Welcome back! Part one of my attempt to evaluate all the cards in Legacy can be found here. Today, I'll be looking at the best black, red, and green cards that Legacy has to offer. I'll try to keep it a little shorter this time, though, since spending five thousand words on two colors is a little excessive.
Before we get into the card evaluations, though, I have some news for you all. If you remember, Brad Nelson and I attempted an ill-fated collaboration for Grand Prix: Amsterdam. As it turned out, neither of us could make it to the GP and the project fell by the wayside. Given how much positive energy the community had toward the announcement, however, it was clear to me that a lot of people were eager for a more conversational article format. Since Grand Prix: Indianapolis is a little under a month away, I didn't want to let the opportunity escape again.
It is therefore my pleasure to announce that my next three articles are going to be a project of collaboration and discussion with 2010 Legacy Worlds Top 8 competitor Mark Sun. For those of you who don't have the pleasure of knowing him already, Mark is part trader and part Legacy aficionado. He already has a lot of knowledge about the cards, the history, and how Legacy plays as a format. My goal over the next few weeks is to help him prepare for the Grand Prix—answer his questions about the format, help him select his deck, critique his card selection, and work with him to develop an idea into a Grand Prix-ready deck. I hope to convey through those articles how I approach deckbuilding and tuning for a Legacy Grand Prix.
If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the article format for the next three weeks, I welcome your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter. Mark's handle is @AllSunsDawn and mine is @drew_levin, so feel free to get a hold of us there or follow our conversations about the format. I look forward to getting the ball rolling on this project, and I'm excited that Mark has stepped up to take part. I'm sure there will be plenty of Legacy discussion spread over comment sections, Twitter, Facebook, and podcasts over the next month, so join the conversation!
For those of you who are here for the card evaluations, though, I've got plenty of those for you. This past weekend was a busy one, and Cincinnati didn't disappoint. For the third week in a row, the champion of the Legacy Open did not cast a Brainstorm all day. Invitational Champion* Adam Prosak, shelving his Brainstorms for the first time ever, took Faithless Looting Dredge (with the full set of Lion's Eye Diamonds) all the way to the top:
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 2 Golgari Thug
- 2 Ichorid
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Putrid Imp
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
For those of you who enjoy playing the $30 Legacy Open lottery with your “always throw scissors and hope they don't have any rocks in their sideboard” strategies, take note of how many Blue Elemental Blasts and Chills and Ancient Grudges and Disenchants and Leylines of Sanctity and Timely Reinforcements there were in the Top 8. Now note how many Tormod's Crypts, Surgical Extractions, and Grafdigger's Cages there were in the Top 8. Congratulations to Mr. Prosak on his tight play, sweet deck, and adept metagaming. As he said in his interview after the finals, “Don't play this deck next week.” You've been warned.
And with that, let's get to the cards!
Black, as a color, has usually had a supporting role in Legacy. It has commonly played second fiddle to blue, with the heaviest black commitments coming in decks that want to cast Hymn to Tourach on turn two. There have been a few Suicide-style decks based around Dark Ritual's tempo boost, but black has been mostly been used for its pinpoint discard, unconditional removal, excellent sideboard options, or Dark Confidant. As a result, I want to look at black's cards not by casting cost, but by role. First, the sideboard cards:
Currently excellent, will get a little worse: For a long time, blue decks played artifact graveyard hate. In October, that paradigm shifted, and Surgical Extraction has been very popular ever since. Surgical Extraction's success is due to two major factors.
The first factor is the sheer power of Snapcaster Mage. Because Snapcaster is played in almost every single blue deck, blue decks have shifted to Surgical Extraction over Tormod's Crypt (and especially Relic of Progenitus) as a way to combat graveyard decks. Since Snapcaster Mage is a powerful card that you want to hold anyway, it's very likely that you can double up on your free Extirpate against graveyard decks, making it a worthwhile investment.
The second factor is the rise of Reanimator as a legitimate Tier 1 strategy. This happened with the printing of Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. Before Jin-Gitaxias, all of the Reanimator cards were too matchup-specific, making it very difficult to justify playing a ton of one-of creatures and hoping to pair a good one with your Careful Study when you didn't draw an Entomb. Iona, Shield of Emeria was a decent catchall, but three-color decks with Jace just tore Reanimator up. The printing of Jin-Gitaxias gave Reanimator decks a solid generic threat, more blue cards, a way to punish opponents for tapping out, and a creature that didn't pack it to Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Because Dredge was already a cause for concern, Reanimator's success made sideboarding graveyard hate imperative. The subsequent rise of Snapcaster Mage made Surgical Extraction the best possible card. With the recent success of Dredge, however, graveyard-based decks are going to take a pummeling. If you're the daring sort, you could skimp on graveyard hate for the next few weeks. I wouldn't advise doing so for the Grand Prix, but I doubt that Charlotte is going to produce a huge graveyard win. In the medium-to-long term, though, Surgical is likely still king of the hill in terms of graveyard hate.
Currently pretty bad, not likely to get better: Extirpate is only better than Surgical Extraction in very rare circumstances. In almost every situation, you don't care if they can Daze or Force your Extirpate. Against Dredge, Surgical is strictly better except for maniacs who play Memory's Journey. Against Reanimator, you can get your Snapcaster Dazed when you have three mana and an Extirpate in the graveyard, making it debatable as to whether Extirpate is even better against a counter-heavy blue deck. If you're playing black, it probably makes more sense to just Leyline them, since you can hardcast it in a midgame situation or if it gets bounced. If I were playing a black Snapcaster deck, I would be inclined to split my Surgicals and Extirpates, but that's one of the only times I can see Extirpate seeing play.
Currently mediocre: Leyline is not playable in non-black decks. Build a real sideboard, Todd. Leyline is not playable in non-black decks. Build a real sideboard, Todd. Leyline is not playable in non-black decks. Build a real sideboard, Todd. Leyline is not playable in non-black decks. Build a real sideboard, Todd.
If you have four slots for graveyard hate in your blue Snapcaster deck, play Surgical Extraction or Tormod's Crypt. If you're not playing Snapcaster, play Relic of Progenitus and/or Grafdigger's Cage. If you care about your graveyard, play Tormod's Crypt.
If you don't have four slots for graveyard hate, don't play Leyline of the Void.
If you're playing black, make sure that Leyline fits your game plan and that you're willing to mulligan to five for it. If your matchup against graveyard decks is reasonable, you might not need Leyline. Have you considered cards that have text on them if you draw them before turn four?
Currently bad: Green is playable right now because of Noble Hierarch, Nimble Mongoose, Tarmogoyf, and Knight of the Reliquary. People broke out the Perishes in the days of Natural Order for Progenitus. That doesn't really happen anymore, so why are you playing Perish? If you're playing black, you can kill Knight of the Reliquary better than any color except for white. You can kill Nimble Mongooses (Mongeese?) better than any other color in the game because you have Edicts. What are you trying to beat by playing Perish?
Has no text: Seriously, it has no text. We are not living through an age where tribal decks are taking the format by storm again. One person did well with Goblins in Richmond and Chrandersen did well with Elves in Cincinnati because he never plays anything else. Aether Vial has never been a worse card.
To explain why, we can look over at Tiago again. Tiago loves trading. He'll take any one-for-one interaction because that means he gets to do it again. If you get to make two one-for-one trades with the help of a Snapcaster Mage, you are now up a Goblin Piker! This is how Legacy currently operates.
Engineered Plague, on the other hand, is much more about the blowouts. Sure, they might've committed a ton of creatures to the board, but they all suck because it's a bunch of Cursecatchers and Silvergill Adepts. Then you play Engineered Plague and they all die!
The thing is, no one plays Silvergill Adept anymore. The reason? Because people would rather play a Silvergill Adept that makes them reveal a removal spell or cantrip than a Silvergill Adept that makes them reveal a Merfolk. Sorry, tribal decks.
Currently decent, not great: Pinpoint discard is one of the good reasons to play black nowadays. Decks like RUG Delver are powerful in part because they can pass the turn with three mana up and it's impossible to put them on any specific card. They could have Brainstorm, Stifle, Daze, Spell Pierce, Force of Will, Lightning Bolt, or Snapcaster Mage into anything in their graveyard. Thoughtseize is a decent trade, but it also lets you know exactly what you're up against. In a world of one- and two-mana interaction, the information that Thoughtseize gives you is very relevant.
A turn-one Thoughtseize also lets you destroy a RUG Delver deck's game plan by taking their one-drop. RUG is much worse without a Delver or Mongoose, so it's a big deal to be able to get one of those.
Currently bad, not likely to get better: Duress isn't worth the two life you save nowadays. The reason that Thoughtseize is so good is that, when you need to, you get to take a Snapcaster Mage that represents access to the rest of their graveyard. A turn one Duress also misses out on getting Delver of Secrets, which can be a huge nuisance. I wouldn't play this card.
Currently very good: I believe Inquisition is better than Thoughtseize in Legacy right now. The only cards that see play at four or more mana are Jace, Elspeth, and Force of Will, and you can generally hold your countermagic for those if you play tight. Your early discard shouldn't be going after their mid-to-late game card anyway. Granted, out of four discard slots, I would definitely play three Inquisition and one Thoughtseize, but I favor Inquisition over the other two one-mana spells.
Mediocre, could be good: For several months early last year, Hymn to Tourach was the premier card advantage spell. Nowadays, it's pretty rotten. What changed? Innistrad, as usual.
Delver of Secrets made the format even faster. Doing nothing on turn two after doing nothing on turn one is a recipe for disaster. It's very possible that there's a BUG deck out there that wants to cast Hymn to Tourach, but it has to defend its (always sketchy) mana from a ton of Wastelands, it has to play catch-up on the board a lot, and it probably won't get to flashback its Hymn to Tourachs for value that often. People aren't sitting around with a ton of cards in their hands, waiting for something to happen. The game happens on the board now, which doesn't really benefit someone who wants to cast Hymn to Tourach.
If you want to play a board control deck, you have a ton of better card advantage spells. If you want to disrupt an opponent, you can flip your Delver with your Inquisition, cast it, then flash it back a turn later with your Snapcaster Mage. Snapcaster Mage has made it harder for card advantage spells to justify themselves. Decks have to be faster to the board and more aggressive, so hand death has gotten a lot worse.
If you're looking to make this work, I would start by playing four to six one-mana removal spells. You can't afford to cast a Hymn to Tourach against Mongoose or Delver, get it Dazed or Spell Pierced or Spell Snared, and then get Wastelanded. Your deck isn't going to survive sequences like that. If you keep the opposition off of the board early, though, Hymn to Tourach gets a lot more value.
Currently mediocre: Ghastly Demise is a fine card. It's nothing to write home about, but it usually does what you want it to do: kill a Delver early, kill a Goyf in the midgame, kill a Knight in the late game. Since Dark Confidant doesn't see a ton of play, it's getting better. Still, I wouldn't play more than one or two in whatever black deck you're sleeving up.
Currently good: I would play at least one and maybe two Darkblasts in the maindeck of any blue-black midrange deck in Legacy today. I've written about how good Darkblast is before, and very little has changed. People keep lowering their curves, so Darkblast's value keeps going up.
Currently bad: Innocent Blood and Snapcaster Mage is no bueno, which makes this a tough fit for any deck. You could go back to the BUG Landstill deck that PV played in Providence last May and look at that for inspiration. Losing Mental Misstep hurt that deck a lot, so it's likely that a near-creatureless BUG deck is the only thing that wants Innocent Blood, but it would want four of them.
Currently pretty bad: It gets Spell Snared, it loses mana value on Delver of Secrets, it's too slow to kill a Mother of Runes, and it misses Mishra's Factory? You still need to be able to kill a Knight of the Reliquary, so I get the need to play a few, but I can't imagine being excited to sleeve up Go for the Throat right now.
Better than Go for the Throat: Sure, you still lose value on their one-drops, but you can actually kill a Mother of Runes and a Nimble Mongoose with this. If you pair it with a bunch of other removal (think Darkblast, Innocent Blood, and so on), it will still kill a Knight of the Reliquary. For the most part, though, this is your best way to kill a Nimble Mongoose.
Also better than Go for the Throat, room for improvement: See everything I said about Diabolic Edict, except she isn't vulnerable to Spell Snare, is much more vulnerable to Daze and Spell Pierce, and can put pressure on combo decks. I would play at least one and maybe two in a U/B/x control deck. In a BUG deck, I'd be loath to play more than one since Pernicious Deed is a much better three-drop. After all, Liliana does nothing against Dredge and Affinity, while Deed is very likely your best card against both.
Pretty bad: While I was preparing to turn in my decklist for Richmond, I had a great conversation with David Gearhart about the merits of Dismember versus Chain Lightning in RUG Delver. I wanted a way to kill Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf and so was prepared to play Dismember.
David argued that Chain Lightning is better than Dismember because in a lot of the matchups where you want to kill a Tarmogoyf or Knight, you can more easily set up a situation where you race them and kill them with Chain Lightning (and maybe Snapcaster Mage for the rebuy) than a situation where you kill their green creature with Dismember. Also, paying four life in a format where a ton of decks play Lightning Bolt is pretty ugly. Chain Lightning is also pretty consistently better than Dismember when you're trying to kill anything that isn't a Tarmogoyf or a Knight of the Reliquary, which also happens a lot. Naturally, Chain Lightning was awesome for me, while Dismember would've been terrible against everything.
Currently bad, will stay that way: Snuff Out was good when the deck casting Snuff Out was guaranteed to be the aggressor in a matchup. It was also played pretty exclusively in decks without Dark Confidant and with Tombstalker, so the life loss wasn't a big deal. Nowadays, Dark Confidant is the best reason to play black and Delver of Secrets' popularity means that a lot of blue mirrors are races from turn one. In that world, it's hard to justify Dismember or Snuff Out in a black deck.
Just about the only reason to play black anymore: Dark Confidant is a great card. Unfortunately, a lot of what sees play right now is one-mana ways to trump Bob: Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, Chain Lightning, Spell Snare, and Darkblast all answer The Great One while gaining value. If he lives, he's great. It's very possible that the answer is to bump up the discard element of a Dark Confidant deck and play something like 4 Inquisition of Kozilek and 2 Thoughtseize, since Bob is a game-winner if you get to untap with him and any sort of reasonable hand.
Currently good, could get better: Bitterblossom is a great way to beat creature removal-heavy metagames. In a world where people have to build their decks beat Delver of Secrets and Nimble Mongoose, it stands to reason that an endless stream of Bitterblossom tokens could take over a game. I'm actually pretty surprised that this card doesn't see more play, as it's both very good objectively and very well-positioned in the current metagame.
Just bad: I wish I could tell you that Tombstalker was good. Tombstalker is a good friend of mine and we had lots of great times together, but Snapcaster Mage isn't a big fan of Tombstalker. As it turns out, neither is Nimble Mongoose. Delver of Secrets is, but nearly everything gets along with Delver in Legacy.
Tombstalker used to be good back when BUG decks with heavy discard elements needed fast ways to kill people. Blue decks in Legacy then were about playing an attrition game and then casting a dragon. Legacy now is about casting a few early creatures, punishing overefficient use of mana with cheap, taxing counters like Spell Pierce and Daze, and riding that tempo to the finish line. Tombstalker isn't about that. The Delve mechanic also uses your graveyard as a resource less efficiently than Snapcaster Mage does, so Delve has—unsurprisingly—fallen out of vogue.
Red has picked up in Legacy recently. Where it was once the worst color because Lightning Bolt didn't kill Tarmogoyf, it is now a very respectable color with a lot of important role players in the format. What does red have to offer? Something for everyone, as it turns out.
Currently excellent: In the last few months, Lightning Bolt has moved from a Tier 2 removal spell to a Tier 1 removal spell. What changed? Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull became a Tier 1 strategy, Jace became even more popular, and Delver of Secrets got printed. Lightning Bolt kills all three of those, and they are three of the five best threats in the format, with Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary being the other two.
Tempo strategies have also become more popular, making life totals relevant in more matches. Lightning Bolt thus functions not only as removal but as reach, giving Delver decks with red many more lines of play now that Snapcaster Mage and Lightning Bolt can kill an opponent from six life.
Lightning Bolt has also seen a resurgence in a much more linear strategy: mono-red Burn. Often derided as the format's budget deck, Burn nonetheless took home two trophies in two weekends, forcing people to respect it as a real entity. Lightning Bolt's newfound popularity tells us something very important about Legacy right now: your face is never safe.
Currently decent, will get worse: Chain Lightning has shown up as Lightning Bolts five through six or eight in some lists, but I doubt that it's going to stick around for too much longer. Chain Lightning is not an inherently amazing card. It's good, sure, but it's not going to get more popular. Super-aggressive decks have set the line for what it means to go faster than tempo decks, so the next thing to figure out is what strategy can go slower than the current crop of tempo decks while beating them consistently. Chain Lightning is unlikely to be great against those decks, as they will be very interested in preserving their life total and keeping threats off of the board. As a result, Chain Lightning will less often be the finishing blow that it is right now.
Currently mediocre: The brief success of the UR Delver deck was fascinating for what it showed us. Andrew Shrout reminded us that Goblin Guide and Price of Progress are real cards in Legacy and that we have to respect them. In the long term, though, RUG Delver is a better tempo deck and Burn is a better burn deck, so UR Delver was but a flash in the pan. If Stoneforge and BUG Control become the two best decks in the format, I could see Goblin Guide and Price of Progress make a return. Goblin Guide is without a doubt a great card, but right now I don't think it has applications outside of dedicated burn decks.
Currently decent, will get better: Grim Lavamancer is a very strong card in Legacy right now. It doesn't get along with Snapcaster Mage and Nimble Mongoose, which puts it at a disadvantage in terms of the status quo, but it's very strong against Stoneblade, it kills everything in RUG Delver except for Nimble Mongoose, and it can keep Maverick decks under control. I don't think that Thought Scour is the way to go with Grim Lavamancer—we had Mental Note forever and that wasn't good enough—but in a more controlling deck, I can see Grim Lavamancer surviving and providing a ton of value.
Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast
Currently great: These are some of the best sideboard cards in the format and one of the primary reasons to play red. Their resurgence has forced Stoneblade decks to find white and artifact trumps against red decks, since loading up on Jaces is a terrible idea against any deck that is dead set on Blasting you out of the game. If you're playing red, you're sideboarding between two and four of this sort of card. As long as Brainstorm is good in the format, Red Elemental Blast is a fine sideboard card.
Currently good, could get worse: Ancient Grudge is a critical tool in today's RUG decks. Given how strong Stoneblade remains, it's necessary to be able to kill a Batterskull. A very relevant part of the UW vs. RUG matchup is how well UW protects its Batterskull. A more aggressive UW player will jam it onto the board as soon as possible and hope that the RUG player hasn't drawn an Ancient Grudge yet. A more conservative player will hold it for as long as possible, sometimes until they have the mana to Stoneforge it in and return it twice to play around Stifle. I would advise UW players to protect their Batterskull for as long as possible, since RUG decks have no real ways to beat it outside of Grudging it. If Counterbalance or any other powerful enchantment picks up popularity, though, expect Krosan Grip to start replacing Ancient Grudge in sideboards.
Current good, could get even better: Legacy players build the greediest manabases known to man. If it weren't for people like Tony Chu, we'd still be flashing back Counterspell with Snapcaster Mage in our sixteen blue source decks. People play nonbasic Plains because they just can't wait to get Wastelanded. Everyone is addicted to having perfect mana from fetchlands and dual lands. If you ever find yourself building a deck that wants a ton of reach and isn't going to be committing hara-kiri in doing so, try playing some Price of Progress. A BUG deck can pretty much never beat it and a RUG deck rarely does. It typically hits for six to eight points, which should be all the help you need from one card. Since people hate playing basics, it's unlikely that Price of Progress will ever stop being a good card.
Was great, now mediocre: For a while, Punishing Fire was the absolute best. People just played a bunch of x/1s and x/2s and Punishing Fire killed everything and then your big green idiots killed them. So why isn't it good?
Like any over-efficient predator, Punishing Fire hunted its prey to extinction. People adapted their decks to not lose to Punishing Fire. They started playing with more Knight of the Reliquary, more Tarmogoyf, and more Nimble Mongoose. Tribal decks went away, unable to beat a Punishing Fire or a Snapcaster Mage. Wastelands became more prevalent, so Grove of the Burnwillows wasn't always safe. The rules governing what it meant to be a good removal spell changed. What are the good creatures in Legacy right now?
Delver of Secrets, Nimble Mongoose, Tarmogoyf, Stoneforge Mystic, Snapcaster Mage, Knight of the Reliquary, Jin-Gitaxias, Zombie token, Master of Etherium, and Keldon Marauders. Punishing Fire does very little against quite a few of those and it requires a two color commitment in doing so. If you want to play Brainstorm with your Punishing Fire, you can't play a removal spell that kills Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf. If you want to play Swords to Plowshares, you can't play Brainstorm. If you play both, your manabase is an atrocity and you'll likely lose to Wasteland and big green idiots anyway. In a format where people want to cast Thought Scour to pump up their Nimble Mongoose, do you really want to be spending two mana to try to Shock something and need a nonbasic land to try to get it back? You're going to get left in the dust.
Criminally underplayed: Sulfuric Vortex is another card, like Price of Progress, that some decks can just never beat in a million years. If you cast a Vortex against Stoneblade with any respectable hand, they aren't going to win. They're going to play a bunch of Squires and Goblin Pikers and Skywinder Drakes and you're going to attack with your one mana 3/2 flier, your one-mana 3/3 hexproof, and your two-mana 4/5. They aren't going to win this race.
Now imagine a BUG deck with no creatures. What happens when you play Vortex and just keep a Pernicious Deed off the table? They're just dead, right? Seriously, you guys: how do control decks ever beat this card? Am I missing something? Also, why aren't more people playing it?
Underplayed, pretty decent: Natural Order decks don't see a lot of play anymore, and I'm not sure why. It seems to me that Reid Duke's RUG Natural Order list is probably still playable and good. Dryad Arbor—and by extension, Natural Order and Progenitus—is a strategy that people don't respect that much. The power of being able to instantly turn any green fetchland into a 1/1 or of being able to treat Green Sun's Zenith as a Llanowar Elves is pretty big. Granted, Progenitus isn't as good as he once was, given how prevalent Delver is and Swords are. Still, Dryad Arbor seems like a great card—it can ambush the nimblest of Mongeese and some of the dumber Delvers. As I mentioned last week, Daryl Ayers put a Natural Order package in the sideboard of his Maverick deck in both DC and Richmond:
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Rhox War Monk
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Scryb Ranger
- 3 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 1 Dryad Arbor
He told me that he was happy with how they performed. If I were looking at green decks, I wouldn't be quick to dismiss the opportunity to turn a 1/1 into a 10/10.
Green Sun's Zenith
Still good, likely underplayed: Green Sun's Zenith for Knight of the Reliquary is a big reason why Counterbalance decks have had a tough time existing in the last few months. It remains Maverick's best card and a fantastic addition to green's Legacy arsenal. As we've seen in the last few weeks, people are nowhere close to done exploring the limits of what Green Sun's Zenith can do—Rhox War Monk made an appearance in Richmond and Chris Andersen showed us that Elves is still very much a real deck that just needs a competent pilot to take it to the top eight:
- 3 Birchlore Rangers
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 3 Fyndhorn Elves
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Mirror Entity
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 2 Priest of Titania
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 2 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Regal Force
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Given all the recent success of UW Stoneforge and RUG Delver, let's not forget that G/W Maverick was built to beat up on blue strategies. Discount Green Sun's Zenith at your peril in the upcoming weeks.
Great, can get even better: Shove over, Wild Nacatl—Nimble Mongoose is the best 3/3 for G in the format again. Brought back by both the Hatfields and Gerry in SCG DC, Nimble Mongoose was the original Delver of Secrets and gives the RUG deck a great deal of resiliency against removal-heavy opponents. It remains to be seen whether Stifle can be cut from the RUG Delver decks, as none have yet succeeded without it. Still, Gerry's recent decklist proposing Thought Scour over Stifle is certainly worth considering if you want to Goose some people in the upcoming weeks:
Mediocre, not likely to break out in the future: Of the dozens of matches I have played Stoneblade versus Zoo, I have lost two of them. The matchup is not a good one for the Nacatls. The problem is compounded by the fact that you can now play eight three-power one-drops in a Brainstorm deck, so why would you ever want to play a Zoo deck that trades in Ponders and Brainstorms for Loam Lions and Grim Lavamancers? Wild Nacatl doesn't fly and locks you into three non-blue colors, while Delver flies, lets you play a bunch of awesome spells, and locks you into the best color in the format. In terms of sheer popularity, it's hard to make a case for why Wild Nacatl would put up great numbers at any event. I suppose we can watch Pat Cox in Indianapolis to gauge the actual health of Zoo in the format, since many former Zoo players are probably all too happy to pick up Brainstorms and be able to beat a Storm deck for once in their lives.
Good, has room to grow: In a format where people want to Snapcaster Mage as much as possible and mill themselves to grow their Nimble Mongoose, Scavenging Ooze seems like a great card. If anything, Scavenging Ooze seems almost as good as Tarmogoyf nowadays. Sure, it's vulnerable to Bolt and Chain right away, but it has the capacity to start beating Goyfs and Knights in combat in the midgame and can lock out Reanimator and Dredge decks if they don't have a blazing fast start. I don't think Ooze's peak is as a singleton maindeck card. If any card is going to carry the banner of a real green midrange deck, it's going to be a full set of maindeck Scavenging Oozes.
Still awesome: At its core, Tarmogoyf is a blue card. It's at its best in blue decks and at its worst in green decks. This deficiency is a major part of why Maverick cut Tarmogoyf down to a single Zenith slot. After all, if it's not very good a lot of the time, why play more than one of it? Indeed, it's very likely that Scavenging Ooze is just better than Tarmogoyf in green decks, and I actually expect to see more Ooze than Goyf in green decks in the future.
Underplayed as a sideboard card: In a format where people are trying to use their mana as efficiently as possible every turn, Wasteland is a pretty big deal. After all, mana efficiency is much harder to evaluate if you can just get Stone Rained out of literally any deck. If the person on the play misses their curve by a mana, they can just Wasteland their opponent and keep the game in its early turns. Land-heavy draws with a few Wastelands are keepable because hey, Wasteland is uncounterable. So why is Life from the Loam good?
Well, it's not very good as a strategy on its own, since it's incredibly slow and inconsistent. As a sideboard card in blue-green decks, however, it's great. These sorts of decks often play only six to ten actual mana producers and four Wastelands, so casting a Life from the Loam in the late game can mean getting back access to an entire color. It can also mean turning on a Brainstorm that you wisely decided to hold onto instead of casting as a Ponder without the option to shuffle. Its presence in your deck means that you also have the capacity to Wasteland-lock your opponent in the mirror (by the way, always ALWAYS go for their green sources).
Mediocre, but will likely see more play: The format isn't going to stay like this forever. People are going to adapt their decks to beat RUG and UW and all the crazy linear lottery decks. When they do, what will they play? What's good against super low curves and tempo decks?
More lands, more basics, Counterbalance, Pernicious Deed, and artifacts and enchantments that provide value. So what's good against those and can be flashed back with Snapcaster Mage? Krosan Grip. It won't happen next week or the week after, but it's very possible that it'll be good by the time that Indianapolis rolls around.
Underplayed, well-positioned: RUG Delver and UW Stoneblade both have no real outs to a resolved Choke. RUG decks have some play because of their low curve and ability to unlock lands with Daze, while Stoneblade can try to leverage its on-board resources, whether that means Jace, Elspeth, or an active Stoneforge Mystic. Ultimately, though, Choke is a very big deal. If you're playing a green deck, there's not much reason for blue decks to board in enchantment hate against you. In some cases, they have no way to interact with resolved enchantments. When you add in the fact that blue decks generally want to cut Force of Will against you, you have a fairly compelling case for running Choke.
Underplayed in GSZ decks: A few years ago, there was a U/G/W tempo deck that played Tarmogoyf, Terravore, and Knight of the Reliquary called New Horizons for its use of Horizon Canopy. Terravore was a huge player in that deck for its ability to trump both Tarmogoyf and Knights. Given the current absence of Relic of Progenitus and Tormod's Crypt in favor of Surgical Extraction, it seems like a favorable climate for Terravore to make a return. In a long attrition war, I have no idea how Maverick ever beats five or six Knights against four of their own. For those of you who don't know, trample works pretty well against protection from a color. The rules work like so:
- 10/10 Terravore attacks into a 1/1 Mother of Runes.
- Mother of Runes blocks and activates its ability, targeting itself, naming green.
- Terravore has to assign one damage to Mother and gets to trample over for nine.
If you think I missed a card or would love to hear more about a card mentioned above, don't hesitate to let me know in the forums. If you have any suggestions for how Mark and I work together on his preparation for Grand Prix: Indianapolis, I'd love to hear those as well. This is as much for you all as it is for Mark, so let me know what you'd like to see! I can't wait to get started on this project.
Until next week,
@drew_levin on Twitter