The Banned and Restricted List update announcement this past Monday will go down as one of the most important in Magic history. It has thrown Modern into upheaval, exceeding the expected ban on Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis by also banning Faithless Looting. The card has been aptly called the Brainstorm of the format, and its removal guts multiple archetypes. The unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic adds a brand new dimension to the format, giving the Legacy staple its first ever chance to operate in Modern's eight year history. Modern is going to be a fun place while the new metagame shakes out. I love seeing all of the new brews people are sharing on social media, and I can't wait to see what kind of decklists show up in results this weekend and beyond.
As important as the changes to Modern are, the announced changes to Vintage might be even more important, relative to its overall impact on the format. Much like Modern was completely changed by Modern Horizons, Vintage was changed by War of the Spark, which quite literally re-wrote the rules of the format with the static abilities of planeswalkers Karn, the Great Creator and Narset, Parter of Veils. Vintage also found itself adopting cards of its own from Modern Horizons, like Force of Vigor. Things came to a head with the printing of Core Set 2020's Mystic Forge, a broken card draw engine capable of drawing an entire deck. The sum of these changes added up to a format that was unrecognizable compared to just a few months earlier, and it led to enough vocal frustration in the Vintage community that it precipitated these bans.
I've really gotten into Vintage over the last year and have been playing it steadily online through the tumult of the past few months, so when the announcement was made I knew I wanted to write this week about my thoughts on the format and the changes. Before I sat down to write and really think deeply about what the announcement meant, I received a message from Brian DeMars, who said he was writing about the announcement over at ChannelFireball.
"When we talked at GP Detroit you mentioned you were really enjoying Vintage and playing the weekly challenges online. Most of the people I know who traditionally play have been complaining they don't enjoy the format pre-restriction. Would you be interested on sharing your thoughts on the restrictions? Good or bad?"
I told Brian I was going to write about that same topic, so he'd have to wait for my article, but his question did force me to confront it for myself. I did expect some changes to Vintage because people seemed so confident they would happen, but it's not something I'd thought much about. My approach to Vintage and Magic in general is just to adjust to the reality of what's going on (an ever-shifting puzzle where the solution is always changing). I don't spend much energy thinking about what could or should be, just on finding the answer. That's why I told Brian that I was enjoying playing the format, because I can play and enjoy it regardless of how broken or un-interactive it is. I just roll with the punches and try to play what's winning.
So I don't have strong opinions on whether the restrictions are good or bad, or about what I think should be restricted or unrestricted. What I do have is analysis on what the changes mean for the format and where the metagame goes from here.
I'll admit I do feel some excitement about what the restrictions mean for Paradoxical Outcome and the combo deck based around it. That's what I was playing before War of the Spark, but it was also the deck hit hardest by the new planeswalkers. It was pressured in two directions: from Karn, the Great Creator turning off its artifacts and from Narset, Parter of Veils stopping the card draw from Paradoxical Outcome and other cards. The deck went from dominant to what felt like unplayable, and my results certainly suffered until I was able to readjust to a new deck. With Karn, the Great Creator removed from the metagame, or at least brought down to a minimum, Paradoxical Outcome will have much more room to breathe.
Paradoxical Outcome decks also benefit from the restriction of Mental Misstep, which was a major roadblock for a combo deck looking to put together a critical mass of specific cards, especially one with many great one-mana targets to counter. Mental Misstep played a major part in making blue control decks the toughest matchups for Paradoxical Outcome, which would lose the war of attrition to such disruption backed up by card advantage. Paradoxical Outcome now has little holding it back, so I'd expect to see an increase in Narset, Parter of Veils as control decks lean on it more heavily.
One of the best matchups for the Paradoxical Outcome deck used to be aggressive Mishra's Workshop decks, which while disruptive are susceptible to Hurkyl's Recall clearing the way for Paradoxical Outcome to win. These decks also saw themselves removed from the metagame by Karn, the Great Creator's Null Rod effect, leading to Karn becoming the predominant Mishra's Workshop strategy. This was compounded further by Mystic Forge, which joined Karn, the Great Creator to create a Mishra's Workshop deck that bordered on combo. Now Mishra's Workshop will return to its aggressive roots, where traditionally it helps to keep blue control decks in check with its speed and resilient threats like Arcbound Ravager.
Some lists of the deck were playing up to three Mystic Forge, but now will have to make due with one. Still, it's a nice upgrade to the archetype. This list also showcases the addition of Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, which can't be activated but is a powerful tutor for any of the deck's lands, including Tolarian Academy.
We'll have to see how things play out, but in theory this should all bring some nice balance to the metagame: a rock-paper-scissors of blue control decks beating Paradoxical Outcome decks, which beat the aggressive Mishra's Workshop decks that in turn beat the blue control decks. On the other hand, recently blue decks gained a great new tool against Mishra's Workshop in Force of Vigor, which could offset this balance. Force of Vigor has had the effect of tinting most of the control decks in Vintage green, with Sultai as the dominant control deck and one of the best decks in the metagame before the restrictions. Force of Vigor is strong against any variety of Mishra's Workshop decks, and is also a great tool for disrupting the artifacts of Paradoxical Outcome. It's a great attrition and tempo play and should help to keep most of Vintage's control decks green through the transition.
I used this decklist to win the Vintage Challenge on MTGO last weekend, and would have definitely run it back this weekend if there were no changes, but I'll need to make adjustments if I want to stick to the archetype. Losing three Mental Misstep leaves a big whole, so to start I'd just fill it with two more copies of Preordain, and then add a Narset, Parter of Veils for good measure. There also won't be nearly as much need for dredge hosers, including The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and Pithing Needle (which also stopped Karn, the Great Creator) so those can be trimmed or cut altogether in favor of some more artifact hosers or cards against control.
It's not clear exactly why Jeskai fell from favor, but one reason is that Sultai's Deathrite Shamans were important for hosing the dominant Dredge deck. Now that's less of a concern, and combined with other factors like the restriction of Mental Misstep making one-mana spells relatively better, Dreadhorde Arcanist should be a strong contender in the future of Vintage as a repeatable source of card advantage. It's even possible we'll see Temur decks emerge that combine both Dreadhorde Arcanist and Force of Vigor, likely with Wrenn and Six too, leaving none of the great new cards off the table.
Adding a major wrinkle to this rock-paper-scissors metagame is Bazaar of Baghdad and Dredge, which just earned a banning of its own in Golgari Grave-Troll.
During the past few months Dredge has been elevated to its highest level in the metagame yet, becoming arguably the single best deck in the metagame (or at least the most important in terms of shaping it). It reached a new level with the printing of Force of Vigor, which gave the strategy a completely free way to destroy hosers like Leyline of the Void that it otherwise struggled to beat. Combined with other disruption like Force of Will and Mental Misstep, it offered a ton of interaction and ability to actually play games of Magic unlike Dredge ever could previously.
The restriction of Golgari Grave-Troll not only nerfs the power level of the Dredge engine, it also makes Force of Vigor much worse, since the deck will replace Golgari Grave-Troll with non-green creatures like Golgari Thug. I suppose that Golgari Brownscale is an option, but I imagine that Dredge will not be in a great place in the near future, especially with Paradoxical Outcome on the rise. From the eyes of a Paradoxical Outcome player the Dredge matchup was always close but seemed favorable, since the combo deck could go over the top of any number of Zombie tokens and creatures. Force of Vigor changes things by giving Dredge some disruption, but it doesn't seem like the deck can still support it.
On the other hand, I do see Bazaar of Baghdad having a favorable time in the form of the Survival of the Fittest deck, which uses the Bazaar to enable cards like Basking Rootwalla and Vengevine.
This is a fast aggressive deck that comes with the resilience of graveyard creatures we just saw dominate Modern in Hogaak decks, and that makes it quite threatening. All of the graveyard value makes it something of a nightmare for control, and because it's supported by a toolbox of disruptive creatures opened up by Survival of the Fittest, including the recent addition of Collector Ouphe, it's well-rounded against the entire field. The deck will have to make up for the loss of three Mental Misstep and the disruption they afforded, but it will surely evolve.
Bazaar of Baghdad could also see its fortunes improve with the un-restriction of Fastbond. Fastbond adds another new factor to the metagame with many potential uses, but the obvious first place to start is the one deck that currently uses it, a tier 2 Lands deck that is essentially a port of the Legacy version.
This deck uses a set of Bazaar of Baghdad to churn through the deck, helping to find Life from the Loam and fuel the graveyard. Going from a single Fastbond to a playset certainly brings this deck to the next level, and it just might break into the top tier of the metagame.
Beyond that, Fastbond isn't a card I've really encountered outside of Lands decks and Vintage Cube (where it's awesome). It makes sense that such an extreme card would be best in a deck completely built around it, and that it requires having a full playset to be worthwhile. It's not the kind of card that really does much as a one-of for the average deck, especially not in a format where Mox are better than land, but one can imagine the possibilities. It creates a rather clean combo with Storm Cauldron, for example, leading to a ton of mana limited only by the loss of life. Radiant Fountain can mitigate this, not only generating infinite mana but subsidizing the life spent on other lands making colored mana. Without much precedent I'm not sure what else to do with it beyond some Vintage port of the Legacy deck, but there are surely some other possibilities.
Case in point, take this tweet from MTGO Vintage grinder Justin "IamActuallyLvl1" Gennari:
Vintage as Garfield intended pic.twitter.com/vNcurC5hzg— Justin 'IamActuallyLvL1' Gennari (@Gennair) August 27, 2019
The idea of combining bouncelands with Fastbond is nice. Not only does it let you drop more lands at once, but it makes a combo when combined with Amulet of Vigor, bouncing the lands to be replayed again and again for more mana, like an alternative version of the Storm Cauldron combo. I've also come to realize that a deck with four Fastbond will be a great place for Force of Vigor, which can pitch any extra copies. The card is a lot closer to a green Force of Will than it seems, and for years to come will help non-blue decks succeed by giving them invaluable disruption—especially now that they've lost access to Mental Misstep.
The B&R announcement made it clear that Wizards is listening to what players are saying, particularly from the Vintage community. Wizards doesn't have resources to devote to their own testing of Vintage, so they are keen on the idea of outsourcing it to the community and what it has to say. It's also interesting that they identified by name two cards, Necropotence and Windfall, as possible targets for a future un-restriction. I would not get too comfortable, because more changes are coming. It's just a question of when.