A Vintage Brewer's Diary: 2020 in Review, Part 2


This is the second part of my personal 2020 review, brought to you through the medium of paper Vintage decks. Last time, we got halfway through the year, and we looked at five different decklists. Today, we'll go over five more brews from the second half of the year. Let's dive in!

My previous article ended with me trying to fit Zirda, the Dawnwaker into a version of Paradoxical Outcome. Following the purge of Lurrus of the Dream-Den from Vintage and the rules change, I wanted to see whether companions could still be good. I didn't like my results, so as summer hit and the weekly challenges went dark for awhile, I had time to reflect on my next move.

August rolled around, and COVID numbers in Italy dropped to levels that made paper events possible again. The crew from 4Seasons Bologna put up an event at the start of September, and I just couldn't resist. I got in touch with my Italian friend Raffaele, booked a flight, and set out to construct the meanest machine I could build.

Note: some events allow proxies. Refer to the decklists below the pictures to identify proxies as well as poorly photographed cards.

September 5: 4Seasons Bologna Summer

Looking back at the tournaments I'd played in 2020 so far, it was clear that Underworld Breach was the best choice for me to take to any event with actual stakes. I had some decent experience with the archetype, the combo could easily fit in any blue Xerox shell, and its key components mostly sidestepped the numerous Pyroblasts flying around. Once I was locked in on Breach, it came down to deciding what other colors to add to the Blue Stew, and to knocking out the final flex slots.

Sidenote: Predicting a paper Vintage metagame is hard, and attempts mostly futile. Events tend to be small, and many players are locked into specific archetypes—either because it is literally their favorite deck in the world, or because they don't own the cards needed to pivot into different strategies. The field is going to consist of the pet decks of the local players that happen to be available that day. Still, looking at online data does give you a general idea of what the current popular archetypes are, how fast the format is, and what targeted hate cards see play across archetypes.

I started out with the idea to have my Breach list play as closely to a classic Xerox deck as possible, and to try and stay in three colors. The format had gotten increasingly combo-heavy, with Doomsday and Breach rising to the top of the metagame. Bazaar of Baghdad strategies were also very popular online, though in paper those are often underrepresented, from my experience. Setting myself up as a slightly more controlling combo deck seemed like a good idea.

My initial list was straight Jeskai. It had a pair of Dreadhorde Arcanists and used Thought Scour, Intuition, and Sevinne's Reclamation to offset the missing black tutors. Thought Scours were an innovation I borrowed from the wonderful Nico Bohny (Shir Kahn on Magic Online). The one key restricted card our Breach is always looking for is Black Lotus, and it doesn't really matter whether you draw it or mill it, as long as it's there when your Breach hits the table. The Arcanists and Scours performed surprisingly well in playtesting, but Intuition, and Reclamation felt clunky. More importantly, I really did miss the direct access to Black Lotus. Often I was able to get ahead of my opponent early but unable to close out the game before they could rebuild.

I ended up settling on a much more conventional Breach list that splashed both white and black, dropping the Thought Scours and filling up the flex slots with a Lavinia and a main-deck Swords to Plowshares, to support a slightly more reactive game plan. Here's what I ended up with as I packed my bags for Italy:

The tournament attracted eighteen players—solid, given the state paper Vintage is in these days. For my first round I was paired against Oath of Druids. I won game one by masquerading as Xerox and snowballing a Dreadhorde Arcanist to the finish line, before losing game two to an early Oath plus Orchard. I then took game three by performing the Breach combo. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

My next two matches were against Four-Color Walkers and another Breach player, and I managed to slay both opponents without too much trouble. Turn one Scab-Clan Berserker is quite a beating in the Breach mirror. A couple of intentional draws later, I found myself as the second-ranked player. My winning streak ended in the quarters, where my Paradoxical Outcome opponent extinguished my hopes of taking down the tournament. He ended up losing the finals to the only Dredge player in the room.

I continued playing this Breach list for the September Monthly League on Discord, which temporarily replaced the weekly challenges. I did switch out the second Underground Sea for an extra fetch land, as I sometimes found myself struggling to find the right combination of colors on critical turns. My 3-1 record during (round robin) pod play was enough to qualify for the semifinals, which I won, before falling to Kaleb Woodward's Sultai deck in the finals.

This list is very strong and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who likes either Xerox or Breach decks. The one card I'm not too sure about is the sideboard Lavinia, as the strategies it's supposed to be good against are often very well set-up to deal with a 2/2. Integrating a second Brain Freeze into the main deck would also be desirable, but I haven't identified a card I'd be willing to cut for it so far.

November 15: Weekly Discord Challenge

After playing with Underworld Breach for two months straight, I was getting bored with the archetype, so I started looking for other cards to fit into my beloved Grixis Xerox decks. Commander Legends had just been released, and Hullbreacher and Opposition Agent were the talk of the town. The cards were not readily available yet, but the Discord server allows proxies, so the Weekly Discord Challenge was going to be an excellent testing environment for these new sneaky guys.

My first inclination was to try them in a Grixis Thieves shell. Also, I had treated myself to a playset of foil Urzas during the summer and was looking for an excuse to play them. Scouring the internet led me to a Grixis Tinker list by Magic Online player GGoggles that I could draw inspiration from. This is what my first attempt at Breaching Hulls in Vintage looked like:

Sadly, I merely went 1-2 in the challenge. This build is lacking proactive plays during the early and midgame when it doesn't draw its Moxen, which came back to bite me during my games in the first two rounds against Delver and Ravager Shops. The draw sevens also underperformed. I remember losing two games where I resolved one, after dropping multiple Moxen to get ahead on cards, albeit without Hullboi/Narset, and completely whiffed. I subsequently got murdered on the spot by my opponent's fresh god draw. Another flaw was the inclusion of Mana Crypt in a Time Vault/Manifold Key deck that doesn't run Tinker to get rid of it. Crypt being stuck in play while I could otherwise safely take infinite turns was problematic on multiple occasions. This deck needed more work.

November 22: Weekly Discord Challenge

I spent the week tinkering with the Grixis Thieves list, contemplating whether the Urzas and Vault/Key were the optimal finishers, whether Tinker/Citadel should be included, or if I instead wanted to focus more on the Thieves/draw seven interaction. However, for the weekly challenge, I ended up going in a slightly different direction. Presenting: Oath Bond Prison Combo, or Oath Bond, for short:

This is my favorite creation of 2020. So how in Heliod's name did I arrive at this abomination?

As I reevaluated my green-white Hatebear-Lands deck from earlier in the year, I found Hall of Heliod's Generosity as another way to recur Fastbonds that got countered or destroyed. Hall would also allow me to dig toward key enchantments by dredging into them with Life from the Loam. Thinking about more enchantments to recur, I considered Deafening Silence and Stony Silence, which could replace Thalia and Collector Ouphe as the primary lock pieces. At that point, I was left with a nearly creatureless, enchantment-based deck. Are there any other green enchantments that are Vintage playable? Enter Oath of Druids. Being able to find Forbidden Orchard using Crop Rotation/Life from the Loam is quite convenient too. And it lets us sidestep one of the Fastbond deck's biggest nuisances: Deathrite Shaman.

But what would we want to oath into? I initially considered the following options:

  • Sun Titan: This would give us immediate access to any enchantment/artifact/utility land that got milled over first—which is nearly the entire deck. Also, Sun Titan is fairly easy to cast when drawn. Keep in mind that this list has no way to shuffle a drawn Oath target back into the deck.

  • Muldrotha, the Gravetide: similar to Sun Titan, with a higher ceiling, but harder to cast.

  • Progenitus: Quite a weird monster to consider for Vintage, but I really liked the idea of having an Oath target that would shuffle itself back when dredged away by Loam, while being impervious to any targeted removal. Against Sultai in particular, Oath into Progenitus seemed very strong, as they had no outs to remove it, were unlikely to race it, and likely to run straight into it after deploying an early Deathrite Shaman.

In the end, however, I chose Archon of Valor's Reach. I really wanted my Oath target to be tough to remove, which excluded Sun Titan and Muldrotha. They get killed by any targeted removal, or even just a Lightning Bolt when there is an active Dreadhorde Arcanist. Another reason is how I imagined this strategy would play against the unfair decks. As this list doesn't run countermagic to defend itself, simply running out an Oath and passing the turn is scary enough against most strategies. Not being 100% sure that your subsequent pay-off will actually impact the board in a meaningful way is just asking for trouble. Archon of Valor's Reach can lock out many decks completely as soon as it hits, while also providing you with protection against counterspells if you ban Instants.

Against control decks, this paves the way for you to administer the finishing blow. If you were lucky enough to mill over a few key cards while oathing into the Archon, and have the requisite five mana, you can do the following (deep breath):

  • Flashback Sevinne's Reclamation, returning Fastbond and Crucible of Worlds. Play Glacial Chasm from the graveyard, to prevent Fastbond from damaging you as you make additional land drops. Mill over the rest of your deck by using Bazaar of Baghdad plus Wasteland to recur it.

  • Make infinite mana by floating mana, wasting your duals, and replaying them. Waste/strip all of your opponent's lands. Flashback the second Reclamation to add Trinisphere and Stony Silence to the board. Your opponent is now fully locked out forever. Put any number of enchantments back on top of your deck with Hall of Heliod's Generosity, to avoid decking yourself.

And the best part? It. Actually. Worked! The weekly challenge ended up drawing only four players, so we played round robin. I beat Hogaak and Four-Color Deathrite 2-0, and lost a close three-game match against Sultai, but my 2-1 score was enough to take first place. I even got to use that old Drop of Honey that hadn't left my binder in years. Now that's what a good day looks like for a Vintage brewer.

November 29: Weekly Discord Challenge

After cleaning my palette with the insane Oath Bond brew, I reset my sights at getting Hullbreacher to work in Grixis Thieves. As is often the case with early deck designs of mine, I had been trying to fit together too many things, which made the deck feel clunky and inconsistent. In this case, it was overambitious to play both draw sevens with only three ways to break their symmetry, and Time Vault/Key felt out of place without the Tinker to support it. I added Tinker and Blightsteel Colossus back to the main deck, and cut the Urzas and Opposition Agent, which had been underwhelming. I also made room for a duo of Night's Whispers and a main-deck Abrade, to help me bridge the midgame after spending countermagic on early threats.

This list showed promise, but after testing it for a bit, it still didn't run as smoothly as I wanted it to. I wasn't feeling the Tinker package, and in particular the dead draws you often got from it. In essence, we are expending four slots here to finish the game with what is otherwise a normal Xerox deck: Tinker, Blightsteel Colossus, Time Vault, and Manifold Key. The beauty of the Blue Stew shell is how easily you can replace the win conditions with anything you want. After mulling over my options, I settled on … Underworld Breach. Again. Not my most inspired choice, I know. It's just hard to compete with how efficient the combo really is. By only adding the minimalist three-card package of two Underworld Breach and one Brain Freeze, you gain a cheap game-ending combo, while only adding one "bad" card (Brain Freeze) to the deck. Conveniently, the combo even bypasses Pyroblast.

Boring as my choice of win condition was, there was another thing I did like about it. By adding Underworld Breach to a list with Hullbreachers, I could now call my deck … "The Breach Boys." I am very proud of that one, thank you.

Slotting in Breach meant a few other changes were necessary. Mana Crypt was cut in favor of Lotus Petal, Sensei's Divining Top became an additional Preordain, and Saheeli made room for a third Pyroblast, as many players on the Discord server were brewing with Hullbreacher at that time. With removal of the extra artifacts, Tolarian Academy could be switched for Mystic Sanctuary. The final product looked like this:

I like how this version of the deck played a lot. It was good enough to 3-0 the weekly challenge, beating the usual field of Blue-Red Xerox and Sultai players. Of note: Wheel of Fortune plays quite nicely with Underworld Breach, even if you don't have a Hullboi yet. The only change I'm still debating is slotting in two Dreadhorde Arcanist instead of the Night's Whispers. In case I do, I would probably switch a main-deck Pyroblast for one of the Bolts in the sideboard.

As good as this list was, I was getting a tad bored of playing Breach combo so often. So, for my final brew of the year, I decided to cook up something special again …

December 20: Weekly Discord Challenge

As you may have noticed throughout this diary, I'm fortunate enough to own a large amount of old Magic cards. I try to get the cards for any Vintage (or Legacy) deck I like, and I enjoy playing a wide variety of archetypes. Whenever I purchase new cards, I immediately start looking for excuses to utilize them. Conversely, whenever expensive cards are sitting unused in my binders for too long, I start feeling a bit guilty. One set of cards that had remained mostly untouched for all off 2020 were my Mishra's Workshops. So, to finish out a year where I had played a bunch of blue brews (Oath, PO, Breach, Thieves) and a smattering of Bazaar builds (as a two-of in my Fastbond lists), I decided to embrace the rust life for once.

One recent card that had tickled my fancy was Forsaken Monument. I could see adding it to Ravager Shops, to pump the team and turbocharge your mana-production for monstrous late-game Stonecoil Serpents and Walking Ballistas. However, I was more interested in pairing it with Basalt Monolith to generate infinite mana. Once a combo player, always a combo player. As I penned down the Monuments and Monoliths, the next inclusion was Paradox Engine. The last time I had played with the card was when Mystic Forge and Karn, the Great Creator were both unrestricted and crushing the competition. I remembered a combination that would sometimes come up. With Sensei's Divining Top, a Manifold Key, a Basalt or Grim Monolith, and a Paradox Engine, you can draw your entire deck and generate infinite mana. Adding in that package, the deck was coming together nicely, but I was going to need more help to pay for those expensive Engines, Monoliths, and Monuments. Going through my binders again, I came across good old Metalworker. This seemed like a perfect job for him!

Next up was deciding on how I would spend these copious amounts of mana. We had the Top/Key/Engine loop, but that takes too many pieces to reliably assemble early on. Karn, Forge, and Memory Jar were next to make the list, as there is good reason these colorless bombs are restricted. I also threw in a Blightsteel Colossus, the biggest, meanest artifact creature of them all. But past that, I couldn't think of many colorless options other than more creatures, or a pile of unexciting sphere effects.

I wondered if I could somehow get away with running a Tinker in the deck, by playing Spire of Industry, which also works well with Forsaken Monument, to fix my mana. Once you add colored sources to your Workshop deck, though, it's slippery slope. First came the Blue Power, then the Urzas, as another great mana sink. The way this Blue Workshop monstrosity was shaping up, topping things off with a pair of Paradoxical Outcomes seemed fitting. Plus, Outcome refilling your hand makes your Metalworkers tap for even more absurd amounts of mana. Because we would obviously be needing more mana. Laying it all out, this is where I landed:

I thought this deck looked absolutely sweet. The tournament proved otherwise, unfortunately. I didn't win any of my matches, losing to PO, Ravager Shops, and Temur Delver.

So what went wrong? I'm afraid that trying to go all out while ignoring your opponent completely is just not a viable strategy these days. When Metalworker was last seen in Vintage, you could afford to spend a turn to deploy it, run a threat or two into countermagic, and try again later while your blue opponent could only muster a small offense. These days, threats like Dreadhorde Arcanist and various planeswalkers allow them to snowball any advantage further into the game, making it tough for decks like this to overload their opponents' defenses. More glaring is how I'd managed to construct a deck that was vulnerable to all of the answers that were popular. Pyroblast? Check. Force of Negation? Check. Force of Vigor, Shattering Spree, Collector Ouphe? You bet your lucky stars I was ready to lose to those. Even Hullbreacher messed with significant portions of the list.

I made some changes to the deck afterward, cutting the Monument/Monolith combo and adding in a fourth Defense Grid, a third Outcome, a Bolas's Citadel, and a Sai, Master Thopterist. However, these minor improvements won't be enough to overcome the structural issues the deck has. As fun as it was to assemble the most expensive 75 imaginable for this picture, I'm afraid my Metalworkers won't be seeing their blue friends again anytime soon.

What a Year

2020 has been, in my opinion, a fantastic year for Vintage. The metagame opened up significantly, as the various pillars of the format found the tools to branch out more into different archetypes. Where Paradoxical Outcome used to be the undisputed best combo deck, we now have Underworld Breach and Doomsday as different tier one options, as well as DPS and various Tinker, Urza, and Hullbreacher brews from the lower tiers. Bazaar decks have evolved from just Dredge and Survival to include a wide range of Vengevine, Hollow One, and Hogaak strategies, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. While Mishra's Workshop decks took a beating, the card is still incredibly powerful, and now offers a more prison-like approach again in Golos Shops, where once the Ravager build was the only viable strategy. I've even seen combo strategies float around with both the Thespian's Stage/Dark Depths and the Leyline of the Void/Helm of Obedience combo.

The companions offered us a completely fresh look at what the format could look like. As format-warping as they were, a lot of brewers had a lot of fun in finding different shells to try their new buddies in, while attempting to break a format that was completely laid bare by one powerful Cat. I doubt unbanning Lurrus would be a good idea, even with the updated companion rules. But I would've enjoyed a bit more time to play with it.

It's weird that, while paper play was suspended due to the pandemic, I managed to play so many games of Vintage and meet such amazing people from across the globe. I miss the actual gathering a lot, but thanks to the great folks from the MTG Paper Vintage Discord, I wasn't lacking in any of my magical needs this year. A huge thanks to all of my opponents and the mods, for offering me so many opportunities to enjoy my favorite format. If any of you are feeling the itch to play some Vintage with us too, you should definitely join the Discord. I swear you'll have a ton of fun.

Final credits are due to my wonderful girlfriend Naomi, for making the proxies you saw on the various deck pictures. The altered dual lands were done by the amazing Martha Molina and Dustin Brossard. I hope you enjoyed this little stroll through my Vintage deck diary of 2020. May the new year bring you nothing but joy and busted opening hands.

Tom De Decker
@BLC_Tom on Twitter
KabouterMuilpeer#7236 on Discord

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