Today I'm going to talk about Vintage Masters draft. For the paper-only players out there, Vintage Masters is a Magic Online only format, but like most draft formats it's incredibly fun. In fact, even if I never played Magic Online before, I would try this format out. Why? Because you have a chance to crack one of the Power 9 in your booster packs!
While the odds of opening power aren't great (1 in every 53 packs), I feel like Power is being opened left and right. I have friends who have opened a half dozen power. I have opened two pieces myself in around 40 drafts but opening Power does feel a little random. However, I don't actually play Vintage Masters to open Power, but rather to play a unique limited format that combines years' worth of nostalgic Magic cards.
Magic Online tried to do this many times before. Wizards released three different Masters Edition expansions in an attempt to reprint all of the old cards for online play. While that was a great way to pick up dual lands and Force of Wills, the limited format itself was really bad. The cards didn't work together very well and honestly they were just awful. I mean, have you seen most of those terrible Homelands and Legends cards? While the nostalgia factor is there, the cards are just really underpowered when compared to today's standards.
Then we had Cube and Modern Masters. I'm sure that many will agree that these formats are super fun to draft. However when drafting these formats, we really aren't drafting limited decks. Instead, we are drafting constructed decks like Tinker, Affinity, Domain, Storm, and Dredge to name just a few.
Vintage Masters feels like a format we've never had before. The decks we draft actually feel like limited decks. We have Wild Mongrel, one of the best limited two-drop commons ever printed, Battle Screech, a powerful uncommon (now a common) that can win games on its own, and Expunge, a great removal spell that was just a bit too underpowered for constructed. Vintage Masters allows us to draft decks that we have drafted years ago with some new interactions thrown in. Add Power 9 and dual lands to the mix and it's arguably one of the most unique draft formats Wizards has come up with so far.
Today I'm going to discuss a few of the major archetypes in Vintage Masters draft and what cards to look for when drafting them.
Selesnya Beats is a very powerful and consistent archetype in VMA Draft and one of my favorites to draft. I usually hate Selesnya in Limited due to lack of removal but in VMA that's not the case. There are some top-notch removal spells in white such as Afterlife, Exile, and even Swords to Plowshares.
White in this format is very aggressive. There are plenty of two-drops to choose from including Soltari Trooper, Soltari Emissary, Phantom Nomad, and the most important one, Benalish Trapper. The Trapper is additional removal for the deck. It costs a white every turn but the ability to shut down your opponent's best creature every turn is worth it. White also offers one of the best commons in the set, Battle Screech. If you were playing during Odyssey you'll know what I'm talking about. It's just as good as it was back then and this time it's a common. White also offers us Empyrial Armor. I remember casting a turn-two shadow creature followed up by a turn-three Empyrial Armor. If unanswered, it's a three or four turn clock.
Finally, white gives us two very important protection spells: Shelter and Benevolent Bodyguard. Both of these cards were great back in Odyssey and this format is no different. Shelter is not always playable in your main deck because sometimes it's difficult keeping up two mana for it, especially if you are racing your opponent and have to play a creature every turn. Benevolent Bodyguard on the other hand can be cast on turn one and just sit there until you need it. I see these guys going around so late all the time and I have no idea why. It counters Expunge, Repel, any burn spell, and can even save a creature in combat. Just having it sit there in play will usually make your opponent play much differently. It's a great creature for only one mana.
And then there's green. Green obviously provides additional beats, but some cards that have overly impressed me were Elephant Guide and Armor of Thorns. Auras are usually iffy in limited but in decks with shadow creatures they are quite good. Elephant Guide provides a body when the creature dies so you won't get blown out, and Armor of Thorns comes down early enough that they might be too low on life by the time they deal with it. If you manage to pick up a Dreampod Druid, then these auras just get better. Dreampod Druid is essentially Verdant Force, and in a matter of turns you will have an army too big for your opponent to handle. The auras are also great on provoke creatures like Krosan Vorine and Deftblade Elite because they will be big enough to pick off your opponent's creatures one by one.
Simic Madness is a classic archetype from Odyssey Block as both a Limited deck and a Constructed deck. In Limited everyone fought over it and you really had to get lucky to make it work because the best madness spells, Arrogant Wurm and Circular Logic, were uncommon. In VMA however, those cards are common making this deck more powerful than ever. We have Wild Mongrel and Aquamoeba for enablers and sweet cards to discard like the aforementioned Logic and Wurm, but also spells like Roar of the Wurm and Deep Analysis are pretty strong when discarded early.
Simic Madness is a classic tempo deck. You want cheap creatures to cast early and bounce spells like Repel and Man-o'-War to push your creatures through. One of the best bounce spells in the deck is Aether Mutation. The tempo you get from bouncing their most expensive creature and getting an instant army of Saprolings is hard to overcome. Those Saprolings can be used to stabilize or just win the game. Grizzly Fate is another great tempo spell. Four creatures for one card is usually backbreaking and your opponent will generally not have enough resources to deal with it, and that's before it gets flashed back.
Goblins is an incredibly fast deck if you get all of the important cards. There is a common goblin at every spot on the mana curve and if Goblins is open you will be able to pick up lots of Goblin Generals, one of the most important cards. Generally the deck will win by casting a bunch of Beetleback Chiefs and a Goblin General, making all of your little tokens into 2/2s. We have Goblin Warchief and Goblin Ringleader at uncommon, two very important cards to the deck. Generally if I get passed one of these uncommons early I will consider moving in on the archetype. At rare we have Goblin Lackey, Goblin Piledriver, and Clickslither. If you're playing against a deck without removal, Clickslither is unbeatable, especially if you have a bunch of Beetleback Chiefs in your deck.
Goblins starts off pretty slow but once it gets to turn six or so the deck is capable of just playing out its entire hand and creating an overwhelming board presence. Between Goblin Matrons, Goblin Ringleaders, and Skirk Drill Sergeants, you will rarely run out of threats.
One card that I don't see played nearly enough in Goblins is Rites of Initiation. I guess people see the phrase "discard at random" and they get a little scared, but the card is really good. Imagine playing a Skirk Prospector on turn one, Hulking Goblin on two, Goblin Matron on three, and Beetleback Chief on four. Then on turn five you Rites of Initiation for your entire hand. Even at +3/+0, you are attacking for 26 damage. The best part is Rites of Initiation is an instant and your opponent will generally not block all of your creatures thinking they will take just three or four damage.
Finally, there is one card in this set that stops Goblins dead in its tracks, and that card is Tangle. Tangle is a card that ends up in most green sideboards and it can totally wreck you. You lose two turns of attacks which is usually enough for your opponent to climb back into the game. If you have lethal on board even if your opponent is holding two removal spells, don't be surprised to see Tangle.
Astral Slide and Lightning Rift was a great archetype in Block Constructed and it's an amazing deck in VMA as well. While you may not be able to get both Rift and Slide in your deck, each of these cards can be built around individually. Generally, I won't first pick a Rift or a Slide unless there is nothing better in the pack, but if I get passed one I'd gladly take it and switch.
If you get passed an Astral Slide, you want to look for creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities such as Teroh's Faithful, Flametongue Kavu, Beetleback Chief, or Man-o'-War. Many people believe that Astral Slide is a defensive card and should only be used to remove your opponent's attackers from combat, but Slide is much better when it's used as a combo card. Eventually you will run out of cyclers and your opponents will be able to attack as normal but if you are instead removing your value creatures, your opponent's attackers won't even be an issue.
Lightning Rift, on the other hand, is good in any red deck. Two free damage is awesome, and I'll gladly play Rift in my RG or RB Beats deck and pick up all the cycling lands I can get. While Lightning Rift is best in an Astral Slide deck, don't underestimate its power by itself.
Once you have either (or both) of these cards, you of course want to draft all of the cyclers. The lands are the best cards because they don't take up a spell slot in your deck, but any other on color cycler will do. Weak spells like Gilded Light and Renewed Faith come around late and are great in the deck, so I wouldn't take them over a cycling land as they generally just table. Solar Blast is a fantastic card in this archetype as well.
When drafting this deck, you need to prioritize win conditions. Many players will get so focused on taking cycling cards that their deck will be unplayable if they don't draw Slide or Rift! Make sure you're still picking up solid creatures to win the game with if you don't draw those combo enablers, or worse, if your opponent kills them.
I am not, nor will I ever be a storm player. I have never drafted storm in either VMA or Cube, but I have played against it quite a few times. There are two win conditions in storm: Tendrils of Agony and Brain Freeze. If you open or get passed one of these, it's worth taking and forcing if you like storm, but if someone else at the table feels the same way, you could end up with a terrible deck.
Storm needs a lot of card draw to work. Luckily, there are free card draw spells in the set like Gush and Frantic Search which are both excellent in the deck. You also need ways to generate mana, like Dark Ritual, Turnabout, High Tide, and Nightscape Familiar to make your spells cheaper. Scrivener is a great card in the deck as well as long as you are on the Brain Freeze plan and not the Tendrils plan.
Temporal Fissure is another storm card that works very well in the deck, but it's not a win condition. While bouncing every single permanent your opponent controls is very tilting for them, they can just replay them over the course of a few turns and kill you. You still need a way to win the game. The most successful storm decks I've seen had alternate win conditions like Psychatog to close out a game after they cast a huge Temporal Fissure.
One problem I see with drafting storm is that people tend to randomly hate storm cards for no reason. I will definitely take a Brain Freeze or a Turnabout if there isn't much in the pack. I have played against the storm deck quite a few times in VMA draft and find it to be very inconsistent, especially if I am playing an aggro deck. They will usually have to go off before they are ready to and fizzle quite frequently. Not to mention white has a great answer to storm in Gilded Light. I have definitely cast that spell in response to a lethal Tendrils and my opponent was not too pleased.
I'm not saying to avoid storm. It's a fun deck to play but it's not for everyone and easy to hate out.
I have found this archetype to be quite successful and often face it in the finals of many of my drafts. Carnophage and Sarcomancy are your one-drops and there are a lot of great two-drops such as Fledgling Djinn, Fallen Askari, and Mesmeric Fiend. Dauthi Mercenary is an unblockable three-drop and a great mana sink if you get flooded. Your curve usually ends at three and it's not uncommon to play only sixteen lands. Removal spells such as Expunge and Paralyze round out your deck and you can even splash red for Chain Lightning or Solar Blast. The last Suicide Black deck I played had three Carnophage and seven two-drops along with a Flametongue Kavu and two Chain Lightnings. I easily made the finals of that one.
Suicide Black is the only deck where Choking Sands is playable. Land destruction is usually bad in Limited because it's a loss of tempo, doesn't gain you board presence, and often doesn't even slow your opponent down. However when you get a start of Carnophage into Fallen Askari, Choking Sands is actually quite good. The setback your opponent will have will deal your opponent an extra four damage (from your two attackers already in play). If your deck is light on removal, Choking Sands is definitely a card to consider. They are easy to pick up in the draft and even get better in multiples.
Gruul Beats is one of the strongest archetypes in the format. It's not as fast as green/white due to lack of two-drops, but the deck gets more powerful as the game goes on. You want as many Fyndhorn Elves you can get and then pick up creatures like Simian Grunts, Blastoderm and Krosan Vorine. Of course you also want two-drops and Wild Mongrel is your best one. Red gives you the burn you need to finish off your opponent.
The real reason to add red to your green beatdown deck is for Fires of Yavimaya. If you were playing during Invasion block, you may remember Fires being the best deck in Standard. Haste to all of your creatures drastically changes the way your opponent will play the game because they will always have to play around a creature you could potentially have. They will be forced to hold back attackers in fear of dying out of nowhere. The +2/+2 that Fires gives is just another annoying thing to play around.
The one problem I have with RG is that there is no removal to kill large creatures. We have Chain Lightning and Solar Blast to take down little guys but really no consistent way to deal with a creature that is 4/4 or greater. We do have Aftershock but taking three damage is kind of rough and the double red is hard on the mana. You will have to either win before a creature that big comes down or make bad trades to get it off the board. There are some cards such as Visara the Dreadful that are just game over for RG.
UB Control is another strong archetype in the format, but in my opinion it's one of the weaker ones I've talked about so far. The problem with the deck is that the black creatures are all very aggressive so you don't really want to play the control role, yet you are playing Counterspells, removal, and bounce and want to be a control deck.
UB does have the best removal with Expunge, Dark Hatchling, and Chainer's Edict, and the blue bounce spells compliment them nicely. Overall it's just a tough deck to draft and really hard to beat the draws of a decks like Goblins or Selesnya. You do get Famine to clear the board, but it kills most of your black creatures and deals you damage as well, so it's not always a spell you want.
These are what I feel are the most popular archetypes in VMA draft. Of course I did not discuss them all but you will generally play against these decks in your online drafts. If you are an old school player and have not tried this format yet, you will not be disappointed. If you are a newer player and don't know what these cards are, it's definitely worth checking out just to get a different perspective on limited Magic. VMA is my favorite draft format and I'm going to be bold and say that it's better than Modern Masters. I'd rather draft Limited decks than Constructed decks, and having drafted most of the older formats that VMA offers us, this format is perfect for me.