So Many Insane Plays – Scars of Mirrodin Vintage Set Review

(Editor’s Note: This content was formerly published on Quiet Speculation, and the former Downloadable Product has since been made available free here with the permission of the author and QS. Enjoy!)

The suns that orbit Mirrodin dim, their color fading. The Myr have scattered. But the dread and the evil are not done with it yet. They have returned to scavenge the remains of this dying world for malevolent and selfish ends. We are among them.

Our return to Mirrodin is neither coincidental nor mere happenstance. We have come full circle, on a trajectory of exploration and pursuit of power. We arrived on Mirrodin just as Gush had left the format, in the Fall of 2003. Upon our return, Gush greets us.

Vintage Magicians are attuned to the planes of Dominaria, and their circadian rhythms. There are only three external changes that affect our quest:
1) Introduction of new sets and worlds to explore
2) Changes to the banned and restricted list
3) Errata or rules changes that define the physics of the realm

After leaving Mirrodin, we reached the apogee of our orbit in June 2007, the midpoint of our journey. It was a convergence of significance events. The changes to the Banned and Restricted List were an earthquake to the format, moving the heavily played Gifts Ungiven to the Restricted List, while taking the power-draw spell Gush off of it. Simultaneously, a new set, Future Sight, would bring potent weapons into the realm, redefining the ground rules of the game for such a small set. And major errata restored Flash, whose return to the format suggested a voracious hunger, like a rabid animal let out of the cage. September 2010 is an aftershock that marks our completed orbit. Each of the changes that occurred in September has a June 2007 analog, although like aftershocks, their force is not as potent as the original quake.

1) Changes to the Banned and Restricted List have, once again, brought Gush back. When we arrived, Gush had left. This time around, Gush is not as intimidating without Merchant Scroll and Brainstorm to complement it.

2) A new set heralds our return, Scars of Mirrodin, which promises new weapons. Although not as significant as Mirrodin or as impactful as Future Sight, Scars offers much for the tactical Magician.

3) New errata has changed an old playable, Transmute Artifact, a card remarkably similar in some respects to Flash. However, unlike the 2007 errata, Transmute Artifact does not put the card into play. Nor is Transmute Artifact quite as broken as Flash, even if it were given the full Flash treatment.

Let us explore these changes to the realm together, beginning with our return to Mirrodin.

M11 Recap

Before we delve into Scars, let’s briefly revisit the previous set, and gauge its impact on the format. In my M11 set review, I identified the following cards to acquire:
4 Preordain
4 Leyline of Sanctity
3 Sun Titan
1 Stormtide Leviathan
4 Scroll Thief
4 Pyretic Ritual

The first two have proven quite playable, and the others have at least been suggested for competitive play. Preordain, as predicted, has been most potent in UB Storm decks, and has already seen quite a bit of play. It will continue to see play there, but more importantly it will service any attempt to revive the weakened GushBond engine. Virtually all Gush decks will start like this:

1 Fastbond
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
4 Gush
4 Preordain
1 Ponder
1 Brainstorm
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Ancestral Recall

Leyline of Sanctity is also a new Vintage staple, and has proven itself in both Dredge decks and Workshop sideboards. Leyline of Sanctity has proven important to both archetypes for reasons set out in my M11 set review.

Matt Sperling suggested Sun Titan in an Oath variant, for greater efficiency and speed, but it has yet to show up in tournament Top 8s. It may yet.

Now, let’s descend upon Mirrodin.

Scars of Mirrodin Set Review

Metalcraft: Vintage Mechanic

The most important new mechanic for Vintage is Metalcraft, which appears on 22 cards. This mechanic is particularly relevant to Vintage because of the centrality of artifacts in the format, largely on account of the ubiquity of Alpha’s artifact acceleration: Black Lotus, Sol Ring, and the 5 Moxen. These cards appear in almost every Vintage deck in some quantity, with only a few notable exceptions, such as Manaless Dredge decks. For that reason, cards with the Metalcraft must be closely scrutinized for Vintage playability.

To assess these cards as a class, it is helpful to understand the parameters of Metalcraft. None of the Metalcraft cards would be Vintage playable unless the Metalcraft condition can be satisfied. To that end, we need to calculate the requirements this condition imposes, and then evaluate each card as if the condition is or can be easily met.

In Vintage, the threshold for reliability is quite high. Inconsistency is harshly penalized. The speed and highly disruptive quality of the format rewards consistency, sometimes even above raw power. The standards for reliability can be estimated. Serum Powder is used in Vintage Dredge decks to increase the odds of finding a Bazaar of Baghdad in an opening hand to around 93% of the time. It follows that anything that achieves 93% reliability is reliable enough for Vintage play. In contrast, Spoils of the Vault is not considered reliable enough for Vintage play. If you go first, play a land, and Spoils for a card that you have four of left in your deck (out of fifty-three cards), then there is an 15.873% chance that the Spoils simply kills you by costing 20 or more life. The chance of ‘failure,’ coupled with the gravity of the harm of failure, is the reason that Spoils of the Vault sees no competitive play. While the gravity of the harm in the case of Metalcraft cards is not nearly as severe, the failure rate does give us some indication of what it takes to be Vintage playable. Using these two examples as parameters, we would ideally like Metalcraft to be operational between 85% and 93% of the time when designing around it.

After crunching the numbers, it turns out that the threshold number of artifacts needed to draw 3 of them over 85% of the time in your opening hand is 33. With just 32 artifacts in your deck, you are only likely to draw 3 or in your opening hand 83.9% of the time. A marginal increase to 33 raises those chances to 86% of the time. Therefore, 33 artifacts is our baseline for reliable use of cards with Metalcraft. What this means is that, all things equal, any non-artifact card with Metalcraft will likely need at least 33 other artifacts in the deck.

Of course, many factors will affect this ratio. For example, in a deck with blue draw spells like Brainstorm or Ponder we can revise this number downward. Alternatively, in a deck where certain artifacts are unlikely to ever be in play at a relevant time (such as Tinker targets or Memory Jar), we need to revise this number upward. 33 artifacts is, however, our baseline target.

It also follows that we must evaluate non-artifact cards with Metalcraft differently than artifact cards with Metalcraft, since artifact cards with Metalcraft count towards the requisite number of artifacts. The implications are twofold:

1) If the card with Metalcraft is an artifact, you can run as many as 33 non-artifact spells and still reliably satisfy the Metalcraft condition. Another way of putting it is that you can run between 29-32 other artifact spells and still reliably meet the Metalcraft condition.
2) For non-artifact spells with Metalcraft, once you’ve included the necessary non-artifact lands to support your mana base (and you’ll probably need at least 8-10 such cards), and the non-trivial number of restricted cards that will warrant automatic inclusion, you probably have only room for only about 12 or so non-artifact spells, and probably fewer. What this means is that non-artifact spells with Metalcraft have a very high opportunity cost. Non-artifact cards with Metalcraft are competing with restricted cards, lands, and other high value spells. It’s also unlikely that we can pair non-artifact spells with Metalcraft together.
Before evaluating specific cards, it is also helpful to take stock of existing Vintage archetypes, and see how they fit within these parameters. Then, we may have a clearer idea of where specific cards might fit.

Most non-Workshop Vintage decks run between 7-13 artifacts, far too few to support Metalcraft naturally. For example, Fish or Beats decks run 3-4 Null Rods and a few Moxen and Black Lotus. Time Vault decks like Oath or Jace Control run 5 Moxen, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, and Time Vault, Key, and an artifact robot, on average. Some also run a Sensei’s Divining Top. Storm combo decks tend to run 5 Moxen, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Lotus Petal, Sol Ring, Memory Jar, and an artifact robot. Even Ad Nauseam decks only run 4 Chrome Mox, Black Lotus, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, Lotus Petal, Lion’s Eye Diamond (sometimes), and Mana Vault (11-12 artifacts). Workshop decks tend to run between 31-42 artifacts, depending on the archetype. Workshop decks naturally satisfy the requirements for reliably using Metalcraft. This is, therefore, the most natural home for cards with Metalcraft.

However, it is conceivable that non-Workshop decks can be designed with enough artifacts to support it. For example, it is conceivable that Beats or Fish decks can run 4 Aether Vial, 4 Chalice of the Void, 4 Ethersworn Canonist, 4 Equipment, 5 Moxen, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, Lotus Petal, 4 Mox Opal and some artifact lands to actually support the use of Mox Opal and other Metalcraft spells. Non-Workshop Affinity decks, for example, could also be designed to satisfy these requirements.

Unfortunately, most spells with Metalcraft are not strong enough for Vintage play, even if we assume in each instance that the Metalcraft condition is met. For example, an 8/8 trampler for 2GG or a 3/3 flyer for 1W is unlikely to see competitive Vintage play. As a general rule, creature spells that do not disrupt the opponent (such as Gaddock Teeg or Lodestone Golem) or generate some advantage for their controller (such as Dark Confidant, Lotus Cobra, or Goblin Welder) are simply not good enough. In other words, creatures whose primary function is to deal damage must either be exceptionally efficient or be cheated into play with cards like Tinker or Oath of Druids. The standard for such efficiency is set by cards like Tarmogoyf.

A closer case may be a card like Carapace Forger, a 4/4 for 1G. The obvious point of comparison for this card would be Tarmogoyf. In early games, Tarmogoyf is most often 3/4 in Vintage, but it eventually becomes at least a 4/5. Arguably, this card would start out larger than Tarmogoyf. However, because of the conditionality of Forger, most players would likely consider it to be an inferior Tarmogoyf.

With these parameters and principles in mind, here is my assessment of the non-artifact cards with Metalcraft:

Playable: Vedalken Certarch, Galvanic Blast

Very Unlikely: Auriok Sunchaser, Auriok Edgechaser, Dispense Justice, Screeching Silcaw, Molten Psyche, Carapace Forger

Definitely Unplayable: Ghalma’s Warden, Indomitable Archangel, Argent Sphinx, Lumengrid Drake, Stoic Rebuttal, Black Coven Vampires, Blade-Tribe Berserker, Kuldotha Sphinx, Ezuri’s Brigade

Thus, out of those 17 cards, two are playable, and there are six others that I wouldn’t be shocked to see tried in Vintage.

Vedalken CertarchEvery single analyst, pundit and set review I’ve seen so far has overlooked Vedalken Certarch, an error I will correct. While Galvanic Blast is obviously playable, Vedalken Certarch is the non-artifact card with Metalcraft with the most promise. Galvanic Blast is playable, but there is a usage ceiling. Vedalken Certarch is less obviously playable, but has much, much more potential. Certarch could become the best 1cc blue creature of all time in Vintage (Granted, it’s only competition is Cursecatcher, but still…).

There is nothing even remotely comparable to it in the card pool. The closest card is Stormscape Apprentice, which costs the same to play, but for a white mana, only taps a creature! There are creatures that untap certain cards, or tap or untap, but they all cost much more and have expensive activation costs, or narrow ambits, such as only tapping or untapping certain permanents.

Functionally, Vedalken Certarch is a one-mana, free-to-activate Icy Manipulator! If that doesn’t get you excited, it should. It’s five times as efficient as Icy Manipulator. Yes, I know, Icy Manipulator doesn’t see play in modern Vintage. But its legacy is pervasive.

Icy Manipulator is the original artifact lock card, and was the forbearer to Tangle Wire. Ever since the first player said, “end of turn, tap my Winter Orb with my Icy Manipulator,” Prison decks have been a feature in the Magic landscape. Icy Manipulator and Winter Orb were the original artifact prison deck. Icy and Winter Orb shut down the opponent’s mana base, but left yours unhindered. Alternatively, Icy was used defensively tap down an opposing threat.

Icy Manipulator was so powerful in early Vintage that it was once restricted. Subsequent developments have left Icy behind, but the idea of using artifacts to stunt the opponent’s mana base remains. Since Tangle Wire, a more recent, and quite successful, “Icy Manipulator,” is Rishadan Port, which sees play in both Vintage and Legacy, giving you some sense of how Certarch might fit in. Consider this simple sequence:

Turn One:
Cast a Mox, Chalice of the Void (set at zero), and City of Brass into Vedalken Certarch.

Turn Two:
Land, Sphere of Resistance.

This is a simple, but devastating sequence. Let me explain.

With a Chalice in play, your opponent’s early mana production will be stunted, shutting off most fast mana acceleration such as Moxes. Certarch here is a free Rishadan Port in the early game, tapping down your opponent’s lands, just like Tangle Wire. However, unlike Tangle Wire, Certarch is one mana to cast, and is entirely asymmetric. What’s so devastating about this sequence is that your opponent’s best out is actually to play basic lands. Yet, few Vintage decks run more than two or so basics. Certarch will keep their basics tapped in their upkeep, and allow your Wastelands to wreck the rest of their mana base.

Multiple Certarchs are going to be terrorizing. Opponents will moan at the luck of having drawn double Certarch, as they are forced to tap down two lands (or Moxen!) each upkeep. Unlike Port, though, Certarch doesn’t cost a land drop, nor does it cost to activate. It’s free!

Moreover, Certarch can tap down Moxen and even creatures! Like Icy, it can be used defensively to tap down an opposing Tarmogoyf, Quirion Dryad, Lodestone Golem, or even an Iona or Sphinx of the Steel Wind!

At one mana, this card is as cheap as you can get for a warm body, and will not be a burden to play even with lock parts in play like Sphere of Resistance or Null Rod. It’s also a nice anti-Tinker card, since it can tap down all such targets but Inkwell Leviathan. The fact that this card is a creature is not necessarily a drawback, as it can be used with cards like Thorn of Amethyst. And the fact that it is blue is obviously an advantage.

While it is vulnerable to cards like Fire/Ice, Darkblast, and Swords to Plowshares, these aren’t sufficient deterrents to keep it from seeing play. This card is strong enough on its own to justify playing it with Smokestack and Wasteland, but this card may be strong enough to bring back Winter Orb. This card is also obviously good with Mox Opal.

Certarch is exciting, and I can’t wait to see who will first make Top 8 with this card.

Galvanic BlastGalvanic Blast is also playable, and will see play, although it replaces Lightning Bolt in many red Workshop decks, rather than expands the options for Workshop decks. Both Lightning Bolt and Galvanic Blast kill Welder, Dark Confidant, and Lotus Cobra on turn one regardless. The main advantage Galvanic Blast has over Lightning Bolt is that it can kill Karn, Triskelion, and sometimes a Tarmogoyf where Lightning Bolt would not. That makes it better in the Workshop mirror. It also does more damage to an opponent, which, in some circumstances might make a difference. The main drawback is that it is worse on turn one, due to its conditionality, in dealing with turn one Jace. The other problem is that it only kills Trygon Predator if you have Metalcraft. Those disadvantages and advantages are not easy to weigh against each other, and each pilot will have to decide which they think is more important in their metagame.

Now let’s turn to the rest of the set.

Chrome Steed – Chrome Steed is worse than Su-Chi, thanks in part to M10 rules changes, which means that this card probably won’t ever see play.

Etched Champion – This is not Vintage playable because it isn’t powerful enough, and the ability isn’t relevant in Vintage.

Snapsail Glider – This is not Vintage playable because it’s too inefficient.

Rusted Relic – This is Vintage playable. The most obvious comparison is Juggernaut. Juggernaut has seen play in Vintage since the earliest days of the format, and continues to see play in Aggro Workshop decks. Its chief strength has been efficiency. The reason it continues to see play when its contemporaries, like Juzam Djinn, are now considered too slow is because of Mishra’s Workshop. Although Juggernaut is not inherently disruptive, it is supports a tempo strategy of playing Sphere effects following a fast Juggernaut to win the game in four turns.

Rusted Relic has three advantages over Juggernaut:
1) It does not always have to attack. The importance of this fact is that there are times when being forced to attack prevents the set up of an alpha strike or time to remove of a certain defensive answer before attacking.
2) Rusted Relic is larger, and will survive being hit with Lightning Bolt or combat with cards like Triskelion. That makes it harder to kill.
3) It is not a creature when it comes into play. This is the most subtle advantage.

Consider this sequence:

Turn One:
Mox, Workshop, Rusted Relic.

Turn Two:
Sphere of Resistance, Null Rod.

Your opponent may have a Swords to Plowshares in hand, but they will not be able to target the Rusted Relic until the Sphere resolves, at which point they won’t be able to cast Swords. Nonetheless, you can attack with Relic on turn two.

On the other side of the ledger, Rusted Relic’s conditionality is a relative disadvantage to Juggernaut. Turn one Rusted Relic, where your turn two artifacts are countered, is a significant tempo loss. In addition, targeted removal, like Rack and Ruin or Trygon Predator, can render Rusted Relic inert.

Since the relative advantages and disadvantages are qualitative, it’s difficult to say which card is better. Sometimes Juggernaut is better and sometimes Rusted Relic is better. In that respect, Rusted Relic compares favorably to Juggernaut. On that score, Rusted Relic is Vintage playable, but is arguably superior to Juggernaut in general.

Mox Opal – Mox. The language of Magic. Music to our ears. Every card with the word Mox has been, at one time or another, restricted in the Vintage format. And Mox Opal is the best Mox since Alpha.

The critics of Mox Opal have limited design insight. They point to its inherent conditionality, or its legendary status, and argue that it’s simply unplayable. I could explain why they are wrong (and will), but it’s easier to just show you.

Take a look at my 5C Opal Stax deck, which recently got 9th place at a local tournament (didn’t make top 8 on tiebreakers):

5C Opal Stax, by Stephen Menendian

Business (31)
Goblin Welder
Demonic Tutor
Ancestral Recall
Lodestone Golem
Chalice of the Void
Tangle Wire
Sphere of Resistance
Crucible of Worlds

Mana Sources (29)
Mox Opal
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Mana Vault
Tolarian Academy
Mishra’s Workshop
Ancient Tomb
City of Brass
Strip Mine
Sideboard (15)
Leyline of the Void
Ancient Grudge
Nihil Spellbomb
Contagion Clasp
Crucible of Worlds

Mox Opal is a natural fit into any Workshop deck. It’s Mox Ruby 5-8. In mono brown Workshops, think of this card as Mox Pearl 5-8. Imagine that Mox Pearl was unrestricted, but that you could only play it in a Workshop deck. How many Mox Pearls would you play? Certainly, you would not play Mox Pearl over Mishra’s Workshop, and it’s probably inferior to Mana Crypt, but you’d play more than a few. In fact, you might run as many as 5 or 6, at the end of the day. You would likely substitute land for more Mox Pearls, since accelerants are better than land, even though you have Chalices in your deck. That’s exactly how to think about Mox Opal. In 5C Workshop decks, you will never again run Gemstone Mine. Mox Opal is just better. In other Workshop decks, it’s just another Mox to accelerate your game plan, and probably better than cards like City of Traitors, unless you have Null Rod.

Mox OpalThe first concern, regarding its inherent conditionality, is easily designed around in a Workshop deck where most of the cards are artifacts. The advantage Mox Opal has over the Alpha Moxen is that it can produce any color of mana. The main drawback is the Metalcraft condition. But in a deck with enough artifacts, this condition can be met reliably enough to justify running.

The other concern over its Legendary status is overstated. First of all, the chances of drawing two or more Mox Opals in an opening hand is about 6%. Even when you do draw more than one, it’s not particularly likely to be a problem. Secondly, there are a number of ways to minimize this drawback, such as by using cards like Goblin Welder, Smokestack, and Bazaar of Baghdad to deal with superfluous Mox Opals. Thus, I think 4 Mox Opals is probably the right number for most Workshop decks, unless you also run Null Rod, in which case you probably run fewer or none.

Another concern over Mox Opal is its lack of synergy with Chalice of the Void or Null Rod. For example, in my Opal Stax deck above, playing Chalice of the Void set to 0 cuts you off of 60% of your sources of red. In that case, Chalice is weaker. In a deck with Null Rod, I probably wouldn’t run Mox Opal.

I’ve tested this 5C Stax list extensively, and it’s performed very well, especially against Jace Control decks. Mox Opal does not dramatically improve Stax, but it makes it stronger. The key lesson that I’ve learned is that it makes Stax much better on the draw. One of the major disadvantages of Workshop decks versus other archetypes is that they tend to be favored on the play, but it’s win percentage falls dramatically when on the draw.

I’m proud to announce that my 5C Opal Stax deck above actually has the slimmest marginal difference of any Workshop deck I’ve ever played between wins on the play and on the draw. For example, in two ten game sets against Owen Turtenwald’s Vintage championship winning decklist, this game won 7 games on the play, but 6 games on the draw! Mox Opal is a major reason why. Now you don’t have to choose between playing Welder on turn one and a lock part. You can do both at the same time! Also, cards like Balance are even more devastating in a deck with Mox Opal.

Mox Opal is the 6th best Mox in Vintage, ahead of Chrome Mox, and far ahead of Mox Diamond. We are now at a point where different archetypes will use different Moxen. Chrome Mox sees play in decks with light mana bases where on-color mana is a premium, such as Ad Nauseam, and that is its primary home. Mox Opal is better simply because it can be played in a wider range of archetypes, such as many Workshop decks. You will want 4.

Glint Hawk – Glint Hawk may be the most efficient way in Vintage to return an artifact with a Comes into Play trigger back to your hand, and reuse it. For example, Jester’s Scepter, Tsabo’s Web, and Contagion Clasp synergize with Glint Hawk because of their CIP triggers. Also, cards you want to ‘reset’, like Tangle Wire, are good with Hawk. Hawk is also likely to be ‘free,’ since you can generate a mana with a mox, play Glint Hawk, and then replay a Mox. I don’t think this is Vintage playable – at least, not yet, but it’s something to keep in mind, as more and more CIP artifacts see print.

Leonin Arbiter – Aven Mindcensor sees Vintage play, from time to time. This card is much stronger. The fact that it is one mana cheaper is far more relevant than the fact that Aven Mindcensor has flash, is asymmetrical, and cannot be gotten around. The fact that Aven Mindcensor allows opponents to search their top 4 is an advantage that Arbiter also has on Mindcensor.

The last good printing used largely by Fish and Beats decks was probably Qasali Pridemage. In the meantime, every other archetype in the format has seen major new printings. I’m not sure if Arbiter alone will be enough to bring back Fish decks to their late 2009 levels, but it will certainly help. This card naturally fits into both the tempo and mana denial strategy these decks employ by fighting each of tactics that hurt them. This card helps slow Tinker, and tutors for cards like Ancestral Recall or Yawgmoth’s Will. It makes assembling the Time Vault combo much harder, and, most importantly, it prevents the opponent from using fetchlands without paying 2 mana first, which also makes their life more difficult. In other words, this card is a perfect fit into Fish and Beats decks. It’s also a cumulative effect, which means that resolving more will make it even harder for the opponent to break out.

Noble Fish, by Stephen Menendian

Business (38)
Force of Will
Spell Pierce
Swords to Plowshares
Null Rod
Ancestral Recall
Time Walk
Qasali Pridemage
Noble Hierarch
Leonin Arbiter

Mana Sources (22)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Pearl
Mox Sapphire
Misty Rainforest
Tropical Island
Strip Mine

Arbiter also powers up Stifle. Stifling a turn one fetchland and following it up with Arbiter is a devastating sequence. Stifling fetchlands, both pre- and post-Arbiter, is now at a premium. For example, to break a fetchland, your opponent will have to pay 2. If you Stifle it, they fall further and further behind.

The main weakness of a deck like this is Workshops, where Leonin Arbiter is relatively limited/useless, and is simply a small creature for 2 mana. In those matchups, it can be sided out for Kataki, or some equivalent threat. Leonin Arbiter is really good, and will see plenty of Vintage play. It’s also possible that Arbiter will actually power up Ghost Quarter. Then it will become even more potent!

Riddlesmith – This card is Vintage playable. It sits at a casting cost that is comfortable for Vintage play, and performs an effect that is highly valued in the format, drawing cards. The discard can be circumvented with Uba Mask, and ignored in decks with Skullclamp. It can also help you cycle through cards, much like Glimpse of Nature does in Elves. It is not a natural fit into any existing archetypes, but it could be shoehorned in. If this card is to see play, it will do so on the back of an innovative shell. Chances are low that it will result in a breakout new archetype in the next couple of months, but it’s possible. I like it most in a deck with Uba Mask.

Arc TrailArc Trail – Darkblast, Fire/Ice, Pyroclasm, and Lava Dart have all seen and continue to see Vintage play. In a format where Lotus Cobra and Dark Confidant are a deadly duo, this card has to be a consideration for Vintage players that run red. The advantage it has over Darkblast is that it can actually hit an opponent or a Jace, and it doesn’t have to be Dredged to hit two targets. The disadvantage is that it can’t be recurred, and that it’s a Sorcery. The advantage over Fire/Ice is that it’s not a 4cc flip with Dark Confidant, which is actually important. The advantage over Pyroclasm is that it won’t kill your own Dark Confidants/Lotus Cobras. It may actually be better against Fish decks for that reason as well. The advantage of this card over Lava Dart is that it doesn’t require you to sacrifice a Mountain. I’m not sure if this card will join the likes of the cards I just described, but it has the potential to do so. This card is a lot better than similar spells like Searing Blaze for obvious reasons, including a much friendlier casting cost. Arc Trail is Vintage playable.

Tunnel Ignus – This card is a custom made anti-Gush tool, and can easily be wedged into a mono-red Workshop aggro list with Thorns, etc. Also, it could be a very important G/R/x beats spell, if Gush decks take off again. This is Vintage playable.

Contagion Clasp – Vintage has an all-time high frequency of heavily played 1 toughness creatures. Dark Confidant is currently in the top 10 most played spells in the entire format. Lotus Cobra is on the upswing, and cards like Goblin Welder are going to see resurgence. In testing, this card has actually helped stop Trygon Predators, by using it, and then Welding it back in to make a Trygon Predator 0/1. This card is definitely good enough to see play in Vintage, and likely will be showing up in Top 8’s near you. It’s probably better than Darkblast or a similar spell in most Workshop lists, since it can be run in mono brown decks. The Proliferate ability isn’t irrelevant, either. Welcome to the Vintage card pool.

Darksteel Juggernaut – This card is possibly playable. It can’t be destroyed, so it lives up to its name. In terms of functional cost, it’s probably only marginally or situationally more expensive than its analog, Master of Etherium, and the additional value is meaningful in the right context. In the average MUD deck, this will start out as a 3/3 creature, or thereabouts, and will quickly grow larger. That’s not terribly exciting, which is why I don’t expect this guy to show up in a Top 8 near you tomorrow, but it certainly could.

Kuldotha Forgemaster – This card, like Darksteel Juggernaut, is possibly Vintage playable. The ability is quite potent; essentially it’s Tinker. However, the cost is quite steep, both to play and to activate. The most logical home for this card is in Metalworker MUD lists that can generate enough mana to play it, and would likely be able to support the spells you will want to put into play. Like Darksteel Juggernaut, I don’t expect this to be a major Vintage player, but it will probably see some play.

Memnite – It’s a new Kobold, but with power. This card is better at feeding Skullclamp than Ornithopter, and would likely be included in any Vintage Skullclamp deck that isn’t Elves. I’ll be talking more about this card in the near future.

Myr Battlesphere – This card deals an unprecedented amount of damage to an opposing player, as much as 11 damage in one swing. The seven casting cost artifact creatures that have seen play in Vintage are Platinum Angel, Pentavus, Triskelavus, and a long time ago, Memnarch. Platinum Angel is the only one that still sees play, appearing in MUD maindecks and sideboards. Myr Battlesphere is probably the best 7cc artifact creature of all time, surpassing each of those other cards, including Platinum Angel. There is a chance that this card could see play in MUD lists, especially those with Metalworker. It’s strong in the Workshop mirror as well, since it generates so many permanents. Alternatively, it’s a monstrous Tinker target.

Liquimetal Coating – This card reminds me of Painter’s Servant. The printing of Painter’s Servant came at a providential moment in Vintage, as Gush and Flash decks were at the pinnacle of the format. Painter’s Servant was a tactic and a strategy that trumped those decks, and won an SCG P9 tournament as a result. It dramatically powered up Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast. Similarly, we have a two casting cost artifact that powers up a narrow, but metagame potent, effect: in this case, artifact destruction. The difference, unfortunately, is that this card must tap to activate, which means you can, at most, turn one land into an artifact a turn, to target for destruction with cards like Ancient Grudge. However, like Painter’s Servant, in the right metagame, such a combination could be the answer to the format. I’ll believe it when I see it, though. Until then, I’m a skeptic.

Nihil Spellbomb – This is Vintage playable. Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus are both heavily played, and this card should diversify that mixture. Oddly enough, this may, in time, be a card that seems the most play from Scars, simply because of how heavily played Tormod’s Crypt and Relic are. The disadvantage this card has over Relic is that Leyline of Sanctity renders it inert. The advantage it has over Relic is both the activation cost and the fact that it preserves your own graveyard. In addition, it can be recurred, whereas Relic removes itself from game. The main advantage this has over Tormod’s Crypt is the fact that it can draw a card, like Relic. To be honest, I would play this card over Tormod’s Crypt in any deck that can pay black mana. This card is going to see lots of Vintage play.

Palladium Myr – A three mana creature that produces mana is familiar to Vintage players. We know you as Metalworker. This is no Metalworker, but it’s not a complete slouch either. Playing this on turn one will enable Metalworker like amounts of mana. For example, Workshop, Myr, turn two Ancient Tomb is 7 mana on the table, more than enough to play two artifact threats on turn two. I don’t think this will see, much, if any Vintage play, but it is capable of helping do broken things on turn two.

Precursor Golem – This is a whole new level of efficiency, producing 9 damage for 5 mana. That’s a much better deal than 4 mana for 5 power that you get from Rusted Relic or Juggernaut. I believe that this is the best pure attacker in Workshop Aggro. The drawback is significant, in that a Nature’s Claim or Lightning Bolt hitting this man will also kill your Lodestone Golem, and in environments with many of those cards, you will have to be careful. However, this card is one of the best answers to Trygon Predator. The fact that it is dispersed among three permanents is the crucial point. This also makes it quite strong in the Workshop mirror, akin to a silver bullet. Take a look at the Aggro MUD list posted below Rusted Relic, and put 4 Precursor Golems in those slots. This card is Vintage playable, and will see play.

Aggro MUD, by Stephen Menendian

Business (33)
Chalice of the Void
Null Rod
Sphere of Resistance
Thorn of Amethyst
Tangle Wire
Lodestone Golem
Precursor Golem
Sculpting Steel

Mana Sources (27)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Mana Vault
Tolarian Academy
Mishra’s Workshop
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors
Strip Mine

I look forward to testing this list more.

Ratchet Bomb – The new Powder Keg. The key advantage of this card is that it is an artifact solution to Jace and Oath of Druids, and will therefore replace Powder Keg. Ratchet Bomb is slightly slower than Keg, since you can’t add a counter and sacrifice it on the same turn. However, the versatility, the ability to control its timing, and its reach all make it superior to Keg. This will see play in Vintage.

SteelHellkiteSteel Hellkite – This guy is a Vintage beating. At 6cc, he competes with Triskelion and Duplicant, cards that have proven their value time and again. To that end, we need to compare Steel Hellkite to both cards.

Triskelion has long been used in Vintage Workshop decks. But unlike, say, Juggernaut, which was used heavily for many years, Triskelion’s value has actually grown in the last 5 years. One reason has been its abusiveness with cards like Goblin Welder and Arcbound Ravager, which was the main aggro card in Aggro MUD during the last Gush era. Unfortunately, M10 rules changes have weakened Triskelion considerably, such that it can no longer deal combat damage and direct damage simultaneously (as ‘combat damage on the stack’ no longer exists). Nonetheless, Triskelion’s ability to answer cards like Dark Confidant and Lotus Cobra has led to a resurgence in its playability. And with Welder, it’s a recurring nuisance, and a win condition.

Steel Hellkite compares favorably to Trike. For the same mana, Hellkite is a larger body, with built in evasion. Trike can kill a Trygon Predator or a Lotus Cobra immediately, and that remains its main advantage. Steel Hellkite, on the other hand, can kill cards like Time Vault or Moxen, and it takes them all out simulteanously. Thus, attacking with Hellkite will can produce board wiping effects. Both cards are comparable in that respect, but Hellkite has the advantage of being able to attack one’s mana base as well. Hellkite is probably better against Fish because it’s a larger body, and can win in the air.

Duplicant probably remains stronger in a field with plenty of Null Rods, except that Hellkite, again, is almost always going to be a larger body. Hellkite is probably better, for example, in the Workshop mirror than either Trike or Duplicant. Decks with Hellkite are going to be a force in the new Vintage, and Steel Hellkite is a contender for the best 6 cc artifact creature of all time!

Sylvok Replica – This is also Vintage playable, and could be really good with Mox Opal, particularly in the Workshop mirror. Workshop, Replica, Mox Opal, Chalice, means that Mox Opal can activate the Replica at any time. Like Contagion Clasp is probably better in Workshop decks than Darkblast, this card will compete with other artifact removal, and is probably just better than cards which have long seen play in Workshop sideboards, like Viashino Heretic. Whichever player gets the Replica advantage will probably win, especially if they have Goblin Welder online. This is Vintage playable, and will see play.

Wurmcoil Engine – This may not be that bad in the Workshop mirror, either. Another niche potential Vintage playable.


Scars of Mirrodin is a set with many Vintage playables, with many cards that will be appearing in Vintage Top 8’s near you. The discerning Vintage player will appreciate this set. The Vintage magician looking for the next Trinisphere or Thirst for Knowledge will be disappointed.

Scars of Mirrodin will not transform Vintage archetypes, but will subtly and potently change the way we design Vintage decks. It has produced cards that are, across the board, comparable to existing options, but situationally and contextually superior. We are now at a stage in Vintage where players have more options than ever for similar effects. Deciding which card to use becomes a more skillful question, a feature of the format that will reward perceptive metagamers and skilled deck-tuners. In that regard, Scars of Mirrodin is a design bonanza. It’s produced plenty of Vintage playables, but few cards that will be immediately overpowering. It’s diversified the suite of options available to players without necessarily ratcheting up the power level of artifact decks, a brilliant balance for the design team. While Vintage players scouring the set looking for broken cards may be disappointed, the format has gained considerably.

Here is the list of cards you will want to acquire for Vintage play from Scars of Mirrodin, which I’m confident are Vintage playable, and will likely see Vintage play:
4 Contagion Clasp
4 Galvanic blast
4 Leonin Arbiter
4 Mox Opal
4 Precursor Golem
4 Ratchet Bomb
4 Steel Hellkite
4 Sylvok Replica
4 Vedalken Certarch

And, if you are a completist, and want every possible option available to you, I’d also pick up:
4 Arc Trail
4 Darksteel Juggernaut
3 Myr Battlephere
4 Riddlesmith
4 Rusted Relic
4 Tunnel Ignus
4 Kuldotha Forgemaster
4 Wurmcoil Engine

The Banned and Restricted List

Gush and Frantic Search are unrestricted. The history of Gush is unique. It was restricted in June 2003, unrestricted in June 2007, re-restricted in June 2008, and unrestricted in September 2010. Besides Black Vise, it is the only card to have been placed on the Banned and Restricted List twice and since unrestricted.

GushWhile I completely agreed with Gush’s original restriction (and wrote about it here), I was quite vocal in my disagreement with the 2008 re-restriction of Gush. Just days after the announcement, I published an article criticizing the restrictions. Specifically, I argued that if anything needed to be restricted, it was Merchant Scroll.

As I wrote then:
If I were running the DCI, this is the move I would have made. But that is all I would have done. Restricting Merchant Scroll has many consequences, but two above all:

First, it neuters the GushBond engine. As I explained two weeks ago, the GushBond engine hums so well because of Scroll. Without Scroll, Gush would be a niche card, used in decks like GAT, but not in combo decks like Oath, Painter, or Storm.

Second, it weakens Flash. Much of Flash’s strength is derived from using Merchant Scroll as an unrestricted Demonic Tutor. Granted, this point is now moot by the restriction of Flash itself.

A few weeks later, in my May-June Vintage metagame report, I reiterated my criticism. The essence of my criticism is that the DCI swept too broadly, and that restricting that many cards to achieve the same goal is likely to generate unnecessary restrictions, and in fact did so here. In my view, restricting Brainstorm and Merchant Scroll alone would have made the restriction of both Gush and Flash unnecessary. With Ponder also restricted, it was simply overkill.

I wrote:
Although the DCI is clearly empowered to restrict as many cards as it chooses, multiple restrictions which have the same purpose raise questions about the means-end fit. […] The restriction of any one of them would have had an impact on the use and abuse of the other four. […] This is a major gap in reasoning. If the restriction of Brainstorm, Ponder, and Merchant Scroll effectively renders Flash unplayable, then the restriction of Flash was completely unnecessary. The same is true of Gush.

Then, on three separate occasions since, on May 18 2009, June 8 2010, and most recently, on September 6 2010, I renewed the same argument: that with Brainstorm, Ponder, and Merchant Scroll unrestricted, Gush is a safe card to unrestrict, as the GushBond engine that proved so problematic would remain largely neutered.

At the same time, I pointed out that any given time that the DCI has restricted more than one card, it has also tended to later unrestrict some portion of those cards. In fact, in every single instance of multiple restrictions since 1999, at least one card has since been safely unrestricted (with the only exception being the 2000 restrictions of Necropotence and Demonic Consultation).

It’s my considered view that the DCI should only ever restrict or unrestrict one card at a time. Any given restriction is likely to have a tremendous influence on the metagame, since a card that warrants restriction is clearly central to the metagame as it is currently constituted. Restricting multiple cards at once makes it difficult, if not impossible, to trace the impact of any given restriction, particularly when multiple restrictions have the same goal in mind. For example, restricting Gush, Merchant Scroll, and Brainstorm are all aimed at the same objective. Yet, restricting all three at once makes it difficult to tell whether each were necessary. By the same token, I also think that the DCI should only unrestrict one card at a time. While I support more unrestrictions, I think that it is important that we be able to evaluate the impact of any given unrestriction as best we can, without the contaminating or complicating influence of additional factors. New sets will enter the format and affect the metagame, but we can at least minimize the influence of additional factors to best evaluate the impact of a card’s unrestriction.

Given the fact that the DCI makes no changes between most announcements indicating actual changes to the Banned and Restricted List, I see little reason why the DCI can’t spread out multiple restrictions or unrestrictions, giving themselves and the Vintage community time to evaluate the impact of each in relative isolation. For example, four Banned and Restricted List announcements elapsed between the June 2009 unrestrictions and the most recent September 2010 unrestrictions. There is no reason they couldn’t have spaced out those unrestrictions during that time period, unrestricting one at a time. Not only is this a more sensible policy, in terms of giving us more time to evaluate the impact of any given change, but it would also create the appearance of greater interest in the format, and generate more sustained interest around changes in the Restricted List.

In many respects, the DCI announcement mirrors the conceptual approach I have been advancing to managing the Banned and Restricted List: that the purpose of the Banned and Restricted List is to promote the health and fun of the format, and that it primarily accomplishes this objective by promoting the diversity of the format. As I wrote in June, “this goal can be achieved by restricting cards that dominate the format (based upon tournament results). But [it] can also be achieved by unrestricting cards to increase deck building options and give existing decks new tools.” This approach to managing the Banned and Restricted List, which I articulated in June, is virtually identical to Erik Lauer’s description.

While I think there are safer cards to unrestrict (such as Burning Wish), I applaud the DCI’s continued willingness to unrestrict cards to enhance the diversity in the format, and I have hope that this will come to pass.

I believe that Gush decks will start making Top 8’s in measureable numbers, giving Jace decks competition. At the same time, I hope that the best Gush and the best Jace/Time Vault decks will be distinct archetypes. That would be the best possible outcome.


TransmuteArtifactDuring the Scars of Mirrodin Update Bulletin, the Rules Manager issued new errata on Transmute Artifact. After Rich Shay and I wrote an article imploring Wizards to remove power-level errata from cards, they began a slow process of restoring cards to their original functionality. To that end, they’ve strived to achieve at least two goals: 1) restore cards to their original functionality, or as close as possible under modern rules, and 2) match cards as closely as possible to their actual text, so far as it is consistent with original functionality.

It’s important to note that (2) is not more important than (1), otherwise cards like Lotus Vale would work like a free Black Lotus under the current rules. For that reason, the goal has been to restore original functionality, not simply to make cards work like their text would indicate.

Transmute Artifact is a card with ambiguous text. The actual text on the card reads:
Search through your library for one artifact and immediately place it into play; also, choose any artifact in play that you control and place it in its owner’s graveyard. If the new artifact has a casting cost greater than that of the discarded one, you must pay the difference or Transmute Artifact fails and both artifacts are discarded. Shuffle your library after playing this card.

The key syntactical ambiguity is exactly what is meant by “fails.” There are several plausible readings. One is that you do as the original text commands, and search your library for one artifact, and ‘immediately’ place it into play, but if you fail to pay the difference, you must then ‘discard’ both artifacts, as is suggested by the text. Alternatively, “fails” could be slightly broader, and the card fails not only to stay in play, but does not even make it into play in the first place. The new Rules Manager, Matt Tabak, believes that the latter is the correct interpretation. The only sentence given in support of this interpretation is: “Rules management is often more art than science.”

He’s right – it is sometimes more art than science, but he’s wrong in his reading of Transmute Artifact, and while I find this explanation to be wanting, I have the evidence to prove he’s wrong.

The standard for errata is now well established, or so I thought: original functionality. Getting cards to work under the rules is also a necessity, and having cards match their text as closely as possible – within the constraint of original functionality (i.e. Lotus Vale), is also important.

It is on this basis, original functionality, that Time Vault has been restored. Original functionality, of course, has limits, on account of rules changes, as the case of Mogg Fanatic illustrates. But the Rules Team, as of late, has stated that their aim is to restore cards to their original functionality as much as possible. How do we know what the original functionality is? We look at how it was originally understood – and ruled – to work. Granted, there are new interactions for which there was not ‘original functionality,’ but in most cases we can know what it was.

The history of Transmute Artifact’s functionality is fairly messy. From searching the DCI Judges Listserve archive, here is the evidence I’ve uncovered:
The original ruling on the card that I’ve found is this:
If the artifact brought into play has an ability that can be played as a mana source, it can be used to pay part or all of the difference in casting costs. [D’Angelo 11/07/96]

The D’Angelo ruling is significant because it suggests that the card actually comes into play before the difference must be paid. Thus, the original D’Angelo text was:
As errata, it should read “Sacrifice an artifact to search through your library for one artifact and immediately place it into play. If the new artifact has a casting cost greater than that of the sacrificed one, you must pay the difference or Transumte Artifact fails and the new artifact is buried. Shuffle your library after playing this card.” [Encyclopedia Page 209] Minor consistency corrections. [D’Angelo 12/16/96]

This is, unfortunately, the only pre-1997 ruling I have been able to uncover. The main question regarding Transmute Artifact appears to have been whether Mishra’s Workshop could pay for the difference in mana costs, a question that is not relevant to the issue at hand. Since this errata comes two and half years after Transmute Artifact saw print, it would be even more useful to have earlier interpretations of the card, but I have not, as of yet, discovered them.

However, shortly after the D’Angelo ruling, and just after the printing of Mirage — which I’m sure is no coincidence – the Rules Team changed course. In September 1997, the Judges’ Listserve quotes Beth Moursand:
Picking an artifact from your library is part of the resolution. [bethmo]
The one from the library enters play when the spell is resolved, and this does not count as the casting of an artifact. It will not trigger events Citanul Druid can react to. [bethmo]

The important line is: “Picking an artifact from your library is part of the resolution.”

Perceptive readers asked: doesn’t that contradict/invalidate the D’Angelo ruling? The net-judges quickly admitted that it does. However, on September 12 1997, the judges made a very important comment in response to a question about to handle the mana payment:
It works the same as Flash. I also think that the last part about using the artifact to pay for the mana cost is now wrong. The text of Transmute Artifact does not contain a ‘then’, so no mana sources are possible. In effect that means that you will have to put mana into your mana pool *before* you look through your library. The same is true for Flash. Hopefully Oracle will correct this problem.

It is now well known that the original functionality on Flash put the creature into play, but that if the mana cost difference was not paid, the creature then went to the graveyard. However, Flash was errated, in now infamous power-level errata, to prevent the creature from coming into play if the cost was not paid. In short, the original D’Angelo ruling and the subsequent, post-Mirage ruling, to template Transmute Artifact the same as Flash, suggest that the current errata on Transmute Artifact is just wrong, that the card should work like Flash, that the artifact should actually come to play, and then be put into the graveyard if payment is not made. Matt Tabak’s claim, that Rules management is more art than science, while possibly true, is a non-explanation. This isn’t a case where the original functionality is unknown, and a choice between two equally valid options has to be made. The facts are known or knowable. His ‘belief’ that the artifact should not come into play until the cost is paid is simply contrary to the standard they have set, original functionality, and the facts available for applying that standard.

Interestingly, the one change they have made is clearly contradictory to the original functionality. Matt has made the sacrifice part of the resolution, not part of the cost. Yet, the D’Angelo ruling clearly shows that the sacrifice was understood to be part of the cost, much like Tinker. It’s odd that Matt says “Sacrificing the artifact used to be part of the cost, but that doesn’t jive with what we believe the intent of the printed wording was.” Here we go again…

Look for my next column in late October or early November, a complete primer on Grow! You will not want to miss it!

Until next time,
Stephen Menendian