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By: Umii, Mike Patterson
Mar 10 2008 12:03am
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(Vanguard is an online-only format of Magic, where each player has an "avatar" that grants special abilities.  Some of the avatar's abilities include giving your creatures haste, or the ability to play spells as land.  These avatars make the format different from vanilla magic, and enable unique plays and decks.  The partial list of avatars can be found here, and my archive here at covers various avatars and decks popular in the format.  A Standard with Vanguard Premiere Event starts every Saturday at 11 AM EST.)

Morningtide is flowing into Magic Online, and like everyone else I'm playing as many release events as I have time and money to.  I've always enjoyed middle set drafts, since there are often obvious best colors and strategies, and it makes signaling easier.  It's really easy to get three to four of your favorite common if you know what to look for.  While I am no expert, it seems to me that White is the strongest color in Morningtide draft, and the best archetypes are Bx Rogues, Wx Soldiers, and GR Elf/Shamans/Warriors.  On the other hand, the Wizards class seems to have gotten the short end of the stick, just like Onslaught block.

Avatar Changes

In their March 1st banning and restriction announcement, Wizards did not make any major changes to their biggest formats, but did listen to their players and change a number of Vanguard avatar abilities.  They have also switched the executor in charge of maintaining the Vanguard format from Paul Sottosanti to Kenny "algorithmic game states"* Nagle.  The basics of the changes are that the Mirri, Heartwood, and Ashling avatars each had their hands reduced by one or more cards, and the Dakkon and Jhoira avatars each lost three life.  I have written before that Mirri, Heartwood, and Ashling needed to be nerfed due to their restrictive influence on the format, and how "un-fun" they were, so I applaud those changes.  I was somewhat baffled, however, how the two avatars that managed to survive the hateful gauntlet (Jhoira and Dakkon), did not lose cards.  Those avatars are strong enough that they do not need to start with eight cards in hand.

If you would like to express your opinion, you can post in the thread discussing the changes at  While I disagree with the changes Kenny has made, and have a mild personal dislike for his public persona, he has read the posts in that thread, and has been more communicative than the previous Vanguard administrators.  If the Dakkon and Jhoira avatars are truly too powerful, the next three months should bear that out.


Enough about administration, how do these changes effect the format? The obvious big winners are decks based on the Dakkon and Jhoira avatars, Dakkon Ux Pickles, and Jhoira GB Random Attrition Control (what a lovely name for a deck).  Both of those decks rely primarily on non-creature spells, so Heartwood Storyteller's Thorn of Amethyst effect helped keep them in check.  Without Heartwood present, I expect to see counters and random spells flying all over the server.

The other old school beneficiaries are Oni and Chronatog decks.  Oni decks were smothered by Mirri decks, which could attack Oni's creature mana-base, gain enough life to survive with Essence Warden and Soul Warden, and then alpha strike for the kill once the game was under control.  Without the presence of Mirri, Oni decks will have a much easier time getting their turn 3.5 kill.  Oni decks are also a natural predator of Jhoira decks, since Oni is very fast, and each of Oni's creatures are individually capable of winning the game.  However, I have played Oni against Dakkon counterspell decks, and if the Dakkon deck is able to start countering on turn two, it can be difficult for the Oni player to finish the game.  I have always been a fan of the Oni avatar since it has gotten me into numerous Top Eights, so I expect to see more of it in the future.

Like Jhoira and Dakkon, the Chronatog avatar also benefits from the nerfing of Heartwood.  Chronatog decks revolve around "free" spells before comboing out with Conflagrate or Pyromancer's Swath.  When playing Heartwood, Chronatog's free spells were no longer free, and the deck fell apart.  I am not sure how Chronatog will do going forward, since Dakkon counterspell decks might be able to counter enough spells to survive a Conflagrate, or alternatively Trickbind a Grapeshot.  We shall see what Chronatog's primary designer, Th00mor, comes up with.

Besides these avatars, I think there could be a number of creature avatars that get a lot better.  Goblin Warchief basically gives all your creatures +1/+0, and I saw one creative player make a token-based Ashling's Prerogative deck using the Goblin Warchief avatar.  In such a deck, Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician is practially "gg."  Other players have experimented with the Undertaker avatar and Lorwyn Elementals, playing Bonded Fetch, Mulldrifter, and Sower of Temptation.  Perhaps even an Ernham Djinn saproling deck will be viable, with Deathspore Thallid, Gaea's Anthem, and Essence Warden.

New Avatars

In my last article, I previewed the new Morningtide avatars that I had been testing on the Morningtide beta server. After myself and others had tested those avatars, Wizards decided that they were both too powerful, and changed them.

The Stonehewer Giant avatar now reads, "When a creature comes into play, attach a random equipment to it with mana cost LESS THAN the creatures."  The subtle changed they made was to change the "less than or equal to" to a straight "less than."  With this change, tokens are no longer Birds of Paradise (with a Paradise Mantle), and you can't get lucky with a Skullclamp attached to your Raging Goblin.  I think the new version of Stonehewer is basically dead on arrival, since you now need to play two-drops to get any worthwhile equipment.  Without playtesting, I doubt Stonehewer decks can match the speed and resilience of Oni decks, so I doubt this avatar will make a splash until Coldsnap rotates.

In contrast to Stonehewer, Maralen of the Mornsong got a complete overhaul.  Rather than giving you a Diabolic Tutor every turn, you now can play with your own Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar (or better!).  You can read the precise wording of the avatar on the image of the avatar.  I am not quite sure what to make of the new Maralen.  On the one hand, she may be the next heir to Prodigal Sorcerer and Dakkon Blackblade, in that Maralen will not get mana-screwed or mana-flooded.  She also has a great ability for combo decks that need to dig for cards.  On the other hand, Maralen makes you start at an even bigger life disadvantage than Squee, Goblin Nabob, and Maralen decks may be easy pickings for any aggro deck.

Morningtide Standard Ports

While we on MODO have been patiently waiting for Morningtide, our paper counterparts have been designing decks.  The most succesful deck arhcetype to arise is Reveillark-Momentary Blink.  I thought it might be worth considering how this archetype could be integrated into Vanguard.

In considering how to design Reveillark Blink, I modified skeletons from Takao Higashi, and Benjamin-Peebles  Mundy

a deck by Umii

Land (23):
4x Adarkar Wastes
2x Calciform Pools
3x Faerie Conclave
5x Island
4x Plains
1x Urza's Factory
4x Wanderwine Hub

Auxiliary Mana:
1x Mind Stone
4x Prismatic Lens
4x Magus of the Disk

The Combo:
4x Reveillark
4x Body Double

Other Spells:
3x Bonded Fetch
4x Momentary Blink
4x Wrath of God
4x Mulldrifter
3x Riftwing Cloudskate
2x Venser, Shaper Savant

If you are unfamiliar with the combo, it is relatively simple.  Start with a Reveillark in play, and a Body Double in your graveyard, either from Bonded Fetch or other means.  Then simply sacrifice your Reveillark using Loxodon's ability, and return Body Double to play with another creature from your graveyard.  Then when Body Double comes into play, copy the Reveillark you previously sacrificed, and sacrifice the Reveillark again.  Once the combo starts, you can draw your entire deck using Mulldrifter and Bonded Fetch, or bounce all of your opponent's permanents using Riftwing Cloudskate and Venser.  When the deck is not comboing out, it is a decent board control/tempo deck that can attack for two while bouncing lands.

In the vanilla Standard version of the deck, you needed to active Mirror Entity to sacrifice all your creatures.  In adapting the deck for Vanguard, we can replace the Mirror Entities with Magus of the Disk, a soft lock of the game.  Without testing the deck, I hope that Loxodon's large initial life total will buy some time against Oni decks, and the tempo aspects of the deck will give Dakkon fits.  Some obvious sideboard cards include Pact of Negation, Aven Riftwatcher, Sunscour, and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.

A Historical Perspective on Avatar Changes

Since I don't have current decklists this week, I want to give some historical perspective to the avatar changes made recently.  In the past, Vanguard was a Classic format, which before Mirage was released meant Extended plus promotional cards like Braingeyser or Morphling.  If you think that Vanguard is degenerate in Standard, you should have seen what it was like then.

While I only picked up Vanguard after it switched to Standard-only, I remember reading about the format in Bennie Smith's Into the Aether column.  In one of his column's, Bennie featured a deck by caliban17 which caused Wizards to modify an avatar that is no longer used, Seshiro the Anointed:

a deck by caliban17

Land (19):
4x Brushland
4x City of Brass
4x Forbidden Orchard
6x Forest
1x Yavimaya Coast

3x Birchlore Rangers
4x Birds of Paradise
4x Llanowar Elves
4x Chrome Mox
3x Wirewood Symbiote

Win conditions:
3x Wirewood Hivemaster
4x Brain Freeze

Tutors and utility spells:
4x Glimpse of Nature

4x Orim's Chant
4x Living Wish
4x Eladamri's Call

While one might think Seshiro lends itself towards creature decks, this deck is a storm combo deck capable of winning on turn two.  At the start of the game, you name elf with Seshiro.  Then you use Wirewood Symbiote to return itself to your hand, since it is now an elf due to the avatar, and untap a mana creature which will allow you to replay the Symbiote.  This allows you to bounce the Wirewood Symbiote to and from your hand to generate infinite storm, and finish the game with a Brain Freeze.  If you don't have the Symbiote, you can tutor for it with Living Wish or Eladamri's call, or draw your deck with Glimpse of Nature.  As an alternative win condition, you can play like Project X and generate infinite token with Wirewood Hivemaster.

That's all I have for you the moment.  As we all become more familiar with the Morningtide cards and avatars, I'm sure some great new ideas will emerge.  Until then, good luck popping packs.

* In answering questions people's questions regarding the Vanguard changes, Kenny mentioned that the Ashling avatar was nerfed due to its "algorithmic game states."  Now, I don't know anything about game design, but that phrase tickled my fancy, so I googled it, and that phrase has never appeared in the history of the internet.  To be fair, google tells me there is a sub-discipline of game theory called algorithmic game theory, but it's really hard to argue with someone when they make up their own theories that they don't tell anyone.


by Reaper9889 at Wed, 03/12/2008 - 13:23
Reaper9889's picture

March of the machine would make infinite tokens with every creature you played with the old version. Lets say you played a 1 mana creature with march in play, you would then get some number of 1 mana equipment (they would be a creature so you would get a new and so on) and then a infinte amount of mantles (which would die as a state based effect just after triggering stonehewer if you didnt have eg. anthem in play or something) which you couldnt stop except by destroying march (it had been funny to make a life style deck (as in old ext deck) with march and idylic soulwarden and the green version of same and some enchantment destruction on legs), but since its always less now you can't do that anymore.


Btw. March was meaned more as a very strong card for late game. Play it the turn after a wrath and you got a new army effectivly with haste. 

by Umii at Tue, 03/11/2008 - 12:47
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MirrorMage: I hope we're not that cutthroat.  We do want to win, but I value winning with style more than just playing a known deck.

Reaper: I've always wanted to play with Vedalken Aethermage, but I could nevere figure out a good use.  I think it makes a good tutor for singleton wizards, but there aren't many wizards you want just one of.  Perhaps for changelings like Mirror Entity or Chameleon Colossus.  Probably a good singleton card for Tarmotog to consider.

I doubt the changes to Stonehewer were made due to March of Machines.  Unless there's some weird combo I'm not seeing, you need to play at least 3 three-mana creatures to get something out of the March.  Stonehewer was just plain good at "equal to."

by Reaper9889 at Tue, 03/11/2008 - 07:16
Reaper9889's picture

There are (as oppoesed to most formats) real auto lose matchups in vanguard. Heartwood can't win (as in 99% of the time) vs. Mirri or Ashling and stuff like that (I would assume that Jhoria vs Oni would be annother). Most matchups are alot deppended on play skill and experince with the format - eg. if you play Jhoria vs. Mirri and they got Gaddock in play you should play instants over soceries because there are 1 most decent cheap cards are instants and 2 most single creature destruction spells are instants. This is oppeosit the normal rule - always play sorceries with Jhoria because they are the most powerfull. That kind of knowlegde requires some experince with this specifik format.

I would agree with the assertion about both loxodon (it had a decent macthup vs oni back in the day - Oni had more cards back then so it should have a better matchup now - I had a plan of building that deck since before the prerelease of Morning tide - I would have incl. Flagstones - they are still very nice with magus and maybe red for Kher keep and mogg fanatic (you could then make a kill with the revilark combo in the turn you got it instead of beating down with it) and considered Vedalken Æthermage - fetch magus or venser) and Oni. The problem with Loxodon is that there is alot of graveyard hate in vanguard because of Jhoria mainly (Squee, Goblin Nabob is very nasty if running unchecked).

Btw. the combo can be done oppoesit - having revilark in gy and bodydouble in play (copying revilark) - which proberly would be the prefared option because since you would proberly prefar to have saced the revilark first.

 Ohh I am nearly sure the change to Stonehewer was done since March of the machines is in std. Its proberly still a decent combo but its not that great anymore. I could see a 4/5 color Stonehewer deck running March, Doran, Treefolk harbinger (0/3 birds are nice with Doran), Saffi, Gaddock, bitterblossom, Mirror eternity and so on (greater gargadon would be nice I think). Ive played vs. a few Stonehewer decks but wasnt really impressed but then again they were mostly weenie decks with no real power cards (as Squee is in Jhoria or gaddock in Mirri).

by MirrorMage at Mon, 03/10/2008 - 04:09
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Nice article, really enjoyed the historical perspective. I always knew Seshiro was pegged down a notch, but never understood why.

Also, I had no idea that Vanguard had such a cutthroat metagame. Are matchups the most important aspect or is there a deck that can win consistently?