Vintage Avant-Garde – Waterbury And Vintage Snapcaster Control

Snapcaster Mage graduates to Vintage, where he flashes back Mana Drains and Ancestral Recalls. Is there a format where he doesn’t shine? Read about Brian DeMars’ tournament experience.


I can honestly say that I can’t remember the last time I have found the Vintage metagame to be so perplexing. At this time last year, in the days leading up to Waterbury, I distinctly remember that I had the first Lotus Cobra deck already sleeved up and ready to go. It was a great feeling to decisively know I had broken the format with days to spare…

Here we are again with Waterbury right around the corner, except this time I don’t have a killer under the radar brew, and to make matters worse I am having a really difficult time even identifying what is ACTUALLY good. The problem arises from that fact that the printing of two very powerful (and potentially format defining) new spells from Innistrad, Snapcaster Mage and Past in Flames, plus the un-restriction of Fact or Fiction, have really clouded my ability to tell what people are going to play on Saturday.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that having options and a wide open metagame is extremely exciting for Vintage—a format where shake-ups are more the exception than the rule. In this article I am going to talk about the thought processes that I am going through right now while I’m trying to figure out what deck to choose in a relatively unpredictable field.

Before Snapcaster Mage was spoiled, I had brewed up a really cool Lotus Cobra Gush Tendrils deck. So, if I can’t figure out something better, it will be my default choice for the tournament.

After the Vintage Championships at Gen Con, I became convinced that fast Lotus Cobra Gush decks were likely the frontrunner to be the best decks in Vintage. I had a conversation with Paul Mastriano where I suggested a number of reasons for why I believed Cobra paired up with Gush was likely to be a strong choice in Vintage. Another Meandecker, Kevin Cron, had been playing Cobra and Gush and done fairly well with it—but the big innovation was to drop permission spells and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in favor of Thoughtseize, Tendrils, and other TPS style bombs. We built on the framework that he had already laid and came up with what I believe is still a perfectly fine deck choice in Vintage.

The reason that I have the Cobra deck as my default deck choice in an open field is that first and foremost it is extremely aggressive and can quickly put an opponent under a ton of pressure. In a field where the decks people are playing could be broadly different or even unexpected, playing a control deck can be a risky endeavor—since, it is unclear what exactly I might need to be controlling!

There are a lot of ways one might approach playing Vintage’s best color, blue, in Vintage this weekend. First and foremost, I expect that many people are going to take the newly legal Snapcaster Mage for a test drive. However, figuring out how others might build their Snapcaster Mage decks is really tricky because there are so many different ways to employ his services.

The thing that I like most about Snapcaster Mage in Vintage is that it allows a player to flashback Mana Drain—which essentially gives that player access to twice as many Drains as usual! The ability to essentially play eight hard counters, while only devoting four slots in one’s deck, seems like a pretty great way to build a control deck. Not to mention, Snapcaster can also re-buy Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and Brainstorm

The trick to building a Snapcaster Mage deck for an unknown metagame that takes advantage of Mana Drain is that such a deck needs to establish control fast enough to not get run over by streamlined Gush Tendrils decks (like the Gush Tendrils I posted above), it needs to be proactive and powerful enough to beat random or unexpected decks, and it has to be able to beat the Vintage mainstays (MUD, Dredge, Fish, etc.).

I know it might seems silly, or possibly insane, but the card that I want to build around in the new metagame could actually be Nihil Spellbomb.

The same way that I ranted about how good Ancient Grudge was last year—as the best metagame card at the time—I have a hunch that Nihil Spellbomb could be the new Ancient Grudge.

First of all: Dredge is the new MUD. Dredge is that vicious crucible of powerful and player friendly that lends itself to being popular. Keep in mind that by “player friendly” I don’t mean it is easy to play Dredge “well,” nor is it easy to play MUD “well.” What I mean is that a player can play it poorly and still “hee-haw” their way to many uncontested victories.

Maindeck Nihil Spellbomb is obviously a great boon against Ichorid decks, and playing it in multiples could actually swing a blue deck’s Ichorid matchup from unwinnable to favorable.

I also believe that Mishra’s Workshop decks, played by good players, may be more likely to move towards utilizing the grinding card advantage and versatility of Goblin Welder and Crucible of Worlds. At the worst it provides a permanent to tap to Tangle Wire, so Nihil Spellbomb would probably be better than passable here.

Nihil Spellbomb, on the other hand, is also really good against Snapcaster Mage and certainly makes it difficult for combo-based strategies to effectively execute their game plan. Also, unlike a maindeck Red Elemental Blast, Nihil Spellbomb is never really dead because it can be essentially cycled away for value.

The other concern that I have about playing with Snapcaster Mage is that while it is obviously good value and utility, aside from flashing back a restricted card like Ancestral Recall, all a player has really cast is a worse copy of Regrowth. Now, I appreciate a good Regrowth and will admit that a “bad” Regrowth is still pretty amazing—wasn’t I the guy who said that Past in Flames being a “bad Yawgmoth’s Will” still means it’s pretty amazing?

Here is the breakdown of Snapcaster Mage vs. Regrowth.

Snapcaster Mage is an instant, whereas Regrowth is a sorcery.

Snapcaster Mage gives you a 2/1 body to fight with, whereas Regrowth doesn’t

Snapcaster Mage is blue, and Regrowth is green.

Snapcaster Mage isn’t restricted in Vintage, and Regrowth is.

Regrowth puts the card into your hand where you can play it later or on another turn, whereas Snapcaster essentially forces you to use your mana immediately to play the spell.

Regrowth doesn’t exile the spell you get back, whereas Snapcaster does.

Regrowth can bring back any type of card, whereas Snapcaster can only rebuy instants and sorceries.

Regrowth can replay Gush with the alternate casting cost, and Snapcaster cannot.

Snapcaster Mage has been getting a ton of hype with regard to how good it is going to be in Vintage, but I don’t believe for the right reasons. It is clearly good, but I feel like in order for it to be insane, one has to be willing to take advantage of its biggest advantage—the fact that it is a 2/1 creature. Keep in mind people are not exactly bending over backward to include Regrowth in every deck that play either, and if they could play four copies of Regrowth, I’m not sure anybody would.

So, basically I feel like if one is going to “break” Snapcaster Mage in Vintage, the thing that one should be excited about is getting a 2/1 body because that is essentially the advantage one gets from playing the card.

The initial list I am planning on trying to work on for Waterbury is a Snapcaster Mage Mana Drain style control deck that has kind of a “Control Slaver” splash to it.


A few days have gone by since I wrote the first part of this week’s article, and now the TMD Open has come and gone. The outing was super fun (as it always is!), despite the fact that I really struggled in the event and had a disappointing 4-3 record (5-5 if you count my miserable 1-2 record in the 3v3 Vintage showdown where Paul Mastriano, JP, and I battled Chris Pikula, Mark Hornung, and Nick Detwiler.

Here is the list I ended up building for the tournament today.

I felt that the deck was actually a lot better than my poor record reflected, and with further tuning I think the deck could be made even better. My friend and teammate Kevin Cron, who helped with tuning and testing the deck, ended up making top eight of the event with the Snapcaster Control deck that was only a few cards different from the list I posted above.

One of my losses was actually to Kevin in the mirror match, which was pretty unlucky considering he was the only other person playing the list! In our first game, he had turn two Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus on the play with double counterspell back up, and in game two on the draw he had turn one Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Force of Will back up. Two pretty awesome hands.

I lost another match where I took a Fact or Fiction pile with the game swinging Tinker in it, only to draw Blightsteel Colossus in my draw step. D’oh! It pretty much just wasn’t my day to catch any breaks, but luckily I was playing Vintage so I had fun anyway.

I think that this combo is actually quite real. Many of my games were won thanks to the Lab and caster combo. The two together lets you counter so many spells and rebuy so many draw spells that the two plus a graveyard can bury an opponent very quickly.

By far the most powerful interaction in my deck was that between Mana Drain and Snapcaster Mage—with a Riptide Laboratory, every Mana Drain gets cast twice. Once an opponent runs out of cards, it is almost impossible for that player to ever get back into the game.


These two cards were EVERYWHERE this weekend, including in my deck! I was really surprised how the format had shifted so quickly to the point where it seemed like everybody who was playing blue chose to maindeck these cards—even though they are almost completely dead draws against many builds of Mishra’s Workshop decks.

Flusterstorm was basically one of the best possible cards to have against any other deck playing blue. Basically, the card is a Spell Pierce, that usually requires they pay more than two, that cannot be countered by Force of Will, Spell Pierce, or Mental Misstep.

Mental Misstep on the other hand simply allows decks to interact extremely quickly, so that a player has a better chance of winning that turn-one counter war over a key spell.

Before Waterbury I hadn’t played in a Vintage tournament in quite a while, and I was really surprised at how fast the format is. Aside from when Flash or Long.deck was legal, I can’t remember a time when the format was so quick. In my match against Kevin, he basically won both games on turn two (one game with turn two Blightteel on the play, the other with turn one Jace on the draw), and in both of those games combined, he played ten spells—but only actually paid mana for three of them!

My testing for the event was also a little bit skewed, as I played a lot of games against Smennen’s Doomsday list—which is freakishly fast. We played a total of 15 games, and I ended up winning seven, but only because I wouldn’t allow Steve to run “takebacksies,” and he ended up losing because of his own mistakes. Realistically, if he would have played correctly every game, I should only have won a game or two. To be fair, the Doomsday deck is extremely difficult to play, which I think may be a deterrent that makes the deck a less appealing choice moving forward, but I do think it’s one of the best decks in the format. Paul Mastriano played the Doomsday list with very little practice and only a few hours of sleep and put up a 2-4 record with the deck…

However, having seen how fast and powerful the blue decks are capable of being, I felt that I needed to load my deck with maindeck Flusterstorms, Reb, and Misstep. Unfortunately, my tournament experience and pairings didn’t really reflect the testing that I did with the Meandeck guys.

Round 1 Bye.

Round 2. Kevin Cron playing Snapcaster Control.

Game one: He has Ancestral Recall on turn one. I misstep it, and he Missteps it back. On my turn I play a Mox, a land, and Merchant Scroll for my Ancestral Recall. On his turn he Tinkers for Blightsteel Colossus, and I Force of Will. He Forces back. On my turn I play Ancestral, and he Mental Missteps it.

Game two: I play Sapphire and Preordain. Then play Lotus. He plays Lotus, land, and casts Jace. I Mana Drain his Jace, and he Force of Wills me. I draw for my turn and am pretty much cold to Jace.


Round 3. MUD.

I lose the die roll, mulligan to five, and my opponent leads off with Wasteland and Chalice for zero. I play Island and Sol Ring. He plays Phyrexian Revoker naming my Sol Ring. I draw three straight Moxes and die.

Game two: My opponent and I trade good cards early. I have a bunch of artifact mana to play my cards, and I kill his stuff. Eventually he sticks a Null Rod and Wastelands my lands. We arrive in a situation where he is empty-handed, and I have a hand full of gas, but I need to draw a land so I can get rid of his Null Rod. I draw and miss for five turns in a row. Fortunately, he cannot produce a single card that matters in the meantime. He draws Slash Panthers, which trade with Snapcasters that I can cast through a Thorn. Eventually I draw a land and go bananas.

I have complete control. An endless stream of Nature’s Claims, Ancient Grudge, and Snapcaster Mage destroy all of my opponent’s permanents. Riptide Laboratory joins the fray… I have Tinker with Force of Will backup, but elect not to cast it because if my opponent is holding three Phyrexian Metamorphs, I would actually lose the game. As it turns out he was holding three Phyrexian Metamorphs.

At one point in the game he taps out to play Slash Panther and two Metamorphs to attack for 12. I take this opportunity to remove all of his spheres so that I can Tinker for Blightteel and Snapcaster Time Walk to win.


Round 4. Mark Hornung with Grow

I had never met actually met the reigning Vintage Champion, Mark Hornung, before and was pretty excited to get to play against him. I was disappointed that our match didn’t end up being a feature match—but I guess my name doesn’t carry the same clout in Vintage as it used to.

In game one, Mark Mental Missteps my turn one Mystical Tutor. I end up drawing Time Walk and then Ancestral Recall off the top. I have four mana on his critical turn and Flusterstorm to tap him out and then Snapcaster to rebuy Flusterstorm to clear the stack. After that, I vamp for another Snapcaster Mage to rebuy Ancestral Recall with Mark empty-handed. I have a four-power beatdown crew and a hand of double Force of Will, double Mana Drain, and Red Elemental Blast.

Game two: Mark has Dark Confidant early, which dies without netting a card to my Fire / Ice. He plays another Bob, which dies to Snapcaster rebuying Fire / Ice. He ends up going for a turn-four Yawgmoth’s Will to get him value, and I win a counter war with Mana Drain. I draw a bunch of cards on my turn, Time Walk, and Yawgmoth’s Will on the following turn. The game plays out for several turns after this, but I have approximately infinite counters spells, mana like a Cloudpost deck, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in play.


Round 5. JP playing MUD

Game one I mulligan into a six-card hand with Blightsteel Colossus that loses to his Null Rod. I would be in business if I could draw a third land, but I never do and die.

Game two: Is a blowout where I flash down Snapcaster in combat to rebuy a Nature’s Claim and block a Phyrexian Revoker! WOW.

Game three: is a particularly frustrating game for me. My opponent draws all four of his Wastelands (three of them in a row off the top), with no threat on the table to trap me under a single Thorn of Amethyst. He has a Null Rod negating my Lotus and a Mox, but I have an Ancient Grudge in hand. I have two Forces in hand, which I use to hold off more lock pieces. Unfortunately, the only live cards in my deck at this point are lands, which I don’t draw for ten consecutive draw steps. Eventually he adds more thorns, finds a guy, and I lose.


Round 6. Jeff Carpenter with Bant Fish

Game one: a pretty frustrating game. I am under pressure for most of the game, but have lots of action despite a pretty mediocre draw. On the critical turn, I Fact or Fiction and find Tinker—which will win the game because it provides me with an additional blocker to chance his two-turn clock to three turns, as well as force him to chump block to not immediately die. I also have multiple layers of counter backup to protect my Colossus. Unfortunately, my draw step provides me with a Blightsteel Colossus, and I end up losing.

Game two: Jeff has a slow draw and gets severely punished for not interacting in a meaningful way early. I am able to Mana Drain his spells at will and use the mana to cast Fact or Fiction. A Snapcaster with a Riptide Laboratory takes control, and eventually I hard-cast Blightsteel Colossus with triple counterspell backup to kill him.

Game three: I get blown out by my opponent’s Snapcaster Mages! He has turn-one land, Ancestral Recall (which I Force of Will), Mox, Aether Vial. I have Merchant Scroll for Ancestral. On his turn he plays Snapcaster Mage and flashes back Ancestral. My Ancestral resolves, and I also am able to Snapcaster it; however I am unable to beat a Cold-Eyed Selkie that is double exalted by Hierarchs because he Vials down Spellskite and then another Spellskite! Despite having three Ancient Grudges in my deck, I am unable to find one to remedy my Spellskite problem and promptly die over the course of four painful turns.


Round 7. MUD

There isn’t really much to talk about in this round. My opponent sits down, and we joke about how bad our draws have been all day. He promptly mulligans to five and loses and then mulligans to four and loses. Tough days were had all around.



I really liked the Snapcaster deck, despite the fact that I didn’t do very well with it at Waterbury. I audibled into two Fact or Fictions at the insistence of Steve and Paul who said the card was awesome in the deck—but as it turns out I would almost certainly have been better off with a second Jace, the Mind Sculptor and another Mental Misstep, which was what I had in those slots before. It was worth trying out, I suppose, as I do love a good Fact or Fiction.

I wasn’t too shocked to have what I assumed to be true proven for me.

I also didn’t really care for the two Preordains in the deck because I usually wanted to leave my mana up, especially my blue mana to cast Mana Drain. If I were to play the deck tomorrow, I would start by making the following changes:

-2 Fact or Fiction
-2 Preordain
-1 Mystical Tutor
-1 Ancient Grudge
+1 City of Brass
+1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
+1 Mental Misstep
+1 Thirst for Knowledge
+1 Nihil Spellbomb
+1 Gorilla Shaman

I was too chicken to play the second Nihil Spellbomb in the tournament, but it was awesome every time that I drew it in the tournament. Also, Dredge ended up actually winning the event, so packing a little bit more hate might be a good idea. Not to mention, that if other people are playing with Snapcaster Mages, the Spellbombs essentially become even more useful.

Mystical Tutor was kind of slow, and I rarely ever wanted to be on the Tinker plan. I boarded out Mystical in most of my matches. In a deck that is trying to grind card advantage, Mystical wasn’t so great.

Here is what I’d roll next time:

Thanks to Ray for running another excellent tournament this past weekend! Although I didn’t finish in the money, I did win the door prize of a Waterbury T-Shirt—which I am wearing right now! I had a lot of fun getting a chance to actually play with Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall, and it was great to see many familiar faces again as well as meet some new people who were pretty cool to hang out with. Vintage is such an excellent experience, and I am always impressed with the quality of the community and the people who show up, week in and week out to keep the format alive and kicking.

Brian DeMars