THE POST CHAMPS METAGAME
Author: Brian DeMars
Last weekend I had the privilege to play in the largest Vintage tournament that I’ve ever played in. The event was the 2015 Vintage Championship at Eternal Weekend in Philadelphia and it set all kind of attendence records by attracting over 475 players to play sanctioned Vintage!
Ten rounds of Vintage can teach even an old pro like me some new tricks and today I’d like to share the five biggest takeaways I gained from attending last weekends gargantuan event.
1. VINTAGE IS POPULAR AND GROWING
The first thing that we can deduce about Vintage without even looking at a single decklist is that the format has grown in popularity since last year. Getting so many players together in one place to play sanctioned, no-proxy Vintage is a major accomplishment for the format. Even in the olden days when the SCG Open circut was Vintage did attendance ever reach anything like this past Eternal Weekend.
I’ll admit that I expected MODO Vintage and the Vintage Super League to garner some new interest for the format but never in my wildest dreams would I have predicted nearly 500 players at the Vintage championship.
I’m optimisitc that people had a great time at this event and will play in more Vintage tournaments in the future whcih could certainly lead to more and better attended Vintage events in the coming months. I’m hoping that the extreme success and high turnout for Vintage Champs will translate into increased local and proxy tournament attendance in the US as well.
2. HANGARBACK WALKER IS BEYOND THE REAL DEAL
The tournament was large in scale and also big on fun! Speaking of “big fun,” few things are bigger or more fun than an active HANGARBACK WALKER.
The deck that Paul Mastriano and I designed and piloted in the Vintage Championship was the HANGARBACK MUD deck. I managed to put up a solid 9th place finish with the list and Paul ended with an impressive Top 4 perfomance. Overall, we had a combined record of 17-4-1 playing with that “little spider guy.”
Aside from the tournament Champion Brian Kelly and his unique Dramoka Oath homebrew, the HANGARBACK MUD deck was easily the best performing deck in the tournament. In General, MISHRA’S WORKSHOP performed extremely well in the event and clustered at the of the standings.
To give you an idea of how well the deck performed: nine of the top twenty decks were Shops and of those decks an astounding six were Hangarback variants.
Both of the Workshop decks that made Top 8 (piloted by Paul Mastrion and Rich Shay) were very similar in build although they were designed independantly. The big innovation was to essentially play the Martello shell but cut all of the KULDOTHA FORGEMASTER package to make room for the maximum amount of HANGARBACK WALKER and ARCBOUND RAVAGER.
ARCBOUND RAVAGER was everywhere at the top tables. The fact that he allows players the ability to quickly turn their Walkers into an army of Thopters and kill an opponent out of nowhere is amazing. The card also has great utility against the most important blue card in the format:
3. ALL BLUE DECKS ARE IZZET (UR)
I think it is reasonable at this moment to make the claim that ALL of the tier one Blue Vintage decks are Izzet colors — blue and red. The primary reason that Izzet has sepearated itself from the pack as the model for modern blue Vintage decks is that red is the color that has the best artifact hate cards to play against Workshops.
I have been of the opinion that MISHRA’S WORKSHOP decks have been the best archetype in Vintage for several months now and if that is the case it is unsurprising that the blue decks would adapt to be as good as possible against them.
It is very telling that Brian Kelly’s tournament winning Oath deck abandoned the traditional BUG shell to make room for red mana, Dack, and ANCIENT GRUDGE. Turing OATH OF DRUIDS from a BUG deck into an Izzet deck is a pretty huge innovation.
While the primary reason that red has become the sidekick of choice for blue decks it is also worth noting that it also supplies blue decks with the best sideboard card for the blue on blue mirror match.
Some things never change! Ever since the game was created REB was the single best card agaisnt counterspells!
4. EXPECT A TWO HEADED MONSTER
If one examines the Top 32 decklists from Vintage Champs one thing becomes painfully obvious: the format is all about Izzet Vs. Shops. So much so that besides for a few stray Bazaar of Baghdad decks nearly every deck fits this criteria.
So, if various flavors of Shop and UR are the best in the format what exactly does that mean?
Well, player’s should expect and approach the format from the perspective that the format has diverged into Mishra’s Worksop vs. the world.
Let me be clear about one thing before I delve a little bit deeper into the subject: my personal, expert opinion is that MUD is the best, most powerful, and most broken archetype in Vintage at the moment. I feel very comfortable saying that I think MUD was the “best deck” in the format before MTG Origins and the printing of Hangarback only made it better.
Magic is a game of metagames and just because a deck is the best doesn’t mean that it can’t be beaten. Workshop was by far the best performing archetype in the tournament and yet it didn’t ultimately take down the event. The rest of the format is a on the fact that Shops are the best and tactically tries to exploit the linear nature of an all artifact deck. It is actually a testiment to how good Shops are that the archetype performed as well as it did (half of the top 20!) when it had a bullseye on its head as the “known best deck” going into the event.
Yet, just because the primary power struggle in the format has become between UR vs. Shops doesn’t mean that a lot of interesting things can’t happen moving forward. There is a lot of room for UR and Workshop to evolve and adapt to the situation.
Brian Kelly’s deck Dramoka Oath deck is a perfect example of taking a known metagame and innovating something new within the established framework. I know Brian has been working on and tuning his Oath deck for months and that some people were aware of it going into the event; however,I don’t think it (and the reason it is good) got the proper recognition until now.
Similarly, the Hangarback + Ravager deck was an innovative take on the traditional MUD shell that was unique and original to this particular tournament. It should be no surprise that the two best, breakout decks of this event were the two good archetypes (Izzet and Shop) with innovative spins.
It is also notable that there were several other takes on Izzet or Shop that individuals played to money finishes in the event: Grixis thieves, Pyromancer Gush Bond, and Hangarback Stax all being examples of this phenomenon.
My interpretation of the results from Eternal Weekend is that these two particular strategies have seperated themselves as the two very clear “best decks” in Vintage around which everything else revolves. The people who can best adapt and innovate these archetypes will be the trend setters for the coming months.
5. THE COMBO FRINGE ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN NEVER HAVE TO LOOK FOR TOO LONG
There may be a raging war at the center of the format between the Izzet and the Phyrexians but that certainly doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other decks to step up and be key players.
A two headed-monster doesn’t mean that there can only be two decks in the format — rather, it means that everything that happens in the format revolves around the two major players. In a sense, the metagame all revolves around the fact that there are two very dominant, very good archetypes.
The rest of the format (decks that don’t fit into the Shop or Izzet category) I would define primarily as “linear combo decks.”
These decks can be extremely different in scope and range from Dredge to Mono Blue Belcher.
While these decks may play with 100% different cards the way in which the position themselves is very similar in the sense that they attack from a narrow angle.
With the other decks spending so much of their attention and card slots on fighting Shops and Izzet, a narrow combo deck can attack from an angel that is hard to address in a game one scenario. It also helps that these decks tend to be very fast and can close a game out in only a few turns.
These decks don’t necessarily prey on any specific deck, but rather on the fact that most decks can’t spend enough of their resources and cards to the task of defending against such a narrow angle.
Decks like Dredge, Show and Tell Oath, Belcher, Steel City Valut, or Dragon demand very specific kinds of interactions from opponents and in a very short amount of time. If you don’t have the right card at the right time there is a very good chance that the game could be over before you have much chance to even play!
One of the important things to note is that of these linear combo decks that Dredge tends to be the top performer. The key reason for this is that many of the fast storm decks simply cannot beat Workshop and it’s plethora of SPHERE OF RESISTANCE effects when on the draw.
The fact that Dredge has a good match up against Workshops is a very good reason to play it over some of the other linear decks, although it is worth noting that decks like Belcher and Storm have very good match ups agaisnt Dredge and are not vulnerable to grave yard hate.
Any way you slice it Vintage is at a very unique moment right now and the format appears to be approaching a point where things seem pretty stable and defined. The cool thing about Vintage is that there are still a ton of options even in a defined metagame.
Want to play Izzet? Well, what kind of Izzet? Oath, Mentor, Delver, Gushbond, Thieves, Landstill, or Planeswalker Control?
Want to play Shops? Well, what kind of Shops? Terrnova? Hangarback MUD? Martello? Stax? Welder, or Affinity?
Want to be a linear combo deck? Well, what kind of combo deck? Dredge, TPS, Belcher, Steel City Vault, Dragon, or Oath?
Just like the game of Magic iteself, the basic strategy of the Vintage metagame is deceptively simple and yet the possibilities are nearly infinite
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