Walk the Leyline: Guildpact in Vintage

With the results of the most recent major Vintage tournament already in, the format is in a state of flux. Psychatog decks, thought to have fallen out of the top tier, took both first and second place out of 184 contestants at the latest tournament in Waterbury, CT. Numerous archetypes including Fish and Tendrils combo also made strong appearances in the Top 16.

And virtually none of them have the current block to thank for it.

Mirrodin ushered in entirely an entirely new family of Tier I decks based on Mindslaver, as well as providing new utility cards for existing decks. Chalice of the Void ramped up the disruptive capabilities of many decks, especially in a format where playing it for 0 on the first turn can cripple the opponent's mana production. Duplicant, Platinum Angel, and numerous other cards have popped up in individual decks.

Champions of Kamigawa similarly impacted the format. Gifts Ungiven fostered a new wave of high-tier decks. Forbidden Orchard elevated decks based on Oath of Druids from Tier III to Tier I almost singlehandedly. Even though its impact was not immediate, Uba Mask eventually found its way into a powerful Stax variant championed by Robert Vroman.

Hopes were high for Ravnica to bring the same influx of new strategies. However, the format is not substantially different from its state in early October. To be sure, a few cards have trickled into Vintage, however none of them have sparked a new Tier I deck. Flame Fusillade appeared to be the top contender, but the “Flame Vault” deck combining it with Time Vault for an instant-win combo has failed to make as big a splash as originally expected, as players found the individually weak combo pieces no match for simply Tinkering for Darksteel Colossus. Razia, Boros Archangel gave Oath an alternative to Spirit of the Night as a secondary creature with haste. Some card-advantage engines have cropped up using Dark Confidant and dredge cards like Life from the Loam and Darkblast.

Vintage players were looking to Guildpact to provide the inspiration they'd hoped to see in Ravnica.

Guildpact will not fulfill this expectation.

The White/Black combination of Orzhov is rarely seen in the format, and only one deck (Food Chain Goblins) plays the Red/Green combination of Gruul. That leaves the Red/Blue combination of Izzet, which not surprisingly is where the set's brightest star shines. . . .

And it's not even a rare.

Shattering Spree: Coming Feb. 20 to a sideboard near you

It's not like Vintage hasn't seen efficient targeted artifact removal before. Rack and Ruin has been showing up in sideboards ever since it became tournament legal, as has Oxidize. Naturalize and its White equivalents in Disenchant and Seal of Cleansing have also been popular because the capability to destroy enchantments can spell the difference between a win and a loss versus Oath and Dragon combo.

However, all of these cards have a problem. If your opponent had out a Chalice of the Void for the right number, your ability to remove it was probably getting crippled along with the rest of your deck.

Enter replicate.

red mana + "Destroy target artifact" + Ali
Landry = best card in Guildpact. Even
Niv-Mizzet can appreciate that equation.

Not to be confused with that movie where the Doritos girl gets cloned, this keyword opens up a world of possibilities making Shattering Spree one of the most talked-about cards for Vintage in the last year and a half.

It plays well with Trinisphere. Paying the replicate cost twice makes the mana cost of the spell :symr::symr::symr:. Since that's at least three, you don't have to pay anything extra for Trinisphere. Feel free to smash your opponent's Trinisphere, and two other things while you're at it. Take that, Rack and Ruin!

It's basically uncounterable. Since the copies aren't considered "played," paying replicate once lets you destroy Chalice of the Void for 1. Chalice will counter the original spell, but the copy punches through. When facing a counter-heavy deck, replicating the Shattering Spree against the same target means your opponent will need multiple counters (or one counter and a Stifle) to stop you.

It's fairly mana-efficient. When you only really need to get rid of one artifact, Rack and Ruin may not be very cost-effective . . . especially if you wind up having to destroy one of your own Moxen just to fulfill the targeting requirements.

Of course, this card isn't perfect. It's a sorcery, so no surprises on your opponent's end step. It requires a lot of Red mana to be really efficient, limiting its use to decks like Uba Stax, U/R Fish, and Control Slaver. Decks that only get their red from Mox Ruby and Black Lotus will probably be better off looking elsewhere.

Forget the puns, let’s just talk about another Izzet card

Electrolyze immediately began drawing comparisons to Fire // Ice when it was revealed. This card sacrifices the tapping ability of Ice while grafting a card draw onto Fire’s effect. Players more apt to use the split card for the Fire effect (thanks to its efficiency in killing two x/1 creatures like Goblin Welder and Gorilla Shaman) will likely use this as a replacement. Other players will probably not want to surrender the Ice ability as it is highly useful for buying a turn against an opposing Darksteel Colossus.

Now that we’ve gotten the set’s dominant guild (at least as far as Vintage is concerned) out of the way, let’s talk numbers.

Lucky man's paradise: the Leylines

Any card that breaks the rules of the game in a new way is worth discussing. The leylines do just that: if one’s in your opening hand, you can start the game with it in play. In a format where spells can get countered on the first turn, having an uncounterable first-turn play can have a meaningful impact on the game.

Much has been made of the “luck factor” inherent in the Leylines. As most of you probably already know, the odds of seeing at least one copy of a card in your opening seven cards, when you have four copies in the deck, is 39.95%. Slightly lesser-known are the odds of seeing a copy in a hand of six cards, which is around 35.15%. Some quick math shows that the total odds of seeing a Leyline either in your initial hand, or after the first mulligan, are right around 61%. The practical odds are a bit smaller of course, as these numbers include hands that may otherwise be “unkeepable” due to mana issues and the like. However, if you're “going for broke” on finding a Leyline these numbers show that, more often than not, you can start the game with one in play without having a severely damaged hand.

However, there are a lot of problems that may ultimately prevent their use. They all suffer the paradox of demanding that you play four to maximize those odds . . . yet if you do get one in your opening hand, you probably won’t want to see another one for the rest of the game. (As we’ll soon see, the two worst ones are the only ones that actually gain a benefit played in multiples.) This could leave you with potentially dead cards later in the match. They’re also somewhat expensive at four mana, making themselves attractive targets for Mana Drain for those times you weren’t lucky enough to start with one.

As for the individual leylines, there isn't much to be said in favor of the Red and White leylines. The Red one is too mana-intensive and can’t kill opposing 1/1 creatures like Goblin Welder. The White one’s ability is far too narrow as most decks in the format don’t even produce token creatures, let alone have a need to make them bigger.

The Blue leyline would actually be better as a slightly cheaper enchantment without the leyline ability. Too many decks in the format can just ignore this effect and go on winning, and those select few that might be affected can play around it relatively easily. The only real value comes from playing this as a midgame surprise and forcing two Goblin Welders to realize they can’t occupy the same in-play zone at the same time. Unfortunately, that requires resolving a 4 casting cost enchantment, which pretty much shouts “Target me with Mana Drain!”

Players experienced with Food Chain Goblins know that resolving key creatures such as Goblin Lackey, Goblin Recruiter, and Goblin Ringleader are far more important to the deck’s game plan than resolving Food Chain. The Green leyline offers the potential to drop a first-turn Lackey that’s immune to Force of Will. It also largely negates opposing Chalices. Thanks to being on-color, the leyline can also be hardcast it if necessary. While this card won’t immediately propel FCG to Tier I status, it should noticeably improve the deck’s performance in more control-heavy metagames.

Blade has all of the strengths of vampires, and none of the weaknesses.
Blade would get along with Leyline of the Void.
That leaves us with the most talked-up, and most hotly contested, card of the cycle: Leyline of the Void. Astute players will immediately notice a similarity in both name and function to Planar Void from Urza’s Saga. However, there are two major differences in the effects of these two cards:

1)The leyline has a replacement ability, not a triggered one. Good Dragon and Welder players could work around Planar Void by playing Necromancy or Welding while the triggered ability was on the stack. Leyline of the Void won’t allow that, as the cards never enter the graveyard.

2)The effect is asymmetrical. Any deck constructed with Planar Void basically demands that its builder avoid graveyard-based strategies like dredge, Yawgmoth's Will and Gifts Ungiven/Recoup. All of these strategies can be played along with the card that prevents an opponent from doing the same.

I expect this card to find a niche in decks that can’t run Tormod's Crypt due to Null Rod, or are too tight on mana to use Withered Wretch effectively.

Cards you might think you’ll see, but probably won’t

I’ve been reading a lot of discussion about three cards in particular that many people expect to see play. I don’t share that expectation and I believe these cards will eventually be proven bad for the format.

Tin Street Hooligan has been mentioned repeatedly as having a home in Food Chain Goblins. However, in that deck it’s competing for slots against Goblin Tinkerer and Goblin Vandal, both of which are reusable. Also, the Hooligan requires the FCG player to expose a valuable Taiga to opposing Wastelands, which most wise players won’t do until they already have a Food Chain in hand ready to cast.

Hatching Plans seems like a perfect fit for Stax, the deck that excels at putting its own permanents into the graveyard. I predict this card ultimately won’t make the cut for one simple reason: it’s a wasted draw on every turn where you don’t have a counter on Smokestack. Stax has enjoyed Tier I status largely due to the synergy of a large number of individually useful cards, and Hatching Plans is simply not useful without Smokestack.

Cerebral Vortex inevitably draws comparisons to the sorcery Night's Whisper. It’s got some more complex uses, including being a combo player’s worst nightmare; players who get too greedy with Yawgmoth's Bargain by drawing 9+ cards in a turn might just find themselves staring down lethal damage from one of these. Ultimately, I think it’s too overcosted for its drawback compared to the plethora of good non-gold draw spells already available. The color combination that can cast this is most heavily represented by Control Slaver, which won’t sacrifice Thirst for Knowledge. It may see some use in U/R Fish, but as that deck hasn’t been at the forefront for a while I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference.

What’s next for Vintage?

Guildpact won’t revolutionize the format, or even really provide a new Tier II deck. So we’re left looking to Dissension and Coldsnap this summer.

Dissension is the Ravnica cycle’s last hope for shaking up Vintage. Blue/Green is already a popular color combination for aggro-control strategies thanks to decks like Worse Than Fish, so the Simic guild may contribute some useful cards.

The Azorius Senate will also make its appearance in Dissension. As Blue and White have been the hallmark colors of control since the game’s inception, and with one of the best gold cards ever printed falling into this combination (Meddling Mage), the set could bring a strong contingent of cards to bolster traditional control decks.

Coldsnap is a huge question mark, as it promises a return to some of the mechanics popularized in Ice Age and Alliances. This block has given us the most infamous single-card draw engine ever, and a free counterspell that's become ubiquitous in Vintage. If cards with similar power levels find their way into the new set, it could be just the spark of inspiration Vintage needs.

Thanks to:
iloveatogs for the art
Team Meandeck for reviewing the early draft
Dr. Tom for editing


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