BitterHumans: Vintage’s Most Underused One-Card Engine

I used to bring 2-4 Vintage decks to every Grand Prix and Pro Tour and play between rounds (all but 9 of my Power were Collector’s Edition—I wasn’t born rich). It was really fun, and I miss it since I sold all of my cards. Magic Online is now offering Vintage Leagues, so I figured I’d give it a try. After fooling around for a couple weeks, I wanted to tell you about the brew I’ve been using. I have never had a losing record in a League with it (or a 5-0, to be fair), but the deck is at least competitive with the other great decks out there after this recent round of restrictions.

The online Vintage cards are astonishingly reasonable. You can pick up a Mox Jet for under $13, for example. I haven’t for one second regretted doing so.

Here is the list.

BitterHumans (a.k.a The comments of my Power Rankings articles)

Matt Sperling

Let’s go through the deck and discuss its pieces.

The Humans

3 Kambal, Consul of Allocation

The deck started with me opening an empty deck file, adding 3 Kambal, and then staring at it for a while. I really wanted to play this card in Vintage. For all the reasons your opponents will want to use cards like Treasure Cruise and Monastery Mentor, or Tendrils of Agony and Dark Ritual, you will want to play Kambal. It’s like a reverse Monastery Mentor. It’s certainly not great in every matchup, but that’s how hate bears go—you need a mix of interactive creatures and traditionally strong creatures if you want to beat combo, midrange, and control.

The way I ended up filling the deck out was inspired by a list Patrick Chapin played against me 7 or so years ago where he had Gorilla Shamans, Pyroblasts, Bitterblossoms, and Skullclamp. I remember thinking that Bitterblossom was annoyingly tough. When a better deck builder beats you, file those lessons away somewhere in the back of your head for safe keeping.

4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

One of the best creatures in Vintage, and if you didn’t know before, the restriction of Thorn of Amethyst makes it that much more obvious and that much harder to replace Thalia. She’s legendary, but what are they gonna do—ignore the first one? Most opponents can’t win if they do that.

3 Dark Confidant

This is by no means a card you must play. But when Leovold is popular, it’s a great way to get card advantage without worrying about Leovold’s drawing-extra-cards restriction. And against non-Leovold opponents, well, it’s Dark Confidant. Play hand disruption, play Bob, refill. As much as things change, some remain the same.

1 Monastery Mentor

This isn’t the best Monastery Mentor deck out there but with Skullclamp and Cabal Therapy, there is certainly enough to justify your 1 allowed copy of this amazing creature.

4 Cavern of Souls

This is the payoff for using so many great Humans. Many opponents really do not like Thalias and Kambals that they cannot counter. And nobody counters the Mox before you drop the Cavern (with good reason).

Non-Human Bears

4 Stoneforge Mystic

This deck goes much deeper on Stoneforge Mystic than other “Stoneblade” decks by including a Skullclamp main in addition to Batterskull and Sword of Fire and Ice main and Umezawa’s Jitte in the sideboard. Disruptive Humans are how you beat “unfair” decks like Storm but you also need multiple “engines” that will give enough value to outpace the other midrange players and creature decks. Such a diverse toolbox of equipment means that you can get whatever the situation requires. Need to close out a game against Delver? Sword of Fire and Ice puts the game out of reach quickly. Need to grind out a 4-color control player? Batterskull might be the right tool if you are a little flooded. Need to flashback Cabal Therapy while refilling your resources rather than depleting them? Skullclamp is cheap and efficient.

2 Phyrexian Revoker

A little bit of mana denial and a little bit of insurance against planeswalkers—Revoker is just a solid creature in small doses and being Clamp-able is a nice bonus. Hey, sometimes you need a Swords to Plowshares, and getting two cards deeper matters a lot. Revoker is pretty important against Walking Ballista in particular as sometimes that’s their only way to get out of a tough spot against Bitterblossom or Dark Confidant, and you can shut it off.

Vintage’s Most Underused One-Card Engine

2 Bitterblossom

The number of Vintage decks that can’t win very often against a resolved Bitterblossom would surprise you. Don’t forget that as popular as cards like Oath of Druids are that make Bitterblossom look kind of silly, cards like Lightning Bolt and Abrade are also very, very popular and Bitterblossom makes them look worse. Bitterblossom looks like a value card but it’s actually a hate card against opponents who are trying to grind you out. They simply can’t do it if your Blossom sticks. Lastly, it fuels Cabal Therapy nicely and sometimes you do grotesque things with it and Skullclamp.


4 Cabal Therapy, 3 Thoughtseize

The ability to play 4 Cabal Therapy with Stoneforge Mystic and Bitterblossom helps you get ahead, stay ahead with the flashback, and then close the game out with the rest of the value the Stoneforge or Bitterblossom provides. These cards are critical to the deck for breaking up combos, stripping their 1 Abrupt Decay or Nature’s Claim, etc. etc. Like Bob, I don’t really have to explain why hand disruption is good, but in this deck it’s particularly strong.

Mike Singletarys

1 Demonic Tutor

This may sound strange but I think this is the weakest card in the deck. Most of your spells aren’t that good with 2 extra mana tacked on. It’s nice to be able to get what you need though, so I caved and included it. You’ll see what I mean if you play the deck though. This might be better as a 3rd Bitterblossom.

1 Vindicate

As versatile as it looks. Sometimes you hit a land and that’s sweet. Other times, you have an out to Oath of Druids or Jace when on the backfoot. Not amazing, but just good enough.

1 Thorn of Amethyst

They only let you play 1. Use Thalia to get around that rule, but the 1 Thorn is still nice.

1 Karakas

Almost good enough to play 2, but not quite. When they are bolting Kambal and they have to do it twice and take 4, you win. If you’re ahead and they Oath up Griselbrand, you can steal the game with this card. But the problem is that between Plains, Karakas, and 4 Cavern of Souls, there are a lot of lands that can’t cast Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy, or Bitterblossom, so 1 Karakas is really all you can afford.

1 Mox Emerald

The Pearl, Jet, and Lotus are obvious, but why play 1 off-color Mox? Well, I wanted an extra Mox. So much of the deck costs 2 or 3 that while flooding is dangerous, a little extra help getting out of the gate quickly is appreciated, so I added this about halfway through my testing.


If you don’t have a good sideboard in Vintage, you won’t win many tournaments.

1 Bitterblossom

When it’s good, it’s great.

1 Umezawa’s Jitte

People will try to kill you with Young PyromancerDeathrite Shaman, or Lord of Atlantis. Be prepared.

1 Serenity, 1 Devout Witness

A couple of wonky cards against MUD decks. These might not be optimal, but MUD isn’t played much online right now in the Leagues so I didn’t get to stress-test the sideboard there. Witness is a Human and ducks Thorn and your own Thalia. That used to be more important when Thorn was unrestricted. It is less important now.

2 Grafdigger’s Cage, 2 Containment Priest

The cards that hose graveyards and Oath of Druids at the same time are very important. Cheap, efficient, multipurpose.

3 Rest in Peace

The best graveyard hate there is. Don’t forget that as soon as an opponent shows you both Deathrite Shaman and Snapcaster Mage, for example, they have shown you enough to bring in 2 Rest in Peace. These shut off Skullclamp, so you may want to board it out.

1 Toxic Deluge

It kills all of your creatures too, which means that you can’t play a bunch of these, but against the Leovolds,  Merfolks, and Young Pyros of the world, I like having 1.

1 Gideon of the Trials

A little extra Tendrils insurance. Probably not needed, but it’s fun.

2 Chains of Mephistopheles

Good versus blue decks, but be careful, as I have lost multiple games to opposing Dack Fayden (whose +2 ability targeting you is devastating with a Chains in play). I still bring it in against Dack decks (because they only have a copy or two and I don’t scare easily), but I certainly hope to see their hand first with a Thoughtseize or Therapy before dropping it. this obviously interacts negatively with Skullclamp, but it can be okay to have both in your deck if you feel that either one provides enough value if resolved.

Cards That Didn’t Make the Cut

Vryn Wingmare

Let’s not get carried away.

Crucible of Worlds

Passable defensively (versus Shops) and offensively (with your own Wastelands) but the mana denial element of this deck is actually mana disruption + clock, not mana denial. So paying 3 mana for a conditional lock-out threat isn’t really aligned. But it’s such a good card that it’s still worth an honorable mention.

AEther Vial

A useful tool against Shops, but I prefer Cavern and Moxes because the creatures you get out aren’t devastatingly powerful—they are cheap and disruptive. This is a trap, I think.

Leyline of Sanctity

Could be used in the Gideon of the Trials slot.

Path to Exile

There are matchups where you want more Plows, but not enough of them to justify fitting this in.

Kataki, War’s Wage

Decent option but a little too vulnerable to Ballista. On balance, ended up not making the cut.

Stony Silence/Null Rod

Pretty good chance this should be in the deck, but the fact that it shuts off equipment made me want to try to work without it. Again, if you’re playing in a more Shops-heavy meta than the current online Leagues, you do need to adjust accordingly.

Disenchant/Seal of Cleansing

Whenever I see Disenchant I think, “there has to be a better tool” but sometimes there isn’t. In a U/W Snapcaster deck I like Disenchant quite a bit. It’s less impressive here though with no way to recur it. Seal of Cleansing is probably a card I’m interested as a 1- or 2-of if Shops are top priority.

Thanks for reading! I hope that you are having as much in Vintage as I am, with whatever deck(s) you’re using. If you haven’t tried it out yet, please do.

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