After the restriction of Thirst For Knowledge, there was much speculation as to which draw engine would replace it as the most popular draw engine in Vintage. Would it be Night’s Whisper? Dark Confidant? Mystic Remora? Thoughtcast? Intuition? Something else, or some combination thereof?
There seems to be a growing consensus that Dark Confidant has emerged at the top of the heap. Dark Confidant has taken center stage, and was the draw engine behind Hiromichi Itou’s Vintage Championship winning Tezzeret list. Dark Confidant has also been showing up in Stax decks, Dark Ritual Combo decks, Fish decks, and Beats lists. In short, it’s appearing everywhere and anywhere.
But are those the best uses of this card? Maybe. But I’d like to suggest another.
- 2 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Brainstorm
- 2 Mana Drain
- 1 Vampiric Tutor
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 4 Duress
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Hurkyl's Recall
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Imperial Seal
- 4 Sleight of Hand
- 1 Gush
- 1 Merchant Scroll
- 1 Misdirection
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Sapphire
- 1 Ponder
- 3 Thoughtseize
I’ve been calling this deck “Grow,” and in many ways it is the same idea. However, I’m concerned that that label gives the wrong impression. Most Vintage players will have it in their mind that “Grow is dead,” and they’d look right past this deck. After all, Grow is gone. A host of cards were restricted from that deck. This isn’t like the Grow deck of the past. This is really a Dark Confidant deck.
It’s a strategically well-positioned Confidant deck designed to maximize synergies with Bob. One of the main features of Vintage is the battle between the Null Rod decks and the big Blue decks (U/B base decks of both Ritual, Drain variety or otherwise (like Steel City Vault)), which often sport Time Vault. The Null Rod decks are attacking the Drain decks, which in turn are metagaming to beat Null Rod decks. This dynamic is one of the central dynamics of the format.
This deck positions itself outside of that dynamic, but preys on the decks within that feedback loop. Here’s how. First, the deck is virtually immune to Null Rod. It features only a few artifacts accelerants, and two Tops. This deck, unlike the big Blue decks, does not even need artifacts to win. Null Rod is almost dead. In that way, it can just ignore the whole Null Rod strategy and the anti-Null Rod counter-strategy.
Second, this deck aims itself at the big Blue decks. Its strongest matchups are Drain decks like Tezzeret and Ritual Combo. There are several key reasons for this. First, this deck has far superior virtual card advantage with on account of its 18-card manabase. You will be drawing more business spells on average than your opponent. Also, there’s the incredible density of disruption: 7 Duresses and 7 Counterspells. This disruption will prevent your opponent from doing anything while your card advantage takes over.
If you are looking for a deck that beats up Tezzeret, this is your absolute best shot. It has the largest margin over Time Vault decks of anything else in the field that I’ve tested, including (although I could be wrong), BUG Fish.
Bob Synergy 1: Duress/Thoughtseize
Duress and Thoughtseize are incredibly synergistic with Dark Confidant. The primary problem with Dark Confidant is the same problem Ophidian had: it takes time to generate a critical mass of card advantage that will win the game. The most efficient way to buy time in Vintage is with the uber-efficient Duress and Duress duplicate, Thoughtseize. For one mana you can slow down your opponent for a turn or more by taking their best spell. This deck has 7 Duress effects for that reason. If you can follow up Dark Confidant with Duress effects, his natural card advantage will kick in and your opponent will not be able to recover.
Why not all 8 Duress effects? I’ve tested 8 a number of times and every time I come back to 7. It’s because this deck wants the two Drains, the 3rd Goyf, the Regrowth, and the Imperial Seal. There is nothing you really would want to cut for the 8th Duress. There are some things that are only knowable through testing and are difficult (but not impossible) to describe or explain through theory alone. This deck wants to see multiple Duress effects. Turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Bob, turn 3 Duress is a great sequence of plays. Despite the high demand for Duresses, it just turns out that the marginal utility of Duress starts to curve at 7.
Bob Synergy 2: Tarmogoyf
One of the best parts of Dark Confidant is that he deals damage. While watching Hiromichi Itou play his Tezzeret list via webcam during the Vintage Champs Top 8, I was struck by how aggressive he was with Bob. Hiromichi would essentially use Bob to stay precisely one turn ahead of his opponents. Hiromichi would try to stay exactly 2 points of life ahead of the opponent. Whether he won the game at 1 life or not was irrelevant, so long as he won. With this deck, you will win many games under 5 life. Tarmogoyf serves several critical functions.
Bob plus Goyf synergize very nicely. First, he speeds up the clock and allows the Duresses and the Bob engine to lead to a victory. Turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Bob, turn 3 Duress plus Goyf is essentially the idea line of play. Second, you can use Bob as an engine and even have a slightly higher mana curve simply because Goyf will race anything. It’s the most efficient win condition in Vintage. Goyf can block most things that might try to break through, and they can attack together, like Batman and Robin.
Oddly enough, and belying outdated ideas about proactive/reactive cards, Goyf is surprisingly disruptive. Because Bob is so prevalent, life totals fall much faster in Vintage now. Goyf needs to do less damage to win games. He can smash a Tezzeret apart, or tear into a combo player’s life total so deeply as to wound the use of cards like Ad Nauseam or Necropotence. But as a teammate of Bob, he’s a tour de force. It’s hard for anyone to win if you have turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Bob, turn 3 Duress plus Goyf, especially if they are Blue.
Tempo and Protection: Force of Will, Misdirection
As amazing as Duress effects are (and they are), they aren’t enough. Force of Will is a standard Blue disruption spell that helps you win games both by protecting your spells (like Bob or Ancestral Recall) and by stopping your opponent’s threats. I would run more Misdirection if it wasn’t for Bob flips.
Bob Synergy 3: Mystical Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, Merchant Scroll and Demonic Tutor
Besides Dark Confidant, this deck relies on a few other critical draw spells. Most importantly among them is Ancestral Recall. This deck is an Ancestral Recall hog. You will use all of these tutors to quickly find and play Ancestral Recall. Your disruption package of 7 Duresses and 5 Force of Will effects will ensure that it resolves. For example, this sequence of play is very common with the deck:
Turn 1: Fetchland into Underground Sea into Duress.
Turn 2: Upkeep, Vampiric Tutor/Mystical Tutor for Ancestral Recall. Play a land, cast Ancestral.
But why Imperial Seal? To most eyes, Imperial Seal looks the most â€˜iffy.’ It’s the same effect, but in a different order. Instead, you play turn 1 Imperial Seal, turn 2 Duress plus Ancestral.
The primary reason this is in the deck is to replay Ancestral. Given the density of tutors to find Ancestral, Regrowth will almost always be good.
Beyond Ancestral, the tutors have a number of other synergies. First, they synergize very well with Dark Confidant. For example, Brainstorm is a common tutor target when you have Bobs in play. Brainstorm will ensure you don’t take damage in a particular turn sequence.
Second, there are two other bombs this deck will often want to tutor up: Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker.
Bob Synergy 4: Tinker
Tinker plays a very important role in this deck. Tinker is a trump to a few strategies, and just really good against the rest of the field. Consider a sequence of plays that look like this:
Turn 1: Mox, Land Bob
Turn 2: Duress, Topdeck Tutor for Tinker
Turn 3: Land, Duress, Tinker for Inkwell Leviathan
That sequence, or the myriad variations of it, come up all the time. That’s actually the reason I only have 3 Goyfs in the deck. Inkwell is the fourth Goyf, in a sense. Why Inkwell? Inkwell is the best of the three options. Sphinx is not bad, but if you play the deck aggressively, the life loss won’t matter. Inkwell is blue, and that gives it the edge over the Colossus. But it will also be the case that you will sometimes be able to hardcast Inkwell, particularly with Mana Drain in mid-late games. Inkwell is just better. It’s much less susceptible to artifact destruction, bounce, and the like, and can’t be Welded. It’s also unblockable much of the time.
Key To The Deck: Although you are immune to Null Rods, this deck is somewhat symmetrical to something like BUG Fish. The trump is Tinker. All you have to do is set up and resolve Tinker and you’ll win the game. Your Goyfs can block their Goyfs while Inkwell does its job.
Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker are the only two cards in the deck that you intend to cast that cost 3 or more. There is no Fact or Fiction, no Gifts Ungiven or Tezzeret in this deck. No Thirst either. Tinker is meant to be played at any time, but Yawgmoth’s Will is mostly an end-game card in here. While there are exceptions, such as when you draw Black Lotus, for the most part you will save Yawgmoth’s Will for the final sequences of the game.
Warning: If you’ve been playing Vintage a while, you understand how good Yawgmoth’s Will is, and you know that it can be critically important to be aggressive with Will. By that I mean that it’s often the correct play to play a Yawgmoth’s Will even though it isn’t a huge, game-ending Will. However, the way that this deck is set up you will find that Yawgmoth’s Will is often the wrong mid-game play. The reason is this: Tinker is often just better, and it’s a better tutor target. If you Yawgmoth’s Will but you can’t then tutor and play Tinker, I would say that the correct play is probably just to find Tinker instead of Will.
Protection: Mana Drain (and not Spell Pierce)
I tested Spell Pierce in here and was surprisingly disappointed. 80% of the time I wished it was a Mana Drain. This deck sort of wants 2.5 Mana Drains. Three feels like a tad too many, but two feels like a tad too few. Mana Drain serves some critical purposes. Duresses are most powerful in the early game, and there are only so many Forces that you can include. You will want some mid- and late-game counter-defense. Mana Drain is the best for that purpose. Force of Will even requires another Blue spell to pitch, unless you can hardcast it. Mana Drain can stop opposing topdecks all by itself. This is why you want two: you’ll find one by the mid-game, but it won’t interfere with your early game plan.
Bob Synergy 5: Sensei’s Divining Top
Sensei’s Divining Top is amazing in this deck. It’s obviously great with Bob in helping manage and stabilize your life total, but it’s also just great in general. It can help you find whatever you need now, whether it is a Bob, a Goyf, a Duress, or a Force.
Play Tip: Aside from use with Bob, the most abuse use of Top is with Forces. You can manipulate Top to really maximize your use of Force by flipping Top to find a less than stellar Blue spell to pitch. That way, if multiple Forces have made their way into your hand, you can really get the most bang for your buck with Top.
Deck Synergy: Sleight of Hand
Brainstorm and Ponder are restricted. Fine, Sleight of Hand is probably the weakest spell in the deck, but it serves a number of important functions. First, like Ponder it allows you to get away with such a light mana base (in addition to Top and Bob). With Sleight, you can keep a one land hand and have a good chance of making your second land drop. Second, it’s great in the mid-game for digging up things like Duress. Third, it just lets you see more cards than your opponent. Sleight is also here to boost your Blue spell count.
Play Tip: When you are holding Force of Will and Sleight, but no other Blue spells, hold onto Sleight of hand to pitch to Force. If you play Sleight you may find yourself without a Blue spell to pitch and lose the game. Having a Blue blank is better than having a card on the top of your library in hand.
Surprisingly Good: Gush
Gush is another powerful card that earns its place on power. Gush is a card that will pull you ahead in a race. Just as in traditional Grow, Gush allows you to get free land drops:
Turn 1: Land, Spell
Turn 2: Land, Spell
Turn 3: Tap your lands, Gush, Replay a land, play Spells
On turn 3 you make land drops because of Gush, and if it resolves, you get two more spells for no mana cost.
Fill in that line of play and you can see how powerful this might be:
Turn 1: Land, Duress
Turn 2: Land, Bob
Turn 3: Gush, Land, Duress, Spell or Spell plus Spell.
It’s hard to see how you lose this game.
Warning: Small variations in deck design can produce large changes in outcomes. If this were a Tezzeret deck or just about anything else, I’d say that there is nothing wrong with making a few card changes for your own taste. However, I’ve seen how this deck’s performance can change dramatically based on a few seemingly minor changes. For example, my attempt to replace Drains with Spell Pierce (I tried 3) was disastrous. The effects rippled throughout the entire deck. While I’m sure that I can’t dissuade you from making a few tweaks should you choose to pick up this deck (such as cutting Imperial Seal), just realize that the change will probably have a larger effect than you may anticipate.
There are several variations of Tezzeret, by the keys to the match are the same. Duress the hell out of them, resolve either Ancestral Recall or a Bob of your own and go to town. If they are playing the Bob version, your Goyfs will be even more powerful. Goyf will tear down their life total quickly if you can get it into play. Their most powerful weapon against you is either assembling the Time Vault combo quickly or Sower of Temptation, with Tinker as a lesser threat. Tinker for Sphinx is pretty easy for this deck to answer simply because you only have to tutor up Hurkyl’s, and you have plenty of search with Sleight, Top, etc, and tutoring. Sower is a bigger problem, but it will be hard for them to get it down. Sower can be answered with Thoughtseize, Drain and Force. Time Vault is also difficult to assemble through your 14 disruption spell package, but it can be done, particularly if they can get one part on the table and then use a topdeck tutor or a Top to keep the second from your prying Duresses. It’s something that will happen from time to time, but you just need to be aware of the danger at all times.
Steel City Vault
Treat this similar to the Tezzeret matchup. Virtual card advantage and your disruption package are you key advantages. Duress the hell out of them and keep them off balance while your card advantage takes over.
G/W decks make it hard to win with beaters. If you can’t get a strong tempo advantage, say by Forcing their early threats and getting your Bobs to stick and turn that tempo and card advantage into an overwhelming win, you’ll need to button down the hatches and assume a control role. You’ll use Goyfs for defense, to clog up the board, and your win condition will be Tinker. . You only need to keep parity, using your blue and black spells for tempo, and Tinker will do the rest. Sideboard in some lands post-board. One of the ways you might lose is to Wasteland or by being Aven MIndcensor’d at the wrong time. Keep in your Thoughtseize. Beyond creatures, they will take Diabolic Edict or whatever they are using to address your Tinker target. It will also help nab cards like Choke. I would bring in Darkblast, to win Goyf stalemates in addition to a few lands.
In some ways, this will look like a mirror match. They will have Bobs, you will have Bobs. They have Force, you have Force. However, much of their deck will be dedicated to dealing with decks that don’t like yours, so you will have some virtual card advantage in that regard. On the other hand, a sure way to lose is to get out-tempoed. You need to use your Duresses and Forces to take control of the game early. Use Force aggressively. Your Goyfs can win the game, but Tinker is your silver bullet. Force through Ancestral for resource advantage. Sideboard in more lands post-board and the Red Blasts. You can take out a couple of Duresses and a couple of Sleight of Hands.
This can be a tough matchup because it’s so coin-flippy. Bring in Leylines, Darkblast, Echoing Truth and hope for the best. You may even consider Chewer just to murder Bridges. Sideboard out some Duresses, maybe a Goyf, and perhaps a Drain. Mulligan, at least once, to find Leyline, and probably twice, unless your hand is amazing.
Your package of 7 Duresses is very nice against Oath. Bring in Echoing Truth to bounce Oath post-board. There will be two particular moments are you vulnerable. The first is on turn one and turn two, when they may be able to Force an Oath through protected by Force of Will of their own. The second moment you may be vulnerable is after you’ve Duressed them and/or stopped their Oath and just played a Bob or a Goyf, but you haven’t taken complete control of the game yet. There is also an outside possibility that the two decks will pound each other so hard that you are both topdecking in the late game. However, your deck is well designed to survive the early onslaught. Their best chance for winning is turn one Oath with Force backup. If you’ve gotten a turn, there is a good chance you’ll be able to Duress them.
TPS / Ad Nauseam
Duress, Duress, Duress. Duress will allow you to map out their hand and allow you to shape your hand to answer their threats while creating even greater virtual card advantage with every topdeck. Sleight of Hand and Top away cards that don’t disrupt them or keep them in check. The correct role here is control.
The key to this match is Bob and Goyf. Goyf can hold back their creatures while serving as your win condition. Because of the density of artifacts Goyf can become 5/6 quickly. Bob will help you build around their lock parts, by drawing more mana and threats.
The idea way this game plays out is something like this:
Turn 1: Fetchland; They play something, you Force it.
Turn 2: Land, Dark Confidant; They play something, you ignore it.
Turn 3: Land, Goyf, Duress (if you can).
From this position, you will probably win.
Tinker is also a huge trump. The one thing that can really kill you is if they Wasteland your first and only land.
Play Tip: If you have one land hand and it’s a fetchland, consider not playing a Duress effect on turn 1 and instead fetch out an Island to play Top or Sleight of Hand to find another land. Also, if you have a two-land hand and can drop turn 2 Goyf or Bob, consider not breaking a fetch on turn 1 so that you can play turn 2 Goyf even if they have a Wasteland.
The worst matchup. This matchup, more than any other, punishes you for your light manabase. If you can get a Bob or a Goyf down on turn 1, 2, or 3, you have a good chance of winning, but otherwise it’s an uphill battle. You will need to survive a relentless assault on your manabase by Wasteland, Sphere of Resistance, Tangle Wire, and Smokestack. Sometimes, Chalice of the Void will also come in to kill you.
The good news is that you have dedicated most of your sideboard for this match. You will bring in lands, Ingot Chewers and Blue bounce for 4 Duresses and 4 Sleight of Hand. If they are playing Welders, you’ll want Darkblast too. Even with all of that hate, this match is perilously close. Tight play is a necessity.
However, I’ve played far too many Workshop matches where I won game 1 only to lose both post-board games. So far, I’m still a fan of Ingot Chewer, although it will eat away at your life total.
Play Tip: Be constantly aware of how many and what lands are still in your deck. They will Wasteland your manabase, and you need to make sure you aren’t cutting yourself off from a particular color as you only have two Tropical Islands and two Volcanic Islands. Rely on basic Islands to build your manabase outward.
If you are in a metagame that’s relatively small (<25 players) and typically one that features a lot of Drain decks piloted by solid players, this is an amazing metagame choice and you'll stream roll the competition. You have such a strong structural advantage against Drain decks or [card name="Time Vault"]Time Vault[/card] decks generally that your play skills can be markedly inferior to your opponent and you'll still have an excellent chance of winning. For example, this would be a great choice for a New England or a Bay Area tournament. However, if you are playing in a more mixed environment, perhaps one where there are a lot more Workshops or Aggro decks, it's still a good choice, but you won't waltz into the finals.
This deck will probably continue to fly under the radar, dismissed on account of Sleight of Hand and other features. That’s good news for anyone who wants to pilot it. This deck is amazing in a Top 8 playoff since it does so well against the format’s best performing decks.
Until next time…