This era is exactly when I started playing competitive vintage so there's a lot of nostalgia here for me. Back then metagames were a lot more regional, and the best decks in Ritual-heavy Italy might not have fared well in Workshop-heavy Virginia. I bet @Smmenen 's History of Vintage has all the details you could imagine. I'll try and give my own perspective, as a newbie player in New England.
@thecravenone said in Premodern Vintage:
@aelien said in Premodern Vintage:
-Do you think it is a good idea to start with the historic B&R List?
What was the list back then?
I walked through the B&R timeline to put together the list as it was on the day before 8th edition came out:
Obviously a lot of these cards would be safe to remove, and players at the time knew it. As little attention as the format gets now, Vintage players were used to WotC making B&R decisions based on games they had played five years earlier. Black Vise was restricted until 2007 despite never having been part of a relevant Vintage deck for over a decade.
Just before 8th edition was an interesting crossroads in the format. Less than a month before 8th edition was the first restriction of Gush. I see Gro-a-Tog as the first modern Vintage deck ... or the first deck of its era, until a decade later, a third-time-unrestricted Gush created the first deck of our current era, Delver. I suspect GAT was far better against the field than its results showed. Back then the metagame didn't move as quickly. This was before the rise of proxy-tournaments and many metagames were defined by the preferences of a few skilled powered players. The gulf between GAT and the next-best deck is probably the largest of the entire time I've played Vintage, but it wasn't even a particularly popular deck.
This moment in time also marks the printing of the Storm mechanic, and the deck Burning Long. In December, Lion's Eye Diamond and Burning Wish were restricted (along with Chrome Mox. While this technically happened after 8th Edition and Mirrodin were released, Long is fully-functional without those sets, and I think it would be reasonable to keep those cards out of the format. Don't worry, you can still Tendrils without it.
The peak-fun in this era for me was probably a few months later, after Mirrodin, before Darksteel. The addition of Mirrodin gives you the epoch-defining Control Slaver, the first Goblin Charbelcher decks, and some very cool now-forgotten archetypes like Meandeck/Workshop Slaver, Scepter Control, Broodstar Runner, and Chalice Keeper
Keeping in mind how regional metagames were very different, here's the metagame pre-Mirrodin, in New England, as I remember it:
TNT Listed first because it was my first ever Vintage deck. Workshop to power out "big threats" like Juggernaut and Su-Chi (boy times have changed), with a Survival of the Fittest+Goblin Welder value engine
Stax The "good" Shop deck. Lock pieces, five colors, tons of restricted cards. Would cast Meditate to skip turns with Smokestack and Tangle Wire in play. Card draw, tutors, very few threats, often won with 20 swings of a Goblin Welder
MUD Colorless cards weren't nearly as deep as they are now. The main reason you'd give up on colored mana was to make Metalworker better. Grafted Skullcap was a card people actually played in a metagame where Hurkyl's Recall was even more popular than it is now. Better stick that Null Brooch early.
Burning Long/TPS, the two Dark Ritual/Tendrils of Agony decks. Long was more popular in America and five colors, cramming maximum brokenness. The Perfect Storm was more popular in Europe and stuck to blue/black, running more disruption (like Force of Will) to try and defend one big spell.
Dragon, there really isn't another deck like Dragon. A Bazaar of Baghdad deck, but nothing like the Bazaar decks you see today - it was pretty common to win without drawing it. The combo, while fairly straightforward to execute, involves one of the most convoluted chain of rules interactions in competitive deck history. It's a graveyard-based deck, but it's important to remember that before Dredge came along, people weren't running 7 graveyard-hate spells, so these matchups were very different. Dragon would try to outdraw control decks and race combo decks.
Null Rod Aggro In the time-before-proxies, budget aggro strategies were fairly common, players would specialize in Suicide Black decks (with Phyrexian Negator!) or Sligh. Slightly better were the R/G Beats decks or the R/W The Mountain Wins Again. Goblins decks would appear as well. None of these archetypes had a particularly big market share of players or tournament wins, but a few specialists would put up consistent finishes with them.
Oshowa Stompy Basically just a green Null-Rod Aggro deck, but a little stronger thanks to the addition of Bazaar of Bagdad. This is the great-grandfather of today's Survival decks
RUG Madness This was maybe the great-grandfather of today's Vengevine decks. Traded some of the disruption for splashier cards like Wheel of Fortune. Anger was what made the deck maybe two turns faster than all other aggro. It didn't have a huge following (though I played it and enjoyed it). This was probably the fastest aggro deck, but aggro decks were all really slow then.
UR Fish Except we didn't call it UR Fish, we called it something else that we really shouldn't have. This is the great-grandfather of Delver, but in a time where your best threats were two mana 1/1s instead of one mana 3/2s. You'd follow a Cloud of Fairies with a Standstill and sit on tempo-disrupting cards in a hodgepodge that was tough to pay around. I didn't respect the deck much in 2003, but in a lot of ways it was ahead of its time. Perhaps a bit too far ahead. Still, there was something beautiful about a fully-powered player being brought to their knees by a Spiketail Hatchling
Keeper/Four-Color-ControlAn elegant weapon for a more civilized age. Keeper has maybe always been more popular than powerful, but there's something special about it. Oskar Tan's epic multi-part love-letter to Keeper ("The Control Player's Bible") got more than a few people into Vintage, myself among them. Basically Vintage Good Stuff+Mana Drain, the Keeper mantra was that it had an answer to everything, you just had to play perfectly to find it. A Keeper deck was highly personalized, and players could have 6-page threads debating a single card slot. Steve O'Connell, the original founder of TheManaDrain, was a Keeper pilot, and it's almost certainly where the site got its name from. I don't have to sell you on Keeper: if you're a Keeper player, you already know it.
Landstill. It's been around forever. It's basically always been exactly the same.
Hulk Smash/Psychatog In the wake of Gush's restriction, The combo-control Gro-A-Tog deck gave way to the more purely control Hulk Smash. Basically just a pile of draw spells and counters, Tog wasn't as powerful as Long or flexible as Keeper, but it could outdraw anything. Tog wasn't the first deck I played, but it was the first deck I played well. Tog won the very first Vintage Champs, and there's no question if I were trying to win a tournament in this era, this is what I'd play.
There's a lot of fun options in this era, certainly more than I mentioned. My personal picks to play would be Psychatog ... Dragon ... Madness ... TPS ... Stax ... okay I guess I like a lot of these decks.