The Finest Vintage: Witches and New Toys on the Horizon

OdinFK

Strixhaven proved to have an impact even on the notoriously impervious-to-change Vintage format, and Modern Horizons 2 is looking poised to leave an even larger footprint. Which cards make the cut in the most powerful environment known to Magic? Some of the answers may surprise you!


sedgemoor witch - blazing rootwalla

When Strixhaven released, there were a few cards that piqued the interest of Vintage players. The one most talked about was Sedgemoor Witch. The second coming of Monastery Mentor? Play it while it's unrestricted! I jumped on the bandwagon to check out the new kid in Vintage Wonderland. The natural home for the Witch is a Grixis shell alongside Dreadhorde Arcanist, overloading on Flusterstorm. Initially I was pretty happy with the results too. However, I'm not sure whether the metagame moved on by itself or if Witch was perceived as a threat and people reacted to the card, but results dropped off steeply after a while.

I haven't played my usual 100 matches with the deck. I decided not to complete the set as near the end, lacking results, it mostly felt like a chore. I know this reads like a non-starter, but I find the deck worth talking about. It is quite elegant in some ways, but it also has parts that don't go well together. I first want to detail what works and what doesn't work here and then take a look at the newest goodies. The most recent set might be named Modern Horizons 2 for some reason, but the reason definitely isn't that it doesn't have new toys for Vintage.

Sedgemoor Starting Point

Looking for a list I liked I eventually settled on the following, originally constructed by Magic Online user kaiesu.


The main appeal of playing such a deck is that you get to use Dreadhorde Arcanist. Arcanist wants a lot of cantrips and Witch wants the same. The red Wizard is the truly great card here; it's cheap and it creates a big advantage quickly. The only problem with it is that it doesn't have a meaningful board impact. You still need to defend against Ravager Shops and you still need to attack the combo decks, which is where the Witch enters the picture. The card is appealing in that it can play both roles extremely well while having overlapping deck design constraints with the Arcanist.


dreadhorde arcanist sedgemoor witch

Before the Witch came along, similar decks usually ran green for Tarmogoyf. This is a perfectly fine choice, you even get Wrenn and Six to play with, but the problem is that your sideboard will be lacking against Bazaar decks. If you want to play fair games, Grixis is a very appealing color combination in Vintage because you get to play the blue power main, the most punishing red cards to bring in against Shops decks, and the most punishing black cards against Bazaar decks. Sedgemoor Witch finally allows us to do what we really wanted to do with Dreadhorde Arcanist all along.

Just as was the case with Doomsday, a big part of the resulting deck follows logically from deck-building constraints. You want three Dreadhorde Arcanist and two to three Sedgemoor Witch. For both cards to work properly, you definitely want everything that loosely fits the definition of a Vintage-playable cantrip. Our five trusty Forces go into every blue deck anyway. There is also an temptation to jam all the Flusterstorms. In what is somewhat unusual for a non-combo deck, you also want the full set of moxen to get that Witch into play quickly. With seven to eight artifact mana pieces Tinker is just too ridiculous of a Magic card to ignore. Narset, Parter of Veils goes in any blue deck outside of combo, and Dack Fayden is usually on board in the fair blue-red decks as well. You can read this generic sentence as: "These are great cards, but they are not absolutely critical to the deck." Finally there is room for a few more pieces of interaction and voilà, you have your deck.

Analysis

This results in a list that looks coherent and also performed quite decently initially. What follows are a few observations on what works, what doesn't, and what could be changed about it.

When you compare Sedgemoor Witch to Monastery Mentor in your mind and then actually play the deck, you quickly realize that the biggest difference is not that your tokens are smaller. It's that you produce them much less reliably as all your artifacts and planeswalkers don't trigger the Witch. In my experience that makes Sedgemoor Witch only slightly better than Young Pyromancer. In fact I wouldn't play Witch over Pyromancer if we didn't want black for the sideboard cards anyway. If you aren't into the Tinker package, you could even go for Grixis with Pyromancer and no Witches because you get access to Lurrus then. This in turn lets you drop at least one off-color mox and the Mana Crypt. Damn, so many options already …

Another problem here is that the number of cantrips is on the lower end. You really only have Preordain and the four restriced cards to flash back with Dreadhorde Arcanist. Eight cards is not horrible but frankly not optimal either. A big contributor to this problem is that you have a very high number of counters in your deck, which don't do anything with Arcanist. Overloading on Flusterstorm is also problematic in that it makes you extremely soft to Shops decks preboard. And even in many blue matchups Flusterstorms have diminishing returns. If you have too many, you will often lose to their key cards, permanents like Tarmogoyf, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Oath of Druids, or Underworld Breach. You can mitigate both of these problems if you replace two Flusterstorm with two Thoughtseize. Maybe the card is just too bad for Vintage though. I must admit I am not sure about that, but if you want to play this deck, I'd definitely advise replacing two Flusterstorm with interactive one-mana spells that you can flash back.


flusterstorm thoughtseize

Another thing I don't like about the number of Flusterstorm is that you are often forced to decide whether you want to cantrip or interact early on. If you choose to cantrip, you'll often get punished. If you choose to keep the shields up, you will often not get the opportunity to do anything with the Flusterstorm and have wasted one mana. This might not sound so bad, but blue mana is typically a critical resource early on. Again a card like Thoughtseize would work better here.

A thing that I don't understand is why everybody is running Tinker and then uses it to tutor up Bolas's Citadel. This deck is inherently weak to Shops and Bazaar decks preboard while it should be strong against combo decks. (Otherwise why play it at all?) With these specifications why not run Blightsteel Colossus or Sphinx of the Steel Wind main? Sure, it sucks to draw the fat kids, but it at least gives you some kind of plan for your bad matchups.

Aside from preboard Shops/Bazaar, Sultai is a matchup that exposes this deck's weaknesses unsparingly. You have borderline too few cantrips for Dreadhorde Arcanist and Deathrite Shaman eats the ones you have. Flusterstorm is abominable in this matchup as it counters neither their creatures nor their planeswalkers nor their interaction because they usually play Abrupt Decay these days. This means you cannot protect your Witch and you cannot expect to win against Tarmogoyf and Oko without it. Having a total of four Lightning Bolt between main deck and sideboard is a bit of a lost opportunity in this regard I think. At least two of these should probably be cards that kill Tarmogoyf with Fatal Push being the obvious choice here. Eliminate is another card that could be considered. It is super-painful that you cannot flash it back, but it kills Oko, and the mox count of this deck makes the extra colorless mana more acceptable. Either way you will not have an answer that takes care of Hollow One, which is so annoying to this deck that you should bring Shattering Spree against the Bazaar decks.

To sum it up, this is a deck with a lot of potential, mainly due to Dreadhorde Arcanist and the color combination, which gives you potent sideboard options. But the parts of the deck don't work as well together as you would like them to. Specifically at the moment there is also the problem that everybody is on Bazaar decks. If you are hellbent on playing a fair deck just now, then this is probably not the worst choice, but if you are not, then you are better off choosing a deck that is actually good against graveyard decks.

Modern Horizons 2

The set brought several new toys for Vintage players to enjoy. Unfortunately they are not evenly distributed among the big Vintage archetypes. In fact Bazaar of Baghdad decks got plenty and everybody else has to fight for scraps.


grief blazing rootwalla

The card that everybody was talking about right away is Grief. If you recall my article about the Hogaak deck, then you might also remember that I critisized it for its lack of interaction and that it has not enough ways to get Vengevine onto the battlefield quickly. Grief helps solving both of these problems neatly. Another card that is very helpful for getting Vengevine into play is Blazing Rootwalla. It is also nice that the deck gets a bit more resilient to Leyline of the Void this way as it did not beat the card as often as it pretended to do.

I am certain there is a better Hogaak list out there now than what was previously possible, but what seems to have happened is that Gaak decks have been mostly abandoned and Vengevine along with the new toys has been moved into the Squee Bazaar deck, forming the new de-facto best Bazaar build. This type of deck got another great card in Master of Death. Previously you would complement Squee, Goblin Nabob with Krovikan Horror, which was semi-reliably and suffered from a Magic Online bug for the last few months. With Master of Death you get something that returns from your graveyard like clockwork and is blue, which is amazing for your Forces.


master of death fury

Considering that the Squee-based Bazaar decks have a lot of disruption and few black cards, there is little reason to play Grief. But don't fret, there is yet another card that they have picked up instead. Fury kills Deathrite Shaman, exiles your opponent's Bridge from Below, and cleans up all those little critters from Ravager Shops. Against other Bazaar decks you also get Endurance as an additional sideboard card. As an example of what you can do with this embarrassment of riches, take a look at this:


This deck is quite disgusting. It's fast, disruptive, reliable, and resilient to hate. Actually, as long as Bazaar of Baghdad is sacrosanct, the deck might even survive unscathed a restriction or two …

In Dauthi Voidwalker the opposition got a pretty decent new hate piece too. Unfortunately it usually dies in a Fury. Void Mirror is great against this kind of deck, but you need to resolve it before they go wild and you need to get it through their seven Forces. There is also the issue that the decks best at casting an early Void Mirror are the Shops decks and they cannot conceivably play the card. Void Mirror actually turns off so much stuff from almost all decks that virtually nobody can use it.


void mirror urza's saga

The card currently talked about the most is Urza's Saga I believe. In Vintage this card gives a lot to Paradoxical Outcome decks. Suddenly you have a significant alternate win condition at an extremely low cost. Getting to fetch a Mana Vault, Sensei's Divining Top or Manifold Key (in case you have Time Vault) should also be quite powerful. Michael Bonde piloted this deck to a first place at a recent Vintage Challenge:


Should the world of Vintage return to sanity at some point, there might also be some room for Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer in the format. Maybe there are too many creatures in Vintage these days and Ragavan turns out to be too unreliable, but the combination of extra mana and extra cards for a single mana sure is appealing.

As a final card to keep an eye on, there is Thought Monitor. People will probably use this as an excuse to make Blue Stax—the world's most expensive Magic deck—happen, and who knows, maybe it even becomes a thing. Alternatively you can also try out Justin Gennari's new favorite, best worst deck: Vintage Ironworks.


Enjoy!


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



4 Comments

To leave your comment please log into your Cardmarket account or create a new account.

Negace(22.06.2021 16:08)

Thank you for the article. After seeing Void Mirror in the preview, I immediately imagined horror in the eyes of Shops players. This card is complete nonsense against them. Outcome might be also damaged by still can fight for this or answer this somehow. But Shops... Oh boy. Will Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth find its way to Shops? :) I would be really curious to see an article about this card impact on Vintage specifically one day. Or am I just overestimating Void Mirror? Maybe I am.

OdinFK
OdinFK(24.06.2021 09:49)

Negace The main problem with the card is that most decks can't reasonably play it. Everybody plays Forces and Moxen. Breach and Dooms for example even have a very hard time winning without zero mana spells. On the other hand if you try to put it into a deck like Sultai then you rarely get it into play on turn one, meaning that you are not impacting Ravager Shops or Bazaar deck enough.

Putting it this way, the strongest option might be a Dark Ritual based deck...

Negace(24.06.2021 12:28)(Edited: 24.06.2021 12:36)

Thank you for your feedback OdinFK. This is actually really good point. You are completely right. What about some Hatebears? Recently, Phil Gallagher and few others tested some Vintage Hatebears. It struggled against shops indeed. Mirror could definitely help. It indeed plays some 0 artifacts so Mirror could slow it down but it should almost always hurt the opponents more even in other matchups. I know it is not powerhouse as Blue/artifacts based decks. Also, I can see some REAL issues between Thalia and Mirror... But do you think this deck, including some other MH2 tools, is still bad? Thank you!

OdinFK
OdinFK(25.06.2021 16:20)

Negace I played against such a deck a while ago. Mirror was super-annoying, but I wouldn't know if this approach is really feasible. Something in its favor is that I have people seen doing this. The Ritual thing I suggested above is pure theory...

Mentioned Cards

cardPreview