Hey Fishy Fishy! I am back again with yet another Vintage deck to bug your friends with. BUG Fish has been in the Vintage pond for a long time and it’s unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon. It’s a good stuff deck and there isn’t any shortage of good stuff to play in Vintage. There are always new toys to add and ways to tinker the deck to individual metagames and styles. It’s versatility and consistency make it a strong contender. However, with this deck you will never win in a spectacular fashion. It’s a grindy deck that’s more like Modern Jund than Goryo’s Vengeance. The plus side is that the deck has game against almost anything. You’ll rarely find yourself saying, “Well I just have nothing for this match-up.”
So what exactly is Fish? And what’s it got to do with Magic? Traditionally, Fish decks rely on cheap creatures that give you value or great bang for your buck. Combined with removal and disruption and you have all the makings for a Tempo/Control deck with lots of play and decision making. The BUG, Sultai, Ana, or whatever you want to call the color combination provides endless tools and choices so feel free to customize the deck how you see fit. Here is the list I usually play on Modo:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: One of the strongest aspects of this deck is its customization potential. Notably I have omitted a vast array of Vintage staples as the deck has more options than room for them all. Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor are handy, especially post-board. However, I’ve found they often taxed your spells too much by adding extra mana or a draw phase to them. Tarmogoyf is great and presents a quick clock capable of battling even big Eldrazi, but sadly there was no room for him. Main deck Flusterstorm can be used for more Blue/Combo metagames. The same goes for Null Rod, if there are tons of artifact decks. Sadly, Leovold isn’t available on Magic Online yet, but I am not entirely sure it’s better than Edric. Any of those cards would be fine inclusions.
Additionally, flex spots, or card spots that can be tinkered with to your preference and metagame include, the second Edric, Notion Thief, Mox Emerald, Gitaxian Probe, and the fourth Snapcaster Mage. Basically, you want to prepare for the metagame that you are expecting. Let’s dig into the inclusions.
Although admittedly very un-aquatic, Dark Confidant is the poster-boy of the fish deck. Dropping one of these early is the goal and if left unanswered he can run away with the game by providing both card advantage and pressure. A 2/1 in Vintage is nothing to be scoffed at. Because of Deathrite Shaman, you don’t necessarily need the third Mox in the deck. But I do enjoy maximizing on the potential turn-one Dark Confidant. That’s this deck’s equivalent to a “free-win”. Don’t be afraid to drop a second one right away. 4 Force of Wills and 2 8-drops shouldn’t discourage you in the slightest. Remember, greatness at ANY cost.
Deathrite Shaman is an amazing creature and is one of the most impactful one-drop creatures late-game this side of Goblin Welder. Used primarily for his mana acceleration ability, Deathrite Shaman allows you to drop your more expensive haymakers, like Edric and Jace, faster. Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt are both good versus this deck but they will be heavily taxed. Between Deathrite, Bob, Snapcasters, and Edric there are always plenty of ways to close out a game and apply pressure after expending the opponent’s removal. That is the biggest difference between Fish style decks and a Mana Drain control deck like Landstill. Additionally, the graveyard disruption this little guy provides allows you to skimp a little more on Dredge hate as he is great at slowing that down for other hosers. The lifegain can be clutch for times Bob threatens to send you to Davy Jones Locker.
Snapcaster Mage is an all-star in this deck. (Honestly which deck CAN’T say that?) We always want to have a glut of cards in our hand and we want our spells to be cheap so we can deploy them effectively. Is your deck full of cheap, plentiful spells? Sign Snapcaster Mage right up! I have included 4 copies here but feel free to just play 3 if you want to fit in a Demonic Tutor. I could totally see cutting a Snapcaster Mage and an Edric for a Cabal Therapy and a Demonic Tutor as well. I personally like the full playset to compliment my double Edric against the plentiful blue decks you will face on Magic Online and nothing grinds better and applies pressure to Planeswalkers like good ole Snappy.
Notion Thief is a super sweet card. No one can argue that. Or argue the fact that it just shuts down so many blue decks on the spot like no other card can. Usually I board it in with Misdirection and Mental Misstep to protect it in additional ways. If you haven’t had the headache of playing against this card I promise you it can be quite a beating and does well against many hard to answer problems like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Dack Fayden. Our deck has plenty of ways to power this guy out early as well. Careful, he does get Pyroblasted a lot. Guess it’s the price he pays.
Ok so I know this guy sticks out like a sore thumb here. I’ve seen some older lists playing a single copy of this creature, but I’ve leaned super aggressive on the creature side so I opted to add a second copy of this little spy. Admittedly, this is pretty greedy. Oops? Three mana should not be taken lightly in Vintage especially since it requires two separate colors as well. If you want to go down to a single copy I wouldn’t fault you at all but I love the card advantage it provides. It can take a game and swing it so wide in your favor if the opponent can’t answer it. Edric’s trigger effectively has haste since you usually already have a Snapcaster, Deathrite, or Bob on the battlefield. Really puts Dark Confidant to work for you churning out cards. However, drawing tons of cards also comes with the necessity to deploy them in the most disrupting manner possible. Which leads us to some other additions.
Abrupt Decay is the go-to removal spell for this deck. Two mana is pretty intense in Vintage, and while it has immunity to Mental Misstep and other counterspells, costing two mana is no small matter. Luckily, this fish deck is packed full of mana sources like sardines and you shouldn’t have much of an issue casting two spells a turn even if one of them is the Decay. Providing extra utility versus a wide array of threats that are normally tougher to answer is Abrupt Decay’s specialty. Decks without access to it even resort to cards like Sudden Shock to emulate the guaranteed removal that it provides. It picks off cards like Delver, Mentor, Sylvan Library, Moxen, Dack Fayden, Oath of Druids, Defense Grid, Time Vault, and plenty more where cards like Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, and Dismember can be unreliable. Just reread that list. It’s basically a who’s who of Vintage cards. Careful for Jace, Lodestone Golem, and Thouhgt-Knot Seer though.
Thoughtseize’s inclusion shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Fish decks rely on successful disruption as they lack the blazing fast clock other decks like Merfolk or Storm have or the prison pieces decks like MUD can access. Thoughtseize and Force of Will work amazingly when you have ways to break card parity. Dark Confidant, Snapcaster Mage, and Edric all provide reliable ways to break the 1 for 1 nature of discard spells. Dropping an Edric attacking with a creature or two then following up with a Thoughtseize is a great preemptive way to shut down the opponent’s plan and keep the pressure on.
Running a full playset of Force of Will with a full playset of Dark Confidant may sound risky. And hell sometimes it can backfire but those instances are the vast minority. Dark Confidant and Force of Will actually are great friends and it is often the correct play to protect Bob with a Force of Will or Mental Misstep so you can trade cards while still refilling. Force of Will empties your hand out fast so to keep your head above water cards like Bob, Edric, Jace and even a Library of Alexandria fit the bill (Library would go in over a Wasteland if you feel so inclined).
Playing blue without access to Gush is harsh. But even I’m not crazy enough to force Confidant, Gush, and Force in one deck. Luckily that gives us the ability to play Wastelands. Taking advantage of the very strong mana base is an upside here as well. You will almost never have an issue with colors despite the Wastelands and Strip Mine. Wasteland works amazingly with Deathrite Shaman as a turn 1 shaman allows you to still drop a Dark Confidant as well as disrupt the opponent. Feel free to trade a Wasteland for a Library of Alexandria if there are wayyy too many blue decks running around since it provides another way to just bury slower decks.
I plan to discuss the sideboard in depth next week along with gameplay footage of this sweet and fun deck. But before that I will touch on a couple sideboard cards here.
Misdirection used to see a ton more play in Vintage pre-Mental Misstep era as it was a great trump to the Ancestral Recall battles that were very common. Cards like Imperial Seal, Mystical Tutor, and Merchant Scroll were all used plentifully to grab Ancestral Recall and trying to run away with the card advantage. Misdirection provided a way to blow people the hell out and it was usually a game winning play to end a counter war with a Misdirection targeting the Recall making the opponent choose you as the lucky benefactor. Mental Misstep, and Flusterstorm, made those Recall battles far less frequent. Cards like Imperial Seal, Merchant Scroll, and Mystical Tutor only see play in a select few decks these days as wasting the mana/draw phase on an Ancestral Recall that is bound to get Misstep’d proved to be too much a losing proposition.
Misdirection serves a different purpose here. One of the best ways for fair decks to beat BUG Fish is to remove its key creatures. Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, and Dismember are the most common ways to deal with such creatures and Misdirection is a great way to protect them in a way that gains you tempo. Most of your creatures will be able to regain you the card advantage lost from Misdirection right away so your opponent will be the only one who “FeelsBadMan.” Hey it can even “counter” an opposing Abrupt Decay and the potential to blow out an Ancestral Recall and live the dream still exists. This still is Vintage after all.
Trygon Predator is a relic of Vintage from years ago. However, the flying magic-hungry beast still has plenty to munch on these days. Predator shines in decks that can accelerate into it quickly and from that point it can prove quite useful versus many different decks from Shops to Oath and even Eldrazi and taxes decks. Don’t underestimate this guy. Null Rod is also a great alternative if you expect lots of Paradoxical Outcome decks or Steel City Vault.
So there you have it fellow Vintage enthusiasts. BUG Fish is a entertaining and competitive deck with many lines of play and lots of variance in gameplay. I will be back next week with a complete sideboarding guide and gameplay footage! Hopefully, this article got the creative juices flowing and show you that midrange is alive and well in Vintage. The deck is super easy to customize and you can pretty much shape the flex spots however you see fit. Tailoring a top deck to your own personal style is certainly this deck’s biggest draw in my opinion. Play your cards correctly and you can be the shark among guppies.
Thanks again for reading!
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