So Many Insane Plays – Win Win Lorwyn: A Vintage Set Review

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When a new set hits the shelves, Magic players the world over clamor for information on the strengths and weaknesses of the fresh cards. The Vintage crowd, of course, is no exception… except that their standards for possible playability are considerably higher. Today, Vintage World Champion Stephen Menendian takes a look at the highlights that Lorwyn has to offer our game’s most broken format…

One of my traditions for set reviews is to look back at the previous set review and measure my predictions against actual card performance. For a host of reasons we, as Magic players, are terrible prognosticators, not the least of which is the general dynamic complexity of Magic as a game.

These articles are also an opportunity to think about why I may have missed something, not just what I missed.

In my Future Sight set review, I predicted that “that Future Sight will proportionately produce more playables in Vintage, Magic’s oldest and most broken format, than Mirrodin.” While I haven’t actually tested that prediction, I think no one will deny that Future Sight left a tremendous imprint in Vintage.

In fact, my teammate and friend Paul Mastriano claims that Future Sight is actually the best set for Vintage since Beta. When I asked about Urza’s Saga, he said that Future Sight actually has proportionately more playables.
Here were my Top 5 cards for Vintage:

1) Street Wraith
2) Pact of Negation
3) Narcomoeba
4) Yixlid Jailer
5) Bridge From Below

In retrospect, I overrated Street Wraith, which at times has seen more play than Bridge from Below or Narcomoeba, but none of those seen necessarily more play than Aven Mindcensor (although Bridge and Narcomoeba have recently outperformed Aven Mindcensor). So, I think I got my Top 5 right, except that Aven Mindcensor probably should have cracked the Top 5 somehow.

More critically, Tarmogoyf wasn’t even mentioned in my set review. While not a glaring error, it was an important omission. Tarmogoyf has seen a small, but relevant, amount of play in Vintage. Looking back, I just didn’t think about how big this guy would be in Vintage. I guess I also have a prejudice against creatures and tend to underestimate how good they might be. Quirion Dryad is extremely powerful because it grows so big. I’m surprised I didn’t see how big Tarmogoyf can become so quickly for the very Vintage-playable cost of two mana.

The second card that has filled a niche role in Vintage that I didn’t even mention was Coalition Relic. Since I knew that Darksteel Ingot had seen some play in Vintage, and Gilded Lotus before that, I should have recognized that Coalition Relic could have a place in Vintage.

The third card that I failed to mention, although I’m not sure I can be blamed, is Virulent Sliver. Virulent Sliver is the generally preferred path to victory for Vintage Hulk Flash.

I think the reason I underestimated the play value of Aven Mindcensor is that I tend to focus primarily on efficiency when it comes to creatures. I was thinking of this card in terms of its application in Stax or Fish. What I didn’t consider was the potential of Mindcensor in Bomberman, which already plays Auriok Salvagers and four Trinket Mage. In that deck, three mana for a White creature is already par for the course. Even then, the sheer centrality of Merchant Scroll in the format has given this card even greater tactical relevance than I thought.

Aven Mindcensor may not be cracking Top 8s in the last couple of months, but it’s hard to miss in the Swiss.

So. Lorwyn.

While I’m always excited about the possibility of new cards changing the face of Vintage, I had low expectations for Lorwyn. Reading up on Lorwyn, it was billed as another Tribal set. As a general rule, creatures are the weakest link in Vintage. Only the most efficient and powerful creatures ever see more than a minute of play in Vintage, creatures like Psychatog, Dark Confidant, Quirion Dryad, and Jotun Grunt. More likely, to see play in Vintage, creatures need to be a combo component or a powerful utility spell such as Goblin Welder, Narcomoeba, Worldgorger Dragon, Elvish Spirit Guide, Phyrexian Dreadnaught, and Sundering Titan. The likelihood that Wizards would push the boundaries of creature efficiency and produce a new creature that would become a staple in Vintage is low.

That said, some of the cards I’m about to review have blown my mind.

Check it out…

Boggart Mob
Goblins have seen a small measure of success in Vintage at various points in the last couple of years. The most impressive feat was when Goblins actually won a SCG Power Nine tournament a couple of years ago in a field of Stax. Most recently, Team ICBM has been promoting its “Gob-Lines” deck designed to fight a potential Flash metagame by clogging the ground for Sliver beats and negating the graveyard with Leyline of the Void. In any case, Goblins has been a peripheral contender based upon the raw power of Aether Vial and Goblin Lackey, both of which are reusable Black Lotuses for the narrow purpose of playing more Goblins.

This card could theoretically fit nicely in “Gob-Lines” since that deck is already RB. He’s not particularly big (at least when compared with Goblin Piledriver), but he is big enough. The ability is actually quite nice. This guy grows your armies fairly quickly. I wouldn’t count on it, but I could see this guy showing up in some Vintage decklists.

Colfenor’s Plans
Oh look, they printed a new draw 7… that stops you from doing anything ever again and prevents you from taking advantage of your burst of cards by storming out. Hope you drew Chain of Vapor.

Notable, but garbage.

Deeptread Merrow
I could actually see this guy in play in Vintage… back in 2004 when Fish decks ran Curiosity.

Eyes of the Wisent
Hidden Gibbons that doesn’t go away. This thing just continues to pump out men. Potentially playable.

Forced Fruitionbr>
While I understand the impulse to try this card, it’s essentially Null Profusion. Too expensive and not good enough. While this card may be deadly, it may also inadvertently just help your opponent win the game immediately. Beyond being too expensive, it’s too risky.

Gaddock Teeg
This is a powerful effect.

Here’s the fundamental problem. There are only four cards in the Top 50 Played Vintage Cards that cost four or more, and one of them is Leyline of the Void. The other three are Force of Will, Gush, and Misdirection. That simply isn’t enough to make this guy a generally useful effect. Put another way, he’s no Null Rod.

In terms of hosing Gush decks specifically, however, this guy is pretty solid. You shut off at least 10 cards out of the deck on the spot, assuming that this guy isn’t Forced or Thoughtseized first.

So far, so good.

The problem is that he’s a legend. That means that if you are going to want to play four of this guy, you are really targeting your hate and ignoring the consequences of having dead draws. The second problem is his coloration. He’s in the two most difficult colors to support together.

That said, the sheer hosing effect on Gush decks, the format’s foremost archetype, is so strong that I can see him being played. Perhaps his best home is in some Workshop-esque prison type deck built around Thorn of Amethyst and Aven Mindcensor. More on this later in the article.

Jace Beleren
This is a good casting cost for playability in Vintage. Unfortunately, it’s “monster” ability sucks and there is no way to ramp him up high enough. You would never add loyalty to this guy in Vintage, so I don’t see this guy being playable despite having a nice casting cost (and gorgeous artwork).

Hoarder’s Greed
Theoretically, this could be four mana and four life, or four mana and six life, for four or six cards respectively. Even then, it’s a stretch that this will definitely see play in Vintage. Four mana is a pretty big investment for a non-instant. If this were an instant, it might be playable.

Liliana Vess
So, you go Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Liliana Vess. Was it worth it? For the next three turns, you can force your opponent to discard a card until… until what? In Vintage, the “return creatures from all graveyards” ability is perfectly useless. Getting to Vampiric Tutor every tutor is much more exciting. You can accelerate into Yawgmoth’s Will that way.

The problem, of course, is that if you just played Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual for Liliana Vess. Shame on you! Dark Rituals were meant to support Grim Tutors and cards with the word “Yawgmoth” in the title.


The “U” casting cost slot is one of the most coveted slots in Vintage Magic. Atop the list of “U” casting cost Vintage bombs sits Ancestral Recall, followed shortly thereafter by Brainstorm and Mystical Tutor. It’s been some time since we’ve seen any decent additions to the core set of playables already here. Chain of Vapor was the last to join this cadre of cards and Careful Study the playable before that. (I know Spell Snare is good, but it isn’t played in Vintage). Although Stifle sees play, more often now that it combos with Phyrexian Dreadnaught.

I’ve been playing with Opt in my Vintage deck for the last few months (primarily because in the mid- to late-game, it is better than Street Wraith because you’d rather see two cards than just one). Some Gush players prefer Sleight of Hand, which I understand. Disrupt is also a card that Doug Linn used to claw his way to co-championship of the most recent Vintage StarCityGames.com Power Nine event in Indianapolis.

Suffice to say, this is a coveted casting cost that doesn’t see many entrants over time.

Ponder joins the ranks of Sleight of Hand and Opt as another playable “U” casting cost draw spell after Brainstorm and Ancestral Recall. In Legacy, I’ve seen lots of people run Portent. This card is a welcome addition to the Eternal mix. Thanks Wizards!

This card will see play in Vintage. It’s just a question of whether it will be a marginal card or something more. I think this card will prove superior to Sleight of Hand. Ponder digs more cards now. In terms of tempo, Ponder sees you as many cards for one mana as Ancestral Recall.

The trick with Ponder will be deciding whether to shuffle or draw.

Imagine you have three cards on top of your library you really want to draw. Then Ponder is awesome. But what if there is only one card you really want to draw? What if your top cards are like Ancestral Recall and then two lands? Well, you won’t shuffle, but you really don’t want to waste your Ancestral digging through those two lands either. The third possibility is that you only want two of the three cards. In that case, Ponder is probably just fine. If you were running Sleight in those situations, Sleight is only better in the case of one of the top two cards is one of the cards you don’t want and in the case of only one card in your Top 3 that you want.

Turn 1 Ponder should turn out to be a solid play in Vintage. I think this card will find multiple homes.

Welcome Ponder. We’re glad to have you.

Sower of Temptation
Wow. Control magic on legs? That’s funny.

I happen to think that Control Magic is a fine card in Vintage. It can take Quirion Dryad, Phyrexian Dreadnaught, or even Goblin Welder. Oath cries when you steal their Akroma.

I used to play four Control Magics in my Mono-Blue control sideboard with which I made Top 8 at the Vintage World Championship in 2004. Granted, that was three years ago, but some aspects of today’s metagame resemble 2003. This card is possibly a Fish sideboard answer to Phyrexian Dreadnaught combo, Quirion Dryads, or if it just wants to steal opposing creatures. Fish already has a lot of cards like that in Old Man of the Sea, Seasinger, Waterfront Bouncer, and Flametongue Kavu, but I happen to think that this card has clear advantages on those creatures. It’s a 2/2 beater in addition to stealing a critter. Now you can take Goblin Welder and attack for two.

I predict that this card will see play in Vintage. It’s pretty good.

Spellstutter Sprite
A two-mana Spell Snare for spells that cost one? A tempo loss. Vroman says this is better than Spiketail Hatchling… I’m not sure I agree. Spiketail Hatchling was a nice follow up play to Null Rod or Stifle. This card requires that you wait until your opponent plays a spell to do something. It’s reactive, not proactive. Spiketail is better. And that’s not even played in Vintage anymore.

Howltooth Hollow/Shelldock Isle/ Spinerock Knoll
I mention this card to say a few words about the Hideaway lands. The first and most significant problem with them, and the reason I suspect they will not see a moment of play in Vintage, is that they come into play tapped. While these three seem stronger than the others, making a dead land drop is unacceptable in this format.

Spring Cleaning
I mention this card because it is probably the most playable card for Vintage with the Clash mechanic in the set. Here’s the problem: Clashing is dangerous in Vintage. Letting your opponent “Opt” their top card is a risk for losing on the spot. You can imagine letting them cycle through their crappy card on top of their library and then untapping and drawing a game-winning bomb. And for what?

Let’s clash:

I reveal Force of Will, you reveal Land. You put the land on the bottom of your deck. I pass the turn to you. You untap, draw Brainstorm, play it, play some Moxen and cast Yawgmoth’s Will.

Nice game.

Sygg, River Guide
If Fish (and I mean real Fish, not pseudo fish like Meddling Mage) ever make a serious return to Vintage, this guy will have to be looked at.

Where do I begin?

Duress is, under any measure, one of the top 5 played cards in Vintage. Here’s some proof. Here’s some more.

And so on.

In a format that has 9000 different cards, to say that a card will break into the Top 20 Most Played Vintage Cards is to say that it is in the top .02 percent of Vintage cards (aside, of course, from restricted cards that can’t show up in those numbers because, well, they’re restricted).

Thoughtseize is the most universally playable Vintage card printed since Leyline of the Void.

But just how good is Thoughtseize?

The first and most important question is this: is Thoughtseize better than Duress? While we can’t answer this question definitely, I believe the answer is no.

That answer may surprise some people. After all, this is Vintage the format if infinite insanity! OMG! WTF!! BBQ!!! PWND!!!!

The advantage that Thoughtseize has on Duress is that it can take a creature. The disadvantage is that it can be Misdirected and costs two life. The bottom line is this: the benefits do not outweigh the drawbacks.

Consider this hypothetical hand:

Ancestral Recall
Yawgmoth’s Will
Polluted Delta
Underground Sea
Mox Emerald

Now imagine that your opponent plays Thoughtseize on you. Obviously, you play Misdirection to protect your Ancestral Recall and Yawgmoth’s Will. Your opponent will be forced to discard a card, and then your Ancestral fires off, and your Yawgmoth’s Will follows suit shortly thereafter. Misdirection cannot protect this hand from Duress.

Misdirection is already heavily played in Vintage. While Misdirecting a Thoughtseize isn’t generally a good play, Misdirection becomes even better as an aggressive card used to protect your bombs.

The two life also matters. My guess is that if you were to play four of these, you’d typically pay about four life per game. That may not seem like a lot, but combine it with Force of Will damage, Fetchlands, and even painful bombs like Grim Tutor, Necropotence, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain, and you have a card whose utility is more narrowly drawn.

One of Duress’s greatest features is the fact that it can protect a huge bomb for only one card and one mana. Some decks, like Grim Long and GWS Long, prefer to spend one mana to force a bomb through rather than save the mana but pay another Blue card. Thoughtseize would seem to readily fit into Long shells. The life, however, becomes relevant. My guess is that if Thoughtseize becomes a part of Long type decks, it won’t be more than a three-of.

Imagine a hand that looks roughly like this:

City of Brass (or Polluted Delta)
Gemstone Mine (Or Underground Sea)
Mox Ruby
Dark Ritual
Grim Tutor

A fairly “standard” Long.dec hand. Duress and Thoughtseize double your protection for just one black. Your opponent is very unlikely to be able to stop you.

I think the key point though is that Thoughtseize basically gives Long.decks Duress 5-8. Granted, they won’t play that many, but two or three additional Duress will surely help out. This will be a staple in Long decks for some time to come, perhaps reinvigorating them against the Gush metagame.

On the other hand, it is hard to imagine how Thoughtseize will not play a significant role in the Gush wars that currently definite Vintage.

Thoughtseize, as with Duress, has some glaring metagame weaknesses. First and foremost is Stax. Stax decks built around as many lock components as possible are fairly immune to Duress. First of all, with few exceptions, playing Duress generally requires that you fetch out an Underground Sea to play it. That sort of exposure opens the door to getting Wastelanded and then tempo-ed out of the game. Imagine you go turn one Fetchland into U. Sea into Duress into Wasteland your Underground Sea, followed up by missing land drops and Sphere of Resistances.

Your first land drop against Stax has to be a fetchland or a basic land. Getting Wastelanded when you didn’t have to right there is a recipe for making bad decisions.

Now, although Duress is fairly weak against traditional Stax decks, Thoughtseize ironically gets stronger against more aggressive Workshop decks like “Staxless Stax” or Workshop Aggro. The ability to nab Goblin Welder, Trikes, or Sundering Titan makes Thoughtseize more universally powerful. Staxless Stax decks typically don’t run Smokestack, so your lands are more likely to survive for the duration of the game once they’ve hit play.

In the Gush wars of Vintage, life matters. Life to Fastbond, life to Dryad beats, life to Fetchlands, painlands, and Force of Will. Life is a more critical resource than it has been in years. For that reason, the cost of Thoughtseize is nothing to sneeze at.

The universally dreaded topdeck is going to be Thoughtseize when you are under four life. Do you Thoughtseize and cut yourself off from being able to break a fetchland or play Force of Will? Do you let yourself just die to a topdecked Tendrils of Agony?

Thoughtseize is a very good card. The problem is that it just isn’t good in multiples. That’s why this card screams three-of (and probably two-of) in most Vintage decks that will play it. Its drawbacks are significant enough that it won’t straight up replace Duress, but it is strong enough that it will make a dent. A noticeable one too.

And when the Vintage metagame shifts again to resemble the format that it did a year ago, if it ever does, Thoughtseize will rock even more than it does now.

Thorn of Amethyst
Sphere of Resistance is one of the most strategically important cards in Vintage. It has been since 2003 when Gush decks started running rampant. The solution was obvious: if Gush and Force of Will and all these amazing Blue cards are so good because they are free, let’s break that up by making them pay mana. Sphere of Resistance hasn’t been absent from Vintage for a single day since that moment.

Sphere of Resistance makes Yawgmoth’s Wills much more costly. Imagine you want to play Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Grim Tutor for Black Lotus, Black Lotus, and Yawgmoth’s Will. Sphere of Resistance makes that impossible. It’s potent against everything that is good in Vintage. It’s strong against Moxen, it slows everything down, and it is generally annoying.

Trinisphere joined the fray in 2004 only to join the restricted list a year later. It is still a massive bomb in Vintage. Workshop, Trinisphere often elicits scoops to this day.

Trinisphere is technically the bigger bomb, but it is harder to support. Turn 1 Sphere of Resistance can be played with basically no cost.

Imagine this play, quite common in Vintage of 2005:

Turn 1:

You: City of Brass, Mox Pearl, Sphere of Resistance.

Opponent: Island, Mox Ruby.

Turn 2:

You: tap City of Brass and Mox Pearl, play Gorilla Shaman. Play Wasteland, eat your Moxen.


Turn 1:

You: City of Brass, Mox Pearl, Sphere of Resistance.

Opponent: Volcanic Island, Mox Ruby.

Turn 2:

You: Play Wasteland, Wasteland your Volcanic Island.

In both plays, you’ve tempoed your opponent. You’ve given yourself more time and will continue to build a prison around your opponent’s game plan until they are completely constricted from doing anything at all.

Here is another common line of play from that era:

Turn 1:

You: City of Brass, Mox Pearl, Sphere of Resistance.

Opponent: Polluted Delta

Turn 2:

You: Play Mishra’s Workshop. Tap the Shop, City of Brass and Mox Pearl, play Smokestack

Your opponent is soon to be locked out.

Just as important as the fact that Sphere of Resistance is a general Vintage hoser is its raw efficiency. While prison decks in Vintage love to abuse Mishra’s Workshops and Trinispheres, there are only four Mishra’s Workshops and now only one Trinisphere.

To actually interact with decks like Gifts and Pitch Long, Workshop decks had to have either a Sphere of Resistance or a Chalice of the Void in their opening hand. Smokestack did nothing for two turns. Crucible does nothing on turn 1, or even turn 2. If you didn’t force interaction, you were basically going to let your opponent go nuts, Scrolling for Force of Will, or just comboing out. I mean, if you let a Gifts or Long deck go unmolested on their first turn, you had little chance of actually winning the game. That’s just the way things played out.

In today’s Vintage, Chalice of the Void is still good, but Chalice at zero does virtually nothing against GroAtog. Playing it at one, while significantly better, imposes a heavy cost.

Thorn of Amethyst gives Vintage prison a new and powerful artifact that will join the pantheon of Sphere of Resistance and Chalice of the Void as contenders.

In this day and age of the Gush format, I suspect that this card will easily support the expansion and return of new Workshop aggro decks. Juggernaut, Triskelion, and Goblin Welder are unaffected by this card. It’s true that this card isn’t effective versus Fish decks (in fact, this card may be a new tool for Fish), but how well does Fish fare against a Triskelion plus Goblin Welder?

Thorn of Amethyst is just another reason that Gifts should never have been restricted and Pitch Long type decks, the two decks that were undisputed best decks last year, would not be metagame threats at the moment.

Imagine Pitch Long or Gifts trying to combat a deck that runs Thorn of Amethyst and Aven Mindcensor? Good freakin’ luck. Aven Mindcensor shut downs everything from Gifts Ungiven to Polluted Delta, while Thorn keeps the hand in check. Worse, they work together. It’s even theoretically possible that Thorn will see more play than Sphere of Resistance.

When GroAtog was at its height in 2003, Mishra’s Workshop decks using all manner of creatures and artifacts were omnipresent. Thorn of Amethyst arrives at the perfect moment to give those decks a boost and see if they can help engineer some significant metagame changes.

Meddling Mage is also a card that Kevin Cron found to be incredibly powerful in Stax in 2005, but very difficult to play, first because of the inherent manabase issues in Stax, but also because of Sphere-type cards.

What if Thorn of Amethyst just changes the fundamental rules? What if we can play a totally different deck now?

Here is Cron Stax from 2005:

11th Place, SCG Richmond, May, 2005

4 City of Brass
2 Gorilla Shaman
4 Mishra’s Workshop
1 Strip Mine
1 Trinisphere
4 Sphere of Resistance
3 Crucible Of Worlds
2 Chains of Mephistopheles
2 In the Eye of Chaos
3 Chalice of the Void
2 Seal of Cleansing
1 Lotus Petal
4 Wasteland
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Balance
1 Black Lotus
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Mana Vault
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Crop Rotation
1 Tinker
1 Karn, Silver Golem
4 Smokestack
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Vampiric Tutor
4 Gemstone Mine

2 Arcane Laboratory
2 Old Man of the Sea
2 Ray of Revelation
1 Seal of Cleansing
2 Ground Seal
2 Meddling Mage
2 Choke
2 Viashino Heretic

Now imagine how Thorn opens up the possibilities… Imagine a deck looking something like this…

1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Emerald
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mana Crypt
1 Sol Ring
4 City of Brass
3 Windswept Heath
3 Bloodstained Mire
1 Tropical Island
1 Savannah
1 Badlands
1 Plateau
4 Wasteland
1 Strip Mine

4 Chalice of the Void
4 Thorn of Amethyst
3 Gaddock Teeg
4 Meddling Mage
4 Aven Mindcensor
3 Gorilla Shaman
3 Chains of Mephistopheles
2 In the Eye of Chaos
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor


You could built this deck any number of ways… but what you have is the absolute best concentration of utility creatures unimpeded by the power of Thorn. Because Sphere no longer affects your own cards, I cut the Workshops in favor of a more stable mana situation. You can better support these cards without going to such lengths or needing to run Smokestack. The possibilities seem strong.

Wanderer’s Twig
This card is one of the best innocuous cards from Lorwyn. A nice title, a cute trick, but Vintage playable?

One of the eternal dilemmas of Vintage Mishra’s Workshop decks is manabase inconsistency. Mishra’s Workshop artifact decks are packed many colored spells, particularly Red things like Goblin Welder, built onto manabases that just don’t have that much Red mana. As an artifact, this card could come in for a few Mountains, save some slots, and thin your deck at the same time. I’m not saying it will, but this card at least has the potential to see marginal play in Vintage.

So there it is.

This set is a very nice addition to Vintage.

Here are my Top 5 prospects from Lorwyn:

1) Thoughtseize
2) Thorn of Amethyst
3) Ponder
4) Sower of Temptation
5) Gaddock Teeg

I really hope I haven’t missed anything. I guess we’ll find out in a few months.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian