*Note to the Reader: I strongly suggest you read the following two articles before continuing with this article. Everything is a Time Walk
will help explain the concepts and in-play derivatives of tempo that are essential to understanding this article. Vintage- Analyzing Silver Bullets through Ballistics: Part 1 – Smoking Guns
helps to offer some background to those unfamiliar with Vintage, and although the article is almost 3 years old, much of the information and perspective there is still relevant today. Also, this article is a very long one. You may want to print it out and carry it with you to read when you have the opportunity to do so (commuting, on the pot, ect…)*
The Vintage scene has changed dramatically since my last Vintage article, written almost three years ago. Wizards has finally given us insight on how they see the format
, which gives us great insight into their methodology that determines its restricted list. During that time, power-level errata has been removed from many cards and more cards have come off the restricted list. Most importantly however, is how Wizards has allowed power creep into recently printed sets. The power creep that has enabled people to play with the likes of Bitterblossom
, Primeval Titan
, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor
has allowed Wizards to print Vintage relevant cards without distorting Standard, and that has been a huge boon for those who play the eternal formats. With that said, the landscape of Vintage has been changing. Blue control, which has been the most dominant strategy in the history of Magic, is now in the fight of its life for survival. Who could be responsible for the slaughter of this sacred cow?i. The Arms Race
Workshops strategies have existed since Urza’s Block. The printings of Smokestack
and Goblin Welder
in conjunction with the already printed but rarely used Sphere of Resistence punished blue control decks of that time (llike Keeper) that aimed to abuse Mana Drain. During that time, Force of Will
and Dual Lands had recently rotated out of Extended. Most of the “shell” of a blue deck was already intact, so the transition of Force of Will, an appropriate suite of tutors, and dual lands into a Vintage deck was relatively easy.
By contrast, Mishra’s Workshop had rotated out much longer, and was restricted for most of that period of time (as shown here
). Only a handful of older players had the play experience or a threshold level of competence with the deck. Everyone else either played something else, or had to develop their take on the strategy from scratch. Couple this phenomenon with the exponential spread of the Weissman principles of Magic through the internet at then popular sites like TheDojo.Com and Sideboard.com, and one can understand how Blue strategies had developed and matured much quicker than all other Vintage strategies combined. Most of the cards that are the lynchpins of blue have existed or have been legal much longer than lynchpins of other strategies. They have also been printed in higher concentrations (either through new printings or reprinting older staples). When one compares how many variations of Counterspell
or Demonic Tutor
exist compared to the total number of variations that exist for Sphere of Resistance
, we can see that blue has had many more tools in the Vintage shed to fight with.
In any game, once a threshold of cards or synergies has been made available to a player, that strategy will strengthen and be competitive. When facing a competitive strategy, if there is a lack of opposing tools or the lack of judgment or will to utilize them, that strategy will dominate (One can see that with Today’s stagnant Standard format with the menace that is Stoneforge Mystic
). In a format that never rotates for a game that will never die, all game-warping strategies can and will become dominant… it’s just a matter of time. As long as Wizards prints new cards, there will be cards that break other cards.
Blue’s fight for dominance wasn’t an anomaly…
It was inevitable.