Crossing the Vintage Ocean

Vintage Magic in the United States and Vintage Magic in Europe have the two largest and most developed metagames, yet they differ greatly. Each region has different dominant decks, players, and accepted strategies. Proxies were one of the great divides between the metagames, virtually all American tournaments allow 10 proxies or more while most European tournaments allow no proxies at all. This has changed recently, as European events have begun experimenting with proxies more and more. For example, the UAL Power Nine in Europe allowed 10 proxies. This proxy system is similar to large American events like the TMD Open which allowed 10 proxies plus the option to purchase an additional 5 proxies for $1.00 a piece. The synchronization of proxy systems means that it is now possible to do a relevant metagame analysis and comparison between European and American metagames. We will be looking at the two recent major Vintage Tournaments mentioned previously: for America, the TMD Open and for Europe, the UAL Power Nine.

Before we get into the analysis, we must look at what other differences there are between the metagames that might skew our results. First, the tournament proxy systems were different; the TMD Open event allowed the opportunity for more proxies than the UAL Power Nine. This could mean that players attending the TMD Open may have been able to play decks with more expensive cards and consequently with more raw power. However, because European tournaments have been no-proxy environments in the past, most players would be content with 10 proxies. The proxy systems make a negligible difference between the two metagames. The size of the tournaments was also different, the TMD Open had 128 players while the UAL Power Nine had 159 (note that only 157 of the players’ decks were available). Because of the unequal sizes, we will be using the raw number of decks present as well as percentages to get a correct representation. A more relevant factor is that the events took place around 20 days apart: the UAL Power Nine on June 30, 2007 and the TMD Open on July 21, 2007. It is possible for the metagame to shift, but the shift was minor. Vintage is a slow moving format; because we can play with virtually every card printed, it takes time for new decks alter the metagame and gain acceptance within the community. In this 20 day period, there were no large events that could redefine the metagame, only small events with little influence. It is important to keep these other variables in the back of your mind but these two events truly defined each metagame, and were an accurate representation of each region.

I have broken the tournaments down into nine archetypes to get a more general view. Deciding how to break an entire metagame down to a manageable size is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. I separated them as well as I could to characterize Vintage’s main strategies and defining cards. The first number is the percentage of the metagame the archetype represented followed by its name and finally, the raw number of players piloting that archetype.

Europe: UAL Power Nine Archetypes

18% Fish 28
15% Control 23
14% Prison 22
13% Flash 20
13% Combo 20
9% Gush Control/Combo 14
8% Ichorid 13
7% Oath 11
4% Salvagers 6
America: TMD Open Archetypes

24% Gush Control/Combo 31
18% Flash 23
15% Fish 19
12% Prison15
11% Salvagers14
6% Combo 8
6% Oath 8
6% Control 8
2% Ichorid 2

A quick explanation of the more confusing archetype names: Gush Control/Combo comprises decks such as GAT or Gush Tendrils, Control encompasses Gifts, Control Slaver and other Control strategies, and Combo is made up of Belcher and Storm Combo decks.

First, take another careful look at the archetype results for yourself. The most profound difference between the two events is the presence of Gush Control/Combo. Gush makes up 24% of the American metagame, a huge amount, while in Europe it represents only 9%. The other most played archetype in America, Flash, put up 18% in America and 13% in Europe. This gives a very interesting point of view on the top American decks. Both Flash and Gush have been dominant enough in America to bring up talks of restriction. In Europe, on the other hand, they are making up a small balanced percentage of the metagame, nothing to warrant any talks of restriction. There could be many reasons for the relative unpopularity of Flash and Gush: perhaps the European metagame has found a magic panacea to beat them, or perhaps they are just unpopular and underrated in their power.

In Europe, the most played archetypes were Fish and Control. Fish had 18% of the European metagame and in America it had a slightly smaller 13%. Control had 15% in Europe compared to 6% in America. Before the giant metagame shift following the restriction of Gifts Ungiven, the unrestriction of Gush, and the errata of Flash, both Control and Fish were top contenders in the metagame. One of the contributing factors to the large numbers of Control and Fish as well as highly played decks like Combo could have been its previous metagame success. Instead of playing newly legal and fairly unproven decks like Gush and Flash, the European metagame opted to play proven decks they were comfortable with in higher numbers. Another factor could have been the past proxyless tournaments in Europe. Less expensive decks such as Fish were very attractive choices for a no proxy metagame and were thus played more frequently. Players stuck with Fish at a 10 proxy metagame as well because they already had the cards for it, a huge aspect for budget players, because they were comfortable with it, and because it had performed in the past.

A stitch in time saves nine, and
beats Ichorid.
The last major difference we see between the two events is the presence of Ichorid and Salvagers. Salvagers put up 11% in America and 4% in Europe, while Ichorid took 8% in Europe and only 2% in America. Ichorid may have been one of the decks influenced by the time difference between the two events. Ichorid was receiving a huge amount of hype after Future Sight became legal on May 20th. The deck’s hype lasted for a short time and it put up a fair number of results, but then the metagame adapted, running cards such as Yixlid Jailer, Honor the Fallen, and Leyline of the Void and the decks presence dropped off. In the 40 days between the legalization of Future Sight and the UAL Power 9 event, Ichorid put up 23 T8s worldwide. In a 40 day period after the UAL Power Nine, Ichorid put up only 5 T8s: See the Results. By the time the TMD Open rolled around during the second time period, Ichorid was again unpopular, explaining the deck’s minor presence in America but major presence in Europe. Ichorid had an unusually short rise and fall for Vintage, because it was so easy to hate out. Salvagers has been played for years in both Europe and America, then the deck got a huge boost after the printing of Aven Mindcensor. For inexplicable reasons, in America the deck simply caught on to the point it was considered to be on par with powerhouses like Gush and Flash. In Europe, the deck still saw play as a small part of their diverse metagame, but never broke out as a main contender. The other two remaining archetypes, Oath and Prison, showed up in similar amounts at both events. Both have a long, stable history of success in Vintage and have managed to evolve and keep up with the rest format.

We will now take a closer look at the specific deck variants played at each event. Some of the names have been changed to be more descriptive so we can better understand them.

Europe: UAL Power Nine Decks

8% Ichorid 13
8% Hulk Flash 12
7% UBW Fish 11
7% Stax 11
5% TPS 8
5% Gush Tendrils 8
5% Rector Flash 8
5% MUD 8
4% Tyrant Oath 6
4% Sui Black 6
4% GAT 6
4% Bomberman 6
3% Grim Long 5
3% UW Fish 5
3% Oath 5
3% Gifts 4
2% MindTwister Control 3
2% Control Slaver 3
2% BR Control 3
1% UBR Control 2
1% Goblins 2
1% Landstill 2
1% Belcher 2
1% Bazaar Stax 2
1% Doomsday 2
1% MaskNaught 2
>1% 5/3 1
>1% Confidant Control 1
>1% Almost Blue 1
>1% Sullivan Solution 1
>1% MUC 1
>1% Tog 1
>1% Black Stax 1
>1% Pitch Long 1
>1% Sensei Sensei 1
>1% Stasis 1
>1% White Weenie 1
>1% Merfolk Fish 1
>1% Slivers 1
America: TMD Open Decks

18% Hulk Flash 23
18% GAT 23
9% Bomberman 11
6% Stax 8
5% Oath 7
5% Control Slaver 6
4% Gush Tendrils 5
3% Bazaar Stax 4
3% UBW Fish 4
2% Belcher 3
2% Tog 3
2% URBana Fish 3
2% Bob-berman 3
2% Sui Black 2
2% TMWA 2
2% Ichorid 2
2% TPS 2
>1% Sligh 1
>1% Sensei, Sensei 1
>1% UrPhid 1
>1% Repeal Tendrils 1
>1% U/W Stax 1
>1% UBG Fish 1
>1% Staxless Stax 1
>1% Sullivan Solution 1
>1% Zoo 1
>1% B/G Fish 1
>1% Goblins 1
>1% Grim Long 1
>1% Reanimator 1
>1% R/W Prison 1
>1% B/W Fish 1
>1% 4c Fish
>1% Tyrant Oath 1

Don't trust your secrets to the sea,
or the B/R list to the DCI.
Looking at the most popular decks at each event, we see that they are mostly consistent with the archetype results. Hulk Flash and GAT were the dominant decks played at TMD. At UAL, the individual decks were much more diverse, with many different variants of each archetype showing up. Ichorid was the top deck played at UAL partly because there is only one version of the deck to play, so it is not split up like other archetypes. Fish was played in sizeable amounts at both events with scores of different deviations. The most popular Fish deck at each event was UBW Fish, which had 7% at UAL and 3% at TMD.

Of the Gush decks at each event, at TMD GAT had 18% and Gush Tendrils had 4%. However, at UAL, Gush led with 5% while GAT had only 4%. It is interesting that the amount of Gush Tendrils at each event is equal, but America had an enormous amount more GAT than Europe. This is because European players love innovating Storm Combo in all its forms, but are more cautious about playing entirely new decks like GAT. Flash also illustrates this principle: America only played the Hulk variant of Flash while Europe played Rector Flash and Hulk Flash. Rector Flash is capable of functioning as a Storm deck as well as a Flash deck. Being a more familiar Storm combo deck accounts for the higher numbers of Rector Flash and Gush Tendrils in Europe.

The Prison deck MUD has 5% of the European metagame but is not played at all in America. The same is true for Gifts, which has 3% in Europe but nothing in America. Even Masknaught which was dropped in America long ago for more efficient two card combos like Oath of Druids+Forbidden Orchard and Flash+Protean Hulk holds out in Europe with 1%. Gifts, MUD, and Masknaught are all older decks that have been discounted by most American players, but continue to have a European player base. This again supports the theory that European players prefer older proven decks to newer ones. This presence of older decks in Europe leads to an overall more diverse metagame which is usually considered to be healthier than a metagame like America’s which revolves around two or three top decks.

Now for the most important part of the tournament: what won? Both tournaments cut to a T16 after swiss rounds. Here are those decks.

Europe: UAL Power Nine T16

2 UBW Fish
1 Merfolk Fish
1 UW Fish
1 Black Stax
1 U/R Stax
1 Gush Tendrils
1 MindTwister Control
1 Confidant Control
1 Tyrant Oath
1 Hulk Flash
1 Black MaskNaught
America: TMD Open T16

3 Flash
3 Bomberman
1 Bazaar Stax
1 5c Stax
1 Tog
1 Gush Tendrils
1 UBW Fish
1 Oath

Back to the future.
The American results are fairly straightforward. GAT, Flash and Bomberman, the three most played decks at TMD, also occupied the most T16 spots. The same is true for Gush archetypes as a whole; representing nearly a quarter of the metagame, they took home six of the T16 spots. Stax manages to also hold on to two slots of the T16, with cards like In the Eye of Chaos to combat Flash, Gush and every other instant in the format. UBW Fish was the only Fish deck out of the 19 in the tournament to make T16, taking up 15% of the metagame. Fish had a difficult time at the TMD Open keeping up with the incredible raw power of Gush and Flash. Finally, Oath clinches a single T16 spot running Platinum Angel which can speed up the deck by a full two turns in place of the classic Razia, Boros Archangel, Akroma, Angel of Wrath kill. Instead of waiting for Razia and Akroma to do the job and possibly losing during that time to a format full of fast decks, the moment Platinum Angel hits the board, the opponent must find an answer before winning.

The European results are much more interesting and diverse. The most played archetype in Europe, Fish, had a total of four decks present in the T16. Outside of that, the T16 was just as diverse as the rest of the metagame. Many odd decks that would never be considered in America performed well, decks like Merfolk Fish, MUD, and Black Masknaught. On the other hand, top American decks like Hulk Flash, GAT, and Gush Tendrils also took spots in the T16. This demonstrates that although the European metagame has many decks odd by American standards, it is not inferior to the American metagame. The decks played in Europe also must defeat accepted American decks, and they do. Stax took two T8 slots with some interesting variants, Black Stax and U/R Stax. Ichorid, the most played deck in the tournament, was hated out and took no spots in the T16. The popular Storm decks achieved two T16 appearances with TPS. MindTwister Control, a deck created in Europe around the newly unrestricted Mind Twist took a single spot. A single Oath deck made T16 just as it did in America except running Tidespout Tyrant, which is suited well for a more controlling and slower metagame like Europe.

In conclusion, the European and American metagames are very different, but still equally competitive. A large overlap of decks exists between the continents, so we can see how both continents’ decks perform in the other’s metagame. In America, newer, less proven decks are more widely played. Europeans for the most part prefer older, proven and tested decks to newer decks. Each metagame must learn from the other and communicate, something that is not being done very much right now. A language barrier does exist between the continents, which makes it difficult to communicate, but fortunately, Magic is a universal language.

Click to view the full reports of the UAL Power Nine in Madrid Spain and the TMD Open in Stratford Connecticut USA.


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