The Guide To Vintage’s Landscape – All Things That Gush

If you don’t play Vintage, why not? Mark Hornung tries to ascertain why people avoid this fun and diverse format. He clears away the misconceptions people have expressed to him.

The Guide To Vintage’s Landscape – All Things That Gush

Recently I have been discussing and asking tons of people a very simple question…

Why don’t you play Vintage?

At first I feverously tracked my initial findings. As my audience and response grew larger, I focused less on the individual tallies and began to decipher the patterns that began to emerge. When I first started asking people this question, I assumed most of the answers I would receive would revolve around one of the following:

  • Card Costs/Availability
  • The Perceived Stereotype of the “Turn One Kill”
  • Lack of Interaction/Die Roll Wins Game

These points all represent perceived psychological barriers of Vintage, for the most part fed by everyone’s lack of information about the format. After actually playing a few games of Vintage and attending some tournaments, I feel a lot of these barriers are easily lowered if not smashed. The above points were brought up a lot in my discussions with people about why they don’t play Vintage, but not as much as I thought they would… To my surprise, the top two most frequent answers did not actually include any of those points.

The most frequent answer I received…

Format Diversity…

To a lesser extent, I had a lot of people just wondering what’s out there to play in Vintage.

I myself have found that I have painted a picture all too dull and boring to new and potentially new Vintage players in the past…

“Mark, would should I play?”

“A blue deck, Workshops, or Dredge…”

My responses didn’t really sell the format, and looking back at my response, it looks like a rather stagnant and dull metagame lacking much variety when it comes to selecting a deck. The truth is right now that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Vintage metagame is alive and well with a ton of choices at your disposal and many more possibilities out there. This originally started out as an email to a couple of my friends about what they could play in Vintage, but I felt I should address it using the medium StarCityGames.com has provided me to inform not just my friends but the community why Vintage is a great and often misunderstood format.

Vintage has traditionally been categorized by format “pillars” or archetype defining cards. The five format “pillars” by which most people classify decks are Mana Drain, Null Rod, Dark Ritual, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Mishra’s Workshop. Decks would normally be classified under one of these pillars due to their reliance on the card defining the pillar. Some examples of this classification system include Tezzeret Control for Mana Drain, Noble Fish for Null Rod, The Perfect Storm for Dark Ritual, Dredge for Bazaar of Baghdad, and MUD Aggro for Mishra’s Workshop—all of which I want to cover in the coming weeks. As much as I believe that using traditional pillars to classify Vintage decks is outdated and not reflective of the modern Vintage format, it helps us paint an important picture that there are a lot of different options when it comes to selecting a deck for Vintage.

What I want to do over the course of the next few weeks is present all of the viable deck options in Vintage as a guide of sorts to Vintage players new and old. I think it’s important for everyone to realize just how many different ways there are to skin a cat in Vintage, or build a deck. I also want it to prove the point that Vintage diversity is near an all-time high. I chose to start with Gush because I believe it epitomizes the depth of skill and lines of play in a typical Vintage game. Gush decks are the “flagship” deck of Vintage in terms of what Vintage and the format’s game play is all about. 

Gushers Anonymous

Gush, arguably one of the most versatile and powerful draw engines in Vintage, was only outclassed back in the day when you could play FOUR BRAINSTORMS in Vintage. The engine works when you have one or more Gushes in hand and a Fastbond on the field.

You can than utilize the alternative cost of Gush, which is returning two lands to your hand, to draw two cards for “free.” What makes it so powerful is that you can return tapped lands only to replay them with Fastbond as to have more mana to play additional spells or have counterspell mana for your opponent’s turn. You can also float mana with your untapped lands, return them, and then replay them to effectively have four mana produced off of two lands, which makes generating double black (BB) when trying to go lethal with a Tendrils of Agony a whole lot easier with just one Underground Sea in play. Now that we know what we are doing with our engine, let’s explore which decks best make use of it. Below I present to you numerous ways to utilize Vintage’s best draw engine and demonstrate the diversity not only in the format, but just how many different ways you can build around an engine in Vintage.

Traditionally Gush decks were Gro decks back when it was first legal. Now with the errata change for Time Vault and Blightsteel Colossus’s printing, Gush has become the default draw engine for blue control decks as well. As we are going to see, there are many different ways to build a deck with Gush. The first Gush variant we will look at is the “original” Gush deck, Gro.


The first Gro decks looked to use Psychatog and/or Quirion Dryad as their primary kill conditions. They used the Gush-Bond Engine (Fastbond and Gush) to generate a continuous flow of cards to allow them to chain spells together to pump up their Quirion Dryad or use the lands that were returned with Gush as well as the additional cards drawn to pump up Psychatog. In modern-day Vintage, Gro decks have evolved to include some new win conditions with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Tinker/Blightsteel Colossus.

Both of these are updated Gro lists from the previous era of Gush. Matt’s list contains the original Gro master, Quirion Dryad, as well as opting for more card draw with Dark Confidant. Paul’s list goes for a different approach by utilizing Tarmogoyf as his weapon of choice and tagging in Trygon Predator over Dark Confidant. I think Trygon Predator over Dark Confidant is a great call if you expect a lot of Workshop and/or Landstill decks. Trygon’s ability to hit artifacts and enchantments (Standstill, Mystic Remora, and Fastbond) give it that extra utility to be very useful against some of the more popular decks in the metagame. I also think playing Tarmogoyf over Quirion Dryad is correct. When Tarmogoyf hits the board, it is usually bigger than Quirion Dryad already, usually allowing it to dodge getting a Fire / Ice or a Lightning Bolt thrown at it. You also don’t have to worry about a Jace, the Mind Sculptor bouncing it and then having to re-grow it.

Quirion Dryad is most effective in the early game, when you still have a lot of cards in hand to beef him up, whereas Tarmogoyf can hit the battlefield early or late and still remain a decent-sized threat. This leaves Quirion Dryad competing with Dark Confidant, both of which you admittedly want to cast on turn one or two. By replacing Quirion Dryad with Tarmogoyf, you aren’t pressured in having to determine whether or not you lead with Dryad or Dark Confidant. If I were to play Gro in a tournament, this is most likely the list I would be sporting.

It might be all about preference, but I feel that Dark Confidant over Trygon Predator lets the deck operate smoother. There are obviously some pros and cons with choosing Dark Confidant over Trygon Predator, with the biggest pro being able to generate more card advantage. At the end of the day, a lot of it comes down to preference and what you believe the perceived metagame to be. Not only can you play an aggro type game with Gush, but you can also utilize it to fuel your combos…


Combo decks in Vintage have long traditionally utilized Dark Ritual and Tendrils of Agony as their win condition. It is also tough to definitively define what a combo deck is in Vintage given the fact that aggro and control decks include combo win conditions as well: Time Vault/Voltaic Key and Tinker/Blightsteel Colossus. For this article I am choosing to define combo decks as decks whose primary win condition is not Vault/Key or Tinker/Blightteel. The first combo Gush deck I want to look at is the most recent combo to appear, Doomsday-Lab Gush.

Your primary road to victory is to set up a Doomsday pile where you can play Laboratory Maniac and then draw through the last 4-5 cards as fast as you can to win; Doomsday does the milling for you. The deck also has the backup win condition of chaining Gushes and other spells together for a lethal Tendrils of Agony. Stephen Menendian, the brainchild of the deck, covers it more in-depth than I could in his article on Eternal Central.

The next type of Gush decks I want to cover use Tendrils of Agony as the primary kill condition. It is unique in that it does not use Dark Ritual but instead relies on Gush paired with Yawgmoth’s Will to generate a high spell count to make Tendrils of Agony lethal.

As you can see, Jesse’s deck runs more traditional storm cards such as Mind’s Desire and Memory Jar whereas Rich’s is more about card drawing and filtering. Rich’s list appears more stable with having Tinker/Blightteel as his backup in addition to Jace, the Mind Sculptor, whereas Jesse in game one only has Jace to fall back on. Here is another Gush storm deck but one that looks to utilize Noxious Revival and Empty the Warrens as its engine and kill.

The deck packs a lot of the same card choices as the first two Gush storm decks. The big differences here are running the max on Noxious Revival and using Empty the Warrens as the kill condition. Noxious Revival allows you to continuously chain Gushes together if you hit them in multiples. It also allows you to reuse your tutors and set counterspells back on top of your library to Gush into if you need to counter a crucial spell. One of the often missed aspects about Noxious Revival is that it can also be used defensively in response to your opponent casting Yawgmoth’s Will, Dread Return, and even Animate Dead

These Gush decks have a more “controlling” aspect when it comes to game play, whereas the last Gush Storm deck I want to talk about looks to have a more explosive start thanks to Lotus Cobra.

This deck looks to explode out of the gates early with Lotus Cobra into one of the deck’s engines to generate a high storm count. It relies on landing Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Mind’s Desire, Necropotence, or Jace, the Mind Sculptor as early as possible to generate the storm count and card advantage. It takes advantage of Lotus Cobra and the deck’s high fetchland count to achieve a critical mass of mana to play one of the deck’s big spells.

Control-ish Gush

I use the label control-ish because oftentimes to people who don’t play Vintage, control decks don’t often appear as control decks. Given the fact they have fast and powerful combos themselves, most people see them as more of a combo deck than a control deck. You could even make the case that the combo Gush decks that include Tendrils of Agony are in fact control decks. The lines where combo and control meet are very ambiguous when talking about Vintage decks. For the purposes of this article, I am going to exclude Gush control decks that have Tendrils of Agony, as I mentioned I will classify them as “combo” for the purposes of this article earlier.

Ever since Thirst for Knowledge hit the restriction block, control decks in Vintage have long been seeking their new draw engine. Since Gush’s unrestricting, control decks have been very quick to incorporate Gush-Bond as their new default draw engine. Control decks in Vintage often have the most discrepancy amongst each other. I would even go as far to say that there isn’t a “correct” 75 to play when it comes to control in Vintage. It is all about making subtle tweaks and card additions as well as subtractions to best combat what you think the metagame will be at a given tournament. For the most part, control decks have a similar core group of cards—Tutors, Moxes, Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Vault/Key, Tinker/Blightteel, counters, etc. The differences in most control decks are often the counterspells they play and about 4-6 additional cards that can be either utility, metagame, or additional draw slots in the deck. There are many different ways one could build a control-ish Gush deck, so I am just going to mention a small number of them in this article, but keep in mind there are a lot of them out there.

Allen and Shawn’s East Coast Wins is arguably the most controlling of the Gush decks I have presented here. It has an increased Jace count than most decks at three and uses a heavy control package with Mana Drain and Gifts Ungiven. A lot of the deck’s early game is set up to control the game until it can land a Jace, Gifts, or one of its win conditions (Vault/Key or Tinker/Blightteel). It forgoes Dark Confidant for cheap card draw, tutors, and Jaces. Allen provides us an excellent primer on the deck here.

Meandeck showed up to Vintage Champs infusing two of the more common draw engines into one deck, Dark Confidant and Gush-Bond. It is a slightly less controlling type of Gush than East Coast Wins given the fact it only runs one type of hard counter, Force of Will, but it instead maxes out on tempo counters, Spell Pierce. Trygon Predator provides a good punch against Workshop decks while being able to destroy opposing Moxen as well to hopefully keep Spell Pierce live throughout the match. The deck runs the max on Preordain and two Sensei’s Divining Tops to make sure Dark Confidant won’t kill you before you kill your opponent. Like I mentioned, it’s a little less control oriented and more tempo based.

Chris Pikula Bob Gush deck is a more control heavy version of Meandeck’s Bob Gush. Chris’s deck essentially is a hybrid of East Coast Wins and Meandeck’s Bob Gush. You have the Dark Confidants, Jace, the Mind Sculptors, Mana Drains, Spell Pierces, etc. It has the most avenues to victory than the previous decks whether it’s Tinker/Blightteel, Vault/Key, Jace, or good ole-fashioned beats via Dark Confidant. The last Gush deck I want to talk about utilizes Mystic Remora instead of Dark Confidant as its alternative draw engine but isn’t packing all the Gro creatures like the lists we discussed earlier.

Stephen’s list is a more “grind them out in card advantage” type of control list. It looks to stick an early Mystic Remora and utilize the deck’s “free” counterspell package to keep Mystic Remora on the table as long as possible for maximum card advantage. It is almost equivalent to a traditional Draw-Go style control deck where you are looking to build your advantage off Mystic Remora before you can move into your end game.

These are just some of the mainstream decks and ideas that utilize Gush. Given the card pool of Vintage, there are endless possibilities out there for anyone to utilize the Gush-Bond engine. I encourage everyone to try one of the Gush decks I presented in the article, as I believe it really showcases what the format has to offer.

In my next article, I will go over the many different faces and decklists of non-Gush blue decks. As you can probably already tell, there are a ton of different options for you to play in Vintage, and hopefully by the end of this you might find a list that will have you inspired to play Vintage or encourage you to continue playing Vintage. I want to leave you now with some food for thought and the second most popular answer I received…

Putting it to a Proxy Vote

The second most frequent answer….


Now for the most part this is more of an issue in the United States than European Vintage tournaments. Most if not all European Vintage events are non-proxy events. In the United States, 99% of all Vintage events are operated allowing the use of proxies; even Star City’s old “Power 9” series was a proxy affair.

In my mind, I always felt that proxies were something that could really help bring people into the format, which is really what left me perplexed…

After further pressing the question, the clear answer to the issue began to emerge. People just don’t like having to play with a proxy, and if they do, they are put off by the lack of quality proxies. 

Here are just some of the things people had to say about proxies in Vintage:

“Playing with Force of Will and Mana Drain but your Blightsteel Colossus is a Sharpie written on Plains…”

“I feel with proxies there is enough ambiguity to potentially cheat or represent the card in a dishonest way via proxy…”

“I want to actually know what I am playing with and what it does…”

“It’s too easy to forget or overlook what’s in your hand when you’re using a proxy…”

“So if I Duress my opponent and his hand is full of proxies I don’t know, I call a judge?!?!”

Not helping…

It makes a lot of sense why people don’t like proxies. It’s tough for newer players of the format to know what the cards do if an obscured card is used as a proxy. It is also easier to misplay your hand when using proxies. I think we should strive to make high-quality proxies; I myself am guilty of running pretty lame proxies. This will definitely be the vocal point for a future article of mine, but for now I just want to see what everyone’s ideas and opinions are about proxies.

Mark Hornung

@womba_ on Twitter