Stephen Menendian has long been a leading voice in the Vintage field. He has been a Vintage Champion, in 2007, as well as netting himself a spot in the 2007 Magic Invitational, the very last one. He is constantly on the front edge of design for Vintage, as a frequent contributor to the ever-growing community of Vintage writers.
It is a rare day when you can see Menendian sitting down to a Vintage match without Dark Confidant in his deck. One of the most powerful card-drawing engines ever made, the efficiently brutal Confidant is an integral part of Menendian's plan.
When I first looked through his decklist, there were a few things that threw me off the trail of what this deck wanted to do. First, was the presence of Vendilion Clique, Trygon Predator, and Dark Confidant. Those cards are all incredibly powerful, especially in Vintage. However, they all attack for real damage. At first, I thought that this deck might just be a control deck that beat opponents down with these dorks over a few turns until they were dead. That didn't seem too cool to me. I saw the Tinker and the Blightsteel Colossus, but I figured they were just a way to grab an easy win out of nowhere. After watching Menendian play a couple of rounds, I realized that they weren't just tossed in the deck. They were the deck.
"Basically, this deck just wants to Tinker out a Colossus every game. That's its goal. Every other card in the deck is just there to make sure that it does that."
With that, I took another glance at the list. Well, yeah, there are Confidants and Cliques and Predators, but they really are just geared to make sure that he can grab a Tinker and get the Colossus into play as soon as possible. The Confidants draw him an absurd number of cards, helping him find it. The Predators keep the board free from anything that might stop him. The Cliques work double duty, acting as a form of end-step permission as well as targeting himself if the Colossus is stuck in his hand. Everything else in the deck, all the spells, are simply ways to draw, tutor, or protect his two-card combo.
One of the things he was most excited about was the unrestriction of Gush.
"That is one of the biggest things to happen to Vintage this past year. Combined with Fastbond, it's an incredible combo. You get access to not only the cards that you get to draw, but replaying the lands gives you extra mana as well. Add in Yawgmoth's Will, and you get to replay them all over again, getting even more cards and mana. It's pretty insane. With Gush, Confidant, and all of these Tutors, I have a lot of redundancy in getting the cards I need."
The interesting thing is how his plan is able to change drastically against different decks while not really changing at all.
Against these decks, his target cards change, but the engine of the deck, the part of the deck that does the bulk of the work, doesn't change at all. Instead of doing anything to protect the Tinker, he substitutes in a Trygon Predator or the Leyline. The deck's target changes, but its focus never does.
We talked a little about the state of Vintage right now, as it seemed to be going through a bit of a renaissance.
"Yeah, Vintage is in a really good place right now. There have been a number of new cards that have been released that have had an immediate impact on the format. You've got Blightsteel Colossus, Mental Misstep, Steel Sabotage and Leonin Relic-Warder are seeing some play, Slash Panther and Phyrexian Revoker are really hot right now. Phyrexian Metamorph is just amazing in the Workshop decks. I don't know if you can beat a first-turn Lodestone Golem that gets copied on the next turn. I'm even starting to see some Flusterstorm from Commander floating around. This has been a very exciting year for Vintage.
About the only thing that might make it more interesting were if Fact or Fiction were to be unrestricted. It's a good card, but not great anymore. It's just worse than Jace, the Mind Sculptor. But it would provide another interesting option for the blue decks out there. You've got all kinds of different blue decks out there, and a card like that would have a different effect on all of them. The best part is that it might actually make a slow blue deck more viable. There was a guy I saw yesterday playing a blue deck featuring Intuition and Accumulated Knowledge and doing pretty well. Fact or Fiction would be great for those decks, and simply another reasonable option for the faster decks in the field."
When I asked him how that might affect the non-blue decks in the format, he assured me that it wouldn't really matter.
"The thing is, the card is just slow right now. It is a lot of mana for an effect that isn't as good as it once was. Those decks aren't going to be hurt by it at all. It's not like it makes the blue decks in the format any better, it just has the potential to make them different. It may even open up a new deck type."
With that said, we talked a little more about his deck. With a deck that has so much card selection in it, despite the clear goal in mind, it seemed pretty difficult to play.
"Yeah, the decision tree is pretty complex on every turn. There are just so many decisions to make, and making the wrong one can really hurt you. This doesn't operate like the combo decks in the field, where they build up to a really big turn. This deck gains incremental advantages over a few turns until it's safe to slam the Colossus in there. Mistakes make those advantage smaller, and they can really affect the game."
The moral is to not let Vintage fool you. As simple as some of the plans seem for these decks, implementation of them is actually quite difficult. With access to whatever you want whenever you want, making the right decision is like finding a needle in a haystack. There may be multiple right answers, but only one that is most right. In a deck like this, finding the most right play every time takes lots and lots of practice. You'd better get started.