A Vintage Brewer's Diary: 2020 in Review, Part 1
- Tom De Decker
2020 is finally behind us. As paper play was suspended, many Magic players found their way to Magic Online and Arena. Some of us Vintage boomers, however, still crave the smell of ancient cardboard. Shuffling around those broken spells. Knocking the top of the deck when we need to hit something good …
Over on the MTG Paper Vintage Discord server, we started messing around with video calls, using our phones as cameras to stream our battlefields across the globe. I've gotten to play about a dozen small Vintage events this way—which is actually quite a few more than I can usually attend in person. Even a global pandemic can have some silver lining!
Entering these tournaments is done by sending a picture of your physical deck upon registering. So after playing all these webcam events every few weeks, I found myself with a photographic Vintage diary of sorts—a collection of pictures documenting my various attempts at breaking the format. I invite you to take a seat as we look back at 2020 through the medium of paper Vintage decks. This first part will show five decks I built between February and June. In my next article, we'll look at five more decks from July until December. I hope you like pictures of old cards and broken combos!
Note: some events allow proxies. Refer to the decklists below the pictures to identify proxies as well as poorly photographed cards.
February 22: Magic Master Mol
We kick off the year with an actual in-person tournament. The nearby community in Mol (Belgium) hosts quarterly "Masters" weekends, featuring Modern, Legacy, Old School, and Vintage events, and this was their first gig of the year. Theros Beyond Death had just been released, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to breach the underworld. Here's what I used to take first place, beating the second-place Painter Breach player on tiebreakers with a record of 3-1.
|Breach Titan Oath|
For the uninitiated: if you resolve Underworld Breach with access to Black Lotus and Brain Freeze, you can set up a loop where you escape enough spells to freeze or bolt your opponent out. Here I incorporated it into an Oath of Druids shell, where both Sun Titan and Sevinne's Reclamation let you set up the combo from your graveyard. This in addition to just offering up a big monster, of course. Veil of Summer and the three-mana walkers round out the list with a "miserable 2019 cards" package. This was a blast to play, and I would end up reusing various ideas from it throughout the year.
April 26: Weekly Discord Challenge
I was invited to the Paper Vintage Discord server in mid-April. After figuring out how to use my phone as a camera and constructing a makeshift camera stand, I entered my first "paper online" event. I decided to play a personal favorite of mine: Doomsday.
I played Doomsday extensively back when Gush was still legal as a four-of and the deck killed using Tendrils of Agony or Laboratory Maniac. So when Thassa's Oracle predicted more efficient and resilient Doomsday piles, I was right on board. For those unfamiliar with the combo: once you've resolved Doomsday, you usually make a pile consisting of the following five cards from top to bottom.
Assuming you have any way to draw into the pile and one blue mana left, this wins the game on the spot. If you suspect they have removal, you can add a Street Wraith to empty your deck completely, making the Oracle's trigger lethal regardless of your devotion to blue. The trick to playing Doomsday is coming up with different combinations that win through varying pieces of interaction, but I will spare you from going too much into detail on one of my all-time favorite archetypes.
The main deck here is pretty much how I would build it today, except for the Misdirection (I'd prefer Daze/Force of Negation instead) and the second Duress (I would run a Thoughtseize over it, or maybe a Peek). However, that also means this deck was fatally flawed at the time. Notice anything missing here? You see, during Spring, Vintage was dominated by a certain new mechanic from the latest set …
Companions had entered the fray. And it seemed like most of my opponents had already figured out how great Lurrus of the Dream-Den was. My experience at the tournament quickly made it clear that not bringing a friend to the fights was a huge mistake. The Cat was out of the bag.
May 2: The Vintage Quarantine Bonanza
May marked the first big event on the Discord server, the Vintage Quarantine Bonanza. The event drew 29 players and was covered by the awesome people from 90s MTG. When deciding on what to play, I listed my findings from the past two tournaments:
- Underworld Breach is a powerful combo engine and a lot of fun.
- People don't respect Daze enough.
- Winning with Thassa's Oracle is cool.
- Lurrus of the Dream-Den is a must-play.
The new Cat-dominated metagame looked very grindy. Underworld Breach obviously plays amazing with Lurrus, so that's where I started from. I consulted various lists online and combed through my cards to pull some old favorites. Dark Confidant looked great in a low-curve deck when games tend to go long. Discovering that I own a German Seal of Fire was neat too. As I was laying out the deck, I found myself with one slot remaining. I was debating whether to include a Reanimate or an Abrade, when I thought of a card that does a bit of both: Kolaghan's Command. Here is what my final masterpiece looked like.
|Grixis Breach Featuring Lurrus|
This deck ended up being fantastic. Lurrus is an incredible Magic card, but what really pushes it over the top is how favorable it interacts with Black Lotus. The same is true for Underworld Breach. It turns out when you draw Lotus early and often in a deck like this, crazy things happen. And that's exactly what I did. I started out the event with a close 1-0-1 victory against Lurrus Paradoxical Outcome, but once the gears started turning, I cruised through the rest of the Swiss easily: 3-0, double ID into Top 8.
At this point the hands on my clock approached 1:30 in the morning, as the event was scheduled to accommodate a primarily American audience. My BUG Delver opponent proved a tough foe in the quarterfinals, but eventually I managed to claw my way past him, only to find another powerful wizard in the semifinals: the Atog Lord and fellow Lurrus Breach player, Rich Shay. You can watch our match in full here. Meeting and playing Rich was a pleasure and an honor. As for the games themselves, I think they demonstrate quite cleanly why Lurrus was such a dominant force, in particular from the Breach decks.
Both I and my finals opponent were residing in Europe, and by the time we got to the championship match, it was past four. The organizers offered us to go to sleep and play out the finals the day after, but we were determined to settle the score right then and there. Our epic match of sleep-deprived Vintage can be found here. As we concluded the finals at six a.m. I was exhausted but content. I'd played some of my best Magic despite the late hours, met a bunch of awesome people, and even got some feature matches in. My deck had proven to be a fantastic choice. Some of my personal card choices like Kolaghan's Command and Dark Confidant really overperformed. On the other hand, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Thassa's Oracle were unnecessary and should've been a third Breach and a second Brain Freeze.
My main takeaway was this though: Lurrus Breach was completely busted, and we probably wouldn't be allowed to have this much fun for long. I ran back the same 75 for the Team Serious Invitational Online the week after but didn't run as hot as I did for the VQB, stranding one match short of Top 8.
May 10: Weekly Discord Challenge
After playing two events with Lurrus Breach and establishing the deck as broken, I wanted to explore other ways to utilize the Nightmare Cat. The card had already taken over most pillars of the format, except for Bazaar decks. Which had me wondering, could I fit Lurrus into a Bazaar of Baghdad shell as well? Coincidently, my mailman had delivered a sweet little package earlier that week: a playset of German FBB Fastbonds. Those happen to go well with Bazaar and Life from the Loam. Also, they cost just a single mana, so Lurrus would let me rebuy them if they were countered, discarded, or dredged. It was time to start cooking.
A quick search provided me with this decklist by Magic Online player AntiRush, who I assume got their inspiration from Fastbond expert Zias. I could copy their list almost entirely, except for the three-drops (because of Lurrus). Missing out on Ramunap Excavator and Crucible of Worlds would obviously be an issue, but I quickly thought of Living Wish as a neat workaround. This is what my updated list looked like:
|Hatebond Featuring Lurrus|
As you can see, I was missing quite a few cards from the deck at the time. Luckily, the weekly challenges allow up to fifteen proxies, so I could take it for a spin before ordering any additional cards. It performed wonderfully. The second Tabernacle in the main was probably out of place for a deck with this many creatures, but I ended up crushing all three of my opponents and winning the tournament.
You might be wondering how this pile wins. First and foremost, it is a prison deck that wants to destroy the opponent's lands over and over again. Ouphe and Thalia keep them busy while you accrue more card advantage with Loam and dig for your actual win condition, Thespian's Stage plus Dark Depths. At other times, you just Fastbond your way into a turn one 20/20, or go Lurrus into Lotus, Lotus into two other dorks, acting as if you were just an average Zoo deck. You'd be surprised at how often a "fair" assortment of disruptive beaters goes the distance against opponents who kept a sketchy hand.
The deck also has a late-game "finisher move," where you assemble Fastbond plus Glacial Chasm and Wish for Ramunap Excavator. Chasm prevents the damage from Fastbond when you make additional land drops, so once you have Excavator, this lets you replay any number of lands from your graveyard. You can then Wasteland your own duals to generate infinite mana. Add in Bazaar or Horizon Canopy, and you can mill away or draw your entire deck. Now the world is your oyster. Create Marit Lage, replay your little dorks off Lurrus, and pass to an opponent locked under Collector Ouphes and Thalia, with Tabernacle triggers on any eventual creatures they might have, without any lands in play. The deck really had a surprising amount of play to it and often left my opponents guessing.
As expected, Lurrus was banned shortly after, and the format moved back to its pre-Ikoria state. I tried this deck again without its companion the week after the banning, but without the Cat's recursion ability, it became too vulnerable to removal and counterspells on key pieces. For the sake of completeness, here's the post-Lurrus list I settled on, with way fewer proxies too:
June 14: Weekly Discord Challenge
With Lurrus out of the picture, I started wondering if any of the other companions were worth trying out. The update to the companion rules that came with the banning announcement meant a serious downgrade of their power level, but that wouldn't stop me from trying. I had already seen various lists from people trying Lutri and Yorion "good stuff" decks, but my eye fell on a little Fox instead.
Before Underworld Breach was printed, my previous go-to decks for serious events had been Paradoxical Outcome (PO) and Jeskai Xerox. It happens to be that the core of the PO deck, aside from Monastery Mentor, already obeyed Zirda, the Dawnwaker's companion condition. You lose out on a few other strong options like Snapcaster Mage, Mystic Remora, or a main-deck Robot to Tinker into, but those were all flex slots anyway.
First, I added Grim Monoliths, which opened up the potential to generate infinite mana with Zirda, as well as playing reasonably well with PO itself. Time Vault was the next obvious inclusion, since Monolith and Sensei's Divining Top already reward you for having a Manifold Key in your deck. To offset the loss of Mentor, I topped off the deck with a variety of other finishers: Urza, Karn, and Saheeli.
|Paradoxical Fox ft. Zirda|
This deck is capable of doing crazy things. However, that raw power came at the cost of what I think is the modern PO deck's biggest strength: the ability to play a control game. As I remodeled the traditional version to accommodate Zirda and the different win conditions, I ended up cutting too deep into the counterspell suite and the cantrip/delve engine. To be honest, I also have no idea why I didn't include a Narset, Parter of Veils in this list. As for the Zirda-specific slots, the third Monolith was certainly too much, as the card really isn't that good. The infinite mana combo did not come up very often, nor was it really needed. I did have one game where it rendered my Outcome invulnerable to the Flusterstorm my opponent was sandbagging, which was nice.
All in all, this was a fun experiment, but the concessions necessary to include Zirda didn't really feel worth it. The traditional Paradoxical Outcome deck's main problem currently is the adoption of upward of three main-deck Pyroblasts in most of the blue decks. While Zirda in theory sidesteps that battle, neither its body nor its ability rarely matter enough to carry a game and act as a reasonable plan B. The Fox was not the hero PO needed. At least for a while, I would no longer be bringing a friend to my battles.
Five Down, Five to Go
With the Age of Companions behind us, it was back to the drawing board. Tune in next time, when we will look at five more decks from the second half of the year. I hope you enjoyed the pictures and the read!
Tom De Decker
@BLC_Tom on Twitter
KabouterMuilpeer#7236 on Discord
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.