Hello everybody! After a couple of weeks of talking about the intricacies of a single deck—well, archetype—today I'll try to provide a little bit of something for everyone. With a card pool as large as Legacy's and so many different viable decks, it's inevitable that there are a lot of cards whose value moves up and down with the tides of the metagame or the printing of new cards.
Those sweet little gems—specific answers for specific problems or just overall powerful effects in case a common trait emerges among top tier decks—are what help balance a format and make Legacy the sweet dance of powerful plays and efficient answers it is. So instead of focusing on tuning a single deck, going into detail concerning complicated plays, or brewing up a completely new deck, I'd like to talk about a couple—well, a nice round ten—cards that all of us would do well to remember given the current metagame depending on our deck choice.
Interested? Alright, let's get going!
Keeping It Sacred
If my advice were "put Leylines into your combo decks to fight discard," you'd have a point. No, the reason I want to talk about this one isn't Show and Tell; it's Miracles actually. You see, before Return to Ravnica, U/W Miracles was a force that shaped the play environment, a powerful metagame predator that pushed midrange creature decks like Maverick to the edge of extinction.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
With the rise of B/G midrange decks thanks to new tools in Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay—Jund in particular—the king of control was rapidly dethroned. Its Counterbalances destroyed and its hand ravaged by Hymn to Tourach, the deck just fell prey to the new school of midrange a little too often to remain a big player.
The secret no one acknowledges, though, is that Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman aren't the real problems for Miracles. Even Hymn isn't something the deck fears overwhelmingly. As long as you can get a Sensei's Divining Top down, Miracles can easily win without having cards in hand for most of the game.
No, in all my testing of the archetype against Jund and similar decks, the cards you consistently lose to are Liliana of the Veil and, to a lesser extent, Punishing Fire. Lili comes down early, rips the opponent's hand to shreds, and against Miracles almost always reaches her ultimate to crush the control player's mana base and make recovery impossible.
So what happens if you open the game with a Leyline or even just hard cast one on turn 4? Well, Liliana suddenly becomes just another Bottomless Pit. Sure, it isn't great to never have cards in hand, but when that's all she does, defeating her and her ally isn't really all that hard. Conveniently enough, Leyline also makes sure you (and your Jace) aren't getting burned out by Punishing Fire in the long haul.
Now, that isn't to say that every Miracles deck ever should just slam a playset of these in the sideboard (though that is a reasonable idea). Running two or three should be just fine. Because you can hard cast the Leyline and Liliana is never going to ultimate you on turn 4, just planning to find it in time to stave off the ultimate is enough. Once Leyline is down, all you have to do is grind for time with Terminus until a big Entreat the Angels during the opponent's end step takes the game home.
In addition to its strength against all manner of B/G decks, Leyline also gives you additional tools against Storm, which has been rearing its
ugly beautiful head again lately. Trust me when I say that a deck that has countermagic, Counterbalance-Top, Leyline of Sanctity, and Vendilion Clique (as well as mass removal for Goblin tokens) is actually almost impossible for Storm to adequately prepare for. Now, the deck doesn't really need the help here, but any additional edges you can get are valuable. So go ahead, get a grip on your supposed bad matchup, and bring back the U/W. Leyline even laughs at Abrupt Decay—what's not to love?!
Let The Dead Lie Undisturbed
Yes, Rest in Peace is seeing play in sideboards. No, I don't think that's enough. I mean, just look at what people are playing! Rest in Peace neuters half the threats that are seeing play in a multitude of non-combo decks on its own, shuts of some of the most powerful linear strategies from speedy Reanimator to grindy Lands.dec, and really takes a big bite out of anything not called Death and Taxes, U/W/R Delver, or Show and Tell.
There's a reason the card was played in multiples in Miracles before, and even though I don't like that particular build—I just don't think Enlightened Tutor is a good foundational card in this format—the raw power of Rest in Peace can't be overlooked. It needs a home. I just told you I don't like the Enlightened Tutor Miracles deck, but there are other things that should be explored. Maybe going back to straight U/W Stoneblade is an option, or maybe—just maybe—I can be really happy and my beloved Hawks will get a chance to come out and play again:
I was inspired to give Caw Cartel another whirl when I saw fellow Source user IsThisACatInAHat? (thanks for carrying the Cartel torch!) casually crush through Caleb Durward's Punishing Fire RUG deck on video (and when I say casually crush, I mean won a hard-fought, grindy, three-game match). When putting the deck back together, though, I remembered I wasn't too happy with the two Snapcaster Mages in my old list. I decided to try out maindeck Rest in Peace instead, and man have I been impressed in my admittedly limited playtesting.
Shutting off Nimble Mongooses, Tarmogoyfs, Deathrite Shamans, Lingering Souls (at least it becomes a really bad card you can grind out with Hawks easily), and Punishing Fires as well as a ton of other random value tools is just incredible for this deck. You already win by getting ahead in raw cardboard count in a major way, and there's almost nothing that can ever catch up if they can't use their graveyard.
Even if you aren't interested in picking up a deck that uses little Birds to build your own Ancestral Recall, though, the power level of Rest in Peace in the format we currently have is just absurd, and any deck that can run it without major damage to itself should consider jamming a couple.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
I'm talking about these together because they all do essentially the same thing; they really hurt decks that use (almost) pure nonbasic lands for mana purposes, which seems to be at least half the format right now!
Now, different from before, Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay make it so that these cards don't really work as a permanent hard lock most of the time, so you don't want to build your deck around them.
On the other hand, it usually takes an opponent at least a couple of turns to get to the point where they can get rid of these enchantments; if my three-mana play turns into effectively three Time Walks, I'm quite happy with that as long as I haven't been making sacrifices to make the nonbasic hate work.
As a result, all three of these need to be used as tools for one- and two-color decks that just happen to be able to cast them for value instead of build-around-me cards like we've seen before, but that doesn't make these any less good.
Their impact ranges from being just a forced one for one (when they get Abrupt Decayed straightaway) to utterly backbreaking (when you catch the opponent without available mana or Deathrite Shaman), and as such none of these is ever utterly terrible. If they work, though, they're better than just about anything else you can buy for three mana. Try them out with the correct attitude and you won't be disappointed!
Back To The Vault
Well, I already dedicated a whole article to this card in Storm, so I won't be talking about that particular revelation anymore. The success I had with the card there made me wonder what other decks could stand to profit from such a powerful tutor effect. I mean, it isn't like we couldn't have put the damn thing in Storm like two years ago already; maybe we've been missing something else too. Lim-Dul's Vault isn't a particularly metagame-dependent card but rather an old gem that should be reviewed in the light of recent printings.
The first thing I thought of—other than pointed-out-to-me-in-the-comments Tin Fins—was Omni-Tell. Similar to Storm, the deck is full of cheap cantrips to get the most out of Lim-Dul's Vault. It also mimics the Storm deck's overload of rituals by having at least seven of each of its combo pieces. It tries to set up a three-card combo, and Lim-Dul's Vault is very good at finding missing pieces, even multiples, as long as you run enough copies of the cards you want.
Now, I'm not saying that's definitely the way to go—I actually haven't tested the idea at all—but it shows that there is at the very least a lot of potential exploration that we've been neglecting. Maybe nothing will come of this, but I could see Lim-Dul's Vault being a tool that finally moves a ton of different fringe archetypes a little bit closer to tier 1 status or the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as Omni-Tell is concerned.
I've even played with the idea of running it in Miracles! It will always find Terminus or Entreat the Angels when you need it, can set up all manner of different lock shenanigans, and can even manipulate the top of your deck for Counterbalance.
So if you're playing something that could use a powerful tutor, take a look at the Vault!
Knowledge Is Power
While we're at it, Gitaxian Probe is another card Storm uses that should probably be seeing more play across the board. For the low, low cost of reducing your deck size—something I'd actually consider a benefit in most cases—you suddenly get to play a number of games with full information. In a format as complex as Legacy, knowing what your opponent has available is a very powerful effect independent of the actual archetype you're running. In a tempo deck, you get to keep up Stifle when useful and drop Delver when they won't be fetching anyway. You'll always know which disruption spells to keep open, what to use them on, and will generally have the ability to just outplay your opponent thanks to the information differential.
This in and of itself should be a reason for more decks that can deal with the life payment to shave a couple of cards to make room for Probes, but when you add some synergies, things become really unfair. Gitaxian Probe into Cabal Therapy into flashback Therapy, for example, often ends up being a Mind Twist-level blowout.
The ability to turn Snapcaster Mage into a fake Silvergill Adept is also a powerful play from an aggressive-minded tempo deck and helps justify the inclusion of Tiago in decks that would otherwise consider him too clunky to be worth running. Even just working towards threshold for free is a valuable effect in RUG Delver. Young Pyromancer gives us incentive to try out the other blue Phyrexian mana card in more decks.
In my opinion, any blue deck in which negative synergy doesn't preclude us from using Probe (for example, you really don't want to cascade into it) and that isn't so tight that absolutely nothing can be cut should try to find room for at least a couple of copies of the Peek that could. I believe we're only now realizing how good a zero-mana draw effect that actually does something really is.
Bonus decklist: this is what happens when I try to really maximize Gitaxian Probe in a grindy deck.
While I don't claim this deck is a finely tuned killing machine yet, I've played a very similar list before, and it's incredibly fun and quite powerful. My opponents were shocked that I always seemed to have a full grip of seven cards at any stage of the game while they were twiddling their thumbs empty handed. Take it for a ride if you feel like you aren't getting enough value as is!
Smite The Unbeliever With Cunning Arguments
I think a lot of cards never see Legacy play only because no one gets around to actually testing them out, and the old constable here certainly strikes me as one of those. While he clearly isn't a flashy all-star, he humbles both Liliana of the Veil and tempo decks (they really don't like creatures that are too big for Lightning Bolt and Nimble Mongoose to take on and can't be Dazed), and as such it should be a great card against those decks in most circumstances. Having the abovementioned Rest in Peace in your deck certainly helps make those circumstances come to pass by the way.
Jamming this as just an efficient 4/4 for three is also totally reasonable, and while Legacy isn't exactly about reasonable cards, the value you gain from laughing at Liliana and Daze will often make up for any other shortcomings the card's fair nature brings with it.
Speaking of G/W decks, the fact that this one isn't making waves still has me confounded. I'll be honest with you, midrange creature decks really aren't my cup of tea—hmmm, Earl Grey—but the value this provides against the multitude of tempo decks in the format alone should makes it a staple Legacy card at least in the sideboard.
Add the fact that it provides value against anything other than Swords to Plowshares and there really is no reason why this Standard and Modern powerhouse shouldn't be a real player in our format too.
It restricts the opponent's plays, punishes instant-heavy decks, and is the perfect card to flashback Cabal Therapy with, all while beating down for two when there's absolutely nothing to interact with it. Just think of it as a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben that targets blue decks instead of combo. I'm telling you now, if you're running Maverick and don't have access to a couple of these, you'll be asking yourself what the heck you were thinking a year from now.
More Room For The Big Ones To Fight In
Alright, take a look at the creatures people are currently playing: Deathrite Shaman; Snapcaster Mage; Dark Confidant; Stoneforge Mystic; Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Delver of Secrets; Bloodbraid Elf; Shardless Agent; Geist of Saint Traft—the list goes on and on. Pyroclasm is as close to a two-mana Wrath of God as I've ever seen it be in Legacy and is so good right now that I'm even playing a couple in my Storm sideboard (admittedly largely to deal with multiple hate bears, though blowing out Elves through speed and removal is quite nice).
Think about it—two toughness really is the magic number right now. For the cost of an Incinerate, you get to kill almost everything most opponents will ever have on the board. You literally get to two and three for one people left and right just by putting a two-mana sorcery into your deck. That has to be good enough to shake things up a little, right?
I Shot The Sheriff— Again And Again And Again
Alright, you got me—this is a combination of cards, not a single spell. So sue me. The fact remains that almost no fair deck in the format can beat this engine going long for the same reason that Pyroclasm is absurd right now.
Punishing Fire not only devastates a board of small creatures once, but combined with Grove of the Burnwillows it also mercilessly mows down Jaces and Lilianas before relieving the opponent of their life total a point at a time.
Honestly, there isn't anything else in the format that provides this much inevitability at such a low cost. All you need to do is run a partially colorless land and a removal spell that is slightly under par for the two mana it costs, and given the dearth of three-toughness creatures we're experiencing right now, though, Punishing Fire might as well be Incinerate for all that the additional point of damage matters.
Clearly you shouldn't put Groves into a focused aggressive deck—giving your opponent life isn't in your interest there—but anything that can make the red mana work and doesn't worry too much about killing the opponent from 25 should look to find a way to dish out a little punishment.
This Is The Road To Hellfire
I have a question for you: at what mana cost does Plague Wind become playable in Legacy? I can't give you an exact answer, but I'd posit that three mana at instant speed should be good enough—and that's exactly what Fire Covenant is in the right type of deck. This card is ideal for Deathrite Shaman / Dark Confidant mirrors as long as you're aggressive enough to negate the life loss and is an incredible tool in any deck that combines aggression with a desire to sweep the opponent's board.
Now, I didn't rediscover this card; the German designers of the BURG deck (RUG Delver splashing Deathrite Shaman) did, and boy did they uncover a monster. If you haven't seen the beating Elves or Goblins takes when a Delver deck fires this off, you won't believe it, and the card also deals favorably with almost everything else in the format that isn't cheated in or called Tarmogoyf (and it's even an out to that big guy in a pinch).
As long as your (semi-) aggressive-minded deck can cough up 1BR, this card should be in your sideboard. Therefore it should fit well into most Young Pyromancer brews at the very least, and maybe we're lucky and there's a way to make Boros Reckoner into an actual Legacy card so that we can play with the oldest combo of them all again (Channel / Fireball).
Alright, there you go—ten of the most overlooked cards in the Legacy format right now, although some of them are already seeing significant play. Whether they solve the problematic matchup that has pushed the last remaining traditional control deck out of the format for now or are brilliant cards still looking for a home or simply sideboard all-stars we have neglected, these cards represent exactly what makes Legacy special. There's always that one forgotten card, that one secret tool or tricky interaction that will just turn the dynamics of certain matchups on its head. All we need to do is put them into the right deck at the right time.
I know this was somewhat different fare from what you're used to in my articles, so make sure to let me know if it's a writing direction that you'd like me to explore further. Other than that, I've had my say for today, so it's time for yours in the comments! Feel free to share any other sleepers you believe are just waiting for their moment in the spotlight too.
Until next time, remember that something is always the right tool for the job!