Dark Confidant – Double Masters
Date Reviewed: November 24, 2023
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
One of my numerous heretical opinions is that I tend to prefer the versions of the Invitational cards that don’t have the winner’s face in the art.
The winner tends to look like some guy you’d see at a Magic tournament, which is what they are, if you think about it. If you want to talk about things that stick out from the rest of Magic’s universe, surely that is the pinnacle. One of my less heretical opinions is that there are some really cool designs among the Invitational cards, and Dark Confidant is perhaps my favorite. It’s a great balance of risk and payoff, and it rewards deckbuilding and piloting skills in very interesting ways. You get just as much benefit from making space for him in a Sligh deck with an average mana value of 2 as from calculating the odds with more expensive cards, or manipulating your library in some way. And learning when and where to cast it in different types of matchups is harder than it sounds – I used to run it out on turn 2 whenever I had it, just because it’s my favorite Invitational card, which is actually not always the right choice. (It probably confused a lot of opponents, of course!)
I wouldn’t universally recommend Dark Confidant in casual decks: it’s often a power outlier even compared to many modern designs, and it doesn’t really do much for casual play other than be efficient. But there is nothing else that performs its function to this level of efficiency – when that’s what you want, this is the card you reach for.
Limited: 3.5 (not the type of card you usually associate with draft, but if you build your deck carefully, it can be effective)
Commander [EDH]: 3
Dark Confidant is a card with a fascinating history behind it, originally the card designed by Bob Maher for winning the 2004 Magic Invitational tournament (and bearing his likeness on its Ravnica: City of Guilds printing). And its flavor text, unchanged since its initial printing, encapsulates the card perfectly and really only competes with Lhurgoyf for “most fitting flavor text” (though I do have a pro-lhurgoyf bias). It’s also a very successful and powerful card; while it’s not at the zenith it once had, it’s still a deceptively dangerous card that can push a game out of reach very quickly if unchecked.
The main point is that Dark Confidant is unique as a two-mana card acceleration engine, when the usual price point for the effect is three mana. Phyrexian Arena has often been a powerhouse in Standard when it’s shown up, but it can’t really cut it in deeper formats because three mana to set up a card engine is a bit too slow for Modern and Legacy. Dark Confidant changes this in two ways: it’s two mana, and it can bash your opponent’s face in. Being a 2/1 won’t win it many awards, but it’s good at putting up early pressure and can stave off an attacker in a pinch.
The calculus of Dark Confidant has long been one in its controller’s favor, particularly in formats where it typically shows up. Competitive Magic tends to keep mana values as low as my standards in most decks, and Dark Confidant will average a hit 1-2 damage in most cases (with zero damage happening in roughly a third of cases). Certainly, there will be times where you might lose big (like revealing that Fury for 5 damage), but you did read the fine print, right? “Greatness, at any cost” certainly fits here, and Dark Confidant drawing you another card is worth it far more than it hurts you.
That said, Dark Confidant has fallen off from its zenith; it’s not bad, but it’s gotten easier over the years to kill a one-toughness creature (with the likes of Wrenn and Six headlining that crusade), and that’s really what has sparked a bit of a slide for it. Still, though, it’s an excellent engine card in the black deck that can fit it, and it’s telling that Dark Confidant is pretty firmly on their “this can’t ever return to Standard” list; the cost it asks of you in deck building is one most decks won’t mind paying, and the tempo you gain is more than worth it.
Constructed: 5 (honestly probably closer to a 4, but it’s seeing consistent play nearly two decades later, ad it’s extremely dangerous)
Limited: 3 (this is not a great Limited card, mostly because the Limited decks are not optimized enough to make this ab acceptable gamble)
Commander [EDH]: 3.5 (while mana costs tend higher, and you only get one Confidant, this is still the cheapest of the “card draw engines” in the format in terms of mana cost)
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