#SCGSTL is this weekend. It will mark the first big Legacy tournament since the banning of Dig Through Time. The last two Opens since the release of Battle for Zendikar have both been Standard, as was Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, so there's still little information on older formats in the past month with the new cards. There have been some Premier IQs on Open weekends, and they will be the main starting point for what the St. Louis Legacy metagame will look like.
Very few cards printed recently have made an impact in Legacy. Khans of Tarkir was released over a year ago to bring back the delve mechanic and a great creature in Monastery Swiftspear. Since then, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Monastery Mentor, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy have seen play, but that's really just a drop in the bucket for being an entire year's worth of set releases. I expect #SCGSTL to be a resurgence of archetypes that were pushed out one way or another by the overpowering presence of Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise forcing people to adjust their decks accordingly to implement them or to fight against them.
This article will be an overview of the decks that have been performing well in the Premier IQs. It's also a tool to those new to Legacy that describes how those decks work.
Caleb has been playing Storm religiously in Legacy through the Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time eras. He knows the deck's ins-and-outs, and I trust that his build is the optimal one for Legacy. Dark Petition has been recently added, and where many decks are reverting back to the pre-Dig/Cruise age, Storm has only gotten better in the past year. Caleb is inches away from qualifying for the Players' Championship at the end of the year based on strong Legacy performances.
Storm aims to cast a critical mass of cards in a single turn, then finish the player off with a Tendrils of Agony for around ten. The deck is capable of a turn 1 kill and has game against various disruption with cards like Cabal Therapy and Duress to snatch away counterspells or other interactive cards to stop your combo. Some benefits to playing Storm is that it's a creatureless deck which blanks your opponent's creature removal like Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, and Abrupt Decay when you don't expose your artifacts early to them. You don't have to worry about combat at all, simply your own life total, which lets you focus solely on sequencing your spells and working around your opponent trying to stop you.
Shardless Sultai also placed first at the Indianapolis PIQ in the hands of Devin Koepke. It's a very fair deck that utilizes Shardless Agent and Ancestral Visions (often together) to generate enough card advantage to bury the opponent. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Ancestral Visions had to take a back seat to the more efficient card drawers in Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise for a while, but now seem poised to be the best ways to get ahead on cards in the format right now.
Shardless Sultai is a deck that plays some of the best cards in Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman, and Force of Will, ensuring that you never have any unwinnable matchups. The deck is incapable of extremely explosive starts that win you the game within the first few turns, but it does have good ones that interact with your opponents early to set you up in great position for controlling the pace of the game from then on out. Shardless Sultai can lose against the extreme decks of the format like Sneak and Show or Storm, but is often advantaged against other "fair" creature decks and most decks that also want to win the game on the later turns through earlygame control.
- 1 Birchlore Rangers
- 2 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Fyndhorn Elves
- 3 Heritage Druid
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 2 Dryad Arbor
Elves is another deck that was great before Khans of Tarkir and still retains its core today. For a non-Brainstorm deck, it has remarkable consistency, resiliency, and speed. Elves wins typically by casting Natural Order for Craterhoof Behemoth, which more often than not will be lethal in one swing as early as turn 3. Glimpse of Nature sometimes enters the mix to generate enough cards to either win the game that turn or to set up nicely to win the next. Elves suffers if the format is also filled with decks that aim to win with small creatures, like Infect or Merfolk, so Elves is best positioned when the format contains mostly midrange creatures like Tarmogoyf or Delver of Secrets.
Elves has a healthy learning curve for figuring out everything that it's capable of, but once you do, it's capable of pretty extraordinary plays. The sideboard package of Abrupt Decay, Cabal Therapy, and Thoughtseize shore up matchups that are either trying to lock you out with a Counterbalance or Chalice of the Void, or are trying to win a turn faster than you, like Storm or Infect.
Esper Deathblade is a "good stuff" deck that gets ahead on cards with Stoneforge Mystic and planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Liliana of the Veil. It's a deck like Shardless Sultai that has the tools to beat any matchup but also doesn't really truly have overwhelmingly good matchups. Depending on the situation, it uses its early spells to deal with problem cards then plays Stoneforge Mystic to find either Batterskull or Umezawa's Jitte to create a dominant board presence. True-Name Nemesis is a card that didn't fit into the strategy of delve decks and works wonders here, especially when wearing one of the aforementioned equipment. Few decks can take a hit from one while it's suited up and come back. Umezawa's Jitte counters shut the door on opposing creature decks rather quickly.
Miracles is the premier control deck in Legacy with its efficient miracle spells in Terminus and Entreat the Angels and its soft lock of Counterbalance + Sensei's Divining Top. Lately, versions of Miracles have adopted Monastery Mentor and Ponder as a more proactive plan. Miracles sometimes suffers from the inability to win the game in the allotted round time due to Sensei's Divining Top activations and general lack of win conditions. Monastery Mentor serves to get the games over fast and works pretty well with two Sensei's Divining Top to create a "flip chain" that triggers the Mentor multiple times in a turn with no investment in real spells.
Rarely do players switch decks in Legacy, but for Miracle players it seems to be more true than others. If you're a newcomer to the archetype for #SCGSTL, I recommend the above list that can close games rather than a full-blown control build that wins on turn a million. Even the fastest Miracles players like Brian Braun-Duin and Joe Lossett pick up unintentional draws from time to time. As far as matchups go, Miracles is good against other control decks and midrange strategies while being poor to super-fast combo like Storm or Infect or decks that play "over-the-top" control like doing nothing until they make a ton of mana for an Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn or something through a bunch of Cloudposts.
Sneak and Show was once the deck to beat after it was half of the top 8 of the Invitational that Brad Nelson won a few years ago. It wins by putting a huge creature onto the battlefield as fast as possible either via Show and Tell or Sneak Attack. It runs enough countermagic to force through its own combo or disrupt the opponent from doing their thing and runs enough card drawing cantrips like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain to find its combo with alarming consistency.
Sneak and Show is very blunt in its gameplan, which often involves jamming on a Show and Tell with no backup and hoping they have nothing. Surprisingly this plan works more often than not even though it doesn't feel very safe or very clever. Sneak and Show was another deck that couldn't work in Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise, got pushed out by tempo decks that could, or by Omni-Tell which could utilize Dig Through Time very well. I recommend Sneak and Show to anyone for #SCGSTL based on its raw power and relative simplicity to play.
Infect aims to kill with poison damage rather than the traditional regular damage that lowers people's life total. Infect is capable of winning as early as turn 2 with Glistener Elf followed by Invigorate + Berserk for an instant ten point hit, which conveniently is the number that loses people the game. Infect runs countermagic in the form of Spell Pierce, Daze, and Force of Will which can push your combo through cards like Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, or opposing countermagic. Inkmoth Nexus is a land that gets activated to kill with when the opportune situation arises and dodges any sorcery-speed removal as well as Abrupt Decay, which can't hit creature-lands. I'd define the deck as aggro-combo.
I played Infect through the Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time era to some success, albeit through a tough road. Infect played a one-of Treasure Cruise at one time and a one-of Dig Through Time after Cruise was banned, though they weren't necessary to the deck's function; they were just good cards. Infect survives the bannings pretty well and is satisfied to not run a card advantage spell at all but to rather favor card selection to combo out the opponent. If you really want one card advantage spell maindeck, I recommend putting the sideboarded Sylvan Library in there. It's been awhile since Burn has made waves in Legacy and overall, low early starting life totals go unpunished.
Pox is a deck I've been working on for the past few months that I think is good enough to be a "real deck." It's a strange deck that punishes people for "trying to win" in the sense that it wants the opponent to be dumping its hand to get you dead fast. It has its problems, like any deck that also tries to control the game by being reactive and holding its cards in hand or eventually winning through card advantage. Delver decks, Burn, and most combo decks are good matchups, while Lands, Miracles, and Shardless Sultai are poor.
The goal of Pox is you disrupt their early plans with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek before getting your opponent down to one or zero cards with heavier discard like Hymn to Tourach and Liliana of the Veil. It can't deal with topdecks very well so The Rack and Shrieking Affliction are necessary to end the game before the opponent can draw out of their bad situation. Cards like Innocent Blood and Liliana of the Veil deal with creatures, even untargetable ones like True-Name Nemesis. Black gives a plethora of great options to fit any metagame full of creatures, so Pox can be tailored to beat them in any form. Artifacts and enchantments are a problem if they aren't caught with a discard spell. Pox is great in a creature-heavy or combo-heavy metagame, but I don't recommend it otherwise. Still, it's a deck and its namesake card can be the perfect solution when positioned just right. I expect #SCGSTL to be a pretty wide and unpredictable metagame, so as much of a pet deck as Pox is to me, I wouldn't play it.
The Road to the Players' Championship
States didn't go great for me. In fact, I've had exactly a 4-1 record going into round 6 of each of my last four States (this year's Autumn and Spring) and lost those win-and-ins each time to ultimately finish in top 16. Not enough for a huge boost in points towards the Players' Championship, but enough to tread water and not fall far behind. It okay though, as I expect to lose ground at States due to the top-heavy nature of the points distribution giving large boosts.
I'll be attending most, if not all of the Opens for the rest of the year. This weekend's Open in St. Louis will be a nice break from all the focus that's been put on Standard this month. Will I be playing Infect? I might be, but not because I feel like I have a huge advantage with it like I did last year. People have learned how to play against it properly and honestly I don't have enough recent innovation in the archetype to keep people on their toes with surprises. I think Infect will leave me with a respectable finish but not the trophy, which is something I haven't earned in over a year. In any case, this article has made me think about the format as a whole enough that it took my brewing mind in different directions trying to solve it.
Maybe I'll figure out something sweet in the next couple of days.