Vintage Masters has been online for a few weeks now and the format has been amazing. It has big shoes to fill as it followed up one of the best limited formats of all time in Modern Masters, but it feels like it has exceeded any expectations set for it.
Vintage Masters is an online only format, so there are obviously some players who will not experience the format, but the set can teach us a lot in other areas as well. For example, as a game designer, watching so many misfits and oddballs from Magic's past come together in such an elegant way is just beautiful. There is also a lot of lessons in cube design to be had, if you are into such things (and if you are not, you may want to consider a different hobby).
Today, after having played Vintage Masters far too much over the past few weeks, I wanted to discuss some of the secrets to the format. We will touch upon some of the basic elements to the format in order to catch people up, but I specifically wanted to discuss some of the things everyone is trying to do, but most are failing at.Abuse Low Payoff Situations
The other day I was in the middle of a draft and I was basically monowhite, likely playing Slide of some sort. It was the pick of pack one and a Time Vault was in the pack. The rest of the pack was essentially blank or low value enough that I decided to pick up the Vault and take a gamble. Now, one might ask what infinite combo potential the Vault has in Vintage Masters and the answer to that is none. There is no way to go infinite using a Voltaic Key or anything, which is why the card is viewed as unappealing. However, you can use Turnabout in combination with Time Vault to create Time Walk.
Again, on the surface, Time Walk is only so good, but you can continue to build on to this by adding Scrivener to the mix and all of a sudden multiple Time Walks are available to you. Go one step deeper and you can add Waterfront Bouncer for actual infinite turns.
While getting all of those moving pieces to cooperate at once is obviously difficult, the beauty is that you are not committing to this strategy, you are simply allowing it to be possible. By passing that Time Vault for some random 28th card that you will never play, be creative and see if anything comes of it. All it takes is a late Turnabout in pack 2 and you have a chance at something extremely powerful. Maybe you saw a Turnabout early in pack 1 and this becomes even more worth the chance.
Often, the pick in question will not be as obscure as Time Vault though. For example, let's say you are solidly black/red good stuff late in pack one and an opportunity for an off-color random cycling card or a Temporal Fissure comes up. The off color cycling card would make your deck if you were at 21 playables or something, but the format has so many playables that that is extremely rare. What is more likely is that you get some late rituals because no one is willing to give the combo deck a shot. Maybe you open a Yawgmoth's Will in pack three and now you have a legitimate backdoor strategy in your deck. Temporal Fissure might not be Tendrils of Agony, but when you have a few Hill Giants in play it will win you the game just the same.
These picks are extremely high variance, obviously, but because they are showing up so early in the draft, you get a ton of chances to find whatever synergy you are looking for. Maybe it never comes up, but it will be worth the shot more often than you are giving it credit for.
I believe this to be an effective strategy in Cube as well. In both environments, you should not be sacrificing solid, playable cards for risky ones, but pay attention during any dead packs or late picks to snag something with potential.Storming the Draft
Despite Storm being ever so present in the format, many people are afraid to draft the deck as they feel it is too risky of a strategy and does not come together often enough. While it is hard to argue that the archetype does not have more variance during the draft than something more straightforward, like a Cycling deck, there are some ways to end up in Storm with less risk to them.
First of all, do not move all-in on Storm before the draft begins. Sometimes, the cards to enable the strategy will just not be there and other times you will end up fighting someone else for the deck. Your win rate with the strategy will suffer as a result, so just be patient with this one.
I first like to have a reason to be Storm. If I get a fourth or fifth pick card that is powerful, but narrow, my Storm censors immediately become active. Examples of cards to look out for:
Yawgmoth's Will High Tide Turnabout Yawgmoth's Bargain Memory Jar Gush Mind's Desire Cabal Ritual Necropotence Tendrils of Agony Brain Freeze
These cards are generally all worthy of actually committing to on power level alone. Once you have one or more of these in your possession, you should not necessarily just go all-in. What you should do is Probe packs. Note any Storm playables you passed in early packs and value Storm playables much higher now. After a few more pieces you are confident in, you can begin drafting the deck outright. You might not have access to everything you need early or even after pack one, but there are generally ways to piece together anything you are missing.
For example, if you find all the rituals and a Yawgmoth's Will but Tendrils or Brain Freeze never make it to you, you can Stitch Together a win condition out of Temporal Fissure, or perhaps High Tide plus Stroke of Genius, or maybe even just a Living End bringing back a bunch of cyclers.
The mana engine and card flow are the most important part of a Storm deck. You can have Tendrils and Mind's Desire but without rituals or free spells, you don't have a storm deck.
Another misconception is that Storm is an all-in affair. That you should be racing against your opponent, trying to combo them out as fast as possible. Because this is a limited format, that is actually a losing strategy. The best Storm decks tend to be methodical. They control the game just enough to buy time and see more cards. Eventually, when they can no longer Thwart lethal damage, they will go for a kill. This can be 10+ turns into a game much of the time though.
This extra time allows the deck to reach a consistency that it would otherwise miss. Also, random damage dealt over the course of a game by your Nightscape Familiar or whatever helps to reduce stress on certain win conditions, like Tendrils of Agony, allowing easier access to a win.
Storm is basically just a beacon for high-risk strategies. Other strategies that I tend to approach the same way include:
ReanimatorEureka / Show and Tell CheatArtifact Abuse / Mishra's Workshop
Other single card strategies are risky too, like Upheaval decks or ones built around Balance, but because those deck's tend to not need specific cards to work and instead just need a sound overall plan, they work more often.Curve Still Matters
When you put Ancestral Recall and Recurring Nightmare in front of someone, they sometimes forget that they are still playing limited and that curves are still king. Awkwardly built, lacking synergy, no bombs can still win if it comes out of the gate with a drop on each turn and a removal spell. I would much rather have a good curve with mediocre cards than a few bombs without rhyme or reason before they hit play.
Even if you are drafting one of the unfair decks, your deck is not always going to be doing unfair things. Sometimes you just need to be hiding behind a Horned Turtle while other times you need to be casting Deep Analysis to fill up your hand. These things have a mana cost and it is important that you remember that.
For example, if I lay out my deck and my curve looks good, so be it. However, I should probably double check. What if all of my ones and twos are rituals and cantrips? What if my three drops consist of even more spells and the likes of a single Ophidian? Can this deck actually beat an aggressive strategy? Do I have a plan in mind should I run into one? What if, instead of one of those Counterspells, you took Nightscape Familiar instead. And then following that, Mesmeric Fiend? All of a sudden we have actual cards that do things, allowing us to get to our sweet stuff later on.
Limited is still limited. You will lose to an aggressive goblin deck while you wait to draw your Survival of the Fittest. Do you best to work the sweet aspects of your deck into a meaningful shell that can handle some heat even when it isn't functioning at its finest. You will have awkward draws and inconsistency, so prepare for it ahead of time.Obscure Sideboard Cards Win Games
This is a very similar note to picking up risky cards when they present themselves with little competition, but it is important none the less. Because the types of strategies that see play in Vintage Masters is so broad, you will often run into decks that you simply cannot beat through your conventional means. Maybe you are an aggro deck facing off against Reanimator or a control deck struggling against Goblins. In these situations, it is clutch to have access to powerful, albeit narrow, sideboard options.
How many times have you passed a Gilded Light for the random foil in the pack? Gilded Light is one of the strongest weapons against Storm that you can have and it cycles should it be clunking up your hand and yet it gets very little respect.
People are so interested in discovering little synergies or tricks for their deck that hard working sideboard cards get ignored too often. Tangle. Are you aware that Tangle is in the format? People gloss right over the card as though it does not have text and yet if you have faced a good Goblin deck before you know that Tangle is as good as double Time Walk against them. Snag one or two of these during the draft as you are going to get plenty of chances at them!
Any Disenchant effect is always worth snagging, especially when opponents can be running the likes of Mana Vault or Su Chi as their artifact, not even looking into what enchantments demand an answer, like Sulfuric Vortex or Survival of the Fittest.
Some of the obscure gold is harder to recognize if you have not played much of the format. Battle Screech is one of the best commons and can form the entire backbone of a deck. During a draft, if you recognize this, you can pick up a card like Death's Head Buzzard, which is not very good, but happens to be excellent against multiple Battle Screeches and can be a key weapon against the goblin lists that are generating a ton of tokens over time.
Just keep your eyes open and look for cards that seem "bad" to have niche but powerful uses in the format.Wrap Up
Vintage Masters has been a heck of a lot of fun while we await M15 this weekend. I will continue to play it until it is removed from Magic Online and if you have not had the chance as of yet, I would certainly recommend it. Next week we come back with our M15 full set review, with help from Mike Flores this time around. Until then, thanks for reading!