So Many Insane Plays – Figures Don’t Lie, But Liars Figure: A Vintage Metagame Report

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On June 20th, the DCI dropped a megaton bomb. Gifts Ungiven was restricted, and Gush, Mind Twist, Black Vise, and Voltaic Key were all unrestricted. In combination with the errata on Flash and the unleashing of Future Sight, the Vintage metagame experienced a massive transformation. Today, Stephen Menendian examines the fallout from this monumental shift, and shows us where we stand amid the rubble.

On June 20th, the DCI dropped a megaton bomb. Gifts Ungiven was restricted, and Gush, Mind Twist, Black Vise, and Voltaic Key were all unrestricted. In combination with the errata on Flash and the unleashing of Future Sight, the Vintage metagame experienced a massive transformation.

Nearly two months later and on the precipice of the 2007 Vintage Championship, I’d like to take a look at the tournament results from around the world and examine the shockwave. It’s the perfect opportunity to take stock and see what effect these profound changes have made on the actual Vintage metagame.

Before we start breaking down the numbers, I’d like to take one more opportunity to remind you to go vote for the Magic Invitational Storyteller. I’m proud to have been offered a chance to represent this community on the Invitational with honor. The support from the Eternal community and from so many StarCityGames.com readers has been tremendous.

There is a lot of controversy on the MTG.com forums regarding this ballot between the Pro community and the rest of the Magic community. Pros are complaining that the Invitational should be an “all-star” game, where the Pro Tour’s most successful players face-off in a 16-man tournament. I offer myself as a candidate that would send the message that non-Pro Tour magic players can compete at any level. The Invitational is a showcase of wacky, unconventional formats. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if part of the motivation for nominating me for this ballot is that Wizards wants to put Vintage back on the Invitational! Ever played Type 4?

The ballot is still very winnable, but every vote counts. With ten people splitting a vote that will probably end up around 1800 total (give or take a couple of hundred), it will only take a few hundred votes to win the whole thing. Exercise your voice and vote!

In today’s article, I’m going to tally up tournament results from around the world, and see what’s winning and what’s not. Although the tournaments results I’ve pulled up represent very different metagames from around the world (The Italian, Spanish, and American metagames are all very large and very different), the numbers don’t lie.


For several years, human supercomputer and Sylvan Librarian Philip Stanton would publish monthly Vintage metagame reports. The only difference is that when he used to run these stats, he set the cut off at 50 players per tournament. This was a somewhat arbitrary standard designed to take account of all of the largest Vintage tournaments, but low enough to get a good sample. My approach will be almost identical, with one small difference.

After five years of writing about Vintage, it has slowly occurred to me that the proper floor should really be 32+ players. A 32+ person tournament leads to six rounds of swiss. To make Top 8, a tournament competitor will have to play at least four rounds of Magic before drawing into the Top 8. In a five-round tournament, that same player may only have to play three actual matches before drawing into the Top 8. In my view, having to play only three matches of Magic to have your deck represented in these stats is too small of a sample. Three good matches or pairings against an incredibly weak field will produce some Top 8 decks that probably don’t tell the average Vintage player much about how good a deck is. In addition, in a 32+ tournament, you can basically expect all of the major archetypes to be present. There isn’t that much of a difference in terms of deck selection between a 35-player tournament and a 50-player tournament. But there is a big difference in terms of variety of decks played between a 19-player tournament and a 33-player tournament. You have to get a large enough sample to ensure that all of the major archetypes are represented. Most local tournaments reflect regional metagame information. But even in a metagame that is regionally biased (although all tournament results are regionally biased), at least in a larger tournament with most of the archetypes represented, the less favored but more popular decks in other metagames have a fighting chance. In my experience as a Vintage player, 32+ person tournaments are the most sensible cut-off for achieving those goals.

In addition, all of the tournaments represented here have a Top 8 playoff system. Without a Top 8 playoff, it is harder to gauge the relative strength of these decks and make other comparisons. Hopefully, this will become clear later on.

There were thirteen tournaments with over 32 players held from June 20th to the time of this writing.

I’ve broken down each major archetype by the number of Top 8 appearances in order of most appearances to least. The numbers that follow the archetype listing tell you how these decks placed in their respective Top 8s.

20 Gro decks (7 GAT, 8 GATr, 4 GAT??, 1 Super Gro): 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7, 7, 8
18 Storm Combo (see below)
15 Workshop Prison (Stax, MUD): 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 6, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8, 8
11 Flash (10 Hulk Flash, 1 Rector Flash): 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 6, 6, 6, 8, 8
9 Fish (U/W, B/U/W, Mono Blue, B/W): 2, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6, 8
7 Bomberman (1, 4, 5, 5, 7, 8, 8)
4 Oath (1, 1, 3, 4)
4 Goblins (1, 2, 4, 6)
2 Control Slaver (4, 5)

16 Storm Combo
2 Gush Tendrils (7, 7)
2 Pitch Long (2, 3)
1 Infernal Contract Deck (6)
3 Mean Deck (5, 6, 7)
4 Mean Deck + Confidant Hybrid (1, 2, 4, 6)
3 Confidant Combo (2, 7, 8)
2 TPS (2, 7)
2 Dark Confidant + Mind Twist.dec (1st, 2nd)

2 U/R Landstill (1, 5)
1 Masknaught (3rd place)
1 Suicide Black (4th)
1 Ichorid (3rd)

1 U/G Goyf (7th)
1 TMWA (B/R Hate) 3rd
1 Magus of the Moon/Aven Mindcensor/Trinket Mage.hate.dec 7th

Missing: 4 decks.


(1) Gush Rules

Out of the 104 possible decks, Gush based decks placed 22 decks into Top 8s. Of those 22 decks, 20 were Grow-based decks using Quirion Dryads. That means that Grow decks were over 19.2% of Vintage Top 8s and Gush decks are about 21.2% of Top 8s.

This may not seem that impressive, but this is better than basically any deck in modern Vintage history. Gifts based decks, which were recently killed with the restriction of Gifts Ungiven, fell around 18.3% of Top 8s. Although 20% is well below the 2003 GroAtog numbers of around 36.7% of Top 8s, there are reasons to think the tournament results under-represent the strength of Gush decks.

First of all, almost half of the tournaments represented in this sample were in Europe (Italian and Spanish metagames) where there were virtually no Grow decks represented in Top 8s. To achieve a 20% overall representation despite Grow’s absence in Italian Vintage leagues means that Grow is actually dominating everywhere else. For example, take a look at the two most recent data points in the appendix. The Spanish tournament had zero GAT in the Top 8, while the American tournament had two in the Top 4. That’s par for the course.

GroAtog is outperforming everything else in the American metagame. Although I didn’t include tournaments smaller than 32 players, there are a number of mid-size Vintage tournaments with 20-31 players where GroAtog is running rampant.

Another important stat to take note of is the fact that GroAtog decks not only make Top 8, but they are disproportionately likely to make Top 4 and make the finals. 70% of the GroAtog decks that made Top 8 made it into the Top 4. Even more striking, 50% of the GroAtog decks that made Top 8 made their way to the finals! That means that one in every two GAT decks that gets into the Top 8 will make it into Top 2. That is an astounding statistic.

GroAtog isn’t just outperforming the metagame, it’s bashing its way through Top 8s, losing, if at all, mostly in the finals. One caveat, however, that may not be of any significance. Only one in three GAT decks that make the finals apparently win the whole thing. Still, GAT is not only the statistically best performing deck in Vintage, by a pretty fair margin, it is also the most successful once in the Top 8.

(2) Stax is Back

Mishra’s Workshop Artifact-based Prison decks are the third-best performing archetype in the post-Gifts metagame. Mishra’s Workshop decks have been on a steady decline since their soft metagame dominance in 2005.

In 2003, Stax decks were developed as the answer to GroAtog. With more recent printings like Trinisphere, Uba Mask, and Crucible of Worlds, many players apparently feel that Stax is once again a good solution to the GroAtog metagame. In addition, cards developed in opposition to Gifts Ungiven (such as In the Eye of Chaos), and general know-how that has made Workshops so much stronger since 2005, would seem to give Stax players a vital edge over their 2003 counterparts. But even without 2007 know-how, turn 1 Sphere of Resistance puts a monkey wrench in Gush plan, no matter how you slice it.

However, there are reasons to look deeper. Despite the fact that Workshops are at an annual high of about 14.4% of Top 8s, once there, they are losing. Three out of four Mishra’s Workshop decks lose in the first round of the Top 8. The reasons for this could be many, but despite the fact that Mishra’s Workshop decks may be a good choice for making it into Top 8, they appear to be a bad choice for winning tournaments. Not even a single Workshop deck won one of the eleven tournaments surveyed, and only one of fourteen made it into the finals. I have my own theories as to why this might be the case, but without more evidence I’ll refrain from speculating.

(3) Flash is a Top Flight Deck

Flash combo is the fourth-best performing deck in the current Vintage metagame. Most of you shudder in horror at the thought of a turn 1 combo easily protected with Force of Will and Pact of Negation. This is a reality in Vintage right now. Flash is making up about 10.5% of Top 8s. But even more striking than its modest, but real success, in making Top 8 is its success in Top 8s. Next to GroAtog, Flash is the best performing deck in the Top 8 playoff rounds. Flash is more similar to GAT in that it performs quite well once it makes Top 8. Six in eleven, or 55%, of the Flash decks made Top 4. And about 30% went on to win the tournament.

This trend could continue as Flash pilots become more confident and competent, or it could diminish as Flash becomes more visible and the hate becomes stronger. Many Vintage decks now run a full complement of Leyline of the Void in their sideboards.

(4) Storm Combo is Splintered

I think one of the most surprising features of this dataset is the presence of Storm combo in such large numbers. With the super-efficient Flash combo available and the incredible disruptive GroAtog running rampant, Long, TPS, and other Storm combo type decks would seem to be an antiquated holdover from the previous Gifts/Long metagame. Nonetheless, Storm combo is the third-best performing archetype, with one major caveat. Although most of these decks feature a core set of cards, there is a great deal of splintering on what people are playing. Most of the Storm combo decks in this data set come from European tournament results, particularly Italy, where “TT Confidant,” or Dark Confidant plus Tendrils decks have been perennial favorites. This explains at least some of the presence of these decks in this sample.

The Storm combo deck that seems to be getting the most buzz in the USA is Gush Tendrils, a Storm style combo deck built around Gush. Gush was restricted the moment that Storm came into the format. Hence, this archetype is new and exciting. So far, its tournament performance pales in comparison to GroAtog, but we’ll see if that changes over time.

(5) What’s Up With Oath?

Many great minds might look at the Vintage metagame and conclude that Oath is a good solution. This would be misleading at best. The only Oath representatives in this sample are from European tournaments where GAT is a minor presence. No Oath deck has made Top 8 from the American tournaments in my sample. Hence, no Oath deck has done well in the GAT metagames in this sample.

Closing Notes

The Vintage pie is fairly diverse right now, with some clear top performers. These were the early months in the new metagame, as Vintage took some staggered steps into a new direction. After the Vintage championship, the Vintage metagame should coalesce around the basic patterns we observe here. It’s still too early to tell right now with certainty, but it does look as though GroAtog decks are once again a problem. In addition to the early red flags of actual metagame dominance, there are many signs of metagame distortion. It appears that most of the Gifts players have switched to GroAtog and are doing even better than they were with Gifts.

As for the impact of other unrestrictions, Black Vise MUD (a Workshop prison deck) did manage to put a player into 2nd place in a European “Catalan League” you can find in the appendix. In addition, a European pilot managed to take a Dark Confidant Storm deck to first place, using three Mind Twists, in the same tournament. Aside from that small blip, that’s the only sight of unrestricted Mind Twist and Black Vise in these results. Voltaic Key is nowhere to be found.

I’ll be at GenCon this weekend, slinging cards in the formats I love most! Stop and say hello if you see me. Otherwise, check back here next week for my GenCon report!

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian

Appendix: Tournament Data

1) June 30th: Bluebell (38 players)

Top 8:
1: Hulk Flash
2: GroAtog (GAT)
3: Hulk Flash
4: Bomberman
5: GATr
6: Hulk Flash
7: Gush Tendrils
8: Hulk Flash

2) June 30th: Madrid (159 players)

1: Oath
2: Pitch Long
3: Masknaught
4: Mono Blue Fish
5: B/U/W Fish
6: Stax
7: Stax
8: MUD (Stax)

3) June 30th: Utrecht (51 players)

1: Rector FLASH
2: TPS (Storm combo)
3: Ichorid
4: Suicide Black
5: Stax
6: Stax
7: GAT
8: Stax

4) July 1st: Roma (52 players)

1: Oath
2: Mean Deck + Confidant Hybrid
3: Oath
4: Mean Deck + Confidant Hybrid
5: GATr
6: Mean Deck + Confidant Hybrid
7: U/W Fish
8: Uba Stax

5) July 7th: Ontario (59 players)

1: U/R Landstill
2: GATr
3: U/W Fish
4: GATr
5: UR Landstill
6: Storm Combo (Infernal Contract)
7: Stax
8: B/W Fish

6) July 15: RIW Hobbies (35 players)

1: GATr
2: GATr
3: Grim Long
4: Stax
5: Control Slaver
6: GATr
7: U/G Goyf
8: Stax

7) July 15: Milano (44 players)

1: Mean Deck + Confidant Control Hybrid
2: Hulk Flash
3: Confidant Combo
4: Stax
5: The Mean Deck
6: The Mean Deck
7: MUD (Stax)
8: Confidant Combo

8) July 21st: Catalan League (80 Players)

1: Mind Twist.dec
2: MUD (Stax)
3: Pitch Long
4: Oath
5: Mono Blue Fish
6: U/W Fish
7: The Mean Deck
8: Super Gro

9) July 21st: Waterbury, Day 1 (128 Players)

1: Hulk Flash
2: GAT
3: GAT
4: B/U/W Fish
5: Bomberman
6: Hulk Flash
7: GAT
8: Bomberman

10) July 22nd: Waterbury, Day 2 (73 players)

1: GAT
2: Goblins
3: GATr
4: GAT
5: Bomberman
6: Stax
7: Gush Tendrils
8: Flash

11) August 12, 2007: Feinttein’s Mox (48 players)

1: GAT
2: GAT
4: Goblins
5: ?
6: ?
7: U/R/W Magus/Mindcensor/TrinketMage.dec
8: ?

12) August 12, 2007: Barcelona, Spain (65 players)

1: Bomberman
2: Mind Twister.dec
3: Black Vised MUD
4: Blood Moon Control Slaver
5: U/B Fish
6: Goblin Control
7: TT Confidant
8: U/B/W Bomberman

13) August, 12, 2007: Colorado, USA (36 players)

1: Vial Goblins
2: GAT
3: Flash
4: GAT
5: Control Slaver
6: Flash
7: Bomberman
8: TPS