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By: stsung, Jaroslav Stefanek
Nov 15 2016 1:00pm
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Starting to play Vintage can be daunting for some, especially for those who haven't faced too many combo decks yet.  If you ventured into the realm of Legacy you might have experienced similar shocks. Those not being familiar with the card Daze can be very sad that their important spell got countered or that it cost them Force of Will and a blue card to resolve the spell. Wasteland or Stifle is also something that can wreck a game for those not being aware that they can just lose their precious mana source.

In Vintage similar things happen as well. While in Legacy experiencing a total blowout does not necessarily mean game over, in Vintage it is often the case. Vintage is more about anticipating what can possibly happen and avoid those situations at all costs. This requires knowledge and experience because the game revolves primarily around hidden information.

Vintage is the only format that has access to fast mana not costing mana (under normal circumstances) and that alone is something one needs to learn about. A Vintage player needs to know all the advantages and disadvantages of playing fast mana or keeping it in hand. The fact that we can play Moxen, Black Lotus or Mana Crypt accelerates the game and breaks the tempo players are usually used to - one card drawn per turn, one land played per turn. Players starting to play Vintage will need to pay attention to how many cards a player has drawn during the game and how many mana sources they have available or can have possibly available. Turn 2 in a game of Vintage can look very differently unlike in a game of Modern or Legacy.

On the other hand if you want to explore Vintage and get used to its tempo I would advise to start with a fair blue deck. Blue fair decks are reactive and give the opportunity to observe first and see what can happen. This way you can figure out what are the situations you need to avoid. When you understand that very unfair things can happen, you can start playing decks doing these unfair things yourself. You will find out that these unfair things are not that easy to pull off. You can also pick the most proactive deck if you like. You might win more often, but you won't learn as much.

In Vintage skill is rewarded more than in other formats and new players have to quickly learn some basics in order to at least be able to play and stand a chance against other players. Each new player will have to familiarize themselves with restricted cards, notably the Power cards. Those players will have to realize how powerful the cards are, but also to learn not to depend on them TOO much. Decks are usually built in a way that the pilot can depend on them, but when this is no longer true, the deck can struggle a lot. That is the angle Null Rod decks have - they try to make the powered decks play a fair game.

 

Ancestral Recall

The most important thing in Vintage that you should pay attention to as a new player is card advantage when playing a blue deck against a blue deck. The player to draw the most cards in a game will most likely be the winner of it. Knowing this, it is not difficult to divine that Ancestral Recall is a very powerful card. Anyone can understand that 'Target player draws 3 cards' is good. We want our Ancestral Recall to resolve but we should remember that in the end we should end up with more cards available than our opponent. It nets us two cards for 1 mana at instant speed (not 3 as some beginning players might think). Nowadays such an effect would cost 3UU but in Vintage you can have it for 1 mana! The fact that the card costs 1 mana makes it an ideal target for Mental Misstep though. Playing Ancestral Recall on turn 1 or in opponent's upkeep was common but with the printing of this particular counterspell it is a rather audacious thing to do. Unless you have a backup in the form of Mental Misstep it is unwise to play Ancestral Recall early. Having Force of Will as a backup and being forced to actually Force the Mental Misstep is not so good, because it nets us 1 card - we trade Ancestral Recall, Force of Will and a blue card for 1 Mental Misstep and we draw 3 cards. But the situation would be different if our opponent would have Forced our Ancestral Recall and we would have responded with Force as well. This would net us the 2 cards we wanted to draw. But what if you need to keep the Force and let your opponent counter your Ancestral Recall? It nets you a card anyway. There are other scenarios that can happen (for example your Ancestral Recall can get Misdirected) and you should really think about them before playing your Ancestral Recall.

Also be wary that some players under certain circumstances will play Ancestral Recall only to lure Mental Misstep or Force of Will out of you. A player that has Time Vault combo in his hand might do that. If you don't keep you Force for Time Vault or Misstep for Voltaic Key the game can just end. So no matter how powerful Ancestral Recall is, sometimes it is better not to counter it if you know that there are worse things that can happen.

Time Walk

Here we have an effect that would cost 5 or even 6 mana nowadays. Vintage players can get an extra turn just for 2 mana. How powerful Time Walk is in our decks depends on what deck we play. Even in a deck that does not necessarily need this card we can put it in good use and from time to time it will win a game just on its own as any other Power card.

Time Walk's effect can range from being pitched to Force, being just good to being totally awesome. One can play Time Walk as an 'Explore' as many players say. Explore is a green Sorcery card for two mana that lets you draw a card and play additional land. Explore sees play in Valakut decks that need to reach certain amount of lands so they can play Scapeshift and win by finding Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and 6 Mountains. Otherwise Explore does not see play because it is simply not worth the effect in formats like Modern. In Vintage though one does not need a dedicated deck like Scapeshift to make a use of 1 additional land. Time Walk does one more thing Explore doesn't, it untaps your lands and with those several spells can be played. That 1 additional land is something we can keep open so we can counter spells for example. This is a huge difference and can be game breaking because it can put us well ahead.

If we are on Mentor, Oath or Tezzerator this card can allow us to kill our opponent in 'one' turn. We can set up our board to have lethal damage or combo in play and Time Walk allows us to actually win on the extra turn. If you play against these decks be cautious when tapping out because this can happen. Of course the primary goal is to deal with Monastery Mentor, Oath of Druids or Tinker but sometimes we get into situations where we can deal with these and that Time Walk is something that takes the opportunity from us.

Sometimes we are forced to play Time Walk to search for an answer. Don't feel bad for doing this. Often situations like this will happen. And relatively often that Time Walk will draw a card that can draw you other cards containing the card you need. ONE card in Vintage can make a huge impact so do not even underestimate the power of Gitaxian Probe in Vintage.

 

Fast Mana

Many players that start playing Vintage have tendencies to play their Moxen or Lotus when there is no reason to. Remember that playing these cards gives information away and it also makes your cards susceptible to artifact hate. Play your fast mana cards when there is need for them - like if you have a spell you might need to cast at instant speed. For example, if you need to hardcast Force of Will and the only way to do so is through Black Lotus, just play the card. This gives information away as well, your opponent will know what kind of card you probably need to play but is fine because you will have access to the mana you need.

 

Also sometimes you want to keep these cards in your hand because you need them for a Storm count, Prowess triggers, or you simply need them to discard to Dack Fayden, Thirst for Knowledge or to have something to shuffle back into your library.

Sometimes it is good to play your Moxen and other cards as soon as possible though. If you anticipate cards like Trinisphere, Sphere of Resistance, Chalice of the Void or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, it is better to play your fast mana as soon as possible because you might not be able to play it later.

If you are playing a deck that runs a lot of fast mana you need to be aware that cards like Null Rod and Stony Silence exist. You should expect that people will side these against you and for that you will have to learn when you can depend on your fast mana and when not.

What I also often see new Vintage players do is play Mishra's Workshop and Sol Ring while not having anything for 2 mana that they can play while they have something costing 3 that they plan to play. Remember that Mental Misstep in preboard games is a card that can most probably just hit that one Sol Ring. If there is a line of play that is important in your game and playing Sol Ring is not necessary, do not play the Sol Ring.

While everything above applies to Mana Crypt as well, remember that having this card in play may from time to time kill you. Blue decks running Mana Crypt often have a way how to get rid of it when they need, be it in the form of Tinker or Hurkyl's Recall.

 

Timetwister

Timetwister nowadays does not see much play anymore outside of combo decks. Since both players get to draw 7 cards you need to be cautious when or how to play the card. Also, what used to be upside in the past became rather a downside - the graveyard zone became more relevant and having your cards shuffled back into the library is not often desired.

If you happen to have Timetwister in your deck you will most probably be on some kind of combo deck. Playing Timetwister on turn 1 on the play is the best time to play it to get the most power from it. If the spell will resolve you both get to draw 7 cards. You will have some mana sources in play already. It is not that uncommon that Timetwister will draw you all you need to play a lethal Tendrils of Agony (or another card that will win you the game, Belcher for example). If not your opponent will draw seven cards that he cannot mulligan. No matter if you can win the game on your turn 1 this position is most of the time very good for you.

Playing Timetwister on later turns (usually just turn 2 or 3) is very dangerous business unless you are sure you can win the game through opponent's new seven cards. The fact that your opponent will draw seven cards while already having some resources in play can mean that it will be your opponent that finds what they need to win the game. So if you are not forced to play Timetwister early wait with it as long as possible. In the meantime play all the lands you can and try to win with other cards. When you don't have any other threat that can help you advance the game, you can resort to Timetwister.

Secondly, a new player needs to learn when to counter spells, what to counter and how to go through counters. Around 60% of decks are blue and a majority of them plays certain counterspells. Even non-blue decks can be seen playing counterspells (mainly Mental Misstep that costs Phyrexian mana).

Force of Will

Legacy players already know Force of Will but even those will have to realize how important Force of Will is in Vintage. A Vintage player will play with Force of Will more often than a Legacy player. Only under very rare circumstances and rare match ups will you want to side this card out. A loss of a blue card in a game that is often decided by who can go deeper (draw more cards) is a great loss and for that reason you play the card when facing a lethal threat or in a situation which will become very advantageous for you (meaning that the end result will leave your opponent with less resources).

In general Forcing happens very early (turn 1) when a lethal threat is played or at the late stage of the game when one player finally tries to end the game. With lethal threat I mean a card that will wreck the game for you too much, resulting in a loss. Not only cards like Tinker that can mean game over more or less immediately. For example Trinisphere turn 1 or Chalice of the Void turn 1 can be such cards. You have to understand how much tempo loss this will be for you for the rest of the game. It means you will be behind with mana sources and cards. Not only that, you also need to understand that your opponent will play cards more expensive than 3 to put pressure on you. If your deck cannot handle paying 3 mana per spell in the long term, it means that it is a card you need to Force. If Chalice of the Void for 1 stops your deck, it also means the card needs to be countered. On the other hand, in late game, Trinisphere or Chalice of the Void might not be that kind of a threat. For example if you have a way to play Young Pyromancer or Monastery Mentor and make it stick, you can play cards into Chalice of the Void but still trigger Pyromancer's or Mentor's abilities. In this case keeping your Force of Will is better because Chalice won't prevent you from getting value out of the cast spells.

You should also pay attention to what resources you opponent spent. If you see that he paid a big price to play his spell, you can Force. In general you are playing an attrition war. Who can save more counterspells or get more counterspells off an opponent will eventually win the game. Forcing counterspells from your opponent is a tricky business and depends on your and opponent's skill. If you've ever heard the concept of multi-level thinking you can probably imagine what can possibly be happening and how you can sway your opponent. If you've never heard of this do not worry. We, Magic players, develop this kind of thinking naturally as we learn and become better players.

Mana Drain

Mana Drain used to be very popular (being one of the pillars of Vintage) but with the growing popularity of Gush tempo decks this card sees less and less play (also due to all those Eldrazi and such) but that does not change the fact that this card can create a huge swing in a game. Mana Drain's oracle text reads: "Counter target spell. At the beginning of your next main phase, add an amount of {C} to your mana pool equal to that spell's converted mana cost." I've seen many players in real life not realize what that 'beginning of your next main phase' mean. If you play Mana Drain that resolves during your main phase, you will get the additional mana from Mana Drain still on that very same turn, just in the post-combat main phase. If this is something you did not want (because usually there is the need for colored mana, meaning you wanted to untap first next turn), you should make sure to play what you need on your post-combat main phase with Mana Drain back up.

Playing Mana Drain is rather straightforward but similarly with Force of Will there are signals you can send to 'bluff'. Presenting open UU is a good start. In Vintage lands usually produce blue so even if you don't think about this, your two untapped lands may actually be able to produce blue. The phase when you play your spells can be also an indicator of whether you have or not have Mana Drain and if you can judge your opponent's thinking level you should be able to seem to have or not have the Drain. This takes practice but you will be able to experience this since the level of players is different. Some won't buy your tricks, some will.

Mental Misstep

When this card got printed I started hoarding Mental Missteps and tried to sell them as fast as possibly before someone would decide to ban the card. The ban came, later than I thought, but it did not include Vintage. There are decks that do not run CMC 1 cards. Those do not need to care much about Mental Misstep but a majority of the decks plays CMC 1 cards. The best defense against Mental Misstep is having Mental Misstep of your own. Since our decks are limited to four copies of a card (or one if the card is on restricted list) we also need to be cautious when playing Mental Misstep. Blue decks tend to have many CMC1 spells (1 third of the deck). Which spells to counter? That is difficult to answer but note that countering the first card you can target is not correct (usually). Certain cards are better than others. Would you counter Preordain if you knew that your opponent can play Ancestral Recall next? As I wrote in one of my previous articles Voltaic Key is a card that costs 1 mana. That is often a card you really want to counter, no matter if there is Time Vault around. It can let the opponent have more mana, draw 2 cards off Sensei's Divining Top, or get access to a colored mana instead of colorless one.

Since Mental Misstep costs Phyrexian mana to cast at first you might wonder what is the right way to pay for the spell. No matter if you have other spells to play or not you can always send the signal of having another counterspell in your hand - for example Flusterstorm. In Vintage life is a resource as any other and usually your life total won't really be threatened much. In most cases paying 2 life for not giving out information is fine to pay because hidden information is way more valuable. Even if you will be playing against Burn (unlikely you'd play against one), you don't need to worry much about those 2 life. Of course if your opponent knows what cards you have in hand there is no need to bluff, you can just pay the mana. Later in the game you can painlessly play the Misstep for mana unless you have for example 5 mana sources in play. Having 5 mana open suggests Force of Will, so in this case you'd also want to pay for the Misstep with life etc.

You probably understand that Mental Misstep is almost omnipresent. This means that you should always expect the card to be in your opponent's hand. Do not be reckless and play Ancestral Recall without back up. Play cards from the weaker ones to the more powerful ones. You want to play Preordain first, then Ancestral Recall (because if you opponent Missteps the first spell, it is usually safe to play the next one).

Flusterstorm

Since in Vintage there is more instant and sorceries played than in any other format the card can be played main deck. The Storm count in games of Vintage can go quite high (don't forget that cards costing 0 mana are still spells!). There are two upsides for Flusterstorm. The fact that the Storm mechanic will create copies of Flusterstorm means that it is difficult to counter with a single spell (and thus can also go through Chalice of the Void). The second upside is that it can hit several spells at once.

Imagine playing a spell you want to resolve. You play it, opponent Forces it. You play Ancestral Recall in response, your opponent Missteps it, you play Flusterstorm targeting both Force of Will and Mental Misstep. This way you can draw three cards and resolve the first card you played. This situation is rather simple but more complex situations can arise. Be aware of what you want to resolve and when if you suspect Flusterstorm. If you know that your opponent has Flusterstorm in their hand and you don't have Flusterstorm of your own, you have to bait the card out first (or discard it).

Unfortunately playing Flusterstorm and changing targets is a little bit tricky on Magic Online. This was my first time playing the card and I totally messed it up. I advise you to try playing that card before you enter a tournament because you might regret losing a match because you didn't understand what Magic Online wanted from you.

New Vintage players need to figure out how to handle all the powerful spells. Some players not having enough exposure to Vintage think that what happens in Vintage is decided randomly (outcome of the game). While Magic (and Vintage) is certainly subject to randomness it is not what the players allude to. It is rather mistakes that players make while not being aware of them. A game of Vintage can end as early as turn 1. No matter what turn it is though the game can abruptly end if one is not cautious. As a Vintage player you need to see deeper, recognize threats and be prepared for them, only then you will be able to truly play and enjoy the format. Remember that even a slight misstep can lead to a disastrous loss and I hope that this article will help you avoid some of the mistakes that could lead to such a loss.

Thank you for reading. I'm stsung on modo and you can also reach me at Twitter (stsungjp).