Dark Ascension Vintage Set Review: Part I

Brian DeMars and Mark Hornung join forces to present this Vintage Set Review of Dark Ascension! There are definitely some doozies in this set for the oldest Eternal format, so tune in.

“DeMars and Hornung Join Forces?”

BRIAN: Hey there, Vintage fans—Dark Ascension is here, and from the look of things, it is really going to shake things up in Magic’s oldest format. And what’s better than getting the scoop on the newest technology from and expert?

Why getting the scoop from TWO experts, of course!

Mark Hornung and I have teamed up to co-author the SCG Vintage set review, which I must admit was a really fun and insightful experience. Besides, this team-up has the makings of a modern sit-com classic—the Vintage “odd couple.” He won Vintage Champs with Dredge, and I said Dredge would never win!

So, sit back, relax, and let’s take a look at how Dark Ascension is going to leave its mark on Vintage.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Keeping Thraben ‘tendrils-free’ since 2012.”

BRIAN: In my article last week “Creatures, Creatures Everywhere!” I basically made the assertion that the Vintage metagame was being invaded by creatures. One of the reasons why this phenomenon is occurring is that Wizards keeps printing awesomely powerful creatures, like this one. First of all, people have actually played with this card in Vintage before:

Back in my day we played Glowrider, and we were glad for the opportunity.”

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben clearly outclasses Glowrider in a number of really obvious ways—it simply has much, much better stats. I’ve never actually been to the fictitious realm of Thraben, but one thing is for sure: the citizens of that land have a real “get bent” attitude toward ‘spell mages.’

Two mana for a Thorn of Amethyst attached to a 2/1 body that also has first strike is an absolute bargain. I think that the first strike ability is also pretty relevant, as she can attack into or hold off a Dark Confidant, and most importantly go uninhibitedly into the red zone without fear of getting 2-for-1’d by a Snapcaster Mage.

I can’t even describe how badly the Fish decks of the Gifts/TPS era in Vintage would have literally killed for a hate-bear this good. The most obvious and straightforward application for Thalia is going to be as a sideboard card for decks that don’t play creatures—in particular I can’t imagine a better creature to have in play against a Storm deck. However, with Storm decks at a historically all-time low in popularity, Thalia will most likely have to settle for being a major “Thorn” in the side of Gush decks.

The prevalence of Mishra’s Workshop decks makes me feel that Thalia is probably a bit of a liability to play in the main deck—I mean, it would be pretty awkward for the Bant deck to run out a Thorn against Workshops—but I’m sure some hateful young men and women are going to try and live the dream of: super-hateful against blue, all the time.

However, my suggestion for this card that any creature-based U/W, G/W, or Bant deck should probably start out with at least one, but probably two copies of this card in the sideboard.

MARK: Brian’s assessment of this card is pretty much what I believe as well. One of the major things working against Thalia is that it’s legendary, so not only can we stack them, but additional Thalias drawn are just dead cards in hand. Like Brian also mentioned, running out Thalia against any deck that isn’t blue is really a liability especially Workshops. Thalia at the end of the day will fill a small and niche role similar to that of Gaddock Teeg, and because you can’t Green Sun Zenith for Thalia, it seems that the card will be a strictly sideboard option, two at best.

Thought Scour 

MARK: Mental Note has certainly proved its worth in the past as an integral card draw spell in Antoine Ruel Psychatog deck from PT Hollywood 2005. Is this rebooted version of Mental Note Vintage playable though?!?

I would argue that this card could have a home in Vintage because this version provides you extra utility; it can now target a player with its mill two instead of it being you by default. Remaining an instant gives it that extra bump to successfully utilize the card’s ability to target a player. Thought Scour can really mess up your opponent’s plans thanks to its ability to target them for the mil two. Below is just a brief list of the things Thought Scour’s targeting allows you to disrupt.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor +2 “Fateseal” ability

Vampiric Tutor

Mystical Tutor

Imperial Seal

Sensei’s Divining Top (When they activate it to draw a card)



Topdeck tutor…NOPE!!

Your opponent keeps on Ponder or both cards with Preordain…NOPE!

Not only can you disrupt your opponent’s plans, but you STILL draw a card like Preordain or Ponder. The problem is Thought Scour is competing in a very tough slot to break into, the U slot, aka manipulate-multiple-cards-in-my-library slot—Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain all let you draw and/or manipulate more cards than Thought Scour. This is relevant considering the power quality of the cards you are manipulating and/or drawing. With that said however, a deck that could effectively benefit from milling two may prefer this card over Ponder or Preordain. Below is another brief list of the cards that wouldn’t mind milling some cards:

Goblin Welder
Snapcaster Mage
Yawgmoth’s Will
Crucible of Worlds
Ancient Grudge
Cards that Dredge

Interestingly enough a lot of those cards fit nicely in a Control Slaver type of shell. This is exactly where I can see Thought Scour ending up if it does cross into Vintage, a Slaver deck.

BRIAN: I think the key to figuring out whether this card will find a home in Vintage will be how much synergy a deck can find with the mill-two ability on this card.

I think that Mark has correctly identified that a Control Slaver style deck could take pretty good advantage of this ability—I mean, we’ve already taken Strategic Planning to the finals of Vintage Champs once…

The card I’d be really excited to pair up with Thought Scour is Sensei’s Divining Top, since that card essentially lets us look at the top three, get the best one, look at the top three, get the best one again.

Mental Note doesn’t see any play in Vintage, so I am skeptical that this card will make much of an impact—however, it is a pretty sweet card to keep on the back burner just in case it becomes time for drastic measures to be taken.

Saving Grasp

“You missed me. And, you missed me again!”

Brian: Saving Grasp is a pretty narrow card that I don’t actually think is playable—yet…

However, depending upon how things pan out with this whole “creatures in Vintage” thing, I think there is a foreseeable chance that a card like Saving Grasp could see tournament play.

As the critical mass of extremely efficient hateful creatures continues to be approached, it is only a matter of time before decks that want to do something other than play creatures too are going to have to fight back against the teeming hordes of monsters. The best way to do that is to actually play with removal.

Imagine a world where your opponent casts Dismember on your Thalia, Gaddock Teeg, or god forbid Snapcaster Mage, and you respond by bouncing it with Saving Grasp—and then have the ability to flash it back to once again blank another removal spell. Such a card might also be pretty sick in a creature mirror where it is likely they will have sideboard removal.

Another key element of this card is that it bounces a card you OWN, not one you control, which means that if they Threads of Disloyalty your Tarmogoyf, you can Mystical Tutor for this card and bounce him back to your hand. Somebody, somewhere, at some point will live the dream and blow somebody out in Vintage with Saving Grasp; the question is: is that person going to be you?

MARK: Unsummon doesn’t see much play in Vintage, and I don’t expect a pseudo Unsummon with flashback will anytime soon. The biggest reason I feel this card is actually worse than Unsummon is that it can only bounce one of your creatures.

If you wanted to run a bounce spell like this, you would want the extra option of being able to return your opponent’s creatures, especially if one of them is a Blightsteel Colossus. That’s a pretty big strike against it as well as the color of its flashback cost, white. Currently white is at the bottom of the Vintage food chain in terms of colors; there are only a few desirable white cards one would even want to play currently—Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile being the main two.

I feel that I am going to have to disagree with Brian on this card as I feel Chain of Vapor, Echoing Truth, and even Unsummon will always be better than this card.

Faithless Looting

“So, is this Past in Flames thing going to happen or what?”

I have tried, and tried, and tried, and I can’t make the Past in Flames thing happen in Vintage. Faithless Looting is a card that stands out to me as absolute gasoline, were such a deck to exist, but unfortunately, the world has become very hostile toward storm combo decks.

However, I would like to share this—more as a thought exercise than a playable Vintage deck:

Obviously, as I said before, I’m not really sure how a deck like this even has a good matchup in Vintage right now—although such a deck is temptingly powerful.

The other thing I keep thinking about is Pyromancer Ascension in Vintage. I keep watching games of Modern where people ‘go off’ and draw their entire deck and can essentially do whatever they want to do. Could Faithless Looting enable Pyromancer Ascension in Vintage?

The problem with Pyromancer Ascension is that in Vintage we have every reason to play one-ofs as opposed to all four-ofs because the best cards in the format are restricted to one copy per deck.

Basically, the format is really hostile towards storm at the moment, but that’s no reason not to at least be thinking about it. Before Magic ends, or the world ends, or whatever, I predict that Storm will once again have its day in the sun in Vintage.

MARK: I, like Brian, had some pretty high hopes for Past in Flames to become a major enabler in Vintage. As most who play Vintage know, the format is really hostile now for storm decks, especially with all of the maindeck Flusterstorms and Mindbreak Traps everywhere.

Faithless Looting is too good of card to not find a home in Vintage I feel though. Storm is most likely the best option, and like Brian had touched on, I feel that storm decks will someday show up again; Vintage’s metagame is at a point where it’s in a constant flux, and we are only a few rotations from possibly having a storm-favored metagame.

Faithless Looting could also go into a Vintage Madness deck just replacing Careful Study.

Here is a tournament-winning list that utilized Careful Study. Madness decks aren’t exactly the most popular but are viable in Vintage as demonstrated here. This list is a prime example of where Faithless Looting is a strictly better upgrade to Careful Study.

I feel that Faithless Looting could also make its way into a Slaver deck, a Snapcaster Mage deck, and maybe even help fuel some new decks that could turn the discard into an advantage. I will explore with such a deck later in this article.


MARK: If one were to explore a possible aggro plan for Dredge, I feel it really begins here. Certain metagame shifts have to be met for this guy to really have a chance to shine. If we start to see a shift away from Tormod’s Crypt effects and Leyline of the Voids from sideboards and people loading up on Yixlid Jailers and Grafdigger’s Cages, then Ghoultree could very well be an excellent sideboard option for Dredge decks.

Ghoultree dodges Grafdigger’s Cage and Yixlid Jailer very well while giving a Dredge player an excellent clock. It is still very easy to fill up your graveyard while under a Cage or Jailer so Ghoultree could come online very quickly for you. I will definitely be keeping my eye out on this one, but like I said, we need to see some metagame shifts in order for this card to possibly reach its full potential.

BRIAN: I think Mark is spot on with this observation.

By the way I am from now on referring to sideboard or maindeck strategies that incorporate Yixlid Jailer and Grafdigger’s Cage as: Grave-Jail.

Will Treefolk finally have a representative elected to Vintage? Can Ghoultree succeed where Doran, the Siege Tower fell short?

(If you are the wise guy foaming at the mouth to forum post that Mutavault is a Treefolk, don’t bother because it doesn’t count, and you are not nearly as clever as you think you are.)

BRIAN: Well, that’s the end of the first part; we’ll be back soon with Part II!

Thanks for reading,


Brian DeMars

Mark Hornung
@womba_ on Twitter.