It's official. Treasure Cruise is good.
What? You all already knew that? Well, screw me, right? I guess I'm just three weeks behind the times. Whatever. I didn't care, anyway. Pshh.
With a terrible start like that, I guess the rest of this article is going to have to be full of a bunch of desperate attempts to right the sinking ship that was this intro...the sinking cruise ship, that is. Ohhhhh Yeaaaahhh…
Treasure Cruise is insanely good in Legacy. It has demonstrated this the last few weeks in a row by being a dominant force among the top 8 decks. Magic decided in Khans of Tarkir to take a trip down memory lane to 1993, a time where the Internet was still being fleshed out by Al Gore. It was a simpler time, yes. A time where we learned that drawing three cards for a singular watery mana source is a powerful play. In fact, we learned that it is a more powerful play than preventing the next three damage that can be dealt to you for a singular sun mana source.
Gotta say though, I'm a little salty that Treasure Cruise doesn't let you "Force Opponent to Draw Three" like Ancestral Recall does. Sometimes you're in a tight game, both players jockeying for position on the tightrope. Any slight mistake from either side will be costly. That's when you have to look your opponent straight in the face and size them up. When they start to squirm, that's when you know. It's time to "Force Opponent to Draw Three." Hah! That'll show them. "Draw three cards, mother ****er!" See if you can win from that position.
They always do. Lucccckkyyyyy.
With Grand Prix New Jersey looming large on the horizon, it's time to get down to figuring out Legacy. I have to imagine there are many others in that same boat. I'm of a mixed mind about Treasure Cruise. For one, I was quite content to just play Miracles at GP New Jersey. It is a deck I am very comfortable with and the power level was undeniable.
Now that Treasure Cruise is here, I'm not sure that you can really just play your old decks anymore without reconsidering how they stack up to the Cruise decks. Treasure Cruise gives decks that were previously a great matchup for Miracles a chance to catch up. Now, you can't just grind your Delver opponent out of threats and then coast to a victory. With Treasure Cruise, they can keep up and pull ahead, even through lots of removal.
Miracles went from my number one choice to a deck that isn't even big on my consideration list anymore. Who would have thought that putting down Miracles would send me back to the drawing board? Certainly not me.
I guess the next logical question is: if Treasure Cruise is busted in Legacy, and it makes a lot of decks that can't support Treasure Cruise a lot worse in Legacy, then shouldn't we just play the best Treasure Cruise decks?
I think the answer is yes. In which case, it leads to a next, even more logical, followup question: What is the best Treasure Cruise deck?
I'm glad I asked.
I don't know the answer offhand, but I think it's time we worked to discover that. Let's take a hot look at some of the decks that have had success with Treasure Cruise in Legacy and see what information we can take away from it. I want to also consider some alternatives for Treasure Cruise that we haven't seen yet, but that I think should really exist.
Let's start with the king. All hail the king.
This deck has won two of the four big events that have happened since Khans came out. Bob Huang won the first Legacy Open with it, and then Kevin Jones took down Legacy Champs at Eternal Weekend with a very similar list.
I have had the pleasure of playing both with and against this deck, and let me just say, wow. This deck is good. I hate playing Delver of Secrets, and I freaking loved piloting this deck. I love Young Pyromancer, and the card is a true delight in this shell.
What makes this deck so good? Let's see. It has a beautiful mixture of creatures that are all hyper aggressive, it can play a low land count thanks to all of the cheap cantrips, it has sufficient reach in Lightning Bolt and Forked Bolt, and it dumps cards into the graveyard at an extremely fast rate. That means that it can plow through the deck very fast by fueling cheap Treasure Cruises. Alongside Gitaxian Probe, Brainstorm, and Ponder, it is very easy to find the cards you need, and all the while, your Swiftspears are getting huge and your Young Pyromancers are spitting out Chris VanMeter tokens. All in a day's work.
I am fairly certain that this is the best Delver of Secrets shell right now. You can do things like splash green for Tarmogoyf, but Monastery Swiftspear is basically a Tarmogoyf that costs one less mana and has haste. It doesn't get nearly as big as Goyf can later in the game, but it isn't hard to make it a 3/4 on each of your turns.
Splashing just makes the mana worse, and I don't think it adds much to the deck. The creature base in this list might just be the best creature base you can play, regardless of color considerations. At that point, what are you splashing for? If it's just one or two cards, then that seems unnecessary.
I spent a lot of time working on a Grixis Delver list. Every time I came up with 60 cards, I would inevitably crumple it up and throw it away. It just didn't seem any better than this deck. Sure, I could play cards like Deathrite Shaman and cute things like Cabal Therapy to go with my Young Pyromancers, but is Deathrite actually better than Swiftspear?
Deathrite eats your graveyard to cast spells and is a slower clock. There are certainly a number of situations where Deathrite is much better, such as when your opponent is trying to use their graveyard as a resource as well, but is it worth having opening hands with Volcanic Island and Deathrite Shaman? Is it worth playing an otherwise useless Tropical Island just to activate Deathrite's green ability?
It just didn't seem like it was.
I'm going to need to be convinced that there is a better shell than this.
It should also be noted that Young Pyromancer at $3 is the most expensive creature in the deck. This is one of the least expensive decks in Legacy, with Volcanic Island and Force of Will being the only real wallet busters. Not only is this deck good, it's also relatively cheap. I would expect to play a lot against this deck. And personally, you could do much worse than just playing with it yourself.
It is interesting to me that Bob Huang decided to mix it up and play Sultai Delver in the next event after winning with U/R Delver in the previous one. Kudos to him. I know it's tough to put down a deck after you win a big event with it, but I am always happy to see someone who is willing to risk failure by trying something new, even when they have a safe choice to fall back on.
He crested into the top 16 of this event. That is still quite a strong finish. I want to point out that it's not a safe statement to say, "He won the tournament with U/R Delver and only top 16'd with Sultai Delver, therefore, U/R Delver is a better deck."
Keep in mind that the week he won, Treasure Cruise was an unknown entity and he exploited the format's weakness to it. The following week, it was not an unknown entity, and he wasn't going to get some of the same extreme edges he got the prior week by preying on the unprepared. The tournament was simply going to be harder to win.
Additionally, there is just variance in the game of Magic. Maybe he drew much better with the U/R Delver deck, or vice versa, drew a lot worse with the Sultai one.
With all that being said, I do still think that this is a worse shell than U/R Delver. There is one thing that I really do like though. That is Wasteland, Deathrite Shaman, and Stifle. These three cards play extremely well together, and they also play very well with Treasure Cruise. You can use Wasteland and Stifle to wreck your opponent's manabase, and then use Deathrite Shaman to eat the lands you destroyed from their graveyard to generate the mana to cast Treasure Cruise. It is a match made in heaven.
Outside of that, however, I am concerned about over-taxing the graveyard. Consider a world where both players are playing cards like Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, and Treasure Cruise. How often is Deathrite Shaman not going to be able to do what you want it to? How often is Tarmogoyf going to just be a 1/2 or 2/3? Both of these cards can be hurt a little bit by your own Treasure Cruises, but one thing that I haven't heard discussed too much is how much they are also hurt by your opponent's Cruises as well.
I really like how this deck changes in the face of Treasure Cruise. Instead of just playing the same old Temur Delver list that we've seen for a really long time, Joan Anton Mateo adjusted to the format and played an updated list that cuts the bad cards like Nimble Mongoose, and adds Young Pyromancer to go along with the Treasure Cruises.
With that being said, I'm not convinced that splashing green for just Tarmogoyf is worth it. You could play this same shell, but with Swiftspear instead of Tarmogoyf and have easier mana and a relatively similar sized threat. While I'm honestly not sure which is better between the traditional U/R Delver Treasure Cruise decks or the Delver decks with Wasteland and Stifle to go with Treasure Cruise, I will say that Tarmogoyf is not what he used to be, and I'm not convinced that playing a worse manabase just to facilitate the card is where you want to be.
I'll be the first to say that I have never really like Jeskai Delver very much. Stoneforge Mystic is a slow and grindy card, and Delver of Secrets is the complete opposite. Stoneforge Mystic does generate tempo ( and is apparently a planeswalker, to boot!), in that it demands an immediate answer, but it doesn't output damage quick enough to really capitalize on Delver of Secrets. Cards like Tarmogoyf hit a lot harder, and thus, naturally pair a lot better.
With that being said, Jeskai Delver had a huge showing last weekend at both SCG Minneapolis and also the Legacy Champs. Jeskai has always been the Delver deck that is great at beating other Delver decks. It has access to both Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares. It has True-Name Nemesis and Stoneforge Mystic, both threats that tax the opposing Delver player pretty hard.
I feel like this deck is worse than something like U/R Delver against the field as a whole. It has a worse manabase and an eclectic mixture of creatures that don't necessarily synergize with each other, despite all being powerful. It is the slowest Delver deck, and thus, doesn't punish combo decks nearly as much as other lists do. However, it is going to be good if you know what you're going to be up against, and that something is Delver of Secrets.
This is also just a worse Treasure Cruise deck. The lists I've seen only play two or three Treasure Cruises because you simply don't fill the graveyard nearly as fast. Missing are cards like Gitaxian Probe, and instead we have cards like Batterskull and Umezawa's Jitte, which don't end up in the yard.
I personally don't consider myself very likely to play something like this, but it has proven time and time again that it is capable of putting up good results, and it is well-positioned right now.
And now, how about a deck that doesn't have Delver of Secrets in it. Shocking, I know.
I swore off decks like Esper Deathblade a long time ago. These decks used to be the only kind of decks I played and also the only kinds of decks that I really loved to play in Legacy. In fact, I am attributed with creating the Deathblade archetype when I built the deck for an SCG Invitational a few years ago. At the time, Deathrite Shaman was just getting its sea legs in Legacy, and this archetype showed just how powerful the card could be.
Nowadays, this just isn't what I want to be doing anymore. If I am going to play a fair deck in Legacy, I want to be able to either kill my opponent quickly or have a way to actually lock them out of the game, such as Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top. Deathblade suffers from the issue of being a slow, fair deck without the ability to lock out your opponent.
While the cards are powerful and it has a lot of disruption and a strong suite of creatures, you can still just lose to your opponent drawing the right cards they need to combo on turn 5, or them sticking an early Blood Moon, or any number of other random things. Legacy is an extremely powerful format. People can win the game out of nowhere. I hate playing a deck that doesn't kill the opponent before they can piece things together or that can't set up an impenetrable wall to prevent them from winning even when they do.
Having said that, this Deathblade deck is very well-built. I like that it cuts the planeswalkers. Jace has been getting worse and worse in Legacy as new powerful cards keep getting introduced into the format. I have long felt that Jace is one of the worst cards in Deathblade, and trimming down on it seems perfect.
Jace and Treasure Cruise also don't synergize very well.
Instead, Ben has a bunch of cheap, interactive spells like Thoughtseize and Spell Pierce and Swords to Plowshares to provide a lot of early disruption, and then Treasure Cruise to hammer it home. If anything will bring me back to the darkside of playing Esper Deathblade, it will be a list that looks like this. It's packing lots of cheap interaction and card advantage and a minimalistic suite of the best creatures in the archetype. Perfect.
This list isn't going to lose to Sneak and Show while holding a full house of Jace over True-Name Nemesis, like every other Deathblade list does. That's a step in the right direction.
But wait, is that honestly it? Where are the other Treasure Cruise decks?
I feel like we can do a lot better. Missing entirely are both control decks with Treasure Cruise as well as combo decks with the card.
I'm not positive that control decks can really use the card as well as Delver can. A reactive deck is simply not going to dump cards into the graveyard nearly as fast as a proactive one, and I think something has to be said for a deck that can use Treasure Cruise more effectively. Being the first to cast the card is certainly an advantage.
Likewise, where are all the combo decks? Treasure Cruise feels like a great card for some blue combo deck. You get to refill your hand for the low price of dumping cards into your graveyard, something you plan on doing anyway with all of the cheap cantrips that combo decks play.
I don't know a whole lot about decks like Omni Tell or High Tide, two decks that seem like they could benefit from the card. However, I do know a lot about a certain combo deck that can both generate a lot of mana, fill its graveyard, and cares about drawing extra cards.
A New Storm
Currently, Treasure Cruise doesn't fit into the current shells of a deck like Storm. Storm decks play a number of cards like Rite of Flame, Cabal Ritual, Ad Nauseam, and Past in Flames. None of those cards work very well with Treasure Cruise. With that being said, Treasure Cruise is an extremely powerful card, and I have to imagine that there has to be a powerful combo shell built around it.
You can empty your hand to generate a lot of mana, and then refill it with Treasure Cruise. Somewhere along the line, you just have to play enough spells and generate enough mana to find a lethal Tendrils of Agony or win with something else like Empty the Warrens.
The metagame also seems susceptible to Storm. Decks like U/R Delver are just playing 4 Daze and 4 Force of Will right now. If you can strip Force of Will with Cabal Therapy or Duress, then Daze can be played around. U/R Delver has a fast clock, but Storm has a faster clock against decks with minimalistic disruption.
At any rate, if we're going to build a deck like Storm with Treasure Cruise, what does it have to look like? For one, it can't play Ad Nauseam, because you will just deal eight damage to yourself a bunch of times. Secondly, it needs to function with cards in hand, and it needs to be able to function without the use of the graveyard.
This is the list I've been thinking about.
This list is obviously very rough, but I feel like the idea has merit. It's possible that without Ad Nauseam, a Burning Wish build can't generate enough velocity to go off, but I am hopeful that it can or that there is a way to build the deck as such that it can power out Empty the Warrens in those situations.
I feel like Treasure Cruise is too powerful of a card to be relegated to only Delver decks. If there is a powerful combo deck with the card, I want to find it.
I want to find it, and abuse it. If one thing is clear, it's that Wizards of the Coast has printed a card that can't target a player but is still going to force me to draw three. And I loving every minute of it.