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This is a theory/decktech question.

Lets say you're playing 4 color burn (R,W,B,G) and your opponent is running something with spikey lifegain (Feed the Clan and a few Tarmogoyfs for example), so each game gets dragged out longer than a burn deck would prefer. Would keeping Dark Confidant in hand and dropping him to help boost card drawing late in the game be a viable strategy?

Lets assume you have sideboarded out Eidolon for Confidant and you also have skullcrack to prevent lifegain. Let us also assume you've never heard of a particular leyline card. Finally, in keeping with our spikey lifegain example, our opponent is playing Junk.

  • Which Eidolon are you side boarding out? Separately, the question is bordering on unclear. – Drunk Cynic Jan 14 '16 at 19:14
  • You're asking about a relatively general situation: a matchup between two vaguely-defined (Modern?) decks. And you're asking about a very specific tactic: holding a specific card and playing it late in the game. Without a more specific situation, it's going to be hard to determine whether the tactic is good. Plus, I'm having trouble finding a lifegain Junk decklist and a 4 color burn deck that plays Dark Confidant. – murgatroid99 Jan 14 '16 at 19:30
  • I doubt that there is a lifegain Junk deck in Modern, but I can see particular cards as useful sideboard material against Burn. Four color burn as a strategy seems pretty wacky to me, but stranger decks do exist. As written, this is a very narrow question though. Also, Welcome to Stack Exchange – aaron Jan 14 '16 at 19:45
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    The first two burn decks I found while searching starcitygames.com were this one and this one. Both are running four copies of Atarka's Command mainboard, and two copies of Skullcrack sideboard. I think the idea is that if you have six burn spells that prevent life gain, you don't need slow cards like Dark Confidant for card advantage. – Rainbolt Jan 14 '16 at 20:17
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This sounds like Modern. I'm also assuming that you are referring to Eidolon of the Great Revel.

Generally speaking, Dark Confidant is worth the life loss when playing the more aggressive strategy. Burn is a very aggressive strategy, so typically your opponent will win by stalling out the game, establishing a resource advantage, and then grinding you into dust.

Dark Confidant lets you trade Life Points (a resource worth relatively less to you as the aggressor) for cards in hand, which you need to counteract your opponent's (usually) more individually powerful cards. In order for your strategy to overcome his, you have to push through enough damage to kill him before he stabilizes.

Incidentally, since you are trying to spend cards to directly attack his life total, his lifegain spells are in the rare position of actually being worthwhile. It is rarely worthwhile to spend a card to only gain life, but in this situation, his Feed The Clan is worth more than three of your Lightning Bolt.

Disclaimer: Without a decklist to reference, I cannot give any definitive answers. Only you can know for certain if the life-loss from Confidant would tend to cost you more than you can afford to lose against a given deck.

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  • Could I get a reason for the downvote? – aaron Jan 19 '16 at 14:52
  • I'm downvoting because this isn't a good plan, for reasons I'm going to write into an answer. – Allure Aug 28 '19 at 8:08
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This isn't a good idea for several reasons. I'll focus on the main one:

Burn decks don't want to play a grindy game where card advantage is paramount. Burn decks want to end the game as soon as possible with some haste creatures followed by burn spells. Playing a long game where drawing multiple cards actually becomes significant is not the plan. Sure it could happen, but if it does, it means something has gone wrong (in this case, opponent playing lifegain cards such as Feed the Clan).

This primer for Burn puts it very well:

Burn is one third of the premier trinity of aggro decks in Modern, alongside Affinity and Infect. Of the three, Burn is the slowest, but also the most difficult to interact with. It’s also scarily consistent, with virtually every card in the deck being interchangeable. This consistency aids it in mulligans, and also topdeck wars, where any non-creature spell will often be lethal. Barring extreme mana flood or screw, the typical Burn hand will kill on turn four or five.

It’s common to see only 8-12 creatures in Burn lists. Because every card must aid directly in the count to twenty, creatures have to meet very specific requirements for inclusion. Preference is placed on cheap mana costs, haste, and incidental damage generated outside the combat step. The gold-standard creatures—Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear, and Eidolon of Rhetoric —each represent damage or virtual damage the turn they come down. These are used to soften up the opponent’s life total, priming them to die to burn spells on subsequent turns after the board has been stabilized.

("Eidolon of Rhetoric" above should be "Eidolon of the Great Revel".)

When you add Dark Confidant to your deck, you weaken two of the key strengths of Burn given above:

  1. You are no longer as consistent. Your cards are no longer interchangeable. Usually it doesn't matter if you draw Goblin Guide or Monastery Swiftspear in your opening hand, but if you draw Dark Confidant, because the role is different, it will matter.
  2. You are adding a creature to your deck that doesn't do damage to the opponent. If you play Dark Confidant and they Fatal Push it, you don't do damage. With any of the other three creatures, you do damage anyway (assuming opponent wasn't holding up mana). This means you are easier to interact with.

This neglects the fact that Dark Confidant mandates adding a color to a deck that's going to be primarily red. I know you're running four colors, but that's only going to make things worse (as you can see from the primer, the most common burn decks are 2 colors, red + white).

Another way to think about this is to calculate how much damage each card you play inflicts. For example if Monastery Swiftspear connects on turn 1, and then connects again on turn 2 with two prowess triggers, it's contributing 4 damage. That's substantial and better than Lightning Bolt. On the other hand with Dark Confidant, if it dies immediately it does 0 damage. If it manages to connect it does 2 (not trivial, it's a 2/1), and every time it draws you a card it does maybe 2 damage (since most burn spells are worth 3, but you might not draw one). Average that over all your games and you should find that it does a lot less damage than Eidolon in general, which is practically guaranteed to do at least 2 damage.

It's certainly possible you'll get games where the opponent stabilizes at 10 life and you're unable to finish them off, but you sign up for those games when you choose to play Burn. They represent your deck's fail case after all (or the opposing deck's best case). Consider: if you never get these games you'd also be winning most of your games, which makes your deck overpowered and bannable.

What about Feed the Clan and Tarmogoyf? Feed the Clan is a card people put into their decks specifically to counter you, so you must expect it to do something. The upside is that it's poor against the rest of the format, so most opponents are not going to have 4 copies in their sideboard. Fortunately as well, you do have some tools: Atarka's Command and especially Skullcrack are the main ways Burn decks beat lifegain.

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