City of Brass – This Is Madness

Tuesday, December 14th – Is there a method to the madness in these Vintage Madness decks? Not beatdown and not aggro-control, these decks are pure control and use Bazaar of Baghdad for card advantage. This deck may be the real deal.

More than a month ago, one of the largest tournaments held since Gush was unrestricted was won by an unconventional list. Mickael Lellouche used Bazaar of Baghdad to generate advantage off of a bunch of graveyard-friendly cards, winning a nearly 70-man tournament. While flipping through results, looking for interesting decks, I ran across it.

Well that’s all well and good. Oddball decks win all the time. Good for Mickael — but I’m not generally a “different for the sake of being different” kind of guy. I need to find me some Gush technology, maybe see what sideboard cards the Mishra’s Workshop players are up to. There was a mid-sized tournament in the Netherlands recently I could check out. I wonder what’s winning over there?

Huh. That’s weird. Looks like a “budget” version of that other list — though it’s hard to call a deck with four Bazaars, a Mox, and an Ancestral “budget.” This trades out most of the power cards for Null Rods and more aggressive creatures. I guess that’s kind of neat.

In any case, I hear that Ruben Gonzales won an event with an update of his Gush list that I mentioned
a few weeks ago.

I wonder what that metagame was like? I’ll just scroll down to the third place list and…

Wait… What? That’s exactly the same as the first list…


this is  madness

I had to see what this was all about. Using the magic of the internet, I scoured foreign-language Vintage websites with Google Translate. Over at

I actually got a hold of Mickael Lellouche, who has apparently been playing and developing these Madness lists for years. While there was certainly a language barrier, Mickael’s English is far better than my French, and he was generous enough to talk to me. We sent a few messages back and forth and discussed playing the deck, sideboarding, and matchups.

Armed with Mickael’s list and advice, I met up with a group of friends who play Vintage pretty regularly. I don’t get out to play as much as I’d like, but I forced myself to make the time… I mean, this is Madness. I was pleasantly surprised — the deck performed very well.

Madness has a history in Magic, but this list isn’t what you’re used to associating with that name. Standard, Extended, and Legacy Madness lists were classic aggro-control decks. They threw the opponent off-balance with light disruption, while beating down to win. Old Vintage Madness decks (which I played for a stretch some six years ago) were very aggressive. They used Anger and Lion’s Eye Diamond along with madness and flashback cards to attack early and often.

In contrast, this Madness deck is pure control, in a way Vintage decks rarely are these days. The decks we typically call “control” in Vintage (like Oath and Tezzeret) are really just disruptive, resilient combo or aggro decks. Their goal is always to win fast and apply just enough control to protect themselves in that short window. Madness is actually a classic control deck. It uses removal and countermagic to contain the other player, while a superior draw engine pushes it ahead. Eventually, it buries the other player in advantage and cleans up with an incidental finisher. Just like any control deck, Madness forces you to make a lot of difficult decisions early, which can have major repercussions if games go long.

This be madness, yet there is method in’t

Bazaar of Baghdad will draw you two cards each turn for the obviously significant drawback of discarding three. Madness is (as you’d expect from the name) chock-full of cards that you don’t really mind discarding.

Squee, Goblin Nabob comes back to your hand every turn to be discarded again — this synergy has been played in Vintage, off and on, as far back as the first Vintage Championship in 2003. With three Squees in hand, your Bazaar becomes “Tap: Draw two cards.” Of course drawing them all together isn’t always realistic, but even one Squee turns Bazaar into a powerful filtering effect. Squee, more than any other card in this list, is pretty terrible if you don’t draw the Bazaar. In the past, I’ve played games where casting a Squee was relevant, either as a clock, recurring blocker, or recurring Smokestack permanent — but this is rare. I’ve paid eleven mana for a Darksteel Colossus more often than three for a Squee, so you can certainly imagine just getting “bad Squee hands.” This is a weakness of the deck, for sure, but it’s a weakness most decks share — between large artifacts for Tinker, Oath creatures, combo pieces, and situational removal.

Circular Logic is a lynchpin in the deck. Paying its madness cost is just delightful, but it’s not unreasonable to just play it for three mana. You need some critical mass of countermagic to function as a control deck. Much of the time, Mana Drain would be as good as or better than Circular Logic, but with Bazaar in play, Logic becomes fantastic. If you’re using Bazaar to filter your draws anyway, Logic essentially cantrips, generating a card from nowhere for one mana. If I had to nail it down, I’d say Bazaar and Circular Logic together is really the cornerstone of what makes the deck work.

It might seem like Basking Rootwalla is an obvious inclusion, but it’s a card I’ve hated in the past. In the aggressive madness decks, I was underwhelmed by Rootwalla — you were always too busy playing 4/4s and 6/6s to pump him. With haste creatures, you’d often end up in a situation where the opponent drops to -6 or so after a big turn, and Rootwalla only attacked four or so times over the course of the game. In other words, it rarely had any impact on the game and was probably better as some situational answer or flashback utility spell.

With my negative Rootwalla experiences in the past, I was reluctant when I saw the list, but it really just works. Unlike in the aggressive Madness decks of my youth, the slow clock of a Rootwalla isn’t so much a concern here. This Madness, as I’ve said, is a control deck, and you’re playing for the late game. As such, you know that somewhere down the line, you’re going to see a Bazaar of Baghdad, and when you see it, you’re going to be discarding cards anyway. Once this happens, the Rootwallas cease to cost that card you’d spend if you dropped it to a Wild Mongrel — it’s completely free. It’s not a particularly exciting creature, but in a control deck, you’re not looking for an exciting creature — all you want from your win condition is something that stays out of your way. Rootwalla (for good or for ill) performs that role admirably.

Even though that 1/1 body isn’t much in Vintage, against Fish and Workshop decks, you can block or trade with most attackers. Being able to turn Rootwallas into removal spells without spending mana or cards… well that’s pretty good too.

While this likely goes without saying, flashback and dredge spells are extremely synergistic with Bazaar as well. Ancient Grudge has seen play in decks with no discard outlets at all but can give you even extra value here. Life from the Loam not only gets back a Strip Mine or a destroyed Bazaar but fills your hand with bulk lands that you can immediately pitch to Bazaar, acting like a super-Squee.

It’s a very, very mad world

Mishra’s Workshop

If you decide to play Madness, it’s likely for at least one of two reasons: you have an impeccable sense of style, or you really hate Mishra’s Workshop. You’ll still lose to some of the hands everyone else loses to (Mishra’s Workshop, Black Lotus, Lodestone Golem, Sphere of Resistance, go?). You’re also pretty light on basics, which makes Crucible of Worlds recurring Wasteland a bigger threat. After that, though, you’re a monster. A friend saw the deck on a table in my living room, rifled through it and commented “Why did you build a Workshop hate deck?” The cheap countermagic stunts their early game, and plentiful removal makes it hard to win with big threats like Steel Hellkite. Basking Rootwalla is easy to play through Sphere effects and can hold off Juggernauts or Lodestone Golems. Even though Bazaar of Baghdad is vulnerable to Wasteland, it allows you to dig through your deck without spending mana. Traditional draw spells can be a liability with Spheres in play.

In game 2, you can bring in a whopping four Nature’s Claims. As long as you can generate at least some advantage off of a Bazaar, you shouldn’t have any problem one-for-one-ing their threats until they dry up. With the maindeck so stacked, I question the need for dedicated anti-Shop cards in the board. Claim is so flexible that it’s probably correct. If the metagame were completely overwhelmed with Workshop decks, I’d consider something like Ingot Chewer instead, to make yourself less vulnerable to Chalice of the Void at one.

Fish and other Aggro

In the sanctioned metagames overseas, it’s critical to have a plan against Fish and other aggressive decks. Madness is a little less reliant on artifact mana than your average blue deck. Between that and Life from the Loam, it resists the “attack your mana” plan of most Vintage aggro decks. With removal and Tinker, game one is reasonable, but the post-board Grim Lavamancers are really important. It’s likely that any dedicated anti-aggro card could work here, such as Old Man of the Sea — but if you expect Fish, you don’t want to skimp on sideboard space.

Storm Combo

To be honest, the matchup against storm combo is pretty bad. Madness can hold out early, but it’s slow to put on pressure. Madness has removal spells where a more typical blue deck might have cantrips, tutors, and threats — and those removal spells are mostly dead draws against combo.

I played some games with the more aggressive “budget” version, and the matchup seemed to improve. It’s a little easier to put on a clock with Bloodghasts, and Null Rod is a serious threat. The Bloodghast list has just about the same amount of countermagic but runs less of the late-game spells that rarely come online against a combo deck. Ultimately, it’s still a big underdog, but it did feel a little better. I think there’s potential to shore up that matchup between the right mix of mana denial, threats, and sideboard hate. In a storm-heavy meta, I think Mindbreak Trap could go a long way in a deck like Madness.

Gush, Oath, Tezzeret

I expected this matchup to be as bad as storm, but it was significantly better. The more controlling blue control decks didn’t win fast enough to keep Madness totally off balance. In the later game, draw engines like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Dark Confidant don’t actually outdraw a Bazaar of Baghdad. Your removal spells, while not thrilling, have more value against Time Vault, Dark Confidant, or Lotus Cobra-based decks. In testing Madness against Gush, Madness won a fair amount more than it lost. It’s hard to say “it’s really favorable,” however, as a lot of those games involved what felt like above-average draws.


Are you serious? You draw your sideboard cards or you don’t.

We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.

I’m most nervous about relying on your graveyard in a post-Ichorid world, but MickaÔl is pretty confident on the subject:

“I never lose when my opponent plays Leyline [of the Void]. The only deck that plays Leyline is control; it’s like a mulligan to six (less, if the opponent mulliganed just to have Leyline in his hand).”

He says in almost any matchup, he boards out at least one Squee, Goblin Nabob, to make graveyard hate (particularly Extirpate) a little worse. I can’t be sure myself, but MickaÔl probably has more experience with the deck than anyone.

Obviously much of the deck synergizes with having access to a Bazaar. You’re not completely boned without one. Circular Logic in particular is completely fine with even a small graveyard and no Bazaar — it’s just much better with one. Even though you can win games without Bazaar, you’ll definitely have to throw back some hands that

have been keepable

you had it. That’s not a good thing, but it’s not an insurmountable thing; some decks mulligan more than others. On the other hand, this isn’t anything like a Dredge deck where you fully expect to mulligan to four a few times each tournament.

It’s hard to say, but Madness feels like the real deal. I think there’s some room to play with. Between the Tinker and Bloodghast builds (and there are even more online), you can clearly take the deck in a few directions. TPS is a significant problem, but I think it’s a solvable one, especially if some other deck is underrepresented in your metagame to free up sideboard space.

Mad Men

For the first time in years, this past weekend I had the opportunity to play some sanctioned Vintage locally at Myriad Games, which is awesome. Now I’m a big fan of unsanctioned, proxy Vintage. I love it; I think it raises the level of the game and lets more people play. Not everyone shares my opinion though, and lots of people play the game for different reasons.

For one reason or another, there are certainly people that are more interested in playing sanctioned Vintage — and even if that’s not my ideal, I’d want to support a local sanctioned community if it started to grow. The “Vintage or No?” question is a lot more important than “Proxies or No?”

I don’t own Bazaars right now, so I was unable to play Madness. Motivated primarily by my interest in showing off expensive cards, I went with storm-based combo (TPS). I hadn’t played a TPS deck in an event in a while, so I got a list from friend, teammate, and storm-combo dynamo Jesse Martin.

My Swiss performance wasn’t exactly thrilling, but it was a smaller event, and I sneaked into the Top 8. I was paired against Jesse there and won a near mirror match to split prizes in the Top 4. Jessie definitely knows how to build a good storm deck, but as a typically combo-averse player, it wasn’t exactly to my taste. I had to mulligan no-land hands in at least three-quarters of my games, and I wish I had a few extra. Even though this is a two-color list, I had more colored-mana issues than I do playing four-color control lists.

Many experienced storm pilots refer to a second Tendrils of Agony as “training wheels.” I’ve heard this from a couple people who definitely know what they’re doing, but I’ve never been totally sold. A backup Tendrils of Agony lets you make some tactical decisions that are otherwise not available to you. In a situation where you generate significant storm but can’t seal the deal, you can Tendrils for a smaller, non-lethal amount. This often happens in the early game where you may have to run out artifact mana to play set-up spells. A non-lethal Tendrils can be particularly useful against decks (like most), which use life as a resource — it can stop someone right in their tracks if their deck is relying on Ancient Tombs, Vampiric or Grim Tutors, Dark Confidants, or Mana Crypt. Even if it doesn’t, an opponent at six or eight is much easier to take care of with that second Tendrils. Without something like Stifle or Mindbreak Trap, it’s almost impossible to counter your way out of a Tendrils of Agony that only needs two or three storm — and it’s not unreasonable to cast those spells through lock pieces like Spheres and Chalices.

Of course you can always recast a lone Tendrils with the help of Yawgmoth’s Will or Timetwister — but many players will attack your graveyard in a combo match. Maybe this is
talking, but “my opponent isn’t going to stop my Yawgmoth’s Will” is not the most secure plan.

Anecdotally, during the event, there was a situation where I wanted to cast a Gifts Ungiven for both Yawgmoth’s Will and Tendrils of Agony. Either of them would’ve been lethal, which means I could have any other two cards I wanted in hand. Unfortunately, with only one Tendrils, my opponent could just put it in the graveyard along with Yawgmoth’s Will, leaving me with no way to win. I was forced to make a much weaker pile and ultimately lost that game.

In all fairness, I talked with Jesse about the deck after the tournament. He mostly agreed that more lands would be nice, and sometimes (though not most of the time) a second Tendrils would come in handy. He replied though, “But what do you cut?” — and mostly, he’s right. Storm combo runs a lot of cards that I don’t really like, but the Dark Ritual effects are essential to how the deck functions, and the tutor and threat counts need to stay high enough to naturally draw business.

My first impulse would be cutting Imperial Seal or a Cabal Ritual to add at least one more land, if not the second Tendrils. It’s difficult to be sure if this is correct. There are a lot of moving pieces in a storm deck, and I’d need to get in a lot more games against the current crop of decks to wrap my head around any changes. It’s food for thought, in any case.

For my troubles, I got a sizeable chunk of store credit and picked up a copy of Ascension. Not that there was any doubt, but it’s really a smart, well-designed game. I had known, of course, that the game was developed by a bunch of Pro Tour champs (how could you not? Brian Kibler wouldn’t shut up about it.). I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see that SCG’s own Geordie Tait did the creative direction on the game. You did a great job, Geordie!

The rulebook was a little sparse, and two pretty critical rules to how the game works were completely left out (as far as I could tell). We inferred how they

work, and a search for the FAQ confirmed it — so if you’re learning to play from the rulebook, I’d suggest a quick Google search first. I can’t speak for the longevity of the game, as I just got it, but if you’re into non-Magic games at all, I’d have to recommend it. It’s a fun play with great production value.

Even more exciting for me than the game itself, though, are the case and sleeves you can buy separately. I play a lot of non-Magic, standalone card or board games, and you almost never see a game designed with storage and portability in mind. Dominion, a Magic-player favorite, is an excellent standalone game, but the cards are “euro-sized.” This means you have to buy special sleeves from one of a very small number of distributors and get pricey custom sleeves if you want anything other than “clear.” Unlike Magic, you can’t buy singles for standalone games, so if you mark one card, you have to rebuy the entire game. Sleeves are a necessity for long-term play. After you actually go through the huge hassle of finding and buying euro-sized sleeves, you’ll find that your cards no longer fit in the box, forcing you to implement awkward longbox-and-index-card-divider solutions.

Boxes for most games are much larger than they need to be because box design drives sales. This leads to either a lot of clutter or a lot of games-in-Tupperware in your game closet. This makes things a lot harder to store or transport than they otherwise could be.

Don’t even get me started on Arkham Horror.

Ascension’s extra storage case isn’t really anything special. It’s just a pretty 400-count card box, sleeves, and dividers. The fact that they bothered to make it all, though, is just awesome. It really shows that it was developed by people who just love to play games — but you already knew that.

Enough shilling.

Have a great week!

Andy Probasco