5 Fundamental Lessons Of Magic Applied To Vintage

Tired of seeing the atrocities commited by Vintage players everywhere, Josh Silvestri steps to the fore with five simple rules that will help you become better at the game of Magic.

I’m not in the mood for small talk, let’s jump straight to the point, shall we?

Lesson #1: Play tight and try to gain small advantages

Not every game needs to end with a Tendrils of Agony for 36 or beating with 3 large artifact creatures on your Time Walk turn. People tend to drop a lot of games because they just cannot imagine winning small. Forcing through a Chalice early on and countering a Brainstorm may not look all that pretty or powerful compared with other atrocities. The fact remains, however, that making that play will absolutely decimate decks like Control Slaver and Gifts. Countering Brainstorm is one of the biggest examples I can give of winning a small battle. It’s never going to be card advantage from the standard standpoint, it’s only one mana, so your not getting a lot of Mana Drain mana (or your answer will cost more than the Brainstorm) and typically there are multiple other “must counters” to be worried about. Yet in a number of games, countering that single draw spell can leave the opponent with multiple dead cards in hand and cripple his mana producing abilities, because he was relying on it.

Not noticing little things like attacking with Goblin Welder in a stalled CS mirror can be crucial when life points matter. Cracking a fetchland for a non-basic land instead of a basic is another common mistake. It may not seem like much, but can easily cost you games against decks with Chalice of the Void and Wasteland. You need to be on the look out for these small errors, because you could be doing them quite often, but as long as you win most of those games, that fact might not ever come up. The point is, abuse any small advantages you can eek out. While in many games there will be a big flashy ending because you got blown away by a tutored up bomb or topdeck, in the really close games, playing tight could’ve meant you had a counter left. Or even just won the game before that happened.

Maximizing your resources and slowing down the opponent are two of the key factors in every Vintage match. This goes for every deck, but especially the underpowered ones like Fish. In fact, I’ve found I miss a fewer plays with the big decks because I’ve played so much aggro in Vintage (typically the weakest archetype), so I had to make every card and play count. It also sometimes leads you to doing non-intuitive plays like countering Brainstorm or letting the opponents’ card draw resolve when you’re ahead. They aren’t doing anything to damage your game state so let them waste all the mana and tempo they want. If you conserve enough to cripple their “one big turn”, they end up dead. I’ve had opponents outdraw me practically 3 to 1 (half their deck compared to my 12 cards) and still lose because they didn’t have enough mana left to cast multiple gamebreaking cards.

Basically practice, pay attention, and know thy enemy.

Lesson #2: Stop ignoring entire metagame segments when building a deck

Or at least stop complaining when some “bad” or “barely played” deck smashes your face in. You ever notice how the Vintage metagame ends up with different trends? This is because Vintage players absolutely adore ignoring whichever part of the metagame that is slightly less played than another. This isn’t like PTQ season where you can safely expect most of the field to bring one of 2-5 decks. At most Vintage tourneys everything is relative and every deck type is only represented by 10-15% at most. So people ignore Fish for a while and suddenly it comes back with a vengeance and smashes everyone at a tourney. Next large tourney it’s nearly 30% of the field, yet the majority of players still came unprepared. Why? Because most Vintage players aren’t that good at metagaming and let these decks run wild for a while. Then they die down again and the process repeats with another archetype. Fish, Welder decks in general, Oath and Workshop Aggro have all gone through this sort ebb and flow change. It keeps happening because people get too complacent with their free slots in the maindeck and sideboards.

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t count out underplayed decks and don’t ignore popular trends. Even after Fish was popular, only a few people playing Control Slaver or Gifts had the insight to run Pyroclasm in the board and those people generally did quite well compared to the rest. It’s just something to keep in mind.

Lesson #3: Don’t play a complicated deck if you aren’t good with mulligans

I’m not going to lie to you here; mulligans with these decks are tough. If you can’t make the hard decisions though, do not play more complicated decks like Control Slaver, Meandeck Gifts or combo. Broken cards are incredibly tempting and have doomed a number of players who had a single opening gambit off Ancestral Recall or Tinker. It seems exceedingly obvious that you shouldn’t keep risky mana hands (due to the high number of disruption effects) or one-trick restricted card ponies (Force of Will and Duress exist people), yet I continue to hear about it.

The two simplest, yet ignored rules are:

1. Do not keep 1-2 colored mana source hands just because you think you can draw out of them. Moxen aren’t on-color usually and are also open to disruption, so people seem to forget, “Oh hey, my first land got Wasted and now I have… one Blue source and a colorless.” Yeah you look like a real champ not being able to cast that Mana Drain now.

2. Don’t rely on a singular card or combination of cards with limited protection to salvage your hand and win the game. There are too many easy answers to hands like early mana -> Tinker or relying on that single Thirst for Knowledge to get Goblin Welder functioning (assuming it lives no less!). Have a hand with multiple threats or at least make it a very good threat with protection.

One of the funnier hands I’ve seen someone keep was the following:

Meandeck Gifts vs. U/W Vial Fish, Game 2 (1-0 Fish), Gifts player is on the draw

Hand: Volcanic Island, Mox Ruby, Mox Pearl, Mox Emerald, Gifts Ungiven, Darksteel Colossus and Merchant Scroll

You might ask me what’s wrong with this hand. I mean it has the capability for a turn 1 Gifts or a turn 1 Scroll into Ancestral Recall or something. The simple problem is that the entire hand turns to complete crap if the Fish player has a Chalice of the Void. Meanwhile Force of Will, while not crushing you like Chalice, will cripple you a good deal if I have a Meddling Mage, Voidmage Prodigy or Wasteland follow-up. So there are 4 cards that cripple you and 4 more that can stall you, all of which could be in my opening hand and make your life miserable. Not to mention I’m going first, which means I could drop a turn 1 Ancestral Recall or Brainstorm to help dig for threats. That means, at least for me, I’d probably decide on chucking that hand. Against another deck it could be a must-keep, but against Fish and a game down, I’m not going to risk it.

I’ll be doing an analysis of this hand and multiple others in the near future, so I’ll spare you the details and give you the short summary of how it went down. Gifts player kept and I dropped turn 1 Chalice, turn 2 Meddling Mage naming Gifts Ungiven, turn 3 Wasteland on his Volcanic Island. Yeah I won that one.

Lesson #4: Have a solid sideboard plan for every match

This is probably the least important of all five lessons, but one worth noting anyway. I say it’s the least important, because most Vintage decks are so tight, it’s nearly impossible to board more than 3-4 cards into the deck. Ultimately most boarding plans with Vintage decks will only change match percentages by 10% or so. In a few matches, the board plans will significantly change a result with only 3-4 cards, but in the majority it won’t. The fact is you aren’t changing enough cards in the deck, plus you don’t have enough tutors, to make a huge change in deck performance without boarding more like 7 or 8 cards into the deck.

As for the board plans themselves, the general rule of thumb is to replace whatever the worst cards in your deck are and stick a couple of narrower answer cards (Pyroclasm, Rack and Ruin, Rebuild, etc.). The more advanced of the board plans generally stem from figuring out which of the cards you run are actually weaker in the context of the match. These two concepts aren’t the same, as many seem to think, otherwise you wouldn’t have discrepancies in various board plans. In Vintage it’s not uncommon to justify boarding out a mana source or “valued” piece of a deck (Mindslaver for example) in the context of certain matches. Be careful not to over sideboard though. Sometimes your best cards are the ones in your maindeck, so even in a difficult match, be mindful of hurting the deck strategy itself by bringing in too many answers.

The important thing is to have a sideboard plan pre-tournament. Improvising or trying to just make adjustments between games is likely going to hurt you more than if you hadn’t boarded at all. It’s these simple things that can keep you out of the Top 8 if a situation comes up that you hadn’t anticipated.

Lesson #5: Learn to do Proper Threat Assessment

Know what cards hurt and cripple your deck. It’s an incredibly obvious thing to some people and yet others won’t consider what specific cards kill them when they pick up and play a deck. What hurts Control Slaver? Null Rod, Gorilla Shaman and Red Elemental Blast. What hurts DeathLong? Chalice of the Void, Pyrostatic Pillar and Force of Will. The list goes on and on. Despite the obvious advantages of figuring out what the key threats against you are, so people won’t even consider them until they get blindsided by an opponent with a little tech.

Knowing what cards are strong against you before you smack headlong into them allows you for maindeck and sideboard preparation. It also allows you to come up with a game plan in a timely manner, because you already knew that X card might be coming. The better you are at judging what threats your opponent has in any given match, as well as your own capabilities, can easily give you wins against under prepared opponents. It allows you to judge each hand in the context of what the opponent could or could not stop you with. Just look at the hand I listed under the mulligan section for an example of an opponent underestimating what my threats would do to his hand.

And now for something completely different…

Vintage players. Please, I adore you, but shut up for once. The format is as balanced as it has been for quite a while, nothing is really restriction worthy at the moment, we give players 10 proxies at almost every major Vintage event and the SCG Power Nine Series has been confirmed for ’06. Things couldn’t be going more swimmingly than if we had planned it this way.

And yet… people still must complain. It’s like there’s something about our format on the whole that causes this, but I can’t quite put my finger on what. I digress though, basically I just would like people to stop whining about Proxies, Yawgmoth’s Will, Gifts Ungiven and pretty much everything else you can think of. Sit down; take 10 minutes of quiet time and then go play some Vintage. Things are good, why not at least try to enjoy them? Take Maro’s statement to heart and stop acting like Chicken Little. The world won’t end if you can’t find some new card to crusade against. I also would like to take this opportunity to tell some people to try Legacy out. It’s quite a bit of fun and there is nothing incredibly swingy about the format, not to mention it’s very underdeveloped. Based on some of the complaints you hear, it seems like they’d be perfectly suited to it, but what do I know?

Joshua Silvestri

Team Reflection (Vegeta2711 on TMD)

Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom