Vintage Avant-Garde – Vintage: The Best of 2010

Tuesday, January 4th – Brian DeMars writes a yearbook retrospective of the Vintage cards that shaped the format in irreversible ways in 2010. Here is the Vintage graduating class of 2010!

2010 has come and gone, and as far as Vintage was concerned, it was a crazy year.

We’ve seen archetypes rise to dominance while others have been sent reeling to the depths of the second tier; we’ve seen new technologies galore separate the men from the boys in terms of the great and the remedial deck designers; we’ve seen a planeswalker rise through the ranks to become a Vintage staple for the first time ever, and we’ve seen champions crowned with the losers left to ponder
“What could have been…?”

Now we collectively look forward.

A history professor at the University of Michigan once said something that I’m sure he ripped off another scholar: “The reason that the investigation of histories is important is because if we understand why events happened in the past, we can notice correlative trends in the present and predict how they might play out in the future.”

All insincere clichés aside, understanding the significance of the events that have come can enlighten our understanding of what’s happening today, as well as what may happen tomorrow.

All of us are interested in what’s in store for Vintage in 2011 (even though as I write this, it’s still December 29, 2010), but since we’re not privy to that information yet, let us stand at the end of 2010, look back one last time before it expires, and think — what was Vintage 2010 all about?


Firstly, I’d like to take a brief moment and congratulate myself…

Three weeks ago, I earned my Master’s Degree in Literature and attended the formal graduation ceremony.

When I earned my Bachelor’s Degree a few years ago, I opted out of actually walking at the graduation ceremony because I felt it was a tradition of unnecessary pomp and an utter waste of a Sunday afternoon that could be better spent at the pub than listening to student speakers’ unbearable “Let’s take the world by the horns!” speeches and self-important Board of Regents members prattle on about how continued donations to University and Special Interest causes is a responsibility of alumni.

Anyway, at the excessive urging (guilting?) of my parents and grandparents, I reluctantly agreed to walk; though I tried my best to display my contempt for the solemn occasion by pulling up the hood on my graduation cloak, feebly perching my hands in front of my chest like an old man, and shouting such gems as

and “Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side!” at other, far more sober members of my graduating class.

My self-indulgent back-story serves to set up the first metaphor by which I’d like to discuss Vintage in 2010. Firstly, I’d like to talk about the ten new cards printed in 2010 that have graduated from being merely decent new cards to the elevated status of full-blown Vintage staples in the past year.

Each of these cards have made an immediate and lasting impact upon the Vintage format, and I believe we should expect big contributions from these cards next year and even in the years to come after. Also, my list only includes cards that were printed in 2010: Worldwake, Rise of the Eldrazi, Scars of Mirrodin, and the Magic 2011 Core Set.

10. Terastodon (Worldwake)

Oath of Druids-based decks had a pretty good year in 2010, and one of the reasons for its success is clearly that it got some new fatties to play with.
The combination of Iona, Shield of Emeria and Terastodon was, for much of the year, the duo to play. Iona’s ability to make it so an opponent can’t

spells coupled with Terastodon’s ability to answer cards already in play made the deck more versatile once the “Oathing” started. Terastodon’s ability to destroy its owner’s own permanents—including Oath of Druids—to present eighteen power worth of attackers (usually a one-turn clock) wasn’t too shabby of a bonus either…

9. Ratchet Bomb (Scar of Mirrodin)

The Bomb hasn’t really dominated anything, but an upgraded version of Powder Keg (a card that has a tendency of popping up when the meta is right) is going to be a card that sneaks into decklists for years to come. It’s versatile, and it answers a lot of problems that Mishra’s Workshop decks are likely to have—does your Dredge opponent have ten hasty Zombie tokens on the battlefield? No worries, let’s detonate the bomb and put an end to that nonsense…

I expect to see more of this card in the future.

8. Leyline of Sanctity (M2011)

White Leyline’s impact was immediately noticeable and relevant. The fact that it’s a tremendous hoser against strategies that rely heavily upon Tendrils of Agony or Oath of Druids combined with the fact that it enters the battlefield before the game starts, is uncounterable, and can be played without having to pay colored mana (or any mana at all?) makes it a great sideboard card for Dredge or Mono-Brown Workshop decks.

Part of the reason we saw a decline in the popularity of Oath of Druids decks can be linked to the printing of Leyline of Sanctity over the summer. Also, the rise in popularity of Serum Powder, not only in Dredge decks but later in Workshop decks, is a testament to the power of starting a game with a white or black Leyline in the opening hand. Ivory Mask was a pretty decent card, but Leyline of White is a powerful, upgraded sideboard card—not only is it the same casting cost (except that sometimes it’s free), but a player is still allowed to target him- or herself! They can’t Tendrils me—but I can Ancestral myself? Sounds good.

7. Nihil Spellbomb (Scar of Mirrodin)

In my personal, but biased, opinion, I’d probably rank this card even higher on the list because I think that it’s an absolutely stellar card. The school of play I came up in places a very high priority upon graveyard removal and having control over exiling cards from an opponent’s graveyard. For instance, I maindecked Tormod’s Crypt back before there was even Dredge…

With that being said, Nihil Spellbomb is right up there with the best graveyard hate cards ever to be printed (Leyline of the Void, Yixlid Jailer, Tormod’s Crypt, and Relic of Progenitus). Yet, it has something going for it that none of the others on this list do—it’s more versatile. The effect “Remove an opponent’s graveyard from the game” in certain situations is invaluable and can be the difference between winning and losing—against Dredge, for instance. However, when you’re getting beaten to death by a Juggernaut, topdecking a Tormod’s Crypt is… well, not so good.

Nihil Spellbomb at its worst is a cycling Tormod’s Crypt; granted, you must be playing black. However, it’s actually much better than a mere cycler because when you cycle it, not only do you get the card, but you also get value in removing their graveyard. At best, it’s a cantripping Tormod’s Crypt!

Yet, unlike Relic of Progenitus, it doesn’t Crypt you as well and doesn’t remove itself from the game. Nihil Spellbomb doesn’t inhibit your graveyard strategy (Yawgmoth’s Will, Goblin Welder, Ancient Grudge), nor does it require you to leave one mana open to actually make it remove all of an opponent’s graveyard; if you have the extra mana open, you get the bonus of a free card.

Oh, and one more thing—it doesn’t get hosed by Dredge’s Chalice of the Void for zero.

A+ card.

6. Steel Hellkite (Scar of Mirrodin)

Yet another Scars of Mirrodin powerhouse, the “Artifact Dragon” found a prominent home in Mono-Brown Mud decks. In the artifact mirror, an unanswered Hellkite is problematic for sure—but perhaps the greatest asset he provides is that he’s a very good answer to Time Vault decks’ Trygon Predators.

Trygon Predator became a mainstay in the Time Vault deck’s strategy against Workshops, and a resolved Trygon basically becomes a The Abyss, targeting a permanent of the blue mage’s choice. As soon as it hits play, Steel Hellkite’s 5/5 flying body negates any possible attack from the blue deck (2/3s don’t enjoy getting blocked by 5/5s). On the next turn, the Dragon can attack back and force the Trygon’s controller to chump-block with it or risk the Workshop player simply paying three mana and killing the Trygon with its activated ability. It’s what we in the “biz” refer to as a “lose-lose more” situation.

Oh, also: it has firebreathing.

5. Myr Battlesphere (Scar of Mirrodin)

One of my personal favorite cards of the year, the “Battle Station” has undeniably become one of, if not

Tinker-bot of choice over the course of the past few months.

I’ve already
written extensively

on my rationale behind Myr Battlesphere as the ultimate Tinker target, but basically to reiterate: It does everything except pitch to Force of Will and is actually hard-castable.

My only question is this: When are we Tinker Mages ever going to get a robot with acceptable artwork? Battle Station might actually be worse than Triskelavus

4. Nature’s Claim (Worldwake)

Now we get to the real heavy hitters.

So, it turns out that a one-mana Disenchant is really, really good in Vintage. It also turns out that the “drawback” is more of a boon than a downside in a control deck whose victory condition is to “take all the rest of the turns and Jace you to death.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve pointed Nature’s Claim at one of my Moxes (or even my own Necropotence!) to not die to a lethal attack and then was able to win the game on the next turn.

Everybody plays Moxes—which means that at the very least Nature’s Claim becomes a one-mana Stone Rain. However, lots of player’s actual victory conditions are artifacts or enchantments: Oath of Druids, Mishra’s Workshop-fueled fatties, or even Time Vault. So, it’s actually a one-mana Stone Rain that Vindicates the victory conditions that a wide range of decks play,

many decks use cheap artifacts as their primary form of mana disruption (Null Rod and Chalice of the Void); Nature’s Claim kills those cards, too.

Nature’s Claim is going to be a Vintage staple for a long, long time.

3. Preordain (M2011)

Preordain is not only the real deal—it’s better than that. Ponder earned a spot on the Vintage Restricted list, and from all of the games I’ve played with Preordain, I’d go on record as saying “I’d rather have Preordain in my deck than Ponder.” Preordain is simply pure value, pure gas, pure awesomeness every time I cast it.

It digs.

Also, chaining multiple Preordains together, for instance Preordain into Preordain and scrying away a land, is so much better than Pondering into
another Ponder.
A few articles ago,

I wrote about how fantastic I thought Preordain was. Basically, here’s where I stand on what I believe Preordain’s role will be in 2011.

“In 2011, every blue mage will play four copies of Preordain in their deck for as long as they have the opportunity; which is to say, the only reason

to play four Preordains will be that it gets restricted.”

I hope it never gets restricted. I love playing with this card and look forward to continue to get to play with it.

2. Jace, the Mind Sculptor (Worldwake)

What can I write about Jace that hasn’t been said before? The Mind Sculptor has been a dominating force in every single format where he’s legal, and Vintage is no exception.

“Draw three cards, then put two cards from your hand back on top of your library in any order.”


Brainstorm is an awesomely powerful effect in any format where it’s legal, and as good as that effect is everywhere else, it’s even better in Vintage. Getting to Brainstorm for free, without using any cards, simply dominates and ends games very quickly in a format with cards like Time Vault, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Tinker.

Jace has reared up in every single type of Vintage deck that’s based in blue: I’ve seen Jace in Tendrils decks, Oath decks, Fish decks, Drain decks, and Time Vault decks…

Does it play Islands? It probably has Jace.

It’s the kind of card where if it ever got restricted, everybody would definitely play with one; the same way that every blue deck starts off: Ancestral, Time Walk, Brainstorm, Mystical Tutor…now add Jace, the Mind Sculptor to that list.

1. Lodestone Golem (Worldwake)

So, basically I’ve already said that every blue deck starts Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Brainstorm, Jace—but, Jace is only number two on the list for the most important new card of 2010?

Meet Lodestone Golem.

In 2010 Lodestone Golem has become to Mishra’s Workshop what Ancestral Recall is to Island


The printing of Lodestone Golem in Worldwake singlehandedly catapulted Mishra’s Workshop into the format-defining archetype of Vintage in 2010. Mishra’s Workshop—while it may not have won every event—has been “the deck to beat,” pretty much all year long. In addition to putting up strong numbers, non-Workshop decks that have been successful have pretty much all had a like-minded theme of having good plans for combating Shops.

Congratulations, Lodestone Golem; you literally rule 2010 Vintage with an iron fist.


Next I’d like to discuss cards that have risen from relative anonymity to bask in the limelight of Vintage prominence. Cards that, perhaps because of new printings, good timing, or otherwise, got hot and have earned a place in Vintage history as the elite technologies of 2010.

These five are examples of cards that have come up and are now very real components of the Vintage metagame.

5. Serenity

Before 2010, I’d wager that most people were unfamiliar with this oldie but goodie. However, this card’s low mana cost and wide-reaching applications have allowed it to see quite a bit of play over the course of the past year.

In particular, it’s been a key sideboard card for Dredge decks because it allows them to answer problematic sideboard enchantments, such as Leyline of the Void, while at the same time is a devastating card against Mishra’s Workshop decks, as it basically destroys all of their nonland permanents. In addition, some players such as Paul Mastriano, Matt Sperling, and myself have had success championing U/W/B Time Vault control decks that take advantage of Serenity out of the sideboard as a trump to Workshop decks.

4. Trygon Predator

Most notably included in Owen Turtenwald
Vintage Championship
Time Vault
deck, Trygon Predator, once a “fish” card, has now become a full-fledged Vintage staple and worth consideration in all sorts of blue decks.

Trygon’s ability to singlehandedly take apart a Mono-Brown Workshop player’s board didn’t go unnoticed after Champs—the trend caught fire, and there was a noticeable increase in the number of Trygons flying around at Vintage events.

Whenever Workshops are good, as they are now, we should expect Trygon Predator to not be far behind.

3. Undiscovered Paradise

The printing of Bloodghast in Zendikar at the end of 2009 caught the eye of many a Dredge player, and the synergy between Undiscovered Paradise and the little Vampy who can’t block was too strong to go overlooked for long. The ability to create multiple landfall triggers off one land to bring back Bloodghasts turn, after turn, after turn, coupled with Paradise’s ability to make any color of mana to cast sideboarded Chain of Vapor, Serenity, Nature’s Claim, and Darkblast, has brought this card to the forefront of Dredge.

When one card turns the drawback of another card into a benefit, it’s usually a crucible of broken goodness about to happen—Undiscovered Paradise is a perfect example. A City of Brass with a bonus? Who wouldn’t want to play with that card?

2. Lotus Cobra

Lotus Cobra has made a pretty big splash in Vintage, a card written off as “not good enough for Vintage” by many, he’s been showing up in Top 8s and proving the naysayers wrong for a couple months now. Smennen’s article title
“My Black Lotuses Attack for Two”

pretty much sums it up. Getting a bunch of free colored mana is really good.

I expect that the obvious synergies between Gush, Fastbond, and Lotus Cobra will ensure that these three team up and have success in 2011.

1. City of Traitors/Ancient Tomb

Both of the lands that enter the battlefield untapped and make two colorless mana are the undisputable “welcome to the big boy’s table” cards of 2010. City and Tomb have gone from cards that Workshop decks sometimes included one or two copies per into cards that are four-ofs in almost every configuration of the most popular archetype in Vintage. Workshop decks make no mistake about being uninterested in playing colored spells nowadays under the new leadership of their undisputed all-star creature, Lodestone Golem.

It’s also very telling that the value of these cards have literally quadrupled over the past year from $6 and $2 respectively to upwards of $25 and $8.

Congratulations, Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors! Just because you two are “Bad Mishra’s Workshops,” doesn’t mean you’re bad—actually, a bad Mishra’s Workshop is still pretty darn good.


Gush: “Three Strikes, Yer In!”

Without a doubt the most shocking Vintage revelation for me was the unrestriction of Gush earlier on in the year. Gush has already had to be restricted twice in Vintage, and the fact that the DCI decided to bring it back was really surprising to me. Don’t get me wrong, because I love myself a Gush, but it was certainly not something that I was anticipating.

Gush is certainly in a far more restrictive environment than previous contexts that brought about “Gush Era I” and “Gush Era II” in the past. Firstly, Gush’s partner in crime, Merchant Scroll, is now restricted; secondly, Mishra’s Workshop, a natural predator of Gush decks, has recently undergone a renaissance of its own.

Will Gush have what it takes to dominate again in the face of very potent opposition or has Gush been getting the credit for what should probably have been known as “The Merchant Scroll Era?” Whatever the answer to these questions, they’ll be played out and answered in 2011!


Without a doubt, I believe the biggest disappointment for Vintage in 2010 was Wizards of the Coast’s confirmation that they will uphold and adhere to their reserve list reprint policy. I know that a lot of people didn’t want them to revoke the policy, and they have good reasons for not wanting them to.

However, with that having been said, I believe that Wizards’ asserting that they retain the right to reprint whatever they want, whenever they want would’ve been a good thing for Vintage — and all Eternal formats for that matter. Unfortunately, old cards, because of their scarcity, have a tendency to become expensive — a trend that, as a consequence of this decision, will undoubtedly continue on into 2011 and beyond.


2010 was a real triumph of the Vintage deckbuilder, as it brought about all sorts of major shake-ups, amazing technologies, and interesting innovations.

As far as what 2011 has in store? The sky is the limit.

The battle lines are drawn:

Will Mishra’s Workshops own Vintage in 2011?

Will Time Vault?

Will Tendrils make a run at the championship belt?

All of these questions and more answered over the course of the next year.

Brian DeMars