So Many Insane Plays – The Vintage Apocalypse: The New Metagame Uncovered

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Monday, June 9th – Last week saw the DCI blow the scorching Winds of Change through the Vintage metagame with a sweeping cascade of disputed restrictions. Predictably, for some the sky is falling. However, Stephen Menendian is made of sterner stuff, and today’s So Many Insane Plays breaks down the decks and strategies likely to inform the Vintage metagame for the coming months. He makes some startling predictions… do you agree with his assessments?

Now that the DCI has ‘pushed the button’ so to speak, what’s next? Everyone is curious to see where Vintage goes from here. Five of the strongest and most important Blue spells in the format were restricted in one batch. Symbolically and practically, Blue has been castrated.

So, what are the best decks in Vintage going to be now?

Why, Blue of course!

At first, everyone will focus on archetypes that will appear to have been untouched by the most recent wave of restrictions. This will draw particular attention to Workshop Prison and Dredge. Workshops decks have more tools than ever, with new printings including Thorn of Amethyst (although Thorn is no Trinisiphere) and Magus of the Moon. And Ichorid decks are obscene. Mana versions can win on turn 1, although they are basically turn 2 or 3 decks. Manaless versions have a fairly consistent turn 2 goldfish. They are virtually impossible to defeat in game 1 because they aren’t disrupted by conventional means, and they only have to eke out one post-board victory. I’ll show you these decks in little while.

So, in the first iteration, I think the metagame will appear to players to look something like this:

Tier 1:
Mono Red Workshop Aggro
MUD (Workshop Prison)

Tier 1.5:
Grim Long/Pitch Long Storm Combo
Deez’s Naughts
Worldgorger Dragon Combo

Tier 2:
Aggro decks

Already, I hear murmurs about the return of Grim Long type decks and Dragon combo, alongside the Workshop and Dredge monstrosities.

The operative and faulty assumption that undergirds these hasty conclusions is the notion that because a deck remained intact after the castration of Blue, they necessarily get better. The reason this assumption is error because it takes a mechanical or static view of the metagame rather than a systems view. It views decks in isolation from each other, rather than in relation to each other. It’s the old economists’ adage, let’s hold everything else constant, certeris peribus. The problem is that everything else is not constant. The wave of restrictions not only affects the decks that were killed or rendered obsolete, it also affects the entire metagame itself.

These changes were not transactional. They did not simply excise Blue from an existing metagame, leaving the remaining metagame intact and the remaining players more powerful. They were not like scraping a wart off your foot. They were transformational. It was like giving you a whole new foot.

Specifically, let me address the problems that Workshop and Dredge players will come to realize.

The Problem With Dredge

Although many of the decks above Ichorid in the metagame pecking order have been cut down, Ichorid’s place in the metagame as a solid tier 1.5 contender will remain unchanged because the reason for its placement in that position remains unchanged. Ichorid is not a top tier deck because it does not win tournaments. Its inability to win tournaments has nothing to do with the decks around it. Ichorid doesn’t interact with other decks at a strategic level. It interacts with particular cards, cards like Leyline of the Void, Tormod’s Crypt, Extirpate, Yixlid Jailer and the like.

Whether it is a GroAtog deck or Control Slaver playing those cards should make little difference in the ultimate Ichorid equation. The only questions that matter is 1) the quantity of these cards in the metagame and 2) the clock speed of the deck using them (which tells you how much time you have to answer them).

Unfortunately for Dredge, I actually think that the forthcoming metagame will be less hospitable to its presence than the previous metagame for reasons that address both questions above. First of all, I expect a modest increase in the number of Tormod’s Crypts maindeck. As I will show in this article, I expect Control Slaver to be a major player, and it will be running at least one maindeck Tormod’s Crypt. I also expect Tormod’s Crypt to be a key tool against Drain Tendrils.

Second, I think that the value of Extirpate will increase as a tactical threat. Without the Gushbond engine around, decks will rely more and more on the remaining four-ofs, and cards like Thirst For Knowledge, Force of Will, Mana Drain, Oath of Druids, and even Worldgorger Dragon will be key Extirpate targets. In the Gushbond metagame, you could take out Gushes, and I could go off with Merchant Scroll for Ancestral Recall and then Scroll for Mystical Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will. You could take out Brainstorm, and I could still Scroll and Gush. You could take out Scroll, and I could still Gush and Brainstorm. There were too many support legs to the Gushbond engine. Today’s Blue-based engines are more linear and more susceptible to being Extirpated.

Third, rather than slow down the format, I think these restrictions will generally speed it up. It’s true that losing Brainstorm will slow it down some. In terms of its tempo speed, a turn 1 Brainstorm was a play that functionally moved your fourth turn to your second. Despite the loss of that play in large measure, the restrictions should have the effect of actually accelerating the format.

People have surprisingly short memories. The Gifts and Pitch Long metagame of 2006 and the first six months of 2007 was one of the fastest metagames to ever exist in Vintage. Pitch Long was a turn 1.5 deck. Gifts sometimes won on turn 2, but was essentially a turn 3 deck.

The unrestriction of Gush gave us the Gushbond engine. As powerful as that engine proved to be, it was much slower than what came before it. This was partly why players considered the first nine months of the new Gush era to be a golden age. Sure, Gush decks could win on turn 1, but only about 1% of the time. That was not true of the decks that came before. All of the faster decks were checked by the Gush decks, including Flash. This was one of the key reasons that Pitch Long disappeared and Combo Control dried up. It had no chance against GAT and company.

Gush decks were slower decks, necessarily, as they relied on actually making several land drops in order to utilize Gush. It’s true that they could tutor up Fastbond, but that wasn’t always an option or even the best line of play. Gush decks decompressed the game by Duressing the hell out of you and then building card advantage so they could combo out. Their huge tempo advantages pushed out the fastest decks or held them in check. They also held the faster Mana Drain decks in check.

Gifts decks were at least a full turn faster than the Gush decks, and probably faster still. By the end of the Gifts era, the Ritual Gifts deck was actually closer to a turn 2 deck than anything else.

The restriction of the Gushbond engine opens the door, once again, to the remaining fastest decks. The Grim Tutor decks should return in some measure, and they are lightning fast. Dredge is almost as fast as well. The faster Combo-Control Mana Drain decks can now return in full measure without Gush decks Scrolling and Duressing the hell out of them, and using their inherent card advantage low manabase to squeeze them out.

If these facts prove true, I can’t see how Ichorid would make the transition to the very top tier. I am not saying that Ichorid can’t or won’t win major tournaments, I just don’t see that as more likely now than it was in the last 12 months. Hence, I predict it will remain a top deck, safely ensconced in the 1.5 tier.

The Problem With Workshops

The most obvious problem with Workshops is that they lose their natural predator: light manabases built for Gush. Spheres become less powerful as decks seek to play fewer spells per turn and as manabases enlarge. That’s exactly what’s going to happen. Worse, Mana Drain returns in a big way.

Mana Drain is now the second best unrestricted Blue spell. They restricted everything in between it and Force. The Gush decks kept Mana Drain decks out of the format because Mana Drain decks could never outcounter the Gush decks or compete with them in terms of card advantage. Now, the Mana Drain decks will be the center of the new metagame. Worse, I foresee two particularly virulent Drain decks at the top of the metagame, two decks that are very problematic for Workshops. They will not only be running plenty of basic lands, but they will have lots of inherent anti-artifacts components, cards like Goblin Welder, Rack and Ruin, and Hurkyl’s Recall all maindeck. The Workshop players will have to be smart, Robert Vroman smart, about handling them.

Ultimately, here is what I think the metagame will look like by the time Vintage Worlds rolls around:

Tier 1:
Drain Tendrils
Control Slaver
Unknown Workshop variant

Tier 1.5:
Dredge, Manaless and Mana’d
Mono Red Workshop Aggro
Deez’s Naughts
Painter Control

Tier 2:
Worldgorger Combo
Long Storm Combo
Belcher Combo

Tier 1 Decklists

Here is the top of my gauntlet.

I think this deck will be a, if not the, deck to beat. How do you describe Control Slaver to someone who hasn’t played it before? It’s broken. It’s fundamentally about Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will, two of the strongest restricted cards.

This deck is very fast. We have been conditioned for the world as it was over the last 12 months, a metagame that was slow by Control Slaver standards. Gush decks slowed down the game with a heavy disruption package. Control Slaver is faster than Gush decks and packed with more restricted cards. Gush decks ran a few Moxen and Black Lotus. This deck has Mana Vault, Sol Ring, Lotus Petal, and Academy on top of full Moxen. It can generate a lot of mana very quickly, which makes it very fast. Beyond the restricted cards, Control Slaver utilizes what is probably the next best unrestricted Blue card in the format, Thirst For Knowledge, as a draw engine.

This deck is also incredibly flexible. To play Slaver, you have to realize that you are not tied to one strategy. In one match, Tinker for Colossus may be all that is needed. In another, you may have to set up a Slaver lock. In another still, you may be jockeying to pull off a large Yawgmoth’s Will. Control Slaver is a bundle of strategies and a package of combinations. This flexibility is one of the reasons that Control Slaver is so powerful. It is truly a deck that maximizes basic Vintage skills, including tactical mastery and metagaming. Currently I have a Rack and Ruin, Tormod’s Crypt, and a Fire/Ice maindeck. Pure metagaming. There are plenty of sideboard options and lots of maindeck flexibility to improve your chances against the field.

I drew this particular list together from several sources. I found a list from 2005 and 2006 by Rich Shay that manhandled Workshop decks. For some reason, there is an impulse to try and reinvent the wheel. No wheel invention is needed here. This list is highly tuned. Like Shay, I’ve included four Goblin Welders so that you can play with Workshops like Mighty Mouse plays with a cat, whapping it back and forth with its tail. Second, it has the Tinker package, and all targets devastate. Third, it has a maindeck Rack and Ruin for good measure, just as Rich ran at the time. Fire/Ice is also a card that can take out opposing Welders, Magus of the Moons, Ichorids, or Fishes, although I’m less wedded to it than to other cards. I am also running Gifts Ungiven, which has been fantastic in testing. I am running, as well, a maindeck Tormod’s Crypt, for use not simply against Ichorid, but also Dragon or Storm combo as well. Importantly, that Tormod’s Crypt features prominently in the Drain Tendrils match.

This deck is weak against really fast Aggro decks, but I don’t know how much staying power those decks will have. This deck also can beat Oath decks. So far in my testing, my Bazaar Oath deck has not gotten very far against it. Slaver is too broken.

This deck is also weak to combo decks like Grim Long or Belcher. Those decks will mount an offense before Control Slaver can mount a defense. Mana Drain and Force of Will are not enough to stop them from winning. Tormod’s Crypt will help, but if those combo decks rise, then other tools will be needed.

One other weakness is Manaless Ichorid (you are much better against Mana Ichorid). But take a look at my proposed sideboard. Leylines, Extirpates, and Tormod’s Crypt (recursive with Welder!) should all do wonders for that matchup.

I think this is the prospect that miffs me the most about the new metagame. This deck is ridiculously good and it was for a very long time from 2004 through 2006. Its long presence at the top created a very stale format. Gifts Ungiven finally shook Control Slaver from its throne, and then Gush decks replaced that. Although I’d rather not play the Control Slaver metagame again, it looks like that might be the direction we’re are heading. Welcome back 2005.

Here is the second deck on my gauntlet:

This deck is incredibly powerful and incredibly good. In a sense, this is sort of the “Gifts” deck of Vintage. This deck has the most robust draw engine of anything in the field. It uses Intuition plus Accumulated Knowledges, and Thirst for Knowledge to accumulate card advantage until it unleashed either a monster Yawgmoth’s Will or Tinkers into Darksteel Colossus. Alternatively, it can just Hurkyl’s Recall itself several times and cast a lethal Tendrils of Agony.

This deck is also a proven tournament winner. Cody won an SCG Tour® nament with this deck at the height of the Gifts era. Most importantly, this deck is absolutely at its peak power in a heavy Control and Workshop metagame. This deck will be a challenge for Control Slaver to beat, but it can beat it on the back of Tormod’s Crypts and Extirpates. I think both decks are well equipped to fight Workshops. That’s what I think will push shops out of the top tier, is the double punch of these decks.

Although these decks will be tier 1 decks, there is almost always a third deck in the top tier. At this time, I can’t predict what that might be. It could end up being an Aggro-Control deck like the Sullivan Solution or Deez’ Naughts, or it could end up being a combo deck, perhaps Grim or Pitch Long (which will prey on both the Drain decks). More likely, I think it will be a Workshop deck. Perhaps:

I ultimately think that one of the Workshop decks will settle in the top tier. Thorn of Amethyst is actually one of the stronger cards that can be played against Control Slaver or Drain Tendrils, as it makes all of the precious three-mana spells cost four, unlike Trinisphere, which often had no effect on those critical spells. I think that a deck that a Workshop deck that runs Null Rods and all of the Spheres will probably be the deck best equipped to fight the two primary Drain decks. It remains to be seen if it will be successful in this endeavor.

Tier 1.5 Decklists

You should already know how this deck works…

Step 1: Mulligan into Bazaar of Baghdad. Use Serum Powder to get there. Step 2: Activate Bazaar, discard dredgers. Step 3: On the upkeep of your second turn, dredge using Bazaar. Then dredge again on your draw step. This will often be enough to win the game. Step 4: Flashback Cabal Therapy to clear the way. Finally, Dread Return on Cephalid Sage. Dredge more and then Dread Return again on Flame-Kin Zealot for a lethal swing with an army of Bridge tokens.

Albert has already written a long primer on the deck here.

His deck remains completely unscathed by the most recent restrictions. In fact, it’s much stronger. The mana version is also more powerful:

The Obvious…

Both decks are completely untouched by the restrictions. They constitute the immediate center of the new metagame.

Here’s the Tarmogoyf deck:

All-star creature support makes for a powerful mixture. Trinket Mage also provides a toolbox to pesky problems.

This deck will be a player, but I’m not sure how much of a player. My suspicion is that this concept needs to be revamped for the new metagame. It’s still powerful, but not Drain Tendrils or Control Slaver powerful.

This is the deck that I think will skyrocket in use and play in the new metagame. Null Rod is extremely powerful once again. Mana denial is, again, a premium. I think that Cursecatcher will be a very playable Fish spell as well.

I also think that a Painter deck will be playable.

I tried to imagine myself as Andy Probasco, and think about how he might build a Painter deck in the new metagame. Here’s what I came up with.

This deck should have game against the top tier, and plenty of sideboard options.

Tier 2 Decklists

Totally unscathed by the recent restrictions, this is the original Bazaar of Baghdad deck for Vintage. Use Bazaar of Baghdad, Intuition or Read the Runes to get a Worldgorger Dragon into the graveyard. Cast an Animate Dead (or Dance or Necromancy) on Worldgorger and begin the infinite loop. Generate an arbitrarily large amount of mana and infinitely recur Ancestral Recall to kill your opponent.

This deck actually looks like it could be a serious contender. First of all, it only needs to play a two-mana spell to win the game! Seems like a great deal in the Workshop/Ichorid metagame. And indeed it might be. My fear is that this deck will get hit by a lot of hate aimed at Ichorid. It could be a top tier competitor, but I have a feeling it will settle in the middle tier.

Although this would be my top deck choice, I don’t think that this will survive the metagame. First of all, the manabase is weak for Workshop, Null Rod, and Wasteland metagame. Second, there are too many Spheres. I suspect Belcher will suffer the same fate. However, if Workshop diminish, watch out….

So, that’s the new metagame as I see it. These predictions are speculative. They are based in reality, but they are necessarily imperfect guesswork based upon my insights and testing so far.

If the DCI thought it could neuter Blue with a massive wave of restrictions it was sadly mistaken. You could restrict every Blue card in existence and it would still be the backbone of the best Vintage decks. People will still start every deck with:

1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Brainstorm
1 Ponder
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Tinker

The cost of running Blue is nothing compared to the benefits it provides. Vintage players have historically splashed Blue just to support Ancestral Recall and Time Walk, as they should.

Although the DCI wanted to take out Blue, I think these restrictions illustrate the futility of such an effort. Restricting Merchant Scroll was a necessity at this point given the fact that it was a tutor that formed the backbone of every good Vintage deck. Beyond Merchant Scroll, I don’t think any of the other restrictions were absolutely necessary.

Restricting Brainstorm was a logical move based upon the fact that so many decks ran it, but it was a move that was legitimately a judgment call. If it was an obvious restriction or if there were no valid reasons against it, it would have been restricted years ago. Nonetheless, I am not opposed to the restriction of Brainstorm.

On the other hand, I don’t think that Gush needed to be restricted with both Scroll and Brainstorm gone. Restricting Flash seemed pointless with Scroll and Brainstorm gone (and Ponder). And restricting Ponder seemed like a mistake. It wouldn’t be an auto four-of like Brainstorm had been, even with Brainstorm gone. At the very least, the DCI could have waited to see how Ponder played in the new metagame.

Aside from Merchant Scroll, these restrictions were made not with the intention of killing a dominant deck, taking out a problematic engine, or even removing a card that drives people from the tournaments ala Trinisphere (although pre-restriction Flash had a real claim there), but to shake things up. To make things interesting. Things become interesting because new design space opens up and there are metagame potentials that have yet to play out.

There is a view in the Vintage community that DCI restrictions should be used to “spice” things up, to keep things interesting and fluid. Although I sympathize with this view, being a fan of the format, I ultimately think that such use of the restricted list is unwise. It creates short term benefits, but these benefits do not outweigh the long-term impacts. The changes themselves are interesting, but that doesn’t mean that the format, once the changes work their way through the metagame, will be more interesting, fun, or diverse. In addition, as I will show, there are other ways to do that besides sweeping restrictions.

First of all, one of the assumptions is that Vintage becomes stagnant. Unlike almost all other formats which have a natural rotation, nothing rotates out of Vintage. Although it may seem that this would create stagnation, the truth is quite different. Every year, a few printings or more make their way in Vintage. These printings create new decks or new interactions with old decks. If you go through my article archive here and on mtg.com and read through my annual Vintage Year In Review articles, you may noticed a basic pattern from year to year.

In any given year, there are basically three best performing decks that make up the top tier. What is so interesting about this feature is that these decks are not the same from year to year. Even without restrictions, Vintage decks “naturally” rotate out. In any given year, one of these decks is on the ascent, or recently made its way into the top tier, and another is on the decline, and on its way out of the top tier. This occurs without any restrictions necessitating it.


From January to June, 2003, the top three decks were Rector Trix, GroAtog, and Stax. In June, Gush was restricted and Scourge was printed, which brought with it storm decks. Mind’s Desire was preemptively restricted. After the restriction of Gush, the top decks became: Psychatog, Stax, and Mask decks. Academy Rector decks fell out of the top tier and Psychatog won the Vintage championship that year. By the winter, Long.dec had become a huge player and Mask decks fell out of the metagame and were replaced by a deck that had a favorable match against Tog, Worldgorger Dragon combo. Long.dec was killed by restriction.

2003 saw a lot of changes in the metagame, only a few of which were triggered by restrictions. Most of the changes were triggered by new printings, new innovation, and metagame responses. There was a loud call to restrict Academy Rector and restrict or errata Mask, but wisely, the DCI ignored the calls for both. In the end, they both fell out of the top tier.


In 2004, Fish decks took off. UR Fish was the best deck for the first half of the year, dominating the first StarCityGames.com Power Nine tournament late that Summer. Fish and Workshop Aggro decks using Trinisphere rose to the top, knocking Psychatog out of the metagame.

Once again, although there were calls to restrict Intuition, Dark Ritual, Mishra’s Workshop, Crucible of Worlds, Chalice of the Void, Spoils of the Vault. or even Cunning Wish, they were wisely resisted. The metagame handled itself. With the rise of Workshops and Fish came the emergence of Control Slaver onto the metagame in a big way. Then the DCI printed Forbidden Orchard, which landed Oath onto the map, which then became one of the best decks. Oath, Control Slaver, and Workshop Aggro ended the year as the best decks.


Trinisphere was restricted, which pretty much knocked Workshop Aggro from the metagame. Ironically, that move made Stax a top tier deck for the first time since 2003. In this year, the top three decks were Stax, Control Slaver, and later Gifts decks. The printing of Gifts Ungiven put another deck into the top of the metagame. The calls to restrict Dark Ritual grew, but were resisted.


In 2006, Control Slaver, Gifts, and Stax battled it out amongst each other, but it became clear that Control Slaver was on the losing end of that battle. The release of Portal in late 2005, and with it Grim Tutor, brought Long decks back into the metagame. By the end of 2005, Gifts, Pitch Long, and Control Slaver were the clear top three decks in the format, with Slaver on its way out.


The battle at the beginning of 2007 was a battle between Pitch Long and Gifts. That battle was about to move to a different battleground with the printing of new components to fuel manaless Ichorid and the release of Flash. I would have predicted that Gifts and Flash were to be the top decks, with Pitch Long on its way out when the DCI decided to restrict Gifts and unrestrict Gush and the rules team errated Flash. Aven Mindcensor had also just seen print, a card that would have seriously wrecked Gifts Ungiven strategies. It is not clear how this metagame would have played out. It is story without an ending.

Through that time period, there has always been a repeated call for restrictions. To see the extent of these calls, take a look at this chart. Whenever the DCI resists the call to restrict, we see that in time the facts which motivated those calls to restrict eventually disappear. The metagame works itself out most of the time. The exceptions are the really big cards like Lion’s Eye Diamond or Mind’s Desire, the ubiquitous engines like Merchant Scroll, or the fun-killing, tournament-spoiling cards like Trinisphere.

The notion that restrictions should be used to “shake things up,” is, in my view, a short term and narrow view of what actually happens in Vintage. In the short term, you do create interest, you do drive some innovation, but ultimately, these moves are unnecessary and loaded with unintended consequences.

These restrictions will create change, quite a bit in fact (as I’ve hopefully shown), but I doubt that the effect will be to broaden the format so much as to change its composition. People sometimes get the two confused. The momentary metagame chaos creates the impression of a wide open format rather than a format where some decks will replace others. Restrictions that make some decks unplayable necessarily remove an option from the metagame. I believe that diversity is what makes the format playable and fun, and restrictions, especially unnecessary ones, are antithetical to that in many ways. Restrictions, unless they are precisely targeted, may reduce overall diversity rather than enhance it.

There is also the danger of a cascading restricted list. I generally do not believe slippery slope arguments because it is usually not the case that the slope is slippery. However, there is a real danger now that cards like Bazaar of Baghdad will be too good. If Bazaar gets restricted, you take out a big pillar of Vintage, a card that has made the format interesting for many years now. It’s not simply Dredge that I believe will necessitate this move, since I think Dredge can be neutered in other ways, such as restricting Serum Powder and forcing it to go to mana versions, or restricting Golgari Grave Troll or some other card. I think the problem is that Bazaar is now going to be very heavily played, at least in proxy formats. And if Bazaar requires restriction, what then? Although unlikely, it is possible that something else will be perceived as “too good,” and all because of a series of restrictions that swept too far.

If the goal is diversity, that goal has not been achieved by these restrictions. Fewer targeted restrictions and more unrestrictions would have served that goal better. My approach to the restricted list is intended to create as much diversity as possible while keeping the format tolerable (i.e. nothing that makes people just pack up and sell their cards).

If I Ran the DCI…

If I were running the restricted list, here is what it would look like:

• Ancestral Recall
• Balance
• Black Lotus
• Brainstorm
• Channel
• Chrome Mox
• Crop Rotation
• Demonic Consultation
• Demonic Tutor
• Fastbond
• Flash
• Frantic Search
• Imperial Seal
• Lion’s Eye Diamond
• Lotus Petal
• Mana Crypt
• Mana Vault
• Memory Jar
• Merchant Scroll
• Mind’s Desire
• Mox Emerald
• Mox Jet
• Mox Pearl
• Mox Ruby
• Mox Sapphire
• Mystical Tutor
• Necropotence
• Regrowth
• Sol Ring
• Strip Mine
• Time Walk
• Timetwister
• Tinker
• Tolarian Academy
• Trinisphere
• Vampiric Tutor
• Wheel of Fortune
• Windfall
• Yawgmoth’s Bargain
• Yawgmoth’s Will

I don’t think the restricted list needs to be any larger than those 40 cards. In case it isn’t obvious, the basic changes I would make from the pre-June 20 restricted list are to unrestrict:

Burning Wish
Dream Halls
Enlightened Tutor
Fact or Fiction
Gifts Ungiven
Grim Monolith
Library of Alexandria
Mox Diamond
Personal Tutor
Time Spiral


Burning Wish was restricted to neuter Long.dec. Burning Wish’s restriction is nonsensical since Grim Tutor is a superior tutor, for many reasons which I won’t elaborate on right now.

Dream Halls is a terrible card. Worse than terrible. It’s pure garbage.

Enlightened Tutor is not broken. Sure, it finds Black Lotus, the best card in the game. So do a million other legal tutors.

Entomb: Please. This is an unrestriction that will alarm some people. But as good as Entomb might be, show me a list that would abuse Entomb in a way that would be problematic. I don’t suggest this card lightly, particularly given Vintage’s graveyard bent. Sure, you can Entomb something and then Animate it with a Dark Ritual. But I seriously doubt that’s better than what Dragon does with Bazaar anyway. This wouldn’t make Dredge better in any relevant way. It already wins consistently on turn 2 at the moment. You can use general principles about tutoring and how good the graveyard is to justify keeping it on the restricted list, but general principles are not real world metagames.

Fact or Fiction is not too good. It’s perfectly fair. It was restricted at a time when Vintage players were worse than terrible and everyone else played mono-color decks. It’s not a Yawgmoth’s Will tutor. It’s fair.

Gifts Ungiven was only too good because of Merchant Scroll. It was Merchant Scroll that gave Gifts decks the early burst of card advantage that helped them win with Gifts for Yawgmoth’s Will. With Scroll and Brainstorm restricted, this card is pretty lackluster. If it were unrestricted, you would see it pop up as a two of in several decks, but it would not be a problem card. It’s expensive and slow.

Library of Alexandria is an inferior card to another land printed in the same set: Bazaar of Baghdad. It’s very slow and very hard to use in multiples. Any deck that can abuse it is a fair deck. See Landstill.

Mox Diamond is a bad card in Vintage and sees no play for a reason. If it enables some casual players to play mono-White decks, or for Parfait to return, I say YES!

Personal Tutor is dangerous with Tinker. Of course, there are plenty of existing ways to find Tinker: Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, Demonic Tutor, Merchant Scroll for Mystical, Grim Tutor, and a singleton Personal Tutor. Personal Tutor has seen zero play in Vintage, and is garbage.

Time Spiral is the most dangerous card I suggested, but it’s slow enough that it can’t be that problematic. You basically need either Academy, Fastbond, or three lands in play to make this card even somewhat worthwhile. It’s fair.

People who talk about unrestricting Regrowth, Channel, Demonic Consultation or cards like that can be safely ignored.

The DCI, I think, would have been better served by unrestrictions, even radical ones, than radical restrictions, for reasons already articulated.

One unrestriction that would have totally shaken up the format without doing much harm would have been the unrestriction of Balance, had they not neutered Brainstorm and Ponder.

Balance is one of those cards that old players like Buehler revere simply because it was so feared historically. The truth is that it would be played, but it would have been fair in the Gushbond metagame. With Brainstorms, Scroll, and Ponder around, decks can very, very quickly recover from being Balanced to one card and one land. After all, that’s the norm in Vintage. Most decks wouldn’t even care. Do you think Ichorid cares about being Balanced? Flash would find it irrelevant. Stax would love Balance (and to run it!) because it is artifact heavy.

The reason Balance was so devastating in the past is because the formats were much slower and because there was no way to fix your hand once you had been Balanced or even Mind Twisted. Now, Vintage decks topdeck amazingly thanks to Brainstorm and Ponder and Scroll. Your opponent could Balance, but then you could suddenly topdeck Scroll for Recall, then Brainstorm or Brainstorm in response to Balance to safe some key cards. Unlike cards like Wheel of Fortune, which inherently lend themselves to storm abuse, Balance is a card that slows the game down rather than accelerates it.

Vintage decks are used to operating off a land and a Mox anyway. Balance would have been a key new addition to the format, but it would not have been too good. Now that Brainstorm and Ponder and Scroll are all restricted, I would not advocate the unrestriction of Balance. Who wouldn’t welcome the return of a B/W Balance deck? It would be a far cry from the decks we’ve been used to seeing. Of course, the reality is that the Balance deck wouldn’t even be the best deck.

Fact or Fiction is a card that really had the most potential to improve the format. It’s a card that is totally fair in that it isn’t a tutor or a combo component. It’s a genuine draw spell, a card that necessitates two features. First, Mana Drain. Second, a deck that wants to build real card advantage, not simply tempo advantage. Decks like that are quite beatable, but also, when built around Fact, quite powerful.

If they had restricted Scroll last summer, Gifts could have stayed, Gush could have been unrestricted, and if they had unrestricted Fact we would have a very interesting, diverse, and healthy metagame. No Gushbond dominance, but enough Gush to matter (if they had kept Brainstorm).

Apparently the DCI wanted to make a symbolic statement. The symbolism of neutering Blue cannot be missed. However, symbolism is not a reason to restrict. People pay attention to symbols, but only for so long. What matters is the content of the format. They may have shaken things up, but the long-term consequences of this move are far reaching and not easily predicted. More importantly, there is harm here if these changes prove to be uninteresting, or worse, necessitate more changes which would not have been necessary in the first place.

There is no turning back now. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Vintage format from 2001 through 2008. I know that the format is not quite what I hoped, but nothing has been done that cannot be put right at some future date.

Onward and upward.

Stephen Menendian