Disclaimer: This article is written for the enthusiasts of the Grow-archetype who will play this deck despite the fact that there are probably better options.
When I sit down to play a game of Magic, nothing delivers the goods like Super Grow (hereafter referred to as "3-color Threshold*" or 3cTheshold**). Because the things I enjoy doing the most in this fine game, namely, drawing tons of cards, countering everything thrown at me, and beating my opponent bloody with cheap and arbitrarily large creatures is what 3cThreshold does best.
(* I and many others have removed Quirion Dryad from our builds, so the "Gro" moniker is no longer appropriate.)
(** Or "3cT" for those who insist on abbreviating decks and cards with three letter acronyms.)
Where we left off...
It's been nearly ten months since Aaron Hill (a.k.a. strick09) and I (a.k.a. Bardo Trout) had our Super Grow primer published on this site, but I've continued to test, tweak, and play the deck ever since.
In the intervening months I've tested everything from Psionic Blast and three maindeck Fact or Fictions to Grizzly Fate and Nimble Mongoose. In the end, I arrived at where I began, but I'll get to that later.
What I present over the next couple of days is my most current list and a detailed sideboard guide for the general Legacy metagame as we approach the Grand Prix in November.
First, a quick review:
For those that are lazy like me, I'll briefly summarize 3cThreshold as best I can.
3-color Threshold is an aggro-Control deck built around threshold creatures, the best control cards in the Legacy format, and the characteristically low land count of the Grow-archetype (Miracle-Gro, Grow-a-Tog, etc.).
At the heart of the deck is the "cantrip engine". This is what gives the deck its velocity, while simultaneously allowing you to cheat on your land count and abuse the threshold mechanic. Using the old "4 cantrips = 2 land" substitution formula, the deck feels like it's running on 25 lands when it has only 70% of that. Running less land allows us to run more spells which gives us an edge in our matches.
If you read nothing else in the first two parts of this primer, I recommend you at least review the "How Do I Really Play This Deck?" in Part 2.
But before I dig into the meat of this article, I thought I'd share my first impressions of Ravnica: City of Guilds and speculate on the impact it may have on the deck.
Ravnica: City of Guilds and the Future of 3-Color Threshold
As a Legacy player who was expecting a lot of cool Legacy-playable cards, honestly, that was disappointing. Though I'm prepared to suspend my judgment on the block as whole until the spring when the Blue/White guild (Azorius Senate) is released in Dissension. Note that the Blue/Green guild, The Simic Combine, will be released in the next set, Guildpact.
Going over the spoiler, nothing knocks me over. The cycle of dual lands were better than many expected, myself included, but the two damage you need to pay to play those lands untapped will add up. Sure, you can use a fetchland to put Overgrown Tomb into play at the end of your opponent's turn and untap on your turn, but there will be many instances when that's the wrong play.
Aggressive decks will feel the "dual land nerf" less, where the damage is more of an issue against other aggressive decks, but will often not be a terribly large factor in the outcome of a match. Rather, control and aggro-control decks are most likely to feel the brunt of the tweak, since there are many occasions when those decks will stabilize at 2-4 life and go on to win from there. But with lands like Temple Garden and Watery Grave in the development of your mana, you'll lose a lot of games you would have otherwise won if you had played the appropriate dual land instead.
In 3cThreshold, this will be particularly painful since many of your card drawers are sorceries. There will also be many times when you'll cast your instant-speed drawers on your turn for threshold purposes. And running 6-8 fetchlands doesn't help matters either. In this deck, there are no good substitutes for the original duals.
Telling Time is certainly an interesting card, but it isn't appreciably better than Impulse or Strategic Planning. And all three of these cards suffer from costing twice as much as you really want to pay for the effect. It's too bad R&D didn't tweak Telling Time to costing a single Blue mana at the trade-off of being a sorcery instead.
Loxodon Hierarch is another contender in 3cThreshold, but it competes too closely with Mystic Enforcer. And there will be times where Loxodon Hierarch is a better card to play, but in the end, Enforcer's evasion and six-power trump anything for the cost.
If I were just getting started in the game, Tolsimir Wolfblood is my kind of card, and I'd gleefully build a deck around that dude. But being the Spike and pragmatist that I am, nothing else grabs me, though I'm looking forward to what the next two sets offer.
Now, onto the proper portion of this article.
Tuning 3-Color Threshold
Let's see where we left off:
Legacy Super Grow (December 2004)
by Dan Spero
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Serum Visions
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Merchant Scroll
4 Force of Will
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Quirion Dryad
3 Mystic Enforcer
1 Isochron Scepter
This is a good start, but we can do better.
-4 Quirion Dryad
+4 Meddling Mage
Quirion Dryad is one of the queen Johnny cards and is my favorite creature second only to the mighty Phelddagrif. But in a competitive environment, her inconsistencies are a troubling liability. She's often a terrible topdeck, too conditional on your hand to be relied upon, and worse yet: she forces you to play the deck differently than you should play much of the time.
Often your best plan is to sit back on defense, draw cards, and counter early threats while you build up to threshold. But with a Dryad on the board, your instinct is to protect her and grow her into a huge size because she's just so damn cool. So she often works against your correct strategy. Watching a Dryad or two get bounced to your hand by an untimely Echoing Truth will also make you frown.
In Quirion Dryad's place I've returned to the deck's roots and added a playset of Meddling Magi.
Maindeck Meddling Mage gives you even more firepower against combination decks (High Tide, Goblin Charbelcher, etc.) and is a powerful foil against most non-aggro/burn strategies. On the downside, Meddling Mage makes 3cThreshold even more difficult to play.
With a lot of decks, you can follow a familiar script to play out your hand and develop your position, but one of the main weaknesses of 3cThreshold is that no such script exists. Every single play needs to be carefully considered, no matter how trivial it seems. Which cantrip to cast, which cards to scry, which spell to counter, which counter to use, which lands to play/fetch/tap, which spells to name with Meddling Mage, etc., etc. Any bad decision, even a seemingly inconsequential one, can lead to your doom.
Anyway, Dryad was a nice play that would randomly win an occasional game - this is no longer a luxury.
-1 Fact or Fiction
I don't think Fact or Fiction is particularly bad in 3cThreshold, but it doesn't fit the natural flow of the deck. You want to rapidly cycle through your library to find what you need, and Fact, especially in multiples, has a tendency to gum up your hand and slow your momentum.
Intuition is a natural replacement that has a lot of obvious synergy with this deck: as a threshold builder, an instant-speed tutor for the deck's many 4-ofs, and a way to generate massive card advantage with Accumulated Knowledge.
This said, Intuition for Accumulated Knowledge is not an auto-play. It's best to wait until you have AK#1 in your hand or graveyard, because spending 3UU and a card to draw three cards isn't appreciably better than a Braingeyser for three. Consider Intuition a tool that will occasionally net you a lot of cards.
Intuition is another reason to run three Mystic Enforcers, which is a frequent target.
Aside #1: The Amazing Mystic Enforcer.
Apart from Psychatog, Arcbound Ravager, and a few others, Mystic Enforcer is the largest creature in the format. Spiritmonger is just as fat, but Enforcer has Protection from Black for some mysterious reason.
Against most decks you're likely to face, nothing trumps a Mystic Enforcer with threshold. And he comes down for the cheap cost of 2WG and can played off three lands with Werebear mana. What's not to love?
Just as importantly, Mystic Enforcer flies, making him the perfect cure to a drawn-out stalemate. End aside.
-1 Merchant Scroll
-1 Isochron Scepter
+2 Sleight of Hand
While solid, Merchant Scroll never wowed! me. It would occasionally fetch the fourth Accumulated Knowledge or a Fact or Fiction and be impressive, but that was mostly done when I was winning anyway. In the end I deemed the Scroll "cool, but unnecessary."
Isochron Scepter had the ability to randomly win games in spectacular fashion. Imprinting Swords to Plowshares against an aggro deck or Accumulated Knowledge against control is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, they make lousy topdecks and the card disadvantage from a quickly disenchanted Scepter was too much to bear.
Two Sleight of Hands were added in each of these cards' place. Like the other cantrips, they dig for land early and find threats and answers to your opponent's strategy once the game is underway. They also make sideboarding easy since they merely support the core of the deck, but aren't the core itself.
+1 Disrupting Shoal
Too often there's nothing to target with Misdirection, especially in a creature-heavy environment. In place of one I added a single Disrupting Shoal to the deck shortly after Betrayers of Kamigawa was released, and I haven't felt the need to remove it.
Disrupting Shoal gives you another chance to counter a first turn Goblin Lackey on the draw but is also frequently hard cast in the mid/late game. It's surprisingly versatile, but you don't want to add too many because the card disadvantage from your pitch-counters will eventually catch up with you.
Aside #2: 3cThreshold's Unusual Counter-Base.
3cThreshold needs 10-12 counters to retain its edge against combo and control decks.
These are the same nine counters you'll see in most 3-color Threshold builds:
4 Force of Will
The inclusion of Force of Will is obviously mandatory -- especially in an aggro-control shell. This said, don't be afraid to pitch one Force to pay the alternate cost of another. That is often the correct play.
Daze is most useful during turns 1 - 3, where control decks are most vulnerable, but its punch grows rapidly weaker as the game wears on. At a certain point (turns 5+), Daze is only good for paying the alternate cost on your pitch counters, being one of the cards you shuffle into your library with Brainstorm and a fetchland, and countering spells when your opponent gets greedy.
Counterspell, on the other hand, is not a card you want to see in your opening hand or the first few turns, but it begins to shine when Daze is losing its luster. It is the perfect mid/late game spell since it unconditionally counters anything and doesn't have the built-in card disadvantage like your alternate casting cost counters.
Using funny numbers is also part of the deck's operations management, since your opponent will often second-guess the amounts and kinds of counters you're running, making your opponent more likely blindly walk into Disrupting Shoal, for instance.
Beyond these nine counters, you have a lot of options:
1-2 Disrupting Shoal
1-2 Counterspell (#3-#4)
1 Daze (#4)
(or more removal / draw)
I opted for one of each Misdirection and Disrupting Shoal and an Engineered Explosives, but there are many other fine and defensible options. End aside.
-1 Tropical Island
+1 Windswept Heath
In case you haven't noticed, Wastelands are everywhere. It doesn't help matters that the two most played, hyped, and competitive decks (Landstill and Goblins) run playsets of this non-basic hater too. To accommodate this development and obviate Wasteland-induced landscrew, changes were required.
The basic Plains was added shortly after Meddling Mage was added to the maindeck. Having to fetch a dual land to play an early Meddling Mage leaves you open to a turn 2 Wasteland. And going into your third turn with only one land in play is not an enviable position. Windswept Heath was chosen as the eighth fetchland to more reliably hit threshold on turn 4 and because we want either a basic Plains or Forest to play a turn 2 creature.
With four basic lands and eight fetchlands, non-basic hate is much less of a concern, since there are only six legitimate Wasteland targets now. And, as always, Werebear and the low average casting cost of your spells (x = 1.404) help.
With these changes, we end up with this:
Legacy 3-Color Threshold
a.k.a. 'the deck formerly known as Super Grow'
by Dan Spero
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Serum Visions
2 Sleight of Hand
4 Force of Will
1 Disrupting Shoal
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Meddling Mage
3 Mystic Enforcer
This is certainly not the definitive list; it's merely the product of one person who has played this particular deck far too much.
Constructing the Sideboard
Going three colors gives us a lot of sideboaring choices. Here's my list of noteworthy cards:
Blue Elemental Blast
Sphere of Law
Circle of Protection: Red
More Specific Weaponry
Ground Seal (reanimation strategies)
Tsabo's Web (Landstill and Fish)
Phyrexian Furnace (anything that abuses the graveyard and the mirror)
Tormod's Crypt (ditto)
Cursed Totem (Survival, Elves!?, Madness, Psychatog)
Null Rod (Affinity, assorted artifact-based combo decks)
Since we want to build our sideboard as an extension of our maindeck, let's look at the competition first. A good starting point is The Source's Legacy Metagame Forum. Then there's Zvi's 2005 Legacy Championship article - which is the best thing written about the format so far.
If you didn't know it already, the big threats are Goblins, Landstill, other Red-aggro (often splashing Green or White), Survival of the Fittest-based decks, and High Tide combo (a.k.a. Solidarity). 3cThreshold a natural advantage against Survival and any sort of combination deck, so shoring up the Goblins and Landstill matches are required if you hope to place well.
At this point you'll need to test the above options and see what works best.
Here's the sideboard I'm running today.
* 1 open slot * (Tsabo's Web, Armageddon #3, Stifle #2, Hydroblast, etc.)
And yes, if I were attending the Grand Prix in Philadelphia***, this is the deck I'd play; though I'd continue to tweak the maindeck a little, and I'd have a radically different sideboard.
(*** But living in Portland, Oregon has a way of discouraging my personal attendance....)
That's it for today. Join me next time when I delve into my detailed strategy and sideboard guide for the current Legacy environment.
Cheers and thanks for reading.
Acknowledgements: Much thanks to Matt (a.k.a. MattTheGreat) and Dan (a.k.a. Belzebozo) for reading Parts 3 and 4 of this series and giving me excellent feedback.