Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #148: Vintage Versus Standard, One More Time

Last article, I wrote about the cost of Magic, specifically Standard. In the forums, the debate developed two sidetracks; the “you just hate dual lands” and “play Vintage, it’s cheaper in the long run.” The first sidetrack is just stupid — read the fu- err, fine article, I don’t hate the duals. As for the second sidetrack, well, let’s do the math…

Last article, I wrote about the cost of Magic, specifically Standard. In the forums, the debate developed two sidetracks; the “you just hate dual lands” and “play Vintage, it’s cheaper in the long run.” The first sidetrack is just stupid — read the fu- errr, fine article, I don’t hate the duals. As for the second sidetrack, well, let’s do the math.

Is Vintage cheaper than Standard?

Let’s assume that someone began playing competitively three years ago, in the summer of 2003. Let’s look at what they would have to have spent to stay competitive.

We’ll have to make some assumptions to make this work:

Assumption 1: Our example player plays the best deck in the format, and changes Vintage decks twice a year. For Standard, he chases all the hot decks.

We have some data on what the best deck was at any given time — it was the deck that had won the last major tournament. To keep things reasonable, I am going to look at the best Vintage deck twice a year: whatever won the Vintage Championships and whatever won Waterbury, or was otherwise dominant, around January 1. For Standard, I’ll list all the major events during the period, and what did well at each.

It’s a nostalgia tour.

Assumption 2: Our player buys into the game in 2003, and buys whatever else he needs to complete his deck thereafter.

The player needs to start somewhere, so I am assuming that he has no cards in 2003 and buys in at that point. I could go further back, but I don’t want to have to crunch the numbers on more decks that necessary. (It’s taking about two hours of number crunching for each year I include, and I more of the data on old formats is on paper, not CDs, so it is even harder and slower finding data.)

Assumption 3: Our player doesn’t borrow, and he never sells cards.

This just simplifies. I’m assuming that the player will hold onto anything that he has found useful — in other words he is not selling off, then re-buying, his Power 9 every tourney. The main reason for this assumption is that it is hard enough figuring out the cost of buying the cards, without also figuring out the net cost after reselling cards.

Assumption 4: For Vintage, the cost of non-power cards is the StarCityGames.com retail price of the cheapest version of the card as I am writing this.

Card prices change over time. Some go up, some go down. I don’t have the ability to find the price of a given card in a given year. I know Black Lotus was cheaper once upon a time. On the flip side, a lot of the other cards were a lot more expensive once upon a time. Chrome Mox is $7 now — it was a lot more when it was introduced into decks.

I am also going to use the cheapest, tournament legal price. That means that Underground Seas, for example, are “heavily played” Fourth Edition versions, not minty Betas. These prices are for the cheapest, shabbiest decks our player can get — if he wants to pimp this out, the price gets a lot higher.

The biggest cost, of course, is the Power 9. I’ll address that below.

I should also note that you can find lower prices, especially if you try to buy from the eBay guys with -4 ratings and a PO Box. Once you factor in the money you lose to cons and forgeries, the prices about even out. (See my previous article for a discussion of opportunity cost, etc., of other ways of getting cards.) In any case, since I am using the same pricing assumptions for both Vintage and Standard, it is a wash.

Assumption 5: For Standard, where the cost of cards jumps around like a Chihuahua on Meth, we’ll use the then-current retail price of a deck, when I can find one, or a formula to approximate the cost at the time.

The cost of cards varies like mad, but we’ll assume that our player buys all the cards at retail, after the decks become known. The chase rares will cost about $20, the good rares about $7, the junk rares and the uncommons $1 each, and the commons $0.25 each. That’s hardly perfect, but neither is using the current value of cards from the 2004 Standard season. I seem to remember paying more than $1.25 for Shadowblood Ridge, and Cunning Wish did not cost $7.50 when Wake was big. It does now, though. ($7.50. Hmmm. I may have to order some more.) The ranges do reflect pretty much what StarCityGames charges for played copies of these cards, and are a fair comparison with the Vintage prices. If anything, it really overestimates the cost of Standard.

Oh, yeah, basic lands are free.

The Cost of Vintage:

This is all about the Power.

At the moment, the price of a Black Lotus, the five Moxen, Ancestral Recall, and Time Walk is about $3,000. Note that I’m excluding Time Twister, since the card is not really that good and is not seen in many Vintage decks any more.

$3,000. For white bordered, beat to pieces versions of the core eight power cards.

That’s the buy-in to this format.

The big question is what our example player might have spent in 2003 for those cards. They were cheaper, but not all that much cheaper.

I’ll assume a starting cost of $1500 for that core. I paid a bit over $800 for my power — way back when Vintage was called Type One and no one played it. I know my cards had doubled in value a year of so later. $1500 three years ago would be a real bargain.

Playing only in proxy tourneys would cut the price to about $500, but then that player has to sit out the Vintage Championships. More importantly, proxy tournaments don’t go back very far — if our player was playing competitively in 2003, he was not playing proxies.

Looking through the StarCityGames archives, and elsewhere, here are the top decks for Vintage, starting in summer, 2003.

Vintage Champs, 2003, Hulk Smash,
January, 2004: Long.dec
Summer, 2004: The Man Show (first at the StarCity P9 tourney)
January, 2005: D4grOn, $T4K$
Vintage Champs, 2005: Meandeck Gifts
January, 2006: Control Slaver (dominated Waterbury)
Vintage Champs, 2006: The Sullivan Solution

People can argue about whether Dr4gOn was best in January or February of 2006, and whether $T4K$ should hold that spot. Dragon got more coverage.

Part of calculating the change in cost involved pricing all the cards, which means I can provide the current price of these decks, using the cheapest (legal) version of each card. Here goes.

The Sullivan Solution: $3,563.30
Control Slaver: $4.042.10
Meandeck Gifts: $4,040.45
D4grOn: $4,574.25
$T4K$: $4,296.40
The Man Show: $4,251.50
Long.dec: $3,685.00
Hulk Smash: $4,267.95
5/3: $4,064.85

Our player starts with Hulk Smash. The cost of buying that deck, initially, is $4,267.95 today. I would be amazed if he could have bought the deck for under $2500 in 2003, but I’ll say he got a great deal and paid $2,000.

In January, he changes over to Long.dec. The additional cards he needs are:

Tolarian Academy,
2 Glimmervoid,
4 Gemstone Mine,
4 City of Brass,
Mana Crypt,
Mana Vault,
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond,
4 Dark Ritual,
3 Chromatic Sphere,
4 Burning Wish (and these did not cost him $5 then, but that’s what I’m using),
1 Duress,
1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain,
1 Mind’s Desire,
1 Vampiric Tutor,
1 Demonic Consultation,
1 Windfall,
1 Timetwister,
1 Wheel Of Fortune,
1 Memory Jar,
1 Necropotence,
2 Stifle,
2 Tendrils of Agony,
1 Diminishing Returns,
4 Xantid Swarm,
1 Primitive Justice,
1 Meltdown,
3 Crumble,
2 Naturalize.

The additional cards will cost him $368.

After the Vintage Champs, he switches to The Man Show. He needs to acquire:

4 Wasteland,
4 Mishra’s Workshop,
1 Strip Mine,
4 Trinisphere,
3 Crucible of Worlds,
1 Grim Monolith,
4 Juggernaut,
3 Su-Chi,
2 Goblin Welders,
2 Triskelion,
1 Darksteel Colossus,
1 Razormane Masticore,
1 Duplicant,
1 Karn, Silver Golem,
3 Chains of Mestopheles,
1 Swords to Plowshares,
1 Blue Elemental Blast,
3 Damping Matrix,
2 Rack and Ruin,
1 Balance,
1 Timetwister,
1 Sundering Titan,
1 Vindicate.

That will cost an additional $1,081.75.

The next big deck is Dr4gOn. To change to that deck, he needs to add:

4 Worldgorger Dragon,
4 Squee Goblin Nabob,
1 Eternal Witness,
3 Verdant Force,
4 Animate Dead,
3 Necromancy,
1 more Intuition,
3 Lim-Dul’s Vault,
3 Compulsion,
4 Bazaar of Baghdad,
2 more Polluted Deltas,
3 Tropical Islands,
4 Chalice of the Void,
3 Pernicious Deed,
2 Sundering Titan,
1 Memnarch.

These cards cost an additional $1,120.25. (Bazaars!)

The change to Meandeck Gifts is a lot cheaper. At this point, the deck is the using a lot of existing cards. The new ones are:

4 Gifts Ungiven,
1 Rebuild,
1 Fact or Fiction,
2 Misdirection,
3 Thirst for Knowledge,
1 Recoup,
1 Rebuild,
2 Pithing Needle,
Hurkyl’s Recall,
Rushing River,
Deep Analysis,
2 Pyroclasm.

The cost is $92.25.

His next change is to Control Slaver. The additions here are:

Echoing Truth,
3 Mana Leak,
Platinum Angel,
Seat of the Synod,
1 more Goblin Welder,
4 Thirst for Knowledge,
3 Blood Moon,
2 Tormod’s Crypt,
2 Lava Dart,
1 Pyroblast.

The additional cost for this change is just $36.00.

The final shift is from Control Slaver to the Sullivan Solution. The Sullivan Solution requires the following new cards:

Chain of Vapor,
4 Dark Confidant,
2 Darkblast,
4 Dimir Cutpurse,
4 Diabolic Edict,
2 Shadow of Doubt,
2 Energy Flux,
1 Engineered Explosives,
4 Planar Void,
3 Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
Hymn to Tourach.

The additional cost is $90.35.

So the total cost for playing in Vintage since 2003 is:

Original cost of Hulk Smash: $2,000
Upgrade to Long.dec: $368
Upgrade to The Man Show: $ 1,082
Upgrade to Dr4gOn: $ 1,120
Upgrade to Meandeck Gifts: $ 92
Upgrade to Control Slaver: $ 36
Upgrade to Sullivan Solution: $ 90

Total cost for playing (assuming a great deal on Hulk Smash): $ 4,788.

On to Standard

Choosing a single “best” Standard deck after events like Regionals and States — each of which has a lot of Top 8s, and a lot of winners. That said, we’ll take a shot. Let’s look at the decks that came out of each major event.

I’m not going to put in a lot of links to decklists here. Many of these decks are pulled out of old notes, paper results, or off the past event coverage on the Wizards site. Sorry.

Worlds, 2003:
Wake x 4, Goblin Bidding, U/G Madness, Reanimator,

States, 2003:
Broodstar Affinity, U/W Control, Mono-black control, Goblins, Goblin Bidding, Angry CON-trol, G/R Goodstuf

Kobe Last Chance Qualifier, March, 2004
Various Affinity builds, Goblin Bidding w/ Skullclamp, Goblin Deck Wins, R/G Tooth and Nail

Hong Kong Regionals, late March, 2004:
Moldy Hermit, Death Cloud, Goblin Clamp Bidding

JSS Challenge, April 2004:
Affinity, Tooth and Nail, Astral Slide

Regionals, June, 2004:
Affinity 53%, Goblin Bidding 15%, Tooth and Nail 8%

U.S. Nationals, 2004:
Elf and Nail

GP: Nagoya, August, 2004:
GW Slide, Affinity x 4, U/W Control, mono black Death Cloud, R/G Goblins.

Worlds, Sept., 2004:
Affinity x 3, G/W Slide, R/W Slide, Goblins, U/W Control, Ironworks.

2005 Magic Invitational & Last Chance Qualifiers, May, 2005:
Tooth and Nail, MUC (Thieving Magpie, Vedalken Shackles), Red Deck Wins (Arc Slogger / LD)

Regionals, 2005:
Tooth, MUC, Red Control with Arc Slogger, Enduring Ideal, Heartbeat,

U.S. Nationals, August, 2005:
MUC x3 (Urzatron, Shackles, Memnarch), MUC no Tron, Rats, G/B Deathcloud, WW, Red Control

Canadian Nationals, August, 2005:
Blue Tooth x 2, Viridian Rats x 6

9E arrives, Plow Under leaves, Early Harvest appears.

States, October, 2005: (Ravnica in Mirrodin out)
White Weenie & Boros Deck wins, B/G, Fungus Fire, Gifts, Heartbeat, Critical Mass, Heartbeat, Eminent Domain, U/b Control

Worlds, Nov.-Dec. 2005
Ghazi-Glare, Blue control splashing Black, Greater Good,

Pro Tour: Hawaii, March, 2006:
Heezy Street, Zoo, Owling Mine x2, Hand in Hand, Heartbeat, Orzhov Aggro

Regionals, May 2006:
Ghost Husk, Gruul Beats / Heezy Street, U/R Magnivore, U/R/W Firemane Control, Zoo, Tron Wildfire, etc.

U.S. Nationals, July 2006:
Solar Flare, Ghost Husk, U/R Tron and Magnivore, etc. This was pretty recent — if you want details, check out the coverage.

The next step is to move our player through the Standard metagame. This requires some assumptions about the player — for example, does he like combo, does he tend to stick closely to previously played archetypes or jump around, etc. I already said he will play the best deck. He plays everything.

Our Standard player is obviously going to start with Wake. Wake was the best deck out there at the end of the Odyssey / Onslaught / 8E standard environment. Daniel Zink won Worlds with Wake — let’s use his decklist. That deck had several chase rares:

4 Wrath of God
3 Cunning Wish
2 Flooded Stand
2 Decree of Justice
3 Mirari’s Wake
1 Mirari
2 Exalted Angel
3 Anurid Brushhopper.

The only other rares were:

4 Skycloud Expanse
3 Vengeful Dreams.

The chase uncommons were:

1 Wing Shards
3 Moment’s Peace
1 Circular Logic
maybe 2 Elfhame Palace.

It’s pretty hard to total that up to much more than $250, maybe $300 if he paid upper-end retail for everything, but let’s call it $300.

The next deck he adopts has to be Broodstar Affinity. It is clearly the best deck after 2003 States. I’ll use Jim Ferraiolo‘ Dark Affinity build as the base. Note that almost nothing (except maybe a spare Naturalize) carries over from the previous deck. The chase rares are:

4 Broodstar (it was chase then),
3 Chrome Mox
4 Glimmervoid.

The only other rares are three Persecutes in the sideboard. By putting the maximum price on all the rares, and chase prices on cards like Thirst for Knowledge, we can probably bump the price of this deck up to $275, and that requires charging a quarter a piece for the bad commons, like Aether Spellbomb and Rush of Knowledge.

Once Darksteel becomes legal, the best deck is clearly Ravager Affinity, with Skullclamp. Let’s assume he pays $25 each for the Arcbound Ravagers, $5 each for the Skullclamps and $20 each for the Blinkmoth Nexi, upgrading will cost him, at most, an additional $200. Probably far less, since I saw an old decklist for Vial Affinity retailing at $224, and that list had Goblin Sharpshooters in the sideboard.

Ravager Affinity remains the best deck for a long time after this, and he should stay with it. However, just to kick up the cost, let’s assume our player falls for the Goblin Bidding hype and switches to that deck. He has the Skullclamps, but he has to add the Patriarch’s Biddings, City of Brass, Bloodstained Mires / Wooded Foothills, Siege Gang Commanders, Goblin Piledrivers, Goblin Sharpshooters. Sideboard cards include Goblin Charbelcher, Oblivion Stone and Sulfuric Vortex. I found an old article with a Buy It Now tag saying that the price for a complete Goblin Bidding deck was $312 at the time. Let’s say it was $310 without the Skullclamps.

For Regionals, we’ll make our player an early adopter of Tooth and Nail. I found an old article with a “Buy it Now” tag on a Tooth deck. The price was $431. I don’t have the article in front of me now, so that may have him doubling up on Chrome Moxen, but I don’t think so. I will round it down to $430, though: someone gave him the Llanowar Elves.

After U.S. Nationals, he — and everyone else — will play Elf and Nail. The Buy It Now price for Elf and Nail was $227, but he already has the Tooth and Nail components. He has to add some common and uncommon elves, plus four Birds of Paradise. Worst case scenario has him shelling out another $80 for those — and he should be able to find beat up Birds for a lot less. I was paying around $7 a Bird back then.

After GP: Nagoya and Worlds, our player will shift over to Nuijten’s G/W Slide deck. He has the Wraths, Decrees of Justice, and stuff like Renewed Faith from his old Wake deck, and Eternal Witness from Elf and Nail. The new cards will be playsets of Eternal Dragon, Windswept Heath, Astral Slide, Plow Under, a pair of Rude Awakenings, and some cycling lands. Based on the numbers I have, I would estimate a high-end cost of $175.

The next big Standard event is the Invitational, in May, 2005. As a result, our player shifts to Gabriel Nassif Mono-Blue control deck. He has the Nexi, but needs Stalking Stones. He also needs Bribery, the fourth Chrome Mox, Hinder, Rewind, Vedalken Shackles, Wayfarer’s Bauble, 2 Meloku, and 4 Thieving Magpie, plus some sideboard cards, including Threads of Disloyalty and Temporal Adept. Even assuming he pays over $20 each for the Shackles and a couple bucks each for the uncommons, that won’t exceed $200.

Just to bump up the cost, we can have him jump over to the Arc Slogger based decks after that. Sloggers peaked around $10, as I remember, so if he adopts Osyp’s deck, he needs to spend $40 for them, plus the Solemn Simulacrums ($60 for all four), 3 Beacons of Destruction, Magma Jets, Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], 2 Boseijus, 2 Culling Scales, another Duplicant (assuming he has one from Tooth), 2 Fireballs, 2 Flamebreaks, etc. No matter how I sum that up, I really can’t see that costing more than $180.

Our player will shift back to mono-Blue control after Canadian Nationals. I’ll include the entire decklist, to let you see how I am pricing this out.

BlueTooth: Tyler Blum — two in Top 8 Canadian National 2005

7 Island (free)
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds ($2)
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge ($2)
4 Urza’s Mine / Power Plant / Urza’s Tower (has — Tooth)

2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror (has, from Nassif’s deck))
4 Triskelion (has 2, 2 x $4 = $8)
3 Solemn Simulacrum (has, from Osyp’s deck))
2 Memnarch (2 x $7 = $14)

3 Serum Visions (2 x $1)
4 Echoing Truth
4 Condescend (4 x $0.25)
4 Thirst for Knowledge (has — Broodstar Affinity)
4 Mana Leak (has — Wake, Nassif)
3 Sensei’s Divining Top (has — Tooth)
3 Chrome Mox (has – Nassif)
3 Mindslaver (has at least one — Tooth, 2 x $15 = $30)

1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror ($15)
4 Sun Droplet (4 x $3)
4 Annex (4 x $1)
1 Duplicant (Tooth)
1 Acquire ($1)
4 Annul (4 x $0.50)

The total cost to upgrading into this deck is $84. Call it $85. I know that’s high, but I don’t want to underestimate anything.

At this point, Mirrodin goes out, and Ravnica arrives. Under our assumptions, though, our player does not sell off any of his Mirrodin cards.

For States, our player believes Mike Flores and plays Critical Mass Update. He needs to add the Vinelasher Kudzus, Shadow of Doubt, Umezawa’s Jitte, Keigas, 1 Arashi, 4 Tendo Ice Bridge and 4 Yavimaya Coast, Jushi Apprentices and Rending Vines. That won’t cost anything near $400, but we’ll say that, just to be on the safe side.

The next big event is Worlds. Our player decides that Ghazi-Glare is the best deck in the format, and starts playing that. He has the Jittes, the one Birds of Paradise, the Elves, one Arashi and the Wrath of God, but needs most everything else. Subtracting those cards from the old Buy it Now price leaves a cost of about $250.

Following the Pro Tour, our player makes about the most expensive shift he can — over to Ghost Husk. He has basically nothing from that deck except the Jittes, so he ends up buying it all. I priced out those decks a couple of weeks ago — my estimate to the cost of that deck, assuming full retail but without the Jitte, was $325.

For Regionals, lets have him shift again, to U/R Magnivore. Once again, he has to buy most of the deck, although he will have some Mana Leaks and Melokus from playing mono-blue beforehand. After deducting the costs of everything he has, the cost of the rest of the deck is about $175.

I could have the player shift, now, to Solar Flare, as a result of U.S. Nationals. However, I have not had the Vintage player change since New Year, so that seems a little like overkill. Depending on when this goes up, I may have gone to GenCon and returned, in which case I will provide the update in the forums.

Time to total this up.

Wake: $ 300
“Upgrading” to Broodstar Affinity: $ 275
Upgrading to Ravager Affinity: $ 200
Switch to Goblin Bidding: $ 310
Switch to Tooth and Nail: $ 430
Upgrade to Elf and Nail: $ 80
Change over to GW Slide: $ 175
Change to Nassif’s MUC: $ 200
Throw in Arc Slogger: $ 180
Back to Blue Tooth: $ 85
Upgrading to Critical Mass Update: $ 400
Change to Ghazi-Glare: $ 250
Change to Ghost Husk: $ 325
Change to UR Magnivore: $ 175

Grand total: about $3,400


Vintage players — STFU.

The Standard player played for three years, paying at least full price for cards and changing to every new deck that won a major event, and spent $3,400.

The Vintage player changed decks only twice a year, and we assumed the lowest possible prices for everything including the Power, and he still spent over $1,300 more.

More importantly, the total amount spent by the Standard player is still less than the cost of any single Vintage deck discussed. That’s the total cost for Standard, versus the cost for just one Vintage deck. And note that the cheapest Vintage deck is the Sullivan Solution, which does not run Time Walk. Really — check it out, I’ll wait.

Let’s look at those prices again:

The Sullivan Solution: $3,563
Control Slaver: $4.042
Meandeck Gifts: $4,040
D4grOn: $4,574
$T4K$: $4,296
The Man Show: $4,251
Long.dec: $3,685
Hulk Smash: $4,267

Ghost Husk: $ 392
U/R Magnivore: $ 220
Heezy Street: $ 250
Zoo: $ 405
Firemane Angel Control: $ 337
Tooth and Nail (in its time): $ 431
Rift Slide (in its time) $ 399
Elf and Nail (ditto) $ 227
Vial Affinity (ditto) $ 224

The Standard player changed decks all the time and jumped around a lot. If we assume he takes a more budget minded path — Wake to Affinity to MUC to Critical Mass to Magnivore, for example — he can play Standard for three years for less than the cost of a Black Lotus and the five Moxen.

Vintage is a more expensive format to play over any typical period of time a new player might consider. Over a longer period — at least five years or more — the Vintage players might have an argument. Over anything shorter, they don’t. And even if you go over longer periods, Vintage players begin to see additional costs from dead cards: the expensive cards that used to be in Teletubbys or MaskNaught, for example, but are no longer played at all.


pete {dot} jahn {at} Verizon {dot} com