I. The Columbus Metagame
Due to the legendary success of Goblins in Legacy, Aggro-Control decks have had to meet very high standards of both efficiency and versatility in order to be viable. Owing to its multiple strengths, Threshold is the only Blue-based Aggro-Control deck to consistently perform well in environments with significant amounts of all archetypes, including Aggro decks. There are other Aggro-Control decks with different strengths, but their success has been limited due to the popularity of Aggro decks, and Goblins in particular, in almost all metagames.
However, Aggro decks have a weakness as well, and that weakness is Combo. Combo decks of all kinds have been slowly advancing over the past year, and before last month they had earned all of their success. This process would have continued normally, and will continue sometime in the future, but there has been a disruption of healthy format development. At the moment, there is a temporary and artificial inflation of both the strength and prevalence of Combo decks, and this is going to have a very big impact on the upcoming tournament, Grand Prix: Columbus. One consequence of this is that Aggro decks are going to be both less popular and considerably weaker during the tournament. Aggro-Control decks have the most to gain from this, as they have strong matchups against the Combo decks, as well as the Control decks that may spring up in opposition to the Combo explosion.
II. Building the Deck
One deck that has historically been dominated by Aggro decks, but which still has a synergistic and efficient core of cards, is the Madness archetype. This deck runs a lot of strong cards, but the overall strategy is just not fast enough to keep up with the very efficient threats and reach that Legacy Aggro decks have access to. However, with Aggro being suppressed by the highly inflated combo presence, Madness can alter its disruption suite to defend against these decks instead, which it is much better at doing.
Even with this disruption, the deck is still limited by the speed at which it can resolve a Madness enabler and have mana open. On the draw, turn 3 is the earliest that the deck can have Madness online. Recently, a card was printed that can speed this up by one turn, as well as provide a much stronger opening against Combo decks. Gemstone Caverns starts your curve at two as well as giving you an extra instant-speed turn at one mana before the game begins. This fits perfectly into the plan of using cheap disruption to stop combo and then executing the Madness strategy as quickly as possible.
The deck can still use strong anti-Aggro tools in the sideboard, but with the pressure off, the maindeck can function much more smoothly.
The manabase is pretty light in terms of non-budget cards, but there are some strong improvements that can be made. If you have duals or fetches, I would make these changes roughly in this order: -1 Forest +1 Tropical Island, -1 Island +1 Flooded Strand, -1 Island +1 Windswept Heath, and finally -1 Island +1 Tropical Island. A more expensive manabase would look something like this:
The maindeck benefits from being in such a polarized environment, and there are strong cards to bring in against the best archetypes.
III. Playing the Deck
The overall strategy of this deck is simple: to stop the opponent's early threats, play a Madness outlet, and then take advantage of the cheaper Madness costs to control the game until your creatures can deal twenty damage. The Madness costs are very cheap, but they are dependent on having an enabler, and this has always been the bottleneck around which the deck has to operate. Madness is very much dependent on its curve, so I will discuss how this version of the deck solves the problem in a new way.
At the beginning of the game, usually your only tools are free disruption or one-mana spells, which do have some drawbacks in terms of cost and effect. This problem is compounded because you will always want to tap out on turn 2 to play a Madness enabler, stalling other disruption until turn 3. Being on the play can triple (or increase even more) the amount of disruption you have access to. As an Aggro-Control deck, you are going to have to balance casting threats and disrupting the strategy of your opponent. Gemstone Caverns strengthens both of these positions.
Instead of your weakest position being on the draw with the opening chance of holding Force of Will, which will occur half the time, you now have better chances of answering with Force of Will because you can use Brainstorm to find it. More significantly, the deck plays a full set of Stifles, which are very good against Combo decks, and also are excellent against the rest of the format. The best Legacy decks run eight fetchlands, and countering the ability buys you a turn of tempo development at least, and can sometimes color-screw or mana-screw your opponent.
On the draw, instead of having to wait until turn 3 to have mana and a Madness outlet, this can now happen on turn 2, and even more consistently with the help of Brainstorm on the instant-speed half turn. This will bring online the rest of the important cards in the deck. Circular Logic and Deep Analysis are very efficient tools for fighting Combo and protecting the Madness engine, and Arrogant Wurm puts a lot of pressure on the opponent, which makes the efficient cards even stronger.
Daze is another strong tool for protecting the Madness engine, either from permission or removal, but it is more difficult to use in this deck than in Threshold. Madness has access to Wastelands that perform a similar to function to Stifle in the mid-game, when after resolving the Madness engine you want to stall the game until you can protect the kill. Only a little more than half of the manabase consists of lands that enable Daze, so you have to consider which form of disruption will be more effective against the opponent.
IV. Sideboarding and Matchups
The sideboard is definitely something that can be customized, but I think the one I have presented provides very strong tools against the relevant decks. Disrupt is one of the strongest tools available against Combo and works very well with Gemstone Caverns to stop the opponent from going off until you can take more control of the game. Disrupt is also good against Aggro-Control decks or Control decks that use a lot of discard or card drawing. Tormod's Crypt is a free answer for many of the graveyard-based decks in the format, such as those using Ill-Gotten Gains or Threshold creatures. Naturalize is just a general answer for strong permanents that opponents may use against you. Umezawa's Jitte is excellent against Aggro decks, and may also be very good against Control decks with mass removal or against Aggro-Control decks. It depends on the speed and build of the deck, but Umezawa's Jitte is good against almost all non-Combo decks.
Against Combo, I would sideboard out the Arrogant Wurms and one Basking Rootwalla for the set of Disrupts. This basically saturates your early game disruption, and allows you to play a very tight attrition game by playing heavy land destruction and taxing effects together. It also frees up your mana to use Deep Analysis as much as possible.
This strategy is good against all the other combo decks, but I would also bring in Tormod's Crypts against Tendrils decks and Naturalizes against any deck with critical permanents, such as Goblin Charbelcher. It is best just to take out whatever cards are not as relevant, in this case creatures:
The Aggro-Control decks will be prepared to fight a Combo-heavy environment, so what you sideboard in just depends on their archetype. Obviously Tormod's Crypt is excellent against Threshold, and Disrupt can be excellent in the early game as well.
Against decks such as B/R Suicide, the changes need to be different. Disrupt is a key card against any deck with discard effects, and Umezawa's Jitte is excellent against this archetype.
+3 Umezawa's Jitte
You may also want to bring in Naturalize if you suspect they have hate for you, such as Dystopia.
The Aggro matchup is much more varied, and may require a different approach for every deck. Umezawa's Jitte is going to be excellent against them all, but Aggro decks may have started running more hand disruption or ability counters, so Disrupt may end up being useful.
-3 Deep Analysis
+3 Umezawa's Jitte
Against Control, Madness already has some significant advantages, as it runs land acceleration and land destruction, and backs up all its threats with very cheap permission. The sideboard may only be a little better than the maindeck, but Control decks vary widely, and there are several cases where enchantment removal or equipment may be very relevant. Generally, I think Disrupt will be effective at answering removal and preventing the Control deck from using its stronger draw spells, but it may not be stronger than the cards already in the maindeck:
At the moment, Madness has a brief opportunity to take advantage of significant Aggro suppression in the metagame due to some organizational oversight at the DCI. However, the trend of Legacy Combo towards advancement and success was already occurring at a slow rate, and hopefully the format will retain enough innovators to continue this process later on. The newest version of the deck has some strengths that previous versions have not had, but it's still unknown exactly what the GP environment will be like and how strong these new tools will be. Regardless, I think the success of Combo will only strengthen the position of Aggro-Control decks in this format, even ones with significant limitations such as the Madness engine. Threshold is likely to be more successful due to its flexibility, but the manabase is much harder to build, and this deck is able to take advantage of some very cheap Madness costs.
Thanks for reading Budget Legacy, and good luck at the GP!
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