Unlocking the Vault #74: Khans of Tarkir’s Impact on Vintage

Each fall, Magic players around the world gleefully await the reveal of the new block. After months of playing with the same cards, the new fall set promotes a feeling of renewal and hope that all that previously ailed the format would be washed away as one set rotates out and another set rotates in. The fall set also introduces new mechanics that may redefine the format.

Standard players get to experience all of these things, and more. Modern players may typically find some enthusiasm, but not nearly as much as Standard players. Legacy and Vintage (Eternal format) players, on the other hand, usually don’t have much, if any, excitement for the new fall sets. While a few cards have really changed Eternal formats in recent years, that hasn’t always been the case.

Last year, Theros was a real stinker of a set for Eternal formats, and the two expansions, Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx, didn’t fare much better. Prior to that, Eternal formats had a string of cards that promised to shake up the format with either cards that were going to be major players while also offering a few support cards to offer more decisions during the deckbuilding process. Such standout cards included: Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil, Griselbrand, Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman, Rest in Peace, Mox Opal, Cavern of Souls, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Lodestone Golem, the Zendikar fetch lands, Mental Misstep, Batterskull, Blightsteel Colossus, Delver of Secrets, Gitaxian Probe, Grafdigger’s Cage, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Phyrexian Metamorph, and Phyrexian Revoker, among many others.

There have also been a host of “support” cards which won’t really change the way decks are made, but will provide more sideboard options. Such cards included: Wear // Tear, Stony Silence, Nihil Spellbomb, Steel Sabotage, Swan Song, and Witchbane Orb, to name a few.

For those of you hoping to see a few cards from the former list, I’m afraid you are going to be disappointed with Khans. This year’s fall set is much more Theros than it is Innistrad. That’s not to say there aren’t any cards of interest in Khans; they just aren’t of the format-changing variety.

Before we dig into the set to see what cards may see some Vintage play, it’s worth going over some of the criteria all Eternal players should evaluate to find a “Vintage-playable” card. In no particular order:

- Does the set introduce any new mechanics that can be exploited in Vintage?
- Is there a new Oath or Tinker-bot creature?
- Are there any new 1-3 CMC “Hate Bears”?
- Are there new synergies with races/tribes that can further break Cavern of Souls (i.e. Merfolk, Humans, Wizards, Goblins, Elves, etc.)?
- Are there any new artifacts that are too expensive to cast in Standard/Limited, but are worthwhile in Workshop decks?
- Are there any new lands with unique abilities?
- Are there any new graveyard hate cards?
- Do the planeswalkers offer anything of substance at reasonable cost, especially blue ones?
- Are there new cards that offer an ability/effect that we already have but at a lower casting cost? Also, are there any cards that provide flexible answers to different threats/game states (i.e., split cards or modular cards) that are efficiently costed?
- Is there any equipment worth searching for and cheating into play with Stoneforge Mystic?
- Is there any new cheap cantrip/draw engine or removal option? What about new countermagic?

That list is not exhaustive, but it covers the majority of criteria we should be looking for. In general, cards with casting cost over 3 would have to offer something incredibly powerful and/or win the game on the spot to make the cut in Vintage, unless there is a way to cheat the card into play cheaper (or preferably for free).

Due to the fact that Khans is a 3-color “wedge” set, there are a lot of 2-to-3-color requirement cards in the set. Vintage is heavily favored for players to play blue decks, so nearly every gold card will likely need to be blue in addition to its other colors. Also, as a 3-color wedge set, there are a healthy number of cards in Khans that are 3 colors, making casting them reliably in Vintage quite difficult. This is especially important for things like the charms, which might have 2-3 useful abilities, but are very difficult to cast reliably.

Of the new mechanics in Khans, most aren’t worth investigating for Vintage purposes. Raid, prowess, and outlast fail to offer anything that Vintage decks don’t either already do or even want to be doing. Ferocious is mostly irrelevant outside of Workshop decks, Tarmogoyf decks, and maybe in a pinch, Oath and Merfolk decks. It’s key that they chose 4 power for the cutoff and not 3, which would’ve opened the doors to Delver Tempo decks, and even some Human/Tribal decks.

There are, however, two returning mechanics in Khans that could have relevance: Delve, and to a lesser degree, Morph. Delve was only previously found in Future Sight and on a small handful of cards. The only one that saw any Eternal play was Tombstalker which was an efficient beater in “Team America” Legacy decks a few years back. Delve is interesting to Vintage for a variety of reasons, but mostly as a way to play cards with abilities that are of interest in Vintage such as card draw, efficient creatures, and removal for a much lower cost than typically available. With that in mind, there are a few cards in Khans worth looking into.

Morph is a little less relevant mainly because playing a morph-creature is a liability for at least a turn in the early part of a game in Vintage. However, with the surprising applicability of Restoration Angel in “Bomberman” decks, there is room for a powerful morph that has an enters the battlefield/turns face up ability or turns into a gigantic monster in lieu of a morph cost that would otherwise be prohibitive, such as 5RGU or something similar. This type of effect has been seeing some play in Modern with Restoration Angel “blinking” Akroma, Angel of Fury. Obviously that particular example in Modern is not a great option in Vintage, but it’s worth looking for those types of situations regardless. Nonetheless, there aren’t any morph creatures that would fit that criteria other than Kheru Spellsnatcher. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the card is powerful enough on its own to warrant Vintage play.

With that in mind, let’s dig into the cards that might see some Vintage play:

Cards that offer desirable effects at a reduced cost – Delve cards

As mentioned above, Delve cards that can offer effects of interest to Vintage players are worth noting. Naturally, the allure to Treasure Cruise is the possibility to cast this for the same cost as one of the most powerful cards in the entire game: Ancestral Recall. If this card were an instant, I would be a lot more excited about it, but as a sorcery, it limits the flexibility of the card, especially as a card that you can play for more than just 1 blue mana at the end of your opponent’s turn. Casting this for 2U is not the worst thing in the world, but it would be even better at the end of your opponent’s turn instead of during your main phase. In fact, that is basically the same cost someone pay when they Merchant Scroll their Recall (2U). Either way, there are some decks, such as those with Dark Confidant in them, that will want nothing to do with this card.

Clearly, this card is not going to slide into any/all blue deck(s) as a “value” sorcery speed Ancestral Recall, so what decks might have interest in this? The answer to this is in decks that can fill the graveyard early and often so to maximize the chance of casting this for 1-3 mana in the early part of the game. Early speculation on this card was in favor of seeing this in Dredge, though I am skeptical about this. Dredge decks don’t typically use Recall as it is, and would that really change if they could put more than one Recall into their deck? I’m not so sure about that. Dredge is already a fast deck and this card won’t make it a full turn faster. Where it could help is in sideboard games to help dig for the right graveyard hate cards, however, if your opponent is playing Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void, you might not be able to cast this at all. Even then, Tormod’s Crypt/Nihil Spellbomb are also problematic enough to make that strategy dicey.

Other decks that can fill up the graveyard quickly are blue-based tempo decks and combo decks. Delver tempo decks sometimes play Grim Lavamancer, which is a decent sign that Delving for 4-7 cards won’t be too much of an issue. These decks use fetch lands, countermagic, and card draw, which place a bunch of cards in the graveyard quickly. I could see Delver decks experimenting with one of these to see how good it could be. Combo decks are a little trickier to evaluate. While combo decks like to dump cards in the graveyard quickly as well, they are more apt to use those cards on the pivotal turn they combo off. The best card in their deck is Yawgmoth’s Will and for each card that is exiled out of the graveyard to cast Treasure Cruise, it makes Yawg Will that much weaker. Nonetheless, Treasure Cruise can be a useful card to try and find the pivotal combo pieces in the mid-game, or better yet, if their combo stalls and they need to find answers to win the game. While I don’t anticipate this card taking combo decks to another level, it’s worth testing out as a de facto Recall #2.

Another possibility for Treasure Cruise is in Dack Fayden decks, specifically, the new Slaver builds. Dack’s one real weakness is when your opponent doesn’t have any artifacts in play (or any worth stealing) and you have only 1-2 cards in your hand. Often, this situation requires you to repeatedly activate Dack’s +1, which is card-neutral, with the hope of finding a specific card to either dig you out of a hole or put the game away. Doing this dumps a bunch of cards into your graveyard, a fine recipe for Treasure Cruise! If you can find this card with Dack’s +1 and use the fodder that you’ve been pitching into the graveyard, then you can hopefully draw out of the situation with a virtual Recall. In some ways, this is better than Thirst for Knowledge, or at least, it could be worth it as “Thirst #2”.

Another Delve card that might see some Vintage play is Murderous Cut. Most black removal at 1 or 2 mana has some sort of restriction, such as Doom Blade which can’t target black creatures, or Ghastly Demise which requires cards in the graveyard and similarly can’t target black creatures. This is what has made Dismember a Vintage-playable card, in that it kills almost all relevant Vintage creatures and can be cast for a single colorless mana, albeit at the cost of 4 life.

Murderous Cut is interesting in that with the help of some graveyard fodder, you can kill any creature for just a single black mana. How often can you cast this card for one mana? Well, much like the discussion for Treasure Cruise above, it really depends on the deck. Dredge and combo decks likely won’t want to bother with this type of effect as they can usually ignore creatures altogether. Combo decks do have difficulty with hate bears, but mass removal such as Massacre or Toxic Deluge would likely be preferable to spot removal. I do believe that BUG decks could have use for a card like this as their primary source of creature removal is Abrupt Decay which can’t target a small subset of creatures in the format, notably Workshop’s artifact creatures. Delve also works as “Sphere” countermeasures against said Workshop decks as you can simply exile an additional card from your graveyard to pay for the added costs of Spheres. Outside of BUG decks, however, I don’t see much use for this card.

Dig Through Time was a card that was spoiled to little fanfare at the end of the spoiler season. Again, because of its delve ability, this is something worth considering in Vintage. While Fact or Fiction (FoF) is now unrestricted and can sometimes give you 3 cards, it only digs through the top 5 cards on your library and you get little choice in which cards you get to keep. Experienced players will typically leave you with choosing between 1 good card and 1 not so good card or the 3-card pile of everything else. Dig Through Timecan be cast for half the mana as FoF with the appropriate number of cards to delve, and actually works just as well, if not better with Mana Drain than Fact or Fiction. There is a relatively new deck exploiting Spirit of the Labyrinth (SotL) and FoF which was dubbed “Dance Magic Dance” by its creator, Rich Shay. Interestingly, Dig Through Time similarly places cards into your hand instead of drawing them, just like FoF, in order to get around the restriction of SotL. It may not prove to be any better than FoF in such a deck, but it’s surely worth investigating to see if it is.

New Countermagic

Long gone are the days that we can expect a new Standard-legal set to include Counterspell, let alone improve upon it (i.e. Mana Drain), so we’re left with situational counters instead. Last year we got Swan Song, which has only found a home in some builds of Oath. This year, we get Stubborn Denial, a card that may find its way into specific deck(s).

At one time, Force Spike was a fairly common piece of countermagic in Vintage. It provided just enough of a tempo boost to allow a blue deck to safely get to Mana Drain mana. Stubborn Denial is not as powerful as Spike, particularly because it can’t target creature spells, but in the right deck it can provide similar flexibility while also turning into a 1-mana hard counter in the mid-late game. The restriction to making this a hard counter is that you have a creature with 4-power in play, which really limits how many decks can realistically get ferocious online. At this point, only Oath decks or decks that play Tarmogoyf would have a realistic chance of turning on Ferocious. BUG decks don’t play ‘Goyf, leaving mostly Bant Fish/Oath decks as the only potential home for this card.

It should be noted that at 1-mana, it is a prime target to get Mental Misstepped. I doubt that it really sees any Vintage play, but I wouldn’t ever rule it out of a Bant deck with ‘Goyf’s in it. Oath decks probably don’t have any room for a card that is less reliable than Swan Song even if it can counter planeswalkers and artifacts.

Utility cards

Realistically, the only charms that should be considered in Vintage are the blue ones, as they can pitch to Force of Will at worst. There are only 3 wedges that utilize blue, and only one of those has applications across all three modes which are relevant to Vintage: Sultai Chamr.

The “BUG” charm will only have a home in one deck, BUG, if it is ever to find its way into Vintage, but its flexibility is nothing to scoff at. Yes, Abrupt Decay does a lot of the same things that Sultai Charm does, but Decay can’t draw cards in a pinch, can’t be pitched to Force of Will, and it can’t target anything that has a CMC greater than 3. Sultai Charm can kill just about any creature in the format, as well as all artifacts and enchantments. At 3 mana, it is a little slow, but it could be a nice 1-of out of the sideboard in certain metagames.

Cards that can abuse Cavern of Souls

The last card I would like to talk about is really only viable in decks that use Cavern of Souls. Early in the days of Vintage on MTGO, there were some 4- or 5-color Humans decks that utilized the power of Cavern and the synergy of the Human card-type. In such a deck, it’s possible that Anafenza, the Foremost may find a home.

The 3-color requirement of Anafenza isn’t too bad in a deck with Cavern and manadorks like Noble Hierarch and Deathrite Shaman. The interesting aspect of the Humans deck is the lack of hate bears. In turn, the deck simply presented a bunch of uncounterable threats that could quickly overrun creature-less decks in a format devoid of any real mass removal. In that same spirit, Anafenza provides additional reach for the deck by pumping up the other creatures while also providing a sturdy 4/4 body.

Strangely enough, it’s the added ability to neuter Dredge that should really catch the attention of players that enjoy the Humans deck. While it’s not as blunt as some Dredge hate available (Rest in Peace, etc.) it still does a good job of making things rather difficult for them. It’ll be hard for them to actually dredge as they would lose all of the creatures that hit the yard and they couldn’t abuse Ichorid and Bloodghast like they normally would. It also dodges all the countermeasures that Dredge would typically board in. Only Firestorm, which has fallen out of favor in Dredge, can do anything to Anafenza. Combining Anafenza, Deathrite, and typical graveyard hate cards, the Humans deck has a ton of ways to answer Dredge, even in the maindeck with the right draw.

Impact of reprinting the fetch lands

Lastly, it would not be rational to analyze Khans and ignore the fact that the allied fetch lands are going to be reprinted. This is a big deal for MTGO, as it lowers the barrier of entry into the format by a fair margin. Paper players likely won’t see much of a benefit considering the dual lands and Power cost so much as is, but those cards are (reasonably) priced online. In the end, MTGO players will be able to obtain a full set of Polluted Deltas and Flooded Strands for their blue Vintage decks if they had held out buying them as rumors/speculation swirled that one cycle of fetch lands could be reprinted sooner than later.

That’s pretty much all that Khans has to offer for Vintage. There are a few cards that just missed the cut due to their high casting costs (Villainous Wealth, Utter End) or are simply “win more” (Surrak Dragonclaw). I personally like Clever Impersonator, but sadly I don’t think it can make the cut in Vintage despite having such a powerful ability.

Not every set can turn a format like Vintage upside down. For a while, Vintage players were getting a little spoiled with so many high-quality Vintage cards between Zendikar and Return to Ravnica. Since then, there haven’t been any format-defining cards that have seen print, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know I’ll be happy to not have to chase down a handful of expensive cards during set release just to try out for Vintage!

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

Clan Magic Eternal
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