Ignoring our lackluster performance at the SCG Open in Louisville Drew Levin and I were relatively happy with our U/W Legacy control deck. We figured that if we stopped messing around and adding bad cards to our deck we'd definitely have a winner on our hands.
Ancestral Vision is a card I've been trying to pioneer in Legacy for a while now. Especially the way the format is now Ancestral seems like a card that's about to break out. For a long time Legacy has been devoid of any hard card advantage. Standstill is about the cheapest card drawing out there but with all the Aether Vials running around it was tough to make Standstill work.
Other engines like Accumulated Knowledge Fact or Fiction or Jace the Mind Sculptor are notoriously bad against cards like Daze and Spell Pierce. They've just been too slow to compete against lightning fast decks like Merfolk and Zoo.
Obviously everything changed with Mental Misstep. Now instead of relying on strictly Force of Will to stop their one-drops and turn Standstill on you have eight such counters. Granted Force of Willing their one-drop feels like you're losing but when you're recouping with Standstill or Ancestral Vision suddenly it's not so bad. Leveraging those cards into time to lock up a game with Jace is suddenly a real strategy.
Real control decks have returned to Legacy!
So now we have to decide what sort of pieces we use. With such a large card pool we certainly have options. Drew and I were successful with Standstills as were PV and Owen Turtenwald at Grand Prix Providence. Since Orlando I think Drew and I have changed our opinions. We think that Ancestral Vision is much better than Standstill.
After a short conversation with LSV I was inspired to take the aggressive shells I was already working on and mostly swap Tarmogoyf for Stoneforge Mystic. Oddly enough Drew came to the same conclusion and wanted to add Mystics to his “Landstill” sideboard.
As I said earlier Standstill takes a lot of work to set up. Ancestral on the other hand simply has to be in your hand although preferably in your opener. Sure sometimes you're on the draw and want to keep up Spell Snare mana rather than suspend it on turn 1. However the time that you gain by Snaring their two-drop more than makes up for the fact that your Ancestral is a turn behind.
Since our initial run with our U/W Landstill deck there have been several articles on “how to play against Standstill.” For possibly the best explanation of that you should really check out last week's episode of AJTV where he goes in depth describing when you should wait it out and when you should crack it immediately.
Players are a little better nowadays and so our Standstills are less good. When I played against John Cuvelier in the Orlando Open he always waited out the Standstill. He knew that if he tried to jam the threat or two that he was holding I would easily deal with them and likely play a Jace. He knew that if he waited he could sculpt a hand as good as mine since my deck didn't kill very quickly.
Sure it helped the three games I played Standstills against John. He already had a Grindstone in play; I was holding air and didn't have a Mishra's Factory. Either way waiting was a better plan for him than breaking it right away.
As an aside note that I would rather try to race a Grindstone or draw up to a reasonable hand under Standstill than try and fight him with what I had. Because of that type of situation Standstill is a lot more versatile than people give it credit for.
Still in order for Standstill to be truly great you need to be ahead on board already or have the board be clear. That sounds like win-more but you can Misstep Snare or Force of Will your way into those situations early should your draws cooperate. Drawing three cards shortly afterward should put you firmly in the driver's seat.
However if your opponent's deck is configured in a way to fight Standstill or utilize their own say with four Mishra's Factories and four Wastelands then Standstill becomes a coin-flipping game. Not only that but if you start missing land drops they can easily Brainstorm at the end of your turn forcing you to discard plenty of spells therefore negating Standstill's upside.
Ancestral Vision isn't as flashy as something like Jace the Mind Sculptor but it's damn good at what it does. Right now most matchups are attrition-based because everyone is so hellbent on interacting with each other. Counter this kill that Thoughtseize you etc. At the end of the day having some sort of raw card advantage is going to pull you through in those situations and Vision is immune to a lot of things that people are doing right now.
If you go first they can't Thoughtseize it. They can't Hymn it while you're trying to build up to Jace the Mind Sculptor. Very few things counter it. Obviously the downside is that it takes until turn 5 to do anything but come on. Isn't your deck designed to interact in the early game anyway? There are few decks in Legacy that are going to kill you consistently through disruption before your turn 5.
Do you think you'll be able to win when you get a midgame boost of cards? I sure hope so.
Standstill and Ancestral both require you to jump through hoops at times but both are typically worth it. Even though Ancestral is somewhat awkward against Standstill (you should still be packing plenty of Spell Snares) it's the card that I think is the best right now.
I talked to Patrick Chapin a lot about his list and we agreed on most things. Those ideas got forwarded to my buddy Jason Ford and the entire time I was in contact with Drew Levin about his list as well. While I wasn't at the Grand Prix I did attend a local Legacy event that despite several local ringers being absent managed to attract nearly 40 players.
With input from several masters I played this:
The tournament was six rounds of Swiss with a cut to Top 8 and the top four each got a dual land. Let me just say that this was probably the easiest Taiga that I've ever acquired.
I faced in order:
I considered splashing a color but LSV and JFord both insisted that a blue deck with Stoneforge Mystic was simply a favorite against Merfolk. I left my Red Elemental Blasts and Grim Lavamancers at home but was probably lucky not to face any Fish on the day. Patrick Chapin's only losses were to Merfolk at Grand Prix Providence playing largely the same list so clearly that matchup can't be that great.
Stoneforge into Batterskull is clearly a strong opening against Merfolk but sometimes it isn't enough. You need to force it through their counterspells protect it and hope to remove any Lord of Atlantis they play. If you don't draw Stoneforge hopefully you have some sort of sideboard plan involving Llawan Cephalid Empress or Peacekeeper because you most likely need the help.
With true control decks I can see the merit of Peacekeeper vs. Llawan but man were there ever misconceptions about Drew's AJ's and my deck from Orlando. Everyone was clamoring for Decree of Justice Humility other slow garbage cards and most notably Peacekeeper in the sideboard.
Well when my sideboard plan involves “killing” their Aether Vials with Pithing Needles already I prefer Llawan to Peacekeeper. I wasn't in the market for a basic Plains especially considering how many colorless lands I was already playing and wanted to continue playing as Standstill continued to catch on. Being able to consistently upkeep Peacekeeper and resolve a Jace through Dazes and Wastelands before they drew an answer didn't seem like a viable strategy.
You could always try to ignore Aether Vial but then you open yourself up to something like Sower of Temptation as an out. Regardless I find it far more effective to fight their Vials as without the tempo advantage you should win a fair fight against them. If they are without Vials I don't think anyone will disagree with me that Llawan is better in those situations.
Merfolk isn't drawing dead to a card like that nor should you just assume that your opponent is. You still have to deal them twenty damage (or exile their library) and Llawan adds a little beater to your squad and removes their blockers. Meanwhile you still have all of your lands to function normally.
This isn't to say that I wouldn't play with Peacekeeper in the sideboard but I don't think it's as cut and dry as the Legacy pundits made it seem. I don't add cards to my deck without consideration of similar cards. Occasionally I might forget something exists or just play a card because it's “sweet” but most of the time I know what I'm doing.
Anyway the rest of the deck is fairly straightforward. I wanted a lot of cheap countermagic to both protect my Mystic and give me time to resolve Ancestral. Vanilla Counterspell was under consideration but ultimately didn't make the cut as I felt I would be playing far too aggressively to keep mana open. For example I'd rather attack with a Mishra's Factory than keep open two mana the majority of the time.
However after playing in the tournament more hard permission would have been great. I played against several decks with scary spells (shocking in Legacy right?) and many of them had wildly varying casting costs. Having something that just says “no” would make me feel more comfortable.
Misdirection was a good idea especially as I knew my buddy Chris Pennock was piloting the same list Ancestrals and all. Using pitch-magic to protect or force through Mystic Jace or Llawan is key in certain matchups. Deflecting Ancestrals or Hymns is just added value. Based on the results of the Grand Prix Misdirection has gotten a little worse but it's still probably worth it to play 1-2 copies in your 75 if you can afford it.
Repeal and I go way back. While I'm always coming out of the deal behind a mana somehow that's never bothered me. I really enjoy the security of not being dead to something like a Bitterblossom and Repeal is never truly bad. I wouldn't mind playing a second or third especially considering how tempo-positive the rest of the spells in the deck are.
If you don't like Repeal I can't say I blame you. Just know that when I cut them for Louisville it was noticeable and I lost a couple games I wouldn't have otherwise. Drew will most likely sing the praises of Repeal in his article this week as well. If you're still not convinced at least give them a try before outright dismissing them. You may be surprised.
Chapin says that Spell Snare is weak because it gets Misstepped and that is certainly true. There are plenty of Misstep targets in our deck though and we have our own Missteps for backup. The reward greatly outweighs the risk in this case which is countering something backbreaking like Stoneforge Mystic Dark Confidant Hymn to Tourach or—and I'm not kidding—Silvergill Adept.
Sure there is some tension with Ancestral Vision but as I said earlier it's worth it. The two-drops in Legacy tend to define matchups and the flow of the game. Facing down a Dark Confidant or Hymn to Tourach before you even have a second land in play is quite daunting. I want to fight those cards!
Vedalken Shackles Path to Exile and Submerge all have the same function but with so many diverse archetypes in Legacy I want my removal spells to be live against a variety of decks. I almost never want to board in four Path to Exile but having four Submerges would be great in certain matchups. I can't just play all the Submerges and risk getting paired against decks like W/B Burn Merfolk or what have you hence the mix.
Shackles was pretty stellar in Orlando and against Elves. Mostly I want Shackles against Aether Vial decks like Goblins or W/B but I never had to play against any. While not the greatest against Elves when they are comboing I had to play slow grindy games against them so it worked out.
Phyrexian Revoker and Pithing Needle were my anti-Vial cards but Revoker had the added ability of being able to attack and wield a sword. That came up several times but I can't just play all Revokers as sometimes they are too slow against Merfolk. I'd prefer a mix regardless just so that I can name Wasteland or Mutavault if I already have Aether Vial locked down.
Meddling Mage was one of a few cards that I had to buy on-site but I obviously chose the Planeshift version as should you. It's not amazing in any particular matchup but like Revoker it has a lot of utility. If I were looking to fight just storm combo decks I'd probably play Ethersworn Canonist but there are plenty of other decks out there.
Over the course of the day I named Counterbalance Swords to Plowshares Glimpse of Nature Natural Order and Green Sun's Zenith depending on what I couldn't stop at the time. What more can you ask of a card? If nothing else it carries a sword attacks for two blocks hordes of 1/1s or pitches to Force of Will. In wide open fields like these it's well worth it to have versatile sideboard cards; trust me. Especially with Hive Mind having a breakout tournament I feel like you need something like Meddling Mage rather than strict storm hate like Mindbreak Trap or Ethersworn Canonist.
Despite being a very expensive card Sword of Fire and Ice didn't make my maindeck. Chapin swears it was worth the slot in his and after playing with it I'm willing to believe him. The logic is that against Merfolk or any other aggro deck you want to get Batterskull first so the Sword will mostly be warming the bench.
Umezawa's Jitte is worse than Batterskull against aggro because if you hook up your Mystic or Factory they can typically just block and kill it. You're left with a couple of Jitte counters but nothing else to give the Jitte to. Overall not very impressive. Batterskull is like a Jitte that always has 3-4 counters on it.
Against decks with big green dudes like Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary Batterskull is kind of embarrassing. In my opinion you need a sword that grants protection from green so that you can actually attack or block effectively. Owen took Sword of Body and Mind to the Top 8 while I played the tournament with Sword of Feast and Famine.
While they both have their uses I'd probably go with Body and Mind for now. Protection from black removal is certainly good but they'll often just kill your guy in response to equipping. If they didn't have the removal spell or you were able to protect your investment hitting them with Body and Mind is usually going to be more effective. Untapping into Jace is clearly powerful but having another creature to wield a sword is as well. It's not like you'll always have something awesome to untap into as the deck plays few real threats and their discarding isn't going to impact the game very much. Protection from blue can also allow you to sneak through the pesky fishies should the need arise.
As I said I think Sword of Fire and Ice might be the best one to maindeck but feel free to change around the configuration. If there are no giant green creatures in your area Sword of Fire and Ice is probably the way to go.
The last spicy Equipment to make my 75 was Champions of Kamigawa block all-star Manriki-Gusari. Again I was expecting to face the mirror at some point but there are plenty of Stoneforge decks out there as well. If you want some way to break the Equipment mirror there are certainly worse things you could be doing. I heard rumors of those selling for $40 on-site so be prepared for the next tournament you go to.
Overall I was very happy with my list and aside from a few minor details probably wouldn't change much. Comparing my list to Owen's or Drew's lists from the GP isn't entirely fair. I feel like all three are trying to accomplish different things and we most likely had differing ideas of what we wanted. You should pick up the version based on what type of deck you like to play most.
If you like true control decks definitely play Drew's deck. If you like control decks but need some training wheels I'd suggest Owen's deck. That's not to say you should shy away from his deck if you play tight all the time just that his list has the “oops Stoneforge Mystic you're dead” draw. Meanwhile Drew was planning on surprising his opponents with it out of the sideboard which gives you added value.
My list is more of an aggro-control deck although more on the controlling side. Because of that I think my list would have a tough time against Drew's and Owen's builds. They are built to prolong the game and dominate with cards like Crucible of Worlds Fact or Fiction or Vedalken Shackles. While I have Ancestral Visions I'll most likely be stopped cold in the early game outdrawn and wrecked. The hard counterspells would definitely help in the control mirrors.
Regardless I don't think you can go wrong with some combination of Jace the Mind Sculptor Stoneforge Mystic and Force of Will. While Owen suffered an early exit at the hands of Hive Mind a list similar to his is poised to take over Legacy.
See you at the Invitational!