Every week I get emails tweets and messages asking me for a good budget Legacy deck. Legacy is many things but cheap? Not so much.
The problem with budget decks in Legacy is that they often try to be strictly inferior versions of the expensive decks. High Tide without Candelabra of Tawnos Merfolk without Force of Will Junk with Overgrown Tomb Godless Shrine and Chrome Mox…the list goes on. People want to play the “good” decks but by constraining the deck to fit your budget you sacrifice a lot of what makes the deck good to begin with. Gavin Verhey wrote a much longer article on this topic that's worth a read if you want a fuller explanation of how to address this dilemma.
A true Legacy budget deck isn't going to look familiar. It's going to have a bunch of commons and will use uncommons that aren't $20 or $10 or $5 yet because if it were a good deck then they would be already be really expensive. Don't believe me? Go ask Cursecatcher Goblin Warchief Aether Vial Sensei's Divining Top and Spell Snare.
This deck has been in development for some time. It has always wanted for exactly one thing: a good one-drop. Everyone talked about the viability of infect in Constructed in conditionals. The party line went about as follows:
“Well you know if they print an infect one-drop then I guess we could talk about it but I just don't see it right now.”
Well now Glistener Elf exists. Let's start talking.
Glistener Elf opens up a whole new world of possibilities. In this deck it feels like a reverse Goblin Lackey. Goblin Lackey is a huge threat to slower decks because it allows the Goblins deck to gain a ton of mana advantage by freerolling three or more mana per combat step.
What Glistener Elf will do is far more straightforward. Since a lot of your spells are free it forces an opponent to answer it or die to a bunch of cheap or free spells. Where Goblin Lackey ensures long-term advantage that will grind you out Glistener Elf pretty much guarantees that you're going to die if you don't do something about him. Since most of you have probably scrolled down to the decklist by now here it is:
This is a “Chinese carry-out menu” combo deck. You want one part creature two parts pump spell and one part disruption. The concept is pretty straightforward: resolve a guy cast a few pump spells on him attack and connect for a ton of poison. Of course when you're doing this on turn three every game it gets a bit worse for your opponent.
Then again you could very easily run out turn one Glistener Elf into Invigorate Berserk Mental Misstep your Mental Misstep kill you. When I wrote my last article on Mental Misstep I alluded to its applications in non-blue decks. I mentioned that there would be decks that want a free way to protect themselves from various one-mana cards. I think that this deck is a very good home for Mental Misstep's functionality in that regard.
Pump Infect wants to kill its opponent on turn three or four meaning that there are only so many cards it really cares about. It will happily pay two life to stop Lightning Bolt Grim Lavamancer Swords to Plowshares Cursecatcher and Thoughtseize. As for Merrow Reejerey? Have your Gray Ogre I'll attack with Plague Stinger.
The card that Mental Misstep beats out for its slot is Vines of Vastwood. The two cards do very similar things but Misstep is a much more versatile card. It's a free counterspell in a deck that wants to use all of its mana on its crucial turns whereas Vines is pretty bad as far as card economy goes—two mana for four poison counters isn't really where I want to be. Paying face value for an Avoid Fate is similarly unappealing. Besides how many decks are targeting your guys with removal spells that don't cost one mana? If your Ichorclaw Myr gets Qasali Pridemaged them's the breaks. You'll be happy when you have Plague Stinger and Mental Misstep for their end-of-turn Swords to Plowshares.
Amidst all this buzz over Mental Misstep's applications in Legacy however there has been another free spell that has been overlooked. Although this deck makes excellent use of Mental Misstep it also makes good use of Dismember.
You want Dismember because your removal spell is there as a hedge toward the late game. There will be games where the Bad Guy counters your first two 1/1s and drops a Tombstalker. In those situations you can either have another pump spell another 1/1 or a card that kills their Tombstalker.
I'd definitely want the removal spell in that spot. What makes it playable is that it still pulls its weight on turns 2 3 and 4. Paying four life and one mana to kill a Cursecatcher may seem awful but when you get in for half of their life total it looks like a better deal.
I'm not entirely certain that Dismember is better than Snuff Out though. Dismember kills Dark Confidant and Tombstalker two creatures that will swing the game against you pretty quickly. You're almost certainly paying four life for either spell but Snuff Out costs zero mana and takes out Knight of the Reliquary at any stage of the game. I prefer Dismember because Dark Confidant is a very strong card in the format at the moment and letting an opponent untap with one is nearly fatal to a deck as fragile as this one.
The mana base looks pretty weird to anyone who hasn't spent a while playing Legacy. As with all mana bases' construction you have to ask yourself “What colors do I want?” and “When do I want them?” You should also pay attention to how many lands you need. In this deck's case it wants green mana on turn 1 green and black mana on turn 2 and double or triple green on turn 2. Furthermore it will sometimes need to be able to trigger landfall on its opponent's turn. Finally it curves out at two mana.
Given all of these constraints we can see that we're never going to need more than five actual lands. If we have five mana-producing lands we can get Wastelanded three times and still have the mana to cast two pump spells in a turn. Since we want to get Bayous pretty much all the time we should just play sixteen Bayous and a single basic Forest. Seeing as we can only legally play four Bayous the other twelve will have to be fetchlands. We don't particularly mind that since fetchlands will let us hit landfall on their turn pretty much whenever we want. Remember that your Marsh Flats only gets a Bayou in this deck so lead off with those first.
The creature base is pretty straightforward given that your plan is to infect them and you don't have the time or mana to pay three for a creature. Flensermite is better than Necropede because you don't want half of your creatures to get blown up by Qasali Pridemage and because gaining life is going to be relevant at certain points. Glistener Elf and Plague Stinger are clearly your best creatures although Ichorclaw Myr plus Rancor can set up some pretty awkward positions for your opponent.
The pump spell selection isn't perfect. Obviously the best pump spell for the deck is Invigorate since it actually reads 0 Instant: Target creature gets +4/+4. Berserk is well worth the (monetary) expense because it combines with eleven other pump spells to one-shot an opponent who has yet to find a blocker. Might of Old Krosa is just a better Giant Growth because you're jamming your pump spells regardless. They're going to get you with their Lightning Bolt every single time you don't have a Mental Misstep or an Invigorate. Given that vulnerability Might is just a better card. Rancor is awesome because it lets you trample over all of their one-drops it comes back if they peel a removal spell and it sticks around to end up being worth as much as an Invigorate in the long run. The big question really is Groundswell.
Groundswell is clearly terrible if you're mana-screwed. The deck plays seventeen land so that's going to happen sometimes. On the other hand it is—to quote AJ Sacher—“insane absurd bonkers broken” if you can play it at instant speed to give a creature +4/+4. The safer calls would be Mutagenic Growth or Giant Growth but both are pretty underwhelming in terms of how they work out on a numerical scale.
Since you're counting to ten poison you really want to do so in either one or two connections with your opponent's face. All of your creatures are base 1/1 so you need to be able to get to nine added points over the course of two combat steps. The easiest way to do this is to add four to each attack. Adding three (with Giant Growth Bounty of the Hunt whatever else) is pretty awkward since there are a lot of ways to end up at nine even with two enhanced attacks. Rancor counts for four points since you're attacking twice and it's an Aura. Mutagenic Growth while free ends up not really being worth a card. As a result the best card for the job is Groundswell.
An issue that some people have with my articles is that I never give sideboards for the decks I suggest. I do this intentionally since I want you to have to understand the deck and its roles well enough to build your own sideboard. For something like this however it would be pretty miserly to give you guys nothing to work with.
If I had to give you a starting point from which to build a sideboard it would be to figure out how many cards you don't want in each matchup pare the following list of cards down to fifteen and make sure that your “out” numbers match your “in” numbers. Here's my starting point for a sideboard:
The major weaknesses of this deck are obvious: it plays a very light mana base it has the smallest creatures in Legacy and it wants to play a bunch of spells that lose to removal spells. So what are its good and bad matchups going to be?
Merfolk should be a pretty even matchup. The deck has sixteen cards that matter (Cursecatcher Daze Force of Will Mental Misstep) and a bunch of cards that are pretty slow considering what Pump Infect is trying to do. Still they're bringing in Submerge which should make things very very bad for us if they ever draw it. We will probably want to have some sort of interaction in our board for that card. It could be Thoughtseize Avoid Fate Cabal Therapy or Vines of Vastwood but we should have a slot for decks that want to beat us with removal spells.
All the slower combo decks—Painter High Tide and so on—should be good matchups. Their only real interaction is Force of Will and maybe Mental Misstep they have few (if any) blockers and we have multiple turn 2 nut draws and a pretty consistent turn 3 kill through no removal spells or blockers. We could use Thoughtseize here but the matchups should be pretty good regardless.
The midrange blue decks should be pretty even matchups that come down to a few peels off the top on turns 4 5 and 6. If we draw what we need we'll win. If not we'll lose. The way we can fight this is by slowing our deck down to become more resilient. If they're fighting us with Grim Lavamancer and Swords to Plowshares add more lands and Phyrexian Crusader. If we need to peel certain cards on crucial turns add Sylvan Library. We have twelve fetchlands so we can definitely optimize the top of our deck. We can also easily afford the additional life to peel extra cards since we're the aggressive deck and we have Flensermite.
The bad matchups will be the ones that have removal spells and a host of two-for-ones. This means decks like Team America Junk and Gerry and AJ's two-color control decks from Boston. Mental Misstep will shine in all of these matchups but you can only draw so many in a deck without any manipulation. Again it seems wise to sideboard in a Forest and a Swamp and play for the long game with various sideboard weapons against the blue control decks. It'll be a grind but it's definitely winnable.
If you have any questions about the deck the sideboard or how to approach a given matchup from a strategic standpoint I'd love to help you out in the forums. If you decide to play this deck in Orlando Louisville or beyond I'd also love to hear from you on Facebook Twitter or anywhere else.