Breaking Through – Bonding With Vintage


Last weekend I had the opportunity to sling some power around. Vintage is awesome and unique for me, in that it is the only format I can actually enjoy despite losing. Granted, winning is always better, but the format is always fun regardless. Part of that is definitely the community surrounding Vintage, as nearly all of the guys I have met playing the format are pretty awesome. With those formalities out of the way, lets get into the deck I ended up running.

As is traditional with me, I was not about to take some stock list into the tournament. For one thing, this tournament was a non-proxy event, meaning some of the decks that would show up would be ones off of the radar, and therefore not impacted by typical Vintage strategies. Things like Goblins or Mono-Black are not the types of decks someone prepares for with there Tezzeret or Stax deck. Sure there would be plenty of powered opponents as well, meaning something that could attack both sides of the coin would be needed.

This did open the door for a little innovation though. One issue I have with Vintage is the lack, or at least slow progression, of innovation in the format. I am not sure if this is because players get attached to a deck, or attached to some of the expensive cards they have invested in, but new, viable decks, come out so infrequently in the format. It seems like the only motivating factor for innovation is the ebb and flow of the banned and restricted list, which leads to lazy deckbuilding.

If the players of a format anticipate that the only new decks and new strategies come out of the changes made from Wizards, either from the B&R list, or new set releases, they tend to miss out on plenty of other ideas along the way. With the tens of thousands of cards available in Vintage, new strategies should be abundant and at least some of those should be good, just by reconfiguring combinations of existing cards, yet this rarely happens.

I decided to at least try out my theory, coming up with the following:

Since Crop Rotation was removed form the restricted list, no deck has really looked to take advantage of its power level. Some Stax builds used it as additional Workshops, but on the whole, it has gone unused. For this list, I wanted to pair the impressive tutoring ability of Crop Rotation with the powerful but subtle Vinelasher Kudzu, who typically gets overlooked in favor of Goyf. Granted, this is for good reason most of the time, but here, the plant is just plain better.

In addition, I wanted to utilize the power of Counterbalance in Vintage. I have done so before, in lists like Bomberman, but usually that would just fall into place once there were Trinket Mages and Tops in the list. For this list, I forcefully inserted the Counterbalances to add an additional engine and to give any of the combo decks in the room trouble. With Fastbond, Counterbalance, Selkie, or Kudzu online, the game could then turn into a protect the queen strategy, just hiding behind the engine that is up and running.

Generally, Counterbalance gets overlooked in Vintage due to the higher degree of varying mana costs. Even the combo decks run 0s through 6s. Still, a great density of spells are focused between 1 and 3, which made the engine worthwhile, at least to try out in a smaller tournament setting, as opposed to something like Vintage Worlds.

The last important thing to decide on, when working on a Gro style deck such as this, is a draw engine. With the restrictions to Brainstorm and Thirst for Knowledge, the options have become more limited recently than one would assume. Intuition plus Accumulated Knowledge is a perfectly acceptable draw engine, but does not lend itself to this sort of deck. I looked at Dark Confidant for the solution, but found that Black diluted the mana base too much. Instead, I turned to another creature that has recently seen a ton of play in Vintage: Cold-Eyed Selkie. Without Noble Hierarch or other Exalted triggers to pump him up, the Selkie would only be a new-age Ophidian, but that snake saw plenty of play during his time too. I did manage to sneak a Pendelhaven in the deck though, which, when coupled with Fastbond, was able to mimic Exalted pretty well. On top of that, the ability to protect against Darkblast or Fire//Ice was a nice bonus that Exalted can’t do so well.

Because lands tend to take the center stage when you are building with Crop Rotation, lets look at some of the more common interactions from the mana makers.

Fastbond + Oboro, Palace in the Clouds + Vinelasher Kudzu

This, in effect, is Channel + Fireball, but can also be scaled down much more effectively as well. While it doesn’t come up every game or anything, the ability to win a game out of no where was a nice thing to include and caught more than one opponent off guard.

Horizon Canopy + Crucible of Worlds (+Fastbond)

Basically a poor man’s Library of Alexandria. I originally had Library in here, but found it to be a lackluster Crop Rotation target beyond turn 1 and usually only found myself with 4 or 5 cards in hand, unless Selkie plus Pendelhaven was active, in which case I didn’t need the Library. The Canopy on the other hand, was a sufficient dual land and was a nice target for late Crop Rotations. I managed the full 3 card combo 1 time on the day, and let me tell you that drawing 5 cards a turn was pretty sweet.

Strip Mine + Crucible of Worlds (+Fastbond)

Not much to say here as this one has been played out plenty in the past. The inclusion of Wasteland was not possible due to the 3 color mana base and specialty lands. I had some in the board, but found them to be nearly useless there.

Crop Rotation + Halimar Depths + Counterbalance

Just another synergy with Counterbalance that also happens to be fine on its own. I tutored up a Depths in every match on the day and was never upset by it. Ponder is good it turns out.

Beyond those synergies though, the deck is fairly straightforward despite presenting a ton of choices and options over the course of a game as most Vintage decks are known to do. You basically look to take the control route for the most part, except in the control mirror, where your Kudzus and Selkies can pull away fast while the opponent messes around trying to assemble a Tinker win or a Time Vault win.

The sideboard is definitely not tuned to accommodate a traditional Vintage metagame, but as I noted before, the lack of power in about a third to half of the decks in the room made me reach for anti-Fish and aggro cards, like Wrath of God. For the aggressive matchups, Counterbalance is enough to stop threats once the turn 4 or 5 threshold is reached, so Wrath effects were a perfect way to clean up the mess that made it down before your counter wall. Your Kudzus also tend to get larger than anything that the aggressive player has, minus the occasional Phyrexian Dreadnought, which is another nice interaction. Beyond the sweepers, the Tabernacle also comes in. I expected it to perform better than it actually did, but it was fine for the most part.

Karakas was intended to be a road block against the multiple Dark Depths decks that were expected to show up while also playing foil to Iona out of Oath. The biggest thing it managed to do on the day though was deal with Gaddock Teeg. With 4 spells coming in to deal with creatures that just could not be cast under a Teeg, Karakas made for the perfect Crop Rotation target, as it even tapped for White, helping out on the WW mana costs.

All of the other cards are pretty self explanatory and were chosen to deal with multiple decks when possible. Seeds of Innocence for example, put a hurt on Stax while also knocking out an Inkwell Leviathan.

The deck was quite good for me on the day, but could also use some tweaking going forward. Regardless, it managed to snag me a finals split for a Mox Sapphire and Mishra’s Workshop, so no complaining can be had. The bigger take away though, was establishing that Vintage is an unmined wealth of decks and technology. While a few dedicated souls may be working on the format, most seem to be content with playing the staples.

Legacy was in this very state until it started to garner attention from the tournament crowd. Goblins for example, was the best deck for the first 2 or 3 years of Legacy’s creation simply because players were not looking for other outlets. With more Grand Prixs and cash tourneys being given to the format, Goblins have actually fallen out of the ranks of tier 1 even. A pretty big change with just more play being the catalyst.

This brings up the hot topic of reprints. Up front, I must say I am a fan of allowing reprints. As the game has survived over the years, the number of pure collectors has gone down in favor of players. Because of this, I believe the health of a format, and thus the health of the game, should be the priority over keeping some card insanely valuable. That said, I don’t even think reprints will hurt the value of older cards like Power or dual lands!

A card’s price, for the most part, is dictated by how much play it sees. If a rare card, like a Baneslayer Angel, or Black Lotus, or Tarmogoyf, sees a ton of play, it naturally will go up in value. Due to the limited number of cards available for Vintage however, there is also a limit to how many people can play the format. Black Lotus and its brethren, would only go down once reprinted, if some insane amount of Power was printed that exceeded the potential player base ten fold or something ridiculous. Even then, this would likely only impact the value of the unlimited Power, as the Beta and Alpha are still going to be sought out by players looking to pimp their decks. The fact that there is a non-foil Baneslayer Angel does not make the foil one any less expensive. Players who seek that sort of thing always drive the market regardless of alternatives.

Basically, with a reprinting of powerful, old cards, Vintage would likely see a rebirth and have more people playing it than ever, keeping cards approximately valued the same, or even more! In addition, with Legacy being a supported format now, it only makes sense to reprint things like Imperial Recruiter, Grim Tutor, and Force of Will to allow more players the freedom to play the deck of their choosing. The game must be defended and supported first and foremost. It is not as though collectors have been forgotten about, as things like From the Vault have been directed at them specifically. Ironically enough, that product for which collectors have enjoyed is made up entirely of reprints!

We cannot let the past of the game fade away just to keep the prices of certain cards high, especially when reprints do not automatically hinder those prices at all. The game is meant to be played, including those Black Loti and Ancestral Recalls. If we fail to support the older formats by allowing them to run ashore with a lack of cards, we are losing a valuable piece of Magic in the process. I understand it is a tricky and deeper subject than I have laid out, but my opinion remains the same regardless. Thanks for reading.

Conley Woods

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