Why Permanent Waves?
At the end of my previous article I said that the Permanent Waves deck might have been an excellent metagame choice. In this article I start with a discussion of why Permanent Waves is worth considering and playing. Then I discuss my recent attempts to tune the deck and show some of the results of my recent testing.
There are several strengths the deck has going for it. First like all storm-based combo decks it plays a game that is virtually unlike any other strategy in the format. This means in practical terms that many decks especially aggressive decks have no effective way of disrupting its game plan. Aggro decks must simply race and hope that they can deal lethal damage to the Permanent Waves player before it can assemble the combo. This race is usually a losing endeavor because Permanent Waves can usually assemble the combo by turn 4 and sometimes as early as turn 3. Most aggressive decks cannot win that early under most circumstances.
Secondly unlike some of the other combo decks in the format it can gain an advantage from a longer game. Why is this important? This situation comes up against control decks especially those without a swift clock because it can use the additional time to its advantage. It plays more lands than most combo decks which means it is more likely to make more land drops as the game continues. It plays less card disadvantage which means that more of its spells can be played immediately instead of waiting until it is time to try and win the game. It also can generate card advantage before the turn it tries to win the game. Cards like Meditate and Stroke of Genius are very powerful especially when given enough time to play them and try to combo off a turn or two later with more than 7 cards in hand. Finally with its search spells it has the ability to manipulate its draws as well as and possibly better than any other combo deck in the format.
While Permanent Waves as with other combo decks in Legacy is weakest against aggro-control decks it still has many tools to fight through opposing countermagic. One of the most important tools is Force of Will. It not only allows the deck to answer potentially game-ending cards like Counterbalance but fight opposing Force of Wills Spell Snares and Stifles. Force of Will also happens to be the best answer in Legacy as it can be used even when on the draw and it helps the deck against all archetypes by answering any card that might prevent it from winning. Cunning Wish is also an important part of fighting aggro-control decks especially by finding answers to Counterbalance such as Krosan Grip and other problematic permanents with Echoing Truth or Wipe Away. Cunning Wish unlike Force of Will also finds combo enablers when answers are not necessary such as Meditate and Turnabout. It even finds win conditions like Stroke of Genius and Brain Freeze.
All of these factors are precisely why Permanent Waves in the right metagame and with the optimal build maybe a very powerful deck in this format.
Tuning Permanent Waves
Many of the cards in Permanent Waves have not changed much from its inception with the unbanning of Mind over Matter about two years ago. Tuning a deck is not about the easy choices but rather the hard ones which can often make the difference between a tournament winner and a mediocre finish.
Tuning a deck can be difficult especially when most of the cards in a deck are settled. One possible approach and one that I often take is to group my deck list into cards that fulfill a similar function as other cards in the deck. Here's how I lay out the deck list when I'm building this deck:
The list above only has 57 cards. The last three cards are what I've been trying to tune. In the past I've played a 3rd Mind over Matter and two additional search spells like Impulse. More recently I changed those Impulses to Serum Visions to give me turn 1 plays especially for keeping one-land hands. The remaining slots are difficult to figure out because at times the deck seems like it wants more search spells but other times it wants more power draw perhaps the 4th Ideas Unbound and other times it needs more mana (such as the 3rd Mind over Matter). I have not been able to come to a definitive answer for the last 3 slots but my experience with the deck makes me think that the 3rd Mind over Matter is most likely not optimal and the remaining three spells should be something like Impulse where they can hopefully find whatever the missing piece is at any given time.
Playing and Listening to Permanent Waves
Tuning a deck is similar to tuning an instrument in that you have to play it and then listen to how it sounds to determine if it’s in tune. The next step in this process was to actually play the Permanent Waves in some games against other Legacy decks and to see how it “sounds” to determine how well of a tuning job I had done.
A small Friday evening tournament was held in Southern Maryland on July 10. It was only 3 rounds of swiss with players winning packs for winning at least 2 rounds. I believe there were somewhere between 14-17 players there. I viewed this as a perfect opportunity to play and “listen” to my current build of Permanent Waves. I decided to go with 1 Mind over Matter and 2 Serums Visions for the remaining slots in the deck. I kept some notes on my matches that evening and I have a brief report from those 3 rounds.
Round 1 – Brian Lane playing B/W Clerics
Game 1 – My opponent started this game with Plains Weathered Wayfarer. Remember I mentioned how many decks do not have a strategy against combo decks? Well this is the type of opening you love to see as a combo player. My opponent's second turn play was Swamp Dark Confidant. This changed the nature of the game completely. All of sudden I wasn't sure what other disruption my opponent might have in store for me. I did have Force of Will in hand and considered casting it on Dark Confidant but I quickly decided against it. My hand looked like it could easily combo by turn 4 and I'd rather Force of Will any spell that would actually prevent me from winning the game. My opponent did not draw any relevant disruption and I won on turn 4.
Game 2 – My opponent started this game with a Thoughtseize weakening my opening hand. He continued to play creatures and I searched to assemble the right mix of mana production and draw. He did not do anything disruptive beyond the Thoughtseize and I won on turn 5.
Round 2 – James Shi playing Merfolk
Game 1 – I had seen him play Team America at an earlier event at the same location so I was thinking this would be a good test for Permanent Waves. I quickly realized he was playing Merfolk and tried to make my land drops while still trying to find the right cards to go off. His hand seemed very creature-heavy as he was laying multiple threats to create a swift clock. On turn 6 I started to go off with no Force of Will protection but my opponent only had a Daze and Cursecatcher that he failed to use until I had more than enough mana to pay for it.
Game 2 – This game my opponent seemed to have fewer creatures and more countermagic. The problem was that I had not found High Tide and was eventually facing down lethal damage. On my last turn I played Brainstorm and did not hit High Tide. I did hit another Brainstorm with a fetchland in play but now I needed not only to hit High Tide but also more card advantage to keep going. I finally found High Tide but no way to continue drawing cards.
Game 3 – My opponent was very short on lands and he was stuck on one Island and one Wasteland for the early part of the game. I was making my land drops and trying to take advantage of the time that he had afforded me. My opponent was finally able to find a second land but was not tapping out to play creatures. I wasn't sure what was in his hand or maybe he didn't want to tap out to play a creature. During one of my turns I decided to Brainstorm without any pressing need. I think that was the critical mistake. I found cards that I did not want to draw and put them back on top of my library. During my upkeep I tried to activate a fetchland but he Stifled it. I had a second fetchland and tried to activate it but he Stifled it as well. I drew a card I did not want to draw and passed the turn. On his turn he played two creatures and passed to me. On my turn I drew the last remaining card from the Brainstorm and passed back. He swung with his creatures and played more creatures. Now I was facing a rapidly deteriorating life total with 2 less lands than I should have had. I lost a turn or two later. It is important to note that I did not know he was playing Stifle since I did not see it in the other two games but my mistake was to Brainstorm at a time where I could have afforded to wait especially since my opponent was not playing spells. Instead I walked into 2 Stifles and was overwhelmed by his creatures.
Round 3 Lewis Laskin playing Faeries
Game 1 – My opponent starts with an Island followed by Mutavault. On his 4th turn he swings with two Mutavaults and I go for an end of turn Meditate and it resolves. He takes his turn and swings again with the Mutavaults. On my turn 5 I start the turn with 8 or 9 cards in hand and overwhelm his countermagic.
Game 2 – This game was decided early as I believe I mulliganed to 4 cards. It was very difficult to try and climb out of that hole. I did make the first two land drops but after that I stumbled on lands and my opponent did not give me as much time as he had in the previous game to recover from the mulligan.
Game 3 – My opponent kept a poor hand with only Wasteland and Aether Vial as his only way to play spells. My hand was solid and I was able to set up to win on turn 5 or 6 through any countermagic he had.
I was able to win a couple of packs for my 2-1 record but in reality I viewed this more as a test for the tuning that I had done. My impression of Serum Visions was that it may just be too weak a card to include in this deck. It offers no choice in which card you draw and only allows to manipulate future draws which is very good on turn 1 but is much worse on any other turn. The third Mind over Matter also did not impress me either as I drew it a few times in my opening hand against the 2 Blue decks that I played and it does not seem necessary or optimal. More tuning will be necessary to find the right cards for the last three slots.
If you have followed the recent articles that I have written for StarCityGames.com then you will most likely have noticed that this article was filed under “Practical Legacy.” Pete Hoefling owner of StarCityGames.com offered me an opportunity to write a new weekly column and I have accepted.
This column is named “Practical Legacy” because it will be focused on how Legacy is practiced in competitive tournaments. It will be focused on practical solutions for building and playing decks at the highest level. This does not mean that solid Magic theory will be excluded but rather that it will be applied specifically to Legacy.
My aspiration is that this column will provide newer players with a solid foundation to build and play the most competitive decks and that experienced players will find ways to apply the ideas that I present in ways that I could not have even imagined.
I also hope to learn about Legacy and plan to keep an open mind. I simply do not know everything about Legacy and if I did this would be a mundane task better left to someone else. The only thing I ask readers of this column is provide feedback if you feel inclined to do so. This is especially true if you disagree with something I've written. It’s very possible that I am wrong or have made a mistake. It’s also possible that all of us could learn something from the debate or discussion that might ensue from a question or an objection. If you would rather reach me in non-public forum feel free to send a private message at The Source (username: AnwarA101) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally I would like to thank my Magic group for helping me find a good name for the new column.
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