The Finest Vintage: Doomsday
- Florian Koch
Doomsday is a scalpel. You need to know what to do with it, and you need a lot of practice in execution. But once you have picked up and mastered these skills, Doomsday is an extremely powerful deck, maybe the most powerful in all of Vintage right now. Here is everything you need to know!
At the beginning I lacked the theory and the practice, and I lost a lot. Like you would expect me to. A scalpel used indiscreminately is not a very good tool at all.
If you are interested in playing Doomsday, be advised that you will need some patience and a high tolerance for frustration as you are going to make mistakes, and these mistakes will be more costly than suboptimal lines with other decks. You should also be able to find some joy in puzzle solving as every game comes down to a puzzle. Just like Golos Stax last time, this is an experience unique to Vintage and Legacy.
With all decks you are supposed to have a game plan, but in the case of Doomsday this game plan is locked in once you have decided upon it. You have to evaluate what your opponent is likely to have, which combination of answers you can beat, and then design the pile of five cards that is most likely to win, given the information you have. Some people claim doing this is the hardest exercise in Magic, others say the difficulty is largely overstated. It turns out that in Vintage you have several very helpful cards at your disposal that make this decision much easier than in Legacy, but the exercise is still hardly trivial.
The Gold Standard
|The Quintessential Doomsday|
This has been the consensus decklist for quite some time. I first became aware of it because a player named IdraftTheBeatz had amassed seventeen trophies in a matter of a few weeks after the start of the Vintage league season. They stopped playing at some point in February, but their lead was big enough to finish with the most trophies despite almost two months of inactivity. Another Vintage regular, discoverN, played the exact list for quite some time but recently replaced Tabernacle in the sideboard with one Duress. The degree of convergence toward one uniform list might be surprising, if you compare this to other formats or decks, where you may be used to people adapting decks to their preferences. However, despite the seemingly small core, most of the card choices follow logically from what you have, so there is not that much room for variance after all. Let's get into it!
The decklist begins with four copies of its namesake card Doomsday. Casting Doomsday is our plan, but once we've cast Doomsday, we still need something that wins the game. Thassa's Oracle fits the bill perfectly. The deck runs two copies, allowing us to pitch one to Force of Will without regret. With Oracle already in the deck, Demonic Consultation becomes a must-have as it's not just useful to find Doomsday but can also win right away in conjunction with the Oracle.
Once we have cast Doomsday, we need something with which to draw at least three of the five remaining cards quickly, but of course we would have included Ancestral Recall anyway. Gush can function in a similar manner and its ability to draw card number two and three without mana investment is crucial for many kills. In most cases those cards are going to be Thassa's Oracle for the win and Black Lotus to provide the mana for the Oracle. Lotus also very conveniently casts Doomsday right away, something that Dark Ritual does too. This is of course what makes the deck so strong: it's ability to set up a very fast kill that requires only two cards and a land.
Cantrips are another cornerstone of the deck. They help us find the combo reliably, and they allow us to win the turn we cast Doomsday. So we play all of them, plus the restricted stuff including Time Walk, and also four Street Wraith. Of course we want the other restricted tutors besides Consultation to increase the deck's consistency. Thus Demonic Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and Vampiric Tutor are other natural inclusions. Dig Through Time is not literally a tutor but usually gets us what we need as well. The same is true for Necropotence, a card that is not only ridiculously powerful but also benefits greatly from our Dark Rituals and plays another role in the deck. It comes up occasionally that you fight with your opponent over something and at the end of that fight both players' resources are depleted. If you can tutor up a Necropotence after such a fight, you will create an overwhelming advantage.
At this point we have fleshed out what we need for our game plan. The rest of the deck is going to be mana sources and interactive cards. The mana base is straightforward. On-color moxen are always a nobrainer in Vintage. Playing the maximum number of Underground Sea and an Island is also not up for discussion in a format that is currently quite heavy on Wasteland. The remaining nine slots go to blue fetch lands for a total fourteen lands. This might sound low, but keep in mind that Legacy's RUG Delver only uses fourteen lands for mana as well, and we have some artifact mana on top of that.
This leaves us with thirteen slots for interaction. Six of these go to the dominant pieces of interaction that are part of every blue deck nowadays: four Force of Will, a Force of Negation, and a Mental Misstep. Flusterstorm is another card that almost every blue deck runs at least one copy of. We want more than one, though. We are very fast, which means that opponents are going to need to interact more with our plan than we have to interact with theirs, and as most opponents are going to interact via spells, Flusterstorm is very useful. Against decks that interact in a permanent-based manner like Shops, we just try to win before our Forces run out. Postboard we have other tools at our disposal anyway. Three Flusterstorms might have felt like it was on the high side when the above list first made waves, and indeed the third Flusterstorm is considered to be in one of the few flex slots of the deck, but right now with most decks being blue it is definitely a good choice.
Every list includes exactly two Daze. Why not one? Why not three? My explanation is that running three, especially in a deck with great card flow, asks for drawing two in a single game, and that almost never works. Returning a land once in a game is fine, but two times is too much. On the other hand Daze is very nice protection for our fast kills and we like to have one copy reasonably often.
Now two flex slots remain. One is filled with Mystical Dispute, which is obviously strong in a blue-heavy metagame. In the end it's often going to be very similar to Flusterstorm, but splitting three and one between such similar cards with different strengths and weaknesses is almost always going to be better than going for four of either. To fill the final slot people chose Portent. Portent is at the same time better than it looks, as you will more often target your opponent than you might think, and also worse because it doesn't draw into your Doomsday pile. I'd call Portent the neutral option here. By playing Portent you are not maindecking for a specific metagame, which might have been correct two months ago, but I don't think is optimal now.
Another card on the neutral side of things that sometimes sees play is Peek. Peek should be better right now as the information gained will allow you to go off against those blue decks when you otherwise wouldn't dare. However, the card I chose myself is Duress. It also gets you the information, but it takes a valuable counter away too. Mostly the card that you are scared of when trying to go off is Flusterstorm. Sometimes you can evade this with an additional Dark Ritual, but it usually stops you cold and you cannot counter back. Compare this to Force of Will, which you can fight back against and which also puts them down an additional card. That's not as scary. That's why stealing those Flusterstorms can be crucial, and knowing what you are up against helps in other ways as well. For example, not needing to worry about Pyroblast can be very useful. And of course sometimes you just disrupt their own combo.
Other choices for this slot are Chain of Vapor, which is an all-around solid main-deck answer in a metagame where you expect to face many permanents that disrupt your game plan. In most cases that would mean a lot of Shops decks, but the card is also good against decks with Archon of Emeria, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and the like. For a Bazaar-heavy metagame there is no high-impact card. Your best bet seems to be a third Daze here. If they can't interact, you should win and Daze is the most efficient way to counteract what a deck without mana does.
The sideboard starts with four Leyline of the Void. Leyline is sometimes awkward in decks with good card flow, but Doomsday has little trouble casting late arrivals with the help of Dark Ritual. Your game plan in the matchup against Dredge is either to be very fast and resilient to at least one piece of interaction or to put down a Leyline and protect it, a job at which this deck excels. With Leyline you only lose to Hollow One, which is what the singleton Tabernacle is for. Seeing that Dredge has gone a bit out of favor lately, people have begun cutting the Tabernacle, though.
Steel Sabotage is your card for the Shops matchups. Your game plan against Golos is simple. Try to counter everything that matters. This can be a judgment call. Crucible might matter or you might not care at all. Either way they have so little business that you should have enough answers postboard. Your answers are also cheap or free, whereas they mostly play one spell per turn, which allows you to make some headway while countering their stuff. If something does hit the table, you can still find another Steel Sabotage to bounce their Sphere or whatever it was at the end of turn and combo on your turn. Matters are much more difficult against Ravager Shops. You get two Fatal Push on top of the Sabotage, and while you still try to counter things that matter, they have so many that your efforts will only delay your eventual downfall. Thus you have to take care of things that really matter such as Sphere of Resistance and Phyrexian Revoker and win very quickly, which is often a tough ask.
Instead of running four Steel Sabotage, some people replace one with a Hurkyl's Recall or even add it as a fifth hate piece. The appeal is that, while the cards often play similar roles, Recall is a much more potent tutor target. The problem is that you'd rather counter what they do instead of bouncing it at some point, and tutoring for Recall is something that rarely comes up because it is so expensive against Sphere effects.
The blue matchups are more interesting strategically. Before I talk about those, I want to touch on a concept that Sam Black introduced in an article recently. The concept describes the difference between decks that want to play small games and those that want to play big games. At its simplest, the idea is that there are decks that want to have lots of stuff on the board and those that work better when not much is going on. For example imagine that you wanted to build a deck that wins with Overrun. Would that be a deck that wants to play small games or big games? Why, big games of course. Overrun is a horrible card if there are very few creatures in play, but it is extremely powerful when two armies stare at each other. On the other end of the spectrum there are decks like RUG Delver in Legacy. It is not unusual for games featuring Delver that on turn six both players have a grand total of three permanents in play.
Every deck needs answers and win conditions, so there will always be some tension between cards that pull it toward either direction, but in most cases you can identify which kind of game a deck wants to play, and often the win conditions and answers tie into that kind of preferred game style. Applying this idea to Vintage, what kind of a deck is Doomsday? I wanted to introduce the concept here, because Doomsday is the quintessential small-game deck of Vintage. Look at the cards the deck runs. Your counters either put you down a card or become unreliable as your opponents assemble more resources. Dark Ritual becomes unnecessary as you assemble resources yourself. The deck is only good as long as not much is going on yet. Compare this to Paradoxical Outcome, which is another fast, blue Vintage combo deck, but now that we have this concept, we see immediately how it is very different, residing at the other end of the big/small spectrum. Outcome is expensive. You need resources to cast it and it only does something for you if there is a bunch of stuff on the table already.
While I'm sure you found this excursion riveting, I did not insert it just for its own sake. What it comes down to is that I believe Library of Alexandria to be misguided in this sideboard. Library is great in longer games, but while you are absorbed in the knowledge the library provides, your opponent is building up resources, and when they've amassed enough, your newfound knowledge becomes useless. All those Dazes, Flusterstorms, Dark Rituals don't do much for you in the long run. Aside from the strategical misalignment, there is also the problem that turn one Library means you have to pass the turn with your Flusterstorms and Dazes unavailable. I mean, actually look at the decklist! Playing Library here is like passing the turn without having played a mana source. Colorless mana does nothing for you. On top of that your opponent can also try to disable your Library by doing something that requires you to force.
I believe we want another Duress for the sideboard instead. I outlined the card's virtues above, and a second copy will often be very helpful. Mindbreak Trap is another card that you find in almost all sideboards. Regular readers know my stance on the card by now, but it makes some sense here. As you are so fast, most of your opponents will either keep hands that rival your speed by means of something like a quick Tinker or they keep very interactive hands. In both cases Mindbreak Trap will find a spot where it is good. Two Fatal Push are virtually universal as well. These connect the remaining dots nicely. They are good against the blue decks that play creatures like Sultai and Temur, and they are crucial to have a chance against the various Hatebear-style decks. Some additional help against Ravager Shops is also quite welcome.
So what to do with the remaining two slots? Many lists include Opposition Agent, some have Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and then it's one of the lands that I already said I don't want. Opposition Agent is weird. If all you care about is Doomsday, then go right ahead, Agent is your pick. But I have played with the card for quite some time, and it never felt worth it in other matchups. Actually if you are not playing against Doomsday, then I'd rather have a Hypnotic Specter most of the time. I don't think we are doing this, are we? I'm not fond of Tasigur either. Attacking with Tasigur is a plan B that does not tie into your plan A at all besides the fact that you have a lot of cantrips. Winning with Tasigur also takes so long that your other cards will have lost their ability to protect you by the time that actually happens, so it seems unrealistic to me to expect this to works somewhat reliably. If you want a different, an attacking angle postboard, I suggest you take a look at the Danish Doomsday list with Death's Shadow in the sideboard.
So what other options do we have? Frankly I don't really see anything that sounds great. A card that I like in theory but haven't tested is Hope of Ghirapur. Hope is cheap, difficult to counter, and gives you a turn to go crazy. Is this too funky? I'm not sure, but if you have played Legacy, you know that people often put Xantid Swarm into the sideboard of their Storm decks for the same purpose. For the other slot I suggest using one of the aforementioned cards. Maybe you are afraid of an uptick in Ravager Shops and you like Hurkyl's Recall as another tool against them. Or you play the mirror all the time and want that Opposition Agent after all.
Riding the Beast
Playing the deck comes down to two things: When do you go off and what do you put into your Doomsday pile? There are other intricacies to playing the deck of course, but these are the two main strategic decisions.
It is very difficult to give hard and fast rules about when to go off. Very generally you play a fast deck and most of your cards get worse as the game goes longer. On the other hand, if you rush things and get your Doomsday countered when you still have three cantrips in hand that could have found you ways to fight back, that doesn't make much sense either. I believe the thing to watch out for most is if you think your own hand will improve significantly by taking another turn. If it doesn't, it's time to pull the trigger.
A thing that is generally advisable is not to play your last cantrip if you can avoid it at all. You can win right away with Doomsday if you have a cantrip in hand, but if you don't, you need to pass the turn. Passing the turn after playing Doomsday is dangerous in several ways. Most obviously you are down half your life so even a very small board presence might be lethal if accompanied by an unexpected Lightning Bolt, Time Walk, or something of that sort. There is also the problem that your opponent knows they need to act right now. They might try to combo off, even if it only has a 30% chance to succeed. They might fire their cantrips to find that Flusterstorm et cetera.
Piles of Doom
Now we are getting to the part where I risk looking like a fool, at least to people who have played Doomsday for all their life. I am talking about building piles. Instead of showing you a few sample piles, I want to try to explain what the role of each of the five slots in the pile is and how it changes.
The top card in your pile is usually going to be a card that lets you draw deeper into the pile, either Gush or Ancestral Recall. If those have been exiled, a Brainstorm can also do. As with every slot in the pile, you can alternatively replace it with a mana-free cantrip, thus pushing your other cards down by one position each. This is most likely to be Gitaxian Probe. If you do that, you find your draw spell after Probe resolves, but you also find out if your opponent has a specific constellation of cards that you can play around by passing the turn. For example, if they have something like multiple Mindbreak Traps and/or Flusterstorms and they cannot kill you next turn, then you might be better off passing the turn and winning next turn evading these cards altogether. Another reason to cycle through this slot is to play around potential creature removal: If you put Probe top and Recall second, then you can draw each card of your remaining deck and win off Thassa's Oracle even if your opponent kills it.
Occasionally when you can draw the the first card of your library but are otherwise out of mana and cannot finish on the turn you cast Doomsday, you can put a Force of Will on top of your library. This gets you some protection right away, which may help you survive that extra turn. With the draw spell now in second, you will get what you need the turn after.
The third spot is usually where you put Thassa's Oracle. You need it anyway and this is the earliest point at which you can win with it.
The second spot will go to Black Lotus when you put Gush on top. This is your most simple game plan: draw into the pile with a cantrip, cast Gush, and then Oracle with the help of Lotus. Elegant, efficient, deadly. You will typically put Black Lotus second from the top because the Oracle wouldn't win anyway with three cards left in the library. Of course sometimes you don't need the Lotus because you already have "plenty" of mana and then you have room for another piece of interaction.
Things change a bit when you plan to draw into your pile with Ancestral Recall. You still need Oracle and Lotus, but you have one extra card card to work with. Usually you will just make that card some protection spell, although it is unlikely that they would let you resolve Ancestral Recall if they had the means to stop anything. A different option is to put Gitaxian Probe second. This allows you to draw down to zero cards if you need to, and it gives you an immediate kill the turn after if Recall gets countered. If you are afraid of them countering Recall, you can also put Gush here. The advantage over Probe is that you force them to have another piece of interaction. Either they counter Gush, then you still win the turn after (if you live) or they don't and then you draw into another piece of interaction yourself.
The fifth spot, and in case of Gush piles also the fourth, are reserved for cards that you don't need if all goes according to plan. The simple thing is to put the other Oracle there. If something goes wrong, you get a second chance, at least as long as you don't die in the meantime. Sometimes you also put a land on the bottom so you have a pile that you can make one card smaller with a leftover fetch land. Some opponents also board in Surgical Extraction against you. The card can be annoying in conjunction with Wasteland, but in most cases it will be used to shuffle your pile. If you expect that to happen you can put extra cantrip(s) at the bottom to increase the chance of winning on the same turn.
Sometimes you have the luxury of drawing into your pile with Gush or even Ancestral Recall. In that situation you can put the the other of the two cards near the top and draw your remaining deck immediately, which is nice, but then again it might not be what you want if you plan on passing the turn once.
When I write about "interaction" and "protection," the question remains which card I mean by that. The answer depends on what you expect to happen. Mostly it will either be Force of Will, Daze, or Flusterstorm, depending on your mana, blue cards in hand, their mana situation, if you have enough lands to cast Gush and Daze, and sometimes even if you can afford that 1 life.
These are just the most basic examples of what you want to do, but different situations may require other approaches. You might need a Steel Sabotage in the pile to get rid of that Chalice of the Void or you might have tons of mana and be able to build a Time Walk pile to go aroud their Mindbreak Traps. Get creative with your piles!
Once again the sideboarding part derives organically from the way we build our sideboard. At this point we only have to consider what we want to take out and make the numbers line up.
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|Against Ravager Shops|
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The power of Doomsday comes with a caveat. As of writing this, Doomsday is perceived to be the strongest deck in Vintage, and this seems to be affecting other people's deck and card choices. Doomsday is strong, but not strong enough to shrug off a hostile metagame. I expect the metagame to shift toward a healthier balance quickly, though, as people will realize that putting Archive Trap into their sideboards is generally a poor choice.
I already talked about Flusterstorm in another article, but I'll repeat my advice here because Doomsday is the deck that creates Flusterstorm situations most often. The most powerful use of Flusterstorm is countering a spell of your opponent while also protecting one of yours. Such opportunities arise when you respond with an instant to one of your opponent's spells. The best case scenario is something like the following: they cast Tinker, you cast Ancestral Recall in response, they try to force your Recall, you counter Force and Tinker with Flusterstorm. While this is the jackpot, less drastic scenarios are already very good for you, like when your opponent casts Preordain and you can put a crucial Brainstorm onto the stack with Flusterstorm in hand. Do they cast Pyroblast? It doesn't matter. The outcome of the situation will be favorable.
Street Wraith is commonly considered a downgrade from the Gitaxian Probe that you could still play four of in the not too distant past. But it comes with the upside that you can use Mystical Tutor and Vampiric Tutor to get an answer instantly, should the situation require it.
Fetch proactively. Well, don't do this indiscriminately; don't fetch right away against Shops decks. But in most blue matchups fetching more aggressively is a good choice. You play a lot of one-mana counters and if you wait with fetching, you may hand your opponent an opportunity to resolve an Ancestral Recall that you otherwise would have had the counter for.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.