So Many Insane Plays – Shadowmoor or Less? A Vintage Set Review

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Monday, April 21st – The Shadowmoor prerelease is now in the books, and Constructed minds now turn to the strengths and weaknesses of the fresh meat on offer. Stephen Menendian looks at the new set from a Vintage perspective, and analyses the cards with an eye on slotting them into Magic’s most broken format…

Thematically, my favorite set is Arabian Nights. Artistically, it’s the Dark. In recent years, each set release has accompanied the appearance of a “visual spoiler” on the internet. These webpages have clickable scans of every single card from these sets. I have searched, in vain, for a visual spoiler of the Dark. This is the closest I have managed.

Scanning through the first page, I see cards that are striking in ways that no Magic card before them had been. Banshee is terrifying. Ashes to Ashes is like an impressionist painting of a moment from the Blair Witch Project or the Evil Dead trilogy. Ball Lightning is an ominous crackle of energy. Cave People is haunting and disturbing, evoking primal fears of a distant age. Even White cards like Cleansing are creepy — the quiet, drowsy, dreaminess that precedes a nightmare, or worse, is the nightmare. Jesper Myfors and Drew Tucker were simultaneously brilliant and inspired. Just glance at The Fallen and Orc General.

Shadowmoor marks a return to the Dark Side.

The World of Lorwyn has fallen into shadow, and so on. But what does Shadowmoor bring to Vintage?

Let me begin by engaging in the periodic self-flagellation or self-congratulation that comes when I measure my previous set predictions against reality.

In my Morningtide set review, I stated that my Top 5 picks for Vintage were:

1) Mutavault
2) Earwig Squad
3) Knowledge Exploitation
4) Grimoire Thief
5) Murmuring Bosk

Truth told, the only card from this list that has seen any play, and barely at that, is Earwig Sqaud. But by far the biggest card from Morningtide is a card that was mentioned only for its artistic quality: Reveillark. As you know by now, that card is a critical part of the Hulk Flash combo engine. The use of Body Double in that combo also makes another notch in the belt of Planar Chaos, the neglected set from the stellar Time Spiral block.

Before beginning, I thought it might be useful to say a word on creatures. In the past, I haven’t felt it necessary to make this comment, but it’s worth saying. In Vintage, creatures are by far the least interesting card type. A creature with no ability or use aside from attacking has to be playable on turn 1, and large enough to matter, to be playable. Cards that fit that description include Tarmogoyf and Juggernaut. Both can be played off a land and a Mox. That doesn’t mean every creature used in Vintage has to be a Goblin Welder (meaning that it is basically a combo part). Cards like Jotun Grunt are disruptive beatsticks. Cards like Dark Confidant create card advantage while dealing damage. But generally, vanilla beaters like Savannah Lions don’t make the cut.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots of creatures in Vintage. The general rule, however, is that creatures that cost more than two mana have to be very good. They have to be highly disruptive, like Aven Mindcensor or Glowrider; powered out by Mishra’s Workshop, like Triskelion or Duplicant; Tinker targets, like Sundering Titan or Darksteel Colossus; or combo parts, like Auriok Salvagers, Worldgorger Dragon, Tidespout Tyrant, or Reveillark.

The things I look for in a new set when evaluating applicability in Vintage are:

1) New Mechanics. Storm and Dredge have had a huge impact in Vintage. Split Second has had a pretty large impact, and its influence is only growing over time and as the metagame shifts. These three mechanics have changed the way people play Vintage, each in their own right. Mechanics like Flashback have also been important, with Deep Analysis and now, oddly enough, Flash of Insight and Krosan Reclamation. Threshold gave us Cabal Ritual too. Some mechanics had potential, but never panned out — like Hellbent or Transmute.

New mechanics have, in general, the most potential to impact Vintage. Mechanics that may be safe or fair in other formats may be incredible in Vintage: Dredge and Storm are two great examples, and Split Second isn’t far behind. Wherever there is a new mechanic, its applicability in Vintage must be carefully examined.

2) Cards that function similarly to previous cards that have seen or see play in Vintage, but either do it differently or better. A great recent example is Ancient Grudge. It’s sort of like Rack and Ruin, which sees a lot of play in Vintage. Another great example is Gifts Ungiven, which was a hybrid of two existing (and very good) cards, Intuition and Fact or Fiction. Most recently, Thorn of Amethyst, Ponder, and Thoughtseize are all variants of amazing older cards. These three cards have had a tremendous impact on Vintage.

3) Cards that break completely fresh design space. Cards like Aven Mindcensor and Narcomoeba get me very excited. These are creatures that do things that nothing has ever done before.

So, let’s begin.

Augury Adept

This is the new Ophidian. The trade off is a colored mana for a nice bonus. He can’t be Mana Drained into like Ophidian or played off two off-color Moxen and a land, but he’s probably a better card than Ophie. And I have been a huge fan of Ophie. The additional life does matter, mostly because it accumulates. The downside, of course, is that you have to reveal the card, a necessity of the benefit he provides. Part of the advantage of Ophie, the one-eyed snake, has been the fact that he just fills your hand and intimidates your opponent. You could have a hand of 6 lands and one counterspell and your opponent will be terrified to play a card. With this card, there is no mystery.

In the abstract, this guy is good enough to see play in Vintage. The trick would be finding the right home.

Oddly enough, a mono-Blue deck recently won a mid-sized Vintage tournament (30+ players)!

From that deck, I could easily see adding Augury Adept. I would cut two Ophidians and a Meloku for at least three Adepts. It’s not just the lifegain that makes this guy worth running over Ophie — with Augury Adept, the damage matters as well. Two power is a clock. With Ophie, you can draw a card, but you won’t get any damage through. This guy gets two damage through and draws a card. The additional Blue mana is definitely worth it.

As I said, I think that this guy is playable… the question is whether he’ll have a strong enough home to see play. Being playable isn’t enough to actually do the job. The chances of this guy seeing decent amounts of Vintage play are not high, but it’s still a realistic possibility.

Beseech The Queen

This is an interesting tutor. Tutors that cost three or less are of interest in Vintage, although occasionally tutors that cost more see play, like Academy Rector. Tutors that can be fueled by Dark Ritual, such as Grim Tutor, once saw a lot of play in Vintage. Since the restriction of Gifts and unrestriction of Gush, these tutors are seen less frequently. This tutor is basically inferior to Grim Tutor. The limitation on this tutor, the number of lands in play, is precisely the limitation that storm-based tutors seek to avoid: playing more than a few turns.


Force Spike on feet. The closest I think we had seen to this creature before had been Spiketail Hatchling. Spiketail Hatchling saw decent amount of play in UR Fish from 2003 to 2004. This card is probably much better. I think this creature is playable in Vintage. It’s a decent turn 1 drop, it can drop out later for a Ninja of Deep Hours and will always be useful, even in late game positions.

Nice card. This should be immediately tested in the UW-base Fish decks that run Null Rod, and by anyone brave enough to try UR Fish.

Dream Salvage

All I can think about with this card is your opponent activating a Bazaar of Baghdad and then you playing this card to Ancestral Recall yourself. I know that this is an impractical use of a card, and probably still not enough to win you the game against Dredge. I am not sure if this card has a home in Vintage at all, but I will say this: one-mana spells that cost either Blue or Black – and this one is both – always have potential in Vintage. It is a very important casting cost.

Other applications? Some draw7s, like Windfall or Wheel of Fortune, force your opponent to discard cards. This card could really be nuts at the right time.

If this card could be paired with a heavy discard deck, it might have a home, but discard, as a focus, hasn’t been viable in Vintage for over a decade, and Mind Twist is unrestricted. If they ever unrestricted Balance, this would be a card to look at.

Faerie Macabre

The best card of the set for Vintage.

You can remove two cards in graveyard from game just by discarding this creature. This card disrupts the Reveillark combo (actually, shuts it down), interferes with Ichorid, can neuter a Yawgmoth’s Will, and stop Worldgorger combo, among others. If that alone weren’t good enough, he’s a warm, evasive body.

This card would be absolutely amazing if Gifts were still a player in the format.

A big problem with Grim Long type decks was that they could go off on turn 1 with multiple Rituals and a single Grim Tutor. Now you can just remove the Tutor from game in response to Yawgmoth’s Will and they fizzle!

Despite all of those functions, he has a higher order level of importance: This is the third way in Vintage that you can stop your opponent from winning on turn 1 after Force of
Will and Leyline of the Void! It represents another key way to interact even if you’ve lost the die roll. This card could be huge in Vintage. At a minimum, it will see some play. The most immediate place I could see it being used is in Ichorid. Ichorid loves using Black creatures to feed Ichorid. It probably wouldn’t be played over Leyline, but might be used in addition to them, particularly as additional sideboard support.

The downside to this card is that it will compete with Leyline for sideboard attention, but the fact that this card has other uses, such as being castable, make it pretty attractive.

Ultimately, I think that this will probably show up as Leyline 5-8, or more likely 5 and 6.

I’m hopeful that this is the actual language of the card. I will be disappointed if there has been an error in translation.

Fossil Find

This card is also very interesting. Graveyard order can matter in Vintage… just think about Ichorid decks with Ashen Ghouls. This card could function as an extremely inexpensive Regrowth. I can’t think of a way to abuse that just yet, but there might be one in there somewhere.


Pyroclasm is a card that has seen plenty of play in Vintage for almost as long as the card has been in print. More than you might think, Pyroclasm has served as a board wiper and a functional Wrath of God for 1R. It’s been a very potent solution to Goblins decks, Fish type decks, and an answer to Empty the Warrens. It’s still powerful, but the rise of Goyf and the printing of Jotun Grunt have somewhat diminished the effectiveness of Pyroclasm. It still sees plenty of sideboard play, just not as much as it once did. Aggro hordes, at the moment, are just as likely to be Goyfs or Juggernauts as they are to be Meddling Mages and Dark Confidants. One reason that this card has remained around has been the use of Magus of the Moon, which this addresses, as well as the card Empty the Warrens.

Firespout deals another point of damage for R2, but if you can pay for a Green, it can wipe out flyers as well. Ultimately, I think that the casting cost is simply too steep. 1R is a casting cost you can rely on. I don’t think that this card gives you enough additional “oomph” to justify the additional colorless mana over Pyroclasm. Of course, I could be wrong!

Grim Poppet

I can see a single relevant advantage of this card over Triskelion or Triskelavus. I really wish that they had costed this at 6, because then I think it would see more play in Vintage. In Workshop decks, 2-4 mana is a turn 1 play, 4-6 mana is a turn 2 play, and 6+ is a viable turn 3 play or later. In other words, I think that the seventh additional mana basically changes the total speed of the card. While it is true that you could have 7 mana on turn 1, a seven-mana spell is most likely to be played after turn 2.

It’s too bad because I think this could is probably another great additional for the Shop mirror, not at all bad as a maindeck card either for additional Trikes. It’s just a tad overcosted. For 8 mana you can get Sundering Titan.

Guttural Response aka Green Elemental Blast

Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast have been Vintage staples since the earliest days of organized play. There was a pair of Red Elemental Blasts in the famous Weisman control deck as a way of fighting mirror matches and winning counterwars. Although Guttural Response is not a fully-fledged Red Elemental Blast, it takes its most important ability: the ability to counter Blue Instants.

In Vintage, Blue Instants are big boys of the format: Flash, Ancestral Recall, Force of Will, Mana Drain, Gifts Ungiven, Gush, Brainstorm, Hurkyl’s Recall and the like. True, there are a number of great Blue Sorceries, like Merchant Scroll or Tinker, but they are almost always preceded or followed by an Instant.

True, there are a handful of other Blue spells that are relevant for Red Elemental Blast, like Energy Flux or Psychatog, but those cards don’t see nearly as much play as the others just described.

By far the most important effect of this card is to give Green a part of Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast. At a time when Flash decks are on the rise, the timing could not have been better. This card could even be utilized in Flash mirror matches without having to splash for Red.

The question of whether this card will see a decent amount of play will depend upon how important it is that Green get this new slice of the color pie.

Sadly, I think the answer to that question is: not very. In general, color limitations have not been significant in Vintage, due to the presence of Onslaught fetchlands and Alpha dual lands. Any deck that doesn’t have Red mana can basically splash a single Volcanic Island and support multiple Red Elemental Blast. It could be the case that the only decks that will want this card will be those that are mono-Green, a hyper rarity in Vintage.

Nonetheless, there might be decks out there that just want the stability of not having to splash multiple Volcanic Islands to play Red Blasts. In that case, this card will see play.

I think this will see play somewhere, but probably not much.


It has basically been over three years since I designed Meandeck Tendrils. It took me a couple of months to figure out how to get from Land Grant to Tendrils of Agony with 10 storm on a consistent basis. Since then, they have printed Rite of Flame, Desperate Ritual, and similar cards. In addition, Chromatic Star, Street Wraith, and Ponder are all new cards that aid the archetype.

The thing that really makes this card attractive is that with Land Grant and a Mox, you have an alternative opening to turn 1 Dark Ritual. It might be fun to try and tune a new Meandeck Tendrils using this card, but that would be the subject of another article.

In terms of more immediate or useful applications, the obvious question is whether this card has a home in Goblin Charbelcher, and I think the answer is no, unless you want to broaden the deck to include more colors than it currently does.

Mistveil Plains

Wizards: Please unrestrict Mox Diamond. This card is a playable card in a Parfait control lock deck. You can Land Tax for this card and use it as an anti-decking mechanism and recur cards like Swords to Plowshare and Balance. You can also discard it to Mox Diamond. I only wish they hadn’t made it come into play tapped. Wussies.

Oona, Queen of the Fae

A most elegant and powerful win condition for Worldgorger Dragon combo.

Oona is sort of like a Hellkite and Ambassador Laquatus wrapped up into one card. This card will see play wherever Dragon sees play Today, that isn’t much. But a year from now, it could be a hot deck again.

Puresight Merrow

I think this is the kind of card that asks us to look at the new untap mechanic. Unfortunately, they have put a mana cost with each untap, preventing the sorts of combos that might be viable in Vintage.

Runed Halo

This card would be amazing if deck Parfait ever becomes viable again in Vintage. I think that could depend on if Wizards ever decides to unrestrict Mox Diamond to enable the Land Tax draw engine.

Savor the Moment

The most important single effect of Time Walk is the additional untap step. It is not simply that you get to untap lands that matters. Any given Vintage board state will be one part artifact to two part land. A player can instigate a counter war or get involved in some heated battle and then, with the final Mox and Land in play, cast Time Walk to untap and deliver the final blow. Time Walk is one of the most important cards in Vintage for that reason. It’s like an uber-Black Lotus with all sorts of additional secondary effects. Of course, getting another land drop, another card to draw, and another attack step all matter. With a Phyrexian Dreadnaught or a Quirion Dryad on the table, Time Walk can end the game immediately. Often, Time Walk will be played within a Yawgmoth’s Will turn, capstoned with a large Empty the Warrens. Time Walk will give the goblins haste.

Time Walk does so much that the old axiom “everything is a Time Walk” rings true, even if it’s unrevealing.

Savor the Moment cuts out the single most important aspect of Time Walk, tacks on one more Blue, and asks: is the rest of what Time Walk does worth it? And I’m not simply talking about the mana cost here. I’m saying: is it worth it to run this card in your deck?

Let’s consider its impact.

Turn 1:
Mox, Land, Quirion Dryad

Turn 2:
Land, Savor the Moment.

Turn 2a:
Gush, replay a land. Play a spell, possibly Ponder, Brainstorm, or Duress/Thoughtseize.
Attack with 4/4 Dryad.

Undoubtedly, Savor the Moment has real synergies with Gush. Gush takes one of the key drawbacks – the inability to untap – and reverses it. However, it doesn’t give you another attack. Nor does it really result in any substantial tempo development advantage. You’ve just cantripped yourself and given the Dryad Predator Strike, and not much more.

Doesn’t seem very good to me.

What about the ideal scenario, the Oath scenario?

Turn 1:
Mox, Orchard, Oath

Turn 2:
Oath up Creature X
Play a land and Savor the Moment.

Turn 2a:
Oath up another creature
Attack or combo out.

Even here, Savor the Moment is lackluster unless your creature is Akroma, Angel of Vengeance or some other large 6/6 hasty creature.

There are three fundamental problems.

First of all, Savor the Moment is only really impressive when you have already executed or pulled off the most difficult tactical objective. Most players will heavily contest your ability to find, resolve, and hold onto an Oath. Savor the Moment doesn’t help you dig for an Oath, protect it, or even resolve it. It could accelerate the game once an Oath activation has already occurred. Even then, it is unlikely to do that by much.

If you are playing the Akroma/Razia combo, you will deal 18 damage, it is true. But that combo is probably considered inferior to the Tidespout Tyrant kill, which seeks to win immediately by bouncing Moxen, generating infinite mana, and casting a Brain Freeze. Savor the Moment eats up precious mana at a critical time and doesn’t give you that mana back.

In terms of finding or resolving Oath, running Ponders or Thoughtseize makes a lot more sense.

In Fish type decks, which might truly benefit from an additional Time Walk, this things just eats up too much mana. Three casting cost spells are the top of the curve, and it doesn’t even benefit by bringing an additional attacks with it since you can’t untap your beaters. Sure, you get an additional use of Dark Confidant — and that may be the only scenario compelling enough to justify Savor the Moment – a deck with Dark Confidants. But even then, I doubt that there will be room.

I think this card would be a lot stronger if you could string multiples together effectively, but you can’t.

I think this card demonstrates that the most important aspect of Time Walk is the full untap, and additional attack step which only functions if you get an untap. This won’t see play (at least not sustained play) in Vintage unless there is a combo out there that enables this card, that turns its drawback into an obvious advantage, and one that involves more than Gush.

Scarscale Ritual

Think of this on turn 1 with Ornithopter, or following a Priest of Gix. This is the sort of card that could fuel turn 1 Ritual combo decks. But there is really no reason to play those right now. I think that giving a creature —1/-1 is too detrimental to use anywhere else.

Sun and Moon Wheel

The thing holding this card back is its casting cost, but again, it would be very good in a Parfait type deck, enabling Parfait to combat the graveyard-oriented Vintage set beyond just using Tormod’s Crypt, which it would. This is a more permanent way to deal with Ichorid, Flash, and even decks like Control Slaver, which could never go infinite with Welders afterward.

Swans of Bryn Argoll

By now everyone and their mother is talking about this card in Standard and elsewhere. This card is an almost instant (draw your whole deck) win two-card combo in Legacy and Vintage when comboed with Chain of Plasma. Still, it’s too difficult to assemble this combo, and too risky in any case.

Vexing Shusher

At first I thought that this card was too unwieldy to see play in Vintage. However, it is a Goblin and it’s uncounterable. That means it can be tutored up with a Matron and put into play with a Lackey, or it can just be played on turn 2. I think the thing that makes this card playable is the fact that its activation is only one mana. This is an aggressively costed creature and ability. Kudos to Wizards.


Here are my Top 5 cards for Shadowmoor in Vintage:

1) Faerie Macabre
2) Cursecatcher
3) Vexing Shusher
4) Guttural Response
5) Oona, Queen of the Fae

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian