The Restrictions Are Just a First Step Toward Fixing Vintage

The Tuesday August 26 B&R Announcement was one that will impact competitive Magic for a long time to come. Standard, Modern, and Vintage all saw significant format changes. While the Vintage B&R is likely to get the least coverage based on the fact it’s less popular than the others, its impact may be the most profound. It’s hard to argue with that considering a whopping four cards went on the Restricted List and a powerful card also came off.

The Major Vintage Shakeup


Mystic Forge

Karn, The Great Creator

Mental Misstep

Golgari Grave-Troll



If you are interested in these changes and haven’t read Ian Duke’s article on the Mothership, I suggest giving it a quick breeze through, I’ll be referencing it throughout:

Today, I’ll be discussing my take on the Vintage B&R and what it means for the future of Magic’s oldest format. Overall, I think it’s a step in the right direction, but the job of fixing the format may still require more moves before it’s said and done. I don’t mind going one step at a time if we’re headed in the right direction.

I also didn’t want this to be a dogmatic discussion of my own personal tastes and preferences and so I opened things up to the Vintage community to share their ideas. I also encourage you to continue broadening the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the article.

Vintage, What the Heck Happened to You, Old Friend?

The last time I went deep into Vintage was preparation for the SCG Power 9 Tournament earlier this summer. Unfortunately, my ride cancelled and I wasn’t able to attend, but I did a data crunch and tested a bunch of matchups.

The experience didn’t leave me frothing at the mouth to play more Vintage, in fact, the opposite. I still love the format. I love rooting for my friends and reading about the results, but I haven’t enjoyed Vintage’s gameplay with War of the Spark and Modern Horizons.

The decks felt absurdly redundant and broken. Most games felt like steamrolling or being steamrolled. There wasn’t enough cream filling in the middle of the Vintage Oreo for my taste. Since all the “good decks” consistently execute their endgame so quickly, I felt like the most important key to winning was randomly winning the play. The London Mulligan rule adds additional consistency to decks that are already too consistently broken.

I believe my experience overlaps with a lot of other Vintage players and fans and I have some numbers to back it up. The most telling factor is that we’re seeing sweeping restrictions in a format and metagame that appeared to be balanced, diverse, and healthy.

Here’s where MTGTOP8 has the Vintage Winner’s Metagame:

  • MUD 17%
  • Dredge 14%
  • Sultai Midrange 11%
  • Eldrazi 8%
  • Paradoxical 8%
  • Survival 6%

These six decks (none of them over 20%) comprise roughly two-thirds of the metagame. The remaining third of the meta includes 17 different decks each with at least 1% and up to 5% representation in Top 8s. From an analytical metagame point of view, the format looks awesome! The also confirms this observation by stating the Top 10 decks all have a win rate between 47-53%.

It’s very close to what most players would consider an excellent metagame. So, why sweeping restrictions?

Duke’s B&R explanation confirms it was heavily influenced by player’s dissatisfaction with the format. Specifically, the speed of the format.

I think this statement is telling of how bad the situation was:

“We’ve heard community concerns about an increase in turn-one/two effective wins and less interactive gameplay. We agree and would like to move the format back to a place the community is happy with. Even taking multiple steps over time if needed.”

Ian’s quote suggests this is likely the first of multiple steps the DCI is taking toward righting the Vintage ship. Basically, the restriction attempts to scale back the consistent brokenness of the premier strategies without actively obliterating any given archetype directly.

I’ll be referring to the August 26 Vintage B&R Announcement as “Step 1 Restrictions” based on the content of the announcement itself.

I was chatting with Vintage Expert, Dr. Rich Shay, on Sunday before the B&R and I asked him:

“How many cards would any reasonable person want restricted, and then how many cards do you think it would take to actually fix the format?”

He responded, “The BARE minimum is Karn and Misstep. I want 9.”

Rich loves Vintage more than almost anybody I know and for him to say the format is in that poor of shape told me everything I needed to know.

Golgari Grave-Troll

Golgari Grave-Troll

If the goal isn’t to obliterate decks, but rather to make games less consistently broken, I think this makes a ton of sense. First, it’s the biggest dredger and the one that also gets value from pitching to Force of Vigor. Moving forward, -3 Trolls curtails the consistency of the deck considerably.

Dredge will be a deck to watch–if it’s metagame % creeps up, nix another card until it feels like a reasonable deck.

Mystic Forge, Karn, The Great Creator

Mystic ForgeKarn, the Great Creator

Personally, I’m disappointed either of these cards exist. My reaction to seeing both the first time was similar to Hogaak, “Why in the world would they make this card? It’s clearly broken.” Given that the alternative of never existing isn’t an option, I’m thrilled to see them restricted to a single copy per deck.

I don’t get the sense that most players take argument with these cards getting the axe. It feels more like a consensus, “Yeah, it was too much.” In fact, these are both cards that even in a Workshopless Vintage world feel like reasonable restricted cards.

Mental Misstep

Mental Misstep

I’m in the minority when it comes to this card and do not believe it should be restricted. I think it lives dangerously on the margins, but I would have saved this one for Step 2, especially considering the objective as stated was to slow the format down.

Overall, these are good changes. The most profound is the restriction of Misstep, which is so deeply embedded in the fabric of the format that it will take some time to fully play out. But I expect it will make Dark Rituals better, as well as disruptive effects like Thoughtseize and Spell Pierce.” –Stephen Menendian.

Karn, Forge, and Troll all made decks too good. But Misstep made decks not exist.” –Dr. Rich Shay.

The fact that both Stephen and Rich are so on board with restricting Mental Misstep makes me feel better about the move.

Speaking of forcing change and shaking things up…



Fastbond is clearly powerful. It was famously part of the Gush Bond engine back when Gush was allowed, and then the other time Gush was allowed, and then the time that against all odds Gush was for some reason allowed again. I never feel safe from Gush. Just when you think it’s restricted, suddenly it isn’t. Gush is sneaky like that. Secondly, Fastbond is a busted card even without Gush!

Robert is excited to play a lands deck with Bazaar. It’s also worth noting that these unrestricted cards create infinite mana and infinite mana and infinite life:

Zuran OrbRamunap ExcavatorCrucible of WorldsFastbond

Also, be prepared to get instantly Strip Mine/Wasteland locked the moment Fastbond and Crucible show up together! It’s also worth noting that if these decks are good (and I’d be surprised if they were irrelevant based on how redundant, cheap, and easy to assemble some of the combos are), the DCI just restricted the best answer to Fastbond in Mental Misstep, as Vintage Expert Kevin Cron pointed out:

“They didn’t even acknowledge that they’re unrestricting Fastbond at the same time they are restricting its primary predator (Misstep).”

I noticed the same thing when I was reading the article. Another fun reply:

“I love how WOTC wants to have more interactive play and slow the game down. However, they unrestricted a card with FAST in the name. Bond, Fast Bond.” –Steve Salsa

The problem chasing people out of the format wasn’t lack of diversity, but rather the speed and one-sided games. Fastbond is a sweet card, no doubt, but I wonder if the upside of creating niche diversity in a format that is already massively diverse is worth the risk of another fas, busted deck.

Other cards we’ve discussed unrestricting in the future are Windfall and Necropotence.” —Ian Duke.

So… the format is too broken and you want to slow it down and were considered doing that by unrestricting Necro?

“Sir, I see you’re on fire. Would you like me to try and put out the fire by dousing you with more fire?” –Brian DeMars.

Personally, I didn’t like this. It felt kind of tacked on, like “how do we get people to come back to Vintage? Give them Necro? Windfall? How about Fastbond?”

I really hoped WOTC did their homework here because Fastbond has the potential to be hot fire.

The Blue Pillar Wins Again

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Vintage fan who doesn’t believe the format is vastly improved as a result of the Step 1 Restrictions. I also don’t get the impression Vintage fans feel like the format is fixed entirely. The Vintage metagame, for over 10 years, has typically always operated as a three-pillar metagame:

Bazaar of BaghdadForce of WillMishra's Workshop

(We used to have Dark Ritual as a pillar, but those have been hunted to extinction by Mishra’s Workshops).

Shops, graveyard, and blue decks tend to be the big dogs of the metagame in Vintage. When one gets too good, typically Workshop, restrictions are made in order to balance the pillars.

Mental Misstep

While Mental Misstep is a blue card, its restriction doesn’t affect blue decks as much as one might expect. In fact, I’d argue that it hurts Dredge decks that play Misstep much more than it hurts blue as a pillar of the format.

The primary role of Misstep in blue decks has historically been to win mirrors. Although it is worth noting we’d finally gotten to the point where Misstep was good against Shop decks playing a bunch of Key effects.

Bridge from BelowHogaak, Arisen Necropolis

It reminds me of how banning Bridge from Below made Hogaak better in Modern. If Bridge was an option, players were priced into playing it. Would you want to be the Hogaak player who didn’t have Bridge in the mirror? Of course not! But when nobody was allowed to play Bridge, the deck became much less reliant on comboing and thus improved its game against dedicated hate like Leyline and Rest in Peace.

It’s not exactly the same situation, but I think blue decks not needing to engage in a Mental Misstep arms race makes them stay the same in the mirror, but allows them to use those three slots to upgrade against the field.

Blue players, you’ve been given a gift here. Please learn from the mistakes of the past and don’t use all these new spots on Pyroblasts!

Paradoxical OutcomeNarset, Parter of Veils

I’m surprised we didn’t see one of these cards (specifically, Narset) earn a restriction. Overall, I think blue decks seem likely to improve in the metagame.

  1. Blue decks free up three slots that were gobbled up for the mirror (Misstep).
  2. The other two best decks, Shops and Dredge, lost great cards.

It’s certainly possible Shops and Dredge were just better than blue decks and now the field is a little more level. Time will tell. It’s merely Step 1. However, I’d bet Step #2 is likely to involve Narset or Paradoxical. The nice thing about going in steps is that we can see which one(s) become a problem, or maybe neither (but probably Narset).

The Elephant in the Room

“I think the decisions they make are good (problematic cards are being restricted) but not optimal (it is time to recognize that Bazaar and Workshop are no more sacred than Lotus and can be restricted–the cards will remain HIGHLY collectible.” –Matt Sperling.

I can’t argue with Matt here. In fact, I’ve consistently held this position for about a decade. There is no gameplay justification for why these cards are allowed as four-ofs. All the reasons are either emotional or financially motivated, and I can understand those reasons.

As far as what they do and the advantage they provide, there’s no justifiable reason why either card shouldn’t be restricted, but the other reasons are solid and so we’ve compromised and created workarounds for years.

I don’t believe either of these cards will ever be restricted, and so we’re on the incremental plan.


All cards except Bazaar of Baghdad, Force of Will, and Mishra’s Workshop are Restricted in Vintage.

Mishra’s Workshop is directly responsible for SIX restrictions now:

Chalice of the VoidLodestone GolemTrinisphereMystic ForgeKarn, the Great CreatorThorn of Amethyst

This is a little snark to illustrate my point, but honestly I’d play that format, so I guess the joke’s on me! In fact, that format might be better than the one we have right now and might be better than a format where Bazaar and Workshop are restricted. The compromise for keeping Workshop and Bazaar around is that the DCI will always need to use the B&R list to balance these archetypes relative to one another.

The London Mulligan also increases the chances of starting with one in the opening hand (which is where it does the most damage) and if WOTC is committed to keeping bombs like Karn, Forge, Force of Vigor, etc. coming I think we can expect the step-by-step process of restrictions to continue.

I applaud the fact the DCI recognized there was a problem with Vintage and that they took bold action to put the format back on course. I like the fact that Ian’s B&R announcement suggests the DCI is committed to making Vintage better.

Even when I go through lulls where I don’t play much Vintage, I always stay in touch with the community and enjoy hearing about the format and discussing matchups and tech. There’s no doubt in my mind the format is better today than it was Sunday and I do believe the format is headed in the right direction. A solid first step.


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