The Finest Vintage: Breach
- Florian Koch
The time has come to take a look at a deck that does what most people want to do when they think of Vintage. After Dredge and Shops, it's time to examine the blue part of the Vintage metagame and what is currently its most prominent representative. It's time to power up and jump into the breach!
Playing with Bazaars or Shops is all fine and well. (If you're interested in these decks, check out my previous two articles.) But nothing is going to increase an old Magic player's heart rate like drawing a starting hand with Ancestral Recall. If you want to do that, Breach is probably one of the best choices in Vintage right now. It comes with an endearing seven of nine power pieces and will reward your devotion with the occasional turn one kill, meaning resistance is futile indeed …
Star Trek jokes aside, why should you choose Breach among the plethora of blue Vintage decks? First there is of course the namesake card itself—Underworld Breach. It combines with Brain Freeze and Black Lotus for a potential turn one kill, which frankly happens only very rarely. Breach is in fact one of the slower combo decks in Vintage. Slow is only relative, though, and the deck makes up for it with versatility and resilience. Breach in particular is powerful in almost every situation after the earliest stage of the game and comparatively hard to counter, evading Pyroblast, Flusterstorm, and Mental Misstep.
Aside from the qualities of Breach itself—qualities that even a certain Yawgmoth will not deny—the deck has access to the most powerful sideboard cards: red for Pyroblasts and all the artifact hate loathsome to the Shops decks; black for the cards that really hurt Dredge. Breach also dabbles in white, which gives it access to Monastery Mentor, a solid plan b that fits seemlessly into the strategy.
The Stock List
|Breach by Michael Bonde, December 6, 2020|
Riding the Beast
When you play a deck with tons of card selection and interaction, you will inevitably have a lot of choices, which means there are lots of small, innocuous decisions that add up. In contrast to Dregde and Ravager Shops, this makes it all but impossible to give hard and fast rules on what you should and shouldn't do.
On the strategic level almost everything comes down to: "Do I need to combo fast or can I play a longer game?" Understanding this helps you make informed decisions and will define how you play tutors in particular. If you can play a longer game, then you will usually tutor for Ancestral Recall, which gives you an immediate boost on cards if it resolves. And even if it doesn't, having Ancestral Recall in your graveyard increases the power of your fourth land—hold a fetch land back if possible!—via Mystic Sanctuary and sets up very powerful Underworld Breaches even when you don't have the combo.
If you can't afford to play a long game, then you will naturally search for a missing combo piece. As long as you are new to the deck, you should make a conscious effort to figure out whether you can start the combo or not. When you have everything, this is straightforward of course, but most of the time you will have something like Demonic Tutor and Underworld Breach and then you need to be able to figure out if you have enough mana and cards in your graveyard to tutor for Lotus, cast Lotus and Breach, tutor from the grave for Brain Freeze, and then cast the Brain Freeze. Do that diligently a few times and you will quickly get the knack of it. But if you're lazy, you may never develop this skill and will mess up occasionally.
Deconstructing the Deck
Going forward I want to make more of a conscious effort to talk about deck building options and when they make sense instead of simply justifying my own choices. Circumstances change anyway and this way you will be better equipped to make informed changes on your own.
The mana base is straightforward. You are playing a mainly blue-red deck and Volcanic Island is your best land by far. Having access to four is important to maximize Shattering Spree postboard. The second Underground Sea protects you against Wasteland, a protection that is not required for white mana as the deck only contains one white card anyway. You run all the Moxen but Emerald, which is too weak in a deck that doesn't do much with colorless mana. Lotus Petal is mostly a backup for Black Lotus. It's a bit harder to combo off with Petal but still easy enough. Sometimes you are also very happy to drop a turn two Narset or Mentor.
Some people run Lion's Eye Diamond, which is very good in the combo but completely useless otherwise. If you are doing this, you are missing the point of the deck in my opinion, because Breach is usually not hellbent on comboing. In the blue matchups you instead often play a longer game where you fight for position and try to take over with your card draw and Pyroblasts. If you still fancy LED, there is also the option of putting it in the sideboard. I did not try this and have not seen anybody else doing it, but it might actually be worth it. The idea would be to facilitate fast combo kills against Dregde and Shops decks. If you are not worried about counters, LED often enables these even better than Black Lotus.
The combo pieces start with three Underworld Breaches. You almost never want to draw two, so I don't recommend playing four despite the ridiculous power of the card. You also have a lot of powerful cantrips and tutors at your disposal, so you usually won't have problems finding one. As for the two Brain Freeze—you don't really need two, but when you draw Brain Freeze naturally, you often want to get rid of it via Force of Will but still need a backup for later.
The lone Monastery Mentor is your plan b. Sometimes you just draw Mentor and that is absolutely fine, often winning on its own, but the main reason to have something like Mentor is to be able to beat cards like Leyline of the Void in a convenient way. If you loath the idea of going for a fourth color, either in general or because you expect a Wasteland-filled meta, then you might consider Sprite Dragon as an alternative. Sprite Dragon is not as impressive as Mentor of course, but you still get a powerful alternative win condition that has the added advantage of being disposable to Force of Will if you don't need it.
On the cantrip and tutor front you basically play everything you can. These cards help you find your combo and your protection while stocking your graveyard for delving/escaping. Most of them are on the restricted list anyway, and once you have crossed off all those, there is still room for some more. Including four Preordain is the natural next step, and after that we are down to Night's Whisper. Bonde ran three and although you will probably want a few yourself this is undoubtedly one of the weakest cards in the deck. And for a card not to be blue is often a disadvantage, especially for situational ones, though it is convenient for a source of card advantage that cannot be pyroblasted.
If you check the Restricted List, one card notably absent here is Mystical Tutor. Once you have cast a few Merchant Scrolls you'll know why. After Ancestral Recall there is simply not all that much to get. Mystical Tutor has more flexibility but still overlaps with Merchant Scroll so there will be dimishing returns, and being down a card doesn't compensate for the added flexibility. On the other hand you really like to find that Recall and blue cards are never completely useless anyway. In the end I think it would make sense to include Mystical Tutor if you have another reason for it, for example if you choose a Tinker package as your plan b instead of Mentor.
The remaining slots in the deck go to interaction. Force of Will is undisputed of course and adding a fifth free counter in Force of Negation has become the de facto standard for many Vintage decks. Mental Misstep is also irreplacable (I even advocate for it in Shops …). Lightning Bolt is basically another must-include as it doubles as a win condition in matchups where you can't mill them, for example when they have Emrakul. The cheap interaction is often useful too. This leaves us with a few remaining slots, the exact number depending on your other choices. The standard way to build Breach is to fill up the deck with cards that are good against other blue decks, mainly Pyroblast and Flusterstorm.
A note on Red Elemental Blast. I have seen it in a few Breach decks and I prefer it's original artwork to Pyroblast, too, but please don't play it. This might actually be the deck with the biggest delta between the two cards in the history of the Magic. Pyroblast triggers your Mentor at will, fuels your Breach when you need it, it can steal things with Dack Fayden, it can create an additional copy for Flusterstorm, and shave a mana off Dig Through Time. These are all things I've needed to do already, and Red Elemental Blast does none of it. Please don't cripple yourself so needlessly.
The last card that made it into Michael's list is Abrade, but I really don't like it. Every opener with Abrade feels like a mulligan. You don't know if the card does anything game one and if it's bad you can't even pitch it to Force. On the other hand I understand the appeal of having another board-interactive card besides Lightning Bolt. There are several options to choose from, though. Abrade is never great but decent against Shops and White Eldrazi/White Weenie style decks. A second Lightning Bolt comes with the same profile but is more efficient, at the cost of not being able to answer Trinisphere, Chalice of the Void, and the like.
A card that I have not seen in use elsewhere, but that I liked myself is Fire // Ice. It doesn't kill Archon of Emeria or Dreadhorde Arcanist, which is a big drawback, but it still covers a lot of ground, taking care of Thalia, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Foundry Inspector, and Phyrexian Revoker to name a few of the worst offenders. The tap effect is also useful on occasion and can even get you out from under Trinisphere for a turn. Another solid option is Chain of Vapor. I am not a huge fan, but it comes with the bonus of taking care of Leyline of the Void—much appreciated utility postboard. Some people also play Teferi, Time Raveler for this reason, but I think this one is too slow and expensive. Against a Leyline from Dredge this will always be too slow and when you can afford to play Teferi against Shops you are out of the worst anyway.
Another card that didn't make it into this list but should be considered is Dack Fayden. Dack finds something to steal against every other deck and fits really nicely into Breach, filling up your graveyard and hypothetically even discarding Pyroblasts against decks where you don't need them. In practice the latter part rarely happens and multiple activations are also also only realistic against other blue decks, which often pack Pyroblast. Having Dack blasted sucks even if it happens from play because it is such a tempo loss. In contrast to Narset you are not even up a card when Dack is blasted from play. Interestingly it also comes up every once in a while that Dack ultimates, which turns Pyroblast into Confiscate. I even won a game this way where all other ways to victory were sealed off. Turns out I'm still rather undecided to the card. Dack has his moments, but he is not a must-play for sure.
As you might expect sideboard cards mainly come in three categories: cards against Bazaar decks, Shop decks, and blue decks.
Against Bazaar decks, people usually rely on Ravenous Trap, sometimes Surgical Extraction, in many cases a Tabernacle to tutor for, and occasionally a few copies of Pithing Needle. If people are really desperate, they sometimes also go for Leyline of the Void. However, spell-based hate better fits the deck as it fuels your graveyard and also dodges Force of Vigor, which most Dregde players will bring anyway. A card that I almost never see is Yixlid Jailer and frankly I don't understand that. Jailer sabotages them completely and with Petal, Lotus, and four Moxen you will often be able to cast Jailer on turn one. In game two they will have no answers for the Jailer once it hits play and then they can't do anything besides hoping to win with Hollow One. For the third game they might bring Sickening Shoal, but that means they will have to cut corners somewhere else. And in case you were wondering, the effect doesn't hurt you at all. If you play Underworld Breach with Jailer in play, your cards will gain the escape ability after their abilities have been removed.
I have not been all that impressed with the Tabernacle in this deck. Dredge will still pressure you with Ichorid and Creeping Chill, thus you should probably use your tutors to find combo pieces rather than looking for Tabernacle. I only added the Yixlid Jailers relatively late, though, and they do play nicely with Tabernacle, giving you a convenient way to shut down their remaining route to victory in Hollow One or even clearing up Zombie tokens and Narcomoebas if your Jailer was a little late to the party.
For the Shops matchup the question comes down to: By Force or Shattering Spree? The appeal of Spree is mainly that it is much better at getting you out from under Sphere of Resistance while By Force doesn't force you to go all-in on Volcanic Islands. Considering that you will cut Night's Whisper for the artifact hate anyway, the price of favoring Volcanic Islands is not that great, though. Some people also include a few copies of Hurkyl's Recall, which seems nice with Merchant Scroll, but realistically that is never happening and then I prefer Spree/By Force, which also give you a decent control plan when you wreck their board time and again helped by Breach. For this matchup you should also have a Mountain in the sideboard as a stable red mana source. While this is generally advisable, running Shattering Spree makes this even more important than if you relied on By Force.
Wear // Tear is a flexible little card that is actually useful in a lot of matchups including Shops and Bazaar decks. Against Shops it's obviously going to find a target and against Dredge it mainly works as a precaution against Leyline of the Void, sometimes destroying a Hollow One for free on top. It also has uses in the mirror to destroy Breach, against White Weenie decks to kill Spirit of the Labyrinth and against Oath.
The fourth Pyroblast, or really any remaining copies if you choose to play less than three main, should make their way into the sideboard.
The main deck is fairly close to Michael's version. It really is a very fine-tuned machine and I only made two changes at the fringes of the deck. For the sideboard I obviously went for the in my opinion criminally underrated Jailer. The Abrades are there to have some better play against white decks without wasting sideboard slots completely. The second Abrade might be too much though. Maybe that one should be a Lightning Bolt.
Matchups and Sideboarding
The Dredge matchup is usually straightforward. Preboard your only consideration is speed. If you kept a hand that is close to comboing, that can be sufficient. If you kept a more flexible hand with counters and cantrips, it probably won't be. Postboard you want to deploy a Yixlid Jailer as quickly as possible and if you manage that you have only two other objectives: finding a Force to protect the Jailer and protecting yourself from Hollow One. This can be achieved by winning yourself, or by finding Tabernacle, Wear // Tear, Dack Fayden, or Monastery Mentor. The moment you have a Jailer the game is really yours to lose …
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Ravager Shops & Golos Stax
Generally Ravager Shops is favored preboard, and postboard it is your objective not to get yourself locked away, as your sideboard cards usually take over if you don't. There is not a hard and fast rule if you should attack their threats or their disruption, but you will usually be able to figure out how much the disruption annoys you. In most cases it needs to go, but sometimes a single Sphere of Resistance is manageable and unlike their creatures the Sphere doesn't kill you.
Golos Stax shouldn't pose much of a problem. Your sideboard cards are just as devastating as against Ravager Shops and they don't have a real clock, so even if they have a lot of disruption, you often have time to dig out of the worst and bury them. And if they don't have that much disruption, they die quickly. Postboard take a moment to consider how Mindbreak Trap affects you. When you see it coming, it's usually not that crippling. As they don't pressure you, you don't even need to force a combo kill, you can play cantrips and more artifact destruction from your graveyard instead.
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In most of these matchups you can play a waiting game for quite a while. When they resolve something like a Tarmogoyf or a Dreadhorde Arcanist, then you know it's time to get going, but other than that you are very well equipped for the long haul with your Pyroblasts, counters, cantrips, and card draw. Mystic Sanctuary helps, too, and your Underworld Breach only gets better the longer the game goes.
Aside from "bring the fourth Pyroblast" it is almost impossible to give hard and fast sideboarding rules. The problem is that next to the core of any given deck the cards you'll see vary widely. For example against Xerox Aggro Fire // Ice is quite good if they run Lavinia and Hullbreacher, but it's bad when they only have Sprite Dragon and Dreadhorde Arcanist. Similar is true in most matchups. My general advice would be to bring Wear // Tear against any decks where you believe they might have Leyline of the Void. The price of having that one copy in your deck is much smaller than having your primary route to victory sealed off accidentally. Adding an Abrade is sensible if you think they have disruptive creatures.
If you want to bring more than the Pyroblast and you don't know what to take out then Night's Whisper is the first victim in most cases. The exception to this rule are blue-red decks. In these matchups there are a lot of one for one exchanges, and Whisper is a card advantage source that they can't pyroblast and thus probably better than Dack Fayden. Another card you often take out is Force of Negation. This one has to go against fair decks.
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These decks seem to have become more popular lately and are the main reason why I wanted to have another Abrade/Lightning Bolt in the sideboard, giving me the option of going up to four creature removal spells. They have a lot of pests in their deck, but ultimately the creature that you need to kill is Archon of Emeria. You can't hold off their flow of creatures indefinitely, but against this one you can neither win nor use Breach to recycle your creature removal, so make sure to have an answer for the Archon.
Interestingly they either play very few one-drops or only those you don't care about, or they have Cavern of Souls. It is counterintuitive, but this might make it occasionally correct to force their Mox (you should certainly counter Black Lotus). In particular, that is the case when your hand is weak to a start of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben into Glowrider. Glowrider doesn't look like much, but you can easily lose if they follow up their Mox with Cavern into Thalia and Glowrider next turn. You will probably not catch up against that all by itself, but they also have Wastelands as well as other annoying creatures. If you had forced the Mox here, then you'd get to Preordain on turn one, maybe Lightning Bolt on turn two, and suddenly you're playing an open game instead of being steamrolled.
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Tips, Tricks, Rules
One piece of specific advice regarding Flusterstorm: If you have another instant that you really want to resolve, it sometimes makes sense to wait with your instant until your opponent casts an instant or sorcery of their own. For example imagine you have Flusterstorm and Ancestral Recall in hand. You can cast Recall right away and protect it with Flusterstorm, but you can also wait for your opponent to cast Preordain and respond to that one with Ancestral Recall. They will probably try to counter your Recall, which gives you the opportunity of splitting your Flusterstorm between Preordain and the counter for your Recall, thus protecting your spell while also countering their Preordain.
When you cast Underworld Breach and suspect that they will destroy it right away, then make sure to get the most out of it by not escaping your strongest instant—usually Ancestral Recall or Vampiric Tutor—first. If you lead with another card, then they will have to destroy the Breach anyway and in response you can play that valuable instant too, even repeatedly if you have the resources.
If you really need to you can win against Emrakul with Brain Freeze. You need both Freezes and Ancestral Recall to do that. With a lot of storm—upward of ten usually—you can Brain Freeze them and when your first Brain Freeze hits Emrakul you cast the second Brain Freeze with Emrakul's shuffle-in trigger on the stack. This will temporarily deplete their library and at that point you can Recall them for the win.
Yixlid Jailer shouldn't interfere with your Breach plan at all, but there is one spot where it has a notable adverse effect: If you want to escape Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time on Magic Online, you cannot make use of their delve ability. This appears to be a bug. Elsewhere you can use delve because, according to the rules, you first put the spell onto the stack and pay later when the card is no longer in jail.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.