The Long & Winding Road - Your Format Sucks
I remember the first time I watched Starship Troopers. Technically that should be half-watched because my disinterest in the movie was related to my serious interest in the girl on the couch across from me. While my friends were pretty excited to watch the film (we were in high school and it had considerable violence and nudity Doogie Howser was in it etc) I thought it was terrible. Though I wasn’t paying close attention it was obvious that the acting was atrocious and the characters were broad stereotypes.
It wasn’t until several years later that I came to appreciate Starship Troopers for the satire / commentary it was meant to be.
This week someone decided to start a thread on The Source forums asking what Sourcers thought about Vintage. The results were as predictable as they are sad. Folks haven’t we seen enough Eternal-on-Eternal violence for one lifetime? I guess not.
One of Josh Silverstri’s last articles on SCG was about how your Standard deck sucks entitled - wait for it - Your Deck Sucks. Josh went through and dismantled every deck in Standard at the time. Today I thought we’d go a step further because it isn’t so much that your deck sucks but rather that your format sucks. This was a pretty easy piece to write because the two Eternal formats are easy targets and various Sourcers did most of my work for me. Thanks guys! Let’s start at the beginning…
I’m not even sure where to start with this one. Hey do you have a spare $500? If so you might be able to afford a really beat up copy of possibly the most ridiculous Magic card in existence: Black Lotus. Yes yes you could probably buy a Standard deck or two instead or pay 6 months of car insurance or come up with many other better uses for that money… but that’s okay too! Why? Because most tournaments in this format allow proxies! As long as you can afford some spare Magic cards and a marker you’re pretty much good to take your Legacy deck and play it in Vintage.
Let’s think about this for a second shall we? Basically your options are either:
1. Be born into a rich family and just buy the Power 9 with your parents’ money… score!
2. Scrimp and save up enough money to buy a used car and then buy a handful of cards instead.
3. Take any card and just write "Black Lotus" on it.
Honestly these are all pretty unappealing. The fact that the barrier for entry into the format involves such a high price-point is ridiculous made even more ridiculous by the fact that you can play in most tournaments without spending a dime on the 10-15 most expensive cards in your deck. This isn’t remotely fair to those who own the actual cards and sort of creates a disincentive to owning the real ones. What a vicious circle.
If you can actually stomach one of those three options then congratulations you can play Vintage! Please proceed to playing one of these five decks. Just pick one and get ready to play it… forever…
Base-Blue Control! Sometimes it’ll have Gifts Ungiven sometimes it’ll have Gush (these things vary based on the whimsy of whoever is at the center of the earth controlling Vintage’s B&R list) but regardless you can be pretty sure it will have Mana Drains and very sure that it will run Time Vault and Voltaic Key. Take turns forever for four mana? Sign me up!
Base-Red Workshop! Say do you like watching your grass grow? Well then I’ve got the deck for you: Workshop-based Prison or Aggro decks. You dump your hand using a Dark Ritual and a land and run out lock pieces that prevent your opponent from ever doing you know anything. Eventually you just beat down with Goblin Welders or whatever.
Base Blue/Black Storm Combo! On the other end of the spectrum you can play Storm combo decks that can win as quickly as turn 1! This format is full of crazy spells that cost the same as Counsel of the Soratami but let you draw SEVEN cards instead. I know right?
Bazaar of Baghdad-based Ichorid! Too lazy to pay mana for your spells? That’s okay because in Vintage you can just tap this land that lets you Dredge like a maniac. Don’t pay mana for spells like those other chumps!
Null Rod-based Fish or Aggro! If you don’t like Moxes or can’t afford them or can’t spell them or you’re just into making things more difficult than they need to be you can play Fish or Aggro. Basically these are decks ported over from other formats with Null Rod and similar cards like Chalice of the Void crammed into them. Uh… best of luck!
Now that you’ve built your deck you can try to pilot it in the usually stagnant morass that is the local Vintage metagame. Plus you get the benefit of never having to worry about increasing your "DCI Rating" to get byes for a Grand Prix (because your tournaments aren’t sanctioned) and you don’t need to worry about getting those free textless cards in the mail since they’re worthless in your format anyway. Once a year if you actually own or can borrow the cards to play you can compete in Vintage Champs where you can play extremely good players for the chance of winning a… painting.
What’s that? Block Champs has a top prize worth over $2000 with half the players? Never mind that your deck costs more than $2000 anyway so I’m sure they just assume you’re not playing for the prize. We all know everyone who plays Vintage is independently wealthy. Besides you put up with magic-marker cards in a format that WotC never supports so obviously you’re a glutton for punishment or are comfortable not receiving accolades for your achievements.
Vintage is full of ridiculous cards like Yawgmoth’s Will and Ancestral Recall. Obviously with cards this powerful games are extremely fast turn 1 kills are prevalent and the whole format is mostly based on luck.
Maybe you’ve got old cards that have rotated out of Extended and have no interest in taking out a second mortgage to buy into Vintage and playing unsanctioned Magic doesn‘t appeal to you. Luckily the DCI saw fit to create Legacy which is more or less a neutered Vintage. The DCI was kind enough to leave a few of the weak Vintage restricted cards (like Trinisphere Lion’s Eye Diamond Lotus Petal Burning Wish and Fact or Fiction) off the Legacy banned list so the format is just as broken as Vintage in its own way but gives off the illusion of fairness.
Don’t believe me? Lion’s Eye Diamond alone enables no less than THREE viable turn 1 kill decks: LED Ichorid ANT (Ad Nauseam Tendrils) and Belcher. I’m ignoring older versions of storm like Iggy Pop which don’t see play but could still potentially win on turn 1.
The crazy thing about Legacy is that for a long time it was actually less popular and more regional than Vintage allowing for an extremely fractured metagame. Because of this delusional Legacy players think that their format is bursting at the seams with viable decks. This isn’t remotely true. Worlds 2008 the Chicago Grand Prix and the SCG Boston $5K were all dominated by a few specific archetypes:
Counterbalance/Top Control! There are a lot of various builds to choose from but you’re probably using Dark Confidant and/or Standstill to draw cards and playing Force of Will and Tarmogoyf. This is basically the Legacy equivalent of Mana Drain control in Vintage just slowed down without all those pesky and irritating Moxen.
Storm Combo! This sucker is even BETTER in Legacy than in Vintage because you get to play so much fast mana… Dark Ritual Lion’s Eye Diamond Lotus Petal Chrome Mox etc. AND other people play decks like Goblins and Zoo that don’t have Force of Will.
Threshold! This is basically a Blue/Red good stuff deck with Goyf and Nimble Mongoose. If you like doing nothing but playing Ponders and Brainstorms for most of the game this is the deck for you.
Zoo / Goblins! If you hate CB/Top decks just run one of these fast aggro decks and pray that you don’t run into combo because brother you’re not THAT fast.
Merfolk! The deck to play if you hate Combo AND CB/Top. Just don’t run into a true aggro deck because you’re playing a bunch of mermen.
Sure people play a lot of other decks in Legacy - 43 Land Natural Order Rock Goyf Sligh Eva Green Ichorid and so on - but these decks aren’t really Tier 1. As time goes on and Legacy grows in popularity and has tournaments that have more than 30 people the fish in the small ponds will get swallowed up and the format will shake itself out. It really isn’t all that different than Vintage in its own way except that you need to own all the cards. This doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that the Blue Duals especially Underground Sea aren’t getting any cheaper. If you’re going to go so far as to buy Force of Wills Underground Seas Phyrexian Dreadnoughts and so on wouldn’t you rather proxy a few cards and play Vintage for real?
There’s one other thing Legacy and Vintage share - the people who play them are ANGRY. For real. Just check out the dedicated boards and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Those are some cantankerous old folks. Even by Magic player standards they’re petty and overly serious about themselves.
At least Legacy gets thrown a few bones by Wizards and the DCI. The B&R list for Legacy has been the same since before Dane Cook was considered "funny" but the format gets some actual tournaments. By which of course I mean one Grand Prix every two years a Champs event that has solid attendance and mediocre prizes and involvement in the World Championships that may or may not result in any real substantial coverage. Legacy players you better start attending the SCG $5Ks because they’re the best thing to happen to your format in a long long time. Don’t take them for granted.
Good God this format is a joke. Go into any Magic shop in the U.S. and ask if anyone wants to play Extended. Go on I dare you.
Didn’t work out so well did it?
That’s because it isn’t Extended season you dummy! This format only matters for three maybe four months out of the year. The rest of the time no one is caught dead playing it. Stores can’t get anyone interested in it and singles that should have value due to this format go on sale for half price immediately once the season is over.
And if you think Eternal players are bad you should see the dedicated Extended forums. Oh wait there aren’t any because that would imply dedicated players and everyone acknowledges that Extended is a terrible format. Every PTQ season sees wild metagame shifts as the players try to keep up with the combo deck du jour.
Remember two seasons ago? Uh oh load up on that Ichorid hate! Hmm Tormod’s Crypt didn’t help you beat Enduring Ideal did it? Better buy some foil Ronom Unicorns! Meanwhile somehow people are winning with Domain Zoo and rocking out control decks with names like Arbitrary Level Blue unless you‘re in New York where apparently the mob kills anyone not trying to game with Doran. Also when the moons align just so Affinity is the best deck. Usually the week BEFORE anyone on the internet tells you it’s the best deck.
Surely the next season would be better right? Banning Top had to make things better. It’s not like there’s some stupid Elf combo deck that can win on turn 2. Right? At least TEPS was gone. Until of course it wasn’t. And now Faeries is in this format too? Could we be having LESS fun? Thank God it’s over in a few months.
Not to fear I’m sure nothing crazy will replace storm like Cascade / Hypergenesis. Does this deck have a better name yet? Just typing it makes me angry.
Extended is at least good for dealers and hardcore traders who can pick up Rav block duals off-season along with cards like Engineered Explosives Chalice of the Void and Sword of Fire & Ice and then turn a handsome profit when the season rolls back around. This is made easier by the fact that no one ever keeps their Extended decks together in between seasons because basically Extended features slightly better versions of various Standard decks.
To be fair I guess I should break out the top-tier decks as they shook out at the end of last Extended season:
Faeries! I hope you all die. Um by which I mean this is the most dominant control deck in the format and replaced Counterbalance / Top which at least didn’t kill you with a bunch of flying Smurfs.
Zoo! Gaahh me angry and hate Faeries! This Woolly Thoctar cost three you no counter! Me win again! Wait Slide is a deck? THIS FORMAT SUCKS.
Elves! Birchlore Rangers and Wirewood Symbiote you form the legs! Nettle Sentinel and Llanowar Elves you form the arms! And I Heritage Druid will form the head! Form Elftron!
Hmm. That didn’t work out like I hoped because of the whole "Urzatron" connection we Magic players have when we read "Tron."
What you thought of Jeff Bridges? That’s weird.
Ah Standard where everyone is an expert. No really you sir - you are an expert on Standard. Because everyone and their mother plays Standard we have a lot more experts. Loads of them in fact. Some think Faeries is viable. Others say it’s dead. This has been news off and on for TWO FREAKING YEARS.
Bring any deck to FNM and you can be pretty sure someone there is going to criticize your deck. Usually this is the guy that won last week and now thinks he’s amazing despite his 1632 rating. Standard is where net-decking is king. As soon as someone identifies what archetype you’re running the next question is usually whose list? Certainly it isn’t a homebrew right? Right? Oh my God this guy built his own deck let’s all point and laugh at him!
And honestly you do deserve ridicule. For a few brief moments it actually looked like Standard was going to be interesting again. You remember that week right? This year’s Regionals? All kinds of decks were winning across the spectrum of archetypes. It was glorious. Then Swans happened and then Faeries came back and then M10 happened and for a hot second Elf Combo was good and now we’re back to Vivid lands. Don’t bother to trying to innovate here my friends because Chapin was right. That freaking card did change everything.
For a long time people clamored for Standard PTQs - no team nonsense just give all the experts at the shops across the country their chance to shine in straight-up Standard PTQs. Now that we have them the attendance is out of control. Seriously folks 300+ of you want to battle it out for ONE SPOT on the Pro Tour? You realize that if you win you have to play Extended right?
The real reason Standard is the worst is that as we move closer to the current day Wizards hates tutors and card draw / filter effects more and more. Say what you want about Vintage and Legacy at least you can manipulate your hand with cards like Top Brainstorm and various tutors. In Standard good luck manipulating what you draw with that linear tribal aggro deck. It has gotten so bad that we have to play a combo deck with 40 lands and just Cascade into the combo pieces or play a combo version of Elves that folds to an uncounterable Red instant that was meant to finally put Faeries in check (and humorously more or less failed). Standard has spent most of the last year seeing who could race out more tokens or Kithkin or who could get more Vivids into play and resolve a ridiculous seven-mana sorcery or who could draw more Bitterblossoms in the Faeries mirror. Red aggro is so bad that not even Lightning Bolt and Ball Lightning being printed have been enough to make that deck viable. Well okay one guy in the forums thinks so. Remember this is Standard - everyone’s an expert.
I guess that right now Standard looks like this:
Vivid Lands! You can play aggro with Vivids or maybe mid-range or control. Your choice. Wildly different I swear!
That’s more or less the format right now as I see it since Vivids beat Kithkin and usually do well against Red aggro and Elf combo and Faeries finally died to some Green creature that has the flavor text "Finally got you you flying Smurf bastards!"
One last super enjoyable piece of Standard is the fact that you have to pay unbelievable amounts of money for cards that are good for like a week. Remember $20 Stillmoon Cavalier? Or $20 Windbrisk Heights and Rugged Prairie? When they rotate out of Standard the value of your collection will do a terrific U.S. Housing Market impression. Thankfully Extended season will roll back around and you’ll have to pay to get those cards back again.
Block Sucks: Since the reduction in Pro Tours this isn’t even a format half the time and when it is it makes the card values insane and tends to be dominated completely by one deck. Teachings? Faeries? No thanks.
Five Color Sucks: Maybe some day I’ll enjoy this format. Like when I develop Gorilla hands that can actually hold the stupid decks.
EDH Sucks: First off the banned list looks like it’s maintained by a million monkeys working on a million typewriters. Many of the choices defy all logic. Second this format was great for a time but power creep is really messing it up. Sound familiar Five Color players?
Peasant Sucks: Why do you hate Rares and Uncommons? If there’s one thing that sucks it’s a format full of haters.
Prismatic Sucks: Just lump all those crazy MTGO-only formats together. If you’re going to play silly kitchen-table rules play with actual people. Make some friends IRL. It’s good for you.
Two-Headed Giant Sucks: Hell reserves a special place for whoever thought this format was a good fun idea for a PTQ season.
You might blame this week’s article on the fact that GenCon is this weekend and I’m playing in Legacy and Vintage Champs but I prefer to blame it on the fact that I read some old Chris Romeo rants today during my lunch break. Believe what you will.
Next week: reviewing the happenings at GenCon. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.
Voltron00x on Xbox Live and SCG Forums