Two things on the agenda today: a new Vintage deck, and as this is my one-hundredth article for StarCityGames.com, a look back at my favorite
submissions from the past two years.
If you’ve run into me at recent Vintage events, you may have heard me say, “I want to play Vintage Reanimator!”
The response to this idea was tepid, at best.
“It’s just a worse Dredge deck!”
“Why play a graveyard deck in a format full of graveyard hate?”
“That deck has never been good enough; why would it be good enough now?”
“Elias… you crazy, man. You crazy.”
When the DCI restricted Thirst for Knowledge in Vintage, they also unrestricted four cards: Crop Rotation, Enlightened Tutor, Entomb, and Grim
Monolith. I’ve seen all of those cards in top eights here and there, with the possible exception of Entomb. I have to believe this is related to Bazaar
of Baghdad-fueled Dredge, which itself has mostly superseded other graveyard decks, such as Hermit Druid combo or Worldgorger Dragon combo. What would
Reanimator offer the Vintage world that Dredge doesn’t do better?
Back to this question in a moment.
I’ve tested a lot of Oath decks recently, and over and over again, I found that there are some matchups that are intolerably difficult. With Elephant
Oath, beating Trygon Tezz is exceptionally hard, and despite a reasonable Workshop matchup, sometimes you still just “lose” to that deck anyway. Tyrant
Oath, powered by Gush, offers a more reasonable blue matchup, at the expense of a worse Workshop matchup, in my experience. GG Oath has tested quite
well against non-Gush decks but has many of the same weaknesses of Elephant Oath against splash damage from Workshop hate (such as Trygon Predator and
Perhaps the main challenge in building Oath is in determining the creature base and resulting strategy, based on what one expects to see play on the
other side of the table. Tyrant Oath needs spells to power its namesake card, while Elephant Oath uses a spread of creatures that are great in some
instances but terrible in others; GG Oath attempts to avoid this problem by playing creatures that just win immediately. All of these ideas have
strengths and weaknesses.
This brings us to Reanimator: what does a Reanimator strategy offer that Oath does not? Well, for one thing, when using Entomb, you get to pick the
appropriate creature from those in your library rather than flipping into one at random. So, against blue decks, you can get the Iona you really want,
but against Shops, you can get the Sphinx or Terastodon you want. You also can get it right now rather than having to play out Oath and pass the
turn. Your strategy is just as live against opponents using creatures as against those who do not, whereas Oath would prefer that opponents play
creatures so that it isn’t forced to find Forbidden Orchard. Stated simply, you get much of the power of Oath without being vulnerable to Oath hate
cards, and you can treat your creatures like a toolbox.
And, unlike Dredge, Reanimator is a strategy that pays mana for spells and interacts beyond the realm of free or one-mana spells. This means that you
have an array of options available to fight back against hate, including Null Rod, Force of Will, Spell Pierce, Thoughtseize, Pithing Needle, Nature’s
Claim, Hurkyl’s Recall, Show and Tell, and Steel Sabotage.
To bring this back full circle, I was testing GG Oath against R&D teammate Brad Granberry, who was playing a deceptively powerful Gush Time Vault
deck (which I discussed last week). The Gush deck was definitely favored pre-board, as I was often able to resolve Oath, only to watch Brad untap and
win the game via Tendrils or Key/Vault, before Oath triggered. Threat density was another problem. In GG Oath, Jace, the Mind Sculptor did not seem to
be the game-ending bomb that he was in Tyrant or Elephant Oath. Tyrant Oath is able to leverage the Jace TMS advantage into the Gush/Bond engine, while
Elephant Oath is set up as more of a “true” control deck, often playing Mana Drains and using Jace to create enough leverage to take over the game.
I started talking to Brad about Reanimator, and immediately he suggested that we introduce a Reanimator package into a Vintage Oath deck. The wheels in
my mind were turning in the opposite direction: what if we introduced an Oath package into the sideboard of a Legacy-style Reanimator deck? Brad and I
broke for a few minutes and sketched out our decks and set about testing them.
Coming at the design angle from the Vintage side, Brad’s deck included four Oaths and four Forbidden Orchards with four creatures. He had a smaller
package on the Reanimator side, playing four Entombs, four Reanimates, and two each of Exhume and Careful Study. As a Vintage deck, he was playing
Yawgmoth’s Will, Tinker, and a full set of fast mana including all five Moxen, Black Lotus, Sol Ring, and Mana Crypt. He had a total of twenty-four
mana sources, and his disruption package was four Spell Pierces, four Forces of Will.
I approached the deck from the Legacy angle, removing one creature, three Dazes, and three Brainstorms from my Legacy deck and manipulating from there.
I added staples like Time Walk and Ancestral Recall, as well as tutors like Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, and Demonic Tutor, where I had been playing
Preordain in Legacy. I kept the mana count relatively light, at twenty sources including only Mox Jet, Mox Sapphire, Mox Emerald, Lotus Petal, and
Black Lotus. I did not play Yawgmoth’s Will. I tried the deck with a Bazaar of Baghdad and started with only two Oaths of Druids and one Forbidden
Orchard in the maindeck. Conceptually, I intended to use this as a transform strategy, sidestepping graveyard hate by turning into Oath of Druids
post-board, where Brad wanted to leverage both strategies immediately.
We started testing our rough lists and immediately found both had merit. Brad’s deck pummeled Trygon Tezz, as it was ill-equipped to stop Iona in game
one. My deck performed well against Gush Control, again with Iona carrying the day. Against Workshops, the matchup was much closer, but this deck plays
no hate for Workshops in the maindeck, so an even matchup is actually rather impressive pre-board, and things improve from there. The ability to spit
out Oath of Druids quickly, and to continue to Oath for more turns than a normal Oath deck, proved very powerful.
I began to tighten up my version of the deck; slowly, per Brad’s prodding, I moved up to a full set of Oath and Orchard, giving me a more flexible and
well-rounded sideboard. We changed around the creature package. I started out with Platinum Emperion, a carryover from the Legacy build. He’s cute but
not an auto-win against many decks in Vintage, if any. More on this shortly.
I tried Blightsteel Colossus, then moved it to the sideboard, but right now I have it back in the main. Originally, I didn’t like how Colossus was a
poor Oath target, but as I’ve played the deck, alternate “cheating cost” strategies like Tinker and Show and Tell proved their worth, as they sidestep
both Oath and graveyard hate. More than anything, Blightteel is simply better than Sphinx of the Steel Wind, who really can’t keep up in this
I liked playing a fifth creature, as it supported Careful Study and the Show and Tell plan. We thought about Blazing Archon, which had been in the
sideboard for Dredge. Dredge has only Chain of Vapor to beat Blazing Archon, so if you can play him out and protect him for a few turns, you should be
in great shape. Still, Archon carries some serious drawbacks against the rest of the format. Archon can’t attack effectively through Steel Hellkite,
which is annoying. Shop decks can “wait out” Archon pretty easily by establishing lock pieces and then pushing through a Duplicant. I wanted a guy who
ended the game before we reached that situation. Also, Archon is a relatively abysmal Oath reveal against most blue decks. Sticking an Oath only to
reveal Archon, then passing the turn? No thanks.
So, what has a similar effect as Blazing Archon without presenting an exceptionally slow clock, something that can attack through Hellkite?
Enter: Stormtide Leviathan. Take a look:
Originally, I had wanted to try Stormtide Leviathan in Legacy Reanimator. This didn’t work out because Merfolk exists. However, I’d probably still
consider playing one in that deck because it’s rather effective against Goblins, and that deck is quite popular at the moment… although one might argue
that the popularity of Goblins more strongly suggests not playing Reanimator at all.
In Vintage, Platinum Emperion was “cute” but hard to protect, as you can’t pay Force’s alternate cost with him in play. This is another creature that
“ported” over from Legacy into Vintage, in that in Legacy, he auto-beats some decks that a creature like Archon does not (such as Affinity with
Disciple, Merfolk, and some Storm variants). He was more appealing to me than Platinum Angel, since Angel only attacks for four damage a turn, and
Dredge is well-prepared to destroy Plats in games two and three.
Contrast this to Stormtide Leviathan, which has a number of nice synergies with the deck. It makes Terastodon even better, as you can destroy three
permanents with essentially no drawback, and Stormtide can attack right past them. He also ensures that Inkwell is unblockable, even against non-blue
decks. He wins the game in three swings, but this will often be two swings against many decks (as most Vintage decks injure themselves these days via
cards like Dark Confidant, fetchlands, Thoughtseize, and so on). As a blue creature, when in hand, he “turns on” Force of Will. While Steel Hellkite
can attack through his ability, he is rather good at racing, especially post-board, where the artifact bounce/removal comes into play.
While all of this is conceptual, I was pleasantly surprised with the card and how it worked in live games against Workshops. Having validated this as a
reasonable creature against the rest of the field, we then had a way to “lock out” Dredge game one, right in the maindeck, and found a way to play five
reasonable creatures. There’s something very freeing about being able to Oath against Workshops, again and again and again, rather than only a few
times. It’s much easier to escape from under a Tangle Wire when you add an outrageous creature to your board every single upkeep for four or five turns
in a row. It’s worth noting that Reanimating Stormtide is also a potential out against a quickly resolved Tinker into Blightsteel Colossus by an
opponent, another potentially relevant play.
This testing and discussion led to a maindeck that looks like the one you see, below. I’m more excited about this deck than Ryan Glackin would be for a
new Verizon smartphone made out of donuts!
So: What does this deck offer that Dredge does not? Well, it has two avenues of attack, far less reliance on the graveyard, a stronger ability to
defeat graveyard hate, and considerably less likelihood of mulliganing to oblivion.
- 1 Brainstorm
- 1 Show and Tell
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 4 Oath of Druids
- 4 Force of Will
- 4 Reanimate
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 2 Exhume
- 4 Entomb
- 2 Careful Study
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 4 Thoughtseize
- 2 Spell Pierce
- 1 Blightsteel Colossus
Let’s take a look at the pieces of the deck and how they function together.
At its core, this is a simple deck. All it wants to do is cheat a giant, expensive monster into play very quickly, without paying the mana cost. It has
two separate engines that can make this happen. The easiest one is to play Oath of Druids. If the opponent is playing creatures, resolving Oath will
usually win the game. If they’re not, then Forbidden Orchard can generously provide a Spirit token to the opponent.
The other main option is to reanimate a creature that has been put into the graveyard, typically via Entomb but sometimes through other means, such as
Careful Study. I’ve also resolved an Ancestral Recall to push my hand total above seven, allowing me a freebie discard. That creature can then be
returned to play using Reanimate or Exhume. While Reanimate is generally more powerful, Chalice of the Void is common in Vintage, so having options on
one-mana and two-mana spells definitely matters; also, Exhume lets you return a second creature to play when low on life, and of course, the use of
tutors lets you find it in a pinch. You also have the ability to use Tinker or Show and Tell to get a creature into play.
Against most blue decks and Dark Ritual decks, the objective is simply to get Iona into play quickly. Typically, this means finding Entomb, resolving
it, and then resolving Exhume or Reanimate. Entomb is an easy spell to resolve in Vintage; remember that you can play it in response to an opponent
breaking a fetch to sidestep something like Mana Drain or Spell Pierce.
Thoughtseize, Force, and Spell Pierce are aggressive disruption spells that double as cheap protection spells, making it possible to resolve your
threats or try to knock the opponent’s offline for a few turns. This is similar to the disruption package standard in Legacy Reanimator, with Spell
Pierce played instead of Daze; without supporting mana disruption as we see in Fish decks (such as Wasteland, Null Rod, and Stifle), Daze is not
effective in Vintage due to the existence of permanent fast mana like Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, and the Moxen. While I’ve gone back and forth on
Thoughtseize and Spell Pierce, I believe Thoughtseize is the superior option in this deck.
This creature package delivers a number of bullets while covering a broad range of functions, and each creature is a heavy hitter, capable of ending
the game quickly. As mentioned above, Stormtide Leviathan blanks Dredge and is a great creature in the MUD matchup. Sphinx of the Steel Wind can
recover life points lost using Reanimate and is strong against Workshops as well. Iona, Shield of Emeria is capable of locking out most blue and Dark
Ritual decks, while Inkwell excels against decks that play Jace or other targeted bounce or removal. Finally, Terastodon offers potent removal, as well
as the ability to create an instant army.
For a Vintage deck, this is a relatively light load of “broken” restricted cards and omits Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker (from the main). I discussed
Tinker, above; this build runs it in the sideboard, as an alternate win condition to beat graveyard and/or Oath of Druids hate. Will is omitted, as
there isn’t much fast mana to recur, and the deck runs a light load of mana. If our goal was to recur something, Regrowth might be a better choice, and
in fact, I go back and forth between wanting Merchant Scroll (to find Ancestral Recall, Force of Will, and Brainstorm) and Regrowth (to recur one of my
The mana base is pretty basic, with the on-color Moxen, six fetchlands chosen to hit the various basics we want against Workshops, and four Orchards to
power out Oath of Druids. Twenty-one mana sources is not outrageously low but certainly low compared to most current Vintage decks; this allows us to
maintain a high threat density.
While I’m relatively happy with the maindeck, the sideboard could probably use additional tuning. Crafting an effective sideboard for current Vintage
is difficult; consider the six decks I faced on 1/15:
Rd 1 — Elephant Oath
Rd 2 — ANT (Ad Nauseam Tendrils)
Rd 3 — MUD Aggro
Rd 4 — G/W/B Aggro
Rd 5 — Steel City Vault (with Gush)
Rd 6 — Bob Tendrils (with Frantic Search)
That’s an Oath deck, a Time Vault deck, two wildly different Tendrils strategies, MUD Aggro, and a quasi-Fish deck. While I really like the BUG
Tendrils deck I presented a few articles back, as well as the Oath deck in my last article, both struggle with certain matchups; on the power level
scale of Vintage, they are both “fair” decks, relatively speaking. This deck is much less fair; it’s designed to win through sheer power.
One key opponent, however, is Workshops. Many Workshop decks are playing a full set of Duplicants, and some are playing Sculpting Steel on top. This
means they have a lot of outs for what we’re trying to achieve. They also often play a lot of graveyard hate, and Null Rod is often not the best choice
against Workshops (although it does do a nice job shutting down Metalworker).
Regardless, this deck has a Forest, Hurkyl’s Recall, Nature’s Claim, and two Steel Sabotages all dedicated to the Workshop matchup, where in post-board
games, it’s advisable to try and be more of an Oath deck supported by hate cards. Pithing Needle should also come in to combat Maze of Ith. In other
words, the majority of the sideboard is good against Workshops! You would want to side out all four Thoughtseizes and an Iona, plus some portion of the
Reanimator package. Your best and easiest bet against Workshops involves Oath and Tinker.
We have considered Null Rods for opposing blue decks and shutting down those whose hate focuses on Tormod’s Crypt, Nihil Spellbomb, or Relic of
Progenitus, but at the moment, they’re not making the cut. The deck is already decently strong against opposing blue decks, where you can play around
graveyard hate by winning with Tinker, Show and Tell, and Oath of Druids, while keeping opponents “honest” with a smaller Reanimator package. I would
suggest siding out Stormtide Leviathan for Terastodon and some number of Exhume and Careful Study for Needle, Nature’s Claim, and Show and Tell to beat
hate; depending on the type of blue deck and what hate they show, of course, your plan will need to vary. Chains of Mephistopheles is specifically
included to combat Gush. I’m testing two currently but may bump it up further, as the card is a house against that archetype.
The Leyline of the Void, Strip Mine, Nihil Spellbomb, and Pithing Needle are for the Dredge matchup and are pretty self-explanatory. This deck has a
decent, if unexceptional, matchup against Dredge as listed, but it can be improved pretty easily by shifting around cards to include Yixlid Jailer or
other hate, such as an additional Nihil Spellbomb. Keep in mind that Iona can be backbreaking against Dredge sometimes, as you can “turn off” cards
like Chain of Vapor with it, meaning that Stormtide into Iona can effectively end the game on the spot. Nature’s Claim and Strip Mine do double-duty
against opposing Oath decks as well.
There are probably more improvements to be made to this archetype as time goes on, but I think this is a powerful new deck and unbelievably fun to
I can’t even explain how backbreaking Stormtide Leviathan is against a number of decks in the format right now…
It’s hard to believe, but this is my one-hundredth article for StarCityGames.com. I posted a quasi-accurate depiction of how I came to work for this
website on YouTube, but briefly, I was playing mostly local tournaments and PTQs during 2008 into early 2009, when Extended season kicked in. At that
point, I was still drafting weekly and playing mostly PTQ formats. I have to imagine that the angle of old-timey player taking a decade break, trying
to get back to the PT, back to the grind — that story arch might have held some interest. I’d been writing articles off and on for sites that posted
community blogs in an article format, and I guess something I wrote struck a chord, as Craig asked if I was interested in writing for SCG. To say I was
excited about this opportunity is an understatement.
That particular “hook” to the column didn’t last long. I almost immediately bailed on the PTQ circuit (at this point, having competed in exactly one
since April 2009) and started focusing mostly on the Eternal formats. Nice little bait-and-switch, right? Thankfully, it seems to have worked out, as
there was very little quality free Vintage content being produced, and Legacy exploded in popularity at around that time as well.
This gig almost didn’t start in the first place. When Craig messaged me to come and write for this site, I assumed it was one of my friends messing
with me and asked Craig to jump through some hoops to prove he was who he said he was, like some kind of paranoid maniac.
Regardless, thanks to everyone who’s read my work over the past two-plus years, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing
it. If you’re not a regular reader, or haven’t been the whole time, here are twenty articles (in order of publication) among the hundred that I think
are worth reading. You can reach your own conclusions as far as what that means as a writer’s batting average…
In this article, I discussed my thoughts on the role of proxies in the decline of interest in Vintage. This is one of the few articles that I really
approached as a persuasive piece of writing. Often, my goal is not to get you to believe what I’m saying, but rather, simply to think about things in a
different light; this article is absolutely trying to sell you on my point of view, one that I still mostly agree with today.
This is one of my more popular pieces and one that still gets cited on various forums around the internet. Of course, other people — Rich Shay, Owen
Turtenwald, and others — did all the heavy lifting here. However, this is an example that shows that deck primers can be popular and valuable to the
Although I didn’t know him that well at this point, I knew that Nick Detwiler knew considerably more about Workshops than I did, so I asked him to
guest-write an article for me. I never anticipated it would be this good.
A bad day at work and some frustrating testing sessions across formats led to this piece, in which I poke fun at the major formats of Magic. When I
wrote this, I considered it a throwaway piece, but it ended up being pretty popular.
I wrote this after my second time reading World War Z. I tend not to be a “flavor” guy (sorry, Mr. Tait), but I did enjoy writing this one. I
came back to Dredge many times throughout 2009, as both an advocate for the deck and a warning for others to be prepared for how good it actually was.
While I’d dabbled in Legacy writing previously; as of this article, it became something I’d come back to repeatedly and intentionally. It was some time
around this point that I realized that Legacy was an incredibly dynamic and exciting format, populated by some really awesome people who love the game.
While not everyone enjoys these articles, I think they’re very valuable to those who take the time to read them, as I discussed last week. This one
tracks the evolution of one of the mainstays of the Legacy format.
Similar to the above article, this one tracks the emergence of Legacy Zoo. This is also an article where I advocate the use of Price of Progress in a
burn-heavy build of Zoo; in fact, if you swap out Rift Bolt for Steppe Lynx, the list I posted at the end of the article is extremely close to the one
I used to win the SCG Legacy Open in Philly last year.
Remembrances and the Competitive Path
This article really makes me miss being a regular drafter. Reading it over, I think it does a good job communicating my love for the game.
If I had only written this today, I’d have published this as a for-pay eBook! In any case, these articles came about due to the structure change at The
Mana Drain. Major decks were given primers written by the community, and I asked to write the Dredge one… and promptly got carried away, blowing past
10,000 words in total. I told you I really enjoy Dredge. While outdated in parts due to new printings, I still consider this to be one of my most
comprehensive and most useful pieces of writing.
With everyone else on the internet bashing Wild Nacatl, I felt the need to write a rebuttal, as Zoo had become one of my favorite Legacy decks by this
point. I think Max took this in stride; while we often take opposing sides in articles, I actually think we have many similar opinions about the
format, just expressed in different ways.
Another article I considered a throwaway, this is one of my more-quoted pieces; I had no topic in mind when I sat down to write. I just spaced out and
hammered away for a bit, and this is what came out. I find this one amusing in that while I mostly ignore MTG “flavor,” you can clearly see examples
where the “flavor” in my writing is being colored by whatever I’m currently reading, watching, or hearing. Also love the hotdog eating contest bit in
this one, even though I know it makes me one of those crotchety Legacy people.
“Hey, Todd! Get off my yard! Hyah!!”
I felt obligated to write this article at the time, as Stephen Menendian was raging around on TMD, taking my quotes out of context, misstating my
position repeatedly, and generally frothing at the mouth like a drunken Bill O’Reilly at a wedding of two gay illegal immigrants, officiated by
President Obama and the cast of Glee. In his article that week, he said, “Matt Elias ideas would take us back to a dark time in Vintage
history…” Obviously the DCI did not agree. The policy I spoke of here is interesting to read at this juncture, now that we’ve seen Gush safely come off
the Restricted list, and the follow-up explanation from the DCI at the time of that unrestriction almost exactly aligned with what I proposed in this
This is the culmination of my earlier articles about Zoo. Winner winner, chicken dinner!
Ignore the Reanimator stuff, and just read the first bit. It’s a tad mean-spirited perhaps, but that whole thing couldn’t have come together any
better. Over time, I came to realize my outrage wasn’t really about Mystical Tutor itself but rather the “logic” used to explain why it needed to be
banned. It reminds me of this classic Simpsons scene:
They can’t seriously expect us to swallow that tripe.
Now as a special treat courtesy of our friends at the Meat Council, please help yourself to this tripe!
[Class cheers and runs to table loaded with tripe.]
Another example of something I thought was a throwaway piece that ended up being one of my most popular articles. I have considered inserting “Chapin”
into all of my article titles ever since.
Aww, I love my wife! I only got one piece of hate mail on this article… seriously.
This article took forever to write and is one of my biggest disappointments in some respects. I really thought it would generate some positive
feedback, but it landed with a resounding thud. I meant it to be several things at once; the general tone is meant to be funny, but the concepts are
legitimate and useful to people who want to write about Magic, and on top of that, you get links to over a hundred of my favorite Magic articles from
the past several years, as well as some all-time classics on top. I wish this one had found an audience.
Speaking of things that took forever, I spent an entire day working on this article, but I’m really happy with the results.
Hope to do this again at article 200!