The last two years since Return to Ravnica were quiet and peaceful. Nothing of major importance for the shape of the Legacy format was printed in regular editions and so my brew articles were fun, but I was usually quite doubtful that anything real was going to come of my explorations. An Eidolon here to help out Burn a little, a Commander set Merfolk there to make playing creature strategies excruciating, but nothing that changed the face of the format in ways such as Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman, Delver of Secrets, Past in Flames, Griselbrand, and Terminus.
Khans is different. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of sweet and fun cards to explore and some very interesting designs for Magic in general in this set. I'll put on my brewer's cap next week and talk about the lot of them. Today, however, there's something more pressing for me to talk about. There's a dynamic duo in Khans that I believe s going to change the face of Legacy forever (or until the next Banned List announcement). From the little preliminary testing I've done at least, it sure looks like the format is going to suffer an extreme evolutionary jump the moment Khans becomes legal. And these two are the culprits:
I've been sneaking peeks at the Khans discussion on The Source, so I expect a lot of you are already shaking their head at another guy who has been conned by the hype of seeing "draw three cards" on a card that potentially costs a single blue mana.
If you're one of those people, remember Jace, the Mind Sculptor. When the best planeswalker ever printed was spoiled, most Legacy notables talked it down initially, admitting that it might have a role as a one or two of in Landstill but that, overall, Elspeth, Knight-Errant was just a better card. Reasonably new to Legacy still, I started testing Jace the moment I saw the card and was convinced after roughly ten games with a terrible, terrible deck that he was busted and the obvious future for any Legacy control strategy.
The reason I'm rambling on about this? No, I'm not trying to tell you how awesome I am. It's just that these two cards feel exactly the same way now that I have a couple of days of two-fisted testing under my belt.
Trust me, these are not Temporal Masteries.
They're Jace, the Mind Sculptors.
Some Actual Reasoning
I suspect some evidence and logic will do more to convince you than me just praising these cards to high heaven and telling you anecdotes from a few years back. So let's take a look how I've been approaching these cards and what my testing has resulted in so far.
When Treasure Cruise hit the spoiler, my jaw dropped. Was it really possible that they printed Delvecestral Recall? Well, apparently it was, and I soon saw they'd also printed Ancestral Memories as an instant for UU (and some graveyard cards). I thought these had to cause an uproar and checked the discussion on The Source again. Turns out the reception was actually rather lukewarm. The cards were considered clunky and as having too negative an impact on Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose to really be worth playing in numbers.
You know what? If you ask me if I want Ancestral Recall or Nimble Mongoose in my deck, the decision isn't particularly close. So instead of listening to other people's opinions, I decided to check for myself how good Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time actually were.
These fundamental considerations are what I relied on when forging the decks to test them in. I suspect that any deck can only support a limited number of heavy delve cards because otherwise you'll end up with too many clunky or dead cards in hand with some regularity. I arbitrarily fixed that limit at one full playset, though it might be possible to run five or six copies of these cards and fuel them. Once they're in full swing, I'm sure we'll figure out the exact mechanics behind delve and how it needs to be supported eventually.
Once I had decided to simply try out playsets, I had to ask myself the question of which spell actually had the better effect. Yes, Ancestral Recall is the most consistently powerful card in the game, but that's because it's so much cheaper than any alternatives. Dig and Cruise actually cost pretty much the same amount of mana once you figure in that you'll always have to be delving to cast them anyway.
So if I pay (almost) the same for Ancestral Recall or a significantly improved Fact or Fiction, which one is actually better? I don't think there's a clear-cut answer. Instead it depends on what you're trying to accomplish.
In a dedicated control deck, digging seven cards deep to grab the two perfect cards for the situation at hand while always being forced to pay UU seems quite a bit stronger than drawing three random cards, especially because the instant speed allows you to keep up reactive spells and only cast your draw spell at the end of the opponent's turn. As control is trying to de-contract the game and play reactively, paying an additional mana for instant speed and better selection makes a lot of sense.
In a proactive strategy focused on riding early threats to victory while your spells keep the opponent pinned to the ground, on the other hand, just drawing three cards is likely to be more useful, especially as even the single mana you can save by delving a little more is quite likely to be relevant when you're hoping to draw into sorcery speed threats and disruption and (most) of your countermagic is free anyway.
All of this reasoning just presupposes that filling your graveyard enough to delve for six or seven isn't a concern - and that's how I approached these cards. I simply assumed that it wasn't and for good reason. You probably remember that I've been playing a lot of Storm the last two or so years. Well, in my experience it's incredibly easy to reach threshold by turn 3 if you're looking for it, and it almost just happens inevitably on turn 4 - at least as long as your deck is full of fetchlands, cantrips, and cheap spells you plan to cast early in the game. I had made the same experience with my old Caw Cartel list even though filling the graveyard had been totally irrelevant to that particular deck.
That meant the "secret" to truly break the delve cards was to put them into deck with a lot of cantrips and fetchlands. To no one's surprise, that's already how most Legacy blue decks are constructed anyway, and as a result you should easily be able to just push them into any Legacy deck that isn't hurt too much by eating its own graveyard.
Easy Mode Brewing
Given how much I love draw-heavy control decks, my view of the role each card has is ideal. That led to me starting my testing with Dig Through Time. I knew I wanted a low land-count, heavy cantrip control deck with a ton of fetchlands. To me that meant running strictly two colors, which lead to me using Caw Cartel as the skeleton to work from. I also decided to maximize my ability to keep a full graveyard by skipping on any type of other graveyard usage. Here's the little beauty I threw together:
I don't think any tuned list will use Elixir of Immortality as its inevitability-ensuring kill condition, but I was too lazy to try and figure out what exactly that finisher should be, and I liked the idea of creating an insane deck by dredging all the crappy cards out of my yard before reshuffling. So far, it hasn't really mattered and gaining five life was surprisingly relevant.
The deck has been playing incredibly well and enabling the delve condition was easy, convenient, and incredibly fluid. Dig Through Time worked wonders as a card advantage tool that always found something relevant. If I had any complaint, it was that the deck seemed to be a little too full of air - I often ended up taking double cantrips as my choices from the top seven.
Once I had ascertained that enabling delve six repeatedly wasn't a problem at all, I decided I should take a look at the obvious aggressive strategy to see what Treasure Cruise could do--Delver of Secrets. I started off with the same approach of ignoring all graveyard synergies so as to maximize my ability to delve, and I wanted the deck to be as aggressively disruptive as possible, resulting in this U/R list:
I'm not sure if it was only having eight threats, its inability to kill anything with more than three toughness, or something else, but in spite of winning a lot and enabling Treasure Cruise like a champ, the deck felt somewhat underpowered and lackluster. There was one important thing I learned while playing it, however: it was really easy to leave a couple of cards around when firing off the first Treasure Cruise, and the three new cards almost always meant I could cast another at worst two turns later. I had observed the same thing while testing the U/W Dig Through Time list.
This realization led me to reconsider the idea that I had to abandon all graveyard reliance to take full advantage of Treasure Cruise. Between my opponent's graveyard and the ability to leave specific cards alone while fueling Treasure Cruise - not to mention it being a sorcery itself - it looked like it shouldn't be hard at all to keep a maxed out Tarmogoyf around while Ancestraling for fun and profit. Similarly, Deathrite Shaman might actually be totally fine just feeding of my opponent's yard. The fact that Sultai Delver had supported Tombstalker without trouble seemed to further argue that this was worth trying.
So I decided to stop coming up with random brews and do the obvious thing: jam four Treasure Cruises into what I consider Legacy's strongest Delver deck: Sultai. So I took Rich Shay's June list, cut all the expensive lategame cards and the Sylvan Library to make room for Treasure Cruise, added a Misdirection because more pitch counters are usually good if you're casting Ancestrals, and started testing this list:
At this point I'm about twenty or so two-fisted games in against (pre-Khans) Jeskai Delver and Deathblade lists. I've lost a single game so far in which I kept a one-lander, Pondered into no lands, got Wastelanded, and died before ever hitting another mana source. The second Treasure Cruise was clunky once or twice, sticking in my hand for a turn or two, but the first was always easy to cast without causing any (relevant) damage to my Goyfs or Deathrites. It easily propelled me far enough ahead that having to wait a turn or two to fire off the second still led to a game win. Essentially the deck felt like playing Sultai Delver with the card advantage potential of Shardless Sultai strapped on for free.
No, I'm not joking.
Being of two Minds
I admit that all of that is evidence of limited value, especially as it was gathered in two-fisted games. However, I don't claim the exact lists I've come up with are the future of Legacy. The simple truth is that what I've seen in testing so far has convinced me beyond any doubt is that it is really easy to consistently enable even multiple copies of both Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time to realize their full potential simply by relying on the cantrip cartel, fetchlands, and cheap disruption elements.
Assuming you buy that part of my experiences (and if you don't, go proxy and play some of these decks!), it shouldn't hard to grasp that, unless you're playing with Past in Flames, casting Ancestral Recall is likely a much better use of your graveyard cards than anything you've been doing so far, be it Snapcasting back spells (hmm, do I want a free 2/1 to be my value or the second best card in my top seven/two random cards?) or enabling Nimble Mongoose (do we really have to discuss if draw three or 3/3 shroud is what we want?).
At this point, that leaves me hanging between two very conflicting emotions. On the one hand I finally get to play a totally busted draw engine in Legacy - and I love busted draw engines. Necropotence and Gifts Ungiven are among my favorite cards for a reason. Heck, I'll be playing Standard this Sunday at the WMCQ for the first time in years because I couldn't resist playing the U/W Sphinx's Revelation deck at least once while it was legal (and I could borrow the deck, luckily). Finally having true card advantage tools available at a Legacy relevant cost is awesome.
On the other hand, the power level of these cards is so far out of the ordinary and they're both blue, and they essentially force you into a cantrip cartel shell to enable them; I can't imagine these cards being in any way, shape, or form a net positive for the format. In fact, from how things look to me right now, they might herald a new era, one in which what was winning before could easily become strict truth: for the first time in the format's history playing a non-blue deck might actually not be a viable option anymore, and (almost) every blue deck might have to restructure itself to make room for a sufficient amount of cantrips to be able to delve.
Now I hope I'm wrong and my doomsaying is just an overreaction caused by small sample size and the excitement of playing with new cards that draw more cards. Maybe the format actually has the tools to adapt to one particular deck skeleton - and arguably the most powerful one to begin with - getting access to sorcery speed Ancestral Recall and UU Ancestral Memories.
Even if it doesn't though, playing with these cards is awesome! Whatever the future holds, it'll be a wild ride for the next couple of months for sure, and I can't wait to get my hands on them. If the darned things turn out to be as dangerous as they look to me right now and we get sick of them, well--there's always the banned list...