There are four times a year when every serious Magic player sits down at their computer, looks at the spoiler, and begins to imagine all of the possibilities for the weeks and months to come. I am of course describing the unique moment when the full spoiler for a new set goes up and players everywhere collectively take a deep breath and look to find places to apply the new and exciting cards that have been spoiled.
While Vintage is a very different animal from most of the other formats, the excitement and anticipation of getting to play with brand-new cards is universal to all Magic players. The biggest difference between a Vintage player and a Standard player when looking at the spoilers is that Vintage players know that only the absolute cream of the crop will ever see play sleeved up in the same deck as Ancestral Recall and Black Lotus. The gigantic card pool and inclusion of truly marquee powerhouses via the restricted list ensure that the bar is set very high for Vintage playables.
While not every set provides Vintage fans with playable offerings, most sets tend to have at least some niche card that will make an appearance somewhere down the road. Vintage fans are lucky this time around because Born of the Gods has a few very unique and high-impact cards that will surely see play in the immediate future!
Let’s start with far and away the most important Vintage printing in the set:
This creature is a-MAZE-ing!
It is pretty obvious that in formats like Vintage and Legacy where cards like Ancestral Recall; Brainstorm; Ponder; and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are legal and therefore widely played that a creature that essentially shuts down all of them all by itself is very good.
Cheap card drawing and library manipulation are in my opinion the most versatile and therefore best spells in Eternal Magic. Spirit of the Labyrinth is essentially a card that hoses the best type of spells in the game!
I can’t even imagine a card (besides maybe Trinisphere?) that I would rather have in play against a Gush deck than Spirit of the Labyrinth. Gaddock Teeg was pretty sweet because they couldn’t actually cast the card "Gush" while he was in play, but Spirit is so much more devastating than Teeg ever was. Aside from not being able to cast their Gushes, the Spirit also essentially shuts down their Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain engine once it hits the board, which is apt to leave the Gush player with a handful of cards that have no game text!
Spirit of the Labyrinth is basically like:
Goodbye Gaddock Teeg, though we never knew you at all.
Except way better.
Gaddock Teeg put the opponent in a situation where they had to search for an answer to Teeg before they could combo off, whereas Spirit of the Labyrinth makes it so the opponent cannot combo off or dig for an answer either! Also, you don’t need green mana to cast Spirit, which means it is easier to cast and can go into even more decks.
The other aspect that I love about this card is the high power to converted mana cost ratio. Spirit of the Labyrinth being a 3/1 as opposed to a 2/2 actually makes it a much more effective and powerful Magic card, especially in Vintage. The reason is that the types of decks where the Spirit’s "no draw" ability will be at its best are matchups where the opponent will be unlikely to have blockers to thwart it in the combat step.
The fact that Spirit of the Labyrinth hits harder than most two-drops and has an extremely disruptive ability that will keep opponents from executing their combos or taking control of the game is a very big deal.
Another important thing to note about three power is that it allows a Spirit of the Labyrinth to trade with a Lodestone Golem during the combat step, which makes it a very reasonable card to play in the maindeck. Although its ability to stop players from drawing extra cards is incredibly relevant (which is something that MUD decks tend not to do), the fact that a Spirit can trade with a Lodestone Golem is at least something positive a player can use it for in a matchup where it is a weak card.
The biggest issue with playing a card that hoses the best cards is that by doing so a player loses all incentive to play with the best cards in their own deck.
The Mox Police
Spirit of the Labyrinth is in the same order as Null Rod in that it will shut down all of the opponent’s blue draw spells but limits the Labyrinth mage’s ability to access this powerful cache of cards. The upside is that disruptive Fish decks don’t typically want to play with a bunch of cheap cantrip effects because they usually want a higher threat density.
The Great One becomes even greater?
If any single individual card goes up in value in terms of its Vintage playability, I’m positive it is Dark Confidant. Since Dark Confidant reveals a card and puts it into its owner’s hand (which isn’t the same thing as "drawing a card"), it literally dodges the Spirit of the Labyrinth ability bullet.
The first deck that came to mind when I saw Spirit of the Labyrinth was actually an old deck called "Nicolo’s Fishalos" that old-time Michigan Vintage ringer Paul Nicolo played religiously to two SCG P9 Top 8s and a Vintage Champs Top 8 as well as won multiple pieces of power with in various local tournaments.
Here is my revised version of the deck:
This Esper Fish deck seems like a fantastic home for Spirit of the Labyrinth since it provides one of the most disruptive beatdown shells imaginable. It has everything a pesky Fish mage could ask for and can do a wide rage of things in a relatively efficient manner, ranging from drawing cards and beating down with a clock to locking the opponent out of various elements of their game plan via Meddling Mage, Spirit of the Labyrinth, and Grafdigger’s Cage.
The obvious weakness of this deck will tend to be creature decks that are on the meatier side of the board. However, Stoneforge Mystic + Equipment + True-Name Nemesis is quite good even against a worst-case matchup.
The other big card that I believe becomes much better with a creature like Spirit of the Labyrinth in the format is:
Everybody hurts . . . sometimes.
I’m not sure what it is about Toxic Deluge. Is it that it was in a Commander deck and nobody owns the card? Or do people just not understand how good it is? Toxic Deluge is the most criminally underplayed card in Vintage right now. It just so happens to also be extremely good at dealing with the type of strategy in which Spirit of the Labyrinth is most effective.
One of the more strange cards I have featured in my Fishalos deck is four copies of Meddling Mage, and one of the cards that I will be most excited to have Chris Pikula shouting "NO!" at is certainly Toxic Deluge.
Although I don’t have tremendously high hopes for Brimaz, King of Oreskos making a huge splash in Vintage, I do think that the card could very easily see some fringe play in the format.
It is worth noting that Brimaz has outstanding stats for a Magic card and is pretty much pushing the envelope with regard to what a player gets for what they have to invest, which is 1WW.
For one, the card hits extremely hard (in the same way that Hero of Bladehold does), and if ignored, the card can very easily win the game all by himself in a timely fashion. The big problem with this card is that he matches up pretty poorly against people who play Tarmogoyf, which costs less and can easily fight and defeat the King in combat.
I think that a comparable card for Brimaz, King of Oreskos is something like True-Name Nemesis (as both are primarily creatures who are very good at doing creature stuff, i.e. attacking). When we compare these two creatures, it seems fairly clear that True-Name Nemesis is simply a better card in most situations. However, it is worth noting that Brimaz is better in the head-to-head (which is something of note).
Even if a player leaves True-Name Nemesis up to block, it will not be able to defeat Brimaz all by itself (as Brimaz has four toughness), and the player with Brimaz will be up a 1/1 token. Of course, if the True-Name Nemesis player has anything to make a double block, things become much more awkward.
One niche where I think Brimaz could be great is as a sideboard card for beating a Stax style deck that is trying to grind opposing permanents off the board. In that sense, it provides a similar function to Bitterblossom in that it produces additional permanents every single turn while also keeping up a steady clock.
Brimaz could be a nice fit in a deck like White Trash that could really take advantage of a lot of the powerful things the King is able to do.
I only have one copy of Brimaz in the deck, but he seems like an interesting haymaker type card to draw or tutor for, especially in colors that don’t typically have a great value creature. He is legendary, so there is no risk of drawing two. Whether Brimaz is playable or not is arguable, but all things considered the Junk Hate Bears deck seems like another great shell of Spirit of the Labyrinth.
Is a bad Dark Confidant good enough?
I feel fairly confident in answering that question with a resounding "probably not." I don’t typically like cards that are a "bad something else," and Pain Seer is pretty clearly a bad Dark Confidant in the majority of scenarios.
Firstly, unless a player has some way to tap Pain Seer on the turn they play the card, that player won’t immediately replace Pain Seer with a card during their next upkeep. Taking a turn longer to replace the card is a huge deal in my mind and should result in this card not seeing very much play in Vintage.
Suicide Black was a very popular Vintage deck when I first started playing the format again back in 2000. If I had to pick a home for Pain Seer, I would put it into the Death’s Shadow deck that I worked on for my Dragon’s Maze set review. Pain Seer attacks our own life total and draws cards, both good things in that deck.
I think that the biggest draw of Pain Seer is to play it in a deck where you are very quickly trying to trade all of your resources with theirs; at the end of all that trading, the Black mage is hoping to have a Pain Seer or a Confidant on the board to ride to an advantage. Traditionally these are not the best decks to play given the choice, but they do have some positive things going for them.
The Suicide Depths deck I posted here has two very powerful combos in it. It has Death’s Shadow as a gigantic monster for a single black mana and also has the ability to summon Marit Lage onto the battlefield. It is at least a jumping off point for any mage who is thinking about carrying the torch for this antiquated archetype.
Side Note: A deck like this could very easily lose the Power Nine cards and still function at a pretty high level, which makes an unpowered variation of this deck a consideration for a player trying to find a competitive unpowered deck.
Who loves functional reprints?!
Reckless Reveler is basically just a functional reprint of:
Carrying the torch for G/R Beats.
If you were playing with Torch Fiend, you should now be playing with a mix of Reveler and Fiend to get around problematic cards like Phyrexian Revoker, Pithing Needle, and Meddling Mage. Hey, now you can Gifts for Torch Fiend and Reckless Reveler—WHAT VALUE!
You want more functional reprints? How lucky for you!
Unravel the Aether is a functional reprint of yet another fringe Vintage card:
Goodbye Blightsteel Colossus, though we never knew you at all.
Hey, if WotC can just recycle the same stale old material and change a word and cash their check, why shouldn’t I just do the same thing in my image subtitles?
Obviously getting a ton of functional reprints is pretty annoying, but I still have to note the card in my review since it is still technically Vintage playable.
All the things I said about Torch Fiend / Reckless Reveler also apply here to Deglamer / Unravel the Aether. Hey, you’ll look pretty smart when they Cabal Therapy you for Deglamer and see that you also have Unravel the Aether and they can’t have the two-for-one or when they Slaughter Games for Deglamer and can’t take your Unravel the Aether.
Let’s get this party started.
Obviously another fringe playable Vintage card that is suited for an aggressive R/G deck. I think that the stats on this card are good enough that it is within the realm of reason to think it might see some play somewhere, most likely in an unpowered deck.
- 1 Gorilla Shaman
- 4 Elvish Spirit Guide
- 3 Burning-Tree Shaman
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 2 Fanatic of Xenagos
- 3 Spirit of the Labyrinth
Well, it beats the crap out of Shops unpowered, and that is something.
Sure it’s cool, but how practical is it?
I have no idea how to rate this card with any kind of precise accuracy. It has a lot of cool things going for it, and the coolest is the versatility that it offers. It can be a mana dork (albeit a 2CC mana dork), but the upside of the card is pretty high. The biggest upside is that it can also combo with Time Vault to win the game in the same way that Voltaic Key does. The upside is high.
The other cool thing that it does is combo with Sensei’s Divining Top to draw a bonus card. In case you don’t know the interaction:
Tap Sensei’s Divining Top to draw, and with the trigger on the stack tap Kiora’s Follower to untap the Top. Kiora’s Follower’s ability resolves, and the Top untaps. Tap the Top again to draw, that ability resolves, and then the second draw from the stack resolves. You draw a card and end up with the Top in your hand instead of on top of your library.
Well, here’s another fun deck sketch:
- 4 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 4 Grim Monolith
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Wheel of Fortune
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 2 Hurkyl's Recall
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Windfall
- 1 Timetwister
- 1 Time Vault
- 1 Gifts Ungiven
- 1 Memory Jar
- 1 Thirst for Knowledge
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Tinker
- 2 Voltaic Key
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Lotus Petal
- 1 Lion's Eye Diamond
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Ponder
- 4 Mox Opal
Obviously this deck is dead to a lot of different things—Null Rod, Chalice of the Void, Spirit of the Labyrinth— but it has a ton of raw power. I tried to maximize the effectiveness of Kiora’s Follower here with untap targets, including Tolarian Academy, Goblin Welder, Time Vault, Grim Monolith, and Sensei’s Divining Top.
All in all, Spirit of the Labyrinth seems to be a card that will likely see a ton of Vintage play and may have a profound effect on the format moving forward. The other cards have a few decent fringe players that may or may not find a niche somewhere along the way.
I’m very much looking forward to playing with new cards in every format and hope that everybody else is as well. I hope that everybody had a blast at the Prerelease, and I look forward to picking up my playset of the little ghost who could change the game.
Will you be the one doing the haunting or be a Ghostbuster?