I think it is safe to assume that most of us don't enjoy playing "the best deck" most of the time, myself included. Whether you just like expressing yourself through your deck choice, or you just enjoy playing a different strategy, you still have to know what the top deck(s) in a particular format are. And, subsequently, you need to know how to attack them.
If you're like me, you can be a little stubborn, often shying away from the "best deck" even when you're not entirely sure your brew can beat it. On occasion, I fold a few days before the tournament and end up listening to the Brad Nelsons of the Magic world, playing the best version of the best deck, but that is not exactly common (maybe that's why I've been doing so bad lately!). So today, I'm not suggesting you play the best deck in the format. After all, it is probably a mistake to do that in a team tournament like #SCGKY. If everyone is gunning for the best deck in each format, you don't want a giant target on all three of your decks. And when the formats are as open and diverse as Modern and Legacy, playing public enemy number one can be actively dangerous.
But we still need to know how to beat them.
So we're going to go over what I think are the three best decks in the three major Constructed formats for #SCGKY and what you should be looking to do if you want to beat them (while still having game against the field, of course).
Ah yes, the elephant in the room.
Aaron Forsythe (@mtgaaron) May 14, 2017
Actually, what is not pictured is their sense of overwhelming relief that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar didn't single-handedly ruin the Pro Tour after many people thought it should have been banned alongside Felidar Guardian. The problem with that thinking is that Aetherworks Marvel is actively more frustrating to play against than the Felidar Guardian combo ever was. I've long advocated for banning it for being so utterly powerful, efficient, and...annoying. Other than the fact that you can cast all the big Eldrazi and gain their special effects, the card is just too easy to get online. For such an oppressive ability, six energy is a joke. That's one Woodweaver's Puzzleknot. That's two or three energy-generating cards that are actively good on their own.
We've seen Aetherworks Marvel dominate Standard before in the hands of Jacob Baugh and company before the release of Aether Revolt. It took an even more powerful combo deck to oust it from the top spot, as well as banning one of the best cards for the archetype.
So yeah, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar didn't show up at the Pro Tour. Obviously people did play it and Mardu Vehicles did swarm the tournament, but it didn't dominate like it has in the past. And maybe that counts as a win, but that's a pretty sad win if you ask me. The Pro Tour Top 8 featured Zombies, Aetherworks Marvel, and one lone wolf B/G Energy deck. That doesn't exactly scream diversity, but at least it is better than the two-deck format that we had before. But what I can say about the previous Standard format is that Four-Color Saheeli and Mardu Vehicles made for some interesting games. Aetherworks Marvel just doesn't do that. Boring to watch, boring to play against, and boring to play with.
I'm not advocating for another ban. Honestly, I don't care enough at this point. My guess is that we'll live out their mistakes over the next four or five months until Battle for Zendikar block (and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger) rotate out. But enough about that. Let's talk shop. This weekend's #SCGKY is still going to be fun, and I'll just touch on what you need to do to make sure you can beat Aetherworks Marvel.
Are you ready?
Yeah, that's right, just cross your fingers and hope they don't hit Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. That's it. No deck in the format can beat a cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on the fourth turn, so there is very little reason to try. Sure, you can come with a control deck, but those are probably going to get run over by Mardu Vehicles and Zombies. And honestly, your control deck probably doesn't win fast enough to beat a hard-cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. So whether you're casting Aetherworks Marvel yourself or playing one of the other viable archetypes, your best bet at beating Aetherworks Marvel is hoping their deck fails in doing what it is trying to do.
Sure, some discard spells like Transgress the Mind or splashing blue for Metallic Rebuke in Mardu Vehicles could do the trick. But I watched Christian Calcano cast two (two!) copies of Lost Legacy against the deck and still lose. I've personally cast Dispossess against Kevin Jones, taking away his Aetherworks Marvel (before he cast it on Turn 4) with a clock in play, and still ended up losing to Whirler Virtuoso.
Their deck is resilient to disruption. No one thing is going to beat them. You need to be consistent, have a fast clock, and play a disruption spell or two. And even then, you can still lose. That in and of itself should be a clue that you should likely just play Aetherworks Marvel yourself, but that just doesn't sound like very much fun. You're just spinning the top six cards of your deck in the mirror, hoping you hit Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger before they do. But if you do play Aetherworks Marvel, I'd probably lean toward Yuuya Watanabe's list.
Alright, enough. Let's get to the good stuff.
While Modern hasn't had much of a spotlight on it as of late, I think that's all going to change in the coming months. With the SCG Tour® shifting more toward Modern, you're going to be seeing a lot of Death's Shadow decks running around. But the cool thing about Modern is that, even if Death's Shadow ends up being the most played deck, the likelihood it breaks 20% of the field is unlikely. That's a breath of fresh air compared to Standard, where we've seen astronomical numbers of the same two or three decks.
But with that said, I do think Death's Shadow, in some form, is going to be the deck to beat at #SCGKY in the Modern format. But while Death's Shadow is a popular archetype, you don't have to devote your entire strategy to beating it. And honestly, it would not be smart to do so. For every Death's Shadow deck, there will be a slew of other linear strategies that you need to worry about. Just make sure you have this in the back of your mind when building and wielding your Modern weapon of choice.
Michael Majors has consistently been suggesting this archetype to me over the last few months, but I haven't had a chance to play with it yet. It has all the makings of the Grixis midrange variants that I love, including the big delve monsters that dodge Fatal Push. And on top of that, you get to play a low land count, a lot of disruption, and a lot of removal. While some decks, like Bant Eldrazi, will laugh in the face of Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push, there are others that will fold to an early threat backed by two or three pieces of disruption. While that disruption could mean discard, removal, or even Stubborn Denial, drawing the right ones in the right matchups should seal the deal.
But you're not here to learn the ins and outs of Grixis Death's Shadow. You're here to beat it, right? Well, the easiest way to do that is exactly what I just told you: play cards that don't fail their removal test. Think big, think fast, think Eldrazi. Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher are difficult threats to overcome when playing any form of Death's Shadow, and especially so if all their removal is focused around killing cheap, early threats. While your Noble Hierarchs aren't long for this world, you should be fine just killing their early stuff with Path to Exile, Engineered Explosives, and (gasp!) even Oust!
While Condemn is a card that has been mentioned in the past as a solid answer to Death's Shadow, don't believe the rumors. Death's Shadow has way too much discard to rely on stuff like that. Plus, Condemn is pretty bad against decks that play creatures like Dark Confidant. You want your removal to be able to aggressively deal with their threats. Passive answers just aren't where you want to be at in Modern. You can get punished too easily.
Aside from Bant Eldrazi, you could go an entirely different route and just try to beat them with some weird combo deck that can fight through discard effects. Though that is much easier said than done. The first game should leave them with one or two removal spells just floating about in their hand, but post-sideboard games will be a lot more difficult. If you can survive the clock of Death's Shadow proper, you should be fine. And honestly, I think that is a major contributing factor to the rise in popularity of the Ad Nauseam combo. It can fight through discard spells pretty easily, has Pact of Negation to win counterspell wars, and is fairly fast at winning games.
While Ad Nauseam might not be the best choice for a deck when trying to defeat Death's Shadow, there are a number of other routes you can take. Decks like Abzan Company can put up a solid defensive board using Kitchen Finks and the like and threaten a combo at instant speed. Collected Company helps recoup resources when your hand gets hit with a slew of discard spells, and you're playing the colors that give you the best removal for fighting Death's Shadow. Fatal Push, Path to Exile, and even Abrupt Decay are fine cards against most versions of the deck, though the delve creatures from the Grixis version can be annoying if you draw the wrong removal spell.
Abzan, with Lingering Souls and the rest, is also a fine choice for beating up on Death's Shadow. Now that many of these Death's Shadow decks are shying away from combo kills with Temur Battle Rage, Lingering Souls seems like a ridiculous card for them to fight through. In fact, when I was playing a lot of Death's Shadow in Modern, I would often splash for Lingering Souls in the mirror because of how insanely good it was in an attrition-based matchup. When you're ripping each other's hands apart with discard spells, Lingering Souls is just bonkers.
While there are a number of ways to fight Death's Shadow, it isn't a deck that has one glaring weakness. Even Burn decks can struggle against the archetype, since their entire gameplan just makes for a bigger Death's Shadow. Their disruptive elements, efficient spells, and cheap removal give it a lot of fight against just about every deck in the format, which is one of the reasons why it is the most popular archetype in Modern. Well, all that coupled with the fact that the deck is infinitely customizable. The range of tools at your disposal based on the color(s) you want to play are staggering. If you want to see a few of the other variations on the archetype, check out this article I wrote a while back, where I go over some of the pros and cons of each build.
With Sensei's Divining Top out of the picture, Miracles is no longer the powerhouse it once was. With that said, blue is still going to be the best color in the format. Brainstorm is a powerful card, and getting rid of the Counterbalance "combo" only makes decks playing Brainstorm and other cheap spells that much better. So what's the best blue deck in Legacy? The safe bet is probably going to be Storm in some form or another, but you already know the best ways of attacking those types of combo decks (clock plus disruption).
I'm here to give you those answers.
Delver is the easiest deck for most non-Legacy players to transition to. It has play patterns similar to versions that were in Standard, and even Modern has seen a rise in Delver popularity as of late. Teams who don't have a dedicated Legacy specialist will likely lean toward some form of Delver of Secrets or another. If I had to guess, Delver of Secrets will be the most-played card in Legacy after the cantrip effects. If your deck is weak to Delver of Secrets, I might consider switching to a different archetype.
If I were playing Delver of Secrets in Legacy this weekend, here is what I'd play:
Stoneforge Mystic is likely good again, but people haven't had time to figure that out yet. With so few big Legacy events in the last few months and the recent upheaval of the format thanks to the banning of Sensei's Divining Top, only a scant few people have had time to perfect a new iteration of the old "Stoneblade" strategies. While they certainly exist and the best players in the room will likely find a good build, I wouldn't expect to play against it much. Not yet, anyway.
Elves is likely an absurd deck that, in the right hands, should be favored to win most of its matches. Miracles was a very bad matchup for Elves thanks to Terminus and Counterbalance. That one-two punch really left Elves pilots in something of a pickle. If they over-extended in the early turns, they could just lose to a sweeper. If they didn't play out their hand, much of it would become invalidated once Counterbalance hit the battlefield. But all that's behind us now.
Elves thrives in a fair-deck format without a lot of prison elements. The only downside is that it is very hard to play. Just check out my VS Video with Brad Nelson this week and you'll see me making many-a-blunder.
In a nutshell, that's all the new information you really need for Legacy. The rest is mostly the same. There are a ton of viable archetypes, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Decks that were soft to Miracles got a huge boost, and decks that were good against Miracles are probably not the best choice in the current format. Oh, and Leovold, Emissary of Trest is randomly everywhere.
But like any Legacy or Modern event, I will tell you this: just play the deck you know best. After all, this is a team tournament, and the primary goal should be to have fun. If you're not playing the deck(s) you love, then you're doing it wrong. Pick the decks that suit your playstyle, and make sure you have all the top decks in mind when constructing your maindeck and sideboard.
Make sure your least favorite friend plays Standard.
While Standard isn't all that interesting at the moment, this weekend at #SCGKY should be a blast. The last team tournament I played with Michael Majors and Tom Ross was a ton of fun, and we didn't even make it to Day 2. While everyone should ultimately be trying to win the tournament, don't forget to have a good time along the way. One of the best feelings in a team tournament is losing, only to have your friends pick up the slack. And if you lose, at least you lose together. Having others to commiserate and confide in can be a positive experience in and of itself.
So go play, go have fun, and don't sweat the small stuff. There are a lot of tournaments to keep playing in.