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By: Joe Fiorini, Joseph G Fiorini
Jul 17 2015 12:00pm
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Pyromancer's Evolution

Last weekend, I had time for a single Vintage Daily Event. I decided to be really adventurous and play a deck that nobody has ever seen before. I call this ground-breaking innovation "Vintage Delver".

In all seriousness, I played U/R/w Delver, a well-known deck. This list is one that some might find a mundane choice. Often times I've ended up playing a deck because I've wanted something interesting for people to read about. This time, I wanted to have consistency and potency at any cost. I decided to play Delver because I'm a spike and I like to win. I didn't do as well as I'd have liked to, ending at 2-2, but frankly I don't mind all that much. There were a couple of hard-fought victories that night, so I'm at least proud of that fact. 

I played the deck with a white splash instead of green in order to use Containment Priest in my sideboard, as well as a few other white sideboard cards. The lack of Trygon Predator and Ancient Grudge is alleviated (in theory) by my deck construction techniques

U/R/w Delver Tournament Report

Round one, I faced a deck with Deathrite Shamans, Tinker, and Inkwell Leviathan. I was thrown off by the odd concoction of cards, and I lost game one to an unexpected Tinker. I assumed that I was facing some kind of BUG Fish type of deck, so Tinker was quite the curve-ball. As I sat helpless to stop the Tinker from resolving, I prayed to see a Blightsteel Colossus emerge from my opponent's deck. Instead, I saw Inkwell Leviathan and I slumped in my chair slightly. It's a good thing that my opponent wasn't playing with Blightsteel Colossus, as I had a Dack Fayden in my hand that would have turned the game around for me. I ended up having to try to race the Leviathan, and it just didn't happen - I probably would have needed an Ancestral Recall, a Time Walk, and a Gush to make enough tokens quickly enough to race the unblockable behemoth. This game made me wish that I'd found room for a Gitaxian Probe or two, but I just can't ever bring myself to cut Counterspells. I like my density of counter-magic to be as high as possible.

In game two, I drew poorly and I was very annoyed the entire time. I peeled quite a few lands off the top of my library, once even drawing two lands from a Gush. I don't remember much else about the game, other than the fact that I missed a chance to flash in my Containment Priest at the end of my opponent's turn, so I just quit in frustration. 

Round two, I played against Dredge. I lost game one, and my opponent had to mulligan to almost nothing in the following games just to get the Bazaar of Baghdad. I opened hands with adequate hate, and my opponent conceded. Beating Dredge always feels good to me. Game one is always so hopeless-feeling, so there's nowhere to go from there but up. I started to feel bad for my opponent for having to mulligan so many times, but then I remembered that they were playing Dredge, so I'm fine with that. Playing a deck with Serum Powder is pretty much asking to mulligan a lot.

Round three, I faced a Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck and won in three games. Game two was the game I lost, and I'm sure that when I Force of Willed my opponent's Young Pyromancer that it was a dumb move. Sure enough, the following turn my opponent played his Ascendancy and took ten minutes to combo off.

I didn't have a Lightning Bolt to answer the Pyromancer he played, so that's why I Forced it. I should have listened to my gut and just let it resolve, but I didn't. It's possible to race a Pyromancer, and there were four Lightning Bolts left in my deck to deal with it anyway.

Game three involved my Delver deck doing what it is supposed to do, countering everything it needs to while beating face with efficient threats. It was my favorite match that I've had in quite some time, mainly because my deck performed better than average. To be completely honest, I drew like a champ in this round, but that has to happen for me at least some of the time, right?

Round four came, and of course, the wheels fell off. My opponent was on Martello Shops. I started game one doing ok, resolving a Dack Fayden, but I couldn't keep it alive with his Mishra's Factory picking away at it. I think in hindsight that there were a couple of lines that I should have taken that I didn't, and that could have made a difference. I'll probably look at my replay and see what I could have done. 

Game two, I have to mulligan down to FIVE cards to see one land. I almost scooped right there, but I stuck it out and eventually won that game (even though I made one really bad play that I'm blaming on Exhaustion). This was the game that I'm the most proud of though, as it is not easy to win a game where you start out three cards behind your opponent. It took a lot of tight play to get to a point where I could win the game, and barring the one stupid chump-attack I made, I played extremely well in my opinion.

Game three was another awful mulligan and awful starting hand. I was pretty tilted at that point to be honest. Losing is bad enough, but losing to mana screw is even worse. I conceded that match in short order, as I was locked out of playing spells in the space of a few turns anyway. Like I said, I wish that things had gone my way, but it wasn't all bad. Waiting all week to play in one tournament and losing in such a way isn't a whole lot of fun, but I got to play Vintage Magic and that makes it all worth it.

Overall, I think that my deck was good. I'd play it again in a heartbeat. Here's what I ran:

 

 

As you can see, this deck is nearly identical to Vintage RUG Delver. The main difference is without green, we have no Trygon Predators or Ancient Grudges. That doesn't mean that I wasn't prepared to fight the Big Brown Menace, as a matter of fact I planned on quite the opposite.

Nearly every decision I made while tuning this list was made with Shops in mind. First of all, my deck plays fifteen lands, two of which are basic Islands. Almost every Delver deck, and a lot of non-Delver lists as well only run 14 land. Many of them run more than just the bare-minimum of restricted artifact mana, so they can get away with slightly less lands. Delver typically plays only on-color moxen and Black Lotus, and my list is no different in that regard. During testing and tuning I thought about cutting a fetch-land or the one Strip Mine, but ultimately I decided that it was worth having one more land. I did flood out in game two of round one, but for the most part my deck had more of an issue in mana screw than with mana flood. Post-board, this deck has sixteen lands (three basics), and three non-land mana sources for a grand total of nineteen mana-sources. 

Nineteen mana sources feels like a lot most of the time, except for those times where your mana-base is under attack. It's not even Wasteland that does the most damage. In reality, all of the "Sphere effects" are what end up locking someone out much of the time. I'm strongly considering adjusting my mana base further, because as I sit here typing today the DCI has made it clear that Mishra's Workshop isn't going away any time soon.

My deck list has three Dack Fayden to go nuts stealing Lodestone Golems. I'm a little wary of running three spells that cost more than two, because Shops makes resolving a three-mana non-creature spell feel like hard-casting an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The window where it's possible to even have a chance at resolving a Dack Fayden is very early in the game, so I decided that my chances of having Dack when he's relevant to play would be highest at three (or more) copies. Four copies seemed like it would glut my hand too often against other decks, and the fact that planeswalkers don't flip Delvers or trigger Pyromancers means that even three copies is pushing it. Stealing the occasional Blightsteel Colossus is just too much fun to pass up, so I'm sticking with three.

Lightning Bolt is a card that a surprising amount of lists are shaving. I like having four, because it can kill a lot of problematic permanents. Jace dies to Bolt much of the time, as does Dack Fayden (depending on the game-state, of course). Most importantly, it kills (you guessed it!) Lodestone Golem and Phyrexian Revoker. Golem and Revoker are in one regard some of the most potent lock-pieces that can be played against you, and in another regard, they're not so scary. Packing main-deck artifact removal is still a risky proposition, given that it's likely irrelevant in over 50% of your matches. Every deck plays either creatures, planeswalkers, or both, with very little exception, meaning that Lightning Bolt is live nearly all of the time. Storm is the one deck that is unlikely to have any targets for a Bolt. Against Storm, you just go upside their head with it in game one, and then board it out. I'm rarely unhappy to draw more than one Lightning Bolt, so as far as I'm concerned, four is correct.

.Monastery Mentor

Monastery Mentor is a card that beats Lightning Bolt, or at least that is what the consensus seems to be. Although it is true that the prowess mechanic makes the act of growing a Monastery Mentor out of Bolt range a relatively easy feat, I have found a tactic that sometimes allows me to kill a Mentor with a Bolt.

When I think that my opponent is on a Mentor deck, I'll try to sandbag as much counter-magic as possible, with the goal of fighting a prolonged fight over the Mentor. If you've landed a Young Pyromancer when the counter-war starts, you're in even better shape. The goal is to either counter the Mentor, or to deplete the Mentor pilot's hand to the point that they don't have more than one instant to out-grow your Lightning Bolt. Remember, a hand with only sorceries won't be able to counteract a Lightning Bolt, as long as you respond to their Preordain, you'll be able to fry the Jeskai Monk. This tactic won't always work, but it has worked for me on multiple occasions, and this is generally how I try to play the Delver versus Mentor battle. With both players resources nearly exhausted, resolving that Bolt is like a cherry on a sundae, and nearly as sweet.

I ran four Delver of Secrets as well, even though a fair percentage of lists run only three. Again, the reason for this is Mishra's Workshop. When I first started playing Vintage Delver, I was only running three of the namesake creature. I'd heard Stephen Menendian refer to Delver of Secrets as the worst card in the deck, so I felt like I'd be clever and follow his example. While Stephen is a far better player than I, I decided that I wanted the highest possible chance to have a turn-one threat hit the battlefield. Four Delver's just made sense to me. I've stated before in my articles that the vast majority of my wins over Shops (and my losses while piloting Shops, for that matter) have been due to a turn-one Delver or Young Pyromancer. If I was as good of a player as some of the Vintage Adepts, perhaps I could get away with a different threat configuration, but this list plays to my strengths so I'm content with it.

Those card choices are the only significant changes to the main deck, other than an absence of Spell Pierce. I absolutely love Spell Pierce, but I feel like it loses its luster when it stands next to cards like Flusterstorm or Mental Misstep. Even Red Elemental Blast or Pyroblast are better against other blue decks, Gush-based or otherwise. If I wasn't playing the extra land and Bolt, I'd likely add some number of Spell Pierce. It hits planeswalkers, which is nice, but the anti-red Blasts do that as well. Name me one Vintage-playable planeswalker that isn't blue, and I'll make the switch. Spell Pierce would be better in this deck as far as fighting Shops is concerned, but at some point one must start to consider OTHER match-ups. If I made too many concessions to the Brown menace, then I'd be throwing away all of my Gush-deck mirror matches. Still, this is a switch that I have indeed considered. I haven't tested out a list without Pyroblast, but I plan on giving it a try soon.

The Sideboard

Containment Priest

Just Say NO to Dredge, Shops, and Oath!

The current Vintage metagame essentially demands that sideboards have large swaths of dedicated hate to the powerful, linear strategies that exist. In the past, Dredge has taken up a ton of space in people's sideboards. Today, Dredge still eats up a lot of space, but it's also important for most decks to have several pieces of hate against Shops, with a sprinkling of Oath.

There are plenty of other archetypes that you could sideboard for, but only a few create such a hazard in pre-boarded games that they demand a significant alteration of a deck's core strategy. Perhaps "significant alteration" is a bold statement, or a little hyperbolic, but when you're sideboarding in anywhere from seven to ten cards in a match-up, is that really much different than a transformational sideboard?

Moving along to my specific card choices, here's a look at the sideboard that I've been packing. The decks that I've chosen to sideboard heavily against are Shops, Oath, and Dredge. As I've mentioned in previous articles, I seek out cards with overlapping applications whenever possible, as to maximize the potency of each slot.

Containment Priest Wappla had a great article recently about this beauty, and my sentiments were echoed in that piece. I love this card because it does so much, all while advancing the beat-down plan. The Dredge and Oath applications are obvious, but this card is also good against Kuldotha Forgemaster, so I bring it in against Martello Shops (the most widely-played Shops list on Magic Online).

Grafdigger's Cage Anti-Oath, anti-Dredge, anti-Yawgmoth's Will, Cage does a lot of work. It's also a giant Mental Misstep target, so don't bet the farm on a Cage because it won't win a match on its own. I also do not bring this in against Martello Shops, because it isn't a creature like priest is.

Ingot Chewer Chewing on Ingots is a popular pastime for those oppressed by Urza's estranged brother. In other words, decks that make red play Chewer. Evoking a Chewer is also a great way to exile a Bridge From Below, so keep that in mind.

Kataki, War's Wage. Kataki has been much more effective that I could have ever imagined. At two mana, it's easy to cast. It has an added benefit of being a creature, which is highly-relevant against Thorn of Amethyst.

Wear/Tear I picked this in order to have one more anti-shops card that had other applications. So far, I've never had to fuse this or even kill an enchantment with it. It's a good idea to have at least one out to a resolved enchantment.

Pulverize Pulverize is my favorite card to play against Shops right now. Sacrificing two Mountains is no small price, but you can use the mana from the lands you're going to sacrifice to either pay for any Sphere effects that need to be paid, or to cast something else if possible. 

In my experience, Shops decks over-extend all the time, so much of the time that you cast a Pulverize you'll be leaving your opponent with a few lands and no cards in hand. Shops decks are mana-hungry, and they need multiple lock-pieces to prevent their opponent's from resolving spells. 

The downside to Pulverize is that it's a sorcery, this can be a problem sometimes. Tangle Wire and Spheres can make it difficult to cast this free Shatterstorm, so it's important to have other sideboard cards to rely on as well.

 Good old basic Mountain, the stalwart warrior that fends off Wasteland, this is truly the most exciting card in the entire seventy-five. Don't leave home without one!

Sulfur Elemental Monastery Mentor is still a thing, and this is an uncounterable way to wipe out all of the Monk tokens that it produces. I'd consider running one more, or another removal spell that can deal with (Monsastery Mentor), but so far I haven't had more trouble with those decks that I could handle. 

MOVING FORWARD

Building a Better Delver Deck for a Workshop-Heavy Metagame

I think that U/r Delver, and Gush decks in general are some of the best decks in Vintage. Mishra's Workshop decks happen to be a natural (and frustrating) Foil to the "Gro" strategy that Gush decks employ. 

In the arms race to out-do other Gush decks, decks like Delver and most Jeskai Mentor builds have added card after card to their lists that are both fantastic in Gush mirrors, and irrelevant against Mishra's Workshop prison decks. Cards like Mental Misstep, Pyroblast, Flusterstorm, and even Misdirection have almost no use against a Workshop deck. The average Delver deck plays 6-8 (if not more) cards that are dead in the Shops match-up, and they have an enormous amount of cards at converted mana cost one. This means that these decks are extremely susceptible to Chalice of the Void, and their scant mana-base is also at odds with the mana-denial tactics employed by Shops.

I've shown you the changes I've made to my current Delver build, but I've been testing even more radical redesigns. I have a list saved on MTGO that is running zero main-deck blasts, and a basic Mountain in the main deck as well. I am trying out Spell Pierce and Steel Sabotage in my main deck with the idea of keeping the same Counterspell density while reducing dead cards in the Shops match-up. I've also focused my sideboard plan against Shops to not rely on white mana whatsoever, that way it's harder for the MUD pilot to color-screw me out of casting my sideboard cards. So far, the results have been promising, but I have yet to see how much worse (if at all) my match-up has become against other blue decks, Gush-based or otherwise. Null Rod is on my short-list of cards to test out as well, but since it's bad in the mirror I don't consider it a high priority.

 Null Rod

How's that Time Vault working out for you?

The only saving grace that Delver really has is that it plays low-cost threats that can potentially come down prior to the critical lock-down turns of the Shops deck. Of course, all of this simply becomes irrelevant if the Delver deck is on the draw, or if a land-drop is missed. I think that this fact is why Shops decks feel so oppressive. Every match against Shops that I've won with my Delver list (and I've won plenty) has been an uphill battle. I've always felt one Sphere-effect or Wasteland activation away from losing the match.

With most decks, there is interaction. A back-and-forth battle with one mage eventually pulling ahead and landing some critical spell. Most matches against Workshop decks are one-sided affairs. Often times the Shops player is the only one casting any spells all game. Other times, the Shops player is the only one casting most of the spells for most of the game, until finally the opponent manages to break free and eke out a victory. The games that are lost are often games where the non-Shops player is desperately hoping to draw just one more basic land to pay the tax on their Ingot Chewer. Losing a match with the perfect answer card stranded in your hand feels terrible. This is just a rather simplistic representation of the match-up against Prison decks, but I think that it accurately describes the way people feel when they're on the losing end of such an exchange.

No Limits, No Restrictions

By now I'm sure that everyone reading this has become aware that the most recent DCI announcement regarding the Vintage restricted list has come and gone. Surprisingly (to most) it has come with absolutely no changes. Dig Through Time has dominated the format in much the same way as Treasure Cruise did. Many Vintage players considered it to be a good candidate for restriction, even though the DCI apparently did not agree with that sentiment.

As far as Mishra's Workshop decks are concerned. Candidates for restriction that were tossed around included Chalice of the Void, Lodestone Golem, and even Mishra's Workshop itself. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the subject. I do think that the Shops decks are extremely powerful, and much more consistent than the average Vintage deck. They have more access to fast mana than almost any other deck in the format, and that fast mana comes at almost no cost. Simply put, Shops decks get to play with five Black Lotuses, four of which remain in play to be used each subsequent turn.

On the other hand, what would decks like Delver look like if they didn't need to fear Shops at all? Would they cut a land and go down to only 13 lands? How greedy could mana bases get? Imagine if every deck could run the mana base that the modern Steel City Vault decks run, complete with artifact lands and zero basics. One could argue that Wasteland alone is enough to keep people honest, but it seems to me that the best Wasteland deck is also a Mishra's Workshop deck.

I do think that Shops needs to be taken down a peg, but I'm not sure exactly how to do it. It's true that people could just choose to run decks that prey on Shops like Landstill, but I'm not sure if a metagame of 50% Landstill and 50% Shops would be very exciting. I do think that restricting Chalice would likely make the deck a little less oppressive feeling, while at the same time leaving it at a similar power level. I'm not the best Shops pilot in the world, so perhaps I'm way off base with that statement, but it seems to me that the power of Chalice varies widely from match-up to match-up anyway. Lodestone Golem, Tangle Wire, and all of the Thorns and Spheres seem like the real meat of the deck to me.

There is a lot of debate over the actual power-level of Shops in comparison to the perceived power-level of the deck. One common argument is that Shops must not be that oppressive, because it hasn't won the Vintage Championships in the last ten years. I am a believer that overall top-eight appearances is the proper metric to look at. Making it to the elimination rounds of a tournament is considered to be quite a feat - Magic Hall of Fame candidates are judged more for their total top-eights than for their wins, for instance. Even finishing just outside of the top eight on a consistent basis is impressive. I don't think that the fact that it's been a long time since a Workshop deck won the Championship is enough to declare that the deck isn't that strong or oppressive.

Magic Online has a metagame where Shops is over-represented compared to paper Vintage, and I feel that is telling of how strong the deck really is. It's also a cheaper deck online than in paper, which has something to do with that statistic as well. The thing is that when a deck goes 2-2 due to mana-screw or just a plain old bad pilot running it, it isn't counted into the statistical metagame. This means that the actual number of Shops deck you will likely face in a Daily Event is likely much higher than the "metagame percentage" numbers you'll find listed on MTGGoldfish.

The last piece of evidence that points to the power of a deck is the volume of sideboard cards that people must play against an archetype. Dredge isn't usually very popular in my metagame (Magic Online), but I will not enter a tournament without five strong pieces of graveyard hate, and usually I run at least six cards that I could bring in if I needed to. The only other deck that I can think of that has people so worried as to cause them to take drastic measures like running three Pulverize in their sideboards are these artifact prison decks. If the deck wasn't that strong, people wouldn't be hedging against it so hard. 

What do you call it when people change everything about their decks to combat a particular strategy? Some might refer to this as "warping" a format. I tend to agree. Dredge and Shops warp the Vintage format in my opinion. Dredge tends to be beaten by hate cards more often. I've probably won a single game against Dredge where I didn't win by casting some sideboard card, and in that game I managed to go off on turn one with Omni-Oath and I was on the play. 

The very nature of Prison decks makes it anywhere from a major pain in the neck, to absolutely positively impossible to actually cast all of those sweet pieces of sideboard tech. If Dredge could negate every sideboard plan with the same level of consistency, I can only imagine that people would be calling for Bazaar of Baghdad to be restricted, so it's only natural that people feel that Shops should suffer a restriction.

Before I move on from this subject, I'd like to touch on Dig Through Time one last time. Since Shops decks prey on Gush decks, and Dig Through Time has made Gush strategies the most potent blue decks overall, then perhaps this is the main reason that Shops seems to be so oppressive these days.

In doing my research for this article, I looked at deck lists from previous years Vintage Champs on the Wizard's website. I noticed that Gush decks and Delver decks have evolved a fair amount, and I saw that Shops was well-represented in the field, but generally seemed to make it to the final tables less than I expected. 

The more I think about it, the more I feel that Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise are the real reason for the upsurge in Shops decks. 

That's just my two cents folks. I think that Shops belongs in Vintage, but I do feel it warps the format at it's current power-level. It would be nice to see some more diversity, if nowhere else at least on MTGO where every other deck is Shops. It's normal for me to play against the deck twice in a four-round Daily, and I'd love to see some fresh blood in those events. Unfortunately, Workshop decks tend to push a lot of decks out of the format. Every time I try playing with or brewing some combo deck, I just end up abandoning it because it can't ever beat shops, even if I win the magical die-roll.

 Back to the Future (of Delver)

Mental Misstep

I don't have a sample-hand to evaluate this week, but that will return at some point soon. Instead, I have the experimental Delver list that I alluded to earlier in the article. This is what the deck looks like with the changes that I mentioned I was testing out. Feel free to comment and discuss this deck list, but remember that it only represents an idea at this point. Preliminary testing against Shops has shown that it's at least as good as the other Delver list from this article, and possible a lot better. The main-deck is only three cards away from the original list, so it should perform much like that deck against non-Workshop decks.

My main concern about piloting this list is that I believe that with a large enough sample size, this deck's performance in near-mirror matches will be significantly diminished. Pyroblast is a card that is such a blow-out when it's at its best, but it's also terrible when it isn't. I feel like Mishra's Workshop is beginning to crowd out other decks, so the era of main-deck Pyroblast just might be coming to an end. I think that the sideboard should probably have at least two blasts though, I'll be looking at rearranging the sideboard in the near future.

 

 

That's all the time I have for you this week, thanks for hanging out! Before I go, I want to share the links to some Vintage streamers with you. You can learn a lot, and gain a lot of entertainment value from watching someone else play. Do your part to promote Vintage and "Like" and "Share" this type of content!

Carlos Alberto Garcia, MTGO name CafeCafe does a lot of Vintage streaming. I've played against him, and he was a gracious opponent. You can find his Twitch Channel here, and his Youtube channel here.

The Atog Lord, Dr. Rich Shay has started streaming Vintage on Twitch. You should check it out. Besides being a part of the Vintage Super League, Rich has been a fixture of the Vintage scene for a long time. Rich has even been nice enough to answer some of my total noob questions on social media and The Mana Drain. I watched his stream one night, and I learned a lot watching him talk about why he was making specific plays. Click here to visit and bookmark his Twitch channel.

Also, UnrestrictGifts, aka TMDBrassman, aka Andy Probasco has been streaming Vintage for quite some time. Nearly every time I see a combo deck do well in a Daily Event, I see the name is UnrestrictGifts. I've even featured some of these decks in this article series. Brassman is a very talented player, and I recommend watching him play Magic sometime. Click here to visit his Twitch channel.

See you all in seven days. Until next week, stay strong and don't forget to bring a towel!