Late last week a new craze hit Magic Online—Vintage Masters was released to the wild. Initially attracting a lot of interest as the debut of the hallowed Power 9 online, the set is actually extremely fun to draft and the new “special” rarity of the P9 means their presence is barely felt in Limited.
I’ve done 25+ drafts so far (yes, that is a lot of drafts per day…) including a pair of 6+ hour streaming sessions at my Twitch page over the weekend. You can check out some of the drafts and some really awesome games on my archives there, but I want to use this article to dive into some of the main archetypes I’ve explored so far so you can hopefully jump-start drafting from my mistakes. The format is very deep and features lots of sweet old cards. Game play is very involved and where Modern Masters spoon-fed you some very linear, pre-canned decks, Vintage Masters feels much more like a blank canvas with a psychedelic color palette.
There are still a few guideposts that point you to strong linear archetypes. The critical cards in these decks are uncommons and you will be rewarded for drafting around them. The main “theme decks” are Astral Slide and Lightning Rift in cycling decks (though these cards support several archetypes) and the storm kill conditions in Brain Freeze and Tendrils of Agony. There are also a few build-around-me rares like Living Death and Recurring Nightmare that strongly reward you.
Before diving into archetypes, my current best commons of each color:
Green: Wild Mongrel
White: Battle Screech
My only complaint about the commons is Battle Screech—I think it is pretty degenerate in multiples and isn’t very fun to play against. There are very few ways to catch up as there aren’t many sweepers.
Now some archetypes!
Archetype 1: Slide/Rift Control
This is my favorite archetype at the moment. The deck can play out very differently depending on your respective numbers of Astral Slides and Lightning Rifts. Slide encourages you to play a lot of 187 creatures (creatures with enter the battlefield triggers). These cards are all great on their own to begin with and Slide gets to be very abusive when you can pay 1 blue to cycle a Lonely Sandbar and gain 4 life, bounce a creature and draw a card. Rift gives you tremendous resiliency against small creatures and gives you a way to win the game without combat.
The other nice part of the deck is the ability to play powerful, situational cyclers and get additional value from them. Cards like Radiant’s Judgment are excellent in general, but you can also be happy playing cards like Gilded Light.
While I’ve had great success with Astral Slide decks, I’ve had a hard time winning with dedicated Rift decks. I end up spending all of my time picking off small creatures and I’ve had a hard time putting any clock on my opponent. I’m experimenting now with prioritizing additional win conditions like Mystic Zealots so I can actually kill my opponent; I still am unsure of the best Rift-focused builds. I think there is a good chance that Lightning Rift is a trap and isn’t actually good—there aren’t a lot of creatures you care about shocking and it is too slow to close out games.
I’ve been drafting this archetype a lot so here are a bunch of examples:
This deck didn’t quite come together. The deck really needs 1-2 more land cyclers to help fix the mana base and power up the Rifts. It could also really use an Astral Slide to set up Karmic Guide recursion. The deck is clearly pretty good against creature decks but lacks card drawing and countermagic, leaving it very soft to opposing control decks and almost helpless against storm.
This is a significantly better Rift deck as it has great mana, more cycling, lots of card drawing and better removal. The triple Radiant’s Judgment are perfect as they can answer creatures too big for Rift or just cycle to pick off a small guy. There are also some great SB options with 2 more Teroh’s Faithful, Future Sight, and Goblin Trenches.
This was my first attempt at a true control deck and it was a pretty solid 3-0. I picked up the Astral Slide incidentally but you can see its value—it does a lot of work with all of the 187 guys and gives us a great late game. The 3 counterspells + 2 Logics in the SB are great against control decks and help close out games.
This deck is great. It is soft to storm but will crush all of the other fair decks by abusing Slide with a great suite of 187 guys. It also can go for the humble Bragos and just blow people off the board. One of my better game states:
This deck was insanely fun and is perhaps why I am chasing Astral Slide like some kind of cycling junky.
This is another example of abusing Astral Slide. It could use 1 more 187 creature, but the ability to make lots of 1/1s with Thopter Squadron while gaining a lot of life with Faithful gives it tremendous play against other decks. I lost round 1 due to a bad misplay, which is disappointing as I really wanted to play more with the deck.
One of the key lessons I’ve learned is to really prioritize the land cyclers. After Slide and 187 guys, I think the land cycler count is the single biggest indicator of power level for the deck.
Archetype 2: G/B Graveyard
I’ve only drafted this archetype once, but it was a very easy 3-0 as I was able to take Living Death p1p1 and was passed Recurring Nightmare in pack 3. I’ve included a screen shot of a deck that Sam Black posted on Facebook, demonstrating a take on the deck built around Reanimate and Hermit Druid.
Green has the best land cycler in Krosan Tusker, giving it a natural reanimate fatty that will put a lot of pressure on opponents. It also has a good outlet to fill the graveyard in Wild Mongrel. Black offers one of the best 187 guys in Predatory Nightstalker.
The drawback to this archetype is that it really keys off of rares. Cards like Hermit Druid, Survival of the Fittest, Living Death, and Recurring Nightmare are very important. Without any rares, the G/B “good stuff” deck lacks the explosive power that really puts it over the top and while probably still a fine direction, I think it will be hard to find yourself drafting it as you will get pulled into other archetypes.
Sam’s sick Hermit Druid combo deck. He even has a backup plan (or maybe it’s a primary plan?) of Survival. Deranged Hermit is simply unreal, giving the deck tremendous late-game power. Sam also has great removal, with 2 Expunge, 2 Nightstalker, a Hatchling and 2 Death Grasp. With his Druids and Tuskers finding lots of mana, the Graps will be for a lot. Against control and combo decks, Sam can go beatdown with his Kezzerdrix and Arrogant Wurms and use his Mesmeric Fiends to disrupt them. This deck is great.
Here is my only take on the archetype so far. This deck was pretty unfair. In one game I discarded my hand to Wild Mongrel and put 18 power into play with Living Death on turn 4. In another, I got 12 mana in play and started using Recurring Nightmare 4 times a turn. This deck was very fun.
Archetype 3: U/G Madness
For those of you who’ve been drafting for a while, you will remember this archetype from Odyssey. It actually hasn’t changed much as the core of the deck are all cards from that block. Wild Mongrel is by far the most important card as it is very hard to kill in combat and turns on your mechanic. The start of t2 Mongrel into t3 Arrogant Wurm for the madness cost is really hard to beat.
The green core of Basking Rootwalla, Wild Mongrel, Arrogant Wurm, and Roar of the Wurm are typically best paired with blue. Blue offers a great counterspell in Circular Logic, additional enablers in cards like Waterfront Bouncer and Owl Familiar, and good tempo plays like Repel and Man-o’-War. Aquamoeba, one of the core cards in the deck during Odyssey block, is definitely worse now that damage no longer stacks but is still a good enabler if you have enough madness cards.
One of the best parts of the deck is how little it depends on rares. All of the critical cards are commons, making this one of the more consistently available archetypes in the format.
While my own attempts to draft it have been mixed, I’ve lost to insane versions of the deck several times and when it comes together it is one of the best archetypes.
A few examples from my own drafts:
This is one of my first drafts in the format and it leaves a bit to be desired. I was able to pick up a lot of enablers but no great madness cards to take advantage of it. With 2 Fact or Fiction and a Deep Analysis (and the Gush potentially out of the SB), I could bury my opponents in card advantage but I wasn’t able to convert that to a winning board presence easily. This deck was definitely disappointing.
This is more like it. With 2 Arrogant Wurms and 2 Roar of the Wurms, we have some great cards to discard to our various outlets. The deck is a little short but is certainly powerful.
Archetype 4: Storm
Oh, Storm. What a beguiling trickster you are. Responsible for by far my biggest incineration of tickets, storm produces decks that look great on paper and then fold as soon as real opposition appears. I cannot figure out how to make the deck work.
I think you want to focus on Brain Freeze as your kill condition over Tendrils, as you can recur the Freeze with Scrivener and it can often be lethal with a storm count of 6 or 7. I’ve been extremely underwhelmed by Temporal Fissure unless you happen to have Psychatog as you need to spend a lot of cards to bounce all of their permanents, so your storm win condition is basically dead. High Tide has been the best mana enabler by a lot as it combos with Frantic Search so well. The black rituals have all been very underwhelming as you are much more constrained by storm count than mana.
Here are some storm decks I’ve drafted:
This deck was very fun and is by far the best storm deck I’ve drafted. 5 Frantic Searches are insane if I can get a Nightscape Familiar or High Tide out with them and I have a great backup plan in Upheaval/Tog. This draft actually started out at U/W control, as you can see from all of the white cards in my sideboard. Storm was so open that I moved over without any trouble. I also got to draft the only piece of Power I’ve opened so far in my 25+ drafts.
There are some interesting deckbuilding questions. I should only have played 1 Temporal Fissure and I should have played the Chainer’s Edict. I decided to go for Freeze and Tog over Tendrils as my win conditions.
This deck was very hard to build. I wasn’t sure how much of a U/B Control shell I wanted to adopt or how realistic my storm kill would be. This is one of the drafts where I tried out the ritual-heavy version, thinking that it would be good with Mind’s Desire, and I was very underwhelmed. The deck played out much worse than I expected.
Archetype 5: White Aggro
With Battle Screech being one of the best cards in the format and white having multiple aggressive early creatures, white weenie is one of the best aggro strategies.
Given my enjoyment of value and sweet things, I can’t say I’ve explored this archetype much. If you kill someone on turn 5 there isn’t much time to do anything cool. The one time I did draft it, it was largely on accident but it did result in my first 3-0 in the format. And I did it without the best card for the deck!
I’m not sure if I should be black or red with the white as they both offer some good cards. I decided to start with the black as it was less demanding on the mana base. This deck wasn’t exceptional but I did manage to barely squeak out a 3-0, defeating multiple Wild Mongrel decks in very tight races. Mistmoon Griffin was my MVP as I was always racing and it allowed me to double chump block in several games to pull out close wins. If you go this direction, I strongly recommend you kick things off with a Battle Screech or three.
Dealing with a Mess
There are a lot of sweet, fun things going on in this format. This will lead to some awesome decks, but it also means that sometimes what you are trying to do doesn’t come together. Maybe the guy feeding you is doing the same thing. Maybe you can’t decide which sweet thing you want, so you waffle back and forth. Maybe the packs just don’t break your way. Whatever the reason, you are going to have some real trainwrecks. Here are a few of mine and how I tried to mitigate the damage.
I decided to start with the best of the worst. This deck is a hot mess. I was trying to draft a B/G graveyard deck but after getting two early Tuskers and the Hatchling, I was completely cut. I then tried to move into U/G but the blue dried up quickly too. I ended up with the classic “splash green for fixing” archetype. I think the deck actually isn’t as bad as it looks as it can do a few powerful things, but it definitely needs to draw the right part of the deck at the right time.
This deck was actually very, very good but it could easily have gone the way of the previous deck. I was trying to draft a green aggressive deck with two early Erhnam Djinns, but that wasn’t coming together. This time I was able to audible into a green ramp deck that was very powerful and had real synergy.
One of my few attempts to draft an aggressive deck, this was supposed to be a mono-red Goblins deck. Unfortunately, someone else at the table also had the same idea and we ended up splitting the Goblins. I moved into a two-color aggro deck that had some potentially broken Lumberjack draws and turned out pretty well.
That’s it for today’s look at some of the common VMA archetypes. If you haven’t drafted the format yet, I hope looking through some of these decks makes you want to join in on the fun. The drafts are a bit on the pricey side but the format is extremely fun and I think you’ll enjoy yourself.
Thanks for reading!
@tommartell on Twitter