So Many Insane Plays – The 2010 Guide to Vintage

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Monday, December 21st – In this timely epic, Stephen Menendian revisits the archetypes that matter as we approach the new decade. With Vintage currently being more fun than ever before, Stephen examines the Decks to Beat, the Decks You Might Face, and the Dark Horses of Magic’s most broken format…

On the cusp of 2010, Vintage is about as much fun as anyone can remember. Zendikar and a series unrestrictions over the last few years have given players more toys to play with than ever, and restrictions helped to create a nice metagame. The Vintage metagame may not be perfectly balanced (what is?), but it’s open enough that you can compete with almost anything. People are genuinely enjoying it, and as a result Vintage has seen measurable growth in the final months of 2009 in metagames like New York, Philadelphia, and throughout the Midwest.

In this article, I will present every deck that is seeing play in the Vintage. I’ll explain its game plan, highlight weakness, and describe the buzz about it.

For reference, the Vintage restricted list can be found here.

I. The Decks To Beat

1) Tezzeret Control

How It Works:

Love it or hate it, learn it. This is the Vintage Time Vault deck. The game plan is to assemble Time Vault and Voltaic Key to go infinite.

Going infinite means taking infinite turns. Once you have gone infinite, you can either use Tezzeret to win the game, or Tinker up Sphinx of the Steel Wind. Those are the big finishers. However, you can also win the game with Dark Confidant beatdown.

Time Vault can also be activated (and found) with Tezzeret. This deck uses its draw spells, like Thirst For Knowledge, Gifts Ungiven, and Sensei’s Divining Top to find the combo.

This deck also packs a full punch with the best disruptive spells in the format in Force of Will, Mana Drain, Duress and Thoughtseize. Its primary source of card advantage is Dark Confidant, which can deal quite a bit of damage.

The backup game plan is to win with Sphinx of the Steel Wind, which is found with Tinker. An early Tinker for Sphinx can win the game against almost anything in the format.


Because of the reliance on broken mana acceleration like Black Lotus and Moxen, library manipulation like Sensei’s Divining Top, and Time Vault, this deck is vulnerable to Null Rod disruption. Null Rod turns off huge swaths of the deck, and that’s one of the reason that Null Rod is so popular in Vintage.

This deck uses Repeal to bounce Null Rod, and has Tinker as a backup plan if Null Rod resolves. It also brings in Ingot Chewer to fight Null Rod post-board.


The perception is that Tezzeret is the most popular deck in the format, and it may well be. However, its visibility is partly a function of the fact that Tezzeret tends to be the largest part of Top 8s. So, while it may only be 10% of the field, which really isn’t that much, it tends to be closer to 20% of top 8s. It over-represents itself in Top 8s. Part of the reason for that is not just that the most experienced and skilled Vintage players tend to prefer this deck (they do), but they push the deck and force it to evolve to beat other decks. So, it not only has most of the best pilots behind it, but it also has the best technology in support of it.

Interestingly, while this deck is a great overall performer, it has really struggled to win tournaments. It hasn’t won a big or even mid-sized (33-64 player) tournament since the Vintage championship in the fall.

2) Stax

How It Works:

This is the prison deck. This deck locks you out with Smokestack. It uses Smokestack to destroy all of your permanents, Crucible of Worlds to replay permanents to feed the Smokestack, and Sphere of Resistance and Tangle Wire to tie up your mana and prevent you from ever playing spells. Null Rod not only turns off Time Vault and company, but turns off opponent’s mana sources.

It wins the game by recurring Barbarian Ring with Crucible of Worlds.

It uses Goblin Welder to recur spells that have been countered, or to bring back Smokestacks or Tangle Wires that have faded away or been destroyed. It also uses Bazaar of Baghdad to draw cards. Bazaar can dump artifacts or lands into the graveyard that can be put into play with Goblin Welder or Crucible of Worlds.


A well timed Rack and Ruin can take this deck out of the game. Cards like Energy Flux, Rack and Ruin, Qasali Pridemage, Ingot Chewer, Hurkyl’s Recall and other forms of artifact removal are all obstacles to victory.


Stax is a high performing deck, but there seems to be no clear consensus on how to build it.

Here are some major variants:

Nick Detwiller and his team are carrying the banner of 5c Stax in the US, with this Stax variant.

Here is another popular Stax variant:

This is my favorite variant. It’s the most consistent and synergistic.

When it comes to Stax, there are plenty of options!

3) Fish

How It Works:

This is the Vintage aggro-control tempo deck. It uses mana denial and countermagic to keep the opponent off balance long enough to inflict just enough damage that the opponent can’t recover.

It uses Wasteland, Null Rod, and Stifle to attack the opponent’s manabase. It then uses Daze, Spellstutter Sprite, Force of Will, Thoughtseize and sometimes Duress, Cursecatcher and Spell Pierce to keep the opponent off balance long enough that Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant win the game.


Fish has trouble dealing with Tinker targets like Sphinx of the Steel Wind, which are specifically used to defeat Fish decks. Also, this deck has trouble with threats like Sower of Temptation, which reverse all of the Fish pilot’s tempo advantage.


Fish remains a perennial contender, like Stax, but there is little consensus on an optimal approach. UGW versions are as popular as BUG versions:

The primary advantage of UGW builds is utilization of Qasali Pridemage, and to a lesser extent Meddling Mage. UGW versions also have an advantage in the Fish mirror because of Exalted. Observe the same tempo elements of mana denial and countermagic.

4) Dredge

How It Works:

This is the Dredge deck.

Its plan is to dredge is library into its graveyard as quickly as possible. It does this, first and foremost, by abusing cards like Bazaar of Baghdad. Then, Bridge From Below, Bloodghast, and Narcomoebas begin to activate Bridge From Below, generating an army of zombies. Then it reanimates Flame-Kin Zealot with Dread Return for an alpha strike in the red zone.


Being a Dredge deck, it’s also a graveyard deck. This deck is susceptible to virtually every graveyard hate spell in the format. As a result, cards like Leyline of the Void and Tormod’s Crypt are common. Cards like Planar Void, Relic of Progenitus, Extirpate, Ravenous Trap, and Yixlid Jailer also see play. There is a wonderful thread on the ManaDrain.com about sideboarding against Dredge here.


Zendikar appears to have boosted Dredge with the addition of Bloodghast, which has also made Undiscovered Paradise a hot card. This deck is one of the most winning decks in Vintage. It’s not only making Top 8s, but it’s winning many major Vintage tournaments. It won more tournaments in September and October than any other Vintage archetype. And it’s already won several large tournaments since, with a couple of second place finishes as well. This deck is really hot right now.

II. Decks You Might Face

These decks are archetypes that consistently make top 8, but not quite at the same frequency as the Decks to Beat, nor are they as popular generally.

1) The Perfect Storm

How It Works:

This is the Storm combo deck. It uses the most broken spells in the format to generate enough storm to play a lethal Tendrils of Agony.

The Tezzeret deck uses the format’s Blue restricted spells. This one is built around the format’s Black restricted spells (like Yawgmoth’s Bargain and Necropotence), and uses most of the other blue restricted cards, like Mind’s Desire and Timetwister. The deck’s big engines, like Mind’s Desire, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Yawgmoth’s Will, Timetwister, Memory Jar, and Necropotence generate enough card advantage and storm to find and play a lethal Tendrils of Agony. Alternatively, this deck can win with Darksteel Colossus, summoned into play by Tinker.

This deck uses Force of Will and Duress as disruption, and a basic land heavy mana base for resilience to the mana denial strategies so popular and prevalent in the format. It also abuses (arguably) the best unrestricted mana accelerant in Dark Ritual.


This deck is very powerful and very fast, but there are several single-card strategies that give it fits. Zendikar was unkind to TPS. Cards like Mindbreak Trap, in concert with a regular disruption package, can be devastating. However, TPS is much more resilient to cards like Null Rod than decks like Tezzeret. Also, Spell Piece is strong against TPS. Players sometimes use cards like Ethersworn Canonist or Aven Mindcensor against TPS as well.


This deck is for the adventurous. It’s one of the most fun decks you can play because it is so broken. It’s also a highly skill-intensive deck, so it sees less play on that account, and great players opt for the more secure options like Tezzeret rather than risk losing on account of a bad draw. Zendikar has definitely produced some cards that the TPS pilot might fear, but TPS’s relatively light presence in the general metagame means that these cards see less play than they might otherwise.

2) Oath

How It Works:

This is the modern Oath of Druids deck.

Because virtually every deck in the format uses creatures, like Dark Confidant, Oath is well positioned in the current metagame, which is why it’s winning so much. However, if the opponent is so rude as to not run creatures, you can always play Forbidden Orchard to give your opponent a creature. Then, you Oath up Hellkite Overlord for a two turn clock or Iona to shut your opponent out of the game.


Unfortunately, Oath of Druids has few weaknesses that aren’t internal. The deck’s biggest weakness is the restriction of Brainstorm. Oath has to find, resolve and trigger Oath before the opponent wins. This can take some time unless you have the nuts Mox, Orchard — Oath with Force of Will backup.

However, cards like Greater Gargadon are seeing increasing play as an answer to Oath, since GG can suck up Orchard tokens to buy time to prevent the Oath pilot from activating Oath. Qasali Pridemage and Seal of Primordium effects are also useful at stopping Oath of triggering.


This is the hottest deck in Vintage at the moment. The printing of Iona and Spell Pierce has made this one hot archetype. A few more months of this and Oath will be a bona fide Deck to Beat. Note that there is a more aggressive variant advocated by Robert Vroman. Go to the Manadrain.com to find out more.

3) Steel City Vault

How It Works:

This is an alternative, more aggressive Time Vault strategy to conventional Tezzeret. Instead of relying on the traditional control shell, this deck is more explosive, and in some ways, more resilient.

It uses Draw7s for quick bursts of card advantage. The hope is to chain Draw7s like Windfall and Wheel of Fortune, acting like mini-tutors, to dig up the Time Vault combo, which can be put into play with Goblin Welder.

If you are familiar with Control Slaver of the past, this is the modern version of that deck. It plays similarly. The deck abuses Ancient Grudge to stop Null Rods, which also synergizes with the Draw7 strategy.


This deck’s primary weakness is graveyard hate like Leyline of the Void. Decks with intense amounts of blue disruption, like certain Fish variants, can also give this deck fits. It only has Force of Wills to protect its spells.


This deck was really hot mid-summer, and has cooled off quite a bit. Most Time Vault pilots prefer to play either Tezzeret or Oath. That said, this deck has persisted, particularly in Europe, where it’s found a cult following.

4) G/x Beats

How It Works:

It’s the creature-prison deck, and the first upper tier Aggro deck in Vintage in years.

In the last few years, Wizards has printing so many highly disruptive green and white creatures. Qasali Pridemage finally put the archetype over the top in the Time Vault era. Gaddock Teeg, Wasteland, Null Rod, and Pridemage are the core of the deck. The rest of the creature base is variable, including Aven Mindcensor to stop tutors, fetchlands and Tinker, Kataki to neuter more Moxen, Vexing Shusher to resolve spells, Jotun Grunt to disrupt the opponent’s graveyard, Ethersworn Canonist to slow them down, and cards like True Believer in the board to stop Oath triggers and Tendrils of Agony.

This deck attempts to lock you out while beating you down. Not very nice, is it?


Like Fish, the deck’s biggest weaknesses are Tinker targets and Sower of Temptation. This particular list is also particularly vulnerable to threats like Volcanic Fallout or Pyroclasm.


While this deck made a splash earlier in the year, the variant I’ve developed since, Meandeck Beats (G/W/B) has, in most areas, superseded the G/W list:

The addition of Black gives you a lot more tools against the field, including Thoughtseize and Diabolic Edict. This deck requires constant tuning, but it’s a perennial threat, particularly given the sheer quantity of options available to Beats pilots.

5) Ad Nauseam

How It Works:

Using Ad Nauseam as a focused engine, this is the other main Dark Ritual-based Storm combo deck in Vintage. This deck seeks to resolve Ad Nauseam, draw a ton of cards, and combo out.

This is probably the fastest tournament winning deck in Vintage, and it can win frequently on turn one with a number of possible opening hands. For example, turn one:

Land, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Ad Nauseam, Pact of Negation is a likely turn 1 victory.


Although this deck is brutally fast, it’s also much more vulnerable to cards like Sphere of Resistance or Chalice of the Void. Mindbreak Trap is also very strong.


This deck continues to win tournaments, at least one mid-sized tournaments every month or so somewhere in the world, proving that it’s a viable deck.

6) MUD

How It Works:

This is the Vintage “tubbies” or affinity deck, meaning Mishra’s Workshop based beatdown-prison hybrid deck.

Like Stax, this deck uses a bunch of artifact disruption like Smokestack, Tangle Wire, and Sphere of Resistance. However, the distinguishing feature is the presence of Metalworker, which powers out your whole hand on turn two. It also tends to be more aggressive than Stax lists. Here, Arcbound Ravager, Triskelion, Karn, and Mishra’s Factories beatdown for the win.


Like other Mishra’s Workshop decks, this deck has problems with anti-artifact solutions like Hurkyl’s Recall, Energy Flux, or Rack and Ruin.


This deck is a silent killer. It also tends to be a mostly European stalwart.

7) Drain Tendrils

How It Works:

This is the modern “Psychatog Deck.” That is, this is the Big Blue Vintage deck that draws a bunch of cards, plays Yawgmoth’s Will to draw some more, and then play either Tendrils of Agony or Tinker for Darksteel Colossus to win the game.

The key draw engine is Intuition + Accumulated Knowledge, which draws absurd amounts of cards. Part of the time you play Intuition for Accumulated Knowledge, you’ll already have an Accumulated Knowledge in hand. That will allow you to draw 7 cards. Even if you don’t have the 4th Accumulated Knowledge, drawing three cards from Intuition + AK will allow you to get closer to the 4th one, or cards like Ancestral Recall or Gifts Ungiven.

This deck is incredibly strong in the control mirror match because Intuition + Accumulated Knowledge is the strongest Mana Drain mirror match draw engine.


The flip side of having an awesome draw engine for the control matchups is huge vulnerability to Stax and Fish decks. In those matchups, Intuition + AK is slow and clunky. It’s expensive and hard to pull off.


This deck has virtually no buzz because it’s almost exclusively a European contender, but it’s a terrific performer, and won the largest Vintage tournament of 2009.

III. The Dark Horses

The four “Decks to Beat” and the seven “Decks You Might Face” account for about 90% of the decks that appear in Vintage Top 8s, and the vast majority of the decks you might ever face in a Vintage tournament. Those decks are Vintage.

However, there are a few archetypes that show up less frequently, but that you might nonetheless encounter. These are the Dark Horses of Vintage.

1) Worldgorger Dragon Combo

How It Works:

Worldgorger Dragon Combo is a combo that uses Animate Dead, Worldgorger Dragon, and Bazaar of Baghdad to create an infinite loop generating mana and drawing and discarding cards through each loop. Eventually, you move the Animate to Oona, Queen of the Fae to exile your opponent’s entire library.


What’s so cool about this deck is that it boards into the Tezzeret combo, and boards out the Dragon combo, so that your opponent’s graveyard hate misses the mark.

2) Painter Servant Combo

How It Works:

Painter’s Servant turns Red Elemental Blast, an already powerful Blue hoser, into Vindicate or a one-mana counterspell. Painter’s Servant allows Grindstone to mill your opponent’s entire library.


This deck is a great choice for heavy control and combo metagames. It’s much less powerful in Stax or Fish metagames.

3) Grow

How It Works:

This deck is a classic Grow deck. It uses a bunch of cantrips to survive on a light mana base to create virtual card advantage. Dark Confidant generates additional card advantage, while Tarmogoyf and Inkwell Leviathan beatdown to victory.


This deck is a great choice in a heavy Blue metagame, but like Painter very weak in Stax heavy metagames.

4) Belcher Combo

How It Works:

The point of this deck is to play and activate Goblin Charbelcher, preferably on turn one. It’s a hyper-fast, balls-to-the-walls Combo deck.


This deck is a goldfisher’s favorite pet. It doesn’t show up very often, but it can be terrifying to face.

5) The Deck



How It Works:

This is the Vintage control deck. It takes complete control over the game with permission, mana denial, removal, and discard. It wins the game with Sundering Titan, Sower of Temptation, or a Wished up Stroke of Genius.

Post-board, this deck uses the Obeyline combo. Leyline of the Void allows Helm of Obedience to remove your opponent’s entirely library from game.


The Deck is the oldest and most venerated archetype in Vintage. It’s been revived recently by Patrick Chapin and Team Meandeck. It’s also a hot deck among the Pros. Expect to see this deck do some special things in 2010.


Vintage can be fast and furious, but that’s why it’s so much fun. Vintage is probably the most fun Magical format, but it’s also among the most intimidating. This article has given you a roadmap for playing Vintage in 2010, and hopefully demystified the format in the process.

I’ve reviewed the 4 Decks To Beat, the 7 Decks You Might Face, and 5 Dark Horses to consider. The Decks to Beat and the Decks You Might Face make up over 90% of the decks you’ll see in a Vintage Top 8 and the vast majority of the decks you might face in the swiss rounds of a tournament. If you become familiar with these 11 decks and test them on your gauntlet, you’ll be well prepared to have a blast playing Vintage and win some awesome prizes in the process. Visit themanadrain.com to find a local tournament in your area.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian