hen I first heard the words "Vintage" and "Masters" together I have to admit I got pretty excited. Even without any actual knowledge of what the set was about, I knew there was potential.
After a sit-down conversation with Ian Duke and Adam Prosak—the developers for Vintage Masters—I'm even more excited. Not only does Vintage Masters allow us to finally play Vintage Constructed on Magic Online, it also means we get to draft all these sweet cards.
Art by Daarken
Vintage Masters was developed with a certain type of player in mind. That player is often referred to as the "enfranchised player." Old-school players make up a relatively small portion of the total player base, but they are an important part of the equation. It's cool to see this group recognized, while still allowing newer players the opportunity to experience some cards they may have never seen before.
Most of my questions for the developers revolved around the overall approach they took to piecing together this set. The palette of cards they used to paint the overall picture was both very limiting (none of the cards they used are Modern legal) and varied (they were able to use cards from products like Conspiracy and Planechase).
You may be familiar with the popular Modern Masters set from last year. While there are similarities between these two products, the basic development philosophy is different. Modern Masters took powerful and popular Limited archetypes from formats of the past and weaved them together into a coherent draft environment.
In Vintage Masters, they used a different approach. Instead, the idea is to draft powerful and popular Constructed formats of the past. Your brain may lead you toward comparing this to Cube. According to the developers, your brain would be pretty close to the target. Think of something in between drafting Cube decks and Constructed decks; that's Vintage Masters.
There are ten two-color archetypes that make up the baseline for the Vintage Masters metagame. It's important to note that while these linear strategies are a solid place to start, they aren't the end of the story. You can draft one of these archetypes, or you can draft the same two colors but with a different approach entirely. You can even go off the radar and draft something completely different that you come up with on your own.
Part of the development effort for this set entailed rarity shifts on many key cards. Rarity shifts are when the developer takes a card that was, for example, a rare in its original printing and make it an uncommon. Same thing goes for uncommon to common. This may sound like a minor thing, but it's not. Rarity shifts can open up entire archetypes that didn't exist previously.
Another side effect of downward rarity shifts is that the overall quality of the card pool increases. You will not be scrounging for that twenty-third card in Vintage Masters. You can use some early picks to explore a particular deck, and abandon it completely without worrying that you won't make the requisite playable count. This kind of freedom makes for powerful decks and also rewards a flexible approach during the draft itself.
Oh, and the Power Nine are in the set. Did I not mention that? We get to draft the power nine.
They have their own special rarity, and you won't see them often. When you do, however, I am assured they are every bit as ridiculous as ever, and should be picked as early as possible.
Let's dive into the ten archetypes, along with an accompanying preview card for each one. We'll be going over the basics of what each archetype is trying to do in its native form, but I want to remind you that there are sub-archetypes and even off-the-map decks that you can draft as well.
I led with this archetype because I felt that it best illustrated the idea of drafting classic decks from the past. Green-Blue Madness was a super-popular deck in its day, and I personally know quite a few players who will rejoice at getting the chance to reacquaint themselves with this old friend.
As you can see from our preview card, the Madness deck abuses the namesake mechanic by discarding cards for value and then paying the madness cost to get ahead quickly. I'm also assured that any player willing to root around into the deepest wilds of their logical brain will find all of the tools needed to build a sweet version of this deck in Vintage Masters.
When most players think white-blue, they think control. Since the very early days of Magic, this color pair has said, "Wait, stop, slow it down," and has done it well. Counterspells, various ground-clogging cards, top-quality removal, and board sweepers have allowed white-blue mages to extend the game for as long as it takes for them to win. This looks to be the case in Vintage Masters as well.
As you can see by our preview card for this deck, slowing things down is still the name of the game. Teroh's Faithful is a staunch blocker that gains you a bunch of life when it enters the battlefield. When it comes to Limited control decks, this is a card you'd like to have around. Recurring it, bouncing it, blinking it are all good options against aggressive decks as well.
Some of the archetypes available are going to be more clear-cut than others. White-black doesn't have a perfectly defined deck to mimic, but I feel like the developers captured the essence of white-black quite nicely. Removal, hand disruption, graveyard recursion, two-for-ones—you get it all.
Speaking of two-for-ones, Predatory Nightstalker is a card I wasn't even familiar with until writing this article. It's from Portal Second Age, and it's pretty darn good. You may be thinking "Why not just put Nekrataal in the set?" Remember, Modern-legal cards are not allowed in Vintage Masters, so the developers had to go pretty deep to find what they wanted in some cases. Predatory Nightstalker is an example of this, but it's also just a sweet Limited card and a gives you a good idea of what you can expect from this archetype.
Another name for this kind of deck is "Wide Aggro," because instead of putting one big threat out, it tries to make a bunch of small ones. Tokens, cheap and efficient creatures, good removal, and pump spells can overwhelm slower decks.
Cards like Lingering Souls and Spectral Procession aren't options for this set, but that doesn't mean there aren't good token-making options out there. Battle Screech is a sweet flashback card, originally from Judgment, that makes two 1/1 flying Birds and then makes it easy to get two more of them.
It's not hard to imagine a scenario where you have a white creature in play, cast Battle Screech, tap all three of your creatures, and flash it back, creating four 1/1 flying Bird tokens. Scary stuff.
Little Kid decks are green-white builds with some mana Elves, some medium-sized creatures, and some sweet top-end creatures to finish things off with. Nothing complex here; just a good old-fashioned midrange creature deck looking to beat down some opponents. Sometimes Auras are involved, as evidenced by Elephant Guide:
I'm not known for my love of Auras in Limited, but this one tips the equation in its favor in a big way. You have to be careful about resolving it, but once you do you have a huge threat that must be dealt with. Once it finally is dealt with, you get a free replacement threat. Gotta love that.
Storm. Just the word has a visceral reaction in most Magic players. Some can't stand it, others rejoice that it still exists in any capacity. In Vintage Masters, you get to draft storm. One caveat, however: In order to draft a fully dedicated storm deck, you'll have to grab some specific rares. Still, you can play storm for value, as shadow creatures and fliers support this color combination. Think of it like a tempo deck with a storm finish.
Not the sleekest of storm cards, Temporal Fissure can nonetheless have a massive impact on the board once you play it. You can return any permanent you want, and hopefully you'll be returning multiples.
Reminder: this is not the only storm card in the set.
I got the feeling that the developers had to do some contortions to make a deck out of this color combination. If you take a minute to search for the red creatures from the pre-Modern era, you will find a pile of bad cards. In the old days, red wasn't known for good creatures, and there are shockingly few of them around at the lower rarities. Not to worry, however, as blue has some nice ones, and both colors benefit from some powerful noncreature spells.
Like this one, for example:
Even in the world of Vintage Masters, it's still Limited, and removal is still king. Solar Blast lets you burn something (or someone) at four mana—or become uncounterable, draw a card, and deal 1 one damage at three mana. Either way, it seems like a fine deal.
Back in the day, we called this deck "Suicide Aggro." In 2014, it feels a little harsh to use "Suicide" in a deck name; plus, we have a proper name for the black-red color combination, so I called it Rakdos Aggro. But for those of you around back in the day, you'll know how this deck plays out. It's hyper aggressive, and borderline reckless, in how it goes about getting life totals to 0.
As mentioned before, the card pool is pretty wide for this set, even including some cards from Conspiracy. Tyrant's Choice is a good example of a card designed for multiplayer, but completely applicable to a duel. The baseline for this card is that it will make your opponent lose 4 life. There will be strange circumstances where he or she sacrifices a creature instead, but that will only happen if he or she wants it to. Incorporating cool mechanics like will of the council into this set gives it a nice twist that we haven't seen before.
The Rock is the original version of a black-green deck that is best described as being "grindy." This means that it attempts to grind down its opponent's resources, gaining small advantages here and there until finishing off the opponent with midrange threats. If you are a more recent Magic player, think of the Jund deck that has been around in one incarnation or another since Shards of Alara came out. That's how this deck plays out.
In addition to the grind, this version of The Rock also has some creature reanimation options available. The namesake card for all reanimation spells, for example:
Before the thought of bringing massive creatures into play far earlier than they were intended creeps in: I was told that this deck tends to use the graveyard as a source of value instead of brokenness. Yes, Reanimate will generally be targeting creatures with enters-the-battlefield effects instead of eight-drops.
Regardless, if you enjoy the grind, this is a good option for you.
Get big. Timmies of the world find their outlet here in red-green. Mana ramp, good removal, and—perhaps most importantly—access to great creatures, form the backbone of this deck.
Remember that in the earlier days of Magic, green was basically the only color that got really great creatures to ramp into. Some fairly unimpressive creatures (by today's standards) dominated Constructed tournaments simply because they were big and cheap to cast. (Erhnam Djinn comes to mind as an example.)
Green also gets some solid value creatures, like this one:
Fans of Commander and Cube will need no introduction to this card. Yavimaya Elder simply has value written all over it, allowing you to hit land drops, fix mana, and draw cards. Oh, and it attacks and blocks, too. (And remember when damage used the stack?? Sheesh.) Yavimaya Elder provides color fixing, something I'm told is in high demand for certain players in this set.
Even though these are the basic intentions of each color-pair archetype, I was repeatedly assured that there are plenty of sub-archetypes available in each color combination. Goblins in red are a good example that Ian Duke mentioned in his article about developing this set. Don't be afraid to break from the norm and try new things. I think you'll be rewarded.
Vintage Masters has the potential to be one of the all-time great Limited formats, and I can't wait to see how it goes. It will be available on Magic Online only starting June 16, 2014, with Prerelease Events June 13–16.
Until next week!
Marshall Sutcliffe hosts the Limited Resources podcast, does Pro Tour and Grand Prix video coverage, writes articles, and produces strategy videos. Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited following a long hiatus from the game, but he enjoys all forms of the game. He lives in Seattle, WA.