I'm itching to talk about Conspiracy - I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on a couple copies of Council's Judgment - but I really want to wait until the full spoiler is out, so we'll have to wait a little bit longer for that one. So instead of talking about new cards, I'd like to do a little applied theory today. I'd like to start off with a short recap of metagaming 101 and lead that into a look at the forces currently shaping the metagame before moving into a detailed description of a deck that seems amazingly well-positioned right now. I hope you're game, so let's go right ahead and jump in.
There are basically two ways to approach Legacy (and most other formats for that matter):
You can play a deck that has a powerful yet flexible plan and tools to react to almost any threat being posed. This generally results in a deck that has a lot of play to it and reasonably even matchups against almost anything the format could throw at you. Typical examples of these types of strategies are Delver-Tempo decks, Miracles, and the different Blade archetypes. Decks with these qualities are a great choice for someone who plays Legacy regularly, but doesn't want to devote the time and effort to figuring out the current state of the metagame they can expect at the next event they want to play.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have metagame predators - decks with amazing matchups against part of the field and weak ones against others. Decks such as Imperial Painter can punish metagames with high concentrations of nonbasic land-centric manabases. Super-fast combo like Belcher provides a tool to rebalance the metagame if too few people decide to play reactive strategies involving Force of Will - when the blue decks start cutting Force to hedge in grindy mirrors is generally a good time for that one. Dredge and Reanimator truly perform when players skimp on their graveyard hate. You get the idea. So what is the correct predator for a metagame like the one we can see right now, one in which inherently fair (by Legacy standards), highly disruptive decks with reasonably long-term gameplans (Team America aka BUG Delver and Miracles, in this particular case) are top dog?
There are two elements we need to look at to answer that question. The more obvious one is that of the exploitable weaknesses among the top dogs. Clearly, if you want to hit the metagame hard, you'll want to aim firmly for the glass jaw. To truly be able to do that successfully, however, another question is of even more importance: What gets pushed out? Which holes in the metagame are opened up exactly because these types of decks are on top of the food chain right now? This question is oh so important because Legacy is diverse. You can't just build a deck that beats the two or three most successful decks at the moment because those decks will make up maybe a quarter to - at the most - a third of the field. And to punish any type of strategy, you need to make sacrifices in some other matchups. Knowing which archetypes are most likely to be kept in check by the big guys informs us where to sacrifice that percentage.
Taking A Look-See
So let's shortly take stock of the metagame. The best performing decks throughout the last month seem to have been Miracles, Team America, and Death and Taxes; followed by RUG Delver, Deathblade, and Shardless BUG. As mentioned above, all of these decks are highly disruptive and plan for the game to go on until at least Turn 5 under usual circumstances. So what does that mean for us assuming we want to play the metagame-game?
Well, we need a deck that stands up well to disruption being lobbed at it from all angles. Mana denial, hand disruption, heavy countermagic, the Counterbalance lock, and hatebears are all a big part of what we need to expect to run into. On the other hand, all of these decks tend to finish the game reasonably slow and/or with a creature-based assault, meaning we have time to go over the top with a stronger lategame plan. So we want a deck that doesn't care too much about countermagic, can defend its lands from a Wasteland attack, doesn't care too much if its hand is ripped to shreds, and can implement an overwhelming endgame plan before a reasonably slow creature-based clock can finish the game. Well, that sure explains why Miracles is doing well - that was a pretty accurate description of the deck just now, after all. It seems what we're really looking for is a deck that can "out-miracle" Miracles.*
*Aside: The other option would be to try and go under these decks with heavy early-game aggression to reduce the effectiveness of early disruption and overwhelm these decks before they can really get going. I'm not a huge fan of this plan in Legacy right now, as Terminus, Tarmogoyf, True-Name Nemesis, and Stoneforge Mystic combined with Counterbalance-Top, can make the game quite hostile to truly aggressive strategies very early on. We might just be missing correctly built aggro-decks, though - something to think about.
So now that we know what kind of strategy we're looking for, let's look at what it is we can skimp on. Which decks are hit the hardest by the current disruption overload? I'd say combo decks. Now, don't get me wrong, Legacy's combo decks are quite powerful and resilient and they are essentially impossible to truly hate out to the point of becoming unplayable. You can discourage all but the most dedicated combo players from going there by running exactly Team America and Miracles, however - and that's what we're seeing.
Understanding the Predator
So that's what we're looking for: A deck that can store its resources in play and topdeck well (to survive the discard), keep Wasteland in check (because of the Delvers and Death and Taxes), play through or ignore countermagic and even the Counterbalance soft-lock, fight hatebears and buy time against creatures - all with the goal of implementing an over the top endgame plan that will beat any fair strategy. We want the trade-off for these abilities to be a weakness to dedicated fast combo decks. In short, we kind of want something that can play a little like an Entreat-heavy Miracles list with mana ramp instead of the stack-interaction. Luckily for us, that deck already exists:
Cloudpost, aka Turbo Eldrazi, is a deck I've really liked ever since I first saw it. The idea of tapping lands for half-a-dozen mana apiece just appeals to my love of broken things. Jeremiah's list seems like a great starting point to look at. First and foremost, Jeremiah is one of, if not the person pushing for and developing the deck in Legacy, so we're likely looking at cutting edge technology. Second, he just played this list to a Top 4 finish in last weekend's SCG Legacy Open, so clearly, it does work. Let's take a look under the hood so that we can check if it really does all we want it to do.
First thing's first: What the deck really tries to do is to amass a bunch of Glimmerposts and Cloudposts to establish an overwhelming mana advantage by Turn 4 or 5 that will then rapidly snowball into a hardcast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (and, presumably, a game win). To enact this plan, the deck has full playsets of both Loci, Vesuva to make more of them, and Expedition Map and Crop Rotation to straight up search for them. Brainstorm, Sensei's Divining Top, and Repeal also help out on this front simply by allowing you to see more cards (hence giving you more shots at drawing 'Posts).
Once that starting position is set up, Candelabra of Tawnos and Primeval Titan can then serve to super-charge the engine and go completely nuts, at which point all that digging and land search can start to concentrate on locating either Eye of Ugin or one of the Eldrazi to finish the game off. More than three-quarters of the maindeck cards are dedicated to enable this plan.
So what we're looking at is a deck that uses - uncounterable, hard to discard - lands to ramp up towards an insane mana supply that can then abuse a lot of cheap library manipulation in order to set up an uncounterable endgame before opposing Planeswalkers or Entreat the Angels have time to fully kick in. Because land-based acceleration leaves you with a lot of mana to work with and Sensei's Divining Top is hard to get rid of, the deck is well set up to beat heavy discard strategies (check). Lands can't be countered and Emrakul doesn't care about those blue cards either (check). The hatebears we have - other than minority players such as Aven Mindcensor and Leonin Arbiter (before the first post starts tapping for two, at least) - don't really slow this strategy down much at all (check). Counterbalance is annoying because it can shut down the land-tutors, but it is hardly crippling in the long run or after Turn 4 (check).
That leaves one glaring weakness: Wasteland. Destroying Cloudpost's Cloudposts (ka-ching) is a solid way to cripple the deck. You can fight back somewhat through Crop Rotation - sacrificing the targeted land - or just find more Cloudposts than your opponent can Wasteland, but that plan is rather unreliable as Wasteland is usually accompanied by cheap countermagic or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. So what do you do? You play Pithing Needle, that's what. I sang the praises of Needle a couple of weeks ago already, so I don't believe "having" to play Pithing Needle is much of a cost at all. In this specific deck, it is the most effective tool to blank the one way most fair decks have to really fight back. Note that blind-naming Wasteland with a turn one Needle is not only a viable line here, but often it is the default play. Clearly, Cloudpost is well setup to survive the storm of disruption we're currently likely to encounter.
So with heavy disruption draws and most of the Miracles strategy as a whole taken care off, what else are we likely to lose to? Dying before our mana engine really gets to work comes to mind. While Cloudpost is poised to weather the disruption in the long run, it can easily end up being slowed down by a couple of turns as a result. With an estimated Turn 4 or 5 until the deck can usually can kick into high gear even undisrupted, being slowed down a turn or two means you could easily just die to a bunch of Delver attacks or a couple of hatebears swinging in turn after turn. There are two ways to work around that. Slow down the attacks - so you're back on track to go endgame and making their threats not matter - or accelerating your endgame through other means.
Cloudpost does both. Those repeals I mentioned before are incredible tools against Delver of Secrets and Batterskull (or at least the Germ Token). They won't deal with them permanently, but they'll buy at least two, sometimes more, turns of breathing room at no loss of card economy. Moment's Peace does largely the same thing. You get two free turns to make land drops no matter how much power the opponent has on the board.
The land tutors are proxies for additional defensive options as well. Crop Rotation and Expedition Map can buy time and get your mana going by finding Glimmerposts (assuming you already have at least one Cloudpost to profit), but can just as easily find Glacial Chasm. It may set your land count back, but it won't touch your Cloudposts (unless you want it to, for some reason). It also buys multiple turns all on its own, especially when protected from Wasteland by Pithing Needle (what a nice "coincidence") and can be kept alive even longer by amassing Glimmerposts. Against the decks you're likely to see right now, Cloudpost's defensive set up seems excellent.
As for accelerating your own game plan, we have Eldrazi in this deck, as well as a six-drop that will get you far ahead if it ever enters play and probably win straight up if you get to untap with it in Primeval Titan. How does just playing the perfect ritual to get these out on Turn 3 sound for speeding up? Yes, I'm talking about Show and Tell. While something like Sneak and Show uses the ability to dump fatties for three mana as its main strategy, in this particular deck it's the perfect back up plan. When everything goes according to plan, they're a perfectly serviceable tool to implement the main plan faster by ramping out a Titan for three mana. When things are going badly, that same three mana Titan is a great way to turn things around. First, if you're under pressure, you're probably facing a strategy that will have some trouble with the 6/6 body alone. Add to that the amounts of life you can gain of Glimmerpost if necessary, and you have an incredible stabilizing tool that also requires an immediate answer as your mana will spiral out of control much faster than it's supposed to otherwise.
In short, Cloudpost has a game plan that will trump every other fair deck if given the time and the tools to buy said time against all likely opponents. Sounds good so far. So what are the trade-offs?
Well, look at that maindeck. There is absolutely no on-stack interaction. There is a single Bojuka Bog to Crop Rotation for but no other graveyard hate. And there's a single Karakas to stop Emrakul and Griselbrand (once again, a good target for Crop Rotation and Expedition Map) but nothing else to deal with opposing fat if the Legends land isn't good enough. In short, if it's not a permanent (or the graveyard), Cloudpost won't touch it. Sure sounds as if dodging fast combo is our number one priority - but as we established before, that's exactly the trade-off we're looking to make, relying on our own prey to protect our soft spot by both making those decks unappealing to play and giving them losses throughout the tournament; hopefully, we won't have any.
The other thing that looks somewhat concerning is Blood Moon. It shuts off our mana production after all, completely crippling our game plan. Luckily enough, we have a counter-plan. Between three basics, four Fetches and three Expedition Maps, it's reasonable to assume that we can establish blue mana even under Blood Moon if it doesn't happen on Turn 1, and the Enchantment doesn't keep us from playing Cloudposts (as non-basic Mountains, for the time being). In addition, the main Blood Moon deck - Imperial Painter - can't actually profit rapidly because the Eldrazi in our deck prevent their combo from doing anything (a little justice for what Blood Moon does to us). Once there is a sufficient number of 'posts in play, Repeal can easily come to the rescue and spontaneously re-enable our broken mana. Basic Island also casts Show and Tell, conveniently enough, so there's always that out, too.
In Game 1 scenarios, Cloudpost definitely looks like a deck poised for greatness in the current metagame. How about Game 2s? Here's Jeremiah's Sideboard once again for your convenience:
Oh look, Karn Liberated in Legacy. The things that happen when you have lands that tap for a ton of colorless mana early in the game... Karn is the perfect way to reinforce our main gameplan against the expected opposition in game 2. It removes annoying permanents such as Humility, has overwhelming board presence against decks that can't efficiently fight Planeswalkers on the board (hi Miracles), and provides another large threat to capitalize on our mana ramp if our hand was shredded or our mana count kept somewhat in check. A surprising card in the format in many ways but a great fit to equalize percentages lost through sideboarding in our target matchups. There's enough utility and raw power to help us fight unexpected slow decks.
Speaking of unexpected cards, Ensnaring Bridge looks strange in a deck that wants to hardcast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. In reality though, once you have hardcast Emrakul-mana, you can probably either find your Karakas to cast Emrakul every turn (meaning you're the only one getting those for the rest of the game), draw enough cards with Kozilek, Butcher of Truth to start winning the game with Primeval Titan, or simply dig into a Repeal and bounce your own Bridge to open the way towards swinging for 15. This makes Bridge a great way to get a "permanent" Moment's Peace going against decks with a lot of discard - hey, they help you to keep your hand empty themselves - and to avoid dying against early Emrakuls on the other side of the board.
Speaking of one half of the fast combo pantheon, Phyrexian Revoker helps out further in beating Sneak and Show. Stop the Sneak Attack and they often have to Show and Tell, a pretty risky proposition as there's a reason we run that card ourselves. With eight ways to tutor up a Karakas, it's actually pretty close to a hard lock, especially when a second Needle-effect stops Griselbrand from playing Yawgmoth's Bargain (something that also makes the first Needle/Revoker very good against Reanimator). Add in some cheap countermagic in the form of Swan Song to avoid dieing too early and the anti-big-dumb-Legendary-creature plan seems more than solid.
That leaves us with the deck's other weakness: Storm-like fast combo. Here's where we see the one thing I dislike about Jeremiah's Sideboard: his anti-Storm plan. If you manage to win two post-board games against ANT or TES with just three Mindbreak Trap and three Swan Song (I guess you could also Revoker Lion's Eye Diamond), your Storm opponent should probably be playing a different deck. I assume Mindbreak Trap gives you a decent - about 30% - shot of beating Belcher, but I really don't feel like that's worth even devoting cards to. You could always try to set up the "float Mindbreak Trap on top of my library with a Sensei's Divining Top in play" line, though I don't really feel like that's going to work in time and certainly not twice in a row.
Maybe I'm missing some other matchup the Traps really shine in, but as it stands, those feel a lot like a waste of space. I guess if there really is nothing else you want to play, you might as well run a couple of Traps and hope to get lucky, but from where I stand I'd rather just sacrifice the Storm matchup and make sure I can win everything else. I mean, a limited amount of Storm players (it seems my metagame here in Berlin really isn't that representative of what's going on worldwide) is pretty much the reason I'm talking about the deck right now in the first place.
The other option would be to go back to something closer to Jeremiah's previous sideboard and really dedicate to beating combo:
Now here's a sideboard I can see shifting all the combo matchups. Five free and seven one mana pieces of countermagic should be able to carry you to Turn 5 or 6 at least reasonably often, and once you're hardcasting Emrakul, I assume you can find a way to win. That doesn't mean I think you should run this sideboard, however. I included it for completeness sake - for those interested the full list is here as the maindeck is also slightly different. The real beauty of things is that in the current metagame you should be fine trying to dodge Storm and beat the disruption decks/fattie-based combo (local metagames not withstanding).
As you can see, Cloudpost.dec looks perfectly poised to attack the Legacy metagame that's developing. The deck has a strong, proactive gameplan that is very hard to disrupt with most of tools we're currently using, can do very broken things early enough for them to matter, and has so much tutoring and library manipulation that it is very consistent. It can fight back quite well against a large number of possible strategies. As a result, the deck does very powerful things very consistently, and its endgame plan is pretty much impossible to beat if it is given the time to implement it. The one glaring weakness is fast combo, an archetype that should be on the downswing at the moment and even then, sideboarding will give it a fighting chance against whichever kind of combo deck you choose not to be soft against. The other one will probably get you, but chances are good that that only happens once per event.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction to applied metagaming. If it was too basic for you, then I hope you enjoyed the detailed look at one of the sweeter decks in the Legacy format. As always, feel free to share ideas, criticism, and whatever else you feel is merited below!