Hello everybody, welcome back! At the moment, Legacy is more volatile than it has been in a long time. After the dominating entry of the Return to Ravnica Golgari duo Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman, the Legacy meta has been saturated by B/G-based decks that are effectively pure midrange, be it the slightly more aggressive bent of Jund or the more defensive option of BUG.
With everybody cutting down on countermagic in favor of a nearly pure discard-based disruption suite, the metagame was bound to react. This isn't Modern. Fair, grindy midrange decks just can't become a stifling long-term problem for format health in Legacy.
Why? Because once people start cutting down on countermagic, replacing early game stack interaction with late game grinding tools and focusing on getting an advantage in the card advantage war, we have a true counteracting force: the raw power of fast combo.
I mean, if your plan is to cascade into Punishing Fire with Shardless Agent, what exactly are you going to do against a deck that just kills you on turn 3 if you don't interact? If you said, "Die," congrats, you got it.
Judging from the coverage and Top 16s of the latest Legacy events, enough people figured that out to flood tournaments with combo, crushing the midrange madness squarely underfoot. Just check out the SCG Legacy Open: Cincinnati Top 16—not a single Abrupt Decay plus Deathrite Shaman deck to be found anywhere.
The fact that the metagame is getting back into its classic cycle of adaption doesn't mean people aren't innovating deck-wise, though. Actually, quite the contrary. While we're seeing a lot of traditional decks of respective strategies doing well, there are quite a few treasures of innovation or at least reworked rediscovery that are making it to the top tables.
What's Better Than A Turn 2 Griselbrand?
TinFins, the work of Richard Cheese, .dk, and phazonmuant on The Source—or at least that's what I gathered from the thread—is a great example of combo-licious innovation in action. Check it out:
This deck is like Reanimator on crack (the answer to the above question is "a hasty turn 1 Griselbrand" by the way). Instead of focusing on the ability to win the game by attacking with a giant lifelinking Demon of doom for a few turns, you fully abuse the (much sweeter) Yawgmoth's Bargain side of Griselbrand. With Shallow Grave and Goryo's Vengeance as your main Reanimation spells and much more acceleration than traditional Reanimator, you'll often find yourself connecting with the sickest creature ever on turn 1 or 2, allowing you to draw a sweet 21 cards.
Once that happens, you should be able to either just kill your opponent with Tendrils of Agony or get down a Children of Korlis, gain back the 21 life you just lost, draw another 21 cards, and find or Reanimate another Children to now gain 42 life (which is much sweeter). At that point, the sky's the limit. Drawing your deck, reshuffling everything with Emrakul (Therapy yourself to get it into the yard) to keep looping through your whole deck at will is easy, and once you feel ready to actually end things, you either Tendrils your opponent like a traditional Storm deck, Entomb plus insta-Animate Emrakul to swing for lethal should you have had the luck to not need GriselB in the red zone that turn, or loop your deck a few times to get to hard cast Emrakul mana.
The one thing I'd definitely want to do here is to trim Greg's list down to 60 cards. Even though I come up with 61-card decks quite a lot, I think it's much worse to do that with a combo deck than a slow, grindy control deck. In combo, the value of your cards is much more binary, meaning you want the highest chance to draw your core elements. I don't know the deck well enough to be able to say what the cut should be, though the singleton Intuition doesn't seem integral to the deck at all just by looking at it.
One More Turn Of The Wheel
If combo is the answer to the B/G menace, are we doomed to live in either midrange hell or the fiery pits of goldfish land? No, obviously not. Otherwise, the tone of these paragraphs would have been quite a lot more alarmist—trust me on that.
What's going to happen now is simply this: the metagame wheel is going to spin along. With Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman firmly punished for their focus on smashing fair, high-disruption decks, people will be able to dust of their Stifles, Dazes, and Force of Wills, their Thalias, Gaddock Teegs, and Counterbalances to show combo that life isn't always that easy in the most diverse Eternal format. In short, we're going to go back to disruption domination—which in turn will reopen the door for Deathrite.dec to prey on the combo predators in the distant future.
Would you like an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about? Alright, check out this beauty that seems insane for the meta we're in right now:
I would hate to play against that deck with combo. Eighteen disruption spells (plus four Wastelands), a combination of countermagic, mana denial, and discard, backed by a ridiculous clock of one-mana battlecruisers and two-mana dragons is a great recipe to crush unfair decks. Eric's list looks incredibly sweet and well-tuned, from the cute Vision Charm (as the fifth Dreadnought enabler or super Ritual to fuel Tombstalker) to the innovative use of Disfigure to deal with annoying early game threats.
You don't even have to go that far, though. Just equipping Maverick with maindeck Aven Mindcensors in addition to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Gaddock Teeg can easily be enough to carry you to a Top 8 berth in a meta full of combo. Or you could go with a deck that was all the rage a year or so ago but has since fallen off the radar: Bant.
Instead of being fancy, you take Esper Stoneblade and cut the discard and Lingering Souls for countermagic and Knight of the Reliquary, pick up mana acceleration in Noble Hierarch (yes, that card is still extremely good, Deathrite or no Deathrite), and call it a day. It's really that simple—jam the best blue-white-green spells and round it out with enough countermagic to show combo the respect it deserves and you have a solid deck on your hands.
I guess it's a little weird to call something this standard looking a diamond in the rough, but this style of Bant deck has been so widely ignored that it feels like a breath of fresh air to see it do well again.
Want to see a diamond that I suspect will really need a lot of polishing? Check this out:
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 3 Knight of Meadowgrain
- 3 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 3 Savannah Lions
- 3 Serra Avenger
If you'd told me I'd find a very basic traditional White Weenie deck in the Top 20 of an SCG Legacy Open, I'd have laughed at you. Death and Taxes is one thing since it has a ton of hate bears and quirky interactions to make life hell for your opponent. This deck is really just medium-speed aggression backed by removal.
I can't help but think that Mike managed to dodge combo and that his deck needs quite a bit of optimization to do well in Legacy on a consistent basis. There are some very interesting innovations to be seen here, though.
Dryad Militant has been looking for a home ever since it was printed in my opinion; an aggressive body with a solid graveyard hate ability tacked on is pretty efficient in a vacuum. Beating down for two while blanking Nimble Mongoose, Punishing Fire recursion, Snapcaster Mage, Lingering Souls, Past in Flames, and a ton of other stuff is actually a pretty good deal for a single mana. You just need a deck that actually wants Savannah Lions in the first place to make it good.
Mirran Crusader is another card that has been far too absent from a metagame in which Tarmogoyf and Abrupt Decay make up a major part of what you're likely to see (even if those cards will probably less play in the immediate future). Between double strike and very relevant protection abilities, the Knight from the world of metal could punish quite a few people for thinking mono-white doesn't have any awesome threats. Just thinking about what happens when he connects carrying a Sword of War and Peace or Umezawa's Jitte makes even me curious about playing with creatures.
The really sweet thing in Mike's list, though, and a big reason for his success (I suspect) is Meekstone. That card is just dumb in some games, shutting down the opponent's board for the low, low cost of one.
This is the card that really got me thinking about this deck. You see, shortly after finishing my traditional brewing article for Gatecrash, I realized that there was a pretty sweet mini-combo I missed when studying the spoiler: Meekstone plus Blind Obedience to lock the opponent out of doing anything with large creatures. This lock not only gives you a giant edge against Tarmogoyf and Delver of Secrets, but it also totally invalidates the whole plan of Sneak and Show while providing a noncreature-based win condition of sorts to close a game out with extort.
Where does that leave me? Interested in exploring the last thing I ever expected to want to work on: a White Weenie beatdown deck. I might not play that kind of thing in a tournament, but giving my deckbuilding muscles a workout always feels really good. This is where I'd consider taking Mike's deck:
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 3 Serra Avenger
- 2 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
If you ever curve Crusader into Elspeth, your opponent will probably be quite dead, and replacing Knight of the Meadowgrain with Thalia should give you at least a shot at beating something like ANT.
Meekstone and Blind Obedience obviously furnish the lock alluded to above, but each card has quite a bit of functionality on its own. Meekstone is powerful in the same way it was in Mike's original list, obviously, and Blind Obedience allows your smaller guys to deal that nice bit of extra damage when potential blockers come down tapped, which should allow you close out a reasonable number of games with a combination of extort triggers and all-in attacks.
I might be on a totally wrong track here—after all, White Weenie is neither my forte nor traditionally a force in the Legacy metagame—but while this deck clearly doesn't break the format wide open, it looks like a reasonable thing to explore if you're into attacking with small white creatures until your opponent falls over.
Polishing It Off
These obviously aren't the only innovative decks to turn up at the last three SCG Legacy Opens. The all-spell Undercity Informer / Balustrade Spy deck both Adam Prosak and I talked about independently is a clear newcomer with potential, and the whole Enter the Infinite / Dream Halls / Show and Tell / Omniscience set up I talked about in the same Gatecrash brewing article already made a Top 8.
The moral of the story? When someone tells you Legacy is solved, that there's no useful exploration left to do, just laugh at them. This format is so wide, varied, and full of bizarre, powerful cards that even with all the work and development that has happened throughout the years, an incredible number of potential decks still remain buried out there in the mud of forgotten and ignored pieces of cardboard.
I hope you enjoyed this little overview of creative endeavors paying off; I'll go do some prospecting of my own now. Until next time, do something new!