So Many Insane Plays – The Best Deck Ever?

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Monday, March 24th – Vintage Magic is currently going through somewhat of a renaissance, but there are still universal truths. For example, everyone knows the format is the most broken format in the game. Today, Stephen Menendian breaks down what some people have called the best deck ever made. Do you agree with his assessment?

I’ve played Stax with 4 Trinispheres. I’ve played Long with 4 Burning Wish and 4 Lion’s Eye Diamond. I playtested decks with 4 Mind’s Desire before the card got preemptively restricted. I’ve played 4 Memory Jar, 4 Tolarian Academies, or 4 Yawgmoth’s Bargains back when these were still Constructed legal. I’ve possibly played most of the broken atrocities that have ever been designed in Magic.

Compared to [Vintage] Flash, all these broken decks are Block decks. Flash is quite possibly the best deck in the history of Magic. The Reveillark kill has pulled the deck to an extreme raw power level.

Matthieu Durand (on themanadrain.com)

Recent History

The Hand of Gott[lieb]

On April 21, 2006, in an Ask Wizards column, Mark Gottlieb stunned the Eternal community by announcing sweeping errata to Time Vault. At that time, Time Vault had been used in both Legacy and Vintage as part of a six-mana instant kill combo with Flame Fusillade. Mark Gottlieb explained that the main problem with Time Vault (and Brassman and a handful of similarly worded cards) was that, in order to make their templating consistent with Mana Vault, and hence their original functional intent, Time Vault should only untap at the beginning of the turn, not at any time that a player has priority. Therefore, Gottlieb and the rules team issued errata to that effect.

Needless to say, this errata launched a firestorm of protest, both at the errata itself and the manner in which it was handled, announcing a major format sweeping change in a minor column on MagictheGathering.com. Its effect among the Eternal community was similar to the response of the Professional Magic community to the recent changes in the structure and payout of the Pro Tour and level system.


In order to moderate my natural impulse to impassioned rhetoric, I asked Rich Shay to help me write an article to persuade the rules team to make Time Vault work again. We felt that if Mark Gottlieb was serious about returning cards to their original text or functional intent, then he should do something about the “time counter” on Time Vault. The time counter was pure power errata to prevent abuse with cards like Twiddle (and funkier Alpha based combos like Animate Artifact + Instill Energy — which was the real concern, according to Rosewater). We felt that the Gottlieb errata made little sense — changing the timing of when Time Vault may untap for templating consistency, but leaving a time counter in the oracle text when the card itself mentions nothing of a time counter. Hence, Rich and I wrote an open letter to the rules team asking them to remove Power Errata.

The letter worked, but not quite in the way we hoped. Citing our article and giving kudos for being the “loudest and most rational voices in the crowd,” Forsythe announced a bold policy of reversing power errata. It was a bold policy reversal. Unfortunately, in the first wave of reversals Time Vault remained neutered. Based upon a strained, but technically plausible interpretation of the text, Gottlieb and company managed to keep Time Vault power-errated, but in a way that appeared to follow the text of the card.

With the release of subsequent sets, Gottlieb’s hand could be felt. With each new set release, fresh reversals of power errata were implemented as the rules team slogged through the entire oracle database, a process that remains ongoing. By and large, these changes stirred little interest or concern. There was, of course, one major exception.

The Release of Flash

Between the release of Time Spiral and Planar Chaos, the card Flash came upon the radar of the rules team. Flash had been issued power errata in 2000. With the release of Planar Chaos, the power errata on Flash was removed. This might not have been a problem, but only a couple sets prior, in Dissension, Wizards printed a creature that comboed with Flash in a disturbing way. That card is now infamously known as Protean Hulk.

In Legacy that combo triggered a transformation of the format just in time for Grand Prix: Columbus, only the second American Grand Prix to feature the Legacy format. Karmic Guide + Kiki-Jiki kills were preferred, but as a metagame call I reverted to the earlier Disciple builds based upon the assumption that players would rely more and more on last minute testing which suggested that simple hate like Tormod’s Crypts and Mogg Fanatics would be effective at keeping their Flash opponents off balance. The metagame was fluid and changing day to day as players inched closer to settling on a deck. Nabbing my first Pro Points, I finished just outside of the Top 16, but was denied an invite to Valencia by tie-breakers. Of course, Flash was banned at the earliest opportunity in Legacy.

In Vintage, I expected Rector Flash to be the most suitable home for Flash. Academy Rector had risen to the top of the Vintage metagame in 2003 after the printing of Cabal Therapy. A turn 1 Cabal Therapy followed by a turn 2 Dark Ritual into Academy Rector almost guaranteed a victory that turn or the next turn. You could flashback the Cabal Therapy, sacrificing the cleric, to clear more cards from your opponents grip and simultaneously use the Rector’s tutor trigger to find Yawgmoth’s Bargain. From there, you could draw a sizable portion of your deck and cast (or find via Rector) Illusions of Grandeur, which would give you the life to dig up Donate and win the game. A few months after this deck started popping up, Tendrils of Agony was printed, replacing Illusions-Donate. The deck faded away with the rise of graveyard hate in Vintage (since Rector’s trigger won’t resolve if she can’t remove herself from game), particularly the popularity of cards like Coffin Purge in 2004 Psychatog and Tormod’s Crypts to fight Worldgorger Dragon combo. By that time, storm combo had become faster and faster and by the release of Grim Tutor from its Portal prison into the Vintage format, Academy Rector seemed clunky and anachronistic.

With the removal of power errata on Flash, I felt that Flash would fit nicely into a remodeled Rector combo shell. Academy Rector seemed to be a more robust Flash combo enabler because unlike Hulk, Rector was supported with many paths to victory. Rector could be cast with Dark Ritual and filled with power cards like Necropotence, Yawgmoth’s Bargain and Duress and Cabal Therapy. If you managed to get Flash + Rector going, you could win on turn 1. But if you had Dark Ritual and Rector, you could win almost as fast. Not to mention the fact that Necropotence, Bargain, and Yawgmoth’s Will could win the game without Rector. Rector combo with Flash was less linear and more robust and resilient than Hulk Flash. You didn’t need Flash to win, but it was great if you drew it, and it pitched to Force of Will if you didn’t need it.

Back to the Future Sight

The printing of Future Sight changed that equation. It’s difficult to imagine how a set could have unintentionally contributed more to one archetype than Future Sight did to Flash. Summoner’s Pact gave you, essentially, Protean Hulk five through eight at no mana cost. Equally important, Pact of Negation gave you a free counterspell that protected your combo. As if those contributions weren’t more than enough to make Vintage Hulk Flash truly terrifying, it provided a win condition that took up fewer slots than Disciple + Shifting Wall, but were not vulnerable to graveyard hate as Karmic Guide + Kiki-Jiki kill: Virulent Sliver. Virulent Slivers could be comboed with a single Heart Sliver to give your opponent 20 poison counters in a single attack.

These new components were more than enough to make Vintage Hulk Flash a serious Vintage competitor. Although five of the sixteen 2007 Magic Invitational competitors (31%) ran Flash for the Vintage portion of the event, Flash was pretty steady at about 7% of Vintage Top 8s throughout its life in 2007, although it fluctuated with a brief burst following its entrance into the metagame and a major tournament victory at Waterbury, Connecticut in June. But those results did not persist. And despite the attempts of The Innovator and many others, Flash could not quite penetrate the Vintage Championship Top 8. In fact, the metagame seemed to be trending in another direction. The very next major Vintage tournament had 7 Gush decks in the Top 8. Flash seemed more like a Flash in the pan than the monster it was in Legacy.

More recent printings have further empowered Hulk Flash. Lorwyn gave us Ponder. But the best was yet to come.

A Morning Tide

Morningtide was the most disappointing set for Vintage in over a year and a half. Since Time Spiral (or frankly, Coldsnap), each new expansion has produced more than a few Vintage playables, often causing a deep restructuring of the format as did Lorwyn and Future Sight. Vintage players, including myself, have become conditioned to expecting each new set to spice up this grand old format. Morningtide gave us little to gush about, and seemed more of a throwback to the old days of sets with one to two Vintage playables and Oscar Tan exhaustive 5-part article series telling us which card would see play in Vintage.

Vintage players are also self-reliant enough to catch and implement the relevant technology pretty much before the set is even released. There are exceptions, of course, but since we have been so successful in the last year, I am a little sore that we dropped the ball on Reveillark. The Hulk-bubble combo in Extended was uncovered pretty quickly from what I can gather. Last week Patrick Chapin extensively discussed the advantages of Reveillark combo over the Sliver kill, and I won’t recount all of them, but I will walk you through the combo once more.

Where the Sliver kill (and Kik-Jiki + Karmic Guide combo) requires an attack step, Reveillark is an instant speed kill. It’s the first time that a five card, instant-speed kill for Flash has been assembled. It works like this:

First, use the Hulk to find Carrion Feeder and Body Double. Have the Body Double copy the Protean Hulk.

Second, sacrifice Body Double to Carrion Feeder. This will give Carrion Feeder a +1/+1 counter, but more importantly it will result in a Protean Hulk ‘leaves play’ trigger. Search up Reveillark and Mogg Fanatic and put them into play.

Third, sacrifice Mogg Fanatic to deal one point of damage to your opponent.

Fourth, sacrifice Reveillark to Carrion Feeder to trigger it’s ‘leaves play’ ability. Return Body Double and Mogg Fanatic to play. Have the Body Double copy Reveillark this time.

For the fifth and final step, sacrifice the Body Double (copying Reveillark) to activate Reveillarks “leaves play” trigger. That trigger can now target Body Double.

In essence, you are going to recycle Body Double over and over again as a Reveillark. You sacrifice the Body Double to return itself and Mogg Fanatic into play as many times as you want.

To bring it all together, in case you are confused, here is how you might want to think about it. Body Double + Reveillark is the engine and Carrion Feeder is the oil that keeps the motor running. Hulk is the ignition switch that starts the whole thing running.

Future Sight gave Hulk Flash a number of tools that made it a much more convincing choice than Rector. Reveillark may push Hulk Flash into the stratosphere. It’s not simply that it is an instant speed kill immune to combat woes, it enables Pact of Negation by being able to combo out in response to Pact triggers, and it can stop “solutions” such as Platinum Angel by killing the Angel with the combo. It’s a terrifying advance for Vintage Hulk Flash.

Building Hulk Flash

For a deck such as this, one might think that the whole thing just builds itself. Building a theoretically solid list does not ensure practical success. Building the deck to be as fast as possible or powerful as possible is not necessarily the optimal strategy for success. There are many trade-offs and they have to be explored. Billy Moreno CounterbalanceFlash list that eventually won Grand Prix: Columbus is evidence of this. Although he had the tools and support to kill very quickly, he also included components and parts to win a long-game, using Counterbalance and Dark Confidant, rather than maximize the tutors and search that would enable a hypersonic victory.

Alternatively, one could survey the Flash lists that have already performed well in search of clues to optimality or for a deck to mimic or copy. That, too, would be a disservice. First of all, netdecking may give you the best deck to play, but it can’t tell you how to play it. Playing the best deck well is as important, if not more important, than the fact that you have the best deck in hand. Even a decent amount of gauntlet testing with the chosen netdeck will not get you think critically, or as critically, as reasoning through all of the card decisions for yourself. Even if you ultimately end-up with the same list that someone else played, you will also end-up with a better understanding of why those cards were chosen, and what some of the opportunity costs of those choices might be. That information will be invaluable. It will be invaluable if you choose to continue playing the archetype in the future. You will have a pre-figured framework for thinking about what you may want to change or adjust after testing and tournament play. You will also have a better understanding of how to sideboard. With all of those reasons in mind, let’s think about how we might build Flash from the ground up.

4 Flash

The decks namesake. This deck is a two-card combo deck. There have always been combo decks that don’t run full complements of the combo, but there are generally extraordinary reasons for doing so. In the first place, one part of the combo may be restricted, and therefore you have no choice but to run the one available to you as a deckbuilder. Second, the deck may be very non-linear. A third reason is that you may design the deck such that the combo is really more of a finisher than your core engine, and not necessarily a card you want to see in an opening hand. Andy Probasco Flame-Vault Gifts deck is a strong example of the second and third reason. He only ran one Time Vault and one Flame-Vault, but he also had alternative paths to victory. In addition, his combo was really Gifts Ungiven. Flame-Vault was the finisher that was enabled by Gifts.

Hulk Flash is, by its very nature, a linear deck. It proceeds from point A to point B like clockwork. There are ways to minimize this linearity. The Sliver kill provides an aggro alternative to Flash, provided you draw enough Slivers to make it matter. Chapin’s Counterbalance list provides a lock that can buy you a lot of time and support you in the pursuit of both the control and beatdown role.

But I think one of the key advantages of Flash is the fact that you have the potential to execute a very quick kill. Only by maximizing the number of Flash’s you run can you maximize your chances for killing your opponent in the earliest turns.

1 Ancestral Recall

No explanation necessary.

4 Force of Will

The Glue of Vintage. Although Force of Will is the card that keeps Vintage sane and makes every turn 1 kill more than a goldfish, Force of Will is more powerful in the aggressive role than in a control role. It’s fairly simple to see why. Force of Will protecting a threat will trump and opponent’s use of Force of Will to stop your threat. If your opponent wishes to stop your threat, they’ll need another counterspell. This is true for both Aggro control decks and combo decks, and it explains why Force of Will is so good backing up Meddling Mage as well as Tinker. Any deck in Vintage that has roughly13 blue spells and can make room is likely to fit 4 Force of Will as well.

Force of Will’s power is not simply its ability to shield your combo, it is also critical as a means to prevent your opponent from going off. Even though GroAtog is likely to use Force of Wills to protect Yawgmoth’s Will, it will also deploy them to disrupt the opponent’s plans, countering Trinisphere and Necropotence. Flash is no different here. Force of Will is a critical tool and it would be unthinkable to run less than a full complement.

4 Brainstorm

Since the printing of the Onslaught Fetchlands, Brainstorm has been a staple of almost every Blue-based Vintage deck because it lets you see three cards for one Blue mana at instant speed, just as Ancestral Recall. In this deck, Brainstorm will be as good in many cases as Ancestral Recall, helping you dig to find combo parts and protection. Although it won’t net you the card advantage that Recall provides, it will help you through back unwanted combo finishers. It will also help you hide critical combo parts in response to a Duress or Thoughtseize. Brainstorm is arguably the very best unrestricted card in Vintage (although Polluted Delta and Force of Will are also candidates), and almost certainly the best unrestricted Blue card, although there are people who would rank Force of Will higher based upon its importance in the format. Brainstorm generally sees more play, however.

4 Merchant Scroll

The Achilles heel to any two-card combo will be mathematical. The minimum requirements of a 60 card deck impose fundamental limits on the speed to which a two card combo can be assembled barring free tutoring along the lines of Summoner’s Pact. Merchant Scroll is not only the most efficient tutor for Flash, it’s probably the most effective. Unlike Legacy, where Merchant Scroll is still an important Flash tutor, in Vintage, Scroll is very likely to be a turn 1 play with a Mox and a land.

It even has the advantage over Demonic Tutor for being Blue. Since presumably all of our land will produce Blue and less than 100% of it will produce Black, this is already a significant advantage. But the ability to pitch Scroll to Force of Will is another. Granted, Demonic Tutor can find either combo part or something else entirely, but at least it’s not strictly superior to Scroll. Far from it.

Scroll also will be helpful in other respects. Scroll can find Ancestral Recall to build card advantage. It can search up bounce spells like Chain of Vapor, Echoing Truth, Rebuild or Hurkyl’s Recall. It can also find countermagic such as Force of Will or Pact of Negation. These are not trivial qualities. In at least a few games during the course of a tournament, Scroll will be used in this way.

Scroll is, and has been for some time, the best unrestricted tutor in Vintage. Not running four when it complements the objectives and tactical needs of this deck so well would be foolhardy.

17 cards down, 43 to go.

4 Protean Hulk

With this card, we leave the field of unquestionable certainty and tread into a slightly muddier ground. It would seem that the reasoning that applied to Flash would apply here, but there are many instances of Flash decks from Top 8s where they ran 3 Hulks and 4 Summoner’s Pact. To a certain extent, the question of the number of Hulks can’t be divorced from the number of Summoner’s Pacts we are running. Without resolving that question for the moment, I can say that 4 Protean Hulk makes more sense than 4 Summoner’s Pact and 3 Protean Hulk.

It might seem like running a full complement of both cards would be the surest way to maximize your ability to combo out. In his two most recent lists, Patrick Chapin only has 1 Summoner’s Pact. The Spanish lists run 4 Protean Hulk and 2 Summoner’s Pact to make room for Ponders as well. From what I’ve seen, people run anywhere from one to four Summoner’s Pacts. The most counter-intuitive, but ingenious configuration is 4 Summoner’s Pacts and 3 Protean Hulk. This would seem to have a number of advantages. If every Summoner’s Pacts equals a Hulk, then additional S. Pacts would seem to be better than a second hulk. After all, you can turn a Pact into an Elvish Spirit Guide or better. The problem is that Summoner’s Pact has an undesirable trigger if things go awry. For instance, if you want to go for turn 1 Flash and try and win if they don’t have a Force of Will, if you need to Pact first to find the Hulk, then you’ll lose if they have a Force. If you are just holding Hulk instead, you can try again later.
Summoner’s Pact requires a commitment to the game and board state that a Protean Hulk does not. For example, you may wish to Flash on turn 1 without counterspell backup on the expectation that if you are countered, you have a solid chance for reassembling the combo before your opponent can win first, but if you are not, you can shuffle up for the next game. Summoner’s Pact in your hand instead of Protean Hulk takes that option off the table. If you are countered, you will lose the game. Because of that fact, Protean Hulk is much preferred over Summoner’s Pact.

21 cards, 39 to go.

1 Reveillark, 1 Mogg Fanatic, 1 Body Snatcher, 1 Body Double, and 1 Carrion Feeder

Given the historical narrative I’ve deployed to introduce this article, it wouldn’t make much sense to go with the alternative Sliver kill. Granted, a Disciple kill of 4 Disciple of the Vault and 5 X casting cost artifact creatures (Shifting Wall, etc) produces an instant speed, virtually split second, victory, but there is no question that five cards is more space efficient finish than nine. In any case, part of the motive for testing this build is to see how effective Morningtide’s addition to the archetype can be. It may be that the Sliver kill or the Disciple kill or even an alternative, as of yet undiscovered kill should be considered, but I want to optimize the Reveillark kill first.

A discussion of how this kill works can be found earlier in this article and in Patrick’s article last week. I will add to it as needed. Body Snatcher earns its position in the off chance that you happen to be holding one of these creatures when you combo out, a common but not probable occurrence.

26 cards down, 34 to go.

4 Pact of Negation

Although it may seem like a given, I think there are reasons that this is not an automatic decision. I have seen more than enough Flash lists with only three Pacts to suggest that my intuition on this point has grounds to support it. Pact of Negation is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tactics that Flash has over the rest of the format. Pact of Negation is a card that is most powerful protecting a combo that goes off in a single juncture like Flash, serving the role of Force of Will on offense. It is much less powerful in a combo deck that may seek to win over several turns, as is the case in Long storm decks which often build to a winning position after having several threats countered. For instance, using Pact of Negation to protect Necropotence makes little sense.

With Reveillark, Pact of Negation finally comes into its own. While not becoming a fully fledged Force of Will, it inches much closer because with an instant-speed kill, as opposed to a combat speed kill of the Sliver version, you can win with Pact’s trigger on the stack. As Patrick described last week, if you play a turn 1 Merchant Scroll for Flash, you can then use Pact of Negation as a fully fledged Force of Will to stop your opponent from doing their own thing, including Duress. In situations such as that and many others different from it, you can also use Pact of Negation to stop cards like Trinisphere or a game winning Yawgmoth’s Will. So long as you can find the combo and play it on your upkeep with the Pact triggers on the stack, you can use Pact of Negation as a cheaper Force of Will.

Pact of Negation is also a solid Scroll target. Once you have assembled the combo, it is almost strictly superior to Force of Will (although it can be stopped by a Chalice on zero).

I could imagine taking the deck in a different direction where Pact would not be a 4-of. If we were to go the more controllish route of playing with Counterbalance or try and slow the deck down further, Pact might lose its full utility. In that case, two or three or even zero Pact of Negations could be called for.

30 cards down, 30 to go.

Before filling out the rest of the spell base, I think it is time to turn to the mana. Before filling in specifics, let me lay out some basic parameters. First of all, I don’t think we want more than 20 mana sources no matter how we build the deck. The deck runs on a very light manabase since the combo and all of the supporting cards basically cost 2 mana or less. In addition, we will be running plenty of cantrips so that a mana base closer to GroAtog is preferable to a mana base like Long. I could see running more mana in a Workshop heavy environment or with a very slow list, but even with a slow list, I would find it very unlikely that you’d run more than 21 or 22 mana sources.

It is a given that we will be running Black Lotus and Mox Sapphire. There are no imaginable circumstances in which you would not run both. Even if you had a completely hate filled Null Rod, Counterbalance strategy, you would still run these cards.

It is also a given that we will be running a lot of fetchlands. In terms of the land itself, given the approach we have to the deck already, I can see running anywhere from 9 to 13 lands. Nine lands might be the approach we take if we were aiming for a pure speed kill. However, anything less than 11 lands will produce well over a 10% mulligan rate. 9 lands will probably get you well over 15%. The deck cannot win without a Blue mana source. With 9 lands, 1 Black Lotus, 1 Mox Sapphire, 1 Lotus Petal and even 1 Chrome Mox, that’s still going to leave you with enough instances of no Blue mana or 1 Blue mana and no cantrip that you’ll have to mulligan it away. Chapin’s Counterbalance build had 13 mana, which I consider to be the “safest” number for minimizing your mulligan needs without uncomfortably adding unnecessary lands. If you go to 11 mana sources or lower, I would strongly encourage running Chrome Mox. If you run Counterbalance or cards like that, you’re going to want 13. I have been testing with 12, and I’ll admit that I’m not very comfortable with it. There are too many games in which I’ve been forced to mulligan an otherwise incredible no land hand away (granted, it’s awesomeness was no doubt in part attributable to the presence of spells rather than land, but the point holds). I prefer 13, although further testing could suggest that this is too many. Of course, this will depend on how we fill out the rest of the deck.

Without resolving that question just yet, let me say that in my view the costs of running a black splash to be extremely negligible. The Black splash will ensure that if you draw Carrion Feeder but can’t Brainstorm it back that you can still win. Carrion Feeder is one card that Body Snatcher can’t put into play when you begin to combo out. You need it in play to begin with. Therefore, my list will have at least an Underground Sea or two.

In addition, because of the use of Reverent Silence and other green anti-enchantment spells, I will at least tentatively run a pair of Tropical Islands as well.

With those considerations in mind, but not yet determined, let’s return to the spell base.

0 Street Wraith

A surprising number of Flash lists that I saw ran Street Wraith. For what it does, I understand why it is being run. If this deck were strictly trying to win on turn 1, I would be more sympathetic, but I can’t see running Street Wraith over Ponder in here. For one mana, you get so much more. Granted, Street Wraith is superior if your goal is simply to win on turn one and little else. But we are already assuming that we’ll have access to one Blue mana, and as such, at least 7 out of 10 times, I’d prefer Ponder.

1 Demonic Tutor, 1 Vampiric Tutor, and 1 Mystical Tutor

Since we are already going to run Black, let’s insert some Black necessaries. Demonic Tutor fills a similar role to Merchant Scroll, but one that has potential upsides. Vampiric Tutor is one of the cheapest instant speed ways to assemble the combo. Mystical Tutor isn’t Black, but once we go down the path of using these basic and ubiquitous Vintage tutors, Mystical Tutor surely has a place as well, although it is less versatile. Note that all three of these tutors support the expanded use of Pact of Negation (Demonic Tutor for the same reason as Scroll and the instant speed Mirage tutors for the reason that Brainstorm can follow it up to draw you into the missing combo part, all in response to a Pact Trigger).

33 cards down, roughly 7 to go (assuming 20 as of yet undetermined mana sources).

1 Chain of Vapor

Given the abundance of tutors in this deck, it makes sense to play with at least one bounce spell maindeck, if not more. Echoing Truth may be more versatile, but Chain of Vapor is more efficient. Pre-board, there won’t be many spells that you need to bounce, but Chain of Vapor should be adequate to the task. If we were evaluating the bounce spell based upon its effectiveness in the entire match, then Chain would not be an obvious pick. But 99% of the obstacles you will need to bounce in game 1 will be answered by Chain. I think it would be an error to select another card based upon Chain of Vapor’s functioning post-board. For the maindeck, you want the bounce spell that functions best in game 1. Chain is that card, without a doubt.

34 cards down, 6 to go.

At this point, it would be useful to ask what our needs might be. First of all, we have a need for some quantity of Summoner’s Pacts. Second, I think it would be extremely benefit to run some number of Ponders, the super Impulse. Third, I think a lone Misdirection would be a nice addition. It will randomly nab you opposing Ancestral Recalls and serve as Force of Will #9 in terms of protecting your combo. Finally, I am interested in running 2 Thoughtseize. Ideally, I would round out the deck with 3 Summoner’s Pacts, 3 Ponder, 1 Misdirection, and 2 Thoughtseize. We haven’t even mentioned Time Walk. But we don’t have nearly enough space to accommodate these cards. Our options are either to trim back here, cut into our manabase, or remove cards we’ve already settled on.

I think the answer to these questions depends upon less an objective view of the deck and more an analysis of how we might be playing the deck. The more Ponder we run, particularly if we run 13 lands, the less necessary some of the artifact acceleration might be and the less necessary additional Summoner’s Pacts might be to help us assemble the combo. GroAtog runs 14 lands in a 18 or 19 manabase (depending on a Red splash or not). With more Ponder, we are basically adopting a Gro-type manabase, which gives Flash tremendous card quality advantages. Based upon my testing, I am willing to sacrifice Mox Pearl out of the gate. I have found that with 4 Moxen, Black Lotus, and Lotus Petal, that is more than enough acceleration, especially if we run an Elvish Spirit Guide and 13 lands with 2 or more Ponder. If we are just as likely to spend our first turn playing Brainstorm, Ponder or Thoughtseize as Flash or Merchant Scroll, then the need for acceleration diminishes slightly.

There is one card that pains me with its absence, and that is Time Walk. I think Time Walk would be a useful addition here, especially with the 13 land manabase. I think it would open up games with turn 1 Time Walk, turn two Thoughtseize + Ponder or Brainstorm + Merchant Scroll and the like. It’s the uber-cantrip, and I feel silly not running it in here. In my next version, I will test Time Walk out and see where or if it might fit.

At this point, it’s simply a matter of judgment, but I think the configuration of:

2 Summoner’s Pact
2 Ponder
2 Thoughtseize
1 Misdirection

and 19 mana makes the most sense to me.

Therefore, here is how I would fill out the rest of the deck:

1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Emerald
1 Lotus Petal
3 Polluted Delta
3 Flooded Strand
3 Island
2 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea

That’s 60 cards!

To bring it all together:

I think this configuration should produce the strongest results. Of course, my opinion is likely to change by next week, but at least I have thought these issues through and come to a compromise position that seems to make the most sense given the costs and benefits I’ve walked through and others that I’ve left implicit. For example, although an Elvish Spirit Guide would be nice in the off-chance I draw two Summoner’s Pacts, one land, and a Flash, I feel that the overall benefit of the other cards I’ve included outweighs that marginal benefit. The answer might tilt back to Elvish Spirit Guide if I were to go up to 3 Pacts.

The three Islands will also help produce stability against Magus of the Moon type effects by giving me five Blue sources that I could draw even if I’ve been Mooned on turn 1. And really, you only need one to start digging through your deck with Brainstorm, Ponder, and Merchant Scroll.

The inclusion Thoughtseize does deserve additional explanation. As important as the Blue counterspells are, Thoughtseize offers advantages that can’t be gained elsewhere for that price. It gives you information to base your future decisions upon. With as many cantrips as this deck runs, two Thoughtseize is really enough to show up at least a couple of times in a three game match. It can address threats and interact with your opponent in ways that pitch magic just can’t. Those benefits, which may not be immediately apparent on paper, add up over time. Although I could see running them in the sideboard, I think their mainboard inclusion is justified, and as a sideboard card, it will always seem to be an oddball choice, uncomfortable in its role and difficult to make fit into the main.

Next week, I’ll turn to the sideboard, sideboard plans, play tactics and tips, matchups, and the lingering question posted by Matthieu at the outset: is this really the best deck ever or even the best deck in Vintage?

Until next week…

Stephen Menendian