to nuke the opponent's graveyard as well. The best sideboard plan against Dredge is going to attack their strategy on more than one axis. This should force them to have to use more than one of their own sideboard cards to defeat you.

Here's Sullivan Brophy's NYSE-winning Dredge deck:


Using a term like "Gush Aggro" casts a wide net. The decks that I'm referring to are all fairly different from each other, but they all run many of the same cards. Obviously these decks run their namesake card Gush, but they also use most of the sixteen draw spells that Nat Moes refers to as "The Best Draw Engine in Vintage". That's the cantrips, Ponder, Brainstorm, and Preordain as well as Dig Through Time and the restricted cards Ancestral Recall and Treasure Cruise

The other two parts of the deck (excluding mana) are the control suite, and the aggro/tempo creatures. These include, but are not limited to: Delver of Secrets, Young Pyromancer, Monastery Mentor, Snapcaster Mage, and in some rogue-ish builds Deathrite Shaman

The classic control package includes Force of Will, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce, and others. Lately Cabal Therapy has been seeing play as part of a Gush deck's control package, but I seem to think that there are more "Therapy" decks online that in paper.

Gush is a deck that will be a contender unless the format changes after the next DCI banned and restricted list update. While these decks can't play four Treasure Cruises anymore, three Dig Through Times and one Treasure Cruise is just as good. In most match-ups, if I had to pick between Dig and Cruise to pitch to a Force of Will, I'd usually pick Treasure Cruise. The best two cards of seven are not likely to contain an un-needed land, whereas Cruise can leave you peeling bricks on occasion.

Here's a recent build of a Gush Aggro deck, a U/R/w Delver deck piloted by Diophan in the first ever Vintage MTGO Swiss Player-Run Event:



This list that Diophan played is a deck that I expect to do well in a large tournament. The addition of white allows for added sideboarding cards for match-ups that are sometimes difficult for creature-based decks. Oath of Druids can steal games from Delver decks, so having access to Containment Priest is a major selling point. Also, Rest in Peace is very good against Dredge, and Dredge has been showing up and performing well a lot recently.

I think that Pulverize is a smart card to include if your deck can support it. It's impossible to make one-for-one trades with every artifact in a Workshop deck, you'd have to have a piece of removal for each non-land card in the deck. Ingot Chewer is very good at its job, but it isn't enough on its own. 

If a Gush deck performs well at Vintage Champs, I'd be surprised if I didn't see any copies of the free-to-cast Shatterstorm. It's a card that is hard for a Workshop deck to play around, and it can be played easily through Spheres. I have a hard time justifying taking a deck without either Ingot Chewer or Pulverize into a tournament, that's how strong I believe these cards to be.

Pulverize Ingot Chewer 


The next deck is one that isn't seen much on Magic Online these days, but it is always capable of performing well if variance breaks in its favor. 

Oath of Druids

Griselbrand Oath was the first deck I ever took into a Vintage tournament, and I was undefeated until the final round. Looking back, I was quite inexperienced in Vintage and the fact that I did so well really speaks to the raw power behind the namesake enchantment. Oath of Druids as a strategy has its roots in an old extended deck from well over a decade ago. Flash forward several years and Forbidden Orchard is printed, and Oath takes off as a viable strategy. Although there have been successful variations using powerful creatures such as Blightsteel Colossus, Rune-Scarred Demon and the like, when Griselbrand, the flying Yawgmoth's Bargain was born, Oath became a whole new monster.

These days, you don't even need a Forbidden Orchard to turn on your Oath half of the time. Plenty of people are playing creatures, I'd even say that most decks on MTGO are playing seven or more. In addition, Oath typically plays a full set of moxen to power out a two-mana game-winning enchantment, and that leaves them sitting in a good position against Workshop decks. 

Last year, a Treasure Cruise-fueled Delver deck was all the rage, and two MUD decks made top eight, and this likely helped Mark Tocco's Oath deck be in a good position to win the Vintage Championship. Here's a look at the streamlined list that eschewed even Yawgmoth's Will:



The down side to Oath decks is that they can be inconsistent. It's possible to draw too many mana accelerants or Forbidden Orchards and not enough of the right cards. Oath plays a decent control game, but it isn't as devoted to it as Landstill or some Aggro/Control decks. I don't think that Oath is the auto-win against Gush aggro that some people claim it to be. Sure, they're likely to have a creature, but most of those decks also pack a hefty control package. Luckily, these decks typically only run Force of Will and perhaps Spell Pierce that can counter an Oath of Druids, so if the Oath pilot can play around those two, they should be in good shape. 

The other issue with Oath is that it is also hampered by numerous hate cards in the format. Containment Priest shuts down the entire plan of these decks, except for the varieties that play Omniscience. Still, just like I say about Dredge, the deck must be powerful if Wizard's had to print a card like Grafdigger's Cage

I know that Oath has been written off by some players lately, and even I don't play it anymore. I think though that since Shops decks are becoming more popular (online at least) that Oath might get some free Griselbrands, and it's hard to lose with a flying, lifelinking Yawgmoth's Bargain swinging for seven each turn. It would likely take a different approach to do well with the deck, either running a streamlined list like Mark Tocco, or trying something completely new like Brian Kelly's Oath deck.



The Others...

Time Vault Dark Ritual Doomsday

There are a ton of other Vintage decks out there, but these are essentially the most popular at the moment. If your pet deck isn't in here, please don't take offense. Landstill and Blue Moon (The Answer) decks certainly can be built to beat any of the aforementioned decks, and there are plenty of disruptive aggro strategies like hatebears or Merfolk that are fine decks as well. I'd love to see something other than the four featured decks do well just for the sake of variety. 

As for decks that I don't think are likely to perform well, there are a couple I can think of off the top of my head.

1) Storm Combo: I don't know how long ago it was that Storm was good, but it happened before I started playing Magic again. I have to pour through Google search results trying to piece it together. Reid Duke did well in 2013 with a Storm deck, and I think that's great. He's also one of the best players on earth, so that probably helped his case a little bit. 

2) Time Vault Decks: Grixis Thieves, X-City Vault, and various Mentor decks that include Time Vault all feel like they are somewhat poorly positioned right now. Even on Magic Online, where you just have to win three out of four matches (or at least that's how it was when events were better) to get your deck listed, and you still don't see that many of these Combo or Control/Combo decks out there.

First of all, I'd like to propose a little thought experiment. Imagine a Control deck and a hybrid Combo Control deck. Both have counters, but the control deck without all the slots filled with cards that do nothing by themselves have way less of a control package. Now, shuffle both decks and start flipping over cards. How often is a Time Vault going to be revealed by the combo deck and how often would a counterspell be revealed by the control deck?  It's going to happen quite a bit. What I'm going for here is to create a visualization of what is going on when two decks line up. Magic is a game of percentages and odds at its core, and when the two decks in the example line up, there should statistically be a substantial amount of games where the dedicated control deck (or even a counter-heavy Gush deck) has more counters than the Combo deck has threats.

Many times the combo deck could have the opportunity to stockpile its own defensive countermeasures in order to push through its agenda. Of course, there will be times where the opponent doesn't have the correct countermeasure, but even then that Time Vault better have a Tinker, Voltaic Key, or some Tutor to go along with it or else it might as well be a paper weight. 

In practice, things are far more complicated than the simplistic mental exercise that I proposed. For starters, cards don't line up against each other, entire hands of cards line up against other hands of cards, and those hands may be of different starting sizes. And then of course some counters are conditional, so that muddies things up a bit as well. I think that the overall picture painted says a lot about how these types of match ups tend to play out.

Drop bombs on 'em!

There's this theory that if you stock your deck with enough "bombs" (meaning must-counter combo cards in this case) that you'll eventually run the other player out of counters. I rarely leave home without A LOT of counterspells, and once I realize someone only has a small handful of cards that can actually win them the game, I just sandbag them for the inevitable counter-war. Usually, if I lose to a Time Vault, the opponent just happened to peel it off of the top of their deck. 

I have to add that I love playing Time Vault. I think combo decks are fun and exciting, but these days don't think they can stand up to decks with heavy control packages and robust draw engines. This is likely due to the power of the gro-style deck and the power of Gush. Combo decks can support some number of Dig Through Time, but it's a little harder to fit Gush into those decks. I've heard this sentiment echoed among players who know more than I do, and my experiences playing with and against such decks seem to prove it. There are several talented Vintage players I can think of that once played decks heavy with combo cards that have recently started sleeving up Workshop decks, that alone speaks volumes.

The other battle that Grixis Thieves has to win is the match up against Mishra's Workshop decks. While every deck has to win this fight, Vault decks have the added concern of dealing with Phyrexian Revoker nullifying their win-condition. Even Blightsteel Colossus can be answered with a Duplicant, and we all know how mana-taxing artifacts can make assembling a combo difficult at best. 

If a Time Vault deck such as Grixis Thieves does well, I think that it would likely correlate to a small amount of Null Rods being played. I'm not sure if the paper metagame is cutting the Null Rods or not. As far as the Daily Events are concerned, I don't see a lot of Null Rods on Magic Online. Personally, I try to fit a Rod or Stony Silence into my sideboards where possible and applicable. As much as I love playing Time Vault, I hate losing to it more. It's the epitome of a winning top-deck, along with Tinker and Yawgmoth's Will.

Perhaps if Thirst For Knowledge was un-restricted it would give Grixis decks enough extra card advantage to overcome the Gush aggro decks and dedicated control decks, but that's a hypothetical and has no bearing on the here and now. As it stands, I don't think it's a great time to be a Storming or Vaulting.

What does the Vintage Championship mean to MTGO-Only players?

Any people reading this that are going to Eternal Weekend likely already listened to the Vintage Champs Preview episode of So Many Insane Plays (which was fantastic, by the way). I know that there are a plenty of people reading this article that are not going to Vintage Champs, so I figured I'd mention how the event might change things for us online-only players.

I think that the top eight of Vintage Champs will heavily influence the Magic Online metagame in the near future. While there are a few stalwarts that stick to their favorite decks or perhaps only brew their own decks, many of the MTGO players are prone to copying Vintage Super League decks and paper tournament-winning decks too. 

Even I have a hard time not trying to build every deck I see on the mothership. I was just browsing this article, and I want to try Kevin Cron's 4-color control deck, even if it isn't up-to-date. I know that I'll at least take a stab at playing with whatever deck happens to win the event, as long as I can reasonably put it together. 

One of the great strengths of Magic Online is the fluid nature of the trading feature, all due to bots and businesses such as MTGOTraders. If I decided that I just had to have a Martello Shops deck by tomorrow, I could do it even if I had no tickets in my account. I'd simply pick a deck that I wanted to trade it in for, liquidate it, and buy what I needed. Thank goodness that Event Tickets are tradeable, otherwise none of this would be possible.

So, whichever deck happens to win, I hope you followed along with the coverage so you can be prepared to face it soon!

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. I'll have some more results from the Vintage MTGO Swiss PRE's that have been taking place. As I mentioned before, I plan on covering those events. The tournaments so far have been around eight players, so they aren't huge (yet!), but there have been some great players in them, so you should all think about joining one. If you don't have a Vintage deck, there is a prize for the best non-powered or budget entry. If you've never dipped your toes into the Vintage pool, I think this is a great low-pressure place to start. There is a prize for first place, and we're working on getting more sponsors. I've discussed donating myself, because I want to see these do well. It's also a great way to get your deck published online, as I'll be featuring deck lists in these articles!

Coming up soon I should have another interview, and this time it's with a monumentally important Magic artist. He was one of the first artists, this person worked on Alpha and beyond. I don't want to give too much away, but if it goes through as anticipated, it should be awesome.

I don't have any personal tournament results to share with you. I'm sad to report that although I had time and free Play Points, I could not bring myself to play in a three-round Daily Event. I'm not going to force myself to play if I don't want to, and I just can't get excited about spending tradeable tickets to win un-tradeable play points. I'd rather just not play in a tournament than play in those. I really miss the old events. 

Until next time, stay calm and remember to pour one out for the beloved fourth round of Vintage Daily Events.


This article feels like a by Joe Fiorini at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 05:06
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This article feels like a success to me, as every archetype I listed was featured in the top 8 of Vintage Champs. As a matter of fact, 3 of the decks and their pilots made the top eight.

The only deck I was wrong about was Grixis Thieves, which ended up in second. Not sure how, but it got there.

Congrats to Brian Kelly for winning the whole thing!

Nice job! by TugaChampion at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 05:56
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Nice job with your predictions!

I'm really interested in the Oath list. He won the whole thing but several things don't make sense to me and I want to understand them. I understand how Auriok Salvagers is good but I don't see how Dragonlord Dromoka is better than running about Griselbrand or no other creature at all! I know it makes opponents not play anything on your turn but Griselbrand is going to be better than that most of the time (in my opinion and experience with the deck). No Time Vault I understand because Auriok fills that role. And there are many more things I'd love to understand.

Are there any videos of the Champs? I'd love to watch his games. I'd also love to talk to him.

COngratz to Brian Kelly, not only for winning, but also for using a cool Oath list!

As of right now the only by JXClaytor at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 07:27
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As of right now the only video that might be up is the saved stuff on card titans twitch page.

Thanks. I'll check it out by TugaChampion at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 10:49
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Thanks. I'll check it out when I can.

Dromoka is there to be a by Joe Fiorini at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 09:25
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Dromoka is there to be a castable oath target that a lot of decks can't beat.

EDIT: Now that I'm home and in front of my laptop, I can give you more detail.

First off, here's an article that Brian Kelly wrote about the deck after winning a fairly large tournament with an earlier incarnation of Dragonlord (Bomber) Oath:

The removal spells that see Vintage play and can kill a Dragonlord Dromoka are: Swords to Plowshares and a tiny amount of Snuff Out's can be found in sideboards. The thing has seven toughness, you'd need to bolt it THREE times! Yeah, it isn't going to happen.

Imagine you're facing Delver. They have a Cage out, so they just let you resolve Oath. You Oath up Dromoka and cast it because it CAN'T be countered! :) Then the lifelink lets you stabilize, so during your next main phase, you can go off with the Auriok Salvagers/Black Lotus/Spell Bomb combo!

Nobody sees it coming. His deck is awesome, and I am very happy for the guy. I hope to ask him a few questions for "The Eternal Spotlight" soon!

P.S. Those altered Moxen were the shizznit!

Thanks for your help. Here's by TugaChampion at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 10:57
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Thanks for your help.

Here's a few things:

"Imagine you're facing Delver. They have a Cage out, so they just let you resolve Oath. You Oath up Dromoka and cast it because it CAN'T be countered! :) Then the lifelink lets you stabilize, so during your next main phase, you can go off with the Auriok Salvagers/Black Lotus/Spell Bomb combo!"

But it's possible Dromoka is not the first thing you hit with Oath so it can take up to 3 tries. Even after getting Dromoka, you still have to cast it and it's 6 mana. But if you actually do that, Cage doesn't matter anymore because you Oath Auriok, play it and your opp can't do anything about it. After that you just go infinite.

The deck also seems worse against Shops than regular Oath.

I know that he sometimes by Joe Fiorini at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 13:28
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I know that he sometimes stacks his deck with Dig Through Time to put stuff on the bottom.

Obviously, there are issues with variance, but he played the list very well and I think his innovations are really interesting.

There would be times that he'd just draw dromoka as well.

Brian beat Paul Mastriano, former world Champ with this deck, he was playing a Shops deck called Hangarback MUD. Take that to mean whatever. but I do think he had a solid plan against them. He beat MUD by comboing off too!

Well Oath is pretty good by TugaChampion at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 18:01
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Well Oath is pretty good against Workshops anyway. But this list is probably even better because Karakas is way less effective.

It doesn't even matter that by longtimegone at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 13:43
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It doesn't even matter that it has uncounterable, does it? Oath doesn't cast it, it puts it in to play, which cage does not allow to happen.

With cage out dromoka will by jay85 at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 15:17
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With cage out dromoka will stay on top of your library so you can draw it and hard cast it.

Ah, that's it. For some odd by longtimegone at Mon, 08/24/2015 - 16:02
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Ah, that's it. For some odd reason I had it in my head that Oath shuffled after it resolved.