At the time of writing, the Vintage main event of Bazaar of Moxen Annecy (“BoM”) is a little over a week away. Like many fans of the Vintage format, this is an incredibly exciting, and somewhat anxious time. The recent restriction of MUD centrepiece Lodestone Golem has thrown the format and the known metagame into flux, with players asking questions along these lines:

  • Is UWx Gush Mentor now definitively the ‘deck to beat’?
  • Is MUD still a viable deck without 4x Lodestone Golem?
  • Does the restriction of Lodestone Golem mean that other ‘big blue’ decks will now rise to the fore?
  • Should I still be playing/worrying about facing Dredge?

Certainly these are questions in my mind as I sit down to prepare for BoM and decide what deck I should play. In addition to this, I should add that like many other Vintage players, a combination of a scarcity of opportunities locally and other commitments outside of Magic, means that I do not have a vast amount of experience playing the format since the restriction of Lodestone Golem. As such, it was suggested that some of my thoughts might be of interest to readers here…

Public Enemy Number One?

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Since the printing of Monastery Mentor in January 2015, blue decks shaped around a Gush engine began gradually shifting to include Monastery Mentor. Fast forward 16 months and Gush Mentor has become virtually as omnipresent in the Vintage metagame and is now in all likelihood the reigning deck to beat.

It is the subject of great debate on Vintage forums, by the luminaries of the game, as to how to describe Gush Mentor. However in my mind it has emerged as the premier control deck of the format, combining card advantage through Gush, a formidable number of counterspells and a finisher in Mentor that provides both inevitability and also the potential for an explosive combo finish.

This version, piloted by Rich Shay, plays ‘only’ 10 counterspells, in favour of several versatile additions such as Supreme Verdict and Ancient Grudge as a compliment to the usual control package. There is also an interesting green splash for Sylvan Library for further card advantage. The true ‘flex’ slots for this deck enable two more unusual cards to be run – Erayo has the potential to lock an opponent down and is strongest in a meta without removal spells such as Fire//Ice, Lightning Bolt and Pyroblast. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar enables the player to either put a quick clock on an opponent or to maximise a token strategy. However it feels somewhat situational and at four mana is not inexpensive. Similar lists this month have, for example, instead played Thing in the Ice in this flex slot, adding another different powerful synergistic threat.

2 Flooded Strand 1 Erayo, Soratami Ascendant 1 Supreme Verdict
1 Island 3 Monastery Mentor 1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Library of Alexandria 1 Snapcaster Mage 1 Time Walk
1 Misty Rainforest 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 1 Treasure Cruise
2 Polluted Delta 2 Dack Fayden
2 Scalding Tarn 1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar Side
2 Tropical Island 2 Sylvan Library 2 Ancient Grudge
3 Tundra 1 Dig Through Time 4 Containment Priest
2 Volcanic Island 1 Flusterstorm 1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Black Lotus 4 Force of Will 2 Nature’s Claim
5 Moxen 2 Gitaxian Probe 1 Rest in Peace
1 Sol Ring 4 Gush 1 Supreme Verdict
1 Ancestral Recall 4 Mental Misstep 1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Ancient Grudge 1 Ponder 3 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Brainstorm 1 Pyroblast

By contrast here is a more ‘aggro’ list from the most recent Vintage premier event on MTGO. The shortcomings of this list from a data-perspective are that it was published prior to the restriction of Lodestone Golem, however it nicely illustrates a deck which again has the potential to control the board with 12 counterspells and 4 Lightning Bolts and can finish a game quickly through Mentor and Young Pyromancer. It is also arguably a tighter list, running for example only Black Lotus and the on colour Moxen, with 4 Preordain for better consistency.

1 Island 1 Ancestral Recall Side
3 Misty Rainforest 1 Brainstorm 4 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Scalding Tarn 1 Dig Through Time 4 Ingot Chewer
1 Strip Mine 3 Flusterstorm 1 Mountain
2 Tundra 4 Force of Will 1 Null Rod
3 Volcanic Island 3 Gitaxian Probe 2 Rest in Peace
2 Wasteland 4 Gush 1 Shattering Spree
4 Monastery Mentor 4 Lightning Bolt 2 Wasteland
1 Snapcaster Mage 4 Mental Misstep
2 Young Pyromancer 1 Ponder
1 Black Lotus 4 Preordain
1 Mox Pearl 1 Spell Pierce
1 Mox Ruby 1 Time Walk
1 Mox Sapphire 1 Treasure Cruise

The King is Dead, Long Live the King…

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The restriction of Lodestone Golem means that MUD is categorically no longer the ‘best deck’ or at least the most prevalent deck¹ – however it may still be a potent weapon in a metagame now dominated by Gush Mentor.

This list below is an interesting take on the MUD aggro list, combining the power of Arcbound Ravager with Ankh of Mishra, a classic card all the way back from the origins of the game in 1993. Ankh of Mishra is clearly targeting the Gush draw-engine and indulgent manabases of Gush Mentor and it has obvious synergies with Sphere of Resistence, Thorn of Amethyst and the powerful land destruction suite that is so synonymous with MUD.

Ankh of Mishra also works nicely with Tangle Wire and Arcbound Ravager as the game goes on, however one misgiving is that it is an awful top-deck, especially once we are past turns 1-5. Consequently, it may be that a threat such as Porcelain Legionnaire is in fact more effective/versatile.

The sideboard for this deck is inspired by Luis Scott-Vargas’ Shops lists in the VSL, using a full Leyline suite and Grafdigger’s Cage to protection against the potentially vulnerable match-ups of Oath, Storm and Dredge.

4 Ancient Tomb 4 Phyrexian Revoker 4 Thorn of Amethyst
4 Mishra’s Factory 3 Triskelion 1 Trinisphere
4 Mishra’s Workshop 4 Ankh of Mishra
4 Wasteland 1 Black Lotus Side
1 Strip Mine 1 Mana Crypt 1 Dismember
1 Tolarian Academy 5 Moxen 4 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Arcbound Ravager 1 Sol Ring 4 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Hangarback Walker 4 Sphere of Resistance 4 Leyline of the Void
1 Karn, Silver Golem 2 Sword of Fire and Ice 2 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
1 Lodestone Golem 4 Tangle Wire

Other options for MUD include a return to the ‘Martello Shops’ version of the deck, combining the usual suite of Sphere effects with the powerful Kuldotha Forgemaster to tutor up backbreaking threats such as Sundering Titan and Wurmcoil Engine. This version of the deck is traditionally weak against Planewalkers – both Dack Fayden and Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s ‘minus’ ability can be damaging against this deck – which may mean it is not an ideal choice for the current meta.

Another option is to include a flavour of the Eldrazi cards that have recently taken Modern and Legacy by storm. Thought-Knot Seer appears the most translatable into MUD lists and a reasonable like-for-like replacement for Lodestone Golem, however its obvious poor interaction with Mishra’s Workshop remains a question mark.

Blue is the Colour

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Diminishing the power of MUD means that there is now added incentive to playing a traditional ‘big blue’ deck in Vintage – typically a UBx list that takes advantage of the absurd draw and tutor spells available in the format. These decks often lacked the early creatures/board presence to deal with a fast start from Lodestone Golem and friends, however may now be better positioned.

For example this Grixis list, by Alex Delgado from LCV April, combines a strong anti-Mentor combo in Dack Fayden and Notion Thief with a Gush draw engine and Tinker package:

1 Library of Alexandria 4 Force of Will 5 Moxen
1 Misty Rainforest 4 Gush 1 Sol Ring
2 Island 4 Mental Misstep 1 Time Vault
2 Polluted Delta 1 Demonic Tutor 1 Voltaic Key
2 Volcanic Island 1 Merchant Scroll Side
3 Underground Sea 1 Ponder 1 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn 1 Time Walk 3 Ingot Chewer
1 Blightsteel Colossus 1 Tinker 2 Sulfur Elemental
2 Notion Thief 1 Treasure Cruise 1 Viashino Heretic
1 Ancestral Recall 1 Yawgmoth’s Will 3 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Brainstorm 4 Preordain 1 Pyroblast
1 Dig Through Time 2 Dack Fayden 2 Rakdos Charm
2 Mana Drain 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 1 Ravenous Trap
2 Mindbreak Trap 1 Black Lotus 1 Red Elemental Blast

Another feature of Tinker strategies is to also use Tezzeret the Seeker as a means of tutoring game-winning artifacts and as another means of untapping Time Vault and taking all the turns…

The main question marks over this deck are as follows

  1. Efficiency – how valid is a deck with 2-3 dead cards outside of the Tinker combo package (Blightsteel Colossus, Time Vault and Voltaic Key), especially when you can run Mentor instead, which basically has no dead draws (in the sense that everything can either help fuel Mentor or protect Mentor)?
  2. Vulnerability – the Tinker combo is very powerful, but is it too fragile? The target can be bounced or destroyed, the spell countered…
  3. Necessity – Tinker/Time Vault provides the ability to win explosively. However is it actually necessary and worth playing instead of Mentor? Mentor itself can perform a similar role whilst also being able to chip away over a number of turns in more grindy match-ups. There is also a case to be made for Mentor being harder to remove than Tinker targets. Even the traditional exception to this rule (Blightsteel Colussus) is weak to Dack Fayden, another commonly played spell in Vintage.
  4. Ground game – in a meta of Mentors and Ravagers, how viable is a deck that only really offers 2 Notion Thief as an answer to a resolved creature?

Magic the Gathering: How Garfield Intended

arc1250_bridgefrombelow

Avoiding putting spells on the stack always gave Dredge a huge edge against MUD when compared to most other opponents. Just ask Sullivan Brophy, who took down the NYSE II event last summer at the height of MUD’s powers (before Chalice of the Void was restricted in September 2015).

A similar list, by Manuel Gomez at April’s LCV, was in the top 16

1 Dakmor Salvage 4 Bloodghast 2 Dread Return
4 Bazaar of Baghdad 4 Golgari Grave-Troll 4 Serum Powder
4 Mana Confluence 4 Ichorid
4 Petrified Field 4 Narcomoeba Side
4 Undiscovered Paradise 4 Stinkweed Imp 4 Barbarian Ring
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite 4 Bridge from Below 4 Ingot Chewer
1 Flame-Kin Zealot 4 Cabal Therapy 3 Wispmare
3 Golgari Thug 4 Unmask 4 Nature’s Claim

Today the deck has been weakened by virtue of losing this natural advantage and also changes being made to other decks, due to the presence of Monastery Mentor. Suddenly cards like Sudden Shock, primarily seeing play to answer Mentor, will answer opposing Bridge from Belows in certain situations.

Another problem for Dredge is that the metagame shift caused by the restriction of Lodestone Golem means that MUD’s marginalisation leaves the door open for Storm decks to take a bigger slice of the metagame. As one of the few decks that can consistently finish a game before Dredge, this may cause the deck some problems.

Finally another issue are the Mentor decks themselves – white in Swords to Plowshares and Containment Priest offers some of the strongest ‘incidental’ hate for Dredge. Decks running Containment Priest and/or Swords to Plowshares in addition to true graveyard hate will be difficult to circumnavigate.

Epilogue

I hope this article an insight into the Vintage metagame ahead of one of its premier tournaments and some of the key questions players were asking going into the tournament. Of course there wasn’t time to cover all the decks, but hopefully this gives a flavour for some of the main decks of spring 2016.

As to what I chose to play at BoM, how I fared, and what changes there have been to the metagame since BoM – you’ll have to come back another day…

Richard Stebbing

1  23% of top 8s in May 2015-April 2016 according to mtgtop8.com  

 

Richard Stebbing
Richard started playing Magic in the 1990s, first opening packs of Ice Age. He is a big collector of old and interesting cards and when time permits is a Eternal Magic and Cube enthusiast. He enjoys decks where you can cast Delver and/or Gush and his most notable finish was making the top 4 in BoM Annecy’s 2016 Vintage event.
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