Hi, I've enjoyed combo decks for the longest time and enjoy deckbuilding with them. Deckbuilding is my favourite part of MTG, and I love discussing ideas, especially when it relates to combo. I've long wanted to contribute to the forum with a deck discussion of my own. I hope some people find this interesting to read!
So what exactly is Drain Tendrils? In essence, it is a combo/control deck that leans heavily on control elements but utilizes a storm kill as its finisher once you have taken control. As the name suggests, the deck has a number of Mana Drains and finishes the game with a Tendrils of Agony.
Nobody needs any introduction to how important Mana Drain was to Vintage, considering the name of this very website. In recent years it's fallen off quite a bit, but it is still a ridiculously powerful card.
I always like include some historical perspective when writing about decks heavily influenced by older versions. Note that the metagame has changed dramatically since this thread was active, but I still found it an interesting read. Feel free to skip if none of this interests you!
Following the unrestriction of Thirst for Knowledge and the restriction of Gush, I became interested in trying to revive this archetype, as the gameplan felt beautifully elegant to me. My good friend Matt Murray ( @ChubbyRain ) was also interested in this and worked on it for a while, ultimately winning the Vintage Challenge in June 2017.
The deck fell out of popularity since then, but I've always felt the idea of the deck's gameplan was extremely powerful, so it was always in the back of my mind and ended up being something I tuned for months and months. I fell out of Vintage for a while, but this stayed my pet deck ever since. Eventually I took an updated version to win the New Zealand Eternal Weekend Vintage event. This inspired me to do a write-up on it.
This is the decklist mentioned above. Please only take this decklist as a sample. I'll write down a quick overview of some of the choices below.
The biggest departure from the more traditional Paradoxical Storm decks (and indeed, older versions of this deck) is the lower artifact count. The reason for this is to be less prone to disruption on that axis. You are perfectly capable of transforming into a traditional Big Blue deck that wins off Mana Drains and bombs without needing to depend on a Storm kill. At the same time, being a deck capable of such a kill puts your opponents on the defensive, fearing that you are indeed capable of winning out of nowhere.
This deck, more than others, is perfectly happy to use a Paradoxical Outcome as a simple instant draw spell. It does not need to end the game immediately. Of course, it is absolutely capable of doing so in some cases, but you are able to use those Outcomes less aggressively and set up a win, rather than punching through.
That being said, this was simply the configuration I felt most comfortable with and evolved with through the months. It's perfectly legitimate to go an entirely different route.
Now that I've written a fairly high level overview of what the deck attempts to do and shown off a sample decklist, I'll try to describe its function in more detail. To put it simply, this deck is a sort of fusion between Big Blue and Paradoxical Storm. One of the reasons I really like how the deck functions is that it has the ability to play the game as a control deck, as well as a combo deck as the situation demands. The deck typically has three ways it can attempt to win the game.
Usually your first option when it comes to figuring out lines you must take. Note that unlike Paradoxical Storm decks, you must consider the role in each individual game very carefully. In most cases, you are not attempting to win the game as soon as you can. You would much rather take control of the game, develop your manabase and then use Paradoxical Outcome once you have controlled the game. If you feel your role is to be the combo aggressor, then by all means attempt to go broken. It's just the deck plays more like a control deck with a combo finish, rather than a fast combo deck.
There are a million different ways you will be prevented from comboing off. There are Null Rods, Resistors, Thalias, Stony Silences and even Dack Faydens. There is no shortage of ways to attack your artifact mana and your ability to draw cards. In such a situation, it's usually better to not fight that battle and simply change your gameplan to resolving and protecting Tinker.
Choosing your Tinker target is very important. In the current state of things, my first choice is Sphinx of the Steel Wind. I'll talk about this topic more later.
When all other routes fail, this is still an option available to you. Jace and Snapcaster are both technically win conditions that can take you all the way. Consider a situation where comboing off is not an option and your Tinker target is gone. You should still be alright, Jace can win the game on his own if you protect him, and Snapcaster can slowly end the game as well.
There are some cards that should go into any deck attempting this gameplan. I've always found it helpful to narrow down what cards make up my deck's core and what cards are extras that work well.
1 Ancestral Recall
4 Force of Will
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Time Walk
1 Yawgmoth's Will
1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
There should really be no discussion about any of these cards. You are playing a blue deck splashing black, so play these cards.
1 Mystical Tutor: A lot of decks do not like running this card anymore, for good reason. However, I feel it's a core part of this deck's gameplan, in order to achieve a critical mass of tutors that can find your kill cards. Feel free to board it out against blue decks, but it's invaluable versus a lot of the field.
1 Vampiric Tutor: I would not board this out even against blue decks. Everything I said about Mystical Tutor applies here, except it can fetch things like Black Lotus and Tolarian Academy.
3-4 Paradoxical Outcome: As strange as it sounds, you could go with 3 Paradoxical Outcome if you really wanted to, I did for a while. Since you aren't really attempting to go off as fast as possible, you can afford to wait to draw into one, which you then re-use with a Snapcaster hopefully. However, as mentioned above, I ended up being happy with 4 copies.
1 Tendrils of Agony: This is your combo finisher, play it. You can board it out when you feel you'd rather heavily lean on Tinker to close the game.
1 Tinker: This is your other finisher for when you are not able to combo off. I've found Tinker to be a spectacular card, and it comes down to picking the right Tinker target for the occasion. Board it out when you feel your Tinker target isn't going to get the job done, due to your opponent's deck configuration.
1 Mana Vault: Mana Vault is a low cost include in this deck. It lets you accelerate out some stuff, and you get to bounce it back with Outcome.
2 Sensei's Divining Top: Must include card, this plays so well with Paradoxical Outcome and gives you some much needed card selection. Remember that you can tap the top to draw, then respond with an Outcome to get an extra card.
3 Underground Sea
3 More Blue Duals
Not too much to add here. You'll be mostly be picking your third colour based on your sideboard, although there are some main-deck considerations too. If you want to play only two colours, just add more Underground Seas and basic lands.
1 Tolarian Academy: One of the most busted cards ever made. You will find that this is a constant tutor target in this deck. It provides boatloads of blue mana and is often your ace in the hole in the face of Null Rod and Stony Silence. Just remember to be careful when exposing it to Wastelands.
1 Library of Alexandria: While sometimes this can be a bit slow, it takes over the game in many other instances. Just note that there comes a point in the game when you use that accumulated card advantage to throw all your cards at your opponent to beat them. Pick that moment carefully!
Graveyard-based Card Advantage
1-3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Treasure Cruise
1 Dig through Time
I thought I'd lump all these together as this part of your configuration is fairly inter-connected. In general, the more Snapcasters you want to play, the fewer Delve spells you can. As a general rule I found, you can play any 3 of the above cards. Be very wary of choosing a configuration that runs both Treasure Cruise and Dig through Time as that can mess with your Yawgmoth's Will pretty severely. You'll want to run more cantrips than normal if you choose to go that way.
2-4 Mana Drain
2-4 Mental Misstep
I didn't include Force of Will here as that should be obvious. Feel free to play with the numbers of the above cards until it feels right to you. I ended up with playing 10 counters including the Forces. Mana Drain is amazing to fuel explosive turns, but it can be a bit slow to get going. Mental Misstep is great versus Xerox-style decks, but is completely dead to some other decks like Shops. Flusterstorm is the same, but can be pointed at more spells at least.
0-2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
0-2 Dack Fayden
Not much to say about Jace, he takes over the game if you have an empty board. It also serves as a win condition. While I chose to play Jace because it works extremely well with Mana Drain, Dack is another fantastic option. However, note that stolen artifacts don't play nicely with Paradoxical Outcome. Of course, you'll need to play red to use Dack. I found that running 2 planeswalkers seemed correct, so any combination of the above would potentially work. I haven't tried crazier options such as Teferi, but that might be a consideration too.
Blightsteel Colossus is usually the default Tinker target, and is phenomenal with Time Walk, resulting in an instant win. Note that this requires no blockers to do so. It's weaknesses is that it can be stolen by Dack, and it often doesn't save you if you are very far behind on the board, as a single swing does not do it, and you will be killed on the following turn. If your metagame has a heavy presence of Dack, I would avoid.
Sphinx of the Steel Wind is another strong pick because it lets you win on the board thanks to the Vigilance and Lifelink. On top of that, it is immune to Dack. However, it still falls victim to Swords and Jace and it can be slow to close the game.
Inkwell Leviathan is the only other consideration, in my mind. It's immune a ton of cards, but a notable exception is Hurkyl's Recall. However, it's slow and takes many turns to close the game, so I would only recommend in specific metagames.
While the core of the deck makes up approximately 54-55 cards (with a bunch of options as I've outlined above), there are more cards that make up the remaining slots. These slots can be extremely competitive so remember to consider each card's role in the deck carefully.
1 Merchant Scroll: Decks have stopped playing this card a ton, but I really like it here. On top of being able to fetch an Ancestral Recall early, this can get you Paradoxical Outcome or Mana Drain too, which can be very useful. Once again, this contributes to the critical mass of tutors. Post-board, you can grab a Hurkyl's Recall too.
Gitaxian Probe: Free storm and information about your opponent's resistance level, what's not to like? It can feel rather dead in the face of spheres though. Feel free to board out versus Shops and other such decks.
Ponder: This card is nice to include as it's a low cost method of some filtering. Note that there are some annoyances with playing this alongside Mana Drain as you don't really want to lose having UU up.
Preordain: Same comments above apply, except I think this is slightly worse than Ponder in this deck.
Repeal: Nice versatile way to bounce a great many things, and can also be cycled at instant speed.
Thirst for Knowledge: I've personally found this a bit slow, but as many people know this works quite well with Mana Drain and slowly accumulates some card advantage. One issue is I don't really want to be discarding my artifacts. I want to be playing them for my Outcomes which makes it a bit awkward. If I played with this card, I'd try to include a few more artifacts somehow.
Mind's Desire: This card is one of my favourite cards (if you couldn't already tell). The deck is often a bit too reactive to use this as well as you would hope, and it has led to some spectacular fizzles, but when it works, there's nothing quite like it. Feel free to avoid if this is not for you.
Timetwister: Another high variance card, but this can be quite strong in a number of cases, notably if you have an artifact heavy hand. Once again, it can turn dead if you're ahead on cards already and you don't really want to gamble away your chances of winning at times.
Imperial Seal: While this card sees very little play these days, this could also serve as yet another tutor to grab your Tinker, especially in metagames where you tend to lean on that gameplan a lot. With a Top out, you can access the card immediately, too.
Monastery Mentor: Obviously ridiculously powerful if you're playing white, but I've found this kinda takes the same spot as Tinker. I wouldn't personally play this over Tinker, but if you'd rather go this way, Mentor is a fine way to go.
Hurkyl's Recall: You can play a couple copies main if you'd prefer to lean a bit more heavily on the storm plan too. It can just be dead in a number of matchups.
Engineered Explosives: Another nice catch-all answer to many things, and is a bonus artifact for your Outcomes.
I could go on all day about the number of cards that could be considered. Above are some examples, but there's got to be many more.
Configuring your sideboard can make or break your tournament. In this section I don't want to give specific sideboard cards as it's extremely metagame dependent, but I'll just talk about what you need to address. Look to my sideboard I posted above for an example. The only card I think is mandatory for this sideboard is Hurkyl's Recall. I feel you absolutely must play 2-3 copies as it works very well with your gameplan.
I picked red as my tertiary colour above because I felt it was the strongest option for artifact destruction as well as being anti-blue, but there are probably legitimate reasons to go with either white or green. In fact I also played around with only 2 colours, which could also work.
Dredge Hate: Don't skimp on your dredge hate (and ensure you're prepared for Survival if you wish, too). You aren't a combo deck that wins at breakneck speeds and Dredge will outrace you.
Artifact Destruction: You need a way to deal with Shops post-board and you need to be able to blow up Null Rods and many other nasty artifacts. Consider cards like By Force or Fragmentize.
Oath: Consider Oath, but it really depends on the metagame. Grafdigger's Cages will do nicely, as will enchantment removal such as Nature's Claim
Anti-Blue: You typically will have to side out a few cards when playing other blue decks. Make sure you have a few cards that work nicely against them, such as extra Flusterstorms or Pyroblasts.
Some Creature Removal: There are some creatures that are pure misery to play against, such as Notion Thief and Thalia. Try to ensure you have some sort of answer post board, such as Swords to Plowshares or Abrade.
There's a lot more I could cover here, but this should cover mostly everything you need to be prepared for. Remember that you should be siding out either your Tendrils or your Tinker package if the matchup demands that.
I hope you enjoyed reading this write-up. This is very much a work-in-progress, but I really enjoy playing this archetype and I'd like to open it up for discussion and see how it can be improved on. In many cases, your own decklist will reflect your personal play patterns and preferences, but I thought I'd share!