So you're looking for a sweet Legacy deck?
This past weekend I piloted Shardless BUG to the top 4 of the Legacy Open in Baltimore. I can strongly say Shardless BUG is the deck to play if you're looking for a solid Open Series finish. What would I have to say to convince you? How about if I told you it was my first time ever playing the archetype before? How about if I told you it was my first time ever playing the format before? What if I told you it was my first time ever touching a Magic card in my life!? Ok, that last one might be a bit of a stretch but I can promise you the rest is true. Now let me tell you how I got there.
To be honest I didn't even plan on playing competitive Magic this past weekend. Limited has always been my format of choice and there wasn't a good option available. I couldn't brew a Standard deck I really liked and I had no experience playing Legacy. Luckily, Joe Pennachio, of World Magic Cup infamy, convinced me Baltimore would be a good time, and Morgan Cheng even offered to build me any Legacy deck I wanted. Unfortunately no one was able to convince me not to play 18 land Mono Red in Standard, and trust me, a lot of people tried. So after a very rage induced 3-2 drop from the Standard Open it was time to decide what to play on Sunday. Having little idea about what the Legacy metagame was like and no pet deck I wanted to play, I stumbled upon this statement from Gerry Thompson in reference to Shardless BUG: "Nothing beats it, which is why I want to play it." That was pretty much all I needed to hear and after a quick jaunt over to the Legacy coverage from Nashville I settled on a list very similar to Justin Uppal's:
By very similar I mean I played his exact maindeck, only changing two sideboard cards. As much as I was hating Red at the time no one in the room seemed to have Chills for me to borrow, and I was told it wasn't a very necessary card. I decided to replace one with the fourth Force of Will, being very respectful to the power of combo decks. This ended up being a very good choice because I played against five combo decks over the course of the tournament and always felt great having access to the last Force of Will after board. The other Chill I decided to swap out for none other than Notion Thief. After hearing about how much of a blowout the card had been against Justin himself how could I not have access to it? Although I never actually drew it, I did bring it in a few times and really, really wanted to draw it against my quarterfinals opponent who was playing OmniTell. Thanks to his many cantrips, odds are he would always have a significantly lower amount of cards in his deck than me. What could be more awesome than him going all in on an Enter the Infinite only to have me play Notion Thief in response and draw 30 cards and watch him draw nothing?
While I can't really talk about the card choices for the deck going into the tournament, I can definitely tell you how it played for me and some changes I would make moving forward. To start, this is a list of the different archetypes I faced throughout the day in order:
Maverick - Loss
TEPS - Win
Natural Order Bant - Win
Esper Stoneblade - Win
Sneak and Show - Win
RUG Delver - Win
A sweet Smallpox/Lands brew - Win
Reanimator - Win
Esper Stoneblade - Win
Omni-Tell - Win
Sneak and Show - Loss
Overall, I felt very well equipped to deal with anything that was thrown at me. The deck offers premium versatile removal in Abrupt Decay, good hand disruption in Hymn to Tourach and Thoughtseize, and solid game enders in Tarmogoyf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Having easy access to all modes of Deathrite Shaman is also great, as the card covers a lot of ground in both accelerating and fixing your mana, protecting against graveyard based combo, and offering a long term win condition. Everything else pretty much falls into card advantage and selection, allowing you to never run out of spells to play.
If anything, I felt a bit weak against the combo decks game 1 but by no means did I feel like I couldn't win. I was definitely much happier post-board having access to a lot of strong hate and even more discard. One of the scariest cards they could have was Leyline of Sanctity. If they open up with one, it threatens to blank all of your discard and leave you with a bunch of dead cards that would otherwise be very strong, so I always made sure to bring in my second Maelstrom Pulse against decks threatening the powerful enchantment. Although it might seem narrow to have a three mana removal spell against a combo deck it's not unreasonable to use Deathrite Shaman to cast Malestrom Pulse on turn two, protect yourself with a Force of Will on their turn and then fire off a bunch of discard on turn three to close out the game.
Also, remember to always mulligan aggressively versus combo decks. Just because a hand has land and spells doesn't mean you can't easily lose on turn two without interaction. Game two against my OmniTell opponent in the top 8, I mulliganed a hand of three land, Tarmogoyf, Shardless Agent, Liliana of the Veil and Brainstorm. That hand might seem insane, but without a sure way to interact in the first two turns. you heavily risk losing the game on the spot. Your hate is strong enough that you can safely mull to six and even five not really mind the loss of card advantage. Who cares if you have 20 uncastable cards in hand if you lose the game on turn 2?
Against other "fair" decks not only did I feel favored but I had absolute blast. I spoke with Cedric before the event about having no experience with the format and he told me I was about to play the best format in Magic! It's because of matchups like Esper Stoneblade vs Shardless BUG that he might just be right. There is so much play, interaction, and skill to these matches it blows my mind.
My favorite match of the day was definitely against Ben Friedman playing Esper Stoneblade. The games were very close and skill intensive and made me fall pretty hard for Legacy as format. I felt like Shardless BUG was very well positioned for this kind of matchup because it features so much card advantage. So many of the cards you play are at least two-for-one resource exchanges, and Cascading into Ancestral Vision with Shardless Agent is one of the most degenerate things you can do in a grindy matchup. Brainstorm gains even more depth when you play it alongside Shardless Agent. Normally you just have to consider setting up a good Brainstorm to follow up with a fetchland crack, but with Shardless Agent there's another level entirely.
Do I suspend this Ancestral Vision I drew late and hope to live long enough for it to go off? Or do I try to dig and draw a Shardless Agent so I can Brainstorm and put it back on top and set up a sweet Cascade? Shardless Agent can even act like a fetchland in a tough spot and let you Cascade past extra lands and Jaces put back with Brainstorm.
The card that over performed for me the most was definitely Liliana of the Veil. I brought her in in almost all of my matches and would not have been too sad to see her in any of my game 1s. She's great against any of the control decks, providing a turn two planeswalker with the help of Deathrite Shaman. She pairs up well with your other discard against combo decks to make sure they can never build up a critical mass of combo cards/protection to go off. She also serves as a great way to deal with the otherwise hard to kill threats out of the creature based combos such as Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Against a deck like Maverick she provides a source of repeated removal, which can be key to making sure you don't fall behind on board.
Before I convince you to jam a ton of Lilianas into your mainboard though, keep in mind she is a little embarrassing versus Lingering Souls. The +1 becomes bad when they can just discard a cheap flashback spell and the -2 is very poor against an army of Spirit tokens. With that said, Shardless BUG has enough card manipulation that I would feel pretty good replacing one mainboard Hymn to Tourach with a Liliana moving forward. Hymn is a pretty terrible topdeck in the late game, and three felt like a bit too many to me. Liliana offers a similar kind of disruption, increased versatility and still maintains late game relevance. I would love to have access to a second mainboard but the other slots feel too right.
Now that I've praised the deck an absurd amount I must mention one major shortcoming I found.
It's round 5 and I'm getting pretty comfortable with the deck. I'm up a game against Sneak and Show and feeling pretty good about myself and how my tournament is going. On turn three, I fired off a Hymn to Tourach. My opponent casted Misdirection sending the Hymn it back at me. I Force of Willed the Misdirection but he Forced right back. After the dust cleared, he had one card in hand, I had none, but I did have an Ancestral Vision suspended on with two counters left. I pass the turn and he slammed Show and Tell onto the table. He dropped in Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to my big fat nothing. I mentally prepare myself for defeat and slowly peel my top card - an Underground Sea. Dismayed, I pass the turn back. My opponent triumphantly beats in for 15 putting me to four life and plays the land he drew for turn. He passed back and only during my untap step did he realize…
He missed his Annihilator trigger!
Miraculously still in the game, I removed the last counter from my Ancestral Vision and drew three cards, this time rather quickly. On my draw step I peeled the mighty Liliana of the Veil and cast her forcing my opponent to sacrifice his Emrakul. Feeling very rewarded for my opponent's blunder I pass back thinking there's no way I can lose! He drew his card for the turn, Brainstormed and dropped a Blood Moon into play. 20 turns and three Liliana ultimates later Blood Moon was the only permanent he had in play and I finally decided to concede before getting decked and flipping all of the tables (His Emrakuls prevented him from decking).
Playing zero basic lands makes it pretty hard beat Blood Moon. I managed to dodge it game 3 and won relatively easily, but it reared its ugly head again in the top 4, beating me in both of the sideborded games vs. Chas Hinkle playing Sneak and Show. Game 2, Chas used Force of Will on my turn one Thoughtseize and played it turn two. Game 3 was a bit more entertaining because I had a turn one Deathrite Shaman. He Forced my turn two Liliana of the Veil and played Blood Moon on his turn. Unfortunately I was unable to draw a Tarmogoyf in time and Deathrite Shaman attacking for a total of 13 damage didn't quite get the job done.
The mana in Shardless BUG is pretty tight and I don't think Blood Moon is exactly a Legacy staple, but I don't see the harm in working a basic land into the deck to at least be able to cast a Deathrite Shaman post-Blood Moon. Your opponent having a literal one card combo to beat you is just as frustrating as it sounds. You already have to mulligan so aggressively versus combo to find Force of Will and cheap discard that it can be pretty unreasonable to also hope for a turn one Deathrite Shaman to fight Blood Moon.
Moving forward, this is the list I would play:
I never really wanted a second Tropical Island after the first, so I think that's the safest place to go for a basic land to help against Blood Moon. I lost against my Maverick opponent because he basically overloaded me with threats and Mother of Runes, so it would be nice to have access to more repeatable removal. As fun as Notion Thief is, it definitely wasn't necessary. I also wouldn't dare play less than three Force of Wills mainboard unless you're okay with losing almost all of your game ones to combo decks.
I had a ton of fun and can't wait to play more Legacy in the future! For this weekend, it's back to Limited as Alec Nezin, Joe Demestrio and I try to take down the Team Sealed GP in Providence, Rhode Island after our runner up finish at the StarCityGames.com Somerset Open.
Thanks for reading and feel free to come over and chat at future events!