Vanguard: Then and Now

Adam KleshUncategorized

In October 1997, I received my monthly issue of the Duelist magazine.  This was a time before the internet was a thing, and all the news, strategy, card lists, and articles about Magic were only available in monthly publications.

Obviously, I was super stoked to read the new issue, and as I was unwrapping my prize, a giant card fell out of the packaging.  It was an oversized version of Gerrard, of the Weatherlight Saga, and it had a cool ability: “During your upkeep, draw an additional card.” The card had no mana cost and no power or toughness, and its card type was “Character.” In the bottom left corner of the card was a notation for “Starting & Max Hand Size” – in this case, -4, which seemed really harsh – and in the bottom right corner, “Starting Life,” the typical 20.

After doing some research, I found out that there were eight different “Vanguard” cards, each representing a character in the Weatherlight Saga, the story arc in Magic lore at the time. I wanted to build a deck around Squee, who would allow me to start the game with three extra cards and make my opponents play with their hands face-up. At one point, I was the guy who played every counterspell available, and playing Squee as my character would give me perfect information as well as three extra answers in my opening hand.

Vanguard Squee Control (Circa 1997)

4 Counterspell
4 Mana Leak
4 Man-o’-War
4 Force of Will
4 Ophidian
4 Impulse
4 Unsummon
4 Force Spike
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Serra Angel
3 Mishra’s Factory
6 Plains
13 Island

Buy this deck from Card Kingdom.

Playing control is a lot easier if you always know what your opponent is up to!

Let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about aggro. Imagine if every card in Modern Affinity cost even less to cast. Hanna can help you with that. Her card was released early in 1998 with the second of four sets of eight characters. She lets you start with one extra card and five fewer life, and all your spells cost one mana less.

Imagine her in a list like this (taken from

3 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Steel Overseer
4 Vault Skirge
2 Etched Champion
2 Master of Etherium
4 Galvanic Blast
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Cranial Plating
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
1 Glimmervoid
4 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Mountain
3 Spire of Industry

Buy this deck from Card Kingdom.

Affinity has always been a strong deck, but imagine how powerful it would be if its spells were even cheaper! You could even make some substitutions: Arcbound Worker or Keeper of the Lens would be strict upgrades to Memnite, and Hope of Ghirapur and Roterothopter are just better than Ornithopter.  You could play even fewer mana sources and more spells. I think Porcelain Legionnaire would be a good fit in here as well.

Okay, so we’ve seen an old-school deck and a Modern deck.  Let’s see how Vanguard plays with another popular format: Commander. For flavor points with a synergy bonus, Sliver Queen, Brood Mother (3: Create a 1/1 colorless Sliver creature token, +0 cards, +8 life) would work perfectly with many of the Sliver commanders – Sliver Hivelord, Sliver Legion, or Sliver Overlord.

If you like using Vedalken Orrery, Tawnos (You may cast artifact, creature, and enchantment spells as though they had flash, +3 cards, -4 life) is a great choice. Never underestimate the ability to cast spells on other players’ turns.

If I had my own Commander Vanguard league, I’d start by combining Mirri with General Tazri and her Allies. Check out my full decklist on

A few things about Mirri:  Since you can use any basic lands you like, your 5-color decks can function like mono-colored decks. I’m taking advantage of the high number of Plains in this deck with Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Emeria Shepherd, as well as a few other Plains-centric cards. I could have just as easily used Swamps with Corrupt, Cabal Coffers, and the like. You can also play some strong non-basic lands such as Vault of the Archangel, Alchemist’s Refuge, and Kessig Wolf Run that are hard to run in 5-color decks without sacrificing mana consistency.

All 32 Vanguard cards are available for purchase at Card Kingdom. If you have any ideas for cool Vanguard character/deck combinations, hit me up on Magic Online (MadOlaf) or Twitter (@madolaf). You can also send me an email ( if you want to say hi or talk to me about your favorite Magic format.

Header design: Justin Treadway
Header art: “Gerrard Capashen” by Brom