A Future Sight of Vintage

As has been noted by many set reviewers before myself, any card from a new set will have a difficult time making it into any competitive deck, let alone significantly impacting the format. However, with Future Sight, the Vintage players of the world have been given a set that will almost certainly leave an indelible mark on the format. I do not say this for the sake of being sensationalist; I truly believe that this set as a whole will have a bigger impact than any set for some time (that “time” being Mirrodin and Darksteel, collectively). Future Sight offers many mechanics that have never been seen before, in addition to some new twists on old mechanics. While most of the cards I mention here will most likely not see play, some of the cards will be major for the format.

To borrow the standards set forth by Oscar Tan, for a new card to be viable in Vintage, it either has to do something better than a predecessor, do something that no card has done before (see: Mindslaver), or enable other cards in a way that was previously not possible. So, in keeping with these standards, my goal with this article is to inform the reader not only of the viability of the “big” cards that will most likely see play, but also cards that, while they probably will not see play, do have potential.

Cards that are likely to see play:

Pact of Negation: This card has been heralded by some as the second coming of Force of Will. Honestly, I could probably write an entire article on the potential viability of this card. Suffice it to say, this card will see play in Vintage.

The second coming of Force?
Not quite.
So, there are a few things that are worth noting about the card before discussing where it could find a home. First, if you are able to win before your next upkeep, then the drawback is meaningless. This obviously causes the ears of combo players to perk up. Second, this counter is a truly free counter in the sense that it does not need any help (either in the form of mana or a blue card to pitch) in order to play it. This means that any deck could potentially run this card as a counter, even if that deck does not have blue mana sources (Belcher, I’m looking at you). Third, Chalice of the Void for zero will counter this spell. If this card begins to see extensive play, expect Chalice to become more popular. Fourth, decks running Mindslaver would love to see this card. While any deck that is Mindslavering you is probably going to win anyway, this just makes it all the easier. This is true for all the pacts in general. Fifth, if this spell is countered, you do not have to pay the upkeep cost, so it effectively becomes a hard counter.

Where will it see play and how many copies will be run? Combo would seem to be the obvious choice. In considering combo decks that are currently running the full complement of Force of Wills, I think this card will see play as a 1-of or a 2-of, and maybe a 3-of. Why only one or two? Well, for one, combo sometimes needs to play a reactive counter. If your opponent plays Yawgmoth’s Bargain on turn two, a Pact of Negation is not going to do you much good if you do not have 3UU on the table, which you probably will not. Combo just needs more hard counters rather than less for this reason. I see this card working in conjunction with Force of Will, and possibly Misdirection and Mana Drain. If any deck will fully embrace this card, it will be Belcher or Dragon. Whether this will push the decks into the top tier or not, I honestly can’t say, as these decks are not my specialty. It is something to watch out for, though. Finally, I do not see this card as viable in non-combo decks, as the benefit just cannot be captured because the decks typically are not winning on the turn they would play this card. Ultimately, I expect this card to have a big impact, but not a format defining one.

Delay: While I initially scoffed at its possible inclusion, I am now inclined to think that this card is probably better than Mana Leak in Vintage. This is because Delay is a relatively harder counter than Mana Leak in most contexts. First, any spell whose target will not be around three turns later is effectively countered by Delay. This primarily refers to counters, but might also refer to creature removal or bounce. Second, Delay, if it resolves, will always stop a spell from doing what it wants to do right now, whereas Mana Leak sometimes does not. As games drag on, Mana Leak becomes worse and worse, oftentimes being completely dead by the end of the game because an opponent has so much mana. Third, as is the case with Pact of Negation, the drawback of the spell may simply never be realized. Since Delay will most often be played during an opponent’s turn, that opponent will not get his or her spell until Delay’s controller has taken three full turns. That is an eternity in Vintage, especially as far as combo is concerned. Consequently, I see this card competing very hard for the 1U counter slot. Therefore, look for it to replace Mana Leak in Oath of Druids decks in the near future. It could potentially see play beyond this.

Street Wraith: This is the other card that everybody is really excited about, and with good reason. While some have suggested that running this card allows one to run what essentially is a 56 card deck, I am not willing to make that leap, for a few reasons. First, the life loss is not meaningless; creature based decks have become more aggressive and combo decks have become more frivolous with their life points. However, this is not to imply that running Street Wraith is tantamount to running a 56 card deck while starting at 12 life, as that simply is not the case. You typically will not be drawing all four copies in one game; on average I would say to expect one or two. What’s weird about this card is that you never really want to draw it. Sure it can be used as a finisher, but would you run a nearly vanilla 3BB 3/4 creature? Certainly not.

This is about how complicated running
Street Wraith is on paper.
The truth of whether this card should be run and in what quantities will only be told with time. However, I am supposed to tell you guys right now whether this card should be played (or will be played), not six months down the line. For simplification, let’s consider running just one copy of Street Wraith, and then I will extrapolate from there to more copies. For the sake of argument, let’s consider Pitch Long and assume that you have cut Infernal Contract, Windfall, or Lion’s Eye Diamond to run this card. Note that these cards are not your typical tutor targets, as you will often be picking better incarnations of the same effects. Therefore, cutting this one card for Street Wraith does not significantly impact your ability to tutor for something good. So, if that is true, any game where you do not draw Street Wraith is not impacted by its presence. It is just one of many cards that you do not see over the course of the game. But what happens when you do draw Street Wraith? By running Street Wraith, you are saying “I would rather lose two life and get the top card off of my deck than draw my 60th best card (i.e., worst card) in the deck.” You value 2 life plus the worst card in your deck at a lower utility value than the 30th best card in your deck. Huh? When you draw a card from your deck, the expected value of that card is roughly the average value of the utilities (or “brokenness” if you prefer) of all the cards still remaining in your deck. If you assume that each card in your deck is equally incrementally worse as you go down the list (meaning, the second card is worse than the first card by the same margin that the third card is worse than the second card and so on), then the expected value of a draw is roughly the value of your 30th card. This assumption may be unreasonable, however, because some cards are exceedingly broken (see: Yawgmoth’s Will, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, and Black Lotus) relative to other cards in your deck. I would venture that the super-brokenness of the best cards actually more than makes up for the “bad” cards toward the end of your decklist, so your expected draw may actually be better than the 30th card in this sense. Now, if you were to consider running four copies rather than just one, the calculations are fairly similar, with various pluses and minuses affecting the calculation. My gut says that there is diminishing utility per Street Wraith whenever you add a Street Wraith, but this could be incorrect for various reasons. So, determining the proper number is more likely to be derived from finding a “gut instinct” from testing than from these probabilistic suggestions I have made here. Disclaimer: the calculations above are fairly rough, primarily because defining “utility” is essentially impossible, so please do not come down on the fact that they aren’t exact. General arguments against them are ok though.

The take home message is that whenever you cycle Street Wraith, you are taking a chance on your deck. However, this is exacerbated and mitigated by two separate issues. First, if you get Street Wraith in your opening hand you do not really know where you stand with respect to Street Wraith. Combo often wants to try to figure out precisely how it is going to win from the opening hand, so not knowing what the seventh card is can significantly hurt. Mulliganing becomes a more difficult (and perhaps more regular) event. On the positive side, it makes tutors that put the card on top of you deck (Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, and Imperial Seal) more powerful in that you can draw the card right now at no additional mana cost. This, I believe, is huge. Rather than having to rely on drawing Ancestral Recall or Brainstorm, one can now just cycle Street Wraith instead and get the same effect (at a cheaper mana cost no less!). I personally am a big advocate of tutor effects; Street Wraith will make them even better.

So what’s the verdict on Street Wraith? You will see him extensively. Combo that is not Oath of Druids will attempt to embrace him immediately, running three or four. Slaver and Stax will also try to pick him up, although to what extent I am not sure. I do not expect to see him in Fish, primarily because the deck is so redundant to begin with. Additionally, sometimes Fish actually wants to squeeze more tools in rather than fewer, meaning there is no room for Wraith. I must say that I am not extremely confidant in these predictions, as the card is so simple, yet so complex for the reasons stated above. However, the impact will be significant, regardless of how things ultimately turn out.

Aven Mindcensor: This card just screams “put me in Fish.” Does it belong there? I am definitely leaning toward yes. Needless to say, any deck packing multiple copies of Grim Tutor will be none too happy to see this card hit the table. However, unlike Meddling Mage, Aven Mindcensor actually cuts off potential answers to it by its own effect. Sure, it can be bounced or removed as easily as the next creature, but not if your opponent cannot actually get to the removal. It is this fact that I think makes the Mindcensor so appealing; the card protects itself. This card stops tutors of all kinds from having any meaningful effect, while also shutting down fetchlands, a huge staple in the premier combo decks of today. If the card becomes too dominant, decks may try to adapt by using something cute like Fire//Ice as an answer that can by cycled, but again, how are you going to get to it? If anything, this will force combo decks to adapt and diversify their threats, probably by leaning back toward the draw-7 route; combo decks have begun to depend too significantly on tutors because there has been no drawback in doing so. This may (and probably will) change with the advent of Aven Mindcensor. On one final note, he can also be sacrificed to Voidmage Prodigy, something that some Fish decks might care about.

Ichorid has some new friends…
Bridge from Below: It is almost as if Wizards said “Hey, let’s make a card just for Ichorid!” Bridge from Below is obviously the Ichorid player’s dream. Whenever he gets Ichorid or Nether Shadow or some other fiend back into play, he gets a permanent 2/2 body to go along with it. Additionally, multiple copies will cause multiple triggers, so one single Ichorid can very realistically spawn two or even three zombies. For a long time I have considered Ichorid as a deck to be outside the truly competitive realm. With the addition of this card, I believe Ichorid has a real chance to compete now. I say that with the caveat, though, that Ichorid could very, very easily get hated right out of the format, either directly or collaterally (meaning, the graveyard gets hated for other reasons and Ichorid gets hated as well as a result). With more and more emphasis being placed on the graveyard, Tormod’s Crypt becomes stronger every day. If this does not come to pass, look for Ichorid to become a monster. Initial testing indications over on TheManaDrain suggest this card has significantly helped Ichorid, both in terms of consistency and efficiency.

Narcomoeba: Apparently, Bridge from Below was not enough for Ichorid, so Wizards decided to go ahead and print Narcomoeba for good measure. This is a very, very solid creature for Ichorid, as it doesn’t leave play at end of turn, it flies, and it realistically can be hardcasted, depending upon the manabase of the Ichorid deck. While this card is not as big as Bridge from Below, it definitely helps Bridge’s cause in addition to making the deck more consistent in general. Again, how much hate Ichorid receives will be crucial.

Edge of Autumn: For what this card does, I have seen considerably less chatter about it than I expected and I am unsure why. I suspect it is because the instant playability of this card does not scream off the cardboard the way that it does for Street Wraith. While the Wraith is potentially a win condition, Edge of Autumn obviously is not. However, this card can almost certainly be cycled whenever one wants to get that extra card. The problem, obviously, is that it stunts one’s manabase in the process, while Street Wraith does not. While I would not advocate this as a 4-of, I believe one or two could have a positive impact on a deck, as it would allow a player to dig when he or she really needss to. Although, this again gets into issues of the utility of the 60th card in your deck vs. having a land in play (similar to Street Wraith). Honestly, only extensive testing will tell. Look for this card in combo of all kinds in the future months. Note that of the cards that I expect to see played, this one has the least amount of my confidence.

Cards that could see some play:

Nix: Steve Menendian suggested that this is the kind of card that would be good “in twenty years.” While this may be true, I imagine you all are interested in what it can do in the near future, rather than the distant future. I would say the answer to whether it will see play soon depends upon the impact that the pacts have in the new metagame. If pacts become more popular, this very cheap counter becomes the obvious answer. Also of note is that this card counters Chalice for zero, although I think this use is a little too narrow for the aforementioned combo decks that are already trying to squeeze in Pact of Negation and Street Wraith.

Shimian Specter: This card is similar to Extirpate in that it has a similar effect; the card is just gotten from the hand rather than the graveyard. While Hypnotic Specter has long ago been dismissed as unplayable, I think this guy has a chance because he is very particular about the card that he removes. One or two swings with this guy against combo would most likely be devastating. Where he would fit in though, is not clear. There have been (very) small rumblings of the return of black control/discard with the advent of so many combo decks running around, so this card may be able to find a place there. I am going to tab this guy with my “dark horse award” for being a card that is underappreciated now, but may see significant play later.

A “fun” card for both players and judges.
Yixlid Jailer: Jailer is kind of an interesting card because it disrupts the graveyard. Of note is that this creature disrupts Recoup and therefore Gifts…somewhat. The problem is that if Recoup is played after the Jailer is already in play, the targeted card (most likely Yawgmoth’s Will) will still be able to be played via flashback due to timestamp rules. That being said, it completely hoses Ichorid decks, as nearly all the cards that the deck uses rely upon graveyard abilities (including the two new cards mentioned earlier). Is this card better than its competitors: Tormod’s Crypt, Planar Void, and Leyline of the Void? For Fish, I think the answer is definitely yes. It only costs 1B, so it fits in very nicely in Fish’s mana curve. Additionally, it is a wizard so it plays nicely with Voidmage Prodigy, although Kai has only seen sporadic appearances lately. With respect to combo decks trying to answer other combo decks, the incumbents are probably a better choice. Note that this card does not interfere with playing cards via Yawgmoth’s Will, so that idea is out. Overall, it might find a place in some Fish maindecks or as a neat sideboard card. Finally, an article detailing some rulings for the card is available at MTG.com.

Magus of the Moon: Blood Moon is a card that I have long thought to be underutilized. This card bolsters Blood Moon’s chances. For one, you can basically run eight copies if you so choose, meaning that you will be able to get the card fairly consistently. Second, it provides a potential win condition in that there is a 2/2 body on it; redundant Blood Moons were previously useless. So, this one card can potentially be ridden all the way to victory. Stax builds already running Blood Moon may try to implement this card. It is more likely, however, that a new deck or The Mountains Win Again would try to add this card, with possibly good results. I am inclined to think it may be a little too slow, but time will tell.

Summoner’s Pact: The only other pact worth mentioning. While this card may not seem worthy, it can grab two lesser played combo mana sources in Tinder Wall and Elvish Spirit Guide (which are typically found in Belcher). Again, Belcher is not really my area of expertise, so I am uncertain as to whether this card has a significant amount of merit, especially given all the other choices that are available for the deck (Land Grant and Simian Spirit Guide come to mind).

Coalition Relic: The Relic would be looking to replace Darksteel Ingot, which has not seen much play of late. The ability to get extra mana out of it makes it fairly appealing, as I do not believe that the indestructible aspect of the Ingot made it preferable, at all. There is a slight chance that this might slip in to a Stax deck somewhere as a 1-of. However, this card has the least amount of my confidence in this playability category for seeing play.

Horizon Canopy: This is one of those cards that I look at and just go “oh, that’s neat.” While this land is not fetchable and you lose life in order to tap it for mana, the ability to sacrifice it and draw a card is pretty nifty. The colors available with it certainly do not thrill the Vintage community, but perhaps it could just be perceived as producing colorless mana. Fish builds running white might try to add this as a 1-of to get that extra little push, especially with the use of Wasteland leveling off ever so slightly. This card could potentially be combined with Crucible of Worlds, although using Wasteland, Strip Mine, or even Mishra’s Factory is probably just better.

There is no way this is how R&D felt after
coming up with Tolaria West’s name.
Tolaria West: The 0CC transmute card that never came to be in the last block. The real question regarding this card is: what will you tutor for? Well, there is a whole slew of artifact mana, with Black Lotus leading the way. There are a number of lands that could be targets, with Strip Mine and Tolarian Academy being obvious choices. Beyond this, you can grab Chalice of the Void and the new Pact of Negation. Also of note is that this tutor can’t be counered in the traditional sense, so if you want to get Strip Mine, nothing less than Stife or Trickbind will stop you from getting it. Because of the abuse this card lends itself to, I see this card making an impact somewhere, most likely in a deck that wants to grab Strip Mine. Consequently, Stax seems like a possible choice, although four color control (which Steve O’Connell is trying to bring back into vogue) could also choose this card. My only reservations are the fact that this card comes into play tapped (although it does produce blue) and the fact that the tutor cost is 1UU, which is not only slightly expensive, but the double blue mana might be prohibitive for some Stax builds.

Cards that are worth mentioning, but probably will not see play:

Barren Glory: This card is the long awaited tournament legal version of The Cheese Stands Alone. While it is neat, the only way I could see winning with this card would be comboing out via some Wrath effect, like Balance combined with Academy Rector. A combo with this card just seems too clumsy and slow to be effective.

Lost Auramancers: This is a fixed Academy Rector (which is currently unrestricted). While you could play this creature and hope to fetch Yawgmoth’s Bargain in three turns, this is far too slow for Vintage. Besides, Academy Rector does combo pretty well with Cabal Therapy, so any tricks involving removing counters early would be inferior to just running the original combo.

Seht’s Tiger: I mention this card because it would potentially be an answer to Tendrils of Agony that is not Trickbind or Stifle. Why even consider this over either of those? Well, it can’t be Duressed away. Is it worth is at 2WW? Probably not.

Maelstrom Djinn: Cheap fatties have always been a problem for blue. Serendib Efreet and Morphling have long been the only really big men available, and this card might deserve a look. However, by himself, he is still only lethal seven turns after he is played. Since most true control decks nowadays are splashing at least one color, there are better choices available.

Spellweaver Volute: While this card may seem neat, I cannot think of any way this could get terribly broken. I suppose if you got it out early it might lend itself to extra Ancestral Recalling and Brainstorming, but it just seems too costly. While I wouldn’t be shocked if somebody broke it, it seems unlikely.

He’s smiling because he knows that he is
still number one.
Bitter Ordeal: There is a small group of people who are excited about this card, and I simply do not see the reason. On the one hand you have Extract and the ever useful Hide//Seek at U and WB, respectively, which will get you any card you want for cheap. Beyond this, you have the colorless Jester’s Cap, which will get three cards all on its own, without the requirement that permanents be put in the graveyard this turn. Does this permanent requirement with a cost reduction make it better than the alternatives? I think the answer is no. Sure, you could fetch twice or even three times in the same turn and get four cards, but how often is that going to happen? Moreover, even if you pull off this trick, it still won’t win the game for you even against the decks it is designed to harm because the win condition could already be in hand. Because the cards that already have this effect are not seeing much love now anyway, I doubt this card will get any love either. That being said, if any of my “aren’t likely to see play” cards were to see play, I would be surprised about this one the least.

Grinning Ignus: This guy can allow you to store some mana for later on. However, Desperate Ritual gets you extra mana right now and is not seeing much play at all to my knowledge. Additionally, I do not perceive any simple way to go infinite.

Haze of Rage: For 4RR (and the appropriate number of spells) you can give one of your creatures a power of 20 or more. While this might seem inviting, the alternatives of Tendrils of Agony and Empty the Warrens are just better. Tendrils of Agony is an instant kill and is in a color you actually want. Empty the Warrens doesn’t require that you actually get a sufficient number of spells to win with it this turn, whereas Haze of Rage does. Finally, you need a creature to tack the extra power on to, which is a problem in Vintage sometimes.

Storm Entity: While it might seem good because this is a storm-like card that can’t be Stifled, regular counters will still answer it. Additionally, it does not seem much better than Empty the Warrens. This card might be able to see some play in an aggro deck, as it could be a 4/4 for 1R, which isn’t bad, but I hesitate to say it will see any play.

Dryad Arbor: The long-awaited manland without an activation cost. While the card is eloquent, I do not think there is much it can provide for Vintage, especially because it has summoning sickness, meaning you aren’t tapping it or swinging with it the turn it comes into play. Putting a 1/1 body on what essentially is a “comes into play tapped” land just won’t cut it.

Force of Savagery: This would most likely try to be comboed with Pandemonium or some toughness boosting card (of which there are many, as toughness is generally given more help than power). That being said, it would be a two card combo that does not win the game by itself.

Heartwood Storyteller: You may draw a lot of cards, but I feel like any deck that is able to produce two green mana probably is not going to be drawing into any answers to counter whatever is causing all the drawing. I also do not know of any deck this creature could realistically be added to. Perhaps this card could supplement a new deck.

Virulent Sliver: If there were a card to make a sliver deck viable, this is it. If you can play two of these guys on turn one, you’ll win on turn four if they do not get any help. If you get two of these guys on turn one and have one helper the next turn, then you’ll win on turn three. Heart Sliver might be able to help this guy out. Fish would be a serious problem for such a deck though, as its men would likely be bigger than the slivers. This is definitely a card to think about in the future, though, should slivers somehow become viable.

Glittering Wish: While this is a cheap tutor, there is no viable target. Fire//Ice and Hide//Seek are the only things I could think of tutoring for, and those cards are not worth it at four total mana.

Dakmor Salvage: The first land with the dredge mechanic, Ichorid is obviously looking at this card. However, it comes into play tapped and does not dredge for that much anyway. The other cards in the deck already do better what this card is trying to do.

In hindsight, this article was far more difficult to write than I thought it would be. While it may be because the expansion really is that revolutionary, it probably has more to do with my lack of Johnny skills, which is essentially what such an article asks of its writer. While some of my predictions may be wrong (and probably are), the objective of this article is not to simply make prognostications. Obviously, I do not have future sight (cue forced laughter). Instead, the purpose of this article is to give you a sense of some of the new cards that may soon be seen around the format. In this way, you can hopefully be more prepared for what is to come. Ultimately however, your deck decisions, both in utilizing these cards and in answering them, are up to you. I hope that this article has been helpful in some way for you.

Future Sight promises to be a huge set for the Vintage format. Ichorid will come out very, very strong, with combo not far behind. However, the format will adapt to Ichorid. Adapting to combo though…maybe not so much. The incredible variety of new cards and potentially new strategies that come from this set are definitely a reason for excitement. While the ultimate impacts may not be realized for months or even years, there is no doubt that Future Sight will change Vintage.


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