So Many Insane Plays – The Vintage Market Report

SCG Open Richmond!

Monday, February 22nd – In today’s enlightening edition of So Many Insane Plays, Stephen Menendian breaks down the market forces in play on the current top strategies in Vintage. He also investigates the state of the current metagame, with reference to a myriad of tournaments held around the world…

Where should you make your Vintage investments in 2010? How does Worldwake affect your portfolio? Do you maintain a diversified portfolio or do you put your money into blue chips like Tezzeret Control or hot new properties like Iona Oath? What information do you rely on to make sound investments?

Vintage players do not have the benefit of large-scale events like Pro Tours and Grands Prix to set the metagame and inform players what the top decks are. Vintage is far more decentralized. Nonetheless, there are clear trends and emergent patterns in the Vintage metagame market. In these uncertain times I’m here to help you sort it all out.

In this market report I aggregate the results of every 33+ player Vintage tournament reported anywhere on the planet into one simple, easily accessible report. Tournaments with fewer than 33 players are excluded so that each top 8 statistic represents a player that has played in six rounds of swiss, and faced at least four different opponents in combat. This gives us confidence that the top 8 data reflects decks that succeed against diverse opposition and not simply a few lucky pairings.

There were a healthy 12 Vintage tournaments with 33 or more players reported in November and December, for a total of 96 of possible Top 8 slots. The average number of players was 45 per tournament. Metagame market conditions are generally strong. Two of the tournaments were Swiss, two were Dutch, four were from Spain or thereabouts, one was German, two from the Philippines, and one from the United States. The largest tournament was held in the US. (See the Appendix for links.)

The November/December Metagame Breakdown by Archetype

Here’s what made Top 8, with placement in top 8 is in parenthesis:

17 Fish (1,2,2,2,3,3,4,4,5,6,6,7,7,8,8,8,8)
* 13 UGW
* 2 Mono Blue
* 1 UW
* 1 BUG

13 Tezzeret (1,1,2,2,2,2,3,3,5,6,6,7,8)

11 Dredge (1,2,2,3,4,5,5,6,6,7,7)

8 Workshop Aggro (2,3,3,3,4,4,5,7)
*5 MUD
*3 Mono Red Workshop Aggro

5 Oath (1,2,4,5,8)
5 Steel City Vault (1,1,4,7,8)

4 TPS (1,4,6,8)
4 Ad Nauseam (1,4,4,7)
4 Stax (3,5,7,8)
* 2 5c
* 2 UR

2 G/x Beats (6,8)
2 Confidant Control (5,8)
2 European Control (4,7)
2 Bob Tendrils (1,5)
2 Painter Control (1,6)
2 European Combo (Brain Freeze) (3,4)
2 Belcher (4,5)
2 The Deck (5,8)

1 WRB Beats (7)
1 Suicide Black (3)
1 Magus of the Future/Trinket Mage/Counterbalance (1)
1 B/W (3)
1 Mono Blue Aggro Control (7)
1 Remora Control (6)
1 Goblins (6)
1 Bomberman (2)

Graphically, here’s what this looks like:

The distribution of tournament victors is much greater than the distribution of top 8 appearances. The top 4 archetypes account for 50% of the possible top 8 slots, but ten different archetypes won tournaments in this time period. This is a sign of a healthy metagame.

Archetypes as a Percentage of Top 8s

Here is a pie chart that shows you the relative proportion of these archetypes in the top 8 field:

Here are the percentages:

Fish: 17.71% of Top 8s
Tezzeret: 13.54%
Dredge: 11.46%
Workshop Aggro: 8.33%
Oath: 5.21%
Steel City Vault: 5.21%
Rest of the Field: 38.54%
– TPS: 4.17%
– Ad Nasueam: 4.17%
– Stax: 4.17%

Tezzeret Control
Lin Hua Cheng
1st Place in Manilla, 12-27-2009

1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
2 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Sol Ring
1 Time Vault
1 Voltaic Key
3 Dark Confidant
1 Darkblast
1 Demonic Tutor
3 Thoughtseize
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
1 Gifts Ungiven
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Inkwell Leviathan
4 Mana Drain
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Mystical Tutor
2 Repeal
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
1 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Time Walk
1 Tinker
1 Fire/Ice
1 Flooded Strand
3 Island
1 Misty Rainforest
2 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Tolarian Academy
3 Underground Sea
3 Volcanic Island

2 Greater Gargadon
3 Ingot Chewer
4 Leyline of the Void
1 Pithing Needle
1 Pyroblast
1 Pyroclasm
1 Red Elemental Blast
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Yixlid Jailer

Tezzeret Control first appeared in the fall of 2008 with the virtually simultaneous release of Shards of Alara (and printing of Tezzeret) and removal of power errata on Time Vault. As you can see from this chart, which graphs Tezzeret’s share of Vintage Top 8s over time, Tezzeret has enjoyed enormous success in Vintage. Its market share leapt from the outset to nearly a quarter of the Top 8 field. There was a brief rebound effect followed by steady growth. Tezzeret peaked just above 25% of Top 8s in May and June.

This level of profit was deemed excessive, and the DCI restricted Thirst For Knowledge in late June in an effort to curtail Tezzeret dominance. These efforts appear to have been successful. Tezzeret experienced a significant decline in July and August as a direct consequence of Thirst’s restriction, falling to just above 15% of the field. However, in September and October, Tezzeret enjoyed a resurgence to pre-restriction levels. That appears to have faded, as Tezzeret Control decks are now the lowest portion of Top 8s since the introduction of the archetype. Moreover, for the first time since Tezzeret emerged, it is not the archetype with the most top 8 appearances.

Perhaps the more telling graph is the % of Tournament Wins:

In the first half of 2009, Tezzeret was winning 40% of tournaments. This, more than the archetype’s proportion of Top 8s, was the basis of Tezzeret’s dominance. After the restriction of Thirst, Tezzeret’s percentage of tournament victories (in medium and large tournaments) has significantly declined. Tezzeret only won 16% of the tournaments in this time period, two of the twelve tournaments reported. In addition to its greatly diminished Top 8 presence, which is about half of what it was at its peak just before the restriction of Thirst For Knowledge, Tezzeret is not winning very many mid-sized or large tournaments.

Recommendation: Buy

Tezzeret’s performance has likely bottomed out, losing about 40% of its stock price in the last quarter. The restriction of Thirst has fully worked its way through the system at this point. I suspect it will see an increase in its performance, and recoup some of its last quarter losses, in the first or second quarter of 2010, and a corollary increase in tournament victories. I do not expect Tezzeret to return to pre-restriction performance levels, but it could temporarily reach those numbers, at least in terms of tournament top 8s, from time to time. However, I think it is unlikely that Tezzeret will ever win that proportion of tournaments again. At this price, Tezzeret is a good investment. It’s a flexible commodity that can adapt to shifting metagame conditions.

Fish is the best performing archetype in Vintage in the Nov-Dec period. It enjoyed a 63% increase in its performance in this time period, from 11% to nearly 18% of Top8s. It has more Top 8 appearances than any other archetype (17) and is the greatest percentage of Top 8s (17% compared to Tezzeret’s 13%). UGW Fish decks in particular are the best performing Fish variant, making up 13 of the 17 Fish lists that Top 8ed.

Although Fish is the top performing deck in terms of % of Top 8s, it has slightly fewer finals appearances and tournament victories as the next best performing archetype, Tezzeret:

In fact, what’s so mystifying is that in spite of having so many Top 8 appearances, Fish is not winning a proportionate number of tournaments. Fish won a third of the Vintage tournaments following the restriction of Thirst, but it has since settled to historical levels, on par with other major archetypes.

Recommendation: Sell

Unless you are a long-term investor, I recommend taking your profits now. I predict that Fish’s recent success will be the source of a Fish-backlash. Other archetypes will metagame more heavily for Fish in the coming months. At the same time, new tools such as Spell Pierce and, most recently, Thada Adel, provide important counter-tactics. However, the printing of Lodestone Golem should lead to more Workshop Aggro decks in Top 8s, an archetype that Fish traditionally does poorly against. In the next few months, Fish should see a decrease in its market performance. In the long-term, Fish is a solid investment.

Dredge enjoyed 23% growth over the last period. It rose from 9.37% of Top 8s in Sept-Oct to 11.46% of Top 8s in Nov-Dec. In this time period, Dredge was the third best performing archetype, with nearly 12% of the metagame market share. This fact may actually understate its performance since Dredge tends to be a very small portion of the overall field. Dredge may be one of the best performing archetypes in Vintage, in terms of % of the field to % of Top 8s.

Recommendation: Sell

Like Hallmark and certain retail outlets, Dredge is a cyclical performer. It weaves between 5% of Top 8s to around 11% of Top 8s, with an anomalous historic high of 15% of top 8s last Spring. As Dredge’s performance increases, the hate tends to correspondingly increase. Since Dredge appears to be at the top of its cyclical arc, I recommend selling Dredge. I expect a performance decrease in the next time period. Also, the printing of Bojuka Bog offers another tool for dealing with Dredge.

Workshop Aggro constitutes two particular archetypes: Aggro MUD and Mono Red Workshop Aggro. Occasionally, other archetypes play the role. What defines this archetype is it uses Mishra’s Workshop to power out fast beaters like Juggernaut or Arcbound Ravager.

In this time period, it was the fourth best performing strategy in Vintage. This archetype remains steady at its historic position of about 8% of Top 8s. However, it gained 25% on its performance in the last time period, a respectable margin increase.

Recommendation: Buy

The printing of Lodestone Golem will give this archetype a huge boost. Expect to see both MUD and Mono Red variants in lots of top 8s in February and March. There may well be a corresponding rise in anti-Workshop Aggro technology, but there will be a time lag before that fully manifests.

Like Dredge, Oath is also a cyclical archetype. The printing of Iona and Spell Piece in Zendikar gave Oath a tremendous boost. Oath shot up to a historical high in Sept-October of 2009. In this time period, Oath fell to 5% of Top 8s, losing nearly 40% of its value, a steep loss. It is tied for the fifth best performing archetype in this time period.

Recommendation: Hold

Historically, Oath has fallen precipitously following success with a new printing, and as other archetypes adjust to its presence. If history repeats itself Oath should continue to decline in the next period. However, Iona is powerful enough that I believe Oath will hold most of its ground, perhaps around 5% of top 8s.

Alex Delgado
Steel City Vault

1 Black Lotus
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Memory Jar
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
1 Time Vault
2 Voltaic Key
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Brainstorm
1 Fact or Fiction
4 Force of Will
1 Gifts Ungiven
2 Impulse
1 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Misdirection
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Ponder
1 Rebuild
1 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Time Walk
1 Timetwister
1 Tinker
1 Transmute Artifact
1 Windfall
1 Regrowth
1 Fire/Ice
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Goblin Welder
1 Wheel of Fortune
3 City of Brass
1 Island
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island

2 Ingot Chewer
1 Mountain
2 Pithing Needle
1 Pyroblast
1 Pyroclasm
2 Red Elemental Blast
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Sundering Titan
3 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Volcanic Fallout

Since its appearance in July, Steel City Vault has enjoyed a modicum of sustained success in the Vintage metagame. However, since its peak, it has lost about 17% of its value, and dropped from over 6% of Top8s to just over 5%. That said, Steel City Vault has two things going for it. First, it appears to have developed a loyal following in Europe, where it is continuing to see play. Second, it is winning tournaments. It won two tournaments in this dataset, and 40% of the tournaments in which it made top 8.

Recommendation: Buy. Steel City Vault is a solid buy, and will likely maintain its value in the next quarter. Steel City Vault is also strong against Workshops, which should see an increase in play.

TPS enjoyed a surge after the restriction of Thirst, which helped rebalance the TPS-Tezzeret match. In this time period TPS suffered a steep 45% loss of its metagame stock, and has fallen to pre-restriction levels. A number of factors are to blame. First, the printing of Mindbreak Trap discouraged many TPS pilots from playing the archetype. Secondly, the printing of Spell Pierce has also made fast Dark Ritual combo more difficult. In addition, previously strong matchups like Oath are more challenging with Iona. Oath of Druids decks used to give you several turns to win. With the Iona kill, the matchup is much closer.

Recommendation: Buy

TPS is a very powerful archetype, and should either hold its value or make modest gains in the next time quarter. As one of the most powerful archetypes in Vintage, TPS is a steal at this price. There is nowhere to go but up.

Ad Nauseam has enjoyed steady growth in the Vintage field for the last nine months, with a 33% increase in this time period. It is the fastest Storm combo deck in Vintage, and is a major favorite among storm enthusiasts. Ad Nauseam decks make up about 4% of all Vintage Top 8s, and have proven capable of winning tournaments as well.

Recommendation: Sell

Ad Nauseam is a powerful archetype, but I don’t see it gaining much in the next quarter, in an increasingly crowded field.

Like TPS, Stax enjoyed a surge following the restriction of Thirst. However, that surge has receded, and Stax fell by a whopping 60% in this time period. Stax was the second best performing archetype in the last dataset, and is now tied for 7th. It’s a frankly inexplicable loss of value.

Recommendation: Sell

5c and UR Stax pilots will have to consider the opportunity cost of not playing a more aggressive Workshop deck built with Lodestone Golem. While I don’t expect Smokestacks to disappear, I expect them to show up in hybrid Workshop Aggro lists. Stax is probably going to go away for a little while.

November-December Metagame Breakdown By Engine

When we look at Top 8 data from an archetype perspective, Vintage appears to be very healthy. But is the same true if we look from an engine perspective? Here is a breakdown of the Vintage metagame by engine:

27 Mana Drain Decks: 28.13% of Top 8s
12 Mishra’s Workshop Decks: 12.5%
12 Dark Ritual Decks: 12.5%
11 Bazaar of Baghdad Decks: 11.46%

This is largely consistent with the previous data set, which was:

19 Mana Drain decks: 29.68% of the Top 8 Field
10 Mishra’s Workshop decks: 15.62%
7 Dark Ritual decks: 10.93%
9 Bazaar of Baghdad decks: 14.06%

This chart represents trend lines for each of the four major Vintage ‘pillars” as a proportion of all Top 8s.

• Mana Drains, as a proportion of Top 8s, are lower than they have possibly ever been in Vintage, with the exception of the periods where Gush was unrestricted. Mana Drains declined 1.5% as a proportion of Top 8s from the last time period, a 5% decline in their performance. I think part of that dip can be explained by the coinciding rise in Spell Pierce in a few archetypes, where Mana Drain has been replaced, such as Oath.
• The restriction of Thirst for Knowledge, whatever its merits, has six months of proven effectiveness in reducing the dominance of Drains. Drains were consistently above 40% (in the 42-45% range) of Top 8s, and are now consistently at or below 30%, and even declining.
• At the same time, Bazaars, Workshops, and Dark Rituals are all converging at a steady 12-13% of Top 8s, which is remarkable to see each of the other pillars doing so well. Usually, one is doing well and the other is doing poorly, but each is holding its own.
• It should be noted, however, that Workshops are experiencing a steep decline in the last two time periods, following a huge surge after the restriction of Thirst. On the flip side, Workshops are where they were just before Thirst’s restriction, so I wouldn’t be alarmed. Also, Lodestone Golem should give them a boost in the next dataset. Dark Rituals are seeing more play, and this is partly because of the printings in Zendikar, where Suicide Black decks abusing Dark Rituals are on the upswing. I expect to see Dark Rituals do even better in the next quarter.

Granted, this isn’t a model of diversity. Mana Drains are more than twice the proportion of each of the other ‘pillars’. But it’s a lot better than it’s been at any time since the last Gush era. Mana Drains are now only a few percentage points higher as a percentage of overall Top 8s than Gush decks were at their peak. And each pillar is well represented among Top 8s. This gives players many successful deck options.

To see the entire Vintage time line since the unrestriction of Gush in June, 2007, click here.

From this perspective, it is eminently clear what the restriction of Thirst did. No one could possibly deny, at this point, its impact. The restriction of Thirst has helped promote a healthy Vintage format.

Here are some additional statistics, by card:

20 Null Rod Decks: 20.83% of Top 8s

This is exactly in line with Sept/Oct and July/August. In fact, it’s identical to the July/August results.

As you can see, since Thirsts restriction, Null Rods have been consistently putting up 20% of Top 8s. Null Rod Decks constitute the largest portion of the non-‘pillar’ decks. If we count Null Rod as a pillar (even though a few Workshop decks run them), they are the second largest pillar in the format.

Counting Null Rod as the fifth ‘pillar,’ here what things look like:

What about Time Vault, or other powerful tactics? How prevalent are these cards?

29 Time Vault decks (counting the one in a sb): 30.21% of Top 8s

Again, it’s remarkable how consistent this data is over time. Time Vault decks appear to be stabilizing at around 30% of all Top 8s.

Some people have asked how that compares to cards like Yawgmoth’s Will or Tinker. I did some digging, and here’s how it compares:

45 Tinker decks (46.88% of Top 8s).
47 Yawgmoth’s Will decks (48.96%)


In this time period, Yawgmoth’s Will beats out Tinker and far outstrips Time Vault, by making it into 50% of all top 8 decklists! Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker are to Vintage what Tarmogoyf is to Legacy: an omnipresent tactic.

Finally, the DCI, according to their published statements, counts Force of Will as the fourth pillar, not Mana Drain.

58 Force of Will decks: 60.41% of Top 8s

Here’s how that looks over time:

There were 4 Force of Wills in sideboards. If we count those decks are Force of Will decks, then the percentage rises to 64.59% of Top 8s. Graphically, that is very consistent with the last two datasets. Force of Will consistently falls between 60% and 66.6% of Top 8s, or three-fifths and two-thirds of all Top 8 decks.


By any measure, whether it is archetype diversity, engine diversity, or a spread among both measures, Vintage is doing very well. In terms of the health of the format, I would have to grade Vintage a solid B+. It’s not as diverse as Legacy (let’s be serious, what is?), but it is diverse. There are four pillars (five, if you count Null Rod) that each constitute at least 10% of the Top 8 field. Dark Rituals, Workshops, and Bazaars are converging at about 12.5% of Top 8s, and Mana Drains are steady under 30% of Top 8s.

In terms of archetype diversity, the format looks even better, and is probably closer to Legacy than Standard. Only one archetype, Fish, makes up more than 15% of Top 8s, and only six archetypes make up more than 5% of Top 8s. In some ways, that can be a better environment to play in than one like Legacy where you may have no deck over 10% of the field, and a dozen decks make up more than 5% of the field. In Vintage, there are always a few decks you can expect to face and prepare for.

The format is most diverse when it comes to tournament victories. Out of the 12 tournaments aggregated in this report, only two archetypes won more than one tournament. No archetype is winning more than 16% of tournaments.

Qualitatively, the Vintage metagame is very sensitive to new printings. For example, I hope it’s not too much to say that both Worldwake and Zendikar have had or will have a much greater impact on Vintage than Legacy. In that sense, Vintage appears to change more, and is more responsive to new printings. Given that Legacy is such a healthy format, this is a positive sign for Vintage.

It seems evident to me that nothing needs to be restricted in Vintage. If anything, I hope that the DCI continues its policy of unrestriction. There are a number of cards that could be safely unrestricted to continue to energize the format and foster even greater diversity.

Vintage players who want every advantage should take note of the statistics in this metagame report. It provides useful metagame information about the state of the Vintage format and its evolving trends. Most successful players pay close attention to the data, but they do so by reading tournament results and checking out the data for themselves. This is a service so you don’t have to. I hope you’ve enjoyed this Vintage Market Report.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian

Appendix: Tournament Source Data

1) 11.01.09 Zurich, Swizterland (37 players)

1. Magus of the Future/Counterbalance
2. Dredge
3. Suicide Black
4. Oath.
5. Tezzeret
6. RG Beats
7. WRB Beats
8. Steel City Vault

2) Breda, Netherlands (39 players)
1. Ad Nauseam
2. UGW Fish
3. 5c Stax
4. UGW Fish
5. Bob Control
6. TPS
7. Dredge
8. Oath

3) 11.21.09 Philadelpha (68 players)
1. Dredge Won
2. Tezzeret
3. Tezzeret
4. Mono Red Workshop Aggro
5. Oath
6. Tezzeret
7. Dredge
8. TPS

4) 11.15.09 Catalan, Spain (55 players)
1. Steel City Vault
2. Oath
3. Aggro MUD
4. European Combo
5. Belcher
6. Tezzeret
7. UR Stax
8. 5c Stax

5) 11.29.09 Manilla, Philippines (46 players)
1. Oath won
2. Dredge
3. B/W Beats
4. Dredge
5. Bob Tendrils
6. Dredge
7. Mono Blue Aggro Control
8. G/W/R Beats

6) Zurich, Switzerland (38 players)
1. Painter
2.UGW Fish
3. Dredge
4. Ad Nauseam
5. The Deck
6. Goblins
7. Mono Red Workshop Aggro
8. Mono Blue Fish

7) 12.06.09 Mungia, Spain (49 players)
1. UGW Fish won
2. Tezzeret Control
3.UGW Fish
4. UW Fish
5.UGW Fish
6. UGW Fish
7. BUG Fish
8.UGW Fish

8) 12.6.2009, Barcelona (51 player)
1. TPS Won
2. Tezzeret
3. Aggro MUD
4. Ad Nauseam
5. Tezzeret
6. Remora Control
7. Steel City Vault
8. Mono Blue Fish

9) 12.13.2009, Hasslock, Germany (34 players)
1. Tezzeret Won
2. UGW Fish
3. UGW Fish
4. Steel City Vault
5. Dredge
6. Painter
7. Tezzeret
8. Tezzeret

10) 12.13.2009, Hengelo, Netherlands (43 players)
1. Bob Tendrils Won
2. Mono Red Workshop Aggro
3. European Combo
4. TPS
5. Aggro MUD
6. Dredge
7. Ad Nauseam
8. Bob Control

11) 12.19, 2009, Spain (35 players)
1. Steel City Vault won
2. UB Tezzeret
3. Tezzeret
4. European Control
5. UR Stax
6. UGW Fish
7. UGW Fish
8. UGW Fish

12) 12.27.2009, Manilla, Philippines. (43 players)
1. Tezzeret Won
2. Bomberman
3. Aggro MUD
4. Belcher
5. Dredge
6. Aggro MUD
7. Tezzeret
8. The Deck