Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast has my full permission to use any ideas or derivatives thereof, presented here.
This article is dedicated to an enormous inspiration to me, a man second only to my father: Milton Friedman. Friedman, the Albert Einstein of economics, passed away a few weeks ago, at ninety-four.
Never in my life has there been a person I so dearly wanted to meet and talk with; now I will have to wait for another life to have the chance. I am eternally grateful for every word he chose to share. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to meet his brilliant wife, Rose, some day. So many people will never know the good these two have subtly helped to bring about.
Vintage. As I am wont to do with any subject I feel passionately about, I cannot help but bring my politics / economics into the discussion, albeit indirectly.
I am, in essence, a libertarian. I am all about maximal personal freedom, minimal central planning, and survival of the fittest. I will not go into the whys today; it is merely enough to state this as a foundation for the discussion to follow.
It was Stephen Menendian's excellent example in the thread of how policymakers can't make effective interventions (generally) due to the unintended consequences that flow from any given action (with regards to Vintage) that got me thinking. Now, he may or may not agree with this position in other areas of life, but for this discussion, Vintage is sufficient.
The specific policy he was referring to was the banned and restricted list.
Stephen uses this argument to suggest Wizards of the Coast should do nothing currently, as they are just as apt to be wrong as right. I would go a step further and clean up the restricted list by taking some of the lesser cards off.
This is, in fact, an intervention by policy makers – but it is one that removes the influence of previous interventions. It would place more freedom in players' hands, assuming more doors are opened than are shut by unrestrictions.
In fact, I think Wizards of the Coast should regularly clean up the Vintage and Legacy lists every five or seven years. Of course, they should continue to update the list at the current rate – I mean that every five to seven years, in addition to additions, a thorough examination is done to see about removing the excess build-up of excessive cards on the list....
In the event something becomes a problem again, it is easy to re-restrict it, and there is certainly room to err on the side of caution. However, the more likely scenario is that some, if not many, of the current cards in question are not "too dominant" or "un-fun."
Really, it is just a balancing act. Are you telling me that Mishra's Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad, Wasteland, Dark Ritual, Grim Tutor, Brainstorm, Merchant Scroll, Mana Drain, Force of Will, Gifts Ungiven, Goblin Welder, and Oath of Druids are not more powerful than Voltaic Key?
The Key is that there is a reasonable amount of balance. People aren't Grim Tutoring up Oath and then Oathing up Goblin Welder. You can use all the broken cards – but that said, we can do better.
First of all, the balance is between Blue, Black, Blue, Red, Blue, Artifacts, and Blue.
Second of all, people will come to realize that Gifts is the Deck.
Finally, there are cards on the restricted list that would not get played, even as a four-of, and there are cards that would open up new decks, bring back old ones, or otherwise throw a monkey wrench into the Gifts / Slaver / Long / Stax Tier 1 (no disrespect to Dragon, Oath, Ichorid, Bomberman, or Fish... I just think the decks I listed are the top tier).
What I suggest is this. During the next three to six months, I will do fact-finding research on the repercussions of possible unrestrictions, backed up by hard evidence, as you will see. Then I will submit my report to Wizards of the Cost and argue the case.
The hard evidence I seek to collect will be primarily of two types. First, I will hold a number of tournaments both online and in real life, with alternate restricted lists and large enough prizes to give people the incentive to try to break these formats. The results of which decks win; what new archetypes, if any, are born; and the level of diversity will be examined.
The second point will be surveys / petitions of participants in the studies, seeking their views. While this part is more apt to err and may be idealized, it will help answer such questions as:
This can help prevent in unrestricting cards that while not dominating, are just less fun than they are worth (like Channel).
If time and interest permit, I may also investigate Legacy – but Vintage is my arena, not Vintage Lite.
When I submit my report to Wizards of the Coast, I will most likely only be requesting unrestrictions. There is currently no need to restrict anything, yet, as people are content to not play Gifts despite knowing it is the best. Also, the fallout from unrestricting the lesser restricted cards will take some time.
As far as bannings go, I am 100% in favor of Wizards' policy of banning only dexterity, ante, and silver-bordered cards. I feel strongly that this should be a hard rule, with no exceptions. There is a high value to having a format where everything is fair game. Magical Cards live forever because of Vintage.
Don't kill Yawgmoth's Will. If it was ever that big a problem, people would play more Crypts. If Wizards wants to do something less warping for the game, they can print cards with Vintage in mind, as I will demonstrate. While some may border on contrived, it is far better than death / banning.
If you want to create a format half way between Vintage and Legacy, we can make Type 1.75, but please do not ever ban things in Vintage.
As an aside, what do you think about a Type 1.75 format where Legacy banned lists that are legal in Vintage are added to the Vintage Restricted List? In addition, Yawgmoth's Will would be banned.
My first "Vintage-Ultra Tournament" will be held online, later this month, or possibly early next month. The format will be Vintage (Type I) with the following cards unrestricted:
- Mox Diamond
- Voltaic Key
- Black Vise
- Demonic Consultation
- Mind Twist
- Stroke of Genius
- Personal Tutor
- Frantic Search
- Enlightened Tutor
Yes, Black Vise and Mind Twist. I am not saying this is right. I am saying it is worth exploring, though I am inclined to believe they are probably pushing it too much. Still, better to push the barrier initially and see how things develop.
The tournament may be stretched over a few days and must include at least thirty-two players. There is no entry fee and first place wins a box of product or some Vintage card of comparable value. There will also be a prize for the runner up.
Players may enter each tournament only once, and I ask that all entries be serious, as the data is important to me. Still, play whatever you want.
Remember, my goal is to see what Vintage would be like under other circumstances. In an effort to foster such an environment to explain this, I am starting the first tournament with a somewhat aggressive list.
If all goes smoothly, I hope to run a number of such competitions, altering the list as needed. As you can see, this is not a financially profitable venture for me… But I care deeply about Vintage and realize people must be given the incentive to apply full effort.
My next column will include details on how to enter. Hopefully, many will express an interest and we can make a successful tournament series out of this. Please, respond in the forums if you are interested in participating and you will be contacted. Tell your friends about this tournament. Remember, we need at least thirty-two players. There is no entry fee.
My second "Vintage-Ultra Tournament" may have to be IRL, unless someone clever can come up with an online solution (is anyone able to write Apprentice code?).
I have designed more than a few cards in my day. I will list sixteen that could probably actually be printed (in some form) that would have an impact on Vintage. In this tournament, the Restricted List stays the same, but the following cards are legal:
Creature - Elf Druid
Nonbasic lands come into play tapped.
A playable Vintage Green creature with a variety of uses. The symmetry can be broken, it punishes broken decks, and gives incentive to players wanting to summon a Green creature.
Creature - Slug
Remove Acidic Slug from your hand from the game, remove X Green cards from your hand from the game: Destroy X target artifacts.
Aside from obviously providing an uber-out to Prison, he has a respectable body and can only be fully utilized by a heavy commitment to Green - a heavy price in Vintage. The card disadvantage should probably make this card fair in other formats, where a ton of Oxidizes just aren't broken.
Ancient of Eidalore
Creature - Treefolk
When an opponent plays Yawgmoth's Verdict, Yawgmoth's Decree, Yawgmoth's Bargain, or Yawgmoth's Will, you may counter it by putting Ancient of Eidalore into play.
The concept here is a defender against Yawgmoth himself, story-wise. The two new Yawgmoth cards are so that he has relevant Standard and casual text. Neither would be even close to a power card and are considered irrelevant to Vintage.
He is not a Legend so as to encourage people to actually cast him when they have multiple copies – they won't have to fear stopping a Yawgmoth card and losing both. Obviously, he is an uncounterable answer to Bargain / Will.
Anyone can use him for this purpose – but to take full advantage, you need Green (or Black Lotus). While he is somewhat of a color bleed (countering) and is a bit contrived (naming cards' names that it hoses), I feel he can be done with enough flavor to pull it off. Plus, how wonderful of an influence would he be on Vintage?
Perhaps the biggest stretch of my cards, he is the one I'd want to see the most.
Creature - Human Advisor
Players may not play more than one spell per turn.
Creature - Spirit
Sacrifice Blinding Soul: Target player cannot play sorceries or instants until end of turn.
Artifacts cast an additional 1 to play. Whenever a player would draw a card beyond the first card each turn, they must pay 1 to do so. Whenever a player would search their library, they must pay 1 to do so.
I hope these abilities come across as connected. I'm concerned it may not see play due to its symmetry, but I want to try it this way. It has a niche. Just think how much it slows Stax, MDG, Long, Bomberman, and cards ranging from Brainstorm, to Merchant Scroll, to fetch lands, to Tutors, to Bazaar, to Bargain, to Draw 7s, and so forth.
Creature - Dwarf Advisor
When Dwarven Bureaucrat comes into play, name a nonbasic land. The named cannot be played. Discard the named card: Switch the named card to a nonbasic land of your choice. Any player may play this ability.
Fights Bazaar, Workshop, and even to a degree, Crucible of Worlds / Wasteland. He should not be overly disruptive to other formats as he is fragile, can be "turned off" if you ever draw the land he hoses, and only affects nonbasics.
The question is how many will get greedy and name a land their opponent uses, then they "shut off" their opponent's Dwarf, and how many just name Sorrow's Path?
Instant - 3RR
Copy target sorcery or instant. You may choose new targets. Instead of paying Duplicate's mana cost, you may remove a Red card from your hand from the game.
It is efficient at fighting Force of Will, though it needs to be watched in a combo deck with Red acceleration. Forking Ancestrals and Walks for free is some good.
Destroy all artifacts and nonbasic lands. For every Red card you remove from your hand from the game, reduce Ruin's mana cost by R.
Touch of Insanity
Until the end of turn, whenever any player would draw a card, instead you lose 1 life.
A simple utility spell that basically negative cycles at worst, but can be a poor Time Walk – or better still, amazing answer to Brainstorm, Ancestral Recall, and so forth. It would see play in other formats, but should not be too strong.
Search target player's library for up to X different cards and remove them from the game. That player shuffles his library.
Definitely scary, as it is a potential game-ender that is aggressively costed. On the other hand, it can be countered, and it can be beaten by a little threat called redundancy for a change (it can't get two Morphlings or two Psychatogs, for instance).
Sage of Vampires
Creature - Vampire Wizard
Sacrifice Sage of Vampires, pay 2 life: Search your library for a card with mana cost B, reveal it to all players. Shuffle your library, then put that card on top of your library.
This guy is part of a cycle. The Blue one is Sage of Atlantis. The Green one is this:
Creature - Elf Wizard
Sacrifice to search your library for a creature with mana cost G and put it on top.
The Red one is a Goblin Wizard that gets a sorcery. The White one is a Human Wizard that gets an enchantment. The Black one is better than you may realize. Think about all the good (and potentially good) Vintage cards cost B.
Sage of Atlantis
Creature - Merfolk Wizard
Sacrifice Sage of Atlantis: Search your library for an instant with mana cost U, reveal it to all players. Shuffle your library, then put that card on top of your library.
More obvious than Sage of the Vampires, but still very useful.
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant target player. Whenever enchanted player plays a spell, remove the top card of that player's library from the game.
A disruptive enchantment that Storm decks must deal with. It hoses most narrow strategies, and serves as a victory condition.
Choose one - Counter target spell unless its caster pays 1, or return target creature to owner's hand.
A flexible answer to Colossus that does everything a number of decks could hope for.
Remove target artifact or enchantment from the game. If you control more creatures than the target's controller, Nullify can't be countered.
As you can see, many of my cards target areas heavily abused right now, such as Tinker, Will, Ancestral, Drain, Force, Workshop, Tendrils, and so on. Hopefully, these cards would open up new possibilities and help change the landscape of Vintage away from ultra-narrow decks.
In addition to seeing play, these cards should increase the viability of a number of other cards not seen as often, currently. The goals I had in mind were:
1) More ways to fight the most degenerate elements of Vintage.
2) Foster more deck diversity and possible archetypes.
3) More creatures being played by choice.
4) More interactive cards played by necessity (to fight disruptive artifacts, enchantments, and creatures).
Please, let me know what you think of these cards, as well as which, if any, you would use and how. Would any do more harm than good? What would be good if these sixteen were legal?
It will be hosting a "Vintage-Ultra Tournament" with current Banned and Restricted list, plus these 16 cards (all un-restricted). It should take place in a month or two. If anyone can help figure a way to do it online, it would be appreciated. Again, there's no entry fee and a box to the winner. Watch this column for details. Please respond in forums if interested in either of the first two "Vintage-Ultra Tournaments."
Okay, a few random topics before I go. First of all, the "Ancestral Wins 98.5% of the time theory" is:
"When two equally, highly skilled, players play Drain on Drain, the first player to draw three from Ancestral Recall wins ~98.5% of the time (again, assuming equal and high play)."
If you ever win despite an opponent's Ancestral (in Drain / Drain), ask yourself this: "Did I outplay my opponent?" I've got the odds at least 32-1 you did.
In reference to my Gifts / Stax article, I did track Mana Crypt, and while it seemed great, twenty games is not a large sample.
Its record was 2-1 in opening hands. Both wins were alongside Workshops. Its only loss was with no Workshop. It may be nearly as good as Workshop, but I certainly couldn't tell in this test. With this size of a sample, I looked for clear indications.
Thank you, everyone, for the feedback, particularly on the method of this article. I will tackle the MeanDeck Gifts versus Drain Slaver match in my next Vintage article, most likely. Admittedly, the Stax match can vary tremendously, as I feel five-color is at least even for Gifts, whereas Uba is a 2-1 or 3-1 favorite. From what I have been told, Five-color is more popular, so I used it. I will explore this matchup more as I set about demonstrating why Vintage is currently far more broken than most people realize (i.e. Gifts = The Deck).
When I mentioned Kird Ape in R/G, it was because I am going to attempt to use this method for other formats, like Standard. It is just that it is most appropriate for Vintage, given how much longer information is useful.
Mr. Menendian, your kind words are appreciated. The articles you listed in the forums were very useful.
I no longer have the notes from the twenty-game set, however I do recall that I drew one of the restricted cards. I cast the turn after I cast the Gifts in question. So no, heh, the player choosing the Gifts pile was not a moron.
As far as why Gifts Ungiven the deck is broken, I believe it is not just that Gifts Ungiven is broken, it is that the deck gets five of the ten best unrestricted cards (the others being Workshop, Bazaar, Wasteland, Dark Ritual, and Grim Tutor). No other strategy uses so many.
People (like Michael J. Flores) ask me what I like about Vintage. I could answer this question a thousand ways. For instance, how great is it that one of the major questions in Vintage is "What is better: Library of Alexandria or basic Island?" On the other hand, there are more Razia Archangels in the Green decks than basic Forests.
Finally, on the topic of Snow-covered Island in MeanDeck Gifts, I have run one ever since I first played Gifts. Last week I finally took it out because I never, ever once Gifted to it… Whereas if you play it, your opponent essentially knows you are playing Gifts, not Slaver, Long, Oath, etc. I think the information you give up in a regular tournament is not worth the option you never take.
On the other hand, if everyone knows you are playing Gifts anyway, you might as well run it, as I guess in theory you could want Flooded Stand, Polluted Delta, Island, and Snow-Covered Island versus Stax, or something.
I just want to thank everyone who has been supportive these past six months, while I've been writing, and these past five years, while I've been... busy.
P.S. - I'm a ratings whore. If you would like to see more Vintage articles, speak up, but from my experience, they do not get the same number of butts in seats as the other topics, such as Legos. Still, I love Vintage more than a little and would love to do more on the topic, regularly. It's all about attendance, though. The forums have a strong influence over my topic. That said, if you are like Talen Lee and Flores, and love Vintage as much as you love root canals, speak up too.