By guest author FlyingDelver
The Rock is the most streamlined archetype of the GBx variants, but you can still have different builds and flavors in order to cope with an expected metagame, or simply emphasize personal preference. Usually this evolves around shifting exact numbers of spells, or including otherwise unusual maindeck silver bullets such as Nihil Spellbomb. Lately there has been an interesting trend observable, which focuses on a special creature in the Rock archetype: Tireless Tracker.
Usually, Dark Confidant is the go-to engine for card advantage in Rock decks. However, this most recent school of thought suggests cutting all Dark Confidants and replacing them with a playset of Tireless Tracker. This would also open up the possibility to run Tasigur, the Golden Fang, as there is no risk in flipping a Tasigur to a Dark Confidant, which is the primary reason most Rock decks
don’t run Tasigur. So when you take out Dark Confidant, what does the Tireless Tracker build look like?
As you can see, this list runs four copies of Tireless Tracker, alongside two copies of Tasigur, but no Dark Confidant. Since Tireless Tracker demands more mana to be cast and also needs more lands in order to be supported properly, this build typically plays 25 lands.
The mana curve gets shifted towards higher numbers along those changes. The arguments in favor of cutting Dark Confidant are the following:
- The modern format is
aggressively driven, so non-interactive decks thrive and are the decks to beat. Life totals are pressured fast and Dark Confidant can become a liability for that reason, especially with multiple copies.
- Tireless Tracker is a hybrid of Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. It can be a threat on its own and also generate card advantage.
- Tireless Tracker can guarantee card advantage when played correctly
while Dark Confidant often just eats a removal spell and does nothing.
So what should we derive from all this? Is Tireless Tracker overall just a better Dark Confidant
? The short answer is: No.
Tireless Tracker is not Dark Confidant. Both look similar on paper, but serve very different purposes in the deck.
The long answer is that
the above-mentioned arguments are not looking at a fully unveilled picture. There is another side to the coin. First of all, it is important to evaluate the general stance of GBx decks in the modern format nowadays. If we look at the linear aggro decks which reign supreme we see decks like Humans, Hollow One, Spirits or Dredge. When you are trying to play a fair game in today’s modern format, you need to be aware that you are facing maximum pressure on the early turns of a typical game. The aggressive decks of the format are putting you on your back foot so quickly that you are forced to interact and keep up with their speed. With the modern format being so wide open, and non-interactive decks getting faster and more consistent, it naturally means GBx decks are required to have the correct answers in a shorter time-frame. This is really hard to do when the modern format as a whole requires such a different array of answers. Due to the nature of our deck and the dynamics of the format, this is an impossible mission. The point is the following:
We cannot survive the early game on a consistent basis when we are relying on only our natural draws.
I think it is pretty clear that if we have a cheap engine for card advantage that helps us dig for the specific answers we need when we need them,
the overall performance of the deck would improve. A card like Dark Confidant, only costing two mana and coming down early, can begin drawing cards faster than Tracker. So with this in mind, how useful would it be to shift the main card advantage tool of the deck to a three drop?
If you want to keep up with linear decks, this is actually achieving the opposite of what you want. We want help in the early game and Tireless Tracker will almost certainly let us down. If we only have Tracker and no Dark Confidant, how long do we have to survive naturally before Tracker can start taking over the game? Realistically, we need to make it until at least turn five.
Tracker can guarantee card advantage, but you’d have to play her as late as turn four in order to do so. If you just jam Tracker on turn three, it could die to a removal spell and this would be far more devastating than a Dark Confidant dying on turn two. In addition to that, if you get to a point where you survive until turn five, you have to spend a whopping two mana in order to draw a card. This is incredibly tempo-negative. In a matchup where tempo and efficiency matter to a high extent, we cannot afford to spend that much mana while we are being pressured to deal with whatever the opponent is throwing at us. By cutting Dark Confidant, you are losing too much early game help that is crucial against linear aggressive decks.
This might sound a bit counter-intuitive. After all, Dark Confidant operates on life totals, which
can be very relevant against aggressive decks. However, the real problem with Dark Confidant in aggressive matches is the fact that it is far worse in multiple copies. Usually, one copy is perfectly acceptable in helping to draw into more relevant interaction . Taking two damage to find an Abrupt Decay is fine if that prevents us from taking damage from Mantis Rider attacking for three or more every turn. Drawing multiple copies of Dark Confidant is a real problem. The risk of taking too much damage from multiple triggers and dying off of our own Confidant is too high. There is a solution to this problem, and it’s not just throwing all copies of Dark Confidant in the waste bin.
If we have many aggressive decks in the format, then the solution is to cut down to three copies of Dark Confidant.
By cutting a copy, you are decreasing the chance of drawing multiple
in a given game, but still have the chance of having one to help you dig for answers in the early game. Another hedge would be to sideboard out Dark Confidants when you are on the draw. He gets a lot worse in that scenario as the opponent being on the play puts even more pressure on the life total in a shorter time-frame.
So should we play Dark Confidant and no Tireless Tracker?
In fact, you should be playing both. And the reason for that is what I mentioned earlier: Tracker and Dark Confidant serve different purposes in the deck. As discussed before, Dark Confidant really helps in the early game as a card advantage engine to keep up with the opponents. Tireless Tracker on the other hand, is not a card we want to jam as early as possible, because she’s a late-game grindy finisher. Realistically, we want to play Tracker on turn four, to guarantee card advantage with a land drop.
So, what does Tireless Tracker more realistically compare to
? If you guessed Bloodbraid Elf, you are correct. Both are at the top of the curve being turn four plays, and both generate card advantage. The difference between these two is that BBE generates tempo as you immediately get to have the card you cascade into, whereas Tracker requires a lot of mana to crack the clues and cast the spells you draw. However, Tracker provides continuous card advantage. So it becomes a case of tempo vs. long term grind while both can act as endgame threats.
The misconception is that people think Tracker is not only an endgame threat but also early card advantage in the same way Dark Confidant is; therefore diminishing the need for Dark Confidant. This is untrue.
Tracker certainly has a place in GBx decks, but it should not be in place of Dark Confidant. As discussed, we need the early game help in order to consistently beat the linear aggro decks. So if you still want to cut Dark Confidant from your list, you need to make sure you can cover the early game in a different way. Running more lands and Tasigurs won’t really improve the early game that much. You could run more removal spells, as it ensures you’ll naturally draw more interaction against aggro decks. However, this means you are losing percentage points against decks where removal is dead, like Control, Combo, or Big Mana. For that reason, I think this solution is still sub-par.
Even if you don’t like Dark Confidant for the life loss, personally, I think it is better to run them (even if it may be in smaller numbers) than to not run them. Yes, your life total is important, but also remember that it is a resource. Dark Confidant leverages that resource for card advantage causing the deck to operate on thin margins. But that is what GBx decks are designed to do. And in the end, it doesn’t matter if you win with one life or 20; it’s a win for you.
FlyingDelver is deeply involved in the G/Bx Modern community as the author of MtGSalvation primers for Jund, Abzan, G/B Rock, as well as the administrator for the G/Bx Midrange Discord, and part of the administrative team for the G/B Rock Facebook page. Please find relevant links in the external resources section. You can support FlyingDelver through his Patreon page.