The Vintage format has been shifting at a blistering pace in recent years. There are an exhaustive number of cards in the Vintage card pool, creating an almost infinite number of permutations of deck lists for play. However, a card pool this large means that the power level for this format is extremely high. Because of this truth, there are only a handful of cards, strategies, and "deck engines" that are viable within the format. This article will serve to identify what these cards and engines, and how they function so one can effectively attack them. We're going to analyze our targets: the core foundations and philosophies of Type 1 Magic, and the decks that utilize them. My hope is that this article dispels the myths about certain cards and strategies, and to help strengthen your understanding of the format. If you are new to Vintage, or if you want clarity understanding its dynamics, this article is for you.
There are three main pillars of vintage that support the format: Mana Drain
decks, combo decks, and Mishra's Workshop decks. This isn't to say that there aren't more, but these are the three main forces in Vintage that fight each other for dominance in Vintage, and have shaped and defined Vintage into the format as we know it. These three pillars statistically create a "rock, scissor, paper" format in that any given pillar has natural weaknesses against another pillar while having inherent strengths against the third (We'll analyze this further into our discussion). Mana Drain
decks use drain as not only a counterspell, but a colorless Dark Ritual
, to not only put a stop to an opponent's game development, but as a way to develop their own. This card is the backbone to a number of decks, which have dominated and defined the format. Mana Drain decks use drain to accelerate their card quality engines (draw or tutoring) to use card quality and card/ tempo advantage to seal the game. Mana drain decks do best against decks that take their time to develop their game states.
Combo decks come in may varieties of decks, from the famous "draw 7" decks abusing the storm mechanic, to the Vintage beasts of Flash and Vintage Dredge. These decks try to win as quickly as possible, trying to overwhelm the opponent with bombs until one sticks, or sling disruption at the opponent until the opponent is defenseless. They'll then ride the tempo and card advantage of a bomb to a win. Combo decks have very narrow win conditions, and it's that type of streamlining that makes them win so quickly.
Mishra's Workshop decks abuse Workshop as a reusable colorless Black Lotus
to cheat game altering artifacts onto the board. Being how workshop decks have the most conventional win conditions (like attacking), these artifacts usually make it difficult for players to play spells, giving an inherent advantage to the player with the most mana development. What this pillar lacks in efficient card fixing and countermagic, it makes up for in brute strength.
These three pillars are in constant conflict with each other. Mana drain decks need time to get two islands and some power on the table to start controlling the game. Combo decks tend to drop lost of mana, interact with an opponent’s hand, and use permission spells to protect their own game plans, and win, all within the first few turns of a game. This makes combo a natural foil to the Drain decks. Combo decks are very mana efficient, utilizing tons of cheap spells and tutors to get the job done. Workshop decks punish their opponents' mana bases extremely easily, making them the natural foil to combo decks. However, workshop decks use expensive artifacts to control the game, making Mana Drain
a huge threat. Getting a smokestack drained on turn 2, means you got Time Walked out of a turn dropping a spell that didn't resolve and
your opponent just got 4 colorless mana to wreck you with on its next turn. Workshop decks hate Drain decks.
Now that we have established the interactions between the three pillars, I'm going to identify the engines within each pillar. Every Vintage deck needs to have a game plan to get its strategy online, and "deck engines" help accomplish that.
For starters, let’s start with the easiest engines to analyze: Workshop Engines. Mishra's Workshop decks use a few different engines, and depending on the type of workshop deck it is, the engines will vary. Traditional Five Color Stax, uses a combination of Crucible of Worlds
, and Strip Mine (1)
and Sphere of Resistance
as an efficient mana denial engine. Although the archetype is dying, Bazaar Stacks uses two engines, a mana denial engine and a draw engine. The mana denial engine consists of Tangle Wire
, Null Rod
, Crucible of Worlds
, and Strip Mine (1)
. The draw engine is much more impressive, using Bazaar of Baghdad
in conjunction with Uba Mask
to draw 3 cards a turn and dump artifacts in the graveyard where Goblin Welder
can cheat them into play. The engines described above help facilitate the focuses of these decks, which is to slow the tempo of the game down significantly. There are also hybrid versions of Stax that include cards like Orb of Dreams
and Ghost Quarter
to compliment their lock strategies. Stax decks use activated abilities, triggered abilities, and blanket effects of their spells to cripple the opponent into a loss, and use the acceleration of jewelry (moxes, lotus, ect) and Mishra's Workshop to power them out early, when their effects are most relevant and game breaking.