Vintage For Beginners: Jargon and Essential Cards

My editor asked for this article some time ago… no one else followed through, so it fell to me. A Vintage primer, for those looking to begin playing Magic’s most venerable format…

My editor asked for this article some time ago… no one else followed through, so it fell to me. A Vintage primer, for those looking to begin playing Magic’s most venerable format…

In this article, I’m going to do my best to:

a) … explain the Vintage Lingo,
b) … give a rundown of the essential Vintage cards that every player looking to get into Vintage should start with, and,
c) … supply a final list of cards that every serious Vintage player should own.

Vintage Lingo

The vernacular of Magic is incredibly insular. Everything in Magic is a symbol for some idea of some concept. If you say the word “Jitte” to a Vintage player, they may give you a funny look. It means nothing. Yet to a Standard player, it means a whole lot. It invokes memories, it brings to mind dollar signs, game states, and all sorts of other mental imagery. I’m going to decode some of the more common Vintage lingo.

The first nugget you need to know is:

“FoW,” phonetically pronounced “FOUGH”

This represents the card Force of Will. Force of Will is the most prevalent card in Vintage, aside from the Power Nine.

Power Nine? What’s that, you say?

The Power Nine or (P9) refers to a set of nine cards printed in Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited that were far and away more powerful than anything else in the set:

Black Lotus
Mox Ruby
Mox Pearl
Mox Jet
Mox Emerald
Mox Sapphire
Time Walk
Ancestral Recall

The latter three are, collectively, referred to as the “Power Blue.”

“Wait,” you may say, “these cards aren’t as powerful as Tinker or Yawgmoth’s Will… especially not Timetwister!”

I agree with you, but the term Power Nine has stuck, and will likely remain for as long as Magic exists.

Speaking of Yawgmoth’s Will, this card is referred to commonly as:

Yawg Will
Yawg Win

My friend Doug Linn Ungluified my Yawgmoth’s Will by adding a silver border and drawing the unglued egg over the Saga icon. Why? Because the card is too silly to be real.

This term refers to the card Mana Drain. You’ll often hear the term “Drain decks” — this simply refers to decks that have Mana Drain in them. Think heavy Blue decks when you hear this term.

This refers to another Vintage staple: Mishra’s Workshop. Similarly, if you hear someone say “Shop decks,” they are referring to decks that rely on Mishra’s Workshops.

Most of the lingo in Vintage is simply a shortening of commonly played cards. For example:

Academy = Tolarian Academy
Jar = Memory Jar
Titan = Sundering Titan
Welder = Goblin Welder
Welding = the action of using your Goblin Welder
Walking = refers to the action of taking your Time Walk turn.
Recall myself = refers to playing Ancestral Recall on yourself
Slaver = Mindslaver
Slaving = refers to the activation of Mindslaver
Drain Mana = refers to the mana derived from playing Mana Drain.
AK = Accumulated Knowledge
Restricted = refers to the fact that a particular card is restricted — this means that you may play only one of this card per deck.
The Restricted list = this is the list that has all of the restricted cards on it.

This is a sample list, but to understand the Vintage lingo, you basically have to become familiar with the cards themselves. Once you have a grip on the card pool, the lingo will come to you intuitively.

The rest of the lingo refers to decks:

Slaver = The Mindslaver Control deck
Grim Long = refers to a particular storm combo deck using Grim Tutor
IT = Intuition Tendrils — refers to another Storm combo deck
Stax = refers to the Mishra’s Workshop decks using Smokestack
Fish = refers to any aggro control variant using small creatures and annoying disruption like Null Rod or Chalice of the Void

Cards You Should Own

If you are brand new to Vintage, I am going to give you a list of the cheaper cards you should invest in, particularly if you live in a high proxy area.

The first card you want to own is:


This card is one of the most common cards in Vintage. Get four of them now.

The most common lands in Vintage are, beyond basic lands:

Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
City of Brass
Gemstone Mine
Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Tolarian Academy
Strip Mine

If you invest in those lands, you’ll have a solid base from which to build many, many decks. I have listed the lands in order of importance. The only truly expensive lands in that list are the two dual lands.

City of Brass and Gemstone Mine can be found in a lot of Vintage decks. They are played in Stax, in combo, and in decks like Ichorid. Similarly, Polluted Delta is used in Combo, in control decks, and decks like Fish. If you have to start somewhere, start with Polluted Deltas and Flooded Strands.

Everyone knows that the Power Nine is to be found in most Vintage decks (aside from Timetwister). But if you aren’t interested in picking up power right now, because you are going to be playing in ten proxy events, have no fear. You just need to pick up these cards:

Sol Ring
Lotus Petal
Mana Vault

And if you can afford it, it would be a real boon to buy:

Mana Crypt

Get those cards, proxy the big-ticket items, and you’ll be fine.

Here are the cheap staples that you can expect to use many times:

4 Duress
4 Red Elemental Blast
3 Rack and Ruin
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Dark Ritual
4 Cabal Ritual
4 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
Gorilla Shaman
1 Mystical Tutor
Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Regrowth
Chain of Vapor
Echoing Truth
1 Burning Wish
at least 1 Tendrils of Agony
4 Thirst for Knowledge
Some Merchant Scrolls
Cabal Therapy (less important, but still useful)
It’s not quite there yet, but I think that owning 4 Leyline of the Void is a good investment since you’ll probably use that multiple times in the near future.

Here are the mid-grade priced cards that you’ll want to get your hands on:

1 Tinker,
1 Vampiric Tutor,
4 Gifts Ungiven
4 Goblin Welder
4 Force of Will * really important, although expensive. This is the most important relatively expensive card you need to pick up.
1 Darksteel Colossus (you’ll only need one)
1 Misdirection
Pithing Needle — I only own one personally, but it is seeing more and more play.
It looks like Dark Confidant is quickly becoming a staple to the Vintage format as well. Getting four of those isn’t a bad idea.

Beyond those cards, you start getting into the specific archetypes. The cards I’ve just listed are cards that are found in many archetypes, and they will provide a very solid base for any Vintage collection. With those cards, you can probably build two-thirds, if not more, of most Vintage decks.

Here are the other cards off the Restricted list that it is worth investing in, simply because they see a lot of play or because they are really cheap:

Chrome Mox
Crop Rotation
Demonic Consultation
Demonic Tutor
Grim Monolith
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Mind Twist
Mind’s Desire
Wheel of Fortune
Yawgmoth’s Bargain

If you are a high roller, here are the cards I think you should definitely invest in:

4 Mana Drain
these cards are a fundamental staple to the format. You’ll find them in lots and lots of decks. The rest of you will have to proxy them.

1 Imperial Seal
This card is also in control, aggro, combo, and Workshop decks.

4 Mishra’s Workshop
This is a staple for anyone who wants to play Stax or fattie beatdown

4 Bazaar of Baghdad
This card is used in Workshop decks with Uba Mask to generate card advantage (also combos with Goblin Welder in those decks). But it is also a staple for Worldgorger Dragon combo variants and is now in the uber-cool Ichorid deck.

4 Grim Tutor
If you want to play modern storm combo without proxies, you need at least two of these cards. They are used in IT and Grim Long.

1 Library of Alexandria
This card still sees a lot of play in Control decks. All serious control players should think about owning this card in the long run.

There you have it! Vintage jargon and basics revealed!

See you at the SCG Power 9 Tournaments!

Stephen Menendian