Human Wizards that Made Vintage History

Snapcaster Mage, Young Pyromancer, Jace Vryn's Prodigy, Monastery Mentor, and Containment Priest: Are humans taking over Vintage? Pietro's got the answer.

When Ravnica came out, a creature, funnily enough, immediately stood out  to all Vintage players: the mighty Dark Confidant, aka Bob. It was designed by Bob Maher after winning 2004 Invitational (thus the nickname). Bob was not your average creature, having devastating raw power and impact in a format with 4 Brainstorm and many low-mana spells, essentially negating his drawback.

Very, very few creatures (and very few spells generally) have any impact on Vintage, let alone as significant an impact as Dark Confidant. Snapcaster Mage, appearing in the ever popular Innistrad, was different though, blowing the aforementioned card out of the water. When players read this card, it can sometimes be hard to believe just how strong it is: it only costs two with a single specific Mana, it's blue, it has flash, it gives you card advantage at a very cheap cost, it's versatile and useful in basically every game situation. He can even be a good instant blocker or used as beatdown your opponent after taking control of the game….

In this article, as in my other articles on Vintage, I will analyze the archetype (more correctly, the archetypes) based on this card, the impact on the metagame, and the way Snapcaster Control Decks function within the metagame.

A Mage for All Seasons

Snapcaster Mage
A card for every format, every game, every spot.

It's important, before discussing the card in Vintage, to acknowledge just how insane and versatile Snappy is, being useful in nearly EVERY game situation.

It can be used as a card-drawing engine, flashbacking Brainstorm, Ponder or, you know, Ancestral Recall. Additionally, it can be used as Removal, providing recasts of Swords To Plowshares, Path To Exile, CounterspellSpell Snare, Mana Drain, and Spell Pierce. It can even be used as a Combo Tool, a la Paradoxical Outcome, Yawgmoth's Will, High Tide and even cards like Time Walk and Time Warp. Oh, it also leaves a body behind, in addition to all this flexibility.

Not to mention the powerful interaction of Snapcaster with all the tutors - Gifts Ungiven and Intuition above all - where basically you can fetch out all the Instant/Sorcery cards you want to play, having the possibility to play them at a cheap cost via flashback, even if your opponent decides not give them to you.

It's also relevant that Snapcaster has Flash, making it ideal for leaving mana open for other cards in your hand, while still providing the flexible pressure of any card in the graveyard. In Vintage, it also works well with cards like Paradoxical Outcome, as it can come back for another recast after it's been bounced to your hand.

Not the Only One

Monastery Mentor Containment Priest Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Besides Snapcaster, other Human Wizards are populating the Vintage Scene nowadays.

Control and Combo decks have, for quite a while, had few to no creatures, except for utility creatures like Dark Confidant or finishers like Darksteel Colossus and Blightsteel Colossus. Times are changing though, and Vintage is welcoming back creatures.

Humans that see play aside our friend Snappy are Young Pyromancer, the well-known Monastery Mentor, the Legendary Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Containment Priest, as a main deck or sideboard card, depending on the metagame.

These cards are all similar - a low casting cost, an often immediate and/or powerful effect and in some cases, strong interplay with Snapcaster itself.

With Young Pyromancer in play, one cast of Snapcaster gives you the spell you flash back, a 1/1, and a 2/1 off of a single card. With Jace, you can more easily discard useable spells, as Snappy can always give those spells back to you for the low, low cost of two mana.

Some of these synergistic cards like Mentor and Pyromancer are fully capable of finishing games in a few turns, allowing your finishers to be more synergistic with the control strategy you're playing.

A New Approach to Control in Vintage

Counterspell Mana Drain
Snapcaster Control revives the concept of control decks dynamically.

If, back in the day, you told "The Deck" and "Keeper" players to design the card of their dreams – that card would probably look like Snapcaster Mage.

This is because Snapcaster effectively removes the requirement that control deck runs spells that >1-for-1, as Snapcaster does that for you, with your regular old efficient 1-for-1 spells.

You no longer need Mind Twist, Wrath of God, Balance, or Skeletal Scrying.

You basically build your advantage with a few mana and with substitution-costs, keeping your mana low and relying on cheap, efficient solutions – all of which can be replayed later with Snappy.

In the past, Control Decks in Vintage (and going back to Old School) needed to gather huge amounts of Mana to take full control of the game. Also, they relied on complete dominance over the game in order to win. You needed to take everything from your opponent, while still having multiple answers for anything they might draw.

Snapcaster allows control decks to play more tempo-ish or combo-ish games, while still having the pure control option, without having to fully commit to "no-win con control."

Basically, you are a control deck that creates board and card advantage with low mana investment and a very fluid and synergistic shell.. not bad at all!

The Brews

Jace, the Mind Sculptor Dack Fayden
Having 3 or 4 Snappy in your deck maximizes the power of your efficient answers. Then, Planeswalkers close the game.

Three Snapcaster Mage, 1 Black Lotus, 3 or 4 Moxes, the mighty Library of Alexandria, 4 Preordain, all the Blue card-drawing bombs, a bunch of Dack Faydens and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and eight zero-mana counters.

That's the baseline, generally built around an Izzet shell with the majority of versions playing White as a third color for efficient removal like Swords to Plowshares and Fragmentize and to have the possibility of playing Monastery Mentor and Containment Priest in the main deck or in the sideboard.

Another card that is often in the main deck is a pair of Pyroblast, pretty much dead against MUD and Dredge, but very effective in mirror games and against Paradoxical Outcome decks.

Even if the brews of Snapcaster/UR Control can differ quite a lot in terms of cards and choices, the game strategy remains the same: some manipulation, quick counters, and removal in the first few turns to drop a Planeswalker or a Mentor/Pyromancer and then use them to build decisive card/board advantage that will take control of the game and lead you to victory.

1. Pyromancer's Wrath

A solid control deck that relies on the possibility of creating an army of 1/1 elementals while you remove or counter opponent's threats, thanks also to Snapcasters.

Deck is very solid and with a good mix of board, draw, and permissions, giving you a quite versatile and implacable machine to be piloted to victory.

As you can see, the manabase consists of a mere 17 lands, three Moxes, and one Lotus, giving the opportunity to play more spells and also to sideboard the interesting and effective "Null-Rod strategy" against Paradoxical and Artifact Mana Intensive decks.

Note that this version doesn't play white but does play a pair of Tropical Island for Ancient Grudge, another deadly and very effective card, also very strong with a Young Pyromancer in play.

2. Snapcaster Mentor

This version features more "White" than any of our other lists, with Mentor, Swords and Containment Priest in the sideboard and also a Rest In Peace.

White opens also to 1 Wear // Tear. This deck tends to act as a pure control until it finds the Mentor and closes the game in similar fashion to combo decks.

What I like in this list is the consistent sideboard against all archetypes: MUD (with STPS, Sprees and a Mountain SB) Dredge with RiP, Ravenous Traps, and Flusterstorm, and Combo with Flusterstorm and the Mindbreak Trap in the main deck.

I personally don't like the Fiery Confluence, which I would replace with a second Jace instead.

3. Prodigal Prodigy

This version basically substitutes Daddy Jace with a newer version – Jace, Vryn's Prodigy / Jace, Telepath Unbound. That gives to the deck more flexibility and stronger synergy between all the deck's components.

This also uses White as a third color, with Monastery Mentor as a finisher.

Note that this is a list from Vintage legend Stephen Menendian.

Curiously, a difference from the other lists is that it has 16 lands instead of 17, but, it has all five moxes. Note also the strong reliance on definitive solutions against dredge and MUD decks (Fragmentize, By Force, and Rest in Peace), keeping with Fragmentize the possibility to handle nasty enchantments like Oath Of Druids.

The use of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy also speeds up cards like Dig and Cruise, while giving extra targets to Snapcaster Mage.

4. Custom Versions

The deck has a strong core, but Vintage has a lot of available cards, so different brews and customizations are all over the place, shifting and pushing more on control/combo/aggro shells.

The color basis remains Jeskai, with some interesting injection like Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.

Directly from Japan, we have here a funny aggro-control version with Goblin Rabblemaster! It also uses Mentor, Pyromancer, but cuts Snappy to 2 to avoid having to many redundant mages in hand.

Interesting also here the Leyline of the Void as a sideboard choice against Dredge

The Take-Away

Snapcaster allowed control decks to switch from "mana-mana-removal-reset-counter" to an attrition strategy

Snapcaster control introduces a new way to see the archetype, based on 2 for 1 (Snapcasters, Ancient Grudge, Abrade), and relying on "silver bullets" in the Sideboard strategy (By Force, Rest in Peace, Null Rod).

Moreover, while you react to opponent threats, you also develop your strategy and board instead of waiting for a single card to win the game.

Let's try to pick up some key advantages and PROS of this archetype

  • Quick, effective, able to respond to every kind of hazard starting from the first turns
  • It can be adapted to the preferences of every player (Combo, Aggro, or Pure Control)
  • Planeswalkers act both as a finisher and as a control element giving stability to the deck
  • No "dead cards" like Voltaic Key without Time Vault or Tinker without artifacts
  • Using only 20-21 mana sources, the deck has room to maximize the number of playable spells. This also improves the targets of Snapcaster Mage.
  • Deck is less reliant on knowing the meta, as it's able to run efficient 1-for-1s that deal with pretty much anything.

And now the CONS

  • Doesn't have "random wins" or "quick wins" that can be a problem in a tournament where you have 50 minutes to win at least 2 games.
  • Main deck choices like Pyroblast, Containmennt Priest, and Fragmentize can be dead cards against some archetypes.
  • Doesn't have real or concrete solutions against aggro decks besides Swords, nor the possibility to race them
  • 3-color manabase with very few artifact mana sources and only 17 lands can lead to some mana problems.
  • Some sideboard choices - like Rest in Peace – are not synergistic with the rest of the deck

To conclude, this is the kind of deck you can rely on, especially if you like control.

Also, it's a deck that's easy to pick up and gets way better as you start to master it. Most Vintage decks are fairly linear and don't offer the same growth that control decks like these do.

Here you are close to a "Legacy" build and philosophy, where the initial hand is not that important, but you have to use your resources carefully, getting the maximum advantage from them since you don't have the "Tinker and a pile of counterspells" plan.

This makes the deck viable to become a pet deck to fine-tune and to bring to its maximum potential – which is quite high.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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