I applaud the relevance of these topics. That said, I think the conceptual framework of the Vintage format is at question here. With nothing more than a brief reasoning for restricting and unrestricting, it is difficult to ascertain what the goal is for the format. The game is not static, but constantly evolving with new printings. I have not personally researched what WOTC's or the DCI's objectives are for Vintage, but I have read diversity and fun are among them. I have had an interest in competitive play in other formats, so I have formed my own conclusions about what competitive play is and what facilitates it, as well as hinders it.
Knowledge of one's deck, its capabilities, its strengths, and its weaknesses, must be examined to evaluate a one's chances of success. The game becomes more simplistic if one is only required to combat around six decks, but can become overly complicated if there are more than six known highly competitive decks. However, when there are less than three power decks, new questions arise. These questions can include: are certain cards more powerful than others, are certain strategies more powerful than others; and if either of these questions are the case, what can a deck builder do to strategically advance their position? When there are no known ways to shift the meta game beyond a constant back and forth (which could largely be caused by player preference such as blue cannibalization) I think potential restrictions should be evaluated.
In the past few months I have read very persuasive arguments for the restrictions of certain cards, namely Monastery Mentor and Gush. There is no need, or real impact to restating these arguments, because they are well known. Because of the last few months discussions, I have been inspired to critically evaluate the circumstances surrounding Vintage. A few months in this format is equates to a "blink of the eye". Some people think no restrictions are in order, others think otherwise. My research has found that the meta has shifted from Gush, to Landstill, to Mud, to Dredge, and then to Eldrazi (a Thorn of Amethyst variant of Shops of you will). This means that deck builders are still finding options and responding effectively.
At least five different archetypes are at play here: Landstill, Mud, Mentor Gush, Dredge, and Eldrazi. Without researching further, concerning top four finishes, I am glad that players are able to respond to conditions in the meta. Sometimes different blue archetypes are the response, and in this case it is: two blue decks, one artifact deck, Dredge, and one hybrid hatebears/thorn build. This causes me to ask myself certain questions. What more could I ask for in a format, and can I formulate a response not only to the last known winning deck, but to variations of these five winning archetypes?
I had taken a break from Magic in my last semester of college (accountancy was my major), so that I could focus on a strong finish. When I returned, I naturally set forth to find the best response to the meta. I think my return to the game was a couple months after Landstill's big finish. My first thoughts were on my pet deck, BUG Gushbond. Early play testing revealed to me that Walking Ballista has killed that archetype, and Gush decks were now using Wasteland, further adding to my detriment. My next thought was that Oath of Druids could be a strong response to Shops, Eldrazi, Dredge, and Gush. This is where things got interesting for me.
I normally played on Cockatrice, but I found the player base had somewhat deteriorated. I knew at least 60 Vintage players there, but I was lucky to find games now. I set out to build my deck, and It looked like it was going to be Griselbrand Oath/Tendrils. My success was good enough to think that I could achieve good results In a Power Nine Challenge, so I bought the deck on Magic Online. I was surprised to find myself losing the majority of my early games. However, I responded by making slight changes, and within a week or two, I found that my account showed at least an 11-4 record with the deck. I found subtle changes and responses to what I was seeing (namely Sphinx of the Steel Wind) were the reason for the increase in success. After boredom of playing one deck, I traded Oath for Mud. I noticed that I was having more fun, yet marginal results. Within one week, I formulated a simple response, and soon after the deck's results were at 15-2.
Myself, and others may ask, "what is the significance or cause of these results?" Personally, I have found that prior knowledge, current involvement, and study of the format were the biggest factors in these successes. My past experiences and knowledge of the game definitely guided me. These included: competition from top level Oath players on Coctatrice (and learning from them), my interest in TPS and Gush/Tendrils inspired by Stephen Menendian and Louis Scott Vargas, watching and listening to Rich Shay play Mud and learning some tricks about the deck from watching Erich Froelich (on the VSL if I am correct), and putting to use my theoretical knowledge of competitive play. That said, I am not convinced of the significances. These are not major tournament results, but rather the accumulation of single matches over time.
Why do these things matter know though? The Oath of Druids/Tendils deck was basically what was missing from top four finishes if I am correct, and Thorn Variants are currently very good. This causes me to believe that the results were not so much a result of my ability to play, but rather to respond to the better decks in the format. Without making this post too much longer, I would like to pose some questions. Why aren't Mana Drain decks present in the top eights of major tournaments anymore? Will players be able to respond to Thorn decks? Do blue decks require more intuition to play successfully? To add a more personal perspective this post, I know from IQ tests that my intuition is not nearly what my interpretive skills are. Does this mean that I or similar minded players are better suited for decks that combat the meta with answers rather than proactive strategies? With five different decks winning major tournaments, is Vintage where it should be? Would restricting one or two cards create more diversity? Are players frustrated with different outcomes from playing different decks? Do the Power levels of certain cards warrant restriction regardless of top level performances?