Vintage Avant-Garde – Identifying Trends And Reading “The List”

Brian DeMars once polled ten prominent Vintage players on their Top 100 Cards in Vintage, and today he’s here to discuss the list—which cards did people on agree on? Which did they disagree on?

Two weeks ago StarCityGames.com published an article by me that attempted to rate the top 100 cards in Vintage with regard to how good each card is in relation to other cards and to the format.

That article can be found here.

Unfortunately, the sheer amount of time and energy that goes into interviewing ten people and then actually compiling their data into a list was something that I drastically underestimated—which, resulted in more of a list than an article about a list. However, this article is an article about the list, and in this article I am going to identify some of the trends the list suggests as well as provide additional context for what the list means to you as a Vintage player.

One thing that I first need to address is that in my frantic rush to finish my list before the deadline, I made one mistake compiling the data. The card “Sphere of Resistance” was accidently omitted from the list. Respectively, the card Sphere of Resistance received 57 points by the ten voters, which should have made that card 57th on the list. The first 56 cards remain unchanged, but basically everything else should be pushed down one place—which means technically, Trygon Predator finished in 101 and would not technically be in the top 100.

Sorry, flying manta ray Godzilla—but, you’re fired.

As is always the case with lists, this list in particular seemed to fuel a lot of debate about the ordering of the cards. Many people were apt to make such claims as: Card X finished too low or high.

The beauty of having a list compiled by ten people who have an intensely sophisticated understanding of how the format works is that people cannot blame me for the content of the list. (These are the jokes, feel free to laugh). Actually, the great thing about having ten knowledgeable people select the cards is that many different and divergent vantage points, perspectives, and insights were consulted before arriving at a conclusion.

Random guy saying “The list is wrong; Yawgmoth’s Will should be higher” presumes that his personal opinion presumes to have a keener understanding of Vintage than the combined insights of ten people who have clearly over the years demonstrated that they know a thing or two about Type I.

For me, actually making the list was a lot of fun; it was interesting to hear how others chose to evaluate the cards in Vintage. It was also really interesting for me to see where other people agreed with me about how good or bad a card was, and where my opinion drastically varied from that of other individuals whose opinions I respect.

First things first, I’d like to address some theories that I believe the Top 100 list clearly reinforces as truisms about modern Vintage.


Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall both received a perfect score of 100 points, and Time Walk wasn’t far behind in third place with 97 points.

Out of every single card in the format, I wasn’t surprised that these three occupied the top three slots on the list. In fact, these are the only three cards that I personally awarded a perfect 10 points.

What does it mean?

It is pretty obvious that Black Lotus is a ridiculously powerful spell. It goes into every single deck and improves that deck regardless of the deck’s color (or lack thereof), strategy, or tactics simply by virtue of being a spell that is clearly better than the next best option.

Ancestral Recall and Time Walk on the other hand have more of a restriction with regard to their inclusion in a deck—they require blue mana to be cast.

My interpretation of these cards sitting strong at the tippy top of the list for me reinforces something that I believe the strongest players know and have always known since the beginning of Type I.

“In Vintage, blue is the best, it has always been the best, and it will continue to always be the best forever.”

The reason for why blue has always been the best is as simple as: Blue decks get the great privilege of playing Ancestral Recall and Time Walk, the two most degenerate non-Black Lotus spells ever printed.

It is also interesting that the fourth highest placing card on the list, Yawgmoth’s Will, is also the card that allows a blue mage to most easily abuse the best three cards Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, and Time Walk by casting them twice in a game.

In case you need added perspective on the matter, Tinker (the blue card that allows a player to produce a three-mana 11/11 trample, infect, indestructible robot) finished behind the original busted blue cards, Lotus, and the card that lets you do it again. While the printing of BSC has clearly made Tinker a more powerful strategy in Vintage, it is clear from the voter’s picks that nothing is actually better or less beatable than those A-Call, Lotus, Walk, Will hands.


One card that got mad respect in the voting, despite the fact that its appearance in tournaments has been down, is Necropotence.

Necro finished 21st in the voting, as seasoned veterans clearly had a lot of respect for the card. In a recent conversation I had with Paul Mastriano, he was quick to point out Necropotence’s hefty mana cost of BBB in Vintage feels much more like five or six mana than three—since colored mana is often akin to land drops whereas colorless mana is often free because of off-colored Moxen, Mana Crypt, or Sol Ring.

“If Necropotence cost 2B, it would be in every single deck, like Tinker. It really suffers from its triple color commitment.”

Interestingly, a friend of mine owns the original artwork for Tinker, and when he acquired it, he also got the Wizards of the Coast work order from the artist with the description of the card. On the work order, Tinker’s mana cost was a much more reasonable 3UU.

We mused that perhaps the ideal casting cost for a card like Tinker, based upon what we know about how Necropotence functions in Vintage, should probably have been UUU. With this casting cost, the spell is still a bargain at three mana, but the triple-colored mana commitment would cause the spell to be more difficult to cast without the help of a spell like Black Lotus or Lotus Cobra from a blue deck on the first or second turn.


Brainstorm’s power level is radically different in Legacy as opposed to Vintage, where it is broken and has a power level of somewhere in between Mishra’s Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad

Brainstorm ended up being the fifteenth best card in Vintage according to voters; it fell right smack dab in the middle of Mishra’s Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad.

I have been asserting for a long time that the problem with Legacy isn’t actually Mental Misstep, but rather that Brainstorm is the oppressive force that has caused blue to be so completely dominant. The data from this list, although from a context of how good the card is specifically in Vintage, appears to also support this claim.

Bazaar of Baghdad and Mishra’s Workshop are clearly cards that would be dominant in Legacy, and Brainstorm is right up there on that level according to the list.

While it is true that Brainstorm obviously benefits from being the same color as Time Walk and Ancestral Recall and that Mishra’s Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad have a tendency to suffer from the drawback of not being well positioned to share synergy with these spells—Brainstorm is clearly one of the best and most powerful spells ever to have been printed.

It does far more than it should for one mana. I suspect all the reasons it dominates Vintage unobstructed—is innocuously powerful, is a common, feels skill-intensive, tends to be liked by players—are what allow Brainstorm to fly under the radar in formats where it is oppressive to the health and variety of the format.

People believe they are losing to Mental Misstep or that everything was fine and fair up until Mental Misstep came along—when in reality they’ve really just been losing to Brainstorm all along. Sure, Mental Misstep is a really powerful card—especially when one draws it in their opening hand and casts it on the draw, but what about the times when a player draws two Mental Missteps late in the game when they are not very good and then simply uses Brainstorm to gas up and trade those blanks for more useful spells?

Given the option, I can’t imagine not playing with the maximum number of Brainstorms legal in any format where they were legal.

Another interesting tidbit to ponder when thinking about differences and similarities between Vintage and Legacy is that 21 of the top 25 cards in Vintage are banned in Legacy.

What does this mean?

My interpretation of this data is that the cards that make Vintage not Legacy are pretty clearly the ones that are banned in Legacy. Cards like Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, the Moxes, Fastbond, Tinker, Mishra’s Workshop, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Bazaar of Baghdad are the cards that define Vintage game play and are strictly absent from Legacy.

The other thing that is interesting is that the two cards that finished in the top fifteen in Vintage, but are legal in Legacy, are Force of Will and Brainstorm—which at the current time are oppressively dominant in that format. I don’t think it is a coincidence, but rather a side effect of the fact that these are possibly cards that are too powerful for Legacy.

However, it seems unlikely to me that Wizards will ever ban Force of Will or Brainstorm in Legacy for the exact reasons I have already specified before: the illusion that Brainstorm and Force of Will are not oppressively, stupidly better than anything and everything else is engrained in people’s understanding of that format to the extent that the illusion is more valuable than the reality of how things actually are.

In a conversation I had last weekend, I was informed that every single SCG Legacy Open tournament has had a Brainstorm and Force of Will deck in the finals. I don’t know if that is actually true, but if it were, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Perhaps, somebody could do the legwork at some point and give some data about how many of the decks that have made the finals of an SCG Open have played Force of Will and Brainstorm.

Speaking of cards that are definitive markers of the high power level of Vintage that are fun and fair in other formats:


Hi, I’m Sol Ring. I cost one colorless mana and tap for two colorless mana every turn for the rest of the game, including the turn I come into play. Just like my friend Brainstorm, I am fun, fair, and balanced because I don’t cost $400 like the Moxes and come in every Commander preconstructed deck.

Look at me—with my new card face, Commander uncommon set symbol, and redone artwork. I look pretty harmless, a card of the people. I am the casual people’s card! Fun for Ma, Pa, Baby, and Grampy!

Want to see a trick? A sick joke?

Sol Ring is like when in Jurassic Park the players see the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the pen and dopily gaze upon it, and then the beast breaks out of its cage and starts devouring everybody.

It is a card that belongs to an age where cards like Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall roamed the Earth, and it doesn’t belong in the modern magical world. The voters confirm Sol Ring is every bit the degenerate, disgustingly, absurdly powerful, broken card that Moxes, Lotus, and Time Vault are.

Look at it: old card face, black-bordered, with stylized late 80’s fantasy artwork that could have come from a Dungeons and Dragons rulebook. The card is every bit as ridiculous and a mistake as the Power Nine.

I would go so far to say that the only drawback that Sol Ring has is that it is slightly worse than Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall. Nice card.

Sol Ring’s innocuous, overlooked dominance is akin to that of Brainstorm’s. The big illusion is that Sol Ring—unlike the other Power—was not rare, but uncommon, and Sol Ring, unlike the other Power, was not nixed like the others in Unlimited, but rather reprinted in Revised.

It is as if Sol Ring’s very presence in Revised suggests to players that it isn’t as good or degenerate as a Mox. Invariably, Sol Ring is slightly worse than Mox Sapphire and Mox Jet and slightly better than Mox Emerald, Ruby, and Pearl.

I will go on record here saying that the only reason that Sol Ring is legal in Commander and the Moxes are banned is that Sol Ring isn’t on the reserve list and doesn’t cost $400. If Sol Ring cost $400 like a Mox, there is a 100% chance that it would be banned in Commander—which, in my opinion, is a ridiculous and illogical way to decide what cards are fair in a Constructed Magic format.

I have long contested that Sol Ring is the type of card that shouldn’t be legal in Commander because in Commander there is a spoken rule that the Power Nine is too powerful for that format. Sol Ring is as powerful as the cards in the Power Nine; therefore Sol Ring is overpowered in Commander and should be banned.

I guess that people just love losing to Sol Ring and Brainstorm over and over again, or beating people with Sol Ring and Brainstorm. I guess it’s not that big of a deal—so long as there is a significant amount of people who play Commander and Legacy who enjoy crushing people with Sol Ring and Brainstorm, balanced by another set of people who enjoy being crushed by Sol Ring and Brainstorm, a majority can be happy.

However, being that I mostly only care about Vintage, I am now going to move on and definitively declare that the times have changed, and an old idiom of the past needs to be replaced:


Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mox Emerald, Mox Sapphire, Mox Ruby, Mox Pearl, Mox Jet, and Timetwister Time Vault

Time Vault was voted the 12th best card in Vintage, whereas Timetwister was voted the 56th best card in Vintage.

Timetwister has long been known to be the ninth card in the fabled Alpha/Beta/Unlimited Power Nine. While, historically Timetwister had a good run… we had some good times…went through a lot together… It is a reasonable and logical assumption that Time Vault has essentially taken its place in the modern era of Vintage as the best of the original set cards.

Interestingly enough, Time Vault actually finished higher in the voting than Mox Pearl and just a hair below Mox Emerald and Ruby. I can’t actually think of a period in time where ten people’s insight would ever have created a list in which Timetwister would have gotten more points than Mox Pearl—which is a pretty exciting accomplishment for Time Vault indeed!

However, it seems a little bit awkward for Mox Pearl—that Mox needs to watch its back, since if they ever give Illusionary Mask or Forcefield some unreasonable errata he might be the next one knocked out of the Power Nine!


Every card on the list (with the exceptions of Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall, which got perfect scores) was given different scores by different people, and, even if cards would have been given the same score by every voter (for example, all ten people give a card a score of 8, and it ends up with 80 points), the value of an eight from one player might be a stronger score with regard to how that player ranks other cards. Some voters didn’t give many cards a score less than four or five, whereas other voters had no problem no-sirring many cards with a score of one.

For the most part, regardless of what scale a player used, there were trends that appeared consistently throughout the list. For instance, most of the cards that ended up in the top twenty were either in or close to being in everybody’s top twenty. The same can be said for top 40, top 60, etc.

However, there were a few cards that clearly didn’t embody this trend at all—but rather were ranked very highly in some player’s lists and very low in other players lists, which caused these cards to settle in the middle to low-middle of the list.

The most wildly variant vote getter in the Top 100 was City of Brass.

Some people rated City of Brass as highly as they rated Polluted Delta (yes, people as in plural), while others gave the card a one or two. Other players ranked the card in the middle.

One person summed up the case for City of Brass being a high pick by saying: “It is the only card in the game that does that.” A person on the other side of the argument stated, “You can’t Gush with it = unplayable.”

People who had a lot of experience playing with the card seemed to value it highly, whereas people who I know didn’t have experience playing with it tended to value it less—which makes sense. If a person doesn’t think it is good enough to play with, then why would they ever play with it?

Another card that divided players, seemingly on the grounds of “Do you have experience playing with it?” was Lotus Cobra. I know for a fact that people who have played with the card in a tournament tended to rate it much more highly than people who haven’t actually sleeved the card up.

Multiple people gave Lotus Cobra a score of 1, while other players rated it comparably to Dark Confidant. Dark Confidant was a card that was universally rated in the top half of people’s top 100—so it is very interesting that Lotus Cobra was a card that many players thought was in the top half of the best 100 cards in Vintage, while others wouldn’t include it in their top 100 at all.

Personally, I believe that Lotus Cobra is every bit as good as Dark Confidant, and I also think that Lotus Cobra + Gush is going to be a significant part of the metagame moving forward. So, only time will tell whether Lotus Cobra was being over or underestimated here.


Awesome cards are awesome.

Of all the cards on the list, when I initially gave myself the quiz, I strongly suspected that I would be a high outlier on these two cards. After all, I’ve cast a lot of Welder and Balance and am always looking for an excuse to bring these cards back to the forefront of tournament play whenever possible.

I have been known to say that: “All Goblin Welders serve me.” As a result of my proficiency to “out-welder” opponents in the Slaver v. Slaver and Slaver v. Stax matchups of the Gifts and Slaver eras.

I was wrong.

These cards got unanimously high point votes from almost every single player I polled, despite the fact that they have been relatively absent from the best decks in the past year. On the one hand, I think that the world is primed for a Goblin Welder comeback—which may have led to his high totals.

Balance on the other hand, while perhaps not primed for a big comeback, tends to be the kind of card that people just sort of know could be good at any given tournament on any given day of the week. Balance is kind of like Necropotence—it is sort of hard to build a deck around, but when it is in the deck, it suddenly becomes a very potent line of play in any given game or matchup.

Thanks for reading!

Brian DeMars