Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #338 – Vintage Online?

Thursday, August 19th – The restricted cards from Alpha are at the top of any Vintage list. The question is whether Black Lotus, the Moxen, Ancestral Recall, and Time Walk will be included in MED IV – possibly as Mythics.

Another week, and I haven’t had a chance to catch up on the UST, or even play much Magic. Family obligations and work have kept me on the road, and away from my decks. I really will get back to the UST — promise — but this week is another issues article. I want to talk about Legacy, Classic and Vintage on MTGO.

MTGO has been incredibly successful in attracting players to the most common formats. Online drafting is huge. Online Standard is also very popular — although the number of sanctioned Paper Magic matches is orders of magnitude higher than online. Even so, Online Standard and Block are doing nicely.

Online Legacy is too, more or less. It has a number of advocates, and tournaments fire regularly. However, it suffers from one problem — Online Legacy does not quite match Paper Legacy. Online Legacy is a few cards short of matching the paper card pool. That hurts — you cannot really use MTGO to thoroughly prepare for Paper Legacy tournaments like Grand Prix: Columbus. You can get some practice, of course, but you have to revert to paper to playtest against some decks, since some critical cards are not yet online.

Magic Online is not as old as Paper Magic. MTGO was launched just after Odyssey was released. The sets in Standard at that time were Seventh Edition, Invasion block, and Odyssey. The Odyssey, and all the sets since that time, were drafted heavily, as was Seventh Edition, but Invasion block cards were in short supply. This seriously affected the online Extended metagame until Invasion rotated out of the format.

Since its inception, MTGO has had every set released in the paper world (except Unhinged), and nearly all the special sets, like From the Vaults and Duel Decks, as well. A ton of people draft and open sets online — even Coldsnap — so those cards are widely available. What isn’t available, yet, is a large chunk of the cards from before Invasion.

Some of those cards are appearing, in several ways.

Wizards has been rolling out the more recent pre-MTGO sets online, every couple of months. They started with Mirage — the first set to be seriously playable in Draft and Limited format. (Really. I have drafted sets like Fifth Edition and Homelands, and even Legends. Not good.) Wizards is partway through that process. Mirage block, Tempest block, and the first two Urza’s block sets are online already. Urza’s Destiny is due online later this year. Mercadian Masques, and its expansions, are coming over the next year or so. That means cards like Land Grant and Rishadan Port will be online, eventually.

The sets from before Mirage are more of a problem. Wizards cannot release them all. For one thing, these sets include Ante cards. Ante is never coming back — Wizards legal team killed it years ago, because of concerns with gambling. Old sets have other issues — flip cards like Chaos Orb and Falling Star obviously don’t work online. However, releasing a set with these cards removed has other problems. The distribution of such cards is not even across colors, so the removed cards will mean some colors have fewer cards than others. That can work. Torment was heavy Black, but it was designed to be that way.

What Wizards has done is to cherry pick the old sets and create new sets that are draftable. They call these Masters Editions, and three Masters Editions have been released so far. The fourth is due this fall. The Masters Edition sets have not been as much fun to draft as Zendikar or even M11, but they are not dreadful.

Wizards has also included at least one online chase card in each From the Vaults set. For example, buying From the Vaults: Exiled was the only way to get Strip Mine online. Every serious Classic player — or anyone who thought they might be a serious Classic player — bought a copy. From the Vault: Relics includes Sol Ring — and it is the only way to get a Sol Ring online — so far. (I’d think the odds are about 50/50 that Sol Ring may be a rare in MED IV.) And so it goes.

Even the Duel decks have had chase cards. Jace vs. Chandra sold really well online, mainly because it is the only source for Daze — at least until Nemesis is released sometime next year. Duel decks often include a card that is being released online early. It does sell the sets.

More recently, Wizards has begun issuing some cards new to MTGO as player rewards, which can be earned for playing sanctioned matches on MTGO and/or spending money at the online store. Last month, the mid range reward card was Blue Elemental Blast.

Legacy — What We Need.

Let’s start with a review of Legacy in paper, with an eye to spotting the holes in the online card pool.

I watched the Top 8 of the recent Legacy World Championship. The last two rounds were incredible. I was table judging Matthew Hazard’s matches. In game 3 of the semi-finals, his opponent opened with Underground Sea, Duress, and would have followed with a Thoughtseize and BEB, with Counterbalance Top soon to follow. Matthew had a good hand, with plenty of mana acceleration, but only one action card, which fell to Duress. On his turn 1, however, he ripped Empty the Warrens, and proceeded to play his entire hand and produce 12 Goblins. Those goblins beat for the win on turn 3, around the Emrakul that his opponent managed to Show and Tell into play on turn 3.

In game 1 of the finals, Matthew went off, doing 86 points of damage with Charbelcher on turn 1. His opponent never got to play a card. Game 2 Matthew went off again, but Ryan Messick had Mindbreak Trap to break up the play, and Ryan’s Fish slaughtered Matthew a turn later. Game 3 the Fish were again speeding out of the gate, and Matthew had a turn to go off. He played, among other things, a Chrome Mox and imprinted Guttural Response. That indicated one of two things — he had another in hand, or he was pretty bad. He built up to eight mana, dropped Belcher — and had the Guttural Response for Ryan’s Mindbreak Trap. At that point, the game was over — Ryan just had to activate Charbelcher and flip enough cards to win. However, with almost 50 cards left in the library, and one Taiga, he found the Taiga after just four cards were revealed. Ryan took eight damage — but that was not lethal. Next turn, thought, Ryan’s Fish were.

Exciting games… but let’s look at whether these decks can be played online.

Short answer — sure, you could play this online. The goblins are a touch expensive, but not bad. They are available. About the only card that some goblins decks play that is not available online is Red Elemental Blast.

Matthew’s deck, on the other hand, is missing one important card. It is not critical — Belcher decks are currently played online — but it is important. That card is Land Grant.

I’ll throw in the third place deck as well — not because it has a lot of cards that are not yet online, just because it is cool. This deck is playable online. Not cheap, but playable.

Going through the rest of the Top 8 shows only a couple of cards that are not around online — mainly Red Elemental Blasts, plus Submerge and Snuff Out which will arrive with Masques block. However, looking at other recent Legacy events, and going back a little, we see a number of archetypes with holes. These include:

43 Land / Blue Land: Missing Maze of Ith and Rishadan Port.

Imperial Painter: Missing Meekstone.

Enchantress: Missing Replenish.

Eva Green: Missing Sinkhole, Snuff Out.

The relevant Legacy cardpool is close to complete online. I expect the holes to be filled with MED IV, Urza’s Destiny, and Masques block. Maze of Ith, Sinkhole, and REB are pretty certain to be in MED IV. The questions will be cards like Meekstone, Ashnod’s Altar, and so forth. MED IV cannot contain all the cards still missing — and for 99.9% of those, good riddance. I really have no desire to see Rakalite online, or anywhere else. It was bad enough that Wizards brought back Sorrow’s Path.

Vintage — What is Online Missing?

Let’s tackle the big one first: the Power. The restricted cards from Alpha are at the top of any Vintage list. The question is whether Black Lotus, the Moxen, Ancestral Recall, and Time Walk will be included in MED IV — possibly as Mythics. Wizards had said that they would not — but that was a long time ago, and things may well have changed.

For a long time, I was not sure I wanted to see Power online. I looked at the Vintage / Type I metagames of the times, and wondered what online was missing. The decks were quite broken, and the games were non-interactive. I had no interest in playing true Vintage online, and certainly no desire to find some random idiot playing a full powered Vintage deck against starter decks in the new player’s room. (And it would happen…)

After watching a lot of matches in both a Vintage Qualifier and the Vintage World Champs itself at GenCon, my feelings have changed. Games were interactive. They were long — very, very few ended in the first couple of turns. Many went past ten or even twenty turns. It was more like real Magic.

Here are the Top 4 decks at Vintage Champs. Bob Maher, Jr. and Owen Turtenwald played a 75 card mirror in the finals.

This is a fairly cool new take on Control. It was cool to see Bob beating down with his card, but it was also cool seeing these decks in action.

From the perspective of this article, the cards that are not yet online are the Power Nine, Time Vault, Red Elemental Blast, Sol Ring, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain. That’s not a lot. Time Vault is a fairly likely inclusion in MED IV, I would guess.

This is a classic Workshop deck. It is built around the mana acceleration of Mishra’s Workshop. Workshop is an insane card, and I have loved and played Workshop decks ever since the days of Stacker II and Teletubbies.
The biggest missing piece for workshop decks is — no surprise — Mishra’s Workshop. I can’t decide if I expect that Workshop will be in MED IV or not. If Wizards is going to release Power online, it will. If not, maybe not. Other than Workshop, Sol Ring, Mana Vault, and the Power, the only missing pieces of the deck are some Masques block cards, like Tangle Wire and Rishadan Port. It could happen.

Once again, this semi-combo deck is pretty much complete, other than the Power. This deck also runs Mana Vault, and an assortment of cards from Urza’s Destiny (Yawgmoth’s Bargain) and Masques block (Gush, Misdirection, etc.). The rest of the deck is built to kill with Tendrils of Agony — and all of that stuff is online.

In short, for Vintage to come to MTGO, we need the following:

Urza’s Destiny
Masques block

Ancestral Recall
Time Walk
Black Lotus
Mox Sapphire
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Emerald
Mox Ruby
Sol Ring
Library of Alexandria
Mishra’s Workshop
Time Vault
Mana Vault
Ashnod’s Altar
Red Elemental Blast (and probably BEB)

That’s not a lot. It could happen.

I think it probably should happen.

We will see. MED IV is scheduled to be released on December 13, 2010.


“one million words” on MTGO, if I ever get time to play again.