Vintage Avant-Garde – The Vintage Championship Survival Guide

Brian DeMars has played in the Vintage Championships for the past seven years, making Top 8 three times. He won’t be able to play this time due to Nationals, but he gives you important advice if you’re planning on attending.


The annual Magic: The Gathering pilgrimage to Indianapolis is almost upon us, and to be completely honest I am really looking forward to a card-slinger vacation. Gen Con is basically four days of non-stop gaming, as much as one can handle and then some, and has essentially become a holiday weekend for many game enthusiasts all over the country.

If you are a Vintage fan, Gen Con is even more important, since it hosts the yearly Vintage Championship tournament, which is widely regarded as the most prestigious North American—and possibly global—Vintage event of the year. I have personally played in the last seven consecutive Vintage Championships and am very disappointed that my attendance streak will be coming to an end this year.

Unfortunately, the Vintage Championship is scheduled at the same time as the first day of U.S. Nationals (which is also being held at Gen Con), and I was forced to choose between the two events—which was a really difficult decision for me. On the one hand, Vintage is my favorite Magic format, but on the other it was my first time qualifying to play at Nationals. Ultimately, I decided that I had already gotten to play Vintage Champs more than half a dozen times and that I would regret not trying something new and exciting.

So, this year I will still be following The Vintage Championships with interest, except this time it will have to be from the rail…

In this article I am going to share some of my wisdom about prepping for and playing in the Vintage Championships. I have played in the Vintage Championship seven of the eight years it has existed and made the top eight three times (which is more than any other player), so I believe my approach to preparing for the event has traditionally been very solid. Also, for first-year players attending the event, I would strongly recommend utilizing the information and preparatory strategies in this article.


Whatever deck you are planning to play at Vintage Champs I would strongly recommend that you understand how its matchup works against the following decks:

Vintage Control (DeMars Control) Decks
Mud Aggro (Slash Panther Version) Decks
Time Vault / Dark Confidant Decks
Gush Decks

These are the most popular and widely played decks in Vintage at the moment, and it is likely a player will play decks from this list more often than anything else.

Any player who wants to go deep this weekend needs to understand how to pilot their deck properly against these four archetypes, as well as have a legitimate sideboard plan for playing against each deck.

I would definitely check www.themanadrain.com to see what decks performed well last weekend (or, in my case next weekend, as I am stuck in the past writing this article in the present…).

For instance, the new Mud lists are playing with Slash Panther as a way to battle Vintage Control’s Jace, the Mind Sculptors and to punish them for playing with City of Brass. If you show up with Vintage Control without testing the matchup—you are going to be in big trouble… Once you start testing the matchup and realize that Vintage Control can barely win a game, I would advise you add a Lightning Bolt, and then another one…


The day before the Vintage Championship there are always preliminary Vintage events that allow players to compete for byes at the main event. Personally, I have never played in one of these events—although, this year I will be competing in the bye tournaments for the first time—even though I can’t play the main event! I’ll be damned if I don’t get to play in a Vintage tournament at Gen Con!

Here is what I have learned about these tournaments from observing them over the years:

Firstly, the metagame surrounding these events does not accurately predict the metagame for the following day’s main event. Every single year the preliminary tournaments have a higher concentration of Mishra’s Workshop and combo decks than the main event. I believe the cause of this phenomenon is because people are more likely to roll the dice with a “rogue” or “fun” Vintage deck in a tournament they perceive as casual or unimportant; however when the real event is on the line they tend to audible to playing with Force of Will, Tinker, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Time Vault.

For instance, I always feel like I see a million Ichorid decks in the prelims, but not very many in the actual championship.

If you are going to play in the tournaments for the byes, I recommend having more cards dedicated to beating combo—whereas in the main event I always tend to focus more on winning the blue on blue mirror.

IMPORTANT: No matter which Vintage event you are playing in make sure that you have at least six cards to board in against Dredge, and make sure that you can beat a MUD deck (in this case, the version to beat is Slash Panther).

One of the useful things that the Preliminaries can provide a player is information about which Blue decks are likely to be popular the following day. The blue mages are very likely to play the same archetype (Vintage Control, Gush, Bob/Jace, Oath, etc.) in the preliminary event as they will in the main event. For instance, if there seems to be a high concentration of Gush decks doing well and making the top eight in the preliminary tournaments, then it may be a good indication that Gush will make a strong showing in the main event.



Oath of Druids and Dredge are not actually real decks…

Oath of Druids decks also seem to show up in a higher quantity and perform better in the preliminary tournaments than the main event. Same philosophy as with rogue combo—people are more likely to play “coin-flip” decks with less on the line—but, in Oath’s case it’s a 40%-60% underdog coin flip against any other deck that is ACTUALLY good. The odds of this happening are about as likely as the Cleveland Indians winning the division this year.

Justin Verlander is to starting pitching, what Yawgmoth’s Will is to Vintage…

Of all the major Vintage archetypes that exist and have existed for a significant period of time, Oath of Druids is basically the only won that has never won Vintage Championships and never will (the other being Dredge, which will never win either).

Neither one of these decks is actually capable of beating three good decks, piloted by three good players, in three consecutive rounds of Magic.

Since neither of these decks can possibly win I am sure this won’t actually matter, but in the near-impossible event that Oath or Dredge does win, I reserve the right to cite extreme variance.

Make sure your deck has a real plan against Oath of Druids:

Blue decks need 2 cards.

Creature decks need 4 cards.

Workshop decks need 4 cards.

Make sure your deck has a real plan against Dredge:

Blue decks need 6 cards.

Creature decks need 4 cards.

Workshop decks need 6 cards.

It is really that simple; Dredge and Oath are such one-trick ponies that they can rarely beat people who have ANYTHING to deal with their simpleton plans.


I would like to wish everybody playing in the coolest event of the year the best of luck at the Vintage Championship. As stated earlier, I will be playing in the Vintage Preliminary tournament on Thursday afternoon, and since I’m not playing I would be more than happy to give players suggestions with decks, builds, or just chat about Vintage.

Champs is a pretty long Vintage event, so be sure that you’ve got plenty of bottled water and a few granola bars handy.

Best of luck everybody, and I look forward to seeing you at Gen Con!

Brian DeMars