Friday, 1:30 p.m. – A Quick Look at Vintage

Posted in Event Coverage on August 5, 2011

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

Ah Vintage, the least understood of Magic's many formats (Chaos Planechase Archenemy Emperor Commander notwithstanding). Vintage has been around for actual ever, but very few people outside of the dedicated community seem to show any interest in it. As the years have passed, players have started to become more and more interested in the older formats. All you have to do is look at the booming popularity of Legacy to see that that is true. Many players have looked down on Vintage as a stagnant, never-changing format filled with broken cards, non-interactive matches, and generally not worth their time to get into.

Honestly, it's a shame. After years of covering the Vintage Championhips, I've learned how wrong those opinions are. The format is constantly shifting as new cards are added to the mix. Sure, not all of them will be even playable, but every so often, a new superstar comes in and makes waves in the pool, often one you never see coming. The cards are definitely incredibly powerful, but they lend themselves to layers of strategy that don't exist in the other formats. You may think that the Storm mirror match is just going to be a vomit-fest, where someone just dies on the first or second turn with no chance for their opponent to even play Magic, but the matchup is actually highly interactive, with a great deal of ebb and flow, and packed with strategic thinking. It really is a rich format, as its very tight community can tell you, and it's only a matter of time before players start to come around. After all, the negative opinions that players have held about the format are eerie echoes of their problems with Legacy, and we can all see how that turned out.

So for those of you that have read this far, and would like to learn more about this very interesting format, let's begin by taking a look at what comes together to make Vintage. One of the biggest hallmarks of Vintage is the presence of the powerful older cards. Cards of legend, like the Moxen, Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mishra's Workshop …these are definitely the first things that jump to peoples' minds when you think of Vintage, and with good reason. They are some of the most powerful cards ever printed, and that definitely contributes to the power level of the format as a whole. Up next is an interesting phenomenon that occurs in Vintage and Legacy to a lesser extent. Because of the sheer size of the card pool, there are often cards that will have a very big impact in Vintage that are virtually unplayable in other formats. One of the best examples of this is the card Slash Panther.

All right, believe me when I say that the first time I heard about this, I just started to laugh, assuming that someone was playing a joke on me. But as they explained it, it really started to make sense. While a player might get mocked mercilessly out of the room were they to play Slash Panther in Standard right now, it fills many important roles in Vintage.

The deck it has found a home in is the Mishra's Workshop -based artifact decks that are major players in the Vintage scene. The deck used to run Juggernaut as a kill condition, since a first-turn 5-powered creature tends to end things in short order. Back that up with some disruption in the form of Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, and Tangle Wire and an opponent frequently finds themselves in a world of hurt. When Lodestone Golem was released, the deck got a significant upgrade. After all, what is better than disruption and a fat creature? Disruption on a fat creature.

Slash Panther is the newest addition to the deck. While a little smaller than its predecessors, it makes up for that in speed. Combined with Phyrexian Metamorph, which is also proving to be a standout across multiple formats, the hasty Panthers are able to do many things that their cousins could not. For example, they kill Jace, the Mind Sculptor immediately (yes, he's even ridiculously good in Vintage). Second, he can actually kill faster than the other two since most players tend to take a little self-inflicted damage in the early turns of the game. All in all, he's just a great versatile addition to the deck. Not exactly the power-level you'd expect from a standout in Vintage, I bet.

One of the other cool things about Vintage is the fact that there are so many cards that no one can play in other formats because they are too old. These cards only see play in Vintage, and they are just really cool to see in action. Mystic Remora is a good example. This simple little enchantment, while it might be nothing more than average or good were it playable in other formats, is an absolute stud in Vintage. You know those Moxes that seem to be running about? They're spells. How about those other cheap spells that seem to be running about, like Brainstorm, Ponder, Duress, Preordain, Inquisition of Kozilek, Ancestral Recall, Force of Will... I could go on. This card will often draw you an incredible number of cards for an entirely negligible cost. Pretty sexy!

Right now, taking a look around the Vintage world, the format appears to be pretty open. You are going to see variations on decks running Mishra's Workshop. Some will run the aggressive plan described above, some with Slash Panther and some without. You will also see versions running a control strategy, using Smokestack to keep opponents locked out of the game. There will be a slew of blue-based control decks. Most will be UB, dipping in to find Dark Confidant, Tutors, and discard. Often you'll see them playing Tezzeret the Seeker to abuse with their plethora of artifacts and mana-producers. They will all have Jace, the Mind Sculptor. These decks can really go a number of ways, though setting up a lock with Time Vault and either Tezzeret or Voltaic Key seems to be the most popular. There will definitely be combo decks in the field as well, with the most popular being the storm decks, killing with either Tendrils of Agony or Empty the Warrens, and generating their storm count through either Rituals or Hurkyl's Recall.

There are definitely aggressive decks in the format as well. One of the more popular versions is a BWG "Hate-Bears" deck. It uses the large number of cheap creatures with embedded abilities that happen to be good against these other strategies to hamper them as they smash their faces in. I'm talking Phyrexian Revoker, Leonin Relic-Warder, Ethersworn Canonist, Aven Mindcensor, and Kataki, War's Wage. These cards lock down a specific element of the opponent's strategy, all the while turning sideways and bringing the game closer to an end. There are the "Fish" variants that run about as well. These run a similar strategy, using cards like Gaddock Teeg, Trygon Predator, and Qasali Pridemage to keep people hemmed down, though they reinforce their little men with a suite of countermagic. On top of that, they often keep their hands stocked through Cold-Eyed Selkie, which is a virtually guaranteed card every turn in this heavy-blue field.

Other than that, there are the occasional other decks that have made an appearance. People will still play Dredge in every format that the cards are in. They will continue to find ways to cheat creatures into play, either via Oath of Druids, Show and Tell (sometimes both in the same deck), Tinker, or reanimator spells. They will play Painter's Servant and Grindstone to mill a deck out, or maybe even Helm of Obedience if they're feeling really old-school. These are all things that have been around Vintage at one time or another, though their power level in the current format is up for debate. Regardless of how strong they are, they are still decks that you have to be aware exist if you hope to play Vintage.

Over the rest of the day, I'll be stopping in with some of the players playing some of the more interesting decks in the field, as well as trying to get some insights into the more consistently performing decks. After all, this format is far deeper than most people give it credit for being, and I'd really like to illustrate how that is so. 

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