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  • 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

  • GP Vegas CFB Old School 93-94 Coverage and Results

    Eternal Central is proud to present coverage of Channel Fireball’s Old School 93-94 event at Grand Prix Las Vegas 2018. In the spirit of a growing number of Old School events around the world, a portion of the proceeds from this event were generously donated to charity, and the charity for this event was No Kid Hungry.
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  • Old School at SCGCON 2018 Coverage and Results

    Eternal Central are proud to present coverage of Old School at SCGCON 2018, a charity event held in Roanoke (Virginia, USA). The charity for this year’s event is the Angels of Assisi Community Pet Clinic and Adoption Center .
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  • 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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  • NoviceCon 2018 Coverage and Results

    The Lords of the Pit and Eternal Central are proud to present coverage of the second annual NoviceCon, a charity Old School Magic event held in Chicago. The charity for this year’s event was Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO), a local group in Chicago that works with communities in need in Chicago.
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  • Lords of the Pit Team Tactical Tournament 03-2018 Results

    Instead of our second annual StripCon originally planned for around the end of March, we changed to a privately held (and non-advertised) “Team Tactical” event, with eight 3-person teams, for the Chicago and Wisconsin posse. Each 3-person team consisted of Old School, Vintage, and Legacy decks, and while players could not change cards in any deck during the tournament, any player on the team could play any of the decks/seats in any round (to allow switching between decks if one player was discouraged or bored with format, for example).
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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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  • EC Old School 93-94 Tournament, at SCGCON 2018

    Eternal Central is proud to partner with Star City Games to announce the Eternal Central Old School 93-94 tournament at SCGCON 2018. This year’s SCGCON is being held in Roanoke, Virginia (USA). This cosponsored Old School 93-94 tournament will be held on Thursday, June 7 2018, at 11am, and will be a charity event to raise funds for the Angels of Assisi Community Pet Clinic and Adoption Center.
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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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  • So Many Insane Plays Podcast Episode 77: Masters 25 Preview and Arabian Nights Review

    Kevin Cron and Steve Menendian preview Masters 25 with the reprint of Doomsday, and review Arabian Nights.
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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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  • No Man is an Island

    It’s a Friday night in 2000, and I’m sitting across from T.J. Impellizzieri. We’re on the Trinity Green mirror. He was ahead, and it was late. He had chipped away at me early. I needed to find an answer, quickly, as two massive boards saw his growing more menacing than mine. The early damage he did mattered. Time was running out.

    My Skyshroud Poacher was hunting away, trying to thin my deck so that I could hit an answer. I activated it again at the end of his turn, and was met with a quick retort “Hey, why don’t you show what you had on top?” I flipped my top card. Masticore. This was going to be my end. That was the out that I needed to win, and now it would be shuffled away. Dejectedly, I found another Llanowar Elf, shuffled, and presented my deck back to T.J. He cut, and then I drew it.

    Maybe I lack vision, but in the moment, there are few joys in life as pure as the perfect top-deck.

    Rofellos, Gaea’s Cradle, and all my mana provided the fuel needed to pick off his army, one by one, machine-gun style, with the freshly cast Masticore. The tide turned, a situation that was becoming hopeless did an about-face, and was suddenly impossibly in my favor.

    I went on to the finals and proved victorious. This was the first tournament that I ever won. The joy of winning an event would serve as its own fuel, to attend countless others, in an effort to recapture that moment and feel it again. But no matter how any future events went, no victory is ever so special as your first.

    I was 17, and while we all had access to the Internet, the kind of in-depth strategy that is readily available from myriad sites nowadays was mostly absent, save for TheDojo.com and NeutralGround.net. This is a kind way of saying that I was mediocre at best back then.

    We didn’t learn online yet, we learned from the players who beat us. Erik Rodriguez was the best player at Mark’s Comics back then. Watching him play was an incredible learning experience. He played the game at a higher level than all of us. His timing, his patience, his deck construction, the psychological warfare that he engaged in, they were all elite. He, and a few others (like Jill Costigan) routinely crushed us. I owe them both thanks for that. You will never learn more from anything in life than from your losses, and from your mistakes.

    The second wave of strong Mark’s Comics players came shortly after E-Rod had moved on. Bryn Kenney, T.J., Dave Kaplan, Gregg Spano, and Christian Grim competed for his mantle. Bryn was the best of us, but the level of competition amongst all was exceptionally high. These were deep waters, and if you intended on winning games, you had to learn quickly. We took our lumps, and we grew.

    Magic has taught me, sometimes inadvertently, crucial life lessons. Learning what it took to win was important. Learning the importance of repetition, testing, and not just asking questions, but asking the right questions, were lessons that had applications outside Magic. Even then, there was so much more than just the strategy of Magic.

    Before the era of Facebook, before everyone had cell phones, before the Internet had truly taken flight, you could still find something new and foreign introduced to you through the vehicle of something that you thought, mistakenly, you knew. I got my first job when I was 15. I worked as a stock boy in a small family-owned shop, and at the end of every Saturday, I’d take a check for $35 home. Minimum wage was $5.15 an hour, and 15 cents went to my Social Security contribution.

    The check on Saturday turned into a bike ride to Doubleheader on Sunday. The local sports memorabilia store had boxes of the most recent Magic sets, and if you angled yourself past Patrick Ewing, Wayne Gretzky, Don Mattingly, and Dwight Gooden, you could buy packs. Urza’s Legacy was the newest set, and I happily spent my pay on nine packs. I hoped to open cards I could use to beat Danny Dinardo, Kenny Jackson, and others the following Friday night, when we’d all go to Danny’s, and play at his parent’s kitchen table. I opened something, and didn’t understand what it was:

    I didn’t know what I was looking at. I did, however, know that I loved it. I was the first of my friends to open what we later learned was called a foil. They were rare and beautiful, exotic birds somehow transported to a frigid locale. They weren’t yet seen en masse. A deck of foils was an absurd notion; how would you ever get them all in time, before a deck rotated out of Type II?

    Pro Tour New York 2000 was held at The Armory, which seemed impossibly large, and yet perfectly suited for the event. While I wouldn’t be playing, I had gone with friends to see what a Pro Tour was like. I met Richard Garfield. We were at what I’d later feel was the apex of Magic, in the heady days of Urza’s block. The newest, coolest, thing was the introduction of foils. It was then that I learned of judge foils. I had never seen one in person (none of my friends had either), and I dreamed of one day owning them. The art direction back then was magnificent, and the foils that had been chosen were special. Serra Avatar, Stroke of Genius, and, most prized among them all, Gaea’s Cradle. I went to the first dealer table I saw, and stared into the showcase to find all these valuable, rare cards. Serra Avatar, $150. Stroke of Genius, $250. Gaea’s Cradle, $350. There was also a mint Beta Black Lotus, but at $400, but it seemed far too expensive. Clearly I would never own one of those.

    Foils were glorious. It was the shimmer of them, caught in the light. Maybe it’s a link to an animal instinct that likes shiny things. Maybe it’s just that they felt like a statement when they hit play, not a financial one, but cards that screamed “This is what the game could be! This is what the game could look like, at its apex!” Original borders, the perfectly understated foil star, the perfect, beautiful fantasy art done by some of the best artists in the world; these cards were without flaws and I loved them.

    There were so many beautiful images turned into beautiful foils (our debt of gratitude to the men and women who subtly introduced that beauty to our lives will never really be fully paid). While Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Karn, Silver Golem, Covetous Dragon, and many, many others all had homes in decks, Masticore was ubiquitous. Paolo Parente’s rainbow of a painting was played in nearly every deck in the format. Masticore was the king of foils.

    I had wanted foil Masticore for a long, long time, and yet who would deal them away? I finally found someone willing to trade me foil Masticores online, on the Magic Online Trading League. A trusting 17 year old shipped off Gaea’s Cradles, non-foil Masticores, and more, and waited patiently. Eventually I received an email informing me that I should stop reaching out to him, that I would never get the cards.

    It was another life lesson, this time about trust, knowing where to place it, and where not to.

    Time passed, and Masticore rotated. Arcbound Ravager pushed me out of Type II, and committed me fully to Type I. For a while, I was able to run Masticore in my mono-blue control deck (aptly named by the community, it was called Blue Bullshit). But even then, Masticore’s days were numbered, and eventually I moved on to playing Mishra’s Workshop decks, forsaking blue, and never owning a foil Masticore.

    Many years passed. October of 2017 came around, and for the first time since 2009, I would not be going to play in Vintage Champs. I wished my friends luck, I dug in at work, and I prepared to catch as much as I could of the matches online on the Twitch broadcast. Nick Coss coined the name Eternal Weekend, and he has turned Vintage Champs into the de-facto global Vintage tournament. While my passion for the format has waned, I felt a powerful desire to be there when I turned the stream on, and saw friends battling. Thank you Nick. It gives me hope that the fire to play again will be lit at some point in the future.

    I sat there at my desk, watching the stream, following up on my work. A friend from Florence reached out to me. Raffaele Ramagli and I had made each other’s acquaintance a few years ago, and we have kept in touch since. I loved hearing from an Italian Vintage player; he was on the ground, and could give me feedback on events I’d never been to, on players whom I knew of there, of others whom I respected, and most of all, Italy itself. As we toil away in our lives, it’s easy to forget that the world is a great big place. Magic has helped remind me of the world’s magnitude, as I speak to those I’m lucky enough to call friends who inhabit their corners of the world.

    I feel embarrassed to write it, as in some perverse way it feels like I’m puffing my chest (which I swear, I’m not), but occasionally I’ll have players I don’t know from other parts of the world reach out to me. Maybe they know me from TheManaDrain.com, the N.Y.S.E. Open, from playing Workshop decks with Raffaele and Vincent Forino, or from my short stint in the first Vintage Super League play-in tournament online. I am grateful every time it happens, as it’s yet another instance in which Magic proves itself to be a bond that transcends national borders, that crosses oceans, that unites hearts and minds.

    Raffaele and I spoke about a lot as we watched the Top 8. Mostly, Vintage. But towards the end of the coverage, as the match against Rich Shay and Andy Markiton worked its way to a decisive game three, I asked him if he could keep an eye out for me for Magic art.

    Those kids from the 90’s have grown up. The kids who played with their Hammer of Bogardans, their Cursed Scrolls, their Morphlings, Masticores, and Rishadan Ports are now adults. We’ve discovered, as we’ve aged, that the time that we devoted to the game is time we may not have to give anymore. Any number of commitments keep us away: jobs, significant others, and for many, children. The time that we have for the game runs short, but there, in the back of our minds, lie burnished memories, shining like beacons of our halcyon youth, demanding never to be forgotten. How could we forget them?

    I had reached out to Paolo Parente years prior, and was given the same information that he gave all who asked; Masticore was a gift to a friend who once ran a store in Milan. He did not remember the man’s name, and he knew that the store had closed.

    It wasn’t much to go on. But the connections that we forge through this game, this thing that holds us together despite all that could divide us, would help Raffaele track down Masticore. He spoke with friends, including Giampiero Ronzo, who gave us our first lead. Antonio Prama gave us more information, leading us further down the path. It led to Alessandro Cattani, who provided the most vital piece of information; an old email address that the owner of Masticore was believed to have used. Raffaele followed up there, and, magically, a response came back shortly thereafter. Gentlemen, I owe you all a debt of gratitude for your efforts. Thank you.

    Magic art, and the pursuit of it, is a strange thing. You will hear whispers of whispers of things, and then nothing. You will work at something for years, to no avail. And then chance steps in, the veil is pierced, and information flows like the waters from a broken dam. You had nothing, you worked for inches. In an instant, you are given miles. It is a surreal experience, and it doesn’t happen often. When it does happen, it ignites the memories from your youth. For a few moments, you have recaptured what you felt when you were 17, playing a game that would prove one of your greatest teachers, with your best friends.

    I had been burned once for Masticore, albeit a lowly foil. Now, the piece itself had appeared before me. A gifted artist had touched that paper, had worked over it, had exercised his brilliance in creating a piece that conveyed strength, and did it with beauty.

    Trust. It was one of the early lessons from Magic; to recognize those who deserved it, and those who do not. Could I trust the owner? Yes. He was a prominent member of the community in Italy at the turn of the millennium. He understood that, in many ways, our names, our honor, are all that we have. However much we could gain from sacrificing those things in an instant, we would lose far more in a lifetime for having sacrificed them.

    I paid him, and I waited. Christmas came, and went. New Year’s approached. And then I got a phone call from my office as I enjoyed my vacation. A package had arrived.

    As I sat there, Masticore in my lap, I wondered how it had all happened. How it was that this was possible. My cadre of Italians, led by Raffaele, joined by Giampiero, Antonio, and Alessandro had made this possible. My good friend Kouji Kobayashi had been invaluable as my counsel through the process. Ben Huang, Will Larson, Paul Akerman, and others, all played important roles. Masticore had been sought after by others. I did not hunt for the piece until the time came when I had friends who could help me. Friends in Italy, Japan, Singapore, and across the United States.

    To all of them, I owe a debt of gratitude. Thank you.

    There’s Masticore, fighting side by side Morphling in Accelerated Blue. There’s Masticore, allied with Rofellos, in Trinity Green. There’s Masticore, clearing the path for victory in B.B.S. There’s Masticore, reminding a man in his 30’s of the joy that a teenager once felt at a draw off the top of his deck.

  • Madison Offensive 2018 Old School 93-94 Coverage

    The Lords of the Pit and Eternal Central are proud to present coverage of the second annual Madison Offensive, a charity Old School Magic 93-94 event held in Madison, Wisconsin (USA). The charity for this year’s event was Charles S. Brownell Elemental School, a local school in Chicago.
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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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