Unlocking the Vault #70: Vintage, 6 Weeks In

It’s refreshing to see the number of players participating in Vintage events. I’ve been playing in a fair share of events since Vintage was released, though I haven’t been able to play nearly as much as I would like with graduate school and summer family time getting in the way. Nonetheless, I have made some observations about Vintage over the last ~6 weeks and I’d like to share my thoughts with my loyal readers.

Vintage Masters is a runaway success.

There simply isn’t any other way to objectively describe the impact VM has had on MTGO. Drafts and sealed events fired like crazy for the first several weeks, and are still firing at a rapid pace today. Some of that momentum may change with M15 arriving shortly, but I still hold out hope that VM drafts will fire with some regularity.

Simply firing drafts isn’t enough to qualify VM a runaway success, however. The other side of the coin is that the cost to play Vintage on MTGO has been cratered by VM. Cards that used to cost $20, $30, $40, or a lot more have been slashed to levels I never thought possible. Force of Will was a $100 card in December 2013 (prior to the announcement of it being a MOCS promo again). You can now get one for less than 30 tix, and it was even cheaper at one point. Vampiric Tutor was a 45 tix card in March; it’s now hovering between 1 and 2 tix. The list of examples like this is as long as the number of cards in VM. Duals and format pillars (Mana Drain, Oath of Druids, Mishra’s Workshop, etc.) are all a fraction of what they were a few months ago, and this is a good thing.

The price of Power, after a brief period of speculation-fueled inflation, are hovering at reasonable prices. Right now, a person looking to buy a set of the Power 9 can do so for roughly 610 tickets. This is the sweet spot I predicted a couple months back, and I’m happy to see that the format is fairly healthy as a result. A host of paper players have joined MTGO just to play Vintage online, while Legacy players also appear to have migrated over to Vintage, if only to see what it’s all about. There is also the subset of players that have been long-time Classic players (like myself) or others with large Classic collections that never participated in Classic that have resurfaced after having waited so long for Vintage to finally arrive on MTGO.

WotC did a great job on VM. They designed a fun limited environment from a card pool that, frankly, I was skeptical could produce a viable set; for that, the designers (Ian Duke, et al.) deserve some kind of award. Beyond that, they crafted the perfect ratio to find Power to keep things balanced and make them as iconic as they are in paper. Or at least, as close as possible in a digital form. Right now, Black Lotus is the most expensive single card to own in MTGO, and that is absolutely fine by me.

WotC still has trouble with basic communication.

There are some things that never seem to change. For years, WotC has struggled with communication, or at least with consistently conveying their message. While there have been steps in the right direction, the past few weeks (ignoring the shutdown of V3) have been real head-scratchers.

The way that information is communicated to the public is completely fractured. There are MTGO blog posts, articles on “the Mothership”, random tweets from WotC employees on Twitter, and the jumbled mess that is announcements for set release/prerelease information, to name a few. There is no single repository for information that people can go to and see everything they need and have all of their questions “answered”.

The first problem, was the cryptic way that they described how long VM limited events would last. The VM release information page listed the details of the events with a date at the top signifying that the release events would end on July 2. Most people read this and stopped there, thinking that there would only be 3 weeks of VM limited available. Considering how short of a “print” run that Modern Masters had, this was a reasonable conclusion to make.

Unfortunately, that was not the case, as buried at the bottom of that information box was the note that the events would “continue after July 2 without the Dack Fayden Avatar promotional prize” (or something to that effect). Worse still, there wasn’t any sort of date of when the VM limited events would actually end. It was only the small % of players that follow Worth Wolpert/Mike Turian and company on Twitter that found out that the plan was for VM events to continue “until the Fall set is released”, meaning Khans of Tarkir. Eventually, people realized the VM limited events would continue to run for a while, even if they had to wait until July 3 to see that they were still available for proof.

Then on July 8th, Worth Wolpert (on Twitter, of course) announced that VM would effectively end on July 25. An uproar ensued complete with pitchforks, torches, and tin foil hats. It appeared that prices had dropped so low on VM that Worth was afraid that the prices of Power would no longer retain their “mystique”, whatever that means. The panic included people briefly spiking the price of several chase VM cards with the belief that the low point had been seen and prices would start to creep up.

After ~2 days of “discussion”, WotC reversed their decision by amazingly admitting their mistake. VM queues will continue until KTR is released, as they originally said they would, though this entire situation is a sad reflection on how WotC continues to screw up basic communication. I believe this meme is an accurate way to describe WotC’s strategy of communication:

Non-Vintage Masters cards have skyrocketed in value.

This was predictable, to some extent, but some of these prices are absolutely outrageous. Is Hurkyl’s Recall really a 60-ticket card? There are many more examples to list, but it’s not worth going through them one by one. Needless to say, we saw the same thing last year with cards that did not make their way into Modern Masters, so this was a predictable outcome. Hopefully, we can get some of these cards reprinted soon in order to help lower the only real remaining barrier to (reasonable) entry into Vintage. A promo with the original art of Hurkyl’s, among others, is long overdue.

If anyone is interested in speculating on some of these cards, I’d recommend staying away. Most of these price increases already reflect the speculator market, especially Hurkyl’s, which I know was heavily targeted by some people. At this point, I don’t know how much higher these cards can really go, and reprints are always a huge risk here since WotC seems to be on a crusade to drop the price of some of the most expensive cards online (August’s MOCS promo is Show and Tell).

DEs are firing all 3 timeslots 7 days a week, and we also fired one PE.

The surest sign that Vintage is in a good place is that the DEs, despite their atrocious payout for 3-1 finishes, are consistently firing. Nearly all 20 DEs that are offered are firing each week, which is truly amazing. Most events start with more than the minimum at the scheduled start time. This is a vast departure from Classic, which struggled to fire one event per week.

Premier Events are a slightly different story. With a strong coordinated effort from Stephen Menendian and Zherbus, we were able to fire the Sunday July 13 PE with the maximum number of players. The fact that there were probably some people that couldn’t enter the event because it was full says something about the interest in playing in such an event.

The timing of the events is the biggest problem with being able to get more PEs to fire, and if Vintage on MTGO is going to really thrive, PEs need to fire more than once in a blue moon. At the current timeslot, the PE starts before the players in the 3:30pm PST DE finish their tournament. With the prospect of gathering enough players to get a PE to fire perpetually in question right now, players will gravitate to the events that are most likely to fire, especially the grinders. Thus, the DEs have been filling up. Several players that play in the 3:30pm PST DE also stick around to play in the 6:30pm PST DE which would indicate that there is interest in playing a lot of Vintage in the evenings.

Since those players in the 3:30 event haven’t finished by the time the 5:30pm PST PE begins, you are likely to miss out on a handful of players that otherwise might play in the PE, but signed up for the 3:30pm DE since it was almost guaranteed to fire. If the events were spaced out a little better, getting a PE to fire would be considerably easier.

The other problem right now is that a PE starting at 8:30pm on the East Coast is going to end at about 1:00am EST, at the absolute earliest, and likely pushing 2:00am most of the time. For Sunday nights in particular, this is rather difficult for people with “9-5” jobs to make a consistent commitment to. It’s a little easier on Friday/Saturday evenings, but still difficult for those with families.

I propose that the DEs are spread out a little better and that the PE is moved up 1-2 hours. I believe an ideal Vintage DE/PE schedule to look like this:

DE’s (7 days a week)
5:30am PST
12:30pm PST
6:30pm PST

PE’s (Fri/Sat/Sun)
4:30pm PST

Such a schedule might make the middle DE a little less likely to fire, but it makes the PE much more likely to fire, in my opinion. I believe that people would much prefer that we get 2 DEs in each day with 1-2 PEs firing a week instead of simply sticking with the 3x DE and zero PE plan we are currently on.

Vintage is a fast and unforgiving format.

I’ve come to a few conclusions about Vintage, and the most apparent thing to me is simply how fast the format is (even if it doesn’t “appear” fast) and how one single mistake can decide a match. This doesn’t necessarily mean you lose the match on the spot, but rather that mistake might cost you the game several turns later.

For instance, I played a recent DE where I was piloting a Grixis Control deck against a UR Young Delver deck. The match was 1-1 and I was on the play for Game 3. I had an opener with Lotus, land, and Jace, but no countermagic backup. I was already down 0-1 in the DE, so I figured that making the risky play to throw out Jace on Turn 1 with no protection was a worthwhile gamble that if it didn’t pay off, at least I’d have time to go do something else (or go to sleep early). I was able to land Jace as my opponent either did not have a Force, or didn’t feel the need to use it. Knowing that my opponent was playing Lightning Bolt, I initially figured I would +2 Jace to get out of Bolt range. I then over thought the situation and crossed my fingers that I would draw a Mental Misstep or something else to prevent Jace from being killed on my opponents first turn, or praying that my opponent simply didn’t have it. Thus, I Jace-stormed into nothing and my opponent naturally had Bolt for Jace. While the game was far from over, I had effectively lost the game because my hand was left with basically nothing. I had tossed all of my eggs into the “Jace is going to win me this game” basket and eventually died about 8 turns later.

The moral of that story isn’t just that one mistake can lose the game, it’s also that “assume the worst” and you will probably be rewarded later. In the games I’ve played thus far, this is the overwhelming lesson that I have learned. Of course, that doesn’t really apply when you are playing a more proactive deck, such as Storm…

People still love playing combo decks on MTGO.

There are a lot of advantages to playing Combo decks online. The games typically end fast, which allows grinders to “double queue” and play more matches of Magic than if they played a more controlling deck. Combo decks also reward you against opponents that are ill-equipped to stop you, or inexperienced enough to know how to.

That being said, Vintage Combo decks like Storm are all over the place online. Paper players don’t seem to be jamming Storm nearly as often as online players, though this is only evident to me through Top 8 decklists, not hands-on experience. It could be that many more Combo decks are present in paper, it’s just that they are not performing well. Regardless of the case, players need to be prepared for Storm decks in online Vintage.

I miss having access to 4x Brainstorm

After years of building decks with a playset of Brainstorms, it’s taken me a while to adjust in Vintage. In games where I have a somewhat questionable hand (could be good, could be bad), I find myself thinking, “well, if I draw Brainstorm, I should be OK.” Unfortunately, Brainstorm does not come up as often as I would like in Vintage.

What was so great about unrestricted Brainstorm was the fact that it could singlehandedly pull you out of bad situations in Classic (and Legacy, for that matter). As a 1-of in Vintage, it is not consistent. In a way, though, I’m glad that Brainstorm is restricted in Vintage, as the card is really good at what it does and would drastically change the format. Nonetheless, I do miss having the crutch that is unrestricted Brainstorm.

MTGO has not significantly changed the Vintage metagame… yet.

One of the interesting aspects that people had hoped Vintage on MTGO would bring was innovation. With events running every day, it was reasonable to expect that new and exciting decks could be explored that might not have ever seen the light of day in paper. There was also a large subset of players who had never played Vintage before that might bring new ideas to the table without the hardened view of what would work and what wouldn’t work in Vintage that veterans of the paper metagame might have.

So far, that hasn’t really come to fruition. There are some examples of decks that might not see a ton of paper play, but have seen a lot of play on MTGO, such as the 5-color Humans decks. These decks are based around human “hate bears” that are uncounterable thanks to Cavern of Souls. RexDart, has an example of such a deck that I recommend reading/watching.

There is also the Dack Fayden Slaver deck that has been running around the last 1-2 weeks. The deck is probably the most widely adopted deck that has developed with Vintage being online. I do believe that paper players would’ve given Dack a fair shot at some point this year (perhaps Vintage Champs or GenCon), but MTGO certainly helped push this deck forward much faster than we would’ve seen in paper. Here is an example by KowalLazy, who piloted the deck to a 2nd-place finish in the only Premier Event that has fired:

There have been other decks based around Dark Depths and Thespians Stage as well as an Apple Jacks list that took down an 8-man queue, but by and large, the online metagame is a reasonable facsimile of the paper metagame. Hopefully, as people settle into the format and get past the allure of finally playing with all these powerful cards/decks, some new innovation will occur.

Clan Magic Eternal
Follow me on Twitter @enderfall


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