One of the best yet woefully underplayed disruption cards for Vintage is Null Rod. Right about here I can see some of you going, "L0lZo)R Ooo meee geee evewbowdy plays it in Fish!". Yes, people, it is played in Fish; the problem is that that's the only deck anybody seems to play it in. For example, I barely hear anyone speak of a Mishra's Workshop-based Null Rod deck. In one of those rarely used concepts, Workshop allows for 1st turn Null Rod and you can still play fat threats quickly, even under the Rod. Brassman (Andy Probasaco) reminded me of this type of deck in IRC just a short time ago. You get to run the typical Workshop goodies like Smokestack, Chalice of the Void, and Tangle Wire, with more powerful creatures than other aggro and Null Rod.
G/R beatdown decks seem to make decent use of the Rod, but the deck builders seem to limit themselves to cards that don't take risks. The basic rule I follow for Vintage is: the more underpowered your deck is, the more risks you have to take to succeed. This means running cards Hidden Gibbons and Red Elemental Blast to help power your deck. Sure, they may be dead in some matches; but they give your deck a better power-to-mana ratio. The same goes for potential hosers, in some metagames consider running the gambit and using Choke over Blood Moon.
Having an underpowered deck shouldn't mean limiting your options, because that means you're playing an inferior deck with one trump card. When you cut corners to run powerful but symmetrical cards like Chains of Mephistopheles and Null Rod, you have to make up for that loss by running better cards and making the deck as tight as possible. You can't afford to run little critters that can easily be overwhelmed by a back-up plan or play a deck that loses when you can't resolve your trump card.
On that note, a deck like Suicide could potentially be viable now. Yes, I mentioned that oh-so-dreaded name as a potential deck. Not the normal crappy builds people seem to love posting; I mean one focused on only the best disruption and solid creatures. That means no creatures with an angry sacrificial temperament such as Phyrexian Negator. Such a deck could pack Chalice of the Void, Null Rod, Crucible of Worlds, Withered Wretch, Strip Mine, Wasteland, Duress and Chains of Mephistopheles all as potential disruption. Add to that you can run Dark Ritual to power it out turn 1 and you have one hell of an opening barrage. As for finishing the opponent off, Nantuko Shade is still a very quick death for the opponent, despite lacking a disruption element. After that, simply find a random Flesh Reaver or a similarly large creature to smash the opponent's face in. I'm not including a list in the article (It's not complete, nor really tested), but those are my thoughts thus far.
Moving on with: "Whatever happened to...?"
This is the section of the article where I muse on various card combinations that have seemingly fallen out of favor lately. I'll examine why they could still be useful and where.
Whatever happened to? Black draw in decks
Night's Whisper and Skeletal Scrying are two of the most efficient card drawing spells available to decks willing to run black. Yet for whatever reason, people seem to be dead set on not playing them - even in decks like Suicide and EBA (horrible deck, but I hate seeing people make it worse), which are tailor-made for the cards! Night's Whisper should be a heavy consideration in any MWS decks packing Black, as well as any normal aggro deck. Meanwhile, Skeletal Scrying is far better in decks packing Mana Drain, be it aggro-control or normal control. Running draw that can't be hit with a REB and is variable in mana cost tends to be pretty good.
Whatever happened to? Illusionary Mask + Phyrexian Dreadnought
Think about it for a moment kiddies:
Oath + Forbidden Orchard vs. Masknought combo
Both are two-card combos
Both produce two-turn clocks
Orchard and Mask are both useful on their own
The Oath combo costs 2, Masknought costs 3.
Masknought takes 8 slots and Oath Orchard takes up 11-12 slots
Masknought is rather underused for being a decent combo. Past The Riddler using it, nearly no other deck does. No other 'Shop decks seem to be built to incorporate this, despite the fact that they can easily support a 4-5 color mana base for great tutors to find the pieces. Another deck, GroMask, was never really explored either, despite its doing three wonderful things for the combo.
A. The deck has an excellent secondary (or primary, depending on POV) win condition in Quirion Dryad.
B. A 'Gro deck naturally runs plenty of cantrips along with tutors. This is great not only to pump Dryad, but also to flow through the deck and find additional Mask components.
C. It gives the deck Force of Will.
Yes, the combo is affected by artifact hate; but so are most of the decks in Vintage. Get over it and run Hanna's Custody or counters.
Whatever happened to? Threshold and Madness creatures
Okay so this little ranting suddenly sounds out of place with the U/G Madness deck doing well at Waterbury and Jacob Orlove's "WTF" build placing at Richmond and Rochester. Still, I think these creatures are underused in aggro decks and should be given a more serious thought when creating new decks. For example, we have a U/G Madness build, but what about a U/G Threshold build (Ala Bird S**t) running Chalice of the Void, Aether Vial and a better mana base. Suddenly you keep your big bulky creatures, gain a better disruption package and the ability to effectively run Ninja of the Deep Hours. You also aren't forced to run a 3-color mana base, which runs into real consistency issues.
Speaking of that, with combo, removal and Wastelands suddenly leaving the scene, it may be time to consider Bombs over Baghdad again. It has a goldfish of turn 3/4 with the possibility of even quicker kills, has an engine in Bazaar of Baghdad which lives longer with control decks forgoing Strips and it can run Artifact Mutation with its army to smack up MWS decks. St00pid aggro may have a very real chance of coming back, purely because Drain combo has issues racing it in many games. With a better draw engine than most decks and the ability to run large creatures (including the often maligned Roar of the Wurm) it could easily be the dark horse of the format.
Whatever happened to? Equipment
Excuse me while I laugh about how some people thought Umezawa's Jitte was bad. I won't bother to name anyone, but you you know who you are. And then of course there was Richmond where we saw how awesome it is in a Fish-esque deck like "WTF". As usual, a piece of powerful equipment ends up being playable in Vintage, just like Sword of Fire and Ice. I'm very glad equipment of all kinds has finally been seeing more use, thanks to the revelation that Chalice of the Void can effectively replace Null Rod in some builds. The main equipment to keep your eye on are still SoFaI and Jitte (Remind anyone of Standard?) for most aggro. Meanwhile, Skullclamp and Cranial Plating are the other two equipment cards I can imagine seeing some play, but they are rarely used successfully.
Remember that Skullclamp can be amazing in a deck with some decent recursion and expendable creatures. Equipping a Clamp on an Eternal Witness is one of the funniest and most potent things you can do with a common aggro deck. A B/G aggro deck consisting of efficient utility creatures, Skullclamp, Cabal Therapy, Duress, Chalice of the Void and possibly the Strip / Crucible lock could be quite good. If you can stall the opponent for a while, letting your engine and utility come online, you can easily overwhelm him in a mid-game war.
Jumping to another topic (because now I'm bored with this)...
In my mind there are about nine decks that don't suck in testing, have put up results and are objectively strong enough to win a Vintage tourney.
Gifts (SSB or Gifted.fr)
UW Fish (Vial or Otherwise)
UG Fish (WTF)
Food Chain Goblins
Rebuilt Workshop Aggro (5/3 retrofits mostly)
The only two decks that I think are a stretch on that list are WTF and FCG, but both decks have proven themselves in large tourneys earlier in the year. Now some of you may be thinking, "where's dum dar combo dohickies?". What can I say? I think non-Dragon combo right now is inferior to Gifts if you want to play a powerful deck that wins quickly. Not only does most combo have lousy matches vs. Stax, Gifts and decks packing Chalice / Force of Will; but it also carries the burden of not crapping out over an 7-8 round tourney. Belcher might be a solid option for trying to make T8, since with some good draws and matches it can cruise through an under prepared field. That's it though, and I highly doubt any combo deck's ability to win at a modern Vintage tourney.
I only have faith in Dragon right now because a lot of faster combo is on the decline and it has decent matches against anything except the current Gifts decks. Builds like SSB can easily smash Dragon and may simply be superior in most situations. With that said, I still believe Dragon is a very valid option and has a better game against aggro like U/W Fish and FCG. Sensei, Sensei is another combo deck that doesn't suck, and I only leave it off the list because it is less played and has been far less successful than Dragon on the whole. However, in the future I believe it could grow a significant following.
Right now there are two dark horses, which I could believe can make a significant impact if properly built and piloted. Those decks are U/W Landstill and Bombs over Baghdad (Bazaar Madness). Why do I like these decks? I already covered the advantages of playing BoB earlier, but the advantage Landstill has is massive redundancy and the ineffectiveness of disruption against it. Landstill can easily overwhelm a number of control mirrors with Strips + Crucible (plus it can easily run Chalice for auxiliary mana denial) and Standstill draw, meanwhile keeping a great aggro matchup thanks to 4 Swords to Plowshares and a number of Nevinyrral's Disk. Also, the deck runs a high number of basics, answers to all permanents and a lack of Moxen to shut off with Chalice. Hence, this deck is pretty hard to kill off with most traditional disruption attacks.
And there you go kids we're done for the day. I'd like to thank Rich Shay for helping me edit this pile and kn00t for making it legible. Till next time.
-Joshua Silvestri, Vegeta2711 on TMD
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom