The Long & Winding Road – A Snapshot of Modern Vintage

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Monday, December 7th – I was able to get all of the available decklists, as well as the final standings, from the Vintage portion of the Philly Open IV. Luckily for you, my OCD tendencies led me to go through every list and compile detailed data that you can’t normally get on Vintage.

Last week’s article was just the appetizer. I hope you saved some room, because it’s time for the main course.

I was able to get all of the available decklists, as well as the final standings, from the Vintage portion of the Philly Open IV. Luckily for you, my OCD tendencies led me to go through every list and compile detailed data that you can’t normally get on Vintage. I also have some revised numbers on the field as compared to last week, as the decklists and TO report didn’t match up 100%.

I think the easiest way to look at this is to go through the major players in modern Vintage and present the relevant info.


There were 16 decks in the field that I would safely call Tezzeret; while the card choices may vary, by and large, these are lists where you know the gist of the deck and what it contains when the moniker “Tezzeret” is applied – nothing too far off the beaten path. These 16 players made up 23.9% of the field.

The first thing I was interested in was Dark Confidant, which has become the draw engine of choice. Of the 16 Tezzeret players, 12 of them ran Dark Confidant. Of those, 10 ran three copies, with one player packing two and another with a full playset, for a total of 36 Dark Confidants. The other four players ran a mix of “draw 7s,” Repeal, and singleton / highlander versions.

From there, I reviewed the Tinker targets, as well as the common inclusions that are considered normal but not automatic (like Misdirection and Fire / Ice).

I think the best way to give you the breakdown on Tezzeret is just to show you:

Tinker Targets:

Sphinx of the Steel Wind – 9 / 16 (Top 8: 2 of 3)
Inkwell Leviathan – 6 / 16 (Top 8: 1 of 3)
Darksteel Colossus – 1 / 16

This doesn’t surprise me much – Mike Solymossy campaigned hard for Sphinx as the Tinker target of choice earlier in the year, and it has definite benefits against Fish and helps counteract life loss from Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, and Dark Confidant.

Restricted list inclusions:

Mystical Tutor – 13 / 16 (Top 8: 2 of 3)
Fact or Fiction – 10 / 16 (Top 8: 2 of 3)

This one did surprise me a bit. I’ve always considered Mystical Tutor as an auto-include in Tezzeret, and while Fact or Faction is less of a guarantee, the card is very good in a broad field as we’re seeing right now.

Other inclusions:

Empty the Warrens – 3 / 16 (Top 8: 1 of 3)

Repeal – 9 / 16

Mystic Remora – 7 / 16 (includes sideboard)

Spell Snare – 1 / 16

Spell Pierce – 2 / 16

Tezzeret – 15 / 16 (Top 8: 3 of 3)

Dark Confidant – 12 / 16 (Top 8: 2 of 3)

Fire / Ice – 10 / 16 (Top 8: 3 of 3)

Misdirection – 3 / 16 (Top 8: 1 of 3)

There are some notable things here. First, I found it interesting that Misdirection has mostly fallen out of favor, as players are instead turning to cards like Repeal and Fire / Ice for their flexibility against a more open field. Fire / Ice itself has become very popular, as the singleton is quite easy to find (Vampiric, Demonic, Mystical, Merchant Scroll), and was present in all three Top 8 Tezzeret decks. Tezzeret itself has also returned to popularity, appearing in every list I’d consider Tezzeret except for one. I was also surprised to see that Fact or Fiction and Mystical Tutor weren’t the auto-includes that I normally consider them, with 2 of 3 Top 8 Tezz decks running them.

Besides the numbers themselves, the other interesting reveal is from the final standings of these 16 Tezzeret players. After the Swiss, Stephen Houdlette was on 17 points (5-0-2), 2nd place; Sam Best was 3rd at 16 points; and Jeff Folinus was 5th, also at 16 points. Tezzeret comprised 37.5% of the Top 8, outpacing its percentage of the field… and 50% of the Top 4. However, if we extend the Top 8 to the “virtual Top 8” by including all the players on 15 points or more (which was the cut-off for Top 8), we see that Tezzeret still had three players out of the twelve that made the cut, or 25% – much closer to its overall percentage of the field.

The 4th place Tezzeret player was Brendon Ward, whose 12 points were good for 15th. One more Tezz player, David Reitnauer, was at 19th place with 12 points. Of the 22 players who reached four wins, 6 played Tezzeret (or 27.3%). So, we see Tezzeret slightly outpacing its percentage of the overall field, but barely. Three more Tezzeret players reached 9 points, so of the 35 players with three wins, 9 played Tezzeret (or 25.7%). Finally, there were 33 players who managed two wins or less on the day. Of these 33 players, 7 were playing Tezzeret (or 21.21%).

By and large, then, Tezzeret is dispersed relatively evenly though the field, and while it had a very strong day, it wasn’t what I’d call a dominant performance. You’d be right to still consider it the best deck in the format, and the deck to beat. While the differences between Tezzeret decks aren’t as notable as the previously diverse Mana Drain decks (such as Control Slaver or MS Paint), there are definite differences in Tezz builds beyond just the Tinker targets. Sam Best’s list, with its Repeals and multiple “draw 7s” is going to play very differently than the other two lists, more closely approximating Time Vault combo.


There were 11 players who ran Mishra’s Workshop, or 16.4% of the field. A large majority played 5C Stax – 8 players, or 11.9%. The other three were comprised of one each of: MUD, Mono-Red Stax, Mono-Red Workshop Aggro. Of the Shop players, we find the following breakdowns:

Null Rod – 2 / 11
Chalice of the Void – 8 / 11 (includes sideboard)

Additionally, 6 of 11 played Sphere of Resistance, either in place of, or in combination with, Thorn of Amethyst. These Workshop players had a total of 41 Wastelands. They also tend to skew on the high end of Ichorid hate, with many playing a full 7 sideboard cards geared for the Ichorid match-up.

I find it hard to evaluate the performance of Workshops at this tournament. The lone Workshop Aggro player, Mykie Noble, reached the semi-finals, but all of the 5C Stax players were locked out of the Top 8 – barely. Roland Chang and James Hangley made the virtual Top 8, with 15 points each, with Raffaele Forino right behind at 13 points (after starting 4-0-1). In fact, looking at the 5C Stax players, a whopping six of eight were able to reach 4 wins, or 75%! That’s a truly stunning total, but hard to evaluate in light of the fact that none made the actual cut to Top 8.

Null Rod

I grouped the hodge-podge collection of nine Null Rod decks together; they were broken up like this:

Selkie Strike – 2
Green/White Aggro
Red Hate
Noble Fish
BUG Fish
GRB Aggro

These are all aggro decks save for Landstill; they did not have a very good day. Of this grouping, the best was Mark Frias in 20th (with Green / White) and Seth Lazroe in 21st (with Noble Fish). Both had 4 wins, while the other seven players in this grouping had 3 wins or less. I still maintain that Null Rod is at its best right now in a Stax shell, and I played B/R Stax on 12/5 to test this theory.

In any event, these decks were packing 33 Null Rods and 30 Wastelands, adding to the running total.


I’ve created a sort of loose grouping here that I’m calling Combo, which breaks out like this:

TPS – 4
Drain Tendrils – 1
Rich Shay.dec – 1
Elves – 1
Belcher – 1

This grouping also had a relatively rough day, outside of Steve “Tiger” Nowakowski, who just had a normal day at the office with another Top 8. To be fair, Rob Edwards ended up 14th with Drain Tendrils at 4-2-1 and just outside the top 8.

I took a look at the 4 TPS decks to determine what led Steve to outperform the other TPS players by such a wide margin, but not much was apparent:

Imperial Seal – 3 / 4 (Top 8: 0 / 1)
Thought seize – 2 / 4 (Top 8: 1 of 1)

Steve was the only player that didn’t run Imperial Seal (it was on his decklist but crossed off), and he was one of two TPS players with two Thoughtseize in the sideboard. Steve’s performance meant that of the 8 combo players, 12.5% made the Top 8, and 8.3% made the virtual Top 8; overall, combo made up 11.9% of the field.

One TPS player had 4 Dark Confidants in the sideboard.

Oath of Druids

Oath of Druids had 7 players, or 10.4% of the field, making it the third most popular deck choice. Of the 7, there were 4 people playing Vroman-style Oath (by which I mean one creature main, Iona, and a Krosan Reclamation / Yawgmoth’s Will / Time Vault & Voltaic Key / Timetwister combo win), and 2 playing something similar to what I ran at NYSE III (with a third, Keith Seals, playing something akin to Double Dragon Oath from earlier this summer, a deck he helped me design – he had Iona, 2 Hellkites, and main deck Null Rod and no Vault / Key).

The Oath players added another 6 Wastelands to the total count, and 3 Null Rods. Further breakdown:

Iona – 7 / 7
Time Vault and Voltaic Key – 6 / 7
Spell Pierce – 6/7

Oath didn’t have the coming out party I expected at this event, with only one player making the top 8 – and that was Paul Mastriano, who I don’t even count. I once saw him Top 8 with a Hot Pocket.

With Paul making top 8, 14.3% of the Oath players reached the Top 8, and Paul was able to do so going 6-0-1 in the Swiss, for first place and the only player on 19 points.

However, this is where things get interesting, and why I like looking at the virtual Top 8. Chris Collins came in 9th with Vroman Oath, and Dave Unni came in 10th, with a list nearly identical to my mine from the NYSE III (60/60 main, with a few sideboard changes). With 3 players in the top 12, Oath claimed 25% of the players with 5 or more wins, identical to Tezzeret, but with less than half of the players. Oath was able to place an impressive 42.9% of its players in the top 12.

Oath was also less evenly dispersed through the standings than Tezzeret was, as after these three players, the next-best performer was Keith, at 31st with 9 points; the other three players had a combined 4 wins on the day, so 42.9% of the Oath players were in the bottom 1/3. It was mostly feast or famine for those playing Oath.


Four players ran Ichorid.

Of this entire article, this section is the most interesting to me, although I suspect many will find the Tezzeret breakdown the most valuable.

The breakdown on Ichorid looked like this:

Mana Ichorid – 2 / 4 (Top 8: 1 / 2)
Fatestitcher Ichorid – 2 / 4 (Top 8: 1 / 2)

Bloodghast – 2 / 4
Ichorid – 3 / 4
Force of Will – 3 / 4 (includes sideboard)

Tournament winner Mark Hornung ran both Ichorid AND Bloodghast, and was one of two Ichorid players with a playset of Force of Will in the sideboard (one player had his playset main).

Ichorid players made up only 6% of the field, but comprised 25% of the top 8. The other two Ichorid players had 2 wins and 1 win, respectively.

Here’s a breakdown on the Ichorid hate throughout the tournament field, by quantity:

Ichorid Hate:

Total – 327

Leyline – 83
Tormod’s Crypt – 60
Pithing Needle – 54
Ravenous Trap – 36
Yixlid Jailer – 33
Extirpate – 33
Relic of Progenitus – 19
Wheel of Sun and Moon – 6
Planar Void – 3

So, with 67 deck lists, we have 1005 sideboard cards, and 327 of them are designed to stop Ichorid. That’s a full 32.5% of all sideboard cards devoted to a deck that made up only 6% of the field – and they weren’t even successful! If you consider Time Vault to be warping the format, what does that say about Ichorid?

I believe Bridge from Below is the card that is warping Vintage the most, no contest. I’m not saying this is a good thing, or a bad thing – it just is what it is.

Interestingly, a large chunk of those Leylines were in the Workshop decks, while the majority of the other sideboards chose the singleton approach and varied their hate. Ravenous Trap has quickly become a popular choice.


There were 15 decks that I grouped together under the heading of “other”; the most popular of these decks was Confidant Control, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Some people would consider these to be Gro decks, but from what I hear, that is no longer the PC term. One player reached four wins, the others had poor days. In total, 7 decks in the “Other” category played Dark Confidant, adding 27 more to the running total. They also had 4 Wasteland.


Dark Confidant – 67
Wasteland – 81
Null Rod – 44
Key / Vault – 28

Let’s take a more detailed look at that last one. Time Vault and Voltaic Key were present together in 41.7% of the field. Key / Vault performance broke down like this:

Top 8 – 4 / 8 (50%)
Virtual Top 8 – 5 / 12 (41.7%)
Top 22 (4 or more wins) – 9 / 22 (40.9%)
Bottom 32 (2 or less wins) – 12 / 32 (37.5%)

For point of comparison, in the top 22 decks, you’ll find:

Ancestral Recall – 18/22
Yawgmoth’s Will – 10 / 22
Tinker – 18 / 22

The Yawgmoth’s Will number is interesting to me – the 7 Workshop players in the top 22 obviously play a big role in that. At 5 / 8 in the top 8, Yawgmoth’s Will is more common than Time Vault.

Time Vault in and of itself is not a good predictor of performance, outside of the fact that the decks making up the “other” category that included Time Vault performed generally worse than Tezzeret, while Oath was an oddity in that the six players who played Oath with Time Vault either did very well, or very poorly.

Philly Open IV – Final Thoughts

I found this level of detail to be very interesting, but that could just be me – if you found this to be of value, by all means let me know, as I could easily do this on a routine basis for larger Vintage tournaments local to me, and any other Vintage events where I can obtain the entire field’s worth of decklists. Additionally, if you have any other questions regarding the data from this event, I’m open to reviewing it and looking for other trends.

In the end, some final thoughts:

Null Rod strategies, particularly Fish, continue to be minimally represented in the Philly area, as well as being poor performers. The card itself hasn’t gained much traction in Workshop decks locally, and has been cut from Oath as people adopt Time Vault strategies in that deck as well.

Combo strategies, particularly Ritual decks, are extremely under-represented in the northeast. While I believe that this is a strange coincidence that is not metagame created, I could be wrong – maybe Steve Nowakowski is just the most outrageous TPS player ever. Hard to say. I do know that 11 players ran a total of 28 Mindbreak Traps at this tournament, and that most of said Mindbreak Traps were playsets clustered at the low-end of the final standings.

Ichorid continues to put two players in the Top 8 of large event after event in the Philadelphia area (both the Philly Open III and IV, and the Dan Herd Memorial), but this is the first truly large event the deck won this year in the area; it also won multiple smaller events (NYSE II, a Blue Bell, plus 2nd place at a Blue Bell and Top 8 in NJ in Princeton in the spring and another later in the fall in Philadelphia). Those of you that still believe Ichorid is a deck that “makes Top 8s but doesn’t win” need to reevaluate based on the deck’s performance in 2009.

Time Vault performed around where you’d expect in every facet, based on its percentage of the field. It neither dominated nor did poorly.

This is just one tournament; Vintage is a very regional format. By no means due I consider this breakdown indicative of the format as a whole, but I think it does give us a good snapshot of what an average Vintage tournament looks like, and how archetypes are doing.

As I tried to explain last week, I believe we’re on our way to reaching a point where Time Vault is just a card in a format, and not considered “the format” anymore.

Which, really, is as it should be.

Lastly, thanks again to Nick Coss for putting on this event, to all the Vintage players who came out, especially those that trekked in from far off fantastical lands like “New England” and “Ohio”, and thanks to Abe for getting me the final standings and Nick for getting me the deck lists, making this analysis possible.

Legacy in Bethlehem – 11/29

I promised a tournament report on this, so here you go.

I ran Mana Ichorid, and I stunk.

Not literally.

The End.

All right, a little more detail. I played LED Ichorid this time, and I like the deck a lot more than the Bloodghast version. I lost round 1 to Trinistax, after winning game 1 on turn 2. Game 2 a turn 1 Trinisphere, turn 2 Ghostly Prison took me right out of the game, while in game 3 I got my shuffle on while I took mulligans to three. I won round 2 against a mono-green deck, a nice guy playing in his first tournament. I lost round 3 to combo Elves, missing on a Careful Study and compounding that by Dredging instead of playing to my outs by drawing into any mana source or blue draw spell, and then getting my shuffle on and taking another mulligan to four just to get to mana source and losing to active Jitte.

Next time, I swear I’m playing Zoo. I just need to burn some muthas out to get my Legacy legs back under me.

Blue Bell – 12/5

I’ve been playing a lot with B/R Stax, and unless something crazy happened, I played it at the 12/5 Blue Bell. Here’s the list I ran; next week I’ll review how the deck did.

Matt Elias
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