A brief introduction

Traditionally, when the word Vintage is mentioned in a conversation about Magic, thoughts of horrendously expensive cards and non-interactive games that end on the first turn, flood into people’s minds. For a long time, I have to say, I agreed with both of these thoughts, even had them myself and although the price barrier is still a very real thing in vintage, the notion of turn one kills is something that exists but does not dominate the format.

I simply adore Vintage. It’s a format I’ve enjoyed for many years and continue to enjoy today despite not owning any power[i]. Given the format has the largest card-pool in magic (every card is legal, except, the list of ante cards, a series of problem cards[ii], the 25 conspiracies are banned and there is a list of restricted cards[iii]) the list of truly competitive decks is quite large, but the list of unique archetypes is surprisingly small. I won’t go into the history of each archetype (maybe another article!) but I shall for reference list what I think the “decks to beat” are in the current state of the format:

  1. Various Mentor strategies including UWR, Esper and Sylvan Mentor.
  2. Oath including Runescar Demon Oath, Golden Gun Oath, Burning Oath, Bomberman Oath
  3. Eldrazi including Colorless, un-powered and the so called white-Eldrazi.
  4. Dredge including Pitch-Dredge and the more classic version.
  5. MUD including traditional Shops, Stax, Uba-Stax, Ravager-Shops and now Vehicle Shops.
  6. Storm now featuring Paradoxical Outcomes!
  7. Painters servant combo, in the form of Two Card Monte or UR Painter.

This looks like quite a large list, but for a format to include a list of tens of thousands of cards to only have seven tier one archetypes feels quite small to me.

If I was to ask what you think is missing from this list, what would your answer be? The first thing that comes to my mind is a dedicated control deck. Arguments can be made that UW mentor, certain Oath variants and UR painter could be considered control decks, however, in my mind these decks are midrange decks (in the case of Mentor) and combo-control decks (in the case of Oath and Painter).

You may have noticed that I haven’t included Landstill on this list, why? The answer is I don’t believe it to be Tier 1, yet. I think that there is still a lot of work that is needed in order to bring it to the power level of the decks on that list.

 

Ok, so enough about the format, show me the Standstill!

Landstill is a well-established archetype in Magic’s history. It is a control deck that revolves around abusing the effects of an enchantment called Standstill while pressuring your opponent’s life total with a creature or creature-lands[iv] supported by a strong suite of counter-magic, mana-denial, removal spells and Planeswalkers. There are a lot of different Landstill builds out there, so for this article I am going to talk about the list that first attracted me to the deck, then I shall discuss the changes I’ve made in the last few months. I present you with Joseph Graff’s 3rd place UW Landstill from Eternal Extravaganza July 2016.

UW Landstill - Joseph Graff

Creatures (2)
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (23)
Ancestral Recall
Brainstorm
Dig Through Time
Disenchant
Flusterstorm
Mindbreak Trap
Spell Snare
Mana Drain
Swords to Plowshares
Force of Will
Mental Misstep
Supreme Verdict
Time Walk
Treasure Cruise

Enchantments (5)
Moat
Standstill

Planeswalkers (3)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Artifacts (6)
Black Lotus
Crucible of Worlds
Engineered Explosives
Mox Pearl
Mox Sapphire
Sol Ring
Lands (21)
Faerie Conclave
Library of Alexandria
Scalding Tarn
Strip Mine
Island
Mishra’s Factory
Flooded Strand
Tundra
Wasteland

Sideboard (15)
Arcane Laboratory
Containment Priest
Disenchant
Ethersworn Canonist
Moat
Plains
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence
Supreme Verdict
Swords to Plowshares

This was love at first sight, it has everything a control player could want! However, when I made my decision to play this deck at MKM London, it was apparent, that changes needed to be made.

NOTE: I was unable to procure a Black Lotus for MKM London which meant I couldn’t make ALL the changes I wanted, so I shall present what I changed for London then move on to my current iteration.

For MKM London I only made two changes to the list you see above:

  1. -1 Black Lotus (NOT BY CHOICE) +1 Academy Ruins
  2. -1 Mental Misstep +1 Enlightened Tutor.

Even though I had never played Landstill before, I could see the power of Engineered Explosives and Crucible of Worlds in a format where zero mana artifacts, tokens and non-basic lands are rife. However, with only one copy of each, if for any reason these didn’t resolve, a serious line of attack to some strategies becomes lost. So the addition of Enlightened Tutor to search for them seemed like a sensible idea. I believe that Academy Ruins is criminally underplayed in Vintage and I was surprised to not see it on any Landstill lists. Not only does it give you a recurring source of zero, one and two mana mass removal in the form of Engineered Explosives, it gets around the issue mentioned above of having your vital artifact spells countered with no way to get them back.

There is an interesting situation that has arisen in my testing with Academy Ruins; very often when a Standstill resolves, the draw-go game begins[v]. Assuming the Standstill remains unbroken long enough, at some point players will have to discard cards. This is an undesirable situation because every counter spell or removal spell is potentially invaluable. However, discarding an artifact like a Mox Pearl, for example, can be fine and if you are happy with the 7 cards you have and there is no guarantee that you will draw a land and might be forced to discard a valuable spell, you can cycle the Mox Pearl indefinitely with the Academy Ruins, while your opponent discards more and more cards, or breaks the Standstill and gives you 3 cards.

The choice to cut Mental Misstep was a tough one to make, and I am still not convinced it is correct. It is true that there are an increasing number of matchups where the card is just awful, the main ones being MUD and Eldrazi variants (in these I believe the only target is Sol Ring). However, in the matchups where cards like Dark Ritual, Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, Ponder and your opponent’s Missteps are important, it is an invaluable free counterspell that can create a huge advantage.

My logic for the Enlightened Tutor as a replacement for Mental Misstep was that in matchups where you desperately needed the one copy of Moat or Explosives, having a virtual second copy of each felt quite powerful. However, in practice, it turned out that the card didn’t do what I’d hoped, quite amusingly it got Misstepped twice… The truth is that the number of essential targets for Enlightened Tutor is so small that late in the game its virtually a dead draw. Even though the sideboard contains many more enchantments, the nature of the deck is such that you end up drawing a lot of cards anyway with Standstill. This results in a larger percentage of the deck getting seen and so no need for tutors of this nature.

MKM London, my thoughts on the deck

With these changes in place, I piloted the deck to the quarter finals, but sadly lost. The tournament was rather small as most Vintage tournaments are, but I managed to get a good idea about what needed changing and how the deck needed to evolve. The first thing I noticed was that if the game plan is to lock your opponent out through Moat, the number of win cons reduces to four (the three Jace’s and lone Faerie Conclave). These are both a very slow clock and assuming the game takes a large amount of time to establish a controlled board, time becomes a factor. This is especially true if there is a lack of pressure in the early game from the Mishra’s Factories. The issue of a slow finisher was made abundantly clear to me in my quarter final match against Hannes playing Esper Mentor. The board state had gotten to a situation where he had no permanents and no cards in hand. All I had was a lonely Factory attacking each turn, while drawing blanks. By the time his life total was under any serious pressure he was able to draw out of the situation and beat me in short order.

This situation rang alarm bells, the entire point of the Landstill strategy is to grind out your opponent so they have no resources left and finish them off with creature lands, right? If I wasn’t able to finish my opponent off having left them with zero permanents and zero cards in hand, then something has gone wrong. I had to find a way to make sure this didn’t happen again. I needed a knock-out punch.

Do you have a few moments to talk about our lord and saviour?

The first thing that came to mind immediately was an old favourite of mine. Elspeth, Knight Errant. Not only does she protect herself when she comes down, the ability to turn your factories into 5/5 fliers is very appealing in a seventy-five that contains three Moats. To be quite honest, I think that there may still be a place in a Landstill strategy for this wonderful Planeswalker. I was, however, looking for more. I wanted a creature that not only presented a massive threat but also gave some form of card advantage. Thanks to some help from my good friend Callum Smith; ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, our lord and saviour, Dragonlord Ojutai. This beauty of a dragon is perfect; he fits into the curve amazingly at five mana. A whopping 5/4 that protects himself the turn he comes down and Anticipate s when he deals combat damage to a player. Ojutai also pitches to Force of Will in an incredibly tight bind. I cannot think of a more perfect top end threat in a blue white control deck, and frankly I felt silly for not having him included in the first place. The added bonus of having your top end threat in an all-in-one package rather than having to activate man-lands and then a Planeswalker, is that un-tapping with Ojutai in play and cards in hand feels so much safer as your mana is not caught up activating Factory. As an added bonus the clock is faster and it gains you card advantage!

The current list

Now have Ojutai in the deck, what next? First we have to cut cards down so that he fits in the deck. Secondly we need to sort out another issue, a distinct lack of filtering for the deck. I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a Sensei’s Divining Top and a Ponder for a while now, and have managed to squeeze the Ponder in but not the Top, thoughts on a postcard please! I shall now present my current iteration of the newly evolved Dragonstill

UW Dragonstill - Tom Brown

Creatures (4)
Snapcaster Mage
Dragonlord Ojutai

Spells (22)
Ancestral Recall
Brainstorm
Dig Through Time
Disenchant
Flusterstorm
Spell Snare
Mana Drain
Swords to Plowshares
Force of Will
Mental Misstep
Ponder
Supreme Verdict
Time Walk
Treasure Cruise

Enchantments (5)
Moat
Standstill

Planeswalkers (2)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Artifacts (6)
Black Lotus
Crucible of Worlds
Engineered Explosives
Mox Pearl
Mox Sapphire
Sol Ring
Lands (21)
Minamo, School at Water ‘s Edge
Academy Ruins
Library of Alexandria
Scalding Tarn
Strip Mine
Island
Mishra’s Factory
Flooded Strand
Tundra
Wasteland

Sideboard (15)
Arcane Laboratory
Containment Priest
Disenchant
Ethersworn Canonist
Moat
Plains
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence
Supreme Verdict
Swords to Plowshares

 

The first change of note is that I have cut down to two Jace, The Mind Sculptor. Not one you say? At the end of the day, he’s still Jace, the card is still absolutely bonkers in the format, so I find two to be a safe number as I want to see him every game but not in multiples. I decided to cut

Minamo, School at Water’s Edge, is a cute trick that I am testing to un-tap my Ojutai when targeted with removal so my opponent needs two spells, in addition to getting through my counter magic to kill him. I can easily see this becoming another Island or a fourth Wasteland in the future (more likely a blue source as the Academy Ruins is the Wasteland replacement, having too many colorless sources is a problem!). It does have a big advantage over the Faerie Conclave because it is an untapped source of blue mana when played, which is surprisingly relevant.

Manaleak Eternal Weekend

So the big day arrived and I decided to NOT PLAY LANDSTILL and played UWR Mentor instead. Why you ask? You’ve just spend the last hour talking to me about how absolutely great the deck is!  To be quite frank I agree, I should have played the deck, I should have just believed that I was a good enough player to pilot the deck to a high standard. The main reason I decided not to was the rise in an archetype that revolves around Paradoxical Outcome. The combo decks that play this card, I felt, were way too fast for Landstill in game one, and in game two if the small amount of hate wasn’t drawn we would be dead to it again. Even though I stand by my decision to play mentor, losing to my own build of Landstill in the semi-finals of Eternal Weekend, was humbling and I’m happy to announce that Dragonstill still won the tournament! Hindsight hey? Any this feels like a good place to stop, thanks for reading and until next time.

Tom Brown

Tom is an avid Vintage player with back to back top 8s at MKM London and ManaLeak Vintage 2016.


[i] The power 9: A set of what is considered to be the 9 most powerful cards in the game of magic. These cards consist of Black Lotus, Mox Emerald, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Time Twister.

[ii] The problem cards for vintage: There are 3 cards that are considered problem cards these are Falling Star, Chaos Orb and Shahrazad. The first two require the player to flip the card onto the game area and an effect happens on landing. This obviously can create a messy board state and strategies for avoiding the effect not in the spirit of the game and are banned. Shaharazad requires players to start a new game separate from the current game and the loser loses half of their life points. This creates horrible sub games that can lead to more sub games etc and was banned for time and headache reasons.

[iii] The restricted list: A series of cards that you are only allowed to have 1 of in your deck not the usual 4, the list can be found here http://magic.wizards.com/en/game-info/gameplay/rules-and-formats/banned-restricted.

[iv] Creature lands: lands that add mana but also can become a creature when activated.

[v] The draw-go game: This is a phrase that means that players draw a card for their turn, make no actions with the exception of playing a land and ending the turn.

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