Last updated on February 27, 2024
Balance | Illustration by Kev Walker
When Vintage was first announced as a playable format on Magic Online (MTGO), MTG players wondered how people would play without the most powerful cards in the format? Cards like the famous Power Nine and other Vintage staples weren’t available or were too rare and expensive. Would people be priced out of the format? Fear not, ‘cause Vintage Masters was made to solve all these problems.
Vintage Masters (VMA) released in 2014, between Modern Masters and Modern Masters 2015, following the official announcement that Vintage would be a playable format in MTGO. Masters sets were relatively new at the time, so players weren’t sure what to expect. The result was a huge set that contained no less than 100 rares and 30 mythics, about twice what we expect from a normal set. Today we’re covering everything about VMA, including the most notable mechanics from the set and the most iconic cards, so let’s dive in.
Mox Emerald | Illustration by Volkan Baga
|Number of Cards
|101 commons, 80 uncommons, 105 rares, 30 mythic rares, 9 special rares, and 15 basic lands,
|Cycling, Echo, Fading, Flanking, Madness, Shadow, Storm, Threshold
|June 13, 2014
|Release on Magic Online
|June 16, 2014
Parallax Wave | Illustration by Greg Staples
Vintage Masters is an all-reprint set released with the main objective of improving card accessibility for Eternal Formats on MTGO, namely Vintage. This indirectly benefitted Legacy as well since these formats share many staple cards. Naturally, that includes the famous Power Nine: Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, the five Moxen, Time Walk, and Timetwister.
The set contains 325 cards, all reprints with a key restriction: Vintage Masters cards were not legal in Modern at the time of the release. Following the introduction of Vintage on MTGO in June 2014, Vintage Masters was released exclusively on MTGO to add the Power Nine and make Legacy/Vintage staples more accessible. To incentivize people to open more packs, MTG designers wrapped these cards up in a nice Limited format, so people could play Draft and Sealed, and eventually open valuable cards like the Power Nine or original Dual Lands. Thanks to Vintage Masters, the Vintage community can play their beloved format almost as easily as they can play Standard.
The success of Modern Masters and Vintage Masters paved the way for future master sets, like the release of Eternal Masters in paper shortly thereafter.
Usually, MTG master sets have a bunch of different mechanics, and VMA is no exception. Those mechanics were released during the 1995-2000 era in blocks like Urza’s Saga, Tempest, Odyssey, and Mercadian Masques. Let’s quickly go through all of them:
Cycling is a mechanic first seen in Urza’s Saga. It allows you to pay mana (usually ) to discard it and draw another card, so it gives you more choice on how you use your resources. Examples of Constructed staples with cycling in VMA are Cloud of Faeries, Eternal Dragon, and Decree of Justice. Cycling is a very simple mechanic that smooths gameplay, so WotC uses it frequently every 5-6 sets or so, even on just a few cards.
Echo is a mechanic from Urza’s Saga that allows you to get an undercosted creature card. The downside is that you have to pay the echo cost the following turn, or else you sacrifice the creature. Simian Grunts is a 3/4 creature with flash for just three mana, a very good rate for a surprise blocker. Even if you don’t pay the echo cost, you get the card for your turn and your opponent’s turn, as well as any ETB triggers. Famous cards with echo in Vintage Masters are Deranged Hermit and Karmic Guide.
Fading originates from Mercadian Masques block, more specifically Nemesis, and only appears on permanents. A card with fading enters the battlefield with N fade counters, and you remove a counter from it on each of your upkeeps. When you remove the last fade counter the card will effectively fade, that is, you’ll have to sacrifice the permanent. Vintage Masters has only three cards with fading: Blastoderm, Parallax Wave, and Saproling Burst.
Flanking is a Mirage mechanic found on creatures that says “each creature without flanking that’s blocking a creature with flanking gets -1/-1 until end of turn”. The -1/-1 applies to each blocking creature, so it’s very risky to double-block a flanking creature. Flanking only works while attacking, so keep that in mind. VMA has only a few cards with flanking: Fallen Askari, Sidar Jabari, and Zhalfirin Crusader.
Madness was introduced in Torment and allows you to pay an alternate cost when you discard a madness card to cast it instead of putting it in your graveyard. The madness cost is often cheaper and turns discarding into an advantage. Madness has been reprinted a bunch of times, and it’s a nice mechanic to have in a set with a heavy graveyard and discard theme. Constructed staples in VMA with madness include Circular Logic and Basking Rootwalla.
A creature with shadow can only block or be blocked by another creature with shadow. This Tempest mechanic basically creates a parallel combat zone where only shadow creatures exist, and it’s very aggressive because you’ll almost always use shadow creatures to attack with evasion, not to block. Since it’s not that common to have shadow creatures on both sides of the battlefield, you can usually read shadow as “this creature can’t block and cannot be blocked”. Dauthi Mercenary and Soltari Trooper are examples of shadow creatures in VMA that constitute the backbone of aggressive decks.
Storm is a mechanic introduced in Scourge that quickly became a Constructed combo deck staple. When you cast a spell with storm, you copy it for each other spell cast previously on that turn, even your opponents’ spells, which leads to explosive combo turns and combo finishes. Famous cards with storm that got reprinted in VMA are Mind's Desire, Tendrils of Agony, and Flusterstorm, a card designed to counter storm decks.
Threshold was introduced in Odyssey and cares about the number of cards in your graveyard. Cards with threshold are so much better if you have seven or more cards in your graveyard, and are usually bad or unplayable if you don’t have threshold. Legacy players are probably well acquainted with threshold staple Cabal Ritual, and Putrid Imp is a commonly played discard outlet in reanimator and madness decks.
- Ancestral Recall
- Black Lotus
- Mox Pearl
- Mox Sapphire
- Mox Jet
- Mox Ruby
- Mox Emerald
- Time Walk
These cards are among the rarest and most powerful cards in MTG. They are only legal to play in Vintage, and they are all restricted, so you can play only one per deck. The artifacts are very powerful because they generate mana for no cost, while the blue cards are very pushed effects: Ancestral Recall lets you draw three cards for a single mana, Time Walk offers an extra turn for only two mana, and Timetwister gives you a draw-seven while shuffling your graveyard into your library. Granted, they’re not the most powerful cards in MTG ever but are among the more versatile and rare cards.
The Original Dual Lands
- Tropical Island
- Underground Sea
- Volcanic Island
The Original Dual Lands are a ten-card cycle including all 10 of MTG’s color pairs, and they provide two types of mana with no downside. They don’t come into play tapped or deal damage to their controller, and they also have basic land types, so they can be found with fetchlands. For example, Tundra has the island and plains types, while Bayou has the forest and swamp types. Their only downside is that they count as nonbasic lands for hosers like Wasteland or Price of Progress.
Balance looks like a fair and symmetrical effect but it isn’t at all. It’s not a good sign when people are afraid of playing their cards because they will be punished by a well-timed Balance. WotC won’t print those effects anymore because the advantage is huge for the caster.
Upheaval resets everyone's board, usually leaving the player that cast it with a big advantage. They can tap excess mana before casting Upheaval and start rebuilding their board before the other players.
Force of Will is a staple of Vintage and Legacy because it’s your first line of defense against losing to really fast combos. Most of the time Force of Will is cast for no mana at all, and in formats where FoW is legal you should always assume that a blue player has countermagic, even when they have no mana open.
Vampiric Tutor can tutor any card and put it on top of your library at instant speed for only a single mana. What’s more, it lets you manipulate your next draw and sets up miracles, or commander triggers like the ones from Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign.
Wheel of Fortune makes everybody discard their hand and draw seven cards. It’s usually fired by the player that has the least cards or the most graveyard synergies. It’s extra-strong with cards that limit opponents’ draws like Narset, Parter of Veils, or cards that punish them like Nekusar, the Mindrazer or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
Sylvan Library is card advantage and card selection in green, a color that doesn’t usually get these effects, and at a low enough cost to be played in Eternal formats.
Lion's Eye Diamond reads strangely because you have to discard your hand to make use of the benefit, but in the right deck, the three mana you’ll get will be worth it, and sometimes discard is what you want anyway. There are several ways to use cards from your graveyard to make up for the downside, including Yawgmoth's Will and Past in Flames.
Mishra's Workshop generates three mana by itself in artifact-heavy decks and it's one of the pillars of the Vintage format. Cards like this, as well as Mana Crypt and Ancient Tomb, are the reason 6-mana artifacts can see play in Vintage.
Vintage Masters is available exclusively on Magic Online (MTGO) via booster packs. That’s because lots of VMA cards are on the Reserved List, and therefore can’t be printed in paper. From time to time, MTGO offers a VMA flashback Draft so you can play the Limited format.
A Vintage Masters Draft booster contains your typical basic land, one rare, mythic rare, or special rarity card, three uncommons, and 10 commons. While mythic rares usually appear at a 1:8 rate, special rares have a 1:53 chance of appearing.
Mox Ruby | Illustration by Volkan Baga
Vintage Masters was a huge hit when it first fired back in 2014. It had compelling Draft themes such as madness decks, storm decks, aggressive shadow decks, or goblin tribal decks, and provided the opportunity to play with iconic cards like the Power Nine, or cool rares like Deranged Hermit, Radiant, Archangel, and Spiritmonger.
It was a true retro MTG experience, with the bulk of the cards coming from early MTG sets. And from a card availability perspective, card prices for Legacy and Vintage staples took a good dive and made these formats more accessible. That was a long time ago though, and MTGO would certainly benefit from a Vintage Masters 2 today.
What were your experiences with Vintage Masters? Would you like to see a VMA2? Let me know in the comments section below or on our Draftsim Twitter. Thanks for tuning in, and stay safe out there.Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: