Well, Gatecrash doesn't seem to have changed much for Legacy so far, but the format still hasn't really adapted to last year's shake ups—from Delver to Terminus, Abrupt Decay, and Deathrite Shaman. For the moment it sure looks like Jund is top dog—to the point of SCG Open: Atlanta actually not having a single Brainstorm or blue card (other than Gitaxian Probe) in the entire top 4. Quite the accomplishment for a format in which many people consider blue to be the best color. Well, guess what, it isn't.
Not necessarily at least. You see, the reason some of us consider not playing blue to be a mistake (well other than you not being able to cast Brainstorm) is combo. Legacy's combo decks are ferocious and extremely deadly. If you don't have countermagic, you might just be dead on turn two.
Sure, discard helps some, and the new top decks have a lot of it, but without countermagic or the perfect hate bears, you're likely to be a dog against Legacy's combo pillar.
Getting to the Point
So what does that mean? Well, given the current rise of non-blue midrange strategies and the move away from countermagic even in BUG, I'd be interested in playing a combo deck that is as resilient as possible to discard—and I believe High Tide is one deck that fills that role incredibly well. You have countermagic to stop the discard in the first place, and once mana is online, just finding a High Tide and a Time Spiral should generally be enough to win.
Once I realized that, I did exactly the same thing most of you probably just did—I groaned because my collection doesn't contain any Candelabra of Tawnos.
Being me, I also remembered one of my sweeter brews, though. I built the following roughly a year ago and even thought for a little while I might have broken the format (until testing results normalized with a larger sample size):
Looks like High Tide with a weird splash? Sure, that's what it is. In this case, though, the splash makes all the difference—similarly how the very same splash totally changes how Cabal Ad Nauseam Tendrils plays compared to Ari's U/B original.
I stopped tuning the deck when I realized it was just very good, so the list could probably do with a bit of fine-tuning. There are still a few things I'm not particularly happy with. A spot for the third maindeck Flusterstorm would be great, and I also want another two Surgical Extractions in the board so that I'm actually comfortable against Dredge and Reanimator.
Other than these minor considerations, I'm pretty sure this list is a big step in the right direction for Candle-less High Tide and might even be worth investigating in what could be called the powered version, though I'm unsure if this type of list would even want to run Candelabras.
To keep this accessible for those of you that haven't actually seen High Tide in action, let me break down what the deck is trying to do in the first place. You want to have at least three or, much safer, four Islands in play (more is even better), cast a High Tide, and then use untap effects like Turnabout and Time Spiral as well as more High Tides to generate a ton of mana. Use that mana to find more cantrips and mana production until you can fire off a Blue Sun's Zenith targeting the opponent for more than their deck size.
To get to that point, High Tide usually casts its namesake card, followed by a Time Spiral, to accrue enough business to get there after chaining cantrips, untap effects, and card drawing, interrupted when necessary by casting another Time Spiral—which leads to High Tide's interminable combo turn.
This list has the same fundamental game plan but is significantly less reliant on actually having to resolve a Time Spiral because there is a second full-blown combo engine: Past in Flames plus Intuition.
How does that work? Happy you asked!
Assuming you have four lands in play, one of which is a Volcanic Island, you need some combination of High Tides and Turnabouts that will allow you to hit eleven mana (double High Tide + Turnabout; double Turnabout + High Tide; or High Tide, Turnabout, and Merchant Scroll) plus an Intuition, and the game should usually just end. What you do is this:
Eleven mana to start.
If they give you a High Tide, you can cast it to have more mana available, flashback Past in Flames, recast all the High Tides and untap effects to create an insane amount of mana, find a Wish, and kill them with Zenith.
If they give you the Past in Flames, you cast that, flashback all the High Tides and a Turnabout, Intuition again for whatever you're still missing, flashback Past in Flames, cast all the new High Tides and Turnabouts before you go ahead and find a Wish to kill them with Zenith again.
Why do I think that engine is good enough to abandon the mana base resiliency of mono-blue High Tide?
Well, first, by casting Time Spiral you put all your eggs into one draw-7-shaped basket. There is a relevant, though low, chance for Time Spiral to leave you with nothing but mana and countermagic, a risk you run every single time you have to cast another one. In addition, it also refills your opponent's hand, which means they're both likely to do something pretty nutty if they ever get another turn. They also have a very good chance to hit enough disruption off your own spell to stop you from actually comboing out.
Second you have a very different angle of attack. If something happens to your Time Spirals (from Extirpate to Meddling Mage or Slaughter Games), it can be hard for High Tide to actually be able to go off. This list can just switch plans and win unperturbed.
Third, the deck is now much less reliant on actually finding a Time Spiral. The fact that Intuition works as an engine on its own means you have more actual business, which adds a lot of power to your topdecks.
Finally there is the issue of the combo turn itself. High Tide is exhausting, even disheartening, to play sometimes because going off takes such a long time. Oftentimes you find yourself firing off a Spiral, cantripping and ramping mana a lot before casting another Spiral and doing it all again. With this new list, the combo turn ends as soon as you've located an Intuition at eleven-plus mana—they just die at that point.
Collecting the Pieces
Let's take a look at the different parts of the deck:
This little package I like to call the Cantrip Cartel gives a deck unparalleled flexibility and digging power. Cheap library manipulation that doesn't cost you a card will allow you to out-quality almost any opponent in the short run and makes locating missing pieces pretty easy.
The deck's tutor package. Merchant Scroll is as close to a Demonic Tutor in this deck as we're likely to get in Legacy, getting countermagic, library manipulation, or missing combo pieces for only two mana. Cunning Wish does essentially the same thing but also doubles as a kill condition that is never dead while allowing the deck to get out of almost any situation even in game 1. You gotta love not having dead cards like dedicated win conditions in the maindeck.
The protection package. Because High Tide can use countermagic to protect its combo, it has the flexibility to play essentially a control game for a few turns when that's what's needed instead of punching through the kill. The deck needs lands in play, after all, so you're looking at a turn 3 to 4 deck—imminently race-able if it just tries to goldfish.
Force of Will is obviously insanely good; Flusterstorm is the best cheap counter for High Tide (because High Tide, the card, is symmetrical and will effectively blank Spell Pierce once you're trying to go off); and Pact of Negation is so good against opposing countermagic that you want at least one available to find with Merchant Scroll. Snap, finally, is another highly synergistic answer that can be found with Merchant Scroll—it accelerates under High Tide and gets rid of annoying hatebears at the same time.
The actual mana engine. High Tide supercharges your lands; Turnabout untaps them. Easy as pie. You get away with running so few untap effects because of the tutor density and being able to just reuse them all once you Past in Flames.
The classic engine. Under High Tide, Spiral both produces mana and fills your hand with new spells to go off with—an ideal combination and the card that really put High Tide back on the map in the first place.
The new engine. Even traditional High Tide lists often run a singleton Intuition—to be able to Merchant Scroll for Time Spiral in a convoluted way—but this one runs all three copies plus one in the board as a Wish target. Given that it's your "I win" button, that seemed like a good idea.
10 blue Fetches
Obviously there's a cost to running Past in Flames in High Tide—you need to run non-basic lands. There are two Volcanics to be sure even a Wasteland won't be able to cut you off from your safe win and a higher than usual number of fetchlands to make sure you can find your red when you need it.
Every card but one can be accessed through Cunning Wish, which doesn't mean they're all Wish targets, though.
The additional protection package. Flusterstorm is a great catchall, stopping threats like Show and Tell or Reanimate as well as protecting you from countermagic and Stifles. Pact of Negation on the other hand is the perfect brute force tool against decks that rely on nothing but countermagic to keep you in check, at which point I usually go up to a full four maindeck.
Your answers to permanent-based hate. Snap is brilliant in the SB for the same reasons it's good maindeck, and Wipe Away is your best out to Counterbalance, making it the default answer for any kind of non-creature problem. I usually board in one as a Merchant Scroll target and keep the second in the sideboard for Cunning Wish.
The last copy of the traditional High Tide engine almost always comes in for games 2 and 3. In spite of how good I think the Past in Flames engine is, the deck is still totally capable of winning when it never hits a red mana, and having a full set of Spirals speeds the deck up and allows it to mitigate graveyard hate in post-board games.
My token amount of graveyard hate. Definitely not enough to make Dredge and Reanimator into actually good matchups, but these allow you to steal games once in a while thanks to Cunning Wish. Surgical is also quite important if you have to beat an Emrakul deck with Brain Freeze for some reason (like running short on mana during the combo turn).
Your true Wish targets, though I generally board in either the Brain Freeze or the Blue Sun's Zenith when I expect Surgical Extractions—wouldn't want to lose to getting the Wishes extracted now, would we?
New Tools Manual
Now that you know why everything is here, you should take some time to learn about traditional High Tide if you aren't familiar with it* because I'll only be talking about some of the sweet things you can do with my little modification.
First, though, a word of caution: don't become to fixated on Past in Flames. Intuition is a perfectly fine tutor and will give you access to Time Spiral and High Tide as needed when you can't get the mana for a straight PiF kill.
With that out of the way, let's get to the engine itself. A few numbers:
You need eight mana post-Intuition because you need to either cast Past in Flames from hand and a Turnabout (8 mana) or you need to flashback Past in Flames and Turnabout from the graveyard (9 mana). You only need eight mana because Intuition will find some mana ramp next to Past in Flames, so if you need to flashback it, they've just handed you the way to make that ninth mana.
These mana requirements fall to six post-Intuition mana if your opponent has two creatures in play they can't kill at instant speed (one still means seven mana is enough). Just make sure the Snap is in your Intuition pile, and it will allow you to untap two lands from only two mana after Past in Flames has resolved, opening the door to Turnabout shenanigans.
Another obvious way to reduce the amount of mana needed to go off is to cast the Intuition during your opponent's end step. Suddenly you really just need eight-mana total.
Some particularly sweet interactions that are bound to come up when playing this:
Multiple Intuitions pack quite the punch. You can use the first to find either High Tide or Turnabout, then use the second to pull out the rest of the pieces together with the Past in Flames to abuse this now mortally stacked graveyard.
Merchant Scroll is your friend. Because it doubles as either piece of the mana engine as well as the win condtion, you can get these when you need more mana pre-PiF while also making sure you have a way to actually find a win once your graveyard is at your disposal. If your mana allows you to do so, getting Merchant Scrolls into your graveyard is generally a good thing because it means you get to flashback both the Scroll and whatever you got with it.
You should also remember Merchant Scroll when you Intuition into an already depleted deck. It also often comes up when you have a ton of mana but really just Intuition for business or when you need to use Wishes to set up instead of going off purely with what's in your maindeck.
Say you need to find your last Cunning Wish to get a win condition but only have Intuition available as a tutor after casting Past in Flames. Well, go ahead and tutor for three Merchant Scrolls. Need an additional Turnabout, but there are only two left in the deck? Get one of them and two Merchant Scrolls! You can oftentimes do the same thing with Cunning Wish, by the way.
Fire in the Sky
I really believe High Tide is one of the best-positioned decks currently. The metagame is slow enough to make it hard for most opponents to race even a turn 4 kill. Time Spiral, cantrips and Past in Flames make it relatively easy to recover or play around discard effects, and your own countermagic makes you resilient to other combo decks. All the while we're seeing probably the lowest density of blue cards in Legacy we've ever seen, strengthening combo significantly.
As for why you should run this deck, I believe the Intuition-Past in Flames engine gives Candle-less High Tide enough raw power and reduced variance that I'm not even sure the Candelabra build is still superior. Having an easy-to-access kill that never fizzles is quite big in my book. If budget or a crazy fear of casting draw-7s kept you from playing High Tide, now's the time to try it out.
I hope someone somewhere enjoys this latest creation of mine as much as I do—it even got me to play High Tide at our local again (went 4-0 then IDed to split first) in spite of the interminable combo turn. It was totally worth it—yes, Intuitioning for Yawgmoth's Will was as sweet as it sounds.
That's it from me for today. Give the deck a try and let me know what you think. It's time to bring all those Jund players to the heel—and doing it with (nearly) nothing but blue cards definitely has the most style.
Until next time, make the seas boil!