Investing In Vintage

Have you ever wanted to play Vintage but were scared off by the cost? Magic finance expert Chas Andres explains how the format isn’t as expensive to get into as you think.

When I wrote my article about looking at cards in context, I made some snarky comments about Capture of Jingzhou being the eighteenth-most expensive Magic card. Why would anyone want to spend $200 on yet another copy of Time Warp? In the comments, naturally, I was accused of "not understanding the Commander format." This led to an argument about the "right way" to play Magic. It didn’t go well.

The biggest problem I have with Commander is that too many people like to play with fast, degenerate, redundant decks that are high on griefing and low on fun. If I bring my silly bear deck to a table where someone decides that I can’t play lands again after turn 3, everyone is going to have a bad time.

Some groups ban decks or institute elaborate points systems or other social contracts to fix this, which works well if you have an established group of friends who always play together, but it doesn’t help much during random pickup games at the store or with new friends. Having a large range in power between decks can cause frustration and anger even in the best of times.

Here’s a dirty secret though—the second-biggest problem I have with Commander is that I like to play degenerate decks too. And whenever I pull out a heavy hitter and end up ruining someone’s game, I feel awful.

It’s not my fault—not totally at least. The Spike in me needs to build decks in optimal ways, so some of my Commander decks aren’t fun for anyone but me. It’s not all on me that Riku is impossible to use fairly or that my turns last forever when I bust out Momir, right? Wizards shouldn’t have made so many awesome cards to go with those guys! What am I supposed to do, put in objectively worse cards so I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings?

I don’t mean to be too down on Commander. I still love it, and it’s the source of many of my best Magic memories. Even still, it’s hard at times to fully embrace a format that requires either a cutthroat playgroup or a willingness to build suboptimal decks. I generally only play Commander when my need to make something cool happen eclipses my desire to win.

Sometimes, though, I want to do both at once. I want to play the best artifacts and creatures. I want to cast the most powerful spells. I want decision trees that go on for days. I want to do broken things. I want to cackle with glee.

That’s when I daydream about Vintage.

Let’s get this out of the way first—I haven’t actually played more than a handful of games of Vintage in my entire life. There is a reason I have written hundreds of articles without focusing on the format until now. My knowledge of the format comes almost entirely from talking to members of the community, reading articles, and watching games. If this article stokes the Vintage fire burning within all of us—and I hope it does—please take a look at the archives of Patrick Chapin, Carsten Kotter, and especially Brian DeMars, three guys on this very site who write with love and expertise about the format.

Love doing broken stuff but don’t think Vintage is for you? That’s probably because you’ve got some misconceptions about the format. Let me address some of the biggest ones up front.

Vintage Myth #1: All games of Vintage end on turn 1, making it a "coin flip" format that rewards luck over skill.

Vintage is undeniably intimidating. It’s scary knowing that your opponent can kill you completely out of nowhere. Why on earth would you want to spend a ton of money playing a game that can end before you can even play a land? How can a good player ever gain an edge over someone who lucks their way into turn 1 wins all day long?

This myth is easily dispelled after watching even a single match of Vintage. While games certainly can end on turn 1, the vast majority of them do not. Vintage is a combo-heavy format and many of the control decks have "oops, I win!" packages within their confines, but most of the time the games last several turns at least. Heck, Vintage is arguably a slower format now than it was a couple years ago when Time Vault was everywhere.

Much like in Legacy, the most crucial decisions in Vintage tend to happen during the first few turns. You may have ten or fifteen possible plays on turn 2 or 3 as opposed to one or two in a game of Draft or Standard. This makes Vintage one of the most skill-testing ways to play Magic, and luck only factors in as much as it does in any other format. The allure of the turn 1 kill is present certainly, but most Vintage players find that it simply adds spice to the format, like an ultimate combo move in a fighting game.

Vintage Myth #2: Vintage is at least twice as expensive to play as any other format. You need to own a full set of the Power Nine to even think about showing up at a tournament.

Vintage is an expensive format, and there’s no getting around that. Most of you, especially the younger crowd who don’t have a full-time job yet, will have no way to play at all unless you dedicate a lot of time and effort toward trading for old and expensive cards. This is all true.

But Vintage is simply not as expensive as everyone makes it out to be. Most people consider it to be a huge step up from Legacy. In reality, most people with even reasonable-sized Legacy collections already have the tools they need to play Vintage.

Due of the scarcity of power, most Vintage tournaments allow a large number of proxies in order to ensure that a large enough group of people can play. You won’t be able to play in every tournament without having power, of course, but chances are your local scene will allow somewhere between eight and fifteen proxies per deck. Some TOs scale the cost of admission to how many proxies your deck needs, allowing you to "buy in" while owning fewer cards.

Because proxies have become the norm, very few Vintage tournaments are sanctioned by Wizards. This generally gives Vintage tournaments a much more relaxed atmosphere where innovation is encouraged, no one will complain about your full-art alters, and it is understood and accepted that not everyone can afford all the cards.

In some cases, proxy policies can actually make Vintage cheaper than Legacy. Not every Vintage deck runs the full Power Nine, so if you pick up a "budget" deck you can use some of your proxy slots on other pricey cards like dual lands and Onslaught fetches. You might have the collection to pick up Vintage right now and not even know it.

Vintage Myth #3: It is a dead or dying format.

It’s true that Vintage had a much larger scene fifteen years ago. After all, power was much easier to get in 1998 than it is today. If Vintage were going to die completely, though, it would have happened by now. Instead, a core group of dedicated players have soldiered on and are continuing to grow in ranks.

Furthermore, we’re about six months away from people being able to play Vintage online. The release of the Power Nine on Magic Online is going to renew interest in the format in a way that nothing else can. I fully expect paper Vintage to see a major bump in popularity next May/June that will cause prices on many format staples to rise. If you want to buy into Vintage, now is a great time.

Intrigued yet? Here are a few reasons to give Vintage a shot:

You get to play with the best cards ever printed. Other than the restricted list, nothing is holding you back. Black Lotus? Ancestral Recall? Skullclamp?  Play them all in the same turn. Feel the power flowing through your veins. You are the greatest mage of all time.

The best cards ever printed rarely lose value and usually just keep getting more expensive. Black Lotus and the Moxen cost a lot of money. They are quite possibly too expensive for you to afford. If you can swing it, though, these are perhaps the only Magic cards that can actually be called investments.

Think about vintage baseball cards and comics. Even when those collectors’ bubbles burst in the nineties, the truly rare and valuable ones from the earliest days kept gaining value and never stopped being desirable. Magic’s Power Nine cards are comparable to Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams rookie cards. No other cards in the game are safer bets to keep rising in price.

Your deck will never be rendered obsolete via the WotC ban hammer. If there’s a broken strategy running rampant in any other format, Wizards will start banning cards until things work well again. In Vintage, everything is broken, which means that nothing is off limits. If something is too crazy, well, you’ll just have to find your own way to deal with it. In twenty years, nothing has proven too hard to handle other than the ante cards.

Your deck will not get weaker because of power creep. The creatures of yesterday look laughably small next to those printed today, which means that your Legacy and Modern decks have to keep changing. In Vintage, though, nothing is gonna top Black Lotus and pals. Put your deck in a drawer, forget about it, pull it out next year, and go to a tournament. You might not have the most optimal build, but you’ll still be able to win.

You will be a rock star. Play a game of Vintage between rounds at your next FNM. Know who’s going to watch? Every other person in the shop. In Vintage, anything can happen—it’s like watching David Ortiz take a swing or Calvin Johnson sprint downfield to catch a deep ball. When power is involved, everyone wants to see what happens next.

Tournament prizes are great. Are you the sort of person who likes playing in PTQs for the high-level competition but doesn’t care so much about the Pro Tour invite? Vintage tournaments replace the blue envelope with something you might care a little more about: usually a nice piece of power for the winner. Sometimes the value of the first-place prize is larger than the entire amount paid in to the tournament. I know players who have come close to completing their sets of power simply by winning their Moxen one at a time.

The community is small, friendly, and dedicated. Playing Vintage Magic is an outrageously expensive hobby. At the risk of sounding super elitist, this keeps the community from getting out of control. After all, you can make and win all the Pro Tours you want without having to play a single game of Vintage, so no one with professional aspirations has to play the format. Heck, most of the tournaments aren’t even sanctioned. This means that the only people who play Vintage are those who truly love it. Most of these players are nice, mellow, longtime Magic players who have owned power and been active in the community for a decade or more. If you are a player in your late twenties or early thirties who still loves the game but doesn’t have the time to travel every weekend anymore, these are your brothers and sisters.

(A Few Of) The Decks Of Vintage

There are many fewer Vintage tournaments than Legacy events, so I’ll be leaning heavily on Vintage Champs as well as some suggested decks from past articles. If you want to read more about the decks seen here, browsing the StarCityGames.com archives for the "Vintage" tag will bring up a wealth of great information.


Want a Vintage deck you can build this weekend? Check this brew out. Zero Moxen. No Black Lotus. No dual lands. No fetch lands. There’s one copy of Bazaar of Baghdad—you can proxy that—and literally every other card in this deck is easy to get. This is actually cheaper and easier to get than nearly every winning deck in Legacy. If someone tells you that Vintage is unequivocally expensive, show them this list.

Not all Dredge lists are this cheap of course. Many run the full four Bazaars, which will cost you at least $1000 by themselves. I don’t think most people know you can run it without them though and still be competitive.

A brief aside: if you’re looking to speculate on Vintage, don’t worry about the lowest-valued cards in a given deck. The Vintage audience is always going to be pretty small, which means that there will always be enough Bloodghasts and Golgari Grave-Trolls to go around. Even if every Vintage player in the world buys ten sets each, the needle won’t move much. Remember, proxies or not, this is a format that revolves around cards with very tiny print runs.

Where Vintage starts really affecting price is in the realm of foils. This is especially true with foreign foils. For example, Golgari Grave-Troll is a $1.50 card, but the foil sells for $15. Want a Japanese foil? The cheapest one on eBay goes for $85, which puts the retail value up over $100. Simply put, some players are going to want the most valuable versions of each "cheap" card to spice up their decks. No one wants to put a $1 card next to their $2,000 Lotus.


Can you believe that creatures—creatures!—won the last Vintage Championship? It’s a brave new world out there.

Merfolk is about as fair a deck you can have while still playing Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, and Mox Sapphire. Vintage prices move fairly slowly, though, so some of these foils still haven’t had their Vintage boosts priced in. Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, Phantasmal Image, and Cavern of Souls all have fairly low foil spreads, and if this deck keeps putting up numbers, that will change over the next couple of years.

Storm Combo

Want to cast every broken spell in the history of the game? This is the deck for you. It does not play nice, and it does not play fair. It is not cheap either. But isn’t this deck so much more evocative than its cousins in Legacy? Doesn’t its power just leap off the screen at you? Show this deck off to someone and it will inspire actual awe.

Spec-wise there’s not too much to note here. Most of these cards have been staples since the day they were printed. As I said in my article last week, I expect Imperial Seal to get a reprint, so I’d look to acquire that card last if you go for this.

Oath Control

This is a deck Brian DeMars suggested in a recent article. He believes that Oath is on the comeback trail in Vintage, and he’s usually right about these sorts of things. The caliber of the creatures that can be Oathed up today is so much greater than it has ever been before.

The card itself, Oath of Druids, is actually fairly cheap right now. If you want to build this deck, I would pick them up soon. You can also snag nice foil copies of Forbidden Orchard in From the Vault: Realms for next to nothing. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is another Vintage staple that isn’t getting any cheaper and should be a priority.

The mana base looks more intimidating than it actually is—if you’ve got a couple of old-school Commander decks with blue duals and fetches mixed in, chances are you already have these one-ofs and two-ofs already.

RUG Delver

Do you have this deck built for Legacy already? If so, you’re closer to a Vintage deck than you realize. Other than the five pieces of power you’ll need to proxy, all you need to get are a couple copies of Gush and Mental Misstep. These are not exactly the hardest cards in the world to find.

If you’re looking for decent long=term specs, why not Delver of Secrets and Mental Misstep in foil? Both cards are guaranteed Vintage format staples and will be for years to come.


Here are two different Mishra’s Workshop decks. Both are based on powering out massive artifacts very quickly while trying to shut the opponent out of the game entirely. Neither deck is cheap—both require Lotus, all five Moxen, and four copies of Mishra’s Workshop—but they’re attainable with proxies and incredibly fun to play.

If you’re looking for a spec play, foil copies of Kuldotha Forgemaster, Phyrexian Metamorph, and Lodestone Golem all have low-ish spreads that should grow over time.

Is that it? Hardly! There are dozens of viable variants in Vintage. There’s Fish decks, Snake decks, Jace decks, Time Vault decks—tons of ways to play combo and control. Heck, the latest Vintage Champs came down to aggressive creatures facing off against other aggressive creatures. As long as you’re willing to use the most powerful cards ever printed, Vintage is a brewer’s paradise.

How To Begin

If you’re starting from square one, the answer is simple—play Dredge. Play the variant with just one Bazaar, which you can proxy until you save up the cash to buy it. You should be able to trade into the rest of that build for less than the price of a decent Standard deck.

If you already have a decent Legacy collection, you’ve got a little more flexibility to play with, and you can start off with a pricier deck if you want. Do some research and find the deck you’re interested in. Make a list of the cards you still need to get and begin the hunt.

Once you have your deck, seek out your local Vintage community. If you live in a decent-sized city, chances are it exists. There are Vintage forums that can be found easily via Google searches, or you can simply search "Vintage Magic <your city here>." Chances are there will be tournaments every month or so somewhere in the area. Find the next one and go.

If possible, bring along a fully proxied copy of your deck. You won’t be able to play in the event with it, but people will play with you between rounds. The Vintage community is very inviting, and they always want new blood—chances are these people have been playing Magic with each other for years and are eager to make new friends who are interested in the same stuff they are. This is a good way to get some practice in and see if this is really the deck you want to spend a year or so working on. You might see someone at the event playing a deck you like even more.

This is also a good chance to see how many proxies are allowed in tournaments in your area. Most events allow ten proxies per deck. Counting sideboard, that means that you’ll need 65 of your final 75 before you can safely start planning to play in events. With most decks, that means you’ll still need to acquire duals and Jaces and stuff but probably not things like Mishra’s Workshop and Black Lotus. You can buy or trade for those later.

Most sub-$100 cards can be traded for at your local store or online without too much hassle. Even some duals can be had for a playset of Sphinx’s Revelation or something else current and hot. If you are finding very little traction at your LGS, try to hit up the bigger tournaments in your area when they happen. SCG Open Series and Grand Prix will always give you chances to trade for bigger-ticket items. Don’t be afraid to give up "value" when trading for Vintage cards. Mutavault may be a $40 card right now, but it will come down in price next year. Tundra will not.

Don’t be suckered into trading for expensive foils and Japanese cards at this point. This is a very good way to give up a ton of trade capital very fast and walk out of a trading session with only half the cards you actually need. Foil Japanese Thorn of Amethysts will make your MUD deck look awesome, but that isn’t the priority until you’ve got all your power. Focus on playability. Foils are like high-end classic cars—make sure you’re a Mustang man or a Porsche gal for life before dropping your life savings on one.

Eventually you’ll hit your first magic number of 65 cards and get to play in tournaments. By this point you should be getting pretty good with your deck and have probably tweaked it some from the list you started with based on your own style and the local metagame. The best way to get those last ten cards is to try to win them, but it certainly won’t be easy. If you really have the Vintage bug at this point, you’ll probably start to want to try to buy or trade for power.

Sounds like a great topic to cover in next week’s article, doesn’t it?

This Week’s Trends

– It’s back! This was a useful section of my weekly article that I never should have abandoned. Expect to see it weekly in 2014, and if it stops showing up, feel free to yell at me about it in the comments.

Stoneforge Mystic is out of stock here at $15 and will likely be restocked at $20 or $25. I predicted it would make a jump for two weeks straight, and it seems as though people agree with me.

Raging Ravine is out of stock here at $6. The retail price right now is closer to $8, and I still think it’ll be $10-$12 before long.

Zur the Enchanter is making Modern waves online. It’s out of stock at $11.99, but you can still get SP copies for $10.99. Considering the short print run of Coldsnap and the casual applications, this card could easily hit $20 or $25.

– Also out of stock and spiking due to Modern is Primeval Titan. This card could hit $20 soon as well. There are still foils available for less than that.

– One possible reason Theros is so low right now? Set redemption from the MTGOpocalypse. I’m buying up some of the casual staples I want for Commander decks including the Gods, which are likely near their short-term low.

– I wouldn’t mind picking up playsets of scry lands right now if I were looking to brew Standard over the next couple years.

– Want to learn more about me as a person or just read another 5,000 words of my rambling today? Check out the interview I did about my life as a gamer. It’s free to read and super awesome!

Until next week –

– Chas Andres