It’s been quite a while since I last sleeved up the beautiful pieces of cardboard we all love, and even longer still since I took to a keyboard to share a deck idea.
I haven’t had much time to pursue Pro Tour glory and I’ve fallen out of touch with the new sets and mechanics. One format that doesn’t change much, though, is Vintage. A few months ago I was at a party reminiscing about the joy of playing Magic instead of socializing, and a friend (the most glorious Samuel Loy) told me that my favorite card had become unrestricted in Vintage.
Casting Gifts Ungiven is, in my opinion, the most fun anyone can have playing Magic. It is also perfectly in line with what I want to do in Vintage, make Magic’s most complicated format that much harder to play. I was expressing that passion when someone asked if it was actually harder to play than Doomsday. Rather than answering this question I declared that I would build a deck with 4 of each.
I primarily built this deck to goldfish and it did not disappoint. Not only was it absurdly hard to play, it was also very quick and consistent. Turn-2 wins happen a lot and turn-3 with some form of protection is also commonplace. From here I began to wonder whether the deck could actually be good. I looked at recent results, saw what other people were doing with Doomsday and what I would be playing against and decided it was definitely worth testing. Before I get on to the matchups I’ll go through how the deck works.
The plan is to resolve Doomsday with either access to Gush (Scenario #1), or the ability to draw a card as well as have 1 blue mana available for Gitaxian Probe/Street Wraith and one untapped land, or Ponder/Brainstorm and 2 mana (Scenario #2).
#1) Doomsday Pile with Gush
#2) Doomsday Pile without Gush
The second element of the deck that can be tricky is Gifts Ungiven. While it does involve your opponent making a choice, when I was goldfishing I assembled piles based on the assumption that my theoretical opponent had complete knowledge of my deck and hand and would make the ideal choice. In reality this is not going to be the case but you can pretend it is, if they don’t play correctly—cool, you’ll still win.
Given that you choose four cards, there are six possible combinations. Working out a pile where all six combinations win you the game is where things become challenging. The first question to ask is whether you can win the turn you cast Gifts Ungiven. Winning that turn involves either setting up one of the above two Doomsday scenarios or casting Yawgmoth’s Will, which will usually set up a Doomsday win or a lethal Tendrils. If you decide you aren’t able to win you need to work out if you still want to cast it. They might make the wrong split, or you can make a pile that doesn’t win you the game but puts you ahead. Alternatively you can pass and hold it for the end of their turn.
I’m going to walk through how to select Gifts piles in some different situations. At this point, each assumes your opponent lives in a small glass bowl, but getting a handle on the mechanics is helpful before you start worrying about interaction. There are hundreds of different situations you might face but I hope with the following few, it is possible to have some basic rules for how to make Gifts piles. In the following scenarios, if Gush is included, they assume that you have the required lands to pay its alternate cost.
#1) The Late-Game Scenario – 5 mana after you cast Gifts:
- Yawgmoth’s Will + Demonic Tutor – Tutor for Black Lotus, cast Lotus, Will, Lotus, Doomsday, Gush
- Yawgmoth’s Will + Gush – Cast Will, Demonic Tutor for Black Lotus, Lotus, Doomsday, Gush
- Yawgmoth’s Will +Doomsday – Cast Will, Demonic Tutor for Black Lotus, Lotus, Doomsday, Gush
- Doomsday + Demonic Tutor – Cast tutor for Gush
- Demonic Tutor + Gush – Cast tutor for Doomsday
- Doomsday + Gush – Win the game
So now we’ve established that Gifts can win if you have 5 mana after you cast Gifts. We can keep this sort of pile in mind when you have a piece or two but not that amount of mana.
#2) Gitaxian Probe/Street Wraith and 4 mana:
#3) Yawgmoth’s Will and 1 black mana:
This scenario works if you have access to some type of ritual or cantrip in the graveyard (this will almost always be the case). Whatever they give you, you will be able to cast Will followed by a lot of mana and then a Demonic Tutor for Tendrils of Agony.
#4) Demonic Tutor and 2 mana:
Same principle as in the previous situation; play a lot of mana, tutor for Will, replay mana, tutor for Tendrils of Agony
#5) Gush and 3 mana:
#6) Opening hand:
Play Tarn, fetch for land, Mox Sapphire, Mana Vault, Gifts Ungiven for:
Since Gitaxian Probe and Street Wraith function the same way we have four possible piles instead of six:
- Probe/Wraith + Ancestral Recall, this is Doomsday scenario #1. Probe draws Black Lotus, allowing you to cast Ancestral into Laboratory Maniac, Mox Jet, Gitaxian Probe, Probe draws your final free cantrip.
- Street Wraith + Gitaxian Probe, this is Doomsday scenario #1.
- Lotus Petal + Probe/Wraith, this is Doomsday scenario #2.
- Lotus Petal + Ancestral Recall, casting Ancestral after Doomsday will draw you Black Lotus, Laboratory Maniac, and Gitaxian Probe, Probe will draw you another Probe into Street Wraith.
This scenario illustrates that with access to Doomsday and the mana to cast it, you can win without Gush. This is important since on turn one and often afterwards, you might not have two lands to return.
The most common scenarios where you will cast a main-phase Gifts Ungiven when you aren’t able to win that turn involve either Doomsday and passing the turn or casting Necropotence. Both of these scenarios are risky but, depending on your opponent, could be good or even close to as good as winning immediately. For further analysis we will introduce the variable of an actual living and breathing opponent. For the scope of this article I will restrict the possible matchups to Workshops, Dredge, and blue decks playing lots of permission.
Workshop decks are tough in game one. They get easier the fewer Spheres, Phyrexian Revokers, Chalices of the Void, and Tangle Wires they play. In our testing we included the maximum amount of all of those cards.
Some games they won’t have a Sphere and multiple Chalices of the Void in the first turn or two. In these situations you can often go off without having to cast Hurkyl’s Recall. Most of the time your game plan involves finding Hurkyl’s, having the mana and time to cast it, and then winning when they have a nice big hand full of permanents.
There were a few times in testing where there was a window to resolve a Doomsday. Passing the turn after casting a Doomsday is very scary in this matchup. They could untap and cast a Sphere, Phyrexian Revoker, Chalice of the Void, Tangle Wire, or just have a Wasteland , which makes this sort of situation very difficult to navigate. Going through step-by-step how you will win if they play X, Y, or Z is tedious but should get easier with practice.
There will often be situations where you can’t win through Y but you can through X or Z. Deductive reasoning based on what they could have can help you decide whether it is worth the risk. I won’t go through Doomsday stacks that address this because they are influenced too heavily by the amount of lands and what spells you have. My Doomsday piles in these situations often involve Hurkyl’s Recall, they also can often involve passing the turn a second time. Since they have so few ways to kill a Laboratory Maniac, it can be OK to win the following turn. The struggle is usually just getting him into play.
Things become far more pleasant post-board. With additional lands and a lot more ways to bounce things you are able to play through multiple Chalices and a couple more Spheres than preboard. You just play lands until you are in a situation to bounce all their things and combo.
Being a fast combo deck actually gives you some chance in game one. Not much of one, but it was between 30 and 40% with our relatively small sample size. The good news here is that casting a Doomsday and passing the turn is totally fine. Their only form of interaction is usually Cabal Therapy and Mental Misstep and having your win sitting nicely on top of your deck is pretty good protection against discard. They will often just untap and kill you, but at least you force them to have it.
Mental Misstep is annoying to play against. In this matchup they will often cast it on your tutor or Dark Ritual which will cost you a turn and the game. Playing around it after resolving Doomsday is also a little tedious. You can win the same turn through Mental Misstep in the following situation:
Floating a mana, cast Gush, replay a land then cast Time Walk, untap, play the second land, cast Gush, Lotus, Maniac, cycle Street Wraith.
In the situation where you want to cast Doomsday and pass the turn you will need access to a third mana source:
Cast Gush, Time Walk, replay a land, untap play your other land, cast Maniac, Gush with one card left in library.
Like with Shops, this matchup improves considerably post-board. In most game 1s you are only a turn slower than they are, so you don’t need that many hate cards, and you don’t need them to do more than buy a turn or two. The Missteps protect you from their Missteps as well as protecting your hate from their answers.
Yucky Blue Mages
Blue decks represent the part of the metagame that is highly favorable. This might not seem obvious, given how much interaction they manage to pack in, but even against large numbers of Force of Will, Flusterstorm and Mental Misstep it isn’t at all difficult to ram the combo through. The reason for this is that you have a lot of must-counter spells. Gifts Ungiven, Necropotence, Yawgmoth’s Will and Doomsday can threaten game over. This combined with card drawing, tutoring, and interaction via permission and discard make it pretty easy to find a spot to resolve something. Don’t be in a rush and respect that the matchup is good so there is not often the need to keep risky hands or make risky plays.
Replacing card disadvantage with interaction and card advantage allows you to settle in to even longer games without worrying about being buried. Just as with preboard, pace yourself and plan to work through all their interaction rather than hoping they don’t have it.
Vintage is a fantastic format for those who enjoy complicated Magic. This deck does nothing to quash the stigma that Vintage is a turn-1 format. In fact it feels about as broken as any deck I’ve ever played.
I hope you enjoy playing this deck, or even just goldfishing it!
[Editor’s Note: The Workshops sideboard guide was missing 2 Hurkyl’s Recall from among the cards you should bring in.]