Vintage: Peace in the Middle East

One of the most powerful effects in Magic the Gathering History is the interaction between Squee, Goblin Nabob and Bazaar of Baghdad. These two cards have the power to create card advantage like very few things can. Once operating at full power this creates a virtual Ancestral Recall for free each turn that cannot be countered by conventional means. For several years this combination of cards has been utilized largely in the combo deck known as Dragon, but over the last six months to a year a number of other contenders have popped up that may take Bazaar decks farther than ever before.

Bazaar of Baghdad on its own creates an obvious disadvantage when used over successive turns without something like Squee to back it up. In light of this seeming disadvantage one of the first requirments of a Bazaar based deck is that it somehow turn the discard disadvantage into a major advantage for the deck. For an example of what I mean by Bazaar disadvantage for those that have not played with Bazaar before here are the four general scenarios when running Bazaar with Squee.

#1: Conditional Bazaar: Draw 2 discard 3 = -1 card disadvantage, although it might create a quality advantage by dumping stuff you want to go to the yard, or by drawing into something broken like Ancestral Recall or Tinker.

#2: Bazaar with 1 Squee: Draw 2 discard 2+Squee = 0 card advantage, but possible quality advantage similar to the above scenario, Squee returns to hand next upkeep. This is just a possible replacement effect on your hand.

#3: Bazaar with 2 Squee: Draw 2 discard 1+2xSquee = +1 Card advantage, with quality advantage garunteed +1, you get one card extra this turn that will be better than the 1 card you end up discarding, this is especially good if the one card you discard is something else you want to discard like Worldgorger Dragon.

#4: Bazaar with 3 Squee: Draw 2 = +2 Card advantage +2 Quality advantage, this basically means you are playing an uncounterable free Ancestral Recall each turn if you want, or an uncounterable free Deep Analysis during your opponents turn, all at a +1 advantage since you arent playing a card to draw cards. Not too shabby. Remember you can still hold a Squee to pitch something you need to go to the yard.

With that in mind there are several different approaches people have taken over the years to abuse the power of a non-conditional Bazaar draw engine. Methods have varied from utilizing madness effects, graveyard recursion, Dragon combo, Squee abusing cards, and even to non-Squee options such as Uba Mask. These different decks each try to make the best attempt at running optimal power levels of Bazaar abusing builds. In this article I will be giving a brief overview of a number of the current Bazaar decks.

Probably the most popular, and also the most successful, Bazaar deck over the last two years is known as Dragon. This deck is based on the interaction between Animate Dead and Worldgorger Dragon. Dance of the Dead and Necromancy will also initiate the same infinte loop. Due to errata issued by the DCI, Animate Dead comes into play as a permanent before it targets and is a normal enchantment until the targeting effect resolves. This allows for the Dragon's ability to create a loop of all the permanents you control to move in (untapped) and out of play for an infinite amount of mana. To stop this loop you must have another creature availible to animate, either in your graveyard or in your opponent's. Without another viable target you end up with a drawn game. Of course drawing a game is not a lofty goal for anybody playing in a tournament, so you must have a way to win. Enter Bazaar of Baghdad and to a lesser degree Compulsion. Once the Dragon loop has begun, courtesy of the previously mentioned cards, you are able to create infinite amounts of mana along with infinite card draw and discard so long as you have Compulsion or Bazaar in play. This allows for you to get another creature into you graveyard to animate. Of course this leaves us with the question of which creature/win condition to run. For a long time the #1 choice was Ambassador Laquatus which you can pump full of infinite mana to then deck your opponent in one fell swoop. This choice however has fallen out of favor largely due to Oath of Druids decks that run Gaea's Blessing which happens to foul up the Laquatus win. Among current choices we generally see either Eternal Witness, which can generate infinte Ancestral Recalls or Shivan Hellkite which can create infinite direct damage so long as you have a red mana source when you "go off." For an amazing example of this deck we can take a look at this deck from the Vintage World Championships this year at GenCon.

Of note in this deck is the use of Forbidden Orchard as a mana source. Orchard tokens are hardly a problem if you can deal infinite direct damage. This deck also features a MD secondary kill in Sliver Queen which can generate infinite Sliver tokens, and you can always simply animate either the Queen or the Hellkite to attack and win. This method of winning can be very succesful at times and is a viable alternative, especially if some hate is preventing you from comboing off. The secondary win condition in the SB of Verdant Force is to offset Smokestack in the Stax matchup.

When playing this deck there are several things to keep in mind. First off is how to deal with conditional Bazaar hands. By this I mean a hand that includes Bazaar and perhaps one good thing to throw to the graveyard, but that could otherwise be a hand that will lead to much card disadvantage. This of course is a problem for most Bazaar decks in T1 but it can easily be overcome by learning your deck and knowing when to mulligan. This deck has more inevitability than almost every other deck in Magic. By this I mean that this deck can win by casting only one spell that will inevitably show up in your hand. This deck never absolutly needs to build up a big mana base, it never needs to get a counter wall going, it simply needs one Animate Dead and a creature in a graveyard, hopefully a Worldgorger Dragon. This allows this deck to play like you are goldfishing; it seeks to limit interactivity. By utilizing an uncounterable draw engine, cards like Duress and Xantid Swarm, and by playing as few spells as possible, this deck limits interaction to a very low level. For this reason Stax is a good matchup most of the time since it also seeks to limit interaction, and you can always out draw a control deck and win. Control many times simply cannot force Dragon to interact which causes much of the control element to sit worthless in hand.

The other problem many beginners to this deck have is understanding the stack when you are comboing off. It is very easy to say "I create infinite Red mana and then animate Shivan Hellkite and ping you to death." It is quite difficult once you are in the combo to understand interactions of instants and when each triggered effect stacks. This is also very important for players playing against Dragon to understand, since you need to know when to disrupt the combo to remove all their permanents. This is one of the key examples of the skill required for T1 players. While the stack is a basic set in stone phenomena, knowing how to use and abuse the stack is something that many players will never fully comprehend. For example, the Hellkite example given above is very simple, same with the Ambasador Laquatus kill. However if you look at winning via Eternal Witness then you will be required to do a number of things. Here is an example of how to run the Witness/Ancestral kill in Dragon.

#1:Animate Dragon.
#2:Utilizing either Bazaar of Baghdad or Compulsion you need to mill yourself until you get Eternal Witness and a second Animate Dead or other such animate effect.
#3:Target Witness instead of Dragon when Animate Dead comes back into play off of Dragons triggered effect.
#4:Recur Animate Dead when Eternal Witness is animated.
#5:Play second Animate Dead on Dragon to begin loop again.
#6a:Generate enough blue mana to play enough Ancestral Recalls to deck your opponent. You can do this in pieces each time the loop happens as well.
#6b:Each time you loop you can return a card to your hand via Witness, so mill yourself some more and make sure you get all of your Force of Wills to hand and your Ancestral Recall.
#7:In response to a triggered effect you need to play Ancestral targeting your opponent. If he draws into any hate you can Force of Will it, then recur Force of Will before you begin Ancestraling them again. Do this until they are decked and cannot draw anymore.

That is at least seven steps that you need to go through and demonstrate, which isn't difficult once you've done it a few times, but can be hard to remember if you dont play this frequently. All of this said, my best advice is to practice this deck constantly. A good opponent will always make you demonstrate the combo at least once to prove you know the deck and to see your win condition and your deck. Learn the rules on how triggered effects are stacking when you are in this loop. As one last tip: never forget that you can draw a game with this deck, and sometimes it may be a necessary evil in order to not lose a match. To learn about the basics of this deck it is important to read the primer which can be found here.

Another deck that gained some early attention, but then waned, and is now starting to pick up slightly again, is Cerebral Assasin. This deck was founded on the basis of "Mishra's Workshop is a terrible way to get Sundering Titan into play." Originally created by Eastman and the Hadley Rockstars, this deck utilized Goblin Welder along with Bazaar of Bagdhad to quickly dump Titans and other large artifacts into the graveyard for recursion via Welder's ability. No other deck in the game can reliably play Sundering Titans faster or more consistantly than Cerebral Assasin. The second major feature of this deck can be the "combo" of Squee, Goblin Nabob, and Possessed Portal. By playing out Portal you can constantly dump Squee from your hand rather than sacrifice a permanent. This situation quickly leads to a locked game state for the opponent, since they can no longer draw any cards and will be losing permanents in short order. Many Stax players even find this to be an amazingly fun alternative deck simply due to Possessed Portal being the best lock card in the game if you can get it into play quick enough. Personally in my meta this has been relegated to the sideboard, but in a heavy control meta with a decent amount of combo this card is a must. I myself have taken to this extremely fun and exciting deck and have used it well over the past year making numerous top 8s in the process. Here is one of my most recent decklists for my "Brain Rapist" versions of Cerebral Assasin that I won a Mana Drain tournament with:

This particular version is set up for my local metagame, and features many of the tricks I have found over the past year. Of special note in the brain rapist builds are the Reanimates and the Living Wish found in the MD. Also one of my favorite recent changes has been the addition of two maindeck Echoing Truths since they can deal with a number of threats in my current meta such as Stax lock pieces and Darksteel Colossus. While this deck has not had a lot of attention given to it as of late, it is a proven deck and has the ability to compete in today's Vintage meta.

While playing this deck you need to remember several things. First off you need to know that Sundering Titan is your primary win condition. It is always the goal of the deck to play proactively and drop a very early Titan. The best way to do this is to play a first turn Goblin Welder and an artifact, then on your next turn when Welder is active you either drop Bazaar and pitch a threat or play either Thirst for Knowledge, Intuition, or Buried Alive to get threats into your graveyard. Why, then, is Sundering Titan your number one priority? It's because this is one of the most disruptive cards availible in the game, and your deck needs to disrupt something early to maintain a tempo advantage. It is also the easiest early threat to pull off since not only does Welder bring him into play, but you can Animate Dead him as well giving you eight or nine ways to get him into play by turn 2. The other very strong choice if you do get an early Welder to resolve is to use Intuition to nab two Squee and Possessed Portal to get the game locked and then kill with the Welder by actually having him attack. Alternatively if you are playing against either Oath or Stax you can aim to get Duplicant or Triskelion, respectively. My last advice for this deck is that since you have outs, use should utilize them. With Possessed Portal and the Dragon combo in the deck you have amazing late game possibilities for the win. You also have an insanly powerful Yawgmoth's Will game going for you since you are dumping all sorts of brokenness into you graveyard all game long. For a more detailed discussion on Cerebral Assasin please take a look at my Primer here on MTGSalvation.

Of similar popularity and success is Alejando Escribano's Squee Infestation deck. This great Bazaar deck utilizes Zombie Infestation along with Squee to create Zombie tokens to beat down the opponent. It also features the backup win condition so many players have adopted: Tinker fetching Darksteel Colossus. To allow for the Zombie tokens to begin to pile up this deck features a somewhat heavier control element when compared to the previous two Bazaar decks. Utilizing not only Force of Will but also Circular Logic, this deck can adopt a much more reactive game plan whenever needed than either Dragon or Cerebral Assasin. This deck also uses Strip Mine and several Wastelands to support a slower gameplan. Other tricks to the deck include everything from Death Spark to a maindeck Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast along with a Gorilla Shaman, which all help shore up a medium sized control base for this deck. Here is Alejandro Escribano's list from the GenCon World Championships where he placed just outside of the top 8. He also took a nearly identical list to a second place finish at the French Vintage Championships which was the largest T1 tournament of the current Vintage era.

One of the best features of this deck is its ability to play a reactive game with its Bazaars. By holding off on using Bazaar during your own turn, you can hold on to both Squee and Circular Logic and wait to decide if you should activate Bazaar to play Circular Logic and discard Squee, or if you should just discard your Squee to Zombie Infestation. Another bonus of this deck is that with a somewhat higher control base this has a better matchup against fast combo decks such as Long and 2-land Belcher. It also has a decent plan against Stax in that Zombie Infestation creates a nice permanent base, and every turn you can offset Smokestack by creating another Zombie token.

When playing this deck you need to remember that this deck can play very reactively and at times really wants to be the control deck. While of course it can play the beatdown this deck easily lends itself to the control by leaving lands untapped and playing largely on the opponents turn, especially once an Infestation is in play. If you havnt played with it before, Circular Logic can take some getting used to. Keep careful track of your graveyard size and know how much mana the opponent has availible. I have played against players using Circular Logic that have made big errors against me and have even lost games they should have won by misjudging a Circular Logic. This deck definitely has some potential to go places if more players begin utilizing this build. With some slight modifications this amazing deck can fit into most metagames. This deck has also been somewhat controversial, since a number of players in the US find it to be "jank" yet it has proven itself numerous times since the French Vintage Championships. To better understand what I am talking about read this thread.

One of the most interesting Bazaar decks I've seen is known simply as Replenish. Also known as Leviat, after it's creator, this deck utilizes Bazaar of Baghdad to dump various powerful yet expensive enchantments into the graveyard. Once the enchantments are in the 'yard you are then able to cast Replenish to put the enchantments into play. The main win condition for the deck is Form of the Dragon but this is backed up by Solitary Confinement and Humility to keep opponents from stealing your life away. Solitary Confinement in particular is a solid card as when coupled with Squee. It can purchase you numerous turns of protection. While Possessed Portal is a stronger protection card in my opinion, it does not fill the enchantment requirement for the deck, however the effects are very similar and the feel is right on similar levels. Of course being able to Replenish with a Yawgmoth's Bargain in the graveyard is simply broken on many levels. While this deck is quite popular in Europe, it hasn't caught on in the United States. This deck is one of the few that has successfully demonstrated that Bazaar and Mana Drain can co-exist within a deck. Here is a top 4 list from Lieden in the Netherlands by Hugo van Dijke:

Out of all the decks I have ever had the pleasure of playing with, this deck alone shows puts into perspective just how powerful Intuition can really be. Being able to intuition not only for Squee, which is generally done in all of the Bazaar decks, this deck can also pitch some of the most devistating combinations of cards into the yard to be Replenished back to the hand. The only things I might change up in this deck are some of the sideboarding options, but then again who wouldn't change things? Other cards to consider would be Sacred Ground rather than Energy Flux in a more Stax heavy rather than Workshop Aggro metagame. I'd also just run with 3xArcane Laboratory rather than its white equivilant Rule of Law since Lab is pitchable to Force of Will. The last thing I would consider would be using one or two Echoing Truths rather than three Swords to Plowshares and possibly running either Propaganda or another Humility to shore up the creature stopping power.

This is another in the new wave of Control Bazaar decks that have been showing up around the globe as of late. While this deck is slightly less reactive than the Infestation deck that I mentioned previously, it does run a substantial amount of disruption in the form of proactive enchantment threats that can often be hardcast early in the game, such as Seal of Cleansing. Primarily though this deck shines due to its ability to utilize the Bazaar/Squee draw engine while also being able to utilize Mana Drain to fuel devastating turns. One other amazing highlight is that this deck uses six basic lands. The mana base is probably the best you are going to find among Bazaar decks, which tend to have shaky bases due to four land slots being filled with a non-mana producing land, Bazaar. For a little more reading on Leviat check out this thread.

While on the topic of Bazaar of Baghdad decks I wanted to also bring up several other options for players to try out. Two other decks sporting Bazaar in today's metagame are Uba Stax and Hounds R Us. Uba Stax primarily is an incredibly strong and popular deck currently in the United States, and only the introduction of Suppression Field really seems to be putting a damper on it. While this deck is somewhat considered a Bazaar deck, it really correctly belongs grouped with Workshop decks, and even more specifically Stax concepts. Rather than build on the advantage of Bazaar/Squee, this deck utilizes Goblin Welders, for similar reasons as Cerebral Assasin, but also uses Uba Mask to create both card advantage and a soft lock in the middle of the game when coupled with Welder. Utilizing Uba rather than Squee in this deck creates a very similar advantage. However, you are able to take advantage of three free draws while your opponent might be forced to lose their only draw of their turn, especially if you have Welder in play. By welding out Uba Mask after the opponent has drawn, there is no ability in play that says "you may play cards removed from the game this way until the end of turn," so the card is simply lost. The Mask on its own also negates any reactive counter type spells like Mana Drain or Force of Will if they are drawn this way. While I am not going to go over this deck in any more detail right now, since it doesnt exactly fit the description of a classic Bazaar deck, you can find more information on the most popular build, Mono R by Robert Vroman, by referencing my Stax article that features UbaStax, which you can find here.

The Hounds R Us deck in which I speak of feels like a combination of Leviat and Infestation, with one major difference. Hounds R Us allows a player to play much more proactively when compared to the other two while still maintaining as much or even more control. This deck not only uses Mana Drains and Force of Will, it also adds in Mana Leak and Pernicious Deed. The win conditions for this deck are generally Wild Mongrel and Vampire Hounds.
The premise here still is to abuse the raw power of Bazaar and Squee, but this also, similar to Infestation, wants to utilize Squee as part of the win condition. As early as turn 2 or 3 you can be swinging with an 8/8 Vampire Hound, while still holding a grip of control. While Xman, the original creator of the deck, somewhat disagrees with me on this, I find this deck to relate itself very closely to what Fish, and more accuratly WTF, would look like if it needed to run Bazaar. Basically you can look at this as a backwards sort of Standstill. Personally I find this to be a deck that might be able to break through in able hands, I just hope enough people at least give it a shot and tweak it up a bit to find what exactly works best in the deck. For some good discussion on the deck you can view Xman's original thread here.

Of course everybody always asks for tips on how to play these decks. Ill go over a few basics, but each of these decks can really play drastically different.

#1: Be prepaired for conditional Bazaar activations. This means that at times you will be forced to decide whether you wish to keep a hand that has a Bazaar and not much else on the hopes that Bazaar can dig you into your threats before disadvantage attrition ruins your day, or whether it would be best to mulligan. For an example you can look at a hand that contains the following: Bazaar of Bahgdad, City of Brass, Intuition, Thirst for Knowledge, Yawgmoth's Will, Demonic Tutor, Death Spark. This hand is extremely powerful on first glance, but still the question remains of "should I actually keep this hand?" Just playing a City of Brass then go means you will probably lose if the opponent plays a Wasteland. Bazaar of Baghdad COULD draw you into another mana source or two to play out a devastating second turn which could mean you win. You really need to learn the odds of hitting another land and what it means if your opponent has more than one counter in his/her hand. I wont give any exact numbers here because it is drastically different for each of the above decks.

#2: Dont fear the hate. Many people find Dragon and other Bazaar decks to be only good sometimes due to the amount of hate that can ruin your day. Most decks in the format are already running hate against these decks, even if they didnt specifically have them in mind. For example, while 5cStax might be running three Ray of Revelations against Oath and other enchantment heavy decks, this card is also rather good against Dragon, since it can leave you with zero permanents when it targets Animate Dead. The most common hate however is Tormod's Crypt and other grave denying effects, which can include everything from Phyrexian Furnace to Ground Seal to even Planar Void. In my several years of experience I've found the best answer to these types of hate is to simply go full bore into them. By forcing the opponent to crack his Crypt we are allowing ourselves the ability to restart and try to get something happening before they find another hate card. On this note however you need to remember to not throw ALL of your eggs into one basket. You have to be able to hold back something for after the hate is dealt with, which could lead into a conditional Bazaar when normally you should not have to. By gunning for the hate you are also digging through your deck faster to get into your hate or anti-hate sideboard options.

#3: Use Squee; he is important. Well over half the time I find myself using my first Intuition to grab a minimum of two Squee, Goblin Nabobs, or in the case of Uba Stax getting mask into play, especially in the control matchup. One of the primary reasons Bazaar decks are good is that their draw engine is uncounterable. Generating small tempo boosts and massive card advantage by getting this engine online are very important goals for winning with these decks. Generally you only want to spend your first Intuition on other items if you already have the keys to winning in play or know you have the ability to resolve them. A prime example of when Intuition for threats and not Squee would be in something like Cerebral Assasin when you are able to resolve a first turn Welder and your opponent has several dual lands in play, then an Intuition for Sundering Titan, Sundering Titan, Platinum Angel (or Triskelion if it is Control Slaver or anything with Goblin Welder in it.) But even in this case you are generally wanting to Intuition for Squee, Squee, Possessed Portal, so long as you have a way to get Portal into the yard, such as a next turn Bazaar or Thirst for Knowledge. Squee is really the deck, almost moreso than Bazaar itself, since without Squee, Bazaar would be rough to make run smoothly and you would definitely miss out on its true potential.

In the end what all of these decks come down to is a willingness to try something new and think outside the traditional box. Learning how these decks work inside and out is vital for success, as not everybody can just pick up these builds and win with all of them. Chosing the correct metagame for each deck is vital and knowing how to sideboard within those metas can make or break an average player. I urge you, challenge you even to pick up these decks and try them. They should leave you feeling refreshed and happy at the end of a testing session. Not only are these decks different than the seemingly set in stone Drain vs. Workshop T1 environment, they also have the power to beat almost any deck on any given day. Like I do in most of my articles, I reccomend testing and practice, you need to learn these decks as for the most part they are just different to play with than anything you might be used to. Mind you I say different, not more difficult. Of course these decks take serious skill to pilot to the tops of a decent sized tournament, but they aren't so seriously complicated that one wrong move over the course of a tournament could mean disaster, with the possible exception of messing up during a Dragon loop in Dragon and Cerebral Assasin.

So there they are, the Bazaar decks. Enjoy them, learn them, play them....or be ready to face them, cause they will be around for a long time to come. I guarantee it.

Any additional questions or comments please feel free to shoot me a PM here, or just leave a post.

Scott Lemenager aka Lunar

Credits go to:

Iloveatogs for his excellent pics and banners as usual

The editing staff most notably Goblinboy and Binary on this one

My Cerebral Assasin deck for loving me back.


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