As many of you are aware by now, Legacy returns to the highest levels of competitive play in May with Grand Prix: Columbus. I decided to help organize some local Legacy tournaments that would give friends, teammates, locals, and myself a chance to hone our skills in the format in preparation for the Grand Prix.
I knew I had to play Iggy Pop, one of the formats most successful combo decks. I mean, Lion's Eye Diamond times four?! Infernal Tutor, response, sacrifice double Lion's Eye Diamond. Hellbent to find any card I want. This deck has so many insane plays.
In Vintage, you stick your hand down that lion's mouth at your own peril. If you pull out the diamond, good game. That's why that card is restricted. In Legacy, I'll gleefully stick my hand into the Lion's mouth every opportunity I get.
Iggy Pop is the brainchild of my teammate Mike Bomholt, who created and refined it. Another teammate, Willie Milton, gave the deck its now-famous name: Iggy Pop. In late 2005, Mike wrote a nice primer on the deck.
If you haven't read that primer, that's okay… but my goal is to expand and update on it, so you may want to check it out.
As a quick recap, the basic idea of the deck is that you are a Tendrils of Agony combo deck. It uses Ill-Gotten Gains to return mana accelerants and other tutors or Ill-Gotten Gains in the graveyard until it has sufficient storm and mana to find and use Tendrils of Agony.
Basically, the game plan looks like this:
Find some mana acceleration
Play a tutor (Intuition, Infernal Tutor, Mystical Tutor)
Use your mana acceleration and play Ill-Gotten Gains
Reuse your mana and tutoring to play more Ill-Gotten Gains
Then finish off your opponent with a lethal Tendrils of Agony found with your tutor and played with your mana.
This can all be done on average by about turn 2.5.
Here is how that might unfold:
Island, Lotus Petal
In your opponents end-step, break Polluted Delta for Swamp, tap all your lands and sacrifice Lotus Petal to play Intuition.
Intuition for three Cabal Rituals.
Play Dark Ritual. BBB floating. Storm 1.
Play Lion's Eye Diamond. Storm 2.
Play Cabal Ritual with Threshold. BBBBBB floating. Storm 3.
Play Infernal Tutor, respond by sacrificing Lion's Eye Diamond. BBBBBBB Black floating. Storm 4.
Find Ill-Gotten-Gains. Play it. BBBB Black floating. Storm 5.
Return Infernal Tutor and two Cabal Rituals to your hand.
Play both Cabal Rituals. Ten Black floating. Storm 7.
Play Infernal Tutor for Ill-Gotten Gains and play it. BBBB Black floating. Storm 9.
Return Infernal Tutor and two Cabal Rituals to hand.
Replay the Cabal Rituals. Ten Black floating. Storm 11.
Play Infernal Tutor for Tendrils and play it to win the game. Storm 13.
There are many common variations on this line of play. You can substitute the turn 3 Infernal Tutor for upkeep Mystical for Infernal Tutor. You could Intuition for Lion's Eye Diamonds instead of Cabal Rituals. You may have seen Brainstorm. You get the idea.
The point is: time bestowed some amazing technology to this deck.
Here is Mike's most recent list that he and I used to win local our local tournament:
Coming late to the party, I was astonished to discover that this deck actually functioned before Infernal Tutor. Infernal Tutor functions as close as you might imagine to Demonic Tutor in this deck.
Lion's Eye Diamond provides the Hellbent mechanic on Infernal Tutor with some serious searching action. The fact that there are no restricted cards means that even if you don't have Hellbent, Infernal Tutor is still a pretty amazing play.
If you've never played this deck before, you may face some counter-intuitive realizations. For me, here were the biggies:
Counter-Intuitive Realization Number 1:
Cabal Ritual is the best accelerant in the deck, followed closely by Lion's Eye Diamond. Dark Ritual is only the third best. This is because in order to “loop” through the Ill-Gotten Gains combo, two Dark Rituals don't provide enough mana.
Each loop costs a certain amount of mana, but no less than four (the cost to Ill-Gotten Gains). I wish I could provide some basic rules on how much each loop costs, but it is all very context sensitive.
For example, here is one way you might have gotten into the loop:
Swamp → Polluted Delta
Tap Swamp: Dark Ritual. Storm 1.
Play two Lion's Eye Diamonds. Storm 3.
Tap Island and play Intuition. Respond by breaking Lion's Eye Diamonds for six Black. Storm 4.
Intuition up three Ill-Gotten Gains. Seven Black floating.
Play an Ill-Gotten Gains. It resolves and you return a Lion's Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual, and another Gains to your hand. Storm is 5.
Play Dark Ritual. BBBBB floating. Storm is 6.
Play Lion's Eye Diamond. Storm is 7.
Play Ill-Gotten Gains. Respond by breaking Lion's Eye Diamond for UUU. Storm is 8. BUUU floating.
Return Intuition, Dark Ritual, and Lion's Eye Diamond to your hand.
Replay Dark Ritual. BBBUUU floating. Storm is 9.
Replay LED. Storm is 10.
Play Intuition, and respond by breaking LED for BBB. BBBBBB floating.
Intuition up three Tendrils of Agony and play one for 24 damage.
As you can see, there are many different ways to achieve the Iggy Pop combo that are all very context sensitive.
The key reason why Cabal Ritual and LED are so much better than Dark Ritual is that they are less likely to bottleneck you in the middle of Ill-Gotten Gains (IGG) recursion. You need lots of mana each step of the combo, and will need to make sure that all your needs are satisfied before you even begin to combo out.
Counter-Intuitive Realization Number 2
Leyline is actually a good card.
On paper, Leyline looked to me like a one-trick pony:
Land, Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, Ill-Gotten Gains to Mind Twist your opponent.
That trick looks neat and all, but is it really good enough to justify its inclusion? In my testing, almost every time I made that play, although powerful, it didn't just win me the game. You have spent quite a bit of resources in the hope of knocking your opponent out of the game early. They can actually recover within a few turns if they topdeck a land or if they have gone first.
I decided to trust Mike and run with Leyline. I soon discovered that it was far more than a one-trick pony.
In our testing of the Threshold match, Leyline of the Void dramatically simplified the counterspell math. An early Leyline not only killed their clock, but it gave me a tactical maneuver that would deal with counterspells entirely. All I had to do was resolve a single mid-game Ill-Gotten Gains and all of their countermagic was gone: Stifle included. Every IGG they countered went to my graveyard, and each Infernal Tutor and Mystical Tutor could find another in the hopes of wearing out their countermagic.
When playing against even decks like Burn, Leyline prevents them from being able to reuse the burn they've already played.
Counter-Intuitive Realization Number 3:
Wipe Away is actually better than Chain of Vapor maindeck.
Coming from Vintage, I'm used to efficiency being absolutely crucial. With this deck, you have time. The rest of the format is so much slower that there really isn't the same pressure to just win the game right now.
This was a deck that nearly broke through back at Grand Prix: Philadelphia, but certain new additions from Guildpact and Dissension (Leyline and Infernal Tutor, respectively) have pushed it over the top. For those who don't know the synergy, Ill-Gotten Gains with Leyline of the Void already in play is a one-sided Mind Twist for four mana that also Ancestrals the caster in the process. That's the kind of disgusting stunt you'd expect to see Divine pull in a John Waters movie, and it's decidedly unkind on opponents in the game of Magic. I found myself coming back to matches involving this deck again and again on Friday, surprised by how nasty it could be as well as how resistant it is to both control and heavy disruption strategies. Michael Bomholt's creation is a thing of insidious beauty.
Well put. The deck would appear, on paper, rather fragile. But in practice it is amazingly resilient and flexible even in the face of seemingly combo-breaking cards. It's hard to explain why, so I won't try.
Just so you get a real idea of what this deck is capable of doing, let me show you some in-game examples that I faced in real tournament play.
I was on the play against Jerry Yang, who was piloting a fast burn deck against me. His deck was designed to fight Goblins, which he was hoping to face.
My opening hand:
Leyline of the Void
Lion's Eye Diamond
On turn 0, I played Leyline.
I played Polluted Delta. At this point, I could have gone: Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, Infernal Tutor, respond by sacrificing Lion's Eye Diamond. Find IGG. Play Ill-Gotten just to make him empty his hand and remove it from game. However, I realize that I have a turn 2 win if I just wait.
I played Island.
I sacrificed the Delta for Swamp.
Tap Island and tap Swamp.
I played Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, Lion's Eye Diamond, Infernal Tutor (respond by sacking LED) for Ill-Gotten Gains. Play IGG. BB floating.
Replay LED and Ritual. BBBB floating.
Replay Infernal Tutor. Respond by sacrificing LED for BBB. Tutor up IGG and play it. B floating.
Replay Dark Ritual, LED, and Infernal Tutor (respond by sacrificing LED) for Tendrils of Agony and play it for 26 damage.
The reason I couldn't win on turn 1 was that I needed one more mana. Each time through the loop I was losing one mana. You only need the LED plus Dark Ritual at the end so that you can Infernal Tutor plus Tendrils. However, in the middle of the loop you need mana left over after you play IGG so that you can replay the Ritual.
If I had played IGG on turn 1, then I could have returned LED and Ritual and Infernal Tutor to my hand, but I'd have to topdeck one more mana to win the game on turn 2.
That's not to say that I made the right play, but I knew that since he was playing burn (game 1), it really didn't matter. In a post-board situation, perhaps the right play is to Mind Twist him there.
This is a game I lost in the Top 4 to Mark Trogdon, who was like his friend Jerry, playing Burn. I'll post the solution to the puzzle in the forums.
Importantly, Mark mulliganed to six.
My opening hand:
Lion's Eye Diamond
Mark: Mountain, go.
Remember that he mulliganed. This means he had five cards in his hand.
Me: Island, go. (I think I drew Tendrils here.) End of turn, Mark sends a Lightning Bolt at me.
This means he has four cards in his hand. I don't have to rush anything here.
Mark: Mountain, Sphere of Resistance
In response, I play Brainstorm.
Me: Delta, go. My Brainstorm just saw more lands and Chain of Vapor. Since I knew that I was going to be playing under Sphere, I wanted lands. Sphere slowed him down more than me since has so few cards in his hand I know that I can overpower him pretty easily.
Mark: Draw, Go.
This suggests that he is either trapped under his own Sphere or he is holding a lot of Red Elemental Blasts and more Spheres.
I play Swamp, go.
Mark plays Draw go
In his end-step, I play Chain of Vapor, and he plays Red Elemental Blast.
On my turn I draw Mystical Tutor. I play Delta go.
Mark: Mountain, go
In his end-step, I break Delta for Sea going to 13. (This was a clear mistake.)
I play Intuition.
In my mind, there is some question as to whether this will resolve or not.
On my next turn, I'll have quite a few options. If my Intuition resolves, I'll need to think through those options now.
My hand, roughly, is this:
Tendrils of Agony
Lion's Eye Diamond
My board is five lands: Scrubland, Sea, Island, Swamp, Delta.
The big question is: What do you Intuition for?
I selected: Cabal Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Infernal Tutor.
The rationale was this: I want an Infernal Tutor in my hand or graveyard when I begin to combo out. Intuition and Mystical Tutor just aren't as good. If he gives me a Cabal Ritual, then I have more ways to fight Sphere. However, the Infernal Tutor also acts as a proxy Cabal Ritual since I can use it to find one. And then, when I recur Infernal Tutor when I begin to combo out, it will serve the purpose of finding IGGys and then Tendrils.
Mark gives me Infernal Tutor.
I untap and take my sixth turn:
Now, I can play Mystical here under his Sphere. But I elect not to.
I draw Brainstorm! How insane!
I Brainstorm and see:
Leyline of the Void, Mystical Tutor, and something else. I put back Leyline and Mystical. I entertain the thought of just slow rolling Tendrils out. Play a Tendrils for like 10 or 12 life. Then build up for another mini-Tendrils, and then another using Mysticals for the win. However, I dismiss that idea on the grounds that I should be able to just combo out soon in one fell swoop.
I really wasn't sure what to do here.
I break Delta for Sea.
I tap my three other lands (remember Sphere is still in play) and I play Infernal Tutor for Cabal Ritual.
Importantly: I sided out Wipe Aways for Chains in this match, because with burn, speed matters.
In my end-step, Mark stuns me. He taps his three Mountains and plays Price of Progress.
I forgot that card existed because it isn't played at all in Vintage.
I go from twelve life (remember two Bolts and two fetchlands) to six.
He untaps and draws (the audience gasped) another Price, and I'm dead.
There were probably four or five junctures in that game where I could have made different plays.
The reason everything was so confusing is because of the Sphere. As I was Intuitioning, I was trying to calculate various plays like Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Infernal Tutor, etc, but I kept getting confused because Sphere makes everything cost one more. My initial thought was just to Intuition for three Ill-Gotten Gains and try to win like this using Cabal Rituals (which are amazing through Sphere of Resistance (known as 2Sphere in Vintageland)):
Tap two lands (of 5):
Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, BBBBB floating. Tap the other three lands.
Eight Black floating.
Use one to play LED. Seven Black floating.
Ill-Gotten Gains. Sac LED in response. Five Black floating
Play Cabal Ritual. Seven Black Floating. Play LED. Six mana floating.
IGGy. One Black floating.
You are two mana short.
If I had had two Cabal Rituals instead of a Cabal Ritual and an LED, it would have worked fine.
The problem is that LED bottlenecks the combo. That's why I Intuitioned for Cabal Rituals so that I could Mystical for IGG.
My Intuition was two Cabal Ritual and Infernal Tutor so that I could use Infernal Tutor in the IGGy loop without having to use Mystical or Intuition.
One of the big reasons I decided not to play a Tendrils on turn 6 was that I calculated that with three Mountains in play, there was no combination of burn spells I could think of that could kill me. Even double Fireblast + one Bolt would only be eleven damage and leave him with no lands (assuming he drew another Mountain).
I did not think about Price of Progress.
That said, there is a definite solution to the game that I did not think of during the match. Can you?