The 2008 Vintage Year in Review

Posted in Feature on January 12, 2009

By Stephen Menendian

And so we return and begin again. That's the opening line of Grant Morrison's brilliant opus The Invisibles, (move over, Watchmen!) to symbolize the cyclical nature of reality, something that is especially noticeable when the reader settles down for a second helping. It also captures my state of mind as I look back on the storylines that defined Vintage Magic at the end of each year.

The notion of time—of progression—is a relatively recent concept to our species. Before modern civilization, the concept of time did not exist as we understand and measure it. Human beings living as hunter-gatherers experienced life as essentially static or cyclical. Life was defined by the unchanging, repeating seasons without technological advances to differentiate the years. Many ancient cultures, from the Mayans to the Babylonians, conceived of time as circular, and represented it as such with a time wheel, without a beginning or an end.

As we celebrate the New Year and the year recently past it's hard not to be aware of the passage of time in a much more linear sense. Vintage has changed so much from year to year and over the years. It is a history that is intimately connected with the history of Magic itself. The early history of Vintage is the early history of Magic.

And yet, at the same time, it's also hard to escape the feeling that time is cyclical, almost repetitious. The big storylines of 2008 feel like throwbacks to earlier years. The return of The Perfect Storm to the top of the Vintage metagame and the restoration of Time Vault are echoes of the past, different eras converging in the present. The murder of Gush and company was a repeat execution for a repeat offender.

Time Vault

Time is perfect theme for Vintage Magic in 2008. In spite of all of the changes wrought by 2008, perhaps none is so profound or so lasting as the final, inevitable functional restoration of Time Vault, after well over a decade in the wilderness. In a sense, it's a return to a time before time in Magic terms, to the early months of 1994, when the nascent DCI restricted and then banned Time Vault in the space of two months. It's taken almost 15 years to get it back. What fitting card—the Vault of Time—to represent this momentous occasion.

On account of all of this and more, incredibly, 2008 was somehow more exciting for Vintage than 2007, the year that saw Future Sight explode onto Vintage, the simultaneous slaying of Gifts Ungiven and the return of Gush into the Vintage metagame via DCI edict, the errata (and restoration) of Flash, and the creative redundancies and possibilities of Lorwyn for Vintage deck design.

Let's revisit the storylines that captured the imaginations of Vintage players in 2008.

When we left off last year, Lorwyn triggered a metagame shift in favor of Mishra's Workshop prison decks sporting nine Sphere effects, including Thorn of Amethyst (in addition to Sphere of Resistance and Trinisphere). The decision to unrestrict Gush had brought Grow decks back to the center of the metagame, pushing out Dark Ritual based storm combo and blue based Mana Drain decks that had dominated in the Gifts era. These nine-Sphere Workshop decks took the very advantages which made Grow so dominant—the light mana base packed with cheap cantrips and intense disruption—and turned them into a disadvantage. So long as players were running nine Spheres, Gush decks had a difficult time winning in the traditional way.

Thorn of Amethyst
Sphere of Resistance

Symbolizing this relationship and the state of the metagame was the outcome of a massive $14,000 payout Vintage tournament in December of 2007 (just after my 2007 Year in Review was published). Take a look at the prizes for this tournament and look at the first and second place decks:

David Beduzzi smashed through a hundred a fifty players piloting a devastating, skull-shattering aggro-MUD variant.

David Beduzzi's Aggro MUD

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Not since the restriction of Trinisphere have prison decks so quickly locked their opponent's out of the game. At the same time, David's deck uses Metalworker to fuel Triskelion and Karn, Silver Golem equipped with enormous hardware like Sword of Fire and Ice. It also abuses an old favorite from Standard and Extended, Arcbound Ravager. Ravager and Trike are used in tandem for a faster goldfish, often porting counters to Trike, bulking him up to Hulk-sized proportions for instantaneous victory.

Arcbound Ravager

Illustrating the state of the format, with MUD on top and Grow just below it, was Eric DuPuis, an American who made the trip to Valencia.

Eric Dupuis's Grow-A-Tog

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Together, MUD and GAT were the two best performing decks in Vintage. Each deck made up about 25% of Vintage Top 8s over globe at the time, with Workshop decks having a slight edge. It was only fitting that they should place first and second, respectively. As powerful as GAT was, it simply couldn't beat MUD's nine-Sphere plan, even with Tarmogoyf in the sideboard. Its light mana base, the hallmark of Gush decks, couldn't withstand the barrage of Spheres. Chalice of the Void only added insult to injury. With the advent of these MUD decks, it looked like it was going to be a long, cold, dark winter for blue mages, in the icy embrace of merciless Workshop pilots.

January – Tyrant Oath Strikes!

Hope springs eternal, even in winter. In frigid New England, Jeremiah Rudolph and Jeff Carpenter were quietly experimenting with Vintage, and a new metagame player broke out of the ground before the first Spring thaw. These innovators unleashed something few could have expected, a totally original take on Oath of Druids.

After a bit of tweaking, here is what that deck looked like:

Jeff Carpenter and Jeremiah Rudolph's Tyrant Oath

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Since the printing of Forbidden Orchard in 2004, the fastest Oath decks paired Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Spirit of the Night to deal 18 damage in the space of two turns. Although Spirit of the Night was superceded by Razia, Boros Archangel, the clock remained the same. Although that may seem like a fast kill, it gave most opponents a chance to do something about it. Workshop decks packed Duplicant into sideboards and main decks, primarily to deal with Darksteel Colossus, but were quite happy to remove a legendary Angel from game as well. Even worse, Duplicant could be reused with Goblin Welder.

Forbidden Orchard
Goblin Welder

This Oath list makes those Oath lists look like Standards decks.

Jeff and Jeremiah put together a very sophisticated combo with Tidespout Tyrant. After flipping much of one's library into the graveyard and putting a Tidespout Tyrant into play, the pilot has any number of options. The bottom line is this: by the end of the turn, the opponent will have no permanents in play, and you will have infinite mana, infinite storm, and a dead opponent.

It works like this:

Flashback Krosan Reclamation to shuffle Yawgmoth's Will into your library. Use the Tyrant trigger to return a Mox Sapphire into your hand. If you have another Mox in play—or any other artifact—replay that Mox to generate infinite mana. Flashback Flash of Insight, removing enough cards to put the Yawgmoth's Will in hand and then play it to easily win the game.

Krosan Reclamation
Flash of Insight

From there, all you need to do is play Brain Freeze and then Ancestral Recall your opponent, after dispensing with their library, for the win. Alternatively, if you've already used the Ancestral, you can spend the additional mana by bouncing and replaying Tyrants until you've emptied your mana pool. Then, pass the turn and watch your opponent die on their draw step. The original list used Triskelavus for the same result, fueling infinite mana into infinite damage with Triskelavus, replayed by bouncing it with Tyrant.

The Tyrant combo works exceptionally well with the Gush-Fastbond engine. There are a host of synergies, such as the combo of Gush and Tidespout Tyrant themselves: instant speed bounce for any permanent on the table.

This was the first major deck that successfully ported the Gush engine honed and refined by Gro-a-Tog, but it was not to be the last. Oath, like GAT, required only a modest amount of mana, and the search and cantrip engine made perfect sense. Ponder was a one-cost Impulse to help find Oath and Orchard. The primary difference and the one true drawback to Oath is that the Oath combo consumes a lot of deck space, so Tyrant Oath isn't nearly as disruptive as GAT. However, the upside—far more important—was that it only needed to resolve a two-cost enchantment, Oath of Druids, to win the game against Workshops, unlike GAT which needed not only to resolve the Quirion Dryad or the Tarmogoyf, but to have it go the distance over many turns. When you factor in the fact that a resolved Oath is very potent against GAT, you have a recipe for a top metagame deck.

Jeff and Jeremiah took first and second place in a 50-person tournament in Salem, Massachusetts on the second weekend of the month. They helped set in motion a series of events that would play out for the next six months.

February – The Calm before the Combo

Nearly a hundred players traveled to Stratford, Connecticut for the annual Winter "Waterbury" tournament. This tournament is one of the marquee events of Vintage calendar, with a reputation for being an exceptionally well-run and community-building event. Rich Shay, no stranger to winning Vintage tournaments, climbed through the standings and hacked his way through a Top 16 playoff to victory with Tyrant Oath, solidifying its position as the Deck to Beat.

Across the pond and half a continent beyond that, nearly a hundred players traveled to Milan to compete for power and profit. Both Tyrant Oath and Aggro MUD made Top 8, but for the first time, Manaless Ichorid took the top spot, proving that it can win tournaments.

Matteo Menni's Manaless Ichorid

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Meanwhile, a new Magic set was being released.

In 2007, Future Sight and Lorwyn dumped a pile of playables in Vintage, and hopes were high that the companion set to Lorwyn, Morningtide, would do the same. Officially released in February, Morningtide initially looked like a dud. It was hard to believe that the follow-up to the set that gave us Ponder, Thorn of Amethyst, Gaddock Teeg, Ingot Chewer, and Sower of Temptation would give Vintage nothing playable.

March – The Best Deck Ever?

Morningtide was legal for almost a month before Patrick Chapin unveiled a massive upgrade to a major archetype on account of a critical printing in that set that had escaped notice: Reveillark. A pricey white creature turned out to be most important card from Morningtide for Vintage. Hard to believe? Take a look at what Morningtide wrought:

Patrick Chapin's Reveillark Flash Hulk

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Hulk Flash has been an established archetype in Vintage since the DCI removed power-level errata from Flash in May of 2007. In that time period, Flash had see its share of success, but rarely showed up in more than 10% of most Top 8s that period. According to my 2007 year-end round-up, Flash-Protean Hulk made up exactly 6.38% of Top 8s from June to December 2007, proving that it was a viable and strong contender, but no metagame wrecker. Flash had actually been a boon for Vintage. Aside from a minimum amount of power, it used no other high-end cards. The combo itself was well supported with Merchant Scroll and Brainstorm, often winning on turn one with multiple counterspell protection, including Future Sight's Pact of Negation. This speed was balanced by the fragility of the combo. A single Fire could stop the Sliver kill (1 Heart Sliver + 4 Virulent Sliver) in its tracks. Most importantly, almost all Vintage players packed their sideboards with Leyline of the Void for both Ichorid and Flash. With Leyline in play, Flash became a three-card combo, as it needed a bounce spell to combo out. Meanwhile, the tactic bought time for opposing decks to establish a workable defense.

Pact of Negation

The Reveillark kill gave Flash an additional speed and power boost. The previously preferred kill of Heart Sliver and 4 Virulent Sliver required an attack step. This deck was capable of winning at instant speed for the same number of cards. Here's how it works:

  1. Play Flash, putting Protean Hulk into play and then the graveyard, triggering Hulk's "leaves play" ability.
  2. Search your library for Carrion Feeder and Body Double, putting them into play, copying Protean Hulk with Body Double.
  3. Sacrifice Body Double to Carrion Feeder to trigger the Protean Hulk "leaves play" ability.
  4. Search your library for Mogg Fanatic and Reveillark and put them into play.
  5. Sacrifice Mogg Fanatic to deal 1 damage to your opponent.
  6. Sacrifice Reveillark to Carrion Feeder to return Body Double and Mogg Fanatic to play, copying Reveillark this time with Body Double.
  7. Sacrifice Body Double to return Body Double, copying Reveillark. At this point, you have an infinite loop. Each time you sacrifice Body Double to return itself, bring Mogg Fanatic with it.

You can relive this combo by using the goldfish function on the upper right hand corner of the deck list. After a few goldfishes, you'll have a good feel for how the combo works. It remains one of the great combos of the year! This deck shot to the top of the Vintage charts, and was the best performing deck in Vintage in the months of March and April.

But why would being able to win at instant speed make such a big difference in the fortunes of Flash pilots?

Being able to win at instant speed made Pact of Negation a much stronger card. It became functionally closer to a more efficient Force of Will. Force of Will can be used offensively to stop an opponent from winning or defensively to protect your own combo. Before Reveillark, Pact of Negation was almost exclusively used to protect a Flash on the stack or to keep someone someone from interrupting the Sliver attack step. Because the Flash pilots could now win at instant speed in their own upkeep with the Pact trigger on the stack, Pact of Negation could be used much more often. For example, a Flash pilot could play turn one Merchant Scroll for Flash, and protect Merchant Scroll with Pact of Negation, even though they couldn't pay for Pact of Negation on their next upkeep. They can then Flash in response to the Pact trigger and win at instant speed. In addition, Pact of Negation could also be used defensively, to stop an opponent from playing Trinisphere or Yawgmoth's Will, provided the Flash pilot was able to play Flash on their next upkeep.

Unlike Gro-a-Tog, with its heavy disruption, Tyrant Oath was much weaker against Hulk Flash. Tyrant Oath had a minimal amount of disruption to make room for the Oath combo parts. Hulk Flash was packed to the brim with disruption, and could easily overpower Tyrant Oath's meager defenses. And like Tyrant Oath, Hulk Flash could largely ignore a Sphere since it just needed to resolve a two-cost spell to win the game. The two previous top decks, Aggro MUD and Tyrant Oath, proved perfect prey to the rejuvenated Hulk Flash archetype. Hulk Flash was now on top, and everyone knew it.

April – Would You Like Some Cheese with that Wine?

April may be the cruelest month, but it was also the whiniest for Vintage players in 2008. Message boards bristled with complaints as the Reveillark / Flash combo ascended through the metagame.

One Vintage player said:

I've played Stax with 4 Trinisphere. I've played Long with 4 Burning Wish and 4 Lion's Eye Diamond. I playtested decks with 4 Mind's Desire before the card got preemptively restricted. I've played 4 Memory Jar, 4 Tolarian Academy, or 4 Yawgmoth's Bargain back when these were still Constructed legal. I've possibly played most of the broken atrocities that have ever been designed in Magic.

Compared to [Vintage] Flash, all these broken decks are Block decks. Flash is quite possibly the best deck in the history of Magic. The Reveillark kill has pulled the deck to an extreme raw power level.

Another wrote:

Flash is the most unfair, absurdly powerful, and non-interactive deck in the history of Vintage.

I have been playing a lot of games with and against Flash lately with my play testing partners [Chapin and LSV]. In my experience, Flash is extremely powerful and extremely consistent. Especially with the new Reveillark-based win, the deck has become even faster and even more powerful. The ability to use Pact of Negation to counter Force of Will on the first turn in order to Tutor for Flash is completely insane—because you can just go off and win with the 'lose the game' trigger on the stack at instant speed.

To say that Flash is extremely powerful might be a drastic understatement. I have been playing Vintage competitively for many years now: I played against 4 Gush GAT when it was dominant back in the day, and I played the real Long.dec before it got a whole laundry list of cards restricted. In spite of that I am going to go out on a limb here:

I think that the new "Flash" deck might be the most powerful/consistent deck in the history of Vintage.

There, I said it, I stand by it, and you all can hold me to it if I'm wrong...

Brian DeMars [on]

A month later, Brian was piloting not Flash but a Gro deck to a 1st-place finish at a Star City Games Power Nine tournament in Virginia.

What happened?

Well, Shadowmoor, for starters.

Faerie Macabre

In the first place, Faerie Macabre was printed. That gave the Vintage metagame yet another free, uncounterable answer to the Flash combo. However, Faerie Macabre barely had a chance to see play before something else from Shadowmoor changed everything, the second time a new printing triggered rapid changes in the Vintage metagame this year.

May – The Longest Month of the Year

Shadowmoor, a set that seemed to offer nothing for Vintage on the heels of its April Prerelease, was officially released on May 2.

A day later, on May 3, Midwesterner Chris Nighbor took first place in a local tournament with this:

Chris Nighbor's Scarecrow

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Chris had identified an explosive two-card combo made possible by Shadowmoor: Painter's Servant and Grindstone. Painter's Servant changes every card in every zone to the same color (in addition to whatever colors it already was). This allows you to mill your opponent's entire library on a single activation of Grindstone. Although this was a potent combo, it was not nearly as terrifying as Flash, with its instant speed, two-mana kill and powerful Pact of Negation.

What makes Painter combo better and an overall trump are the synergies, and specifically the abuse of Red Elemental Blast. Chris ran a full suite of Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast in his maindeck, slinging them like Vindicate darts at his opponent's spells and permanents.

Think about what the two best decks of the year thus far had been: Tyrant Oath and Hulk Flash. It turns out that both of these decks are hosed by Red Elemental Blast.dec. Hulk Flash relies on a blue instant as its combo. Tyrant Oath relies not only on the Gush-bond combo, but also on a blue creature to combo out. The Painter combo was not just a good combo; the metagame was perfectly situated for it to feed on. Painter Combo was the perfect metagame solution. The only question was: what was the best way to build it?

A week later, Andy Probasco, no stranger to innovative Vintage design and the 2005 Vintage Championship finalist, won the first SCG tournament of the year with this:

Andy Probasco's Painter Combo

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The rest of the Top 8 can be viewed here.

The significance of this design shell is that Andy had found a way to port the Gush-bond engine to yet another deck. In the process, he not only produced a more traditional looking control deck, but he gave Painter combo the most powerful draw engine in Vintage. The second place deck, Todd Scott's Tyrant Oath, epitomizes the changing dynamic in Vintage, with Painter smashing Tyrant Oath in the finals, the former best deck being ousted from its top spot.

Almost all of the major players we've discussed over the last six months or so are represented in the Star City Games Power Nine Top 8, including Ichorid, Workshop Aggro, and, of course, Hulk Flash rounding out the Top 8. Painter was the best deck, but Tyrant Oath, Hulk Flash, and Workshop Aggro were all metagame players, and decks like Ichorid were still capable of making Top 8.

Painter combo had thrown a wrench in the Vintage metagame, and it wasn't clear where things would settle. What would be the next metagame shift? What weakness could be exploited?

A week later nearly two hundred players traveled to Annecy, France to compete in Team SoLoMoxen's gigantic Bazaar of Moxen event. Over sixteen pieces of Power Nine were awarded, in addition to a plethora of other fantastic prize support. After another tumultuous tournament, a Top 8 emerged that confirmed the American experience.

Jose Antonio Alascio Lopez finished in first place with Painter Combo. In many respects, the Bazaar of Moxen Top 8 looked much like the SCG P9 Top 8, suggesting that the European and American metagames were in sync. Both tournaments were won by Painter Combo, and had similar Top 8s, down to the fact that Hulk Flash placed 8th in both.

There was, however, one big difference. David Beduzzi, the man who had put Aggro MUD on the map in December of 2007 as a Gro-a-Tog killer, piloted his deck to a second place finish. He must have thought that Aggro MUD would be a metagame answer to Painter Combo. The great strength of Painter against Flash and Tyrant Oath, Red Elemental Blast, would prove much less effective against a "mono-brown" Workshop deck. At the same time, the Workshop lock parts could shut down the Gush-bond draw engine. Painter's Servant may be strong against Tyrant Oath and Hulk Flash, but what about the Workshop prison decks that helped prompt the emergence of these archetypes in the first place? The fact that David ultimately fell in the Finals might suggest that his idea of running Workshop Aggro as a solution to Painter combo was mistaken. It turns out that David's intuition was right. He was just running the wrong Workshop aggro deck.

June – The Vintage Apocalypse

Vintage enthusiast Travis LaPlante lured nearly a 120 Vintage competitors back to New England with the promise of a playset of Mishra's Workshop for the tournament winner, and a fistful of Power Nine and other prizes for the rest of the Top 8.

After a fiercely competitive Swiss and Top 16 playoff, Ross Merriam emerged the winner with Mono-Red Workshop Aggro.

Ross Merriam's Workshop Aggro

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Mono-Red Workshop Aggro did much of the work that Aggro MUD had promised to do, but it was even more disruptive. This deck was a death machine, feasting on the remains of Gush-bond players throughout the tournament, armed with Leyline of the Void for Flash and Ichorid. With Flash and Oath under attack thanks to Painter, and with Red Elemental Blast flying around, Mishra's Workshop return in a big way again.

In a sense, it was a return to where Vintage started at the beginning of the year. What would that mean for the Vintage metagame? Tyrant Oath and Flash had emerged in succession as a response to the ascendance of Workshop Aggro. This time, however, Painter Combo was there to hold them in check. Vintage appeared to be a diverse balance of archetypes, checking each other across a metagame web. Would this delicate balance hold? Or would yet another new Vintage archetype emerge, changing everything once again?

These questions went unanswered.

The DCI announced the most sweeping changes to Vintage since the Tolarian Academy era. The Vintage restricted list, the DCI's running tally of Vintage's greatest offenders, was going to get a little bit fatter. Brainstorm, Flash, Gush, Merchant Scroll and Ponder were each announced to join the Vintage restricted list by June 20th.

The metagame as it had developed over the last year was slated for demolition. Not only was the Gush-bond engine being taken out back Mafioso style, cards which had been key building blocks to Vintage for half a decade, like Brainstorm, were getting whacked as well. Ponder hadn't even been legal nine months. And for good measure, Flash was going with them. Whether intended or not, the DCI was sending a message to the Vintage community: blue was getting a makeover.

The complex metagame dynamic of Tyrant Oath, Hulk Flash, Painter Combo, and Workshop Aggro was being wiped out. Since most of the decks in the metagame had been running the Merchant Scroll engine, central to both the Gush-bond engine and Hulk Flash deck, I think the DCI could have achieved all of its objectives by just restricting Merchant Scroll or Merchant Scroll and Brainstorm.

Nonetheless, the deed was done. What would emerge from this upheaval?

July – Back to the Future

For a few weeks Vintage was thrown into chaos. Completely new archetypes were being tested and tried. Bizarre homebrew concoctions were showing up in Top 8s everywhere. Slowly but surely, a new metagame began to coalesce.

At first, the thinking in Vintage was that the primary benefactors of the June restrictions would be the decks that were untouched by the restrictions. According to this logic, Mishra's Workshop decks and Ichorid would be the new top tier. This logic proved flawed.

Workshop decks thrived in a Gush environment since they were natural predators for light mana bases and free (or cheap) cantrips and draw spells. The excision of the Gush-bond engine from the Vintage metagame would undermine Workshop Prison's reason for existence. As for Ichorid, it was not a deck whose performance is a function of the metagame dynamics in which it is situated. Rather, its performance is dependant upon the amount of sideboard cards that people devote to it. So long as people ran the same amount of anti-Ichorid sideboard cards, there was little reason to think that it would be more successful than it had been before. Rather than boosting the fortunes of both decks, the metagame that emerged as a consequence of the June restrictions meant that these decks were going to be less significant metagame players than they had been in the previous year.

Instead, the metagame that emerged was directly traceable to the metagame that existed before the DCI simultaneously unrestricted Gush and restricted Gifts Ungiven a year before. At the time, the best deck in Vintage was Meandeck Gifts, a Mana Drain-based combo-control deck built around Merchant Scroll and Gifts Ungiven that ended up winning the previous Vintage Championship. But before Gifts Ungiven transformed the Vintage, the two best decks had been Dark Ritual Storm combo and the ever-popular Mana Drain-based Control Slaver. With Brainstorm gone, many thought that Control Slaver, and the Dark Ritual Storm decks especially, would not be able to mount a comeback.

Forty brave souls traveled to Wisconsin in the middle of July to battle in a tournament that would foreshadow the 2008 Vintage Championship. Tommy Kolowith, the dark knight of Ritual-based storm combo and the 2006 Vintage Championship runner-up with the same, bested Mike Sheen in the Finals. It was a classic matchup of Dark Ritual fueled Storm combo versus Control Slaver.

What the naysayers overlooked was that most of the other decks in Vintage also relied on Brainstorm. The restriction of Brainstorm, in effect, did nothing in terms of the composition of the metagame. If almost every deck suffered the same loss, none truly suffered. In any case, cards like Ponder and Sensei's Divining Top helped fill the gap, cards that were either not available or unplayed when Slaver and Storm combo were the best decks in Vintage.

August – The 2008 Vintage Championship!

The 2008 Vintage Championship was temporarily moved from its traditional location at Gencon Indianapolis to U.S. Nationals to help celebrate and commemorate the 15th Anniversary of Magic. Over one hundred players made the trip to Chicago to compete in Vintage Magic's most prestigious tournament, many with dreams of taking home the prize to the left.

Without fail, the Vintage Championship defines the state of Vintage, clarifies the metagame, and sets the course for future trends. After an indescribably brutal Top 8 playoff, Paul Mastriano emerged victorious. If you've been reading this article carefully, you'll recognize most of the names of the Top 8 competitors. Full coverage is available here.

The Vintage Championship confirmed what we already suspected with unmistakeable clarity. The Perfect Storm and Control Slaver were the two best decks in Vintage. The Top 4 decks featured two of each archetype.

Paul Mastriano's The Perfect Storm

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Paul's deck utilizes the absolute best cards ever printed. Egregious mistakes like Necropotence and Timetwister are featured prominently. This is no tin-foil combo deck. The Perfect Storm is highly resilient and impervious to most modes of attack, featuring a rock solid, basic-land heavy mana base, and a swath of free countermagic to protect its game plan and defend itself from opposing stratagems. It can race any deck, but it prefers to build card advantage and establish mana stability in the first couple of turns. From there, TPS builds a critical mass of spells and then executes an unstoppable kill, often capped with a massive Yawgmoth's Will. In case the Tendrils of Agony kill is not possible, the deck can pull off the mortifying plan B of Darksteel Colossus beatdown, made possible with Tinker. (For more on the deck, I've written a three part primer—here are Part I, Part II, and Part III.)

The runner-up, Jimmy McCarthy, was playing a Control Slaver variant designed by Brian DeMars (who also made Top 8).