Vintage Black

Posted in From the Lab on June 11, 2014

By Mike Cannon

Mike Cannon started writing From the Lab at the end of 2012 after two years with GatheringMagic. He is an ardent casual player and loves finding uses for bad cards.

Welcome, laboratorians! It's Vintage Masters Week, and that means that today I'll be talking about some of my favorite cards from the set. Vintage Masters has a lot of goodies for combo players, many of which are brand new to Magic Online. I dug into the set this week and picked out a few cards to build weird decks around.

Yawgmoth's Bargain | Art by Michael Sutfin

Most people think of blue as being the most powerful color when it comes to older sets, with high-profile counterspells like Force of Will and Mana Drain leading the way. However, there were several periods of Magic's history where black was the dominant color. In fact, the summer of 1996 was known as "Black Summer" for the sheer dominance of black decks in tournaments. This dominance was largely due to one card: Necropotence.

Necropotence and its arguably even more powerful successor, Yawgmoth's Bargain, give black decks an absurd amount of card advantage for very little cost. Even Griselbrand, the latest fixed version of the effect, is commonly seen in older formats. As it happens, both Necropotence and Yawgmoth's Bargain are in Vintage Masters, making it the perfect time to build a deck around the two cards.

I Didn't Need Those Anyway

Drawing cards is usually used to set up a combo, but what if we make it so that drawing cards is the combo? Vintage Masters contains a pair of creatures that can turn extra cards into damage: Psychatog and Wild Mongrel. Both have been the centerpiece of powerful decks before.

Psychatog was often used in combination with Upheaval, clearing the battlefield of permanents before using leftover mana to cast Psychatog, which could deal 20 damage in as few as two turns.

Wild Mongrel was the card that enabled blue-green madness decks, which used the discard ability to cast spells for a reduced cost while pumping up the Mongrel at the same time. The color-change ability could also be used to dodge removal spells like Dark Banishing.

With Yawgmoth's Bargain and one of the creatures on the battlefield, you can pay 10–15 life to draw cards, then discard them all along with whatever was already in your hand to pump the creature to 20/20.

You'll need a way to make sure the creature doesn't get blocked, and Artful Dodge seems like a perfect fit. You can discard it to pump your creature and still cast it from the graveyard for just one mana.

If you have Necropotence rather than Yawgmoth's Bargain, things are a bit tougher. You don't get the cards until the end of your turn, so you have to plan ahead. Reliquary Tower will allow you to keep all the cards you draw rather than being forced to discard down to seven, but you'll still need to survive your opponent's turn at a very low life total. To help with that, I've included Darkness and Fog, which can stop any attacking creatures from hitting you while you're down.

Finally, Coalition Relic and Dark Ritual help you get the six mana to cast Yawgmoth's Bargain on turn four, which could potentially allow you to kill your opponent immediately. You can also wait until the following turn so you have the mana to cast Artful Dodge if necessary.


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Not Staying Alive

Another Vintage Masters card that caught my eye was Living Death. Although not exactly a combo staple, it definitely has potential, and I was sure that I could make something happen with it.

Obviously, the plan would be to cast Living Death over and over again to somehow kill your opponent. The win condition was easy enough. Goblin Bombardment and Blasting Station can sacrifice creatures for damage, which also puts them back in the graveyard for the next Living Death.

Altar of Dementia is another option. It can put your opponent's entire library into his or her graveyard if you can activate it an unlimited number of times. I also included Blistergrub as a creature that can kill your opponent even with something like Leyline of Sanctity on the battlefield. Viscera Seer can function as a creature-based sac outlet if you're going the Blistergrub route.

The second piece of the puzzle was mana. Living Death costs five, so you need a way to produce five mana each time you cast it. Priest of Gix can give you three, as can Cathodion. Basal Sliver or Blood Vassal can provide the other two.

Finally, you'll need a way to recur Living Death itself. Fortunately, my days of playing around with Warp World have left me with an encyclopedic knowledge of the creatures that can accomplish that. For this deck, I selected Anarchist, Izzet Chronarch, and Mnemonic Wall due to their low colored-mana requirements.

Buried Alive can put the creatures you need into your graveyard, ready to be brought back with Living Death. Gamble can be used to search for Living Death or anything else you need, and although the name is fitting, you can cast it early in the game to increase your chances of discarding something non-critical. You can also use Mystical Tutor, which carries much less risk at the cost of skipping a draw step.

Gifts Ungiven is a phenomenal card here. It can function as a lesser version of Buried Alive, putting the two creatures you need straight into the graveyard, or it can be a Diabolic Tutor, putting any card you need in your hand by searching for three redundant pieces. I've built the deck with that in mind, including several different cards for each function.

If you need Living Death and a way to return it, you can search for Living Death, Izzet Chronarch, Mnemonic Wall, and Anarchist. That's half the combo right there. You can also search for the other half by getting Priest of Gix, Basal Sliver, Blistergrub, and Viscera Seer. It doesn't really matter which end up in your hand and which are in the graveyard, since Living Death can switch them and allow you to start the combo with Viscera Seer.

If you just need a win condition and sacrifice outlet, you can grab Goblin Bombardment, Blasting Station and Altar of Dementia to ensure one of the three goes to your hand. If you're really short on combo pieces you can even tutor for tutors by grabbing Gifts Ungiven, Mystical Tutor, Gamble, and Buried Alive, or substitute any you don't need for Anarchist to get back the ones you do.

Death Gifts

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An Old-School Brawl

We've got two new takes on some classic cards, but only one can come out on top. Will Yawgmatog and its overpowered enchantments achieve a Pyrrhic victory, or will Death Gifts live to fight another day? Let's go to the arena and find out.

Game 1

Death Gifts started out with Mystical Tutor to find Living Death, and Yawgmatog simply played a land and passed the turn. Death Gifts played a land and passed back, and Yawgmatog cast Wild Mongrel.

Death Gifts cast Blistergrub, and Yawgmatog attacked for 2 with Wild Mongrel. Blistergrub blocked, and Yawgmatog pumped the Mongrel by discarding a card. Death Gifts cast Goblin Bombardment and passed the turn. Yawgmatog attacked for 2 with Wild Mongrel, then passed the turn.

Death Gifts played a land and passed the turn, and Yawgmatog attacked for 2 before playing a land and passing back. During the end step, Death Gifts cast Gifts Ungiven. Anarchist and Cathodion went to hand, while Priest of Gix and Basal Sliver were put in the graveyard.

Death Gifts cast Cathodion; sacrificed it to Goblin Bombardment; and cast Living Death, killing Wild Mongrel and returning Priest of Gix, Cathodion, Basal Sliver, and Blistergrub to the battlefield. Yawgmatog cast Psychatog, but Death Gifts went off the following turn, casting Anarchist to bring back Living Death and using Basal Sliver and Cathodion to cast it.

Game 2

Yawgmatog started with a land, and Death Gifts cast Gamble, getting Living Death and discarding a land. Yawgmatog cast Wild Mongrel before passing the turn. Death Gifts played a land and passed back.

Wild Mongrel attacked for 2, and Yawgmatog played another land and passed. Death Gifts cast Priest of Gix, using the mana to cast Buried Alive for Anarchist, Cathodion, and Basal Sliver. Yawgmatog cast Dark Ritual, using the mana to cast Yawgmoth's Bargain.

Death Gifts cast Goblin Bombardment and passed the turn. Yawgmatog paid 16 life to draw sixteen cards, discarding the entire hand to Wild Mongrel and using the flashback on Artful Dodge for the win.

Game 3

Both sides played land to open the game, and Death Gifts cast Goblin Bombardment on turn two. Yawgmatog played a land and passed, and Death Gifts cast Cathodion before ending the turn.

Yawgmatog cast Psychatog and passed the turn. Death Gifts cast Gifts Ungiven for Living Death and three lands. Living Death and a land went to the graveyard, and Death Gifts played a land and cast Basal Sliver. Yawgmatog cast Dark Ritual into Yawgmoth's Bargain and attacked. Basal Sliver blocked, and Psychatog used its first ability to become a 2/3 and survive.

Death Gifts cast Anarchist, returning Living Death to hand before ending the turn. Yawgmatog paid 11 life to draw cards before discarding them all plus the remaining three to Psychatog. Artful Dodge made the Atog unblockable, and exiling cards form the graveyard gave it the remaining power it needed to end the game.

A Vorthos Vacation

Next week, I'll be taking a little break from the combo side of Johnny deck building and taking a look at some Vorthos theme decks. Two weeks ago, I put out the call for decks built to represent different parts of Magic's storyline, and I've received a wide variety of interesting submissions covering stories old and new. Next week, I'll be highlighting several of my favorites here on From the Lab, so tune in then to see what your fellow laboratorians came up with. See ya!

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