I actually think the game was more creature centric/permanent based in the beginning. CoP:color was the best defense. Nev disk was your "answer." Your win typically centered around white knight, serra angel, serendib efreet, or the bombastic Shivan Dragon. Even spells relied on permanents - you needed mana flare and lands or mana vaults and basalt monoliths for the awesome braingeyser/fireballs. Yes, there was always the occasional channel/fireball, but creature beats were the thing in the old days. Even "The Deck" relied on moat, tormod's crypt, feldon's cane, millstone, serra angel, the abyss, and other permanents. Even the spells were primarily to interact with permanents - like plow and disenchant.
But once we got into gush times, by then we had gush, FoW, misdirection, duress, mana drain, counterspell, and some forms of cantrips paving the way to the lands + 35 instant/sorcery spells + 2-4 kill cards decks. It was no longer about creatures or even more than a handful of permanents then. I think that is when the old Vintage we think of departed from old school (and OS is more the kind of format Pokemon, etc. copied.)
I think the current shift is getting back to it's OS roots, though not the spell-slinging vintage of 2000 and beyond that many of us remember. But I definitely agree that PWs are problematic to the flavor of the game and do take away from the core of "I AM THE PLANESWALKER" that made the feel awesome. Now we are more of a general for our creature soldiers and PW lieutenants and less the powerful wizard that drives all the action. I do miss that.