Vintage Meta-game



  • I have not played much Vintage since SCGCon and I have been taking a hard look at the meta-game and Magic in general. I played some Old School, some Modern and some Pauper and I dabbled in Legacy. And, all of these meta-games feel healthy and fun, but something feels off in Vintage.

    I am seeing something strange in vintage that is narrowing the meta-game for a field with almost an unlimited card pool. I am hearing from friends that the meta-game is stale. I am finding this argument confusing because I feel that the meta-game is healthy. I really enjoyed playing old school because I love old cards but also because the meta-game is mature but also experiential.

    I would describe the meta-game like this:
    Tier 1: Shops, Jeskai, Paradoxical, Survival, Dredge
    Tier 2: Oath, Delver, Eldrazi, Grixis, LandStill
    Tier 3: Lands, Storm, 2 Card Monte, Mana-gorger Hydra

    I am trying to figure out why the vintage format feels small right now. There are some very good tier 1 and tier 2 decks but the variety of decks that feel playable competitively has become a smaller set. Looking at Legacy, and Modern the meta-games are expanding and I’m not exactly sure why Vintage is kind of stuck right now.

    My first thought is that the new cards are not helping the format. My second thought is that there is not enough innovation and too much herd mentality.

    An interesting take on the meta-game is that each one of these decks has very interesting variants. Paradoxical has 3 variations, Jeskai has at least 3 variants and Shops has at least 2 variants. The issue with variants is that most people still feel like they are all the same deck.

    Is something going wrong with Vintage? I am not sure. I want to believe that the format with the largest card selection and the most broken cards available is the most interesting.

    I find that I am playing more card variety in the lower formats, and this is very unsettling. The last thing I want to discuss is the banned and restricted list. I really want to discuss how to drive innovation and open up the format.

    I love what has happened with Survival decks and I think the same needs to happen with other decks. Why not StoneBlade or Humans? How do we create a strong budget deck?



  • to use stoneblade as an example, I don't think there's any reason to build a deck with stoneforge in it that doesn't just turn into a variant of the stock jeskai lists. equipment are also worse in vintage than in other formats due to everyone packing artifact hate at much higher frequencies.

    that's an object level case against a particular deck, and while obviously similar explanations could be made for most others, it's not entirely satisfactory. before survival put up results similar arguments could have been made to dismiss it.

    to use your classifications, 5 tier 1 decks seems about as many as can be expected in most formats, though there's not as many tier 2s as others have.



  • Hey, hey, Stoneforge has put up results! Just...only ever in mine and like one other person's hands, and then as a very particular metagame call. And it was kind of a stock Jeskai list at the end of the day with a different threat suite.

    But @BlindTherapy has a point. It's probably right to dismiss out of hand 99% of ideas. I will respect your deck if you can put together a couple of 5-0s or wins in local events. Up until that point, your deck is a novelty which doesn't have staying power. It takes someone putting in the work on a good idea to begin with (this is the hard part, finding a good idea) to get a deck to being decent. Even an almost good idea can suck in the end--e.g. Time Spiral combo, which ends up as a Paradoxical deck.

    @moorebrother1 Survival is the opposite of a Budget deck. Start with "I'm building the best version, cards don't matter", and you'll actually end up with a good deck more often.



  • @moorebrother1 I do sort of agree with your larger point. There isn’t a lot of creativity unleashed in Vintage. Probably for a couple reasons:

    -small player base
    -high barrier to entry (both for new players AND new ideas)
    -little/no professional engagement

    It has taken 3 months worth of myself and a few others working tirelessly and putting up strong results with Survival for people to recognize it as a real strategy and not just “a worse version of Dredge.” Much of that has to do with the fact it doesn’t look/feel like a Vintage deck. It doesn’t bend to conventional wisdom, doesn’t play tons of restricted cards or counter-spells, and it wins strictly through aggression with minimal disruption and with no real game ending combo.

    I think there is more room to try new things in the format than people are comfortable trying, mostly because their expectations of what a Vintage deck should look like block them from trying different things.



  • @wfain I love the innovation behind the survival deck. I attempted and failed sometime back with a more combo oriented version.

    I want more tier 1 and tier 2 types of decks in Vintage and it is hard to make them. I have been messing around with several cards for new decks and I run into the issues of asking can it beat Shop, can it beat Jeskai control, can it beat Paradoxical?

    Moreover, I am frustrated with Wizards. I understand that they do not print cards for Vintage per se, but the cards that have been coming out lately leave something to be desired. We got Hollow one, and Paradoxical outcome over the past 2 years to help create new deck types but mostly the cards are added to this deck or that deck to make them stronger or even out some meta-game issues.

    I do not care about costs when it comes to deck building I just wanted to discuss "is Vintage stale?"

    I know that quite a few people feel that it is, but I do not find it stale. I also do not see the format as diverse as I would like it to be.



  • @moorebrother1 said in Vintage Meta-game:

    Moreover, I am frustrated with Wizards. I understand that they do not print cards for Vintage per se, but the cards that have been coming out lately leave something to be desired.

    Don't be. The last time we had a somewhat larger selection of cards that had applications in Vintage, it didn't seem to go over well (I'm talking about Treasure Cruise, Dig through Time and such). Heck, there's even a massive amount of pushback to the printing of Hollow One and Paradoxical Outcome, even though those cards do exactly what you are looking for.

    But on the flip side, the cards that would need to be printed would need to either be so powerful (such as Cruise, again) or so debilitating to current Vintage strategies (such as Grafdigger's Cage) to see widespread use.



  • You know, I bet this format would be better if WoTC didn't let a few Twitch streamers make the restriction decisions for the past 3 years.



  • @moorebrother1 said in Vintage Meta-game:

    Is something going wrong with Vintage?

    Yes, its called Old School. Vintage tournaments are typically pretty small to begin with for paper. If we have 20 players and lose even just 3 to old school, that is a 15% reduction in attendance. Its a 15% reduction in decks, in players in everything. 3 may not sound like a lot, but lets see any format take a sudden 15% reduction and see how TO's respond.

    There are many who play both. But honestly I know some very excellent vintage players who are just not into vintage anymore because they'd rather play old school. I dont know what other areas are like or what the online vintage scene is like, but the NE Vintage which has always been a stronghold of the format has taken a bit of a hit in the past year.



  • @hrishi said in Vintage Meta-game:

    But on the flip side, the cards that would need to be printed would need to either be so powerful (such as Cruise, again) or so debilitating to current Vintage strategies (such as Grafdigger's Cage) to see widespread use.

    cage, imo, clearly points out the problem with this design space being explored. I don't think you can print a card as debilitating to blue as cage is to a wide spectrum of stuff very easily-rather, a lot of the design space is cards that would still be playable alongside blue(or whatever other dominant strategy is the concern). to make a hypothetical, let's say the card is pyroblast that cantrips(obviously this card will never be printed). does that card drive blue's representation down, give us a real red deck in the format, or does blue just play it for blue mirrors? Kambal is a playable card in blue decks while eidolon of the great revel is likely a stronger card in a vacuum but sees almost no play, because it's better to play assorted cantrips and restricted cards than to play a card that seems as tailor-made to beat them as cage is to its prey. hollow one seems to be an example of a card that's powerful, but only in a truly different deck-to my knowledge noone is casting him for 1 off dack fayden regularly. to some degree this means we're dealing with unknown unknowns; we can point to random unplayable decks that could be playable with a new addition but the problem is hard to solve because it's hard to neatly define.

    I realize I started rambling a bit towards the "print this card to fix vintage" thread. aside from the umpteenth dredge variation I myself am not likely to contribute much to format diversity.



  • @khahan I started playing Old School because of nostalgia and yearning for a new format outside of Legacy and Modern back in 2016. I sold a lot of Legacy and Modern cards to get into Old School about 2 years ago.

    My primary love is still Vintage and it is for a number of Old School players that are saying Vintage is stale.

    I see their point when I look at deck lists but Old School is essentially a big limited format. Most players want nuance and experimentation in the meta-game. Vintage has this but it is really, really hard. I make decks all the time around cards that I think are playable and very few of them ever see play.

    I just looked at all of my decks last night as I was going to take apart and remake some decks. I had 8 Old School decks and 4 vintage decks.

    The simple reason is that experimenting in Old School is actually easier and it is fun. Experimenting in Vintage can lead to some very bad feelings. See a post I put up in early June when I lost every round of local paper tournament.



  • @blindtherapy I see where you are going with this post. I was hoping for more cards like Snapcaster Mage and Hollow One but these cards break Standard and to some extend Modern and Legacy.

    Phyrexian mana and the delve draw spells broke Vintage, Legacy, and Modern. The idea behind those cards was not wrong, because those cards shifted the meta game. I do not like huge lopsided swings anymore than the next guy, but when I look at sets I see so few cards that are even playable much less for Vintage, Legacy or Modern I often wonder who these cards are for.

    I buy boxes when I see a good set, I usually buy 2 or 3 boxes so I am a customer for Wizards and I have been disappointed in card design since Kaladesh and Aether Revolt with the exception of Dominaria.

    I do not want broken cards, I just want playable cards. People tried to brew with Traxos, Karn, and Teferi. All of those cards placed in big tournaments this year then we just kinda of got stuck.



  • If you are more liberal with your classification system, Vintage has had the same decks for a long long time.

    Jeskai is just Gush without the Gush.
    Paradoxical is just Vault/Key with a new draw engine.
    Dredge is still Dredge despite some new card choices.
    Shops is still shops despite it not really being a Prison deck anymore.
    Oath/Landstill/Delver/ect. have also been around a while.

    The only "new" decks are Survival, Lands and Eldrazi. But these are really only a few degrees of separation from Dredge and Workshops. I'm also not entirely sure it feels any less stale that there are a couple of newcomers as you are still playing a majority of matches against/with the same old decks.

    If you want a radical shakeup, you are talking about revisiting the entirety of the restricted list or playing a different format (which it seems people are taking the latter approach by going to old school).



  • I just listened to the So Many Insane Plays podcast and they do a very good job discussing the meta-game. They address the "feelings" that I am discussing here.

    I think @Smmenen and @CHA1N5 did a really good job breaking the meta-game down. I missed BUG in my previous list.

    The people who have the feelings that I am describing are older and a lot of them fit into the Old School players bracket. My instinct on why people feel the way they do about Vintage after listening to their discussion breaks down into 2 thoughts.

    First, brewing in Vintage is very, very hard to do. The 6 schools of Magic that Stephen mentioned in the show are how I classically think about Magic but those have evolved and to some extent they still exist but it is hard to visualize. The overlap in cards has always existed in each format but in Vintage the overlap of good cards has in some way concentrated and this was Stephen's point about Bazaar.

    It is why people stopped playing Dragon when Dredge became good. You still play through hate but Dredge is more efficient with the core card of Bazaar. The mechanic is just more efficient.

    This card concentration issue is something I struggle with when I make new decks. Am just doing blue stew again? Is this really a PO type deck without PO? Can I play Workshop without being aggro aside from 2 Card Monte?

    These questions make brewing a real challenge when you want to break away. I always build my blue decks with no Preordain but as I test and iterate the card is so good and so efficient that it finds its way back into the deck and I am usually not happy about that.

    Second thought, MTGO does not work for a lot of players. I love playing Magic, and I like it for a lot of reasons. I started playing with a group of friends when we got off work from a bar and it was social experience. MTGO does not really work for me. Magic is social. The fact that Leagues and Challenges define a lot of the meta-game now makes me insane.

    I had a thread about MTGO so I will not rant anymore about it but it is having an impact on how people feel about Vintage.



  • @vaughnbros said in Vintage Meta-game:

    If you are more liberal with your classification system, Vintage has had the same decks for a long long time.

    Jeskai is just Gush without the Gush.
    Paradoxical is just Vault/Key with a new draw engine.
    Dredge is still Dredge despite some new card choices.
    Shops is still shops despite it not really being a Prison deck anymore.
    Oath/Landstill/Delver/ect. have also been around a while.

    The only "new" decks are Survival, Lands and Eldrazi. But these are really only a few degrees of separation from Dredge and Workshops. I'm also not entirely sure it feels any less stale that there are a couple of newcomers as you are still playing a majority of matches against/with the same old decks.

    If you want a radical shakeup, you are talking about revisiting the entirety of the restricted list or playing a different format (which it seems people are taking the latter approach by going to old school).

    I'm even less liberal

    Missteps
    Aggregate Combo / Defense Grid
    Spheres
    Bazaars

    The reason the best aggregate combo deck is outcome and not rituals is because Misstep is played at 3.8 by 50% of the format. The reason shops wins at all is the same reason (plus 1.5 Flusterstorms and half a Pyroblast), otherwise it's a pretty anemic deck. Bazaar is so busted it can win with either Basking Rootwalla alongside it or Stinkweed Imp.

    I'm in the same boat, I had a good time at SCG Con and was a punt and a bad opener from finishing really well but it left me feeling like there wasn't anything new to see.



  • The responses in this thread and the responses to @Smmenen post on the Myth of a Golden Age reveal a few things:

    • The format is balanced and most players feel that is balanced
    • There is a significant portion of the vintage community that is unhappy with current meta-game
    • Our metrics for measuring the meta-game are using MTGO for leagues and challenges
    • We measure diversity and health of the format in large paper tournaments

    I see some very lopsided feedback here. I went back and read @nedleeds article about Mental Misstep from last year and re-read several take articles about last years Champ. There are not been many new cards to the format just Teferi and Karn really. There have been new innovations in Survival and Lands.

    Mental Misstep is an easy target but Preordain is much worse in my opinion. We need the broken aggro decks and broken combo decks and broken graveyard decks to keep the “fair” decks honest.

    I also went back and listened to the content post Champs and it is not the fact that Shops won last year that really bugged people. There is something about how the game is being played now that is bothering people.

    I had a ton of fun at SCG Con but it was intense and at times not fun. There were a few games where I just lost interest and that is probably why I was 8-5 instead of 10-3. I look at this year versus 2016 and 2017 before the restrictions and honestly I do not see a big difference in game play or sentiment about the game.

    @Smmenen already did a thorough analysis of Khans (late 2014) until now. I am wondering if there is a deeper issue here. The affordability of the format has resulted in a larger group of people playing online. I was not happy with the feedback I received about my negative take on MTGO because a lot of players are online and I would like to know how to play there and have fun. I still play online from time to time but it is not how I like to play Magic.

    I see the format at a critical impasse. The cost to get into Vintage is crazy. The format needs to open up and evolve. Most of the fun that most of us have is playing expense and busted cards against opponents that understand how the format works.

    I want to get the budget Eldrazi deck from 2016 back into the format. I want more innovation in the format. I want to feel the openness that I have loved about this game since 1995.

    People play this game for all kinds of reasons and people play Vintage because it is by far the best format in my opinion. I want to keep it that way.

    How do we keep our format from flaming out? How do we entice new people to play? How do we create an entry level deck that cost about $1000 in paper? These are critically important questions and we need real answers.



  • Print an elf that etb removes all 1 of copies in all players decks. Barely effects any other formats, brings back elves, or helps dude decks, obv implications in Vintage.

    Besides that? Get rid of the reserved list and reprint cards so more players can get into the format, more people, new blood, new innovation's.


 

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