Bear Deck Wins

ARTIFACTS

1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Sapphire
3 Null Rod

CREATURES

4 Meddling Mage
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Werebear

INSTANTS

1 Ancestral Recall
4 Brainstorm
2 Daze
4 Force of Will
1 Gush
2 Mental Note
1 Misdirection
4 Stifle
2 Swords to Plowshares

SORCERIES

1 Deep Analysis
1 Time Walk

LANDS

2 Flooded Strand
1 Island
4 Polluted Delta
1 Strip Mine
3 Tropical Island
3 Tundra
4 Wasteland

SIDEBOARD

1 Balance
1 Compost
1 Disenchant
2 Hydroblast
1 Misdirection
3 Naturalize
1 Null Rod
1 Powder Keg
2 Swords to Plowshares
2 Tormod’s Crypt

Mox Sapphire

Introduction to Bear Deck Wins

This article will be the first in what I hope is a series of primers and deck techs for Old Frame MTG. I want to write about a few of the decks I’ve played with the hope of making publicly available some of the lessons I’ve gathered in a way that does not easily get lost in fb. I also aim to motivate people to try this fun format and/or some of these decks!

Today I want to start this series by writing about a somewhat unusual deck that could be described as Bant tempo threshold, or maybe bant delverless delver. But I strongly prefer Bear Deck Wins!

Just for reference, in case this is the first time you hear about Old Frame MTG, we play Magic the Gathering with the current rules using cards printed between 1993 and 2003, so basically everything printed between Alpha and Scourge (hence the name of the format). We have a small restricted list (for the power 9 and other similar bombs, such as Yawgmoth’s will, bargain, etc.) and a tiny banned list (for ante cards, chaos orb, and the like). So it is basically everything but not really everything. For reference,  the rules of the Old Frame format as well as the current banned and restricted list can be found on our website here.

Some background and how Bear Deck Wins came to exist

I want to start with a little bit of history here. While I did not play Vintage back in 2003, I have played every old frame league since we started the format a little bit more than a year ago (around mid 2020). Since we began playing this fantastic format, I have been wanting to come up with a tempo strategy that plays well against the more established and dominant decks of the format. From a personal point of view, I enjoy playing tempo strategies. One of my favorite decks of old times is the classic Canadian Threshold (currently known as temur delver). Anyway, the idea of playing a tempo deck in Old Frame has been in the back of my head for a while, but I haven’t fully committed to trying one such deck.

That changed about two leagues ago.

I was having quite a lot of fun (and some success if I may add) finishing games counting to 10 and then casting a lethal tendrils of agony piloting The Perfect Storm (TPS for friends), but I decided it was time for a change. Storm was clearly the dominating deck of the format and there was some discussion about the need of banning something. I didn’t think the deck needed anything banned because as a pilot I knew the weaknesses of the deck and how to play against it. This resulted in me wanting to “prove” that the beast could be defeated. So, I decided it was the time to try a tempo deck that was capable of consistently beating up Storm. This is what I first tried:

Ubg “Sultai” Threshold

I included a full mana denial package coupled with 8 threshold bears and shadow mage infiltrator for incremental card advantage. My goal was to beat up storm and draw cards with Finkel. To be honest, I didn’t expect to do well against the rest of the field. In any case, I did not play against storm nor did I manage to draw a single card with Finkel. The joke is on me I suppose 😛

Despite my luck (or lack thereof?), I realized that the deck was not so much as a meme against the rest of the field as I originally expected it to be! I also learned a couple of valuable lessons in the process. First, the deck needed more creatures since 9 is not even close to enough to quickly bring down an opponent down to 0. Second, Finkel SUCKS! It is way too slow to beat and even slower to draw cards in this type of deck. This was a pity because I really wanted it to be good since I loved the card. But, I guess the ones to blame are the WOTC R&D guys who decided to print an uncommon card in the same set in the same colors as a the rare card with the world champion’s face in it. Anyhow, the third problem was that I realized that duress is not very good in a non-combo deck that needs to close the game fast using “small” creatures. Fourth, the deck had a problem dealing with other widely used creatures, such as phyrexian dreadnought, early game quirion dryads, or late game psychatog. Finally, I was desperately missing some way to create either virtual or real card advantage.

After some thought I realized that black was not a good color for what this deck wanted to do. I considered red (i.e., pyroblast, lightning bolt, fire // ice, and grim lavamancer), but I did love how that deck looked. I was basically forced to consider white (aka the worst color in magic in 2021, which coincidentally was also the worst color in 2003). I was skeptical about trying white at first, but I discovered that this color really resolved all the problems the deck had! Swords to plowshares can deal with every creature in the format (except my own nimble mongoose), meddling mage not only increases the creature count up to the ideal 12 but also helps to create virtual card advantage (by leaving unplayable cards in your opponent’s hands), balance is an incredibly unbalanced card, and disenchant can help to split the naturalize effects into two colors (and with different names, which has a small advantage against other meddling mages or cabal therapies). Also, for card advantage purposes I wanted to try deep analysis since it works quite well in conjunction with mental note.

This is the deck I run in the June league… Behold Bear Deck Wins

Bear Deck Wins or Ugw “Bant” Threshold, or delverless delver

Despite the deck being just a pile of “bad cards,” the deck plays quite well! I don’t want to do a full tournament report since that is now the goal of this article but I will say that I won the June league and the deck runs quite smoothly! I went 4:0 in the group stage winning 2:1 vs mana drain control, 2:0 vs Uwr fish, 2:0 vs TNT, and 2:1 vs TPS. I won 2:0 vs “donate + illusions of grandeur” in the semifinals and 3:2 against Uwr fish in the finals. We recorded and uploaded the final match on our youtube channel. You can watch the game here!

So how does the deck work?

The deck uses a tempo strategy whose plan is to employ a mana denial role with wasteland, strip mine, stifle, and null rods while hitting your opponent’s life total with threshold powered hate bears. It is important to note that the deck does not want to play a long game since it does not have an active play to consistently gain card advantage. That is why the “counters” package is rather small and focused (just 4 Force of Will, 2 dazes, and 1 maindeck misdirection with zero mana drains). Normally these are used proactively to resolve a key spell or just to stop the bomb that is going to kill you. Most of the time you let your opponent resolve their set up spells and counter their key one. 

I’ll share some deck notes and somewhat random thoughts for anyone who wants to play this deck in our next league

  • If you dazed a spell or stifled a fetch land on G1, it is relatively correct to board some of those out (especially if you are on the draw on G2). Daze and stifle are not particularly strong cards in Old frame, and they quickly lose their effectiveness when your opponent can afford to correctly play around them. The best deal you can get here is that your opponent plays around them but you have them in your sideboard
  • Sometimes, it is correct to let your opponent draw off their ancestral recall since your plan more often than not involves you winning the game empty handed while your opponent still has a few cards in hand that they are unable to play. Again, the rule of thumb is that you let your opponent resolve their set up spells and fight their key spell. 
  • If you don’t have threshold but you are close to getting there, it is correct to cast your spells before combat in case your opponent wants to pick a fight and help you get to 7 cards in the graveyard
  • Resolving a nimble mongoose is often more important than solving other creatures since once it’s in play it is VERY hard to remove (just watch out for burning wish into innocent blood!)
  • Many times, you can’t afford to play your brainstorms perfectly (ie, by returning two bad cards and shuffling with a wasteland). So, it is often correct to brainstorm somewhat more aggressively in order to find the missing creature to start beating your opponents down to zero!
  • Your opponent’s quirion dryads will grow larger very quickly, and they basically stop most of your attacks until they can draw you out of the game. Same applies to late game psychatogs (early game ones are somewhat easier to handle). Those are the spells that you can’t let your opponent resolve (or alternatively plow them as fast as possible)
  • In most matches, you are the beatdown unless you are playing against a fast combo deck (ie, storm or dreadnought), in that case you are the control. 

What is unique about this deck that we didn’t know in 2003?

Circa 2003 several decks ran null rod to combat decks that relied on powerful artifacts to accelerate their game plan. That being said, most null rod decks from that time did not run moxes or black lotuses at all (probably because people who owned power used it and those without fought them using null rod). Since our format is 100% proxy friendly, we are able to play with the best combination of cards without worrying about budget. And I think that is the beauty of it! 

What changes would I make moving forward?

Mental note severely underperformed throughout the leagues I played it. The goal for the card was to accelerate getting up to threshold but that did not happen as consistently as I expected (or much at all to be honest). I think it is correct to run an instant speed cantrip in that slot. Why instant speed you ask? Because you want to leave up mana for a T1 stifle and still have the option to use that mana in case your opponent does not crack a fetch land on their first turn. Therefore, this leaves us two main candidates, peek and opt. While I haven’t tested any of these two options, in theory any one of them may be correct. That being said, I am currently more inclined to advocate for peek over opt. While opt gives more flexibility in terms of card selection, I think this deck values more the value of information of knowing your opponent hand over digging a card deeper. Most of the cards in the deck are somewhat interchangeable and similar in power level, so for this deck I think it is more important to know how to plan the game. Related, since mental note is leaving the deck, I would switch deep analysis for a merchant scroll. In the sideboard, I would switch the powder keg for another compost. I don’t think powder keg is very good but compost is quite good against TPS and fantastic against mono black!

In sum, these are the changes I would make to the deck moving forward:

Mainboard:

– 2 mental note

– 1 deep analysis

+ 2 peek (or opt if peek happens to underperform)

+ 1 merchant scroll

Sideboard:

– 1 powder keg

+ 1 compost

What about a sideboard guide?

This is how I would sideboard if I were to play the updated deck today. However, I don’t claim these choices are going to always be 100% correct all the time. Just adapt your choices when you think it matters! That being said, the goal of the sideboard guide is to give potentially new players of the deck (or of the format) an idea on how to play the deck and diminish the cost of playing it in our next league !

vs blue control decks using mana drain

– 2 daze

– 1/2 stifle (to make room for swords to plowshares)

+ 1 null rod

+ 1 misdirection

+ 1/2 swords to plowshares (only if they play quirion dryads)

vs storm (TPS, doomsday)

– 2 cantrips

– 1 misdirection

– 1/2 dazes (only on the draw)

+ 2 compost

+ 1 null rod

+ 1/2 naturalize/disenchant

vs Uwr fish

– 3 null rod

– 2 cantrips (on the play)

– 2 dazes (on the draw)

+ 1 balance

+ 2 swords to plowshares

+ 1 naturalize/disenchant

+ 1 misdirection

vs TNT

– 2 daze

– 1 misdirection

– 2 peek

– 1 stifle (on the draw)

– 1 null rod (on the play)

+ 4 naturalize/disenchant

+ 2 swords to plowshares

vs dreadnought

– 3 null rod

– 2 stifle

– 2 mongoose

+ 1 balance

+ 2 swords to plowshares

+ 4 naturalize/disenchant

Some final thoughts

I’m about 2000 words in, so I’ll make this quickly. I obviously did not design this deck 100% from scratch but I developed it by looking at old deck lists as a reference and took things from there. We stand on the shoulders of giants, rights? The deck also greatly benefited from talks with some of the other Old Frame grinders and friends. Our community is truly awesome!

While I don’t think this deck is the tier 0 of the format, I really think it is a very good and powerful one! You can really win games out of nowhere with an early stifle or wasteland and you have a decent plan against every deck in the format. But you know, this is vintage, so every now and then someone will just T1 kill you! And when that happens, just enjoy the showI also think this deck is very fun to play. It has some interesting combat math to it that is not quite common to most eternal formats. I also think it is a very good deck choice for someone to start playing Old Frame for the first time coming from Legacy or Premodern (especially if you haven’t played Vintage or didn’t play it back in the good ol’ days).