I'm a man of value. When it comes to building and playing Magic decks, my favorite ones tend be the well-oiled machines that are greater than the sum of their parts. "Bolt your guy, attack you" tends to get the job done, but I'd much rather be fancy, given the opportunity.
That's why one of my favorite creatures in Magic is Bloodghast.
Whenever I see an early Bloodghast in a Cube draft, I almost always plan to wheel it and start looking for opportunities to build a deck around throwing it away over and over—mostly to Recurring Nightmare and Attrition, but I'm perfectly willing to debase myself for weaker options. I've even played the little guy in control decks as a Nether Spirit-style win condition!
I just love him.
That's why when I first saw the deck Sam Black started exploring in Legacy a couple of years ago, I became immediately enamored with the archetype. For reference, here's what I believe to be Sam's very first list, and a Deck Tech he did with Dane Young during a Baltimore Legacy Open.
Let's take a little history lesson!
Sam did well with this brew in his first outing, but decided to move the deck more aggressively toward one- and two-drops, cutting out the larger Messengers and Tombstalkers. After going back into the lab, Sam posted some solid Invitational finishes, a Legacy Open finals, and a Grand Prix Top 8. For comparison's sake, his list from the Legacy Open toward the end of 2012 is the most recent:
We see here the priority on keeping things cheap but having a lot of long-term play. Deathrite Shaman, one of the best creatures in Legacy, lets Sam get aggressive early by casting a lot of spells very quickly but also does work later, burning opponents out in conjunction with Goblin Bombardment.
Since then, we've seen slight variations on this stock Zombardment setup pop up every now and then in Legacy Open Top 16s, but nowhere else in particular. There's not a lot of high-profile innovation taking place in Legacy, because there are only two Grand Prix a year and most Legacy Open players stick to their favorites and brew rarely and recreationally.
Sam's own last look at the deck came in July, when he posted this article up for some MTGO videos, featuring lists that explored Skirsdag High Priest and Nether Traitor, among other options. Though Sam decided at the time that losing the Zombies left him too slow in the aggro department, I agree with this direction today for a few reasons.
First off, generating a big Carrion Feeder is simply way less valuable when the opponent can simply toss True-Name Nemesis in front of it. Carrion Feeder remains about the level of beatdown it was in combo and control matchups—in fact, it's especially useful as a tool to protect your Bloodghasts and Gravecrawlers from Swords to Plowshares and Terminus. However, we have Goblin Bombardment for this role as well, and the enchantment is much more difficult to remove in the matchups where we want that specific job.
The verdict seems to be that cutting Carrion Feeder is probably worthwhile—provided that you add a significant clock in its stead and hang onto the Goblin Bombardments.
Second, the tradeoffs for Gravecrawler just don't seem as worthwhile anymore to me. People criticize Stoneforge Mystic for taking up six slots in a decklist, but Gravecrawler takes up ten to twelve and offers significantly less payoff! It does provide a bit of beatdown, but without multiple copies or Carrion Feeder you're relying on Tidehollow Sculler to rebuy it, which is not super-efficient. When combo was dominating the top tables, I loved Tidehollow Sculler—casting it in Game 1 just felt like cheating. With the popularity of Delver and BUG decks on the rise, Tidehollow Sculler looks a lot worse and makes you a lot slower.
One more niche issue: the surge of Painter in recent months might not seem like a big deal for this deck, and it wouldn't be—except that Blood Moon shutting down the ability to cast Gravecrawler multiple times per turn is actually pretty hurtful!
Basically, the fairer the format skews, the less interested I think you should be in actual Zombies, because they take up so much space in your deck and the field hasn't really moved to the point where you're getting paid off. If you could run a bunch of one-mana Bloodghasts, that might be sweet, but oh well... #foreshadowing
However, cutting Zombies does leave a void for additional fodder to feed Goblin Bombardment and, more importantly, Cabal Therapy. One player may have the answer, and I've been following his MTGO results idly for a couple of months now, waiting to see if anything spicy developed.
Disclaimer: cutting down on Cabal Therapy sort of defeats the purpose of what we're even doing here, and this mana base is impossibly greedy—I find it very unlikely he would ever lose to Blood Moon/Wasteland as often as he'll lose games to mulliganing Mountain + Forest + spells. Play duals and an Undiscovered Paradise with some Swamps (maybe one Mountain?), take your nonbasic beats when they come, and move on with your life!
Caesar1994 has played several variations on the Zombardment shell featuring Young Pyromancer as a primary threat, and this is his most recent list. Young Pyromancer has been enjoying significant success in Legacy of late, mostly on the back of Eric Rill's SCG Milwaukee Legacy Open win popularizing Four-Color Delver. So why should we consider playing the 2/1 that has languished for so long?
1) True-Name Nemesis is pretty mediocre against an army of 1/1s. You can suicide your squad in turn after turn, holding back the Pyromancer himself.
2) As a spell-dense deck that includes several cards with flashback, Young Pyromancer has no shortage of access to food in general.
4) Young Pyromancer does one thing very well that the Zombies didn't: play defense!
These all seem worthwhile to me in this day and age. There are also drawbacks, of course.
1) He's slow. Young Pyromancer costs two mana and you won't be attacking with much of an offense until turn 4 at best.
2) He costs red mana, meaning you will be a bit more vulnerable to Wasteland.
4) He doesn't help you beat True-Name Nemesis + equipment.
There are other elements of Caesar's deck that I like. The Lightning Bolts synergize with Pyromancer, speed up your clock, and also offer an efficient and versatile answer to Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze. Most players, myself included, tend to sideboard Swords to Plowshares or Deathmark, but if you're going to maindeck removal, then Lightning Bolt is a great choice and a marquee Legacy spell for a reason.
Access to Abrupt Decay had been done in other Zombardment lists, but I'll take a moment to talk about it. Abrupt Decay isn't especially fantastic in conjunction with your Game 1 plan—ideally, you'll be discarding the best threats your opponent has, blanking removal, and many Legacy decks actually have no targets in the first place! However, it's a versatile enough spell that you can afford to maindeck it, and Abrupt Decay plays excellently in the vast majority of your sideboarded matches by killing the most ubiquitous and disruptive hate cards, Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage.
So, I like Young Pyromancer in this deck, but I want more spells. Hm...
Ever since playing the Young Frankenstein deck Todd Andersondeveloped and Drew Levin wrote an excellent article about, I've had a slight infatuation with the miniature Reanimator package. Reanimate is actually just a pretty good spell in general, and in conjunction with discard spells you can often cobble together a Tarmogoyf or something and go to town when you topdeck it late, which is totally fine.
And Entombing for Bloodghast on Turn 1 just sounds hot, quite frankly. Entomb in conjunction with a Gitaxian Probe or Thoughtseize and a Therapy or Bloodghast is able to do some serious damage. While you will most often go for Bloodghast or maybe Lingering Souls, being able to do something very powerful with a fatty is going to be worth a free win every now and again.
For the sake of completeness, I'll link this article in which Carsten Kotter mentions also enjoying the notion of Entomb as an engine in this deck. However, I think Carsten actually misses the biggest draw to playing with Entomb in this archetype. Much like Abrupt Decay, it's a card that's relatively one-dimensional in Game 1 but really opens up your sideboarding once you commit to it!
Ancient Grudge: Already a sideboard superstar in Legacy, a pair of them ensures that Stoneforge Mystic won't be able to suit up a True-Name Nemesis and beat you to death, thanks to your effective six copies and potential for four castings.
Ray of Revelation: Tutoring this up in response to Rest in Peace quickly and easily ends the enchantment, and it also handles a myriad of other troublesome permanents. The biggest boost comes from being able to consistently destroy Leyline of Sanctity!
Coffin Purge: Tutorable graveyard hate, but only good against strategies that rely on a specific card, like Reanimator, as opposed to Dredge. Fortunately, Bridge from Below is not very good against this deck.
Darkblast: Great against Elves, Death and Taxes, and U/R Delver.
Acorn Harvest: Go nuts—if that's your thing.
So, I decided to get some chocolate on my peanut butter, which led me to two different decks, both eager to Entomb.
I seriously considered just jamming in four Gitaxian Probes, but decided against it.
It might seem odd to get rid of the Griselbrands that were so popular in previous Young Frankenstein iterations, but without access to Force of Will, the big guy just doesn't sound as good because his draw seven won't automatically "win" the game that often. Your engine is already designed to just eventually overwhelm them. Granted, Griselbrand will dominate RUG Delver if that's your concern, but you can likely defeat them on the merits rather than by going for a fatty.
Is playing four colors without the Shaman too greedy? I honestly can't tell anymore.
Interestingly, I'd actually played Deathrite Shaman in older versions of Young Frankenstein, but I'm not as certain it's necessary in this one. I came to the previous realization based on the frequency with which I was Reanimating opposing Shamans after Bolting them, but without Bolts and with Bloodghasts and Lingering Souls to provide a clock in the late game, you likely don't need that access. It's possible I should play another basic Swamp, however, to make up for losing the mana dork. I wouldn't be surprised if I wind up playing him again, but he doesn't contribute very heavily towards either of my plans at the moment—he's just a very good card.
Of course, perhaps going back to blue and rebuilding it from scratch there is a better plan.
Let's discuss some of the options I haven't already looked at that appear above.
Dark Confidant: Seems fine, especially when we expect to see the opponent dilute their deck with some graveyard hate we can easily answer. Obviously a good enough card to play main, but I think he's stronger in sideboarded games when you're trying to overpower hate.
Deathmark: Great answer to Deathrite Shaman that lets you fetch basic Swamp, but I wouldn't fault anyone for selecting Innocent Blood in an attempt to matchup better against Nimble Mongoose and True-Name Nemesis.
Life from the Loam: A nod to the loss of my own Shamans.
Dread Return: Against combo decks, your board will remain very stable but you'll want to fire off a fatty as quickly as possible. Dread Return is probably too slow and inconsistent against fair opponents, but you want to Entomb Reanimate against combo, so I'd keep it somewhere in the 75.
That deck may be too muddled, but it has some pretty crazy nut draws, absolutely dominates a few matchups, and I'm interested in testing it more. Does it need Shamans? Is Bombardment unnecessary? Should we just be playing blue? Are repeated rhetorical questions more or less annoying than regular rhetorical questions?
Here's the other variant I'm trying out, cutting Reanimate but keeping Entomb:
We're all-in on Bombardment again this time around, complete with a bullet Nether Traitor to let us survive Extraction on Bloodghast or to allow for a Gravecrawler-style combo turn in conjunction with the Vampire. It's possible that we should play more copies, a la Sam's revision—you can't pitch Entomb to Faithless Looting, after all, and that's a big plus in Nether Traitor's favor.
With a third Bombardment and four Bolts in the main, killing graveyard-hating creatures and especially early Shamans is pretty easy. My plan against True-Name Nemesis is to race it while stripping equipment, basically turning him into an unblockable Tarmogoyf or Nimble Mongoose. We could play solutions, but I honestly don't think that we actually need them. Testing will tell if I'm wrong on that particular count.
I had originally intended to look at this archetype in Modern as well, but I'm going to leave off here for the week and break down Blasting Station variants some other time. However, I wouldn't want to leave you without a tasty morsel—so here's one for the road, or for your local Modern event.
- 3 Blood Artist
- 4 Bloodghast
- 3 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Nantuko Husk
- 1 Skirsdag High Priest
- 1 Savra, Queen of the Golgari
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Pretty sure we owe ourselves a Blood Scrivener and one more good four-drop in the main, likely at the expense of those Rancors, but kudos to enntwo on a sweet brew. And, of course, congratulations to SCG's Brian Braun-Duin and Shaun McLaren on their excellent Grand Prix Minneapolis finishes!