Today's mission: cast Deathrite Shaman in Legacy.
Why? I mean, besides the fact the card has proven its power in Modern and Standard, what makes it right for Legacy?
What does this actually mean?
Deathrite Shaman is not going to obsolete the current standards for its slot as a mana creature, namely Noble Hierarch. We still see RUG Delver and other decks looking for the immediate threat playing Tarmogoyf, while utility-based decks like Maverick often play multiple Scavenging Oozes before their first copy of Tarmogoyf. Similarly, I expect Bant Tempo decks to stick with Hierarch rather than stretch for the second activation on Deathrite Shaman, while decks like Maverick may move towards the more interactive card.
It's a matter of utility versus slightly more reliable power.
(Aside: Note that parallel to the above analogy, decks with Tarmogoyf will likely stick with Noble Hierarch. Not only is exiling cards in graveyards a slight nonbo with Goyf, but the exalted trigger is very important in Tarmogoyf mirrors, allowing your copies to attack into theirs. The best Deathrite Shaman can do in a Goyf mirror is exile a card type post-damage and enable a trade.)
Of course, that still doesn't fully answer the question. Deathrite Shaman is a good card, but why is it good in Legacy as a format?
Looking at the last Too Much Information, we can see the five biggest decks in Legacy are RUG Delver, Miracles, Goblins, Stoneblade, and the currently dying Maverick.
RUG Delver: Deathrite Shaman provides additional mana to power through the mana denial trio of Daze + Stifle + Wasteland, gains life to help you stay out of Bolt range or race an Insectile Aberration, colds Nimble Mongoose, and helps shrink Tarmogoyf to manageable levels. The mana ability will also be active almost all the time with their eight fetches and four Wastelands on top of whatever else they're running. Being an X/2 also helps against Forked Bolt and Fire / Ice as they come in and out of style, preventing the traditional mana creature two for one those cards create.
U/W Miracles: One of the reasons Maverick is dying out is that it plays right into Terminus. Both Mother of Runes and Noble Hierarch are complete non-threats that only serve to allow the one-mana Wrath effect to generate even more card advantage. Neither helps add towards a relevant clock, requiring you to extend a high quality threat like Knight of the Reliquary or multiple poor ones such as Qasali Pridemage or Thalia to produce one.
While Deathrite Shaman is still a small mana creature and doesn't completely solve the issue, it's a much better threat than prior options. Two damage a turn is a huge jump from one, and it still ticks away when there isn't fuel or mana to activate it with. It also works much better than Noble Hierarch with Lingering Souls, which is one of the more resilient threats in the face of sweepers. It also helps midrange decks battle through one Miracles' other main sources of card advantage (Snapcaster Mage) and helps provide reach through another (Entreat the Angels to gain board control).
Goblins: Honestly, Deathrite Shaman is pretty much just a mana guy here. Goblins tends to win with huge board advantages, so the life gain isn't great, and Goblins has few instants or sorceries to power the burn half. Not that a mana creature is a bad thing against Wasteland and Rishadan Port, but it isn't anything that didn't already exist.
Maverick: Knight of the Reliquary is almost unplayable in Modern because of Deathrite Shaman. In Legacy it has a much bigger toolbox to fight with, but turning it into just a utility creature and removing the giant threat half is a huge deal. Again, Deathrite Shaman plays an important role beyond being a mana creature.
To recap, that is four of five archetypes where the added utility plays a significant role. Of these, none of them are decks you would normally sideboard graveyard hate against (bar a situational Relic of Progenitus against RUG Delver). What about when you play against Dredge or Reanimator where Deathrite Shaman shuts down their deck? Or Burn, where the life gain ability is game ending.
So we have reason to believe Deathrite Shaman is a good card that is good in current Legacy. How do we build this deck?
We should have access to green and black mana to get full value out of Deathrite Shaman. Playing a third color is also likely as Deathrite fixes for it.
Pernicious Deed is an awesome card, but it doesn't play well with Deathrite Shaman just by virtue of the card being a one-drop that dies to it. This is quite unfortunate as Deed is one of the best "Golgari" cards in the format, but you can always board it for the matchups where it excels. It might even be powerful enough that you don't care and just jam a few maindeck copies. Deeding for zero does take care of Angel tokens and Insectile Aberrations.
On the subject of three-mana permanents, Liliana of the Veil gets a huge upgrade with Deathrite Shaman. Previously, the options to cast a turn 2 Liliana were limited to Chrome Mox, Dark Ritual, and Birds of Paradise, also known as fully committing cards to mana production. Noble Hierarch was only an option off a turn 1 dual land, which gives you one crazy mana base to support green on one, use Bant mana off a creature, and cast a double black spell. Not only can you cast Deathrite Shaman off any black source on turn 1, but it makes the second black mana to cast Liliana through Wasteland.
Why does the earlier drop matter? Well, resolving any planeswalker a turn earlier makes it harder for your opponent to have enough on board to pressure it. If you manage to untap with most Legacy playable planeswalkers, you should be significantly far ahead as you get to make an extra spell worth of progress every turn.
Also worth noting is that planeswalkers are immune to Terminus, one of the potential issues with Deathrite Shaman. Rather than the threat you ramp into being "overextending," you are diversifying your threats.
Aside from black and green, what colors are we playing?
Brandon Large played a Jund list to Top 32 at the SCG Legacy Open in St. Louis earlier this month.
Ok, so what red cards are we playing?
Well, that's not a great list. Bloodbraid Elf is mutually exclusive with Green Sun's Zenith, and the rest are sideboard cards. Lightning Bolt is fine removal, but that's about all you get. It also doesn't kill half of the creatures you actually want it to. Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf should both be manageable with Deathrite Shaman, but for the games I don't get one online I would rather my removal cover the large threats in the format. Brandon's list tries to have the aggressive plan similar to the Modern Jund lists in order to make the Lava Spike mode of Bolt more relevant, but I'm not sold that this configuration is where you want to be in Legacy.
The sideboard benefits are quite nice, to be fair. Ancient Grudge is definitely the best artifact hate spell in Legacy by a large margin, and Red Elemental Blast is nothing short of fantastic. While it doesn't answer Entreat the Angels, it still bricks Jace, the Mind Sculptor hard, and it stops RUG Delver's best early option (Delver of Secrets) and halts their late game (Brainstorm to exchange dead tempo card for real cards). It even provides a much-needed answer to Show and Tell that doesn't get dodged by Brainstorming a copy to the top in response to your Thoughtseize.
Splashing red for sideboard cards shouldn't be an issue in a Nic Fit style deck, especially as Veteran Explorer has become borderline unplayable with the two lands helping Miracles and Goblins just as much as you (and good luck if they're playing High Tide). There is easily room for a couple duals maindeck if not a board slot for another copy.
Consider this list a first draft based off of my light experience with Nic Fit and browsing The Source's thread on the deck:
- 1 Broodmate Dragon
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Shriekmaw
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Wickerbough Elder
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Some specific notes:
There are not a lot of instants or sorceries to feed the Shaman. Fortunately, we can rely on most of our opponents to provide Brainstorms and Ponders here, but Shaman will be attacking a lot more often here than anywhere else.
Recurring Nightmare, Garruk, Primal Hunter, and Phyrexian Arena are a response to my issues the deck had with getting ground out the last time I played it. I wanted a few heavy hitting sources of raw card advantage that weren't Harmonize.
Thragtusk and Broodmate Dragon are the Green Sun's Zenith targets for the end game that the deck lacked last time I played it. Seriously, the best it had was Deranged Hermit. Even Huntmaster of the Fells is a huge improvement over Kitchen Finks here. You do need some way to end a game, and these cards provide a few.
The sideboard is mostly discard to shore up the complete inability to interact with combo game 1. I wanted to keep it as generic as possible since I'm trying to handle Show and Tell, High Tide, and anything else that gives me a turn to play Magic. It's very possible I'm missing something huge, but my main focus was building for the relatively fair core of the metagame.
Most of the prior Red Nic Fit lists were Scapeshift + Burning Wish based. I don't think Deathrite Shaman is conducive to this strategy as it isn't an actual land for Scapeshift, but if you want to mess around even more with the archetype, this seems like a strong line I've chosen to not pursue right now.
Verdict: Red is a solid support color but doesn't add many game changers to a Golgari core.
Blue and Deathrite Shaman are not the best of friends.
First, there is an obvious tension between Snapcaster Mage and Deathrite Shaman. You simply can't exile spells to both effects. You can "play around your own cards", but that leaves much to be desired when the need to have options for Snapcaster Mage starts choking the ability of Deathrite Shaman to utilize all your spells. The limiting factor is likely to be untap steps, as leaving spells sitting around in your graveyard potentially shifts when you can use them for Deathrite Shaman to a time past the end of the game.
Second, there is a tension between Deathrite Shaman and Brainstorm. Both lean heavily on fetchlands to function properly, but both want you to activate them at different times. Deathrite Shaman wants you to fetch early and often to generate mana, while Brainstorm wants you to save fetches for when you want to Brainstorm. I'm not saying you don't play Brainstorm if you play Deathrite Shaman, as I'm pretty sure the card is good enough to still justify the full set—it just gets worse.
Finally, there is a much less obvious tension between Daze, Stifle, and Deathrite Shaman. Generally, decks featuring Daze and Stifle want to overload on tempo-based interactions to ensure they have the necessary open time frame to kill their opponent in. Assuming you are trying to make each copy of that effect into a Time Walk, you need a critical number of "free" turns to kill your opponent before they start doing real things. In turn, this leaves you with relatively few noncreature slots, meaning any one creature you play has to be able to kill them on its own. Deathrite Shaman doesn't do this. For a prior example of this, note how Snapcaster Mage was tried in RUG Delver and disappeared after a while in favor of better threats (Nimble Mongoose) and cheaper disruption (more Stifle / Spell Snare). An effective two-power body just doesn't matter.
The one prominent blue card Deathrite Shaman does work well with is Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Double blue to cast in a three-color deck is solved by the Shaman, and I've already discussed how Shaman helps planeswalkers. I would lean towards a midrange deck, but beyond that I'm unsure. I want to cast Shardless Agent off Deathrite Shaman mana and cascade into Ancestral Visions, but I know for every time that occurs you will have another time where your 1UG 2/2 makes a Deathrite Shaman as the bonus spell and will be moderately disappointed.
Also worth noting is that Deathrite Shaman lets Engineered Explosives tick up another level. Also, when playing against Deathrite Shaman, your Academy Ruins shenanigans are still safe. They are likely safer than before due to there being less graveyard hate to supplement Shamans. Academy Ruins also returns Shardless Agent (albeit not against an active Shaman).
For a start, the BUG Still list from the SCG Legacy Open in Seattle does a lot of things right.
Four Wastelands to fuel Shaman, seven planeswalkers to ramp into, Engineered Explosives, and less than four maindeck Force of Will in a deck that already "expends" cards to play a Shaman, and the big card draw engines of Standstill and Life from the Loam make up for the mana creatures in your one for one control deck.
I would just be concerned that Loam won't be viable soon due to a certain one-drop.
This has been the most successful and popular option so far with two main tracks: full-on three colors or a B/W deck with a light green splash for Deathrite Shaman's ability.
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Personally, I think the full on Junk deck is the worse of the two as is. Both Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf are about to take a hit from Shaman, and Thoughtseize is not a great disruption spell against most of the top decks in the format. Most of the big decks are just fair decks with enough redundancy to ignore a discard effect. There also aren't enough planeswalkers in that list, but that problem is easy to fix.
- 2 Tidehollow Sculler
- 2 Aven Mindcensor
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 2 Hero of Bladehold
- 2 Mirran Crusader
- 2 Stoneforge Mystic
On the other hand, I think this deck is straight up awesome. The numbers are all over the place, but it does a lot of things very well. Threats that are much better when ramped into? Check: Mirran Crusader, Liliana of the Veil, Hero of Bladehold. Good against Terminus? Again, check: only Aven Mindcensor and Deathrite Shaman aren't lethal on their own.
That said, nineteen lands is probably two short of enough, and a second green source would be nice. I also find it hard to believe Isolated Chapel is where we want to be. Four Liliana of the Veil seems excessive, and I feel like Cabal Therapy is better than one copy. Two Stoneforge Mystic also seems wrong, specifically when you are devoting a slot to a Batterskull that is miserable without the card. In the sideboard, while Enlightened Tutor is awesome at what it does, one is not enough. I would want at least two so that each of my sideboard bullets is effectively a three-of.
There is one last way to build a white deck with Shaman: a Rock shell very similar to the red list I proposed earlier in this article. Swords to Plowshares is a much better removal spell than Lightning Bolt, and you have Armada Wurm to fill in for Broodmate Dragon as the big game-ending creature. Previous versions of the deck ran Academy Rector, but those lists had more sacrifice outlets due to Veteran Explorer and didn't have to deal with opposing Deathrite Shamans exiling Rector in response to the trigger. For those who aren't familiar, Rector has an intervening if in the trigger based on the condition of it being exiled by that effect.
Overall, Deathrite Shaman is going to be a huge part of the Legacy metagame moving forward. It won't make the same waves certain other recent one-drops have, but it fundamentally changes how well a lot of previously tier 2 decks are able to function. Expect more four-drops and graveyard hate coming to events near you. Reanimator and Dredge should probably be left on the shelf for a while, and Knight of the Reliquary is facing tough times.
Final note on the article title: I wouldn't be surprised to see Shaman in Vintage. It isn't quite good enough to beat Dredge there, but Noble Hierarch has seen enough play lately to make me think a version that makes black mana is not beyond reason
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