So Many Insane Plays – Walking Through the Ruins of the Vintage Apocalypse

Read Stephen Menendian every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Monday, September 22nd – The Vintage metagame currently rests between two ports of monumental change. The fallout from the first – the so-called Vintage Apocalypse that saw Blue staples hit the Restricted List – is chronicled today in Stephen’s metagame rundown. Stephen also updates his TPS list and shares an exciting Keeper deck, all before the metagame reaches its second port of change: the arrival of Shards of Alara.

Shards of Alara is shaping up to have a sizeable footprint in Vintage. So far, it reminds me a lot of Time Spiral. I’ve seen a few cards that will certainly see play in Vintage, a couple of which are likely to become format staples, and many cards with potential. I wrote about one of those cards – Tezzeret the Time Vault Tutorer and Twiddler – last week. I’ll save the rest of the fun for next week. You’ll want to read that article.

Today, we are going to take a look at the Vintage metagame since the June 20 restrictions of Brainstorm, Merchant Scroll, Ponder, Gush, and Flash. In the final week of June, and July and August, there were 25 tournaments of 33 or more players. That’s 200 decks. We are going to take a look at those decks. Then I’m going to show you my updated TPS list, and then introduce a new Control deck. Hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The July and August Vintage Metagame Update

As I said, there were a whopping 25 tournaments of 33 or more players in the last 10 days of June, and July and August. That makes for a total 200 decks. So, how did it break down?

(1) The Metagame Breakdown by Appearances in Top 8:

24 Slaver (1,1,1,2,2,2,2,2,2,3,3,3,4,4,4,5,6,6,6,6,7,7,7)
22 MUD/Stax
— 13 MUD (1,1,1,2,2,3,3,4,5,6,7,8,8)
— 9 Stax (2,3,4,5,5,6,7,7,8)
22 TPS/Long (1,1,1,1,2,2,3,3,3,3,4,4,4,5,6,6,7,7,7,8,8,8)
22 Fish (1,1,1,2,2,2,4,4,4,5,6,6,6,6,7,7,7,7,7,8,8,8)
16 Ichorid (1,2,3,3,4,4,4,4,4,4,5,5,6,7,8,8)
15 Painter (1,1,1,2,2,3,3,3,3,4,5,6,6,8,8)
10 Oath (1,3,4,5,5,6,6,7,7,8)
10 Bomberman (1,1,3,4,5,6,7,8,8,8)
8 Drain Tendrils (1,1)
8 Workshop Aggro
4 Landstill
4 Spanish Mana Drain Storm decks
4 TK Deez’ Naughts/Mask Naught
3 Goblins
3 Worldgorger Dragon Combo
3 Draw-Go (1)
3 Belcher
2 Confidant Tendrils
2 Suicide Black
1 Drain Bob Counterbalance Deck
1 Loam Control
1 Hermit Druid
1 Magus of the Future, Becker Deck
1 B/W Aggro
1 B/G Aggro
1 W/R Aggro
1 WGR Hater
1 UB Control
1 Psychatog
1 Manamorphose Storm Combo

There you have it. This is the New Vintage Metagame.

Look what thy actions hath wrought, oh mighty DCI.

But what’s the best deck in this mess?

It seems that Control Slaver, in its many permutations, is the best performing deck in Vintage in this time period. This fact was by no means clear.

Decks like Fish, TPS, and Stax variants are all doing very well, and a just a few additional finishes could have elevated any one of these decks above Slaver in terms of Top 8 frequency.

This time period is a period of transition. The old metagame was on its way out, and the new was being born, but uncertain of what it was.

(2) Archetypes as a Percentage of Top 8s

Slaver (12% of the metagame)
Stax/MUD (11%)
TPS (11%)
Fish (11%)
Ichorid (8%)
Painter (7.5%)
Oath (5%)
Bomberman (5%)

Rest of the Metagame: 29.5%

The clear Tier 1 decks are Slaver, Stax variants, Storm Combo, and Fish. These are the four biggest metagamep layers. Ichorid, Painter, Oath and Bomberman fall just below.

Before the Vintage Apocalypse, the percentages looked like this:

MUD (12.5%)
Painter’s (9.8%)
Workshop Aggro (8%)
Flash (8%)
Tyrant Oath (6.3%)
Grow (6.3%)
Rest of the Metagame: 49%

The most striking change, aside from the inflow of Fish, Ritual, and Slaver decks, is the “rest of the metagame” statistic. Decks that make up 5% of the metagame individually now account for less than a third of the field. A few months ago, they were nearly half of it.

(3) The Vintage Metagame By Engine

Archetype breakdown really doesn’t tell you everything. We need to look at the metagame by engine.

73 Mana Drain decks (36.5% of the metagame)
31 Workshop deck (15.5%)
31 Null Rod decks (15.5%)
26 Dark Ritual decks (13%)
20 Bazaar decks (10%)
19 Other Decks (10%)

Mana Drain decks are not just back, they are dominating. Compare these engine numbers to what the metagame looked like, by engine, before the Vintage Apocalypse:

May/ June Engine Breakdown:

28 Workshop decks (25%)
26 Gush decks (23.2%)
9 Flash (8%)

Before the June 20 restrictions, Workshops and Gush decks both made up 25% of the metagame. Flash and Ichorid were the next largest players, each making up about 6-13% of the metagame, depending on how well they did in that time period. Everything else constituted the rest of the field.

In the entire time period before June 20, Gush and Workshop decks never broke above 25% of the field. Mana Drain decks immediately, out of the gate, were 36.5% of the field. That’s somewhat terrifying since it’s such a high percent of Top 8s. I have considered anything in the 36-40% or higher to be metagame dominance, and restriction-worthy.

In any case, it’s very clear that Mana Drain decks are the biggest players in the new Vintage metagame.

Updating TPS

With Drains such a huge part of the Top 8 field, I can’t help but think that TPS is the obvious best deck in Vintage. Of course, Fish, Workshop, and Ichorid decks are also big players, and can be tough matchups. In light of changes in the metagame, here is the TPS list I am recommending for play:

The basic approach with this deck is a Janus-faced TPS list, meaning that you have, fundamentally, two decks. The maindeck is designed and optimized to beat Mana Drain decks. Post-board, you use half your sideboard to reconstruct the TPS deck into a deck designed to beat Workshops.

If 100% of your matches were Workshop decks, it would be a simple thing to build TPS to win every match. All you would need is plenty of basic lands and Hurkyl’s Recall effects. Of course, you can’t do that since the excess land and Hurkyl’s Recalls would interfere with other matchups. However, using our sideboard, we can have that deck ready to go in games 2 and 3.

The rest of the sideboard, save the Massacres, is for Ichorid. I believe that if you want to defeat Ichorid, you need no fewer than eight sideboard slots dedicated to the matchup.

Cutting the Green also allows you to play a maindeck Tolarian Academy. This is an explosive mana source that will give you a nice boost across the board, but particularly against the symmetrical mirror match.

New Keeper

It has always been my opinion that any given Vintage metagame can be “solved” with a multi-color control deck. Solutions, in general, are more efficient than threats, even in Vintage. Moreover, the depth and breadth of the card pool makes it possible to combine and recombine the available answers in an infinite array of permutations.

The problem is that the Vintage metagame is rarely well defined enough to play such a solution deck. That “rest of the metagame” statistic is generally too high. However, in a local, well defined metagame, such a solution deck is often a potent metagame predator.

A few weeks ago, my teammate Brian DeMars managed to fashion a new control deck that smashed TPS and Control Slaver. In my view, it really shouldn’t be hard to design a deck that beats just two decks, even if those decks are as good as TPS and Control Slaver. Nonetheless, his deck was so fun to play, and so interesting, that it is worth sharing and talking about. Other teammates and friends of the team, including Dave Williams, have made contributions to this deck.

Cards like Krosan Grip and Trickbind are surprisingly powerful in the current metagame. Grip on Painter’s Servant or another key artifact can be game-swinging. Also, unless your opponent uses Necropotence and Bargain correctly, they could find it Gripped. Grip can also stop Oath. Tarmogoyf and Strategic Planning are highly synergistic. As is Crucible. Regrowth is nicely fed by Planning and Thirst. The Zuran Orb combo can go infinite against Workshop or Aggro decks.

Next week we will take a look at the Shards of Alara! Until then…

Stephen Menendian


1) June 22, Milan, Italy 69 players

1. UGB Painter (NO RED)
2. MUD.
3. TPS (No Grim Tutor – 13 lands maindeck)
4. MUD
5. Bob TPS (14 lands maindeck!)
6. UR Fish
7. Tyrant Oath
8. WGR Hater

2) June 28, Badalona, Spain 59 players

1. Bomberman
2. Grim Long
3. Manaless Ichorid
4. Bazaar Oath
5. Mana Ichorid
6. Slaverless Slaver
7. UW Fish
8. TK Deez Naughts

3) June 29, Breda 39 players

1. Slaver
2. Ichorid
3. Mana Ichorid
4. Slaver
5. Uba Stax
6. UWB Fish
7. Bob TPS
8. MUD

4) June 30 Madrid 40 players

1. Slaver
2. Slaver
3. Bomberman
4. Bomberman
5. Goblins
6. UR Slaver
7. Drain Tendrils
8. Mana Ichorid

5) July 2, Mungia 37 players

1. Akroma Oath
2. Hermit Druid Combo
3. B/W Aggro Control
4. Mana Ichorid
5. Confidant Control
6. Mono Blue Fish
7. Landstill
8. Landstill

6) July 5, Team Pataners Vintage Open 44 players

1. Bomberman
2. Belcher
3. Drain Tendrils
4. UW Fish
5. Stax w/ Mask
6. Confidant Tendrils
7. UR Stax
8. UW Fish

7) July 6, Manilla, 57 players

1. Grim Long
2. BG Aggro
3. WR Aggro
4. Manaless Ichorid
5. Tyrant Oath
6. Painter
7. Stax
8. Akroma Oath

8) July 6, Milan, Italy 54 players

1. Mono Red MUD
2. Chalice Intuition Slaver
3. Tyrant Oath
4. RGU Fish
5. Tyrant Oath
6. Tyrant Oath
7. UBW Fish
8. Goblins

9) July 6, Rome, Italy 71 players

1) UR Fish
2) 5c Stax
3) Bob TPS
4) Bob TPS
5) Bomberman
6) UR Fish
7) Bob Drain Tendrils
8) MUD

10) July 6, Albacete, Spain 63 players

1. Control Slaver
2. GWS Grim Long
3. Confidant Control
4. Mono Red Workshop Aggro
5. UB Control
6. Psychatog
7. UW Fish
8. Bomberman

11) July 13, New Berlin 37 players

1. TPS (Pitch Long)
2. Control Slaver
3. Control Slaver
4. Painter
5. Manamorphose Storm Combo
6. Belcher
7. Control Slaver
8. TK Deez’ Naughts

12) July 19, Badalona, Spain 62 players

1. Drain Tendrils
2. UR Draw-Go, Ophidian
3. Painter
4. Drain Tendrils
5. Mask Naught
6. Bomberman
7. Landstill
8. UW Fish

13) July 20, Manilla 54 players

1. UW Fish
2. Landstill
3. Painter
4. Ichorid
5. Workshop Painter
6. MUD
7. UW Fish
8. Bomberman

14) July 27, Madrid, Spain 68 players

1. Mana Drain Storm Deck
2. UW Fish
3. Control Slaver
4. Mana Drain Storm Deck
5. Drain/Bob/Counterbalance deck
6. Mono Red Workshop Aggro
7. Ichorid
8. TK Deez’ Naughts

15) Aug 2 Vintage Champs 109 players

1) TPS
2) Strategic Slaver
3) Strategic Slaver
4) TPS
5) Drain Tendrils
6) Ichorid
7) Tyrant Oath
8) Painter.dec

16) Aug 2, Rimini, Italy 118 Players

1) MUD
2) UR Fish
3) Mono Red MUD
4) Intuition Slaver
5) Worldgorger Dragon Combo
6) Dark Confidant TPS
7) UR Fish
8) Ichorid

17) Aug 10 Cartagena 35 Players

1) Mana Drain Storm Deck
2) UW Fish
3) Mana Drain Storm Deck
4) Mono Red Workshop Aggro
5) Mana Drain Storm deck
6) Deez’ Naughts
7) Control Slaver
8) Painter

18) Aug 24, Breda, Netherlands (?) 54 players

1) Drain Tendrils
2) MUD
3) Worldgorger Dragon Combo
4) Ichorid
5) Suicide Black
6) Oath
7) MUD combo
8) 5c Storm Combo/Long

19) Aug 24, Stratford, Connecticut 36 players

1) Painter
2) Drain Tendrils
3) Painter
4) Ichorid
5) Strategic Slaver
6) Painter
7) Strategic Slaver
8) 5c Stax

20) Aug 24, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 61 players

1. TPS
2. Strategic Slaver
3. Stax
4. TPS
5. Mono Red Workshop Aggro
6. Control Slaver
7. Belcher
8. TPS

21) Aug 30, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 39 players

1) Mono Blue Control
2) 5c Workshop Aggro
3) TPS
4) Strategic Slaver
5) MUD
6) TPS
7) TPS
8) TPS

22) Aug 30, Quebec, Canada 46 players

1) Painter
2) Painter
3) Worldgorger Dragon Combo
4) Suicide Black
5) RG Loam Control
6) Control Slaver
7) TPS
8) Mono Red Workshop Aggro

23) Aug. 30 Badalona, Spain 90 players

1) FoW Ichorid
2) Control Slaver
3) Painter
4) Ichorid
5) UW Fish
6) Mono Blue Control
7) Bomberman
8) Bomberman

24) Aug 31 Berkeley, California 37 players

1) UBW Fish
2) Strategic Planning Painter
3) TPS
4) Stax with Helm Combo
5) Ichorid
6) 5c Stax
7) Workshop Affinity
8) UW Fish

25) Aug 31, Luzern, Switzerland, 34 players

1. MUD
2. Goblins
3. MUD
4. UR Fish
5. Bob Tendrils
6. Magus of the Future
7. Control Slaver
8. Workshop Aggro