Playing Unpowered Vintage Jund at Eternal Weekend
- Andreas Reling
Vintage is a format unaffordable to many players because of the notoriously expensive Power 9 and other cards such as Mishra's Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad. Andifeated is one of those players, but that doesn't stop him from building powerful budget decks and attending Vintage tournaments.
I have not played Vintage for many years. I wanted to focus on formats that qualify for the Pro Tour, and so I quit collecting and playing with Vintage cards, although I actually loved the format. I was short on resources to spend on Magic and something had to give. With Vintage tournaments becoming rare and prices for cards getting out of hand, it made sense for me at the time to sell out and invest in Modern. While my logic wasn't off and most of my Modern cards increased in both price and demand, I still kind of regret that I got rid of my playset of Bazaar of Baghdad. But now, after I achieved my goal of attending a premier tournament in Hawaii and after many of Wizards' decisions have made grinding PTQs and Grand Prix tournaments unattractive for me, my interest shifted back to Eternal formats.
My local playgroup and I decided we wanted to go to Eternal Weekend Paris right before Christmas, in order to play the European Legacy Championship. Since none of us owns the Power 9 or other requisite Vintage staples like Mishra's Workshop, we decided to brew up some fun budget decks and play the Vintage Championship as a kind of funny side event.
I contacted Eternal aficionado Niklas Holtmann after studying up on the latest Vintage tournament results. Together we came to the conclusion that Collector Ouphe is a pretty busted Magic card in a format full of powerful artifacts that support the mana base of most competitive decks. Also, Wrenn and Six alongside Wasteland and Strip Mine sounded like a good idea in an environment with a lot of duals, low land counts, and some decks relying on key lands like Mishra's Workshop and Bazaar of Bagdhad. To complete the circle, no Vintage deck is truly playable without having a strong main-deck plan against broken graveyard strategies. Luckily, Deathrite Shaman, one of Magic's most broken creatures, fits perfectly into our shell. Along with our potent land destruction, it can easily steal a preboarded game from Dredge.
The Result of Brewing
The list I registered for Eternal Weekend looked like this:
|Unpowered Vintage Jund, 18th Place at Vintage Championship, December 22|
Elvish Spirit Guide and Lotus Petal is kind of our Moxen for poor people, as the cards help to power out Dark Confidant, Wrenn, or Collector Ouphe on the first turn which is essential when being on the draw. Spirit Guide being a creature also comes in handy, as we need to put a clock on our opponent when we made them stumble with our disruption and even a 2/2 for 3 mana can do the job alongside Collector Ouphe.
I wasn't sure on how to split my interaction. Ancient Grudge main deck sounded nice in theory as it's the best card against Ravager Shops and not bad against Paradoxical Outcome and other decks with plenty of artifacts. Pyroblast felt mandatory in order to beat powered decks featuring Ancestral Recall. Since blue planeswalkers are pretty popular in Vintage and what with Dredge playing Force of Will, I didn't fear to end up without targets for it.
A thing I wasn't sure about was my split between Assassin's Trophy and Abrupt Decay. I liked the idea of Trophy being another way to destroy utility lands and screw decks without basic lands as well as serving as a catch-all answer to big permanents such as Bolas's Citadel or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. At the same time, I was scared of having my removal for Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft, and Monastery Mentor countered in matches against the many copies of Xerox strategies that are currently rising in the metagame.
77 players gathered for the European Vintage Championship and I was more than excited to finally play some Paper Vintage again after so many years of retirement.
While two of my friends played against some budget decks, all of my seven opponents used full-powered, tier one Vintage decks. As mine was designed to punish powered decks, I wouldn't call this unlucky. On the other hand, I consider Jund to be the top predator among budget decks and it should be a favorite to beat all kinds of hatebear decks. After all, my list features a plethora of removal spells alongside the big and mighty Tarmogoyf, and it is completely immune against commonly used hatebears such as Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Collector Ouphe, Kataki, War's Wage, and cards like Spirit of the Labyrinth that punish other Vintage strategies quite hard.
Round 1: Jeskai Xerox/Walkers, 1-0
Between a decent removal package featuring Swords to Plowshares, nasty blue card-advantage spells, threats like Dreadhorde Arcanist, and powerful planeswalkers, this is one of the most popular and successful decks at the moment. Luckily, Jund can efficiently attack them on all of their vulnerable axes. With Ouphe being good against their power, Goyf outclassing all of their creatures while beating down on their planeswalkers, and their mana base falling prey to our Wrenn-and-Strip Mine lock, this pairing should be favorable for us. They usually don't have good sideboard cards against us, but it's important for us to stop them from snowballing into card advantage and threats. Bring in the maximum number of Pyroblast as well as cards like Plague Engineer. I don't like Ancient Grudge against those decks, and we can also shave some fast mana.
Round 2: Paradoxical Outcome, 2-0
After putting three copies into the Top 4 of the event, it has become pretty clear to me that this is the deck to beat in Vintage right now. I could see the namesake card of the deck, Paradoxical Outcome, restricted, but until then, we fair unpowered mages need to find a way to beat them. Turns out that Collector Ouphe is just the card for the job, as it nullifies a huge chunk of their cards and they can't afford to play many main-deck answers. The playset of Mindbreak Trap in my sideboard is exactly for this matchup. With more Blasts as well as Cindervines and Plague Engineer for their usual one-of Monastery Mentor, we should be well equipped to win this matchup. You can cut Wrenn and Six and the creature removal here, but make sure to leave in at least one copy of Angrath's Rampage in order to deal with tinkered Blightsteel Colossus from their sideboard.
Round 3: Sultai Midrange, 3-0
This seems to be the most popular deck in all of Vintage right now. It kind of uses our strategy but also incorporates blue cantrips, counterspells, and powerful card draw in Ancestral Recall, Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Gush. I'm afraid of this matchup as they can go toe to toe with us in midgame top-deck wars but have better ways to refuel their hand after resources have been traded away. I was able to win in three grueling games, though I felt lucky coming out ahead and realized that it may have been a mistake to cut down to two main-deck Pyroblasts and not to include any further card advantage engines such as Sylvan Library, Liliana, the Last Hope, or Liliana of the Veil. My sideboard also doesn't offer any big improvements for grind fests like these, while there are some main-deck cards that are almost useless and want to be exchanged for better cards. For example, we don't need fast mana, Grudges, or Thorn of Amethyst in this matchup.
Round 4: Paradoxical Outcome, 3-1
When I faced Paradoxical Outcome the second time, it became crystal clear to me that missing the one-of Chalice of the Void Niklas advised me to play really came to cost me. While the card isn't comparable to Legacy's notorious Chalice on one, which nullifies big chunks of most tier one decks, there is a reason why it's restricted in Vintage. It's even good in a deck like this, where many cheap cards are being played. The trick is to always put it on zero charge counters on the first turn of the game. That way, powered decks can't resolve their Moxen and Black Lotus, completely shutting down the combo engine of Outcome decks. I lost a very close third game where I presented lethal damage and was holding Mindbreak Trap, but my opponent was able to force through his game-winning Outcome with his last card in hand being Pyroblast.
Round 5: Dredge, 4-1
Dredge is quite simply a busted deck. With Force of Vigor, it was able to cut down on all mana sources and to play more free spells like Unmask, Force of Will, and Hollow One, which makes it even scarier. When my opponent quickly took a bunch of mulligans, the chance he'd be on Dredge increased dramatically, as it's the only archetype happy to do so on the search for its sole key card.
I was pretty happy about the pairing myself, as I kept a hand featuring a first-turn Deathrite Shaman backed up by Wasteland to steal the first game. Postboard games against Dredge have become more difficult. The threat of Bazaar of Baghdad remains, but they tend to have more generally useful cards in hand and are much more likely to interact with your hate cards because they don't need to find solutions plus lands to cast them. Force of Vigor being able to get rid of two copies of Leyline of the Void on its own means it's sometimes better to start the game with one Leyline on the battlefield even if you have two of them.
Take out your planeswalkers, Trophies, Grudges, Rampages, and Decay. Bring in more Blasts to fight their countermagic, Plague Engineer, and all the graveyard hate your sideboard offers. Ouphes and Bolt are not too shabby as they increase your ability to finish the game fast while offering options to exile Bridge from Below. Remember to mulligan aggressively. The number of cards in your hand doesn't matter as much as the quality, since they're pretty low on cards themselves and two-for-one themselves regularly pitching for alternative costs and Bazaar activations anyway. All that matters is that you stop them from doing their thing.
Round 6: Four-Color Walker Control/Czech Pile, 4-2
This was a win-and-in against Tomáš Már. The Czech Eternal specialist loves decks like this and I expected him to play a lot of smartly chosen answers with an outstanding late game. I thought of my deck as the underdog but stole game one from him with big and numerous Goyfs that lined up well with his removal and creature suite. The second game was a grind fest, and when I realized that time was running out while my chances to win the game dipped below ten percent, I conceded in order to make a decider happen. I kept a risky six-card hand featuring double Wasteland, which would suck against Deathrite Shaman but would be acceptable against a slow hand. I got punished by his decent draw. My lists's lack of card-advantage engines and his skillful maneuvering around Pyroblast came to cost me this match. With a more tuned decklist and more routine in Vintage gameplay, I think I could've come out victorious.
And that was the end of my run. My chance to enter the Top 8 playoffs. The winner of this match could draw into a clean cut without a doubt. Since the announced prize payout was worth about 640 recent booster packs per Top 8 player, the stakes had been incredibly high. I was quite frustrated to lose such an important match as I had had a couple of those in 2019. However, I quickly shook it off as I realized my next round would still leave me in contention for prizes.
Round 7: Dredge 4-3
A quick look at the standings showed that trying to draw into the Top 16 prize payout might be risky. I'm not a big fan of intentional draws anyway, unless it's about advancing to the playoffs, so my opponent and I decided to play for the 30 booster packs that were still on the line. I didn't take enough mulligans and kept quite a mediocre hand in the third game, featuring only one Grafdigger's Cage and no other outstanding cards against Dredge. My opponent was able to counter the Cage with Force of Will and ripped me into pieces with his superior gameplan. Don't keep a hand that loses to one piece of interaction against Dredge and can only fight them on one axis. You need a mix of disruption and multiple pieces to beat their average draw!
After losing the last two matches I can't deny that I was quite down, more defeated than andifeated. I still sat at the top tables of the tournament area and took this picture of my beautiful deck, which I had crafted on my own some days prior:
When I finished laying out my deck and taking pictures, some players walked up to me and told me that they had watched my last two matches and were proud of me for getting this far with a creative budget list. They congratulated me on my braveness and result. Suddenly all the sadness was gone and I realized my feat: I ventured into a format I hadn't touched in years, studied the successful decks, and cooperated with friends to build a deck that would beat them. I had a chance to enter the Top 8 and was fighting for prizes two matches in a row. I felt that my deck was favored against most decks in the field and still found room for improvement.
Looking Back on an Awesome Weekend
Actually, this whole experience was very enjoyable and rewarding. I met up with my friends and learned that Julian went 4-3 with unpowered Eldrazi and Philip had converted his 3-0 start with Humans/Hatebears into a 3-4 finish. It became clear to me that if we put more work and practice into our decklists and gameplay, we can do well in Vintage tournaments even without the Power 9, Workshops, or Bazaar of Baghdad.
I plan to attend many Cardmarket Series stops this year and since there is a Vintage main event at every one of them, chances are I'll play some more tournaments this year and will tune my Jund deck even further. The things I took away from Eternal Weekend and that could help you build your own budget deck are the following:
- Collector Ouphe is ridiculously powerful
- Pyroblast is so much better than it looks in the main deck
- Mishra's Workshop decks are on a decline, so don't try to preboard against them
- Keep an eye on your late game, Vintage decks grind pretty well
- Don't hesitate to play in a tournament because you own no Power or your deck idea isn't popular
To improve my Jund deck specifically, I'll remove the Grudges from the main. I'll try to incorporate Chalice of the Void and add more Pyroblasts. More Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay is the removal I want and upping the number of Thoughtseize will help me to fight combo decks and blue decks in general. This way, I can make room in the sideboard for cards like Sylvan Library or more planeswalkers such as Liliana of the Veil or Liliana, the Last Hope. To get my latest decklist, simply follow me on social media, I'll certainly post it on Twitter and on Instagram, when the next Vintage tournament takes place and my list is updated.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.