Myth of the Golden Age: In Defense of Vintage Today

I hear a surprising number of of players, of late, complaining that they are unhappy with Vintage of late, that the metagame is stagnant, that PO decks are too fast, or any other number of complaints.

I look at the format, and I see a really healthy, diverse metagame. I discussed this in my article here and our [recent podcast](link url).

If you think that Vintage is so bad right now, can you please tell me when exactly you felt that Vintage was so much better than it was now?

I'm genuinely curious. Be specific. Give me dates.

Breaking up Vintage into 8 different periods since Khans of Tarkir was released in October, 2014, demarcated by major new printings and by restrictions, I'd love for someone to tell me which period they felt was actually better. Let's look back:

  1. Was it from October, 2014 to January, 2015? If so, that's hard to imagine. Treasure Cruise dominated the format and was promptly restricted.

Anyone saying that they loved this format has to answer the question: why did Treasure Cruise need to be restricted, then?

  1. Was it January, 2015 until Sept 28, 2015? I remember this period well. We had a big NYSE and season 2 and 3 of the VSL. If this period was so great, then why were TWO cards restricted at the end of it, including Chalice of the Void and Dig Through Time? All I heard were incessant complaining that led to the restriction of both. If anything, Dig Through Time was even better than Treasure Cruise.

  2. Was it Sept 28, 2015 until April 4, 2016? I remember good things about this format. It wasn't that bad. But if it was truly so much better than now, then why did it culminate in the restriction of Lodestone Golem? If that metagame was really so great, then surely LSG didn't have to be restricted.

  3. OK OK - All of those periods resulted in a restriction. But what about the period of April 4, 2016, until Kaladesh was printed at the end of September, 2016? Maybe April 4-Sept 30, was a better period?

If that was really so great, then why was that the period in which players complained the most about Gush? There were more angry posts about Gush than almost any other time. Also, the metagame breakdown had Gush at 35% of Top 8s - which was almost as high as Treasure Cruise was before it got whacked.

  1. Well, what about the period from Kaladesh until April, 2017? That metagame was probably better than the summer before it, as PO was released, but players were not all happy about Walking Ballista in that period. And, in any case, it ended with the restriction of Gush AND Gitaxian Probe on April 24th. So, it's really hard to make the case that that metagame was any better.

  2. Ok, but didn't things settle after the restriction of Gush? Wasn't April 24-August 28, 2017 any better?
    Not by a long shot. That summer, Shops and Mentor decks put on such a performance, that at the end of August, the DCI restricted BOTH Mentor and Thorn. That was one of the statistically worst metagames we've ever had. Shops were 40% of Top 8s in the Vintage Challenges.

  3. Did things improve after that? Not unless you think that a vintage championship top 8 that was 5 Shop decks and 3 Oath decks was an improvement.

In contrast, from January to June 30, this year, the Vintage Challenge results had this Top 8 metagame:
23% Shops
17% TX (Mentor and Delver)
17% PO
13% Dredge
10% Oath
8% BUG(r)

That's the most statistically balanced metagame Vintage has had, at least, since the Summer of 2014.

For people going so far as to even "boycott" the format right now, I just have to wonder how this format is any worse than any other instantiation of vintage we've experienced since 2014.

In fact, instead of apologize for the format. It's miles better than it's been in many years. Is it perfect? No. The SCG P9 tournament still had too many Shops in the Top 8 for my taste. But the format is by any known statistical measure, much more diverse than its been in years. Hell, we just had Survival win the most recent major Vintage tournament.

Vintage is still the deepest, and most strategically intricate format in Magic, and this is frankly one of the better Vintage formats we've had. Is it perfect? Of course not. Very few Vintage metagames have been. But it's far better than most.

PO is not nearly as dominant as its critics suggest. It's won only one of the four 100+ player paper Vintage tournaments held this year so far. And it's only been the best performing deck on MTGO for one month this year, as measured by Top 8 appearances (February). It's usually the 3rd or 2nd best performing deck.

I won two leagues over the labor day weekend, and even went on a 14 match win streak (which Hiromichi Ito unkindly snapped), playing neither Shops nor PO. The Leagues are well populated with 110 ish players last I checked, and the challenges are still regularly getting 50-65 players, which is where they've been for a year now.

There have been lots of wretched Vintage metagames in the last 5 years. This isn't one of them.

Vintage is actually pretty great right now, and I'm psyched for Eternal Weekend.

last edited by Smmenen

@smmenen I do think that you are correct that the format is balanced but is the format fun?

I mostly agree with everything that you have said with the exception of MTGO being a place to play. I have some deep feelings about it and I won't rehash them here.

You asked about Vintage from Khans until now, I think that is the wrong timeline. My timeline starts much earlier than that. I had the most fun in Vintage in 2009 - 2010 back when you were in Columbus and my brother and I would drive down to play. I had a lot of fun back in 2003 even with Trinisphere but I won't go back that far.

Since Khans the shift in the meta game has been toward token generators, unfair aggro decks and control decks with more than 10 counterspells. Paradoxical Outcome is the card that has been most interesting to me, which has shifted combo into a heavy blue deck with a ton of artifacts.

These shifts are something I tolerated and we do now have balance, I give you that but do we have fun?

last edited by moorebrother1

My questions was an open invitation - I wasn't prescribing dates and times players could suggest as a 'better Vintage format.'

So, if you have specific dates you'd identify as being that better format, please feel free to offer them. I was simply going back to Khans to illustrate that the format has been pretty lousy since Khans.

IMO, some of the all time best Vintage formats (as measured by diversity of the metagame and quality of game play) include (in no particular order):

  • June, 2008-Sept, 2008 (the re-restriction of Gush until the printing of Tezzeret and the errata on Time Vault)
  • Pretty much the entirety of 2006
  • January, 2002 (restriction of Fact or Fiction) until October, 2002 (when Onslaught was released)

I don't think anything format with Lodestone Golem unrestricted can qualify as a 'high quality' format.

As for your other question: is Vintage fun? Yes, as I said, I played in several Vintage leagues recently, and pretty much every game, not just match, has been high quality and intense. Almost exhaustingly so, actually.

2007/2008 was my favorite era. SCV and 5c stax were my jam. Also goblin welder was much more enjoyable in a world without mm.

@tittliewinks22 said in Myth of the Golden Age: In Defense of Vintage Today:

2007/2008 was my favorite era. SCV and 5c stax were my jam. Also goblin welder was much more enjoyable in a world without mm.

SCV was 2009, not 2007 or 2008. The first half of 2007 was dominated by gifts and pitch long. The second half was dominated by Gush, and then MUD decks. The first of half of 2008 was Gush decks, Flash, and Shops. 5c Stax wasn't played much at all in 2007 or 2008.

You're going to get some incredibly different opinions on what the "best" Vintage format was due to the question being so subjective and mired in nostalgia. That being said, I'd rate the format from the unrestriction of Regrowth in 2013 till the printing of Khans of Tarkir quite highly.

I also think the current format is very diverse and in a good place. If anything the only real difference between then and now is that Vintage was not on Magic Online and the calls for restrictions were not as loud. Of course there were grumblings on TMD, but that was it. There were no "calls to action" by public figures attempting to affect DCI policy. In fact, the time period mentioned above was at the tail end of WOTC slowly unrestricting card after card that were safe but had no restrictions since 2009.

Hope this helps.

last edited by Hrishi

Misstep hadn't begun its corrosive incestuous climb because Delve, Dack, Pyro/Mentor hadn't made Free into +1 mana and a Token.

What an awesome top 8 in to this date one of the largest paper events ever. Icing on top was beta power for prizes.

@nedleeds said in Myth of the Golden Age: In Defense of Vintage Today:

Misstep hadn't begun its corrosive incestuous climb because Delve, Dack, Pyro/Mentor hadn't made Free into +1 mana and a Token.

What an awesome top 8 in to this date one of the largest paper events ever. Icing on top was beta power for prizes.

That that was seven years ago I think illustrates my point: which is that Vintage has been pretty suboptimal for a while, but that we are currently inhabiting one of the better versions of the format.

last edited by Smmenen

2003 to 2007. Mana Drains and Brainstorms vs Smokestacks and Welders. Dragon, Sui Black, Madness, Oshawa Stompy, Tog, Keeper, Long, Control Slaver, TNT, GAT, Masknought, Lockjaw, Duct tape. Real games that lasted more than 3 turns before someone's fate was sealed. 4 Brainstorms, no Orchards, no Pokemon decks. "In play" and "RFG" terminology, C-wishing Ancestral back to your hand after Skeletal Scrying it away, Mana Burn, floating mana through upkeep into draw phase after tapping down to wire. No planeswalkers, mirror effects (Shroud vs Hexproof), Wizards not dumbing down the game to make it easier for 12 year olds to understand. Old borders, less reprints, no mythical. I think I forgot to mention 4 Brainstorm. Mana Drains, Mana Drains, Mana Drains. Oh, and Brainstorm.

@moorebrother1 You do realize that for many of us MTGO is the only place we can play vintage since there is no paper community, and for younger players the only way they can afford entering the format? I think without MTGO, vintage would be rather dead by now.

last edited by kistrand

@countdabubba Don't know if I agree with all of those sentiments, but the correlation between Pokemon tcg and PO deck feels super accurate...

Most of us have been playing well before Khans, and all the restrictions so I think we are all a bit nostalgic for the time periods prior. Shops was pretty awful to play with/against during the Lodestone era, but even then Shops had a few variants and there were plenty of ebbs and flows within what blue and fish decks were the best. The macro meta percentages may have been similar, but those variants within each archetype gave the format a better feel. All the restrictions to Workshops have killed the variation in that archetype. The new printings / restrictions to blue has hurt the variation there as well. So the issue is not so much the macrotypes now, its that there is very little variation within some of the major macrotypes. E.g., Workshops has basically 1 variant: Ravager Shops.


Wizards missed a big opportunity from Khans to pre-Chalice restriction to make a statement in regards to the restricted list. They could have gone the route of unrestricting a bunch of storm cards. Instead, they went the route of policing the format, continued that route to the point of restricting such cards as Thorn of Amethyst and we are left with what it is.

The biggest problem with all these restrictions to me seems to be the fact that the format is slow to adapt, and innovate (due to low numbers of players and high cost of switching decks). So when you kill a deck (or multiple decks) as some of these restrictions did then it takes a long time for the format to recover and regain whatever diversity it previously had.

@kistrand I understand that MTGO has increased the audience of the format but for a lot of us the "Golden Age" was before MTGO. I know the costs are crazy, I play Old School and trust me the costs are way worst there.

I think proxy tournaments offer a social place to play and still give players a place to innovate.

My issue with MTGO is that a fairly large chunk of the players do NOT have the cards and are only invested in the format via MTGO.

My other issue with MTGO is that player like myself who is invested in paper and continues to make the investment in paper has the horrible choice of buying cards twice.

I bought into MTGO then I bought in a second time to update my decks spending a considerable amount of money. I looked into getting out to realize that I would only get 30% back.

The "fun" I have playing magic and especially Vintage is playing with players socially.

I can tell you that our measure of Vintage is lopsided since we use MTGO to measure the format on a weekly basis then we freak out over paper results from large tournaments where only people who own cards can play.

last edited by moorebrother1

@smmenen I do not think that anyone disagrees with you that the format is healthy now. The point is that the format for many of us is different and to be honest, I'm not sure I like it.

I have been playing almost as long as you and I have seen so many shifts over this years and this last shift is a very large one for us older players.

It takes time for people to adjust to a new normal and to see if they like it. Most of the "feelings" are about adjustment. Some people may take a break, some will quit and we hopefully will see some new faces - that's just how this works.

The hard part is that the costs make it so hard to get in that we may not get as many new faces as we need.

last edited by moorebrother1

My biggest problem is how idiotproof the format has become. You can literally pass turn to your opponent turn 1, let them draw a card, play a land, and ANCESTRAL ON THE FUCKING END STEP like you have no idea how to play Magic: The Gathering, and it doesn't matter because the first Outcome says U: Draw 3, then the second says 0: Draw 5, add 1UR to your Pool, and the third says "congrats moron, skill game".

I like the current metagame actually, and I don't think anything should be restricted at the moment. I really don't get why anyone would want Mental Misstep restricted in particular.

I would, however, like to see Channel, Imperial Seal, Mystical Tutor, Fastbond and Flash unrestricted. Probably a few more cards could come off the restricted list as well.

last edited by Griselbrother

@vaughnbros I think I share your sentiments, in the sense that perhaps the best metric is not the diversity between specific decks (such as PO, Shops, Oath, Dredge, etc) but the variety of single cards and numbers of said cards within each specific deck.

I personally believe that this homogenization of each particular deck type is partially due to the relative ease of switching between decks on MTGO; as well as perhaps the abundance of information on 'the best strategy' espoused via MTGO aggregation websites (mtgotop8, mtggoldish).


Net decking is certainly a thing that has become much more common due to MTGO.

I know from previously playing a lot of Workshops (and still playing it occasionally) that there is just a vast difference between Ravager shops and other builds at this point. Even at Martello Shops peak there were still some other builds, like Terra Nova and Slash Panther Shops, that weren't that far behind it. The restrictions to all of the lock pieces really forces the deck to be an aggro deck, and doesn't let it be a control deck that it used to be capable of being.

For me the golden eras of vintage are the gifts era (2005ish) and the second gush era (2009ish although there wasn't a whole lot of diversity then)
In both of those eras there were decent paper scenes, and you could buy a paper vintage deck for less than a legacy deck right now. I really enjoyed vintage a lot back then so I guess I'm biased.

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