Then and Now: Portal and Ravnica in Vintage
By Scott Lemenager on November 25th, 2005 · Filed in Vintage (Type 1) · Comments not available just now
Well before the release of Ravnica into the Magic world, the Vintage community has known that Portal and Starter would be introduced into our world. For some time now there have been a handful of cards among the sets suspected to make a splash in the format. Imperial Seal was instantly the hottest commodity on the market for Vintage players, and its impending restriction was announced simultaneously with the news that Portal would be legal. Imperial Seal is a slightly worse Vampiric Tutor but nonetheless can bring havoc to a format that includes the most powerful cards in all of Magic. The Seal had to go simply because as a tutor for anything, it would help negate the restricted list. Of similar note is the card Grim Tutor from Starter. This is probably the second most-hyped card in the Portal/Starter series as it is also a tutor which can grab any card in the format. This card however escaped the restriction papers and thus allows for full usability within the format.
Of all decks to utilize these two cards, and most notably the unrestricted Grim Tutor, DeathLong seemed the most potent use. For reference here is one of the most popular versions of DeathLong from Meandeck combo master Justin Droba (JDizzle in the TMD forums).
This deck uses Death Wish as an almost direct replacement for the now restricted Burning Wish which the original Long.dec used. There are obviously several problems with Death Wish, least of which is the amount of life loss, and the problem of a significantly higher mana cost to get to Yawgmoth's Will and Tendrils of Agony in the sideboard. Obviously is more difficult than .
Enter Grim Tutor and Imperial Seal.
By utilizing these cards rather than Death Wish, you can now move Yawgmoth's Will back to the main deck. "Why is this better? Why is this any different" you may be asking yourself. The primary benefit of running Yawgmoth's Will in the main deck is that you now have a larger list of tutor effects to get to Will. In DeathLong you had to find one of four Death Wishes or one Burning Wish to get to Will. Now in GrimLong you are able to utilize three Grim Tutors, one Imperial Seal, Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and the draw step, since the Will itself is in the maindeck. For the best example so far of GrimLong here is Steve Menendian's (Smemmen on TMD) list from the top 8 at SCG: P9 Chicago.
This list is extremely well built and displays the full potential of post-restriction Long. So far this is living up to the hype the tutors originally received. You can read the comments on the article and ask any questions of Steve you wish in the TMD forums here.
When the Ravnica spoiler was complete and we knew what was in the set we were inundated with hyped cards that might be breaking the Vintage world in half. The earliest considerably hyped card was Suppression Field. Suppression Field has an extremely powerful effect that can effectively stifle a large portion of the field’s weapons. From slowing down Stax pieces such as Goblin Welder and Wasteland to harming Dragon decks by slowing down Bazaar of Baghdad and even to putting the hurt on Control Slaver by damaging Welder, Pentavus, Mindslaver, and fetch lands such as Polluted Delta, Field seemed like a card that could create a wrecking ball effect in Vintage. The trick here was finding a proper fit for the card. Simply tossing Suppresion Field into an existing Stax deck obviously would not work based on the fact that Stax really likes to use its Welders and Wastelands. However Field does not harm the major component of the deck, the "combo" of Smokestack and Crucible of Worlds. Tons of ideas have been thrown around on the various message boards. Here is a decent looking list from the primary thread on TMD about it.
This deck was based on one of Vroman's suggestions and is not meant to be a definitive version of what FieldStax should look like. There are obviously several problems with this list and more testing obviously needs to occur. After several weeks of testing and discussion on the forums, the builds were largely abandoned for more proven Stax decks which can utilize their other lock pieces more effectively. This card has so far proven to be a failure and has definitely not lived up to the hype, which happens quite often in the Vintage world. Uba Mask was a similar option in Stax that was initially tried and abandoned when nobody could find the appropriate build to make it work; the card was labeled as sub-par in Stax and left alone. Fortunatly Robert Vroman was able to find a proper mix and the now extremely good UbaStax deck exists. I have said from day one that Suppression Field will be one of those cards that looked good early then disappeared, only to be found several years down the road as some new amazing "tech" that will come in and shake up the meta. Don't forget about Suppression Field, guys.
Perhaps the most significant announcement heard with the completion of the Ravnica spoiler was the realization of the combo of Flame Fusillade with Time Vault. It really seemed like everybody and their proverbial mother was looking for ways to make this combo work in Vintage (and Legacy as well). The combo is even strong enough as to earn the title of "best two-card combo ever," by Andy Probasco, a top Vintage player with few disagreeing with his sentiment. The trick of course was how to effectively utilize the combo within the metagame. By far the number one consensus was that this would be an easy replacement for Goblin Charbelcher and Mana Severance in Gifts decks. The swap allows for a combo win with three less mana required (under normal circumstances) than Severance/Belcher. Here’s an example of an easy swap in Gifts to fit in the Flame/Vault combo.
This deck does work, however there are several criticisms for this build. There are some minor deckbuilding issues, such as not running at least one Snow-Covered Island over one of the basic Islands, and at the time Darkblast hadn’t received any significant hype and thus is not included in the sideboard. The primary reasons that people do not like Flame/Vault in the build are that the pieces do very little on their own. In builds with Severance/Belcher you can play Mana Severance once you have enough mana in play to thin your deck and guarantee better topdecks, and Charbelcher can be used as a method of clearing the board of creatures, and can win on its own over several turns even without Mana Severance. The question remains of whether the lower mana requirement for the kill outweighs the overall utility of the standard build. With only two major events out of the way, SCG Chicago and Day 2 at Waterbury, there is little feedback overall about the level of play for the new version. Flame/Vault builds of Gifts did not perform super-well at Waterbury, and no Gifts decks at all played super-well at Chicago, so the jury is still out on this one. No matter the outcome, you will need to be expecting any Gifts deck you play against to have this option in the build.
Outside of these major additions as listed above, we have recently been seeing the emergence of the minor players from the set. Perhaps the most important role card introduced by Ravnica is Darkblast. Long have Goblin Welders reigned within the Vintage format, and for every bit as long players have been trying to find the best way to get rid of the little green men. In the 2004 World Championships at GenCon the championship was won on the back of a single maindecked Lava Dart. As a way to kill not one but two Welders, the Dart has been one of the best ways to deal with Welder for a long time. Other such options have included, but definitely not limited to, Fire/Ice, Death Spark, Engineered Plague, and more recently the excellent Pithing Needle. Now, however, players have a new option. With the arrival of Darkblast, Welders SHOULD see a slight decline. One Darkblast either drawn or discarded means that no Welders will be seeing the light of day for the rest of the game unless something is done to get Darkblast out of the yard permanently. Darkblast even takes it a step further for decks running some sort of graveyard recursion as the Dredge mechanic can really help these plans in the long run. For those of you already running or considering running Goblin Welder in the months to come, you need to seriously be prepared for Darkblast against any deck running black mana, and for 5-color Stax players you should at least be running one or two of your own out of the sideboard to make sure you are going to win a Welder war.
Two other minor cards to look for involve Bazaar of Baghdad-based decks: Life from the Loam from Ravnica and Goblin Lore from both Starter and Portal Second Age. Life from the Loam is already an extremely well-known card in virtually every other format of the game. Its ability to dredge and bring back lands is extremely powerful, and it has been filling up graveyards in other formats, so why not Vintage as well? Decks such as Dragon and Cerebral Assassin might be able to take advantage of Loam by using it to not only fill up their yards with excellent animate targets, but also by allowing the deck to gain back lands either destroyed by Wasteland or pitched to Bazaar. On a similar page is Goblin Lore. This is an extremely out-of-flavor Red draw spell. By not only digging four deep, but also by getting three cards into the graveyard, Lore has the potential for abuse in a number of Bazaar based decks. Of course the significant drawback is that the discard portion is at random, so the potential for losing quality cards is there. However, in the long run the positives may end up overpowering the negatives. Both of these cards are excellent options for players interested in the Bazaar archetypes.
One last card of note is Dark Confidant. Black-based HateFish utilizes Confidant as a nice tempo engine. While it remains to be seen whether Black-based Fish can really compete in the long run, Confidant is probably going to remain a staple for the players interested in that deck type. Of more interesting note is the use of Dark Confidant out of the sideboard in JD-Land Belcher. JDizzle's previous version used Living Wish along with a Phyrexian Negator to allow for an alternate win in a control-heavy metagame. With the venue in Chicago promising numerous Workshop-based decks, JD decided to utilize the Confidant in this spot, realizing that the damage induced would be largely meaningless against Stax and the extra draw could be important. Definitely a very nice decision by Mr. Droba on that one, as he made Top 8. Dark Confidant however is not a major card to have to worry about, and traditional methods of beating both Fish and Belcher should suffice.
Overall we have seen only a small impact thus far with the multiple new sets coming out. Nobody has seemed to break Eye of the Storm to date, although I have heard of GrimLong builds trying it out, and nothing else is shaking things up on an overly significant level. You never know though, cards pop up; keep your eyes peeled and you might find one or two goodies left.
For questions and comments feel free to post here or send me a PM...
Scott Lemenager aka Lunar
By Scott Lemenager on November 25th, 2005 · Filed in Vintage (Type 1) · Comments not available just now
About Scott Lemenager
Scott Lemenager is one of the best up in coming Vintage writers in the United States. Recently voted as "Best Vintage Strategist" on MTGSalvation and published on the front page at Star City Games, Scott continues to write solid articles on the Vintage format. Other recent accomplishments include the startup of www.norcalmagic.tk , a site dedicated to Vintage Magic on the West Coast, and the startup of his own proxied Vintage tournament Series. A shift in career goals also has Scott headed to the California Culinary Acadamy to continue his training as a World Class Chef and one day small business owner.