Vintage Masters Early Impressions and Theros Block Update

Posted in Limited Information on June 18, 2014

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

Vintage Masters is upon us. I wanted to touch base with you about some early strategy and tactics I have seen from this new set. I've had a chance to draft it quite a bit and plan to keep doing so as the set matures. We are still in the Wild West portion of the format, where everyone is getting their sea legs about them. People are still experimenting and figuring out what is getting results and what isn't.

As noted before, Vintage Masters is a high-powered set, not unlike Cube. While some of my readers don't play on Magic Online and won't be drafting Vintage Masters, most will have access to a Cube of some sort, either on Magic Online or in real life. The advice in this column won't necessarily translate directly to Cube Draft, but much of it will hold true.

Blue-Green Madness

First and foremost, we have to cover Blue-Green Madness. This was a headlining archetype for Vintage Masters and it has not disappointed. I have seen various high-level Magic players boasting impressive records with the deck on social media. My friend and coverage partner Zac Hill even lamented the fact that he wasn't able to play other archetypes because he was winning so much with the madness deck.

Rough life.

Let's take a quick look at some of the key cards for the deck.

This is the best discard outlet in the set. Heck, it's one of the best Limited discard outlets ever. It's classically one of those cards that just doesn't look like much on the surface, but once you actually play with it, it becomes readily clear how powerful it really is. If you want your madness deck to be the maddest possible, this is your dog.

A personal favorite of mine, Waterfront Bouncer is also an excellent discard outlet, as you effectively net an entire spell every time you discard. The spell is a pretty good one too: Unsummon. Once you start pitching madness cards to it, things get out of hand quickly. Normally, activating the Bouncer is enough to keep you ahead on board while keeping your opponent off balance long enough for you to win. In this deck, you are actively developing your board while keeping your opponent's out of whack. It's just fantastic once you get it going.

The one downside is that it adds a blue mana to your madness costs.

Probably the most efficient spell to discard is Arrogant Wurm. The huge, 4/4, semi-evasive (I consider trample a form of evasion) Wurm is a complete beating at three mana. Once you factor in getting rid of your opponent's blockers with your Waterfront Bouncer, well, you can see how this story ends.

There are plenty of enablers, madness cards, flashback cards, and cards that want to be in the graveyard, as well. This is the early frontrunner for the most powerful and synergistic archetype in this set.

Blue-Black Tempo

If you have ever watched one of my Cube draft videos, you'll know that my pet Cube deck is the Blue Black Tempo deck. Not a super popular deck, it's one that I love to play and will actively seek out when I can. I've also had a lot of success with it because you get to play many of the most powerful cards in a given set while still picking up a lot of cards that not many decks want.

The good news for me is that this deck is alive and well in Vintage Masters. Most of the pieces are in place; I have drafted this deck many times already, and with great success. If you want a sleeper archetype for your next Vintage Masters draft, I suggest this one.

Key cards:

Man-o'-War is my favorite Magic card of all time. There are more than 13,000 Magic cards in this world, and this jellyfish is my all-time, No. 1 favorite. I literally haven't passed one yet in this format. As a Nuts & Bolts Spike, it's not just about the flavor or artwork, it's also a powerful spell that is one of the best tempo plays available. I would play as many of these as I could get my hands on, as it's often the best card in the deck and only gets better in multiples.

There is nothing quite like playing an Ophidian on turn three, only to follow it up with a Man-o'-War. I'm sure there are better feelings in this life; I just couldn't tell you what they are. Once that card draw starts flowing, the chance that your opponent recovers starts sliding backwards steeply.

Carnophage doesn't look like much, but this is the card that secretly runs this archetype. You can pick these up late and jam as many of them in the deck as you get. They get in for early damage and help capitalize on all of these sweet tempo plays you are making. Even if your opponent gets an early blocker down, you make your opponent decide between taking 2 damage or getting whacked with an Ophidian and giving up a card. The dream is to play a turn-one Carnophage, two turn-two Carnophages, and then a Man-o'-War on turn three to bounce your opponent's first creature. Any approximation of this start is usually enough to get the job done.

Since our plan is to be ahead of our opponent for the whole game, we are fine taking damage from our Carnophage.

Paralyze doesn't look like much, either, but when you play it you realize what a huge tempo hit it can be. The key with Paralyze is that it taps the creature immediately. For just one mana, you get a big blocker out of the way for the turn and put a nasty decision to your opponent on the following turn. Paralyze is not a high pick for many decks, but I have run three of them in this deck.

This is very much a "get ahead, stay ahead" type of deck, as it doesn't do a great job of coming from behind. It does normally do a great job at keeping a stumbling opponent locked down long enough to deliver the final attack, however.

Also, it's just a ton of fun to play.

Theros Full-Block Adjustments for Draft

For those of you unable to draft Vintage Masters, fear not, I am not neglecting you. I have been drafting plenty of the full Theros block as well and have some more updates, as things have changed considerably since the days of triple-Theros.

The most noticeable change is in the speed of the format, overall. It's slower now. I wouldn't call it a massive shift, as there are still viable aggressive decks out there that have to be considered. But, overall, the format is a turn or maybe half a turn slower than it was before. There are also more answers to huge bestow battle cruisers, as well as more answers to fully grown heroic creatures.

I remember when you just didn't see these coming around the table often at all. If you ended up with two of this common flier in your white deck, you were quite happy. Even though there were three packs of Theros and this was a double-colored common, people just first-picked it all the time and you didn't see it around much as the pack went on.

In full-block Draft, however, Wingsteed Rider seems to have lost a little of its clout. I often see the Rider coming around sixth or seventh pick, even. It's simply more vulnerable and less of a threat than it used to be, and people have adjusted accordingly.

Cards That Kill 1-Toughness Creatures

I have kept my eye on this for a while, and it finally seems to be the case that there are enough important 1-toughness creatures running around to justify playing spells that kill exclusively those creatures.

Instead of focusing on this type of card, let's focus on what it kills.

Here is a list of important creatures:

Akroan Line Breaker
Bloodcrazed Hoplite
Blood-Toll Harpy
Brain Maggot
Cavalry Pegasus
Eagle of the Watch
Elite Skirmisher
Golden Hind
Noble Quarry
Nyxborn Wolf
Oreskos Swiftclaw
Pharika's Chosen
Sedge Scorpion
Vaporkin
Vortex Elemental

There are others, too, but these are the ones these cards just kill most of the time and that all cost more than the one mana you are investing. Many of these cost three mana, even. I'm much happier running a main-deck Spark Jolt (or equivalent) than I was in either of the previous two iterations of the format.

Sixes and Sevens

Six-mana creatures have crept up a bit on my list as well. I find that I am able to get there a bit more often than I was before. Seven-drops are still pushing it a little more than I would normally like. Unless I am playing a deck that specifically is designed to get to seven mana consistently, the big monsters will usually be relegated to my sideboard.

Overall, I have been enjoying the full-block format quite a bit. It's proven difficult to strike a good balance after the third set is introduced, as we saw with Dragon's Maze, but I think this block pulled it off nicely. The format still feels diverse, with viable decks at the aggressive, midrange, and control levels. The colors are also nicely balanced, in that none of them are unplayable and none are dominantly good. It has also changed enough to keep my interest without changing so much that it loses me. I plan on drafting this block until Magic 2015 Core Set is released.

Speaking of that, it's already preview week next week for Magic 2015! Be sure to join me while I share a sweet new cycle with you.

Until then!

@Marshall_LR

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