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By: Splendid Belt, Splendid Belt
Jun 05 2017 11:00am
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Hands up if you want to draw an extra card every turn? Everyone? Well, almost, and I'm going to assume those without their hands up are either not listening, dead, or both. Obviously there's no such thing as a free lunch, so those extra cards are going to cost you some life, and potentially quite a bit depending on your curve. But on the upside, how about also being able to use your draw engine to beat face if the board's clear? And given that it comes down as early as turn 2 (turn 1 is also possible in many formats - hello Simian Spirit Guide), there's a fair chance of a clear board.

So Dark Confidant is great then, we knew that. But he’s also not great, thanks to the fact that he collapses into a bloody heap if you so much as look at him funny. That tiny back end means that even a humble Rod of Ruin can, well, ruin him.

The good news is that there are other cards in Modern which can do pretty much the same job. The better news is that they’re all way easier on the wallet. The even more fantastic news is that each of them is sturdier than the Confidant, either being enchantments, or a much tougher creature. The bad news however is that they’re all slightly tougher on the mana, but you can’t have everything.

    Dark Confidant

We’re talking of course about Dark Tutelage, Graveborn Muse, and one of my all-time favourites: Phyrexian Arena.

Dark Tutelage  Graveborn Muse  Phyrexian Arena

All three, but especially the first two, have been all but forgotten by the community, rarely featuring in even casual decklists, let alone those destined for high-level competition. Which is odd, when you think about it, since Dark Confidant is a regular in Modern black pro decks, and the three I mentioned above are at least similar, with different strengths and weaknesses.

Yes, having your draw engine come down on turn 2, and be able to beat face on turn 3 is great, but really, how great is a draw engine that dies to Cunning Sparkmage and Festering Goblin? Well, given his popularity amongst the pros, and his dollar value, we can conclude he’s still pretty great, but therein lies my point. If the Confidant really is that good, then the three cards I’m championing today must be at least slightly great too.

For the purposes of this article, I’m picking Tutelage, because enchantments are much less likely to bite the dust than 1 toughness creatures, and it’s kind to the mana. Arena is great (especially because it only pings you for one, unlike the others which can hurt more), but I want to try some multi-colour combos today, so I want something that I can reliably get out by turn three.

I’m a big fan of the Muse too, but since part of my point is that you can get most of Confidant’s power for very little of the cost, choosing a 4 CMC card is a bad comparison with something which you can cast on turn 2.

Okay, that being said, let’s have a look at the first decklist. Obviously we want a furiously low curve, since we don’t want to help our opponents’ beats too much. So that means no Phage the Untouchable, Massacre Wurm, or especially Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. I’m setting the bar at 4 CMC max, and I don’t want too many of those – and they’d better gain me some life if they want a slot.

For this first outing I’m sticking to mono black – so you might prefer to slot Phyrexian Arena in place of Tutelage – though it’s worth pointing out that quite often you’ll tutor up some land for yourself, in which case Tutelage would have been better.

 It’s also worth pointing out that you might like to experiment with Crystal Ball to make sure that your second draw each turn is land, or at least a nice 1 CMC card. It’s also quite low CMC itself, which fits the theme nicely. I decided not to go with it myself, as I feel that the deck needs to be fast, and the Ball doesn’t really do much the turn it comes down. If Sensei's Divining Top were still legal though, it’d be a shoe in.

Okay, without further ado, let's a look at the mono black list. 

Mono Black Tutelage
A Dark Confidant replacement deck by Splendid Belt
Creatures
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Gravecrawler
2 Bloodghast
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
1 Vampire Nighthawk
17 cards

Other Spells
4 Bloodchief Ascension
4 Go For the Throat
4 Dark Tutelage
2 Consuming Vapors
2 Tendrils of Corruption
3 Profane Command
19 cards
Lands
24 Swamp
24 cards

Consuming Vapors

 

As you can see it's an aggro deck, with fast, efficient creatures and plenty of removal. The Ascension also fits the theme very nicely. It comes down on turn one, and doesn't hurt much when flipped by Tutelage - and given that we'll mostly be sending a few creatures through a (hopefully) clear board, we can pretty much guarantee two damage per turn. Then it'll start gaining us life (to offset what we'll lose from Tutelage), and draining our opponent.

I especially like Gatekeeper and Profane Command in this deck, because they're potentially higher cc cards which will only count as 2 cc when they're drawn. So that's nice and efficient. And of course both are capable of two-for-ones, which is always nice.

Game 1

Goblin Fireslinger  Shrine of Burning Rage  Goblin Arsonist  Emberwilde Augur

I keep a decent hand on the play of 4 Swamps, Bloodchief Ascension, Diregraf Ghoul and Go for the Throat. Slightly heavy on the land, but some action at least. I dropped the Ghoul turn one, which was matched by a Goblin Fireslinger from my opponent. Second turn I play the Ascension and swing for two, putting a quest counter on it (if I'd played the Ghoul and Ascension the other way round, I wouldn't have been able to start popping counters on it until turn 3 due to summoning sickness). On his turn my opponent played Shrine of Burning Rage and pinged me for one from the Fireslinger. However the little Goblin was not long for this game, as my Gatekeeper of Malakir decreed on my turn 3. My Ghoul then swung for another two, adding a second counter to the Ascension.

On his turn my opponent filled out his board a little with Goblin Arsonist and Emberwilde Augur. On turn 4 I cast another Ascension, then swung with both creatures. Evidently not fancying my first Ascension coming online with 3 counters, both creatures were blocked by my opponent's army, but a second main phase Geralf's Messenger ensured that he lost the 2 life necessary to make it happen (though both my original creatures also died in the attack). A Forked Bolt sent the Messenger to my graveyard, but he was soon back and bigger than ever thanks to Undying. I won on the next turn.

So that was far from a stringent test of the deck's abilities, but it shows that fast, efficient creatures, the Ascension, and two-for-ones like the Gatekeeper can win games even if you don't see Tutelage. 

It's worth mentioning the Death's Shadow deck I've seen increasingly around message boards, and (very) occasionally in game. It aims to lose enough life that the creature becomes a 13/13 for one mana, which is just about as efficient as it gets. Technically you have to be a 0 or even negative life (which actually pumps Shadow further), but there are plenty of cards in Modern which allow us to do this and not lose - and you can see quite a few of them in my list below.

 

 

Of course another way to go with the deck is Orzhov. We want cheap, efficient creatures (and they don't come much cheaper nor more efficient than my old favourite Isamaru, Hound of Konda), cheap removal (there aren't many problems Oblivion Ring can't fix) and some lifegain (I may have a small fetish for Kitchen Finks, but don't worry, it's under control). What better than black and white? Here's how I built the deck.

 

 

The card choices are once again fairly self-explanatory. Tidehollow Sculler is there to give us a measure of control, and help us stall our opponent if our deck misbehaves in any way. Let's take a look at how it plays.

 

Game 2

I kept an okayish hand on the play which had some early action but lacked a source of black mana: Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Ajani's Pridemate, Go for the Throat, Vault of the Archangel and two Plains. Unsurprisingly I kicked off with the faithful Hound, and lucked into drawing Isolated Chapel on turn two. By turn four the Hound had been joined by the Pridemate, and I also had two Honor of the Pures in play. I hadn't managed to find any lifegain for the Pridemate was a simple 4/4, as was Konda's pet. My opponent hadn't managed to find any creatures, but he did have a Ghostly Prison in play, which is a great way to stall a potential weenie rush like the one I was attempting to muster. However, with two 4/4s on my side and my opponent sitting at 8 life, the maths was looking good for me. Until that is he cast an Oblivion Ring at the Pridemate.

On turn 5 I drew Dark Tutelage, but with only 4 mana in play could only cast it if I decided not to attack for a turn, thanks to the prison. With my opponent on basically a two turn clock, I hit his face again and took him down to 4. Victory on turn 6?

Well that was the plan, but my opponent had other ideas and Chastised the Hound next turn, doubling his life total in the process. At the end of turn he used a Diabolic Tutor to rustle up something no doubt nasty from his library. By turn 7 I was still stuck on 4 lands so Tutelage sat in my hand. I played an Oblivion Ring of my own to remove his, bringing a 4/4 Pridemate back to my board. On my next turn I cast Tidehollow Sculler, seeing two more Chastises, one of which I sculled away for safekeeping, however the other predictably put paid to my Hound once and for all, and put my opponent up to 12 life. On his next turn my opponent cast another O Ring at my Sculler, netting him his Chastise back. Basically I was locked down without more land or more creatures, or preferably both.

Help appeared on turn 9 in the form of another Sculler, which again took that Chastise away. My opponent spent his turn doing something mysterious again with Diabolic Tutor. It's always alarming when you're supposedly fast deck allows an opponent time to set himself up nicely and tutor for things at his leisure. And I thought my deck was supposed to be about Tutoring (or Tutelaging at least)? Still, hard to do much up against a Ghostly Prison when you've only managed to find 4 mana by turn 10. On that turn I swung with the Sculler taking my opponent down again to 8, and found another Pridemate, meaning I once again had a potential lethal next turn.

But casting that Pridemate was a misplay. The last Sculler had shown me the Austere Command in my opponent's hand, and I'd ignored it, intent on ridding him of those Chastises. So that was how he cleared the board on his turn 10. On turn 11 I finally managed to cast Dark Tutelage, now that I had no need to pay the Prison tax. But it was too late. My opponent had finally drawn the pieces of his combo together, and had the mana to use them. First came Enduring Renewal, which returns a creature back to your hand when it hits the graveyard from the battlefield. Then came Blasting Station, and finally Ornithopter, and that's an infinite combo. Sacrifice the Thopter with Station, do one damage. The Thopter goes to the graveyard, whoops no it pops right back into your hand thanks to Renewal, where you can immediately cast it again for the grand sum of no mana. Then you sac it again, and so on.

Slightly disappointing to see no value from the Tutelage, but it was a fun game.

Another way to go is to pair it with blue and go all out control, after all control decks like card draw and almost all counters fit our 4 CC rule. And since we want low cost cards and being control we're likely to have a lot of instants and sorceries, let's make a version of the Delver deck popular a few years ago. We'll include synergistic and powerful cards like Snapcaster Mage, which means we'll want a whole stack of instants and sorceries. And just because why the hell not, we'll splash white for some extra goodness.

 

Esper Confidant Delver
An oddball of a deck by Splendid Belt
Creatures
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage
8 cards

Other Spells
4 Dark Tutelage
4 Fatal Push
2 Go for the Throat
4 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
4 Thought Scour
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lingering Souls
25 cards
Lands
2 Darkslick Shores
4 Flooded Strand
2 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
1 Plains
4 Polluted Delta
3 Swamp
4 Watery Grave
23 cards

Delver of Secrets

 

You might prefer some more counters rather than quite so many kill spells, so a playset of Negates might work better for you than the Go for the Throats and perhaps two of the Fatal Pushes, depending on the meta. Mostly though this is a solid(ish) list, high on draw, and good at pumping out a flipped Delver with decent regularity.

I have no playtests to show you at the moment, so you'll have to take my word for it, and besides this article is already longer than some encyclopedias, so we'll stop here.

This was my first article for a VERY long time. Thanks for reading!

2 Comments

Welcome back! Delighted when by AJ_Impy at Mon, 06/05/2017 - 15:46
AJ_Impy's picture
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Welcome back! Delighted when someone on my 'Always read this person' list returns.

Thanks AJ - very kind words! by Splendid Belt at Mon, 06/05/2017 - 17:59
Splendid Belt's picture

Thanks AJ - very kind words!