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Taking Vintage to the Moon


This past weekend was one of Vintage Magic greatest semi-annual events, the summer Team Serious Invitational. I’ve written about these events in previous articles, as I think they’re a fantastic culmination of the spirit of the Vintage community, where players are interested in hanging out and having fun but there’s still an air of competition. This most recent Invitational was also different in that players were allowed to use Eldritch Moon cards a week before the official release.

Getting to use cards early is part of what makes Vintage Magic special. Since players are already used to using play-test cards to fill in for expensive Moxes, Mishra's Workshops, Ancestral Recall, and Black Lotus, it’s reasonable to say they can also make up play-test cards for new sets, once the spoiler has been released and confirmed. It’s a great way to get a jump on the format and potentially provides a unique opportunity to play with new cards under tournament conditions before any restricted list changes.

Of course there were no restricted list changes this time (though there were some arguments made suggesting Gush could be restricted for the third time), but people were still eager to play with Eldritch Moon cards. In fact, out of the 24-person event, four different cards made the top eight in different decks. That won’t be exciting to players used to the shakeups of Standard and Modern, but it’s a notable number for Vintage.

So unlike some preview articles that have speculative decklists, I can present builds that have actually been through the wringer.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar in White Eldrazi

The most exciting card to come out of Eldritch Moon for Vintage is probably Thalia, Heretic Cathar. The one-sided Root Maze ability is strong in a format always populated by non-basic lands and particularly rife with creatures right now. Moreover, that ability really puts the brakes on the Gush plan of returning two non-basic Islands to your hand, and then replaying one to gain a “virtual mana” on turn three. Wrapping the ability into a 3/2 first striker makes New Thalia into a scary proposition for a lot of the Vintage field.

Jake Hilty paired Thalia, Heretic Cathar, with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, as a significant component of the White Eldrazi deck.

This deck is an evolution of a typical hate-bears deck in Vintage; rather than playing 1/1s and 2/2s with disruptive abilities, the top end of its creatures are 4/4 Thought-Knot Seers, 3/3 Eldrazi Displacers, and Thalia. The size distinction may not seem like much, but it means a much faster clock and a better chance of dealing with other creatures in the format, like opposing Eldrazi and even Monastery Mentor. Obviously, the deck and its mana base can support them, so why not play the largest creatures available?

There are further directions to take this deck, namely by adding a splash color. Consider Blue. It’s surprising how much difference Ancestral Recall and especially Time Walk will make in a deck with creatures, and a few Hurkyl's Recalls would be game changing against Mishra's Workshop decks. I know Jake is interested in a Red splash for a sideboard against Monk tokens. Sulfur Elemental does that, and while it kills your own Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, it makes New Thalia into a 4/1 with first strike!

I think this is just one place we’ll see Thalia, Heretic Cathar, in the format, since it’s easy to cast and is a great threat and disruption piece. Another Invitational player even had two copies in a deck alongside Monastery Mentor, just as another way to hold opponents off.

Tamiyo and Spell Queller in Bant Control

Host of the So Many Insane Plays podcast Kevin Cron played two of Eldritch Moon’s new favorites: Spell Queller and Tamiyo, Field Researcher.

As a 2/3 flyer for 3 mana, Spell Queller is a reasonable body and will carry a Batterskull or Umezawa's Jitte over a Moat if called upon. (And a Jitte-wielding flyer on a battlefield full of enemy Eldrazi is going to be quite strong.) Its more interesting role, though, is that of counterspell. Most spells in Vintage are going to be less than 4 mana, so there’s no shortage of targets. It’s also reasonable to take one of your own spells off the stack if it’s going to get countered by Flusterstorm. Hiding a game-breaker like Ancestral Recall or Tamiyo that was going to get countered anyway, under Queller will make an opponent think twice about pointing removal at it.

Beyond Kevin’s deck, there’s also possibility that a Tribal Spirit deck exists in Vintage with Spell Queller; Spirit of the Labyrinth; Kataki, War's Wage; and Drogskol Captain. Mausoleum Wanderer (also from Eldritch Moon) could find a place here too, slowing the early game like Cursecatcher does in Merfolk.

Tamiyo, Field Researcher, also enjoys lab assistants like Spell Queller for their ability to fly over defenses and draw cards off her +1 ability. She can fill a player’s hand quickly, and it’s a good way to come from behind (targeting opponent’s creatures) or stay ahead (targeting your own).

Assuming there are creatures to target, drawing two cards a turn is probably on par with Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s Brainstorm ability. And that comparison is going to be the big one for Tamiyo’s long-term success in the format: both are 4-drop Planeswalkers with built-in card advantage who can deal with the board and win the game with their ultimate abilities. Tamiyo is more difficult to cast, is slightly better against multiple attackers but worse against things like Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus, and gets to a less certain ultimate a few turns faster. I like Tamiyo, but Jace is probably still best at getting consistent results.

Collective Brutality and Dragon Combo

The last card actually came in ninth place, so I’m bending some rules because it’s one of my favorite decks. As it turns out, Collective Brutality is a great card in Worldgorger Dragon combo.

(I wrote about the Worldgorger Dragon combo with Tasigur recently, so I won’t go over all the details here.)

In the context of Dragon combo, there is a lot going on with this card. First, because of Collective Brutality’s first mode and its ability to force the discard of an opponent’s counterspell or removal (or defensively to remove a bomb spell), Jimmy felt comfortable cutting Force of Will from his deck. That’s a nice change to make in a format that has several decks (mostly Eldrazi) running multiple Cavern of Souls, which makes Force of Will look pretty bad. Brutality, along with Gitaxian Probe to look at an opponent’s hand, also makes Cabal Therapy better.

Next, giving –2/–2 to a creature means you can worry less about Containment Priest, which is played in Monastery Mentor decks, White Eldrazi, and others and is a nightmare for the Dragon combo. It’s unfortunate the Priest has flash, but at least you’ll see it coming with the first mode.

Most importantly, to add a mode to Collective Brutality, you discard a card, which could be Worldgorger Dragon or the other half of the combo, Tasigur, the Golden Fang. That’s right, for 2 mana, you can Duress your opponent, destroy their creature, and set up your combo—all things you need to do to win.

Finally, Brutality’s third mode is usable as a win condition in Dragon with the Tasigur recursion combo. Normally with the unlimited mana that Dragon makes, you draw your deck with Tasigur then replay Ancestral Recall targeting your opponent repeatedly until they lose. Collective Brutality can fill this role as well in case Ancestral gets exiled or there’s a Chalice of the Void or Meddling Mage in play. This means not having to play otherwise iffy cards like Deep Analysis or Timetwister as contingency plans.

A Few Others to Think About

There are some other Eldritch Moon cards worth taking a look at in Vintage. Curious Homunculus is interesting in a big-mana Gifts Ungiven context, since both halves help cast bigger spells, and the flipped form, Voracious Reader, could be used to finish off an opponent, rather than using Tendrils of Agony. Docent of Perfection, while expensive in comparison to things like Monastery Mentor, is a nice win condition in a Gush control deck. Unsubstantiate is notable for its flexibility but is probably underwhelming; some players might like it as a one-of where artifact decks are rare enough that they don’t need Hurkyl's Recall. Harmless Offering now allows an eight-of Donate deck, where you want to get rid of Immortal Coil or Illusions of Grandeur, but those are all big spells to cast, making an awkward combo deck.

I’m sure there are other cards Vintage players are anxious to try and soon. Let me know what you’re looking forward to.

Thanks for reading!

Nat Moes


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