Vintage Avant-Garde – Sick Plays, Tech, Decks, and More

Tuesday, November 23rd – There’s something for everybody in this article: thoughts on Survival of the Fittest in Legacy, a revamped Control Slaver deck for Vintage, the best card in EDH that nobody knows about, and more.

In this week’s installment of Vintage Avant-Garde, I’m going to revisit some of the coolest plays I’ve ever seen made as well as discuss some of the best technology I’ve come up with in the past few weeks. There’s a little something for everybody in this article: thoughts on, and tips for beating, Survival of the Fittest in Legacy, a revamped Control Slaver deck for Vintage, the best card in Elder Dragon Highlander that nobody knows about, and some of the coolest Eternal card interactions that you should definitely know about.

Story Time

So, let’s get started with some of the sick plays:

I. Get Down With The Sickness

Sometimes the subtleties of card text and abilities can go a long way in influencing exactly how sick a play is going to be. One thing that people overlook is that cards that turn other cards into creatures, by virtue of gaining all of the advantages of now being creatures, also gain all of the drawbacks.

It’s a pretty surface-level and intuitive play that when an opponent uses Karn, Silver Golem to animate Crucible of Worlds that you are now able, because it is a creature, to Lightning Bolt it to death. However, a really cool play that I ran into a while ago was as follows. I was testing a MUD deck against my friend Stu Parnes’ latest Tezzeret brew. We arrive at a game state where I have Karn in play and can swing for a few points less than lethal and end up having to pass the turn back to Stu. On my end step, he casts Vampiric Tutor, untaps, casts Time Vault, then Voltaic Key, and shrugs with a “gotcha” expression on his face. Knowing that he doesn’t know what I know about how poorly this is going to end for him, I play along. “Alright, play it out,” I say. He rolls his eyes and says: “Okay, pay one and tap Voltaic Key to untap Time Vault.” And then moves to untap the Time Vault.

I always enjoy a relevant opportunity to deploy a modified version of my favorite Aaron Brieder quote:

(Back story time: Aaron playing a Zoo deck in Extended back when Invasion was still legal is playing against a U/R Tron deck. The Tron player taps out to cast Mindslaver, and then quickly activates it and says: “I’ll take your turn,” simultaneously reaching across the table to grab Aaron’s hand. Aaron leans back in his chair, away from the grabby fingers of his opponent and holds out his hand with his pointer finger extended upwards as if to signal, “One moment, please.” And then says, “Hold on, blue mage—playing green here,” and casts Bind on the Mindslaver’s ability.)

Obviously, excellent.

Anyways, I get to say: “Hold on, blue mage—playing an all-artifact deck here.” As I activate Karn to turn his Time Vault into a creature. At first, Stu just thinks I’m joking and making an irrelevant play with my one last available mana before he takes all the turns for the rest of the game. “I’ll tap my Time Vault to take another turn,” Stu says, tapping the Time Vault.

“No, you won’t,” I reply, reaching across the table and untapping his victory condition. “It has summoning sickness.”

I untap and alpha strike for the win.


Similarly, I watched another game where one player resolved Tezzeret the Seeker, which sought out a Time Vault. However, all dreams of untapping Time Vault with Tezzeret were shattered when the opponent destroyed the Time Vault with Nature’s Claim. The game proceeded for a few turns as the Tezzeret player untapped artifacts to add loyalty to the planeswalker. Eventually, the Tezzeret had exactly enough loyalty to go ultimate, and the Tezzeret player played a fourth Mox (his opponent was at eighteen) and removed all counters from Tezzeret to alpha strike—except that the attack was a little beta-rate, because the fourth Mox had summoning sickness.

Yet, another thing to keep in mind about summoning sickness involves a play I saw involving Koth of the Hammer in a money draft. The first player has three Mountains in play which are all stacked up on top of each other, plays a fourth land which he sets off to the side, and casts Koth. I assume because the fourth land was set aside from the others and it was visually more pleasing to do so, he untaps the Mountain he played that turn (which obviously has summoning sickness) and tries to attack with it. “STOP, not Hammer Time!”

His opponent notices and calls him on untapping the land he played that turn, and at least four other players confirm this to be true.

One good way to avoid a situation like this, or to avoid somebody trying to scum you out in a tournament, is simply to state that you’re going to use Koth to untap a Mountain that you didn’t play this turn.

II. Legendary Gifts

Several years ago I was involved in a legendary Control Slaver mirror match. In game 3 we arrive at a state where I’ve come out of the gate a little bit slow but managed to add a Goblin Welder to the board and am facing down “The Academy Draw.” My opponent is ahead on mana and casts Tinker in his first main phase with the ability to produce UU up. I Force of Will the Tinker, which is immediately snap-countered by Mana Drain. I have two basic Islands, a tapped Mox, and a Sol Ring in play—and I have

plans. I figure that because he’ll have five colorless mana in his second main phase from Mana Drain, as well as several artifacts in play, that his plan must be to get Slaver and then use my Welder to re-buy it several times. He does, in fact, get Mindslaver and says that he wants to attack (indicating that he wants to move to second main phase). I state that I have responses to his declaration of attack and cast Gifts Ungiven.

I search my deck for Pentavus and Mindslaver.

Despite the fact that Gifts Ungiven says to search for four cards, it is a legal play to search for less than four. The reason you can find less than four cards with Gifts is because there’s a restriction of what you can find. When you have to search for a card with a restriction, you’re allowed to “fail to find.”

So, my opponent was essentially forced to choose both of the two cards I had Gifts Ungiven-ed for and put them into my graveyard. Still in response to his declaration of attack, I used my Goblin Welder to trade my Mox for the Mindslaver I’d just entombed, and because Mindslaver is Llgendary, it traded with his Mindslaver. He moved to his second main phase, Slaverless, and to add insult to injury had to mana burn for five! (Remember, when mana burn existed!)

Then on my turn, I was able to untap, use my Welder to bring back my Mindslaver and Slaver him! Eventually, I got to bring in the Pentavus and Slaver him a lot. Mindslaver being legendary: not just flavorful—but, relevant!

Tech Time


I. That’s No Sphere—That’s A Battle Station.

Did you know that nine out of ten Vintage masters prefer Myr Battlesphere to the next leading brand of Tinker robot? If you haven’t had the privilege of playing with this card, you should probably check him out, because he’s completely bonkers.

Myr Battlesphere—or, Myr Battle

as I’ve been lobbying to have the card name changed to—like a Visa credit card, is “everywhere you want to be.”

Let me pontificate on why this guy is light years better than Sphincter of the Foul Wind or Stinkwell Leviathan.

a.      Battle Station only costs seven mana. He’s very reasonable to hard-cast, unlike Inky which will set you back nine total mana or Sphinx which will set you back eight and requires white mana.

b.      Battle Station passes the “Jace Test.” Like his older brother, Inkwell, if you Tinker for Battle Sphere, it’s going to kill an opposing Mind Sculptor. Even if they bounce the 4/7, the tokens are still going to mop up whatever planeswalker they have left.

c.       Now here is where the Sphere really shines. He’s a two-turn clock. You know those situations where you Tinker for Inkwell, and it hits them twice and then you get Key/Vaulted? Not with this Battlebot. Myr Battlesphere, uncontested, hits harder than Darksteel Colossus! If you tap all four of his Myr buddies in combat, the Sphere becomes an 8/7 that domes the opponent for four! That is twelve, count it, twelve damage.

d.     Myr B.S. passes the Karn, Silver Golem test. Have you ever Tinkered for Inkwell and had it held off by Karn? Against Workshop decks, the islandwalk ability is irrelevant, and since Karn, when blocking, becomes 0/8, it becomes difficult to make much progress. Battle Station doesn’t care about Karn, and while you’re pounding the Shop players face with a 4+ unkillable beast, the tokens hold Karn at bay.

e.      Imagine that your opponent is playing a Workshop deck that’s trying to Tangle Wire or Smokestack you…Can you even imagine how much better this guy is than any other artifact you could possibly have?

f.        He blocks beaters on the ground forever, and ever, amen.

II. Predictions

A few years ago I had a conversation with Smennen the night before Vintage Champs, in which I stated: “I realize this card doesn’t exist and never will, but all I’ve ever really wanted is for this spell to exist: 1U, sorcery, Draw two cards.” We began discussing effects that were similar to that and ended up discovering Strategic Planning, which I used to build the breakout deck of that tournament.

I don’t know why I didn’t think about it then or haven’t thought about it until recently, but the Odyssey uncommon—Predict—is much better than Strategic Planning ever could’ve hoped to be. Predict is a two-mana blue cantrip with added value, that when you set it up, is everything you could ever dream about.

Blue decks are already playing Sensei’s Divining Tops, Jaces, Ponder, Brainstorm, and topdeck tutors—with a little bit of effort, it’s pretty easy to hit with Predict consistently.

Not to mention that Predict is really, really, good at disrupting opposing topdeck tutors. Your opponent plays Mystical Tutor to get Ancestral Recall—no problem, Predict it away, and by the way: I’ll draw two cards for my trouble. That is a three-for-one, by the way. Your opponent Vampiric Tutors for a card, no problem, Predict it—even if you whiff you still draw a card and they have to bin the card they just tutored up. If you miss, you’re only getting 2-for-1.

III. PREORDAIN: Transitive Verb, pre-or-dain, pre-or-dain-ing, pre-or-dains. To appoint, decree, or ORDAIN IN ADVANCE…

Preordain is real—not only is it real—it’s very, very, real. My prediction is that in the near future, the consensus will be that

single top-tier blue deck should play four copies of this card—that’s how real Preordain is.

Preordain is what makes the Gush decks good. Preordain is the card that makes Predict good. Preordain is the card that makes Tendrils decks good. Preordain is the nuts.

Preordain is so good—and I realize that the statement I’m about to make is pretty far out there, but I’m going to say it anyways—Preordain might be straight-up better than Ponder. I’m not completely sure about whether or not this is true and am going to reserve judgment until I read Smennen’s 2000-word analysis, that I’m sure he’ll write on the subject.

The fact that it’s even possible for Preordain to be in the discussion speaks volumes about the potency of this one-mana sorcery, and I think it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing a lot more Preordain.

IV. City In A Bottle

I’ve recently seen some decklists that include City in a Bottle, and I think that technology is absolutely brilliant. It’s the best Pithing Needle ever against Dredge decks, and interestingly enough—it’s pretty much the only reasonable way of stopping an opponent from playing Bazaar of Baghdad. Unlike Pithing Needle, the City actually destroys the Bazaar in play and then doesn’t allow them to play another. So, even if they come up with a Nature’s Claim or Chain of Vapor, you’ve already eliminated the Bazaar.

Secondly, it will destroy an opponent’s City of Brass, if they’re playing with Chronicles or Arabian Nights. If you’re matched up against a Shop player who has four Arabian Nights City of Brass—it may be very reasonable to bring this in against them—especially if they also have Bazaar of Baghdad. They’re reasonably cheap online right now; those of you who are wise might think about picking up a couple just in case they spike up—old cards are known to do that once they’re discovered to be playable.

Deck Time


I. How To Play Control Slaver Now

After spending the previous two weeks being a Workshop mad scientist, it became clear to me that Workshop decks are very, very, good. Traditionally, the best possible deck to play against Mishra’s Workshop has been Control Slaver—however, the restriction of Thirst for Knowledge, the deck’s primary draw engine, left the strategy seemingly defunct.

Yet, the discovery of Predict, when coupled with the dominance of Mishra’s Workshop, leads me to believe that the timing may be right for a Grixis/Welder control deck to once again be viable in the Vintage metagame.

The Control Slaver deck does a lot of things very well. First off, having access to Goblin Welder and Ancient Grudge makes this deck pretty much golden against anybody playing Mishra’s Workshops. The sideboard also includes three Nature’s Claims, which makes you even

against Workshop post-board—but mostly the Claims are there as your primary plan against Oath of Druids.

Secondly, this deck has been performing surprisingly well in three-game sets against Grow decks—which is an unexpected boon and largely a product of Memory Lapse being very strong against the card Gush, as well as the deck’s ability to bring in a lot of Red Elemental Blasts. Another thing that I noticed is that most of the blue decks have opted for a more balanced line of attack in the form of playing a slower game plan to have more game against Workshop. The fact that opposing blue decks are, in a sense, slowing down makes the probability of getting to a point where one can produce Mindslaver to be not only more realistic—but also more crippling once it goes off.

Memory Lapse is one of the standout pieces of technology in this deck. Clearly it has synergy in the deck by turning on Predict—but its applications go so much deeper than that. Basically, Lapse is competing with Spell Pierce (not more Mana Drain) in this deck. Since this iteration of Slaver maxes out on Preordain, it’s unreasonable for us to have extra UU available at the end of a turn or even to defend our own spells. Lapse does two critical things:

1. Memory Lapse counters opposing Mana Drains and Force of Wills, and

2. Because all of Mud’s spells are pretty similar, the ability to stop something from getting into play and making them redraw it is pretty much a free roll. Not to mention Memory Lapsing a Gush is a huge tempo swing.

One thing to remember: Don’t play with City of Brass with an Arabian Nights symbol on it (Chronicles counts), as it’s a gigantic nonbo with City in a Bottle. However, the ability to use Welder to recur Nihil Spellbomb, the cantripping Tormod’s Crypt, is a combo—a very, very, good combo—especially against Dredge or opposing Welder decks.

Reasons I believe a Control Slaver deck is not only viable, but good in the Vintage metagame:

a.      A Control Slaver style deck has a lot of built-in safeguards that make it fantastic against Workshop-based Strategies. The advantage of playing with Welder and Ancient Grudge is nontrivial and can straight-up take over and win games on its own.

b.      Control Slaver is the strategy best suited to take advantage of the best new Vintage technology. Basically, all of the best, new Vintage tech mesh nicely in the U/R board control shell: Myr Battlesphere, Nihil Spellbomb, Predict, Preordain, and City in a Bottle all have nice synergy in a four-color Welder/blue shell.

c.       Control Slaver’s traditionally greatest predator—fast Storm decks—are one of the least popular strategies in the midst of a Workshop-heavy environment. The Workshop Renaissance that has sprung up on the heels of the printing of Lodestone Golem has hit Tendrils mages very hard and also has slowed down a lot of the other blue decks which opt for a slower game plan with Trygons, Nature’s Claims, and more lands, instead of trying to go all-in “broken” on the first or second turn.


Survival Time


I. “Should Survival of the Fittest get banned in Legacy?”

I have been bombarded by the question: “Is Survival of the Fittest going to get banned in Legacy?” from Legacy players over the past few weeks. People seem concerned that Survivals have shot up in value the past few months and are now commanding a $50+ dollar price tag and don’t know whether or not they want to invest in such an expensive card if it’s likely to get banned, or they’re worried about investing $200 dollars into a playset of Survivals only to have it get banned in a month or so.

Obviously, there’s no way that I can know for sure—and I’m only speculating as to what the ultimate fate of Survival will be (after all only God and Erik Lauer know for sure), but here’s how I think the argument stacks up at the current time.

Survival of the Fittest decks have been on a tear lately, and they’re very, very, powerful. Survival is ultimately a one-card combo that, if you have a creature in hand, tutors all sorts of degenerate things into play. The archetype has always been decent, but somewhat off the radar—as it has had to compete with Mystical Tutor decks in the past. However, with Mystical Tutor out of the equation and with the super-enabler Vengevine having seen print in Rise of the Eldrazi, I think that it’s safe to say that Legacy is in the era of the Survival deck. In addition to Vengevine, the last SCG Open also saw rise to the Necrotic Ooze/Survival variant, which once the Ooze resolves, basically just kills the opponent (as the Ooze gains the abilities of Triskelion and Phyrexian Devourer).

Clearly, anybody who plays Legacy, or even follows Legacy, is aware that Survival decks are extremely powerful, and the archetype has been putting up finishes that many would describe as “dominant Top 8 fixtures”; yet, is that enough to warrant banning the card?

Gerry Thompson played Survival of the Fittest at the last StarCityGames.com Open—isn’t that enough to tell you it should probably be banned!? Seriously though, one person I had a conversation with last week actually said: “Gerry T was playing it, clearly it needs to be banned.” That’s one heck of a compliment to Gerry.

While I don’t think that just because a good player plays a card means it should be banned (obviously), I do think that when players, such as Gerry, with a good nose for sniffing out the best strategies are gravitating towards a particular deck that it’s worth investigating.

One thing that I feel is worth noting at this juncture is that the “Dominance of Survival” is a relatively recent development on the Legacy scene. Survival decks have been on the upswing—Chapin’s GP Columbus list for instance, since the summer—but they have really only been dominating the scene for a month or so. One thing that’s usually true about Eternal formats is that information and technology develops more slowly than in Standard—simply because there are less events and less people innovating. So, in a sense, people are just now figuring out how good Survival is (which accounts for its recent success), which means phase two is that players are now going to be focusing on inventing technology to defeat it.

The reason that cards truly become ban-worthy is when there simply isn’t a good way to combat a particular broken strategy. Since we haven’t entered into the era (we are about to) where people are

gunning for Survival decks, it isn’t really fair to say that the strategy can’t be combated, yet.

With all of that being said, I feel that at this juncture, there’s really no reason that the DCI should do anything about Survival of the Fittest, yet. However, if in the next six months, Survival decks are still putting up ridiculous numbers, even though they’re clearly public enemy number one, then maaaaybe banning it might be something to talk about. So, I’d say that for the immediate future, Survival should stay, but if it continues to dominate, then it should be banned.

Personally, I think that it should, and will, get banned, eventually. Recently, Gerry T said that if Mystical Tutor stays banned, then Survival should also get banned. I talked with Michael Jacob at length on Monday evening, and he said that the existence of Survival of the Fittest in Legacy makes him “not even remotely interested in playing the format.” He too—obviously, thought it should be banned.

II. Defeating The Green Menace In Legacy

The people who complain that they can’t beat Survival of the Fittest, while justified in being frustrated by the consistency, raw power, and resiliency of the deck, will need to try even harder as the deck continues to evolve and get better—as well as becomes even more popular.

Here’s how the deck works:

1.      The primary plan is to get Survival into play.

2.      The primary combo is to tutor a “combo” into the graveyard—the combo can vary—Vengevine, Emrakul, or Devourer + Triskelion.

3.      The back-up plan, if the combo plan fails, is to attack with decent, yet mediocre creatures such as Basking Rootwalla or Noble Hierarch.

Now, the first way to attack Survival decks is simply to stop them from getting Survival into play. The most obvious application here is permission. I understand that Survival decks also have permission to back up their good card and that countering it isn’t always possible. My suggestion for blue decks aiming to beat Survival would be to incorporate Spell Snare. Aside from being pretty much the best counterspell against Survival, Spell Snare just so happens to be really good in Legacy right now. It stops Standstill, Counterspell, Dark Confidant, Counterbalance, Dark Confidant, Infernal Tutor, etc. People play lots of two-cost spells.

The next way that players can attack Survival decks, assuming that it makes its way onto the battlefield, is to keep them from using it. The two most efficient cards I’ve found for helping to shut down the namesake enchantment are Pithing Needle and Leonin Arbiter. The Arbiter is kind of narrow—but it’s an option at least. Arbiter is also nice because it protects you from their Natural Order/fatty combo after sideboard. Aven Mindcensor is also pretty excellent at crippling the ability of the Survival deck to tutor.

Pithing Needle, on the other hand, is money in the bag. First of all, Pithing Needle, while being super-trump against Survival decks (it’s cheaper than Survival to cast and because it’s colorless can be played in any deck), is a passable card against almost every single Tier 1 deck in Legacy. Let’s look at activated abilities in major decks that a player would love to name:

Merfolk: Aether Vial, Wasteland, Mutavault. Check.

Zoo: Qasali Pridemage, Grim Lavamancer, equipment. Shaky, but still check.

Dredge: Putrid Imp, Cephalid Coliseum. Check.

Landstill: Top, Wasteland, Mishra’s Factory, Jace, Elspeth. Super, check.

Goblins: Port, Aether Vial, Siege-Gang Commander, Gempalm Incinerator, Sharpshooter. Check.

Lands: Take your pick. Check.

Counterbalance/Top: Check.

It just so happens that Pithing Needle, one of the best possible hate cards for Survival of the Fittest, is good if not great against almost every non-Tendril of Agony-based deck. They may have Pridemages or a way to remove the Needle, but at the very least, Needle should buy you critical time to either kill them or hold them off.

Lastly, especially after sideboard, a player can attack a Survival deck’s graveyard. Tormod’s Crypt seems like a perfectly acceptable card, as is Extirpate. The plan should be that a free or one-mana spell that stops their graveyard combo gives the player time to assemble their own endgame or to come up with whatever resources they need to stop the Survival deck. The thing that makes the Survival deck so good, especially after sideboard, is that it takes advantage of both Natural Order and Survival; and that the cards that are good against one strategy aren’t always good against the other. The one thing that appears to be good against both Survival and Natural Order is the ability to keep the opponent from tutoring. If this is indeed the case, Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor both seem like excellent ways to apply pressure and negate their most powerful spells.

Chapin argues that fast combo decks are the best way to combat Survival of the Fittest, and I agree that’s certainly a logical way to approach the metagame. However, I’m not completely sold on the idea that moving in the opposite direction—to control the threat—isn’t viable. Another strategy that I think may actually be good against Survival is to play with Arcane Laboratory or Rule of Law—in combination with other hate and a clock. Lab and Rule succeed where Canonist fails. The problem with Canonist is that Survival players usually have a Memnite or other zero-cost artifact creature to return their Vengevines and beat the “Soft Lab” Canonist provides—no such luck against an actual Lab. Actual Arcane Lab may be a great sideboard card to combat the “green menace” from the sideboard of a disruptive W/B tempo deck.

Clearly, this is a metagame deck, but it seems as though it would be respectable against a lot of the decks in the field—and outright good against many of the top contenders. With proper tuning for an expected field, I believe such a strategy could be very strong in a Survival (and, as Chapin suggests, fast combo) heavy field.

Elder Dragon Highlander Time


I. The Best Card That Nobody Knows About

Elder Dragon Highlander is a pretty broken pseudo-Eternal format. From time to time, I build EDH decks that seem to be pretty good and perform well—but I’m by no means an expert or a huge follower of the format. Yet, there’s one thing of which I’m completely certain—Land Equilibrium is so good that it’s actually unfair and is probably ban-worthy. With that being said, I’ve never actually seen another person play with this card in their EDH deck. I’m not really sure why—perhaps, it’s because people agree that it’s too good, not fun, unsportsmanlike, or something—but, mostly I suspect that it’s because people simply don’t know what it does:

It is completely

Even if you simply take it at face value and don’t do anything more degenerate than put it into play and use it

(pretty loose definition of fair…), it’s a multiplayer card that says: “Nobody else is

going to get more land than me.” Imagine that you’re playing third in a four-player game. You have a second-turn Signet and cast Land Equilibrium off a third land—the people who played first and second

brick on their land drop—or sacrifice a land. It also stops people from Crucible + Strip Mining you out of the game. Also, say goodbye to Cultivate, Krosan Verge, Oracle of Mul Daya, Exploration, etc.

Now, if you’re into red lightsabers and force lightning like me, you’ve probably already begun to realize the possibilities of how to play unfairly with Land Equilibrium. Firstly, what if I play a bunch of artifact mana and cast Armageddon and

play another land? What if the only land I play after casting Armageddon is The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale? (I’ve done these things many, many times, and I suggest Catastrophe). There are few things I enjoy more in Magic than dominating a game with an obscure rare from the Legends Expansion; so, if you’re the type who enjoys these kinds of things, you may want to check it out.

For the record, in case you were wondering, this is the order of what I believe the most unfair things in competitive EDH to be:

1.      Mana Crypt

2.      Sol Ring

3.      Yawgmoth’s Will

4.      Land Equilibrium

Thanks for reading; I hope that you all enjoyed the article.

Brian DeMars