A Beginner's Guide to Vintage
Vintage is a format with not only a banned list, but also a restricted list. The banned list includes cards with things like ante and dexterity requirements that are no longer a part of Magic. The restricted list, on the other hand, means you can only play 1 copy of a restricted card in your entire deck. Other than those 2 lists, every card in Magic's history is legal to play as a 4-of.
Vintage can be an expensive format to get into since there are some rare and expensive staples, but there are some helpful tips one can use to maximize their money spent. The cheapest way to enter Vintage is through Magic Online. Magic Online has more supply of Vintage staples and so building a Vintage deck can be even cheaper than some Standard decks. For example, a Dredge deck might cost under 300 tickets (approximately $285 USD). There are also multiple tournaments per week that start on Magic Online in addition to large monthly events. If you enjoy Vintage or want to get started in Vintage, there is little reason not to start with Magic Online. You can check out our Beginner’s Guide to MTGO to learn more.
Some people prefer to play with paper cards. The next best way to get into Vintage is using proxies. Proxies are placeholder cards that allow you to play cards without owning them. Proxies are not sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast and therefore cannot be used in tournaments. Proxying expensive cards while purchasing the cheaper ones can not only help your local store, but also allow you to begin building your Vintage collection while trying out multiple decks by proxying the non-overlapping cards.
So how much does this all cost? On Magic Online a deck can cost between 300-1000 tickets (approximately $285 - $950 USD). In paper, decks without proxies can start at anywhere from $3000 to $10,000 USD depending on the deck and the condition of the cards. Naturally, the cost of the decks go down as the number of proxies increase, but the bottom line is that the starting point of paper Magic is about 10 times more expensive than the end result of Magic Online.
There are 6 main archetypes in the Vintage format and within those archetypes are metagame decisions and personal preferences.
First up there are the "Big Blue" decks. They commonly center around cards like Mana Drain and Thirst for Knowledge, aiming to play a slower game based around card advantage and counterspells. Their finishers can include Tinker for some large artifact creature, the Time Vault+Voltaic Key combo, Planeswalkers, and Oath of Druids. It is best to not try to play a fair game with these decks as their natural tendency is to be able to grind out victories. There are also faster varieties of this deck that play Thoughtcast and many artifact accelerants to try to get ahead on resources, but they are vulnerable to hate.
Next we have the combo decks. There are 3 main varieties of combo decks, but they all share something in common. Their goal is to cast as much fast mana as possible and kill you with their win condition as soon as possible. The first type of combo deck is known as "Belcher". The goal of this deck is to win as fast as possible with a Goblin Charbelcher. It is very vulnerable to hate cards but when it is allowed to go off it is one of the fastest decks around. Next is the Doomsday deck, which aims to win with either a flurry of spells into a Tendrils of Agony or with the signature card Doomsday to set up a win. The Doomsday deck takes some control elements of Big Blue decks to protect itself from hate cards and is a very resilient combo deck. It is very difficult to pilot, but the rewards are there. Finally we have Dark Petition decks. They play a handful of discard spells to force through their lethal Tendrils of Agony. This deck is in between Belcher and Doomsday in terms of speed and ability to handle disruption.
The third archetype is commonly known as "Shops". They are decks based around Mishra's Workshop and aim to abuse the vast amount of mana that Mishra's Workshop can produce by playing almost entirely artifacts. There are 2 main variations of Shops decks. First, there is the prison style Shops deck that aims to completely lock the opponent out from casting spells with cards such as Sphere of Resistance, Tangle Wire, and Wasteland. Their win condition is lock pieces that just happen to attack as well such as Phyrexian Revoker and Lodestone Golem. They can also run Kuldotha Forgemaster to adjust their lock pieces or tutor for bigger win conditions. Secondly there is a more aggressive version that plays Arcbound Ravager and equipment such as Sword of Fire and Ice to go with their fewer disruptive elements. This deck plays like a tempo deck that aims to stall the opponent long enough to win with their creatures and equipment.
The fourth archetype is the boogeyman of the format known as Dredge. This is the most linear deck in Vintage and it attacks from a completely different angle than any other deck. The goal of this deck is to mulligan+Serum Powder to Bazaar of Baghdad at all costs and use cards with the "Dredge" mechanic to put as much of the library into the graveyard as possible as fast as possible. Doing so puts creatures such as Ichorid and Bloodghast into the graveyard to be returned to the battlefield, in addition to Narcomoebas that go straight from the library to the battlefield when they are Dredged. It then aims to sacrifice creatures to cards such as Cabal Therapy and Dread Return to create an army of zombies with the Bridge from Belows that are now in the graveyard. Speaking of Dread Return, the goal is to bring back some unbeatable threat or card that gives all your zombies haste to win the game as soon as possible. The Dredge deck is very vulnerable to graveyard hate and sometimes vulnerable to land destruction because the deck slows down considerably without Bazaar of Baghdad. Solely because of this deck, most people devote 6-8 graveyard hate cards to their sideboard because without it, Dredge is a heavy favorite against most decks.
Fifth is the archetype for those interested in beating down with an army of creatures rather than an army of zombies. There is no one name for the deck because it is so flexible, but some names for it include Delver of Secrets, Young Pyromancer, and Monastery Mentor after the respective cards. They are essentially tempo decks that aim to land a single threat and then disrupt the opponent until they are dead. Rather than the aggressive Shops decks, this deck will use counterspells and removal rather than lock pieces to accomplish that goal. This allows them to run a robust draw engine of their own, often centered around Gush. These decks are very consistent but can suffer from drawing too many or not enough threats/disruption. One really needs a good mix of the two to be able to ensure victory.
Lastly, there is the Hatebears archetype. Similar to Shops, it aims to lock out the opponent long enough to beat down with creatures. Unlike Shops, the Hatebears deck doesn't run powerful mana acceleration like Mishra's Workshop and Ancient Tomb. This archetype is often favored for budget reasons and can literally be any combination of the 5 colors of Magic depending on which creatures and lock pieces seem best suited for the metagame. For example, mono-blue Merfolk is a fine Hatebears deck and so is x-color Humans. A key defining card for this archetype has been Null Rod, though white versions of the deck may favor Stony Silence instead.
How does a person decide on which type of deck is best for them? Normally a parallel between formats can be drawn, however, Vintage has some unique characteristics that make this difficult:
- Games can be condensed into a few turns. Incidentally, this is where the myth of Vintage being a "turn 1 kill format" comes from. Games of Vintage can be very fast if just considering the number of turns; however, there can be more decisions made in an average Vintage game than in most other formats.
- Each individual decision within a game can often be game deciding due to the power of the individual cards being played.
- Creatures are incidental in Vintage rather than key staples, as they are in many other formats. This means that rather than playing a creature in your deck primarily because it has efficient power and toughness, they are played due to their abilities, the power and toughness is merely an afterthought. This creates a strange scenario where there is no traditional "aggressive" archetype like mono red or burn. Instead, one must change their mindset to consider the idea that spells are the old "creatures".
After understanding what makes Vintage a unique format, deck selection generally comes down to two considerations.
- Do you want to stick to a clear gameplan, and worry less about what your opponent is doing? Linear archetypes like Combo, Dredge, and Shops are the better choice. A player can pilot these decks independent of the metagame and play well with them.
- Do you want to interact with your opponent and disrupt their plan? Big Blue, Hatebears, and Delver/Pyromancer/Mentor decks are a better starting point. These decks have more of an emphasis on deck construction and understanding the metagame rather than learning patterns of play for your own deck.
In either case a person should eventually learn how all 6 archetypes play out to allow them to play individual games better.
It is worth noting that while Vintage may initially appear to be a format where all the cards are legal, there is a secret power level restriction. That is, there are a lot of cards that just aren't good enough to be played. For example, why play Serum Visions when you can play Ancestral Recall? Aside from the restricted list there are also cards in each category that push out other legal cards due to their raw power or efficiency. These cards have become staples of the format and are the cornerstones of the decks people choose to play.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Thirst for Knowledge
Bazaar of Baghdad
Leyline of Sanctity
Swords to Plowshares
Force of Will
Leyline of the Void
Sphere of Resistance
Thorn of Amethyst
Delver of Secrets
Show and Tell
Tezzeret the Seeker
Tendrils of Agony
Oath of Druids
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Assembling this collection of cards in addition to the restricted list will get you well on your way to being able to build almost any maindeck in Vintage and have it be good. The main exception to this is the Dredge deck which plays a completely different set of cards from any other deck.
This is one of the most basic combos in Vintage. You sacrifice an artifact to Tinker and get to cheat out a powerful artifact from your deck that hopefully wins you the game soon. The choice of what artifact you want to Tinker out is usually made during deck construction, as running multiple targets can be a waste of precious deck space.
Oath of Druids allows you to put a creature from your library on to the battlefield provided your opponent controls more creatures than you. Forbidden Orchard puts creatures on to the battlefield under your opponent's control. The only thing left to do is to pick your large creature. The creature of choice for most Oath players is Griselbrand.
This is one of the most complicated combos in all of Magic. Knowing how to stack your library with a Doomsday and what you can afford to play around can be extremely difficult. It can be very easy to disrupt a Doomsday pile, so choosing the correct cards is very important.
This is a fairly simple combo to understand in that you just need enough spells cast before Tendrils is cast to win the game. However, casting enough spells in one turn can be tricky. Counting the number of spells castable in a turn before going for the Tendrils victory is critical because, typically you have just one chance to pull it off. Don't forget that the storm mechanic counts spells your opponent has played as well.
This is potentially the most powerful 2-card combo in the entire game. With Time Vault and either of the two other cards in play you can take infinite turns. In addition, Tezzeret the Seeker can actually use his -X ability to tutor for Time Vault and then go infinite the following turn - making it a 1-card combo.
This is the combo that fuels an entire archetype. This combo is in fact so good that the Dredge deck plays 4 Serum Powder and will mulligan any hand not containing Bazaar of Baghdad. Not only does the draw part of Bazaar let you use the Dredge ability, but the discard part puts those dredgers right back into the graveyard to be used again.
Goblin Charbelcher: This is a 1-card combo that an entire deck is built around. It plays 0-1 lands and has the goal of casting and activating a Goblin Charbelcher with 0 lands left in the deck for a lethal amount.
This isn't an infinite combo but it does let you draw quite a few cards and make some mana. You get to float 2 mana, return 2 tapped lands to your hand with Gush, draw 2 cards, then replay those lands and repeat for as many Gushes as possible. Often Gush decks run many cantrips and can find multiple Gushes quite easily once this combo is assembled.
This may seem like a strange combo to include but it is the backbone of many decks. Being able to turn your graveyard into a resource can often be the difference between winning a game and losing it. It is most powerful in combo decks fueling a lethal Tendrils of Agony, but it can also be very useful to control decks getting card advantage.
Arcbound Ravager has the ability to sacrifice artifacts to put a pile of +1/+1 counters on it and then sacrifice itself to put those counters on another artifact. With Triskelion, each artifact you control essentially can be sacrificed to deal 1 damage to target creature or player. With Hangarback Walker, things can get complicated. You can not only sacrifice the Hangarback plus the tokens to make a massive Arcbound Ravager, you can also sacrifice other artifacts to the Ravager then sacrifice it to itself and move all the counters on to the Hangarback Walker to make a giant resilient threat.
This might sound obvious upon reading the card, but managing your hand size can be difficult. This is especially true when your opponent is aware that you have Library of Alexandria in play since they will often do whatever they can to reduce your hand size by either playing discard spells or forcing you to react to their plays with countermagic and removal.
These are the staples, archetypes, and key interactions of Vintage. Vintage games can be the most complicated Magic there is; your key to success is finding a deck that suits your play style and learning to play it well. The initial investment in Vintage may seem daunting. However, the format does not change often and the cards are consistent in both price and relative power, making the value of your purchase resilient to value depreciation. Lastly, and most importantly, is the entertainment value; Vintage is an amazingly fun format to play!
- www.mtgtop8.com - Provides top finishing decklists from tournaments all over the world.
- www.mtggoldfish.com/metagame/vintage Provides a metagame overview of Vintage, including winning decklists for online and offline tournaments.
- www.vintagesuperleague.com - A source of Vintage content from some of the best players on the planet including livestreams and analysis.
- www.eternalcentral.com - This website provides articles from Vintage specialists.
- www.facebook.com/groups/VintageMTG Facebook group dedicated to sharing information about and discussing Vintage.