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July 21, 2017

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Eternal Weekend Testing: The Last Bastion of Vintage

Prologue

The sound of his laboured breathing filled the space around the table as former Vintage Champs Top 8 competitor Mike Gouthro snapped the drawn card into his hand. His fingers trembled as he flipped the cards back and forth. He hated the outward manifestation of the fear of counterspells and tried to steady his hands. Taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it, he mentally counted to ten, attempting to find the line to storm out in the impending battle.

The above passage is a play on the opening lines of the book, The Last Bastion of the Living, by Rhiannon Frater. When talking about the Magic format of Vintage, a book about the extinction of humanity via zombies seems mildly appropriate. Over the years, the number of vintage players has been decreasing due to one massive restriction of blue cards in 2008, a general dissatisfaction with the metagame that formed after, and the spike in price of the Power Nine. And then there are the holdouts, like yours truly, who love the format and continue to find as many opportunities to play as possible.

While Vintage has had a bit of a resurgence in popularity lately, thanks to Magic Online and the Vintage Super League, paper events are still tough to find outside of certain pockets around the world. One of the biggest events these days is the Eternal Weekend. It’s a great celebration of both Vintage and Legacy, crowning champions in some of the toughest, hard fought games that you will see all year. Experts in both formats will descend on Pittsburgh this fall to attempt to defeat all competition. There can be only one!

It may come as a surprise to many, but Vintage is not a format where every game ends on the first turn. The first few turns are just as important, or even more so, as in any other format though. Being able to play several spells on any of the opening turns compresses many decisions into a single turn. Finding the correct sequence of plays is far more important as you have less time to do so, and mistakes can be difficult to overcome. However, one important thing to remember is that Vintage is the last bastion for many cards that have gotten the ban from other formats! Being able to play powerful cards seen nowhere else can swing the momentum back in your favour in the blink of an Ancestral Recall.

One of the more recent printings to make an impact in the Vintage metagame is Paradoxical Outcome. It is yet another blue card to build around, in the same vein as Gifts Ungiven, Fact or Fiction, and Gush have been in the past. This time, decks featuring Paradoxical Outcome are built to maximize permanents that you can return to hand and play cheaply again. This creates a deck that is more susceptible to cards like Null Rod and Stony Silence as you add more cards like Mox Opal and Chrome Mox. While it may be more fragile as a result, the deck is far more explosive. By powering through your deck with all of the card draw, you can find one of your win conditions fairly quickly.

MG-Deck-Photo

Paradoxical Storm

Spells (44)
Ancestral Recall
Brainstorm
Demonic Tutor
Flusterstorm
Force of Will
Mana Drain
Mental Misstep
Mystical Tutor
Paradoxical Outcome
Ponder
Rebuild
Repeal
Tendrils of Agony
Thirst for Knowledge
Time Walk
Tinker
Vampiric Tutor
Yawgmoth’s Will
Black Lotus
Engineered Explosives
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Opal
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Sensei’s Divining Top
Sol Ring

Creatures (2)
Blightsteel Colossus
Snapcaster Mage

Lands (14)
Island
Underground Sea
Tolarian Academy
Library of Alexandria
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Scalding Tarn

Sideboard (15)
Ancient Tomb
Flusterstorm
Grafdigger’s Cage
Hurkyl’s Recall
Mental Misstep
Mindbreak Trap
Nihil Spellbomb
Steel Sabotage
Tormod’s Crypt
Toxic Deluge
Yixlid Jailer

Recently, this deck managed to put up a Top 8 finish by none other than Vintage Super League founder, Randy Buehler. One aspect of this deck that made it so interesting is that it runs far more control elements than its more combo-ish counterparts. That fits my style of play a lot more, as I don’t like being at the mercy of my opponent with no way to interact. I sleeved up this bad boy and took it for a run of almost twenty games with a longtime Vintage player and close friend, Kevin Swan.

Initially, I thought he was going to play his trusty Oath of Druids deck, as that is his favourite deck. Instead, he decided to surprise me with a deck from his own vault of tricks – FlashHulk. To borrow a line from Troy McClure, you may remember Flash from such events as the Legacy GP Columbus 2007 and- oh wait! It was banned immediately afterwards. Luckily, this is Vintage, and it’s only restricted. With a full boatload of counterspells in Force of Will, Pact of Negation, and Misdirection, FlashHulk was built to try to win early.

In six of eighteen games, the Flash deck did exactly that. Three games were won on turn one and backed up by anywhere from one to three counterspells. Another three games were won on turn two with a similar number of counter backup. The only counterspell that was actually relevant in the early game from the Paradoxical Storm deck was Flusterstorm. Whenever Flusterstorm was involved, the outcome (!) was the same. The games went into the mid game, and the superior drawing power of Paradoxical Storm would win out.

Exactly as I had hoped, this more controlling version of Paradoxical Storm could play at instant speed and go in both roles as a combo deck and a control deck. It reminded me of great decks from bygone eras like Control Slaver in that regard, but it has more in common with the various Gifts Ungiven decks from back in 2007. Those decks ran the full four copies of Mana Drain and Force of Will, and usually ran Darksteel Colossus as the robot of choice. It even ran Tendrils of Agony as the alternate win. As someone who ran those decks until cards were restricted and errata’d, this deck felt very familiar and easy to pilot.

Gifts 2006-2007

Creatures: (1)
Darksteel Colossus

Spells: (45)
Black Lotus
Lotus Petal
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Sol Ring
Ancestral Recall
Brainstorm
Chain of Vapor
Force of Will
Gifts Ungiven
Lava Dart
Mana Drain
Misdirection
Mystical Tutor
Rebuild
Repeal
Skeletal Scrying
Vampiric Tutor
Burning Wish
Demonic Tutor
Merchant Scroll
Recoup
Time Walk
Tinker
Yawgmoth’s Will

Lands: (4)
Island
Snow-covered

Island (10)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Underground Sea
Volcanic Island
Tolarian Academy

Sideboard: (15)
Chalice of the Void
Tormod’s Crypt
Pyroblast
Rack and Ruin
Red Elemental Blast
Rushing River
Deep Analysis
Pyroclasm
Tendrils of Agony

As only games in a small sample size of eighteen games can go, there were many situations where Paradoxical Outcome had very few targets. One of the interesting ways several games played out was in how often they came down to Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus. It’s possible I have a previous bias towards Blightsteel Colossus due to all the years I’ve played though. That big robot was a game changer for such a long time. If your opponent has no real answer for it, it’s one hit and the game is over. Of course, we did have a great stare down between the big robot and a Protean Hulk. I couldn’t attack because I’d lose on the swing back from a bunch of hasty Virulent Slivers.

These draw spells really power the deck.  Having eight of these in total means you shouldn’t be afraid to fire them off. If necessary, you can protect them with the large number of counterspells. You’ll want to make your land drops too. Mana Drain has always been one of the best counters in the history of the game because of the tempo of the mana boost it provides. When playing against a deck with Wasteland, don’t fetch out Underground Sea unless required. Hold a fetchland in reserve for when you need the black mana to go off.

Paradoxical Storm is one of the decks that you should be prepared for if you go to Vintage Champs. There are a lot of ways to tinker with the deck and no two builds are quite the same. Some are running Monastery Mentor, and that can just get bonkers with the number of giant monks on the board. Now that Gush has been restricted yet again, there’s a lot more room for innovation in Vintage. Try to become familiar with the decks you will face in order to know what their weaknesses are. A short list of those would also include MUD, Eldrazi, Oath, Dredge, and Mentor decks. I’ll be back again with another sweet Vintage deck in the future, but only after tackling a few more Legacy decks first!

Until then, may all your Ancestral Recalls draw you three cards! (And not your opponent! Misdirection? OMG!)