stsung's picture
By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Oct 27 2016 11:00am
Login to post comments

This article is a follow up article of Vintage Mythbusters

If you have never had exposure to Vintage you might have difficulties figuring out what the metagame of such a  format can look like by just looking at the decklists. Looking at those might not help you much at first since they might look similar to you. There are certain structures in Vintage decks, based on those we can put the decks into different categories. There are five of them but I'd like to divide one into two, so there are six categories in my article.

Five Pillars of Vintage
The structures in the decks are built around a certain card (or used to be) and these cards gave the decks their name. Even though I think that this is rather outdated it still is true for the most part. The cards are Mana Drain, Mishra's Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad, Dark Ritual and Null Rod. We speak thus about Drain, Shops, Bazaar, Ritual and Null Rod decks.


Drain decks

Drain decks are usually big blue control decks. They can range from a combo-control, tempo to heavy control decks. In general the decks are usually slower and try to get more resources, be it mana or cards in hand. They usually outdraw the opposing deck and then in one big counter war close the game. The card draw engine of these decks can vary. Some can play Thirst for Knowledge for example, others can use Standstill or Gush. Finishers of these decks can be almost anything depending on what deck it is. The most common are Tinker looking usually for a Blightsteel Colossus, Time Vault/Voltaic Key combo, a planeswalker like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Oath of Druids looking for Auriok Salvagers or Griselbrand. There are also more artifact focused blue decks that are in general faster and more combo oriented, but these are more vulnerable to Null Rod or Stony Silence. Also beware of the greatest thieves in the multiverse - Notion Thief and Dack Fayden.


Shops decks

Shops decks are artifact prison-based decks that try to use Mishra's Workshop and all the fast mana to play lock pieces like Thorn of Amethyst, Sphere of Resistance, Tangle Wire or Lodestone Golem early. They disrupt mana bases as well with the help of Wasteland or Strip Mine that can also be recurred with Crucible of Worlds. These decks win via combat. Some Prison Shops decks run Kuldotha Forgemaster so they can search for Steel Hellkite, Sundering Titan or other highly annoying creatures. There is a more aggressive version of this deck running Arcbound Ravager (now more common). But anything can come out of Mishra's Workshop! Some of these decks run some Eldrazi, notably Thought-Knot Seer and sometimes Reality Smasher. These cards are not artifacts though so the Shops player can sometimes struggle finding a colorless source to play these cards (since Moxen produce colored mana and Mishra's Workshop gives mana only for artifacts). With the release of Kaladesh we might also see Vehicles being incorporated in Shops decks.



Bazaar decks

Bazaar decks are graveyard based decks either aggressive ones like different kinds of Dredge or reanimation combo. The latter used to be common (Worldgorger Dragon combo) but is not anymore. Dredge is the common deck nowadays. It is the most linear deck in Vintage. It tries to mulligan into Bazaar of Baghdad (often thanks to Serum Powder) and discard cards with the dredge ability thanks to Bazaar's ability. By using the dredge ability the Dredge player puts cards into their graveyard be it creatures that can come back into play under certain conditions (Ichorid, Bloodghast) or immediately (Narcomoeba). These creatures then can be sacrificed to flashback Cabal Therapy stripping an opponent of Force of Will so Dread Return can be played. Dredge decks run Bridge from Below that is the main creature generator - if Bridge is in graveyard, it creates a Zombie token when the Dredge player's creature dies. Cabal Therapy and Dread Return can create many zombies since their flashback cost requires sacrificing a certain number of creatures. The Zombies can then be pumped and given haste thanks to reanimated Flame-Kin Zealot for example. This deck is heavily favored against many decks and usually wins the first game with ease. To beat this deck one needs to sideboard many cards to even have a chance to win (usually 6). Since Dredge's plan is linear, it can die to sideboarded cards and for that reason there are different variants of Dredge decks that try to have better game 2. Some run disruption like Pitch Dredge (Force of Will, Mental Misstep, Mindbreak Trap) and other have transformational sideboard (they play for example Dark Depths/Thespian's Stage combo). These decks side in a plan that is not susceptible to graveyard hate and make the opponent's deck worse.



Ritual decks

Ritual decks are (restricted cards) combo decks in general. There are three different types of a combo deck Belcher, Doomsday and The Perfect Storm or Long. They try to win the game as fast as possible (usually).


Belcher decks are artifact based decks that generate vast amounts of mana and try to find the card Goblin Charbelcher and activate it for the win. The deck usually plays zero or one land that can be tutored with Expedition Map for example or Land Grant depending on the version of the deck. Null Rod effects stop the deck dead so some of these decks side or play some disruption which makes them slower though.

Doomsday decks are a tricky deck that tries to simply resolve Doomsday, create a pile of five cards and win. Since the printing of Laboratory Maniac Doomsday decks started using this card as the actual win condition. Doomsday plays disruption both in black and blue color. The deck is very resilient. Its sideboard plan can make the game even more difficult for the opponent. It is very difficult to play but very powerful if played well.

The Storm decks can probably be called Dark Petition Storm decks nowadays since Dark Petition is a unrestricted tutor that is used in these decks. They play some discard spells to deal with counterspells, then play some spells including rituals and tutors to finally play lethal Tendrils of Agony. Unlike Doomsday this deck is relatively easy to disrupt (more difficult than Belcher and way easier than Doomsday).


Null Rod decks

Null Rod decks are the creature-based decks in Vintage. These decks have a hard time among all the other decks using fast mana and blue Power cards to keep up and that is the reason they try to slow other decks down with the help of Null Rod. Null Rod shuts down Moxen and Time Vault/Voltaic Key and forces many decks to play a fair game. A deck that is used to having access to its fast mana can struggle when suddenly in need to rely on 15 lands that can often be also destroyed with Wasteland. Null Rod decks often play other lock pieces, namely Thorn of Amethyst or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which makes playing spells even more difficult. The most played archetype nowadays could be named 'hatebears'. White creatures have cards that tax the opponent in some way or other and make the game pretty bad for them. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is such a creature for example. Null Rod deck does not necessary need to be of a hatebear kind. For example Goblins or Elves used to be viable decks and unpowered Merfolk is still strong enough to win games among all these powered decks. Believe me, staring at Cursecatcher in Vintage is way different than in Modern or Legacy.


The deck I feature is a unpowered Null Rod Eldrazi deck by Jason Jaco, who went 6-1-1 with it at NYSE Open, one of the largest North American Vintage tournaments. Normally Hatebear decks, White Eldrazi and Eldrazi decks are powered but are also often seen unpowered.


Gush tempo decks

There is one more deck type that I should mention. I always listed these decks as Drain decks but I personally do not feel that it is correct thing to do nowadays since this category of decks is large enough to be a standalone category. These decks can play a control game but can also act as a Null Rod deck which is not the case of the big blue drain decks. Those decks are tempo decks build around  Young Pyromancer and/or Monastery Mentor. These decks are very flexible and can be adjusted for the current metagame and can be rather aggressive or more control requiring proactive play. The name of these decks can be varied but anything with Delver, Monastery, Mentor or Therapy is usually this type of a deck. They use Gush draw engine and are very consistent, which also means that they play relatively fair game.


Power level

Even though you can practically play almost any card in the format one has to realize that one needs to play cards that can be on par with the most powerful spells printed in the Magic's history. This is true for any format but in Vintage it is more noticeable since the restricted cards' power level is way off the charts. Budget versions of these cards can hardly replace them. If you want to draw three cards there is Ancestral Recall and no other card can replace it. This does not apply only to restricted cards but others as well. Ponder and Preordain are very powerful and there is no way you could possibly play something like Serum Visions or Sleight of Hand. Swords to Plowshares being the best removal in Legacy is also the best removal in Vintage etc.

On the other hand this does not mean that there aren't unpowered budget decks that can compete with powered decks.


Choosing a deck

When a player decides to invest in Vintage they need to choose a deck to play. There are two ways to approach it. There are decks that require good knowledge of the deck played and are very proactive and usually linear. Playing these decks at first is easier as it does not need a great knowledge of the whole metagame. Such decks are Dredge, combo decks (I wouldn't advise Doomsday) and Shops. Hatebears, Gush decks and Big Blue decks require the knowledge of the metagame and there is a lot of interaction going on. Some decks are more fair than others and are also easy entry points to the format.

To understand the metagame it is good to have at least basic experience with decks from each category.

Card interactions

Sometimes I let people play Vintage with me and often I hear questions like 'How does the Oath deck win?'. Replying 'with Griselbrand for example' is not something that usually helps because this response is usually followed by 'What does Oath of Druids do?'. Even though for many it is very clear how Oath deck works some people simply can't see it because they don't even know what the green enchantment does.

Oath (of Druids)

Thanks to Oath of Druids a player can put a creature card from their library into play (and the rest into the graveyard). The player just needs to fulfill one condition - have less creatures in play than any opponent. Since some decks do not even run creatures in Vintage there is a land named Forbidden Orchard that produces mana of any color for a price that gives an opponent 1/1 Spirit. This way the Oath player can regulate the number of creatures in play and use the Oath only in their advantage. Oath decks usually run 2-3 creatures in the deck. Creatures that can be found in Oath decks main deck or in the sideboard are for example Griselbrand, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Auriok Salvagers, Inferno Titan, Void Winnower, or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.


Infinite turns

Time Vault and Voltaic Key is a combo that gives the controller infinite turns. This does not necessarily mean that the player can win the game afterwards and in some rare cases there is a reason to play out the infinite turns. For example if the controller of these two artifacts has Dark Confidant or Mana Crypt in play, those can both deal enough damage to kill the player. While Voltaic Key can be used to untap mana rocks to gain additional mana (Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring) or colored mana (Moxen), can draw two cards off a Sensei's Divining Top etc. Time Vault is often a dead card unless paired with Voltaic Key or Tezzeret the Seeker. Tezzeret the Seeker can tutor either of the cards and Tezzeret alone means that the player can have infinite turns in 2 turns (needs to cast Tezzeret, tutor for Time Vault and untap next turn for additional turn).



Tinker is a card that you will see often. Many decks in Vintage play a high number of artifacts so Tinker can have different targets. The most common ones are Blightsteel Colossus or part of the combo mentioned above. Against some decks, Tinker decks really need to depend on Tinker and just put Blightsteel Colossus in play as soon as possible. Decks not running Swords to Plowshares have difficulties getting rid of this card.

Fastbond/Gush and Will

Fastbond is a very powerful card even though it might not look like it. It needs to be paired with card draw and usually that engine is in the form of Gush. Gush can be played for alternative cost of returning two Island into ones hand. Thanks to Fastbond the player can play the lands then and get even more mana. Decks using Fastbond usually play many cantrips to reach other copies of Gush thus generating even more mana. If by a chance the Fastbond player resolves Yawgmoth's Will they can just go nuts.

Yawgmoth's Will is a card one should fear. It can either provide a combo deck with more resources and cards to win the game on that turn or it can help a control deck gain a huge card advantage that also results in a win later but not necessarily on the turn Will is played.

While I was streaming, one of the viewers asked me what Yawgmoth's Will and Fastbond are good for (because I countered it without even thinking about it and said something like that Yawgmoth's Will would be an overkill in addition to Fastbond). So I decided to upload one situation that shows what can possibly happen to you if you can't deal with any of the cards for reference when someone asks me that question again.


10th Power card

Library of Alexandria is a card that I'd rather see as a part of Power Nine and I believe that I'm not the only player to look at it this way. This card alone wins games. A turn 1 Library of Alexandria is a great threat and many new players underestimate the power of this card. It either needs to be destroyed (Strip Mine/Wasteland) or the player needs to be stripped of some cards. That either requires the player facing the Library to play discard spells or play a big enough threat for the Library controller to counter it. The controller of the Library needs to manage the number of cards in their hand, usually meaning not casting unnecessary spells.

Don't be afraid of Vintage

After reading this article I hope that you won't fear Vintage and that you will consider Vintage for what it is. When an opportunity opens before you to play Vintage I hope that you will try it and discover what this format has to offer. The myths that can be heard everywhere is something you should just ignore and explore the format yourself before deciding whether you like the format or not.

Be prepared to lose though. If you are unfamiliar with Vintage there are many things that can happen and end the game on the spot. This may seem too insane to you but sooner or later you will also get the chance to do these broken plays yourself or learn how to properly fight back (or rather expect something like that happening so you will be able to avoid it). I've met many players that just gave up on Vintage after finding themselves in a situation that they couldn't play a single spell on their turn 1 due to Spheres' effect or facing a win condition that was bound to kill them next turn. Don't give up. Observe, explore and learn. Only after that, judge.

Even though I have played Magic for over 21 years and I lost in so many different and mean ways I know how this kind of loss feels. Once I was also the player that was totally powerless in a similar game. I experienced such a crushing defeat through a video game though - Duels of the Planeswalkers.

In one of the installments of these games, if you reach the last stage of the game you face the planeswalker Karn playing an artifact deck that can be quite brutal. As I was fighting decks that I could deal with relatively easily I did not expect anything too difficult to beat. That is why I was very surprised when the AI went for an Island, Mox, Mox, Tinker into Colossus. I stared at the screen in disbelief. Swords to Plowshares started to flash in my head because I knew that this is the only card that could help me. Power level of my deck was somewhere between Zendikar/Worldwake sealed and Zendikar/Worldwake draft deck. After this game I wondered what kind of reaction other players had (non-Magic players or casual Magic players that never heard of something like Vintage). It bugged me for quite a while till I asked them on forums or in-game. To my surprise those players simply tried to beat the deck, usually setting the game to the easiest difficulty or just waiting for the AI to mulligan to five to have some chance. They persevered. Some even replayed this match over 300 times! That's what I call perseverance.

Do the same. Just play till you figure out how to play against the decks in Vintage metagame. Don't be afraid of those decks, they sometimes do mean things but you can overcome them sometimes. Your deck will also totally crush other decks and that's also the beauty of Vintage. Some openings are simply too brutal to withstand. Here's a video of a game in which my deck provided me with all I needed to simply overrun my poor opponent. It shows how strong the most expensive and most iconic card in Magic: The Gathering game - Black Lotus - is.

Playing Vintage can be a challenge but a very rewarding one and it is lots of fun.


Is there a Vintage burn deck by Paul Leicht at Sat, 10/29/2016 - 20:04
Paul Leicht's picture

Is there a Vintage burn deck (aside from Tendrils)? I never see any mention of it unless someone is talking about budgets but it seems like RDW is not a thing anymore when back in the day it was mox monkey mox monkey bolt, fireblast etc.

RDW is simply too slow. It is by stsung at Sun, 10/30/2016 - 04:00
stsung's picture

RDW is simply too slow. It is not broken and not fast enough for many decks. Few players tried playing RDW online earlier this year. But it's not like you fear fetching or playing Force because of loss of life when playing against the deck. After the first experience I started playing Mental Missteps paying with my life and I was also playing a fair deck not doing anything like Tinker into Colossus t1 or here's draw 40 cards with Outcome and Tendrils.

I stormed through Pillars and Eidolons. A single Mentor managed to win against burn. That's not a good thing for the red player. I wouldn't play that even as a budget deck.

Once I tried playing Sligh myself (it was more of a joke) and it didn't go well for me either. The best I managed was to deal 19 damage. The 20th point of life? Never. I beat Dredge but only because I drew two Cages and Tormod's Crypt.

great column by laffyFleur at Wed, 11/02/2016 - 16:35
laffyFleur's picture

just wanted to say I really enjoy your column and find I always learn new things from it--here, for example, there were quite a few things I was somewhat familiar with (I don't play Vintage, but often play Commander which includes many Vintage card favorites), but you provided a comprehensive and straightforward overview that really gave the big picture. thanks for the great work!

Thank you very much for by stsung at Thu, 11/03/2016 - 03:45
stsung's picture

Thank you very much for stopping by and leaving a comment. This kind of feedback helps a lot.