It has been a long time since I've written "In game" analysis. Hell, I haven't really written that many Vintage articles this year.

If you take out the History of Vintage series and the Gush book (Understanding Gush), here are the number of Vintage content articles I've published in the last few years:

2018: 5 (including my article for SCG)
2017: 4
2016: 0 (obviously, the Gush book took alot of time)
2015: 4
2014: 1
2013: 8

So anyway, I've been writing alot more about Vintage lately, and this is my first in-game analysis in an article in quite a while! Possibly since 2013!

So here it is:

This article should show how awesome I think Vintage is right now. And also how powerful the Survival deck is!


I’ve seen some recent posts about a Deathrite based control deck and there seemed to be some interest in the archetype, so here is a primer (of sorts) for the list I've been running for a while.

# 4 Color Control
Creatures (11)
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Snapcaster Mage
2 Baleful Strix
2 Leovold, Emissary of Trest
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Removal (5)
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Fatal Push
1 Dismember
1 Engineered Explosives
Disruption (9)
1 Thoughtseize
4 Force of Will
3 Mental Misstep
1 Mindbreak Trap
Card Draw (7)
3 Painful Truths
1 Treasure Cruise
1 Dig Through Time
1 Brainstorm
1 Ancestral Recall
Other (5)
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Time Walk
2 Jace TMS
1 Dack Fayden
Mana (23)
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
4 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Strip Mine
1 Mana Confluence
3 Underground Sea
2 Tropical Island
1 Volcanic Island
1 Badlands
1 Island
1 Swamp
2 Nature's Claim
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Flusterstorm 
4 Grafdigger's Cage
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Ravenous Trap
2 Pyroblast
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Murderous Cut

General Deck Philosophy

Ideal games with this deck look to secure mana advantage with Deathrite Shaman, trade 1-for-1 with the opponent, while gaining incremental value with Snapcaster/Baleful Strix, and eventually pulling ahead with Jace/Painful Truths. While this deck does look like a 4 color control deck, it is really a base U/B deck with slight splashes tailored to certain matchups.

Why should you play this deck?

It’s not Mentor, Shops, or Outcome!
But seriously, I really enjoy the deck because it plays out like a hard control deck that has some good disruptive creatures that double as win conditions (Deathrite Shaman/Leovold). Knowing when to change modes with Deathrite Shaman, from a source of mana to a damage source, is one of the most important things to consider with this deck. It will not win games quickly, so if you don’t like to grind, I would give this deck a pass.

Waste(land) Not, Want Not

The genesis of the deck was a more creature heavy version of BUG that looked to waste/strip the opponent early and often. Deathrite Shaman made sure that you could still curve out and develop your mana, while denying your opponent theirs. In theory, it was great. In practice, I rarely won games where I mana screwed my opponents.
Waste/strip vs shops just turns their lands into Black Lotuses and since I’m not winning the game quickly, the one mana I could use from the wasteland is VASTLY more important to us than just speed bumping them for a turn. Half of their deck is mana and most of their lands tap for 2+.

Vs combo, traditionally there was a higher chance that you waste them out of the game, but that still required 1-2 pieces of disruption to give yourself that opportunity. With the rise of Outcome there are more basics and emphasis on artifact mana, so I don’t feel that wasteland + disruption is a valid strategy. I will note that combo is the worst matchup for this deck (more on that later).

Vs mentor, it was a fine move to waste early and often, pre gush restriction. Now, mentor plays more mana sources, so that game plan rarely bears any fruit.
Since I wasn’t running 5 colorless lands anymore, I could splash red for a little diversity in shop hate and add Pyroblast to the board.

A Few Notes on Card Choices

Tasigur vs Gurmag Angler

This comes down to how much Eldrazi you see in your meta vs mentor/blue decks. The zombie fish is much better against both forms of Eldrazi since it eats almost everything and trades cleanly with a Reality Smasher. It has the added benefit of not being Legendary and getting bounced by Karakas out of White Eldrazi.

The Shotgun Approach to Removal

The goal of the deck is to see a lot of extra cards via Truths/Jace-ing in the late game, so I prefer a wider array of options. The 2 Snapcasters also reduce the need to draw multiples of one particular removal spell.

How does this deck match up against the meta?

While it may be a point of contention to only mention the ‘big 3’, that’s what I am primarily going to consider for this section.

Vs Shops
This deck has a favorable matchup against shops, strictly on the back of being able to ignore 4 of shops 9 spheres. Deathrite Shaman and a larger than normal creature count mean I can develop my board/mana in the face of a thorn. 2 main deck basics also provide extra insurance that I can cast my more expensive spells. Main deck Dack and Grudge also help, though Dack’s effectiveness has been waning. It’s worth noting a fun ‘trick’ with painful truths and Sphere/Thorn (akin to engineered explosives): since they require you to overpay, you can actually cast it for 4 or 5 colors (depending on the # of spheres in play). I’ve cast it quite a few times for 4 vs shops and it’s pretty fantastic!

Vs Mentor
This deck executes its game plan fairly well against mentor. The entire match revolves around their namesake card. The cheap creatures in this deck allow us to pressure the mentor player to potentially force them into a situation where they have to deploy mentor early (i.e. without enough protection or ability to chain spells/monks) or they spend their turns interacting with our board and not developing their hand. It’s a very attrition based matchup, but Leovold and Painful Truths help.

Vs Outcome
I will admit that combo is not my favorite matchup to play since the deck is fairly limited in disruption game 1. Leovold is the saving grace since he can win the game on the spot if the PO player has no MD way to remove him. It gets better post board, but I would be lying if I said I was confident in the game 1 matchup. Another interesting interaction: on the off chance you get stormed out with a Leovold in play, you can let the storm trigger go on the stack, resolve, and then put a Leovold trigger on the stack for each storm copy. This means that all of your ‘draw a card’ triggers will resolve before any of the storm copies, so you only need to find a Flusterstorm/Mindbreak Trap within the top X cards of your deck (where X = the # of storm copies on the stack). Leovold already makes you somewhat Duress-proof, since you always draw a card, but this allows your counters to ‘hide out’ in your deck and is an added layer of protection against hand disruption.

Mulligans and Developing the Game Plan

The ideal start for this deck is turn 1 Deathrite, but in lieu of that, I’m looking for cheap interaction and a fast Leovold/Jace. Since Painful Truths is a big part of the deck, I don’t mind using Snapcasters early, most commonly to flashback a misstep on practically anything. An early Deathrite Shaman followed up by a disruptive ambush viper provides significant pressure. Early turns should be spent developing mana and trading cards back and forth, until you pull ahead via Truths or Jace. While a vast majority of the time you will use Jace’s ‘brainstorm’ ability, this deck does a decent job of using all parts of the buffalo that is the big blue planeswalker. I’ve bounced my fair share of creatures and fatesealed for a few turns when the game was locked up with an active Deathrite Shaman and an attacking creature (very few cards in my opponent’s deck mattered).

Sideboard Guide

+1 Abrupt Decay
+2 Pyroblast
-1 Ancient Grudge
-1 Dismember
-1 Mindbreak Trap

Nothing too crazy here, just upgrading some card slots. This matchup revolves entirely around them resolving mentor. While it may seem silly to bring in Pyroblast (an anti blue card) to fight a white card, we are just trying to support our Forces in the fight over Mentor. Some versions of Mentor also run Jace and Dack.

+4 Grafdigger’s Cage
+1 Abrupt Decay
-1 Ancient Grudge
-1 Dismember
-1 Fatal Push
-2 Baleful Strix

Sadly, this is a creature based control deck, so Oath can be problematic. In game 2, I would still run out a turn 1 Deathrite 99% of the time since I have to have some way to win and if I’m sandbagging it, why is it even in the deck? Strix and non-Decay removal are pretty underwhelming here so they are easy to cut for cages. Interesting note, both Forbidden Orchard and Oath of Druids target you, so if you have a Leovold in play, don’t forget to draw your card! Granted, if they are Oathing, it probably won’t matter, but if you have a Cage and a Leovold in play, the Oath still targets! Could easily see swapping a Snapcaster for a Strix since Cage shuts him off, but the fact that he is a surprise 2 power attacker is usually enough to get the nod.

Paradoxical Outcome Storm
+2 Pyroblast
+2 Flusterstorm
+1 Nihil Spellbomb
-2 Baleful Strix
-1 Dismember
-1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
-1 Fatal Push

Removal is pretty poor here, as well as Strix. I cut one Jace since I want to make room for more cheap interaction, but could see cutting the Grudge instead. This is a game 2/3 change I might make depending on my opponent. If their play pattern is to run out their artifacts early, I like keeping grudge to potentially double stone rain them. If they are hoarding them until the pivotal turn when they cast outcome, I’d rather have the Jace. The Spellbomb might seem weird, but it is Yawg Will insurance as well as a cheap cycler since the deck isn’t really loaded for combo bear.

+1 Ancient Grudge
+2 Nature’s Claim
+1 Murderous Cut
+1 Abrupt Decay
-3 Mental Misstep
-1 Mindbreak Trap
-1 Thoughtseize

Pretty straightforward plan: board in all of the hate/doomblades. I will rarely ever Force a Thorn since it doesn’t slow down my creatures. Forcing a Sphere is contextual, based on my hand and play/draw. If a Deathrite Shaman is already in play, I’ll just pass on it. For the most part, goal is to stay in the game on the back of creatures, 1-for-1 them, and re-load with Truths/Jace.

+1 Abrupt Decay
+1 Murderous Cut
+1 Nature’s Claim
-3 Mental Misstep

This is the one matchup where I wish I had another ‘doom blade’ in the board as well as the only reason I have Dismember main over the 2nd Decay (I really wanted a MD way to kill a Reality Smasher). Misstep is pretty bad, so I bring in a Nature’s Claim since it can actually do something. Matchup plays out similarly to Shops. The white versions can be a little scarier since Heretic Cathar can really slow the deck down, but doesn’t really change the plan of “doom blade everything and draw a bunch of cards”.

+4 Grafdigger’s Cage
+1 Nihil Spellbomb
+1 Ravenous Trap
-1 Mindbreak Trap
-1 Ancient Grudge
-1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
-1 Thoughtseize
-1 Snapcaster Mage
-1 Fatal Push

Just trimming numbers here to fit in the hate cards. There is a fair debate between keeping Snapcaster over the Dismember, but I want access to 2 cards that can let me kill my own creatures to remove bridges. The other side of that coin is that Snapcaster can be a surprise blocker and basically do the same thing, but dying in combat still lets the dredge player stack the triggers such that they get zombies.


I won't delude you (or myself) in claiming that this deck is the next big thing or that is crushes everything in the meta, but its a solid deck that utilizes one of the best unrestricted draw engines: Painful Truths. Like any control deck, a heavy dose of metagame tailoring is necessary for success but part of the fun is constantly tinkering with numbers and card slots.