SCG Daily – What Vintage Does and Does Not Need

Welcome to the first Vintage daily series! This week I have been given a platform to rant. I will delve into five topics that I would not normally write about because they aren’t worthy of a full-length article. To begin the week, here is a list of ten things Vintage could really use more of and things that Vintage really does not need (even though we might think we do).

Welcome to the first Vintage daily series! This week I have been given a platform to rant. Thanks Ted! Thanks Pete! Thanks Ferrett! I will delve into five topics that I would not normally write about because they aren’t worthy of a full-length article.

To begin the week, here is a list of ten things Vintage could really use more of and things that Vintage really does not need (even though we might think we do).

Five Things Type One Needs:

1) More Proxy Tournaments and More Proxies per Tournament

Vintage is in a bind. As Vintage gets more popular, the staples continue to rise in price. Dual lands from Revised now fetch (no pun intended) as much as $40 a piece. That’s how much I bought black-bordered dual lands for a few years ago. Most of the staples like Goblin Welder, Intuition, Force of Will, Wasteland, Cunning Wish and the like are all $12-$25 bucks. Mana Drain has quadrupled in price in two years. The increase in proxies from 5 to 10 at most major events has just made it possible to keep up with price inflation.

If we want Vintage to continue to grow, there is really no choice here. Vintage isn’t a Pro Tour format. It’s not something you qualify for and it’s not something that can get you thousands and thousands of dollars in a grand prix or Pro Tour. Vintage, strictly speaking, is a casual format – in the sense that people who play it play it because, at least in part, they love the format. It’s a love of the game sort of thing.

Therefore, if we want Vintage to continue to grow, as it so wants to do, measures need to be in place to do so. For local stores, I think unlimited proxies is the only solution. Unlimited proxies at the grassroots level creates the player base that will then be eager to play in the large Power Nine events. Right now, Vintage is a top down phenomena. The huge Power Nine events and tournaments like Gencon and the Waterbury are driving the format in North America. It needs to work both ways.

If people love Vintage, then there is no reason to really not to proxy tournaments. Stores will get people to come and they will buy their way in. Those people will want to acquire and trade for some of the staples so they can then participate in the bigger events like the SCG power nine tournaments and the Gencon championships.

The whole argument that proxies hurt card sales is simply a myth. The price of Vintage staples has grown at a rate at least equal to the number of proxy tournaments.

2) Vintage Needs To be Marketed Toward Adults

Although Vintage is not a direct source of revenue for Wizards, Wizards should seriously consider using Vintage as a component in their broader marketing strategies. Having a format out there that attracts an older crowd and provides an outlet for the older cards makes dealers happy and makes Magic seem more permanent.

Vintage is the gentlemen’s format. It caters to an older crowd with more expendable income who don’t want to deal with the pettiness and adolescent behavior often found at PTQs and among the local limited players. Everyone I consider to be good at Vintage is an adult. Once in a while, you get your Max Joseph or some such player. We call them our “Le Enfant Terrible!” The average age on Team Meandeck and Short Bus is around 25 with the youngest members being Ben Kowal at 18 and Carl Winter at 20 (?). That average age will grey as time goes on. Yes it’s true that people get really busy, have kids and careers competing with their time. But Vintage is the kind of format people can enjoy through all of life’s distractions much like many men golf.

Moreover, Vintage is here to stay. Vintage should be used as an example of a wonderful and unique card pool the older magic player can enjoy at a competitive level. I don’t think you can expect many middle-aged men to want to learn and play Magic if they can reasonably expect to play against a child.

Playing against children leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Although I know that some children are fantastic at Magic (like the reigning World Champion), it feels undignified to sit down, chat and play Magic against a child. If you beat them, you feel guilty because it’s a child. If you lose, you feel stupid because you lost to a child. Vintage is a game of skill, wits, and pure enjoyment. Although most magic formats are marketed toward children, I see no reason why Wizards can’t at least test the waters and try to market Vintage towards an older crowd.

3) More Players Who Are Passionate About Vintage

This is the silver bullet. Passion and love of the format drives everything that Vintage really needs. It drives testing, innovation, performance – everything. Individuals drive this format, not teams and not communities. A person who loves the format enough can make a huge impact. I know from my own experience.

Vintage is infectious. People who love Vintage unintentionally spread their addiction for the format. More people who love the format means more people getting other people into the format.

4) People Trying to Break the Format through Innovation and Discovery of Hidden Gems

Contrary to the opinion of Randy Buehler and others, Vintage actually does need more breaking. Breaking the format does not mean Vintage will degenerate. That is a myth. Breaking the format gives us the information we need to know what needs to be restricted and what metagame shifts should occur.

One of the difficulties of Vintage is that the card pool is massive. Even if you love the format and are an addict, you may simply not have been playing Magic for the twelve years it’s been in existence. It’s a daunting task to go through and start reading through the thousands of older cards. It takes discipline and passion to really turn over some broken gems from the past. Despite the amount of effort put into Vintage, you would be shocked at how new cards arise. Old Man of the Sea went from worthless rare to sideboard bomb and silver bullet within a few months. In The Eye of Chaos is another hidden gem that is simply amazing in the current environment. Imagine my surprise in late 2001 when I was first told about Illusionary Mask and Phyrexian Dreadnought. The cards are there, they just have to be discovered.

Vintage also needs people who don’t want to just metagame and perform well, but who want to truly innovate – who want to become deckbuilders, not just deck players. This is related to the passion one has for the format and the desire one has to really break the format. In other words, Vintage needs tinkerers – people willing to experiment and willing to fail.

5) Vintage Needs more Great Players and more Great Players willing to play Combo

Vintage needs people who are so technically proficient that they set a standard for proficiency. Vintage needs more players who are really good not just at deckbuilding, but at deck playing. We need players willing to play decks that aren’t just Mana Drain or Null Rod/Chalice of the Void aggro-control decks. Vintage needs more Michael Simisters and Ray Robillards: people willing to play unholy combo decks that require intimate mastery.

Vintage also needs more players willing to play Combo. There are a number of great Mana Drain players and a smaller number of well-respected Mishra’s Workshop players. The one thing that is missing is a cadre of well known and equally respected combo players. Sure there are Rich Mattuzzio and Peter Olzewecki who play Dragon, but Dragon isn’t a real man’s combo deck. I’m talking modern Academy decks – i.e. Storm combo. Vintage needs more Michael Simister who made Top 4 at Gencon with 2-Land Belcher! Vintage needs people who are so good with Combo that they can play Meandeck Tendrils like Gary Kasparov or Deep Blue!

Five Things Vintage Does Not Need:

1) More Cards Designed for Vintage

The Vintage player loves the idea of Wizards making more cards for Vintage simply because it means that R&D is devoting energy to the format. However, I’m wary about the need for this. For half a dozen years, Type One has done fine without the need for cards made for the format. Cards that are underpowered in other formats become good in Vintage and that is fine. Cards like Forbidden Orchard, Trinisphere, Xantid Swarm, and Mindslaver are all amazing Vintage cards (although the latter is good in every format). The one card that was made for Vintage, Chalice of the Void, is not the kind of card that Vintage needs more of. Chalice of the Void is a heavily-played card and will likely remain a ruinous hoser for years. It makes games swingy by shutting one player out on the basis of who goes first when dropped for zero. Vintage has plenty of cards that do that already. Designing for Type One risks making cards that are simply too good and too good in the early game in particular. The reason is that designing for Vintage means that the card is likely going to be very cheap. The result is that the cards might be too good. Sets like Mirrodin transformed Vintage in dramatic ways. There is no need for WOTC to make cards specifically for Vintage when Vintage finds ways to abuse the cards that are made.

2) A Scandal

Thank goodness Vintage has managed to grow unscathed in the last few years without incident. We have no Mike Longs, no offensive or rude players, no outbursts or acts of violence. The only thing that happens in Vintage tournaments is that some poor sap loses his deck. So long as Vintage tournaments keep their reputation for being fun and intense, Vintage will be in good shape.

3) Sanctioned Tournaments

A Vintage or Eternal Rating qualifies you for nothing relevant. An Eternal Rating basically is just bragging rights. Sanctioned tournaments provide really nothing that valuable for Vintage. The judging is often noticeably weaker at sanctioned events than at major events run by StarCityGames simply because most judges aren’t familiar with Vintage as those who regularly judge Vintage. Sanctioned tournaments mean no proxies. Vintage needs as few of these as possible. And when they occur, they need to mean something. They need to have a great prize and a fun atmosphere.

4) Continued Fixation on the Banned and Restricted List.

The Vintage community is obsessed with this list. As Mark Rosewater said in a recent interview: “Vintage needs to stop panicking like Chicken Little, the sky is not falling down.” He’s right.

The Banned and Restricted list is about as good as it could be considering all the information, pressures and blathering that wizards gets concerning it. Although I did not agree with the restriction of Trinisphere and still regard that as a mistake, I understand why it was done.

The problem is that Restricted list debates often follow in circles because different people have different goals. Some people want metagame balance (that’s what I want). Some people care only about the fundamental turn. Others just want Mana Drain decks to dominate so they can play control mirrors all day. Whatever the case, restricted list debates run in circles. The one thing that I think people should talk more about is unrestriction.

Debates about what should be unrestricted are very healthy because they reflect not a concern over the current environment, but a desire to play with more archetypes. Every card that has been unrestricted in the last two years is orders of magnitude stronger than Mind Over Matter. It’s a tragedy that Mind Over Matter is still on that list. The card is wretched. Restricted, it sees no play. Unrestricted, it would still see absolutely no play. Twiddle, Cloud of Faeries, and Dream’s Grip are all vastly superior. How many times do you really need to untap Academy?

5) A Focus on Teams

I once thought that competition between teams would be the driving force in Vintage. At the time, there was really only one team – Team Paragons. I created a secret team at the same time with intent of revealing it so as to compete with the Paragons. I never had the guts to do it. The paragons had a meltdown and the Paragons split into my team and Team Short Bus. Team Reflection has made inroads as another big Vintage team as had Team Hadley. These teams are good for pooling knowledge, but they aren’t really necessary to success. It’s the truly motivated players that perform well. Two ingredients determine performance: the first is skill and the second is understanding of the format. The latter is primarily a result of your passion with the format. Teams are the byproduct of passionate players, not the cause.