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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Oct 20 2016 12:00pm
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One day someone asked me if I would play a game. I said that I don't mind playing a game but that I can only play with my Vintage deck. The player had a Modern deck but agreed to try that.

While sitting there and staring at my opponent's Thoughtseize out of Overgrown Tomb I started to realize that I will have a pretty hard time keeping up with Dark Confidants, Tarmogoyfs and Lilianas (even if that card does not do much with Young Pyromancer in play). After I Misstep'ed his discard spell I started digging through my deck and wondered with how many permanents I can deal with. I was lucky because my opponent had more removal than creatures and those creatures he had I managed to counter. My Young Pyromancer hit the board, created a bunch of Elementals and later killed both Liliana of the Veil and my opponent. My opponent did not want to play another game claiming my deck being unfair but I was certain I wasn't the favored player in this matchup. Playing a different kind of Vintage deck would give me a huge advantage but the Delver deck I played simply had a hard time dealing with a threat per turn. Standard midrange could be even bigger nightmare for this deck (when someone playing Bant Company asked me for a game I promptly declined).

 

Type I/Vintage

In the year of 1995 formats named Type I and Type II (Standard) were introduced. In Type I that used to be called Classic we could play any card except those that require manual dexterity (Chaos Orb, Falling Star), ante cards and Shahrazad (Conspiracy type cards were added later to the Vintage banlist). The format is unique though because of one more thing - the restricted list. Cards on the restricted list can be played in a deck only once and some of the cards define the format. It includes the Power Nine cards that cannot be played anywhere else (talking about official formats).

 

On Magic Online there wasn't Vintage the way we knew it from paper because Power Nine cards weren't available. A format named Classic allowed us to play almost all cards printed on Magic Online except few that were either banned or restricted but without fast mana that defines Vintage as a format it could hardly be called that. Vintage Masters fixed that because it brought Power Nine cards. With Vintage Masters release in June 2014, Vintage came to existence on Magic Online.

Vintage Restricted Card List
Ancestral Recall
Balance
Black Lotus
Brainstorm
Chalice of the Void
Channel
Demonic Consultation
Demonic Tutor
Dig Through Time
Fastbond
Flash
Imperial Seal
Library of Alexandria
Lion's Eye Diamond
Lodestone Golem
Lotus Petal
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Memory Jar
Merchant Scroll
Mind's Desire
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mystical Tutor
Necropotence
Ponder
Sol Ring
Strip Mine
Time Vault
Time Walk
Timetwister
Tinker
Tolarian Academy
Treasure Cruise
Trinisphere
Vampiric Tutor
Wheel of Fortune
Windfall
Yawgmoth's Bargain
Yawgmoth's Will

Through the years people have some kind of preconceived notions about Vintage. These are myths though and there is no need to fear Vintage. It is a format as any other with its pros and cons. It may be very expensive to enter in paper but online the format is not that much more expensive than Legacy or Modern. Probably it can even be cheaper in some cases.

Vintage is not a turn 1 kill format
Many players somewhere got the idea that Vintage is a format where the game ends on turn 1. That is not true even though it can happen. Vintage is defined by some of the restricted cards, notably by the five Moxen and Black Lotus. Fast mana (that includes Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault as well) is something that is defining in Vintage. Legacy has access to efficient mana bases making it the format it is. A format where you can play the most efficient spells easily. Vintage has access to fast mana making it possible to have broken openings. The acceleration makes Vintage more 'dense'. There is a lot more going on during the first few turns in Vintage than in other formats where it can look like 'Land, go' for few turns. Due to the omnipresence of restricted cards and a lot of disruption that is often the same in decks, people think that Vintage is just about casting one spell and winning a counter war. Well, it comes down to it for sure, but the journey to cast that one game breaking spell can be a very long and thorny path requiring many decisions.

Even though many decks share the same cards, notable power nine cards, Vintage is about decisions and those vary

I often hear people say that Vintage is played with like 200 cards and nothing more and that this card pool cannot create a diverse format and that all the games are the same. I disagree with this but looking at it from a perspective of non-vintage players I finally understood why it may seem limiting to them.

Players in general are used to different effects and cards but don't usually think of one card having different uses (unless we speak about cards with modes like a Command or a Confluence card). This of course depends on the skill level and experience of the player. But I talk about the average player coming to our LGSs. When Zendikar was around and I played Vines of Vastwood for the first time on my opponent's creature it brought many surprised looks. Into the Roil is a card that I also often used in a way someone did not expect. Drawing a card and saving my permanent so I could play Day of Judgment wasn't uncommon. Not so many players realized what is coming next even though I'd consider this play very obvious.

Similarly cards that are played in Vintage can be used in different situations and various decks differently. We play the same cards but each card can has a different role in a deck and it is about how we piece everything together to reach our goal. We may be limited in card choice in a format where almost any card can be played but we are not limited with our decisions. It is the number of decisions what makes Vintage the format it is. That is also the reason why I'm glad that Gush is unrestricted now because it is probably the most difficult card to cast and get the most of it. The whole format is about decisions we take. Mistakes are part of the game and in Vintage it is something that comes with a price. A very big one indeed. Vintage is not a merciful format. It punishes you a lot. But that is also the reason why playing and winning a Vintage match is very rewarding. One needs to think about everything. Everything counts, even the smallest things. Tapping your lands right if you have two lands in play for the whole game is way more important than in a game of Modern. The decision to counter Gitaxian Probe is something that should not be laughed at. That is a common reaction from non-vintage players. Even though this situation is rare, there are times when doing this is crucial. There are similar situations like this but first you need to see all the implications. Does the player casting Gitaxian Probe have Library of Alexandria in play? Is it a Storm player that needs to draw a tutored card from the top of their library? Is the player low on cards and desperately in need of a different card?

I learned that non-vintage players are not usually aware of what can happen in one turn and that they can be punished very hard if they misplay or if their plays are not protected. Often a new player just throws away their counterspells not understanding how 'rare' they are not even countering a card that really matters. In Vintage we can easily access a large number of cards or tutor them. Sometimes we may not even know what our opponent's silver bullet is but we should save our counterspells for that. We also need counterspells to protect our own win condition. Vintage decks are very tight and losing a card or two makes a huge difference.

In Vintage there is variety and metagame shifts exist

I also hear many players say that Vintage metagame is not diverse, that all the decks look the same and that there are no change in the metagame whatsoever for years. Often there are decks that seem similar but in reality they play a totally different game. Some decks share win conditions but their 'value' in the deck is different. Oath decks running Time Vault and Voltaic Key can do pretty well without it while some decks are very dependent on it. The same applies to Power Nine cards. My Delver deck does not really have that big of a use for Time Walk for example. The card is powerful but does not need to guarantee a win and not countering it is often correct. Oath decks or Tezzerator decks though can play this card and win the game next turn quite often from seemingly nothing. One should approach that card differently according to a deck that plays the card. On the other hand many cards and many decks are viable. It just takes time to tweak a deck for the metagame and learn how to play with it. It takes way more dedication and time than in other formats. That is good though. Brewing, testing and tweaking is something that makes playing Magic more enjoyable. If you've never done that I suggest you do. Testing your deck against tier 1 decks is a nice adventure. Even if your deck won't be good enough to fight top tier decks you will learn a lot from that and it will also allow you to see the format from a different perspective.

Even few slots one can use for a silver bullet in a deck can change the whole game plan at some point. Even from a single card a new deck can be born. For example Moat became very popular in testing to fight all the (White) Eldrazi and tempo Gush decks. Landstill decks suddenly running Moat though could find themselves in a spot where they couldn't attack with their lands. So playing Faerie Conclave instead of one of Mishra's Factory is something that could help. But it gives room for completely different cards that did not see play earlier. For example Spell Queller does not sound to be a bad card, does it? It flies and it can 'counter' almost any card that can be played in Vintage since there are very few cards that cost more than 4 with the exception of Yawgmoth's Bargain, Force of Will, Misdirection, Dig Through Time, and Treasure Cruise. There is very little removal in Vintage in general and that makes the Queller difficult to kill and get your spell back.

Many players complain that Vintage does not have deck archetypes like Aggro, Midrange or Control. In Vintage the roles of decks are not that easily defined. We don't have aggro decks or control decks but it's rather decks that use restricted cards and those that try to go against them (I will call them Null Rod decks). No matter on what side a player is it is not easy to play with these cards. But still it does not mean that the decks are the same within these two groups. Since aggressive strategies do not really work that well in Vintage those are the decks that try to fight against restricted cards in the form of cards like Null Rod, Thorn of Amethyst or Chalice of the Void. A relatively new group of tempo decks came to existence in the past few years ago, these can play a control role when they need to but against some they have to go pure aggro if they want to win sometimes.

As for the metagame not changing that is something that is completely wrong. The metagame might not be shifting from week to week because there are way less Vintage tournaments and because we don't have Vintage Pro Tours or SCG Power Nine tournaments anymore. That does not mean the metagame is the same all the time. The metagame in Vintage follows the same cyclic path as in Legacy or Modern. Each type of deck has a prey and is a prey to another deck. When one type of a deck becomes too prevalent a deck that that preys on it will be played more and will eventually shift the metagame. The metagame also evolves based on new cards being printed. It takes time but players try very different decks and cards and discover this way for what meta the cards are good or not so they can come back to these when needed.

While broken spells exist in Vintage, they have a downside and creatures are strong and important in Vintage.

One of the reasons why some players do not want to try Vintage is the absence of creatures. First of all, Vintage is not only about blue decks and broken combos. While blue decks are prevalent (but look at Legacy with 60% decks being blue! In Vintage the number is similar, maybe slightly less), Null Rod decks or Prison decks exist and are often very creature heavy. As creature heavy as they can be since a deck needs to fight all those blue spells that constitute a great amount of a deck. A creature in Vintage is not the usual power/toughness/mana cost efficient creature but rather a creature with a good ability and the power/toughness being secondary. Fish decks running many cheap and very efficient creatures were played for years and now with more and more powerful creatures coming into the game we can see them being played even in the blue decks that used to kill with Mindslaver, Tendrils of Agony or whatever else that can come to your mind. Even the very first decks played creatures be it Serra Avatar or Juzam Djinn. The decks needed a win condition. Channel/Fireball was not the only win condition. Creatures were important thus Morphling and Ophidian were the creatures played in blue decks. Juggernaut and Triskelion were jumping out of Mishra's Workshop, Oath decks were ruining other players games with Tidespout Tyrant and Eternal Witness. Look at Dredge, what do you see except 15ish lands? Mostly creatures. Fish decks and other tribal decks are dedicated creature decks. Goblins were viable, Elves as well, even Construct tribal was viable in Vintage! Nowadays we have Eldrazi, Thalia tribal and Monastery Mentor/Young Pyromancer winning games.

As for broken spells, this is something that depends on the player's point of view. But in general doing something broken means higher variance and that can be considered as a price for playing other broken cards. Higher variance also means that such deck can be stopped dead with a single card sometimes (Null Rod). The high variance is a very important aspect and can't be ignored. Low-variance decks like the Delver decks I often play are more consistent but aren't capable of something as broken as those high variance decks and sometimes can just fall behind and never come back while high variance decks can win on the spot from a totally unwinnable position (it's just an example).

On Magic Online Vintage is totally affordable

This table shows decks from an early Power Nine Challenge this year. The prices right now are very low and make the decks cost less by 200-300tix. If you would like to buy in, now is the time because I except the prices to go back up and be similar to what you see in this table.

Many players are telling me that they won't ever play Vintage because it is too expensive. In paper I can't imagine buying Power Nine in a blink of an eye since it requires thousands of dollars. On the other hand, we can play 'real' Vintage on Magic Online since 2014 and that is something that made Vintage easily accessible to players. To buy a Vintage there deck does not require thousands of dollars but only few hundred of those. A tier 1 Vintage deck can be purchased for 700 tix (as I am writing this the whole Magic economy went down so the price might go up to 1000 tix later) which is not that much compared with Modern or Legacy deck prices. From my own experience many players are willing to put 1000 tix into a Modern deck but not a Vintage one. It is their decision and I am fine with it, but using 'Vintage is too expensive' as an excuse when such player is willing to pay the same amount of money for a Modern deck is not good enough for me. Since many decks use similar cards, buying cards for a blue deck gives many possibilities what to play unlike in Modern or Legacy.

Vintage is complex but not much more than other formats
When I tell players that I would let them play with my deck many still back off usually saying that the format is too complex. While Vintage is complex and skill-intensive format it is not really what makes it so different. It requires a different skill set and the format is very unforgiving to a player who makes a mistake. That does not mean you can't play the format. With a little bit of guidance anyone can discover this format (and relatively fast) and be able to play it. The better player wins more often in Vintage but that does not mean you should fear the format. We all make mistakes and that's what makes the game fun. We learn from that.

Mistakes in Vintage are something that is often very hard to observe because majority of a Vintage games actually happen in our minds. We have to consider many options and cards our opponents are probably running. Decks we play against can have different openings and totally different lines of play. You can die to turn 1 Time Vault/Key combo not even finding out that you actually play against Oath of Druids deck. You can die to Tendrils of Agony to find once again that you face Oath of Druids. You can face turn 1 Blightsteel Colossus from a deck whose game two might look like waiting for eternity and in the end finishing the game with Yawgmoth's Will. There are different plans and approaches a deck can take against another deck and that also adds to the complexity but knowing the cards and decks you can deduce that yourself. You cannot play Vintage not knowing what the key cards and synergies/combos are but that is simple to find out and takes just a while. Knowledge and technical skill is required but that is nothing a player couldn't catch up on. My next article will be more specific, we will look at types of decks and card interactions that are common in Vintage.

 

9 Comments

Vintage by MichelleWong at Fri, 10/21/2016 - 03:26
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Great article, thanks for writing it.

Prices have gone down due to treasure chests, but they are still absurdly high to make a single Tier 1 Vintage deck. Personally I do find that Vintage is more fun than most other formats, but to be honest I don't believe that the extra fun is worth the absurd prices you will need to pay. I regret having played Vintage for this reason - instead of the 1 deck I own in Vintage, I could have bought almost every single Tier 1 deck that exists in Pauper, and now it is too late to sell out because chests.

Plus the pros rarely touch this format and for obvious reasons. Yes there is the Vintage Super League, but that is a drop in the ocean. Most pros don't want to touch this format with a barge pole because it has no impact on whether they reach gold or plat.

(It was, however, nice to see LSV join the Vintage Hamtastic Community memorial events - kudos to him).

Vintage Hamtastic Community by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/21/2016 - 03:37
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Vintage Hamtastic Community what?? Do you mean the CCC? I don't remember there being any vintage in those...Please link.

The biggest reason to buy in by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/21/2016 - 03:47
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The biggest reason to buy in to vintage is that the decks while they may change ranks rarely change very many cards in their line ups. Sideboards of course change as new hate becomes available. That fact and the fact that prices are sunk because of the currently very unpopular constructed pay out structure (treasure chests I am looking at you) means the format is accessible as it ever was and still should be easy enough to play in with some small adjustments in the years to come.

I like that Dredge a very well placed deck that often steals wins just because of the shuffle is so cheap. I have not beaten it in its vintage form yet but I don't play much and thus the opportunities have been low. I feel like Mentor is cheaper than listed here if you adjust a little. And Delver seems well poised to be good entry level deck. But personally I like little robots as my introduction to the format because it allowed me to play a deck cold (I'd never played it or affinity before) and still top 8 an event purely based on the power of the cards.

If I was a more dedicated player I might even spike up enough to join an event on occasion. Sadly I don't play often enough to be good with anything and my interests more lie in the crazy world of scifi mad science brewing. (IE stuff that 99% of the time will not fly against good vintage decks.)

Great article as always. It is true that Vintage is deeper than people imagine and not easily solved. The same powerful cards are in the pool but the pool is expanding and what works for one week will not necessarily work the next.

Hey,thanks for writing this by MindlessMarty at Fri, 10/21/2016 - 04:13
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Hey,thanks for writing this article. Despite the fact I find this format to have a too big of an entry point for me, personally, this article helped me out to get to know the format a little bit. It even made want to play vintage kinda... If only I had extra cash to spare...The comment on pauper and treasure chests above was also interesting. It really sucks treasure chests crashing the value of vintage player's collections =S. Anyway good article...really helped me out by debunking some prejudice I might had towards vintage :)

Heh not so mindless! by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/21/2016 - 04:59
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Heh not so mindless!

Thanks for reading. Glad it by stsung at Tue, 10/25/2016 - 11:17
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Thanks for reading. Glad it helped.
The prices being low now and Eternal Weekend coming this weekend might actually be a good thing because some players might decide to buy in. I'm not really happy about my cards dropping in value but if this can be an entry point for other players it is a very good thing for Vintage players.

Hope to play Vintage with you one day! (or anything else)

Ham on Wry by MichelleWong at Fri, 10/21/2016 - 04:17
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Hi Paul, the events were called "Ham on Wry: The Erik Friborg Celebration Classic". They were Vintage events hosted on Gatherling.

Oh oh those. Yeah I played in by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/21/2016 - 04:59
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Oh oh those. Yeah I played in a couple and top 8ed one. I don't recall them being called what you called them as Blippy and I concocted the idea (I mentioned it should be done and he got it done, powerhouse that he is.) Sorry I thought you were talking about a recent or upcoming event. Sadly this year the HOW didn't happen since Blippy has been struggling with irl stuff.

They were Classic, not by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 10/21/2016 - 06:11
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They were Classic, not Vintage (switched to Vintage only in the last one in 2015). Very very different format.