The Vanguard Metagame and Magic Online 3.0 News

Posted in Feature on January 10, 2007

By Frank Karsten

Greetings! Today I have the usual Standard and Extended roundup, a lowdown of the Vanguard (Standard) format, and some Magic Online 3.0 news in store for you. With that much topic material, I won't waste more words on a witty introduction. Let's get right down to business.

Your Short Standard Update

I'll start with the Magic Online Standard Top 8 recap. Click on a deck name for information in my deck-o-pedia forum thread (you know the drill). I highlighted the big movers with blue (decks that are moving up in the ranks) or red (decks taking a plunge).

Deck name Popularity Change in popularity from last week
1. U/B Pickles ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%) +7% (!!!)
2. U/G Scryb&Force ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■ (13%) +4%
3. Black Rack Discard ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%) +8% (!!!)
4. Dragonstorm ■■■■■ ■■■ (8%) 0%
5. Dralnu du Louvre ■■■■■ ■■ (7%) -1%
6. TriscuitTron ■■■■■ ■■ (7%) -2%
7. Mono Green Aggro ■■■■■ (5%) +1%
8. Boros Deck Wins ■■■■■ (5%) -9% (!!!)
9. GhaziGlare ■■■■■ (5%) +4%
10. U/W CounterMesa ■■■■ (4%) +2%
11. B/W Control ■■■ (3%) +2%
12. Solar Flare ■■■ (3%) 0%
13. Izzetron ■■ (2%) -2%
14. U/R Snow ■■ (2%) +1%
15. R/G Aggro ■■ (2%) 0%
16. U/W Locket control ■■ (2%) +2%
17. TeysaTraitor ■ (1%) +1%
18. Angelfire ■ (1%) -2%
19. MartyrTron ■ (1%) 0%
20. Panda Connection (0%) -5%

There are three major metagame trends this week:

  1. U/B Pickles has proven it is for real. This is the deck to gun for. If your opponent plays a morph, chances are it is Vesuvan Shapeshifter. I have spotted many U/B Pickles decks that added Cancel and Urza's Factory, so if you want to play this deck you might want to give those cards a try as well.
  2. Mono Black Discard/The Rack deck is performing extremely well. I covered the deck last week, and it blew away my expectations. Blackmail has been a popular addition lately, and some players are experimenting with Delirium Skeins-powered Haakon, Stromgald Scourge versions as well. No matter what, you have to prepare for those Stupors and bring answers to The Rack!
  3. Boros Deck Wins didn't show up as often as in previous weeks. I don't know why, but it seems that players are shying away from Savannah Lions.

In other news, GhaziGlare is rearing its ugly head again, U/G Scryb & Force remains strong, and Panda Connection didn't appear once in this week's Top 8s. Furthermore, it seems that most TriscuitTron players have abandoned Katsuhiro Mori's original World Championships version and have adopted his updated Japanese Finals version, which cuts Triskelavus for the Vesuvan Shapeshifter/ Brine Elemental combo. Brian David-Marshall talked about the deck in his column last week. He also brought up the issue of naming decks, which is a relevant one especially for these Blue-White Tron decks. I am still referring to them as TriscuitTron, as that was the name given to Katsuhiro Mori's original World Championships list (because it had Triskelavus as its win condition and the Urzatron as its mana engine). Therefore, in my mind, the name TriscuitTron is forever connected to U/W Urza decks, even if the deck doesn't even play Triskelavus. Yeah, the namesake win condition has been replaced, but only a couple cards have been changed, really. Does that warrant a completely new deck name that will be just as confusing? I decided to stick with TriscuitTron, but opinions on this matter are welcome.

Your Extremely Short Extended Update


Kataki, War's Wage
No metagame table today because (a) the sample size of just last week's events is too small, (b) the metagame is still very similar to last week, and the things I wrote there still apply, and (c) I have so much to cover today, and so little space. But I'll give you a quick update.

Boros Deck Wins was the most popular and best performing deck in the Extended Premier Events last week, by far. Number 2 was Gifts Rock, closely followed by TEPS Desire. Trinket Angel has fallen down a bit in the rankings, but it's still fourth. Ichorid, Blue-White Urzatron, Flow Deck Wins, Scepter/Chant, and Goblin Storm are the other major decks to look out for. Interestingly, Affinity took a plunge last week and only posted one Top 8 appearance. Perhaps Kataki, War's Wage has found its way back into sideboards again.

The Vanguard (Standard) Metagame

Vanguard is a Constructed format that grants abilities to the Magic Online avatars for use in game play. Standard with Vanguard uses the same card pool as regular Standard, with one difference: it requires a minimum 61-card deck that includes exactly one Vanguard card. When you start a Vanguard game, each person's Vanguard card is pulled out and put in a special Vanguard zone. Each avatar will affect a player's hand size and starting life total, in addition to having its own in-game ability. You can find a list of the Vanguard avatars and their abilities here. A Standard with Vanguard 4x Premier Event took place last weekend, so I figured this week would be the perfect time to cover the format.

So what does the metagame look like? I won't put up detailed tables, simple because there haven't been enough major Vanguard events to properly statisticize. Since the Time Spiral release, we've just had a couple small Premier events, and two big 4x Open tournaments (one was last weekend, the other was last month). Focusing on those 4x events, the top 8 results were:

Tournament 862247, Standard with Vanguard 4x, 78 players, Sunday December 3

1/2. radderson Prodigal Sorcerer avatar Dragonstorm combo deck
1/2. Plat Prodigal Sorcerer avatar Dragonstorm combo deck
3/4. 9stars Momir Vig avatar Reanimate/madness deck
3/4. Gibbonz Akroma avatar Zoo aggro deck
5/8. chemical_ Akroma avatar Red Empty the Warrens storm deck
5/8. caliban17 Stuffy Doll avatar Life gain deck
5/8. jkjuggernaut Prodigal Sorcerer avatar Reanimate deck
5/8. Shadow Throne Prodigal Sorcerer avatar Dragonstorm combo deck

Tournament 891709, Standard with Vanguard 4x, 84 players, Saturday January 6

1. Kbright Teysa avatar Project X
2. TheLaughingMan855 Momir Vig avatar Reanimate/madness deck
3/4. busquistar Akroma avatar Mono Green Aggro deck
3/4. Anssi A Prodigal Sorcerer avatar MartyrTron Proclamation deck
5/8. Plat Prodigal Sorcerer avatar Dragonstorm combo deck
5/8. ExkoTracer Prodigal Sorcerer avatar Dragonstorm combo deck
5/8. Biggest Oots Oni of Wild Places avatar Oni Deck Wins
5/8. Euamominhaesposa Akroma avatar Zoo aggro deck

Looking at these results, we can see that over half of the Standard with Vanguard decks are simply copies of top Standard decks that use a very basic avatar to enhance their performance. Examples of those are Dragonstorm with the Prodigal Sorcerer avatar to improve their draws and Zoo using the Akroma avatar for creature enhancement. Here's Plat's Dragonstorm deck, which he piloted to a Top 8 finish in both 4x Premiers:

Dragonstorm – Vanguard Standard

Download Arena Decklist

Dragonstorm is the best combo deck in “normal” Standard, and the Prodigal Sorcerer avatar adds some consistency, ensuring a turn-four kill most of the time. The deck is very solid against rogue decks and equally good against the field. According to Plat, Zoo with the Akroma avatar is the most difficult pairing. His deck is a direct copy of Makahito Mihara's World Championships winning deck – which is understandable, as that deck is tried and tested – with some small tweaks in the sideboard. A couple Trickbind and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir have been added in anticipation of a field full of combo decks. Repeal is great against Zoo and Oni Deck Wins, Ignorant Bliss is against anything that plays discard, and the storage lands are against control to go for a big Gigadrowse in the long game.

Whereas simple copies of proven Standard decks with a very basic avatar (such as the above one) can certainly win, they are not very original. Fortunately, there are also more innovative decks around that truly try to abuse an avatar, which leads to way more fun. I designed such a deck myself in anticipation for this tournament, and I dare to say it is very powerful. I present to you what I consider to be the best Vanguard (Standard) deck right now… Oni Deck Wins!

Oni Deck Wins – Vanguard Standard

Download Arena Decklist

There were two people playing this deck in the Vanguard 4x tournament: me and my buddy Biggest Oots. I went 3-0, then dropped because I unfortunately had to leave. Biggest Oots easily piloted it to the Top 8 in the meantime. The power of this deck lies in abusing both the advantage of the avatar (your creatures have haste), as well as its disadvantage (in your upkeep you have to return a creature to your hand). Haste works very well with mana creatures since they can produce mana right away, as well as with Primal Forcemage for obvious reasons. Returning a creature to your hand in your upkeep is an amazing way to circumvent the cumulative upkeep of Sheltering Ancient and Phyrexian Soulgorger. Don't pay; instead bounce them and rock again!

In goldfishing, I found that the deck consistently wins on turn three. Typical draws are:

Turn 1: Forest, Llanowar Elves, Ornithopter, attack for one with the Elves. Turn 2: Upkeep bounce Ornithopter. Main phase Karplusan Forest, Primal Forcemage, Ornithopter (+3/+3), attack for five. Turn 3: Upkeep bounce Ornithopter. Main phase Rite of Flame, Ornithopter, Empty the Warrens, attack for twenty-nine. Attacking with six hasty 4/4 Empty the Warrens tokens – thanks go out to Primal Forcemage for making all this possible – is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Turn 1: Forest, Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, Boreal Druid, attack for one.
Turn 2: Oni goes on the stack, in response you tap Boreal Druid and Forest to cast Scryb Ranger. When Oni resolves, you bounce Boreal Druid. In your mainphase you put down Forest, replay Boreal Druid, and cast Phyrexian Soulgorger. Then you attack for nine with Scryb Ranger and the 8/8.
Turn 3: Upkeep bounce Phyrexian Soulgorger, mainphase tap all your mana creatures and Forests, untap one with Scryb Ranger and replay the Forest you bounce for a grand total of seven mana. Play Phyrexian Soulgorger and two Sheltering Ancient, then attack for the kill with the huge hasty creatures.


Phyrexian Soulgorger
If you are a Spike and are into Vanguard, I urge you to try out my deck. The only weak point is its untuned random sideboard, which was thrown together at the last minute. In fact, I didn't sideboard a single card in the matches I played. But strange as this may sound, I think that can be attributed largely to the tuned consistent maindeck, rather than to a bad sideboard. Oni Deck Wins reminds me of an Affinity deck, in that it is a well-oiled machine. Cutting pieces weakens the probability of getting degenerate draws significantly. Affinity, for one, always got worse when you swapped out artifacts for sideboard cards. In fact, I remember seriously considering to show up at Grand Prix – Zurich 2004 (where I Top 8ed with Affinity) without a sideboard, to ensure I wouldn't fall in the tempting trap of bringing in too many sideboard cards. In the end I decided a zero-card sideboard was a tad too stupid, even for me, so I sleeved up 15 cards, amongst which were 5 lands (!) and 4 Terror. Obviously, at the end of the tournament, I didn't even board in the Terrors anymore against the Molder Slug decks they were supposed to be good against. The better strategy is to keep a consistent straightforward deck that just plays out its own game and wins on turn four, rather than clog up your hand with cards that answer your opponent's strategy and don't actually accelerate your kill. The same principle can be applied to Oni Deck Wins. A sideboard is not necessary. But I digress.

The following decks placed first and second in the Vanguard 4x Premier Event last weekend, and both exploit an avatar in an inventive way.

Project X – Vanguard Standard

Download Arena Decklist

The deck revolves around the Saffi Eriksdotter/Crypt Champion combo, which actually does nothing by itself. The way the “do-nothing” engine works is that you play an un-enhanced (meaning you cast it without playing red) Crypt Champion with Saffi in play. With his come-into-play triggers on the stack, you sacrifice Saffi to have him come back after his death. When the Champion gets to return a creature to play, you choose the freshly binned Saffi. The Crypt Champion dies and comes back immediately. Repeat as many times as you want. You have now created a "useless" loop, which you need to abuse with cards that trigger when creatures enter or leave play.

A deck based around this combo – which must have been the skeleton Kbright built his Vanguard deck upon – was designed by Geoffrey Siron and Vincent Lemoine. It included Soul Warden to gain a million life. Read more about it in the World Championships coverage. The deck never made a showing on Magic Online because of time issues. Even if you'd manage to assemble Soul Warden, Saffi Eriksdotter and Crypt Champion, you would time out before you get up to a high enough life total (not to mention you'll get bored out of your mind). It just takes too many clicks. Kbright solved things by adding the Teysa, Orzhov Scion avatar, which reads “Whenever a nontoken creature is put into a graveyard from play, put a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying into play.” Teysa produces infinite tokens when you hit the Saffi/Champion combo, which (a) solves time issues somewhat, as doing 20 loops is usually sufficient, and (b) turns the three-card combo into a two-card combo, because one of the combo pieces is already in your avatar. Neat!

Momir Vig Dredge/Reanimate

Download Arena Decklist

You may remember the Momir Vig avatar from the enjoyable Momir BASIC format. But it can work wonders in Standard with Vanguard as well. Discarding a card to produce a random creature token is a somewhat underpowered strategy, but it is amazing when paying that discard cost is advantageous. Discarding Blazing Archon allows you to reanimate it for four mana with Dread Return. And the new Time Spiral madness cards, such as Dark Withering, can be played for their cheap madness cost. The Momir Vig avatar gives you the discard outlet that madness/reanimation decks need, and it is truly makes this kind of deck tick. TheLaughingMan855's version is tuned to beat creature decks, and with a full complement of Tendrils of Corruption maindeck, it should handle any Zoo varieties it encounters.


Magic Online 3.0 news

It has been a while since the last time I talked about Magic Online 3.0. The development team has worked hard in the last couple months, and I am pleased to announce that we are now approaching the start of the internal beta. I performed a short interview with Justin Ziran, Magic Online's Brand Manager, so I got some news for you.

Online Tech: Hi Justin! It's been a while since we've heard news here about Magic Online 3.0. What's the current status?

Justin Ziran: As you may know, based on results from our User Interface (UI) testing, we took the opportunity to redesign the UI from the ground up. The redesign process took several months, but the time was well spent. As for the status on the rest of the project, we are just about to start internal beta testing on MTGO 3. Shortly after the internal beta concludes, we'll transition into the first phase of the public beta. During each of the planned phases of beta we'll open testing up to successively larger groups of testers, culminating in period of free play where the doors will open to everyone.

OT: I can certainly understand you didn't want to release v3 until it reached a satisfactory level of quality. Last time, you told me that the layout of the duel screen was going to be revisited. How has that worked out?

I feel right at home in the new client.JZ: Like I said earlier, the new duel screen is fantastic. New players and current players alike will find it intuitive and comfortably familiar. Speaking for myself, I feel right at home in the new client. I know many others around the company also feel the same. From a design standpoint, the new UI really captures the "essence" of the Magic world.
From a quality standpoint, the new UI is ready. The development team is putting the finishing touches on before we start internal testing in mid January.

OT: What functionality have you got nailed down, and what functionality are you still working on?

JZ: The following features are complete: Dueling, New Account Creation, Account Management, In-Game Chat, eCom (finding, buying and receiving product), Collection Management (collection browsing, trading, searching, redemption), Deck Management, Communities (Marketplace, Trade Ticker, Hall of Champions), and Draft Queues. One feature is still being debugged: Premier Events & Leagues. These are being reviewed with a fine-toothed comb. The new tournament system is very different from current functionality, and we want to make sure all the new features are working properly before we open them up to testing.

Magic Online 3.0 Collection Manager. You'll notice improvements such as larger filter controls and dropdowns, larger default card size, and thematic adjustments made during the UI redesign.

OT: Last time you gave me an estimated release of Q1-Q2 2007. Now that we're getting close to those dates, I'll ask the question on everyone's minds. Can you offer a more detailed rollout schedule?

JZ: Our internal beta will begin on January 15th. During this phase of testing, the program will be released to internal testers from all functional areas of the company. Our goal is to document and squash as many bugs as possible before the first phase of the public beta, tentatively scheduled for February. Once we wrap up our internal testing, I'll be able to get more specific on the public beta and release date. Until then, we're sticking to the first half of 2007.

Oh, I almost forgot. We will be taking signups for the public beta in the near future. We'll announce specifics in-game, on, and on the message boards.

OT: Will MTGO 3 be available on a Mac platform?

JZ: We're focused on the PC version of Magic Online 3 at this time. Once we launch, we'll revisit the Mac question with the team. I know there are a lot of Mac users itching to play Magic Online on their machines. I would very much like to give them a Mac native version in the future. No promises, but we will look at it carefully.

OT: What's going on with the current MTGO v2 between now and the v3 launch? Are there going to be any special events or surprises?

JZ: For the most part, v2 operations will be "business as usual", including the release of Planar Chaos online in late February. However, as a promotion we're finalizing plans to run a series of sponsored events (special events with special prizes) sometime in the first quarter of this year. More details will be announced about the events as those plans gel.

OT: Thanks for your time Justin, looking forward to it.

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