Musings on the Eternal – a Look at Vintage and Legacy

After a two-month hiatus, Josh returns with an interesting article dealing with both the Vintage and Legacy formats. He looks at the tier system for the Vintage metagame, and places the contenders in order of their recent performances. He also shares a nifty Legacy deck that reaclls the power of some of the stronger Vintage builds. Looking for an edge in your Eternal metagame? Look no further!

So here I am again, trying to think of enough stuff to actually write down to make a full article without cheating and just using other people to fill it. Or even worse, flood you with ten different deck lists that are probably suboptimal compared to other versions out there, but I’ll say they beat everything anyway. No sir, we’re saving that for Extended season!

Now that Gencon and Waterbury is done, we have the usual hype-fest surrounding a variation of a deck that doesn’t suck. Pitch Long is the new lovechild of combo players everywhere for introducing a simpler combo deck to play competitively. As usual, this deck supposedly beats everything, including itself in the mirror. Meanwhile I fully believe the deck comes back down the earth once people get actual testing in against it and really analyze why it wins.

Vintage decks are interesting, because they’re inherently very focused and narrow-minded on their goals. Hence when a deck like Pitch Long comes along that combines an early combo kill, but featuring unknown quantities*, it throws control players for a loop. Suddenly they need to try to make on-the-fly judgments about the paradigm they play the match under. How many threats does the version have? How many matter? What amount of resources will I have to give up to win a counter war? And so on, and so forth.

*Threat evaluation becomes a lot different when facing different disruption. Against Duress you’d counter / play differently than facing Force of Will, and the same goes with Misdirection, Dark Confidant, etc.

People typically evaluate decks based on short-term information. Nobody cares about what your deck did a year ago; they care what it’s done in the last month or two. This is fine in other formats, because additional information keeps cropping up with a changing metagame. In the Eternal formats, much like the name, information on why decks won a year ago is still typically relevant. We see decks like Dragon and GAT come back, seemingly out of oblivion, and make Top 8 or win at prominent Vintage tournaments.

This is why I’m always surprised when the new hotness gets Top Deck in the format honors over decks that have won consistently over the long haul in the hands of many different pilots. This is the extreme opposite of how people used to react whenever someone said the word, "Keeper" and the next forty posts were arguing how a deck with two Swords to Plowshares, Dismantling Blow, and a Balance for relevant removal beat an artifact fattie deck backed by Goblin Welder and Survival of the Fittest. And just remember, if you were beating Keeper, it was because the Keeper player sucked / got unlucky / you run the cheats / you slept with his sister.

Oh, sorry. Got off on a bit of a tangent there. I had most of an article typed up on Vintage tiers something like two months ago, but it fell apart because I got tired of reading about how apparently everything was great and nothing was special and blah blah blah…

Of course then again, there’s always Mono-Blue! The best deck ever. If you haven’t seen the monstrosity that is Big Blue, just look at this article here. How can you go wrong with such a dominating deckbuilding strategy in Stoloahtastic deckbuilding? Deckbuilding that tells you the optimal number of Force of Will is three.

Now obviously this is a joke of some sort… I mean it has to be. Right? Right? That’s my big issue with the article: it has a bunch of “could be” subtle jokes in there, but it isn’t truly a satire on Vintage or its deckbuilding philosophy. Nor does the article make a bunch of obvious jokes and sarcastic comments about the format – MWS players and the obvious hilarity of the name ‘Smmenenenenenen’.

Thoughts on the piece from a serious standpoint can be summed up here.

Now onto something entirely different. My own article! The article within an article. This is something I was working on about two months ago, but gave up on due to boredom. I think some of the information was worth knowing though, and it’s surprising how little some of the rankings have actually changed. The only major climber was Fish really, thanks in large part to Jotun Grunt. Anyway, onto the half-done article.

The Way Things Stand: Vintage Tiers

"You just stepped on an un-resettable, non-negotiable, big ass landmine."
Revy, Black Lagoon

Tiers in Vintage have always been a source of debate while not providing much insight. Why is this? The problem behind tier debate in nearly any sort of strategy-oriented game is that people dislike having their personal opinions or pet characters/deck/strategies/etc called into question. There only tends to be a credible set of tiers for games that have been out for some time and are relatively set.

Using fighting game tiers as an example, the most accurate sets of rankings are generally generated from three things. The first and most important being how the characters (decks in this case) have ranked in actual tournament performance. Second is how powerful the characters move sets are (how strong the deck is outside of metagame consideration). Finally we then take into account the personal opinions of top players and how the matches generally play out at high level play (testing between competent players in a controlled setting).

By combining these three aspects, it takes into account some amount of personal skill, the power of the overall character, and how many awesome or terrible matches the character has against other commonly played characters. We can do the same for decks, but the problem is that decks can be slightly different from one another and skew the results. Hence all tiers in Vintage must be taken with a higher grain of salt than other formats. Individual skill and metagames are more important.

In addition, people need to remember that these are just opinions about the current metagame. If I happen to rank your personal deck low, it doesn’t mean it can’t win; it just means it hasn’t won all that much lately. Maybe it’s time to consider a retrofit for the deck – a la Dragon – to make it viable again, or even just switching to another deck. Then again, if you keep winning with it, why change?

So my system is quite simple. S is the best rank your deck can achieve and everything under that is progressively worse. This means my lowest mark, C, is right around “could win a tourney, but not very likely and many results show that.”

Control Slaver

Grim Long / Pitch Long

Sullivan Solution

Fish (This was before U/W Grunt builds and all that stuff. Once again I’m sure someone will totally miss that I wrote this two months ago and complain.)

Control Slaver
Does anyone actually have to ask why Control Slaver is at the top of the heap? It placed first on both days of SCG Power 9: Richmond, and another three players made Top 8. At SCG Power 9: Rochester, two made Top 8 on Day 1 and another made Top 8 on Day 2, with an additional two people making Top 16 between both days. Only at Waterbury, back in January, did the deck fail to put up any sort of notable performance. Though a number of players don’t see the deck anywhere as powerful as it once was; an assessment I’d agree with, though it still puts up excellent results. So it seemed like the obvious choice for the top of the heap.

What else can I say? Albatross.

Let’s move onto something else…

Welcome to the other deck that saw little play this year until Rochester. I’ll mainly be using those results to talk about where we are. Five people played Dragon on both days, with two making Top 8 on Day 1, and one making Top 8 on Day 2.

The deck is difficult to play optimally, but it’s not too hard to just pick up and immediately win. After the Rochester tournament, Rich Shay took Dragon and played it at the Beanie Exchange 4x Workshop tourney (54 people) and proceeded to get a Top 2 split. His experience with playing the Dragon archetype before the tournament was minimal at best. Dragon has a high inherent power level with enough cards to control the stack / course of the game, so you don’t have to force the combo.

The deck has been ignored long enough to allow a newer build – one that’s less reliant on Bazaar of Baghdad – to come back and power through the field. With this “flaw” in the deck fixed, it’s even more resilient to hate than previous incarnations. It also has arguably the best card drawing engine in the format right now, which at the same time can be its win mechanism.

Being able to combine these factors gives Dragon a lot of inherent synergy, the best protection and a quick win condition. Dragon may not be heavily played, but that’s the only thing holding it back from being up there with Control Slaver.

Grim Long
Grim Long, the Five-Color and U/B versions, are the most powerful decks in the format.

There, I said it. Now you can start flaming away for no good reason.

Now this selection, more so than Dragon, will probably be called out for taking the recent results so much into account. Let me explain my reasoning behind such a high mark for this deck. On Day 1 of Rochester, three people played Bomberman and one person made Top 8. On Day 2, five people played it and two people made the Top 8. In addition, the three people who made Top 8 on both days were different people, meaning it wasn’t just one very skilled pilot. For those not match-inclined, that’s a 33% and 40% Top 8 percent on the respective days. Those are some solid numbers to put up for a deck nobody plays.

In addition, this deck has been a known quantity for a long time. Few players outside of Canada have picked the deck up, which is sad, because it’s essentially the only aggro-control-combo deck available in the format that really fits the bill (GAT can’t pretend to be combo without Will in hand). I’ve said before that it’s like a Fish deck, minus half the junky creatures and Daze, plus a combo kill, draw engine, and Mana Drain. In other words, it’s nothing like Fish, because it’s not a pile of garbage.

Plus it’s customizable due to the toolbox nature that Trinket Mage provides and the ease of splashing another color. For example, as soon as I got my hands on the SCG lists, I immediately cut one card and added Sensei’s Divining Top, which has been nothing less than amazing for me. Then there’s adding Black for additional tutors and Dark Confidant, which could potentially improve the Drain matches. Though it has the drawback of mucking up the awesome manabase and forces the deck to cut down on some of its redundancy, which may offset the bonuses.

So why is it here? Because when the deck finally gets played by competent people, it put up an excellent percentage of Top 8 finishes. In testing against a varied field with competent testers, it has done well. Plus it’s got the best name in Vintage; who’s going to actually argue that something like “Grim Long” or “Gifts” is cooler than Bomberman? A game that’s near and dear to all of our hearts… I mean, who doesn’t love blowing people up in Bomberman? I can see how you wouldn’t if A) You’re a communist, B) You’re Brassman, or C) You fall under A and B.

Not to mention it has the toolbox answers and protection suite to “Just Say No” to dying against combo. Having access to Mana Drain, Force of Will, Chalice of the Void post board – along with Tormod’s Crypt – is some good. Meanwhile you still have enough threats in the deck to fight against Drain decks. The Stax game isn’t all that amazing, but you usually win via attrition after dealing with the key threats. You have a rock solid manabase and counters, so winning game 1 if they don’t get an early Smokestack is almost inevitable. From the board comes Seal of Cleansing; Serenity; or Kataki, War’s Wage to make life miserable for the opponent.

Nine people played Gifts Day 1 at Rochester, and then six played it on Day 2. Nobody even made the Top 16 for the first day, and on the second only a single person finished in the Top 16 (second place). Some may think this to be an overreaction to its poor performance on both days of Rochester. However, if you look at the data for the last six months – even when Flame Vault was legal and the preferred kill of many Gifts decks – its performance was hardly stellar.

At the dual Richmond power tourneys, Gifts had seventeen players Day 1 and nineteen Day 2. Their performances were incredibly underwhelming compared to the numbers they had in attendance. Only two Gifts decks made the Top 16 on Day 1 and three made it on Day 2. To top it off, only one from each day actually advanced to Top 8.

Oath… wow, the deck hasn’t put up any relevant results in the last six months of major tourney play. In fact, the only notable results have come from an 11th place finish at Waterbury and a 13th place finish on Day 2 at Rochester.

Back to the rest of this article…

On the other side of the spectrum you have Legacy, which features older archetypes simply tuned and revamped to crush an open field. U/G Madness came back into the minds of many players when one of the few Vintage Good Men and now Legacy World Champion, Roland Chang, won with it. Meanwhile another forgotten deck, Salvagers Gamekeeper, made yet another high profile Top 8 despite seeing little play at the local level.

One might write these off as flukes from decks that aren’t as objectively strong as the popular top tier decks of Threshold, Goblins, and High Tide. However, if one remembers the GP and other large Legacy tournaments Top 8 decks, one would notice fluke decks are quite common. People may not respect decks like Iggy Pop and Salvagers, but they are definite contenders and have quite the decent match against the top tier.

Speaking of combo, this is my list for a Tendrils deck. What can I say? Iggy just wasn’t close enough to Vintage for me to like.

A lot of information about the deck can be found here.

Basically it’s a turn 3/4 combo deck that races Goblins, can go toe to toe with Threshold, but packs it up to High Tide all day. Hence the board is designed to transform and just attempt to win with In The Eye of Chaos plus Beaters plus Mini Tendrils of Agony.

In other news, a 40+ land deck did something other than suck. This pretty much amazed me, but after kicking the tires on the thing, it’s really got some power going. In fact I’m waiting for the inevitable terrible Legacy name that will become it’s birth-right. What is it with Eternal players and god-awful deck names? It’s like you have to smack them over and over again with a rolled-up newspaper to not name a deck something that has much ado about nothing.

Let’s actually give the viewers at home an idea of what you can expect in terms of terrible names.

Solidarity for High Tide, Deadguy Ale for somehow being B/W Confidant Aggro, Nausea meaning a Tendrils deck, etc… On the upside, the three main decks all are pretty recognizable now. Solidarity has been around long enough that at least some people with know it means High Tide. Go us!

Back to Legacy – anyone notice how the best decks are actually starting to be played at a ratio significantly higher than mediocre and random decks? It’s amazing what a year (and Goblins constantly pummeling the crap out of people) will do for a format. Now it’s finally evident to all that the trinity of Threshold, Goblins, and High Tide truly are the “dominant” decks in the metagame. This also means other decks in the metagame will typically be solid decks metagamed against two of aforementioned.

By the way, has anyone noticed that Goblins is still amazingly good even though everyone runs hate against it? This means one of two things needs to happen.

  • People need to switch to decks that auto-win against them (Tendrils, Tide, Reanimator, or decks with maindeck Engineered Plague or Humility all come to mind)
  • You need a beefy sideboard that ruins them.

Wizards: have you realized that Legacy is a really enjoyable format with a relatively open metagame that nearly anyone can get into? It’s no more powered than some Extended seasons we’ve had, and a huge number of decks can compete. Osyp’s plea in his recent article was an excellent little mention that I hope people will read and take to heart. Many people in the Eternal communities are very close to one another, and you can easily see this from the large distances people go for a small payout (compared to major tournaments in other formats) and no ratings implications. Heck, Roland Chang and Jacob Orlove got their cards stolen and people who have never even met them started sending cards to help out. (I just sent mine out, Roland. Sorry about the wait.)

When Extended season rolls around, expect a lot more writing coming from me. Until then, enjoy this as my article to get off a two-month hiatus.

Joshua Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom