The Long & Winding Road -Vintage Opens Up: The Philly Open V

StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis on March 13-14
Monday, March 8th – Last week, I gave a recap of my personal performance in the Vintage portion of the Philly Open V, an 82-player Vintage tournament in Philadelphia. This week, I’m going to pull back and give you the broader picture, as I did with the Philly Open IV last November.

Last week, I gave a recap of my personal performance in the Vintage portion of the Philly Open V, an 82-player Vintage tournament in Philadelphia.

This week, I’m going to pull back and give you the broader picture, as I did with the Philly Open IV last November. Much has changed since then — the printing of Lodestone Golem, Thada Adel, and Nature’s Claim in particular. My expectation was that Workshops and Dredge would see a spike in popularity due to these cards, as I have discussed in recent weeks; this led me to develop a slightly different take on Dredge to try and pick up some percentage points against the metagame. If you haven’t already done so, you can read about my tournament here. I’ve also tried to do my part to turn people onto how competitive Noble Fish has become over the past few months — not just in Europe, but in American Vintage as well.

Let’s get right into the data. To start off, I’m going to take a look at the breakdown of decks in the field by archetype and by pillar. For a comparison analysis to this data from the November tournament, click here.

By Archetype:

Tezz — 14, 17.1% (Top 8 — 1)
Oath — 11, 13.4% (Top 8 — 1)
• Comb o — 5
• Terastodon — 3
• Hellkite — 3
Dredge —9 , 11.0%(Top 8 — 2)
• Mana / Breakthrough — 5
• Manaless — 2
• Fatestitcher – 2
Fish — 8, 9.8% (Top 8 — 1)
• Noble Fish — 4
• BUG Fish – 2
• UR Fish — 1
• Faeries – 1
MUD — 6, 7.3%
TPS — 5, 6.1% (Top 8 — 1)
Mono-Red Stax — 4, 4.9%
Red/x Stax — 4, 4.9%
Workshop Aggro — 4, 4.9%
Two-Card Monte — 4, 4.9% (Top 8 — 1)
The Deck / Keeper — 2, 2.5%
Lorescale Coatl Control — 2, 2.5%
Dark Times — 2, 2.5%
Drain Tendrils — 1, 1.2% (Top 8 — 1)
Standstill — 1, 1.2%
Elves — 1, 1.2%
Obeyline Control — 1, 1.2%
Steel City Vault — 1, 1.2%
Belcher — 1, 1.2%
ANT — 1, 1.2%

Tezzeret remained the most popular deck, followed by Oath, which has fractured now into three different flavors: Hellkite, Iona, and Combo. The Hellkite decks are designed to win by attacking with giant Oath creatures. The Terastodon deck runs Iona supported by a Tinker target and a Terastodon. The combo builds often play a singleton Iona and a secondary combo win using Krosan Reclamation, Time Vault / Voltaic Key, and Timetwister; others at this event included cards like Tidespout Tyrant or Eternal Witness to support a full-on Storm engine. These two decks, Tezz and Oath, form the core of the Force of Will / Mana Drain pillar, and are supplemented by The Deck, Lorescale Control, and a few others. Most, but not all, of these decks are still utilizing the Time Vault / Voltaic Key combo. Note that combo Oath struggled at this tournament, while Hellkite Oath put two players out of three into the top 16.

Workshop decks definitely increased in popularity with eighteen players (almost 22%) choosing traditional Workshop strategies like Stax, Workshop Aggro, and MUD. None of these players were able to crack into the top 8, despite combining to be more popular than Tezzeret. Post-Lodestone Golem, Mono-Red, MUD, and Red/X strategies seem to have replaced 5-Color Stax. The other four Workshop players used Two Card Monte, the Workshop-based combo deck I wrote about here, and one was able to make the top 8 with an undefeated record.

Storm Combo and Fish were both more present in this field than in the previous Philly Open, with both decks represented in the top 8. Two of the Noble Fish players (out of four) were able to make the top 16 and hit prizes on the day, while the other Fish decks (and Dark Times, which I lumped into the Fish strategy for categorization purposes but is a notably different strategy) struggled. Meandeck Beats and GW Beats were not played in this tournament.

Dredge had another excellent day in Philadelphia, with two different versions of the deck making top 8; this is the third consecutive large Vintage tournament in Philadelphia that’s had Dredge in the finals. Dredge, representing the Bazaar pillar, was the most successful Vintage pillar on the day when looking at top 8 penetration percentage.

Let’s take a look at some other ways of dividing the field:

By Pillar:
Mana Drains / Force of Will — 33 (Top 8 — 3)
Workshops — 22 (Top 8 — 1)
Null Rod / Fish — 10 (Top 8 — 1)
Bazaar / Dredge — 9 (Top 8 — 2)
Rituals / Storm Combo — 8 (Top 8 — 1)

Top 8 — Deck Penetration %
Drain Tendrils — 1 / 1 (100%)
Two Card Monte — 1 / 4 (25%)
Noble Fish — 1 / 4 (25%)
Dredge — 2 / 9 (22.2%)
TPS — 1 / 5 (20%)
Oath — 1 / 11 (9.1%)
Tezz — 1 / 14 (7.1%)

This is a healthy and diverse top 8, with a nice mix of strategies and seven distinct decks, including two full-on combo strategies.

Top 8 — Pillar Penetration %
Mana Drains / Force of Will — 3 / 55 (5.5%)
Workshops — 1 / 22 (4.5%)
Null Rod / Fish — 1 / 10 (10%)
Bazaars / Dredge — 2 / 9 (22%)
Rituals / Storm Combo — 1 / 8 (12.5%)

Once the ruler of the Vintage roost, the increasing diversity reflected in the Vintage metgame has made life difficult for all but the most-prepared Tezzeret players. Similarly, with Oath of Druids going from a marginal player to a key part of the metagame, Oath players are having to battle through players who are more familiar with the deck and more prepared with dedicated sideboard hate; the printing of Nature’s Claim makes it much easier for some decks to splash Enchantment removal. Workshop players have been caught in a slightly awkward position, having to carry a heavy sideboard load against Dredge, and leaving themselves vulnerable to the mirror match and to a prepared Tezzeret player. Null Rod decks also performed much better at this tournament than the previous Philly Open, with Noble Fish landing two players in the top 10.

Time Vault
Decks in field with Time Vault — 29 / 82 (35.4%)
Decks in top 8 with Time Vault — 3 / 8 (37.5%)
Decks in Semi-Finals with Time Vault — 1 / 4 (25%)
Decks in Finals with Time Vault – 0 / 2 (0%)

Despite the fact that people still seem to equate Vintage with the Vault/Key combo, this field reveals the continuing decline of that combo’s presence in the metagame, with just over 1/3 of the players electing to include it (mainly in Tezzeret and Tezzeret derivatives as well as Oath of Druids). Time Vault saw a slight increase in the percentage of the top 8 versus the field, but two of the three Time Vault decks lost in the quarterfinals and none made it to the finals.

Top 16 after Swiss — Decktypes

1. Tezzeret – 17 (Andy Probasco)
2. Drain Tendrils – 17 (Dominic DiFebo)
3. Two Card Monte – 17 (Brad Barton)
4. Noble Fish – 16 (Chris Materewicz)
5. Dredge – 16 (Jake Gans)
6. TPS — 16 (Jesse Martin)
7. Hellkite Oath — 16 (Sean Robbins)
8. Dredge — 16 (Matt Elias)
9. Tezzeret — 16 (Jeremy Beaver)
10. Noble Fish — 15 (Ryan Glackin)
11. MUD — 15 (Nick Detwiler)
12. Terastodon Oath — 15 (Brad Granberry)
13. Elves — 15 (Jason Imperiale)
14. Hellkite Oath — 15 (Chas Hinkle)
15. Tezzeret — 15 (Joe Pace)
16. MUD — 15 (Juan Sanchez)

I believe the top 16 reflects the increasing diversity present in competitive Vintage decks. Seven different decks were present in the top 8, and ten different decks made the top 16. After making top 8 with Elves at the NYSE V in January, Jason Imperiale showed the deck can be competitive even in large events with a top 16.

Top 8 Bracket:

• Matt Elias (Dredge) defeats Andy Probasco (Tezz)
• Jake Gans (Dredge) defeats Chris Materewicz (Noble Fish)
• Jesse Martin (TPS) defeats Brad Barton (Two Card Monte)
• Dominic DiFebo (Drain Tendrils) defeats Sean Robbins (Oath of Druids)
• Jake Gans (Dredge) defeats Matt Elias (Dredge)
• Jesse Martin (TPS) defeats Dominic DiFebo (Drain Tendrils)
Jesse Martin (TPS) defeats Jake Gans (Dredge)

I’ve written about Dredge many times before, and as you can see here, Dredge continues to smash its way through traditional opponents; but it does struggle with combo opponents such as TPS, ANT, and Two Card Monte. The strong Dredge presence is one of the reasons why the results of Workshop decks have been blunted, especially now that the deck has another potent anti-hate weapon in Nature’s Claim, which several players chose to run in the main.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into each deck archetype…


Tezzeret was the most popular single, specific deck in the tournament field. Let’s look at the card choices of the Tezzeret players. Note that this is maindeck only:

Tezzeret — 13 / 14
Gifts Ungiven — 13 / 14
Mana Drain — 13 / 14
Dark Confidant — 13 / 14
Hurkyl’s Recall — 10 / 14
Sphinx of the Steel Wind — 9 / 14
Library of Alexandria — 7 / 14
Spell Pierce — 6 / 14
Inkwell Leviathan — 5 / 14
Repeal — 5 / 14
Fire / Ice — 4 / 14
Darkblast — 4 / 14
Sower of Temptation — 4 / 14
Jace, the Mind Sculptor — 3 / 14
Empty the Warrens — 2 / 14
Mystic Remora — 1 / 14

The only deck to play Mystic Remora in the main was Andy Probasco, who ended up in first place after the Swiss rounds. He was also the only Tezzeret player to use no Mana Drains; the other five players who played Spell Pierce supported them with Mana Drain. Sphinx of the Steel Wind remains the most popular Tinker target. In fact, many players seem to be cheating on outs to their own Dark Confidants based on the strength of Sphinx. Fire/Ice being included in only four maindecks surprised me and might help explain the success of some of the Noble Fish players. Darkblast and Repeal saw similar levels of play. The increase in Hurkyl’s Recall in the field suggests that Tezzeret players have focused mostly on winning the mirror and beating Workshop decks.

As for the three players that ran Jace — their final standings were 9th, 15th, and 19th. In my testing to date, the card has been extremely good in the Tezzeret mirror and against Oath, but it is rather poor against Workshops and Dredge, where it is costly and slow. Still, the power of the card even in Magic’s oldest constructed format is striking.

Workshop Decks

Overall, this was a tough day for Workshop decks. Three Workshop pilots with a history of success (Mykie Noble, Jerry Yang, and Anthony Michaels) all played Red-Green Workshop decks. Mykie’s ran four Crop Rotation in an otherwise traditional mono-Red Stax shell; this list had done well in previous weeks. Twaun and Yangtime brewed up an interesting list that takes a traditional Mono-Red Stax shell and adds Greater Gargadon, Ancient Grudge, and Nature’s Claim; such a list should have strong game against Oath, but all three had atypically poor performances in Philly. Similarly, among the players that turned to traditional Workshop Aggro with the Lodestone upgrade, Jon Richards had the best day, going 4-3 for 22nd place. The high percentage of Workshop decks suggests there were a significant number of “coinflip” type mirror-matches. Dredge tends to have a good matchup against the Workshop decks, historically speaking; although Workshop decks have plenty of game against Oath of Druids, they are vulnerable to Oath’s “nut high” type hands (such as Mox, Orchard, Oath of Druids) when on the draw.

Of the Workshop strategies, MUD did the best of the traditional builds; Ashok Chitturi won the NYSE VI tournament playing MUD, and the strategy was relatively popular at the Philly Open (after being absent from most Philly events for the past year). Nick Detwiler and Juan Sanchez both made the top 16 piloting MUD decks.

I believe that MUD has a lot of potential at the moment and might be the best option available for players seeking a traditional prison control type of Workshop deck.

Of the non-traditional builds, four players chose to play Two Card Monte, with wildly varying results. The deck ended up in 3rd, 43rd, 55th, and 70th. As I noted in my primer for the deck, Monte is definitely a glass cannon. You want to play against Dredge and Workshops and avoid Null Rod decks, with the Oath and Tezzeret match-up coming down to draw strength and each player’s familiarity with the decks involved.

Oath of Druids

As I mentioned above, the Oath of Druids strategy has begun to fracture as players find different ways to combat Oath hate in the field. In some parts of Europe, a hybrid combo Oath of Druids deck has done well; it has the ability to storm out its opponent even without getting Oath active. Another version uses some combination of Tidespount Tyrant, Eternal Witness, and/or Iona, Shield of Emeria to execute a combo finish with either a storm card or via Time Vault / Voltaic Key. Finally, the final versions tend to run three creatures to just Oath into play; one school plays the biggest Haste creatures available, such as Hellkite Overlord. A more recent build by Rich Shay and Brad Granberry utilizes Iona, Terastodon, and a Tinker target. All of the Oath players except for one utilized the Time Vault / Voltaic key combination.

Oath players were dispersed relatively evenly throughout the field, with a slightly better percentage making top 16 compared to Tezzeret.


Dredge decks are mostly built around the same core of cards, but with nine players, we can still analyze some of the differences. The numbers below are the quantity of decks that included at least 1 of the card name, not the total quantity of that card played.

Dread Return Targets:
Flame-Kin Zealot – 8
Iona, Shield of Emeria – 7
Woodfall Primus — 2 (1 sideboard)
Sharuum the Hegemon — 1
Sphinx of the Lost Truths — 1

Nature’s Claim — 8 (4 main)
Chain of Vapor — 7 (4 main)
Serum Powder — 6
Breakthrough – 7
Ichorid — 8
Bloodghast — 8
Leyline of the Void — 8 (3 main)
Force of Will — 3 (all sideboard)
Serenity — 5 (all sideboard)
Chalice of the Void — 2 (1 main)

With an expected increase in Workshop decks, five players took to Serenity to combat lock pieces; Serenity also destroys multiple Leyline of the Void. The majority of players ran both Ichorid and Bloodghast, with one player electing to run only Ichorid and one only Bloodghast. Eight of the players also included maindeck outs to Leyline of the Void, with half choosing Chain of Vapor while the other half played Nature’s Claim. Most of the Dredge players are still including Serum Powder, and only me and Mike Lepine did not play Breakthrough. His list was a truly old-school Manaless Ichorid that included Dryad Arbor.

Of the players that ran Leyline in the main, two made the top 8; I was the only player to use Chalice of the Void or Woodfall Primus in the main.

Dredge players were dispersed relatively evenly throughout the field in terms of results.


As a format, Vintage certainly took some licks in the forums of Ben’s recent articles on card price and reprints. Still, for people who have interest in the format or play it, the results of this tournament are very encouraging. The attendance was strong, and the field was diverse. Time Vault continues to be a part of the format, but is not really dominating the format like it had been; both Tezzeret and Oath decks have had to adapt to Noble Fish, Dredge, and Lodestone Golem.

On the other hand, Dredge is a deck that Vintage players need to take seriously. The printing of Bloodghast and Nature’s Claim has given the deck increased resistance to traditional hate cards. Additionally, Dredge players continue to test different methods to beat the hate, including cards like Nix and Serenity. One reaction to Dredge’s rise is a corresponding increase in combo decks; combo had a much larger presence in Philly at this event than either of the previous Philly Opens. For decks like Oath, Keeper, and Tezzeret, the widening of the field makes life much more difficult than it has been for the past year.

Finally, Workshop players continue to test different shells for Lodestone Golem. Lodestone Golem is difficult to incorporate into traditional 5C Stax shells, and is a better fit for Mono-Red shells (both control and aggro) and MUD. These decks are solid but seem just-short of the top tier of the Vintage metgame at the moment. If someone can crack Lodestone Golem and find it the right home, things will get very interesting in Vintage land…

Matt Elias
[email protected]
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