• So Many Insane Plays – The Evolving 2018 Vintage Metagame

    The end of August is a good time to take stock of the Vintage metagame: to see where it currently is, how it has evolved during the year, and where it might be headed. School is back in session, and Vintage fans and enthusiasts will begin focusing their attention on preparation for the North American Vintage Championship, and the monthly local events that are, in large part, the lifeblood of the format.

    Overview of the Vintage Tournament Scene

    With the advent of Vintage on Magic Online, the weekly Vintage Challenges are now the best source of information we have on the pulse of the format. Roughly 50-65 players, including former and reigning Vintage Champions, can be found battling digitally on a weekly basis. Because Wizards of the Coast publishes the Top 32 decks from every event, and the Top 32 final standings, we get more information from this event, and it is more consistently held, than anything else in the format.

    But there are a number of other places around the globe holding down the Vintage format, including the monthly LCV in Spain, Knight Ware in Los Angeles, Eudemonia Games in Berkeley, RIW in Michigan, Team Serious Opens in Ohio, and many other local hotbeds. These events have their own allure, as playing with friends is part of the appeal of Magic: The Gathering, but the metagames are more diverse and idiosyncratic than the global metagame appearing in the Vintage Challenges.

    As important as these local and regular events are, Vintage is anchored by major tent pole tournaments. These “majors” draw players from beyond their local communities and generally offer the most competitive players the best opportunity to prove their mettle. Thus far, there have been 4 such events in 2018: 1) The European Vintage Championship, 2) The Mana Drain Open 19 (aka The Waterbury), 3) the StarCityGames Power Nine Series at SCGCON, and 4) the Asia Vintage Championship. The last, and biggest major of the year will be the North American Vintage Championship held this year in Pittsburgh, PA

    These events provide a revealing snapshot of the evolving Vintage format. We lack complete metagame data for any of the Vintage Challenges since March, so I will primarily be examining Top 8 results. Top 8 appearances aren’t as good as win percentage as a performance measure, but they reflect win percentages.

    July & August Vintage Challenge Results: A Paradoxical Outcome

    If you followed the most recent season of the Vintage Super League, or followed much of the associated online chatter, you can be forgiven for thinking that Paradoxical Outcome is dominating the Vintage format. Although Paradoxical Outcome was second best performing deck (or tied for second) as measured by Top 8 penetration for 4 of the 8 months of the year, there was only one month this entire year (February) where Paradoxical Outcome was the best performing deck. It’s been a solid strategy in the format for most of 2018, and this is especially true of July and August, but by no means dominant.

    In fact, the pecking order for July and August is very clear. Here are the results in terms of percentage of Top 8s:

    % of July & Aug Top 8sStrategy
    28%Ravager Shops
    22%Turbo Xerox (Jeskai Mentor/Delver)*
    16%PO
    8%Dredge
    6%White Eldrazi
    5%BUG(R)
    5%Dark Ritual Combo (DPS/Bargain)
    5%Survival
    5%Other

    * Jeskai Mentor has 12 Top 8 appearances and Delver had 3 in the TX category

    In short, the results are clear: Workshop Aggro is the top dog. In fact, it’s so good that it put up literally 50% of the August 25th Vintage Challenge Top 8, and then was the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th place deck as well, making up 66% of the Top 12. What’s remarkable is Workshop Aggro’s consistency, as it has the exact same 28% of Top 8s in July and August.

    If we aggregate Eldrazi and Workshop decks – as O’Brien School strategies – then this basic concept of taxing goes up to nearly 35% of Top 8s in Vintage.

    Jeskai Mentor decks are the next best performing deck. Even disaggregated from Delver, they have more Top 8 appearances than Paradoxical Outcome, the next best performing strategy. This category of deck, however, rose from 19% to 25% of Top 8s from July to August.

    Paradoxical Outcome (PO) decks are regularly the second or third best strategy in the format, as measured by Top 8 appearances. Averaging across July and August it comes in at 16%, but disaggregated, PO was 19% of Top 8s in July, but fell to 13% in August, so it had a down month.

    Oath has nearly disappeared from the Vintage Challenge Top 8s in recent months, giving Dredge the next spot in terms of appearances.

    Dredge, however, oscillates wildly over the course of the year, as I’ll elaborate on below. But it averaged a healthy 8% in this time period, even though it was only 3% of Top 8s in July and 13% (tied with PO) in August.

    BUG and BUG(R) decks, which almost always have Deathrite Shaman (and often sport Leovold, Emissary of Trest), held around 5%, as did Dark Ritual Combo decks (which did very well in July, but disappeared in August).

    The big newcomer on the scene, however, is the Vengevine Survival deck. This is the new breakout deck of the summer for Vintage, with 3 Top 8 appearances in August and, more importantly, a victory over Paradoxical Outcome in the Asia Vintage Championship. Here is that winning deck:

    Vengevine Survival, by Ryoji Cross - 1st Place 2018 Asia Vintage Championship

    Business (40)
    Bazaar of Baghdad
    Survival of the Fittest
    Hollow One
    Vengevine
    Basking Rootwalla
    Noble Hierarch
    Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
    Manglehorn
    Elvish Spirit Guide
    Spell Queller
    Squee, Goblin Nabob
    Wonder
    Hooting Mandrills
    Ancestral Recall
    Time Walk
    Stony Silence
    Thorn of Amethyst

    Mana Sources (20)
    Black Lotus
    Mox Emerald
    Mox Jet
    Mox Pearl
    Mox Ruby
    Mox Sapphire
    Windswept Heath
    Misty Rainforest
    Verdant Catacombs
    Wooded Foothills
    Savannah
    Tropical Island
    Forest
    Sideboard (15)
    Containment Priest
    Kataki, War’s Wage
    Squee, Goblin Nabob
    Fairgrounds Warden
    Wispmare
    Grafdigger’s Cage
    Null Rod
    Stony Silence
    Energy Flux
    Chalice of the Void

    This deck is a remarkable achievement. With Hollow One, Basking Rootwalla, and Vengevine providing quick offense, and Thalia to keep the opponent pinned down, this is the most legitimate “aggro” deck in Vintage in years. It’s the closest thing we’ve had to a deck in the Bertrand Lestree mold in possibly a decade, largely on the muscle of Hollow One and Vengevine. Dredge may attack, but it’s a Reanimator deck more than a true Aggro deck.

    The most succinct way of describing the Vintage format is that it is a battle at the top between Workshop Aggro, TurboXerox decks, and Paradoxical Outcome. A more elaborate and comprehensive way of describing the format is that it is a three-way battle at the top, with viable Eldrazi, Dredge, Dark Ritual Combo, BUG, Lands, and a rising but newly emergent Survival deck. I also believe that Oath remains a contender, even though it’s disappeared a bit from Vintage Challenge Top 8s.

    A Look Back in the Year

    To widen the lens and put these results in perspective, allow me to summarize the results from the first half of the year: January through June. Here is the breakdown of the Top performing decks (as measured by Top 8 representation in the Vintage Challenges):

    % of Top 8s 1st Half of 2018Strategy
    23%Shops (Ravager and Stax)
    17%Turbo Xerox (Jeskai Mentor/Delver)
    17%PO
    13%Dredge
    10%Oath
    8%BUG(R)
    2%Eldrazi
    2%Dark Ritual Combo
    8%Other

    Workshop decks not only have the highest overall Top 8 representation, but also the highest overall tournament win percentage, having won 10 of the 34 Vintage Challenges held this year so far (nearly 30%).

    These aggregate results from the first half of 2018 mask some considerable variation over time. For example:
    • Shops waxed and waned over the first half of the year, falling to 16% and 13% of Top 8s in February and May, respectively, while rising to 33% and 34% in March and April.
    • Paradoxical Outcome had its best month of the year in February, with 28% of Top 8s, and its worst in April, with just 6% of Top 8s.
    • Turbo Xerox had their best month of the year in March, with 30% of Top 8s, and their worst in January, at 6% of Top 8s.
    • Dredge had its best month in May, at an astounding 22% of Top 8s, and its worst in July, with 3% of Top 8s.
    • BUG decks had their best month in May at 16% of Top 8s, and their worst in January and July at 3% of Top 8s.
    • Oath shows considerable variation, rising to 19% of Top 8s in January and February, but falling to 0% of Top 8s in May, July, and August.

    Dark Ritual Combo decks are a very strange case, since they were 9% of July Top 8s, but 0% of Top 8s in the entire first four months of the year. And a non-trivial percentage of those decks were employing PO, but not most.

    Vintage with a Fringe on the Top

    The Vintage Challenge Top 8s are considerably more consolidated than paper tournament results, where players enjoy decks like 2-Card Monte, Landstill, and such. But there are still a remarkably number of ‘fringe’ decks that appear in Vintage Challenge Top 8s, and even win events occasionally.

    Matt Murray built and piloted a UW Teferi deck that won the May 19th Vintage Challenge. And three different BUG and BUGr decks won Vintage Challenges in May. I see no reason to think that these decks aren’t still viable in skilled hands.

    And for players looking for something more old school (circa, say 2012), a Grixis Control deck won a Vintage Challenge in January, and a UW Landstill deck won an event in February.

    If you really want to try a fringe deck, then Brian Kelly’s OddStill deck won a Challenge in mid-July (with Brian as the pilot, of course).

    Lands has Top 8’ed two Vintage Challenges in the last few months, most recently in late August, getting 6th place.

    Lands, by CALL1ME1DRAGON - 6th Place Vintage Challenge #11555877

    Business (34)
    Bazaar of Baghdad
    Dark Depths
    Glacial Chasm
    Maze of Ith
    The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
    Life from the Loam
    Fastbond
    Exploration
    Manabond
    Crop Rotation
    Gamble
    Chalice of the Void
    Null Rod
    Mental Misstep
    Ancient Grudge

    Mana Sources (26)
    Mox Diamond
    Mox Emerald
    Mox Ruby
    Grove of the Burnwillows
    Verdant Catacombs
    Wooded Foothills
    Misty Rainforest
    Taiga
    Forest
    Strip Mine
    Wasteland
    Ghost Quarter
    Library of Alexandria
    Riftstone Portal
    Thespian’s Stage
    Sideboard (15)
    Drop of Honey
    Hollow One
    Mindbreak Trap
    Nature’s Claim
    Punishing Fire
    Pyroblast
    Ravenous Trap

    This deck attacks the format from a very different angle, and is a great Legacy port to Vintage. Although Survival may no longer be “fringe” since it just won the Asia Vintage Championship, it’s still an exciting newcomer.

    In short, there are plenty of interesting decks to choose from or play around with.

    Looking Ahead

    The Vintage format looks, by all outward appearances, more diverse and healthier in 2018 than in 2017 (where Workshops represented 45% of Top 8s), 2016 (where Gush was a boogeyman), 2015 (where Lodestone decks dominated, and Dig Through Time and Chalice of the Void were restricted), or the end of 2014 (where Treasure Cruise dominated the last months of the year). In short, this is probably the most “balanced” and simultaneously “diverse” Vintage metagame we’ve seen since 2014, if not earlier.

    I think PO, Turbo Xerox, and Workshops are going to remain at the top of the metagame through the end of the year, barring DCI intervention. But I think that Oath is poised for another strong run, as it is extremely versatile and powerful, and can attack almost any metagame. The rise of PO may have scared off some Oath players, but if PO falls back to earth, then Oath has a big opening.

    Workshops are still borderline dominant, and a bit too good for my personal tastes. Despite the emergence of decks that are giving Workshops a hard time – decks like Lands, Survival, and especially PO – Shops are still the “deck to beat.” Although there were 0 Workshop decks in the Top 8 of the recent 154 player Asia Vintage Championship, let’s not forget that Shops was 5/8 of the 2017 North American Vintage Championship Top 8.

    In the hands of the right player, PO is a serious tournament contender, and Jeskai decks appear to be the only main stumbling block, along with decks like Survival sporting Stony Silence main deck. I wouldn’t be shocked to see PO win the Vintage Championship this year, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    In the end, unless a player like LSV enrolls, I can’t shake the suspicion that SCGCon probably gives us the ‘truest’ insight into what we should expect to see at the Vintage Championship this year, with a Top 8 dominated by Workshops again, and a few appearances by PO and Jeskai Mentor. If recent Vintage Challenges are any indication, the Workshop deck is not only the best deck, but it’s gearing up for another bruising title run.

    Until next time,
    Stephen Menendian

  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2017

    Years in the making, read the conclusion to Stephen Menendian’s epic History of Vintage. 2017 was an incredible year of Vintage experiences, long anticipated restrictions, and surprising unrestrictions. Stephen’s book closes with a special review of the great Schools of Vintage Magic, and reflections on 25 years of an incredible game.
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  • So Many Insane Plays – Suggested Banned and Restricted List Updates (2018)

    Throughout my long career opining on Magic, one of the perennial topics is the Banned and Restricted List. It is the primary mechanism by which the DCI and other organizing bodies promote strategic diversity, maintain competitive balance, and regulate the most unfair elements of any Magic format. Most columnists – including myself – tackle this sensitive subject in an ad hoc manner – responding to crises as they arise, or periodically – in anticipation of pending DCI updates.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2016

    In 2016 an entire class of cards was printed, largely ignored and overlooked, and swept through and utterly infiltrated Vintage, in a testament to the challenges in the science of prediction and forecasting any format. The Eldrazi entered the Vintage plane and took over in 2016, and helping creature new taxing strategies, including one of the most unprecedented ever conceived, an optimally unpowered upper tier competitive strategy – the holy grail of Vintage budget play. Read about the Eldrazi Empire, the restriction of Lodestone Golem, and the heated debates about Gush in the 2016 chapter of the History of Vintage.
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  • So Many Insane Plays – Smashing ’96 Old School with Phyrexian Dreadnought

    A few years ago, I undertook the effort of writing a 12-part series on Old School Magic. In the first article, I took pains to define Old School as a set or range of formats, rather than a particular format, like 93/94. While readers might be most familiar with 93/94, I offered a number of other examples, including 1995 Type II or non-historical formats, such as Commander formats that permit sets through Alliances. The keystone of ‘Old School’ is a set of Magic formats that exclude the most recent sets – an anti-Standard paradigm.

    Despite the enormous range of possibilities, most players seem content enjoying the 93/94 experience over and over again. In my view, that’s like going to a sushi bar and only trying the tuna rolls. There is so much more on the menu!

    As much as I accept the mantle of “Old School Player,” I self-identify much more as Type I player. Although I played and enjoyed constructed Magic prior to the creation of the Type I format at the beginning of 1995, it was under the auspices of Type I where I found my home, and my passion as a Magic player. Type I defined and distilled the elements I enjoyed most in Magic, and the schism of constructed Magic in to Type I and Type II allowed for greater differentiation of Magic community subgroups to emerge.

    This delineation occurred on several axes. On one dimension, it allowed players to segregate among new and old, among “Mr. Suitcase” and budget players, and so on. Although I was barely a teenager, I was an older Magic player by the time Type I was created. On another dimension, Type I was regarded as a home for more broken and unfair cards, and therefore filtered out more casual play in the early years. Large group games and kitchen table magic may have loosely followed Type I construction rules, but were rarely regarded as “Type I play.”

    Unfortunately, 93/94 can hardly capture the full range of experiences enjoyed by a Type I player in the mid-1990s. Ice Age in particular was a major turning point, and a dramatic metagame correction against The Deck, with Jester’s Cap and Necropotence. 1995 Old School is such a rich experience that I organized a tournament in Berkeley in late 2016 that extended traditional American Old School Magic 6 months forward, by allowing Ice Age. Ice Age opens up many new strategies, but the one that I enjoyed playing in our local event, and winning the tournament with, was Reanimator, which is boosted enormously with Dance of the Dead and other tactics.

    1996 Old School

    Part of the fun of Old School is employing hard-won insights from 25 years of Magic, peering backwards into older formats. Although I enjoyed 1995 Old School a great deal, I thought it would be an exciting exercise to continue to try introducing novel Old School environments to our community. So, a few months ago, I announced to our Bay Area Old School group my plans to organize a 1996 Old School event for the evening of March 8 at a local gamer-friendly pub.

    I decided to give away a pair of Golgothian Sylex to the first and second place finishers.

    There are only two sets from 1996, Alliances and Mirage. So I had to decide whether to include just Alliances or both. Alliances is a major departure from previous formats, in that Force of Will is permitted, and a number of other cards such as Gorilla Shaman are also introduced. Eternal Central’s recommended Old School 96 rules permits Mirage as well. After reviewing the sets, I determined that Mirage introduces intriguing deck building components without being overpowered on its own, and therefore serves the goal of offering up interesting deck options. It is the Mirage expansion set, Visions, that more fundamentally changes game play, with the introduction of Prosperity and Vampiric Tutor in 1997.

    Drawing a line between Mirage and Visions maximizes deck building options without overly bending them in one direction or another. I felt that this was a rich and rewarding environment to explore. The next question, however, was what to change or modify in the Banned and Restricted List.

    Having tested and experienced 1995 Old School, I knew that I would want Necropotence restricted, contrary to the recommendations of the Eternal Central for ’95 Old School. My issue with Necropotence is not that it can’t be beaten or is overpowered, but that it polarizes the format between Necro decks, anti-Necro decks, and other decks. It inhibits and contracts deck building options. That logic extends into the 1996 Old School format.

    Superficially, the scariest card in Mirage may be Flash, but, upon closer inspection, there appeared to be nothing to use it with, as cards like Academy Rector or even Great Whale come to print later. In advance of the event, I invited players to identify potentially broken combos with Flash that might warrant its restriction. None were found.

    Both Mystical Tutor and Enlightened Tutor arrive in Mirage. Neither is necessarily broken, but Mystical Tutor easily goes into control decks to find cards like Balance. It might not need to be restricted from a pure competition perspective, but restricting it keeps deck building options more expansive.

    Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, and Lion’s Eye Diamond all exist in the 1996 format, but they were collectively first broken with the arrival of Visions. It remained an open – and tantalizing question – as to whether they could be broken without Prosperity. The Recursion deck with Forgotten Lore I discussed in my 12-part series would seem eminently viable, but could be kept in check by both Tormod’s Crypt and Force of Will. I was willing to allow that, as I felt anyone enterprising and daring enough to work on that deserved to be able to play it.

    Given that Forgotten Lore exists, I also see no reason to restrict Recall, so I unrestricted that as well. I departed from the Eternal Central-suggested list in a few other respects as well. With Strip Mine unrestricted, I see no reason whatsoever to restrict Maze of Ith.

    Although I strongly disagree with unrestricting Strip Mine in many Old School environments, as it tends to make Tempo and Aggro decks dominate to an unreasonable degree, sets such as Ice Age and Alliances introduce a number of specialized lands such as Kjeldoran Outpost and Glacial Chasm that deserve to have a more reliable answer. Also, with such fast acceleration available for combo decks and more counter-tactics and ways to protect your lands, I feel that Strip Mine is less oppressive in 1996 Old School. Therefore, Strip Mine and Maze of Ith would be unrestricted.

    In reviewing my TARGET=”EC”>History of Vintage chapters in this period and at the history of Banned and Restricted List policy, it is notable that Storm Cauldron and Fastbond create a very powerful mana engine that functions like Channel, and even better when paired with Glacial Chasm. At 6 mana however, I felt that it was worth permitting. So that was a conspicuous exemption, also an invitation to courageous deck builders.

    There was but one issue left to resolve: Demonic Consultation. In 1995 Magic, Demonic Consultation proved vital to both the Reanimator and Power Artifact combo decks, which both did very well. I was concerned that with Force of Will, the Power Artifact combo deck would be even more powerful. Therefore, I had to decide whether to restrict Consultation to help keep it in check. I felt that Consultation opened up more deck options than simply restricting Power Artifact, so I restricted Power Artifact instead. Demonic Consultation can’t be used by Restricted List-heavy decks like the Recursion deck or The Deck, so it is not available to every strategy for abuse.

    Therefore, here is the Restricted List I settled on for this event, and would recommend again for Old School ’96:

    Restricted List:

    Ancestral Recall
    Balance
    Black Lotus
    Braingeyser
    Channel
    Chaos Orb
    Demonic Tutor
    Library of Alexandria
    Mana Drain
    Mind Twist
    Mox Emerald
    Mox Jet
    Mox Pearl
    Mox Ruby
    Mox Sapphire
    Mystical Tutor
    Necropotence
    Power Artifact
    Regrowth
    Sol Ring
    Time Vault
    Time Walk
    Timetwister
    Wheel of Fortune

    Because we would only have time for 3-4 rounds (I announced 3 rounds of Swiss plus one more playoff round to determine final standings, if necessary), I simply banned Shahrazad to prevent anyone from using it to waste time.

    With these rules in place, I began to explore possible deck options. The Recursion deck was very attractive to me, but having played Reanimator before, I was wary of having to contend with multiple rounds of Tormod’s Crypts. Therefore, I ruled this out.

    In talking with my friend Paul Mastriano, he made a very compelling case for using the Browse + Soldevi Digger combo, which he used to win an Old School tournament in Pittsburgh back in 2010, one of the first ever held in the States. As he explained it, the combo quickly filters through your deck until you set up a boundless Time Walk loop much like Time Vault and Voltaic Key in contemporary Vintage. That strategy seemed very powerful to me.

    But there was one other combo that I felt would be more fun, if not as effective: Illusionary Mask and Phyrexian Dreadnaught.

    MaskNaught

    A weird errata in the winter of 2001 fundamentally changed longstanding rulings on how Illusionary Mask could be used, and now allowing Mask to preclude creatures “Comes into play” abilities, most usefully those with drawbacks, such as Phyrexian Dreadnaught or Lord of Tresserhorn. This errata opened the door to a new Type I strategy in 2002, which was subject of the first strategy article I ever wrote on Magic. Since that time, however, further errata has modified the functionality of Illusionary Mask in a number of respects, but nonetheless retained this valuable interaction. I resolved to focus my efforts on building the best 1996 MaskNaught deck I could.

    Based upon my previous work on the archetype, I had a strong sense of what I was looking for. Cramming everything I wanted into a 60 card deck was a difficult task, as was trying to find room for 4 Force of Wills and enough blue cards to support them. Here is what I ended up playing:

    MaskNaught 1996, by Stephen Menendian

    Business (33)
    Force of Will
    Mana Drain
    Brainstorm
    Ancestral Recall
    Time Walk
    Timetwister
    Necropotence
    Demonic Consultation
    Mystical Tutor
    Demonic Tutor
    Lim-Dul's Vault
    Recall
    Illusionary Mask
    Phyrexian Dreadnought
    Hypnotic Specter

    Mana Sources (27)
    Dark Ritual
    Black Lotus
    Mox Jet
    Mox Pearl
    Mox Ruby
    Mox Sapphire
    Sol Ring
    Library of Alexandria
    Strip Mine
    Underground Sea
    Underground River
    Swamp
    Island
    Sideboard (15)
    Island
    Hurkyl's Recall
    Tormod's Crypt
    Flash Counter
    Blue Elemental Blast
    City in a Bottle
    Zuran Orb
    Gloom

    Brainstorm and Demonic Consultation have a powerful synergy, so I decided to run both in maximal quantities. The MaskNaught combo itself consumes 8 slots. Dark Ritual is a natural inclusion, and easily supports Hypnotic Specter as a backup and complementary plan. I wanted to run a few Lord of Tresserhorn, but it tested slowly in goldfishing, and, what’s worse, could not be played, even under Mask, without red mana. So I picked up a few at my local shop, but quickly cut them not long in the development process.

    Lim-Dul’s Vault tested very well in goldfishing, so I included one, as well as a number of other restricted blue cards. 4 Strip Mine would be auto-included to combat Glacial Chasm, Maze of ith, and other tactics, as well as for disruptive effect. Underground River was a necessary card for black and blue color consistency, but I also wanted enough basics as a hedge against Blood Moon. I cannot explain the absence of Chaos Orb except to say that I simply forgot it. I shaved the off-color Mox Emerald to make room for the Lim-Dul’s Vault.

    As for the sideboard, I already mentioned how important Tormod’s Crypt would be in this environment, and planned to have at least a couple in my sideboard. Gloom is one of the best cards against both White Weenie decks, but also quite good at decks with Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant, which are a nuisance for me. Zuran Orb is a nice tactic against burn decks and a way to keep Necropotence going. Flash Counter would come in against control decks, and Blue Elemental Blast against Gorilla Shaman and Atog decks. Hurkyl’s Recall was there for the mirror and Workshop decks.

    Game Day

    On the evening of March 8, seven players and a few spectators showed up to play some Old School Magic at the Albatross Pub in Berkeley (California, USA). This meant that we would be able to play 3 rounds with a player getting the bye (with the worst record) each round.

    Round 1 vs. John Delustro (Zoo)
    I played Jon way back in one of our very first Bay Area Old School events, and he was playing the same deck again: Zoo. This time, with Gorilla Shaman in tow.

    Although Jon won the die roll, in the first game, I nearly unloaded my entire hand. He led with a Savannah Lions, but I played a Mox Sapphire, and cast Brainstorm. I played Underground Sea, Mox Pearl and Sol Ring, and used the Sol Ring to play Illusionary Mask, and cast Phyrexian Dreadnought face down. He played a Strip Mine, and oddly passed the turn. It soon became clear why. I went to attack him, and he cast Disenchant after I flipped over the Dreadnaught. I cast Mana Drain on it, and struck him for 12. I greedily Consulted for another Dreadnought and played it. He drew his card for the turn, and then scooped.

    In the second game, I greedily fed off of Necropotence and a supplementary Library of Alexandria, but then Demonic Tutored for something unimportant instead of a Zuran Orb, and found myself quickly at his mercy with a cluster of Bolts which I couldn’t counter.

    In the third game, my hand was a questionable: Mox Jet, Strip Mine, Illusionary Mask, Demonic Consultation, Force of Will, Brainstorm, and Mana Drain.

    I played a first turn Mask, and passed back. He played Mox, land, and cast Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall. I drew Lim-Dul’s Vault, and cast Demonic Consultation for Phyrexian Dreadnaught, and then played it. He cast Ancestral, and I decided to let it resolve, simply because I just had to stop removal, if he had any. He played a Maze of Ith, but I Stripped that, and attacked him. He Regrowthed Ancestral, and this one I countered with Force. He drew a blank for the turn, and I killed him with Dreadnought.

    Record: 1-0, 2-1

    Round 2 vs. Brian Hanlon (Blue Skies)
    Brian is a good friend, and a great guy who made the trip from Sacramento to play some Old School. He was playing a Flying Man/Serendib deck, and didn’t know what I was playing.

    Here was my opening hand in our first game:

    He led with Island, Flying Men. My opening hand introduced several lines of play, but I felt the most powerful would be to simply play Illusionary Mask and then pass, giving me Time Walk as an additional attack step. He played a Factory on his second turn, and cast Time Walk, and then attacked with Factory and Flying Men again, bringing me to 16.

    On my second turn, I drew Strip Mine, and played it. I then cast Dreadnaught, and then Time Walk. On my Time Walk turn, I Stripped his Island. He drew a card, and then scooped.

    I sideboarded in a pair of City in a Bottles and both Flash Counters.

    In our second game, I led with Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter, but he had a second turn Serendib Efreet that I couldn’t answer. I drew Force of Will the next turn. He played Tolaria and cast Serendib Djinn, which I considered letting resolve, but decided against. He attacked me, and I attacked him back, stripping Counterspell and Mana Drain over consecutive turns. Unfortunately, I couldn’t assemble the combo, and died not long after he played Unstable Mutation on the Efreet.

    The third game was much more to my liking. Here was my opening hand:

    I resolved a first turn Mask, and my turn 2 Brainstorm revealed a Dreadnaught and a Mystical Tutor. I played an Island and held up Drain and Force so that I could Mystical for Time Walk on his end step to end the game. That’s exactly what happened. He played Ancestral and a Flying Men with Unstable Mutation, but I smashed him to death with a 12/12 Dreadnought.

    Record: 2-0, 4-2

    Round 3 vs. Hampton Maxwell (Atog Burn))
    Hampton is one of the more crotchety players in our community, but a strong competitor. I was not surprised that he was the only other 2-0 player in the field. His deck presented some challenges, with Gorilla Shamans and speed. I am a little hazy on the particulars, but here is a rough sketch of what occurred. In the first game, he emptied his hand, but his Wheel of Fortune ran in to my Force of Will. I believe I then played Demonic Tutor for Necropotence, and used Necro to take over the game.

    In the second game, I recall playing a Hypnotic Specter, and then used it to empty his hand of Pyroblast and other disruption, and Strip Mined his only blue mana source. Eventually, I assembled the MaskNaught combo and killed him in the first attack with Dreadnaught.

    Record: 3-0, 6-2

    I was the only undefeated player, and had the best overall record. However, there was a three way tie in both matches and games for 2nd place. The winner of that match, Eliot, wanted to play me, so I offered to play him for fun. We played two quick games. In the first game, I played this sequence of cards on the first turn:

    Black Lotus, Brainstorm, Underground River, Dark Ritual, Demonic Tutor, Illusionary Mask, Phyrexian Dreadnought with Force of Will protection. I drew Swamp on my second turn of the game. Here was my hand, board and graveyard:

    In our second game, I Consulted for a Dark Ritual, but removed 3 Masks in the process. I used the Ritual, however, to cast Necropotence. The Necro found me Demonic Tutor, which found the last Mask, and I deployed two Dreadnoughts with multiple counterspells protecting them.

    Final Record: 4-0, 8-2

    I expected MaskNaught to be good, but I didn’t quite expect to be quite this consistent. Almost every design choice I made proved better than expected. The Hypnotic Specters held their own. Lim-Dul’s Vault was very good. Brainstorm supplemented by Demonic Consultation meant that I was never concerned about Brainstorm locking myself. Even if Demonic Consultation were restricted, I would probably play the same deck. In fact, that would make it easy for me to find space for the accidentally-omitted Chaos Orb. From there, I could see adding a second Lim-Dul’s Vault, a Merchant Scroll, or even another Recall. Two of those cards provided post-Brainstorm shuffles.

    1996 Old School is great fun. The period from late 1996 until roughly 2000 is a Dark Age for Type I play, as there were very few recorded tournament results. Given discoveries and deck building advances since, and odd errata, there is much space for innovation and refinement. It is a ripe area of exploration for intrepid Old School players.

    My fellow competitors shared my enthusiasm for the format, although many were just happy to be playing Old School. In an informal poll afterward about what we should try next, whether we should rewind to Ice Age or earlier, try this same format again, or move forward in time, the consensus was to expand to try Visions next.

    That’s now may plan. Because Visions introduces Prosperity, we will probably need to restrict Prosperity and Vampiric Tutor, and possibly Demonic Consultation as well. I’ll be sure to share how it goes!

    Until next time,
    Stephen Menendian

  • So Many Insane Plays – The Djinn-Efreet War

    Motivated by circumstances I can no longer recall, I was browsing older Magic periodicals on eBay last summer when I encountered an expensive issue of Inquest I thought might be intriguing. On a lark, I purchased the issue using the ‘buy it now’ function. Reading through these magazines – especially when factory sealed – is like being transported decades in to the past. From the editorials to the advertisements, the magazine is a time capsule of opinions and style. It’s a portal to an era largely before the widespread use of the Internet, with a bit of gossip, a dash of humor, and whoosh of zeitgeist.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2015

    2015 was a year packed with changes in of the History of Vintage. Large tournaments around the globe and the significant rise in Vintage players on the Magic Online platform provided ample proving grounds for an increasingly fast changing format. Read all about the restrictions, unrestrictions, and format-defining new printings in Khans block and Magic Origins that set the format on a collision course.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2014

    2014 is a pivot year, turning Vintage in a radically new trajectory. Consecutive years of lackluster printings and top down set design had left the Vintage card pool surprisingly stagnant, with players pining for more interesting offerings for Vintage consideration. Dack Fayden was properly recognized as a game-changer, but the printing of a pair of absurdly powerful draw spells with the Delve mechanic created an overwhelming synergy with Dack Fayden that was quickly and brutally exploited. Learn about this and more in the latest installment of the History of Vintage.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2013

    By the end of 2012, the Vintage format was surprisingly open and diverse. Any perceptible metagame trends were overwhelmed by normal oscillations. Return to Ravnica was a slow burn, gradually pushing Vintage decks in new directions, but tournament results in the final months of the year were all over the place. Control variants performed very well, but each Top 8 seemed to reflect a different view of the format. The year ahead would test the format in unexpected ways, while continuing the DCI’s episodic experiment in pruning the Vintage Restricted List and surprising selections in doing so, and exercising patience in adding anything to it. Learn about this and more in the latest installment of the History of Vintage.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2012

    For a format marketed as “Eternal,” each year in the History of Vintage delivers unexpected twists and turns in the direction of the metagame and the evolution of the card pool. Nonetheless, certain fundamental axioms are observed over time. Occasionally, these perdurable verities are controverted, as when manaless Dredge proved a deck could not only win without playing spells, but was optimized without Moxen. 2012 taught that even the most unshakeable truths and foundational assumptions are open to question, if not doubt.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2011

    2011 may be one of the most tumultuous years in the history of the Vintage format that does not feature a restriction. It was a textbook example of how new decks are birthed by innovation as creative answers to metagame problems. Turbo Tezzeret and the Vintage Control decks broke open Lodestone’s stranglehold on the format. Slash Panther was a new solution to the menace of Jace. Gush surged in the third quarter, but fell back to earth by the end of the year, finishing Q4 with just 15% of Top 8s.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2010

    2010 was a year defined by Worldwake. Rarely before has a new Standard-legal expansion set shaped the Vintage metagame so shortly after its release. Read Stephen Menendian’s amazing new 2010 installment of the History of Vintage to learn about this transformation and much, much more.
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  • Schools of Magic: The History of Vintage – A StarCityGames Power Nine Series Retrospective

    Star City Games.

    For nearly a decade, it was as close as an independent company can become to being synonymous with a Magic format. One of the pioneers of the online store/strategy content hybrid model, StarCityGames hired Type 1/Vintage writers for its burgeoning stable of content creation almost as soon as the website launched in 2000. In short order, the website became a reader’s digest for Type I deck ideas and advice.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2009

    The restoration of Time Vault led to a reckoning in Vintage, with a major mid-year restriction in 2009. The correction produced a metagame that was visibly diverse and interesting all the while new strategies gradually emerged and improved themselves by assimilating new printings and tactics. Witness how Conflux and Alara Reborn nudged the great Schools of Magic forward, while Zendikar fundamentally transformed the possibilities and tactical dimensions of the format. Read about all of this and more in this installment of the History of Vintage!
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2008

    As the clock turned forward from 2007 to 2008, it would not have been possible to foresee the incredible changes that would occur through the year. The format was rocked by sweeping restrictions, surprising errata, and impactful printings.

    A tightly defined metagame allowed a few low key printings to shake the Vintage firmament, including Reveillark and Painter’s Servant. The sturm und drang over the Flash combo, and whether it was the most deadly Vintage deck of all time seemed overheated weeks later with Painter’s Servant making Red Elemental Blast a main deck card, and Dredge making Leyline of the Void the second most played card in the format.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2007

    The Vintage format pivoted from the Gifts and Pitch Long era headlong in to a new Gush metagame in 2007. Dive into this exciting chapter in the History of Vintage to observe the metagame changes resulting from new sets, the tournament successes that propelled the format forward, and the unexpected twists and turns in the evolution of the great Schools of Magic.
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  • Three In a Row: Top 8 at Eternal Weekend 2017 Old School Tournament

    Some years ago, in daydream ruminations, I began developing a theory about what makes Vintage so compelling, as distinguished from other Magic formats. How can something as intangible and unquantifiable as “fun” be described? Intrigued, I began to formulate a mental catalogue of answers. First, Vintage features high impact, high stakes plays. A minor miscue in a high speed race can result in a severe crash; the same is true of Vintage. Fetching a land at the wrong time can result in Ancestral Recall – or worse – resolving. Given the objectively high power level of the tactics in the format, there is a natural anxiety – and exhilaration – produced from playing the format. Anything and everything can and will happen, and as early as the first turn. There is no passive early game, where nerves are calm and game play sedate. Vintage is high octane. It’s a thrill, and there is a rush.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2006

    A remarkable year, 2006 may be the best representation in the history of the Vintage format for strategic diversity. Long dormant Schools of Vintage Magic are reawakened by new printings to perform wonders that seemed unimaginable beforehand. Nowhere is this better illustrated that the emergence of Dredge as a viable Vintage strategy. At the same time, combo decks received boosts from printings and the design efforts of players, resulting in a Renaissance for Dark Ritual strategies. And in a dramatic subplot, a well-meaning attempt to clean up old card text set off a furor that would lead to radical policy changes this year and beyond.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2005

    A year bracketed by the restriction of Trinisphere, and the introduction of Portal, 2005 was an exciting time to be playing Vintage. New strategies broke through, new printings surprised, and players like Robert Vroman and Roland Chang became Vintage legends. In the end, 2005 will perhaps best remembered as peak tournament Vintage. There were more large tournaments in 2005 than any year on record before or since, and the tournaments were among the largest in the format’s history, from the record breaking Waterbury, to the nine separate StarCityGames Power Nine tournaments, to gargantuan European tournaments with Grand Prix level prize support. 2005 is a year to remember and reflect upon, and this latest installment of the History of Vintage series provides a trip down memory lane for some, and a discovery opportunity for others.
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  • Understanding Gush: The Final Chapter?

    On April 24, 2017, the DCI broke my heart.

    The signs were all there. I even expected it to happen. And although I’ve moved on, and done very well after the breakup, the pain lingers.
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  • Understanding Gush, 3rd Edition (a Post-Restriction Update)

    EC Press is proud to present Stephen Menendian’s Understanding Gush: Strategies and Tactics (3rd Edition). For the first time in over five years, Stephen’s expert guide and master class on Gush strategies in Vintage has been revised, updated, and expanded.
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  • So Many Insane Plays – Notes on the State of Vintage, January 2017

    Vintage is a singular format. It is a format of deep strategy and broad possibilities. In the eyes of its proponents (like myself), Vintage is the epitome of what Magic should and can be. Years of accumulated printings seamlessly interacting in unimaginable ways. It is the legacy of Dr. Richard Garfield’s vision for the game, and the closest approximation to that vision. As time rolls onward, Vintage players increasingly appreciate that this is a format that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.
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  • So Many Insane Plays – The 2017 Vintage Checklist

    2016 had a near-record number of new printings seeing play in Vintage, from Thought-Knot Seer to Paradoxical Outcome. Whether you want to organize your collection better, or track down cards you may want to use in Vintage tournaments, this article and accompanying spreadsheet is the perfect tool. In addition to providing a complete list of Vintage playables by color, this article also identifies all of the new cards that saw play in 2016 (new printings and otherwise), as well as cards that disappeared from Vintage tournaments. This is a great resource for new and old Vintage players (and collectors) alike.
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  • Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – 2004

    With this epic installment of his History of Vintage series, Stephen recounts the decks, tales of glory, and mighty tournament contests that defined Vintage in 2004. This was the year that Type I was rebranded as “Vintage,” the 2nd Type I Championship at GenCon, and the emergence of the StarCityGames Power Nine Series. It was also a fascinating year in which cards like Gifts Ungiven, Trinisphere, and Forbidden Orchard were printed, and in which Doomsday was unrestricted, and once again broke out with a mind-bending combo. This chapter reveals all this, and much more!
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