When I first started thinking about Deathrite Shaman in Legacy, I was excited. My Zombie deck would get the perfect tool for fighting all kinds of problems. Sure, it wasn't as strong as it could be since I wouldn't have a lot of green mana, but it was easily good enough just on the black side. I imagined he'd help me take my deck from a bizarre concoction that I could somehow win with due to my opponents' confusion as to what on earth I was doing to a real, powerful deck.
But then that backstabbing cheat went and joined the other guys.
How can I even show up with a graveyard-based attrition strategy in a format where a full half of the decks in the last Top 8 (at StarCityGames.com Legacy Open: Baltimore) had an average of 3.5 Deathrite Shamans? And it's not like these players were wrong to have them—the card is amazing, so it's not going anywhere.
How am I supposed to deal with this?
I could try to overwhelm their Deathrite Shamans. After all, it can only eat one card a turn, and it costs mana if it wants to eat one of the cards I care about. Maybe I could try to play some removal to kill their Deathrite Shamans. Cheap black removal that kills a 1/2 black creature... I guess that means Disfigure, Tragic Slip (which is a lot of work), Innocent Blood, or Go for the Throat.
I don't think I can afford to dilute my deck with enough removal to help.
I could focus on speed; I could try a Vengevine build that plays a bit of the combo angle and less of the attrition angle to minimize the amount of time they have to punish me with their Shamans. I could probably cut Lingering Souls since it doesn't help trigger Vengevine, and then I could play green instead of white, which makes my own Deathrite Shamans better at keeping me alive to make up for the lack of blockers. This might work. I haven't actually played my deck against Deathrite Shaman—I'm just imagining that it would be horrible. I'm sure all hope is not lost.
But on the other hand, I'm not optimistic.
I'm not saying I've lost all hope. I'll probably try it, but I think it's time I start preparing for the worst.
What if Zombies really isn't viable with that guy everywhere? What do I play then?
Well, if you can't beat them, I suppose it's said that you should join them. After all, I don't want to be the guy without Deathrite Shaman. I said that before Pro Tour Return to Ravnica then showed up without Deathrite Shaman anyway, and it didn't work out well. I'd rather not make that mistake again. I really want to be the guy casting Deathrite Shaman.
So it's time to survey my options, heartbroken after leaving a deck I've had great times with because it's not good enough for me anymore.
Let's take a look at the newfangled BUG decks the kids are playing now. After all, Deathrite Shaman and blue cards? How could I not like that?
Daniel Signorini played an aggressive Delver built to the highest finish for the color combination in Baltimore at 2nd place.
I'm going to keep this reasonable by not getting into sideboards; that's just too deep of a well in Legacy.
This deck looks something like the old "Team America" deck that I never really liked that much. He doesn't have Dark Confidant, which is good because he has Force of Will and Tombstalker (not to mention the one-of Snuff Out and Sylvan Library), and he doesn't have the Jace, the Mind Sculptors maindeck that the old deck sometimes played, which is probably for the best in his 20-land Delver of Secrets deck.
Twenty lands? Isn't that actually kind of high for a Delver deck (eighteen to 21 lands in Standard most of the time) for Legacy (a format that traditionally plays fewer lands than Standard), particularly with three mana creatures? The answer, of course, is no, it's not many because four of his lands are Wasteland. He has nine fetchlands, which is fewer than I like for Deathrite Shaman (ten to twelve), but Wasteland, again, easily makes up for this (which is a fairly strong argument not to cut Wasteland for cantrips to make Delver better, not that I have any reason to believe you have considered doing that).
As for spells, he has the most common eight counterspells: four Daze, four Force of Will. The fact that he's playing Daze means he's trying to keep the game small and to win in a hurry. He's not playing Stifle to keep it live, but he does have Wasteland and Hymn to Tourach to stop them from building up enough mana to ignore Daze as well as pressure from a good number of aggressive creatures, so it should be fine. Force of Will is a card I'd love to get away from because the card disadvantage can really hurt, but his deck is good at taking advantage of the tempo, which makes Force of Will a lot more palatable. I think combo is popular enough that Force is something of a necessity.
He has four Ponder and four Brainstorm as library manipulation, which is more or less obligatory with Delver of Secrets. I'm a little disappointed that there isn't room for Thought Scour with Tarmogoyf and Tombstalker (and Deathrite Shaman to some extent), but I understand that a deck can only support so much air.
Sylvan Library has always been a good way for decks that are good at making fast one for one trades to keep the game small to pull ahead once no one has anything, like an extremely cheap planeswalker, but it gets much better with the addition of Deathrite Shaman to help make up for the life payments.
The removal suite of four Abrupt Decay and a Snuff Out looks like it should be pretty good and also helps explain all these Tombstalkers in a deck that's already using its graveyard for Tarmogoyf and Deathrite Shaman. If other people have similar removal spells, Tombstalker is invincible (note to self: consider Vapor Snag as an answer to Tombstalker).
Finally, the deck has four Hymn to Tourach (as previously mentioned) for disruption/discard. This is a card I'm relatively unsure of. In my Zombie deck, I wasn't particularly happy with it. I found it too slow and strongly preferred Thoughtseize. However, the decks have very different needs. This deck already has counterspells to fight against the key spells opponents will try to resolve, and Hymn is used largely as supplemental mana denial to steal wins with Wasteland and Daze.
That strategy is sound, but I worry that one of the major strengths of Hymn to Tourach, the fact that it's a raw two-for-one that can let you grind your opponents out, is lost in a deck that focuses on tempo over attrition. Delver of Secrets is not a card that tries to fight through every card your opponent draws. You'd like to trap them with some cards in their hand at the end of the game that they never had time to use, and Hymn to Tourach spends two of your mana to zero of theirs to fight over a zone you might prefer to ignore. It could be right since it's working with some of what the deck's doing, but it's certainly not a perfect fit.
Brian Braun-Duin's list uses the same colors, but the similarity basically ends there. His 24-land control deck with three Wasteland and four manlands has some cards in common, but it fights a completely different battle.
His eight planeswalkers let him capitalize on the acceleration provided by Deathrite Shaman in a way the Delver deck can't come close to, which is very exciting. It makes me wish he had a little more acceleration, but I don't know that anything's good enough. He is playing Life from the Loam, so maybe a Mox Diamond would be worth trying.
This deck is all about attrition. It has the big guns in the form of those planeswalker and two Life from the Loam, but it also has three Snapcaster Mage as lower impact two card advantage, which makes it interesting that this is the deck that has Thoughtseize over Hymn to Tourach.
The prevalence of Deathrite Shaman has me a little skittish on Snapcaster Mage. This deck has the right targets for him, but I would seriously consider Baleful Strix in his place. The Strix does a much better job blocking for planeswalkers, and it's a two mana card advantage play in a deck that I think could really use it.
Garruk Relentless is also an interesting choice. This deck can't make particularly good use of any of the abilities on the backside (Tutoring for a creature isn't impressive when the only options are Snapcaster Mage and Deathrite Shaman, and the Overrun won't be very good). Are we really looking for a Squirrel Nest that makes 2/2s? Maybe we kill an opposing Deathrite Shaman and then make 1/1 deathtouchers? I mean, that doesn't sound bad, but I'm not sure it's the best thing we could be doing.
I like his lands. Only three Wasteland looks a little odd, but he doesn't want to keep the game small. He's not trying to aggressively trade lands with his opponent. He wants to be able to answer problematic lands and then get aggressive with Life from the Loam. He wants to have some Wastelands eventually, but it makes sense not to prioritize them.
There's not a lot to be said about his spell choices. They're versatile, efficient one-for-ones that do what the deck is trying to accomplish. As for Thoughtseize over Hymn to Tourach, I like it. He wants to force a planeswalker through and ride it to victory, and spot discard lets him clear the way and know how to sculpt his game.
Legacy aficionado Alix Hatfield played the same maindeck as Daniel except for an irrelevant fetchland change, so there's nothing new to say about his deck.
Jarvis Yu played a fourteen creature, 23 land, five planeswalker deck that bridges the gap between the Delver decks and the control decks, indicating that it may not be particularly important where on the tempo versus attrition spectrum you choose to fall.
He traded Delver of Secrets for Dark Confidant, which supposes a corresponding change from Tombstalker to Vendilion Clique. That change perfectly sums up the deck's place on the spectrum. Delver doesn't really love Dark Confidant since it's often trying to pull ahead too quickly to need help from Bob. The deck doesn't have time to use Bob to his full potential, and he can be a liability when racing other fast decks. And a true control deck doesn't want to have to care about keeping a creature alive for its card advantage. Dark Confidant is the perfect midrange card, as demonstrated by Jund being his most popular home in Modern.
Planeswalkers pick up where Dark Confidant left off. If you don't draw Dark Confidant, they can fill the same role. Or better yet after your opponent deals with your Dark Confidant, you follow up with a planeswalker that's now more likely to stick and win the game.
The high land, creature, and planeswalker counts obviously mean Jarvis has fewer spells to work with. Jarvis plays a shocking (but delightful) zero Force of Wills in his maindeck (further evidence that this is built from the ground up with Dark Confidant in mind). This helps him win attrition fights and live through Dark Confidant sitting in play in a long game, but it's still an odd decision in a deck with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, who plays excellently with Force of Will by easily making up for the lost card if you can get him on the table and keep him there, which Force of Will is excellent at. I like cutting Force of Will; I'm just not sure I could do it in a deck with Jace.
He does have the maximum number of Thoughtseize coupled with Hymn to Tourach and Liliana, which might be enough to force Jace to resolve under normal circumstances without needing the deal with the devil style Force of Will.
Daze is a little out of place in a deck that isn't trying to keep the game as small or end it as fast, but it might work similarly to Force of Will as a one-shot force my Jace to resolve type card. Honestly, it doesn't look very good to me though. The window where it's good is very narrow since you don't really want to delay casting Jace and it goes dead after casting Jace pretty quickly. I think it's the most out of place card here. I like Force of Will over it, but I can see how Dark Confidant would push you away from that.
So that's my analysis of the BUG decks others have played recently. I could leave it at that, but I get the feeling you'd probably be a lot more satisfied if I used that to come up with where I want to start on this archetype myself.
All of these decks are playing Abrupt Decay, which makes me feel like the "protect the queen" style of riding a Delver to victory isn't likely to work out. I also don't like Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant much—I'm not sure what else to say about them. I don't have a great reason; I'm just not really into them. I guess I'll blame that on Abrupt Decay as well.
That pushes me into a shell that more closely resembles Brian Braun-Duin's deck, and I think I'm comfortable with that.
Incidentally, looking at all these Lilianas and Abrupt Decays has me wondering about cards like Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel, but that's probably unrealistic. I could start with Baleful Strix as another Blink target in an Esper shell that splashes the green activation of Deathrite Shaman—none of the green cards are important anyway, especially if I have Swords to Plowshares over Abrupt Decay...
For the most part, I actively agree with BBD's choices. The numbers on his lands make sense. I might like some basics, but the land count is high enough that we can afford get Wastelanded and the colorless lands make it hard to fit basics. If I had reason to expect a lot of Blood Moon, I might want a Forest and a Swamp to Abrupt Decay it, but Deathrite Shaman and Mox Diamond let me function a little anyway (though not enough to win a game). I also have discard and counterspells to fight it.
The discard and counter mix is very much the kind of thing I would do. I don't trust Snapcaster, want to try Mox Diamond, and am very skeptical of Garruk Relentless, though I'm sure someone in the comments will tell me how awesome he is.
Unfortunately, I'm really not sure about the sideboard yet.
Now, about that Restoration Angel deck...
- 4 Baleful Strix
- 2 Blade Splicer
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 1 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Geist of Saint Traft
- 2 Vendilion Clique
Thanks for reading,