You all know I like to brew—well, those of you that have been reading my articles for a while at least. After all, I've mentioned often enough that I'm obsessed with this game and spend a lot of time mulling over possible things one could do in Legacy that nobody has actually taken the time to do.
Today I'll shed some light on how I actually go about brewing up new decks and how I decide if something is worth pursuing or if I should just move on to the next idea. To do that, I'll walk you through one particular idea I've been thinking about lately from the point of inspiration to the point where I'm ready to either dismiss it or decide it's worth further exploration. Sound interesting? Excellent!
How to Get Started
Well, the first thing you need when you want to build something people aren't playing yet is an idea. There are a lot of different ways to find that kind of inspiration. Sometimes you see a card and decide it has to be possible to break. Sometimes you find an awesome interaction and want to explore it. Sometimes you see a deck in a different format and realize it might be something to crib for Legacy usage (assuming you're interested in creating a Legacy brew, obviously). There really are a million different things that could get you started down the track of spending far too much time thinking about Magic: The Gathering. You might even be inspired by something an opponent does to you in a tournament.
The deck I'll be using as an example came about as a combination of the two latter situations. In our latest local Legacy event, I lost to an interesting-looking R/G aggro brew featuring Standard darling Burning-Tree Emissary. Admittedly some pretty bad play on my part was involved, but nonetheless the idea seemed to have merit.
Seeing Burning-Tree Emissary made me think about the fact that Standard right now has a deck easily capable of ending the game on turn 4, which is in and of itself is a reasonable expectation for a viable Legacy aggro deck. That deck is, obviously, Naya Blitz. Ben Weinburg wrote about his take on Naya Blitz in The Industry Standard this week; here's his list:
- 4 Boros Elite
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Frontline Medic
- 1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Lightning Mauler
- 4 Mayor of Avabruck
- 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
The power level of the deck is quite high for a Standard deck, and lately powerful Legacy decks have come into being through stealing Standard technology. Just look at U/W Delver and Caw-Blade for decks that have moved from Standard to Legacy successfully.
Why would I be interested in exploring the archetype further? I mean, I'm not exactly someone who is likely to be found turning creatures sideways in a Legacy event. Essentially, ever since Zoo has fallen out of favor in Legacy, the format has been incredibly diverse but sorely lacking a true aggressive deck to keep players honest as far as early game on-board interaction is concerned. The mere fact that something like my Entreat the Angels focused Miracles list from two weeks ago is a possibility points to there being a hole in the metagame to be exploited by those more apt than me to curve out until the opponent is dead. As for why I'd be exploring it, why not? I told you that I spend way too much time thinking about Magic, right?
Starting the Draft
The first thing you want to do after identifying an idea is to understand exactly what the deck wants to be doing followed by finding the correct pieces of cardboard to implement that plan. In this case, the goal is straightforward: vomit your hand onto the board Affinity style, only with better creatures, and get the opponent dead as soon as possible. One key interaction here is the chain of Experiment One into Burning-Tree Emissary (BTE from here on out) into two more one-drops, preferably ones with three or even four power. Luckily, lots of high-powered one-drops allow the deck to curve out similarly well even in the absence of BTE, giving us much needed redundancy.
So what we're looking for are red and green one-drops that provide as much bang for the buck as possible. We can steal Experiment One and BTE straight from the Standard deck, but hopefully we'll be able to push the power level of the rest of the deck nicely by using Legacy's larger card pool. Some cards instantly spring to mind:
Goblin Guide – Still the red one-drop that dishes out the most damage.
Vexing Devil – While this will often end up as just four to the dome, it always enters play to pump Experiment One beyond 3/3 levels, adding a nice burst of speed to the deck. If it ever sticks, it's obviously ridiculous.
Dryad Militant – A green one-drop—one that even pulls some double duty as a hate bear. Running this would probably preclude us from playing Tarmogoyfs of our own, though, and the body isn't all that impressive.
Tarmogoyf – Speaking of Tarmogoyf, there still isn't any creature that gets as big as fast as good old Goofy. While it isn't a one-drop, chaining BTE into Goyf will still end up being quite a beating usually.
That's 28 slots filled with a curve exactly as low as we want it. A little bit of removal would probably do us some good, though—Stoneforge Mystic exists, after all—and burn is the obvious way to complement what we have so far. Removal going to the dome when unneeded is always nice.
Lightning Bolt is an obvious choice, and Chain Lightning is pretty much the next best burn spell in the format simply because of mana to damage ratio. Let's assume we'll be running a full set of these.
Finally, the deck would probably like some additional reach to close out games on stalled boards and, quite importantly, as a way to punch through an opposing Tarmogoyf (or Tombstalker for that matter). Many decks currently rely on slow and limited removal suites, compensating by playing the cheapest fatty ever printed or his white cousin Stoneforge Mystic. We could obviously run the traditional Zoo answer to the problem of big creatures—Path to Exile—but I really don't like the idea of having something that can't help kill the opponent in a deck like this, at least in the maindeck.
Instead, I think we should try out another Standard card: Ghor-Clan Rampager. Bloodrushing a Rampager will allow our not-so-little guys to crush almost any Lhurgoyf underfoot while still dealing a few points to the opponent. It will make sure Lingering Souls chump blocks are less than effective, and, best of all, it will always translate into more damage if we're just straight up racing.
The one thing Ghor-Clan Rampager doesn't do is help us out when all our creatures are getting killed or the board is utterly stalled—I doubt this deck will be winning all that many games in which hard casting a four mana 4/4 actually becomes relevant, though it's a nice bonus to have.
Fireblast is a great finisher and works brilliantly with the deck's plan of winning as fast as possible, but drawing more than one really isn't the best. Price of Progress, on the other hand, is relatively expensive for a deck like this, and it can be a little conditional. But on the flipside, it can deal ridiculous amounts of damage to opponents hellbent on playing nearly no basic lands, and it costing two shouldn't really matter as much given that we'll want to cast it as late as possible.
To make sure I draw one of these finishers when I need it, I'd like to run three. To start with, I'll use Price of Progress since it has the highest potential to recover games that have been going less than optimal because it will deal eight to ten damage in corner cases. This leaves us with a spell base of:
That's 42 cards. Judging from my experience with more normal Zoo decks, I'd like to have at least twenty lands, so we'll have to make to cuts. Seeing as I want to get a feel for the cards I haven't gotten to play with so far and given the fact that our guys should be at least as big as most things the opponent can present, cutting two Chain Lightnings is where I'd start trimming. Ghor-Clan Rampager gives us some redundancy as far as pushing through blockers is concerned, after all.
That leaves the mana base. We want all our lands to produce green or red mana to make sure we can always cast BTE, and we want to run as many fetchlands as we possibly can because the thinning is probably better than saving life in a deck as aggressive as this.
Given the similarities between this and more usual Zoo decks, cribbing from those should be a reasonable way to get started. This is what my gauntlet Zoo decks used when the deck was still a common sight:
We need Plains only to make Wild Nacatl a 3/3, so ignoring the third color basic shouldn't be a problem. We can also probably cut down to a single Plateau. On the other hand, we always want to be able to curve as hard as possible, so I'd probably just replace the latter with a third Taiga. That leaves us with a single land slot to fill, and I really like Horizon Canopy as a green source that helps protect against flooding. Cutting the Plains gives us the room to run a single one and see how it does.
That gives us the following list as a starting point:
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Experiment One
- 3 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 4 Kird Ape
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Vexing Devil
- 4 Wild Nacatl
That actually looks quite powerful. The deck should have some nutty draws—curving Experiment One into BTE, Goblin Guide, and Wild Nacatl to deal a ton of damage by turn 3. The question remains, though: is this actually any good?
Once we're at this point in our deckbuilding endeavor, theory won't get us any further. We need to see how the deck plays out in the real world. Now, if you're like me, you don't have the money to just buy whatever you want on Magic Online to start testing there, and you have these kinds of ideas far too often to always be able to find someone to playtest with. Don't worry, though. After all, we're not looking to get exact matchup numbers for our new toy; we just want to know if it does roughly what it's supposed to do.
Depending on the deck type we're looking at, there are two steps to take here. The first is applicable only to combo decks and relatively uninteractive aggro decks like this one: goldfishing. By doing that, we'll see if the deck actually plays out as intended in a vacuum. The reason I ignore this step for control decks is that goldfishing is generally not something those decks will ever be able to do.
So let's throw the list together in proxy form or on some third party program and beat a couple of goldfishes over the head. Here's what I got when doing this with the above list:
G2: Mull to six (Forest as the only land on seven). Goblin Guide, double Tarmogoyf, Kird Ape, Goblin Guide, and Vexing Devil. Assuming the opponent gets two card types into the yard by turn 3, we goldfish on turn 4 again.
This is when I stopped goldfishing. I had to keep a few one-landers among these, but all of them developed in ways that consistently won on turn 4. Mana problems were minimal, and the deck seemed to be doing fine faced with no adversity. Time for the next step.
Adding the Second Fist
Seeing as finding opponents and playing real games of Magic takes a lot of time, if we want to brew a lot, we need a reasonable substitute. What I use is "two-fisted" testing. The way this works is quite simple: you either proxy two decks or open them up on your third party software of choice and just play both decks against each other, shortcutting as much as possible to get in the most games possible in the shortest amount of time.
Try to avoid giving either deck advantages due to usually unknown information (this can be quite tricky if cards like Cabal Therapy are involved), though obviously some unconscious bias will generally influence your results. That's fine for what we have in mind, though—after all, if we decide this deck is for real, we can start actually testing it against live opposition. What we want to do here is make sure that that's actually worth the effort!
What I usually do to check basic viability is to pick a small gauntlet among the most common Legacy decks that push from different angles and run about ten maindeck games against each of them. If I can't get even matches against most of them or at least crush some, it's time to move on to the next idea. As of now, this is what I use for opposition:
I use this combination of decks because they're among the most common archetypes in the format and put pressure on from a number of different angles. Pretty much all common forms of disruption (discard, countermagic, removal, mana denial) are brought to bear as well as all the major threats (Delver of Secrets, Tarmogoyf, Stoneforge Mystic, planeswalkers, a fast combo kill). Basically, if a deck does well against this kind of gauntlet, I'd expect it to have at least a fighting chance in most matchups it might encounter.
Interested in how Legacy Blitz fared here? Keep reading! Here are my notes for ten two-fisted games against each deck. Legacy Blitz is on the play in odd games, and the opponent is in even ones.
G1: Creatures trade with a lot of removal, and when Jund is down to three life, the Blitz deck floods out and loses. 0-1
G3: Legacy Blitz comes out of the gates with the guns blazing, and even double removal into Tarmogoyf and a Hymn for two Price of Progresses isn't enough to beat a Rampager and the third Price of Progress. 1-2
G4: Legacy Blitz keeps a three-land hand and its first four draw steps are four more lands. Jund stabilizes easily. 1-3
G5: Removal trades for creatures while two Thoughtseizes hit two Price of Progresses. After that, Legacy Blitz floods out again. 1-4
This started out badly, but Legacy Blitz rallied to pull back to equilibrium. Tarmogoyf clearly was a big problem, though Ghor-Clan Rampager performed in its role as a fatty trump admirably. Getting out enough pressure to race was hard against removal-heavy draws from Jund, though that was kind of to be expected with the all-creature deck.
G6: An early Delver is killed by Chain Lightning, and the game goes very long. Two hard cast Rampagers trump a Nimble Mongoose after RUG Force of Wills, Dazes, and Spell Snares the first four creatures Blitz plays. 2-4.
G8: In a weird turn of events, RUG actually out-creatures the Blitz deck significantly. 3-5
G10: A Tarmogoyf stabilizes the board, and RUG finally manages to win at one life. 4-6
Not the greatest result, but some of the early games felt like the bad end of the variance stick. This easily could have been at least even. Definitely not a bad enough matchup to lead to me abandon the deck. One thing to note is that I feel like I misplayed some of the early games when I decided to try to deploy threats against an active Delver of Secrets, assuming the aggro role. I could have tried to kill the Delver but chose to race instead. I ended up winning more when I instead turned my sights on making dead Insects ASAP.
G2: Batterskull ends up on a Spirit token when Stoneblade is on two life and wins it. 0-2
Batterskull is quite the problem for this deck, and if you can't stop a Stoneforge Mystic, you're usually just dead. On the other hand, Blitz felt incredibly ahead whenever there wasn't an early Stoneforge, so that's a good sign.
Sneak and Show
G3: Turn 2 Show and Tell into Emrakul. 1-2
G4: Turn 3 Sneak Attack into the double whammy on turn 4 is enough on the play. 1-3
G5: Exactly the same sequence as game 1 reoccurs. 1-4
G6: Turn 2 Emrakul of off Show and Tell again. 1-5
G8: Turn 3 Show and Tell actually isn't good enough this game as swarming and burn win through an Emrakul on the board. 3-5
G9: Turn 4 Emrakul is once again not good enough. 4-5
I admit I didn't expect this to be a tie in the end. I assumed Sneak and Show would lose a few games to its own inconsistency—and it did—but the aggro deck stealing games against turn 3 Show and Tell more than once was quite impressive. Legacy Blitz also proved fast enough to often make the Sneak Attack plan too slow, which is quite the achievement.
For the first draft of a deck, these are quite solid results, and I think they show enough potential to keep looking at this kind of deck as a possible future contender. If someone lends me the cards for the deck, I'll probably run it through one of our small local events in spite of how not in love I am with creature combat.
There are a few things I already want to change or at least try out after those two-fisted gauntlet games. Price of Progress was powerful but quite inconsistent, while Ghor-Clan Rampager was consistently amazing. When I continue testing the deck, I'll probably try a configuration of four Rampagers and two Fireblasts to see how those play as finishers. I might also try just going for pure Rampagers if I need the room.
Another thing I realized is that turn 2 Time Walk creatures are good enough in this deck that it's probably worth having a little non-synergy with the burn spells to make room for maindeck Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. In almost any game the Blitz deck lost outside of flooding or screw, the opponent spent all their mana every turn early in the game. If a Thalia had come down at any point, they'd almost definitely not been able to keep up with the deck's pace.
Finally, as seen in the RUG Delver matchup, the mana base could be a little more stable. As good as having a ton of fetches is, having one or two more basics and fewer lands able to be Stifled would probably do wonders.
This is what I'd test next, with the Thalias being on the chopping block if they turn out to be too troublesome on the mana to be worth it. I'd love to make room for a couple of Fireblasts, but that'll have to wait until I have a better idea where cuts can be made.
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 4 Kird Ape
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Vexing Devil
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
All the deck is missing for continued testing now is a sideboard. It should have some ways to interact with combo decks as well as removal for opposing Tarmogoyfs and Delver of Secrets. Some ways to deal with Batterskull and—I expect—Counterbalance would probably be nice to have, too. I'll probably throw this together and see where more help is needed once I've played some real games with it:
Gone in a Flash
And this is where I leave things to you. If you're interested in flooding the board early, this deck is going to be a ton of fun for you, and I hope this will give aggro players something new and sweet to explore. If you try this out and tune it, by all means keep me informed about how the deck is doing for you.
If you're like me and tons of creatures aren't really your cup of tea, I hope my explanation of how I go about brewing decks was of some value for your future endeavors. I've been getting solid baseline decklists this way for quite a while now and assume the method should do the same for you. If you have any nice technology to share, let me know.
Until next time, go out and brew!