Sunday, 6:15 p.m. – The Pillars of Vintage

Posted in NEWS on November 3, 2013

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.

One of the problems with doing metagame analyses on Eternal formats is the sheer variety of viable decks in the field. There are dozens of decks that players could be playing, and they all have a reasonable chance of winning any given event. In Legacy, this creates a significant problem, as the decks tend to be fairly distinct from one another. In Vintage, the problem is muted by the fact that the decks, even as diverse as they are, tend to fall into a few categories that employ similar structural elements. Sure there is a difference between Stax and Kuldotha and MUD, but at their hearts, they're all Mishra's Workshop decks.

To help me wade through these so called "pillars" of Vintage, I enlisted the help of one of the most prolific Vintage strategy writers on the planet, the 2007 Vintage Champion, Stephen Menendian. Menendian literally wrote the book on Vintage, compiling years of writings on the history of Vintage into a published compilation about the history of Magic's oldest format.

Stephen Menendian


"There are basically five pillars in Vintage," Menendian explained. "You've got the Gush decks, like Gro or Gush Control. There are the Dark Confidant/Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks. The others are Workshop decks, Dredge decks, and then Combo. I guess you have to make a distinction for the super heavy Control decks, like Landstill, UW Angels, Bomberman... They're distinct from the decks that run Oath of Druids, so I guess you have six to think of."

Like most metagames, there is usually a paper/rock/scissors element, where a circle of predation keeps things even. For example, is current Standard, you've got Doom Blade/Thoughtseize decks, which beat Mono-blue Devotion, which tends to beat Mono-red Devotion, which tends to beat the Doom Blade/Thoughtseize decks. A similar thing occurs in Vintage, though there is also some give within the pillars, where Forgemaster is better in some matchups than Stax and vice versa.

"Some decks in Vintage have slight advantages against each other. Gush decks, for example, have an advantage against the Bob/Jace decks, but are at a disadvantage against Workshop. Dredge decks don't really interact with maindecks, instead interfacing more with decks' sideboards. The one deck that does have an innate advantage against them are the speed combo decks. Workshop decks are actually soft to Dredge and Bob/Jace decks."

These things do occasionally change, though. As new sets are printed, new cards enter Vintage and have a chance to impact the complexion of the format.

"This last year, they unrestricted Rewrowth, and a little over a year ago they unrestricted Burning Wish, which was very big. Cavern of Souls is another important new addition. Swan Song is interesting. The card I'm most interested in is Young Pyromancer, though. It's the best Gro creature of all time. It's great against Workshop. Because it grows horizontally rather than vertically, it's much harder for Jace to combat it. It also floods the board, allowing it to play a control role if needed, much the same way that Empty the Warrens does. It's an incredibly strategically versatile threat that requires specific answers to deal with it. Once you get Gush and Fastbond going, you have all of the mana you need to cast your cheap card drawing spells and can generate an army."