So Many Insane Plays – What’s Winning in Vintage? The September/October Vintage Metagame Report

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Monday, November 10th – The months roll by, and metagames shift beneath our feet. Today’s So Many Insane Plays sees Stephen Menendian on familiar ground, as he brings us his perennial Vintage Metagame report. He highlights the movers and shakers from tournaments across the globe…

I. The Metagame Breakdown by Archetype

There were fourteen tournaments in September and October with 33 players or more. These tournaments occurred across the globe, from the Netherlands to the Philippines, from Italy to the France. Links to the Top 8 data can be found in the Appendix.

That makes for a total of 112 Top 8 decklists (although 5 are missing).

Here’s what made Top 8 (placement in Top 8 in parenthesis):

12 TPS (1,1,1,2,2,3,4,7,7,7,8,8)
10 Fish (1,2,3,4,5,5,6,7,8,8)
10 MUD (1,3,4,4,5,5,6,6,7,8)
9 Oath (1,1,3,4,4,4,5,8,8)
8 Control Slaver (1,2,2,4,5,5,6,6)
7 Ichorid (1,2,3,5,6,7,8)
6 Painter (3,3,4,6,7,8)
6 3c Control (1,2,6,6,7,8)
5 Drain Tendrils
5 Bomberman
5 Zoo
4 Tez Control (1 was mono-Blue, 3 multi-color)
3 Deez Naughts
3 Bob-Control (1)
2 Goblins
1 5c Stax
1 Mono-Blue Control
1 Time Spiral Tendrils Combo (1)
1 Suicide Black
1 2c Control
1 Sullivan Solution Variants
1 Landstill
1 Ad Nauseam (1)
1 Mono Red Workshop Aggro
1 Bomberman/Painter Hybrid (1)
1 Wizards
1 UR Stax

II. Breakdown by Archetype As Percentage of Total

TPS (10.7% of Top 8s)
Fish (8.9%)
MUD (8.9%)
Oath (8%)
Control Slaver (7.1%)
Ichorid (6.25%)
Painter (5.35%)
3c Control (5.35%)
Rest of the Metagame: 39.45%

Only one archetype made up more than 10% of the Vintage metagame. This is a pretty healthy Vintage format! Many decks are viable and the format appears strategically varied and diverse.

III. Analysis

TPS, Fish, and MUD are the best performing decks, although a host of Mana Drain decks are making Top 8, just in different archetypes. More on that later.

In the last metagame breakdown, the top performing decks were Control Slaver followed by MUD, TPS, and Fish. Control Slaver has fallen a bit, but the rest of the metagame looks quite similar.

TPS is, appropriately, the best performing deck in Vintage. I was surprised to see that a bunch of U.S.-style TPS decks (which are really just 2004 European style TPS decks) doing well in Europe in the month of September. The remainder of the TPS decks were really Bob-TPS decks, which exclusively placed in Europe. I counted this major variant under the header “TPS,” although it could easily have deserved its own archetype label.

Given the dominance of Mana Drain decks in the metagame, it should not be surprising that Dark Ritual based storm decks are an excellent choice for the skilled Vintage pilot. As players become more competent with Storm combo, and as they discover what a wonderful archetype it is to master, I hope/think this trend will persist. TPS provides a great foil for the emergent Tezzeret control decks.

Hellkite Overlord brought with it the a two-turn clock in Oath, an objective Meandeck Oath, with Akroma and Spirit of the Night, was never able to achieve without the opponent helping out. But pairing Overlord Hellkite with Akroma makes for 20 damage in two turns. Oddly, only about half of the nine placing Oath decks were running Hellkite Overlord.

MUD is still one of the top performers in the format. The decks I lumped under MUD, although all heavy artifact and Workshop based, were in some cases very different. I did not count decks with a five-color or multi-color manabase.

The Fish decks were just as varied. Some were GWS’s BUG Fish. Others were UBW Fish. One was mono-Blue. I lumped them all together here. Painter is still managing to put up numbers, and is a viable metagame player.

Ichorid is still the quiet Thunder in the format. Ichorid won the largest tournament of this dataset, the massive 315 player tournament in Milan that Chapin and Dave Williams competed in. I will admit, this proves that Ichorid can win a major tournament in Vintage.

IV. Ch-ch-changes

There were a lot of changes during this data period. The entrance of Shards of Alara immediately impacted the format. The restoration of Time Vault also changed things up a lot. But so did the five unrestrictions. All this is only a few months after the whole metagame was changed by a wave of restrictions. I think the next dataset will be very revealing as to what, precisely, is the role of Tezzeret, and whether cards like Ad Nauseam will be more than bit players.

V. Top 8 Metagame Breakdown by Engine

46 Mana Drain Decks (41% of Top 8s)
14 Dark Ritual Decks (12.5%)
13 Mishra’s Workshop Decks (11.6%)
11 (estimate) Null Rod Decks (9.8%)
7 Bazaar Decks (6.25%)
Other (18.85%)

From this view of the metagame, things are not so rosy. Mana Drain decks are totally dominant. Half of the Oath decks switched from running Mana Drain to the faster, and more efficient, Negate. Otherwise their numbers would have been even higher. But Bomberman, Control Slaver, Painter, Drain Tendrils, Tezzeret control, and the various other control decks all ran Mana Drains. This is, by far, the largest chunk of the metagame. Not all of the Fish decks ran Null Rod, but these R/G base Zoo decks all did. Keep in mind that 5 decks were missing from this dataset.

In the previous dataset:

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

From an engine perspective, the format is pretty similar to the previous dataset. Workshops declined slightly, Null Rod decks increased by a commensurate amount, Bazaar decks declined slightly, and Mana Drain decks increased by the same amount. In short, it’s pretty much the same thing as last time, but with a 5% variance for each engine type.

VI. Notable Decks

The first deck that caught my attention was this European Control deck.

If I had just seen one of these decks, I wouldn’t have taken much notice. However, this deck was a strong performer, making up over 5% of the archetypes.

This deck looks like a blast to play. It also looks difficult to play properly. The draw engine isn’t particularly strong, and this deck probably wins on the back of cumulative card advantage most of the time. Tiny advantages, tight play; those are the keys to success here. For those of you who love Control decks, I would give this a spin.

The second deck I want to highlight here is an Ad Nauseam Storm deck that won a 61-man tournament in Italy:

A couple of weeks ago, I published what I believed was that proper utilization of Ad Nauseam in Vintage.

This deck utilizes many of those suggestions, although its composition is very different. The pilot only ran 2 Chrome Mox, and 3 Pact of Negation over Thoughtseize, but it did run 4 bounce spells, as I did. Most importantly, it’s good to know that Ad Nauseam is a real deck. It is no small feat to win a 61 person tournament with a brand new deck.

The final deck I wanted to bring to your attention is this Storm combo variant:

This deck won a 36 person tournament. The first and most important feature of this Dark Ritual deck is that it has four Time Spiral. Second, to support four Time Spiral, it has a few more lands and plenty of Misdirection to make it resolve. This deck has no Yawgmoth’s Bargain, which I find somewhat surprising. Still, it’s a creative and tournament-tested shell for a nice Storm combo variant.

VII. Possible Unrestrictions

The DCI has done a fantastic job with its most recent unrestrictions. I was a little bit nervous about Chrome Mox, which I would not have unrestricted. Although it has found a solid home in Ad Nauseam, it appears that Ad Nauseam, as powerful as it is, is simply not better than TPS. Belcher pilots have now cut all land in favor of more Chrome Mox. Thus, although it is seeing play (which is why I wouldn’t have unrestricted it), for the moment, Chrome Mox has not been a problem. However, it and Mox Diamond have both opened the door to other decks and new budget options. Mox Diamond, in my opinion, makes Parfait a very nice option for Vintage. In the near future, I should explore what other budget options are now possible thanks to the unrestriction of these cards.

In the meantime, it is my view that Wizards should complete the cycle. There is absolutely no reason for the restriction of Grim Monolith. I comprehensively addressed this question in an earlier article.

VIII. Conclusion

Once again, it is a great time to play Vintage. There are many viable deck options from Ichorid to Oath. The format is anchored by Mana Drain decks, which allows players position themselves within a relatively well defined tactical landscape. Whatever your taste, there is something for you in current Vintage. Because of Shards and the unrestrictions, there are also many options which haven’t quite played out yet. Vintage is exciting and dynamic.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian


1) Cedarburg, Wisconsin
48 people

2) Milan Italy
315 people

3) Coshocton, PA
44 people
(5-8 missing)

4) Rome, Italy
61 people

5) Manila, Philippines
52 people

6) Badalona, Spain
70 people

7) Annecy, France
150 people

8) L’Aquila, Italy
51 people

9) Barcelona, Spain
47 people

10) Breda, Netherlands
50 people

11) Milano, Italy
61 people

12) Albacete, Spain
35 players

13) Manila, Philippines
33 people

14) Badalona, Spain
70 people