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19.06.2014

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Dark ConfidantHi guys! Every week I dissect one of the interesting Magic cards.

Why Dark Confidant is so good? How to know CMC of split-card? What is X equal? What Mistakes May Come?

Translated by Lev Kotlyar


Dark Confidant

Today’s column isn’t an ordinary one. I will draw your attention to the mistakes that can happen if Dark Confidant is used carelessly and consequences these mistakes may have for you at serious tournaments.

The card isn’t an ordinary one either. It is created by a player, not R&D team, and has its own slang nickname.

Dark Confidant is a card created by Bob Maher, 2004 Magic Invitational winner. In the art you can see Bob himself (on the left, of course). And the card is usually referred to as "Bob".

So, the Confidant’s only ability triggers at the beginning of your upkeep step, then goes on the stack, and gives you an additional card on resolution. Although, not for free.

  • First of all, you must reveal the card to your opponents.
  • Secondly, you lose life equal to the CMC of that card. The followers of my column may have noticed that we deal with CMC with an enviable constancy. To be honest, we have never actually dealt with CMC, but today we’ll cover many questions concerning it. Now, however, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that "losing life" doesn’t mean "receiving damage". And this is important for Angelheart Vial for example.
  • Thirdly, the revealed card is put into your hand (why would we play Confidant if not for that?)! And again, "putting card into the hand" isn’t the same as "drawing it". This is also important e.g. for Temporal Mastery.

As we deal with a triggered ability, I’ll remind a few quite obvious things:

Lightning Balt Stifle Sensei's Divining Top

Killing Dark Confidant in response to its trigger is pointless as the trigger on the stack exists independently from its source.

Dark confidant’s ability can be countered by Stifle for instance.

From the moment the Confidant’s ability triggers to the moment it resolves lots of interesting things may happen to the card you’ll need to reveal.


And now back to CMC. With Fireball we learned about {X} in mana cost, with Phyrexian Metamorph we learned to read the phyrexian mana symbols correctly, Shining Shoal taught us that alternative cost changes neither mana cost nor CMC. If you haven’t read those articles, now is a good time to stop and do that. If you have read them, it’s also a good time to refresh that knowledge. I will proceed with some examples. (Here and further I’ll be talking about the cards revealed on resolution of Dark Confidant).

Fireball Shining Shoal Force of Will

Fireball has CMC = 1

Shining Shoal has CMC = 2

Force of Will has CMC = 5


Now, the new stuff: cards that do not have mana cost have CMC = 0.

Note that "don’t have mana cost" and "has {0} mana cost" are the arias of different operas.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle Ancestral Vision Spreading Seas

Valakut like all other lands doesn’t have mana cost. Its CMC = 0.

Ancestral Vision also doesn’t have mana cost. Its CMC = 0.

Lion’s Eye Diamond does have a {0} mana cost. Its CMC = 0.

Further it gets curiouser and curiouser:

Demigod of Revenge Phyrexian Metamorph Spectral Procession

Demigod of Revenge has CMC = 5.

Phyrexian Metamorph has CMC = 4.

Spectral Procession has CMC = 6. It is even written in the reminder text of the card! (but we know not everyone is capable of reading…)

Now to the most peculiar cards in Magic:

Madblind Mountain

Civilized Scholar

Dark Confidant’s effect asks for CMC of a split card that is in the library. It gets two answers, one for each half. You need to add one to the other to find out how much life you’ll lose. For Fire/Ice its 2+2=4.

For different type of effects CMC of these cards may be different. For example, on resolution of Sunforger’s ability you may find Hit/Run and then cast any half. For details read "The Art of Reading Mana Costs" (only available in Russian).

Double-faced cards in any zone other than the battlefield are dealt with as if they only have the "day" face. So, to define its CMC we look at its "day" face.

So, if you reveal Civilized Scholar (or a checklist card representing it) on resolution of the Confidant’s ability, you’ll lose 3 life.

While on the battlefield the game only sees the characteristics of a currently face-up side of a double-faced card.

Mistakes that cost a lot

Dark Confidant is not only famous for its game value or the face in the art, but also for the number of pikes broken in the battles between judges around the infractions related to this card and how to rule them. Heated arguments resulted in the change of rules and policies.

It is common that players "glue together" upkeep and draw steps and don’t make pauses between the actions: untap, draw, start casting something… Worse stuff happens if Confidant is on the battlefield. What can a bustler do? (In all cases an unintentional breaking of the rules is described).

  1. Put two cards in the hand and reveal none.
  2. Put only one card in the hand.
  3. Not put any cards in the hand.
  4. Put in the hand more cards than required.
  5. Look at the excess card.
  6. Do something utterly stupid…

The first case is the saddest, since penalty for GPE – Game Rules Violation infractions involve misplaying hidden information should have upgraded to Game Loss (at a Competitive Rules Enforcement Level tournament). The reason is quite obvious. The possibility of gaining an advantage and abuse the mistake is very high. That’s why judges pay no mercy.

If a card can be uniquely identified (e.g. it was revealed before and didn’t change location since then), then the penalty is regular a Warning. The card will be revealed and the player will lose the appropriate amount of life.

At a Regular REL tournament your local judge may come up with his or her own way of dealing with this infraction, but most probably, he or she will just choose a card in your hand with the highest CMC and you’ll get to reveal it and lose life, od course.

Second case is a typical GPE – Missed Trigger. A player has simply forgotten about the Confidant’s ability.

What happens with the missed triggered abilities highly depends on the moment when the mistake was noticed and player's opponent wishes. If this happened this turn and the the opponent wish to the triggered ability resolves, then the trigger will be put in the appropriate place in the stack. If opponent doesn't wish the trigger resolves, do nothing.

At a Competitive REL tournament it can be penalized with a Warning. As it is classified as Game Play Error, a player will need to commit the same infraction three times to have it upgraded to a Game Loss. Be careful with that.

If the trigger was missed more than a turn ago, it will be simply ignored. No penalties are applied and the game state is left as it is.

In the third scenario we have 2 mistakes: GPE – Missed Trigger and GPE – Game Rules Violation for not drawing a card during draw step. We have already discussed the first one. The second mistake can be partialy fixed if it was discovered within a turn cycle. A judge will not rewind the game to the point of mistake but instruct you to draw a card.

Sleeves that stick together or a simple inattention can lead to the infraction in the fourth scenario. For instance, a player can resolve the ability of Confidant that was killed the turn before and then draw "for the turn". In this case we have GPE – Drawing Extra Cards that is penalized with Game Loss at the Competitive REL tournaments. If the identity of the card was known to all players before it was actually put in the hand and can be put back with minimum disruption for the game state, the penalty can be downgraded to a Warning. On Regular REL tournament the judges will randomly choose the excess cards from your hand and put them on the library top.

In case you accidentally Looked at Extra Cards (5) (e.g. the next card fell over face up after you drew from the library), you’ll also receive a Warning and the revealed card will be shuffled in the randomized part of the library. If the card was in the non-random part of the library (due to the effect of Ponder or Sensei’s Divining Top) the judge wouldn’t shuffle it in the library. These are the general guidelines of processing the Looking at Extra Cards infraction.

The case with a player drawing two cards and revealing the wrong one is very rare. I have never encountered this kind of scenario in reality. If this has happened, you’ll need to find out how this happened and why the player did that and… there are options. If the player confused the cards, then its GPE – Game Rules Violation and should be penalized with a Warning. If the player made a mistake and tries to cover it with his or her actions, this is treated like Cheating – Fraud and is followed by Disqualification. Please, don’t try to do that!

What to do to prevent making these mistakes?

First of all, learn not to pull the card you draw immediately to your hand. Nobody is going to take them from you. Put cards face down on the table and count them carefully.

Secondly, it’s considered a good form to warn your opponent when you are going to draw your card "for the turn" in case he or she wants to do something during upkeep.

Thirdly, put markers on the library top to remind yourself about the upkeep triggers.

The most extreme way to prevent making these mistakes is not playing Dark Confidant at all. I hope you won’t come to that.


As a bonus I’ll let myself discourse a little on why Confidant is so good and how to lose less life while dealing with him.

Dark Confidant Phyrexian Arena Dark Tutelage

Why is Dark Confidant so much better than Phyrexian Arena or Dark Tutelage?

Less mana cost,
that allows getting him earlier (land, Mox, Confidant) and start gaining card advantage as soon as possible.
It’s a creature
A creature may attack and damage the opponent.
A creature may block and defend us or a planeswalker under our control.
A creature can be equipped with some particularly strong Equipment, like Umezawa's Jitte or Swords, and become overpowered.
And what is equally important is that it is easier to get rid of a creature when the loss of life becomes essential.

When we talk about Dark Confidant we remember his best friend: the Top. Sensei’s Divining Top.

Sensei's Divining Top

In response to the Confidant’s ability you can look at and reorder the top three cards of your library with the Top’s first ability. This way you can control the card you’ll have to reveal and the amount of life you‘ll lose.

If all three top cards of the library have high CMC, you can change the topmost card for the Top with its second ability and then reveal the Top and lose 1 life.



Irina Samonova © 1999-2014

Magic the Gathering is TM and copyright Wizards of the Coast, Inc, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All rights reserved.

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