Crushing Vintage Without Power Nine: The Manaless Ichorid Primer

We all know the “complaints” folk have about Vintage… gripes such as “it’s a degenerate format,” or “there is a dubious level of skill required to succeed.” Perhaps the strongest moan involves the cost of the cards themselves. So what would you say to a competitive, powerful Vintage deck that uses exactly zero copies of the Power 9 cards… a deck that Stephen Menendian believes will warp the format for many months to come? Interested? Then read on…

I. Introduction

The printing of Dread Return ensures that Vintage Ichorid will win every game by turn 4, and many on turn 3. That sort of certainty is not simply soothing… it is calculated.

That’s what this deck is. Calculated. For the mathematical types out there, and those of you who hate the complexity of Vintage, you will be very happy with this deck.

Vintage is the puzzle format, to be sure. This deck takes the puzzling out of the puzzle. It’s all pure math.

I’m writing about a deck that uses no mana to win the game. This deck beats Meandeck Gifts, the deck that won the Vintage Championship, and just about every single Mana Drain deck in Vintage. In fact, in my testing so far, this deck loses to almost nothing game 1. If you don’t believe me, believe Robert Vroman who says:

We’ve been testing the manaless Ichorid deck intensely and found it nigh-unstoppable.

But here’s the real zinger: this deck runs no power. No Ancestral Recall. No Mox Jet. Not even Black Lotus. This deck shares absolutely no cards with Pitch Long, or Gifts, or Control Slaver, or most of the decks in Vintage. Aside from the Bazaars, this whole deck can be acquired for under $50.

This is a primer on Manaless Ichorid. I unveiled Vintage Ichorid to the world by making Top 8 at SCG Richmond last March, and wrote about the deck here.

Dread Return changed the rules of the Ichorid game. Based upon the hard work of Albert Kyle, Team Ogre, and others, I proudly present:

I am going to provide rules on how to play this deck that you will follow 99% of the time.

II. The Game Plan

This deck has a simple five-step game plan:

Mulligan into Bazaar of Baghdad
Put Ichorids and Nether Shadows into play
Flashback Cabal Therapy to clear the way
Flashback Dread Return and Smash with Sutured Ghoul

I will elaborate on the nuances of the deck’s game plan and explain in greater detail how to play well, but first let’s run through the six major steps in the game plan.

Step 1, and the Prime Directive: How To Mulligan to Bazaar

The prime directive is easy. You mulligan into Bazaar of Baghdad. Period.

So here are the possibilities:

Your hand has Bazaar of Baghdad → Keep it.
Your hand does not have Bazaar of Baghdad but it has Serum Powder → Use Serum Powder.
Your hand has neither Bazaar nor Serum Powder → Mulligan.

If you follow that algorithm, you will be fine. Do not deviate from it. According to the math types, you have a 93% chance of finding Bazaar. For more on the math, scroll down to the bottom of this article.

Do not be concerned about removing cards with Serum Powder. There is virtually no combination of cards that I would be upset about removing with Powder.

Step 2: Dredge

In order to fulfill step 3, it is important that when you use Bazaar on turn 1, you discard Dredgers.

On your second turn’s upkeep, you will activate Bazaar to Dredge. The Bazaar will put the Dredgers back into your graveyard so that you can dredge one of them on your draw step as well. Ideally, you will put about a fourth of your deck into your graveyard on turn 2. This should get you close to hitting the three-creature threshold so that you can flashback Dread Return on turn 3. Make sure you put Nether Shadows as low in the graveyard as you can when you Dredge them up.

You will continue to Dredge until you win the game with one caveat: You will not dredge so much that you will deck. Stop dredging before you “deck” yourself.

Step 3: Return Creatures to Play

On your third turn, you will begin to return Nether Shadows into play, and Ichorids with them (although you could return Ichorid on your second turn if you discarded one on turn 1).

If you think you should clear your opponent’s hand of answers to your Dread Return first, you can flashback some Cabal Therapies to take out countermagic.

Step 4: Flashback Cabal Therapy To Clear the Way

Flashback Cabal Therapy to make sure that your opponent can’t stop your Dread Return or kill your Sutured Ghoul. If they have anything threatening, take it with a subsequent Cabal Therapy.

Step 5: Flashback Dread Return and Swing with Ghoul

On either turn 3 or turn 4, you will sacrifice three creatures to flashback Dread Return targeting Sutured Ghoul. You will remove plenty of creatures from game to feed the Ghoul, and attach a Dragon Breath to the Ghoul to give it haste. Attack with a lethal, trampling Sutured Ghoul and win the game.

The Card Choices

A. The Engine

Bazaar of Baghdad and Serum Powder

I’ve already explained why these cards are here and how to use them. The great thing about Bazaar of Baghdad is that it automatically sees you more cards than you started with. So often I’ll play turn 1 Bazaar only to draw into the Unmask or Chalice of the Void that will nail my opponent. Bazaar of Baghdad is the engine of the deck and one of the best cards in Vintage. Decks that don’t run Brainstorm run Bazaar for a reason. It’s a free way to draw cards.

One aside: Bazaar is by far the best land out of Arabian Nights – a set that has Library of Alexandria, a card that is pathetic by comparison.

Petrified Field

Petrified Field has general synergy with the deck, but is here primarily to recur Bazaars of Baghdad that have been destroyed by Wasteland. Once you have started to Dredge, a turn 2 Petrified Field can be used to return any land in your deck to play by simply putting the land into your graveyard via Dredging.

B. The Undead

Ichorid and Nether Shadow

Ichorid is the deck’s namesake and the key creature that you’ll be returning. At 3/1, he is a solid beater. A few notes on Ichorid:

He will only trigger on your upkeep if he is in your graveyard at the beginning of your upkeep, and only if there is another Black creature in there as well.
You can remove another Ichorid to return an Ichorid into play

In Meandeck Ichorid that we unveiled last year, we added Ashen Ghoul as the beatdown complement to Ichorid. Since this deck has no mana to reanimate the Ghoul, and since these small creatures are not the paths to victory by themselves, Nether Shadow is a serviceable substitute.

Note, however, that for reasons that are inexplicable to me, Nether Shadow has been given errata in a manner contrary to the text of every single printed Nether Shadow variant: it triggers at the beginning of upkeep and will only trigger if there are three creatures above it. That means that you will never be able to reanimate a Nether Shadow on turn 2.

C. Dredgers

Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, and Golgari Thug

Golgari Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp are automatic inclusions in any Ichorid deck. Golgari Grave-Troll dredges massive amounts of cards very quickly. It is the Dredger you are most excited about seeing.

Stinkweed Imp is a close second and has the added advantage of being Black. Since only Black creatures can feed the Ichorid, this is an important trait.

Golgari Thug is here because it is a Black creature and it dredges four. Since this deck will mulligan aggressively, there will be hands that have few cards in it beyond the Bazaar. It is important that you maximize the number of Dredgers in the deck in order to accomplish this.

Shambling Shell versus Gigapede

There is some debate as to whether Shambling Shell should be run. Vroman subscribes to the Shambling Shell list. I’m on the fence on the matter, with a slight preference to running Gigapede instead.

Albert Kyle put it like this: Shambling Shell is stronger versus Tormod’s Crypt, and Gigapede is stronger versus Wasteland and Pithing Needle. He’s right.

If you are facing Tormod’s Crypt, you want to be able to threaten a lethal kill without having to plop your entire library into your yard. You want to force your opponent to activate the Crypt without putting you way in the hole. Shell serves this function in several ways. By being a dredger and dredging three, you can dredge without having to commit too much of your deck to the graveyard. In addition, he is a Black creature that can feed Ichorid. Thus, you need fewer cards in your graveyard to use Ichorids.

Gigapede is also strong. Gigapede serves several functions. First, he triggers on your upkeep so that if you have lost the use of Bazaar, you can discard a Dredger and dredge on your draw step. Gigapede is also here as Sutured Ghoul food.

D. The Win Condition

Dread Return, Sutured Ghoul, and Dragon Breath

My clear preference is for Sutured Ghoul. I believe that winning now is better than not winning now. But Sutured Ghoul places some constraints on deck design. First, it inclines you toward running Gigapede, a decision that may or may not be correct. Second, you are forced to run Dragon’s Breath, a card that takes up at least two more slots in your deck.


Here are some alternative victory conditions that I’ve seen people use.

Sundering Titan; Symbiotic Wurm; Yosei, the Morning Star

All of these cards have various advantages and disadvantages. Symbiotic Wurm has insane synergy with Cabal Therapy and Dread Return. Sundering Titan functionally wins games by taking your opponent off the map even if it takes another turn to actually kill them. I assume people run Yosei for similar reasons.

E. The Disruption Suite

Most of the disruption cards in this deck were cards that I innovated into the archetype by last May. They have been rightly been appropriated into the manaless version.

Chalice of the Void

This card’s power is unquestioned. It is not only an unbelievable source of mana denial, but it tactically fights the two strongest cards in the format: Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will. Unless your opponent has either Sol Ring or Mana Vault, they will not be able to Tinker until they remove the Chalice. The power of Yawgmoth’s Will often turns on the ability to combo out the turn it is played. Chalice for zero shuts off Black Lotus plus Yawgmoth’s Will combo, and dramatically limits the cards that can be played off the card advantage derived from Yawgmoth’s Will.

Chalice of the Void is only a temporary cork for your opponent’s game plan. That cork was often popped when the mana version of Ichorid was being piloted. The advent of Dread Return means that your opponent will rarely have enough time to actually bounce the Chalice before you win.


This card is a powerful turn 1 threat that removes the most annoying card in your opponent’s hand, slows them down, and gives you information that you can use when you announce Cabal Therapy on turn 3.

Cabal Therapy

Unfortunately, the most non-mathematical decision-making in this deck will involve Cabal Therapy. It is an extremely skill intensive card that demands metagame knowledge and format expertise.

As a general rule, you will want to clear out Force of Wills and cards that can counter or stop your Sutured Ghoul. Then you can use remaining Cabal Therapies to neuter their hand.

Both Cabal Therapy and Unmask can be Misdirected, but it won’t hurt you at all if you play it right.

Leyline of the Void

If this is in your hand on turn 0, play it. Leyline is an all-purpose format hoser. It nullifies Yawgmoth’s Will, shuts down Goblin Welders, Dragon Combo, opposing Ichorid decks, and is generally disruptive. Gifts Ungiven loses a lot of its power in the face of Leyline, as does Thirst for Knowledge.

If your opponent casts Gifts, you can remove the two strongest cards from game!

Strip Mine

There has been some debate as to whether Strip Mine belongs in the deck. I am adamant that omitting Strip Mine is a mistake. Here’s why: the primary weakness of this deck is not its vulnerability to graveyard hate. The primary weakness of this deck in the metagame as it is currently constituted is that this deck has no turn 2 play. Turn 1 is spent playing disruption and Bazaar. Turn 2 involves Dredging. Turn 3 involves returning creatures into play, using Cabal Therapies, and casting Dread Return.

Strip Mine gives you a highly disruptive turn 2 play, if you are lucky enough to draw it. Even if you don’t, it provides a highly disruptive turn 3 play by using turn 2 Petrified Field on turn 3 to put Strip Mine into play. This will slow your opponent down a turn, buying you time to win on turn 4.

Strip Mine has amazing synergy with Chalice of the Void as well.

Maze of Ith

There has been some debate as to what the final card in the deck should be. I am firmly behind Maze of Ith for this reason: This deck is faster than Yawgmoth’s Will. The only real threat that Mana Drain decks pose is turn 1 or turn 2 Darksteel Colossus. Maze of Ith can be brought up out of your deck via Petrified Field and into play by turn 3 every game so long as you have a Petrified Field. Most of the time, this will be enough to stop the TinkerColossus play from killing you. As TinkerColossus is the most likely means of your demise, I think running the single Maze makes a lot of sense.

F. Alternative Options

Some players run Riftstone Portal in that last slot (or even a third Dread Return). Riftstone Portal enables you to run Ancient Grudges maindeck and flash them back. Another option is using Root Maze. I think turn 3 Root Maze is too slow, however.

IV. Extreme Situations

I’ve given you the rules to follow 99% of the time. There will be extreme situations in which things don’t work as planned. This section is devoted to explaining what to do in these unusual circumstances.

A. You Fail to Find a Bazaar

The chances of seeing a Bazaar after a mulligan to four dip dramatically. Although it hasn’t happened to me in dozens and dozens of games, I have witnessed the mulligan into oblivion with this deck. Although the rule commands that you mulligan until you find a Bazaar, if you have a strong hand of three or two that has Chalice and Unmask, it is possible that you should consider stopping.

If you mulligan to three and have no Bazaar and no Serum Powder, but have a solid suite of disruption, you will only see three more cards. If you think that your disruption will buy you at least three turns, then it is logical to mulligan no further. If I had a hand of two that had Chalice, I would probably not mulligan to one.

B. You Get Pithing Needled Before you Get a Turn

Your opponent plays Pithing Needle naming Bazaar of Baghdad before your first turn. Your only out at this point is to play Unmask on yourself discarding, hopefully, Golgari Grave-Troll or Stinkweed Imp. This is one reason we run Gigapede.

V. Matchups

Beginning next week, we’ll take a close look at this deck’s matchups. We’ll start with Meandeck Gifts.

For further insights into the Manaless Ichorid deck, I’ll direct your attention to our forums. There is already a sixteen-page discussion on the deck as of this writing, and by the time this article is published it could well be double that.

Stephen Menendian

Note on the math:
The problem is that there are a total of exactly 664 Powder combinations, and each of their probabilities is found by multiplying 28 or more different fractions that change because of reduced deck size from the powder. So it would take even longer to try and find a formula that would calculate each of the 664 probabilities. Instead, we devised a program that was designed to mulligan into Bazaar. Using this program and 10,000 iterations we found that we could get the Bazaar 93% of the time.