Josh Silvestri wrote an article recently on the Time Vault and Flame Fusillade combo. He let me in on the combo nearly two weeks before that article went up. I immediately went to work thinking about how to break the combo and could have had an article up long before his went up, but a) I didn't want to steal his thunder and b) I'm just faster and pumping out these articles than he is.
This article is going to discuss the direction I've decided to take the deck in and what I think of it so far.
Let me preface by saying that I am ecstatic about this combo and not for healthy reasons. I like this combo because I want to see Legacy broken. I want Legacy to be non-interactive, for several reasons. First of all, Legacy has really drained the energy out of Vintage. It is true that in the long term Legacy could help Vintage. The argument runs that if people buy the staples for Legacy, then the barrier to entry for Vintage will be lower since there is lots of overlap. However, the downsides seem much stronger at the moment. Vintage is pretty stale at the moment with a huge portion of the Vintage player base working on Legacy or playing World of Warcraft. In addition, although more people may buy dual lands and Force of Wills, the price of those cards go up making people who already play Vintage more likely to sell-out at the same time it makes it harder to buy into other Vintage decks once you have invested in a certain set of staples. Part of the fun of Vintage is being able to switch up your deck choice from tournament to tournament. Second, I love playing with old cards that become broken by modern printings because I love playing with old cards. I love Bazaar of Baghdad and Illusionary Mask in Vintage for that very reason. That makes this format a lot more fun for me.
In my first article on Legacy for this website, I wrote:
"This format has a serious problem: it only takes some Japanese genius to come up with an insane deck built around some Unlimited rare and then you'll have another $100+ card. Just hope that the deck building geniuses don't find some insane combo around Time Vault or the like. The problem with the format is that it is being built upon sets that simply did not have print runs large enough to support the game. If a deck built around old rares emerges as the deck to play, then the format will be unplayable or another banning will have to take place. With so many amazing and scarce old rares, how long can that last? Like I said, there are serious problems inherent in the format that Vintage can just ignore because we proxy and encourage proxying."
I think my choice of Time Vault as the example may have been a little too accurate. Every set exponentially increases the number of potential combos in the format and every time you increase the number of combinations, some small percentage of them statistically will be very strong (assuming a normal distribution or something approximating one).
I want to make one other comment before delving into my design process.
If Wizards bans Time Vault because of price and not power, it will set a horrible precedent that, in my mind, will doom the legitimacy of the format. C'est la vie.
1) Control Combo
2) Prison Combo
3) Aggro Combo
4) Pure Combo
The pure combo approach is the weakest. Pure combo is just disruption, tutors, mana, and the combo. The primary problem with this approach is that it has no secondary plan and is therefore highly vulnerable to hate. Second, there aren't enough good tutors in the format to make this approach stronger than any other approach. So I'd write that off.
Control Combo can take many different forms. You could run the Trix list I shared recently, but just remove the Illusions/Donate combo for this combo and run Burning Wish at the same time. I think the problem with just putting it in Trix is that it's non-Blue and can't be pitched to Force of Will as well as the fact that it has no synergy with Sapphire Medallion. Or, you could run Thirst for Knowledge as your draw engine.
I tinkered with the Combo-Control idea, but I decided not to focus on it because once I started thinking about Prison Combo, the idea felt so strong that I ran with it and haven't looked back. Sure, I could be missing something, but I wanted to focus my attention on one approach and see what I could make of it before moving on.
I talked with my teammate Kevin Cron and I made one critical observation and he gave me one piece of advice in turn. First, I said that if you look at any combo deck within the last couple of years, they are full of synergies. Every combo component has multiple cards that it works well with. Bazaar of Baghdad doesn't just combo with Worldgorger Dragon, it also combos with Squee, Goblin Nabob. Intuition isn't there just to put Gorgers in your graveyard, it also can tutor up an Animate spell or get Squees with Bazaar in play to activate your draw engine. Vengeur Masque - a Vintage Illusionary Mask deck that got second place in the first Vintage Championship ran Volrath's Shapeshifter as another outlet for your Dreadnought in addition to the Mask. After saying all of that, Kevin said, "Then why don't you just build the strongest Time Vault deck you can?" I took that idea and ran with it. I have not yet tried to build the strongest Blue-based variant of this combo, so don't criticize me if you think that is stronger. I don't know what the strongest Time Vault deck is going to be and I have ample time to figure it out. I'm writing to share what I know so far.
Why? First, because the Grand Prix is still over a month away. Whatever I know now, I am certain will be very small compared to what I'll know in a month, let alone two. Second, StarCityGames.com pays me well enough that it is worth it to me to write this even though I may very well be playing some descendent of this deck at the Grand Prix. I have every intention of playing a Time Vault deck at the Grand Prix in Philly unless I discover some other broken combo with expensive Alpha, Legends, Arabians or Antiquities rares. I already have more than a playset of Time Vaults and I'm eager to use them in Legacy. Third, unlike Vintage where me posting an article like this could have a big impact on the metagame and hate I would face in the next tournament, the format is a Grand Prix. Kai Budde and Jon Finkel could write an article saying Time Vault combo is the best deck in the format and the vast majority of players will still be playing some Red deck and Landstill at the Grand Prix. Time Vaults are very difficult to get a hold of and I think even the Pros may be frustrated in their attempts to pick them up. Anything I write here isn't going to shape the Grand Prix environment out of my favor if I do indeed run this deck (which is very likely). So there you have it.
Now, one more item before I delve into my decklists and card choices. Please do not republish these decklists anywhere else. Do not post them on The Source or the Mana Drain or any other forum. Hang with me a second here, I'm not doing this because I want to hoard technology. [And Star City has nothing to do with this request. - Knut] I'm making this request for a far different reason. I had a very bad experience with my Arcbound Virus article. People who didn't want to buy Premium copied the decklist on the Mana Drain boards and assumed that I posted that list as the list to play. I carefully explained in the article that the list I posted was tuned as an objective list and not for the current Vintage metagame. I extensively discussed the fact that I think Gorilla Shaman should have been maindeck, even though it wasn't in the list at the end of the article.
People who tested the decklist then said: I found your deck died to A, B, and C. I would say: "Did you read the article?" and people would say, "no, I don't have Premium." I would just sigh in frustration. Likewise, with my Illusions-Donate article, I posted a list that was designed to start your testing, not finish it. That is very different from the articles I posted on Meandeck Gifts or Stax where I was presenting fully tuned decklists.
This article isn't here to present a tuned list. It isn't here to give you the deck you are going to take to the Grand Prix. I am writing to give you an alternative development path in the tuning of Time Vault combo. Josh Silvestri's article had a control-based list. I am writing to introduce some other options and bring you up-to-date with my development of the deck so far. These are not finished decklists. The decklists posted here are to give you a starting point for your own testing and provide a reference for the discussion I'm about to undertake. It is the discussion of the card choices that is the important part of this article and the reason you paid to read it, not the decklist that I'm going to post at the end.
Brainstorming Synergy with Time Vault
Now, something I started, but didn't finish, was drawing up a comprehensive list of cards that have synergy with Time Vault. With a comprehensive list, you can begin to explore a maximum number of design alternatives. For example, Braids has synergy with Time Vault, but that suggests that a Dark Ritual based list might be one avenue of development. Since I knew I wanted to see what could happen with a Stax or Prison based variant of the deck, I decided to just forgo the usual brainstorming process and focus my attention on building the decklist around a Stax shell.
Tangle Wire is the first card that came to mind and one of the strongest cards to abuse Time Vault with. Time Vault was used as a win condition in some of the earliest variants of Vintage Stax since you could deck your opponent with it after you had a hard lock. Your board could be:
Smokestack with 2+ counters on it
Multiple Sphere of Resistance
And you just infinitely untap the Time Vault and your opponent will never be able to play a spell.
I was one of the key players in the early development of Stax (as well as recent development of it) and Welder Mud, so I'm very familiar with the sorts of card choices that have been considered and run.
This is the play that I find to be the most fun with Tangle Wire:
Ancient Tomb. Tap it and take two damage and drop Time Vault.
Drop a Mountain. Tap both lands and play Tangle Wire.
At this point, your opponent can take their turn. Presumably they will do little beyond playing another land and passing the turn. Now is the prefect opportunity to untap the Time Vault and add a counter to it. Let them take another turn where they can do nothing beyond tapping down both lands, drawing a card, and playing one more permanent. Now, if you want, you can take two turns in a row. It looks like this:
You have three permanents in play. You can tap the Time Vault with the Tangle Wire triggers on the stack to take another turn after this one. You tap down both lands and the Wire, draw a card and take another turn.
Turn Three (B):
Tangle Wire fades to two and you can tap Wire and one land. Now you probably have Ancient Tomb and one other land in play after you make your land drop. Since you have seen more cards, you might be able to drop Smokestack on the spot (which would be fantastic) or just play another lock component like Winter Orb or Trinisphere. If you have a Mox Diamond, you can even play Flame Fusillade and just win the game.
An alternative series of plays which might even be stronger is this:
Ancient Tomb. Tap it and take two damage and drop Time Vault.
Drop a Mountain. Tap both lands and play Tangle Wire.
Tangle Wire fades to three counters. You tap the Wire and two lands and then play another land. Pass.
On your opponent's endstep, untap the Time Vault and let them take one more turn with Tangle Wire and three counters on it.
Now, on your upkeep, tap the Time Vault take a turn and now you only have to tap two lands and you can drop another land. This gives you 3 mana if you have one two-mana-producing land untapped and a Mountain and another turn to use almost all of your mana.
The difference between both series of plays is that in the first series of plays, you get a better turn 4 than they do, but a good portion of your mana is still tapped down to the Tangle Wire. In addition, in the first series of plays, the Tangle Wire becomes pretty worthless after the two turns they have to tap down for four. However, under the second series of plays, the Tangle Wire makes them tap down once for three twice but then you get to use almost all your mana in your third and fourth turn making it more like a real Time Walk. I like the second series of plays better if there is no chance of them comboing out around the Tangle Wire for three.
Now Tangle Wire is obvious, Smokestack is not. The casting cost is a huge difference. There is a huge marginal difference in a decklist like this between three and four casting cost. Plus, Smokestack is pretty slow by itself. It will ruin Landstill and destroy any hate like Pithing Needle, but Smokestack is basically too slow to stop Goblins. If you can combine Smokestack with Tangle Wire then it might be fast enough.
Smokestack is still really strong and I wouldn't play without it. I remember at Origins one year a guy brought in Circle of Protection: Artifacts against me when I was playing Stax. I laughed because he failed to realize that Smokestack is one of the most amazing answers in Magic. It forces your opponent to sacrifice their permanents so it can kill stuff that regenerates or can't be targeted. Nothing escapes its devastation - not even Indestructible stuff like Darksteel Colossus!
The build I currently have together has Trinisphere. Now maybe Sphere of Resistance is better. I'm honestly not sure. With Mox Diamonds, you have a realistic chance of playing turn 1 Trinisphere before your opponent even gets a turn! Follow that up with Smokestack, Tangle Wire, Winter Orb or the like and you have a really difficult time losing that game. It's as strong here as it was in Vintage and it was restricted in Vintage. What does Goblins do if you drop turn 1 Trinisphere? This card also destroys Solidarity (the High Tide combo deck).
Mox Diamond is pretty obvious. There are two things I want to say about the mana base. First of all, you need a lot of lands. A lot more than you would run in Vintage. There are three reasons for this. First of all, you want to run a full contingent of Wastelands. This is a prison deck after all. Second, you need to make yourself resilient to Wasteland. You can be assured that lots of Red Burn decks and Goblin decks will be running Wasteland. If you go: Mox Diamond, Ancient Tomb, Trinisphere and they Wasteland the Ancient Tomb, you could be the one locked down, not them. Third, you really want to support Mox Diamond. Unless you run the pure combo variant of this deck, I see no reason to run Lion's Eye Diamond. In addition, Lotus Petal is weak and Chrome Mox is useless when you only have a handful of uncolored spells. I always thought that Mox Diamond was strong in Prison decks because they have high land counts. This is no exception. I also run Crucible of Worlds so that makes Mox Diamond even less bad.
How many Mox Diamonds should I be running? Four may be too many. One thing is for sure, you definitely do not want to see two Mox Diamonds in the opening hand. It has always been my rule of thumb that if you want to see one of something, but the marginal value of a second is zero or negative, then you should run three. If you want to see something so badly that you don't care if you draw a second, then you should run four. I think Mox Diamond fits into the former category, but I could be wrong.
Four Ancient Tombs are an automatic inclusion. They are the best land in the deck since you don't have Mishra's Workshop. Old Vintage Mud decks ran 4 Mishra's Workshops, 4 Ancient Tombs, and 4 City of Traitors. For inspiration, check out Arthur Tindemans comprehensive Mud Primer from a few years back:
Part One: http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/article/5930.html
Part Two (the comprehensive list of cards, check this one out): http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/article/5943.html
Part Three: http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/article/5975.html
Since the card pool is identical except for one list of cards, I suggest you take a look at part one and two.
I think four Ancient Tombs and four City of Traitors are obvious inclusions. The question is whether I should run more two producing lands like Crystal Vein or even Dwarven Ruins and Sandstone Needle. I'm not sure. Only a great deal of testing and tuning will be able to resolve these issues. I raise them only so that you are aware of the possibilities.
One other avenue of development is based upon a decklist I stumbled across in the Source forums called "Big Machine." That decklist is an artifact deck with Wildfire and Burning Wishes to find them. The idea is to play crap like Talismans, Darksteel Ingot and the like and then Wildfire - it reminds me of Kai Budde's old artifact deck that is so famous. The thread to that decklist in case you are curious is here.
Either way, it seems really important to me that you draw some sort of accelerant. The worst case scenarios is that your only mana is mountains or fetchlands. If we include enough of the good lands and Moxen then we can significant diminish that possibility.
I think without a doubt you run four Time Vaults. I'm not sure how many Fusillades to run. I do believe that you must run four Burning Wish.
Burning Wish is incredibly good in this environment. Let me show you how:
Your opponent: Mountain, Goblin Lackey
You: Mountain Go:
Your opponent: Attack with Lackey: drop Piledriver/Warchief/Kiki-Jiki into play. Play another annoying Goblin. Play another.
You: Now you are holding Ancient Tomb and Mountain. I suggest you play the Mountain and play Winter Orb or Time Vault if you have it. I'll explain why in a moment.
Your opponent: attack with lots of guys and do upwards of 10 points of damage.
You: Now is the time. Play the Ancient Tomb. Tap the Tomb and a Mountain and play your Burning Wish for Pyroclasm. Play Pyroclasm. Laugh maniacally.
If you play turn 2 Burning Wish, then they can hold back their threats because they know what's coming. You want them to put all their cards on the table and then wipe them out and drop lock parts. Also, if you were to play the Ancient Tomb on turn two, it could play out like this:
You play Mountain and they play Mountain, Lackey.
You play Ancient Tomb and they Wasteland the Ancient Tomb.
Now you can't even play Pyroclasm next turn.
If you have lock parts, the correct play might be to play the Ancient Tomb on turn 2 and lock them down and then eventually play Pyroclasm after getting them to commit most of their hand to the board. Never stick to rules of thumb like this, but use them as guidelines. The only rule of thumb I want you to follow is to play intelligently.
If you have Mox Diamond, for example, the whole scenario changes dramatically because you can accelerate your plans. If they don't have Lackey or Aether Vial, then Winter Orb is going to be a huge pain in their butt - especially if you can combine it with Tangle Wire.
So that was a long tangent on Burning Wish. If I haven't mentioned it already, the primary purpose of Burning Wish is to increase the number of Fusillades in your deck from four to seven and have flexibility at the same time. You can run four Burning Wish and move one Fusillade to your sideboard. You can also try to run a card like Boiling Seas or Wildfire in the sideboard for the non-Goblins matchups. I'm not sure that you even want three Fusillades in the maindeck. You may only want two and just one in the sideboard. That still gives you six Fusillades. I'm likely to stick with the 3/1 configuration, but I offer that up as a point of contention where I'm simply not sure what the correct answer is at this early date.
Winter Orb is a card that is much, much more powerful here than it can be in Vintage. Moxen make Winter Orb too ineffective in Vintage. Your lands don't really care that much about Winter Orb since you have Mox Diamonds and lots of two producing mana lands. However, your Landstill opponent will be utterly screwed if this resolves and stays on the board. Their game plan is to attack with man-lands. Good luck!
This card has awesome synergy with Tangle Wire as well. Tap down your opponents lands and force them to untap them one at a time. Brutal.
One note though: Winter Orb is one of those rare cards that is "turned off" when tapped. In other words, if you tap Winter Orb, it doesn't do anything to your lands or you opponents. You can use this to your advantage. Make your Tangle Wire tap it down so that you can untap all of your lands and play more lock pieces and then laugh as the Wire and Worb work their magic on your opponents board.
This was a card I was hot on for a while for several reasons. First of all, it makes Reset suck. Second, it seems like a solid turn 1 drop against Landstill. Third, it costs two mana so it is a turn 1 drop. The only other turn 1 drops in the deck without Mox Diamond are Time Vault and Winter Orb. However, with Winter Orb, I'm not sure if it is worth running this card. Consider it at the least. It is a decent sideboard card in any event.
This card is awful. Learn from my mistake and do not run it. There is nothing to Weld out - even if you run Great Furnace or Darksteel Citadel. It will die and it will do nothing. Just please don't run this card. Yes, he does stuff to help you evade countermagic, but you really don't need to worry about that. This deck has enough bombs, I believe, that you can easily overwhelm countermagic.
Chalice of the Void
Pretty much the only thing you are going to want to Chalice for on turn 1 is for one. This is very powerful against lots of decks. It is an option that should be on the table.
This was one of those cards that has great synergy with Time Vault. Another way to infinite combo with the Time Vault can't be bad can it? Probably not. However, I have decided that this card would just be better as another lock component. I started out with four and then cut them all out. This guy also gets hit by spot removal.
Some other options worth considering:
This could be very strong. I just haven't tested it at all.
Doesn't stop Goblins fast enough. Probably no good.
Probably not necessary since we have four Burning Wish.
So, here is the decklist I'm currently running based upon my almost non-existent testing and extensive goldfish tuning. In a testing article I wrote for SCG Daily, I explained that the first step in testing is to tune a deck using the goldfish to work out design kinks. Then, once you think you have an objectively strong deck, see if your theory works in practice. I haven't gotten to the second step, but I may report on it next week or in the near future. Anyway, here is the decklist I have so far:
The Prisoners' Dilemma
by Stephen Menendian
I should probably explain one of the other card choices in the deck:
Crucible of Worlds
This card has amazing synergy with Smokestack. You can have a Smokestack sitting at one and infinitely feed this card. Every card in this deck is a permanent except for the Fusillades and Burning Wish and every card other card is a permanent you can play immediately except Mox Diamond. Therefore, if you have the game locked up and a Smokestack in play, my inclination is to simply keep Smokestack set at one instead of ramping and just feed the Smokestack one permanent every turn topdecking another until you find Crucible of Worlds or Time Vault (which you will eventually).
Also, you can thin your deck out with fetchlands and Crucible and reuse Crystal Vein and City of Traitors as much as you need. Crucible also is going to be a giant pain the ass for Landstill since it pretty much wrecks them.
Before I go, I want to talk about sideboard options. You have them. A lot of them.
You can run:
Red Elemental Blast
Blood Moon (which can come down on turn 1 pretty easily)
Sphere of Resistance
Chalice of the Void
Maze of Ith
That's just off the top of my head. If you add another color, good lord you can run whatever you want. I think you could easily splash another color since we already have Mox Diamond and 6+ fetchlands.
In my view, you should be testing against:
4) Blue-Based Combo decks: Trix, Solidarity, etc
If you can tune this deck to beat those decks, you should be in a really good position by the time the Grand Prix rolls around.
In theory, we have really strong tools against each of those decks. The burn decks concern me a bit since this deck frequently does 4 damage to itself by turn 2. Chalice of the Void or Sphere of Resistance may be a necessary consideration to fight them. The Red decks will be prevalent too - so we need to be at least 60% win percentage over them for me to feel comfortable. I'm confident we can get there.
One final word. I have intentionally included a lot of mana in this deck. I'd rather have too much mana than too little because you can always cut lands, but it is harder to cut lock parts. If you feel like the deck has too much mana, make adjustments as needed.
I hope this is the start of the breaking of Legacy.