So Many Insane Plays – Vintage on a Budget: G/W Beatdown!

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Monday, May 4th – In this latest edition of Stephen Menendian’s Vintage on a Budget mini-series, the Vintage Maestro takes us through the options for a low-priced aggro build using the two most maligned colors in the format. If you’re looking for a low-cost and rogue strategy for your next Vintage tournament, look no further!

Budget deck construction in Vintage is sad and pathetic. The reason for this is not because of the quality of budget cards available to Vintage players, or the power differentials between budget options and higher priced Vintage power cards, although these are the common explanations for this fact. Rather, the design efforts of those who propose and refine budget decks is lacking. The reason for this is straightforward. Those individuals with the most experience and skill in Vintage do not design or play budget decks.

The Vintage internet forums are teeming with help threads for budget homebrews. These lists far too often reveal a lack of comprehension of what matters in tournament Vintage. It’s not just the basics, like incorrect mana proportions or improper spell ratios. It’s the more fundamental problem of simply running the wrong cards. While the viable Vintage card pool is significantly larger than many Vintage players either admit or recognize, there remain so many cards that people commonly include that are simply suboptimal. In my review of Suicide Black and R/G Beatz, we saw many instances where the myth of a once-great card has kept it around, long beyond its expiration date.

While I don’t expect the backwardness of Vintage budget design as a field to turn around any time soon, I think that I can help move it in a more productive direction. Today, we take a look at what can be done on a Vintage budget with Green and White.

There is no color combination more maligned and poorly regarded in Vintage than Green and White. An informal way of measuring this, the restricted list, is currently 49 cards long. Among them, there are only two measly White spells. And a very strong case could be made that one of those cards shouldn’t be restricted, and a decent case that neither should be. The restricted list, the repository for the most broken cards in Vintage, looks like this:

15 artifacts
3 lands
15 Blue spells
8 Black spells
4 Green spells
2 Red Spells
2 White spells

It is any wonder that Blue and Black are the dominant colors in Vintage?

The idea of building a G/W deck in Vintage prompts guffaws, eye rolls, and other forms of dismissive derision. Let’s silence those critics.

According to legendary Magic writer Mike Flores, there are only two modes in Magic: Beatdown and Control. His most famous piece of advice is the idea that misassignment of role = game loss. In any given matchup, your optimal plan is to be either the beatdown deck or the control deck. The key to building successful budget decks in Vintage is understanding that you cannot win games through beatdown speed. Vintage is simply too fast, and each player begins the game with too much life, to reasonably win by attacking with creatures. Vintage budget decks must win games by disrupting the hell out of your opponent.

In this article I will review and analyze the options to Green and White budget player. Then I will show you what I believe is the optimal budget list for Vintage tournaments. Resist the temptation to scan my analysis because I make points that are general to the archetype throughout (see the discussion under Aether Vial, for example).

Null Rod

Null Rod is one of the best cards in Vintage. For a complete explanation of what this card does and why it’s so important, please review my previous two Vintage budget articles.

Gaddock Teeg

Mr. Teeg, as he is known on the ManaDrain forums, is an incredibly powerful effect. Teeg strikes three major tactical and strategic areas of Vintage. First and foremost, he cuts off Force of Wills. If Teeg is able to slip into play on turn 1 or 2, he will prevent your opponent from using their Force of Wills so long as he remains in play. One might say that this is not that big of a deal. Let me assure you: it is. Being able to cut off such a critical source of countermagic should never be underestimated. If you can resolve this on turn 1 on the play, it’s nice to know that you can resolve another creature on turn 2. Cutting off Force allows you to resolve your future spells with a much higher degree of confidence. Second, he cuts off Tendrils of Agony as a win condition (as well as a swath of routes to victory such as Tezzeret, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Mind’s Desire, and Memory Jar). Third, he devastates Workshop decks. Mishra’s Workshop decks use Mishra’s Workshop to fuel out four-mana spells and higher.

One mistake I’ve seen repeatedly is that people forget that Gaddock Teeg also stops X spells, which includes common answers like Engineered Explosives and Repeal. Engineered Explosives is one of the larger vulnerabilities of a deck like this, especially with reliance on the next creature:

Vexing Shusher

Counterspells are the predominant form of player interaction in Vintage. When the idea for Shusher came to me, I was somewhat dismissive, thinking that this card would not be that important. After all, if it was good, then I should have been running it in the RG Beatz deck, maybe? When I tested a pair of them, I quickly changed my mind.

First of all, turn 2 Vexing Shusher will ensure that you resolve every subsequent spell for the rest of the game. The reason this matters is because of the relative power of the spells in this deck. Certain cards are totally debilitating for the opponent. Resolving Null Rod, Aven Mindcensor or Gaddock Teeg can make all the difference between winning and losing if they resolve, or fail to do so. The Shusher having built-in uncounterability only makes him more powerful.

It is true that Mana Drain still generates mana for the opponent, even if it does not counter anything protected by Shusher. However, what I’ve discovered is this: the resolution of the spell self-corrects for Mana Drain’s effect. Thus, the card which I’m trying to resolve actually neuters Mana Drain’s beneficial side effect by limiting the range of cards and main phase options at the Mana Drain pilot’s disposal. So, for example, resolving Teeg, or Null Rod or Aven Mindcensor can seriously hamper whatever plans the Blue mage had for that Mana Drain mana.

Interestingly, many pilots I tested against would throw countermagic in front of a spells I cast even though I have Shusher in play and spare Green mana. It is my pleasure to simply respond by activating Shusher. In fact, I encourage you to use Shusher in the same manner. Rather than activate Shusher in response to a spell before passing priority, just play the spell and pass priority. Opponents will walk into your Shusher by playing countermgaic, even though your Shusher and mana is all on board, just to see whether you’ve forgotten to activate it. This can be a source of card advantage if they make this error. Another great trap is when you tap down holding an Elvish Spirit Guide with Shusher in play. If your opponent goes to play a counterspell, you can pitch the Spirit Guide and protect whichever spell is on the stack. Don’t foreclose this opportunity for them to misplay. I encourage you to play as many of this guy as possible. You will not regret it.

Aven Mindcensor

Aven Mindcensor is a great Vintage card. It devastates the best deck in the format: Tezzeret. First of all, its effect is incredibly powerful. It attacks the manabase by preventing opponents from fetching out lands with Flooded Strands and Bloostained Mires, among others. It answers one of the formats most powerful tactical weapons: Tinker. It also attacks the most powerful strategies in Vintage: 1) tutor up the Time Vault combo; 2) tutor up Yawgmoth’s Will. Second, it’s evasive. Aven Mindcensor can break up a standstill by generating some damage for you in the air, which will give you the leverage to finish them off on the ground in many cases. Third, it can be played at instant speed. This is something to be taken advantage of. Wait until your opponent goes to fetch with a fetchland, or casts Tinker or play a tutor, and wham, Flash in Aven Mindcensor. It’s a play that will demoralize your opponent, and put them on tilt. Run four. No less.

Chalice of the Void

Chalice of the Void is a card that I’ve discussed at length in my previous two “Vintage on a Budget” articles. Succinctly, Chalice of the Void attacks large portions of your opponent’s manabase while slowing or stopping two of the most important plays in Vintage: Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker (read my earlier pieces to understand why). Unlike Null Rod, however, it does not stop Voltaic Key and Time Vault, even if it slows your opponent from assembling them. Also, it loses a lot of its value after turn one or on the draw, since your opponent will have an opportunity to play — and therefore use — their Moxen and other artifact acceleration. Most problematically, it can’t even be played with Gaddock Teeg around.

Thorn of Amethyst

Thorn of Amethyst is better the more creatures the deck runs. In a two-color GW shell, Thorn of Amethyst is fantastic. Between Teeg, Mindcensor, Shusher, Pridemage, and Canonist, most of your spells are disruptive utility creatures. Tarmogoyf is in there for good measure. That makes Thorn highly asymmetrical. Unlike Chalice, turn 2 Thorn actually slows your opponent across the board. It does not win the game by itself, but it makes it harder to stop your other plays and develop an opposing game plan at the same time. At the same time, the way that the metagame is currently constituted, it’s a much less effective card. The Blue decks in Vintage can play around one without much difficulty unless other mana denial tactics are being employed. The longer the game goes, the less relevant this effect becomes.

Qasali Pridemage

All round all-star utility creature. Pridemage attacks both at the tactical level and the strategic level, which is why it is so powerful. The Vintage metagame right now is totally dominated by artifacts and enchantments, even more so than in the past. From Stax to Oath to Tezzeret, Pridemage is a great addition to the archetype. Pridemage can take out Painter’s Servants and Smokestacks alike. Interestingly, Pridemage’s other ability, Exalted, shines in those matches where destroying artifacts and enchantments is less important, such as the Fish matchup or budget/beatdown mirrors. In these matchups, Pridemage can help you break a standoff of bears. It can also help your Tarmogoyfs win stalls. When a second Pridemage hits play, then the effect is even more pronounced. Pridemage is good in practically every matchup.

As good as he is, sometimes proper usage is as much guesswork as it is foresight. Sometimes you will want to sacrifice him to destroy less obvious targets like Black Lotus or Sol Rings, depending on whether you opponent has just tutored for something you suspect they may play soon. Pay close attention to your opponent’s lines of play, and try to anticipate what they may be doing. If taking out an artifact can stop an impending Tinker from hitting, it is a worthwhile play. But knowing when your opponent may go to play Tinker isn’t always foreseeable. Play smart. If the only way you are going to lose is if your opponent topdecks Tinker, I would gladly sacrifice Pridemage to shut down that possibility.

Ethersworn Canonist

Against some matchups, the resolution of Canonist spells death. Other matchups can safely ignore him or pace themselves around him. One thing is clear: this is an incredibly powerful effect. The exception of allowing your opponents to play multiple artifacts is a pretty expansive exception, and is a loophole that your opponent might drive a big rig through. As a tactical matter, however, most Vintage decks intend to play multiple spells per turn in at least several turns during the game. Strategically, it will prevent your opponent from winning via Yawgmoth’s Will or crazy draw shenanigans like chaining Thirst For Knowledge, tutors, restricted cards like Gifts Ungiven and Time Walk. Your opponent will merely have to choose which they wish to play now, which they wish to play on your turn, and what they want to do on their turn. In effect, this card just slows down the game, which is the point. Even among decks where this card is not a silver bullet, it does appreciably slow the tempo of the game. At times, it will not be as much as you hoped. Other times, it will be significant. The pace of the game will be determined, in part, but how efficient you are. It will not stop your opponent from countering your spells, but it will prevent them from leaving you in the dust. All in all, this is a card worth having if room permits.


Your cleanup batter. Although I’m sure it’s theoretical possible, I cannot easily imagine a Green-based beatdown deck that would not run this creature if it were available to it. Auto include. Tarmogoyf is the largest possible creature you can acquire for the mana cost, and is the reason why it is the only non-utility creature to make the cut.

Jotun Grunt

Jotun Grunt is the second largest beater in a deck like this. Unfortunately, Grunt’s drawback effectively means that you can’t run a full playset in the maindeck. Ichorid has accelerated to the point where Grunt really doesn’t do much in that much up aside from minor cleanup, but it’s still a beater. Grunt is disruptive in the sense that it helps tidy up graveyards before Yawgmoth’s Will. A pair of Grunts is a perfectly reasonable choice. You should have enough debris to feed him long enough for him to get some good hits in.

Elvish Spirit Guide

An auto-include in any budget Green-based deck. It is crucial to have turn 1 that matter in as many games as you can. ESG allows us to play things like Null Rod on turn 1. In some ways, he’s actually better than an off-color mox. He allows you to play turn 1 Gaddock Teeg, a gold spell.

Aether Vial

The fundamental problem with straight Green/White is that there is an insufficient number of ways to interact on turn 1. Why is this important? The need to interact on turn 1 is not so much on account of the fact that you might lose on turn 1 if you don’t, so much as you will cede crucial tempo such that you cannot establish a foothold on the game early enough. Consider this:

1) You lose the die roll and are on the draw
2) You do not draw Elvish Spirit Guide or Lotus Petal
3) Your opponent has Force of Will

If these three events converge, and they will on a regular basis, you are basically waiting until turn 3 before you have a shot of getting something to stick onto the table. This is the problem. It’s not that interacting on turn 1, specifically, is so critical, so much as the fact that playing spells that either interact on turn 1 (from turn 1) or allow you interact more effectively later is critical.

For instance, if you can drop turn 1 Gaddock Teeg with a land and an Elvish Spirit Guide, Gaddock Teeg will help you protect your turn 2 play from Force of Will. Similarly, turn 2 Vexing Shusher will allow you to resolve turn 3 Pridemage or Null Rod. Orim’s Chant and the forthcoming Silence are two cards that allow you to interact on turn 1, but not in a way that I consider to be most relevant. It doesn’t actually stop your opponent from countering your turn 2 threats nor does it really stop them from doing anything relevant that they could likely do on turn 1.

Aether Vial is a card that fits the description of a card that does allow you to get a foothold into the game, with a quasi-Vexing Shusher ability in making your creature spells uncounterable. It also effectively doubles your threat load on turn 3, by allowing you to play another creature for free.

As good as all of these benefits are, and they are significant, there is one simple answer. I haven’t tested Aether Vial, and perhaps it’s a mistake, but I firmly believe that Null Rod is critical to the budget archetype. As Harlequin on the Mana Drain wrote about Aether Vial: I still can’t figure out why any fish deck would want to run ANY activated artifact in place of Null Rod. Jitte, Vial, Etc… All good but they are certainly not as good as Time Vault + Moxen. He’s right. Aether Vial may be a great card, but Null Rod is the reason for these decks to exist. Null Rod is a proven Vintage tournament winner. Aether Vial? Not so much.

Thornweald Archer

Now I broach a very important issue. The printing of Inkwell Leviathan has fundamentally reshaped the Vintage metagame, and the budget options in particular. Darksteel Colossus, despite being a massive powerhouse, was extremely vulnerable to a range of widely available and easily playable spells. It was not just that there were answers to DSC, there were excellent answers, cards like Stingscourger and Path to Exile. Inkwell Leviathan is a much trickier card to address.

There is good news. There is a very large range of cards that can remove or address Inkwell Leviathan. They are less efficient and more unwieldy, but they exist. And it’s not that there are only a few… there are dozens and dozens of solutions to Inkwell. This is one of them. Although Archer can prevent you from losing to Leviathan, by keeping the monster at bay, it doesn’t actually help you win. At some point, you’ll need to either win with flyers or an alpha strike of overwhelming force.

Archer is much more powerful in a list with Aether Vial, since you can respond to an attack by putting him into play. However, Aether Vial is a no-go.


I have a very important point to make here. Although the most common error that budget deckbuilders commit is to design decks that have no chance of winning tournaments on account of the fact that they do not sufficiently interact with the most powerful decks in tournament Vintage. It’s also possible to make the opposite mistake. If you design your deck primarily to beat the top tier, there is a good chance you’ll never actually face the top tier. Although Tezzeret decks make up 20% (ish) of Top 8s, and Mana Drain decks make up almost 50% of Top 8 decks, they make up half as much of the total metagame. If you slip into a Top 8 at a 3-1-1 record, there is a good chance that you only played one Mana Drain deck, and possibly a weaker build by an inexperienced player, at that. You might not face a fully-fledged Tezzeret deck until the finals! In a tournament setting, you have to be prepared for a much wider range of archetypes, from Workshop decks to RWB based hate decks, to a variety of Mana Drain decks, and even niche archetypes like Oath and Ichorid.

In the RG Beatz deck, now known as “Christmas Beatings,” one of the cards that I ran was 4 Pyroblasts maindeck. It was justified on two grounds. First, a majority, if not supermajority, of Vintage decks run Blue. Second, Pyroblast could at least be used to grow a Tarmogoyf, even in the Workshop match.

Choke is similarly broad in its scope. First of all, it’s an enchantment. So if it is countered or destroyed, Goyf will feed. Second, even decks with marginal amounts of Blue are affected by this spell, sometimes devastatingly. But most decks run Blue, and this will brutally attack the manabase. Choke is an incredibly powerful card in current Vintage, and unless your metagame is very unresponsive to it, I highly suggest you run a pair mainboard.

Kataki, War’s Wage

I do not know how many times I can repeat it, but we are in an artifact age. Kataki not only attacks your opponent’s manabase, it assaults their game plan. Having to expend marginal resources to keep around Moxen is something that will not only make your opponent think twice, but it will also force them at times to make tough decisions: which Mox to save? Should I continue to pay for this Voltaic Key or let it go to free up mana? These are the kinds of questions you want your opponent to face.

The downside to Kataki is that he makes you pay for your own artifacts as well. If you only run Null Rod, and maybe a couple of Canonists, this guy should be in your maindeck. He’s simply too powerful. He’s not good enough to run a full playset maindeck, simply because he’s Legendary. However, if you in a heavy Workshop metagame, I would consider three, and a fourth in the board.

Also, Kataki plus Choke is broken. You can actually use both to send an Inkwell Leviathan to the graveyard.

Suppression Field

Suppression Field is a highly disruptive card, and should never be far from consideration. However, I think it’s probably inferior to Thorn.

Root Maze

Root Maze actually suffers from a similar problem as Suppression Field. Although it would be a great turn 1 card (see the discussion under Aether Vial), and help solve a key problem that this deck faces, it actually creates more problems for you. Turn 1 Root Maze pretty much precludes a turn 2 threat, which is the entire point of a turn 1 play. With 8 fetchlands, which you’ll likely want to include, this card is even less desirable.

Pithing Needle

See my discussion of this card in the RG Beatz article.

True Believer

This card turns off a host of cards, from Gifts Ungiven to Tendrils. However, my view is that it’s simply not good enough. The reason is simple: despite the wide range of cards it affects, those cards are simply not relevant enough. I would run Canonist before this guy.


This is an intriguing card, but I think it costs one mana too much to really be a solid contender for inclusion. As it stands, it’s a more marginal consideration.

Simian Spirit Guide

Given that W/G simply does not have enough relevant ways to interact on turn 1, there are two alternative possibilities: Aether Vial, which I rejected, or this. This card will help you play turn 1 threats like Canonist, Shusher or Null Rod. The problem with it, however, is that it can’t help you play Pridemage or Teeg, and turn 1 Shusher isn’t really a play that matters, since it can’t protect anything until turn 3 anyway. Ultimately, although I tested virtually everything mentioned, this was a card I did not test. This may be a mistake, and it’s possible that this archetype should be running some number of this card, even if it’s just 1-3.

Seal of Primordium

This is a card I ran with surprisingly great success in “Christmas Beatings.” The card’s first line of value is the same as Pridemages: it is strategically powerful against a huge portion of the field, from Oath to Stax to Time Vault decks. In addition, it pumps Goyf, helping you get it to 6/7. This is a card that I think is a metagame choice. If you face Oath decks or lots of Time Vault decks or Workshops and less jank, I would highly encourage you to run some number of these.

Orim’s Chant/Abeyance/Silence

It’s true: these cards do interact on turn 1. But they interact in ways that aren’t relevant, for the most part. They interact, just like turn 1 Wasteland potentially interacts. In fact, turn one Wasteland is a more relevant form of interaction. Chant and Silence don’t do anything that protects subsequent plays. For example, turn 1 Teeg actually protects turn two Null Rod from Force of Will. Similarly, turn 2 Shusher protects turn 3 Null Rod. This does nothing on turn 1. You can turn 1 Chant someone, but that doesn’t change their ability to interact with you using Force or Drain on the next turn whatsoever. Duresses do. Its greatest value would come from protecting a turn 3 threat or from disrupting a key turn, like a Yawgmoth’s Will turn. Neither one of these helps you interact on turn 1, and it is card disadvantageous.

There are other options, but I do not consider them to be worth discussing in further detail.

In terms of your options, the clear best cards are Null Rod, Gaddock Teeg, Aven Mindcensor, Qasali Pridemage, Elvish Spirit Guide, Vexing Shusher, and Goyf. These cards all tested fabulously, and surprisingly so in many cases. Specifically, I was very impressed with both Shusher and Teeg, whom I expected to be somewhat weaker. Teeg is generally Forced at the earliest possibility, even when he doesn’t seem, at least from my perspective, to be a threat. Pridemage is a workhorse. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Shusher, whom my opponents dreaded, even if they had a marginal amount of countermagic. Shusher was played through all manner of countermagic, from Forces to Spellstutter Sprites. Rounding out the rest of the deck required more thought. Here’s what I came up with:

The last change I made was cutting two Jotun Grunts. You may feel free to run Grunts over Canonist or Seal, depending on your metagame. Especially if you feel like you need just a little bit more power on the board. Canonist actually tested poorly, and surprisingly so. Canonist would have shut down Grow decks last year around this time without a problem. Teeg would also have stopped Gush in its tracks. Oddly enough, some Mana Drain pilots are playing with Thoughtcast, which is also stopped by Teeg.

The manabase was borrowed from Christmas Beatings, and it worked like a charm. I would like to say a little about the sideboard.

After a wide-ranging search for cards that answer Inkwell Leviathan, Tariff simply tested the best. My teammate Doug Linn expressed some skepticism about Tariff, but it was simply the most efficient. This mattered for a number of reasons. First of all, you want something that Shusher can protect. Tariff fits the bill. Second, you want something that can let you break through, not simply stall Leviathan. Tariff does just that. It’s true that Tariff requires a sacrifice on your end, but it’s a small price to pay. If you Tariff your opponent’s Leviathan, you’ll still have the same amount of card parity, but it will even be better since you’ll have taken away the most important weapon from your opponent. Tariff also answers DSC, in case your opponent is living in the Stone Age. I suggest sideboarding in all four Tariffs against decks with Tinker.

Swords is in the board for Aggro mirrors. Swords is important to help break up ground stalls and deal with opposing annoyances, from Bob to Goyf. Orim’s Chant is there for combo decks. It will allow you live on turn 1 against Ad Nauseam.

I must say, in the final analysis, this deck has proved to be far more robust than even my wildest imaginings at the outset of this project. This is not hyperbole. I honestly thought that I would not be able to take this archetype very far without adding a third color. In the end, I think that this build is much closer in power to the three color version I developed.

In terms of your lines of play, let me give you some basic pointers.

First, Gaddock Teeg is generally the preferred turn 1 play. It protects subsequent plays from Force, whether it is countered or not. If it is turn 2, you will have to make a choice between Teeg or Shusher, and if you are desperate, Null Rod. It is a critical choice, and one that I can’t help you answer in the abstract. Third, Aven Mindcensor is so good and so important that it is worth doing nothing on your turn to surprise your opponent with Mindcensor. Also, Mindcensor can help you resolve spells on your turn, by baiting your opponent on their end step. Always keep that in mind. In general, playing a spell is more important than Wastelanding your opponent, unless the tempo advantage from using Wasteland is too apparent.

Knowing when to play Kataki can be one of the trickiest areas of play, especially if you have Null Rod or Canonist on the board. In general, don’t make that play if it will cut you off from subsequent plays by tying up your mana unless you think you have to. Pridemage is a great turn two play, especially if you have turn 1 Teeg, since it allows you to attack with Teeg for 3. Pridemage is also a great turn 3 play for the same reason: it allows you to attack with your turn 2 threat for an additional damage.

One last tip: in general, it is better to have a five-card hand with two lands than a seven-card hand with one land, or one land and a Spirit Guide. It is more important to be able to make consecutive plays than one play and miss a couple of drops. Unless you think you can swing it, I tend to mulligan one-land hands.

All of that said, there still remains one central weakness: the inability to interact consistently enough on turn 1. This deck wins a lot. It’s great against Mystic Remora, and it’s devastating to a range of archetypes. The central problem is the one I already stated: you don’t have a mana accelerant on turn 1, your opponent Forces your turn 2 threat, and you don’t have a relevant play until turn 3. This generally ends in your opponent Tinkering up Leviathan for the win.

Still, I doubt there are many Vintage players out there — Matt Elias and his nasty Oath decks included — that would look forward to facing this.

Genuine budget decks in Vintage are far more powerful than is generally assumed, and I hope that you see the possibilities in budget by now. This deck is honestly something I would feel comfortable playing in a Vintage tournament. I won’t pretend that it would maximize my chances for winning. The entire idea of a ‘budget’ is a self-imposed limitation on your options. But even if this wouldn’t maximize my chances for winning, I would at least have a chance, which is the point.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian