So Many Insane Plays – Vintage By The Numbers

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In today’s So Many Insane Plays, Stephen unlocks the metagame secrets of Vintage, breaking down all of the tournament results since the Vintage World Championship. What’s winning and what’s changing in Vintage? This is a must-read article for Vintage players!

There are no substitutes for the cold, hard, reliable evidence of actual tournament results. This is true of Vintage as any other format, perhaps more so. As a service to my StarCityGames.com premium readership, I periodically aggregate all of the available tournament data. This bird’s eye view of the whole Vintage metagame is an invaluable resource, and well worth the couple of dollars for SCG premium.

The week before the Vintage World Championship in mid-August, I compiled Top 8 data from every single 32+ player Vintage tournament since the banned and restricted list changes took effect on June 20. That metagame report, written August 15, can be viewed here.

With the two gigantic Vintage tournaments this weekend, the SCG Power Nine tournament and the Mystic Gaming Power Nine tournament the next day and with the introduction of Lorwyn, the Vintage metagame has the potential to witness some pretty big changes. Instead of wrapping up my Invitational report today, I’m going to provide a snapshot of the current Vintage metagame before these results come in. I’ll provide breakdown of the Vintage metagame since the Vintage Championships, compiling every single Top 8 since my last metagame report using the same methodology (I explained the reasoning behind my methodology in that article).

To provide some context, in my last metagame report, which covered June 20 to August 15, I compiled thirteen tournaments with over 32 players and found roughly this breakdown (see my article for more detail):

20 Gro (Gush based) decks
18 Storm Combo
15 Workshop Prison
11 Flash (10 Hulk Flash, 1 Rector Flash)
9 Fish
7 Bomberman
4 Oath
4 Goblins

We saw that Gro decks were the best performing decks, just slightly outperforming Storm combo, with Workshops and Flash doing fairly well. The major breakdown was between the U.S. and the rest of the world. GroAtog was dominating U.S. tournaments, but saw little action overseas. Conversely, Storm combo was practically absent from the U.S. metagame, but a top performer in Europe. Would those trends stay the same or change, especially in the wake of the Vintage Championship? Let’s find out!

The results are in. Out of 16 tournaments from August 15 to November 7, a period of nearly 3 months, we have:

34 Gush decks (23 GroAtog, 5 Empty Gush, 6 Gush Storm): 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8
19 Mishra’s Workshop decks (Stax, Staxless Stax, Uba Stax, MUD, and Workshop Aggro): 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 8, 8
10 Oath: 2, 3, 3, 4, 6, 6, 7, 8, 8, 8
8 Goblins: 2, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8
8 Non-Gush Storm decks (Long, TT Confidant, Meandeck Tendrils, the Mean Deck): 2, 2, 4, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7
7 Flash: 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 8, 8,
6 Manaless Ichorid: 4, 8, 5, 5, 2, 5
6 Control Slaver: 2, 2, 3, 3, 5, 6
5 Masknaught decks: 2, 3, 4, 4, 7
5 Fish: 1, 2, 3, 7, 8
4 Bomberman: 4, 6, 7, 8
4 Landstill: 1, 3, 5, 6

10 Other decks (Zoo, Mind Twist Control, Hate.dec, Suicide Black, etc). (Note, somehow two decklists slipped through the cracks, and I can’t figure out what they are after several attempts, but it won’t change my analysis).

Breakdown by percentage:
Gush decks are 27%
Workshops are 15%
Oath is 7.8%
Non-Gush Storm is 6.25%
Flash is 5.4%

1) Gush Rules, Again.
In the last reporting period, out of the 104 possible decks, Gush based decks placed 22 decks into Top 8s. Of those 22 decks, 20 were Grow-based decks using Quirion Dryads. That means that Grow decks were over 19.2% of Vintage Top 8s and Gush decks are about 21.2% of Top 8s.

Compare those numbers to the stats for this period: Out of 128 possible decks, Gush placed 34 in Top 8, or 27% of the total Top 8s. Grow decks using Quirion Dryad were 18% of all Top 8s. That means that GroAtog itself saw a slight dip in its Top 8 performances and a Gush saw a 7% increase in its Top 8 performance.

The most important statistic, however, is the fact Gush decks won 10 out of 16 of the reported tournaments or an overwhelming 62.5%. Gush decks may not actually be straight dominating the Top 8 slots (although it’s close), but they own the top spot. In the last reporting period, Flash decks were tied with Grow for tournament wins. Not so this time around.

Once again, and it is important to emphasize this, the continental divide remains. Although Gush decks have now found their way into Italian and Spanish Top 8s, there are substantial metagame differences and overall fewer Gush decks, despite their solid performance. In the most recent large American Vintage tournament, SCG Indianapolis, Gush decks obliterated the Top 8. There was nothing like that in Europe.

2) Workshop is Back, Again.
Last period I reported the definitive return of Stax (Staxless Stax, MUD, etc), coinciding uncoincidentally with the return of Gush. Although the number of Workshop decks only increased by half a percentage point, the big increase was its performance within Top 8s. Usually, the Workshop decks cluster in the bottom half of Top 8s. In this reporting period, we see Workshop decks winning tournaments. More than half of the Workshop decks made Top 4 and nearly a third made it to the finals. Good job Workshops!

The key question for Workshops going forward will be the impact of Thorn of Amethyst. It has the potential to completely revitalize the archetype, move it in new directions, or do nothing at all. When I do a final Vintage roundup at the end of the year, we’ll see what happens.

3) Key Statistics.
The Top 3 decks, by percentage, Gush, Workshops, and Oath, are almost exactly 50% of the metagame.

Despite the fact that Gush decks are such a huge part of the pie, apparently Vintage is incredibly diverse at the moment. Aside from Workshops and Gush decks, nothing else makes up more than 10% of the metagame. It’s a wide open field out there once you look below Workshops and Gush decks.

4) Whither Storm?
The Storm decks that were tearing up metagames in the last reporting period have virtually disappeared. The only reason that Storm is even putting up numbers here is that they are now fueled by the Gush engine. Don’t let the 14 Storm decks mislead you, six of those are Gush decks already reported under Gush decks. However, if we add the six Empty Gush decks (named so because they run Empty the Warrens), and the Gush Storm decks, then suddenly Storm is doing just as well as last month. But it’s doing so on the back of Gush.

Statistic of the Odd: Apparently, Non-Gush Storm decks own the 7th place slot, placing there five times.

5) Flash slips.
Despite being perhaps the most unfair deck on paper, Flash slips form its early prominence in the last reporting period. It’s now barely making Top 8s and being unable to make its way into the finals once there.

6) Masknaught is viable again in Vintage.
I sold my Masks years ago on the assumption that they’d never be good. How this turn-around happened, I’m not exactly sure, but it did. I think it was a combination of factors. First of all, the errata on Phyrexian Dreadnaught now enables Stifle. Second, the shift to GroAtog type decks means that Dreadnaughts can actually be overpowering. Third, there are a critical mass of cards like Dark Confidant that can support this combo. Dark Confidant didn’t exist when Masknaught was a Tier 1 deck in 2002-3 Vintage.

7) Oath.
I could just repost what I said in my prior article on Oath. The Oath decks here are a European phenomenon. There are only two Oath decks in American Top 8s. I think it may have to do with budgetary constraints as much as anything else. Once you run Vintage tournaments without proxies, suddenly Oath decks are one of the best choices for an underpowered player. I would not take the significance of Oath in this metagame report to indicate some trend towards Oath. There has always been and will always been a modest amount of Oath (Thanks Europe!), it just so happens that this metagame report shows more Oath than normal.

8) Goblins?
A number of players are trending towards Goblins as an answer to the rise of Workshop decks. Oddly enough, it just so happens that Goblins decks pretty much annihilate Workshops and Flash decks. Properly tweaked, they also give Gush decks fits. I don’t expect Vintage Goblins to put up numbers much stronger than this in the future, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they enjoy a soft bump over the next few months. Thorn of Amethyst has nothing to say about Goblin Lackey.

Closing Notes

The Vintage metagame right now is trending far, far away from the fast Mana Drain and Dark Ritual combo metagame, epitomized by Pitch Long and Meandeck Gifts, that dominated 2005 and the first half of 2006. Storm decks are falling away, and the burst of Flash decks onto the metagame has quieted down.

The slowing of the Vintage metagame by the unrestriction of Gush has brought a spate of creature based strategies back into Vintage, particularly Goblins and Masknaught. Also, Workshop decks are now joining the fray, hoping to capitalize on Gush-based weaknesses such as light manabases, often attacking with Triskelions and other artifact creatures. This is the slowest the Top 3 Vintage decks have been in many years.

The big metagame loser has been Fish. U/x Fish strategies traditionally prey upon fast UB combo strategies and speedy Mana Drain archetypes, neither of which is really a metagame presence at the moment.

Based upon the data at hand, I am beginning to wonder whether the presence of Gush, creating a “best deck” isn’t actually a somewhat sensible move. From a diversity viewpoint, the metagame is quite mixed. Just look at the sheer number of decks that are making Top 8s. The metagame seems to be revolving around the Gush decks, but in their orbit, a number of decks are finding ways to compete, if not thriving A year ago, there were basically two decks in the Tier 1 and everything else was viewed as pretty much garbage. In that sense, there are more viable decks than there were a year ago, although GAT is by far the most winning archetype in the field. In fact, the primary complaint people have about the format at the moment isn’t that Gush is too good, but that the format is too diverse. Many people are convinced that they can build decks beat GAT and Stax, but then they can’t beat the other 60% metagame. So instead of GAT sucking the oxygen out of the room, it’s actually acted like a humidor or a miniature greenhouse; it’s provided a safe environment for other decks to find niches to emerge and survive. Perhaps a better analogy is that GAT is like a Blue Whale. It’s a giant in the ocean, but it’s given a lot of small creatures a home to ride on its back.

Even more convincingly on this point, from a speed perspective this is the healthiest Vintage has been in some time. The UB control decks that dominated Vintage for a year and half (or longer) before the unrestriction of Gush were unstoppable turn 3.5 kills. The combo decks were faster. Although Gush decks can win that fast, they are generally a little bit slower and far more interactive. In that sense, the format is more interactive and healthier than it has been in three or four years. This is true in spite of the fact that Hulk Flash is probably the fastest deck since original Long.dec.

The StarCityGames.com tournament this weekend will provide a window into the very best American Vintage competition and tell us whether we will get more of SCG Indianapolis or something different. I predict that Gush decks and Workshop decks will perform quite well. I also think that Ponder will quickly establish itself in the Vintage consciousness as the premiere addition to Vintage from Lorwyn. I grossly underestimated Ponder, ranking it third in my list of Lorwyn playables behind Thoughtseize and Thorn of Amethyst. It’s now my view that Ponder is the best Vintage card addition from Lorwyn.

After examining the Vintage metagame, I think the one change that would improve Vintage and diversify some of that Tier 1 space would be the unrestriction of Fact or Fiction. Unrestricting Fact or Fiction would bring Mana Drain back into the metagame without speeding up the format. If Mana Drain decks become good again, then Fish and Dark Rituals would be able to potentially move into the metagame mix, without threatening too much the strength of Workshops and Gush strategies. It would be almost an ideal metagame: giving people an opportunity to play essentially whichever strategy they enjoy most.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian

Appendix: Tournament Data

1) Vintage Championship Preliminary Tournament, August 18 (55 players)

1. GroAtog
2. SS + Masknaught (Deez’ Naughts)
3. Workshop Aggro
4. Staxless Stax
5. Landstill
6. GroAtog
7. Bomberman
8. Hulk Flash

2) The Vintage World Championship, August 19 (130 players)

1. GroAtog
2. GroAtog
3. Mono Black with Dark Confidant, 3 Tendrils, and Bazaars
4. Manaless Ichorid
5. Staxless Stax
6. Landstill
7. GWS Long
8. Stax

3) Berkeley Vintage Tournament, August 19 (40 players)

1. Fish
2. GroAtog
3. Control Slaver
4. Oath Combo
5. GroAtog
6. GroAtog
7. GroAtog
8. Fish

4) Bluebell, August 25 (35 players)

1. Staxless Stax
2. Gush Storm
3. Control Slaver
4. GroAtog
5. Hulk Flash
6. GroAtog
7. GroAtog
8. Hulk Flash

5) Luzern, September 2 (36 players)

1. GroAtog
2. GWS Long
3. Uba Stax
4. Goblins
5. Control Slaver
6. Storm Combo
7. GroAtog
8. 5c Stax

6) L’Aquilla, September 9 (40 players)

1. Gush Combo
2. Oath
3. Hulk Flash
4. TT Confidant
5. Suicide Black
6. Control Slaver
7. Grim Long
8. Manaless Ichorid

7) LCV IX, September 15 (83 players)

1. GroAtog
2. Fish
3. GroAtog
4. Bomberman
5. Workshop MUD
6. Suicide Black (with Black Vise)
7. GroAtog
8. Mind Twist Control

8) SCG P9 Indianapolis, September 15 (128 players)

1. Empty Gush
2. GroAtog
3. Empty Gush
4. GroAtog
5. Manaless Ichorid
6. GroAtog
7. Gush Storm
8. Empty Gush

9) Bourgoin-Jailleu, September 16 (43 players)

1. Workshop MUD
2. Goblins
3. Masknaught
4. Madness
5. Manaless Ichorid
6. GroAtog
7. Goblins
8. Goblins

10) Quebec City, September 22 (57 players)

1. GroAtog
2. Control Slaver
3. Landstill
4. Hate.dec w/ Magus of the Moons + Aven Mindcensors
5. Empty Gush
6. Oath
7. Meandeck Tendrils
8. Zoo

11) Ovinogeddon, Milano, September 23 (290 players)

1. Gush Storm
2. Manaless Ichorid
3. Fish
4. Confidant Control
5. Workshop Aggro
6. Goblins
7. TT Confidant (Storm combo)
8. Oath

12) Salem, October 6 (39 players)

1. GroAtog
2. Control Slaver
3. Oath
4. Goblins
5. Staxless Stax
6. Bomberman
7. Mana Drain control
8. Bomberman

13) Modena, Italy, October 14 (34 players)

1. Gush + Confidant + Mana Drain Storm deck
2. Gush Storm
3. Sullivan Solution + Tarmogoyf
4. Hulk Flash
5. Manaless Ichorid
6. Oath
7. TT Confidant
8. Oath

14) Rome, October 14 (53 players)

1. Landstill
2. TT Confidant
3. Oath
4. Workshop Aggro
5. Goblins
6. The Mean Deck
7. Oath
8. Oath

15) Stratford, October 14 (33 players)

1. Staxless Stax
2. Workshop Aggro
3. Staxless Stax
4. Deez’s Naught’s (SS + Masknaught)
5. Staxless Stax
6. GroAtog
7. Fish
8. Empty Gush

16) Mol, October 21 (39 players)

1. Workshop MUD
2. Workshop Aggro
3. Rector Flash
4. Survival + Masknaught
5. Hulk Flash
6. Uba Stax
7. Masknaught
8. Goblins