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By: Joe Fiorini, Joseph G Fiorini
Aug 28 2015 11:00am
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Dragonlord Dromoka takes down Philadelphia!

This past weekend, nearly five-hundred people assembled inside of a convention center in Philadelphia, PA to battle in the King of all formats, Vintage. There was a Legacy Championship too, won by Bob Huang with Gurmag Angler er, I mean Grixis Delver sorry. Top spot #inVintage was earned by the mad scientist and all-around nice guy Brian Kelly playing Brian Kelly Oath. I'll go into detail about the results later...

In past years Vintage has drawn a decent crowd, but it's been steadily growing each year. This isn't a surprise considering how much fun the format is, but there is a real barrier to entry with card availability. Luckily, there are prizes for unpowered decks at the Vintage event, and that likely makes even more people attend. My Facebook chum Balduvian Bears, aka Jon Celso attended Vintage Champs with a sweet unpowered version of "Simian's Mom". Celso has been a Legacy player for a while, but he's recently decided to dip his toes into the largest of card pools.

I wasn't able to watch coverage all day, but I followed along by reading results, and I watched some of the top eight before I had to go to bed. First off, I'll go over the Legacy top eight a little bit. This article series started off as a split format, covering both Legacy and Vintage, but over time Legacy has been squeezed out (not entirely on purpose either). I've been playing Vintage, and not really playing Legacy, but only because there is a finite amount of time in a day. If I had all the time in the world, I'd be playing Legacy too, I really love having four Brainstorms and four Ponders in my decks! 

Anyway, the Legacy top spot was taken down by "Beatdown" Bob Huang (the guy that invented Treasure Cruise) playing Grixis Delver, as I mentioned. Here's what the other people were playing:

Legacy Champs 2015 Top 8

1) Grixis Delver - Bob Huang

2) Omni-Tell - Akash Naidu
3) Grixis Delver - Kyle Roen
4) Lands - Kevin King
5) Merfolk - George Flete
6) Four-Color Delver - Charlie Holland
7) Jeskai Splinter Twin - Max Ansbro
8) Grixis Delver - Ed Demicco


That's a lot of Delver! Of course, that many Delver decks is something to be expected, as are the cries of "BAN DIG!". I myself enjoy digging through time far too much to entertain the thought of complaining about it. That said, it is sad when you watch your game go down the drain as your opponent begins to count the cards in their graveyard. Still, you can't have great cards without sometimes also losing to those same cards, it is a competition after all. 

Dig Through Time

Without going too far off on the Dig through Time tangent, I'm surprised to not see full play-sets of the card in more decks. It's so easy to get to six cards in the graveyard with unrestricted access to Brainstorm and Ponder. I'm actually shocked that people aren't bringing up those two cards in the same breath as Dig through Time, as they are all part of the issue at hand. There was one non-blue deck in the finals, and the cantrips and delve spells are a large part of why that is. Comparatively, this looks rather homogenized and stale compared to Vintage at the moment, but I don't mind smashing blue Brainstorm decks into one another. Some people like to play their Jund decks, and those mid-range value decks likely have trouble with these blue decks. This leaves a lot of people unable to compete with their pet deck, and I can understand why that is a problem for some folks.

The one deck in that top eight that likely made you do a spit-take is Splinter Twin. This is pretty funny to me, as now it's apparent why they banned Preordain and Ponder in Modern! In a format where Abrupt Decay and Pyroblast see a ton of play, a creature-based combo deck made it to the top of the heap. A Legacy port of a Modern deck beat out over 700 other decks to make it to the elimination rounds, that my friends is a feat in and of itself.

Here's your new hotness, sporting nearly a full set of Digs, Legacy Jeskai Twin! 


I can't believe that this is a Legacy deck, but here we are. It certainly is interesting, and I hope that this is a sign of more cross-pollination of Legacy in Modern. Who knows, maybe people will start playing Birthing Pod in Legacy (again). 

I really thought that Omni-tell was the best deck in Legacy, from what I've been hearing. I think the truth is probably that Omni-Tell is very good, as is any deck that plays Dig through Time. I think realistically, to not play Dig is a mistake. I mean, there's one non-blue deck in the finals, so that should tell you something. 

To find out more about Legacy, listen to the "Leaving a Legacy" podcast or consult your local Library of Alexandria


Moving on to Vintage...

This year, the Vintage top eight was actually pretty diverse. There were a lot of Mishra's Workshop decks that did well, but only two made top eight. Brian DeMars landed in ninth though, and the way large events like this play out, ninth is generally a hair-length away from finishing in the top eight. While some people might see these results as indicative of the anti-shops rhetoric as overblown, the fact is that 21 decks in the event had 8 wins or better, and a full ten of those were based around Mishra's Workshop. That's nearly half of that category of deck, and although those numbers haven't translated into a first place finish for that pillar of the format, to me it suggests that the archetype is extremely strong. Then there's the fact that DeMars, Rich Shay, and Paul Mastriano all put down their Force of Wills and picked up their Mishra's Workshop, that speaks volumes to me. 

There were only two big brown decks in the top eight, and they were not Martello Shops, Terra Nova, or Stax, they were Hangarback MUD. Hangarback Walker apparently is the real deal, as the high-level finishes show. I think that the card just needed the right deck, shoving it into Martello Shops apparently wasn't as productive as making a new deck from the ground up (at least as new as a Shops deck can really be).

Before I spend too much time on just one deck, let's take a look at the top eight:

2015 Vintage Champs - Top 8
1) Brian Kelly Oath - Brian Kelly
2) Grixis Thieves - Robert Greene
3) Dredge - Sullivan Brophy
4) Hangarback MUD - Paul Mastriano
5) Hangarback MUD - Rich Shay
6) Jeskai Control - John Grudzina
7) Jeskai Mentor - Michael Herbig
8) Jeskai Delver - Ryan Eberhart

That was quite the finals! Everyone I've spoken with was happy to see Brian Kelly's unique take on the old Oath of Druids archetype end up in first. I featured that list last week, as played by The Atog Lord, as an example of a possible successful evolution of the Oath decks of old. I know that "Bomber Oath" as the Wizard's coverage team was calling it was a long time in the making. Brian Kelly wrote up a fantastic article highlighting a previous victory with the deck, and if you haven't read it, it's a great read. 

Monastery Mentor managed to make it into the top eight, even though it hasn't made a ton of waves before this event. In a vacuum, it's more powerful than Young Pyromancer, but finding the perfect fit for it has been a challenge. On Magic Online, Mentor decks seem to 3-1 (or 2-1 now) quite a bit, but the decks don't go undefeated very often compared to the other top archetypes. Is this Mentor list the defacto "best" Mentor deck? Honestly, I'm not sure. I can tell you that I'm going to memorize the deck list, because I anticipate seeing a ton of copycat Mentor lists in the MTGO Vintage queues in the upcoming weeks. I still have my copies of Monastery Mentor, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't going to try out that list a few times. I think one of the best ways to really learn about a deck is to actually get your hands dirty and test it out. 

Ryan Eberhart's Jeskai Delver deck (really just U/R Delver splashing white) was my pick for the best Gush deck in the format. This might be a matter of taste, Ryan is a tremendous player who also made top eight last year, his skill with these decks could make it perform better that it would if I were playing it, for instance. The reason I think the Jeskai deck is better than the versions that splash green as their third color is Containment Priest and to a lesser extent Swords to Plowshares. Rest in Peace is also a great reason to be in white, it's a much better anti-Dredge card than Ravenous Trap in my opinion. It's a turn or more slower, but it is the gift that keeps on giving (until it's hit with Nature's Claim. So, this list should theoretically have a better game against both Dredge and Oath of Druids than other builds, and Ryan's list had Pulverize to plow through a Mountain of Spheres. Even with a better anti-Oath game, Ryan's deck fell to Brian Kelly's Oath deck in the first round of the top eight. Sometimes even packing Cages and Priests won't get you there. Still, back to back top eights is something that impresses me quite a bit!

John Grudzina's Jeskai Control deck was crazy, one Snapcaster Mage and no other creatures. Moat helped gum up the ground so that he could ultimate his Jace, and the rest of the deck was pure control. To me, this list hearkens back to the era of the creatureless (or mostly creatureless) decks like Brian Weisman's infamous "The Deck". To play a deck like this, you must be able to play fast. Time management is an important skill when piloting control decks in tournaments, and this one looks to be no exception. Jace can reach his ultimate fairly quickly, but it can still take a while.

Besides the Moat, the other two cards in the deck that I don't see all that often on Magic Online are Supreme Verdict and Narset Transcendent. Verdict makes sense, as there are a ton of monk tokens and elemental tokens running around. Narset is a planeswalker that has never taken off in Vintage. It's seen play, but it's mostly testing and in fringe decks as far as I can tell. The main argument against Narset is that she has all the vulnerabilities of a Jace, the Mind Sculptor with abilities that are at best on par, and at worst just not as good as Jace. That said, her ultimate is pretty good at winning the game, and the other two abilities are also really good. Both of the first two abilities can create card advantage, which is the concept this entire deck is focused on. 

Sullivan Brophy, hot off his victory at NYSE Dredged his way into the top eight with the most broken mechanic ever conceived. This list played Barbarian Ring, which was not in earlier incarnations of his deck. It's worth noting that Sullivan plays a mostly traditional Dredge deck, Some people play a version of Dredge with main-deck Ingot Chewer, and there have been two different Dredge decks with a transformational sideboard. One deck, popularized online by King Neckbeard utilizes the Dark Depths/Thespian's Stage combo in the sideboard as a win-condition that is not reliant on the graveyard. It's pretty rough to side out your removal only to die to a Marit Lage token. There's also the Dredge deck that's running Divining Witch in the sideboard to combo with Laboratory Maniac for a different alternate win-condition. 

Sullivan has been successful piloting the deck without all the parlor tricks. Maindeck Leyline of the Void instead of Ingot Chewers, and a sideboard built with a specific answer to each potential hate card, piloting this deck rewards knowing the archetype very well. Winning game one with Dredge may be easy, but the other two game are not a given. He obviously knows how to flip a deck into the graveyard very well. 

Second place went to Grixis Thieves, a deck that I did not expect to see make it that far. I was obviously wrong about that, and this quirky list nearly took down the entire event. Mikokoro, Center of the Sea is a card that sees zero play in Modern or Legacy, or even Kamigawa Block Constructed, and I never thought I'd see it in Vintage. Truthfully, I had to Google search it when I read it, as I didn't know it existed. I assumed that it was a stand-in for Library of Alexandria, but apparently it was in there intentionally. I suppose it combos with Notion Thief, so that's something I guess. Congratulations to the pilot for his second place finish, this deck is the lone bastion of the broken combo deck in the entire top eight. When the uninformed think about Vintage, this is how they imagine every deck, but in reality there was only one that made it out of the swiss rounds.

Last but not least, Brian Kelly took down the event with his own creation. A mash-up of Bomberman and Oath, this deck assumed its own identity and finished on top. Dragonlord Dromoka helped Brian take down nearly five-hundred other mages in Philadelphia to become the 2015 Vintage Champion! This deck takes the Oath plan of cheating out a fatty, and adds the infinite combo of Auriok Salvagers and Black Lotus. This gives the deck a slew of other angles of attack, and I'm sure it left a lot of people scratching their heads. Here's the list that Brian played: 




This deck is crazy, and I love it! I've had my eye on this deck for a while, having read Brian Kelly's article about the deck and seeing the list pop up in a few places. I'm happy that he won the whole thing, I've spoken with Brian a bit on social media, and by all accounts this couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Congrats Brian! I can't wait to read the tournament report!

We've seen the Oath deck, let's see the final opponent that Dromoka had to destroy:



This deck is, for the most part, the standard Grixis Thieves deck seen on Magic Online. I've made it a point to highlight the Mikokoro just in case anyone is unfamiliar with it. If I was playing this deck, I'd certainly make a few changes. Library of Alexandria is just superior to (Mikikoro, Center of the Sea) any day of the week. Consecrated Sphinx is a cool card, I have some experience playing with it in "The Answer", but six mana is a lot to invest in something for it to eat a Pyroblast. That said, you can't really argue with success, and this list did far better that I could have ever imagined. The Sphinx of the Steel Wind is great, that creature gives Delver decks fits, and it's nearly unbeatable in standard U/r/x Delver builds. The Steel Wind is another good reason for Delver decks to splash white, in my opinion. Bolt is great, mainly as a way to snipe a planeswalker, but Swords to Plowshares is the best creature removal spell ever printed.

Grixis Thieves is the primary reason that I always include one Null Rod or Stony Silence in my sideboards when possible. I see that a lot of decks seem to have cut those cards recently, but I would rather have one spot taken up by Null Rod than lose to a Time Vault. Null Rod is also randomly good against a lot of decks, from Oath to even some artifact-heavy Mentor decks. While Null Rod won't win you the game on its own, when supplementing an aggro-control or disruptive aggro plan, it's often enough to keep the opponent on the back foot long enough to eke out a win.

All of the top eight decks in the Vintage champs are decks that Magic Online Vintage Players should be wary of, and Grixis Time Vault decks have always had a presence anyway. I expect people to start playing this deck a lot now, especially since another nearly identical list was close to making top eight as well. 

Black Lotus


All in all this was a great tournament. By all accounts, Nick Coss and Card Titan put on a killer weekend for everyone to enjoy. The Vintage Championship was so exciting that it managed to capture the attention of associates of mine who aren't yet familiar with Vintage. The night after the tournaments ended, I was asked to do a guest spot on the podcast "Cast From Exile". C.F.E. host Ryan Brommel asked me all sorts of questions about Vintage and the championship tournament. Ryan has even began poking around and looking into attending some paper proxy Vintage events in his local area, so it would seem that he's caught the Vintage bug! I'm more than happy to be the pied piper of the Power Nine! 


 Final Thoughts

Results Vs Opinions

It's been a while since I've done this section in one of my articles, but I figure this is as good of a time as any for another one. With all things in life, there are two sides to every story. As trite of an expression that may be, it is apt in describing how people in the Vintage scene may interpret the data from Vintage Champs.

On one side, we have the group that thinks that the power-level of Mishra's Workshop-based strategies is completely appropriate. The fact that Shops has failed to win a major tournament in a long time adds weight to that argument. Shops did not win this year, nor did it win last year. In fact, it was in 2005 that a five-color Stax deck last won the Championship, piloted by Roland Chang,  When you consider these facts and place emphasis on them, the argument that Shops decks are at an acceptable power-level makes sense.

There is also a segment of the Vintage population that suggests that Shops is too powerful, and this is where the cries for a restriction originate. This camp tends to cite different pieces of information, like the fact that there were eleven Mishra's Workshop decks in the top 32 decks in the Vintage Champs, and the fact that Shops takes up 33% of the MTGO metagame (all versions counted together). While some people cite "blue" decks as making up an even larger percentage, I will go on record and say that there is much less of a difference between all the flavors of "brown" than there is in all of the decks people think of as blue. Oath is not Grixis Thieves, which in turn are not Delver. Yes, there are some common cards, as with all Vintage decks, but Martello Shops and Stax are much closer to each other in contrast. I don't mind lumping all of the Gush Aggro decks together, or things of that nature, but lumping every deck that touches blue into one group is just incorrect.

Those are both sides to the argument, and all of those facts are true. Shops decks seem to win a lot, but they don't turn those wins in the swiss rounds into wins in the elimination rounds all that often. Now the logical thing to do is to ask why that is...

I don't think anyone can come up with one specific answer as to why the Shops decks haven't been making the top spot. It's probably a combination of factors. I think that a properly built sideboard can do wonders, and the blue mages in the elimination rounds are probably well-versed in destroying Shops decks. I don't think that means that the Shops decks are just fine the way they are though.

Personally, I think that the problem with Shops is how much better it is on the play. That alone puts way too much emphasis on the die-roll, and I don't want matches to be won in that fashion. I do think that Shops decks help the format in some ways, as they make people have to have at least a somewhat healthy amount of lands and mana sources in their decks. The problem comes when other archetypes are pushed out of contention completely by one single pillar. 

There were only two "Storm" decks in the top 32. Stephen Menendian's GushBond deck and one traditional Storm deck complete with a play-set of Dark Petition. I'm actually surprised to see a TPS deck made it that high, but I'm glad that it made it. Storm was once a strong deck choice, and it's all but disappeared. 

This is the situation as I see it, and I'll leave it up to all of you to judge. Do you think that the Shops decks need one or more or their cards to be restricted? If so, what do you think it should be? I've got my opinions, and my pick would be Chalice of the Void. That's the card that really stops people from being able to answer the deck, and Chalice makes the deck have even better hands on the play sometimes. Plus, I still think that the deck would be very powerful, so it could still be a contender in the format. Feel free to comment about your opinions here, on The Mana Drain, or in our Facebook group.

Chalice of the Void Trinisphere Lodestone Golem

That's all the time I have for this week, stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Jesper Myrfors, Magic artist and former art director, this man was responsible for getting original artwork on all of your favorite cards! Also, in honor of Brian Kelly's Vintage Championship win, here's another "Mull it over!" , featuring a randomly generated hand taken from his tournament-winning list! 

Would Brian Kelly keep this hand? 

Thanks for reading, take it easy, and remember to float your mana before you Repeal that Mox Jet!


I may be in the minority by jay85 at Sat, 08/29/2015 - 12:31
jay85's picture

I may be in the minority here, but I don't think Dig Through Time should be banned in Legacy. Only one deck uses a playset of Dig, the others use only about 2. If it was really ban worthy I think players would be jamming 4. It's a powerful card but so are countless others in Legacy. It doesn't seem right for Wizards to ban it when people are just sprinkling it into their decks. The only reason why I could see it getting the hammer is if OmniTell becomes too good, which I don't think it is right now.
Enjoyed the article! I look forward to the Eternal Spotlight every week.

Being able to play cards like by Joe Fiorini at Sat, 08/29/2015 - 14:16
Joe Fiorini's picture

Being able to play cards like Dig Through Time, Brainstorm and Ponder is the reason I like Legacy. I certainly hope they don't turn in into Modern with real Duals!