MythBusters: Is Vintage’s Speed At A Standstill?

Mark Hornung talks about the myth that Vintage is currently a fast-paced format. He also talks to Josh Potucek about his remarkable three recent wins in the Blue Bell Vintage events with Landstill.

“The format is too fast.”

“There is little to no interaction in Vintage.”

“I can’t win unless I play Time Vault/Voltaic Key, Tinker/Blightsteel Colossus, Bazaar of Baghdad, Mishra’s Workshop, Etc.”


These preconceived notions of Magic’s oldest format have always been around. Today I will attempt to prove that all of these are myth, nothing more than false excuses and ignorance. Currently in Vintage there is a new boogeyman (arguably bigger than Dredge), a new elephant in the room, and none of us saw it coming, nor even talk about it. The deck has posted a 100% Top 8 win rate in the past three tournaments it was piloted at, and I am not talking about eight person tournaments either. 36, 32, and 33 players respectively. These were the turnouts for the last three Blue Bell Vintage tournaments. The competition at these tournaments is best summed up by a quote from 2008 Vintage World Champ Paul Mastriano, as he said to me at the last Blue Bell…

“When I played elsewhere I expected to Top 8 and win. At Blue Bell (or the NY/PA/NJ area tournaments), I will be happy with just a Top 8, as the fields here are just so deep with talent…”

The monthly competition at any given tournament in the NY/PA/NJ area is littered with some of the best Vintage talent out there. The tournaments don’t have the Magic Pros who play Vintage (LSV, David Ochoa, Owen Turtenwald, Dave Williams, Matt Sperling, Patrick Chapin, and Brian DeMars to name some of the format’s enthusiasts), nor do we necessarily have all of the format’s best minds in the area (Steven Menendian, Rich Shay, Kevin Cron, Andy Probasco and Marius Van Zundert to name a few), but we do have a bevy of talent at each Vintage tournament in the area.

We have noted Vintage theorists Matt Elias, Nick Detwiler, Mike Noble (Noble Fish Innovator), Max Brown (Credited for creating Dark Times), Allen Fulmer, and Shawn Anthony (The latter two credited for creating East Coast Wins). We have notable Vintage players such as Paul Mastriano, Nick Coss, Joe Brown, and Ryan Glackin. Those four players alone count seven Vintage Champs Top 8s, one Vintage Champs title, and one TMD Open title. Even the Meddling Mage himself, Chris Pikula, has become a somewhat regular to these tournaments. That’s not even counting the numerous outstanding players at any given tournament as well (sorry for all the amazing players I didn’t mention, the list literally would take up half an article). Simply put, winning a Blue Bell is very hard. The Blue Bell area players placed five in this year’s Vintage Champs Top 8 alone.

In the center of all this we have a local player who doesn’t venture very far to play the format he loves. Sticking to the NY/NJ/PA area and usually only playing Blue Bell, Bloomsburg, and NYSE Vintage tournaments, he has begun to carve out a name for himself piloting one of the fairest decks in the format. Josh Potucek continues to put opposing blue decks on blast, clobber Workshop decks, and blow through Dredge decks. His weapon of choice? Landstill…which has won him the last three consecutive Blue Bell tournaments, quite an impressive feat given the talent at these tournaments.

Standing Still or Speeding Up?

Outside of the occasional dream hand with Tinker or Time Vault/ Voltaic Key, Vintage is about resource and card advantage development. This is why cards like Dark Confidant, Snapcaster Mage, and Gush especially paired with Fastbond are so good; they provide cheap accelerated resource development. Cards like Mystic Remora are even good now. If that’s the sign of a fast format, then shoot me now. Early resource development in Vintage is huge and has really been put into the spotlight now thanks to a certain New Phyrexia card. Tempo and early game development have been shown to have such a strong emphasis that I wouldn’t be surprised if we are soon including Spell Snares, especially since decks will have Mental Misstep to back it up. This began when Joe Brown asked me what I thought about Spell Snare. I took a look at the relevant cards I would be hitting and I believe moving forward that Spell Snare may become a player.

Here is nice sample of just some of the cards that Spell Snare stops.

Dark Confidant
Lotus Cobra
Snapcaster Mage
Oath of Druids
Time Vault
Mana Drain
Demonic Tutor
Sphere of Resistance
Thorn of Amethyst
Phyrexian Revoker
Time Walk
Merchant Scroll
Hurkyl’s Recall
Fire / Ice
Echoing Truth
Ancient Grudge
Reanimate Dead
Dance of the Dead
Null Rod
Stony Silence
Qasali Pridemage
Meddling Mage
Painter’s Servant

I feel a lot of it will really depend on your metagame at any given time but being able to counter some of these spells for just one mana is potentially backbreaking. I believe that Spell Snare will require some more testing before its implementation in Vintage but it does look promising. Given the current metagame I feel that, moving forward, Spell Snare may turn into a player much like Mental Misstep has.

Since the printing and utilization of Mental Misstep in Vintage, the format has slowed down a ton, which in turn has allowed a hyper aggressive Dredge decks to explode onto the scene. Mental Misstep really slows down the tempo at which you can begin to develop your resources, but it vanquished most of the fast Dark Ritual decks. Flusterstorm is another spell which has really slowed down the format by effectively being a hard counter against a lot of key card advantage spells such as Gifts Ungiven, Yawgmoth’s Will, Fact or Fiction, etc. Who wants to tap out to slam a Fact or Gifts down only to have it countered with a spell for one mana that can’t effectively be countered itself….?

These two cards have really slowed down the rate at which you can develop your resources in a timely manner and as such allowed a certain archetype to really exploit that void. Landstill, combined with its free counter spells, massive card advantage engine, and ability to move to an end game under that engine has propelled its dominance in the Blue Bell metagame and potentially other metagames moving forward.

Josh’s games with the Landstill deck involve a long drawn out game of back and forth between his opponents and himself.  He doesn’t have Time Vault/ Voltaic Key, Tinker/Any Bot, Dark Ritual, Tendrils, Bazaar of Baghdad, or Mishra’s Workshop to provide “broken” lines of play. Instead he has Mishra’s Factory, a mere 2/2 beater, as his ten turn (statistically speaking) primary win condition….Here are the lists that Josh has sleeved up on his winning streak.

The only “broken” thing Josh’s decks look to do is utilize Standstill as Ancestral Recalls 2-5.

Recall Headache

The key is that he is able to deploy threats under a Standstill where more often than not his opponent will have to “break” the Standstill, netting Josh three cards in which he could use to counter his opponent’s spell. He backs it up with a very heavy disruption package, the densest in all of Vintage at the moment. Josh is packing anywhere from 15+ counter spells in any given 75 which helps ensure him of victory in countering any spell his opponent may play.

The deck lacks the “Oops I win!” factor but it does provide extreme consistency with a powerful and underused draw engine in Standstill. He then relies on mana denial tactics such as recurring Wastelands and Null Rod to slow down is opponent’s resource development even further. He is then able to wall up behind his heavy disruption package and lay down the beats. Yes, the old fashion way. No poison, no infinite turns, no crazy storm counts. Just good old fashion Grizzly Bear sized beats. Josh’s deck proves a key truth about Vintage; it’s not necessarily how “broken” or efficient your end game is, but rather how broken or efficient your card advantage is.

Mishra's Bear

I (MH) was able to interview Josh (JP) and get his thoughts on the deck and its performance. As well as what he thinks about it moving forward.

MH: Why do you think you have been so effective with it in the current metagame?

JP:  Well quite simply the deck has been well tuned to beat the best decks in the format. The metagame of broken blue decks and workshops likely will be unchanged and I finally have the deck so well tuned it can handle the best decks being played.

MH:  How did you come up with your disruption package configurations?

JP:   My current list runs the obvious four Force of Wills which is a staple in any Vintage blue deck. Next are the four Mana Drains. The drains are sometimes clunky in the deck, but nothing beats a hard counter that enables you to do more on your next main phase. In the past I had played Mana Leaks over a certain number of Drains to smooth out the mana intensity a bit. Next are the two Misdirections. In the past I played only one or even none of these but that is wrong for the deck. It helps protect your Standstills when you need them to resolve, it helps in counter wars, and occasionally steals Ancestral Recalls. Next are the two Mindbreak Traps, a close second behind the Misdirections in my disruption suite.

My earlier lists ran Stifle and quite frankly they didn’t do enough so they were cut for Trap. They both stop storm cards, but Trap does much more. It stops your opponent from having a ridiculous turn 1 and it is also a huge reason I win counter wars. Of course late game it’s a counter you can hard cast not needing three spells by your opponent. Next on the list are the two Mental Missteps. I really didn’t want to play this card prior to the tournament but it was surprisingly better than I thought it would be in this deck. This slot originally had Spell Pierces in its place.

Spell pierces are obviously better against Workshop decks, but the change was made based on what I expected in the metagame. I was really impressed with its performance throughout the tournament being able to have another free counter. My current list runs one Red Elemental Blast in the deck. There are two reasons for this change. The previous two tournaments I won with the deck I ran Lightning Bolts over Fire/Ices, which a Bolt of course can nuke a Jace, the Mind Sculptor if they opt to brainstorm. Because I was cutting Bolts for Fire/Ice I wanted yet another card that could answer Jace and ultimately strengthen the blue match even more.

MH: How did you tool your sideboard?

JP: My current sideboard has four Leyline of the Void, two Yixlid Jailer, two Underground Sea, three Energy Flux, two Ingot Chewer, one Steel Sabotage, and one Red Elemental Blast. If you take a look at my sideboards they are constantly changing based on what I expect to see. Against Dredge I am bringing in four Leyline of the Void, two Yixlid Jailer, two Underground Sea, and one Ingot Chewer. This is the only package that I feel lets me win the matchup. Leyline and Jailer protected just simply say NO to Dredge. Ravenous Trap and Crypt effects just aren’t effective enough in my deck to stop Dredge.

Next against Workshop decks I bring in one Underground Sea, three Energy Flux, two Ingot Chewer, and one Steel Sabotage. The Underground Sea just provides another mana source just so I can keep hitting my land drops against the deck. Next the Energy Flux provide me the best way this deck can lock out Workshops short of just countering spells and staying ahead. Ingot Chewers, they are a new addition to the deck. As I previously stated I cut Lightning Bolts from the deck, which in turn make my deck afraid of Lodestone Golem more. So by strengthening the main against blue decks I needed to make the sideboard better against Workshops. Ingot Chewers were the best fit for the deck. And finally steel sabotage. Steel Sabotage, which was originally in the main deck but has since moved to the sideboard to make room for metagame changes.

Now as far as some of my past choices; Sometimes if I feel fish is lingering in the meta I may run anything from  Waterfront Bouncer, to Threads of Disloyalty, and more recently Pyroclasm, and/or Firespout. If I expect a large amount of Oath (not the case in current meta) I could side Spell Snares, Greater Gargadons,  and even Chain of Vapor.

There are so many different ways to arrange the sideboard and main deck for Landstill it is just based on a current meta expected. That’s how I always approach my lists. When building a Landstill sideboard and main deck you have to ask yourself two questions. What decks do I want to beat? And what decks do I have to forego or worry less about? The deck is not inherently broken so the power of the cards will not win you games. Playing tight and a well designed and thought out list will however.

MH: What are some of the opening lines of play with the deck?

JP: Land, GO!

Sometimes you might get a lucky hand with a Mox and drop a turn one Null Rod or Standstill. If you have a hand with a Mox, a Null Rod, and a Standstill, I will lead most often times with the Null Rod, and then the following turn the Standstill. Laying a Null Rod before a Standstill is HUGE!

This deck has a lot of decisions based on countering spells and baiting your own spells. You can’t get casual about countering nor can you get casual about wasting your own vital resources. The deck plays four Null Rod for a reason; if one gets countered it’s okay because you are likely to drop the second. But really it’s case by case. If the ir whole board is artifacts then obviously you want Null Rod on the field ASAP!

This deck can get sketchy starting hands, which to most people look pretty bad, but from experience I know what the outcome normally is and those hands can turn around in a hurry. A sketchy hand like Wasteland, Strip Mine, Mishra’s Factory, Force of Will, Mindbreak Trap, blue card, and blue card… this looks awfully sketchy. Now if I am on the play this is a mulligan. On the draw I keep. I have a disrupting hand, a Strip Mine, and a Wasteland. And, after all, I am playing Landstill, so I WILL statistically speaking draw lands. Keep in mind this deck doesn’t get uber broken hands so someone going from playing a broken deck would pick this deck up and be in for a life shock.

MH: How does not having Vault/Key, Tinker/Blightteel, Yawgmoth’s Will, Etc. affect your game plans each match?

JP: I honestly like the challenge of not having those cards in my deck. I like winning long games, and having to win slowly in a controlling fashion.

It’s funny you mention those broken cards, because a while ago I tried to make Landstill more broken by adding Tinker/Bot, in addition to trying a list with Time Vault/Voltaic Key with black for tutors and Yawgmoth’s Will. I never liked any of those changes that I tried and tested. It’s not the direction Landstill wants to naturally take. You need to take full advantage of every card in Landstill and drawing Blightteel in a deck whose game plan doesn’t necessarily involve Tinker/Bot seems bad. The deck needs card advantage from all places possible.

MH: Best and Worst Matchups?

JP: Best Matchups I feel are the blue decks and Workshops.

Worst matchups I would say are Fish with Tarmogoyf at number one and Oath of Druids at a distant number two.

This being said it really all depends on the sideboard at a given tournament. I don’t feel Landstill has an unwinnable matchup but a lot of 50/50s.

MH: What is Landstill’s future in the metagame and do you see more changes to the deck moving forward?

JP: As the metagame changes ever so slightly changes so will my lists. I feel pretty cont ent with the list I have together for the current metagame.

But I can promise you one thing…this guy will always be playing Landstill! 😉


Let’s now take a look at some of the myths we were looking to bust…

“The format is too fast.”
 Verdict: Myth

“There is little to no interaction in Vintage.”
-Verdict: Myth

“I can’t win unless I play Vault/Key, Tinker/Blightteel, Bazaar of Baghdad, Mishra’s Workshop, Etc.”
-Verdict: Myth

I would say that Landstill provides us with a great example of the complexity of Vintage. The deck is a true grind them out strategy which helps further dispel notions that Vintage is a “fast” format. You may interact with your opponent faster now, especially thanks to Mental Misstep, but saying that the format is faster is wrong in my opinion. You are going to have “fast” draws definitely, but that happens in every format. I think they are also linked. A lot of times in Limited, Standard, Extended, Modern, Legacy, and Vintage people are prone to keeping bad starting hands, which help fuel the fire of “fast” draws. I think this is also related to an even bigger problem which comes down to play testing.

Of Testing and Preparation

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Some of the “Vintage is fast” comments are stemmed from Dredge’s ability to win on turn 2 in game 1 one and on turns 3 or 4 in games 2 and 3. If you look in the mirror you can actually see the problem : it is us. I would go as far to say the vast majority of Magic players don’t play test, and even if they do I am still skeptical on how effective it actually is. Play testing begins with your starting hand, determining your lines of play to an end game, and then executing your end game. Most people completely ignore the first one and the relevance it has.

Too often I see people keeping poor hands against Dredge and then complain they lost. One of the biggest misconceptions is that you need to get greedy or lucky against Dredge, which isn’t necessarily the case. It comes back to analyzing your starting hands against any given deck. People complain that play testing isn’t fun or they don’t like play testing against deck XYZ because it is not fun and in theory they should win because they have cards XYZ. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that in Magic.

Osyp Lebedowicz really hit the nail on the head with his interview here.

It comes down to where, if you want to results, you’re going to have to put in the work. No one is going to hand you a free win; cards don’t just automatically win you matchups when you aimlessly play them. You have to put in the time to play test no matter how un-fun you think it is if you want to actually win a tournament and beat decks X, Y, and Z. I believe Osyp is correct in saying that people just don’t put in the necessary time testing in order to get the result they desire.

In my opinion it’s almost equivocal to complaining about President XY Z.

Did you actually vote ?


Then what gives you the right to have a valid argument for or against him if you didn’t voice your opinion when it mattered.

When you lose a match in any given round you need to look in the mirror long and hard and ask yourself a couple questions:

Was I out played?

Did I make a play mistake?

For the most part I would categorize losses falling in one of these questions, with the latter being expanded to include deck selection and starting hands.  The first one is the nature of the game; you are inevitably at the tournament level going to play someone who will be better than you. As long as you are able to learn from that it will eventually correct itself. If you find yourself constantly finding the answer falling under the second question then you need to really reevaluate what made you make the mistake and figure out was it your lack of preparation or a lapse of certainty. I would bet more often than not it is due to the lack of preparation.

Sure you may not want to necessarily test format XYZ or for tournament XYZ, but then why would you even waste your breath complaining hours later that you lost. If you want to skate by at a marginal level then sure, maybe not play testing is perfectly fine. You don’t find playing against deck XYZ fun? Sure, just don’t go complaining when you constantly lose to it because of your lack of preparation. Bringing this back to Vintage I would equate this to Dredge. People continue to complain for and against the deck, yet a majority of the people against Dredge’s legalities in Vintage admit to NOT testing or playing against the deck with any regularity.    

It continues to be the biggest problem in Vintage in my opinion. No one wants to play test or sideboard properly against Dredge. That’s why it keeps getting these results. If we break it down we can come to the conclusion that the hub Dredge pilots are in the NJ/NY/PA area. If you look carefully at the results of these tournaments in this area how often do you see Dredge actually winning a tournament in this area? Not very often. The players in this area have been conditioned to learn how to play against Dredge and properly use their six sideboard cards, something that more people need to do.

Looking at the two big tournaments that Dredge did win, Vintage Champs and TMD Open 15, I don’t know if you noticed but people just flat out don’t know what they are doing against Dredge. People continue to ignore Yixlid Jailer and Leyline of the Void as valid sideboard options and continue to keep hands with no hate or no quick line to victory. It’s pathetic.

People need to actually play against Dredge and learn the matchup, how many cards they need, and stop complaining because they are lazy and do not want to test the matchup. LSV probably said it best in one of his videos that Dredge is the “tax man” because it forces people to actually learn how to play against and properly side for it, or you get punished for your own ignorance.

That’s why Dredge has been able to win both of these tournaments. The majority of players in both just don’t know what they are doing in the Dredge matchup. I just felt astonished all day at Vintage Champs with the lack of and poor sideboard cards people were bringing in against me when I asked what they brought in games 2 and 3. In speaking with Anthony Scalzo, TMD Open 15 winner with Dredge, he also noted the same thing. It will continue to win in this format as long as people allow it t o. The deck is easily self regulated ourselves if we chose to put in the work to beat it. That goes for any deck, for that matter.

An awesome thing happened to me at the most recent Blue Bell Vintage tournament. I lost playing Dredge. The awesome part was that I lost really hard. He didn’t play Leyline of the Void, he had no Yixlid Jailer, no Crypt effects. He beat me with Surgical Extraction/Extirpate and Snapcaster Mage.

I lost incredibly hard. I had literally nothing in my sideboard for that. My Nature’s Claims, Chain of Vapors, and Darkblasts were rendered useless. With each Extraction on a win condition I found myself further and further out of the game.

What I am trying to say here is that there are ways to beat any deck in Vintage currently that it shouldn’t remain dominant. The problem, referring back to the Osyp podcast, is that people are too lazy to put in the leg work to figure it all out… In Vintage you can pretty much use any card ever printed, which means there is a lot of work, but also the reward of being able to dominate any given metagame. Yes, you are not going to win a Pro Tour invite if you win that tournament you were testing Vintage for, but you can’t complain if you just want to show up with little to no testing either…


May all of your play testing be relevant and effective…

Mark Hornung
@Womba_ on Twitter