Exclusive Interview with Stephen Menendian

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Magic has Vintage fever. For the first time in twenty years players will have the chance to crack a pack with the game’s most iconic cards. I missed out the first time around, so I’m looking forward to drafting a lot of Vintage Masters. I trust the Magic Online crew has invested the time to make this a great draft format.

But what happens once those Vintage cards enter your collection? I’ve never played a game of Vintage in my life and barely know a Mana Crypt from a Mana Drain.

Fortunately I got a hold of Stephen Menendian to help us sort things through. Many of you will know him as one of the most prolific writers on Vintage—in addition to his Star City Games archive you can check out his So Many Insane Plays podcast, his article archive on Eternal Central, and his e-book on understanding Gush.

With Vintage Masters right around the corner, I thought it would be interesting to hear one of the great minds in Vintage talk about what the release will mean to the future of Vintage (and how to profit from it).

Stephen Menendian at U.S. Nationals 2011, where he made the finals with Bob/Gush Control

Quiet Speculation (QS): Do you currently play Classic on MTGO? Are you excited for Vintage Masters?

Stephen Menendian (SM): I am very excited for Vintage Masters. I don't currently play Classic on MTGO, but I have accumulated a fairly decent collection of key staples. The main reason I don't play Classic is that I don't yet own Force of Wills. I have been waiting to see if they are reprinted in Vintage Masters so that they may not be quite so expensive!

I have drafted the holiday cube on MTGO a few times, and lost almost every game I played because of my unfamiliarity with the medium—I repeatedly misclicked plays that cost me games. That said, I am looking forward to playing Vintage on MTGO tournaments as soon as I can!

QS: How do you think Vintage Masters will be received by the current Vintage community? Do you think Vintage will take off as an MTGO format?

SM: I think the attention and promotion of Vintage Masters will be very well received by the current Vintage community, even those who don't play online. However, I have some concerns about the availability and price of cards on MTGO. From the outside looking in, Legacy seems like it doesn't get much support on MTGO, and the tournaments seem small and irregular. Vintage will end up being even more expensive.

While I'm unreservedly enthusiastic about Vintage Masters, it's frustrating that the Vintage format suffers most by being the last format on MTGO for the same reason it suffers by being the "first" format in paper Magic. If Power Nine is not widely available, and it appears it won't be, and staples like Force of Will, dual lands and fetchlands aren't accessible and affordable, then the format won't grow. I really, really hope it does.

QS: What are some budget Vintage decks that you would recommend for players looking to get their feet wet in Vintage without buying Power or other expensive staples? Is it possible to build a competitive deck without Power?

SM: I think the more important question is: will it be possible to build decks without Force of Will, fetchlands and dual lands? Workshop decks and Dredge decks will be accessible decks without Force, and Dredge can easily be built without power nine.

You don't need all of these...

A deck I am really keen on right now is U/R Delver, which only requires Ruby, Sapphire, Lotus, Ancestral and Time Walk.

QS: Vintage Masters cards will all use the modern card frame. To what extent do you expect online players will place a premium on the old-border frame and classic art?

SM: Vintage players love the classic art, but the digital nature of the medium makes the art less important. It's hard to feel the texture and full flavor of card art on a computer screen. I don't think "pimpness" matters quite as much online.

QS: They've announced that Vintage Masters will include no Modern-legal cards, thus making these cards a potentially good target for speculation. What Modern-legal cards see extensive play in Vintage?

SM: The following Modern-legal cards see heavy play or are format staples:




Alexander Carl: The above cards are safe from reprint and should all be low risk with moderate upside. The fetches and chase Modern cards already have high prices, so the best bet will be to pick up the cards that don't see much play in Modern but will get a boost from Vintage.

QS: Do you have any predictions for which cards will and won't get reprinted in Vintage Masters? Are you selling your playsets to rebuy later, or are you holding everything?

SM: I'm going to hold everything. The transaction costs of selling and rebuying are not worth my time or energy. I'm the same way with stocks. I held onto Twitter even though the resale period opened up. It may not be the smartest, but I take a long position.

QS: What do you think are the best Vintage speculation opportunities?

SM: The Modern-legal cards above are good targets—especially Blightsteel Colossus.

I also suspect that Gush won't be reprinted, and I would recommend folks pick them up, as they will be format staples. It's fairly cheap now, but if it’s not in Vintage Masters, it could easily double in price.

QS: Will you buy your Power Nine right away, or wait for it to drop? Do you have a target price in mind?

SM: I will wait a week or so and see what happens. The supply will obviously increase over time, and I don't need to be the first person buying Power. I don't have a target price in mind, but I wouldn't be happy to spend more than $100 per power. If Power was $100 a pop I think it would be difficult to grow the format. I would probably keep my collection of cards, but not buy into Vintage fully.

QS: Given the challenges of card availability and price in paper Vintage, do you think that the future of Vintage is on MTGO?

SM: Yes, in part. I think Vintage on Magic Online could have a symbiotic relationship with Paper Magic—shaping the metagame, creating interest and developing player knowledge.

QS: As you know, MTGO tournaments pay out in packs whereas paper Vintage tournaments are higher stakes and usually pay out in Eternal staples. Can Vintage thrive with the relatively low payout tournaments offered on MTGO?

SM: This is a big question mark for me. I'm hoping that as the medium evolves and improves, that the tournament prizes will also improve in the long run.

QS: What's the best source of information for players wanting to learn how to play Vintage? Which Vintage players should people follow on Twitter?

SM: The best place to find Vintage decklists is, a website with comprehensive Top 8 decklist information. The Mana Drain is also the most popular Vintage forum, and the discussions there can provide useful insights.

For would-be Gush pilots, you should check out my Gush book. I'm working on the third edition now, and I'm almost done!

QS: In the off chance that Gush does show up in Vintage Masters, can you offer any advice on how to play it?

SM: Good question!  Probably turn four or five.


Sounds like for more detail than that, we'll have to read the book...Thanks Stephen!

-Alexander Carl (@thoughtlaced)

5 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview with Stephen Menendian

  1. I understand the temptation, but is Stephen really the guy to ask finance questions? I’d be more interested in his thoughts on playing Vintage online, are there perhaps archetypes that are far more difficult to play due to interface limitations? The price payout seems to be a good topic to dive into, what needs to happen to it to make one of the best known Vintage enthusiasts happy with it?

  2. I’d be curious to learn more about Stephen’s perspective of how Vintage Masters may impact Paper Magic Vintage interest. There will definitely be a nonzero impact, but I’m completely out of touch with the Vintage community and would love to hear Stephen’s thoughts.

  3. It seems likely that Legacy online picks up with the duals, FoW etc. some of the financial barriers are lowered- new bottleneck will be fetches if not reprinted.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Please see my previous Insider article on how Vintage Masters will revitalize Legacy. In the past 8 weeks, Legacy staples not reprinted in VMA have done extremely well.

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