A Vintage Crash Course

Last weekend, I attended the Power 9 Open in Roanoke, VA. Despite being a tremendous Vintage fanboy, I haven’t followed the format nearly as much as I would like. I don’t have the cards on MTGO and there simply are not a ton of large events to attend. The lack of Vintage in my life is something I’m actively going to rectify in the coming weeks.

While I didn’t know exactly what to expect, I’ve played enough of the format over the years that I had a pretty good idea.

I wasn’t disappointed. I seldom am, when it comes to Vintage. I found a vibrant, interesting, and dynamic metagame, and played tons of games that were interesting, tightly contested, and thought-provoking. Vintage is still great, but let’s be honest, when wasn’t it?

In today’s article, I’ll be breaking down the basic pillars of the format, the deck I played, and how I will approach the format moving forward.

The deck I selected for the event was Aggro MUD, based on the belief that my understanding of the format would be lacking behind the more active Vintage stars who would undoubtedly attend. Vintage is often wrongly painted as a hee-haw, turn-1 format, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Tactics and play skill play a huge part in success and I didn’t feel comfortable inventing new tactics for a dynamic format I didn’t fully understand.

I knew Workshop well (I was one of the pioneers of the Proto-Aggro MUD lists years ago) and the deck is basically the same strategy, but with significant upgrades from Kaladesh block:

It was like I went to the app store and updated my Aggro MUD app.

Aggro MUD

Brian DeMars, 7th place at SCG Power 9 Open

Vintage has always had a vibrant and nuanced metagame, and positioning and planning are huge. Unfortunately, going into the event I didn’t really understand what the battle lines were.

The fact that I was aware my inexperience was a liability led me to choose a known commodity that I did understand: The Workshop.

There’s something ‘bout that work, work, work, work, work (shop).

It’s hard to go wrong with a classic!

Shops in the Metagame

Workshop is the easiest and most identifiable pillar of the format. It’s a proven winner. I had access to the cards, so I started making composite lists. I was interested in a few Dominaria cards:

New and shiny things!

I was able to play some games. I thought Karn was terrible. I legitimately could not cast him the first four times I drew him in a row. Traxos, Scourge of Kroog was decent, I’d be interested in incorporating more in the future, but I went with the cheaper Hangarback Walkers instead.

The group I drove to the event with wanted to check out the Old School Magic event on Thursday afternoon, a decision that proved pivotal in my tournament experience. I met Andy Markiton (Montolio on MTGO), the reigning North American Vintage Champion and eventual winner of the Power 9 event, and we hit it off from the start.

We were chilling on the patio of the bar and having a few drinks. He was very generous in helping me fill the gaps in my knowledge of the format. In fact, what started out as just a few dudes chatting on a patio turned into a straight-up Vintage compendium of about 15 people sharing ideas and perspectives. I learned more about the format from talking to these guys for an hour than I had reading about the format and studying deck lists for a week!

I was certainly on the correct path. The main deck I built was only one card off from his and my sideboard only off by five or six. But the changes I was able to make based on what Andy told me about the format were directly responsible for my strong performance in the event.

The difference between a great sideboard plan and a medium one is straight-up wins and losses over the course of a 13-round tournament.

He and I shared the perspective that when it comes to Workshops, “Vanilla is the spiciest flavor.” Play the best cards, be as redundant as possible, and don’t get cute. I noticed that there wasn’t a ton of variation among the core cards of the deck, but the 6 flex slots and sideboard had a lot of options.

A lot of people played “cute” or “innovative” spice cards in these slots. Not I, said the fly.

I also noticed when I was building my initial list that the better and more recognizable the player, the more copies of Phyrexian Metamorph they played. Even though it appears to be a flex slot card, I would consider these to be “core” cards that should not be fudged with. In game 3 of my win-and-in round for Top 8, my Paradoxical Outcome opponent was able to Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus on turn 1 on the play.

5I was able to clone it and narrowly survived to win the game. There’s a reason why the card ought to be considered canon.

Workshop is the beatdown deck of the format. It has disruptive elements, but with Thorn of Amethyst now restricted, the deck is more focused on quickness than being a super redundant lock-you-out deck.

Disruption isn’t as effective at hard-locking people out as it was before. It’s more of an annoyance that makes an opponent’s options just awkward enough for the beats to break through.

The tactics of the deck feel more like the old Fish decks than what I’ve experienced with Shops in the past. A fish deck with Workshops!

The clock is also very quick. I had a turn-2 kill, which is absurd. The real advantage of the deck is the consistency of powerful draws. The nut draws are more infrequent than the blue decks (which I’ll get to in a moment), but there are less awkward or non-functioning draws. Most of my games were close, and I didn’t blow people out very often, but the deck could grind and gave me enough opportunities to make plays that mattered to win matches.

These were my matchups:

Round 1: Shop Mirror (Win)
Round 2: Shop Mirror (Win)
Round 3: Eldrazi (Win)
Round 4: Paradoxical (Win)
Round 5: Jeskai Xerox (Loss)
Round 7: Jeskai Xerox (Win)
Round 8: Paradoxical (Win)
Round 9: Jeskai (Loss)
Round 10: Oath (Loss)
Round 11: Jeskai (Win)
Round 12: Paradoxical (Win)
Round 13: Shop Mirror (ID)
Top 8: Shop Mirror (Loss)

My pairings were reflective of the field and the top tables. The event had way too many rounds for the number of players, which meant that I played nearly everybody who was in contention for Top 8 on Day 2 over the course of the event. It really was a three-deck field: Outcome, Jeskai, and Outcome, which is fairly indicative of the pillars of the format.

The most difficult matchup for Workshops is the Paradoxical Outcome deck. They are fast and make tons of mana, which allows them to easily function under the Shops depleted disruption package, find their Hurkyl’s Recall, and execute their plan.

The sideboard involves boarding into a mediocre Null Rod deck to shift the lines of engagement a little:

Null Rod messes them up hard and takes away their edge in mana, which makes one Sphere extremely difficult to navigate.

The downside of boarding into Null Rod is that it hurts your strategy as well:

One of the ways we mitigated our own Null Rods (when we boarded them in) and Null Rods from opposing Jeskai, Eldrazi, and miscellaneous hate decks was to bring in Chief of the Foundry:

Chief brings respectable beats under Null Rod and is also a much needed Workshop mirror card for when you want to board out ineffective Spheres and Chalices.

Another pillar of the format that really impressed me:

Jeskai Xerox

Joshua Lalo, 4th Place at SCG Power 9 Series

Jeskai is the “good stuff” blue control deck and is positioned to beat both Outcome and Workshops. Many of these lists even maindeck Stony Silence.

The deck draws a million cards, answers key spells, and eventually comes way over the top. The deck uses Dack Fayden to quickly loot into powerful spells, gas up the graveyard for delve spells, flip Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and rinse and repeat.

Jeskai tends to be favored against Paradoxical because it has the edge in permission and is more nimble with Pyroblasts for days after board. I’ve found Shops to be favored in game 1, but a significant underdog after sideboarding gives Jeskai access to tons of Shatter effects, including:

It’s basically like playing Affinity against Jeskai after sideboard. Difficult!

From the Workshop side, Mishra’s Factory is the best tool for navigating their planeswalkers and dodging the sorcery-speed haymaker removal spells. The Chiefs are also a nice touch since they can help against Stony Silence.

I had Spyglass for this matchup specifically (and Dredge), but stopped boarding it in against them. I felt like it just eventually got swept up by Spree or By Force and didn’t add pressure, which is the most important thing. If the game goes long enough, they will win, so you’ve got to make progress on the clock every turn. If they have the opportunity to take a turn or two to work on card selection without having to answer threats, they will come over the top and win.

Paradoxical Outcome

One of the biggest Vintage topics of the weekend was whether or not this card should be restricted in Vintage. I’m still on the fence, and I’ll need to play more matches before forming an opinion. But it’s a talking point in Vintage, which speaks to the power and brokenness the deck is capable of.

It’s clearly very powerful, and the defining deck of the format (well, and MUD).

Paradoxical Outcome

Stephen Quinn, 3rd place at SCG Power 9 Tournament

Such a deck always exists in Vintage: Control Slaver, Meandeck Gifts, Tezzeret, Steel City Vault, Mentor, etc. It’s the current “big blue” combo control deck, a blue shell that utilizes all of the most powerful cards. Once it gains traction, the game ends.

Obviously, this deck struggles with Null Rod (particularly, Rod protected by counterspells), which is a big reason why Null Rod has again risen to prominence in the format and is even being played by other blue decks.

The top tier of the metagame is a strange rock, scissors, paper where decks actually change their sign after sideboarding (Shops can be Rod or anti-Rod, etc.), which is a very cool dynamic.

I also don’t mean to imply that the format is only a three-deck show. Oath of Druids and Dredge are very real decks as well, and were perhaps underrepresented at the top tables from what I would have expected based on MTGO Vintage data.

Maybe next tournament I’ll have to have a few sodas with Brian Kelly and let him teach me how to Oath before the event…

Despite the poor showing for Oath and Dredge (didn’t crack Top 8), the archetypes are not to be taken lightly. In fact, a large part of my sideboard was dedicated hate for those matchups. Most seasoned Vintage players know to respect these decks and have a plan.

Overall, I’d say that this particular event was probably the most fun I’ve had playing in a Magic tournament in several years. I’m not surprised. I always have a great time attending Vintage events. The format was great and even more importantly, the people who play the format are great. I was super appreciative of several of the big dogs of the format taking the time to share their insights with me. After Day 1 of the event there were over 20 players who all went out for BBQ together and it was an absolute blast. I cannot confirm or deny, but a sandwich may have been punched (if you get that reference, you are old-school Vintage for sure!).

It’s an expensive format to play IRL, but the memories are priceless. Congrats to Andy for another dominant performance. It was great to reacquaint with many old Vintage friends, as well as meet and make some awesome new ones.


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