Blue Black Control in Vintage


For the last few years, there has been a Vintage tournament series in Zurich. Right now, it’s summer break, but there will be tournaments again. The attendance hovers around 20 to 60 people, though lately it’s been on the lower end of the spectrum. The more the merrier, so come and join!

The community is very friendly, a nice mix of casual and competitive attitude. Almost all guys know each other (girls are welcome, too!), so there is no cheating and stealing, which makes for a pretty secure and enjoyable environment. The location has a lot of space to play and to trade, and it takes only 10 minutes to get there from Zurich main station. Trading guru and card dealer Framatour is also there most of the time to satisfy you cardboard needs. There’s a traditional lunch break at noon – if you’re hungry, there’s a pizza parlor right next to the building, and the organizers provide beverages and pretty tasty sandwiches. I have attended a lot of tournaments, and I can say with confidence that the ones in Zurich are some of the best.

Now, the entry barrier for Vintage seems to be high – cards are expensive and the format is brutal. The first one is true, but when you consider that you can use up to 10 proxy cards, some decks are easily built and sometimes even cheaper than Legacy decks. The second argument is not true. Most people think of turn 1 kills when they hear Vintage, but that is very rarely the case. I even dare to say that the turn 1-2 kill percentage is higher in Legacy, especially now with Storm winning GP Ghent and Charbelcher in the Top8 of GP Atlanta.

The metagame in Vintage is largely defined by four archetypes, in order of popularity:

  1. Blue-based control
  2. Artifact-based prison
  3. Creature-based aggro-control
  4. Graveyard-based aggro-combo

Most of these matchups are in fact quite long battles, especially after sideboarding, so like in other formats, a good player can outplay his opponent, which is evidenced by the fact that good players consistently score high finishes.

In this article, I’m going to cover my version of blue-based control, which has won the silver medal at the last three tournaments. This kind of deck is by far the most popular, and if you want to do well in Vintage, you have to be prepared. The following list has been tested extensively:

[d title=”Blue Black Control” style=”embedded”]

4 Polluted Delta
4 Underground Sea
3 Island
1 Swamp
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Strip Mine
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Sol Ring
Card advantage
1 Ancestral Recall
4 Dark Confidant
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Time Walk
Card quality
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Ponder
1 Brainstorm
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Tinker
4 Force of Will
4 Mental Misstep
2 Spell Snare
1 Flusterstorm
1 Dismember
Win conditions
1 Voltaic Key
1 Time Vault
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Vendilion Clique


1 Dismember
2 Steel Sabotage
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Wasteland
1 Pithing Needle
4 Leyline of the Void
1 Yixlid Jailer
1 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Flusterstorm


The 10 proxies will usually be used for the 5 Moxen, Black Lotus, Library of Alexandria, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk and Time Vault. You can easily replace the Library with another land, if you need to proxy some other card. The rest of the deck does not cost more than your average blue deck in Legacy.

There are three ways to win: creature beatdown, the Time Vault & Voltaic Key combo and the ultimate ability of Jace. To accomplish this, the deck draws a lot of cards, which lets you find the necessary pieces and the counters to defend them at the same time.
There are two big advantages this deck has: it plays the most powerful cards ever printed, and it is difficult to sideboard against. Though “powerful” is a subjective term, it is easy to see why Ancestral Recall or Time Walk is good. If you check out this list, you’ll see that the decklist above contains 18 of the top 20 cards. The reason why blue-based decks are difficult to sideboard against is connected to this: because Blue Black Control plays all-around powerful cards and doesn’t rely on a specific synergy or mechanic (for example like a Dredge deck on the graveyard), specific sideboard cards can only stop a small part. You can board in graveyard hate against Yawgmoths Will and Snapcaster Mage, but then you lose to Jace. You can board in Pyroblast to stop the blue cards, but then you lose to the Time Vault combo. You can board in artifact removal to stop the combo, but then you lose to Dark Confidant – you get the idea.

So what are the weak points? The sideboard gives you a good clue – linear strategies like Dredge (graveyard) and Mishra’s Workshop (artifacts). They are strong against blue-based control because they quickly overload them with threats. They require different types of solutions and create virtual advantage because certain cards get useless (like Flusterstorm against an artifact deck or Hurkyl’s Recall against Dredge). Both strategies are also pretty fast – you only have a short time frame to find solutions.
Manadenial like Null Rod, Stony Silence (which conveniently switch off the Vault combo, too) and Wasteland are also quite effective. The principle behind them is: “Even if you have the best spells, they’re uselss if you can’t cast them.” This is also the reason why I only use two colors. It’s very easy to splash another color for better solutions against your strongest enemies, but what’s the point if they attack the very mana you need to cast these solutions? With two colors, the manabase is more stable, which is what you want against those decks in the first place.

Another set of effective cards are Mental Misstep, Flusterstorm, Mindbreak Trap and Mystic Remora. Here, you let your opponent cast his spells, but punish him for it. Note that these spells are blue and are therefore often used by Blue against Blue.

This article has some very good points that you can adapt for Vintage.

Most of the cards are pretty obvious, so I’d like to discuss the tough choices. Of course these choices are personal preference, and you can easily replace them with your favourite cards. Feel free to ask if you don’t know why a certain card is there.

Wurmcoil Engine over Blightsteel Colossus: Tinker is mainly used to get a big artifact creature into play. Since it costs 3, is a sorcery and card disadvantage, it is not that good against controllish decks. So its main value is against aggressive strategies, which influenced my choice here. The lifelink ability is very relevant in a deck that loses life from Fetchlands, Confidant, Force, Misstep, Vampiric Tutor, Mana Crypt and Dismember. It only costs half the mana of Blightsteel Colossus, which lets you hardcast it in case you’ve drawn it, and you don’t die if you flip it to Dark Confidant. You can even sacrifice Wurmcoil for Tinker and still get value out of it.

Ponder over Mystical Tutor: This choice is heavily debated. Mystical is a sacred cow, so why did I choose to slay it? The main reason is the narrowness. The most frequent targets by far are Ancestral Recall and Tinker. Yawgmoth’s Will is only relevant in the lategame, when your graveyard is filled. Mystical for Ancestral is 2 mana for 2 cards (you lose 1 draw because you put Ancestral on top) which is not that impressive. Furthermore, Mental Misstep is widely played, which makes this play very risky. Tinker is not that good against control and combo, and not an auto-win against aggro, which makes it quite narrow. I don’t like using a narrow card to get another narrow card unless it wins me the game.

Now Ponder is exactly the opposite of narrow – it gives you a lot of options. I like options, since they give you the opportunity to control your destiny. Conversely, I don’t like cards that give your opponent the option to choose, like Browbeat or Vexing Devil. Ponder is not the most powerful card, but it helps you at all stages of the game. It has good synergy with Dark Confidant (prevent damage), Snapcaster Mage (Standard players should know this) and Jace, Sensei’s Top and Brainstorm (shuffle away the useless cards). The option to shuffle makes it stronger than Preordain in this deck.

Spell Snare and Flusterstorm over Mana Drain: Similar to Mystical, Drain has been a long time staple. However, times have changed, an in order to stop decks from overwhelming you, the answer cards have to be cheaper. Simply put, Drain is too clunky when you often want to counter more than one spell. Snare and Flusterstorm cost only half as much, which is very relevant with Snapcaster Mage. Snare hits a lot of important targets, and together with Misstep and Force you’re pretty well covered against early attacks. Flusterstorm is a metagame choice, it’s bad against Workshop and Dredge, but very good against decks with sorceries and instants, which still constitute the majority of the metagame.

No Merchant Scroll, no Thirst of Knowledge, no Gifts Ungiven: All are powerful restricted cards, but too expensive. This matters a lot because mana denial decks are very popular. Even if you play against a deck without mana denial, flash-backing a Gifts Ungiven with Snapcaster Mage is really expensive. I like the cheaper Ponder better. However, this is all dependent on the deck – if I played a deck with Gush, I would probably play all of these, and Preordain instead of Ponder. That’s because the targets for Merchant Scroll or Mystical Tutor get immediately more attractive – Scroll and Mystical are too narrow when the only good target is Ancestral, but pretty good when you have Gush, Gifts and Thirst in addition. Gush decks are very good, so why don’t I recommend them? Short answer: they are weak to manadenial and lose to Mishra’s Workshop, which is a big part of the current meta game.

No Hurkyls Recall in the main deck: Hurkyls Recall is mainly used as a main deck answer to a big Tinker creature. As I wrote before, I don’t think it’s good, because you can either counter Tinker or bounce the target with Jace. It’s also a good card against Workshop decks, but doesn’t change the game 1 win percentage dramatically. Against everything else, Hurkyls was often useless, which is why it got relegated to the sideboard.

Strip Mine over a non-land card: Traditionally, one sees Strip Mine together with Wasteland in mana denial decks. Here, Strip Mine is more like an additional mana source against those decks – normal control lists often play 15 or 16 land, which is too few for my taste. I always lost when I didn’t have enough mana, but I could still win when I had too much. Strip Mine either gets me mana when I’m screwed or makes something when I’m flooded. Stopping dangerous lands like Mishra’s Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad and Tolarian Academy is also quite relevant.

Vendilion Clique: This is simply a favorite of mine. It’s so versatile and gives you a ton of options: cycling a bad card out of your hand, or getting information about your opponents hand, surprise blocking and killing almost all of the creatures played in Vintage. It’s pretty good against blue decks, because it cannot be countered by Misstep, Snare, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce, which all see play. It is also not affected by Thorn of Amethyst and Mystic Remora, plus it kills Jace with one hit unless your opponent uses the +2 ability immediately.

Intrigued by Vintage? Don’t agree with some of these choices? Think you have a better deck? Then come and join the next Vintage tournament!