The Long And Winding Road – The Vintage Cards (and Decks) You Should Be Playing

First, I’ll discuss some cards you should be considering when you look at, talk about, and play Vintage. Then, I’ll provide the top-tier decks to help you build an informed gauntlet.

I have a simple objective with this article: discuss some cards you should be considering when you look at, talk about, and play Vintage. Then, I’ll
provide the top-tier decks to help you build an informed gauntlet.


I’ll readily admit to underestimating this card when it first came out, despite a nuanced examination of the card by Stephen Menendian and Kevin Cron
in their So Many Insane Plays podcast. If there were any card I would suggest you begin testing with and
against for your next Vintage tournament, it would be Flusterstorm.

The primary reason I like this card is the way it functions against Gush decks. By their nature, Gush decks are generally designed to chain Gushes into
something broken — often a singular turn that involves resolving Fastbond, building up mana and digging into the deck, and then either executing
Yawgmoth’s Will into a Storm kill, or Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus into Time Walk. Alternately, such a turn can result with a game win by the
simple, overwhelming advantage that results from playing Gush repeatedly before and after Yawgmoth’s Will to create a position of absolute dominance.

Flusterstorm can put the brakes on this chain of events like few cards before it; against the first Gush, it functions like a Spell Pierce, unless of
course the Gush player was foolish enough to play a Mox, Preordain, or other set-up card (as is often the case).

After the first Gush has resolved, Flusterstorm really goes live. As the Gush player goes deeper down whatever decision tree they’ve set up,
Flusterstorm gets more and more brutal in its ability to stop an opponent in their tracks for a huge gain in tempo, and in a way in which you are
definitely stopping whatever card you want to stop… unless your opponent has their own Flusterstorm, of course.

Naturally, Flusterstorm is also terrific at stopping Storm cards like Mind’s Desire, Tendrils of Agony, and Empty the Warrens. I’ve also found it to be
an exceptional counter for shutting down Yawgmoth’s Will, in the same way you can shut down a Gush turn in its tracks. There are a few cards in
Vintage, like Tinker, that can expose Flusterstorm — but with the metagame being what it is currently, many blue decks are set up to execute that one
explosive turn, and the way Flusterstorm can shut down opposing spells through countermagic is unique to Vintage (again, excluding an opposing

Looking at Flusterstorm exclusively as a defensive card short-changes its utility. Before Gush, Spell Pierce was the most popular counterspell in
Vintage outside of Force of Will; against Gush, Spell Pierce has lost a lot of its former potency. It has obvious difficultly functioning as a hard
counter against a card that invariably is prefaced by “float two mana”; thus, we’ve seen a gradual return to Mana Drain.

That said, Spell Pierce does still function effectively as an offensive counter; when you’re the one playing your own Gush and trying to push spells
through, Spell Pierce is close to ideal.

While Spell Pierce has the benefit of being live against pretty much all opponents, Flusterstorm, as an offensive counterspell, is even more effective
than Spell Pierce against opposing blue mages. For example, if you’re the player chaining spells together in a Gush or Dark Ritual deck, you’ve created
your own storm count to make sure your Flusterstorm muscles through any opposing counters.

You can also use Flusterstorm as a type of offensive “super” Spell Pierce in a deck like Oath of Druids. Flusterstorm itself can let you feel a bit
safer with a “land, pass” type of start, because of its ability to shut down broken turns on its own. Then, when you play out fast mana and Oath of
Druids on your second turn with mana up for Flusterstorm, if your opponent plays a counter for your Oath of Druids, your Flusterstorm is already at a
Storm count of four or more.

In conversation early in 2011, Andy “Brassman” Probasco explained to me that he believed Europe was far ahead of the American metagame and that Gush
decks would likely begin to perform here, as they had been in Europe since almost immediately after the unrestriction. Time has proven him correct, as
Gush decks have really come on lately, culminating in two Gush decks placing in the top four of this year’s Vintage Champs at GenCon. There are signs
the metagame is beginning to push back, but part of this pushback should probably involve Flusterstorm; Gush pilots that can wield it against the
mirror or quasi-mirror are at an advantage.

Of course, the more the field pushes itself into Flusterstorms, the more vulnerable it becomes to other strategies (such as Mishra’s Workshops, or
perhaps a new build of Fish). Flusterstorm is “live” against all blue decks, and is effective post-board against Dredge (where it’s basically Spell
Pierce against anti-hate), but it is marginal against Fish and dead against traditional Workshop decks.

Mental Misstep

I’m not going to lie: I feel somewhat vindicated by Mental Misstep proving viable in Vintage, as most writers suggested it was a dead-end in the
format. In Vintage, Mental Misstep isn’t necessarily a home run card on first glance, much like Spell Pierce — but it fulfills a number of important

On its most basic level, Mental Misstep becomes a solid card when cards like Duress, Thoughtseize, Spell Pierce, Dark Ritual, Nature’s Claim, and
Goblin Welder are popular; in other words, when some of the unrestricted one-drops are popular.

While “Turbo Tezz” style decks have slowed in popularity, Mental Misstep is also quite reasonable against them, since they play considerable mana
acceleration (Sol Ring, Mana Vault) as well as multiple copies of Voltaic Key and Sensei’s Divining Top. And, while some people will argue whether this
is worthwhile, it can also shut down Preordain, Ponder, and Brainstorm, and other “top of the deck” Tutors.

Normal Vintage logic tells you to let “top of the deck” Tutors resolve so that the opponent goes down a card, and then counter the card that was
tutored for, and this usually makes sense. The problem is that Gush changes the way those tutors function in the format. Often, Gush players aren’t
going to “lose a card” in a meaningful way, because they’re chaining Gushes together, and will draw the card they tutor for immediately. And, many
times, that tutored card is critical to the Gush player’s ability to continue developing their fundamental turn.

Mental Misstep can act as a stop to that sort of play, and can be done with no mana available; unlike in Legacy, Vintage players have not yet adjusted
to having to play around Mental Misstep, so you may sometimes effectively Time Walk an opponent using Misstep and force them to waste considerable

Mental Misstep is also one of the best counters you have in your 75 when combating Dredge in post-board games. Currently, most Dredge pilots are using
one-mana answers to commonly-played hate cards… So you find things like Nature’s Claim, Chain of Vapor, Firestorm, Pithing Needle, and Darkblast, which
are brought in to answer the most popular hate cards that blue mages use — cards like Leyline of the Void, Nihil Spellbomb, and Yixlid Jailer.

What I’ve often found when testing with (or against) Dredge post-board is that game two (post-win) is the most difficult game. Not only are you not
sure which hate cards you need to combat, you also have to try to beat hate cards while the opponent has mana up for counters. For instance, an
opponent that opens on Leyline of the Void, or Pithing Needle, or even Yixlid Jailer, can protect those cards not just with Force of Will, but also
with Spell Pierce or Flusterstorm. That’s part of what makes the second game so difficult. Contrast this to the third game, where if the opponent opens
with Leyline of the Void, they can only protect it with Force of Will, and the other cards don’t function until after you’ve already played a Bazaar,
giving you a chance to dig for an answer (or the mana to cast it).

Mental Misstep changes the dynamic considerably. With Misstep in your deck, you can open on Leyline of the Void game three and have considerably more
protection for it beyond Force of Will; you can also lead out with Mox, land, Yixlid Jailer, and then counter an opposing Chain of Vapor or Darkblast
even with no mana up.

I also really respect Mental Misstep’s ability to counter Ancestral Recall. I’m constantly shocked at how long-time Vintage players ask why people play
Mental Misstep. Anyone who has played any amount of Vintage knows how many games come down to someone resolving Ancestral Recall, whether it be the
first turn of the game, or a few turns later off Merchant Scroll, a top-of-the-deck tutor, or via library manipulation like Preordain, Ponder,
Brainstorm, and Top. Having additional protection against an early Ancestral Recall in your deck is great — but Mental Misstep never goes “dead”
against one-drops, and even games that go long often involve one player jockeying towards an Ancestral Recall to break open a stalemate.

Post-board, blue-on-blue battles often involve Red Elemental Blast and/or Pyroblast coming in out of the sideboard, where, again, the player with
Mental Misstep is at an advantage.

And, of course, when we’re discussing Gush-on-Gush battles, when one player has a free hard counter for Fastbond and the other doesn’t, it becomes
apparent that having additional protection against the early Fastbond (and protection into the late game) has considerable appeal.

All of this is in addition to things like protecting your Oath of Druids against Nature’s Claim, your Blightsteel Colossus from Chain of Vapor or
Swords to Plowshares, and any other number of situations you can surely imagine.

Misstep isn’t a format-breaker in Vintage like it is in Legacy, but it is definitely a viable card.

It’s even beginning to see some play in certain Workshop builds, which is a scary development.


Yes, Dismember — the scourge of Standard — is an exceptionally playable card in Vintage. For Gush decks, Dismember out of the sideboard is a versatile

Against Workshops, Dismember is an ideal removal spell to supplement dedicated artifact hate. It kills Slash Panther, and is especially excellent at
killing Slash Panther in response to Phyrexian Metamorph, while dodging Chalice of the Void set at one. And, in the event that Goblin Welder is the
wave of the future for Workshop decks — and it may be — Dismember gives you protection against Welder, too (as does Mental Misstep).

Dismember is also ideal for killing opposing Dark Confidants, Lotus Cobras, Trygon Predators, Magus of the Unseen, Sower of Temptation, and random
other cards that blue mages occasionally like to use. You can pack Dismember in your sideboard to have outs to these cards, without really having to
dedicate something else to fuel it. Of course, Dismember is also terrific against Fish decks, killing anything except Tarmogoyf — and often killing
him, too.

However, blue decks shouldn’t be the only ones playing Dismember. I fully expect Mishra’s Workshop decks to start playing Dismember in their
sideboards, too. It’s a fantastic answer to Trygon Predator and Viashino Heretic — cards that have always been problematic to answer for Workshops,
especially MUD. It also blows out Precursor Golem, which Cat Stax Fever has been employing to attack the mirror.

One situation that comes up frequently in today’s Vintage is the occurrence of Blightsteel Colossus facing down another Blightsteel Colossus. You see
this most frequency when a blue deck uses Tinker to find Blightteel, only to find itself staring down an opposing Blightteel created by Phyrexian

Dismember can be a neat trick there, allowing the person with it to attack into the other successfully.

Gaddock Teeg

I wish I had time to develop a Fish deck in Vintage that played Gaddock Teeg, because most Gush decks are simply ill-equipped to beat Teeg
consistently. The only real threat they have that works under a Teeg is Tinker, and Blightsteel Colossus is answered by any number of cards (Swords to
Plowshares, Hurkyl’s Recall) that Fish decks want to play anyway.

The challenge for Fish decks, from Gush’s unrestriction on through to today, is determining their target. In the US, the Vintage metagame has shifted
quickly, and I’ve always believed that Fish decks function best in a metagame that has become a bit static. We may be approaching that point.

Currently, there are three decks that are popular and very good. They include the Gush/Bob deck that Meandeck played at Vintage Champs, Cat Stax Fever,
and Sun Titan Dredge. Those three decks are likely to make up the majority of players at upcoming Vintage tournaments — although they don’t make up the
only playable decks (which also include Gush variants like Rich Shay Champs deck, the popular Blue Bell / NYSE / Bloomsburg Gush deck called East
Coast Wins, and Nick Detwiler Welder deck).

With more of a static target, I anticipate a time when Fish starts to be successful again, and with Gush being so popular, it would shock me if Gaddock
Teeg wasn’t hanging around in somewhere.

Rune-Scarred Demon

Vintage Champ Mark Hornung is working on a primer of his version of Rune-Scarred Demon Oath, so I’m not going to steal his thunder — but a lot of
people are quietly catching on to what I figured out as soon as Rune-Scarred Demon was spoiled: you can make a very powerful Oath of Druids deck using
this card.

Fundamentally, Vintage has swung back from a slower format (the grind-y Tezzeret decks post-Thirst for Knowledge’s restriction) into a very fast format
(Cat Stax Fever, Sun Titan Oath, Turbo Tezz, and Gush decks). Ignoring the issues Oath has had ever since the printing of Nature’s Claim and the use of
Trygon Predator by big blue decks to combat Mishra’s Workshops, Oath has struggled with the speed of this format. It is no longer acceptable to
activate Oath and hope you get another turn after to win the game. You really need your first Oath activation to have a chance of winning you the game
on the spot.

Rune-Scarred Demon lets you do this.

From most situations, the first Demon activation will either win you the game, or allow you to make sure you get the turn back by tutoring up whatever
you need to survive. If you have Key or Vault in hand, you can get the other piece and essentially win on the spot. If you have neither, you can get
Time Walk, (or a way to recur it) and take another turn to set up Will, or recur Time Walk yet again for the purpose of attacking for the win (or
setting up a Yawgmoth’s Will to win).

If your opponent is playing a linear deck like Workshops or Dredge, then Demon chains you into hate cards, or perhaps even better against Workshops,
tutors you into land drops (or whatever else you might need). You can tutor into Flusterstorm against Gush, or Mana Drain to maintain board control, or
a bounce spell if an opponent executes a Tinker plan.

Simply stated, Rune-Scarred Demon fixes one half of Oath’s problems: it sets up an Oath deck that can either win on the first Oath activation, or
otherwise can lock up the game as long as it can Oath once; it also removes the random element that plagues Oath decks like Elephant Oath. This still
doesn’t fix some of the fundamental issues that Oath is currently experiencing in this metagame — but with Dark Confidant surging in popularity, it
isn’t beyond the realm of the possible that you could be facing this deck in the future.

It smashes Cat Stax Fever, I’ll tell you that much. Just obliterates it. It’s one of the more lopsided match-ups I’ve come across in Vintage this year.

The Updated Vintage Metagame

If you’re looking to get up-to-date on Vintage, here are the key decks you need to know about.

The top tier, or at least, the most popular tier, contains decks from

the top four at Vintage Champs


I prefer Paul’s build to Stephen Menendian, and think it is the more popular version. You might also want to get some games in against Chris Pikula
version of this deck, which won the 82-player Grudge Match III tournament in Cherry Hill right after Champs:

I would personally advise you to find room for Dismember in the sideboard of this deck. But outside of that, the list is reasonably tuned and Ryan made
top 8 at the Grudge Match immediately after Champs, showing his success with the deck has not been a fluke.

And of course, we have Sun Titan Dredge:

Looking at the list, the package of fast mana (which includes Black Lotus, Mox Sapphire, Lotus Petal, and Lion’s Eye Diamond) is considered the
expendable package and you may find it switched out for Leyline of the Void, Chalice of the Void, or Gitaxian Probe, all of which are reasonable

There are two other Gush decks you are somewhat likely to run into. The first is called East Coast Wins:

This is my kind of Gush list; the lines of play are flexible, but are set up in a pilot-friendly way, and the deck is fast and consistent. I think this
is a bit more aggressive a build when compared to the Mastriano/Menendian Champs lists. Allen just barely missed top 8 at the Grudge Match on breakers,
and this deck, while having only a few pilots, has put up consistent results at Blue Bell, NYSE, and Bloomsburg events this year.

Also worth considering is Rich Shay list; any time someone wins 16 consecutive Vintage matches and is a blind shuffle Ponder one-outer away from
winning a 17th, I think that list is worthy of examination. This list has already popped up in a few top 8s in August 2011:

I believe that these decks are the current top-tier of Vintage and should make up your testing Gauntlet.

Lastly, this is my current Rune-Scarred Demon Oath deck, but you can disregard it, as it is not a real deck and folds to anyone with anything for its
simpleton plan:

I hope this helps you find your footing in the current Vintage metagame. As you review these decks, think about how the five cards that led off the
article can be utilized to improve or attack them.

Matt Elias

[email protected]

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