What Keeps the Fringe at the Fringe?

So this weekend at GP Memphis, I did my best to talk to people about vintage as much as possible. As usual, most people blanch and back away until you start saying “Hey, you haven’t lived until you write Black Lotus on a Plains.” With the dollar signs out of the picture, folks seem much more interested in talking about the format.

That said, especially older payers almost immediately launched into stories about their favorite wacky deck tech from back in the day (whichever day that was), and it got me thinking, especially in light of the most recent vsl and several quality brewing posts here in the last few weeks.

There are a solid handful of decks that this community recognizes as outside of the current pillars, and then another subset of decks that frequently get labeled as Fringe decks. I would be interested in hearing discussion about:

  1. Which decks will more than likely always be Fringe and why those particular lists (Lookin’ at you Belcher) will remain there despite popularity and ability to win, regarding their consistency, resilience, available hate etc?

  2. What does it take to bring a Fringe deck (either generally or a specific list) closer to the mainstream? For instance, there are several Null Rod / Mono X Hate Bears lists that seem solid but don’t seem to get traction to become as viable as midrange decks like Team Leo and BUG variant pals.

  3. Which decks right now do you consider right on the verge of tipping into good either for the first time or making a comeback, whether metagame shift or printings, restrictions etc? It seems here there are some decks where older vintage strategies or particular cards are constantly angling to be good again, or lists that would Like to become a new archetype but that just don’t quite have the gas against the current meta game (heh, or any metagame perhaps). Would love to see maybe some ranking of which are the most likely to hit that mark given the current conditions.

  4. What most keeps decks from emerging and or making comebacks? It can’t all be misstep and Ravager...right? What is blocking off your favorite cards from being good right now?

These are great questions. I think several factors keep fringe decks at bay.

Often, they're generally less consistent and/or take more work to achieve the same result as more mainstream lists. When I'm brewing, I often run up against the question, "Why am I trying to make A work when B does the same thing but better?" The answer usually is "because A is so cool!" Further reflection will yield strategic differences between the two, and I have to decide if those pros outweigh the cons. They frequently don't. But when they do, you have to maximize those differences in a way that make it a compelling choice to take to a tournament.

For example, I'm currently working on a deck jamming 4 Gifts and 4 Dark Petitions. I'm always asking myself, "why not just play DPS?" Because I believe that Gifts gives a powerful angle of attack at instant speed--which often lets me overload blue decks with a threat on their eot, followed by a Petition on my turn. I've decided the reduced speed and occasional clunky hand is worth that tactical advantage. This is after many many ideas and decks that didn't have a decent answer to "why not just play X?"

I think vintage has a lot of room for brews, but the time and difficulty of bringing a brew up to where it can hang with prevalent and honed decks keeps a lot of them down. A common cycle for me on the euro xmage server (too poor for mtgo) is to brew a deck, lose ~200 rating points in the process of refining it over weeks, then gain it all back once I've tuned it and gained proficiency with it. Then I either get bored and/or come up with a new idea and the cycle starts all over again. I can imagine that being an agonizing process for people who don't love brewing and tinkering.

The result is a deck that only one person is playing, so I suppose to make it mainstream they would need to top 8 a big event with it and/or 5-0 some leagues. I guess you have to be Brian Kelly. 😄

last edited by Pox22

There are a number of factors that make cards and decks fringe. I would say the first of which is to ask the "Am I having fun?" question.

First and foremost, Magic is a game and if you are not having fun then you are not doing it right. So, when someone plays their pet deck it may be fun at first until they start to lose, and lose, and lose.

This will push them to either keep change their deck or go more mainstream. There is a very good reason that so many cards are not played in any format let alone Vintage and that is because no one wants to keep losing.

The other factor is the feedback loop, which is heavily related to my first point. When certain cards or a deck do well this becomes public knowledge and people look for ideas from what works and innovate from there.

I played Nahiri, the Harbringer for about a year. I started with a Gush build and transformed it into a Standstill build over the course of a year but the deck never performed enough for me to really win.

I changed decks to play Sun Titan Oath and I was able to get better results much faster. Both decks were close to the mainstream but were fringe based on the cards outside of the base. Both are hard to play in a serious meta-game environment against high skilled players.

I personally believe any deck can be pushed into a winning deck with enough time and dedication but it is a lot of work and the deck may still be fringe.

Most concepts that we think of in Vintage started as fringe, but someone did well with the concept and it broke out. If you are having fun then play whatever you want and don't worry about the label.

I keep hoping a viable Prodigal Sorcerer deck becomes a thing. I just love Tim.

@moorebrother1 said in What Keeps the Fringe at the Fringe?:

I personally believe any deck can be pushed into a winning deck with enough time and dedication but it is a lot of work and the deck may still be fringe.
Most concepts that we think of in Vintage started as fringe, but someone did well with the concept and it broke out. If you are having fun then play whatever you want and don't worry about the label.

I've been looking at this in the context of the Mono-Red thread that I posted as well. There are strategies that seem to be robust but that just get "out-vintaged" by more explosive or more consistent decks. That's why I wanted to ask the question about which decks are right at the cusp right now. Obviously printings can change a lot, but it would be interesting to see what kind of shifts would be necessary to bring back for instance a blue deck with thirst, gifts, drain, etc, or make Merfolk more actively good, or bring back Uba Stax. Is it all misstep?? Lol.

I feel like at any given moment there are decks that people keep an eye on, and maybe it all speaks to the "Is X deck just plain better than Y deck," as decks like Dark Depths, Grixis Thieves, Painter, etc etc can't put up the same kind of wins that you can get out of Xerox, Oath and Storm. But we still keep our eye on them!

I would sleeve up a Tim deck then. If the current meta can prove anything, its that there's nothing wrong with pet decks. A large portion of the meta-game have bad mwp vs the meta.

last edited by John Cox

@wretchedcamel I think the only place he can be played might be 93/94. I had a goofy Living Plane/Tim/Instill Energy deck put together for 93/94 that was able to squeak out a few matches but only after playing the long game as a control deck. I might try again and bring it to the Eternal Central Event this year. At least i'd score a few creativity points.

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