Well, it's been a while since Grand Prix Ghent, but there is finally another European Legacy GP coming up. In the interest of everyone's preparation, I'd like to talk about my expectations for the GP (if that wasn't clear from the title already), in particular which decks I expect to see the most and how well I think they're positioned. I'll also give short descriptions of each of these decks, provide you with a sample decklist, and talk a little about how good of a choice I believe these decks to actually be and who in particular should be playing them.
All of this will hopefully help you choose what to play yourself, how to tune your deck and sideboard, and make it easier to identify what the heck your opponent is doing when the cards start hitting the table.
Oh, and before I forget to mention it, if you're unlucky enough to not live in Europe, you might as well use the information I'm handing out to prepare for StarCityGames.com Open Series: Atlanta featuring the Invitational. Extra value!
Alright, enough foreshadowing. Let's get into the meat of the article!
I'm going to start with the decks I'd expect to run into the most. These are all good decks that occupy different spots on the archetype spectrum and actually represent most of what Eternal Magic has to offer—combo, control, aggro-control, and midrange all make an appearance!
This Modern port is likely to be the most played non-blue deck in Strasbourg. A combination of aggressive opening draws and a huge number of ways to efficiently grind card advantage makes this deck a dominant force in fair deck matchups, while a smattering of black disruption gives it game against the combo decks (even if those aren't really the opponents you want to run into). The breakout deck of GP Denver is likely to be the best Abrupt Decay / Deathrite Shaman deck, especially if other people are playing fair—something I'm a little doubtful about given the proximity of both the Netherlands and France.
Jund also isn't all that difficult to play—the hardest decisions usually involve Thoughtseize and Liliana of the Veil—so it should be a reasonable choice for a lot of players, especially those who enjoy turning creatures sideways. The very traditional gameplay of the deck also makes it easy to pick up for players that don't usually follow Legacy closely—you might already have experience with it from jamming Modern matches during the PTQ season!
The longest living deck in Legacy as far as I know—it was already a viable choice when Europe's first Legacy GP in Lille rolled around in 2006—had a rather dominant performance shortly after Mental Misstep was hit with the ban hammer. While the Deathrite-Decay duo and general adaptation to the deck's modus operandi have done a lot to push this deck out of the limelight lately, it's still easily one of the best decks in the format.
RUG Delver's biggest strengths are its combination of powerful aggression with a massive potential for early interaction and a significant number of free wins on the back of Wasteland / Stifle draws that leave opponents without the resources to actually play the game.
There is a lot of play to RUG Delver, but the synergy of its draws and relatively clear strategic positioning—try to win before they can outlast your disruption—make this deck a reasonable choice for players familiar and comfortable with the whole aggro-control rigmarole, be if from playing a lot with the deck itself or from an intimate familiarity with U/W Delver in old Standard.
Esper Stoneblade has been a fixture of the format ever since Tom Martell won GP Indianapolis with it roughly a year ago. The deck's biggest strengths are its flexibility and, similarly to Jund, the high power level of its individual cards. A combination of discard and countermagic is sure to keep almost any opponent off balance and varied threats from Stoneforge Mystic and Lingering Souls to Jace, the Mind Sculptor backed by cheap removal and the incredible Snapcaster Mage allow this deck to out-tempo opponents aggro-control style in some games, grind out midrange decks in others, and even switch into full-blown Jace control mode should it prove necessary.
This flexibility is also a hindrance. If you're unfamiliar with Esper Stoneblade and its matchups, you'll have trouble deciding which role you're supposed to take in the game at hand—as Mike Flores has been teaching us since 1999, Misassignment of Role = Game Loss.
Even if you make errors, you'll still win plenty of games, though—Stoneforge Mystic and Jace proved too good for Standard for a reason—so while I'd suggest staying away from it if you aren't at least reasonably comfortable with both the deck's fundamental cards and how it interacts with the most common Legacy matchups, it's still a reasonable deck to play for anyone who has jammed Stoneblade decks in the past. If you have a lot of experience with Esper Stoneblade, though, it is a great choice for Strasbourg.
Sneak and Show
I talked about how I feel about Griselbrand two weeks ago, and this deck is one of the big reasons for my opinion of that particular Demon. Sneak and Show is a very powerful combo deck; it's impossible to deny the raw power of a deck that can routinely deploy Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or the most powerful creature ever printed on turns 2 and 3.
The deck is quite easy to play—for a Legacy combo deck, at least—it produces a lot of short games and can defeat a large number of decks on power level alone. Given that dedicated hate for Sneak and Show is narrow (cards rarely stop both enablers or both fatties) and a strong countermagic suite allows the deck to defend itself against most angles of attack, this is a great deck for a GP, in particular for players that feel they are less experienced than most of their opponents.
There are two main arguments against playing this deck. It can be a little inconsistent—there is a lot of clunk in the deck as long as you haven't assembled your two-card combo, after all—and there aren't many opportunities to exploit skill differential because most decisions that need to be made by both players are usually quite straightforward.
U/W and U/W/R Miracles
Between Terminus to sweep the board for the low, low cost of W and the Counterbalance / Sensei's Divining Top lock, Legacy's resident pure control deck has very powerful plans against almost any deck in the field. Both versions have good arguments going for them. Rest in Peace and the rest of the Enlightened Tutor toolbox allow the pilot to win a lot of matches by relying on the correct silver bullets, while the traditional U/W version as fielded by Joe Lossett* avoids the card disadvantage incurred by running Enlightened Tutor and the conditionally dead silver bullets that make the U/W/R version what it is to focus on a stronger regular control game.
The power level of Miracles is high enough to give it game in almost any matchup, though Liliana of the Veil and (to a lesser extent) Abrupt Decay are definitely troublesome for the archetype. The biggest problem the deck has for a long tournament like a GP is its glacial speed. Even if you play at a reasonable pace, you will end up going to time a lot, which can be a problem due to both exhaustion and the risk of accumulating unintentional draws. If you don't feel familiar enough with the deck to consistently play it at breakneck speed, stay away from this one.
*One thing I'd like to mention concerning Joe's list is that I don't think replacing Force of Will with Misdirection is really the way to go. Sure, it shores up your matchups against Hymn to Tourach and Abrupt Decay, but you lose so much on the anti-combo front that I don't really think it's worth it.
Other Decks I'd Expect to See
The five decks above are the decks I'd expect to run into the most, though there are a few other decks I believe will also turn up in relatively large numbers.
Even though the two versions play out somewhat differently, I class these decks together because they both try to move a fatty into the graveyard and from there into play as fast as possible. This means they're largely vulnerable to the same hate, and with Griselbrand being the fatty of choice, the vast majority of the time they essentially win the game on roughly the same turn.
The Goryo's Vengeance version has the advantage of ending the game immediately and therefore not relying on Griselbrand to stay in play indefinitely (which helps a lot against opponents sporting Karakas or Ensnaring Bridge)—not to mention it gets to swing immediately, allowing you to draw even more cards with your 7/7 Bargain. The higher acceleration count (Dark Ritual) also makes the deck slightly faster than the already blistering traditional Reanimator.
Traditional Reanimator has three important advantages over the Goryo's Vengeance build to compensate. You run more fatties where Goryo's Vengeance has combo enablers, which means Careful Study becomes a great tool to raise consistency. When it Reanimates something, the creature actually sticks in play, so you don't have to go all-in the turn you Reanimate. Your main engine is also more flexible—if drawing half your deck with Griselbrand isn't possible for some reason, it matters a lot less.
This second major strain of Griselbrand decks shares the quality of short rounds and ease of play with the more commonly played Show and Tell decks, making them similarly ideal for players that don't feel they will have a skill edge against most of their opponents. This is compensated by the fact that a lot more interactive options open up for opponents post-board thanks to graveyard hate. The more you expect speed to matter—combo-mirrors, in particular—and graveyard hate to be underplayed, the more correct it becomes to choose the Reanimation plan over the Show and Tell plan.
Note that the Goryo's Vengeance version is significantly stronger against incidental graveyard hate (like Deathrite Shaman) and one-shot graveyard hate (like Tormod's Crypt and Surgical Extraction) because the additional acceleration and instant speed Reanimation effects make playing around those cards actually quite easy.
Tendrils Storm:TES and ANT
While there are faster combo decks and better-protected combo decks, the two builds Tendrils-based Storm combo we regularly see in Legacy share the fact they try to find the best middle ground between speed, consistency, and protection.
The lists may look similar at first glance, but there are important differences between TES and ANT. The former is much more geared towards winning early and rewards aggressive play, while the latter approaches most matchups from the point of view of a Vintage combo-control deck: rip the opponent's hand to shreds, massage your library until you reach the perfect hand, and then kill the opponent once that happens. A short look at the comparative strengths and weaknesses:
- TES is able to profit more easily from early game openings. The maindeck Empty the Warrens, higher business count, and stronger Ad Nauseams (due to lower converted mana costs and Chrome Moxes) allow the deck to win faster than ANT usually does. Silence is also a much better card to protect yourself while going off than anything ANT can support because it punishes soft counters incredibly well.
- What TES gains in speed, ANT regains in resilience. A more resilient mana base (basics, no Chrome Moxes, City of Brasses, or Gemstone Mines), more fetchlands to interact with your cantrips, and more cantrips in general as well as a game plan much more suited to rely on Past in Flames as compared to TES give ANT a much stronger turn 3+ game plan than TES.
These decks are very strong choices against many strategies you're likely to encounter. Both are fast enough to beat anything that doesn't interact with them (or wins first) and resilient enough to slog through quite a lot of disruption that is leveled at them. The high flexibility of these decks' engines also allows players to leverage skill and information advantage incredibly well.
The biggest problem the Tendrils Storm decks have is the skill cap. If you make every decision correctly, both decks are incredibly powerful. On the flip side, though, they are often incredibly unforgiving. A minor misevaluation often leads directly to a totally avoidable game loss. Storm is not something you should pick up cold, and, in all honesty, if you haven't already considered playing Storm because of past experience, you should probably stay away from these decks.
Of note: the Dutch traditionally play a lot of Storm combo, and the above Storm list popularized by Adam Prosak is a very minor variation on something the French built before GP Amsterdam. This is the main reason I actually expect these decks to make up a noticeable share of the GP Strasbourg metagame—otherwise the complexity would usually preclude most players from bringing or at least succeeding with these decks.
- 2 Aven Mindcensor
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Qasali Pridemage
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Scryb Ranger
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Maverick may have faded from the spotlight somewhat due to Terminus and Deathrite Shaman, but its combination of efficient, flexible hate bears, Mother of Runes, and Knight of the Reliquary still packs a punch. While the deck can be weak to the fastest of combo draws, it can still out-grind any of the fair decks, and if you give it the two turns it needs to get the hate bears online, it often becomes quite the problem for most combo decks.
The reason I think the deck will be popular is two-fold. First, some people just love to play nearly all-creature decks, and Maverick has game over the widest range of matchups if you don't plan on comboing like Elves does. More importantly, though, the hate people use to deal with the matchup is on the decline—how many Dread of Night have you seen lately?—and once people are unprepared for it, its fair matchups become good enough to easily compensate for its surprisingly close combo matchups.
One-time darling BUG Control has lost a lot of followers with the rise of Jund, but there are some players that just can't resist the massive grinding power of the Decay-Deathrite shell yet are paranoid enough about combo (or in love with Brainstorm) to not want to forgo the color blue.
The deck is definitely powerful, and the presence of Jace and Brainstorm ensures you lose to flooding less often than Jund does. But it just happens to not be the best at anything. It has trouble with both Jund (which grinds better and puts on more pressure) and combo (because of the relatively low maindeck disruption count), which is the price you pay for trying to be both midrange and control.
Whenever combo is out in force, people tend to return to playing much more aggressive BUG decks than what we've gotten used to—and with good reason. The combination of discard, countermagic, and a fast clock that it sports makes BUG Delver one of the best combo slayers there is.
The deck is weak to large amounts of cheap removal, but looking above, this weakness doesn't seem all that relevant at the moment, especially given that the adoption of Deathrite Shaman allows BUG Delver to regularly blank Snapcaster Mage. The deck should be well positioned, and it plays a normal enough game of Magic to appeal to non-Legacy players that I expect to see quite a bit of it.
Other Show and Tell Decks (Omniscience, Dream Halls,
I lump these together because they share two characteristics. They are worse at putting Griselbrand into play than Sneak and Show is, and they are actually able to win on the spot. I personally think that in the current metagame you're likely to be better off just playing Sneak and Show, even though you might lose a game or two to pre-board Ensnaring Bridge out of Miracles. Why in the current metagame? Well, discard is the disruption of choice for a large number of decks, and a two-card combo (like fatty + enabler) is much more resilient to that form of disruption than something that tries to find three cards (either Show and Tell and two combo pieces or a mana accelerant plus two combo pieces).
Why then do I expect people to play these decks? Because winning on the spot and with a noncreature win condition are both very powerful tools. If you think a lot of Humilitys, Pithing Needles, and Karakases will be played, choosing a deck with multiple different angles of attack is a very reasonable choice.
If you want to play one of these decks, I would definitely lean towards Omni-Tell simply because it has the fewest pure combo cards in the maindeck, which means it has more live cards. I don't think anyone should be playing Hive Mind anymore since the deck has, in my opinion, become essentially just worse than Dream Halls with the printing of Enter the Infinite.
- 1 Birchlore Rangers
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 3 Fyndhorn Elves
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Priest of Titania
- 3 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Regal Force
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 1 Dryad Arbor
The new Elves build popularized by Luis Scott-Vargas and Matt Nass (who else but those two) at GP Denver is a huge upgrade over the lists played before. Finding Glimpse of Nature was always the deck's biggest problem in combo mode, and turning to Natural Order alleviates this by giving you easy access to Regal Force. Because it also enables Craterhoof Behemoth as the instant game-ender of choice, the same Natural Order will also serve as a super Overrun to win from boards that otherwise have no way of actually going off.
This gives the deck a lot more raw power and consistency as a combo deck while retaining the same strengths the deck has always had. You are often fast enough to race all but the fastest combo decks in the format, these fast draws are unfair enough to actually beat the all the fair decks, and if the opponent actually manages to stop you from fully comboing, you have a somewhat reasonable beatdown plan as a backup.
The Old Standbys
The final group of decks I'd definitely expect to run into are those that some people simply always play. For some, it's about money (it's hard to find a cheaper viable deck than Burn), for some, it's ease of play (being able to count to seven is usually sufficient to play Belcher), and for some, it's that they want to play exactly that particular kind of game (Dredge).
- 4 Gempalm Incinerator
- 4 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Goblin Lackey
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 2 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 3 Mogg War Marshal
- 2 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Skirk Prospector
- 1 Stingscourger
- 1 Krenko, Mob Boss
Goblins is one of those decks that has somehow never died out. In part it is because there are some that love the little red men too much to let go, and in part it's because Goblins is just that good. Yes, the deck has bad matchups (most of the combo decks), but it compensates by being ridiculously good against anyone trying to play a long game against them. 2/2 haste Fact or Fictions and 1/1 Demonic Tutors are just that good, especially if Aether Vial and Cavern of Souls make them uncounterable. A reasonable sideboard helps deal with decks that don't really care if you draw a ton of extra cards on turn 4.
Personally, I think this is likely the worst GP to play Goblins at in a long time—there are just too many different viable combo decks running around to actually cover all of them sufficiently from the sideboard alone, so you'll have to get a little lucky if you want to do well with Goblins.
- 1 Coralhelm Commander
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 4 Merrow Reejerey
- 3 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Silvergill Adept
Merfolk is Legacy's heir to the Counter Sliver strategy and also happens to be quite cheap as long as you already have Wastelands, Force of Wills, and Mutavaults. Its relatively low cost is the biggest reason I can see to still play the deck since I don't feel it is all that well positioned against all the removal the fair decks have access to and the relatively low countermagic count it has against combo. If I wanted to be on the disrupt and beat plan, I'd probably just play RUG Delver. That being said, I'm relatively sure you're likely to run into it at least once if you go to Strasbourg simply because it is probably the best-positioned deck against combo that doesn't want any dual lands.
Some people just like Burn and/or are really good with the deck; others just don't have the cards to play anything else. If you manage to dodge the combo decks or draw enough of your sideboard hate, Burn is actually quite a good choice because it is fast, easy to play, and allows for less meaningful interaction than even most of the combo decks.
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 3 Golgari Thug
- 3 Ichorid
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Putrid Imp
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Street Wraith
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
Some people play Dredge because that's how they like to play Magic. That isn't the only reason to play it, though, but it's a big reason I expect it to be present in numbers above the fringe decks.
The deck is powerful and fast enough to race even the other combo decks. It also is incredibly hard to beat without graveyard hate, which gives it a great game 1 win percentage. All that comes at the cost of being quite weak to said graveyard hate. If you're comfortable playing that kind of game, guessing correctly with Cabal Therapy, and not forgetting any of your triggers (and there are a lot of them), Dredge is a good choice for the GP.
Deathrite Shaman is actually beatable with a solid Dredge draw, and if people skimp on graveyard hate (or just don't draw it/you dodge the players that have it), the payoff can be huge. I would suggest avoiding Dredge if you're unfamiliar with it because while game 1s can usually be won even with multiple mistakes, post-board games against hate are exceedingly difficult to play correctly—and you'll need to win at least one of those.
Belcher is easy, Belcher is cheap, and Belcher is still incredibly fast (unfair). I personally don't see why you would bring a deck that is all about not playing Magic for more than three minutes per round to a GP, especially with its weakness to one of the most played cards in the format (Force of Will), but there are a lot of people that enjoy it.
It's also the perfect deck for anyone who is either new to Magic or completely new to Legacy. If you can count to seven and mulligan accordingly, you'll be playing the deck correctly 90+% of the time, and if your opponent doesn't have Force of Will, they're probably going to lose. One thing I'm personally interested to see is how many people decide that more instant winning is worth losing to graveyard hate and play the Oops All Spells! deck instead of bringing Belcher.
Is That All?
Well, is it? No way! If you get to play all the rounds in Strasbourg, you'll likely play against a number of decks I haven't even mentioned today. Even though there are clear crowd favorites in Legacy, there are literally dozens of other archetypes that have the tools to make it through the field of a large Legacy tournament. These decks are usually played by a small number of people, often players that have mastered the archetype by playing it for years, and preparing for all of them would be a Sisyphean Labor beyond what I have room for today or you'll have time to accomplish.
In spite of that variety, just being familiar with the archetypes presented above and having at least a few games under your belt against most of them should give you the knowledge you need to enter GP Strasbourg and make a solid job of it. For those who are still looking for a deck to play, I hope this article will help with the decision process, and for those that already know, I hope the metagame information is helpful.
I've got to get back to figuring out what I want to play now. Until next time, get ready to rumble!