The biggest advantage of the five-GP points cap for me lately has been that it has allowed me to focus entirely on playing the two extremely fun less competitive formats that have come out recently, because I don’t really need to worry about my performance at GP Chicago. Both Conspiracy and Vintage Masters have occupied a lot of my time, and I’ve been playing some with my cube as well – which now has conspiracies. I like both formats a lot and I’ve had quite a bit of success with them, especially Vintage Masters, so I thought I’d take time to write a quick primer on both formats. If you like awesome limited formats, this is for you – if you’re PTQing, move along and try to stay focused, these formats might suck you in and you wouldn’t want that.
Obviously, strategy in Conspiracy is very different than any other format because of the multiplayer element and the political component that can come with that. Card evaluations might change substantially depending on what format you’re playing. While I believe Free-For-All is the recommended format, I personally strongly prefer Star/Rainbow (I play slightly different rules than I can find online, they’re based on what I remember from the Pocket Player’s Guide and involve being able to block when your allies fight each other and, what I assume is our own house rule, continuing to play while dead), and how good each of the cards are varies based on what kinds of politics your playgroup tends towards. I personally like playing up the diplomacy, which I know is unusual. When my friends and I played a lot of multiplayer back when I was in high school, we played that any deal made was completely binding, and we rarely took actions that affected other players without negotiating first. I’m going to assume most of you play more passive diplomacy.
In general, a strong board presence with make you a threat, which may or may not make you an actual target: that depends on how much people can actually target you. If two people come out strong early, it often makes sense for them to just attack the other weak players instead of trading resources with each other, and this is why you really don’t want to fall behind. But getting too far ahead too quickly has its own perils: if you play the first creature that needs to be killed, someone will probably kill it, which is bad for you. You want to be able to wait until the removal is exhausted if you’re playing with the kinds of players who just kill scary things on sight. At the same time, you don’t want to wait too long to play a big creature because then it isn’t doing anything.
One important point about pacing, in my experience, is that these games aren’t super-slow. Cards and combos that just end games were included in the set, so you don’t just want to take all the most expensive cards and plan to do nothing for the first four turns. You can and will just die with a bunch of cards in your hand. In general, expensive creatures were worse than I expected.
The conspiracies themselves are obviously awesome, and should be taken extremely highly. At first, I assumed that cards like Brago’s Favor and Muzzio’s Preparations would work best with Howling Wolf and Screaming Seahawk, but I found that those cards are slow, clunky, and sometimes hard to pick up if others are fighting over them. It’s better to just use them on whatever reasonable creature you happen to end up with multiples of.
Secrets of Paradise is a particularly important conspiracy. This card is absolutely insane. Every color has a few one- or two-mana creatures that no one else really wants and which you can get several of, and suddenly you have multiple Birds of Paradise of whatever color you want. One lesson I learned the hard way: if possible, try to put this on a creature with more than one toughness so that you’re not vulnerable to Power of Fire. Pride Guardian is perfect for this, but most anything will do. Also, note that playing five colors is a real thing in this format, but it hinges much more on seeing a single Secrets of Paradise than anything else since one copy of that can represent from two to four cards that tap for any color, enough to often make basically any manabase work, as you may have experienced with Prophetic Prism in Return to Ravnica Block limited.
I generally think of red as being pretty bad in multiplayer. Small, fast creatures and cheap removal really aren’t where you want to be in multiplayer games, but to my surprise I’ve actually found it to be the best color in Conspiracy. The primary reasons for this are Vent Sentinel and Deathforge Shaman. It’s easy to pick up a lot of random bad walls, and they’re actually pretty good diplomatically because they don’t get killed, but they also mean random early guys don’t bother fighting you. Vent Sentinel is awesome because its damage is unblockable and works at instant speed, so you can get to the point where you can just threaten that you’ll shoot anyone who attacks you and keep most people away. Someone will usually get low on life fairly quickly, and you’ll be able to kill them at any point. At this point, you’ve often acquired a loyal pawn.
Deathforge Shaman is a reasonable finisher by itself, but it really shines as part of a mondo combo with Mana Geyser, which makes huge amounts of mana on turns five through eight, allowing you to kill any single player in one shot. Skitter of Lizards also works as a reasonable backup mana sink for Mana Geyser if you draw it and don’t find Deathforge Shaman.
Aside from that, Brimstone Volley is great, as five is enough damage to kill someone unexpectedly, and Trumpet Blast + small fliers is a reasonable game plan in R/W. Best of all, you don’t even need to be the one with the small fliers as long as an army is attacking someone else.
As you might expect, the ground tends to get locked up very quickly, so fliers are extremely important – this is a weakness for red, of course, so I’d look to pair it with a color that offers fliers. Fortunately, blue and white both offer defenders and also have fliers. Innocuous cards like Traveler’s Cloak can end games, especially paired with Marchesa’s Infiltrator or one of the rares that come into play with a stupidly huge number of +1/+1 counters.
This is particularly important for black, but I’d note that the difference between Instant and Sorcery is much more significant in multiplayer than in one-on-one Magic, and instant-speed removal is generally outstanding while sorcery-speed removal is pretty weak. Tragic Slip is great, but I don’t really like most black cards because so many of them are sorceries.
That’s most of what I’ve learned about Conspiracy.
Now on to the real format:
I’ve been loving this format. I’ve done nineteen drafts so far, and I’ve made the finals of nine of them, with six wins, two splits, and just one loss in the finals. I’m winning about a third of my drafts, so I’m pretty confident that I know what I am doing so far. I’ve been posting my winning draft decks on my personal Facebook page, but I’ll assume most of you haven’t seen that. I also started a Tumblr today where I’ve posted a collection of some of the decks, and in the future I expect to start posting more about Magic, especially my MTGO exploits, primarily via screenshot. Here are my conclusions so far, both from my own experiences and what I’ve gathered from others:
Cycling is incredible. Cycling lands are just great in almost every deck, and cycling spells are sweet too. Landcyclers might be even better, but it’s hard to say because the cycling lands are so good. Additionally, the “cycling matters” cards are outstanding. Astral Slide is likely the best common or uncommon, and Lightning Rift is also up there. I’ve been able to get 10+ cyclers pretty easy, and I’m always happy when my deck looks like that.
Madness is the next-best mechanic. Frantic Search is my favorite common (not necessarily the best, but it feels close). I’ve cast Frantic Search discarding two Obsessive Searches several times now, but it’s great even when that doesn’t happen. If you’re U/G it’s absolutely the best way to ambush people with Arrogant Wurm, and if you’re U/B it’s a great way to generate mana with Nightscape Familiar. That particular interaction is among the most important for Storm decks.
Most of the Uncommon gold cards are completely busted and go shockingly late. I love being able to take advantage of Psychatog, Prophetic Bolt and Death Grasp in particular, but most of them are sweet.
My basic color ranking is Blue > White > Green > Red = Black. Black and red have a lot of small aggressive creatures – Goblins and random black weenies. Like in cube, I mostly consider these cards dead space. I’ve tried drafting Goblins a few times, and every time the deck just felt embarrassingly bad. My opponent would just cast big green or white creatures and blank my entire deck. I have seen these decks win, and I think they have some good matchups, but I think they have the worst bad matchups and I’d rather not just concede to some people because I drafted the wrong archetype.
Green/white Aura-based aggro is interesting, but there’s a lot of bounce (Rescind, Repel, Man-o’-War, Temporal Fissure, and Astral Slide) which makes the auras pretty risky. As a result, the one time I drafted this I prioritized getting copies of both Benevolent Bodyguard and Shelter to make sure I didn’t get blown out.
I’m almost always blue or white, which makes sense when I realize that the only black commons I like are Mesmeric Fiend, Nightscape Familiar, Predatory Nightstalker, Chainer’s Edict, and Expunge, and only red commons I like are all the burn spells and Chartooth Cougar (not Aftershock). I actually think green has a lot of good commons, but I haven’t really known what I want to do with the color, and all of its good commons are just above-average guys, which is fine, but doesn’t pull me into the color. Arrogant Wurm and Basking Rootwalla are the commons that are most likely to hook me (after I already have Frantic Search), and I’ve found that people are unreasonably fond of passing Hermit Druid.
Looking at my blue commons, I realize that I draft blue spells much higher relative to blue creature than other people seem to be doing – I have no Aquamoebas, one Owl Familiar, and only two copies of Man-o’-War while I have eighteen Frantic Searches and eighteen Obsessive Searches. I also have ten to thirteen copies each of Scrivener, Temporal Fissure, Brainstorm, Choking Tethers, Circular Logic, and Repel. Obviously this isn’t to say that I prefer those cards to Counterspell and Deep Analysis, but other people take those very early too, like they should be, so I don’t get as many of them. Clearly, I’m almost never trying to beat down.
I play red a lot, but it’s almost always just a splash for Lightning Rift, Flametongue Kavu, and Prophetic Bolt. As a result, I have more than twice as many Chartooth Cougars as any other red common. Similarly, I only play black as a support color, usually supporting blue, so I have far more Nightscape Familiars than any other black common.
As I’ve kind of hinted at, Astral Slide and Psychatog are the uncommons I’ve drafted most, followed by Su-Chi. Do other people think this guy isn’t just good in everything? People don’t seem to be taking it very highly at all.
So, my basic highlights for Vintage Masters? Stay open, the colors are all playable, but some only in a supporting role. Drafting a multicolor deck is pretty easy. If you start the draft by rare-drafting a dual land, don’t just think of it as a wasted pick: dual lands are actually awesome in this format because of the landcyclers and uncommon fetch lands, and having even a single one makes splashing a color remarkably easier. The high power of most of the uncommon gold cards makes this particularly relevant.
This format has hints of M14 – blue has great card draw and reasonable removal with easy access to cheap removal in other colors, especially Exile, Afterlife, and Radiant’s Judgment in white and Repel, Man-o’-War and Choking Tethers without even going to a second color. To me, that is the easiest dynamic to take advantage of. Other colors can pressure their way through, and the token-makers like Battle Screech and Beetleback Chief can be particularly good at that, but it certainly feels like an uphill battle for the aggro decks.
Dedicated Storm decks are possible. I’ve pulled it off and they can be great, but I’ve almost never played against one, and it’s been a long time since I’ve come close to making it happen. I think it’s only possible if people are radically undervaluing card draw in general and Frantic Search in particular, which doesn’t seem to be the way things are going at the moment.
That’s where I’m at. I recommend taking a look at the decks I’ve posted (again, that link is here) if you haven’t already and you’re interested in the format. I think it’s pretty easy to see what kinds of things I’m trying to do.
I’ve had a ton of fun with the format so far – I’ve basically been drafting it compulsively, so if you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend trying it while you still can.